Refugee Crisis, Armed Conflicts and the Failure of Africa’s Governing System

Ebenezer Makinde
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More often than not, when humanitarian crisis occurs anywhere in the world it is often difficult to play the blame game. Such crises are seen as being natural. They are highlighted as unavoidable. However, there are increasing evidence that anthropogenic activities to a large extent are responsible for some certain humanitarian crises.

When humanitarian crisis is taken to include natural disasters, epidemics, famine and other major emergencies, then the roles of human beings cannot be over-emphasized. For example, concerns have been growing on the negative effects of climate change on cyclones. There have been increasing evidence that warmer atmosphere which of course cannot be dissociated from human activities are responsible for cyclones or at the very least are responsible for the magnitude of the impacts of the cyclones. Climate change have since been identified as the enemy; climate change caused by human activities.

Read Also: Cyclone Idai: The Trail of Death, Destruction and Devastation in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi

In the first instance, we are aware of the increasing difficulty faced by the governments of the countries of the world to achieve cooperation on climate change policy. There are considerable cross-national variations in the understanding of climate change`s impact on the environment and on humanity as a whole, as well as in the patterns of adoption and implementation of policies developed to assuage climate change. Some countries believe that the threat is real, others jettison the calls for global cooperation to tackle climate change.

But there is another form of humanitarian crisis. This form has created more refugee problems than any other forms of humanitarian crisis. This is truer for the continent of African and the Middle East than any other regions in the world. While the role of human activities in natural disasters and other nature induced emergencies is quite debatable, the role of anthropogenic activities in armed conflicts and wars needs no further debate. Men create war and conflicts!

Overwhelming Refugee and Humanitarian Crises in Africa

Humanitarian crisis is generally defined as singular event or series of events that are threatening in terms of safety, health, and well-being of a community of people. In the case of Africa, the largest cause of humanitarian crises has been identified as wars and armed conflicts. These conflicts and wars do not only create humanitarian crises, but expand to create refugee problems as many of the affected population usually move in search of peace.

According to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26% of the world`s refugee population. In recent times, the refugee crisis in Africa has been exacerbated by the ongoing crises in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. African refugees are on the move fleeing war, persecutions and conflicts largely induced by political realities of their countries.

In 2018 alone, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) recorded a total of 30 million Africans in need on the continent. This figure as argued by the UNHCR include 7.5 million refugees, 630,000 asylum-seekers, one million stateless persons and around half a million returned refugees. Apart from the challenges of refugee in Africa, a large number of the citizens of the continent had sought to leave the country to no avail which explained the increasing growth in the number of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. For example, the latest available data by UNHCR shows that one percent of the total population of Cameroon is internally displaced (244,000). In Somalia, eighteen percent of the total population is internally displaced (2,650,000)

As a matter of fact, many Africans are facing uncertain future as refugees and as internally displaced. It is difficult to imagine the kind of challenges faced by these people every day since one is not in their shoes. Based on current statistics, there are about 6.6 million refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa as a result of increasing conflicts in the continent. Out of the 6.6. million, 2.4 million are from South Sudan, 986,400 are from Somalia, 694,506 are from Sudan, 620,755 are from DR Congo, and 545,498 are from Central African Republic.

Read Also: Illegal Migration: The Challenges, Trends and Hard Search For A Better Life

Armed Conflicts and Refugee Crises in the Continent of Africa

Many of the refugees and internally displaced people in the continent of Africa are victims of internal conflicts. As we already know, human right abuses, poverty and underdevelopment, social inequalities and bad governance are often reinforcing factors responsible for conflicts and political tensions in Africa. The role of ethnic politics and inter-ethnic rivalry in armed conflicts in the continent can also not be over-emphasized.

In South Sudan, the latest and the newest country in the world, poor management of oil resources, ethnic tension and power struggle between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar have been identified as the major causes of the violence and conflicts in the country which began almost immediately after the independence of the country in 2011 and have since led many South Sudanese to flee the country in search of peace. Particularly instructive is the inability of the President, Salva Kiir and major opposition leader Riek Machar to agree to various peace terms and efforts of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) to bring lasting solutions to the crisis.

While it is quite difficult to understand the dynamics of the current crisis in Somalia, due to the role of the international community and other anti-government elements, the role of the governments can still not be ignored. Since the fall of President Mohammed Siyad as far back as 1991, Somalia has not known peace which has been partly responsible for the humanitarian and refugee problems in the country. The country has been facing civil war and difficulties in solving ordinary state problems such as the provision of personal security, food security and education.

In Central African Republic, the conflict which began in 2013 has since been escalated so much so that it has led to the death of many civilians and in the process created massive humanitarian and refugee crises in the country. The military coup in the country which led to the dethronement of President Francois Bozize in 2013 by the Seleka coalition had since spiraled and sparked violence and instability in the country.

For Congo, armed conflict has resumed since 2016 especially in the Kasai region which like other conflicts in the continent has led to the death of many Congolese and the displacement of many other citizens estimated to be around one million people. The latest crisis in Congo which began in 2016 was sparked by tension between a local chief in Kasai-Central Province and the government. The conflict has since spread to include militias, armed groups and security forces.

In Nigeria, Boko-Haram insurgent group has continued to wreak havoc on soft targets since 2009 which have led to the death of many Nigerians and increasing number of Nigerian citizens in the IDPs camps. In Plateau, Taraba and Benue states, herdsmen and farmers’ crisis has continued unabated which leading to the death of many citizens. In 2018 alone, in a report by Global Terrorism Index, the Fulani herdsmen killed about 1,700 Nigerians. The struggle for economic resources like land has been identified as the major cause of the conflicts and the governments at all levels in Nigeria have proven to be largely incapable of dealing with the crisis.

Causes of Armed Conflicts and Failed Governing System in Africa

All the examples above show the extent of the collapse of the governing system in Africa. African political leaders have over the years created personalized states suitable for armed conflicts to thrive which have continued to endangered the quality of life of the African citizens. The challenges with governance system in the continent ranges from corruption and bad governance to ethno-religious conflicts, military coups and autocratic rules.

Refugee problems in the continent as we have it today are obviously linked to intractable conflict over the political realities of the African societies. A condition where a significant number of countries in the continent suffers from sit-tight syndrome has not augur well for Africa. It has created a condition suitable for armed conflicts to thrive as we have seen in many countries in the continent.

Read Also: Intra-African Migration: The Search for ‘Greener Pastures’ Within the African Continent

Refugees in Africa today generally flee local ethno-religious conflicts that governments of these African countries have failed to effectively managed. In some cases, these armed conflicts and wars were created through the activities of the governments characterized by human rights abuse and tyrannical rule. Commenting on the refugee problems in Africa, Khalebe Maltosa, head of the African Union Commission on Political Affairs argues that “the majority of the forcibly displaced are a result of violent conflict. So, we need to address the root causes of the conflict in the continent. We have to address inequality, poverty, unemployment that generate tension in the continent”.

African political leaders either directly or indirectly through their activities have contributed to the deaths of their citizens which they promised to protect. In South Sudan alone, about 2.4 million people have been displaced and many dead since 2011 when the conflict broke out largely due to the politically induced skirmish between president, Salva Kiir and his former vice-president, Machar Riek. One can conveniently say that the refugee and humanitarian crises in Africa is due to the crisis of governance in the continent. The point we have made so far is that conflicts largely induced by the activities of the government in Africa have been responsible for the unprecedented increase in the number of refugees and humanitarian crises in the continent.

As a matter of fact, the causes of the armed conflicts in the continent of Africa are numerous and interconnected. The historical process of state formation in the continent characterized by colonialism and imperial domination has sometimes been identified as one of the major causes of conflicts in the continent. The fact that the former colonial powers brought hitherto distinct and differentiated communities together to form unified communities have been identified as the major cause of conflicts over boundaries in the continent. Ethiopia and Eritrea border crisis is apt here.

Like the argument before now, personalized state system and authoritarian regimes characterized by sit-tight syndrome is another major cause of conflicts in the continent. Political powers are seen as necessary means in achieving economic dominance so much so that political powers are monopolized and concentrated which further encouraged armed conflicts and wars as different groups make attempt to win political powers.


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