KAMPALA – Author and journalist Fareed Zakaria once observed that today, “The richest countries of the world are not in geopolitical competition with one another, fighting wars, proxy wars, or even engaging in arms races or cold wars…You would have to go back hundreds of years to find a similar period of great power peace”.
According to Zakaria, the number of people who have died as a result of war (in the developed nations) is down 50 per cent this decade from the 1990s and it is down 75 per cent from the preceding five decades. In fact, it is said that these countries are living in the most peaceful times in human history.
The political stability experienced in the developed world has allowed the creation of a strong economic system, which has enabled them to flourish and grow immeasurably. For instance, today, the average Chinese person is 10 times richer than he or she was 50 years ago and further estimates indicate that a third of all the babies born in the developed countries this year will live to be 100 years.
In Africa, on the other hand, armed conflicts and civil wars continue to be the order of the day and are only getting worse. An analysis of the most relevant events revealed that in 2021, there were at least 20 African countries with active armed conflicts. And as a result, more than 30,000 Africans were brutally killed, an almost ten-fold increase from a decade ago.
The growing violence and military tensions in African countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, DR Congo, Libya and Mali, have led to huge loss of life, exacerbated urban problems, derailed social progress and are locking these countries into a downward spiral of intergenerational poverty.
The rising military spending by African states is absorbing a growing share of their already limited national budgets, in contrast to a general decline in other parts of the world. Available statistics show that military spending in Africa exceeded $43 billion in 2020, up from $15 billion in the 1990s.
We need to understand this: When guns become a national obsession, all other social and developmental needs become a luxury. Former U.S President John F. Kennedy said on one occasion: “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”
And in my opinion, much of the armed conflict and violence in a significant number of African countries is driven by competition for resources, corruption, weak governance and a failure to manage the resultant ethnic diversity, as well as to build a common national identity.
There has been a consistent correlation between countries with lower GDP per capita, weak institutions and the likelihood of descending into armed conflict and civil wars. In Ethiopia, for example, a power struggle, a failed national election and poverty are among several factors that led to the crisis that has now spanned more than 2 years.
Well, it is true that sometimes the causes of these armed conflicts are as varied and complex as the challenges of resolving them, but in general, most actors – former and current – are almost after the same goals. And for some reason, those in power never learn from past experiences – some are drunk with success and sick with ambition.
It is painful to watch countries like Libya, Ethiopia, Senegal, Sudan and Ivory Coast getting engulfed in chaos, lawlessness and violence. This is because, not so many years ago, these countries were the envy of the continent (and perhaps the world), and were among the fastest-growing economies.
The impact of war has generated a series of lethal but indirect consequences on many African economies since the late nineteenth century, robbing them of their developmental potential and democratic possibilities. The African continent has had the slowest growth among all the continents in the world.
Surprisingly, from a historical and global perspective, Africa has been no more prone to violent conflicts than other regions. Indeed, Africa’s share of the more than 180 million people who died from armed conflicts during the twentieth century is relatively modest: in the sheer scale of casualties there is no equivalent in African history to Europe’s First and Second World Wars, or even the civil wars and atrocities in revolutionary Russia and China.
But to many of the developed countries, war is a thing of the past and due to their ugly prior experiences, they learnt that using force perhaps shouldn’t be one of the first options in conflict resolution. Unlike Africa, they have consistently utilized other tools of engagement to achieve national objectives.
Yes, I am aware that the African Union (AU) has made a number of efforts in the past to avert this problem but most of them have failed miserably. Take the example of the “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” project adopted by the AU in 2013.
The initiative was intended to achieve a conflict-free Africa, prevent genocide, make peace a reality for all and rid the continent of wars, violent conflicts, human rights violations, and humanitarian disasters. The leaders hoped to have all the guns silenced by 2020.
Obviously, instead of improving, the situation got worse as 2020 saw the unfortunate return of military coups in Africa after a long while and failure by the AU to effectively intervene has further cast the Organization’s credibility in further disarray.
Contrary to what former drug lord Pablo Escobar said, not all empires are created of blood and fire, especially in the Modern world. A military siege is always expensive, costs both lives, time, energy and money. And with every battle we grower weaker.
In the words of Dr Martin Luther King: “Why can’t we at long last grow up, and take off our blindfolds, chart new courses, put our hands to the rudder and set sail for the distant destination, the port city of peace?”. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war.
Mr. Mukalazi is the Country Director of Every Child Ministries Uganda.