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Africa-a land of beautiful and fascinating sceneries, a land of rich culture, a land where wild and untamed animals reside, a land blessed with natural resources but when someone talks about Africa the first thing comes in mind is a battlefield, killing of innocent people, poverty, lack of food, dictatorship and above all the civil wars. Then the question arises why Africa had so many civil wars? There could be many reasons to explain this: political instability, economic decline, interference of other countries to gain access to natural resources, clash of ethnicities, colonization effect etc. Many African nations became the victims of civil wars since 1960. The last few decades saw the killing of 50,000 people in Sierra Leone, the genocide of thousands of people in Rwanda and Burundi, the race murder of hundreds of people in The Democratic Republic of Congo and many more. We will put light on the different causes that made Africa vulnerable to civil wars.

                                        Africa is an ethnically diverse continent. People are related with different tribes and each tribe has its own culture, customs, traditions, way of living and some tribes have a different language. When we observe the nations devastated by civil wars we come across the fact that these nations are ethnically diverse nations. For example Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and our own country Pakistan constitute ethnically diverse nations. Ethnic riots fueled by Bengali nationalism resulted in fall of Bangladesh in 1971. But how do these ethnicities grew so strong among the people of Africa? What made them so ethnic and so different that they don’t accept one another? We will start with the rise of ethnic conflicts followed by civil war in Africa. An attempt will be made to reveal the actual facts behind the rise of Ethnic nationalism.

                            It can be traced back to the European colonization of Africa. In 1870 powerful and strong nations of that time in which Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Belgium started to colonize the lands of Africa for their own purpose. They started to impose their own way of life on African people. It wasn’t that simple and resistance from African people erupted. But malleable, corrupt and traitors are found everywhere. In order to gain wealth and prestige from both their own people and European some African people came forward and supported the colonizers and helped them in imposing their rules and regulations on African people. To get work from the African people in a peaceful manner and environment, colonizers made different small tribes and those who supported colonizers were made the chiefs of those tribes. And like this the concept of tribalism came out. Every African must belong to a tribe just like every European belongs to a nation. For decades things went well with every person stuck to his tribe and making the unique customs for their tribes. Every African became passionate for his own tribe and could do anything for it. Then the two historical major wars of the world broke out, World War I in 1914 and World War II in 1939 and European nations started to fight among themselves. The world realized that the nations that called themselves civilized were actually not that civilized. After the two wars these European nations became weaker economically and politically. Eventually they had to leave the captured African lands and decolonization of Africa started. They divided Africa in different nations in such a way by appointing the leaders of their own choice in those nations so that their influence could persist. They did not define clear boundaries between the nations and left them on their own. After the departure of Europeans, the people from different tribes and ethnicities that were once made by colonizers for their own purposes started to fight among themselves for the control of power and resources. All the civil wars that have been took place in Africa happened after the decolonization. In an interview the chief of a tribe in Zambia criticizing the colonization said, “My people were not Soli until 1937 when the Bwana D.C. told us we were. The concept of the Zulu as a discrete ethnic group did not emerge until 1870.”1 The problem of civil wars over ethnicity can only be related to colonialism. Bishop Desmond Tutu, a renowned bishop of Africa, in a conference of International Development Organization said,” When the missionaries (from Europe) came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”2

                             After the World War II, the United States of America and USSR emerged as world super powers. The implicit war, which is known as cold war in the history, between these two nations has been started since that time. Both the countries tried to sabotage each other through third parties. Africa played a major role in the cold war. Both the countries used African lands and African nations to undermine each other. For Example, when the Angolan government allied itself with America by receiving the promises from American government that they will help to develop Angola and strengthen the government, USSR through its intelligence agencies formed a rebel group within the country against Angolan government.7 A bloody civil war erupted between the government and rebellion group. Money, weapons, military equipments, medical aids etc flowed from the capitalist and communist country into Angola. The civil war ended with a complete chaos. Thousands of people were killed and millions were left refugees. The World policy Institute has accused America in one of their reports by stating that $1.5 billion worth of weapons to Africa has come from US alone.3 Although both the governments condemn the civil wars and vow that they will try their best to eliminate civil wars in Africa but we find the inside stories different.

                                     Where natural resources of a country promote and boost the economy of a country, it can sometimes lead to a bloody and violent civil war like the world saw in Africa. Natural resources are one of the reasons that ignited civil wars in Africa. African lands are highly enriched in natural resources and minerals like oil, gold and diamonds, aluminum, cocoa, timber, precious metals etc are found abundantly.8 Many developed countries and multinational companies try to exploit and gain control over these natural resources. Natural resources fuel conflict in Africa in two ways: internal politics and external interference. Politics is used as a main tool to control these natural resources. Gain over these resources mean inflow of massive income and revenues. Different political parties in Africa tried hard to gain access to these natural resources by getting into the government. This contest for government led to the civil wars by forming rebels groups and weakened one another through these small rebel groups. For example gaining access to oil in Nigeria was the main reason that caused civil war. Moreover, Detachment of government from the civil society could be another cause that erupted civil wars in Africa. A government collects taxes from its citizens and in return it fulfills the needs and demands of its citizens. In a highly richen natural resource country where the revenues go directly to the government, the government don’t stress enough on the taxes and separates itself from its responsibilities. The government ignores the concern of general public which causes anger and rage among the people which leads to a civil war. The civil war in Zaire was due to detachment of government. External interference in natural resources of Africa has often led to a civil war. Many major companies in order to extract the mineral erupts a civil war for their own purposes. For example, a UK based diamond selling company helped in civil war in Sierra Leone. It used to buy diamonds much cheaper and then would sell them with much higher price. Even if the foreign companies are not directly involved in a civil war, it helps in extending it. In order to operate regularly they attach themselves with either government or rebel group to get protection in a civil war nation. These companies pay money and that money becomes a big source for weapons. If they stop giving money, these rebel groups will run out of money and won’t be able to finance their war.

                                 In an economic survey, it was shown that those countries that are dependent mostly on its revenues from the export of its natural resources are more vulnerable to a civil war. Most African nations like Angola, Nigeria etc are depended on oil and diamonds export. Many different causes are attached to this reason for civil war. The term “Dutch phenomenon” is used for it. When a nation exports much of its natural resources and do not set up industries to use them, the nation’s real exchange rate and wage rate increases. This made African countries less competitive in the world market. Thus, the economic condition of the country is worsened and it becomes one of the causes of civil war.

                                       In a survey conducted by UNDP, it was revealed that nations’ having the low level of income, rate of growth is declining, and its political, social and economical structure is weak is prone to civil wars and such a country runs a risk of around one-in-seven every five years.4 Most of the African nations are poor countries and heavily depended upon foreign aids. Most of the Africans don’t have access to basic life necessities like food, clean water, health, electricity etc. The average life expectancy is 41 years. Less than 50% of people have access to hospitals or doctors. The literacy rate is less than 60%. About 60 percent of people are affected with HIV/AIDS. An estimated 72% of people live in slums. Eighty percent of the people living in Africa live on a daily income of less than two U.S. dollars. Around 600 million people are malnourished.5 These are some of the facts and statistics that clearly show the depth of poverty in Africa. When people don’t have anything to eat, don’t have schools to study, don’t have hospitals to treat themselves, then the ultimate result is outbreak of a civil war. All those nations in Africa that are affected by civil wars had one thing in common-poverty. The global community has not helped to eliminate the poverty in Africa. Africa is blessed with a lot of minerals. The developed nations should have reduced the poverty by developing its industries. This would have reduced the joblessness and in return would have eradicated poverty that caused civil wars.

Media is sometimes attributed as the fourth pillar of the state by contemporary political analysts. It can be vital in shaping people’s opinion and sometimes the whole political scenario is driven by media. Freedom of press has literally granted absolute power to media and exactly because of this reason it is acting as a channel for higher authorities to articulate and gain legitimacy for their actions. The case of Africa is no different. Media was unfair in depicting the true picture of civil war of Africa. It was biased in revealing the true factors behind civil wars. The state control media was many a times showing only one side of the picture besides this it served as an effective weapon for the dominant group in raising emotional appeal to justify their actions. An ordinary citizen of Europe would know that billions of dollars in aid is given to the African countries but he would have little knowledge about the killings of thousands of people in the civil wars of Africa. We can only blame media for this. We hear news about the killings of people in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq etc but we heard little about the genocide of people in Africa. If this had happened in Europe or America, it would have made headlines for weeks in media.

Now that we have gone through some causes of civil wars in Africa, it can be confidently said that these civil wars are not inevitable. The African nations can live in peace and harmony too like any other country of the world. The foremost thing is the scrutiny of government by citizens. Botswana is an African nation too with lots of diamond mines like Sierra Leone but the former took advantage of its natural resource and it is now a developing nation while the later missed its opportunity. The world too has to play its role in bringing this Dark Continent out of miseries and dark. The world should stop exploiting its natural resources. The developed countries with the help of nongovernmental organizations should build their economy strong instead of giving them aids. The media can contribute a lot in stopping the civil wars in Africa by showing exactly what is happening there. The media through its vast network should appeal to the people for donation. But the most important thing is the unity among African people because at the end of the day it’s an African who is killing another African.

By Jawad Kareem

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