Realising sustained peace and security for development in Africa (2) -By Olusegun Obasanjo

Filed under: Global Issues |

Continued from Monday

Granted that the traditional arrangements for peace and security have been situated in the balance of power and collective security architectures, the post-Cold War era brought to the fore other realities. Today, Cold Peace has replaced Cold War. Competition has become fiercer than ever before. Economic survival, environmental issues, religious ideologies and issues of injustice, hunger, starvation, unemployment, poverty and sustainable development have degenerated into tension, claiming more casualties than in the battlefields and the two World Wars known to man.

The plight of individuals, the quality of lives of individuals within their immediate environments are now of concern. More people have been robbed of their pursuit of a happy, comfortable and joyous livelihood by extraneous considerations because of inept and corrupt leadership across various spheres.

How do we as leaders engender the absence and fear of our hapless, helpless and frustrated citizens?

I have heard stories of economic migrants and how many die in search of peace and greener pastures beyond the Sahara Desert and many perish in the Sahara and on the Mediterranean Sea because of the harsh economic realities foisted on them by corrupt, inept and clueless leaders at different levels. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said that human trafficking and migrant flows are on the rise.  The UNCHR also warned that with 84,830 people arriving on Italy’s shores so far this year from Libya, it represents a 19 per cent increase from the same period last year. Already, over 2,108 had died while trying to make the perilous crossing, often organised by ruthless smugglers in unseaworthy and rickety boats.

These are all signs that peace has taken a flight not because of war but because of ill-conceived and poorly implemented policies and graft by mindless and poor leadership. Today, we live in a world where there is stiff competition, so to speak, for the attention of the international community to build or mediate peace globally. Gone were the days when adequate attention was paid to Africa’s peace and security issues.  Today, there are stresses and strains across the globe. With crises in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and the brewing tension around the South China Sea and North Korea, Africa has to begin to look for solutions to its peace and security issues from within.

What is more, many European countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Belgium which, in the past, intervened in African crises now have to grapple with internal attacks by terrorists, whether homegrown or imported. And for the election of President Donald Trump of the United States of America, with his “America first” anti-globalisation policies, we Africans simply do not have the luxury of waiting for outsiders to solve our problems for us.  And in any case, their interventions have been mostly inimical to African interest.

There is a conundrum, though. Conflict is an important and inseparable part of human existence. Aside from internal conflicts in a human being, differing interests in the interactions between two or more people have been with us since the creation and/or evolution of man. Conflict arises as a result of serious disagreement between individuals, groups or countries. A violent situation or period of fighting either within a country or between two countries is usually seen in the negative sense. This is usually not the case because, depending on how conflict is handled, it can either be positive (constructive) or negative (destructive). No matter the manifestations of conflict, two issues are germane: The capacity to manage conflicts is crucial. Here, leadership deficit on our continent allows conflicts to fester until they become wars that claim several lives. The second is that unmanaged destructive conflicts usually hinder the progress and development of any society. When conflict blooms, each party to a conflict resolves to win at all cost. This tends to lead to wanton destruction of lives and property as emotions take precedence over reason.

To underscore this, a cursory look at some recent conflicts in the region will suffice; it is the reason I said advisedly that today’s Africa’s security challenges are inherently caused by Africans, especially self-conceited leaders as:

  1. Border conflict such as Eritrea and Ethiopia.
  2. Development conflict such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur in Sudan.
  3. Marginalisation conflict, real or perceived, such as South-Eastern Nigeria.
  4. Poor leadership and bad governance conflict such as Burundi and Guinea Bissau.
  5. Electoral conflict such as the Central African Republic.
  6. Induced conflict such as in Mali and Libya.
  7. Resource-based conflict such as in Libya, Sudan-South Sudan and Niger Delta militancy in Nigeria.
  8. Fundamentalist conflicts, religious or nationalistic such as Egypt.

Just as I was mulling on how to script something for this occasion, I watched a report on the BBC where there were allegations of killings by rival militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My mind flipped back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was reported that 3,000 lives had already been lost. The report warned of a particular ethnic militia being armed and supported by state security against other ethnic groups. I sincerely haven’t found time to thoroughly examine the plausibility of the DRC uprising again, so I cannot ascertain the correctness or otherwise of this media claim. What I can, however, state categorically is that the continent cannot afford a fresh humanitarian crisis to break out in that country.  We have not been able to successfully cope with what we already had in hand.

Already, elsewhere, there is the Boko Haram insurgency that we haven’t completely overcome. It has ravaged the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, as well as parts of Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republics. I was involved in finding out causes and I know the consequences of my action and inaction of those who were supposed to boldly face the challenge. I found out that refusal of the governments to pay compensation as ordered by the Court to the families of Boko Haram leaders who were innocently killed was partly responsible for the escalation of violent extremism. The escalation of the insurgent activities in the North-East of Nigeria and concomitant high cost to human and economic life of people of the region to a disproportionate use of “stick” rather than “carrot” in quelling the insurgency coalesced with poverty and youth unemployment to rob the people of their peace and the nation of good governance and dividends of democracy. How I wished that the serious conciliatory solutions had been embraced upon at the beginning of the crisis. I cannot but partly blame the escalation of the insurgency in the entire region to inertia of our ruling class!

Coupled with their ineptitude is the putrid tales of how money meant to fight the scourge ends up in the pockets of some notable public functionaries. Supposed peacekeepers and others collected money to consult marabouts when the nation was at ‘war’. In one rare operation, security people fund, a staggering sum of $9,772,800 and another sum of £74,000 cash, was found in someone’s house. At that point, I knew what we needed was more than re-orientation. It is deliverance we need. For me, addressing violent extremism requires a coordinated, comprehensive approach that addresses underlying structural and economic problems and the symptoms that surface in violent conflicts and insecurity.

Boko Haram insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and rendered over 2.3 million others displaced and what’s more, Boko Haram’s accomplice in East Africa, Al-Shaabab, with between 7,000 and 9,000-strong fighters are separately unleashing catastrophes and destruction.  You will understand why fundamentalism is a menace that must be tackled headlong because it poses a great threat to the peace and security of all of Africa.

Splinter groups of militants and terrorists may have found a temporary abode in Libya but the place has become an unstable state if not a failed state since the Arab Spring swept through it and with the support of the West, consumed its former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.

The stories of conflicts and instability are all over Africa. South Sudan, the youngest sovereign nation in the world, has plunged into a bloody civil war, having spent decades seeking independence from Sudan. The Central African Republic hasn’t fared better. And we have the entire Sahel Region to worry about as a hotspot for terrorism and violent extremism.

While there are other pull and push factors undermining Africa’s peace and security which I will return to shortly, it is of absolute necessity to point out that internal conflicts are the singular most prominent and immediate circumstances hindering peace and security in Africa. When internal conflicts take a violent turn (which they often do), other systemic threats to peace and security, such as human rights violation, displacement of people, malnutrition and diseases often follow.  The resultant effects of internal conflicts, as well as their intertwinement, are too numerous: A country devastated by conflict relegates democracy and good governance to the background; its people are often violated by the same institutions that are supposed to protect them; and no sane investors would commit their capital to a country whose climate is destructive. If poverty, hunger and economic underdevelopment are substantially attributed to violence and conflicts, it is apt to note that peace and security are necessary prerequisites for enjoying whatever dividends democracy, economic development and social justice are expected to bring to the table.