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Poverty is the driving force behind conflicts in Africa

Dr Adeoye O Akinola is head of research and teaching at the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation. He recently penned an opinion article that first appeared in The Star: 9 September 2021.

In July, South Africans and the global community watched in horror as lawlessness and violence, unprecedented in the country’s democratic history, were unleashed. What had started as pro-Zuma protests, after his imprisonment for contempt of court, became a free-for-all looting spree, uncontrolled criminality, and wholesale arson of factories and warehouses that caused an estimated R50 billion in damages. More than 40 000 businesses, and 300 banks and post offices were destroyed, 300 lives were lost in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

While the Cyril Ramaphosa-led government could have reacted more swiftly, the administration has restored order to the warring zones due to the resilience of South Africa’s socio-political institutions. However, some of the conflict areas remain volatile.

Further afield, on July 29, the capital of Chad, N’Djamena, was a theatre of mass protest in opposition to the military junta, which took control of the country after the long- serving ruler, president Idriss Déby Itno, died in April while reportedly leading a four-week offensive against rebels in northern Chad.

The military, now led by Idriss’s son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, immediately assumed power. The main opposition party, The Transformers, and civil society actors mobilised the people against the democratic reversal such as repealing the constitution and “the confiscation of power” by the Transitional Military Council under Mahamat’s leadership. Mahamat has personalised power since April and embarked on regime consolidation, together with 14 generals who were loyal to his father.

The Chadian military has tried to gain local and international alliances but based on their autocratic nature, there is a growing apprehension about the future of democracy in the Central African country. While France had initially pledged support for the military regime, it has since made a dramatic U-turn and called for the formation of a civilian national unity government.

Chad, which serves as the main Western ally against Islamic militants across the Sahel, has been battling with an armed group, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad. About nine people were reportedly killed during the July protest, and seven died during similar protests in April and May. Intercommunal clashes and flooding, caused by climate change, continue to also claim lives and displace people in Lac province.

In March, between 20 000 and 30 000 were forced to flee because of sporadic attacks in Bohoma, a village in the province. They joined the 208 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 13 900 refugees in Lac province.

Other African states have experienced incessant threats to human security. In Nigeria, a UN Development Programme report recently revealed that attacks from the dreaded Boko Haram, including its splinter group – Islamic State West Africa Province, and Fulani herdsmen have resulted in 2.7 million IDPs and 350 000 deaths.

Besides the infiltration of Boko Haram’s terrorism in Chad, the spill-over effects of conflicts in its neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Libya, Sudan, and Niger – have compounded its quest for stability. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 237 000 refugees and 300 000 IDPs are living in Niger, which includes an additional 4 000 refugees and 2,000 newly displaced in 2021 due to attacks in the Tillabéri and Tahoua regions.

In June, armed men unleashed violence on a village – Solhan – in north-east Burkina Faso near the Nigerian border. This attack claimed 138 lives and 40 sustained injuries, and the gun-wielding men set residential areas and the market ablaze.

In 2016, what started as a protest by the two anglophone regions against marginalisation by the majority French-speaking government has turned Cameroon into a war zone. The violent conflict between the central government and minority separatist groups has killed more than 4 000 people and displaced more than a million, including 66 899 refugees who fled to Nigeria.

Boko Haram has killed more than 3 000 people and displaced 250 000 in northern Cameroon. The country has also played host to 441 000 refugees, mostly from Nigeria and the Central African Republic.

Despite slow efforts to silence the guns in Africa, cases of bloodletting abound. What accounts for the expanding proliferation of conflicts? Colonial legacy? While this is close to the heart, the false promise of liberal democracy and capitalism systems have exposed the fragility of the disjointed elitist states that are dependent on global financial oligarchs, many of which are governed by greedy, corrupt, and inept leaders.

Democratisation in Africa, which is seen as the antidote to both internal resurrections and external aggressions, has deepened poverty, structural violence, identity assertiveness and the politicisation of ethnic groups. Poverty remains closely associated with conflict. Of the 157 countries ranked in the 2019 global Human Capital Index, Chad occupied the last position, with 6.3 million Chadians living in extreme poverty.

Military intervention is nothing but an aberration. Africa’s governing elites should implement effective governance and tackle the root causes of conflict – inequality and poverty. National, sub-regional, and regional actors should focus on “silencing the pervasive poverty” in Africa, before reviewing the ambitious AU’s project of “silencing the guns”.

*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.

dr adeoye o akinola
Dr Adeoye O Akinola
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