With a deep sense of responsibility as a stakeholder, a Patriot, as well as one of the leaders on this Continent, I will in communicating my thoughts on the treatise of this paper, be constructively pungent, responsibly factual, patriotically objective, positively futuristic, as well as passionately optimistic.
A critical understanding of crises in Africa today is linked to the capacity to identify conflicts before they degenerate into catastrophe. Capacity building therefore becomes a vital tool in articulating various fundamental paths and specific principles that will help address core aspects of the Conflict Management and Resolution process.
One Vasu Gounden, Executive Director, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) once noted as follows, "The world today is characterized by political and economic chaos existing alongside unprecedented progress in science and technology… a paradox of failure and progress co-existing in a world of predictable uncertainty. Africa exists and survives in this new paradigm. To the uncritical yet interested observer of African affairs, her survival belies the many death defying challenging that confront her people—yet it is Africa's survival that bears testimony to her ability to meet these challenges.
CAUSES OF CONFLICTS
Widespread societal conflicts in Africa are often played out against the backdrop of deep poverty, illiteracy, and weak systems of governance. Undermined by unfavorable terms of trade, indebtedness and administrative failures, most states in Africa have failed to respond adequately to the critical social needs of their citizens. In the most extreme cases, Africa's insecurity has been reflected by the traumatic episodes of collapsed and collapsing states. Many reasons account for the causes of conflict and these range from political to socio-economic issues. Africa constitutes 11% of the world’s population and yet dominates the chart on conflict. The United Nations has spent 75% of its resources in dealing with conflicts in Africa while there are about 9 million internally displaced people and refugees within the Continent.
A number of forces and factors can be adduced for the root causes of conflicts ranging from Resource Control, Tribalism, Religion, Corruption, and Deprivation just to mention a few. This paper will however zero in on some as presented below:
Many post-colonial African States are still suffering from side effects of colonialism. Many ethnic groups or formerly cohesive societies were forcefully carved to live with other ethnicities that had nothing in common with them. The colonial administrators preyed on this fear of difference and suspicion to dominate the country.
In most instances, one ethnic group was used by the administrators to dominate the nation. With independence, the dominated ethnic group would continue to view other ethnicities as collaborators with white colonialists and this led to institutionalize the meaning of tribalism as a “politicized ethnic group.” A case study is in Rwanda and Burundi where the Germans, and later Belgian colonial administrators instituted the Tutsis as a superior ethnic group worthy of belonging to the aristocratic class and therefore worthy to dominate the Hutus. In the case of Burundi and Rwanda, the political maneuvering backfired as many Hutus began to see the Tutsis as merely collaborators with the whites and architects of colonialism. The hatred and suspicion exacerbated at independence resulted in "politicized" ethnic identities.
When individuals treats others as things and not human beings; this is a key source of conflict. First, it erases their humanity. Secondly, it makes it possible for the oppressor to exterminate them. During the Second World War for example, the Nazis called the Jews “rats” that deserved to be exterminated from the society. Killing of Jews was likened to the killing of unwanted rats. Similarly, in Rwanda at the height of the Genocide, the Hutus called the Tutsis cockroaches that needed to be fumigated and not as human beings. The imagery also created a distancing from our shared humanity that makes it easier for “ordinary human beings” to become killers. The oppressed on the other hand, would do anything for survival and mostly, the survival strategy lies in the invention of an ideological mindset. One such process of dehumanization could be gleaned from the German induced genocide in Namibia. This genocide which constitutes the annihilation of over 80 percent of the Herero population in 1904 by German forces in Namibia was championed by the German General Trotha whose fundamental reasons for the genocide explains the basic process of dehumanization of the Africans.
Resource control is a major source of conflict in contemporary Africa where regions that feel marginalized take up arms to “fix” the status quo. Where the State is a major stakeholder in resource distribution, access to power becomes a struggle for survival politics where those in power determine who benefits from the State. Those who feel sidelined will rise up and lay claim to power through sabotage, or initiate conflict through other means. In politics, conflict most often arises during the struggle for access to, control and the management of political power, or during the process of determining what, long ago, Harold Lasswell saw as the essence of politics, which is “who gets what, when, how.”
When tribal affiliation is stronger than national identity, such feeling of tribal belonging can generate conflict where those on the fringes of the dominating tribe feel isolated and deprived. In the case of tribalism, democracy turns into a monster because the dominant tribe will always win every election. In such a scenario, the only way for the marginal group to gain access to power is through revolutionary means or institutionalization of other conflict procedures to wrestle away power from the dominant tribe.
Today, many young graduates from our tertiary institutions in the South would rather dump the NYSC programme than go to the North. Why? Imagine a parent who may have lost a child to insurgencies in that part of the country once, how would he ever freely release another child of his to embark on such a journey of “uncertainties”? Everyone today can see that the greatest threat to our Nationhood is the ongoing mass-killings and attack on churches, since December 2010, which have claimed about 7,000 souls and left as much number wounded and this official figure may not represent the total number of casualties in real terms as killing has continued unabated.
While we have great challenges with such issues as corruption, economic distress and institutional collapse in most sectors of our Nation, I still believe that the greatest threat to the survival of the Nigerian Nation is the issue of insecurity induced by conflicts, which seems to have defiled all logical approaches and reasoning of those in power who are supposed to be on top of it.
My reasoning is, are there no Muslims in the West, South and the East of Nigeria? Why are they not shooting at people in Churches who gather for worship? Why are they not throwing bombs at Christians? I believe some individuals are simply without any other mission other than breaking up Nigeria.
But now, let us think: if Boko Haram, as claimed by some of their sympathizers, is fighting the Government for their rights, the question is, is it the church that is depriving them of such rights? If the bombs in the North are just reactions to class oppression or poverty in the nation, why are mosques exempted from bombings? Did the militants in the South-South, during their struggle, ever attack worshippers in the mosque on Fridays? A lot of political hypocrisy must be going on here. What we have on our hands today is an agenda being propagated, sponsored and perpetrated by some religious bigots who are poised for war, and if the Government does not decisively stem down this tide, Nigeria may cease to be one Nation. This is not the cry of an alarmist!
In managing conflicts, we must recognize that occurrence of conflict is natural and therefore to be expected within human groupings. It is therefore how we proactively anticipate its occurrence by identifying signals of conflict and begin to rightly situate our responses that will define how the management process is construed. Several processes exist as we peruse the literature on the manner of Conflict Management; it is obvious that despite these approaches, conflicts thrive. It is glaring that, in Nigeria today: Danger is looming, but there is hope. The nation is fast drifting towards disintegration, but there is hope. Nigeria is facing challenges that openly threaten her existence, but there is hope. Some are bent on religious war for whatever their reasons, but there is hope. When a people become hopeless, they become helpless. Faith will not produce when hope is dead. To keep hope alive is to stay alive.
Now, let’s look at the problem. The greatest challenge facing the Nigeria of today is insecurity.
A one-tine UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan observed that: “Since 1970, more than 30 wars have been fought in Africa, the vast majority of them intra-state in origin. In 1996 alone, 14 out of 53 countries in Africa were afflicted by armed conflicts, accounting for more than half of all war-related deaths worldwide and resulting in more than 8 million displaced refugees, returnees and displaced persons. The consequences of these conflicts have seriously undermined Africa's efforts to ensure long-term stability, prosperity, and peace for its people…Preventing such wars is no longer a matter of defending states or protecting allies. It is a matter of defending humanity itself” (Annan, 1998).
THE COST OF INSECURITY
Most companies have relocated, and are still relocating to more peaceful countries in the neighbourhood such as Ghana, because security is a key factor in creating a conducive environment for economic growth and development; while insecurity is a natural disincentive to the economy. Companies are collapsing, capital market is crashing, banks are failing, and the cost of living is escalating, while the standard of living is declining. The Naira over the years has suffered inconsistencies in the exchange market. The cost of the Boko Haram insurgency is huge. The World Investment Report estimated that the insurgency has cost Nigeria N1.33 trillion in foreign direct investment (FDI) as at 2012.
THE COST OF WAR
A war occurs when two or more parties engage in confrontations for “Rights” that result in wanton destruction of lives and properties. The question now is, when will Nigeria start to learn her lessons? War is a crime against humanity. War erodes human dignity. War humiliates. War destroys. It devastates. The cost of war is inestimable; the cost of war is unbearable. It must be avoided by all means and at all cost.
The horrors of the Sudanese war are there for all to see. The ghost of the Rwandan genocide remains scary and is still haunting the Continent, even long after the war is over. What of the dread of the ongoing Somali war? It is still staring us in the face. So also were the wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and even the Nigerian Civil War. They all leave behind trails of sufferings, horrors, sorrows, degradation and the likes. Let us take a cursory look at the cost of some major wars in Africa, and see how foolhardy it is to go to war.
The above gory picture of destruction, disruption and desolation of lives and property is the reason why we need to think. This data is provided to provoke our commitment to sound reasoning. May we not experience another war as a Nation forever! The above data presented is to provoke our commitment to sound reasoning and engagement in Managing Conflicts before they degenerate to catastrophe. It has become the norm to maim and kill in the continent. Centrifugal and centripetal forces in Africa continually engage themselves in all manner of wars, particularly fratricidal ones. Mainly over resource and land control, which if well diagnosed, external influence will be clearly detected. Aside seeking these scarce but profitable resources in Africa, western and some Asian economies are now grown by the sale of weapons to Africa, whose use lead to escalating conflicts. The Rwandan and Sudanese conflicts are two clear examples. The military industrial complex develops in those patron countries because African peoples continue to buy weapons to fight and kill one another. It is therefore my belief that those who perpetrate war are largely selfish; they are self-centered people who want everything by all means.
THE WAY OUT: A CLARION CALL FOR A NEW WAY OF THINKING
At a time like this, when all hope seems to be going down, we can only make a loud call for a “stop and think” approach. People who stop thinking start stinking. Africans and Nigerians in particular, need a call to think more deeply about the consequences of their actions. The perpetrators of evil and violence in Nigeria, their sponsors, their sympathizers would need to think deeper.
It is also a time for us to think on the way to help those whose reasoning has become perverted to the point of taking up arms to kill innocent citizens. It is time to take up intellectual arms to solve the security problems of our nation. Until we solve the security problems we may not solve the economic problems because security of life directly affects our economic stability and growth. No matter what right is being asserted, it should not deprive other citizens of the right to live.
I believe that only those who do not know the cost of war will not think of embracing peace. War destroys, peace builds. But it takes a thinking man to realize, appreciate, embrace and practice that. Those who are insane need the urgent intervention of those who are sane if we all must escape the horrors of their insanity. Nobody in the right mind will kill another fellow human being in the name of religion. We should commit ourselves to more thinking to get Nigeria back on the track of peace, security, growth and development.
The greatest challenge to Africa’s development and Nigeria’s in particular, is the underdeveloped mind of Africans. Africans have become cheap pawns in the chessboard of their benefactors. The mind of the Nigerian should be transformed into new mind that can conceive a new Nigeria into existence. Minds that can resist indoctrination of evil.
We cannot afford to go to war again in Nigeria. War is not the way forward. Peace is the key to growth and development. For instance, what example will we be laying for other African nations who look up to us? Should we embrace war rather than peace? As a Nation, we have been a part of resolving conflicts in Africa, particularly in the West African sub-region. It is therefore time to embrace our God-given and highly priced resources to resolve our national crises.
A reengineering process of our value system is the key to managing our conflicts. Until something changes within us, nothing changes around us. I want to believe that all hope is not lost. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who observed that a “leader is a dealer in hope.” We can therefore create the tomorrow we desire by creatively engaging our diverse resources. We can indeed create the tomorrow we desire by creatively engaging our intellectual resources towards its realization.
This is a wake-up call to all those who believe in the Nigerian Project, to rise up to give hope in these trying times. The essence of education at all levels, particularly University education is to enhance man’s capacity to think solutions and this is why I believe that developed nations are far more stable because of the depths and viability of their structure and the respect of all stakeholders to their accompanying rules. This is the time to show if we truly have leaders in this part of the world.
Waiting for others to resolve our conflicts might result into waiting for ever. It is high time we took responsibility to engage intellectually and otherwise, in resolving our differences and managing our conflicts. We must start to thinking the impossible and daring the seemingly immovable mountains.
In dealing with conflict resolution, there are three irrefutable requirements to note: Character, Courage, and Capacity. From my little experience in conflict resolution both at the National and State Levels, these three irrefutable requirements had always come to play. God bless Nigeria, and God bless Africa!!!
By David Oyedepo, FNAE
Chancellor, Covenant University, Canaan Land, Ota, Nigeria.