So often I hear people talk about Africa and usually the conversation involves fear and propaganda. Many people seem to think that Africans are somehow hardwired for violence and that conflict rages on while animist heathens dwell in poverty in the background. That we shouldn’t bother to send more peacekeeping troops because there is little point. That these civil conflicts will never be resolved.
The problem with this thinking is that it is severely flawed and missing some very important details. Firstly, the tendency to label conflicts as “civil wars” is quite worrisome. These conflicts are not civil. For example, the conflict that is raging on in the DRC is connected to the conflicts in Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda (and many other regional and international bodies). This is not a civil conflict– it is a regional and international one. And that being said, it requires a regional solution with international structures to back it up and cut off foreign incentives.
Why do we continue to label conflicts as “civil wars”? Simply, because this label gives the international leaders freedom to ignore the violence. A regional or international war requires intervention to stop its spread. The international government has learned their lesson from wars of the past and made structures to stop atrocities, didn’t they? It would seem not. These wars are spreading– rapidly. They cross over into neighboring countries, as inadequate peacekeeping forces are unable to properly secure the areas or implement lasting peacebuilding structures. So often these structures are based on only one tiny aspect of the overall problem in one country and not the underlying and intensive regional and international dynamics that also play their roles. Sending in peacekeepers is only one piece of the puzzle necessary. We must attack the disease and not just its symptoms. We must address the roots of the conflict, the fire that ensures it continues.
Secondly, Africans are not hard-wired for violence and do not all live an unhappy, impoverished life. There is poverty in many areas, but there is also a lot of hope and happiness, and the possibility of peace. The violence that rages on in many of the African countries is directly related to colonial influence or international pressures. The average person here is not naturally violent. Violence is cyclical. If a child is exposed to constant violence, they are more likely to be violent themselves. If a child is exposed to war and the culture of war– the will be more likely to support war. They will be more likely to be abducted or persuaded into war. If they are constantly exposed to injustice, some will rage. If they are living in poverty, some will steal to survive. Some will steal to thrive. This is the culture of war and injustice.
Colonial powers arbitrarily decided ethnicity in many parts of Africa and gave administrative advantage to those ethnic groups they deemed “superior”. Many of the government structures in these areas still reflect the ethnic advantages bestowed by the colonial powers, or the attempt to overthrow the unbalance after independence. A dominant majority of the population that is subservient to a powerful minority becomes frustrated at the injustice, often leading to conflict, uprising and hatred. Especially when some are denied even basic human rights. Creating more equitable and balanced governments is imperative to peace in this region, overthrowing the colonial shackles of the status quo. Creating just laws that are actually enforced and more equitable systems will only help to build the social trust. Engaging the population in dialogue will not erase the past, but can help in healing.
International powers bestow political advantage and power to certain leaders who have proven themselves time and again majorly corrupt and human rights abusing. The international powers allow these leaders to receive benefits for stolen resources, loans and other incentives with little accountability. Leaders such as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni (and he is definitely not alone), receive extensive loan packages that have been proven to go almost entirely to violence. The loaning institutions have reports that their loan to Uganda is helping to fund a leader who interned an entire portion of the population. This population is interned in what is called “displacement camps” where they are denied basic health, water, and freedoms and subjected to continual raids and massacres by rebels and government parties. Yet we continue to supply this leader, who would purposely displace almost an entire ethnic group of his country into death camps, with money, supplies and power. Why are we letting this go on? Maybe we cannot stop the war entirely, but we can certainly stop feeding it.
Africa is no more violent than North America; the only difference is that in North America we hide away our violence and make our wars on foreign soil. We contribute to it through our policies, our lending, and our spending– but distance ourselves just enough to label ourselves as non-violent and democratic.