Armed Conflicts in Africa

Arsene Brice Bado, SJ

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Observing the situation of many African states, one becomes aware of lacerated societies, or at least of societies in “high tension” where the main issue at stake is one of internal cohesion. Many states resemble aggregates of entities forced to live together while doing their utmost to affirm their own uniqueness. Thus, the political space becomes the field in which these different entities enter into competition, at times violently, endangering national unity. In particular, after the beginning of the 1990s, with the ending of the equilibrium of the Cold War, the African continent has witnessed the outbreak of a significant number of civil conflicts. These have been characterized by their regional dimension, the multiplicity of the protagonists — combative or not — the variety of the economic or political motivations which underlie them, and the brutality of the strategies used.

The multiplicity of the African conflicts has for some time aroused strong interest amongst academic researchers. The many and contradictory hypotheses have had to account for conflict dynamics and whether these have an “African character.” The problem is that the reading of a conflict notably influences the way in which we then intend to resolve it. The challenges of analyzing a conflict are therefore significant. The fact that the international community has found it hard to help bring certain conflicts to an end is not always due to a lack of resources or commitment, but more often to poor understanding of the conflict, its causes, its actors, its evolution, and the issues in play.

The problem with the classical analytical approaches to armed conflicts in Africa is that they often propose partial readings which lead the international community into distorted responses.

The limits of the traditional approaches to the explanation of conflicts in Africa

The numerous theoretical variants which are usually applied to these conflicts may be grouped into the following six approaches: identitybased, economic, institutional, geopolitical, sequential, and those founded on motives of resentment. Let us briefly examine them.

1) In identitybased approaches, the causes of the civil conflicts in Africa are explained by the failure of various identity groups (ethnic, religious, or regional) to coexist. Many African states, in fact, appear to be a mix of antagonistic sociocultural groups, which colonization has forced to live together in one and the same territory with arbitrary borders.1  For example, in the Central African Republic, the populations of the North have more historical, cultural, linguistic, and commercial ties with the population of Chad than with the rest of the population of the Central African Republic.

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