Misery engulfs millions as Africa seethes with more wars than ever

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MORE COUNTRIES in sub- Saharan Africa are currently involved in wars than at any time in the 40 years that have passed since they began to gain independence.

It was easy, during the Cold War, to see Africa's crises in terms of East-West allegiances, with a soupcon of Francophone-Anglophone rivalry thrown in.

But now the causes of conflicts within and beyond the artificial borders traced by colonial powers are different and more base. Millions of Africans are displaced and thousands are dying in wars due to greed, a lust for power, ethnicity, and the poisonous combination of a brain-drain and widespread illiteracy.

Democratic elections seem to make little difference; registration or ballot-counting procedures are often shams.

The West ponders international debt relief, because it pauperises people. But as one delayed passenger at Dakar said while he watched a stream of heads of state in private jets fly in for a summit: "We are delayed for them and the only thing the world's banks want to do is relieve them of their debt so they can buy more planes."

In Sierra Leone, from which the Nigerian-led Ecomog force may withdraw once it has secured the capital, Freetown, a weak, democratically elected government is threatened by army rebels and thugs who are backed by Charles Taylor, the Liberian president.

Mr Taylor, a warlord turned democrat, is paranoid about coups and greedy for Sierra Leone's diamonds. The small West African country has been at war, on and off, since its first democratic elections in 1996.

Burkina Faso has sent mercenaries to fight with the rebels in Sierra Leone. The forces resisting the Ecomog effort to secure President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah have links to rebels in Casamance, the southern Senegalese region that may have oil, and Guinea-Bissau which shares its ethnic make- up.

In the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea are once again at daggers drawn over a border dispute the Organisation of African Unity has failed to quell.

Eritrea's President, Isaias Efwarki, insists on a comprehensive redrawing of the colonial border. But Ethiopia wants Eritrean troops to withdraw to a borderline that its troops breached in May last year.

Somalia has not had a government since 1991 when the former dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre, was overthrown after 21 years. Ethnic warlords have since carved up the country. At least 100,000 people have died and the United Nations has given up on the region.

In Sudan, John Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Army launched an attack in 1983 against the Islamic government, seeking autonomy for African Christians and animists in the south. The latest truce is about to expire and no plan exists for a referendum on a north-south division of the country.

In Congo-Brazzaville, fighting resumed this week between the Cobras, soldiers loyal to General Denis Sassou N'Guesso, who came to power 18 months ago, and his Ninja challengers - militias loyal to former leader Pascal Lissouba. The fighting is not linked to the war in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The wars involving Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola have become interlinked. The reason is that the DRC leader, Laurent Desire Kabila - who overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko two years ago - and his enemies have used old rivalries and new fears for their own ends. Mr Kabila has Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia on his side against rebels - backed by the other neighbouring countries - who believe he is mismanaging DRC, a country the size of Western Europe.

Mr Kabila ousted Mobutu with the help of the country's ethnic Tutsis and their cousins from Rwanda. But last August, feeling threatened by them, he ousted all Tutsis from positions of power in the capital, Kinshasa. The conflict has rekindled Hutu-Tutsi hatred; in Burundi this week, 185 people were killed in a Hutu area.

Zimbabwe, whose President Robert Mugabe supports President Kabila, is bordering on chaos, with rumours of a military coup.

In Angola, the government of Jose Edouardo Dos Santos this week conceded that it had lost Mbanza, gateway to the oil town of Soyo, to rebels from Unita - the rebel movement led by Jonas Savimbi, which controls much of the east of the country and its diamonds.

For more than 20 years, Unita was backed by South Africa and the US against the Soviet-supported MPLA, now in government. Two weeks ago, the United Nations said it would pull out of the war-torn country, sparking fears of a forthcoming humanitarian disaster when aid cannot safely be delivered to the population.

Ghosts of the Cold War, diamonds, oil, colonial boundaries, arms dealing and ethnicity seem all to fuel Africa's disasters. But there are success stories in Africa, too. At any given time, out of the continent's 600 million-odd people, the majority are at peace.

Former French colonies, though poor, have achieved a measure of economic stability through the CFA franc - tied to the French franc despite a devaluation in 1997.

South Africa will have elections later this year and Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is apparently dismantling military control. Uganda is winning the war against Aids.

Next week, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa will deliver his last state of the nation address before handing over to Thabo Mbeki.

There are doubts over Mbeki's vision for the future but he has made what he calls the "African Renaissance" a centrepoint of it. The concept of a renaissance may be European, but it is all Africa has. And it may just result in a solution to the continent's problems.