Volume 10, Issue 4
Alfred Nhema and Paul Zeleza, (eds). The Roots of African Conflicts: The Causes & Costs. Oxford, UK: James Currey (in association with OSSREA), 2008. 238p.
Portrayal of African wars and woos is central to the text ‘The Roots of African Conflicts: The Causes and Costs. Authors indicate the factors that have attracted Africa into continuous conflict cycles mostly intra-state conflicts. Wars are typically related to imperialism, decolonization, ethnicity, religion and political malfunction in the various papers. The external and internal pressures leading to terrorism are identified as national, transnational and global.
In his review of the papers Zeleza notes “African wars can be differentiated in terms of causal factors and dynamics, spatial scale and location, military equipment and engagements deployed, impacts of military and civilian populations, and consequences on politics, the economy, society, the environment, cultural structures and mental states.”
This view cuts across the papers as reflected by in what Ali Mazrui extensively writes about the patterns in African wars pointing out religion, ethnicity and racism, which he identifies as aspects of pluralism which is dangerous to society’s harmonious co-existence.
Henderson examines the event entailing political malfunction in African states citing the circumstance of state building in Africa as having the challenges of a ‘ state strengthening dilemma’ where in this formation instead of achieving citizens allegiance to the state resistance was developed leading to political repression and thus insurgency.
Ghaffer offers a case study of Sudan, an African state he describes jeopardized by not only religion, ethnicity and language but economic inequity which has escalated into strife caused by distrust between North and South Sudan. Ghaffer centres his argument on the colonial intention of halting the Islamizing of black Africa which in the process opened the door to other forms of disunity and thus conflict.
Akokpari links African conflict to the colonial experience, failure of the state and external factors. He notes that African states are artificial a design of colonial imagination rather than the actual nationhood. Akokpari cites the contradiction and complexities of managing heterogeneous African states as well as the implications of external impacts on African politics such as the fact that independence for African states was a product of the cold war.
Further examining the trend of conflict in Africa Thandika Mkandawire gives various explanations taken from other authors to illustrate the scenario of rebellion and violence in Africa. He notes the peddling of Afro-pessimism quoting the Economist (May 13, 2000) which stated ‘The Hopeless Continent’ as a headline. In the cultural view he demonstrates African violence as a hereditary trait, then points out Chris Allen’s paradigm of ‘spoil politics’ in Africa noting the urge for self enrichment hence the urge to grab power with intent to loot. The rational choice explanation Mkandawire gives suggests there is some injustice that rebellion seeks to rectify culminating into violence.
In his final argument he give the common African scenario of elite persons teaming up in the urban areas as factions and then steaming up rebellion mostly in the rural side basing on the failure in the cities. The argument that stimulates the debate further is in the reality that all rebel groups are made up of persons with different motives and so are a challenge in them.
The role of women play in revolutions is focal in Aaronette Whites paper about African women combatants. Her discussion centres on women’s contribution and how often they are sidelined by governments they supported into power.
Sandra MacLean identifies Africa’s political disheveled environment with the global network in which transnational networks emerge including those dealing in arms. Though MacLean states that not all transboundary formations are exploitative many such formations are constructed as ‘networks of plunder’.  She brings out an important reality in the creation of NEPAD, on how Africa has continued to be a continent lingering in decision made by the western world.
An interesting state of affairs is brought out by Cephas Lamina on legislative responses and protecting human rights. In his paper, he cite a number of African countries who are party to the international conventions and protocols on terrorism but interpret them in such a manner has led to the violation of human rights such as the right to expression, life, human dignity, association and fair trial.
Fondo Sikod points out the implication of war or violent conflict in Africa mainly as poverty and food insecurity which also perpetuate conflict as a result of frustration brought on by lack of social reciprocity and tolerance for different ideas. The proposition seems to act out the notion a hungry man is an angry one. In that the root cause of the violence is traced back to poverty and food security.
The last paper in the book by Timothy Shaw and Pamela Mbabazi focuses on Uganda bringing out the attributes of a state under reconstruction and yet still in conflict. The North – South divide is noted as well as the advantage western Uganda in particular Mbarara has had in development.
The book covers a wide range of view which holds truth to the African situation in terms of the root causes of conflict. It is evident that internal and external forces have led to the underlying violent conflicts but with a number of motives and thus cause. However key cases for instance the fact that pre-colonial Africa had conflicts rooted in trade and the desire for territorial expansion is left out. The mention of Kingdom and Empire formation by the Asante, Hausa, Nyamwezi, Banyoro and Zulu are not mentioned plus such mercenary activities as those conducted by the Ngoni Ruga Ruga warriors.
Furthermore there is no mention of the actual role of women in empire or nation building in pre-colonial Africa. This mention would enhance the depiction of the role of African women, such as the Amazon’s who were famous warriors in Dahomey as well as the female warriors in the Monomotapa Kingdom, in revolutions and war.
Mention of recent incidents on the global scene such as the 2004 Mark Thatcher scandal which involved former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son engaging helping finance a foiled plot to overthrow the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea would add weight to the debate as evidence implicating the western world in Africa’s conflict.
 Tiyambe Zeleza. Introduction: The Causes and Costs of war in Africa, pg. 3.
 Ali Mazrui. Conflict in Africa: An Overview, pg. 38.
 Errol Henderson. When States Implode: Africa’s Civil wars 1950 – 92 pg. 54.
 Abdel Ghaffer Ahme. Multiple Complexities and Prospects for Reconciliation and Unity: Sudan, pg. 75.
 John Akokpari. Citizenship, the State and African Conflict: Ivory Coast, pg. 89 - 91.
 Sandra MacLean. Fighting Locally, Connecting Globally, pg. 171.
Linda Lilian Mountains of the Moon University