Conflict Resolution in Africa: The Case of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)

©2013 Textbook 83 Pages


The objective of this research is to investigate the causes of conflict in Africa. Further, it discusses the role played by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in ensuring political order during its period of existence. The study employs content analysis of historical documents, academic works, internet sources and also current conflict situations in Africa as a baseline for its argument. Mainly, the study shows which major sources of tension need to be resolved to enjoy a sound, stable, peaceful, political and economic environment in the new millennium.


Table of Contents

Lists of Tables



Chapter 1: Background
1.1. The Global Conflict Situation
1.1. The Conflict Situation in Africa
1.3. Conflict Transformation Model (CTM)

Chapter 2: Causes of Conflicts in Africa
2.1. The Search for Sources and Answers
2.1.2. The Political Dimension─The Role of the Elites
2.1.3. The Economic Dimension

Chapter 3: The Organisation of African Unity
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Objectives of the OAU
3.3. Principles of the OAU
3.4. Structure and Organs of the OAU
3.4.1. The Assembly of Heads of State Government
3.4.2. The Council of Ministers
3.4.3. The Secretariat
3.4.4. The Commission of Mediation, Arbitration and Conciliation: Organ for conflict resolution
3.5. Approaches to Conflict Resolution by OAU
3.5.1. Summit Diplomacy
3.5.2. Ad Hoc Committees
3.5.3. Presidential Mediation
3.5.4. The use of Good Offices
3.6. Assessment of OAU─Application of Theory

Chapter 4: Sub-regional Organisations and Peace in Africa - The Case of ECOWAS Intervention in Liberia
4.1. West Africa─the Black House of Africa
4.2. The Liberian Civil War─Underlying Factors
4.2.1. The Role of the Liberian Elites
4.2.2. The Economic Dimension
4.2.3. The External Connection
4.3. The Role of ECOWAS
4.4. Analysis of success

Chapter 5: Conclusion: Peace and Stability in Africa - Analysis and Prospects for the Future



I write to extend my gratitude to all those through whose efforts and support this work have been made possible. I would like to thank my entire family and most especially my beloved mother Salome Akweley Martey whose spiritual support and prayers saw me through the difficult moments of my academic journey. I am grateful to Dr. Frank Welz , Director of the Global Studies Programme (GSP), Prof. Mike Oquaye and the entire staff of the Ghana High Commission in New Delhi, India, for their kind and generous support and advice during the course of this study. I would also like to thank Profs. Jürgen Rüland (University of Freiburg, Germany) and Ari Sitas, (University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa) my thesis supervisors, and Mr. Helge Roxin (my advisor) for their generous time and energy in providing solid guidance over the development of this work. Finally to my late father, Mr. Laud Nii Ankrah (Ofanshèè), for laying the foundation for me to reach this height. To uncles John August (Nii John) and Moses Ankrah (Uncle Arday) who continued after him, I say a big thank you. The credit however is the Lord’s.

Lists of Tables

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The objective of this research was to investigate the causes of conflict in Africa and the role played by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in ensuring political order during its period of existence. The study employed content analysis of historical documents, academic works, Internet sources and also current conflict situations in Africa as a baseline for its argument. The results showed that, despite the role of ethnicity as a source of conflicts in Africa, political and economic factors are the major sources of tension on the continent. The OAU, this paper argues, could not have a tangible impact in its attempt to ensure peace and stability on the continent, hence the functional shift to Sub-regional Organisations in the area of peace and security. Notwithstanding its logistical and financial weaknesses, the Organisation failed to understand the sources of tension of most of the conflicts that occurred in Africa so as to map out a more pragmatic, multi- sectoral, and multi- dimensional approach to manage and resolve them. Factors such as the need for a more pragmatic and realistic continental policies involving good governance and genuine decentralisation were identified as crucial elements of consideration if Africa is to enjoy a sound, stable, peaceful, political and economic environment in the new millennium.

Chapter 1: Background

1.1. The Global Conflict Situation

The dramatic changes in the international system which begun in the latter half of the 1980s led to the belief that a new age of peace, a new world order had dawned. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and a united Germany, ideological and military bipolarity yielded seemingly to a new era where Western political and economic ideologies stood without much challenge. The cold war is over; many hailed the victory of Western democracy and Francis Fukuyama declared the “end of history” (cited in Zormelo and Mayer, 1996:84). Indeed, a different era, what has been described as a “new world order” has been established. This era is different from the Cold War era of the preceding 40 years. A period marked by nuclear disarmaments and subtle Cold War strategies have been followed by one rendered even unstable by crisis and regional conflicts all over the world.

For Africa, the story of the past four decades reads like the litany of the apocalypse as the continent continues to be devastated by conflicts and the wide spread destruction of life, limb and property. The names of many African countries continue to evoke images of horror, elemental suffering, destruction and death: Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Angola, Mozambique, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad, Burundi, Somalia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone As one locus of horror begins to recede in memory, another locus, even more horrifying, thrust itself onto the scene. Think about the Rwandan conflict. The third worse genocide of the 20thcentury (first being that of the Armenians by the Young Turks in 1915 and second that of the Jews and Gypsies by the Nazis from 1938 to 1944 (Destexhe, 1995: 21). The genocide in Rwanda had been the worst in modern history where in a matter of days another ethnic group decimated a whole population. Philip Gourevitch (cited in Hauss 2001:3) gave a graphic picture of the holocaust in Rwanda in the following words:

Decimation means the killing of every tenth person in a population and in the spring and early summer of 1994 a program of massacre decimated the Republic of Rwanda. Although the killing was low-tech performed largely by machete it was carried at dazzling speed; of an original population of about seven and a half million, at least eight hundred thousand were killed in just a hundred days. Rwandans often speak of million deaths and they might be right. The dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

During the decades of the 1980´s alone, it is estimated that conflicts and violence claimed over 3 million lives with 160 million Africans living in the throes of war (Amoo, 1997: 2). The figure of 3 million deaths could well be over 4 million if the Rwandan genocide of 1994 is factored in, and the wars of Burundi and Liberia are also included. Since the 1960, full- fledged civil wars have been fought in Africa; and eleven genocides and politicides occurred in Africa between 1960 and the late 1980´s, compared with twenty-four elsewhere in the world. At the beginning of 1990, Africans accounted for 43 percent of the global population of refugees, most of them fleeing from political violence, and many dying from famine and exposure to diseases. The majority of these were women and children. According to the United Nations Children and Educational Fund (UNICEF), between 1980 and 1988, 850, 000 children who would otherwise have lived died as a result of only two of Africa’s wars, in Angola and Mozambique, (cited in Amoo, 1997).

Almost four decades of post-independence Africa have indeed, been frittered away in conflicts; they have been what have been described as the locust years: “The years the locust hath eaten” (Joel, 2:25). What caused the invasion of the locusts? Could these locust years have been avoided? What role did the OAU, the major regional security regime played during these periods in resolving the numerous conflicts that plagued the continent?

The table below shows the yearly and regional composition of wars in progress during the period between 1950- 1998. As it indicates, 16 out of the 38 wars fought during these period occurred in Africa.

Table 1. Wars in Progress Each Year between 1990 and 1998, by Region.

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Source: Adapted from Carnegie Commission, Preventing Deadly Violence. New York: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Violence, 1997: 12.

Predictions on the global conflict situation continue to be very gloomy. Michael Lund (1999) in Preventing Violent Conflict: A Strategy for Diplomacy noted that: “In the years ahead crisis and threats will grow more numerous, not less, and will pose significant threats to international peace and security and to the interest of nations”.

The journalist, Robert Kaplan (1994, 1996) also warned of a “coming anarchy” in which the combination of crime, poverty, environmental decay and war will make our world a far more volatile and violent place to live. Huntington (1993) predicts the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. What does this holds for Africa?

1.1. The Conflict Situation in Africa

Africa’s track record on civil war, violent conflict, strife and political instability has, with a large measure of justification, earned it the appellation of a continent at war against itself, with war torn politics, pauperized and divided societies. More than 2 million people have been killed in civil wars, strives and political uprising in the course of the past decade while about 10 million have been victims of force migration and starvation. More resources have been expended on the importation of arms than on the importation of food to alleviate hunger and famine and on education and health to counter illiteracy and ignorance and the low expectation of life at birth (Adedeji, ed.1999: xvi).

Omer Beshir (Krafona, ed. 1988:131) provides us with an example of the huge amount of money spent on arms importation from the former West Germany by Algeria and Sudan, two African countries that for the past decades had be torn apart by the activities of separatists movements. As he stated, West Germany’s military aid to the continent increased from $73 million during 1965-1974 to $ 425 million during 1974- 1978 with Algeria ($250 million) and Libya ($140 million) being the two largest recipients. Others include Sudan ($ 130 million) and Morocco ($50 million).

During the last five years of the 1980s, the value of Africa’s import of arms (about US60 billion) was more than twice that of the rest of the Third World, estimated at about US$ 28.9 billion (Adedeji, 1999: xvi). Given the escalation of conflicts that has taken place during the second half of the 1990s these figures will be much higher today. As the new millennium approaches, sub- Saharan Africa is increasingly devoured by warfare. Currently, almost two- thirds of its countries are embattled and paralyzed. The table below provides a general view of the conflict situation in SSA: It is a triple-typological classification published in 1996 by the African Center for Development and Strategic Studies (ACDESS).

Table 2 Categorization of SSA countries by the prevailing political condition as of the last quarter of 1998

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Source : ACDESS Conflict Monitoring System.

It is important to note that a lot of significant changes have since taken place between and among the different categories since this report was made. Table 2 shows the category to which each of the 48 SSA countries belonged to at the end of 1998. When this classification was made in May 1996, 12 countries were each in Categories 1 and 4 whilst 24 were in Category 3. This indicates that during the first quarter of 1996, 50 percent of SSA countries enjoyed more or less stable political conditions and good governance. The situation has since changed quite significantly. By the end of 1998, only 39% of the 48 SSA countries (i.e.19) enjoyed stable political conditions (Category 3); 23 per cent (i.e. 11 countries) faces political crisis and turbulence while 38 percent (i.e. 18 countries) were engaged in armed conflict or civil strife.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that during the course of the past four decades large numbers of countries in all three categories have undergone violent changes of government more than once. Nigeria tops the list with six such changes, in addition to a month -long civil war in which an estimated one million people were killed, maimed or displaced (Adedeji, 1999). Sudan, Uganda, Ghana, Burundi and Benin have each undergone violence and brutalisation five times; Chad, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone have had four times while Ethiopia, Congo, Comoros and Central African Republic have each experienced six times. Eight other countries have each had two bouts: Liberia, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Rwanda, Somalia and Togo. In all, 31 countries have together undergone periods of political tumulus and brutalisation.

In other words many of these countries now in category 3 have been in either of the two other categories or in both in the course of the past four decades. Only a few countries have been spared violent changes of government since independence. The most notable ones in this exceptional group are Botswana, Cote, d` Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mauritius, Sao Tome & Principe, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. However much cannot be said of some of these countries now. Côte d` Ivoire, a once prosperous country is currently going through a political crisis as a result of civil war between the Moslem North and Christian South. Zimbabwe is also currently facing serious political upheavals as a result the land policy of Robert Mugabe. South Africa, Mali, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, and Benin are but a few shining examples on the continent now.

Frantic efforts are being made at the continental and global levels by policy makers, diplomats and organizations to ensure global peace and security by finding the root causes of conflicts and finding solutions to them. Prominent politicians such as former US President, Jimmy Carter and Senator George Mitchell have built new carriers as mediators in international disputes. Similarly, Bernard Kouchner moved from his post as head of Medicins sans frontieres to become, first, a cabinet minister in France, and then head of the UN reconstruction efforts in Kosovo. The ousted Georgian president during the Rose revolution and former Soviet foreign minister Eduardo Shevardnanze are among a growing number of national leaders who have set up government-sponsored centers to promote peace and conflict resolution in many parts of the world. For Africa, the urgent need to promote peace and stability on the continent is evidenced in the revitalization of the OAU into the African Union with elaborate security mechanisms provided for in its Charter. Various academic tin-tanks such as the ACDESS are also deeply involved in this task by carrying out various research and projects aimed at comprehending and mastering African conflicts so as to devise more pragmatic policies in resolving them.

The subject of Peace keeping and peace building has become part of the policies of many countries. Peacekeeping and peace building are now part of the training of all senior officers in the U.S, Canadian, and Scandinavian armies. One European think tank has identified more than 500 NGOs that devote all or part of their efforts to international conflict resolution (Mial, Ramsobotham, and Woodhouse, 1999). Today, there are tens of thousands of people who have full time- careers in governments, NGOs, and consulting firms specializing in conflict resolution

The academic community has also contributed to these efforts by providing theoretical insights to the global conflict situation. Scholars in the conflict resolution tradition have played a pioneering role in theorizing the type of conflicts that have become predominant in the post- Cold War period. The works of scholars like Zartman, Burton, Elise Boulding, Curle, Lederach, Galtung and others have been very relevant in explaining the dynamics of contemporary conflicts.

1.2. Theoretical Framework

The works of theorists in the field of conflict resolution have been very mixed and varied. For example, Zartman`s work has emphasized means of addressing the strategic calculations of parties which are conceived primarily as rational actors using violence for instrumental purposes. Burton`s work puts more emphasis on means of creatively re-perceiving conflict and redefining the interests involved; his emphasis is on values, perceptions and needs. The work of Elise Boulding, Curle, Lederach and others emphasis the transformative change among the actors and in the societies involved, seeing the conflict resolution approach as a reflexive, elective dialogue with actors who may not play a current role in power structures, but are agents of personal and social change.

Finally, Galtung and others have continued to reflect an integrated approach, which stresses a holistic process of conflict formation and transformation, linking the subjective and objective approaches. The newer theories are moving beyond the disjunction between subjectivist and objectivist (or relational and structural) thinking by exploring ways in which both subjective and objective views are explained inter-subjectively within a culture of shared meaning, in which the discourse of theorists and of participants in conflicts plays a crucial role.

This line of thought, which is exploring new territory, links closely with the emphasis on the cultural context of conflict, and the appreciation that both perceptions of the basic ontological human needs- universal needs for identity, recognition, security, dignity and participation, and of acceptable methods of transformation, are culturally bound. The above-mentioned theories, however, are not wholly incompatible. Each purport to analyze one part of the international system in which both parts now feature prominently. For the purpose of this work, the Conflict transformation model (CTM) of Kumar Rupesinghe will be employed.

1.3. Conflict Transformation Model (CTM)

The theory of conflict transformation arose as an alternative to the dominant paradigms of conflict transformation. As advocated by Lederach (1995), conflict transformation was formed to provide a comprehensive framework for addressing conflict throughout its phases─from the initial stages of indirect conflict, to full scale direct conflict to lastly, its resolution. Conflict transformation seeks to address the questions often neglected by leading practitioners of conflict resolution; structural violence, culture and cultural identity and the role individuals can play in diminishing conflict intensity and duration. In theory conflict transformation emphasizes a multi track approach. This recognizes the need to involve a multitude of actors, in a number of roles to establish a lasting peace (Lederach 1995:21; Rupesinghe 1995:76).

The application of the CTM of Kumar Rupesinghe as a hypothetical basis for this work is seen appropriate for several reasons: First, unlike the other conflict resolution models described above, which cannot escape the label “Made in the West” and a product of the Cold War which emphasize on interstate rivalry; Rupesinghe`s model emphasizes on internal conflicts and as such, is more appropriate to the Third World environment. where such intra- state conflicts is the norm.

Second is the multi-dimensional nature of protracted social conflicts plaguing much of Africa. Rupesinghe (nd: 65) emphasizes the need for an understanding of the non-linear peace building processes. Because of the complexity of many existing and emerging conflicts, a multi-sectoral approach to conflict transformation is needed. This multi-sectoral approach is a far more holistic approach to conflict transformation and, as such, allows it to be far more flexible in application than most conventional models which tend to be rigid resulting in a gap between theory and reality. This gap between words or principles and the actual situation on the ground is what has for long had affected efforts towards conflict resolution in many parts of Africa. This is an issue, which Rupesinghe (nd: 77-78) emphasized when he noted that:

We can speak of conflict processes─conflict transformation, conflict endurance and stagnation, and conflict transformation and renewal. However, as with human existence, conflict development is solely linear and does not lend itself to neat compartmentalization; it is rather a multi-dimensional, multi faceted process.

This multi- sectoral approach also necessitates the number of actors involved in the peaceful transformation of a conflict needs to be increased to reflect all the constituencies of the society. This is very crucial and important to the situation prevailing in Africa where there is always the resurgence of conflicts after a ceasefire because certain constituencies are not represented during the negotiation processes. The recognition of the importance of these constituencies in conflict transformation lies in the fact that all constituencies of society have a stake in peace and the peace process needs to be “owned” by them if it is to succeed.

Furthermore, it is these constituencies, which would be playing a key role in post–conflict reconstruction. This is an important point if one considers Rupesinghe´s contention that the peaceful transfer of power is not meaningful transformation. Meaningful transformation also includes sustainable structural and attitudinal changes within broader society and the emergence of new institutions to address outstanding issues (Rupesinghe nd: 77).

The involvement of non-state actors is also vital in situations of intra- state conflicts where the state cannot play the role of non- partisan broker because the state may often be a party to the conflict. This model of conflict transformation is therefore seen as appropriate in the African situation where the lingering personalization of power does not only weaken the distinction between the state and armies, but also includes armies and civilians, and armies and criminal gangs as was the situation in Sierra Leone (Kaplan 1996: 45).

Finally, the inclusion of non-state actors also reflect a broader theoretical point that the dominant realist state- centric paradigm which so dominated the field of International Relations during the Cold War era is under threat and need to be revisited. As the nature of current conflicts portrays issue of peace and security resolve around people as opposed to states.

In summary, the conflict transformation model of Rupesinghe (nd: 76) argues that, “coming to an agreement on outstanding issues is of secondary importance to addressing the overall conflict process and coming to terms with the temporal aspects of the conflict”. This model of conflict resolution has several component parts (some related) which include the following:

- Pre-Negotiation Stage

The purpose of this stage is to outline a logistical framework and timeframe for negotiations, and also to set out ambitious, yet realistic, goals for each stage of initial negotiations. The “strategic intent” of the pre-negotiation stage is to reduce intractability, to formulate and design a process, which can bring the parties to the negotiating table, and to instill trust and confidence among the parties involved in the negotiation exercise.

- Understanding the Root Causes

This is to provide for a more successful intervention and resolution of a conflict. It is aimed at finding how and why a particular conflict started in the first place. Given the complexity of conflicts in general and African conflicts in particular, it is believed that a serious and dispassionate understanding of the root causes of conflicts is very crucial for devising a more pragmatic and objective methods of management and resolution.

- Ownership of the Peace Process and the Role of Outside Peacemakers

It is argued here that, for any peace effort to be effective and sustainable, local actors with a firsthand knowledge of the political, economic and cultural background of a conflict be empowered to become the primary architects, owners and longtime stakeholders in the peace process. International pressure, Rupesinghe notes, is not applicable in many intra-state conflicts confronting the world today. Even when “successful” such imposed settlements do merely serve to postpone the conflict, as there is little internal support. Traditional diplomacy by outside governmental and non-governmental actors is also important in mediating the mitigation of or resolution of a conflict. This is borne out in the case of the US as in ACRI (African Crisis Response Initiative) and the role of the UN and EU in most of the conflict situations in Africa.

- Identifying all Actors and Facilitators

The importance of this process, Rupesinghe stressed is to identify all actors involved in the conflict so as to bring them to the negotiation table. Failure to do this could result in the alienation of key stakeholders and role-players from the peace process. It is also crucial to identify in the design of the peace process appropriate facilitators with the requisite background knowledge, analytical and mediating skills that can offer a positive contribution to the peace process.

- Setting a Realistic Timetable to Ensure the Sustainability of the Peace Efforts

Having identified the root causes of the conflict and the significant actors involved, this stage aims at setting out a pragmatic time-table to accommodate such phases as cease-fires, demobilization to the formation of elaborate political and social mechanisms for a peaceful post-conflict environment. Such a timetable should also seek to address the needs of the strategic constituencies involved in the conflict.

- Evaluating Success and Failure

The evaluation stage, as Rupesinghe (nd: 82) aptly noted is a very crucial ingredient for any successful peacekeeping design. It aims at finding out whether the aims and objectives set out in the timetable are being met or not and what needs to be done for a successful resolution of the conflict. This research will be an analysis of the approaches to conflict resolution by the OAU in relation to some of the components of the model as enumerated above. The study acknowledges the fact that the terrain and circumstances of many of the conflicts on the continent are different for a single road map for conflict resolution. The argument of the study`s strategies lies in the fact that they highlight the crucial elements that can lay the foundation for the construction of socio-political edifices in the beleaguered societies of Africa.

Chapter 2: Causes of Conflicts in Africa

In an address, former United Nations´ Secretary-General Kofi Annan (1998) noted that:

Since 1970 Africa has had more than 30 wars fought on its territory, the vast majority of which have been intra-state in origin. Fourteen of Africa’s 53 countries were afflicted by armed conflicts in 1996 alone.These accounted for more than half of all war-related deaths worldwide, resulting in more than 8 million refugees, returnees and displaced persons. The consequences of these conflicts have seriously undermined Africa’s efforts to ensure long- term stability, prosperity and peace for its people.

Since these words were uttered some few years ago, little has occurred to change the image of Africa as a continent perpetually at war against itself. Enough examples have already been mentioned in this work (Chapter one) to indicate this. These calls for an urgent need for academics and peace researchers to understand the root causes and trajectories of conflicts in the continent in order to understand when and how to intervene to achieve a successful resolution. This is precisely what this chapter seeks to accomplish. For it is believed that a conceptual understanding of the origins and the dynamics of African conflicts is a prerequisite to the development and application of pertinent and realistic concepts and strategies to prevent, manage or resolve those conflicts. Furthermore, for any system of governance in Africa to have any measure of legitimacy and stability, it must address the sources of tension and conflicts on the continent.

2.1. The Search for Sources and Answers

It is abundantly clear from recent experiences in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia that there is the need for a thorough understanding of the root causes of a given conflict. It stands to reason that any successful intervention is premised on knowledge of how and why a conflict started in the first place. Addressing the sources, which generated the conflict, would then form the basis of the resolution of the conflict. The search for the root causes of conflicts in Africa continues to parallel the proliferation of the phenomena in the continent with a plethora of theories on causes: the stresses of modernisation and the nation- building process; class struggles following pronounced societal inequities; limited resources;” lack of foreign exchange”; “tribalism”; the imposition of “tribal” sentiments by self-serving local extremists; the “inadequacy of protein in the diet of the population”. As Amoo (1997) rightly noted, one is indeed tempted to employ the analogy of the blind describing the elephant: observations and insights from one’s particular perspective are generalised to describe the whole This work briefly examines the political and economic dimensions of what it argues are the most convincing explanations to the root causes of conflicts in Africa in light of recent experiences on the continent.

2.1.1. The Colonial Legacy and the Ethnic Factor

The modernisation of present African society is faced with many obstacles. In the 1950s and 1960s, public opinion viewed political independence as the jumping-off point for progress, the key that would open the floodgates of heaven. One after the.other, many countries achieved independence, but independence did not bring the necessary conditions for improving the lots of the people. It was quite the opposite. As the majority of countries gained independence from their colonial masters they increased their capacity for war. More arms, more misery, more endemic disease and more failures in development programmes became the norm. As Rene Dumont aptly commented, “Black Africa started on the wrong foot”, on the wrong foot because independence brought with it seeds of conflicts, either inherited from the colonial power or inter-ethnic relations in terms of access to power (Kamba, et.al in Adedeji, 1999:55).

There are objective factors in the structural makeup of the African state that have continued to underscore the salience of ethnicity and constitute inherent conditions which influence the outbreak of conflicts in the continent. The widely acknowledged notion of the artificiality of the African state has ramifications, which extend beyond the historic fact that African states are alien creations with geometrical boundaries that were determined by imperial ambitions rather than ethnic, linguistic or local political considerations. For within the colonial administrative set which later metamorphosed into independent “nations”, there were only a few decades before independent sovereignty, a varying number of more or less disparate societies, each with a distinct political system, and with different intersocietal relationships. Hence, at independence, the African state lacked a coherent and functional unity; it was consequently fragile.

A corollary of the absence of a coherent and functional unity, further undermining the viability of the African state is the problem of the absence of historical continuity of the political area that constitutes the African state. As Amoo (1997:9) rightly noted, with the possible exception of Morocco, all the new African states did not exist as national entities prior to their colonisation by the European powers. Rather, many colonial possessions, which later became independent states, comprised ethnic groups, nations and, indeed, kingdoms and empires with diverse political cultures. Some of these had been bitter antagonists for centuries and had only been compelled to tolerate each other in peaceful coexistence under colonialism.

The imposition of colonial overrule had no perceptible impact in terms of bringing together such diverse and disparate political culture into a common, acceptable political system for the colony and, later for the state. Nor much effort expended to transform the population of the colonial territories into subjects, let alone citizens. Chief Obafemi Awolowo rightly stressed this point when in 1947, barely thirteen years before his country’s independence that:

Nigeria is not a nation… It is a mere geographical expression… There are no “Nigerians” in the same sense as there are “Englishmen” or “Welsh “or “French”. The word “Nigerian” is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within Nigeria from those who do not (Amoo, 1997).

Furthermore, the colonial interregnum in Africa did not constitute an appreciable historical continuity for the geographical areas, which evolved into states. Colonial administration in most of Africa was relatively brief (50 to 75 years), impoverished and superficial, with its presence and impact felt mostly in the immediate environs of administrative headquarters. The impoverished and superficial conditions were rationalised under the notion of indirect rule as in the case of Britain, a policy of keeping the various groups apart, distinct and “self- governing”.

The African state that emerged from this historical process was therefore inherently unstable with grave potential for conflict. There was barely any development of historical identity, national consciousness or loyalty. Such affective ties still reposed in, and were nurtured by, the ethnic group. The symbols and myths of nationalism and the euphoria of independence proved too superficial to develop and sustain alternative modes of allegiance and a community of purpose at the state level. In many African states, this condition, indeed, worsened due to poor advice, misguided policy prescriptions and vindictive governance, which afflicted more than enabled (Amoo, 1997).

The “artificiality” of the African state; the absence of historical continuity of the political area that constitutes the modern state; the relative brevity and superficialness of the interregnum and the precipitate process of decolonisation; the misgovernment and abuse inflicted upon the citizenry of many of the states; and the predatory nature of these states, it is argued, have all combined to give ethnicity and “ tribalism” as one of the major factors responsible for intra-state conflicts in Africa.

Although, this research does not entirely rule out these arguments considering for example the case of the Horn of Africa, it sees this approach or analysis to explaining the conflict situation in Africa as problematic because it lacks the clarity and consensus as to the exact make- up of the ethnic or “tribal” phenomenon. This is because ethnicity or tribalism is not simply a question of objective data such as language, culture and religon. Ethnic identity is more a question of perception than an absolute phenomenon and the identity can be perceived by the group or family, him or her or can be attributed by outsiders. Nor can language be used as a guide to ethnic or tribal identity.

For example, in the West African nation of Mali (North) where people travel very widely not only in their country but also in the rest of the sub- region, names and identities are often changed to promote neighbourliness. Nearly all the men in the North wear turbans. Many Tuaregs are dark brown or black and nearly everyone in the north speaks one or two languages beside their mother tongue: Tamacheq, Arabic, Fulfulde, Songhoy or French (Adedeji, 1999:8). Poulton and ag Youssouf (1998) also asserted that, language, like dress and skin colour is a poor guide to ethnic origin. For example, as a result of Tutsi migrations at different times from Rwanda and Burundi to neighbouring countries, a new ethnic group ─the Banyarwanda has been created in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Therefore; ethnicity if defined by languages, religions or cultural differences defies any analysis of one of Africa’s worst acts of genocide─the case of the massacre of Tutsis by the Hutus in 1994. The Hutus and Tutsis speak the same language, share the same territory and follow the same traditions. This is also true of Somalia, which until the catastrophe of the early 1990s was the envy of many African states because its people share the same ancestral origin, language and culture. This study therefore tends to agree with the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict (1997:29) that: …the words “ ethnic”, “ religious”, “ tribal” or “ factional” important as they may be in intergroup conflict do not in most cases, adequately explain why people use massive violence to achieve their goals. These descriptions do not, of themselves, reveal why people would kill each other over differences. To label a conflict simply as an ethnic war can lead to misguided policy choices by fostering the wrong impression that ethnic, cultural or religious differences inevitably result in violent conflict and that differences therefore must be suppressed. Time and again in this century attempts at suppression have too often led to bloodshed, and in case after case, the accommodation of diversity within appropriate constitutional forms has helped to prevent bloodshed.

Considering the current trend and nature of conflicts in Africa, it is argued therefore that political and economic factors have been the major sources of the conflicts that continue to ravage the continent.

2.1.2. The Political Dimension─The Role of the Elites

The political fortunes of many African countries have receded and faded away since the attainment of independence over four decades ago, beginning with the Sudan in1956. A major factor responsible for this is that government structures established during the colonial era were built on defective foundations. There was the assumption on the part of the colonial rulers that the ethnic divisions they met had been controlled through their application of force in the countries they created and that they had been subsumed in the nationhood of the states they were leaving behind. While it is admitted that fewer than 10 percent of the 186 countries or more in the world are ethnically homogeneous (Adedeji 1999:42), the lack of satisfactory political arrangements has made ethnic pluralism a source of conflicts that have ruined social cohesion in many African countries. As Odunuga (Adedeji, ed.1999:41) rightly noted, the majority of African countries by their ethnic composition, should have opted for a federal political system, which would grant some degree of autonomy to the ethnic groups, thus giving the minorities a sense of belonging. However for some various reasons including the need to maintain internal security and stability of their respective countries, most African leaders went in for unitary systems of governments thereby setting the stage for civil strife in many of these countries.

As Kwame Nkrumah (1961: 158) once argued in the case of Ghana, “As a new and young government, our first responsibility has been to preserve the independence and security of our state…“ Ghana therefore under Nkrumah adopted a unitary system of government under the umbrella of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), and all opposition to the party was therefore seen as an opposition to the state and was seriously dealt with sometimes with brutality. As was the dictum “the CPP is Ghana and Ghana is the CPP” (1961:209). Its supremacy cannot be challenged. This is not to argue, that the adoption of unitary systems of government is the source of Africa’s conflicts, but rather the role played by most of African leaders in the political process has not augur well for their respective countries and Africa in general.

What African countries have lacked during most of their history as independent states are leaders who are unifiers, chiefs in the true sense, who binds wounds, hold everything together, mobilise and motivate their people, pursue a policy of inclusion rather than exclusion and are seen by one and all to be of the highest integrity and beyond suspicion. The majority of African leaders after independence and in a bid to secure their hard won sovereignty and promote economic development of their countries adopted unitary systems of government with excessive monopolisation of power at the centre. The results were that more attention and interest was focused on dominant parts in a country to the neglect of the needs and feelings of the other constituent parts. In such situations, it has always been difficult to have these different groups working in concert to achieve common national goals for their societies. Political disharmony, a bi-product of ethnic distrust, subjects the society to other susceptibilities that lead to conflicts―religious, economic and cultural. Most African countries have been faced with this political situation since independence and the leaders in power, who in most cases manipulates such situations to serve their parochial interest, have always poorly handled it. As Richard Sklar (1967) rightly submitted (cited in Amoo 1997:6):

… These conflicts are created and instigated by the new men in power in furtherance of their own special interest which are, time and again, the constitutive interest of emerging social class. Tribalism then becomes a mask for class privilege.

There is no doubt that the ruling elite in most African countries right after independence resorted to a brand of politics that suited their parochial interest to the neglect of the interest of the large section of the population. Constitutionalism was fatally subverted in most African countries within a few years of independence and authoritarian rule of one kind or another emerged across the continent: from one-party to one man rule to military dictatorships. Such regimes displayed not only low levels of institutionalisation but also a general lack of commitment to democratic principles and procedural norms (Agyeman-Duah in Zormelo & Mayer ed.1996: 87). The rules and norms that regulate political behavior and interactions were at best non-functional and at worst were arbitrarily changed by those in power. The very substance and neutrality of public power was undermined by the pervasive state corruption, favouritism, and cronyism that ensued. According to Hyden (1992:22-24), the perverse political culture discouraged the growth of new forms of trust and reciprocity that transcend such rudimentary and narrow relations.

The personalisation of power in African politics placed most politicians above established institutions; as such, they were able to change brazenly the authority of their office to suit their personal needs (see Jackson, R. and Rosberg 1983). By placing their selfish interest above those of the society at large, regime security became state obsession and attendant policy responses assumed what Oruka (1982:20-34) aptly called “State terrorism”. The result has been the numerous conflicts that continue to ravage the continent.

In recent times, what has been described as the “wind of change” which is basically a result of the political conditionality of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) for providing aid to the Third World continues to blow across the continent with elections being held from one country to another. However, if recent events in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mauritius, and Cote d, Ivoire are things to go by, then one questions the effectiveness and sustainability of this change. Again the penchant and often-brutal determination of African leaders to stall democracy continues to be evident even more in a pervasive form. In most of the countries that has tasted the fruits of this change, sometimes under the full glare of local and international observers, fraudulent electoral practices have been employed by leaders to retain power (Adedeji 1999:44).



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2014 (February)
The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Conflict Resolution Model Multi-sectoral Approach Sub-regional organisations


Marvin Nii Ankrah obtained his B.A. in the major political science and the minor history from the University of Ghana in 1999. After a long period of tutoring at both private and public schools including St. Cecilia Junior High School, Mount Zion Junior High School and West Africa Secondary School in Ghana, the author moved to Germany. In 2004, he obtained his M.A. in social sciences from the University of Freiburg in partnership with the Universities of Kwazulu Natal (South Africa) and Jawaharlal Nehru (India). He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Freiburg focusing on regionalism, conflict resolution, democracy and good governance in West Africa.

Title: Conflict Resolution in Africa: The Case of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)