Africa: stem conflict, fast-track development

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A cream of Africa’s diplomats, state functionaries and eminent scholars joined ECA, AUC and partners to quantify the cost and impact of conflict, and have suggested solutions for policy advice. 

Accra, 3 October 2015 (ECA) – At a High Level Dialogue on Conflict and Development in Africa, top state functionaries from over 40 countries on the continent contended that the equitable sharing and better management of resources, candid conversations between leaders and their peoples and a commitment to both political and economic regional integration are the cardinal ways to pre-empt conflict in order to allow for unabated development. The Capacity Development Division of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) convened the Dialogue for in-depth discussions on three reports that examine the triggers of and possible solutions to conflict in the Great Lakes, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel sub-regions.

Opening the Dialogue, Ghana’s Minister for the Interior Hon. Mark Owen Woyongo applauded the leadership of the African Union Commission (AUC) and ECA for their informed decision to probe the causes and impact of conflict in order to accentuate progress made so far in resolving Africa’s remaining pockets of conflict to pave the way for a wealthy and prosperous continent.

“Without doubt, given our colonial history and inherent diversities in Africa, any nation state which practices politics of exclusion by which enough avenues are not provided for all the different segments of the population to credibly ventilate their political differences, whilst forging ahead with common values for nation building, is bound to find itself in conflicts that may rage on perpetually,” he said while cautioning the practitioners in attendance to present the bare facts on the dynamics of conflicts before leaders of the continent,  who would be called upon to implement their recommendations. 

Meanwhile ECA and AUC senior officials at the Dialogue, Messrs Adeyemi Dipeolu and John Ikubaje, respectively, concurred on the new vision of both institutions to bring to the attention of their constituencies, the linkage between peace and security on the one hand and development on the other that must be made in beefing up Africa’s effort to forge ahead.

 

Causes, costs, impact of conflict 

While the causes of conflict were diagnosed as complex and varied, some overarching structural factors were spotted as crosscutting precursors of the tensions witnessed today in the Great Lakes, Horn of Africa and Sahel sub-regions. These include historical grievances especially in connection with the artificial demarcation of country boundaries without consideration of pre-existing ethnic configurations, economic factors especially the struggle over resources and food, institutional factors that border especially on ineffective leadership and the weakness of State structures that have led to the contestation of the legitimacy of central governments.  From the reports, geopolitical factors boiling down to the struggle by outside powers to have a foothold upon resources of the countries that slip into conflict as well as regional factors constituted by problems spilling over from country-to-country, also shore up as structural antecedents of conflict. 

Empirical data and the review of previous inquiries into the immediate causes of conflict in the three sub-regions examined, fingered migration, food insecurity, the politicisation of the military, the rise of extremist and criminal networks, corruption and general socioeconomic deprivation, unemployment and the exclusion of youths from political and economic circles as well as the stifling of competitive democracy, as immediate causes of conflicts in the sub-regions of concern. 

The ensuing conflicts, the reports show, weigh heavily upon the affected countries and regions in terms of cost. For instance, estimates collated from studies put the death toll in recent wars in the Great Lakes area at over 5.4 million people as at April 2007.  In monetary terms, the study on the Horn of Africa, for example, shows that the sub-region lost about 18.29% of its collective GDP between 1990 and 2010 due to conflict.  It is also estimated that the sub-region could save between US$ 31 billion and US$ 53 billion of GDP in just one year of putting an end to conflicts. Alongside such costs to the conflicts, come negative impacts: food insecurity, stifled civil liberties and human rights, weakened institutions that were already fragile, aggravated bad governance, hampered regional trade and integration and untold psychological distress suffered mostly by women and children.

 

Towards lasting solutions 

Faced with these bare facts, the high level state officials and practitioners candidly examined myriad ways to sustainably forestall conflict in Africa among which the need for a common sense of purpose between leaders and their people primed. Rather than dealing with a very narrow segments of the population, as some debaters noted, leaders needed to regularly have inclusive conversations with the vast majority of their constituents who feel disconnected and alienated from decisions made on their behalf. 

A key solution to the problems in certain areas, they noted, would be found in better governance and a higher level of participation in decision-making through decentralisation. They argued for the creation of people-centred security systems through capacity development for wealth creation programmes, while noting the critical need for regional integration in conflict management. Though they noted that the concerned states and regions must accept full responsibility for resolving their conflicts rather than externalising the causes of the predicament, the debaters noted that donors to these zones should show support for financing regional integration projects, if they genuinely aim to aid development.  

These and other recommendations arising from the dialogue will feed into the processes of the African Union and other key regional organisations, and provide the basis on which to design comprehensive strategies and policy responses for governments in the countries/regions concerned. 

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