An Overview of Current African Conflicts

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule


The Perspective

December 4, 2001

For the past thirty years at least, since the end of the independence struggle of the 1960s, Africa has been plagued by all kinds of disasters. Drought, famine, malaria, Aids, it has been one after the other. But with all the malaises the continent has confronted in its path to growth and maturity, none is greater than the man-made disasters. The greatest harms done to Africa and its people were African made. These derived from problems of governance and the greed of power. It is either an Ojukwu in Nigeria seeking to carve a republic of his own out of the great Nigeria or a Dr. Savimbi in Angola, fighting an ideological war at a time when most people don't even remember the divide between East and West ideologies.

Some African conflicts have to do with the way countries were created to suit the needs of colonial powers. In many cases, tribes were divided in order to weaken them and they fell under various flags. After independence, some of these tribes tried to regroup and this led to border conflicts. In other cases, century old tribal antagonisms resurfaced once the colonial power left. This may be the case of one of the oldest modern armed conflict in Africa and still going on in Sudan. There has always been an opposition between the North and South Sudan, due to cultural and religious differences. The Muslim North dominated political and economic power, drawing its strength from ethnic Arabs. The South, mostly populated by Black Africans and mostly Christians, has constantly been fighting to gain "respect". The war in Sudan, where instances of slavery by the North on the South have been reported, has now become the subject of a new peace process. The US government sent a special envoy to talk to both sides of the conflict. Can the North accept an autonomous South? Meanwhile, the killing goes on.

In Angola, UNITA of Dr. Jonas Savimbi has again started its attacks on areas under the control of the Luanda government. Dr. Savimbi hopes to renegotiate the 1996 Lusaka Accord that put an end to the war that flared after the presidential elections. Savimbi still claims that the elections in 1994 were rigged and refuses to submit to the central government. Savimbi lost his political clouts with the end of the cold war and the death of Houphouet Boigny, his mentor. The recent attacks are an attempt to bring international attention to a conflict most of the world has forgotten. So far, some 300,000 people have lost their lives in Angola. Millions of Angolans are refugees throughout the world. Thousands of Angolans, mostly children and farmers have lost arms and legs to mines that UNITA planted in territories under its controls.

Next door, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, things are not any better. By the time Mobutu left power, Congo was already a wasteland. With Angola, the DRC is one of the most endowed countries in natural resources in the world. Mobutu was one of the richest men in the world at the time of his death in exile in Morocco. His wealth is scattered in banks, villas and castles all across Europe and America. His legacy to his country was a civil war. According to the International Rescue Committee, at least 2,5 million people have been killed in Congo. In some area, 8% of the population was killed. In Moba, 75% of all children die before their second birthday. Only 14% of these deaths are attributed to violence, the remaining is attributed of other effects of the war. Meanwhile, countries that sent troops in the country to support one faction or the other have been plundering the natural resources of the land. This situation led the United Nations to call on those countries - Zimbabwe, Angola, Rwanda, among others - to withdraw their troops and stop the pillaging of the country. Is it a good sign that young Kabila has rescinded some of the fabulous contracts his father signed with energy and diamond corporations long before he took power?

Further north, the Central African Republic is still in turmoil since government troops attempted to arrest former Chief of Staff Francois Bozize who fled to Chad, on November 3. Fighting is still going on between his forces and government soldiers in the region of Batangapo. A regional meeting is being organized in Sudan and will regroup the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Libya and Sudan with representatives of the OAU. The president of CAR has survived three major coups attempts owing to the military intervention of France and Libya. A UN mission was in the country for a year but was recently withdrawn. How long will Libya and France continue to provide military support to a regime hardly surviving?

In Burundi, the efforts of South Africa's Mandela finally brought fruits. A 3 year-power-sharing interim government is finally in place and is headed by Pierre Buyoya. The interim government would try to create a political balance between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi who dominated politics since independence 39 years ago. It is about time! The first and major task of Pierre Buyoya is to put an end to the sinister death squads that have become part of the political landscape since the Hutu government in Rwanda set a world record by butchering some 800,000 people in 100 days. The shameful human drama the world now wants to forget.

In Algeria, things are at a standstill. The fight between the secular government and Islamists has now taken a turn for the worst; with the new tribal underdone. Kabyles, in the Southern part of Algeria now want to be "respected" by the Arabs of the North. So far, since the outbreak of this violence, some 80,000 people have been killed in Algeria. The police arrests leaders of the Islamic movement one day and the next day they in turn kill several of persons - in their homes. Journalists and women have been the main targets of the killers. The war goes on, and Algeria is always trying to convince the rest of the world that it is containable. The image of stability is important to maintain a good standing on world markets.

The palm of stupidity goes to the Ethiopians and Eritreans. The Presidents of Ethiopia and Eritrea were "friends and brothers". Then, one day in 1998, for no apparent reason, after they had put an end to a 30-year conflict between the two countries, they sent troops at each borders. Thousands of people were killed. Close to one and half million people are still displaced. Ethiopia, a country that always cries "famine" and is begging for food from the international community, manages to find and spend 3 billion dollars on arms and ammunitions. Entire villages were wiped out by the conflict. Now the zone they were fighting about is under control of the UNMEE (United Nations military mission). The border between the two countries is practically closed. It would take a long time to heal the wounds... People in both countries are still trying to figure out why there was a war...

In the 1980s' one of the most critical issues on the continent besides the crisis in Southern Africa was the conflict opposing the Polisario Front and Morocco in Western Sahara. When most countries on the continent decided to recognize the Polisario as representatives of the people of the Western Sahara, Morocco withdrew from the Organization of African Unity. The conflict started in 1975, when, in total disregard for international rules, Moroccan tanks rolled into the Sahara Republic after it gained its independence from Spain, after years of struggle. This classic case of blatant colonialism was carried out with total impunity. King Hassan II of Morocco used his international clout to continuously refuse the holding of a referendum on self-determination. The new King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, seems more open to dialogue. The president of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz has proposed a meeting with the king in Spain to discuss the possibility of peace. Meanwhile Morocco is signing oil concession agreements in the Sahara. James Baker III has been in and out of the region for years. There is no sign that the issue would be resolved soon.

In Sierra Leone, some 29,370 rebels have disarmed to UNAMISIL. Not before they managed to kill 75,000 people and chop the arms and feet of countless people. Meanwhile, RUF leader Foday Sankoh is in jail, awaiting an improbable war crimes tribunal that could have serious impacts on the MRU peace process. A trial of Sankoh will inevitably bring in witnesses from Liberia and other places. But the money to set up the tribunal has not been forthcoming. The international community is on a much bigger hunt. Meanwhile, rebels are mining diamonds and turning their guns to the UN military mission. Will this be a success story?

Meanwhile, Guinea is struggling with the highest number of refuges per capita in the world and nobody seems to be paying attention. There are currently 430,000 refugees in that small Republic, mostly from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Those from Sierra Leone are now returning home, slowly, while Liberians have no reason to rush home. Many of Liberians refugees are from Lofa and Nimba. Their homes and farms have been destroyed by the on-going conflict and there seems to be no immediate solution in sight.

In Liberia, where some 250,000 people have died so far and more than a million people are either internally displaced or refugees in many parts of the world, things don't seem to get any better. The mistrust among political leaders has never been wider and very few people believe that elections in 18 months would ever take place or bring any improvement.

In Ivory Coast, there is a consensus building among political leaders. A national reconciliation forum brought together Henri Konan Bedie the successor of Houphouet Boigny, General Robert Guei, the man who overthrew him and Laurent Gbagbo who called his partisans into the streets to stop Guei from rigging the presidential elections just like Doe in 1985. The last political figure to intervene was Allassane Quattara. The arrival of former prime minister of Houphouet Boigny and issues about his nationality set off the political crisis in Ivory Coast in 1993. Besides the three political leaders, religious groups, unions, social groups and tribal leaders took their turn at the podium to express their feelings about the two years of transition that almost plunged the country into a civil war. After blaming each other for the crisis of the past years, the political leaders admitted their own mistakes and vowed to work to maintain the nation in peace and in one piece and put their personal differences aside. France did play a major role. Bedie was advised to vacate power and not oppose resistance after soldiers took control of Abidjan in 1999. Guei was told that he could not use the army to stay in power after loosing the elections. And after he won the elections, Mr. Gbagbo was told in no uncertain terms that priority number one for his government was national reconciliation and without that, he wasn't getting a dime... It all worked and the Ivorians managed to save their country.

Can peace return to the Mano River Union? There is a proposed summit of the three presidents - Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone - in January. So far, nobody knows exactly when and where the summit will be held or what its agenda would be beyond the vague notion of "peace-building". Such a meeting should be preceded by serious technical consultations and serve only at a signing ceremony. At the exclusion of the capital of any of the 3 countries serving as a venue, the presidents could meet in Lome or Dakar. The MRU also needs an impartial peace broker with great stature. Maybe Nelson Mandela could help Liberia this time around since Liberia was first to start the fight against apartheid, long before it became fashionable.

However, beyond any agreement between the leaders, the real problems will be on the home fronts in each country: in Guinea, Lansana Conteh just recently re-wrote the constitution in Guinea to stay in power and will have to face the aftermath of this constitutional coup d'etat. He is politically weakened and will have to fight on two fronts if things don't work well with Mr. Taylor. President Kabbah will have to prove that he can really rule without the military blankets of Nigeria and the British. In Liberia, President Taylor still has to prove to Liberians that he is no longer the warlord in Gbarnga but rather the leader of a country traumatized by war and faced with survival in dire need of dialogue, reconciliation and respects of human rights.

These conflicts have caused untold sufferings on the African people. With the combined effects of the debt and AIDS, these man-made disasters gave the continent the image of a big wasteland. However, the majority of African countries live in stability, with success stories, both economically and politically. Unfortunately, those success stories are rarely told and Africa is only presented as the basket case of modern history. This can change and Africans need to face the challenges of the future with the resolve to tackle African problems, with African solutions. By accusing the rest of the world for being responsible for the ills of the continent, Africans by the same token renege the responsibility to solve those problems. • e-mail:

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