Is there any way out of Africa's wars?

2013-09-27 10:22

In his 1992 book entitled The End of History and the Last Men, Francis Fukuyama  made the bold claim that with the proliferation of liberal democracy, wars between nations would decline. Indeed, we are witnessing a sharp decline in inter-state wars in the world today. A result of the proliferation of democracy?--Who knows.

In any case, the decline in inter-state wars has been welcomed in the world as a sign of hope. Unfortunately, however, this hope is quickly compromised by the emergence of several new wars--a term Mary Kaldor used in her 1999 work,  New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era,  to describe  today's wars that are no longer waged by organized armies but rather by armed criminals, warlords, and religious extremists. Africa, by all accounts, is falling fast into the abyss of these new wars.

For security experts, there are not nearly as many of these new wars in any part of the world as there are in Africa. In fact, Africa is home to two-thirds of all armed conflicts in the world. Half of the 16 UN peacekeeping missions in the world operate in Africa alone. Despite the heavy presence of the UN peacekeeping forces, there is little evidence that the continent is getting any safer. Even worst, The continent is now entering the uncharted terrain of religious terrorism. There are many reasons for this.

Failure to address poverty is one reason why the end of wars in Africa has been delayed. For many African countries, tackling the challenges of poverty is understood as borrowing more from donor countries. Unfortunately, as experience has shown, the more we borrow the poorer we become. To make matters worse, even our traditional revenues are often squandered by unscrupulous simple-minded looters (or leaders?). Any wonder then that nowadays from Cape Town to Cairo, we are witnessing constant popular upheavals?

Problematic education systems might also be part of the problems. For instance, the legacy of education systems that encourage competitive individualism over cooperative harmony are ill-adapted for ethnically diverse societies where the need for social cohesion is vital for stability. By condoning these types of education, we end up creating a world where protecting one’s eggs happens against and at the expense of everybody else’s eggs, including the tree upon which we nest.

Perhaps a cardinal reason yet to doubt the end of wars in Africa is the prevalence and tolerance of problematic military regimes whose records of human rights abuses are a constant cause of concern. With few exceptions, military rulers in Africa are a perpetual danger to their people and neighboring countries. Just take a look at the following cases.

In Sudan, the 68-year-old Brigadier General President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir sees governance all but in terms of wars. His record shows he is always at war—at war with neighboring country South Sudan and at war with his own people in Darfur where he is accused of leading a genocidal campaign that has affected 4.27 million people and claimed the lives of more than 300, 000 people. Allegations also run that he constantly uses his army to bomb his own people in the Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.

Like the Al-Bashir regime in Sudan, The Afewerki regime in Eritrea next door is yet another case to worry about. Afewerki came to power in 1991 following 30 years of armed struggle with Ethiopia. After leading his country to independence, Afewerki imposed a single party system and transformed his country into an army barrack, earning it the popular name of the North Korea of Africa. In its 2012 world report, Human Rights Watch described Eritrea as one of the most repressive governments in the world with a heavy record of arbitrary detention, deprivation of the freedom of speech, and the freedom of movement.

Even in Chad, the Brigadier General President Idriss Deby, who took power after a coup in1990, has managed to dislocate his country politically, economically, culturally, and socially to the extent that the head of the country’s opposition group once derogatorily labeled it an “informal country.” He has been regularly criticized for using his country’s resources to acquire massive military hardware. His army counts more than 500 generals with one of his sons, a 25-year-old a full-fledged general. Additionally, until June 2013, Chad alongside Sudan made the UN list of rare countries that have constantly recruited and used child soldiers. The regime has also been accused by the Human Rights Watch of serious violations of human rights including arbitrary detention and deprivation of freedom of speech. In fact, the regime is suspected of active involvement in destabilizing neighboring countries.

In sum, military regimes generally oppress, humiliate and terrorize their population into submission. As a result of their despotic rules, some of their ‘subjects’ who can no longer take it, end up joining or forming armed rebellions or terrorist organizations to do themselves justice—and violence continues.

To promote  peace, some commentators have suggested a number of solutions , with different degree of success, on how to deal with poverty and problematic education issues. Only and unfortunately, where options are limited is how to deal with military rulers.

On the one hand, threatening them with prosecution for reprehensible acts during their tenure could persuade them to stay in power to avoid embarrassment--prolonging thus the plight of their population almost indefinitely. On the other hand, overlooking their sins of cruelty in order to allow them a safe way out, does not look like doing justice to their victims either. Are we trapped?

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