This week’s (March 2nd-8th) issue of The Economist has a 14-page special feature on “Emerging Africa”. It is well worth a read, containing a lot of useful information and insight. There are articles on economic development, democratization, and political violence.
The Economist notes that violence has declined dramatically across Africa over the last decade or so. The number and intensity of civil wars has declined, as have deaths due to crime. The data and anecdotes in the article on political violence are really interesting, but one section in particular struck me. The special feature asks “What has changed to make Africa less violence?” and highlights three main factors. I will quote at some length here:
“First, after the end of the cold war two decades ago, America and Russia stopped propping up violent dictators simply to keep them out of each other’s clutches. At first this brought more conflict… But in the longer run lack of superpower support has deprived armies as well as rebels of the means to keep going.”
“Second, Western attitudes have changed. Europeans in particular no longer turn a blind eye to gross human-rights violations in Africa. The creation of the ICC in 2002 marked a shift toward liberal interventionism, both the legal and the armed kind….”
“Third, some of Africa’s wars burned themselves out. Most are conducted within countries, since ethnic rivalry has been the most common cause of conflict. Civil wars usually end when one or both sides become exhausted, often after many years. Radicalised during the 1960s, even the hardiest rebels were tired by the turn of the century… Fighters as well as citizens grudgingly accept the status quo because they are sick of war; some of the time that is good enough.”
This is an interesting list that is thought-provoking, and each of these points is backed up by several examples. I am struck that each of these seem to explain why more African wars have ended over time, but not why less of them have begun. I also do not believe that civil wars typically end due to exhaustion. That said, I like the effort to explain broad trends.
I am also interested in others’ reactions. What do you think are the main reasons for the decline in violence in Africa?