By ’YEMI ADUROTOYE, West Africa Editor
Violence has come to characterize life in Africa. It has turned out to be the continent’s substitute for poverty as its second name. Why is this so? Many have cared to ask! Perhaps it is because of its prevalence.
In this context, violence is considered to be “action taken with extreme force, which is intended to cause destruction, pain or suffering and sometimes death.” However, widespread fighting and
injustice are also classified as violence. This has for a long time coloured life in most African countries.
Dr Samuel Kobia, Kenyan Reverend and development analyst, has identified different forms of violence in Africa tracing the history to liberation struggles. Looking at it from historical perspective, he
said, “political independence in Africa was achieved through violence in response to colonialism and imperialism.”
Some of the forms of violence identified include independence struggles and self-financing civil wars, next generation of political leaders’ take-over attempt, sponsorship of private armies and killer
squads, gang violence and terrorism. In all of these, civilians, particularly women and children, are the main victims. Sadly too, child soldiers have now become a pattern in Africa Reasons adduced to cause violence are political and economy-related.
Complaints arising from harsh economic conditions created by the debt, debt servicing, IMF and World Bank’s dictates as well as policy changes on state subsidies often lead to uprising.
Kobia dated back the genesis of violence to the time of the Mau Mau war in Kenya and the Algerian liberation struggles in the 1950s through which independence was achieved in the 1960s. Subsequently, there were struggles against Portuguese colonialism in Guinea Bissau, Angola and Mozambique in the mid-1970s, and finally in Namibia and South Africa to close the fight for independence. This violence was legitimised by the need to overthrow colonial domination in Africa.
Following independence struggles thereafter came civil wars.
Unfortunately, most civil wars that were fought in the past were not based on ideological grounds but over who controls economic wealth – a struggle for the control of mineral resources.
When Sierra Leone was embroiled in a brutal civil war; USA and Britain criticised Presidents Charles Taylor of Liberia and Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso for aiding and abetting violence. There was similar development in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The legitimacy of any of the splinter groups’ claims to be liberation movements was questionable.
Another type of violence has come to be known as competition for power by the second generation of political leaders in Africa. For example, in response to the despotism of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, Ugandans introduced a new style of liberation movement in the early 1980s.
Ugandans in exile, joined by other Africans who also saw the need to struggle against despots in their own country, organised themselves to acquire military training.
That was the take-off point of Uganda/Rwanda connection. The Ugandan National Resistance Movement (NRM) invited Rwandese refugees, most of whom were Tutsis, to join hands with them. After Yuweri Museveni took power in 1986, he in turn helped the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front
(RPF) to take over Kigali in 1994. This approach was adopted by DRC.
In 1996, with the support of Uganda and Rwanda, Congolese in exile were able to take over Kinshasa and put Laurent Kabila in power.
A similar trend unfolded Sierra Leone where the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the leadership of Foday Sankoh supported Charles Taylor to fight in Liberia. Once Taylor came to power in Monrovia, he helped Sankoh to take over Freetown, replacing the democratically elected president Kabbah. When Kampala fell in 1986, the troops who spearheaded the takeover were mainly young boys. That was the first time we heard of child soldiers in Africa.
Another very disturbing characteristic of contemporary uprisings in Africa is the violence against civilian communities. Olara Otunnu, the UN under-secretary for Children and Armed Conflict, describes the killing of innocent civilians, particularly women, children and old people, as “abomination and un-African”.
Most of those who are dying in today’s civil wars, terrorism and violence in Africa are civilians and not soldiers. This is a tragic indictment of African political leaders who think little of their peoples’ lives. For instance, the Boko Haram sect-inflicted insurgency in the North-East of Nigeria has been disparaged as needless. What are they fighting for? There is no legitimate reason for them to be fighting for years, after putting close to 200 Chibok girls in captivity. What is worse is that resources that should be used for the benefit of the people are being used to acquire the weapons used in the killing field.
A new phenomenon of the violence in Africa is the use of private armies or killer squads. This is different from either liberation movements or national armies. For instance, in the DRC, a few years
ago, individual power-mongers took the advantage of the existence of about five factions to develop private armies in their bids for control of the state.
Another type of violence that deserves attention is young people’s responses to societies that offer them no hope. In Nigeria, there are those called Niger-Delta Militants, Independent People of Biafra,
Oodua Peoples’ Congress, etc. In Kenya and South Africa among others, gangs of young people who dropped out of school because of poverty are finding new ways to share the wealth of the society. These gangs are well armed because small arms are readily available anywhere.
Analytical observation of the post-cold war democratization process, showed that violence has been precipitated by nepotism and politics of ethnicity. Afraid to face free and fair elections, incumbents have promoted politically-motivated ethnic clashes. For example, in the run-up to Kenya’s 1992 general elections when multi-party system became inevitable; ethnic groups, which for years lived peacefully together, suddenly began to fight.
Mrs. Fatou Njie, Gambian Ambassador to Nigeria, has lent her voice to the call on African leaders to seek for ways of putting absolute end to violence in the continent. “If leaders in Africa would make
meaningful development and improve the quality of lives of their people, they must address the problem of rising violence across the
Njie made the remark recently at the University of Ilorin while
delivering a lecture titled: “African Youth Say No to Violence”. The lecture was at the instance of African Youth Action Network.
The envoy traced the causes of most violence ravaging the continent to
include political differences, regional sentiment, xenophobic
consideration, misunderstanding in the home-front and cross-border
terrorism. She therefore called for concerted effort towards peace on
the continent, saying: Peace is non-negotiable if the continent is to
Unfettered access to quality education, skill acquisition and mass
employment are some of the ways she suggested in combating the menace,
even as she expresses belief in the use of technology in the promotion
of peace. While advocating for a refocus towards promotion of family
values, she urged African youths and leaders to shun acts that could
trigger violence, saying: “I challenge you all to think big, think
positive and aim high”
With so much hardship to contend with, one wonders how ordinary
Africans survive. Africa is largely excluded from global trade because
of backwardness in technology, and the nation state is extremely weak.
Interestingly, the people are surviving. The people’s strength is the
institutions of affection – such as the family and the community –
which represent a very positive and good side of the continent. The
other is the resilience of spirit.
Though the western media have not helped matters, the image of Africa
being projected as a continent is one in despair, famine, disease and
tribal warfare. But the media hardly touch the way Africans look at
life, Africa’s life-centered ethic, the communities in Africa in which
the art of living and even of dying are well understood – the positive
side of Africa.
The ever-growing talks about conflict resolution by groups inside and
outside Africa has minimal impact as a type of social intervention.
Dealing with all forms violent uprisings in Africa requires a deeper
understanding of the problems and holistic approach towards putting an
end to them.
For Africa, there is still a lot of hope. But the dangerous reality
is: There is a class of Africans with an immense thirst for power and
who are largely responsible for the new forms of violence.
Fatou Mas Jobe-Njie