Conflict Management: The Need for a Reengineered Value System

Published on 14th July 2014

A leader is a dealer of hope. The quality of a speech is not in the volume of quotes but in the depth of thought.  It is not also what we hear that equals lessons but thinking through what we hear. In the same vein, what we see does not equal lessons learnt, but thinking through what we see, does. As someone rightly observed, “Eyes that look are many but eyes that see are few.” This is what I believe is the problem of Africa – inability to draw lessons from the things we see, hear, observe and even experience. 

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. 


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: 

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). 


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. 


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.  


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.

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