Role Of Ethnicity And Religion Overstated In Some African Conflicts


Rwanda conflict wasn’t simplistic Hutu vs. Tutsi war; Kagame’s forces also slaughtered Tutsis

[Commentary: Africa]

Greed For Power And Enrichment Plays Larger Role

It has been recognized by African governments, development partners and civil societies that conflicts have undermined African development and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Understanding the roots of thes conflicts and the driving factors should therefore form an integral part of the post-2015 development agenda.

In the Constitutive Act of the African Union adopted in 2000 African leaders underscored that conflicts constitute a major obstacle to socio-economic development. They reaffirmed their determination to promote peace, security and stability as a prerequisite for development and integration.

In its 2005 report the Commission for Africa stressed the need for peace and security, noting that without conflict prevention, development that Africans seek won’t occur. The Commission recommended that as a first step to tackling conflicts their root causes must be identified.

The Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations in New York, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, observed in a recent interview that “We will not eradicate poverty unless we comprehensively address the causes and effects of conflict and fragility”.

In-depth studies of the root causes of conflict in Africa are increasingly revealing that contrary to popular belief, the majority of conflicts are not triggered by religion and/or ethnicity but by individuals pursuing political power to access economic resources to enrich themselves and their communities.

For illustrative purposes let us examine the cases of Rwanda and Uganda the two countries that have experienced serious conflicts since independence in 1962.
There is a general false impression that conflicts in Rwanda since independence have been sparked by ethnic rivalries. The truth is that between 1962 and 1990 the conflict took place within the Hutu ethnic group. The first independence government was led by Gregorie Kayibanda a Hutu from the southern region who favored Hutu from that region at the expense of Hutu from the northern region. In 1973 Juvenal Habyarimana a Hutu from the northern region overthrew Kayibanda government in a bloodless coup and became president. He favored Hutu from his region and marginalized those from the south.

The disgruntled Hutu from the south joined forces with Tutsi in exile especially in Uganda and formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front and Army (RPF/A) to unseat the Habyarimana government with the help of Uganda. The war that began in 1990 and culminated in the 1994 genocide was not a pure Hutu/Tutsi confrontation. The majority in the RPF/A were Hutu only that they were led by Tutsi military commanders.

When the genocide began in June 1994 the moderate Hutu including the prime minister were targeted and eliminated first. There is evidence that Tutsi in the RPF/A participated in the killing of fellow Tutsi as well as Hutu including after the Habyarimana troops and Interahamwe had left the country.  Information from various sources including by the late Alison Des Forges and Dr. Peter Jjumba has implicated Tutsi in the Genocide and other crimes against humanity.

At the request of Rwanda then a member of the United Nations Security Council, it adopted a resolution setting up an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute those who committed genocide and other crimes against humanity in Rwanda and neighboring countries between January 1 and December 31 1994. Sensing that Tutsi might be arrested and prosecuted, Rwanda voted against its own resolution.

Many people have also falsely reported that the conflicts in Uganda since independence have been of a religious nature. Not entirely. Apart from eight years of Muslim-led Amin regime out of fifty one years, political conflicts in Uganda have been dominated by Protestants.

During the first part of the 1960s, the conflicts were between Protestants Grace Ibingira and Milton Obote. After the 1966 revolution that abolished kingdoms and Protestant kings, the conflict against Protestant Obote between 1966 and 1970 and between 1981 and 1985 was waged largely by Protestants led by Yoweri Museveni. Those opposing Museveni since 1986 at home and abroad are largely Protestants including Dr. Kizza Besigye, Mugisha Muntu and Olara A. Otunnu.

A new team of leaders including outstanding Protestants is now emerging at home and abroad.    

It is therefore important that as a first step in the post-2015 development agenda location specific causes of conflicts in Africa be identified so that appropriate solutions are recommended.



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