By Masimba Biriwasha | Op-Ed | @ChiefKMasimba | January 10, 2014
The bloody mayhem in South Sudan is a specter all too familiar in Africa. The continent is home to approximately 40 per cent of armed conflicts in the world. These conflicts stand in stark contrast to the economic development which has been emerging in Africa over the past decade.
Like a recurrent disease, these conflicts have seriously undermined efforts to ensure long-term stability, prosperity, and peace. Since the end of the Cold War, over 9 million Africans have died and hundreds and thousands displaced due to conflict.
The big question: Why does Africa fail to extricate itself from this seemingly endless cycle of violence? Will this colorful continent ever know peace?
One would have hoped the leaders of the world’s newest nation learned a thing or two from the history pages of Africa. But if they did, then the message they gleaned was: how to be bad leaders. And they learned it quickly and well.
The cycle of violence is clear: African nations have been torn apart by the violent politicization of ethnicity. The leaders who engineer these conflicts are motivated by a quest to control state power. With that power, the leaders become authoritarian, looting and plundering national resources and fomenting despondency in their societies. These predatory leaders put themselves first—feeding off fractures in their societies—at the expense of nation building. Ethnic divisions are worsened by high levels of poverty which the leaders exploit with disdain.
The orgy of ethnic violence in South Sudan is squarely the fault of its leaders. President Salva Kiir and former vice President Riek Machaare fostering ethnic rivalries instead of providing leadership. They are unashamedly spilling the blood of their own people to get a handle on power. Rather than breaking with the tortured past of South Sudan, they are focused on gaining with little concern for the future stability of their newly formed country. Both men see stoking ethnic divisions as a guarantor of access to power.
In this respect, Mr. Kiir and Mr. Macha are perfectly following in the missteps of a long line of post-independence African leaders. They are sticking true to a script on bad leadership: Africa’s curse.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, by 1980, while most African countries had achieved independence from European colonial powers, the artificially drawn borders and the repressive regimes which followed only exacerbated ethnic divisions and fostered political instability.
From Algeria to Zimbabwe, internecine conflicts that wreck millions of African people’s lives, particularly women and children, play out like a horror film.
While the continent is renowned for the diversity of its peoples, its leaders stoke hatred among different groups utilizing ‘divide and rule’ tactics to foster a grip on power.
The leaders of South Sudan, as in many other conflict ridden countries on the continent, find it easier to cocoon themselves in ethnic loyalties, expend energies in bloodletting, as opposed to finding peaceful pathways to help their people enjoy security and economic opportunities. Resources that could have been put into nation-building are now being diverted to propel the country’s downward spiral.
At the very least, African leaders have a responsibility to promote social cohesion while adopting progressive agendas which redress old, inherited problems.
No amount of aid money will solve the conflicts in Africa. Neither will the dolling out of peacekeeping forces. South Sudan has had both to no avail. What Africa needs today is a healing of its old, worn out wounds. This will begin by a leadership willing to step out of self-aggrandizing mindsets. The international community to hold leaders who commit atrocities accountable for their actions.
More important, ordinary Africans need to learn to embrace their diversity and refuse to be pawned by selfish leaders. Unfortunately, unless that happens bloody news headlines will continue to haunt Africa.