Building peace and stability in Eastern Africa

With contemporary wars in Eastern Africa largely driven by economic motives and agendas which thrive under poor governance, countries need to believe in – and practice – good and democratic governance in order to ensure peace and stability.

By Wamala Twaibu

The nexus between good governance, peace and stability is important to understand both in theory and practice. Since theory guides practice and practice shapes theory, policy makers and practitioners must of necessity study the relationship between the above concepts and practices, and live the ideals of good governance if Africa as whole is to enjoy peace, stability and development. Contemporary African societies have shown the emergence of new forms of violent conflicts that undermine the security, peace and stability of the continent. There is a belief that a new phase of globalization and bad governance has contributed to new forms of violent conflict, in which economic agendas dominate the civil wars being fought on the continent.

Governance issues in Africa are centred on the struggle for access to resources. At the national level, various groups – political and military – want to maintain power, regain it or capture it. Such groups believe or claim that they have better capacities to establish and practice democratic ideals – including the control of the production process and distribution of scarce resources. The state in Africa has been a contested terrain, resulting in a lack of legitimacy in the recent past and a reliance on coercive instruments – such as the military and special police – to impose stability and “loyalty”.

In contemporary Africa, rebellion have arisen and escalated because rebels aspire to wealth by capturing resources extra-legally. In Liberia, Charles Taylor is estimated to have made more than $400m per year from war between 1992 and 1996. In the on-going conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, neighboring countries – particularly Rwanda and Uganda, including individuals and private companies – have become major exporters of raw materials, including gold and cobalt. In Angola, meanwhile, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) controlled some 70% of diamond production in the mid-nineties; allowing it to continue the war, whilst creating the conditions for local traders and regional commanders to accumulate considerable fortunes.

There are a number of reasons why governance deficits and internal conflicts have rocked states in Eastern Africa, including:

  • The struggle to capture the state as a means of accessing scarce resources. Although such an objective never appears in the documents of the competing groups, it remains a reality. Any social scientist knows the centrality of scarcity and maximization of resources. The history of some states in the region shows that access to power has been mainly through violent means;
  • Marginalization dating back to the colonial period. The uneven development created by colonial policies left some parts of countries at a disadvantage. Different groups therefore struggle to capture the state as a means of addressing what they perceive as perpetual marginalization;
  • The struggle for arable land and pasture given increasing population growth has inevitably caused violent conflicts. During the consultations of the fast-tracking of the East African Federation, the fear of loss of land emerged on the top from all the Eastern African countries;
  • Lack of democratic practices and the absence of viable political institutions for the greater part of the post-colonial era, which undermines good governance. As a result some people have always felt a lack of access to influence, decision-making processes and political power. Eastern Africans are yet to appreciate that political democracy is characteried by the existence of competition, participation and respect for civil liberties;
  • Ethnicity. There is a tendency for people – in light of the frustrations created by poor governance – to retreat to ethnic groups as a base for agitation, mobilization, organization and security. There are experiences that demonstrate an increase in ethnic discourse to articulate political interests. Ethnic discourse where it has been invoked depicts ethnic conflict. The argumentation scheme in ethnic discourse is one that explicates positive self-presentation and negative other-presentation. Ethnic discourse decries, discredits, debases, degrades and defames members of the competing out-groups;
  • Lack of protection from others who are armed and threatening, including other civilians, police, militias and armed forces. The so-called ‘Cattle Rustling’ – which in fact is a now a confirmed primitive accumulation of capital – cannot effectively be handled by one state because of the across-the-border dimension.

The Uganda Debt Network building highlights the problem of corruption through murals. Photo by Patrick McCully, published under a Creative Commons License.

Looking ahead – policy recommendations

There is a clear link between governance failures, economic motives and agendas, and new forms of violence and war in Eastern Africa. As such, Eastern African states need to engage in:

  • Security Sector Reform/Transformation (SSR/T) in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable integration, peace, stability and development. Defense and police reforms that started in the region should be encouraged and supported, and ultimately extended to intelligence agencies and other security sector institutions;
  • Preventive diplomacy, peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building. Eastern Africa must strike a balance between security needs and social programmes. While the community should create a sound military capability to avoid a resurgence of insecurity from violent conflicts, it must also invest in improving the capacity to resolve conflict nonviolently, including conflict management training and direct inter-group peace making, sometimes using traditional indigenous processes and well-tested mechanisms;
  • Thorough debate on ends, means and ways (i.e. strategy) by decision-makers and implementers. In simple terms, strategy is the calculated relationship among ends ways, and means – What do we want to pursue (ends)? With what means will we pursue them? And how (ways) will we pursue them?;
  • Research and publication of policy papers targeting key actors in the governance sectors. Quite often academics publish materials in a language that is to complex for the policy makers and implementers. The Eastern African Community Secretariat should consider having policy-tailored publications to guide policy formulation and implementation in all areas of governance and development;
  • Dissemination workshops targeting key policy makers and implementers. This method creates awareness and mobilizes allies in the state and civil society organizations (CSOs) for both implementation and monitoring of good governance programmes;
  • Networking – the East African Community, through the Secretariat, should have a deliberate programme with attendant resources to facilitate networking with other organisations that specialize in research on governance or/and those with experience of implementing successful governance activities.

Governance failures breed new forms of violence and war. At the centre of these deficiencies and outcomes are the economic motives and agendas underpinning them. This is not to claim that all violent conflicts can be reduced to economic explanations, but rather to underline the fact that contemporary wars on the continent are largely driven by economic motives and agendas which thrive under poor governance. It is important therefore to believe in – and practice – good and democratic governance. Good governance reduces the occurrence of violent conflicts; ensuring the peace and stability of states and their integration into viable regional structures.

Wamala Twaibu is the executive director of the Uganda Harm Reduction Network, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.

Email