By Celestin Nsengiyumva
The African continent, which had become the theater for confrontation between the former adversaries of the Cold War between the 1950s and the late 1980s, did not receive the dividends of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Nor did it settle down to enjoy lasting peace, on account of the advent of the new unipolar international system. Since the 1990s, West Africa entered into a turbulant period, which saw devastating civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d’Ivoire and more recently in Mali. The entire Sahel is on a war footing, facing Muslim insurgency which is particularly active in northern Nigeria where a large number of school girls have been kidnapped by Muslim combatants for use as sex slaves.
In the Horn of Africa, the countries which have been engulfed in conflicts are Ethiopia and Eritrea over territory and border disputes, Somalia which has disintegrated as a country, and Sudan, with the Darfur unrest and the peaceful secession of South Sudan, following a long civil war between government troops and Sudan’s People Liberation Army. Colonel John Garang de Mabior, who led the latter, did not live to see the independence he had fought for his whole adult life. While the Ethio-Eritrean standoff remains unresolved, there is a new conflict looming between Eritrea and Djibouti. The Horn of Africa is therefore still a dangerous region and peace is under threat from within, as neighboring countries of the region are on war footing as a result of internal insurgency or external threats, from neighboring belligerent neighbor. In addition to this, there is also Al -Qaeda-related terrorist activity especially in Somalia and possibly also in the northern Kenya and, even further south, in Mombasa, which has an important Muslim population.
The other area which has been in turmoil since the early 1990s in the African Great Lakes region, comprising Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is difficult to understand how all these countries were at peace at home and with neighbors throughout colonial era, when they were under British and Belgian administration. Unrest settled in right after independence as the African leadership of these countries proved unprepared to run government affairs for the benefit of all the ethnic components of their respective nations. Incompetence, nepotism, corruption, and involvement of external state and non-state actors have led to massive violations of international humanitarian law and the region had gone through civil wars, genocides and now, violations of constitutional law when leaders overstay their terms of office, notably in Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.
The situation is even more serious in the region now because the largest country of the region, which happens to be also the richest, is on the verge of implosion. In the mid-1990s, the Rwandan Civil War moved west into the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the country entered a long period of insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, which led to the flight of President Mobutu Sese Seko, ending his 32-year rule. President Laurent Désiré Kabila who succeeded him was assassinated in 2001. His son Joseph, who took over from his putative father, is struggling with issues of legitimacy, not only because he has not been able to dissipate rumors pointing to his Rwandan ancestry, but also after having refused to step down after the end of his term of office. There were constitutional provisions for an interim leader to step in and organize elections to provide for a return to normalcy but President Kabila has not allowed that constitutional mechanism to be activated.
The unfortunate decision to stay on, in spite of and against constitutional provisions has plunged Congo into an uncertainty. The country’s jails have been forced open and inmates allowed to get out en masse, while insurgencies are appearing in many regions of the huge country, which has nine neighbors in Central, East and Southern Africa, with serious risks of Congolese civil strife spilling over into the territories of neighboring countries. The same ethnic groups living in border regions of the giant country live also in Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, South Soudan, Central African Republic, and Congo-Brazzaville. If conflict starts burning in DRC, this fire will reach virtually all its neighbors, putting half of Africa south of the Sahara Desert at risk.
The explosive mix in Congo comes in part from the legacy of bitter colonial legacy, poor decolonization process, and lack of preparation for Congolese leaders to take over the administration of their huge multi-ethnic nation. Congolese leaders have been tearing each other down, and in the process, inviting foreign “friends” to come and help them to have the upper hand over their fellow Congolese adversaries. However, foreign state and non-state actors have always been more powerful than internal national power centers, and it is them who are the determinant factors in Congolese power politics. At stake: the rich resources of Congolese soil and subsoil.
The consequences of internal conflicts in the region empowered each by foreign state actors or state ancillaries are appalling. The Rwandan Civil War has reportedly claimed the lives of 800,000 people. In Eastern Congo, after the spill-over of the Rwandan civil war in 1994, the death toll reached between eight and ten0 million lives. On top of that, there are new insurgencies in Kasaï where millions are said to be in displaced camps with many of them across the border in Angola. Meanwhile in Bas Congo, insurgents are talking about secession possibilities, in case the President does not step down following the expiration of his constitutional term of office.
In consideration of all these dark threatening clouds, which are looming in the horizon, Church leaders are called upon to pray for peace in Africa, especially in Sahelian West Africa, the Horn of Africa and in the African Great Lakes region.
Africa needs Heaven to help:
-Leaders to understand that power is bestowed on them by God, to work for the general wellbeing of their fellow countrymen and women, and that those who practice nepotism, corruption and injustice will have to answer for these crimes, in this life and in the life to come;
-Ethnic groups to understand that neighboring nationalities are not their enemies, but fellow citizen of their countries and continent, and that their well-being should never be considered as antagonizing the well-being of their neighbors, but rather complementary.
-Foreign state and non-state actors to refrain from aiding and abetting civil wars and interstate conflicts between African countries and to understand and accept that access to national resources of the region should be conducted through fair interstate commercial channels and not by way of illegal exploitation and empowerment and use of rebel activity which undermine regional peace, population’s welfare and social services such as health, education, energy and other community services.