What is Civil War?
Intrastate conflicts in Africa have been common since the majority of African states gained independence in the 1960s from their colonial masters. Civil war can be defined as “large-scale, organized, and sustained conflict between a state and domestic political actors,” “exclude one-sided violence,” and are “high intensity conflicts” (Hironaka, p. 3). Civil wars also include major casualties and are resource intensive. The Correlates of War, a group that catalogs statistical data on conflicts around the world, describes civil war as conflicts that generate over 1000 annual battle-related deaths (Sarkees, p. 1). Monica Duffy Toft used a more precise definition of civil wars in her examination of the outcomes of civil wars since 1940. Toft’s six criteria for a civil war are:
(1) the focus of the war was control over which group would govern the political unit; (2) there were at least two groups of organized combatants; (3) one of the combatants was an internationally recognized state; (4) there were at least 1,000 battle deaths per year on average; (5) the ratio of total deaths had to be at least 95 percent to 5 percent, meaning the stronger side had to have suffered at least 5 percent of the casualties; and (6) the war had to have begun within the boundaries of an internationally recognized state (Toft, p. 12).
Many African states have experienced conflicts approached or exceed this threshold of civil war however sometimes this is difficult to quantify as government forces or the eventual victors may attempt to cover up atrocities and other evidences of casualties. African data may be systematically unavailable or incomplete due to lack of record keeping or poor procedures (Lemke, P. 117). Regardless of the official body count or reaching the status of an “official” civil war, conflicts that have generated mass casualties in Africa have stunted its growth and resulted in negative consequences for its inhabitants.
Why do Civil Wars Happen?
Many scholars and experts claim a number of reasons for the cause of civil wars and no one factor of combination of factors work in every case. Research has shown that greed, grievance, ethnic and racial conflict, as well as political and religious differences have been cited by combatants are reasons for engaging in civil wars. African wars have also been affected by colonial legacies and outside actors. Secessionist movements can also be included in the family of civil wars although the unsuccessful movements usually have not generated enough casualties per annum to qualify as an official civil war.
Greed. Modern economists such as Paul Collier have attributed civil wars to issues of greed especially in states that have rich mineral wealth that are easily lootable such as oil, diamonds, or gold (Collier 1999, p. 3). The conflict could be caused by one group attempting to take control of a precious resource from the state but may also benefit by participating in the war. For example, the Unita rebel group in Angola generated between $300 and $500 million per year by selling diamonds mined in the parts of Angola it controlled (Martin, location 7233). During the cold war the United States and its allies as well as the Soviet Union were sending hundreds of millions of dollars to fund African governments and rebel movements. In 1990 alone the US provided over $50 million to Unita in Angola to fight the communist backed government (James, p. 179). Leaders of rebel movements that have defeated the government have also been handsomely rewarded with government jobs that allow them to enhance their personal fortunes through bribes, payoffs, misappropriation of funds, or other means of corruption and financial mismanagement. Collier also described greed as a personal motivator for members of rebel movements as rebel soldiers benefit from criminal activity, protection rackets, and predation (Collier 1999, p. 9).
Grievance. Rebel groups often try to appear more noble and motivated by grievances such as fighting more equitable distribution of wealth or resources, political rights, or past offenses committed by the government (Collier 1999, p. 4). This is especially the case with autocratic and repressive governments where the people have no recourse or manner in which to address their grievances with the government. Conflicts in Chad have been in part motivated by competition for scarce resources like good land and pasture and access, which has been manipulated by the government (ICG, 2009).
Ethnic and Racial Conflict. Civil wars based on ethnic and racial conflicts could in some cases also be considered as a grievance if the government has persecuted an ethnic or racial group. Examples include the majority Hutu government massacring nearly a million Tutsis in Rwanda but also the Tutsi rebel forces that drove the Hutu génocidaires from Rwanda and took over the government in 1994 (Martin, location 6157). The civil war in Sudan that resulted in the secession of South Sudan was often incorrectly oversimplified as a conflict between the Arabs in the north and Africans in the south (Mamdani 2009, p. 148). Although not enough people died in the South African struggle against apartheid to be classified as a civil war, it was still a conflict between white settlers and black South Africans (Hironaka, p.3).
Political and Religious Differences. African states gained their independence during the Cold War and were pressured by the Soviet Union and United States to choose sides with incentives of huge trade and economic packages. Some states chose communism and espoused socialist ideals while others became democracies. However, the US funded rebel groups that fought against communist governments and vice versa. In Angola, communist forces from the Soviet Union and Cuba supported the government and the US funded the Unita rebel group in a civil war that lasted 41 years from 1961 to 2002 (Evans, p. 82). The civil war in Sudan was also described as a religious war where the Muslim north was oppressing the Christian south (Alessi & Frazer, 2012). The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda was also fighting to establish rule by the Ten Commandments (IRIN, 2007). The Tuareg rebels in Mali were fighting to establish an Islamic state in secular Mali (Meo, 2012).
Combination of Reasons. Groups involved in civil war have a variety of reasons for engaging in armed conflict that they feel are worth risking their lives. It’s a combination of greed and grievance and other outside factors and the reasons why combatants fight can change. As already referenced above, the civil war between Sudan and South Sudan was partially ethnic, racial, and religiously based, but also economic, as the government of Sudan in Khartoum did not share the wealth from oil exports with the south until a 2005 peace deal (Brunwasser, 2011).
Colonial Legacies. During the colonial period in Africa, European governments established systems that often benefitted one group over others or divided groups and created a hierarchy of groups. For example in Rwanda the Belgians issued identity cards to Hutus and Tutsis and decided that the Tutsis were more intelligent and favored them with government jobs and education. Establishing the Tutsis as elites and superior created an ethnic tension, which was later exploited by the Hutu government as a reason to exterminate all Tutsis (Martin, location 1860). The Belgians also established tribal authorities in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where certain groups were designated as tribal authorities and given responsibility and the power to rule in their areas and all other groups were subject to the tribal authorities (Mamdani 2002, p. 237).
In many cases the arbitrary colonial borders established at the Berlin Conference in 1885 split ethnic groups between countries or grouped former enemies into the same territory making democratic rule and cooperation difficult (Herbst, p. 77). For example, President Deby in Chad is a member of Zaghawa ethnic group, which is mainly based in Sudan but due to ethnic allegiances felt obligated to support his ethnic group in rebellion against the government of Sudan (ICG, 2009). The colonial colligation of different groups has also given rise to secessionist movements that seek to establish their own states as in the Casamance in Senegal, Cabinda in Angola, Azawad in Mali, and Katanga in DRC. In the Casamance the people feel isolated from the government in Dakar and are physically separated from the rest of the country by Gambia (IRIN, 2004). Cabinda is also physically separated from Angola by the DRC but provides much of the oil revenue for Angola (IRIN, 2011). Rebels in northern Mali drove government forces from the region in April 2012 and declared the establishment of Azawad as a separate country (Meo, 2012). Katanga attempted to secede after the DRC obtained its independence in 1960 but was forced to remain a part of the DRC after foreign military intervention (Martin, location 1200).
Policy Options to Resolve Civil Wars.
Civil wars result in the deaths and injuries of thousands of combatants but also civilian populations that are in the line of fire or exploited and persecuted by either government or rebel forces as part of the conflict. Civil wars also disrupt trade, markets, agriculture, and normal life where it may not be safe for civilians to go to school or work in the fields. Marauding bands of soldiers and rebels can spread diseases including HIV/AIDS if they use rape as a weapon (Davenport & Loyle, p. 4). Civil wars also can have spillover effects that spread into neighboring countries. For example civil war in Liberia spread into Sierra Leone and affected parts of Cote d’Ivoire as well (Martin, location 6568). Civil wars also cause the mass relocation of people as they move to avoid the conflict and become classified as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or refugees if they manage to find refuge in another country. Northern Kenya hosts several refugee camps that hold hundreds of thousands who have fled ongoing conflict in Somalia (Associated Press, 2012). One estimate puts the cost of a civil war to the country and surrounding neighbors at $64 billion (Collier 2007, p. 31).
Negotiated Settlement. The international community has sought to end civil wars and conflicts in order to save lives by forcing the combatants to reach a settlement at the negotiating table. Third party actors such as the United States, France, Great Britain, and the United Nations have brought groups to negotiate the end of war through bribes, coercion, and offers of immunity. For example in Liberia the civil war brought to an end by offering President Charles Taylor immunity for his crimes in Liberia and a “soft-landing” in exile in Nigeria (Martin, location 6794).
Since the 1990s negotiated settlements has been the method of choice for ending civil wars but have been largely ineffective. Monica Duffy Toft surveyed 137 civil wars between 1940 and 2007, of which 22 wars of 19% of the total ended in negotiated settlements (Toft, p. 13). She found that these wars resulted in “significantly more deaths,” lasted longer, and are more likely to reoccur (Toft, p. 20). Toft also discovered that wars that end in negotiated settlement are less likely than other ends of civil war resolution to develop democratic governments and had no economic advantages over wars that ended in other ways (Toft, p. 27).
Total Victory. The second policy option in the resolution of civil wars is to allow the combatants fight the war to victory where one force subjugates the other and achieved dominance. This would be a bloody option where many will die as the one force overwhelms and defeats the other but achieves the result of a clear winner who can rule and establish a government to run the country. Monica Duffy Toft determined from her research that civil wars that end in victory “were nearly twice as likely to remain settled than those concluded through negotiated settlement or a cease-fire/stalemate” (Toft, p. 16). In civil wars that flared up again, those that followed negotiated settlement were nearly twice as deadly as those that followed a victory (Toft, p. 20). This may be in part because in achieving a victory the opposition lost significant capacity to wage war in troops and equipment whereas many times negotiated settlements are often used as rearming and reequipping periods where combatants prepare to fight again without losing significant capacity.
Stalemate. A third possible outcome for civil wars is a stalemate or ceasefire where neither side is able to achieve an advantage and destroy the other nor able to meet at the bargaining table for a negotiated settlement. North and South Korea fought to a stalemate in the 1950s and despite a ceasefire agreement are still technically at war (Department of State, 2012). Somalia is an example of a stalemate where no one group has been able to assert its dominance over the country and the fighting continues. Recently neighbors and the African Union have sent forces into Somalia to try to help the government suppress the fighting and reassert its authority but the government controls little territory outside the capital (Sheikh & Omar, 2012). A stalemate or ceasefire can flare up again if one side believes it has acquired the capacity to gain the advantage and victory through the acquisition of new technology, weapons, or assistance or if their enemy has somehow been diminished.
Recommendations. According to the research by Monica Duffy Toft it appears the best outcome in the long term is to allow combatants to fight to victory and to work with the victors. This course of action may not be politically acceptable, as it requires outsiders to observe and not interfere as people are being killed and civilians flee or are caught in the crossfire. However, foreign governments, multinational corporations, and nongovernmental agencies have also supported either the government or rebel groups in consideration of their own interests. For example, European nations and NATO forces provided funding, weapons and air support to rebels in Libya in their overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 (NATO, 2012). The Cold War also saw many governments and rebel groups supported by different interests.
Rebuilding African States.
Once civil wars come to an end the rebuilding process begins. In order for rebuilding to take place in earnest the underlying reasons for the war should be resolved. In the case of a victory the victor can establish policies to resolve their issues. However, if the concerns of the vanquished are also not considered malaise will persist and be manifested by disobedience, rebel actions, and a possible return to open conflict (Mkandawire, p. 208). For a government to be successful it needs a process by which the population can address its concerns and changes can be made to avoid the renewing of bloodshed. A negotiated settlement to end a civil war also requires the creation of a new government that incorporates both parties and addresses their issues as agreed upon in the settlement. The military has to incorporate rebel combatants as to not give the government an advantage if there was a return to open conflict. An important part of standing down the rebel army is also to provide a process of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) so the rebel soldiers have an incentive to stop fighting (Walter, p. 134.) Outside agents can be a huge boost for the rebuilding of the state as they can provide security to guarantee a negotiated settlement as with the UN in Liberia where 15,000 troops have maintained a general peace (Harris, p. 377). Foreign donors and NGOs can also assist with rebuilding institutions and infrastructure in order to allow the state to resume function and project authority throughout its territory.
Just as integration of the government and military are key for achieving unity, integration amongst the population is also vital. Collier discovered that “social fractionalization as a combination of ethnic and religious divisions… significantly reduces the risk of conflict,” creating societies that are “safer than homogenous societies” (Collier 1999, p. 6). The partitioning of a country and separation by groups can accentuate differences, increase violence, and generate new conflicts as people are moved against their will (Kaufmann, p. 123). Leaders of the partitioned area of a homogeneous group would also have incentive to accentuate the differences from the others, leading to intolerance, rhetoric, and conditions that could lead to a renewed conflict. The partition of Sudan and the creation of the new state of South Sudan has not solved the conflict and fighting continues between the two countries (Alessi & Frazer, 2012).
Other things essential for the creation of an ideal government are representative elections, a constitution and body of laws that protects the rights of the minority, the establishment of the rule of law, transparency, and accountability. Checks and balances in the government that allow for the curbing of powers and removal of persons who violate the rules is also critical to avoid rise of an autocratic government. Civilian control of the government and values training for the military will also diminish the possibility for the military to state a coup and commit abuses against the civilian population. Economic prosperity and sharing of the wealth among the population will also decrease many of the grievances that are accentuated by poverty. The development of a civil society and institutions not linked to the government also provides space for discourse, development of the community, and support networks that can decrease the need for government assistance and programs. Reconciliation and transitive justice are also important to integrate former combatants and communities in order to allow the country to move on.Summary. Civil wars caused by greed, grievance, intergroup tensions, and exploitations by the government have resulted in the deaths of millions across the African continent. Research into the outcomes of civil wars have revealed that wars ended in victory by one group has resulted in fewer deaths, greater stability, and a reduced likelihood of renewed conflict as compared to negotiated settlements. Once war has come to an end it is important to integrate the government, military, and civilian population and restore institutions and infrastructure to allow the country and society to function again. A safety release valve or method of redress with the government is also essential to allow the people to address their concerns and effectuate change without having to resort to violence.