Civil Wars in Africa: Roots and Resolutions

For some period in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a trend in conflict studies that suggested civil war in Africa was externally caused and driven. To counter that narrative, a group of scholars came together to explore the internal, domestic aspects of civil war in Africa (without neglecting the external factors). The result was "Civil Wars in Africa: Roots and Resolutions" (1999) edited by Taisier Ali and Robert Matthews. This edited volume provides a set of case studies on civil conflict in Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda as well as how conflict did not emerge in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. As with edited volumes of this nature, they are difficult to summarize because each chapter is unique and presents its own perspectives and conclusions. A new noteworthy points:

On causes of conflict:

  • "In the Horn, development has contributed to conflict primarily in response to state decisions about investment in export sectors, especially agriculture and livestock. The state has steered investments towards areas controlled by the ruling elites. Resulting investment patterns have led to extraordinary regional disparities in economic opportunity. These disparities have been intensified as the state provided social services primarily [go] to the same areas. This post-colonial continuation of a colonial trend intensified inequalities among social groups and regions; and resulting tensions fed larger civil conflicts. The most conflict-prone areas in the Greater Horn are nearly all areas that have been excluded from the fruits of state investment." (p. 44)
  • "Both threads of conflict in Rwanda – the civil war and the genocide – can be traced directly to the impact of manipulation of social cleavages, in this case ethnicity, by political elites in competition over power" (p. 80)

On overcoming conflict:

  • "Uganda's experience suggests that the re-establishment of stability in a country that has suffered extensive, recurrent upheavals requires firm but nationally minded leadership, extensive broadening of the political process to include previously marginalized groups, intra-elite cohesion, and positive developments on the economic front. Only then can conditions be laid for addressing the structural imbalances that underlie social conflict." (p. 14)
  • "To ensure the long term stability of Ethiopia, the newly elected government will have to allow for more political liberalization than it has at present. (Because of their close links with the government, forged during the liberation struggle, NGOs and donor countries have a special role to play in pressing the government in this direction.) In the absence of political reconciliation, the central government will probably have to resort to increasing repression to ensure its control over Ethiopia." (p. 305)

On preventing conflict:

  • "In this dominant climate of scepticism towards anything Tanzanian, inadequate due has been given [to] the political accomplishments of the Nyerere era. Yet these achievements were major… Tanzania enjoyed continuous, stable civilian rule for some twenty years. Then, peacefully and within that framework of civilian rule, there was not only a change of political leadership but also a near-180 degree change of ideological direction, with Tanzania becoming a more open political society, now in transition to a multi-party system." (p. 239)
  • "Most of the poorest African states today face the same central dilemma as did Tanzania in the mid-1960s. They must balance the contribution to good government that often flows from a greater popular participation and fuller respect for civil and political rights against the likelihood that these same democratic features may unleash divisive ethnic, regional, and class divisions, which may shatter the still-fragile unity of the state. It is therefore reasonable to ask whether something like the Tanzanian democratic, one-party system may be preferable for many very poor Third World states than either a competitive party democracy on the Western model or any of the most autocratic alternatives." (p. 246)
  • "It now seems almost inevitable that, in the absence of strong popular forces that can insist on greater answerability, democratic, one-party states will finally be unable to check the self-seeking, oligarchical temptations that lurk within them. Ideological commitment, nationalism, exceptional leadership, and even fear of the disastrous consequences of severe intra-elite rivalry seem unable to ensure that the ambitions, abilities and energies of the new elites serve, rather than undermine, the common good." (p. 248)

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