This article seeks to go beyond the popular ‘Silencing the Guns’ narrative. Regional and International initiatives towards finding a durable peace in Central Africa focuses on ceasefires without sufficient attention on what fuels the conflict. One or all opposing sides use guns to challenge, silence, or defend an economic interest. This includes governments of countries in Central Africa region. In essence, material wealth underlies the conflict or tension in the region.
Reconstructed Scenario is based on the following judgments:
- Increasing or maintaining economic benefits inform the decision to acquire and use guns
- It is almost certain that the pursuit and maintenance of wealth keeps the cycle of violence in the Central Africa region
- There is a greater chance for peace in the region if what motivates individuals and groups to acquire and use guns is addressed
The following countries, had since independence, experienced conflicts. Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Republic of Cameroon, and Chad. All of them experienced conflict within the last decade or outbreak of another conflict. All these conflicts fall within the scope of power or wealth: politics or economics. Governments of these respective countries, warlords or extremists, rebel or opposition groups have either:
- Use the wealth from natural resources to purchase arms to stay in control, challenge incumbent authorities or deter potential offensives; or
- Launched an offensive or maintain defence to take control or safeguard resource fields such as mines and oil wells
It is vital to note that the economy in Central Africa is highly dependent on the wealth it gets from the extractive industry, while agriculture comes secondary.
The extractive industry fetches a lot of wealth for the Central Africa region.
The map shows the oil-producing countries in Africa. The central African Republic is the only country that does not produce oil. It is grey marked on the map. DRC, on the other hand, does not attract as much money from oil as others, but the wealth of other lucrative resources it possesses. Beyond oil, however, Uranium, Cobalt, Copper, Gold, Coltan, Diamond, Limestone, among others, are resources available in the Central African region.
Governments of the respective countries in Central Africa live a luxurious lifestyle while the produce from the extractive industry does not trickle down. The wealth is shared amidst a few. In the places where the authority of the state is weak, warlords and rebel groups take over the resource fields and mines. External actors such as companies that supply or make use of these resources, like Cobalt is to Tech companies, would always want to have a share to keep their production line. This provides a means of wealth for whoever is in control of the mines, either the government or otherwise. Actors and individuals take advantage of the conflict situation, an example is a case of the Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Chad.
In countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and the Republic of Congo, the government still has a reasonable level of authority. Such a government partner with foreign governments and Multinational Corporations to accrue more wealth to feed their luxury. This, to a large extent, sparks rebellions because they fail at their primary duty to provide basic and accessible infrastructure for their citizens. These governments have, on many counts, been accused of lack of transparency and accountability with state resources, corruption, and so on.
A common denominator, however, is the repressive regime they run which sow seeds of violence and tenses up the country and region. The summary of it all boils down to ‘whose stomach is being fed?’ Governance deficit is large as a result of bad governance which is mostly plagued with the personalisation of state funds. Governance deficit informs the tensions and eventual conflict like it has been in Central Africa since their independence. It is vital to note that these tensions are sometimes masked with religious and ethnic divides.
‘Guns’ in Central Africa
- Increase arms imply that the motivation for the demand and supply weapons is healthy.
- Some countries with an increased number of arms do not experience conflict. However, tensions are high and awaiting a trigger for a full-blown conflict
In DRC, 2007, the number of firearms owned by individuals amounted to about 800,000 and it dropped in 2010 to 300,000. There is a realistic probability that the reduction was because of an increased prospect of peace. This was short-lived. In August, arms proliferation increased again until it rose to 946,000 in 2017. In Gabon, the number dropped from 190,000 in 2007 and 61,000 in 2017. Ali Bongo Ondimba is the current President of Gabon who took over from Omar Bongo, his father, in 2009. The motivation behind the drop is unclear. Nevertheless, tensions have either remained the same or gotten worse. There is a realistic probability that credit to this reduction is owed to Ali Bongo’s display of control with support from the French.
What then Should be Addressed?
The conflict in the Central Africa region boils down to a contest between state and non-state actors on who gets what, when and how, and gaining weapons is a means to an end. It is, therefore, logical to conclude that silencing the means will not bring about sustainable peace. Therefore, as much as they invest efforts in disrupting the flow of arms, much more they should invest in addressing Greed. Based on the realities of other climes, it is highly likely that a top-bottom approach would be most suitable: when the correction begins from the highest level of government.
Image: United Nations (link)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grey Dynamics LTD.