Global Policy Forum

Still Long Way to Go to End Africa's Internal Conflicts


By Dianna Games *

Business Day
May 17, 2004

A reflection about events in Africa in this month so far would suggest we are not doing as well as we think in the area of conflict prevention. A cursory glance reveals a disturbing breakdown of peace and security in many places. What is more disturbing is that most incidents relate to long-running conflicts or persistent flashpoints. They include:

Heavy fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in which nearly 60 have died with dozens more hurt. The violence was sparked by disagreement between two militias of the same clan (since the collapse of its government, Mogadishu has been run by clans). The killing of about 12 people in southwest Somalia in interclan fighting over the running of a town, Bulo Hawa. The violence has displaced more than 3000.

Continuing violence by militias in Darfur, western Sudan, which has led to massive refugee movements across the region. Since May 6, the United Nations has moved nearly 53,000 refugees from Sudan's border with Chad. Continuing attacks on Sudanese refugee camps in northern Uganda. About 30000 people have been displaced from their settlements recently as a result of multiple raids by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, which after 18 years of terrorising Ugandans appears pleased to have new targets.

Bloody interfaith violence in central and northern Nigeria. This began early this month in the town of Yelwa in central Plateau State after more than 600 Muslims were killed by Christian gunmen. The violence spread to Kano in the north where dozens more people have been killed. Now tensions are mounting in five Ibo-dominated states as a result of the killing of their people in reprisal attacks by Muslims. Also in Nigeria, several people have been killed and dozens wounded in fresh violence in the Ogoni community of Rivers State in what is believed to be a chieftancy struggle, while in Benue State, more than 20 died this month in political violence.

The continent is awash with plans to control, end and prevent conflict. The African Union (AU) and other continental programmes hail the successful tackling of conflicts in the Great Lakes, Burundi and Liberia as signs of the progress Africa is making in conflict resolution. These are indeed noteworthy successes. However, even as those conflicts are being resolved through multistate and multiparty interventions, thousands of people are being killed in equally serious and persistent localised conflicts. In many cases, while the AU's early warning mechanisms are still being activated, whole cities are in flames.

Most flashpoints are not new the conflicts are primarily driven by reprisals for actions that have taken place days, and sometimes weeks or months, before. Some are localised power struggles dating back years. Is the answer to long-standing tribal and religious clashes a military one? A negotiated solution? A bit of both?

There is much talk about a pan-African force but would this be the right response to a highly charged situation such as the religious conflict in northern Nigeria, for example? African solutions for African problems has the right ring to it but even this notion stands to be undermined by regional baggage carried by the peacemakers themselves. Deep divisions between states and issues of self-interest have contributed to the difficulties of solving regional conflicts in east Africa and elsewhere. Conversely, Nigeria has been a key player in resolving the Liberia conflict but seems unable to solve problems on its own doorstep.

It is to be hoped the new Peace and Security Council and related structures do not focus their attentions only on high-profile, national or cross-border wars. Violence within borders, between communities, is equally corrosive to development and in the long run maybe harder to solve. It is good to point out our successes to date, but not enough to rest on our laurels in this regard.

About the author: Games is director of Africa@Work, a publishing, research and conferencing company.

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