Ecology, Politics and Violent Conflict
by Dr Mohamed Suliman
It was the year 1998. The famine in southern Sudan was threatening the lives of more than half a million people, especially in Bahr El Ghazal Province. The famine provoked a serious debate about its causes. Most commentators in the United Kingdom accused the war of being the main culprit. In the House of Commons, a Conservative MP stood up and said that the war in Sudan, and all wars in Africa for that matter, were caused by the political vacuum left behind by colonial powers and wondered if something could be done about that. Clare Short, the Minister for Overseas Development, called the honorable gentleman foolish to ask even implicitly for the return of colonialism. The war and the famine, she said, were the responsibility of the leaders on both sides of the conflict. They had to stop the war now, and everything would go back to normal. She sat down, happy in the feeling that she had defeated the argument of her Conservative opponent. The war, according to Minister Clare Short, is all about African leaders. The BBC, however, knew better. Commenting on the pictures of emaciated southern Sudanese children, its newsreader described the war as fought between Muslim Arabs in the north and Christian Africans in the south. The war was thus a religious and ethnic war.
All three interpretations belong to traditional schools of conflict analysis, which explains all armed conflicts in Africa as ethnic, tribal, cultural, or religious. Its advocates are happy to confine themselves inside the traditional box. Their interpretations throw Mosis-stick of identity at all conflicts, and see there, it devours them all. This is not only an inadequate approach, but it seriously hampers efforts at genuine conflict management and conflict resolution. Such interpretations are only capable of making ad hoc interventions in the most important field of conflict resolution.