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Conflicts/Insecurity in Africa and Achike Chudi’s Solution

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It was at a recent gathering organised by one of the Catholic churches in Lagos aimed at creating new awareness to assist parishioners to keep abreast with the fuelling factors and possible steps that will cushion the socioeconomic impact of nagging insecurity in the country.

The gathering had as a theme Heightening Insecurity in the Country: Exploring Ways to Mitigate Hardship, with Achike Chudi, a public affairs commentator and Vice President Joint Action Front (JAF) as the keynote speaker.

On that day, at that time and in that place, while Achike examined the multiple layers of formal and informal political leadership in post-colonial Africa, the primary holders, controllers and distributors of power and resources in a particular institution and/or territory, he argued that contemporary African leaders operate in an environment constrained by colonial legacies and instability and submitted that leadership in Nigeria/Africa as a continent is characteristically neo-patrimonial, featuring presidentialism, clientelism, the use of state resources and the centralization of power.

Separate from providing sustainable roadmaps/solutions to the nagging challenge of conflict/insecurity in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, there are in fact more inherent reasons why we must not allow Achike’s latest intervention to go with political winds.

First, he started by stating without doubt that the problem of the Nigerian nation is rooted in our past, just as the foundation of every state is in the education of its youth and the beauty of a building traced to the construction of its foundation that will stand the test of time.

He used carefully prepared power points, properly framed arguments, vivid evidence and emotional match with the audience, to demonstrate that the way in which a government or institution at an international or societal level addresses conflict between individuals, groups or nations can determine whether the parties to the conflict will resort to violence.

He argued that State weakness can create the conditions for violent conflict, noting that political institutions that are unable to manage differing group interests peacefully, to provide adequate guarantees of group protection, or to accommodate growing demands for political participation, can fracture societies. There is a degree of consensus that there is a U-shaped relationship between levels of democracy and the likelihood of violent conflict, he concluded.

On the causes of conflict and insecurity, Achike has this to say; “there is no single cause of conflict. Rather, conflict is context-specific, multi-causal and multidimensional and can result from a combination of the following factors. Political and institutional factors: weak state institutions, elite power struggles and political exclusion, breakdown in social contract and corruption, identity politics.

“Socioeconomic factors: inequality, exclusion and marginalization, absence or weakening of social cohesion, poverty. Resource and environmental factors: greed, scarcity of national resources often due to population growth leading to environmental insecurity, unjust resource exploitation.”

Each of these factors he argued may constitute a cause, dynamic and/or impact of conflict. New issues will arise during the conflict which perpetuates the conflict. Identifying and understanding the interactions between various causes, dimensions, correlates and dynamics of conflict – and the particular contexts in which conflict arises, is essential in determining potential areas of intervention; and designing appropriate approaches and methods for conflict prevention, resolution and transformation

While mature democracies are able to manage tensions peacefully through democratic inclusion, stark autocracies are able to repress violence and manage conflict through force. The most vulnerable states are those in a political transition. Uncertainty and collective fears of the future, stemming from state weakness, clientelism and indiscriminate repression may result in the emergence of armed responses by marginalized groups and nationalist, ethnic or other populist ideologies.

Is democratization the best way to promote peace?

He again argues that the world would probably be safer if there were more mature democracies but, in the transition to democracy, countries become more aggressive and war-prone. The international community should be realistic about the dangers of encouraging democratization where the conditions are unripe. The risk of violence increases if democratic institutions are not in place when mass electoral politics are introduced.

Away from the usefulness of democracy to what causes ethnic conflict, and why does it escalate? He responded thus; intense ethnic conflict is usually caused by collective fears for the future. It presents a framework for understanding the origins and management of ethnic conflict and recommends how the international community can intervene more effectively.

Three key factors contribute to the development of ethnic conflict: Information failure, when individuals or groups misrepresent or misinterpret information about other groups; Problems of credible commitment, when one group cannot credibly reassure another that it will not renege on or exploit a mutual agreement; and Security dilemmas when one or more disputing parties has an incentive to use pre-emptive force. When these factors take hold, groups become apprehensive, the state weakens, and conflict becomes more likely.

The domination of access to state structures and resources by any one leader, group or political party to the exclusion of others exacerbates social divisions. It may provide incentives for excluded leaders to mobilise groups to protest and engage in violent rebellion. In contrast, inclusive elite bargains that seek to address social fragmentation and integrate a broad coalition of key elites can reduce the chances of violent rebellion.

Continuing, he said; a social contract is a framework of rules that govern state-society relations and the distribution of resources, rights and responsibilities in an organised society. How a government spends public revenue, regardless of whether it comes from taxes or from natural resources, is significant.

If it spends it equitably on social welfare and satisfying basic needs, conflict is less likely to occur if these resources are spent judiciously than when appropriated for corrupt or fractional purposes. Corruption undermines public trust in government, deters domestic and foreign investment, exacerbates inequalities in wealth and increases socio-economic grievances.

Equally, the inability of states to provide basic services, including justice and security, to all its citizens reduces state legitimacy and trust in state institutions, weakening or breaking the social contract.

Still, on the factor promoting insecurity/conflict, he told the bewildered gathering that in some cases, ruling groups may resort to violence to prolong their rule and maintain opportunities for corruption. This can in turn provoke violent rebellion by marginalized groups. In other situations, research has found that “buying off” opposition groups and belligerents may facilitate transitions to peace – The North and the importation of belligerents in anticipation of the 2015 elections

Moving away from elite power struggles and political exclusion, Achike raised another point relevant to the present security temperatures in the country and Africa.

In his words, colonialism and liberation struggles in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have left various legacies, including divisive and militarized politics and fierce struggles for power and land. Post-liberation leaders in some countries have sustained these dynamics, retaining power through neo-patrimonial networks, state capture, militarization and coercion.

Studies have shown that in some cases, they have promoted ideologies of ‘Us versus Them’, excluding and marginalising other groups. The domination of access to state structures and resources by any one leader, group or political party to the exclusion of others exacerbates social divisions. It may provide incentives for excluded leaders to mobilise groups to protest and engage in violent rebellion. In contrast, inclusive elite bargains that seek to address social fragmentation and integrate a broad coalition of key elites can reduce the chances of violent rebellion.

Sub-Saharan Africa, he said is the world’s most conflict-intensive region. But why have some African states experienced civil war, while others have managed to maintain political stability? This paper argues that the ability of post-colonial states in Sub-Saharan Africa to maintain political stability depends on the ability of the ruling political parties to overcome the historical legacy of social fragmentation.

On the way forward, he observed that creating inclusive elite bargains can bring stability while exclusionary elite bargains give rise to trajectories of civil war, promotion of inclusive political settlements. Most importantly, the nation must facilitate the further goals of (i) addressing causes of conflict and building resolution mechanisms; (ii) developing state survival functions; and (iii) responding to public expectations. Support across all four of these interrelated areas is necessary to help create a positive peace- and state-building dynamic, he concluded.

What does all this say to us in Nigeria? The answer in my view is in the womb of time.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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