Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Are Private Military Companies the solution to Africa's insecurity? (By Nkanyiso Sibanda)

The role of Private Military Companies (PMCs) in the implementation of defense, development and security in Africa is the subject of much contentious debate from different people. In some circles, PMCs are seen as necessary and major role players in the implementation of defense, development and security in Africa. This is more so “given the lack of interest by key powers in solving conflicts in Africa” as well as the inability of states to contain or counter internal violence. As a result, many governments in Africa have engaged the services of internationally operating PMCs such as (among others) the American firms Military and Professional Resources International (MPRI), Dyncorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE), while more ‘traditional’ security companies such as Saracen, Gray Security and others were active in a number of countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Africa (Gumedze, 2007).

The ‘success’ of Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone, in contrast to the failure of key powers to solve the conflicts therein, is often cited as an example of how PMCs can be a solution to Africa’s insecurity. United Nations peace-keeping missions in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have outsourced their supply and needs to PMCs (Gumedze, 2007). The United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions in Ethiopia and Eritrea contracted a commercial de-mining team to replace the Slovak military de-mining group. PMCs are considered by some as more reliable, effective and neutral than state security services controlled by African governments (Brooks, 2002:1).

While PMCs have been central to peace efforts in some African conflicts, this has not been entirely the case with others. Mercantilism, coup plots, the proliferation of arms, Human Rights violations, War Crimes, lack of accountability and the worsening structural paralysis in Africa’s weak states have been cited as the darker side of PMCs, which has threatened stability to African countries. They have been blamed for instigating conflicts, human rights abuses, for intensifying wars, for dealing in conflict diamonds, for landmines, for child soldiers, selling small arms to warlords and even for neo-colonialism (Brooks, 2002:1).

Evidently, the usefulness or not, of PMCs regarding solving Africa’s conflicts is a topic of much debate. This paper seeks to engage that debate and analyze whether or not PMCs provide the solution to solving conflicts in Africa. It will proceed as follows: a brief definition of PMCs will be given. Here, the differences between PMCs, Private Security Companies (PSCs) and mercenaries will be highlighted. Focus will then shift to the advantages and disadvantages of PMCs in solving some conflicts in Africa. While reference will be made to the involvement of PMCs in some other conflicts in Africa, attention will be specifically on the involvement of Executive Outcomes (EO) in Angola and Sierra Leone. The paper will then conclude by showing that PMCs can be the solution to African insecurity, more so given the lack of interests by key powers in solving conflicts in Africa.

What are Private Military Companies?
According to Spear (2006:7), PMCs are “corporate entities that provide military expertise and other professional services essential to combat and warfare.” Gumedze and Baker (2007:2) proceed further to state that “other professional services” is a reference to activities that are extremely open ended and in some cases, uncomfortably close to mercenary activities. Singer (2001:2) forwards that PMCs are “corporate bodies that specialize in the provision of military skills – including tactical combat operations, strategic planning, intelligence gathering and analysis, operational support, troop training and technical assistance.” Makki (et al) (2004:4) is of the opinion that PMCs are corporate entities that provide “offensive services” designated to have a military impact in a given situation that are generally contracted by governments. Vines (1998:1) defines PMCs as
“[T]hose organizations which do more than provide passive assistance in areas of conflict. They may provide training and equipment to extend the capabilities of their client’s military resources, providing them with the strategic or operational advantage that is necessary to suppress their opposition or, going even further, play an active role alongside the client forces, as force multipliers, deploying their own personnel in the field of conflict, but with the strict caveat that they are acting within the chain of command of the client’s military hierarchy.”
Beyani and Lilly (2001) identify PMCs as registered corporate bodies with legal personalities that often provide military and security services of a different nature and for a different purpose to the activities of mercenaries. They however often employ mercenaries, but they differ in that they are often hired by governments, ostensibly to provide public security where as, non state armed groups, aiming to undermine the constitutional order of states generally hire mercenaries (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:16).

Gumedze and Baker (2007:2) identify a PMC as “an entity that offers services aimed at addressing security concerns through a variety of security engagements”. PMCs are different from mercenaries based on the work that they do. PMCs normally consist of retired military personnel, who are no longer active in security forces and who offer a wide range of services from combat and operational support or advice and training, to arms procurement, intelligence gathering, hostage rescue and other services (Gumedze and Baker, 2007:2).

Mercenaries are perceived symbolically as foreign individuals fighting for, and motivated by gain (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:15). A negative stigma is attached to mercenaries because they profit from the scourge of war without regard for the suffering that it inflicts on communities (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:15). Article 47 to Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (1977) defines a mercenary as any person who:
a. Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
b. Does in fact take a direct part in the hostilities;
c. Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain, and in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that party;
d. Is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
e. Is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
f. Has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

The Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (2004:2) defines mercenaries as “individuals who fight for financial gain in foreign wars … [and who are] primarily used by armed groups and occasionally by governments. Goddard (2001:8) gives a broader view of a mercenary as “an individual or organization financed to act for a foreign entity within a military style framework, including conduct of military-style operations, without regard for ideals, legal or moral commitments, and domestic and international law.” It is important however to note that there is not a single and solid definition of what actually constitutes a mercenary (Messner, 2007:58)[1].
PSCs share the same corporate attributes and command structures as PMCs. A major difference between them lies in the range of services that they both provide (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:18). PSCs provide protection services for individuals and property and are used by extractive national or multinational companies, humanitarian organizations and individuals, mainly in situations of armed conflict, violence or instability (Mpako, 2002). They are mainly concerned with crime prevention and public order concerns: they might provide private guard services for prisons, airports, installations, and private individuals, as in the case of Group 4 and Securicor in the UK (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:18). Their services are not intended to influence the outcome of a conflict as they provide mainly guard and police type services. PMCs on the other hand, do have a major impact on the course and outcome of armed conflict.

Generally speaking, most PMCs have refrained from signing contracts with non-State armed actors (stating that they will only work for internationally-recognized governments) although the fact that there are few legal safeguards to prevent them doing so is a cause for concern (Makkie (et al) 2001:5). PMCs provide services that are designed to significantly influence a given situation for the benefit of a legitimate government (Mpako, 2002). According to Messner, (2007:58).

The nature of the client is a key difference between the operations of the PMCs and the activities of illegitimate actors. PMCs are bound by a mixture of laws, industry ethics and accountability to owners or shareholders. As a result, they only contract with legitimate governments. Even then, companies will tend to turn down contracts that do not fit their corporate ethos, and may impact on their long-term reputation or ability to win future contracts. Others will not conduct services that are of questionable or unclear legality. Generally, incentives ensuring appropriate behaviour are very strong.

PSCs on the other hand, are usually used by multinational or national companies or by humanitarian agencies in situations of conflict or instability while mercenaries are simply after profit with no regard for democratically elected governments or civilian suffering.
From the above definitions, evidently there are areas of overlap between these three groups of actors, particularly when PMCs hire mercenaries or where certain companies provide ‘dual services’ including both defensive security and offensive military capabilities (Makki (et al) 2001:6). PMCs are different from mercenaries and Private Security Companies (PSCs) in the services that they provide as well as the activities that they engage in – including their target clients, which may be governments, multinational corporations or humanitarian agencies (Makki (et al) 2001:5). However, some pundits argue that they act in such a manner indistinguishable from classic mercenaries at the behest of their economic or political paymasters (Cilliers, 1999:2).

Criticisms against PMCs
The numerous similarities and overlapping duties between the services offered by PMCs mercenaries and private security companies have brought a tirade of criticisms against PMCs. The distinct lack of transparency in the operations of PMCs obviates proper public scrutiny of their activities and causes controversy (Beyani and Lilly, 2001:17). They have been labeled numerous disparaging terms ranging from “dogs of war” to “mercenaries.” They have been accused of fueling conflict and promoting ‘clientalism.’ PMCs have also been singled out for human rights abuses and war crimes, looting and rampaging communities.

According to Foaleng (2007:47), the presence of PMCs in conflict torn countries poses the risk of militarizing the society. PMCs facilitate arms proliferation in societies and influence the balance of military power, exacerbating tensions among protagonists – furthermore, the dividing line between trading in arms and military training is difficult to determine (Foaleng, 2007:47). This is because procuring and brokering small arms and light weapons for use in conflict is a central role of PMCs. The link between PMCs and arms trade relates not only to their role in obtaining or facilitating the purchase of weapons but also how the military and security services that they provide contributes to the demand for, and misuse of, weapons in the regions where they operate (Makki, 2001:7).

Musah (2002:913) argues that what is known as a PMC is in effect, the logical transformation of traditional mercenary activities into a new form altogether. These PMCs can be better understood as private mercenary contractors because they organize mercenaries into temporary armies for combat operations in foreign conflicts on behalf of a party to that conflict (Musah, 2002:913). This is confirmed by the blurry divide between PMCs and mercenaries. They are neo-mercenaries that have become the advance shock troops that pacify rich enclaves for resource exploitation by extraction companies which are closely tied to them (Musah, 2002:913).

PMCs have also been accused of taking away the responsibility of a state to provide security and monopolise force. In his lecture, ‘Politics as a Vocation,’ Weber (1919) defined a “state” as a territorial entity which claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, which it may nonetheless elect to delegate as it sees fit. Although primeval, this definition is accepted and used in modern day academic discourses to define and understand what a state is. One of the four aspects emphasized by Weber (1919) is ‘monopoly of the means of physical violence.’ Some African countries in Africa do not fit into this definition because they do not have a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. PMCs are increasingly supplanting the primary responsibility of the state to provide both security for its people’s and for lucrative multinational and domestic business activities (Cilliers, 1999).

Another area of concern regarding the operation of PMCs has been the violation of UN and other regional arms embargoes (Makki, 2001:8). For example, in 1998, Sandline International signed a contract with the then-exiled President of Sierra Leone, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, to supply a 35 tonne shipment of arms from Bulgaria which led to controversy about whether this was in contravention of the UN arms embargo on the country at the time[2]. While most arms embargoes do not cover military services, the UN Security Council sanctions on Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000 made such provisions (Makki, 2001:8). The resolution prohibited any sale or supply or aid in procurement of arms and related material of all types or related material as well as the provision of technical assistance or training related to prohibited materials.

PMCs have also been accused of failing to provide long lasting solutions to African conflicts. They ignore the deeply embedded and complex situations and causes of conflicts and address only the surface and shallow causes of fighting. They only bring peace which vanishes immediately as soon as they exit the country of operation. The so-called stability and security brought by PMCs is often fragile and does not address the fundamental political and socio-economic issues that prompt conflicts (Francis, 1999:329). For example, the security provided by EO collapsed like a pack of cards soon after their departure from Sierra Leone, which culminated in the overthrow of the civilian government while is Angola, the so called security only exacerbated the conflict after EO’s departure (Francis, 1999:329).

The need for PMCs in Africa
Despite the negatives associated with PMCs, there are also positives regarding the employ of PMCs in Africa’s conflicts.
With the end of independence in many African countries, security has been an exception. There was a much greater degree of security in pre-independent African countries where security was designed to primarily protect the European colonists, not the indigenous people (McGowan, 2001). Colonial police and military were instilled with a strong sense of professionalism and duty by the colonial powers. Security personnel in pre-independent Africa were paid regularly, were adequately equipped and were guaranteed a pension when they retired and in the early days of independence, they were critical to the stability of African states (Brooks, 2002:3). With independence, the capability of these military forces declined and the professionalism that characterized them disappeared. African leaders, fearing coups, deliberately weakened their militaries by purging out the best officers (McGowan, 2001). Subsequently, post independence militaries in many African states deteriorated quickly and corruption has abounded. Most African militaries are little more than show pieces for annual independence celebrations and disintegrate quickly when required to perform tasks (Brooks, 2002:3).

Numerous examples[3] exist of military ineptness in Africa. For example, the performance of the Zairian army in the final months of the Mobutu regime – which was unprepared for actual combat, ran and looted unarmed civilians rather than face even the most feeble of attacks from the rag tag rebel factions walking west from Rwanda (Brooks, 2002:3). Zambian troops participated as a part of the UN’s UNAMSIL peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. However, they did not have even the most basic equipment and had to be completely resupplied before they could be deployed into the field – when the RUF rebels attacked UNAMSIL in May 2000, the Zambians were quickly decimated, with hundreds being captured or killed in a matter of hours (Brooks, 2002:4).

Key powers have been loath to intervene militarily in African conflicts because of a number of reasons; the danger and complexities involved have caused pundits to argue that the underlying causes of conflict must be first addressed prior to any sort of armed intervention – no matter how horrendous the cost of delay in human terms (Richards, 2005:123). Others are against this argument and point out that in too many conflicts, the average age of the combatants is younger than the wars themselves. For these and other reasons, military intervention is rarely utilized even in the most pressing cases such as Rwanda or in cases where the need was glaringly desperate. This has also been exacerbated by the new war against terrorism which is seen as requiring more military manpower. Instead of direct military intervention, key powers in the West have focused on addressing some of the symptoms of African wars, while doing little to end the wars themselves (Brooks, 2002:5). Numerous campaigns have been held against “Blood diamonds”, “Landmines”, “child soldiers” but these have not had much (if anything at all) to do with the actual conflicts, and the shocking lack of security for the average African (McGowan, 2003). This apparent lack of interest by key powers to get involved in solving conflicts in Africa has left PMCs as the only willing, able and competent military forces to intervene in African conflicts (Brooks, 2002:5).

A significant reason for utilizing PMCs in conflicts is the fact that some services, such as heavy aviation, are not readily available to most militaries in the world, let alone in Africa. Therefore, it is only sensible to outsource these to PMCs who can do the job efficiently and faster (Messner, 2007:61). In peace operations, PMCs provide services needed in military operations in a professional and efficient manner – services that African militaries themselves are lacking in capacity or will to provide (Messner, 2007:62). The UN, for example, relies on member countries for troops. Events such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide which happened before the very eyes of UN peacekeepers, is a grave testimony to the severe shortcomings of UN peacekeeping capacities. As some countries have become disillusioned with UN intervention, scandals such as the UN Oil for Food Program, and regular allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in Congo, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and elsewhere only add to the apparent limitations of the UN and emphasise its inability to adequately train, control and even vet its peacekeepers (Messner, 2007:62). PMCs thus can be utilised to make operations more capable and cost effective, thus reducing the required size-and problems-of interventions and dependence on member states’ militaries.

PMCs have their reputations to preserve for future contracts and as such, they offer greater accountability and professionalism. They strive to fulfil their contractual obligations because successfully fulfilled tasks increase the likelihood that they will be employed again in future. Most of them comprise ex-military and professionally trained personnel equipped with the appropriate skills and expertise and vasts levels of experience (Messner, 2007:62). Since jeopardising the lives of employees is highly unwelcome and very unprofitable, PMCs allocate greater attention to risk management in conflict situations.

Case Study - Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone
The notable role of the PMC Executive Outcomes (EO) in the conflicts in Angola and Sierra Leone demonstrates the potential superiority of PMCs to providing security guarantees in African conflicts when compared to traditional UN military forces. This is because of the comparatively robust structure and interest based capabilities of PMC forces (Fitzsimmons, 2005:1). Their involvement in African conflicts has shown that they are better suited to provide strong security guarantees in peace operations.

Angola held its first democratic elections on the 29th and 30th of September, 1992. Immediately after the elections however, there were tensions in the country after the close of polls, when government media began to broadcast results, not released by the National Electoral Commission, reflecting victories for the Movimento Popular de’Libertacao de Angola (MPLA) and President Dos Santos in many constituencies (Cleary, 1999:153). A number of opposition parties protested to the National Electoral Commission, citing irregularities and varying degrees of inaccuracy and inconsistencies.

Opposition parties called for the UN to investigate the claims and after the investigations, when UN representative, Margaret Anstee declared victory for the MPLA, however and a plurality for Dos Santos – requiring a second presidential ballot in elections that, despite irregularities, were said to be generally free and fair – tensions rose (Cleary, 1999:153). There were clashes between different political party supporters. In an effort to avert a crisis, negotiations were arranged in Luanda in the last week of October between teams representing the government and Uniciao Nacional para la Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA) (Cleary, 1999:153). However, between October 31 and November 2, while the negotiations to resolve the crisis were still under way, the riot police and units attacked and destroyed UNITA’s residences and party offices in Luanda, leading to the death of many and the capture of almost all its military and civilian cadres in the capital (Joras and Schuster, 2008:44). UNITA’s troops had by now occupied more municipal areas as well as the strategically important towns of Uige and Negage (Cleary, 1999:153).

By January, the UN estimated that UNITA controlled 105 of the country’s 164 municipalities. By February 3, the Christian Science Monitor was quoting diplomats in Luanda who said that UNITA controlled between 60 and 70 per cent of the country (Joras and Schuster, 2008:47). Government forces began to drive out UNITA’s supporters from Angola’s main cities. A civil war was now officially on with UNITA being condemned for violating Angola’s peace accords. The UN did not commit its troops to assisting in the war. Soon, Savimbi’s UNITA controlled 80 per cent of Angola’s country side, and the MPLA desperately sought help, which it could not obtain from Cuba and the Soviet Union (Howe, 1998:311).

As UNITA continued with the offensive throughout much of Angola, Heritage Oil and Gas introduced EO to the increasingly desperate MPLA government. Escalating fighting prompted the MPLA in Angola to contract with EO to fight against UNITA for which some EO personnel had previously fought (Howe, 1998:311). EO acted as a force multiplier, a small group whose specialized skills enhanced the effectiveness of a much larger force (Howe, 1998:312). It fielded a maximum of about 550 soldiers and trained about 5 000 government troops and 30 pilots (Joras and Schuster, 2008:48). The purpose of EO’s engagement was to recover the territory captured by UNITA between January and August 1993 and to shift the balance of military power in the Angolan government’s favour (Cleary, 1999:159). EO’s major turning point occurred in June 1994 when the EO trained 16th brigade triumphed over a strong UNITA force at N’dalatando, a strategic town outside Luanda (Howe, 1998:312). EO also helped recapture the diamond areas of Cafundo in mid July 1994 and the oil installations at Soyo by November (Cleary, 1999:160).

EO’s intervention greatly strengthened the government’s forces and ultimately forced Savimbi to the negotiating table. The approximately 500 men initially deployed by EO in Angola had a significant effect on the overall operational efficiency of government forces. The series of military defeats suffered by UNITA as a result of EO’s direct military assistance forced the rebel movement to the negotiating table (Francis, 1999:329). In effect, EO’s immediate strategic impact created the conditions for negotiations and a peace settlement, something which the UN and OAU had not been able to achieve throughout the conflict (Francis, 1999:329).

Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1992, championed by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the leadership of Foday Sankoh (Hirsh, 2000:33). The RUF launched its first campaign into eastern Sierra Leone on the 23rd of March 1991 at two points across the Liberian border (Richards, 2005:122). The conflict was waged by terror. Village chiefs were sent letters predicting when their settlements would be attacked (Richards, 2005:122). Thousands of people died and more than two million people were displaced by the conflict. Houses were burnt, community leaders tortured and killed. Neighboring countries became hosts to huge numbers of refugees attempting to escape the war.

A divided and inexperienced Sierra Leone national army failed to stop or deal with the rebels (Richards, 1996:1). According to Richards (1996), the RUF’s signature terror tactic was physical mutilation. An estimated 20 000 civilians suffered amputation with machetes and axes being used to sever arms, legs, lips and ears. Levels of atrocity were high. The poorly equipped and poorly trained Sierra Leone army was pushed back and the RUF gained control of the diamond mines in the Kono district (Hirsh, 2000). The RUF, aided by a general breakdown in order and disloyal government soldiers, had advanced by May 1995 to about 20 miles from Freetown (Howe, 1998:313). The Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces evinced many of the limitations which have encouraged the growth of private militaries (Howe, 1998:313). It hardly qualified as an army, despite its size of about 14 000 poorly trained and hastily recruited soldiers who lacked basic military professionalism and sometimes fought against each other (Howe, 1998:313).

The RUF’s political and economic paralysis of Sierra Leone reached crisis point when it occupied the diamond mines of Sierra Rutile and Sieromco in January 1995, nearly ending the government’s ability to repay IMF loans (Montague, 2002:233). One month into the RUF’s occupation of Sierra Rutile and Sieromco, the government was pressured into seeking out an alternative military arrangement (Montague, 2002:233). EO was formally introduced to the Sierra Leone government by Tony Buckingham, the CEO of Heritage Oil and Gas (Howe, 1998:313). Subsequently, in May 1995, Sierra Leone contracted EO to help its faltering four year campaign against the RUF as well as to drive RUF out of the diamond mining areas (Howe, 1998:313).

EO’s military progress was rapid. Once again, EO as a force multiplier provided technical services, combat forces and limited training. EO entered Sierra Leone with a small battalion of soldiers. Their use of helicopter gunships, pre-assault mortar barrages, and ground assaults proved to be effective against the RUF. Within a month of Sierra Leone’s hiring of EO in May 1995, the government had regained control of the diamond-rich Kono district. EO pushed RUF away from Freetown and re-opened roads to Freetown for food and fuel transport. By late January 1996, EO-backed forces had retaken the southern coastal rutile and bauxite mines, notably those belonging to Sierra Rutile and Sieromco (Pech, 1999:94). EO trained groups of inept soldiers to become far more capable fighters (Pech, 1999:94).

EO’s involvement in Sierra Leone facilitated a cease fire just like what had happened in Angola. The intervention by EO brought about a succession of military reverses for the RUF. There was a clear link between EO’s military operations and RUF’s willingness to negotiate (Francis, 1999:329). Military successes against the RUF made elections possible and most of the people who had been displaced by fighting were able to return to their homes (Francis, 1999:329). A handful of men had repelled thousands of RUF soldiers and left the country relatively peaceful.


Much has been said about whether or not PMCs are a solution to Africa’s insecurity, given the lack of interest by key powers in solving conflicts in Africa. In virtually every instance of their use, PMCs were specifically invited and welcomed by African governments (Brooks, 2002:1). They have assisted regional stability, supported fundamental law and order, protected threatened communities of civilians, curtailed the malicious activities of insurgents, and created conditions beneficial to economic growth and political development (Brooks, 2002:1). They have been very effective in re-establishing order in some cases and this has had huge positive implications for the livelihoods of innocent civilians plagued by the spread of violence or for state who can not themselves create stability and impose order (Leander, 2002:9). The cases of Angola and Sierra Leone are notable examples in this regard. Embattled governments have successfully turned to PMCs to help overcome vicious internal armed conflicts.

Subsequently, PMCs have become an important component of peace and stability in Africa’s conflicts. They possess the ability to respond to critical situations in a faster and impartial way. Their participation in conflicts has had significant consequences on the advent of democracy. They have facilitated conducive environments for democratic elections in some countries. The legitimate demand for PMCs in peace and stability operations has resulted because of the poor security personnel in countries utilizing the services of PMCs. In conflicts that they have participated in, PMCs have contributed profoundly to the implementation of democratic reforms and aided in ending suffering to some of Africa’s most brutal conflicts.

The case of EO in Angola and Sierra Leone demonstrated that PMCs can have advantages over state military companies. They have a clear line of command, more readily compatible military equipment and training, and greater experience. They are also less expensive than other foreign forces (Howe, 1998:309). PMCs have also accomplished tasks which both African and Western governments have approved of but hesitated to attempt themselves because of financial or political costs (Howe, 1998:309). Therefore, given the lack of interest by key powers, PMCs are the solution to Africa’s insecurity.

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[1] The International Convention against the Recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries adopted by the UN in 1989 also gives another definition of a mercenary. It defines a mercenary as
[A]ny person who:
· Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
· Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar rank and functions in the armed forces of that party;
· Is neither a national of a party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a party to the conflict;
· Is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict; and
· Has not been sent by a State which is not a party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

2. A mercenary is also any person who, in any other situation:
· Is specially recruited locally or abroad for the purpose of participating in a concerted act of violence aimed at: Overthrowing a Government or otherwise undermining the constitutional order of a State; or Undermining the territorial integrity of a State;
· Is motivated to take part therein essentially by the desire for significant private gain and is prompted by the promise or payment of material compensation;
· Is neither a national nor a resident of the State against which such an act is directed; Has not been sent by a State on official duty; and Is not a member of the armed forces of the State on whose territory the act is undertaken (UN Mercenary Convention 1989)

[2] UN Security Council, S/RES/1132, 8 October 1997, paragraph6.
[3] Although there are exceptions.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The relationship between migration and development in Africa (by Nkanyiso Sibanda)

While there may not exist a single and fixed definition of migration, most if not all definitions of migration refer to movement from one place of the world to another for the purpose of taking up permanent or temporary residence, usually across a political boundary (bbc, n.d.). Migration occurs at a variety of scales: inter-continentally (between continents), intra-continentally (between countries on a given continent), inter-regionally (within countries) and even regionally (within a region).

Development is another term that is broad and is defined in many ways depending on who is defining it and the context that it is being used. Here, the term development will be used to refer to improvement in a country's economic and social conditions. It is a complex term that takes in many different ideas. Put more simply, when referring to a country, it will be taken to mean reaching an acceptable standard of living for all people. It means that people have the basic things they need to live (World Bank, n.d.).

Migration is a key issue across Africa. Both within countries and across borders, it can be seen as an integral part of labour markets and livelihoods across much of the African continent for at least the last century (Black, et al, 2006). It has always been a major socio-economic issue and is inseparable from Africans’ way of life (International Organization for Migration, 2003). Over time, and in different places, migration has taken numerous different forms. It has cut across class and skill boundaries, and exists in widely different geographical and demographic contexts. Migration represents an important livelihood strategy for poor households seeking to diversify their sources of income, but is also characteristic of the better off, and indeed of many African elites (Black, et al, 2006).

In practice, however, the link between migration and poverty is often viewed negatively (ibid). It is assumed across much of the continent that it is poverty that forces poor people to migrate, rather than migration being a potential route out of poverty (ibid). The poor are also generally seen as the worst affected by conflict-induced migration, itself a prominent feature in Africa. The movement of skilled and/or wealthy Africans is also generally viewed negatively, for example, there is long-standing concern on the African continent with the impact of the ‘brain drain’ of African professionals (ibid). Only slowly, and in relatively few quarters, is understanding emerging of the potentially positive role that migration itself can play in reducing poverty, or of the possibilities for ‘mobilization’ of the African diasporas in the fight against poverty. Meanwhile, public policy remains a long way from building effectively on such understanding (ibid).

This article will discuss the relationship between migration and development in Africa on a general note first. Focus will then shift to Africa’s regions which have been divided into the West, East and the Southern Africa. Some countries in the North and Central Africa have been incorporated into one of the three regions because the scope of this essay[1] does not allow for discussion of all the regions, let alone a thorough in-depth discussion. For each of the three regions, one brief case study will be highlighted.

Some studies of migration focus on the negative aspects of migration which include, illegal immigrants, human trafficking, the fight for and over resources, over-population in the host country and so on. Large-scale departures of highly skilled and educated executives and university graduates have contributed to brain drain. Thousands of African professionals such as medical doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, managers and teachers leave Africa each year for more developed and stable first world countries. The main reasons for their departure include to improve their living conditions, either by pursuing studies or by seeking better-paying jobs. Others depart fleeing from insecurity and/or unstable political and socio-economic conditions (Migration for Development in Africa, n.d). The resulting brain drain heightens the dependency of African economies by compelling them to resort to costly foreign expertise in many areas, which in turn creates a widening vicious circle (ibid).

Numerous policy responses have been forwarded in response to the issue of ‘brain drain.’ There are intergovernmental initiatives, including through the African Union, that have sought to improve the quality of tertiary education in Africa, and the circulation of students and professionals within Africa (Black, et al, 2006:10). This has been done to remove the necessity of Africans going abroad for University training (Essy, 2003). For example, The Virtual African University, established by the world bank in 1997, also operates in 17 countries in Africa… (ibid). The ‘Migration for Development in Africa’ (MIDA) programme was established by the International Organisation for Migration to build partnerships between host countries and countries of origin of migrants and encourage the return of African professionals on temporary assignments.[2] The African Union, during an ‘Experts’ Meeting on Migration and Development in Africa’ held in Algiers Algeria on the 3rd to the 5th of April, 2006, established a ‘strategic framework’ policy on migration within its Social Affairs Directorate. One of the programme’s goals is to seek cooperation between countries to make effective use of the opportunity for development presented by migration.

The realization that migration does infact have notable positives has fueled interest in the relationship between migration and development in Africa. In some cases, the amount of remittances by migrants to developing countries is very substantial and at times even exceeds foreign assistance. International migration is now widely seen to have the potential to contribute to development and many governments and development agencies are seeking ways to maximize such resultant benefits. This essay will now focus on the synthesis between existing information on migration in Africa, and its relationship to development on the African continent, particularly specific regions in Africa.

Southern Africa has been referred to as a region that is literally on the move (McDonald, 2000). This mobility is as a result of numerous push factors which include; the end of apartheid in South Africa, the establishment of SADC, the violent land invasions in Zimbabwe, the DRC war, the ousting of Mr. Mbeki as the president of South Africa, the collapse of Zimbabwe’s socio-economic structure as well as other factors. These factors have led to an explosion of the numbers of people crossing borders in Southern Africa. Arguably, Southern African countries can be divided into migrant sending countries, which include – Zimbabwe, Zambia, DRC, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland; receiving countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Like anywhere else in Africa, the migrants send remittances to their home countries to fend for relatives and friends. In the receiving countries, migrants become a source of cheap labor for the host country and even contribute to the skilled personnel of the host country. There are therefore subsequent positives and negatives associated with migration and the case of Zimbabwe will be looked at.

· The case of Zimbabwe[3]
Historically, Zimbabwe has been a sender as well as receiver of migrants. The end of colonialism in 1980 saw a sizable number of white people leaving the country going back to Europe, especially Britain. It also saw a sizable number of people coming from other countries especially in Africa because then, Zimbabwe had arguably the best economy and currency on the continent,[4] and it was arguably the second best and most developed country after South Africa. It was referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Africa because of its well developed agriculture and its potential to produce so much food that it even exported some to other countries. It produced its own electricity at Kariba thermal power station, Hwange as well as Munyati power stations. Its development and socio-economic stability was a key pull factor for migrants from all across Africa and the world as a whole. As I write this essay, all this seems like a dream because Zimbabwe has sunk to such low living standards that many people are even referring to it as a ‘failed state’ (Ndlovu, 2008).

Zimbabwe’s steady decline since the early 1990s, which was accelerated by the farm invasions in 2000 and the ensuing anarchy saw huge numbers of highly skilled people leave the country. White commercial farmers, on whose farming Zimbabwe was dependent, were either violently forced to leave or decided to leave because of the violence and lawlessness that characterized the land reform programme. This saw a marked and sharp decline in agricultural production which subsequently saw a tremendous decline in the value of the Zimbabwean dollar, unprecedented on this earth in history. Currently, the rate of inflation is officially at 231 million percent. For a lay person, put differently, this means prices of commodities (should there be any found in the shops), increases literally more than three times a day. Pundits however estimate that inflation in Zimbabwe is in sextillions percent above the official rate (Kant, 2008).

The decline in the socio-economic structure of Zimbabwe has led to almost all professionals leaving the country to other countries, which exodus was led by white commercial farmers following the land invasions. South Africa is the main recipient of Zimbabwean migrants. It is estimated that about 5 million Zimbabweans live in South Africa alone (ibid). Zimbabwe is in dire shortage of skilled people such as teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, social workers and many other professionals and this has worsened the socio-economic situation in the country. Host countries such as Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia and even Britain and Australia have benefited immensely from such huge exodus of qualified Zimbabweans into their territories. These countries also enjoy the benefits of cheap labour as many of the migrants take up blue collar jobs such as driving, working in farms, cleaning the streets as well as other low key jobs[5]. In Zimbabwe, however, the skills’ shortage is hindering any development or improvement of the country’s socio-economic situation. The critical shortage of skilled people because of migration is evident in the dilapidated roads, the streets lights that are not being fixed, public transport system that has collapsed because the vehicles are down and can not be fixed, schools that have no teachers, hospitals that have no medical staff and many other developmental challenges that are associated with migration of skilled people from a country.

These people in the Diaspora however send remittances to Zimbabwe without which living in Zimbabwe would be unfathomable. The Zimbabwean Diaspora community now plays such a critical role in the well being of fellow Zimbabweans so much that trading in foreign currency is now legal. The local currency loses value every second. As of the weekending Friday December 5, the highest bill of exchange was the $200 million dollar note, enough to buy only 3 loaves of bread on the thriving black market. Only a week later, the Reserve bank of Zimbabwe announced that on Friday December 12, it would introduce a new $500 million dollar note. Such hyper-inflation has made it necessary to legalize[6] the use of foreign currency. The government has no money to procure fuel and the bulk of the fuel in Zimbabwe is bought from neighboring Botswana and South Africa by diasporas. Basic amenities such as sugar, cooking oil, toothpaste and bread are also being bought from neighboring countries with the help of diasporas. This boosts the economies of the countries that supply these basic goods while making bearable the lives of those whose relatives send remittances and foreign currency[7].

All state hospitals have virtually closed down because of lack of staff and medical drugs. Universities are in startling shortage of staff, the national water authority has no chemicals to purify water as evidenced by the cholera epidemic that is currently gripping the country, the national electricity supply authority supplies electricity sporadically because of lack of qualified personnel to repair the ever breaking down power distributors. Only those who receive remittances from the Diaspora community can afford to; send the children for tertiary learning in other countries, receive medical treatment from other countries, have electricity generators, erect boreholes in their yards for water. Migrants are buying cheap second hand mini-buses from Japan and other Asian countries and these make the bulk of the Zimbabwean public transport system. They literally run the public transportation system in Zimbabwe. Arguably, the Zimbabwean current situation is a classic contemporary case where the relationship between migration and development in Africa is manifest.

West Africa has a long history of migration both regionally and internationally. This has been partly due to the wars that have characterized the region, the region’s proximity to Europe, relative to most of the sub-Saharan African countries as well as the establishment of the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) which has guaranteed freedom of movement within the region. According to De Haan (2000), about one third of West Africans live outside their original places of origins. Across West Africa, migration represents a significant livelihood strategy for poor people (Black, et al, 2006:23). This factor is even recognized in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers in Cape Verde, Senegal and Niger, but it is not restricted to these countries (ibid). In Senegal, it is estimated that nearly $1 million is transferred to the Reserve Bank of Senegal from Libreville every month, whilst about 30 – 80 % of house hold budgets in Senegal are comprised of remittances (ibid). Many migrants are now an important source of capital, ideas and improved agriculture management techniques which flow back into West Africa as a result of the diversification that has occurred with labor mobility.[8]

The impact of migration on development in the West African region is the subject of much debate. It has been suggested that the poorest societies benefit from remittances that ensue out of migration. However, another argument is that the poorest societies are not really the ones that benefit because the people who can afford to migrate infact come from the middle class and elite in the society. Attitudes towards international migration (in the region) have somewhat been divided, with concern expressed by many observers about the brain drain, but also a growing level of interest in the potential for remittances and returnees to contribute to national development (Black, et al, 2006:35). In Ghana, it was estimated that remittances were $1.5 billion for January – September alone in 2003.[9]

· The case of Nigeria
Nigeria has experienced substantial internal and international migration. Just like most Africa countries, Nigeria has experienced considerable rural – urban migration. Internal conflicts in the country have also resulted in forced migration. Anyawu (1996:26) asserts that rural-urban migration has led to rural depopulation and loss of agricultural production, negating development in the country side. However, the migration of Fulani pastoralists to South Western Nigeria has produced positive developmental results, for example, it has stimulated trade in cattle (ibid).

On an international scale, nearly 15 000 Nigerians migrated legally[10] to Europe and North America every year from 1995 – 2001 (Black, et al, 2006:29). These emigrants were/are made up of mostly high skilled personnel such as doctors, engineers, nurses among others. The loss of highly skilled persons has reinforced decline in development in the country (ibid). Sadly, most of these professionals do not get jobs for which they trained. Instead, they have blue collar jobs such as driving, factory workers or other low skilled occupations. This is waste of critical skills that would make a huge difference in Nigeria.

However, Nigerians’ international migration has not been entirely negative. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago estimated that Nigerians in the US alone send about $1.3 billion each year to Nigeria.[11] This is more than six times the annual flow of US aid to Nigeria (Black, et al, 2006:29). These remittances go to the poor families and communities and play a significant part in as far as reducing poverty is concerned.

East Africa has a long history of migration because of the plantations in the region, the mines as well as pastoral communities that live there. Like anywhere else in Africa, migration in the region is of significant importance to the poor. It has provided investment capital for rural commodity production, stimulated the flow of new ideas and social practices into rural areas and enhanced rural livelihoods (Francis, 2002:181). De Haan (2000) notes that in Ethiopia, the poor migrate to urban areas more than the rich so that they can supplement the income that families earn from farming and so that they can also repay debts. While in Somalia migration has brought substantial remittances, in other countries in the region, like else where on the continent, it is seen as a big challenge because of brain drain. According to Shinn (2002), in Ethiopia for example, it is estimated that between a quarter and three quarters of students and professionals traveling abroad to study have not returned to Ethiopia, inevitably resulting in losses to the academic and medical professions.

· The case of Kenya
In 2001, a review on international migration in Kenya revealed that there were 47 000 Kenyan nationals in the US, 20 600 in Canada and 15 000 in the UK[12]. While there are no official records on the amount of remittances that Kenya receives, in 2002, it received an estimated $420 million (Black, et al, 2006:57). According to Francis (2002), in Kenya, rural families increase their livelihood security by splitting the locations of the family, most often by one member of the family migrating to an urban area. Migrant income in some cases is also larger and more secure than income from local wage labour and contributes significantly to investment in farming. Seasonal and temporary migration for agricultural employment is common in rural areas and is used to increase family income (ibid). Francis (2002) further argues that migrant remittances in Kenya have brought a considerable difference between the rich and poor farmers in Kenya. Most remittances are on housing improvements and children’s education. He further states that because education appears to be a major focus in Kenya, remittances are often invested in school fees.

Other East African countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda experience the same migration effects and patterns such as Kenya. There is a problem with brain drain while there is the consequent benefit from remittances that come with migration. The conflicts in the Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Uganda have seen a significant amount of involuntary migration of both skilled and unskilled personnel. These migrants send remittances to their country of origin which remittances help in sustaining their families. According to Black (2006), in Somalia, each year, nearly $750 million in remittances is sent back through informal channels to help with the day to day upkeep of families in Somalia.

Migration and development have a relationship in many ways, some of which include through livelihood and survival strategies of individuals, households and communities; through large and often well targeted remittances; through investments and advocacy by migrants, refugees, diasporas and their transnational communities; and through international mobility associated with global intergration, inequality and insecurity (Sørensen, et al, 2002). It has both positive and negative effects on development in countries of origin. Millions of migrant workers send remittances to their families and communities of origin. Worldwide, annual remittances may amount to more than one hundred billion dollars, primarily sent from the industrial to the developing world (Muponda, 2008). These remittances help improve household earnings, feed families, improve housing, education and health standards, in turn influencing development in their home countries.

It however has its negative effects too, most notably, brain drain and depletion of labour force from the sending country. The infusion of money from migrants may have an inflationary influence on the local economy (Sørensen, et al, 2002). Host countries can also be overwhelmed by migrants such as the case of South Africa, which experienced Xenophobic attacks early this year. Sørensen (2002) argues that several concerns have been raised about the merits of migration in poor countries. Studies have revealed that migration drains human and financial resources from migrant sending areas, reduce labor effort and contribute to a decline in per capita incomes. From this perspective therefore, remittances are part of a vicious circle of migration and falling incomes (ibid).

Whether positive or not, that there is a relationship between migration and development in Africa in unquestionable.


Anyawu, S,. 1996. ‘Spatial Population Maldistribution in Nigeria: Causes and suggestions.’ Journal of Development Alternatives and Area Studies 15(1).
De Haan, A,. 2000. ‘Migrants, Livelihoods and Rights: The Relevance of Migration in Development Policies.’ Social Development Working Paper No.4, DFID London.
Essy, A. 2003. ‘The Role of HigherEducation Institutions in the Building of the African Union.’ Conference of Rectors, Vice Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities, Grand Bay Mauritius.
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on (09.12.08).
Francis, E. 2002. ‘Gender, Migration and Multiple Livelihoods: Cases from Eastern and Southern Africa.’ Journal of Development Studies, 38:167-90.
Francis, E. 2002. ‘Making a Living: Changing Livelihoods in Rural Africa,’ London: Routledge, 2002.
International Organization for Migration, 2003. ‘Linkages between brain drain, labour migration and remittances in Africa,’ in IOM, (ed), World Migration 2002. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.
Kant, R. 2008. ‘Inflation in Zimbabwe breaks all records.’ On (08.12.08).
McDonald, D. 2000. ‘On borders: Perspectives on International Migration in Southern Africa.’ Cape Town and New York: SAMP and St Martins’ Press.
Migration for Development in Africa, 2008. on (09.12.08)
Muponda, G. 2008. ‘Tapping Diaspora capital to kick-start Zim economy.’ On (09.12.08)
Ndlovu, N. 2008. ‘Is Zimbabwe a failed state?’ on (09.12.08)
Richard, B,. (et. al.) 2006,. ‘Migration and Development in Africa: An overview.’ Idasa Cape Town, 8001 and Queen’s University, Canada.
Shinn, D. 2002 ‘Reversing the Brain Drain in Ethiopia.’ Addis Tribune.
Sørensen, N. N. (et al), (2002). ’The Migration-Development Nexus: Evidence and Policy Options.’ International Migration Vol. 40 (5) Blackwell Publishers. (08.12.08) (08.12.08) (08.12.08)

[1] 3 000 words.
[2] The MIDA programme partially replaces ’The Return of Qualified African Nations (PQAN) programme which only facilitated the return of 2. 500 professionals between 1983 – 1999. The current MIDA programme focuses on the Great Lakes, Somalia, Ghana and Guinea.
[3] Please note that the writer is a Zimbabwean who himself is a migrant from Zimbabwe. He has experienced most of the things first hand hence an attempt not to use other people’s views except where such reference will serve to prove an academic phenomenon.
[4] The Zimbabwean dollar was valued at the ratio of Z$1=£1 as of 1980.
[5] . In a seminar at Stellenbosch University on 18 April 2008, Mr B Landau, the head of migration studies at Wits University noted that were it not for cheap labour from foreigners in South Africa, the price of basic commodities would be many times more than the current prices.
[6] The most commonly used currencies are, the Botswana Pula, the US dollar, the South African Rand as well as the British Pound.
[7] Please note that the writer of this essay is a Zimbabwean migrant in South Africa, who sends remittances to Zimbabwe. Therefore, the nexus between migration and development in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe is more of a reality than theoretical.
[8] See,
[9] See .
[10] It is estimated that there are many thousands more Nigerians residing in Europe and America illegally.
[11] See (accessed on 09.12.08)
[12] See

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The relationship between conflict and ethnicity in Africa (by Nkanyiso Sibanda)


In most conflicts in Africa, ethnicity and contested identities seem to be at the core. Ethnic affiliations often structure the composition of groups in conflicts. There is little doubt that one of the main reasons why people fight and kill each other is who they are and the identities they represent (Braathen, Bøås and Sæther, 2000:3). Ethnicity has been blamed for passé ethics and regressive acuity, for nurturing corruption and destructive conflict. There is currently concern that the process of democratization in Africa may release the politically disintegrative potentialities of ethnicity. Some pundits[1] conceive ethnicity as something constructed, imaginary or created. Analogous to this idea is the notion that ethnicity is not a concrete existence but rather, a figment of the human imagination (Ake, 1992). While it is true to some extent that ethnicity is an imaginary construction, it is also a reality which has subsequently been linked and blamed for some conflicts in Africa.

This essay will discuss the relationship between conflict and ethnicity in Africa. A brief definition of the concept ethnicity will be made. Focus will shift to three examples[2] of conflicts in Africa with the aim of ascertaining whether there was (is) a relationship between conflict and ethnicity. The term conflict will not be defined in detail here as its meaning is generally not contested. It will be used interchangeably with the term war[3].

What is ethnicity?
There is no single universally accepted definition of ethnicity. Max Weber once remarked that ‘the whole conception of ethnicity is so complex and so vague that it might be good to abandon it altogether’ (Weber, 1922). The term is defined in many different ways by different people from different backgrounds with different life experiences. However, while there is no single and universally accepted definition, the definitions that are given usually emphasize the sharing of some learned standards for behavior, social ties by reference to common origins, memories of a shared historical past, shared cultural heritage, religious affiliation, language and dialect forms as well as tribal affiliation. Ethnicity is an important means by which people identify and categorize themselves. (It) is a fundamental factor in human life: it is a phenomenon inherent in human experience (statistics Canada, 2008). Ethnicity has been held to be multidimensional because it includes such aspects as race, origin or ancestry, identity, language and religion. Other dimensions such as culture, the arts, customs and beliefs and even practices such as dress and food preparation can also be included when dealing with the definitional elements of the term. It is also dynamic and in a constant state of flux. It will change as a result of new immigration flows, blending and intermarriage, and new identities may be formed (ibid). Origin or ancestry, race as well as identity are key in understanding ethnicity (ibid).
Although Weber, (1922), admitted that the conceptualization of ethnicity was problematic, he nevertheless proposed a definition of ethnicity that has become the backbone for many contemporary definitions. He propounded,
Ethnicity refers to that human group that entertains a subjective belief in its common descent because of similarities of physical type or of customs or both, or because of memories of colonization and migration; this belief must be important for group formation; furthermore it does not matter whether an objective blood relationship exists between members of the group.
Harold Isaacs (1975) identified other diacritics of ethnicity which include among them physical appearance, name, language, history, and religion. Evidently, while there is no universal definition of the concept, it is usually defined in terms of shared genealogy. It often also connotes shared cultural, linguistic, behavioral or religious traits.
Conflict and ethnicity in Africa
With the exception of Algeria where religious extremism was cited, in many African conflicts, ethnicity was held to be the cause.

· Rwanda, genocide
Rwanda, a small Central African country, is comprised of two main ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Although the Hutus account(ed) for 90 percent of the population, historically, the Tutsi minority was considered the landed gentry of Rwanda and dominated the Hutus for a long time. In 1994, Rwanda experienced mass killings of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsis by Hutu militia. Over the course of approximately 100 days, from the assassination of the then president Juvénal Habyarimana on April 6th through to mid July, at least 500,000 people were killed (Alisson, 1999). Most estimates indicate a death toll between 800,000 and 1,000,000 (ibid). The genocide was perpetrated by two Hutu militia groups, the Interahamwe, the militant wing of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), and the Impuzamugambi, the militant wing of the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) on one side, and the Tutsi rebel group, the (Rwandan Political Front) RPF, on the other side. The killings took place throughout most of the country. The mayor of the northwestern town of Gisenyi, was the first to organize killings on the scale characterizing a genocide when on the evening of April 6th, he called a meeting to distribute arms and send out militias to kill Tutsis (Alisson, 199).
Most of the genocide victims were killed in their villages or in towns, often by their neighbors and fellow villagers. The militia members characteristically murdered their victims by hacking them with machetes while members of the army used rifles. Often, victims were found hiding in churches and school buildings, where Hutu gangs massacred them. Ordinary citizens were called on by local officials and government-sponsored radio to kill their neighbors, and those who refused to kill were often killed themselves. ‘Either you took part in the massacres or you were massacred yourself. (Prunier, 1995).’ One such massacre occurred on April 12, 1994. More than 1,500 Tutsis sought refuge in a Catholic church in a place called Nyange (ibid). Local Interahamwe and other local authorities found out and used bulldozers to knock down the church building. People who tried to escape were hacked down with machetes or shot. In another case, thousands sought refuge in a school in Kigali where Belgian soldiers were stationed. However, on April 11, 1994, Belgian soldiers withdrew from the school and members of the Rwandan armed forces and militia killed all the Tutsis who were hiding there. (ibid)
Can the slaughter of perhaps as many as a million people in three months of the 1994 Rwandese civil war be given an understandable explanation? (Braathen, Bøås and Sæther, 2000:68). How could this disaster take place in a community comprised of two groups that …, share the same religion, belong to the same clans and inhabit the same hills? (ibid). Was there a causal link between the ethnicity of the two groups and the conflict that erupted? Did the conflict start because of ethnic identities?
From the surface, there is a clear nexus between ethnicity and the conflict that erupted. One can argue that because the conflict was between the Hutus and the Tutsis there was a relationship between ethnicity and the conflict. Were it not for the ethnic differences, there would not have been violent fighting. There had to be a causal link between ethnicity and the conflict. However, arguing thus would be giving the conflict only a colonial epithet. Lema (2000) argues that focusing on ethnicity on the Rwandese conflict is to miss the point. According to him, to understand the social forces underlying the civil war in Rwanda, there is a need to uncover the socio-structural conflict underlying the Rwandese society. If there was a direct relationship between conflict and ethnicity in the genocide, then Burundi too should have experienced a similar, if not worse, genocide because the ethnicity factors advanced to explain the Rwandese war were just a present in Burundi in the beginning of the 1990s (Lema, 2000).
While there may be a relationship between ethnicity and conflict in Africa, this relationship should not be overemphasized. Ethnicity may help one gain a surface level understanding of a conflict. However, it is important and certainly helpful to have a deeper intrinsic investigation of the historical, structural and socio-cultural conflict between groups struggling for social justice by means of securing political power and social prestige within the socio-cultural framework of a society in conflict such as the Rwandese society during the genocide. The deep-rooted social rank disequilibrium arising from the time-honored socio-cultural supremacy of the Tutsis, and leading to frustration and aggression among the Hutus, (was) the principal cause that transformed … Rwandese socio-political struggles engendered by the economic crisis into recurrent armed struggles including the genocide (Lema, 2000). For one therefore to understand that there was no direct link between ethnicity and the conflict in Rwanda, one has to go beyond looking at the surface and uncover the socio-cultural conflict dimensions that underlay the genocide.

· Kenya, post election violence
When post-election violence erupted in Kenya at the end of December 2007, U.S. journalists described the events as ‘savage tribal killings’ (L.A. Times, 1/2/08), ‘gruesome ethnic killings’ (Washington Post, 1/6/08) and ‘tribal riots’ (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 1/3/08). ‘This is a tribal situation,’ explained CBS (Early Show, 1/2/08). ‘And what is terrifying is that the veneer of this country is so thin, that there’s so much tension and hatred that has been here all along.’
The conflict in Kenya began after the country’s December 27, 2007 presidential election. As the final votes were being tallied, trailing incumbent Mwai Kibaki, a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group, suddenly and suspiciously pulled ahead of opposition leader Mr Raila Odinga, a Luo, who had been leading in the polls. Protests and violence broke out, particularly in poor urban neighborhoods and the more rural Rift Valley, and intensified after Kibaki had himself hastily sworn in as the victor despite widespread accusations and protests against vote-rigging.
The number of lives that the conflict claimed, the brutal way with which the murders were committed[4] and narrations of the conflict increasingly focused on the importance of ethnicity. Although reports initially focused on a likely fraudulent political election, this soon changed when it was realized that most of Mr Kibaki’s supporters, who is a Kikuyu were also Kikuyu who were fighting with Mr Odinga’s supporters who, like him, were Luo. Jim Lehrer (2008) characterized the violence as a contest between rival ethnic groups.
Yet again, a surface analysis of Kenya’s post-election conflict points to a strong relationship between ethnicity and conflict. However, just days after the violence erupted, former United Nations chief Mr Koffi Annan remarked, ‘We must tackle the fundamental issues underlying the disturbances -- like inequitable distribution of resources -- or else we will be back here again after three or four years.’ ‘The characterization of the Kenyan conflict as ethnic enmity is simplistic -- access to land, housing, and water are the real issues that appear in the guise of ethnicity and are triggered by political disputes,’ said a Danish aid worker who was part of an emergency assessment team in the Rift Valley. ‘There is an unmistakable class dimension to the turmoil in Kenyan society,’ the aid worker said[5].
The clue to whether there was a direct link between ethnicity and the conflict in Kenya lies in the fact that, it is the poor marginalized people in the society that were involved in the violence. ‘Have you seen any middle-class person of any tribe shouting slogans against either Odinga or Kibaki?’ asked Raphael Karanja[6], a radio journalist. ‘It is only the people who had a misplaced faith in the power of the ballot, and who genuinely believed that their vote can lead to a change of guard and better economic policies that might alleviate their basic problems of land, housing, and drinking water that have risen up in protest,’ he continued. Had the conflict been rooted along ethnic lines, everyone in the society would have taken part in the fighting, rich and poor alike. However, it was only the poor people from the two ethnic groups that fought and this gives a clue on whether the conflict had a link or not with ethnicity. In the capital Nairobi, violence was experienced only in the poor areas such as Kibera, Mathare and other shanty towns. This pattern (was) visible also in other troubled regions, such as Kisumu in Odinga’s home province of Nyanza, and in the Rift Valley towns of Eldoret, Molo, Nakuru, and Naivasha (Mushtaq, 2008).
Beneath the simplistic and apparently ethnic conflict lay historic patterns of uneven resource distribution that were manipulated and expressed through the violence that erupted after the elections. Land distribution was unequal, access to water, housing and health facilities was not the same for everyone and the gap between the rich and poor had so widened that even if a common Kenyan raised resources to build a proper house, he found bureaucratic hurdles at every step which could not be overcome without extra money for corrupt officials (ibid). The poor thought that democracy and elections would help them influence government policy. Mr Odinga raised expectations by campaigning as the people’s candidate and a champion of the poor. He received votes across tribal divides (ibid) and if ethnicity had been the real issue, this would not have been the case. When there was alleged ballot tempering, violence erupted, perpetrated mostly by angry and hungry poor people in the society due to the socio-economic disparities between them and the rich.

· Zimbabwe, gukurahundi
Gukurahundi is a traditional Shona[7] word, which means ‘the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains.’ It is the word chosen by the Mugabe regime to describe a military operation against a civilian Ndebele population during the early 1980s. A few months after Zimbabwe’s Independence, Robert Mugabe signed an agreement with the North Korean President Kim II Sung to have the North Korean military train a brigade for the Zimbabwean army. Training of the 5th Brigade lasted until September 1982. The objective of the 5th Brigade was to kill and eradicate all the Ndebele people that were loyal to PF ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union).
An estimated 30 000 Ndebeles lost their lives during Gukurahundi (Magoma, 2008). Most of the gukurahundi victims were shot in public executions, often after being forced to dig their own graves in front of family and fellow villagers. The largest number of dead in a single killing was on 5 March 1983, when 62 young men and women were shot on the banks of the Cewale River, in Lupane (Magomana, 2008). Seven survived with gunshot wounds, the other 55 died. Another way the 5 Brigade killed large groups of Ndebele people was to burn them alive in huts. They did this in Tsholotsho and also in Lupane (ibid).
The 5th Brigade also would routinely round up dozens, or even hundreds, of civilians and march them at gun point to a central place, like a school or bore-hole. There they would force them to sing Shona songs praising ZANU PF, at the same time beating them with sticks. These gatherings usually ended with public executions. These atrocities took part in Matabeleland against the Ndebele who were loyal to PF ZAPU and their Ndebele leader Mr Joshua Nkomo. The perpetrators, the 5 brigade was made up of mostly the Shona people who were loyal to ZANU PF and their Shona leader Mr Mugabe.
Again, a surface analysis of this conflict reveals that it was ethnic. The Shona were fighting and killing the Ndebele. One can easily be compelled to think that there was a relationship between ethnicity and the killings that occurred. However, a deeper analysis of the conflict yields different results. It has to be remembered that during gukurahundi, prominent Ndebele leaders held prominent positions in government. The then Minister of Home Affairs was Mr John Nkomo, who was a Ndebele. He was in charge of the police in his ministerial portfolio and if the conflict was ethnic, he too could have ordered the police to act consequent to gukurahundi against the Shonas. Other prominent Ndebele leaders who were in government include Kembo Mohadi[8], Obert Mpofu[9] among others. The main reason why gukurahundi occurred was because Mugabe wanted to graft PF ZAPU into ZANU PF and make Zimbabwe a one party state. When Joshua Nkomo agreed to this in 1986, the massacres stopped. If indeed there was a direct relationship between ethnicity and the gukurahundi conflict, the killings would have continued still, until probably such time when the Ndebeles were obliterated.

The relationship between conflict and ethnicity has been imperfectly construed in many other African conflicts such as in the Niger delta region in Nigeria, Angola, DRC, Mozambique, Sudan and many other African conflicts. While it can not be totally denied that there is a relationship between ethnicity and conflict, this relationship must not be overemphasized. A thorough historical, analytical and pragmatic approach should be adopted in analyzing the conflicts and in unearthing and understanding the relationship between ethnicity and conflict in Africa.
In order to understand the relationship between ethnicity and conflict in Africa, one has to uncover the social forces underlying the conflict and in the process, uncover the prevailing socio-structural variances. People do not start conflicts because of ethnicity; instead, ethnicity helps to explain the mobilization of people in the conflict (Lema, 2000). In Congo-Brazzaville for example, ethnicity was used by political leaders in the struggle for power. Natural resources were the object of power struggles and ethnic identity became a potent means to this end (ibid). Braathen (2000:188) suggests that the lead thread in researching on the relationship between ethnicity and conflict in Africa should be the struggle over distribution in society that evolves around the post-colonial state. Just as nationalism does not constitute the essence of politics in European countries, ethnicity does not define the essence of politics in Africa (ibid).
While ethnicity plays a role in most conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, African conflicts are not an automatic process facilitated but ethnic identity. Instead, it is the expansion and subsequent retreat of the neo patrimonial state, followed by widespread social exclusion (ibid). That most civil wars in Africa are centered around ethnic identities as the subjectification of power does not in itself explain the causes behind the violence (ibid). As has been shown in the essay, ethnic affiliations often do structure the constitution of conflict; however, it is too simplistic to characterize African conflicts as ethnic. Various conflicting groups and armed factions must be understood in the light of the socio-economic context in which they operate and within this context, ethnicity is just one among numerous variables. It is not enough to discuss ethnicity without alluding to its precise historical and geographical context. Thus, the significance of ethnicity is a function of the circumstances under which it becomes salient (ibid).


Ake, Claude,. 1992. ‘What is the problem of ethnicity in Africa?’ Online at (15.11.2008)
Annan, K, quoted in POLITICS: Kenya’s Problem Goes Beyond Ethnicity and Elections Analysis by Najum Mushtaq. online at (18.11.08).
Antoine, Lema,. ‘Causes of Civil War in Rwanda: the Weight of History and Socio-Cultural Structures’ In ‘Ethnicity Kills? The Politics of War, Peace and Ethnicity in Subsaharan Africa.’ By Braathen, Einar,. Boas Morten,. And Saether Gjermund,. 2000 McMillan Press Ltd.
Braathen, Einar,. Boas Morten,. And Saether Gjermund,. 2000. ‘Ethnicity Kills? The Politics of War, Peace and Ethnicity in Subsaharan Africa.’ McMillan Press Ltd.
Des Forges, Alison (1999),. ‘Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda’ Arrow Books.
Gérard, Prunier,. 1995,. ‘The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide.’ London: Hurst.
Isaacs, H. 1975. ‘Idols of the Tribe: Group Identity and Political Change’ New York: Harper.
Jim, Lahrer (2008), in ‘Ethnic Dimension of Kenya’s conflict’ (ed) David Dryer, online at (15 November 2008).
Lopez, S. 2008. ‘Violence in Kenya’ in Los Angeles Times, 1 February: 4.
¨Statistics Canada¨ (17 November 2008).
Max, Weber,. [1922]1978 ‘Economy and Society’ eds. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, trans. Ephraim Fischof, vol. 2 Berkeley: University of California Press, 389.
Magomana, Trymore,. 2008. ‘Mugabe urged to form a Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Gukurahundi.’ Online at on19.11.08.
Najum, Mushtaq,. 2008. POLITICS: Kenya’s Problem Goes Beyond Ethnicity and Elections’ analysis. Online at -18.11.08

[1] Such as Barm, 1969; Anderson, 1983; Saul, 1979; Sharp, 1988; Cohen, 1978.
[2] Looking at all conflicts in Africa is beyond the scope of this paper (3 000 words).
[3] Civil war.
[4] Like the 50 people that were torched in a church in Eldoret.
[5] No name was given as the aid worker chose to remain anonymous.
[6] Source found on (18.11.08).
[7] A native Zimbabwean language.
[8] Also a former Minister of Home Affairs.
[9] Current Minister of trade and Industry.

Strategic Resources and War in Africa (by Nkanyiso Sibanda)

“The brute fact is that civil war is heavily concentrated in countries with low income in, economic decline and dependent upon natural resources.”
Paul Collier – October 2004.

Internal wars in resource rich African countries are a cause for concern for both Africans and the international community. These wars have inescapably claimed incalculable human lives, caused enormous human torments, damaged societies, weakened the already weak economies and harmed the environment. They have produced colossal human tragedies and humanitarian crises that are of concern to the international community and contributed to regional and global insecurity. 21st century modernity promised peace and saw most of the world inclining towards a peaceful order, but Africa witnessed wars still. Boas (2005, 74) asserts that the focus on material explanations and greed inspired motivations of actors in these wars has led to their being labeled ‘new wars,’ in contrast to the ‘old wars’ that were mainly fought during apartheid and colonialism.

The term ‘new wars’ is a contested one. It is used to refer to contemporary wars and conflicts in Africa that are allegedly caused by ‘strategic’ resources. It is argued that Africa’s so called ‘new wars’ are not really new. Their roots are deeply entrenched in history and the only way to understand them is to come to terms with this history (Boas, 2005, 74). These wars are not new wars, but merely ‘present day manifestations of social conflicts that started when the first colonial settlers arrived’ (ibid). This essay will however not delve into the merits of the arguments on ‘new wars’ or ‘old wars.’ Instead, the term will be used to refer to contemporary conflicts in Africa where natural resources are involved.

‘Strategic resources’ is a term used to refer to high value natural resources that have often been linked to the onset and even duration of wars and conflicts in Africa. These resources include diamonds, oil, and coltan among others. According to Collier and Hoeffler (2000), much of the academic debate on the economic causes of contemporary armed conflict in Africa has become polarized around the effect of resources on war outbreak and duration. Current mainstream debates often imply that all (contemporary) African wars are resource wars, fought not over political issues but in order to gain access to profits (Boas and Dunn, 2007:10). The term ‘strategic resources’ will be used here to refer to the high value natural resources that have been cited as having something to do with or contributed to the out break of contemporary ‘new’ wars in Africa.

An influential World Bank thesis states that the availability of portable, high value resources is an important reason that rebel groups form and civil wars break out (Ganesan and Vines, 2004:1). Evidently, a nexus has been created by some political science pundits such as Collier and Hoeffler(2000) between ‘strategic resources’ and Africa’s ‘new wars.’ As an African, the assertion that strategic resources are responsible for my continent’s ‘new wars’ is interesting and worth investigating. This essay will therefore cite some wars[1] in Africa where resources were held to have been the causal issue, discuss them briefly and show that while the nexus between strategic resources and Africa’s ‘new wars’ has received attention, it is myopic. It rarely tells us much about why conflicts start in the first place (Boas and Dunn, 2007:11). It would be a mistake, for example, to assume that the recent wars in Central and West Africa started as competition over control of alluvial diamonds, coltan and other natural resources. Infact, in Sierra Leone and Congo (DRC), the integration of extraction and marketing of natural resources to the conflicts occurred only once the conflicts were well under way (ibid).

However, while not completely true, the assertion that strategic resources are responsible for Africa’s ‘new wars’ is not completely false either. It will be proved that strategic resources have indeed played a role in Africa’s ‘new wars.’ They have acted as a condition with out which some of the ‘new wars’ would not have been triggered. Therefore, the relationship between strategic resources and Africa’s new wars should not be dismissed as less or out rightly non-influential altogether. It has to be duly considered, bearing in mind though that it is incomplete when other factors are ignored. Long historical trends, diverse social forces, political motivations and regional dimensions that have all contributed to the development of these ‘new wars’ have to be analyzed too when investigating what is responsible for Africa’s new wars.

Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1991, initiated by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under Foday Sankoh. The RUF launched its first campaign into eastern Kailahun (Sierra Leone) from Liberia on March 23, 1991. Diamonds played a key catalytic role in this war (Hirsch, 2000:33). Although endowed with abundant natural resources, Sierra Leone was ranked as the poorest country in the world by 1998[2]. With the breakdown of all state structures, wide corridors of Sierra Leonean society were opened up to the trafficking of arms and ammunition. Recreational drugs also eroded national and regional security as well as facilitated crime within the country, precipitating illegal trade with both Liberia and Guinea. While RUF rebels controlled the diamond trade, the people remained among the poorest. The 1999 Lomé Agreement failed to bring peace as it effectively institutionalized rebel control of the diamond trade by putting rebel chief Foday Sankoh in charge of mineral resources. The civil war thus resumed as UN forces sought to wrest control of the diamond fields, but found themselves instead being held hostage by the rebels. With a rebel take-over of the capital imminent, British forces intervened in May 2000 to evacuate British subjects and safeguard the Freetown airport for UN use. Within days, the British took effective control of the government and organized an offensive against the rebels. The rebel leader was captured, the peace process resumed.

The assertion that diamonds were responsible for the war in Sierra Leone offers a surface understanding of the war. The rich alluvial diamond fields of Kono District and Tongo were among the RUF’s earliest and most prized targets (Gberie, 2002:2). Sierra Leone’s war was neither a ‘rebellion’, in the sense of it being an internal uprising, nor ‘civil’, in the sense of it being about clearly understandable and achievable political goals. Rather, it was part of a continuous narrative of escalating regional violence and terror driven largely by criminal economic interests resulting from the availability of diamonds (ibid). RUF’s interest in capturing the diamond rich Kono district is testimony of this.

Identifying conflict diamonds as the main reason for the civil war in Sierra Leone is rather simplistic (Francis, 2001). This, however, is the analysis that most influenced international policy responses to the conflict. There is no denying the fact that the diamonds did fuel and perpetuate the war. But this does not make them the primary cause of the war in Sierra Leone (ibid). A more plausible explanation is that economic and political exclusion, perceived injustice and fundamental grievances were at the heart of the conflict (ibid). The people in the interior were aggrieved by the government’s neglect and took advantage of the Liberian war to take to arms against the government. Excessive focus on diamonds as responsible for the war is unhelpful in understanding the fundamental causes of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Using a surface analysis of the causes of the war, one can conclude that the diamonds were responsible but an in depth investigation would reveal otherwise.

The Niger Delta
The Niger Delta covers an area of about 70,000 square kilometers and accounts for 7.5% of total land mass in Nigeria. It covers a coastline of 560km, about two-thirds of the entire coastline of Nigeria (Nkoro, 2005). It has nine out of the 36 states that make up the Federal Republic of Nigeria[3]. The predominant occupations of the people in the Niger Delta are farming and fishing (Obi, 2001). The Niger Delta, where most of the country's oil reserves are located, is a violent and militarised region. Militant groups frequently carry out abductions of oil workers, robberies and oilfield invasions to extract ransoms or other benefits for their villages from oil companies. Since the advent of oil exploration over four decades ago, the region has become the bread-winner of the nation, which is the main source of foreign exchange earnings for the nation as a whole (Nkoro, 2005). The region’s oil resources accounts for 90% of the nation’s export earnings (ibid). However, the Niger delta is the least developed in Nigeria.

Historically, the conflict in the Niger Delta region can be traced down to the federal system of government that is being practiced since independence, which from the very beginning was at variance with the expectations of many minorities in the nation (Nkoro, 2005). Nkoro (2005) argues that the federal constitution that was drafted suffered from two fundamental and destabilizing setbacks. The first was the classification of the country into unequal regions. The second is the political and demographic domination of the people in the Niger Delta by those from the northern, western and eastern regions, being the majority ethnic groups. A surface analysis of the conflict in the Niger delta shows that oil is the responsible factor for the conflict. This, because many youths in the area regularly attack oil companies and inter-ethnic conflicts are common. Such an analysis would give credit to the assertion that strategic resources in the form of oil, are (is) responsible for the conflict in the area. However, a more in depth examination of the conflicts reveals otherwise.

Paradoxically, the Niger Delta is the richest and yet the poorest and most underdeveloped region in Nigeria. This paradox is the product of the deep-seated neglect and marginalization of the area by the government and oil companies in supporting critical human development, infrastructure, and provision of basic social amenities. It is a paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty. 70% of the people in the Niger Delta region live below poverty line … (Nkoro, 2005). There is a high rate of unemployment among the youth with over 2million youth being unemployed, while 40% of the people are illiterate (Ibid). Furthermore, according to 2007 World Bank report[4], GNP per capita in the Niger Delta region is below the national average of US$280. Similarly, health indicators are low and they lag far behind the country average (ibid). Pollution and continuous flaring of gas from oil prospecting and production have created health hazards and render fishing and other farming activities almost impossible[5]. There is high mortality from water-borne diseases, malnutrition and poor sanitation. The quantity and quality of housing infrastructure are less than expected in most of the region. Only about 20% to 24% of the rural communities and less than 60% of urban communities in the region have access to safe drinking water (Nkoro, 2005). Transportation is often difficult and expensive (Ibid).This has resulted in the local people forming militias that often stage violent protests against the government and the oil companies in the region. The local people feel aggrieved by the government. This, because, while their region is the richest in the country, it is however the poorest and most underdeveloped. Their land was taken away and there was little or no compensation. The area is polluted and their way of livelihood[6] has been disturbed. On the other hand, government officials do not do much with their plight because the officials benefit from oil deals with the oil companies[7]. Blaming oil for the conflict is to over look such deep underlying factors that have their roots in the history of the area. It can not be denied that oil does act as a catalyst for the current conflicts in the Niger delta. The people in the area fight because they too want a share of the pie from the oil. However, blaming it on oil alone would be ignoring other historical and even contemporary factors that have shaped the conflict. Focusing on oil would limit one to the actors in the conflict while ignoring the geography of the actors.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
The resource rich DRC has experienced the longest and deadliest intra-state war in history. Presently, there is war in DRC led by one rebel general Nkunda against the government security forces. The conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo has been dubbed ‘Africa's world war’ because it has involved nine countries (Shah, 2008). It has also been characterised as a ‘resource war’ motivated by control over eastern Congo's rich natural deposits of gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt, timber, cassiterite (a tin ore) and coltan (ibid). The DRC war is also called: The PlayStation War in some circles. The name came about because of a black metallic ore called coltan. Extensive evidence shows that during the war hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coltan was stolen from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is used to make cell phones, laptops and other electronics. Intense mining of the minerals have increased instability in eastern Congo, with locals and military groups rushing in order to make profits.

Although the nations involved in the war in DRC issued rhetoric about claims of issues of security, many of their troops hoisted off key resources back to their respective mother countries (Morpheus, 2003). A UN panel noted that the foreign states all deliberately prolonged the conflict to plunder gold, diamonds, timber and coltan, a mineral used in the making of mobile phones, from the Congo, thus highlighting a key shameful reason for the disastrous and costly war: greed (ibid).
Yet again, a surface analysis of the DRC war points to strategic resources as being responsible for the war. The fact that nine countries have been involved in the war, and were concentrated especially in the areas that are rich in natural resources would deceive one even more into thinking that resources are to blame. However, beyond the resources lies deep colonial practices by the Western countries that perfected a system of divide-and-rule in Central Africa, callously dividing ancestral lands and orchestrating strife between ethnic groups in DRC (Tull, 2007). The current crisis represents a continuation of these insidious practices (ibid).

The interplay among a seemingly endless supply of mineral resources, the greed of multinational corporations desperate to cash in on that wealth, and the provision of arms and military training to political tyrants has helped to produce conflicts that have engulfed Africa, leading to many concluding that strategic resources are responsible for Africa’s ‘new wars.’ While this assertion is not completely false, it is not completely true either. Resources have been blamed for many African wars in countries such as Angola, Liberia and others.
The dominant role that violent contests over natural resources have played in the conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone and the DRC lends some support to the econometric greed model of rebellion, according to which the statistical correlation between resource abundance and the risk of armed conflict is explained by rebel aspirations for self-enrichment and/or opportunity for rebellion that easy access to natural resources provides to would be insurgents (Ballentine and Nitzschke, 2003:3).
While the presence and availability of valuable and capturable natural resources did contribute to the feasibility of war in African countries, a closer perspective at these insurgencies shows that mere capturing of lucrative resources for self enrichment was not the key motive. Rather, resource exploitation was also a means to finance insurgencies driven by socio-economic and political grievances. For example, the civil war in Angola was initially against colonialism way before capturing diamonds became the goal for funding the rebels. In Sierra Leone, the social inequality prevalent, high unemployment as well as lack of basic amenities such as schools led to the initial rebellion by Foday Sankoh. If indeed resources were responsible for Africa’s ‘new wars’, then the wars in Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone would still be ongoing because strategic resources are still present. Infact, other countries rich in these ‘strategic resources’ would be at risk of war, which countries include Botswana, Namibia and South Africa which are rich in diamonds. They instead have stable societies and growing economies. Therefore, strategic resources are not the responsible culprit for Africa’s ‘new wars.’
Civil war requires a complex combination of political, social and economic factors. Countries that descend into war are typically weak, repressive, undemocratic and economically vulnerable. Often, as in the case of the DRC, they attract similar states but with greater power to invade and siphon off their wealth. Angola’s diamonds and oil were used by rebels and the Government to enrich themselves and to buy arms to fight one another at the expense of an impoverished, brutalized population.
To understand the responsible factor for Africa’s ‘new wars,’ it is important to have regard to the background political, historical and cultural factors. These (wars) are deeply embedded in the history of the continent, not only in colonial history and the transformation to independent states but in the totality of African history (Boas, 2007).


Ballentine, K. and Nitzsche, H. 2003. ‘Beyond Greed and Grievance: Policy Lessons from Studies in the Political Economy of Armed Conflict’ New York: International Peace Academy.
Boas, M. 2005. ‘The Liberian Civil War: New War/Old War?’. Global Society, Vol. 19. No. 1, January.
Boas, M,. and Dunn, K.C,. 2007. ‘African guerrillas, Raging Against the Machine,.’ Lynne Rienner Publishers,.
Collier, P. and Anker, H. 2000. ‘Greed and Grievance in Civil Wars,’ Boulder: Cynne Rienner Publishers.
Francis, J,.F. 2001. ‘Diamonds and the civil war in Sierra Leone.’ Online at (05.12.08)
Gberie, L,. 2002. ‘War and Peace in Sierra Leonne: Diamonds, Corruption and the Lebanese Connection.’ Online at (05.12.08)
Hirsch, John L,. 2000 ‘Sierra Leone: Diamonds and the Struggle for Democracy’, Lynne Rienner Pub.
Morpheus, R,. 2007. ‘Millions Already gone: Who hears cries for the Congo?’ on (05.12.03).
Nkoro, E., 2005. ‘Conflict in the Niger Delta: The way forward.’ Online at (14.11.08).
Shah, A,. 2008. ‘The Democratic Republic of Congo.’ On (05.12.08)
Tull, M. D. ‘The Democratic Republic of Congo: Militarised Politics in a “failed state” in ‘African guerrillas, Raging Against the Machine,.’ Lynne Rienner Publishers, by Boas, M,. and Dunn, K.C,. 2007.

[1] The scope of this essay (3 000 words) does not allow for an examination of all of Africa’s so called ‘new wars’.
[2] (5.12.08).
[3] These are Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa cross-River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers states.
[5] It should be remembered that fishing and farming were the primary sources of livelihood for the local people.
[6] Agriculture and fishing.
[7] A practical case of aforementioned is that of the Ogoni community in Niger Delta of Rivers state whose case is being spearheaded by the movement for the survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP) and the late human right activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. They pointed, like other communities in the Niger Delta region that their land has been devastated and degraded, their atmosphere has been polluted, water contaminated, trees being poisoned and that their flora and fauna have virtually disappeared, these as a result of the activities of oil companies in the area. To intensify this ugly issue, there are no infrastructural amenities in the locality such as electricity, portable water and access roads. Thus, on August 26, 1990 the Ogoni people issued a bill of right which was sent to the federal government of Nigeria, demanding political freedom that will guarantee political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people, right to the control and use of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, adequate and direct representation as a right in all Nigerian national institutions and the right to protect Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradations.However, their demand was turned down, thus, MOSOP was mandated by Ogoni people on August 26, 1991 to make representation to united nations commission on human and people rights and European community, alleging that the Nigerian government has denied them their demand. MOSOP was also mandated to alert the organizations that federal republic of Nigeria has refused to pay them oil royalties and mining rents amounting to an estimated $20billion for petroleum mined from Ogoni land over three decades ago. On January 4, 1993, they followed this up. This eventually led to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa on the 10th of November, 1995 (Nkoro, 2005).