Tokyo Statement of Principles for Peace and Development

II. Causes and characteristics of conflicts in Africa

A distinction must be drawn between inter-state and intra-state conflicts, although recognizing that the two could be mutually reinforcing. The former were more prevalent in the immediate post-independence period, reflecting many border disputes and the politics of the Cold War. In the more recent years, however, Africa has witnessed a number of violent intra-state conflicts which have resulted in the diversion of a significant portion of resources, including official development assistance, away from development to emergency, and has been a major impediment to development. While ongoing conflicts must be addressed, resources should also be devoted at the same time towards tackling the root causes of conflicts and taking preventive actions. Such a course of action will free resources in the long run for development which will prevent further conflicts, thus leading Africa into a virtuous circle of peace and development.

Africa is a vastly varied continent. African countries have different histories and geographical settings, different stages of economic development, different sets of public policies and different patterns of internal and international interactions. Thus, while the discussions refer to conflicts and their causes and possible solutions in the broader African context, in practice attention to conflicts will have to be paid at the individual country level and in the context of specific country circumstances.

Origins of conflicts are manifold and complex, rooted in international and national arenas, and encompassing economic, political, cultural and social parameters. Among the international factors, particularly noteworthy are the consequences derived from the end of the Cold War and its aftermath, as well as the globalization and liberalization of the world economy - which have generated a sense of political and economic insecurity in Africa. On the whole, however, and in the longer run, these factors are likely to be beneficial in bringing about more sustainable political and economic development in Africa.

While not underestimating the international aspects of past African conflicts, internal factors have been important influences in igniting intra-state conflicts. Multi-angle analysis, including relevant experiences of Japan and Southeast Asia, suggests a number of non-economic causes of conflict as well as the role and significance of economic factors. Among the economic causes are: a hostile international economic environment and African vulnerability to the changes in external conditions (e.g., terms of trade), external debt burden, shift from a global economy based on the exploitation of natural resources (the base for most African economies) to one based on the exploitation of knowledge and information, declaring national incomes accompanied by reduction in social spending, food insecurity, and increasing poverty and economic inequities as well as poor economic performance.

On the socio-political and cultural side, at the most basic level, conflicts in Africa are directly related to the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of independence by African countries, and to the (multi-ethnic) composition of the independent states. Partially arising from these factors, emerge the more often cited causes generally subsumed under the generic label "governance". Exclusion or perceived exclusion from the political process for reasons of personal, ethnic or value differences, lack of socio-political unity, lack of genuine access to national institutions of governance, reliance on centralized and highly personalized form of governance, perception of inequality and discrimination, constitute major socio-political causes of conflicts in Africa. While many of the causes may be historical in nature, the problems are compounded by the quality of leadership and lack of political alternatives.

The role of ethnic multiplicity in intra-state conflicts is widely debated. One must note the paradox that while an African continental identity is clearly accepted and expounded by all Africans, the achievement of national identity has been more difficult. In that regard the question is raised whether ethnic identity is a help or a hindrance in the realization of national identity. Ethnic conflict is often a cover for a "conflict among the elites" for power, though it eventually acquires a life of its own. In fact ethnic identity can be a source of support for national identity, provided two conditions are met: firstly, the existence of effective democratic institutions that provide equal opportunities for all diverse parties, including ethnic groups and women; and secondly, the enforcement of accountability of those who govern and manage the nations. When these two conditions are satisfied, ethnic loyalty will expand and embrace state loyalty or patriotism, and the state and the nation will become co-terminus leading to the development of unity amidst diversity.

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