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Myths about Africa: Do conflicts and insecurity have nothing to do with rich countries?

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Ever since the abolishment of slavery and the granting of independence to African nations, the continent has been stricken with what seems like never-ending conflicts. There are pockets of violence here and there between groups in Africa, and this has seriously stunted its growth, damaged perceptions of rule of law, unification, and development as there can never be progress where there are conflicts. Curiously the foreign powers who always preach world peace and African development, even after decades seem to engage to inconsistent actions towards Africa.

It undermines the lip service of rich countries espousing safety, freedom and rule of law to be important concepts for all mankind. Could it be there are no serious attempts or will power on their part? Could it be perhaps they stand to benefit from these conflicts in Africa? Could it even be corporations from developed economics add fuel to these conflicts? Or could it be they are doing everything within their power to put an end to it?


You cannot talk about conflicts without talking about weapons. Weapons are the lifeblood of any conflict or war. Consequently, as long as there is a continuous supply of weapons, the fighting rages on, however, eliminate weapons and conflicts may end, gradually die a natural death, or significantly become less destructive. Harmless Non-violent groups advocating for a cause can suddenly become dangerous and destructive when sufficiently equipped with arms. In modern times therefore, one cannot stress enough how significant the control of weapons, or regulated exports, is to the attainment of world peace, especially peace in Africa.

But guess who the major producers and exporters of weapons are?

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), ten countries account for almost all of the global weapons exports, a whopping 90%. And the world’s top five major arms exporters from highest to lowest are United States, Russia, Germany, France, and China. Together, these five nations account for 74% of global weapons exports. The other five are the UK, Spain, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands. If we extrapolate from those figures, either directly or indirectly these rich nations may supply most of the weapons used for the fighting going on in Africa. Which now begs the question; why do these rich nations export their arms to troubled regions and at the same time advocate for peace? Consider the irony that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the Unities States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia – are among the top 10 arms dealers? Whatever their reasons may be, one thing is certain; their weapons are being used to perpetrate the violence and conflicts in Africa and the world.
UN Security Council Permanent Members
Top 10 Largest Arms manufacturing Companies 2013 (SIPRI Yearbook 2015)

Over the past decade Africa as a continent has experienced the fastest inflow of arms and weapons than any other region in the world. African governments and rebel groups in 2014 imported 45% more weapons, with Algeria, Morocco, and Sudan leading the pack. The imports are driven by the conflicts in these states: Algeria’s row with Morocco, South Sudan’s civil war.

According to a 2015 yearbook of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), The flow of arms to Africa increased in 2010-2014 compared to 2005-2009[1]


According to the UK parliament, there is no internationally agreed definition of arms exports; neither is there any structure on how they should be measured[2]. Therefore, countries especially the world powers freely export weapons all around the globe to whomever they believe deserves it.

There are many reasons these rich countries export arms; one of the most obvious reason is for financial gains. The arms export industry commands a substantial amount of money. As a matter of fact, the arms exporting business is worth well over $400 billion annually.

Major Global Arms Exporters

Another reason is to support their allies. More often than not these rich countries tend to choose sides on conflicts in Africa; sometimes it is support for a government; other times they support the rebels. Surely one cannot help but wonder if their support is based upon fairness and justice or self-interest.

Sometimes the rich nations ship out weapons and give their reason for doing so as promoting the existence, viability, stability of friendly and democratic nations.

It is not strange also that weapons from these nations are often sold to some certain countries intentionally and not others so as to determine who has the political advantages and military control.


There have been countless meetings between world leaders in which the subject of human rights has been discussed. Some African nations often pop up among the countries with more human right violations. This is not particularly surprising giving the unrest that abound in some locations across the region; and wherever there are wars and conflicts, human rights abuses follow perfunctorily. However, the irony is that the rich countries that preach and plan against the reduction of these pockets of global instability and the promotion of human rights still supply the weapons used to perpetrate such acts. And so, the debate rages on.

According to a UK news outlet The Guardian, for the past decade Between 2008 and 2017, almost a third of UK’s arms exports, amounting to £12 billion, was to nations identified by the government as having the worst human rights violation records[3].

Many question the export of arms and ammunition to countries with poor human rights records. This conflict of interest gave rise to the United Nation’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that went into effect in 2014. The ATT sets legally binding standards to regulate global arms export and seeks to address the growing concerns arms export play in perpetuating human rights abuses, conflicts, and social unrest worldwide. So far it has not made much difference as the rich nations while claiming to be fighting for the entrenchment of democracy still export weapons to many African countries embroiled in conflicts, or countries close to the continent.


Precolonial history in Africa is fraught with stories of kingdoms, empires, confederacies and states, each competing for supremacy, trade or peace in various combinations. In precolonial times African societies kept stability on a basis of specialised economies and control of long-distance trading across the continent. Each major kingdom had a national army, niche positions along long-distance trade routes within Africa, centralised governments and a head of state to handle international relations such as either the elected kings of the Ashanti, the Confederacies of the seven Hausa states or hereditary kings.

Around 1453 CE, the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Ottoman Empire pushed Portugal and Spain into deeper ties with Sub-Sahara Africa, and inspired Spain to fund the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. In the Americas, a slave called Esteban helped Spain explore further inland into North America.

At the same time the split of England and the Dutch Republic from the Catholic world created competition to be major players within the developing maritime trade network between the Protestant Europeans, Catholic Europeans and other world players. Europe engaged in these trade missions initially in search of gold, wood and spices. The introduction of guns, gunpowder to warfare, first by the Chinese, then the Mongols and later the Ottomans pushed Europe into also developing firearms.

Prior to the period of competition among Europeans to trade with Sub-Sahara Africa, the continent experienced periods of war and instability in pockets, but the inability of polities to deport unwanted Africans in vast quantities meant that they had to handle criminals, debtors, captives and political prisoners as though such people would continue to form a part of African societies in peace times or after criminal punishment. Sub-Sahara Africa therefore had an acceptable means of government and containing international disputes no matter how obscure it may have seemed at the time.

The initial plan to trade in things not slaves was soon abandoned, and as quickly became a long-term nightmare for some estimated 22 million Africans, when Europe was unable to supply enough cheap, indentured or penal labour for land taken by force by colonists in the Americas. In exchange for gold, silver and slaves, Europe sold Africa guns, gunpowder, cowrie shells, textiles and other products. The competition to sell guns to African kingdoms sparked an arms race which would later leave those kingdoms weak from 380 years of civil and international wars when Europe decided to carve up Africa. Obviously, no-one forced Africa leaders to buy guns and wage war, but kingdoms which did not arm themselves fell victim to kingdoms that proliferated firearms. In Europe the political systems based on the monarchies, Salic law and intermarriage amongst only those of Royal blood sparked many succession wars and also kept Europe innovating its military industrial complex.

Consider the Dutch as a case study and model of European self-interest and inconsistency. During 1500 CE to 1800 CE, the Dutch sided with Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and England against the Ottomans and France in the Italian Wars (1494–1498; 1499–1504; 1508–1516; 1521–1530; 1536–1538; 1542–1546; 1551–1559), until England joined France and the Ottomans. The Dutch, Irish and Spanish fought against the English and French during the Anglo-Spanish wars of 1585 to 1604 CE. The Dutch sided with English against the Spanish (Thirty Years War). The Dutch sided with the Spain to fight against the English in the Anglo-Dutch wars (1652 – 1674), with the English against the French, Scotland and the Spanish, with America and the French against the English.


The disruption of Africa by the Europeans while brandishing Christianity, meaningless changes of allegiances and civilization as the reason, when in fact it was a scramble for trade and resources might have as well laid the foundation for its present woes. Decades since they left, the aftermath of their actions and inactions tarries on.

The colonialists disrupted the sphere of life of the African people; different and culturally distinct political states were merged together without their consent and new maps were drawn, lands and resources which hitherto had exclusively belonged to a group was now adjudged to belong to all, new laws were made without exactly considering the interest of the locals, local institutions which had taken centuries to be built and adapted to suit the indigenous populations were dismantled and foreign ones installed in its place, rightful local leaders were overthrown or made to do their bidding and proxies installed.

All these actions and much more were taken by the colonialists for their economic and political interests and not the wellbeing of the indigenous populace. Attempts to gain independence were called “crimes”, “rebellions” and “insurgencies” in need of “pacification”.

Therefore, when the glue, in this case being the colonial masters, that held all these together was gone, chaos ensued. A sore which has continued to plague the African continent even in the 21st century. Many leaders that backed democratic self-rule got killed off or jailed.

There are no such things like colonial masters anymore, but the effect they had on their territories still lingers on, and thou it might seem whimsical to some, the root cause of most of the conflicts happening in Africa today can be traced to the actions of the colonial masters decades ago, whom today are the rich countries and world powers.


It is a well-known fact that more powerful nations often interfere either directly or indirectly in the political affairs of the weaker ones. Which often times leads to conflicts. Western Secret agencies have been known to topple and install regimes all across the globe particularly in South America, and Africa. Francois Mitterand a former French president at one time said that France has stopped organizing and financing coups in Africa[4].

Over the years, European governments and their collaborators (multi-nationals) have continued to undermine Africa and treat serious problems with utter levity. This has often led to protests and conflicts; an example is a protest held in Feb 2005 in Nigeria at the American owned Chevron Escravos oil terminal. The protesters were protesting against the oil-related hazards caused by the activities of the multinational which have threatened their source of livelihood. However, the American backed Nigerian government opened fire on unarmed protesters killing some and injuring many others in the process[5]. This incident along with many other similar instances catalyzed the formation of militant groups by youths of the region (Niger Delta) that perpetrated violence and engaged the Nigerian army.

The US under President Obama substantially increased intervention in Africa: The war in Libya; regional drone campaign missions run from Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Seychelles.


The world is getting smaller, it is now easier to communicate and get around the globe more than ever, no country is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Therefore, it would be illogical to think that Africa’s conflicts do not have anything to do with the rich nations especially given the status of Africa in the world; Africa remains an object of charity and a pawn of international diplomacy. These countries no doubt either for just reasons or self-interest, directly or indirectly contribute to the wars, conflicts, and strife in Africa.

Conflicts and fighting have always been a part of human existence since time immemorial. As long as there are human diversity, disagreements that might lead to fighting is inevitable. Africa is the most diverse continent in the world; diverse in ethnic, religious and socio-cultural terms. Therefore, it is more susceptible to disagreements and makes stirring up conflicts easier. Prior to when it was untouched by the colonial masters it was slowly and progressively developing its own unique system of existence. Having been disrupted during the scramble for its resources and current external influences decades ago, today the nature of its conflicts has become complicated and more complex.



  1. SIPRI Year-book, Oct 2015
  2. House of Commons Library; Briefing Paper, No 8312, 2018.
  4. Browne, B. (2011)
  5. Amnesty International, 2006.

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Myths about Africa: Do conflicts and insecurity have nothing to do with rich countries?

by Editorial Team time to read: 10 min