In Africa, does prosperity bring peace? Lessons from Somalia to Mozambique – By Richard Dowden

dowden9“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Was Harry Lime, the evil anti-hero of Graham Greene’s novel The Third Man, right? Does human progress require violence and cruelty to drive it? Some argue that the two world wars generated a huge amount of scientific research that gave us the benefits far quicker than peace would have done.

I have always believed (with occasional lapses) that most of Africa’s wars and violent uprisings would produce something better: a more just society, a better understanding between peoples, or a sense of “Never Again” which would drive politicians and communities to make peace, compromise and work together.

Now I’m not so sure. As Egypt’s first-ever elected President goes on trial, the Arab Spring seems to be turning to winter with no summer between. The uprisings were generally  so peaceful that the slide into violence and repression is the most depressing news from Africa this year. Apart from Libya, it is hard to argue that life post-dictatorship has improved for the majority of North Africans.

The African wars of the 1990s were easily explained. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, western countries sought stability and backed pro-western governments almost irrespective of how badly they behaved. Dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko and General Abacha had to do something really evil to illicit criticism. After the Soviet Union collapsed, western countries demanded elections and respect for human rights. No longer protected by Moscow or Washington, one-by-one the dictators fell or fled. But decades of repression followed by vicious structural adjustment programmes led to the collapse of Africa’s economies and the outbreak of civil wars. Twenty-six African countries – impoverished by corruption and bad policy – went through war or violent uprising during that decade.

So what are these new violent outbursts about? I can find little correlation between the economic dynamism and political failure but in the list that follows I have put the latest GDP growth rates after each country. Somalia (growth rate unknown but probably doing better than anyone thinks), has had the first opportunity for peace since the late 1980s. But as soon as a government was established in Mogadishu it started to try to suppress all the other local administrations which were established when the country fell apart.

The Islamic fundamentalists of Al Shabaab have helped keep the country destabilised, but the government also attacks organisations which should be its allies. This week its police violently attacked Radio Shabelle which, over the years, has done a good and brave job keeping Somalis informed. The government claims the building the journalists have occupied for many years belongs to the state. The writers and broadcasters refused to vacate it immediately. The journalists argued that the building was secure and since 10 of their journalists have been killed in Somalia’s disintegration, security is their highest priority.

We are still waiting for the full story of the Westgate Mall terror attack in Kenya (6%) but it is clear that right from the start, key elements of Kenya’s security forces, believed to be among the best in Africa, were worse than useless. Kenya has never had a coup and has avoided foreign war. Unlike its corrupt and violent police force, the Kenyan army had remained generally well-respected. Even when the country exploded following the 2007 election and some 1200 people were killed, the soldiers did not step in.

But Westgate showed Kenya’s security forces were also leaderless as ministers and government spokesmen failed to give clear orders or even information during the siege. Here are some quotes from Joseph Ole Lenku, Kenya’s interior minister:

“All the terrorists were men, except about three women”
“No police officer looted anything from the Mall.  All the goods had been removed by the terrorists by the time we arrived”
“That tunnel was guarded by the police and no one would pass through it. However, we suspect those who were arrested at the airport used it to escape”

“I can’t confirm what I always say” – “No terrorist escaped from the mall, but we arrested some of them at the airport”
”We’re on the final assault. We want to confirm whether the attackers died or they are pretending”
“We’re in control of all the floors – It’s only on the 2nd floor that we’re facing resistance.”
“We managed to kill all the 5 terrorists, they were 15 in number “
“A few gun shots were heard but I confirm that those were popcorns being roasted by onlookers!”

Mr Lenku has held onto his job but 15 lowly immigration officers have been sacked for letting the attackers into Kenya. No minister has resigned. Meanwhile, CCTV footage from that was leaked to the Kenyan media, showed soldiers systematically looting (according to a government spokesman they were taking bottled water for their thirsty companions). The footage was leaked by the security services, the army’s rival, but it was offered at first to a Kenyan TV station for £5,000.

In Uganda (4%), after 27 years of rule President Yoweri Museveni, once regarded as Uganda’s saviour and rebuilder, has pushed through a law making it illegal for three or more people to meet and discuss politics. He also closed The Monitor newspaper for two weeks for accurately quoting one of the country’s former top generals as saying that the President was trying to install his son as his successor. The statement was not news to Ugandans – one of the president’s closest advisors spent a long time trying to persuade me it would be a good idea last year. But the general had to flee to Britain. Once considered another Mandela, Museveni is now more often compared to Idi Amin.

Continuing through East Africa, the politics of Tanzania (7%) are also heating up as the succession battle for the presidency approaches with President Jakaya Kikwete stepping down in 2015. Clashes, which would generally be considered to be most un-Tanzanian, have been taking place and opposition leaders are fearful. Tanzania is also tipped to become one of Africa’s richest states with identified gas deposits that will last decades. Earlier this year the main Swahili paper, Mwananchi, was closed down for 2 weeks for revealing civil servants’ salary scales.

Worst of all in Mozambique (8.4%), Renamo has returned to the bush. This was a pure terrorist movement set up in the 1980s and trained and supplied by the Apartheid Government in South Africa. Its aim: to spread terror and destabilise Mozambique and Zimbabwe’s route to the Indian Ocean. It had no intelligible political programme, but attacked key economic targets and spread panic by spectacular attacks on villages through the late 1980s and early 90s.

I witnessed one village only hours after it had been attacked. I wish I could forget it. Eventually Renamo was brought into the peace process and given seats in parliament. It may have been the only solution at the time but now they are back to their old game, killing random travellers in northern Mozambique to put pressure on the government to give them more perks.

So with the exception of Uganda, all the counties are doing pretty well at the moment and their rising economies should be lifting all boats. So why the violence?

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles published by Portobello Books.

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11 thoughts on “In Africa, does prosperity bring peace? Lessons from Somalia to Mozambique – By Richard Dowden

  1. And what are the UK and USA doing about Museveni? nothing, because, how it happened during the cold war, they are more afraid of the islamic movements, then was comunism, than having a dictator trashing Uganda. It’s a shame that their interests or Western interest to be clear, are way above the lives of the ugandan people.

  2. Richard, The boats are lifting, but the waters are still choppy. Political institutions are maturing but not yet to the point they sufficiently curb the temptation of opportunity. While the newly found growth and resources empower only the few, stability and peace will be illusive. Progress is being made to address these trends but is it sufficient? The jury is out.

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  4. I am going to abuse my privilege as editor to make a few comments:

    Somalia is probably poorer than it was 25 years ago, or at least the formal economy is generally more depressed. Economic growth in the past couple of years in, for example, Mogadishu can in part be attributed to post-conflict catch-up (see Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mozambique et al for good examples of this).

    Kenya’s internal political violence results, in great part, due to fights for control of its economy. The fact that poor people are prepared to fight for their political ‘masters’ is substantially due to inequality between different groups – ie the product of uneven economic growth.

    This inequality can also be seen writ large in Tanzania’s hydrocarbons boom. Mtwara used to be a sleepy little place on the South coast before they suggested piping the gas directly from there to Dar es Salaam without the locals getting a piece of the action.

    Renamo’s return to the bush, as Joe Hanlon writes, doesn’t herald a return to civil war in Mozambique. Rather, it demonstrates Renamo’s failure to establish itself as a political force after strong early electoral performance in the 1990s. And yes, it’s also a bargaining tool for some of the products of the country’s 8.4% growth rate.

  5. Although WW2 led to evolution of different parts of science but the African wars seem to produce nothing other than famine, catastrophe & etc.

    concerning the Radio Shabelle issue, the Somali gov’t has given enough time for them to vacate the building, but they didn’t take that as serious matter, therefore, the gov’t has mandate to force them out of the public building.

  6. I totally agree with AfricanArgumentsEditor. It call comes back down to institutional integrity and an inclusive economy.

    Economic growth is often not for the many. And the situation is likely to get worse with the exploitation of gas and oil in East Africa. The problem of the resource curse has yet to be tackled, largely because weak institutions and the concentration of power and wealth mean that a country can easily transform into a hydrocarbons rentier state like Nigeria.

    It’s crucial that value is added to natural resources before they are exported – or, even better, encourage domestic consumption – in order to encourage employment and broaden the wealth distribution, but this may require greater regional economic and political integration to leverage investment. But in spite of the coming oil and gas boom in East Africa, the main focus is getting resources out with little attention paid to at least refining enough oil and producing enough electricity to serve the countries where the oil and gas is extracted.

    In Mozambique, the government appears to be working hard to ensure that gas from the Rovuma Basin never even touches land, which means that communities onshore in the poorest and most undeveloped part of the country have no hope of sharing in the economic benefit. Is it any wonder that these communities are increasingly disillusioned with the path the country is taking?

  7. This is not Italy, this is not the Renaissance, and in between war in Italy there was peace, since guns had not been invented and cars and planes were a thing of the future. The comment should be confined to Graham Greene’s novel, and is salient for Europe of the last few centuries, but not of Africa of today. Today the problem is that war has become more profitable than peace. Until Europe opens up to Africa’s disenchanted people who seek their fortunes, the wars in Africa will continue.

  8. It’s a nice line Richard, but I think you’ll find that Cuckoo Clock comes from the Black Forest in Germany, rather than Switzerland.

  9. Agree partially: During its destabilization, Somalia produced one of the world’s best money transfer systems (Dahabshil)-an icon of what war and stability can produce, so too the desire for humanity to help itself in periods of adversity.
    International and local mobile calling rates are amongst the lowest in the world.

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