Ethnic Conflict Africa Essays


Post-Colonial African Conflict

            After World War II, the people of Africa fought to end the effects of European imperialism to achieve political independence and reclaim African culture. After many years of being controlled by Europeans, Africa gradually gained independence following World War II. However, tensions caused by artificial political boundaries established by European powers failed to reflect tribal and religious divisions. The newly-born African states were unstable and struggled to deal with these conflicts, often resulting in civil wars and genocide. During this struggle, Africa received very little support from the rest of the world to either develop African economies or governments. Currently, the people of Africa are still attempting to solve several conflicts. Although 19th century European imperialism was a major factor in causing the political weakness within African states, the solution to Africa’s continuing political, economic, and social conflicts is in the hands of the Africans themselves.

            Under European imperialism, the African standard of living was extremely low. Colonial control forced the Africans to go through several hardships. Due to the extensive cost of World War II, England and several other mother countries struggled with their economies. Also, the African people were getting sick of the harsh treatment and cruelty. The Europeans claimed that they were helping Africa become civilized, but in fact were doing the opposite. They were taking the African resources for their own benefit (Nkrumah par 1). Africa has many resources; including diamonds, cocoa, and rubber (Nkrumah par 4). The first leader of independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, encouraged a strong, unified state to bring prosperity to Africa (Nkrumah par 5).  Nkrumah once said, “Only a strong political union can bring about full and effective development of our natural resources for the benefit of our people.” Because the Europeans controlled the agricultural aspects, African people suffered from poverty. Even though poverty was widespread among the Africans, the Europeans still imposed an extremely harsh tax (Mandela par 1). Nelson Mandela was an African leader who fought for African independence and equality. He encouraged the Africans to refuse to work for the Europeans just to receive poor pay (Mandela par 6). Africans were forced to work in mines (gold, diamonds, and coal), on farms, and at industrial based occupations (Mandela par 2). Mandela said that hardship, sacrifice, and militant action will result in freedom (Mandela par 10). Mandela himself sacrificed much of his life to help Africa become independent. He spent twenty-seven years in prison for leading groups that opposed imperialism (“Africa” par 1). Mandela tried to spread the awareness of the inequality and brutality of the Europeans. He explained that when the Africans were jailed and given a trial, the trial was not by any means fair (Mandela par 13). Another African nationalist leader, Jomo Kenyatta, backed up Mandela’s explanation by using a unique African story to create an analogy. This story uses jungle animals to portray the corrupt trials (Kenyatta par 6). Kenyatta explains that trials were not trials by peers, but the council was strictly made up of Europeans (Kenyatta par 4). The African people were fed up with inequality and discrimination that they faced. These nationalist leaders and groups combined with the European economic failure, resulted in gradual independence for the African people.

From the mid-1900s to 1994, African states escaped imperialism and gained independence.  Due to conflicts during the Cold War, tension between the USSR and the United States in Egypt, the United States interfered on the Egyptian side. The United States did this so the USSR wouldn’t get involved. The United States interference increased their power in Africa. As a secondary result, France and Britain’s power was decreased. This helped led to African independence (“Independent Africa and the Cold War” par 2). Also, to challenge the USSR who was looking for allies in Africa, the United States supported anti-communist independence movements. During the Cold War, the United States was trying to prevent the stop of communism and Soviet ways (Kte’pi par 7). The USSR also helped independence movements. They did this by sending military help and money (“Independent Africa and the Cold War” par 3). All of these events in the Cold War helped Africa gain independence. In 1951, Libya, with support from the United Nations, became the first independent African state.  In the next few years, countries such as Sudan and Tunisia followed (Desanker par 2). On April 27, 1994, apartheid ended in South Africa when Mandela was elected (“Archbishop Desmund Tutu” par 7).  Although the Africans were greatly relieved to finally be free, conflicts left over from the long-lasting colonial rule still affected the African economic, political and social aspects. The economy of post-colonial Africa was the worst conflict left by the Europeans (“Africa” par 2). In the 1960s and 1970s, attempts were made to implement economic systems, such as socialism and capitalism (Desanker par 6). These attempts usually failed because the economy could not support them. Conflicts increased in the 1970s when prices of African products decreased and debt increased. Also in the 1970s, the Africans also greatly suffered from disease. In this time period, a disease known as Ebola killed thousands of people. More recently, the number of Africans affected by Aids has greatly increased (Desanker par 7). Two thirds of the people who die from HIV/Aids are African people. Along with a poor economy and several diseases, Africa struggled, and still does today, with food and water. The people faced illness due to the lack of clean water available. Additionally, famines have occurred in 2010, in the West African region and in 2011, in the Horn of Africa (“Africa” par 2). For the African political aspects, colonial rule was so extensive that the Africans didn’t really know how to run governments effectively. Most African states turned to military dictatorships. In some cases, the military overthrew the government (Desanker par 5). Dictatorships and authoritarian governments were put into place to solve the lasting ethnic, religious, and tribal conflicts (“Africa” par 2).

The many different cultures and ethnicities of Africa led to conflicts over the boundaries drawn by the Europeans. The African culture was simply pushed away by the Europeans, who forced the Africans to follow Western beliefs. The Europeans neglected to respect the different tribes and their religious views. This is significant because civil wars and violence will last long after imperialism. For example, civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo erupted in 1998 due to ethnicity conflicts. It lasted for five years and ended in 2003 (Desanker par 7). Along with the Congo, Sudan, Angola, Chad and Somalia had many years of violence “armed conflict” and violence (“Africa” par 2). In Angola, civil war was caused by natural resource and ethnicity differences (Ziliotto par 6). This civil war resulted in over one million dead (Ziliotto par 10). As for Sudan, it was a civil war caused by lasting cultural problems from the 1800s. So far, about two million people have died from this internal war. However, charges of genocide are occurring now (“Civil Wars” in Africa par 5).

In Algeria, conflicts arose from the reinstatement of dominant Islam. After colonial rule, Algeria faced many political problems (“Algeria Cracks Down” par 7). In search of a way to prosper, some Algerians wanted to return to an Islamic state (“Algeria Cracks Down” par 8).  However, in 1992, the elections were revoked when the Islamic party won the election. Civil war erupted when the military took over (Catherwood and Horvitz par 1). During the civil war, tremendous acts of genocide were committed. Extreme Islamists tortured, raped and massacred many people. Like Sudan, trials went on for many years after the war (Catherwood and Horvitz par 2). The government of Algeria is trying to resolve their conflicts and prevent this situation from occurring again (Catherwood and Horvitz par 4). The Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said, “Reconciliation, in my view, must protect us from experiencing once again the two evil phenomena of terrorist violence and extremism, which brought us misfortune and destruction.”  

With European imperialism, diffusion of religions and the dismissal of African traditional beliefs occurred. The Africans were introduced to Christianity and Islam. These were two religions that grew in Africa quickly and replaced animism and other African cultures. The Europeans tried to convert as many people as they could. Occasionally, the Africans would mix the aspects that they liked of the Western religion with their traditional religion. This is important because it created completely new religions for the Africans (“Religion in Modern Africa par 2).  However, Islam and Christianity still spread greatly because the conflicts in Africa made the African people believe that their traditional religions weren’t working (“Christianity in Africa” par 3). Even though the religions are still spreading, Islam is spreading at a faster rate than Christianity. Islam is dominant in North and the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean range. This is because it was brought by the Europeans in early development (“Religion in Modern Africa par 3). On the other hand, Christianity is dominant in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Western coast, and in South Africa (“Religion in Modern Africa par 4). This rivalry between the two religions has and continues to bring violence. A threatened feeling has gone back and forth. (“Religion in Modern Africa par 5). This conflict is harmful to the African society. Many Muslims have parts in many aspects of the economy and transportation (“Islam in independent Africa” par 2). Additionally, several Muslims hold significant places in politics (“Islam in independent Africa” par 3). Non-Muslims have begun to worry about the recent growth of Muslim power and “religious radicalism” (“Islam in independent Africa” par 7). This goes for the Christians as well. Many Africans still follow Christian faith and believe that Christianity has the ability to resolve Africa’s conflicts (Phiri par 7). This is ironic because differences in religions and cultures have caused several internal African problems.

Due to tensions between tribes and favoritism by the Belgian colonists, violence and revolts have resulted in genocide in Rwanda. In Rwanda, the Hutu and Tutsi tribes have fought for many years. They’re quite similar, which makes historians question why these tribes have been rivals for so long. The Hutu and Tutsi share the same language and traditions (Straus par 2). However, they have slightly different views on agriculture and cattle. The Tutsi see the cattle as a symbol of wealth (“Tutsi” par 1). Other than that, the tribes share many of the same characteristics. Tensions arose when Belgians took control of the country. The Belgians favored the Tutsis, even though the Hutu were the majority. In the 1990s, eighty-five percent of Rwanda was Hutu (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 2). The Belgians characterized the Hutus and Tutsis by simple categories. These categories included intelligence and appearance (Destexhe par 8). Because of the Belgian favoritism, the Tutsi tribe had several advantages over the Hutus. The Tutsi people had a higher social status, which meant that they were leaders/rulers (“Tutsi” par 1). Additionally, most of the Rwandan schools taught Tutsi education. The Belgians attempted to justify the inequality by blaming the Hutu “passivity” (Destexhe par 9). By 1959, the Hutu tribe was well fed up with this imbalance. This discontent among the Hutu resulted in 300,000 Tutsi people to flee Rwanda. In 1961, the Tutsi leader was put into exile and a Hutu republic was created (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 2). In July 1962, Rwanda gained independence from the Europeans. After independence, the Hutu continued to revolt against the Tutsis. Many Tutsi were killed and many more continued to flee due to these revolts (Straus par 3). In 1973, a Hutu leader, Juvenal Habyarimana, became president of Rwanda (Straus par 4). Under Habyarimana, the Tutsis who fled to Uganda during the Hutu revolts were not allowed to return to Rwanda. These Tutsis formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which would play a major role against the Hutu (“Tutsi” par 2). Shortly after creation, the RPF attempted to regain power by attacking the Hutu government (Straus par 4). In August 1993, a transition government was formed, including the RPF (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 4). However, this was only temporary peace. On April 6, 1994, a plane containing Habyarimana and the president of Burundi, Ntaryamira, was shot down. This caused the Hutu extremists, government officials, and civilians to murder many Tutsis and any fellow Hutus who sided with the Tutsis (Straus par 5). In the next three months, 800,000 Rwandans were massacred. By July, the RPF controlled the government of Rwanda. Over 2 million Hutus fled Rwanda to Zaire and other countries (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 6).  To prevent more distress, a coalition government was formed with a Hutu, Pasteur Bizimungu as president and a Tutsi, Paul Kagame as vice president (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 7). 

As these acts of genocide and human rights violations occurred, the rest of the world basically turned a blind eye to Rwanda. In some cases the Europeans deliberately left acts of genocide happen. For example, France was allies with Habyarimana so they let some Hutus who committed genocide get away. Eventually, world organizations stepped in to take care of the situation. However, by the time aid was supplied, the genocide was already over with (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 8). Trials were held in 1995 for over a decade and a half to punish those who participated in this genocide. In 2008, three Rwandan officials who took part were convicted (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 10). In Rwanda and many other countries, the Africans struggled to maintain peace on their own and received very little aid from the rest of the world.

Overall, the international response to the African conflicts was unbelievably poor. Even though many African countries joined the United Nations after independence, the United Nations failed to provide significant help. For example, even though the U.N. did resolve problems in Congo, the organization didn’t even attempt to prevent republic governments from falling into anarchy (Nkrumah par 10). Overall, the United Nations interferences were either successes or failures (“United Nations” par 6). In Somalia, their interference was indeed a failure. In 1992-1993, the United Nations only caused additional problems in Somalia. The U.N. led by the United States attempted to use force to suppress “confrontations.”  The people of Somalia misinterpreted the aid as the United States simply trying to intervene in their business (“United Nations” par 9). Another failure included the Rwandan genocide. For some reason, the Security Council would not allow the United Nations intervene in the genocide. However, in late 1994, the United Nations created a special court of justice against the starters of this tremendous genocide (Straus par 7). Additionally, the United Nations did manage to send 5,500 soldiers, but could not end the genocide. The Africans felt “betrayed” because even the organization couldn’t stop the murders (“United Nations” par 10). Although there were many failures, some successes, such as in Namibia came from the United Nations interference in Africa. The United Nations helps economic, social and sustainable African development (“United Nations” par 11). Each African country has a development program that brings resources and more. (“United Nations” par 12). Overall, the general lack of international response has left the Africans to resolve their conflicts on their own.

Today, the African people are still in the process of addressing the economic, social, and political conflicts of the continent. In 1990, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed to maintain peace in Africa (“Organization of African Unity” par 7). A second goal of was to help solve economic situations. In 1997, the members of this organization created the African Economic Community to create “regional partnerships” (“Organization of African Unity” par 8).  The OAU also helped prevent human rights violations and end civil wars (“Organization of African Unity” par 9). Although the organization was beneficial, it could not help to its full potential due to financial issues. The result of this was the suggestion by Libya’s ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, to form a new group. So, in September 2001, the African Union (AU) was formed. The goal of this new organization was to support and spread the voice of the African people. The African Union has greatly benefited the Africans and has fought the problems of modern Africa. An example of this is the attempts by the AU to fight Islamic terrorism that is planted in Africa. Before the AU, the Organization of African Unity attempted to stop this terrorism. In 1999, the OAU created the Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism (“Terrorism in Africa” par 8). This counterterrorism is continued when the OAU developed into the African Union. However, the use of new technology, such as cellphones and Internet has allowed terrorism to grow not only in Africa, but around the world (“Terrorism in Africa” par 9).

The growth of terrorism and the continuation of Africa’s conflicts could be linked to the lack of beneficial leaders after Africa gained independence. One of the problems of the African leaders is that they are selfish. They have no desire to share political power. Two of these recent leaders would be a Sudan leader, Omar al-Bashir, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (Ayitley par 1). Only 20% of African leaders since 1960 have actually been successful (Ayitley par 3). In 2002, African children describe the leaders as unbeneficial for education and health (Ayitley par 4).  This is important because those children are the next generation after the selfish dictators. The children saw that they have to make changes to the society. The chair of the AU commission, Alpha Oumar Konare said, “Africa is suffering a crisis of leadership.” This is true because the African people need a leader who will reform the African society and lead the Africans to prosperity. The Africans must see the changes that are necessary. President Mogae said, “It is Africa’s own responsibility to achieve her full potential.”  The Africans need to see the accuracy in this quote. If the Africans can unite to solve their conflicts, Africa can prosper tremendously.

      The people of Africa must take matters into their own hands to achieve their goal of a stable unified state. Africa made progress when they gained independence from the Europeans. However, they were set back after this milestone due to the boundaries set by the Europeans that left a tension between the different ethnicities and religions. Civil wars and mass murders resulted from this lasting tension. With no worldwide aid, it was nearly impossible to unify Africa and make it strong and stable. Unfortunately, Africa is still struggling after numerous efforts to create stability. Africa’s struggle and conflicts are significant because of Africa was stable and prosperous, the rest of the world would also benefit, along with Africa and its people. 

Anonymous Student. "Post-Colonial African Conflict" Study Notes, LLC., 06 Sep. 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <>.

Ethnic conflicts have been a great threat to many countries’ stability in today’s world. In this context, ethnicity is often viewed as a determinant not only of cultural or religious belonging, but also of conflicting intergroup interests, sometimes resulting in ethnic violence. Unfortunately, in the past scholars looked at ethnic conflicts without a proper definition of ethnicity, its traits and characteristics, and most importantly, its role in affecting ethnic conflicts.

In most cases, interethnic conflicts do not arise only due to mere national and continental boundaries, but also due to some conflicts of interests, resulting from ethnical cultural, financial, and developmental aspirations. As a result, many conflict management strategies failed because they focused on symptoms rather than on the root causes of problems, namely clashing ethnic values. The other side of the coin, that has not been considered properly, is a historical legacy of colonisation and alien government’s policies, overly emphasising ethnic differences or discriminating ethnicities.

The relationship between ethnic conflicts and ethnicities appears to be two-fold. The notion of ethnicity and its social filling seem to cause virulent ethnic clashes. At the same time, ethnic strife inflicts huge social and economic costs on the ethnicities involved, prompting them to reconsider their national identity and further course of development. The present literature review seeks to evaluate the concept of ethnicity and its role in the development of ethnic conflicts. It analyses the role of cultural, historical, and economic factors affecting ethnic confrontation in different countries (mainly in Africa), and defines the place of ethnicity in this context. The paper also gives recommendations how to avoid ethnic conflicts or manage their consequences in the future by undertaking grassroots efforts at the governmental, NGO and international levels.

Ethnicity and Ethnic Conflicts: Hard Facts

Ethnic conflicts within a country belong to internal identity tensions. Besides internal identity conflicts, there are many other forms of intergroup clashes, which include governance, and ideological, environmental and racial conflicts. The word “ethnic conflict” is typically used to define a broad range of internal disagreements in nation states.

Ethnic conflicts are often a result of a clash of cultural, religious or linguistic identities that eventually may or may not escalate into open confrontation and violence. These identities come from different social and cultural environments that end up in competing with each other. This identity struggle normally involves a combination of identity matching and search for security, with the main issue being the distribution of power. To have a better understanding of what an ethnic conflict is, it is useful to recollect genocides in Rwanda and Sri Lanka, the civil war in Lebanon, the situation in Southern Sudan, or the Arabic-Israeli conflict. However, wars in Somalia, Afghanistan or Cambodia do not qualify for ethnic conflicts, since they do not occur among different ethnic groups, but among competing political factions, which belong to the same tribal group.

One of the aspects of the abovementioned ethnic identity is culture. It comprises a complex of idiosyncratic elements of an ethnic group. In the explanation of ethnic groups, culture is a structure of values, meanings, symbols, customs, and norms, shared by the adherents of a group. Culture outlines the way of life, which differentiates one ethnic group from another. Culture is passed on from generation to generation and is manifested through a people’s language, beliefs, literature, religion, art, and a manner of dressing. Culture differs from one community to another. As a result, each country or ethnicity in the world has developed its own unique culture, inextricably connecting its cultural and ethnic identity. Cultural diversity is becoming increasingly common in the modern world, as it poses many benefits and challenges on the international community. Practicing ways of managing cultural diversity can be useful in learning different lifestyles of other cultures and possibly reconciling any grounds for intergroup disagreements. This is because such culturally loaded disagreements are often a consequence of one nation attempting to impose its cultural history, values, or lifestyles upon another nation with a different set of cultural practices.

In discussing an ethnic conflict and its causes, first it is important to have a clear definition of the word ‘ethnicity’. There is no consensus in the literature concerning the terminology and elementary concepts relating to ethnicity. “Ethnic community”, “ethnic group”, “ethnicity”, “marginalized”, or occasionally “identity groups” are used by several authors often in dissimilar and incompatible ways. Ethnic groups are traditionally defined as collectivities or psychological societies, members of which share a persevering sense of mutual interest and identity, which are founded on some mixture of common historical experience and treasured cultural traits, beliefs, language, religion, ways of life, and the common motherland.

Several criteria concerning the above description must be met before a group can be referred to as an ethnic group or community. First, the group should have a name, by which it is referred to. Names are significant for self-identification and are expressive logos of the “communal personality”. Second, a common language is also an influential sign of ethnic and national identity. The scuffle over language guidelines and language rights is frequently the chief reason behind ethnic clashes, especially when numerous linguistic minorities all over the world are banned from using their language in public places or in the media. Third, religion has traditionally been a significant indicator of ethnic identity. In societies, where religion interferes with various domains of public life, it may become a self-identifying feature and, consequently, serve as an ethnic marker for a group. When the religious factor is deeply intertwined with other elements of social life, religion turns out to be a decisive variable of ethnicity (Münkler, ch. 1). In Lebanon, for instance, being a Muslim or a Christian denotes a clear expression of religious faith and belonging to a respective community. Fourth, an ethic group or ethnicity should reside within certain geographical boundaries. Territory is the central unit in the existence of ethnic nations and groups and serves as a foundation for political and economic institutions of that group. Countless ethnic groups, e.g., the Palestinians, Kurds, and the Tamils of Sri Lanka are seeking to have their own territorial boundaries. Many established ethnic groups worldwide are first of all associated with their territory, which can be either their indigenous environment or their mythical land of origin, often imbued with a sacred meaning.

In Africa, ethnicity is often an elite phenomenon. Wherever the community elite feel cut out from the political power and economic control by other elites, they get their ethnicity members to believe in a conspiracy plotted by competitors However, according to Nnoli (1995: 89), ethnicity is meant to pull individuals together, ensure internal cohesion, provide natural security for each member, and to enhance their sense of direction and identity. He believed that ethnicity should provide solutions to such problems as oppression, exploitation, alienation and deprivation. However, as practice shows, ethnicity has often become a stumbling block to overcoming those issues.

Why do Ethnic Conflicts Arise?

Ethnic conflicts are generally a result of some clashes among the mentioned ethnic components at the intergroup level. According to Wallerstein (1979: 205), ethnic genocide, cleansing, hatred and dynamics are seen as struggles by the oppressed and dominated groups for greater autonomy and the protection of their rights:

An ethnic conflict and conscious result when different groups feel threatened by the loss of previously acquired privileges at the same time, if they feel that there is the existence of a political opportunity to overcome a longstanding denial of privilege. He further argues that mechanization and mechanisms through which these groups increase their aim have accelerated an ethnical conflict and tension.

In Africa, the primary causes of ethnical conflicts are feuds among ethnic groups and a sense of alienation in trying to gain control over resources. Violence can begin when these groups see no other way of looking for redress and getting justice. Poverty may also serve as the inducement of conflicts. In most cases, ethnic conflicts arise when claims of a party for territorial and land control become incompatible with other parties, who are also satisfying their basic needs and interests within the same territory (ibid.).

An ethnic conflict may also stem from inept policymaking, often accompanying authoritarian regimes or the process of colonization). The colonization of African states created a new sense of ethnic belonging for many oppressed people. However, the divide-and-rule policy used by British colonizers created deep cracks in African societies. Before the arrival of the British, the majority of African societies were blissfully unaware of their ethnic divisions or, at least, were willing to accept differences among them. That changed after the British had devised a policy of dividing groups on the tribal basis and making the natives aware of their linguistic and cultural differences. Persevering government efforts eventually led to an ethnic strife that continually plagued African communities and used to be a constant cause of conflicts.

On the other side, many people were brought together under the boundaries of a new colonized country or community. People, who failed or refused to integrate in a new state, would end up in falling out of the dominant culture of these countries. This low rate of integration was conducive to ethnic crises in many countries. In some African countries, for instance, ethnic conflicts led to violent wars, economic and political instability, as well as social disequilibrium. Perhaps, unaware of it, European colonisers discriminated African nations on the basis of ethnicity and sowed discord among retaliating groups.

After colonization, little was done to prepare the former colonies for being independent. That is why, in the recent years, aggravating ethnic conflicts and violence in these countries have pinpointed the failure of governments to cope with post-colonial ethnicity problems. This situation led to a deep cleavage between diverse groups of people and exacerbated the competition over scarce resources among multi-ethnic societies (Kalyvas, 2001). In this vein, political forces may have abused the concept of ethnicity in scoring electoral points, sometimes igniting great ethnic tensions. In such a way, politicians sensitize ethnic differences in a country, instead of trying to reconcile or ignore them.

Nonetheless, some scholars argue that ethnicity differences, just like intergroup differences, are not a decisive cause of violent ethnic clashes. According to their viewpoint, an ethnic conflict may occur as a result of the collapse of an authoritarian regime. For instance, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, many bloody conflicts have emerged in Eastern Europe. Interethnic confrontation was recorded in the former Yugoslavia and the newly independent states of Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Russia. In these countries, an ethnic and national identity assumed the primary role as young nations, beginning a new phase of their economic and political organisation, and being ravaged by clashing attitudes and approaches to the new order.

Ethnic conflicts can also be explained through two levels of critical analysis: systemic and domestic. The systemic level emphasizes the nature of security parameters, according to which ethnic structures function. The first and the most noticeable precondition for ethnic struggle at the systemic level is when two or more ethnic communities live in close proximity to each other. Another precondition is that regional, local, national, and international establishments should be too weak to safeguard the security of separate groups. In a vast majority of cases, an ethnic war is preceded by a fierce infighting of regional powerbrokers over political authority and status. In such politically disarrayed nations, competing groups have to arrange their own defence. These communities fear for their economic, physical, and emotional safety and survival, and inadvertently create intergroup suspicions often leading to prejudices or open confrontation. Communal fears of forthcoming conflicts are likely to increase when communities lose their capacity to render fair justice or to deliver credible assurances of protection against aggressors.

At the domestic level, ethnic conflicts can be explained by the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of countries in addressing the needs of their populations, influences of democratisation on inter-ethnic relations, and the effect of nationalism on inter-ethnic associations. In authoritarian countries, where decisions are made without considering opinions of the population, ethnic tensions may be a way to divert attention or address some urgent social problems. Thus, one ethnicity may consider another a scapegoat for existing problems in the society. Democratising rhetoric that comes from the West may also not match the established inter-ethnic patterns on the country’s territory. Considering tensions in China’s Tibet, domestic religious groups backed by the democratic West failed to properly evaluate their democratic constraints and were stamped down by the government. The final domestic component of ethnic clashes is nationalistic aspirations of conflicting parties.

Nationalism mirrors the need of ethnic groups to construct governments capable of fostering economic prosperity and delivering security. Intense nationalist tendencies and higher risks of a nationwide conflict arise when governments fail to deliver those priorities. At the same time, when governments feel weak to handle amplified levels of political participation and civil society initiatives, nationalism may come in handy for dividing and eliminating the emerging dissent. Therefore, the advent of nationalism makes an ethnic struggle almost unavoidable. The upsurge of nationalism in one community can be perceived as a threat for other communities, resulting in counteractive nationalist tendencies. Thus, nationalism may propel communities to build large and well-equipped armies to be ready for possible military actions against other communities. The military build-up becomes reciprocal, sooner or later making pre-emptive attacks or defensive wars against neighbouring groups very likely.

In some countries, revenge is another factor triggering ethnic confrontation. The revenge for a deceased relative or friend can be sometimes used as a legitimate purpose to accomplish a mission that the deceased did not manage to. Revenge can also be used to inflict a due punishment on a criminal, should the conventional law fail to deliver justice. It should naturally be assumed that in cases, when different ethnic groups are involved, revenge can serve as a precedent for an ethnic conflict. Simply put, when a member of tribe A commits an offense against a member of tribe B, the conflict may exceed an individual framework and become intertribal. In that case, revenge accentuates ethnicity differences leading to a conflict.

Economic reforms are another issue that can be conducive to ethnic conflicts. In the period from the 1970s to 1980s, Africa experienced a high increase in violent ethnic conflicts. At that time, most African countries were living in the state of dire poverty being virtually non-existent economies. Subsequently, the international community put a lot of pressure on these countries to initiate programmes of economic and political liberalization. The manner, in which economic and political reforms were implemented, seemed to have played a role in ethnic conflicts. The economic aid for countries with corrupt and inefficient governments further aggravated the existing competition for scarce resources. Without a major political transformation and democratic innovations, clashes became even more intense in comparison with the colonial period, regardless economic improvements.

Social and Financial Costs of Ethnic Conflicts

In an absolute majority of cases, ethnic conflicts bear negative effects and large costs for the parties involved. The primary cost of an ethnic conflict is social, since many people are left homeless, killed, injured, or deprived of their land and possessions. Sometimes, during an ethnic war, civilians take the law into their own hands and participate in killing people and looting properties. In many situations, former neighbours and friends become enemies, no matter that they are of the same ethnicity.

The displacement of people is another thing that happens when an ethnic conflict occurs. It results in bitter insecurity that cripples day-to-day political, social, and economic activities of individuals within the affected areas. Families and marriages fall apart, children lack access to proper education and health care, and widespread abuse sows mistrust, psychological traumas, and prejudices. Another major issue is health: displaced families are prone to health problems because of limited access to basic necessities, food, shelter, and clothing. Such families are forced to go to camps with poor ventilation, inadequate water supply, and poor or absent sanitation facilities. For example, the Daadab refugee camp in Kenya hosts approximately 500,000 refugees from Somali, who fled their country because of continuous intertribal clashes. This figure is three times higher than the maximum number of refugees, which the camp can possibly accommodate. Displacement and sojourn in the appalling conditions of the refugee camp are conducive to the development of fatal pandemics and rampant human rights abuse.

During and after ethnic clashes, an identity crisis usually develops as well. The offspring from fighting communities often stay at crossroads in terms of their ethnic identity, whereby children from intermarried families are separated and faced with hard decisions in their future life. These young people are unsure which side they should join and, in most cases, they pick the path with the least amount of pressure. This results in additional hatred among communities, as one community begins to see another as an occupant and a threat to their national identity.

Ethnic conflicts also result in substantial losses of economic and human resources. This badly afflicts the economy. In many cases, people lose their ownership of land, harvest is destroyed on fields, and food production slumps. As a consequence, people are often hit by a famine and malnutrition due to food shortages. Moreover, after the conflict, people driven away from their lands use all means to grab as much land as possible. Hence, the forceful acquisition of land and property destruction are common events accompanying ethnic clashes and the life after them. Such a situation poses a great threat to the peace, as there is always a possibility of renewal.

Another economic aftermath of ethnic violence is a decrease in the demand for manufactured goods. It arises due to the lack of income from the sale of agricultural products and labour in agriculture-based industries, such as coffee and tea plantations. Thus, instead of working on these plantations, people went to war and left their fields that were either expropriated or destroyed. Such a legacy led to the destruction not only of the agricultural sector, it also crippled manufacturing industries that were highly dependent on agricultural money (Collier, 2000).

Ethnic wars also bring on grave environmental consequences, as seen in the massive destruction of forests. In order to survive in displacement, war victims need timber resources to sustain themselves. For instance, over 300,000 people fled their homes as a result of the Boro-Santhal conflict in Central India in 1996. They had to denude several acres of forest, as they had no other way to establish themselves outside their villages. Deforestation in such war-ravaged regions greatly affected local rainfall patterns and temperature modes. As a result, many agricultural plantations that heavily relied on rainfalls perished due to the prolonged periods of draught.

Preventive Measures and Remedies

When an ethnic conflict is over, people consolidate in bringing the nation back to the original condition prior to the conflict. Providing that ethnicity plays an important role in the emergence of conflicts, the question of intergroup tensions in a post-war society has to be addressed as the first priority. Possible preventive measures can be included in government policies, NGOs initiatives, donor activities, and religious responses.

In many cases, a government fails to provide necessary support and aid to victims of war. When it comes to resettlement, it often takes many years for inefficient governments to resettle displaced people in their countries. In some cases, governments have harassed those, who volunteered to assist displaced people, accusing them of inciting clashes. A good example is Kenya, where in 1993, Prof. Wangari Mathai, who tried to assist people from the Western region after the tribal clashes had occurred, was arrested and detained under an accusation of inciting ethnic unrest. That is an example of how ethnic problems should not be solved in a post-war environment.

As practice shows, NGOs and donor agencies seem to have played the most important role in assisting displaced people. After ethnical clashes, they usually offered relief assistance, and formed development networks that preached peace to affected ethnicities. They offered guidance and counsel to victims, raising their hope and acceptance of others. NGOs went further to assist them in getting justice through such platforms as human rights protection.

When it comes to a religious response, most churches have done a lot of work. They have been housing some displaced people, giving them clothing, feeding them, and even mobilizing their parish to donate stuff to victims. For example, many small denominations managed to consolidate swiftly and provide so much needed assistance to Rwanda after the genocide of 1994 (United Human Right Council, 2012). Unfortunately, in some areas, the Christians did not follow their teachings and, instead of assisting the affected people, some were inciters of conflicts themselves.

In order to counter devastating effects of an ethnic conflict, affected ethnicities should also undergo socialization that will help them acquire skills, knowledge and disposition that can help these groups participate positively in the life of their country. Institutions should initiate the creation of forums for political participation at the grassroots regional, and national levels. Every ethnic group has expectations or interests, which may or may not conflict with other ethnic communities. Therefore, leaders are supposed to allocate resources in a way, when every ethnic group gets a fair share according to its material, cultural and spiritual needs.


Ethnic conflicts arise because of the unfair distribution of natural resources, and inherent cultural differences among competing ethnicities, aggravated by certain socioeconomic factors, such as religion, language, nationalism, authoritarian politics and others. The history of colonisation and unfriendly governments left deep fractures in the ethnic makeup of many struggling nations in Africa and worldwide. The forceful integration of various cultures and the inability to manage diversities have exposed many countries to devastating consequences of ethnic violence. The divide-and-rule governance in those countries has also contributed to ethno-religious divisions, increasing the likelihood of a conflict.

Ethnic conflicts inflict profound social and economic harm on ethnicities, including environmental degradation, broken generations, and a constant sense of insecurity of displaced persons. Therefore, in order to reduce the amount of ethnic conflicts, government agencies, NGOs, religious movements and other parties concerned should do what is necessary to address ethnicities’ problems in their roots. Countries’ leaders should work hard towards the formation of national policies and ideologies that will go beyond differences among ethnic groups. Thereby, various groups’ needs should be harmonized and reconciled by equitably, distributing the national resources available. In such a way, it will be possible to create a more peaceful, more tolerant and accepting society.


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