This article seeks to go beyond the popular “Silencing the Guns” narrative. Regional and international initiatives towards finding a durable peace in central Africa focus on ceasefires without paying sufficient attention to what fuels the conflict. One or all opposing sides use guns to challenge, silence, or defend economic interests; this includes governments of countries in the central Africa region. In essence, material wealth underlies the conflict or tension in the region.
The Reconstructed Scenario below is based on the following judgments:
- Increasing or maintaining economic benefits informs the decision to acquire and use guns;
- It is almost certain that the pursuit and maintenance of wealth maintains the cycle of violence in the central Africa region;
- There is a greater chance for peace in the region if what motivates individuals and groups to acquire and use guns is addressed.
The following countries have experienced conflicts since their independence: Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Republic of Cameroon, and Chad. All of them experienced conflict within the last decade. All these conflicts fall within the scope of power or wealth — politics or economics. The governments of these countries, warlords or extremists, and rebel or opposition groups have either:
- Used the wealth from natural resources to purchase arms in order to stay in control, challenge incumbent authorities, or deter potential offensives; or
- Launched an offensive or maintained a defense to take control or safeguard resources such as mines and oil wells.
It is vital to note that the economies in central Africa are highly dependent on the wealth from the extractive industry, while agriculture comes second.
The extractive industry fetches a lot of wealth for the central Africa region.
The map shows the oil-producing countries in Africa. In central Africa, the Central African Republic is the only country that does not produce oil. DRC, on the other hand, does not acquire as much wealth from oil, but rather from its other lucrative resources. Beyond oil, uranium, cobalt, copper, gold, coltan, diamonds, limestone, and other resources available in the central African region.
Governments of the respective countries in central Africa live a luxurious lifestyle. The wealth is shared amidst a few and does not trickle down. In the places where the authority of the state is weak, warlords and rebel groups take over the resource fields and mines. External actors, such as companies that supply or use these resources (for example, Tech companies regarding cobalt) always want to have a share of the production line. This provides a means of wealth for whoever is in control of the mines, either the government or otherwise. Actors take advantage of the conflict situation as in the cases of the Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Chad.
In countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and the Republic of Congo, the government still has a reasonable level of authority. Such governments partner with foreign governments and multinational corporations to accrue more wealth to feed their luxury. This, to a large extent, sparks rebellions because the governments fail at their primary duty to provide basic and accessible infrastructure for their citizens. These governments have, on many counts, been accused of corruption and lack of transparency and accountability regarding state resources.
A common denominator, however, is the repressive regimes they run which sow seeds of violence and tense up their countries and region. The summary of it all boils down to “whose stomach is being fed?” The governance deficit is large as a result of bad governance which is mostly plagued with the personalization of state funds. Governance deficit informs the tensions and eventual conflict like it has done in central Africa since the independence of the region’s countries. It is vital to note that these tensions are sometimes masked as religious and ethnic divides.
“Guns” in Central Africa
- The increase in arms implies that the drivers behind the demand and supply of weapons are healthy.
- Some countries with an increased number of arms do not experience conflict. However, even in those cases, tensions are high and awaiting a trigger-pull for a full-blown conflict.
In DRC in 2007, the number of firearms owned by individuals amounted to about 800,000; it dropped in 2010 to 300,000. This could have been because of the likelier prospect of peace. Yet, this was short-lived. Arms proliferation increased again until the number rose to 946,000 in 2017. In Gabon, the number dropped from 190,000 in 2007 to 61,000 in 2017. Ali Bongo Ondimba is the current President of Gabon who took over from Omar Bongo, his father, in 2009. The motivation behind the drop is unclear. Nevertheless, tensions have either remained the same or gotten worse. There is a realistic probability that credit to this reduction is owed to Ali Bongo’s display of control with support from the French.
What Then Should be Addressed?
The conflict in the central Africa region boils down to a contest between state and non-state actors on who gets what, when, and how. Gaining weapons is a means to an end. It is, therefore, logical to conclude that silencing the means will not bring about sustainable peace. Therefore, as much as efforts are focused on disrupting the flow of arms, much more should be invested in addressing greed. Based on the realities of other regions, it is highly likely that a top-bottom approach would be most suitable whereby the correction begins from the highest levels of government.
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