International Relations
Online ISSN : 1883-9916
Print ISSN : 0454-2215
ISSN-L : 0454-2215
Ethnic Conflicts in Africa
Africa: Towards the 21st Century
Makiko TODA
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2000 Volume 2000 Issue 123 Pages 91-109,L12


In this article, we will show the roots of ethnic conflicts in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Rwanda in 1994, 500, 000 to 1, 000, 000 people were murdered in about three months. Since the military coup d'état of October 21, 1993, Burundi is experiencing a genocide, too. Several dozens die every day. Hundreds of thousands are either in exile or are living under harsh conditions in camps inside the country. Too many people have lost their lives in Angola, Liberia, Congo-Kinshasa, Nigeria, Sudan and so on. Since independence, why have such a large number of ethnic conflicts taken place in Africa? We discuss three topics.
Firstly, there are two myths that are obstacles to our understanding Africa properly. One is that pluralism in African states causes ethnic conflicts. It is not true. Much in Africa is quiet, stable, and functioning. Ethnicity itself does not necessarily generate ethnic conflict. We can see many cases that show peaceful coexistence of different ethnic group. The other is that there is ethnic antagonism since pre-colonial era and it causes ethnic conflicts. When the genocide started in Rwanda, most journalists explained it as the ‘tribal’ battle for ‘500 years’. Historical research shows this explanation does not work. The ‘Hamitic hypothesis’ is totally denied today. Ethnic identity is not eternal but changeable. In many cases ethnic nationalism we see today appeared in 1950s when African elites started to think ‘who governs the state’.
Secondly, what causes ethnic conflicts in Africa is the collapsed state, not ethnicity. The mark of state collapse is the breakdown of law and order. The collapsed state is also controlled by a small privileged group coming from one region, one ethnic group or one clan. This group uses the state as a tool to get personal or group benefits. Their concern is not people's welfare, but how to divide the national cake. Even genocide is the last tactics for the privileged group to sustain their power. Systems that permit the control by one ethnic group or region, such as the system under the First Nigerian Republic, may result in ethnic conflicts.
Thirdly, the international community has responsibility for the African conflicts. As to Rwandan genocide in April 1994, at least, France, Belgium, USA and UN are blamed for not attempting to prevent genocide, because they knew the preparation of genocide in 1993 or at the beginning of 1994 already. The Big Powers have supported dictators economically and militarily for a long time. The international community also has responsibility to regulate the considerable flow of small arms towards Africa.

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