columnBy Reason Wafawarova
The 20th century saw the fall of colonial empires in Africa, and with it came many post-independence civil conflicts, mainly attributed to ethnicity. It is widely perceived that the Biafra war between July 1967 and January 1970 was an initiative of the Ibo people, and the motivation for this war was perhaps based on the fractionalised ethnic relations that prevailed in Nigeria at the time. It can be argued, however, that colonisation was always a temporary unifier of the different ethnic groups, and as such its demise was in itself a great motivation for some ethnic groups like the Ibo to try and revert to pre-colonial independence. This is despite the fact that the Ibo stands today as the most Christianised ethnic group in Nigeria - a legacy that can be traced back to the colonial times.
There are other post-independence civil wars where rebels have largely been perceived as being motivated by ethnicity, and the general picture created by the mainstream media has always been that African civil wars are organised along ethnic lines. This might look true when one looks at the surface of the wars themselves, but deeper than the skin appearance of the civil wars are underlying factors that play a major role in propping these conflicts.
The most prominent civil wars that afflicted Africa in the 20th Century include the Uganda civil conflict that started in 1987 to date, Sudan; still raging in Darfur since 2004, Angola starting 1975 and stretching for 25 years, Mozambique from 1977 to 1992, DRC which has not known peace since 1960, Liberia from 1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003, and Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. Generally the frequency and intensity of civil wars declined in the 1990s, and there has been a surge in African civil conflicts since the beginning of the 21st Century.
Much as the media profiling of African civil conflicts has presented the wars as ethnically organised and composed, there has hardly been any official position by African rebel fighters declaring they were fighting for ethnic objectives, not even with the Biafra conflict.
The advocated causal factors for civil conflicts have always been the search for democracy, holding of "free and fair" elections, protest against bad economic policies, and boundary or territorial disputes.
There is a school of thought that says conflicts in Africa have largely perpetuated correspondingly to failures in political and economic development. There was so much expectation at independence and now it is more than half a century since the fall of colonial empires, yet Africa continues afflicted with unabated misery and poverty that has literally become part of the continent's culture and identity.
There is a saddening legacy of failed economic policies largely brainstormed in the West and imposed on pliant post-colonial governments in Africa, mainly through the arm-twisting strategies of the IMF and the World Bank.
We had the notorious Structural Adjustment Programmes that shattered the economies of countries like Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, DRC and many other countries. The SAPs were a huge success in achieving what they were intended to achieve from an imperial perspective - creating unredeemable economic dependency and increasing the debt burden on developing countries. In theory, SAPs were meant to assist countries to return to economic recovery. In practice the opposite happened. SAPs destroyed any chance to achieve sustainable economic development that would meet national priorities for African countries.
Michel Chossudovsky pointed out that the ". . . IMF-World bank reform package constitutes a coherent programme for economic and social collapse . . . They destroy the entire fabric of the domestic economy."
In Zimbabwe the programme was embraced by the Zanu-PF Government in 1992, and the country was reduced to an economic torture camp in months, as tens of thousands of people were retrenched from their jobs, public education was privatised, healthcare was commercialised, the civil service was trimmed by 50 percent, and workers' rights were almost totally suspended to allow the reign of IMF directives.
The ESAP-induced economic suffering coincided with the rise in HIV/Aids prevalence and death rate shot up as the country's life expectancy fell from 60 years down to 46 in a short four years. Stretched to the limit, the people of Zimbabwe rioted at the end of 1997 and supermarkets and food outlets were raided by the urban starving masses. The riots were co-ordinated by ZCTU, the country's umbrella labour union, and it is largely agreed that the birth of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change began with these food riots, with the core leadership of the ZCTU transforming into the leadership of the new political party in 1999. Sadly the new party was quickly hijacked by Western money bags and it was repackaged into a neo-liberal puppet project that it is to date.
It is like the 2012 IMF directive for the removal of fuel subsidies in Nigeria and other West African states. Although the volatile reaction to this directive was eventually diffused, there were bloody clashes between protesters and security forces, especially in Nigeria.
Perhaps conflicts that can be directly linked to ethnicity are those related to boundary conflicts, like the Ethiopian-Eritrea war from 1998 to 2000, and the 21 year North Sudan-South Sudan civil conflict. The artificial colonial boundaries that sometimes cut through the middle of villages dividing families and ethnic groups into citizens of different countries have been a worrying cause of conflicts for post-colonial Africa.
We have had farfetched explanations for some of Africa's civil conflicts, like the BBC's assertion that the Darfur conflict could be a result of climate change. The credibility of the asserted causes for civil conflict will always be a matter of debate, but it might be of necessity that we take a closer look at the bigger picture in terms of the geopolitical factors contributing to the prevalence of civil conflicts in Africa.
We have had a series of civil conflicts that can be described as directly caused by politically motivated clashes resulting from electoral disputes and the search for "democracy." Recent examples include Ethiopia (2005), Kenya (2007), Zimbabwe (2008), Burundi (2010), Guinea (2010), Cote d'Ivoire (2011), South Sudan (2011), DRC (2011), and Uganda (2011). Although the Nigerian election of 2011 was described as the fairest in the history of the country, the pre-election violence that occurred claimed over 800 lives. There were widespread reports of gross intolerance of opposition politics in Rwanda in the run up to the 2010 election, and the attack on civilians in Abyei by the government forces of South Sudan was yet another brazen show of political intolerance towards opposition.
In all these cases there is always talk about Western intervention, just like France is currently engaged in military intervention in northern Mali. The civil conflicts offer an excellent pretext for the Western imperial forces to pursue selfish economic interests that would be hard to achieve under conditions of peace. France's interest in Mali's mining sector is largely believed to be the major motivating factor in this intervention, just like oil was the real cause for France and NATO's brutal military intervention in the Gaddafi era Libya.
There is a French business population of about 5 000 in Cote d'Ivoire, and that group controls 25percent of the country's economy. To safeguard the narrow interests of this minority group France had to make another military intervention that ousted Laurent Gbabo from power in 2011 - resulting in the installation of the more pliant Alassane Quattara. Gbabo, like Omar Bashir of Sudan has been indicted at the ICC, a Western controlled Kangaroo Court that should be aptly named the International Court of Criminals - if the behaviour of criminals in Western leadership is accorded the international concern it deserves. Kenya and DRC contribute the biggest chunk of the ICC-indicted people, and the Western hand in the affairs of these countries is indisputable, especially in the advocacy leading to the indictments.
Western sponsored "democracy wars" that have destabilised the continent in the past 20 years include the civil wars in Mozambique, Liberia, Uganda and Libya.
Western multi-party democracy is no panacea for peace in Africa, and it can safely be asserted that Western-initiated democracy has caused untold suffering for African civilians.
The concept of democracy has been given misplaced priority in many countries in Africa today. In Zimbabwe the Western sponsored Movement for Democratic Change has prioritised its Western idea of democracy over more pressing human necessities, and a good example is the party's misplaced prioritising of "free and fair elections" over the country's mass based land reform programme and the popular economic indigenisation policy. Zimbabwe's land reform programme is steadily progressing towards being a massive success story despite the relentless Western propaganda that has demonised the initiative as primitive racism against white commercial farmers, and in favour of "unskilled" black masses. The current economic empowerment policy has been vilified in equal measure - with some baselessly asserting the implementation of the programme has been partisan and politically administered.
It is not new that indigenous initiatives are ferociously opposed by former colonial powers. Such opposition led to the bloody NATO bombings that ravaged Libya in 2011. Arguably Africa's best success story ever, Gaddafi's Jamahiriya was made to appear like the initiative of an absolute lunatic, and it was grossly misrepresented to the world as a dictator's way of retaining power. This is despite the fact that Libya's economy under Gaddafi was the best ever in Africa.
We are told today that there is plenty of democracy in Western favoured countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, and so on. In fact there is plenty democracy and no electricity in Nigeria, just like there is plenty democracy and no food in Malawi, plenty democracy and plenty poverty in Ghana.
We have leaders in Africa who in a bid to appear democratic to Westerners choose to invest more in elections than in education and healthcare.
Zimbabwe's constitution-making process has gobbled more money than the education sector since the process started, and the country had two very expensive elections in 2008, one in March and another June. This year, there will be another two very expensive elections, namely the referendum for the expensively drafted constitution and an election to end the four year coalition government that was put in place after the troubled 2008 election. The financial price to keep Western style democratic appearances is quite exorbitant. Between 2000 and 2010 the country held four general elections, excluding the June 2008 runoff election. In all these elections Zanu-PF has rightly been complaining about Western meddling in the political affairs of the country, and the West has been openly trying to assert its influence to determine an outcome favourable to their own selfish economic interests.
Instead of our elections being the platform to afford the populace a chance to choose a leadership of their choice, we have a situation where elections have been reduced to a tool for imperialism, and we sadly have people who think elections in themselves can create democracy. Elections will only facilitate democracy if there are democratic choices to make through those elections. There is no way elections can lead to democracy in a country whose economy is not democratised, whose majority lives in dire poverty, or whose economy is in the control of minority foreigners.
Africa we are one and together we will overcome. It's homeland or death!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDNEY, Australia.