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Young positivist writes: Ethnicity as a weapon of destruction in Africa

Tue, 21 Apr 2020 Source: Sampson Boamah

Africa is a very beautiful continent endowed with rich resources both human and material wise. It is the second-largest continent in the world and the second-most populous continent, after Asia.

Almost every natural resource that one can think of is existent on this very continent at the expense of other continents not having up to one-third of the resources that Africa has. The question that rolls in the minds of right-thinking members of society is that why is it that after all these numerous natural resources, Africa is considered as the poorest continent in the world? What could be the prime issue impoverishing the continent and leaving it in a long dark period?

The problems could be many but I have chosen to talk about ethnicity, a delicate subject used as a weapon of destruction in Africa and how it has left the continent in its dark shade leading to the loss of millions of African lives and properties worth millions destroyed.

I know the dire consequences the trans-Atlantic slave trade had on Africa with the western world looting resources both in material and human aspects. Aside from this, there is the issue of colonialism which to a large extent has contributed to the downfall of the continent. But are these justifications enough reasons why Africa is underdeveloped? When did the slave trade end in Africa? When did most of the African countries gain their independence? Can we always trumpet and blame the western world for the havoc and mayhem they have caused to the downfall of Africa? Are there issues that transcend these?

Amongst the six paradoxes of Africa which the eminent Professor Ali Mazrui of Kenya illustrated, one was that “Africa is the richest continent yet the poorest.” Why are we poor? What could probably be the problem?

As indicated earlier, Africa is bedevilled with a lot of challenges such as the notorious habit of corruption of our leaders, indiscipline amongst its citizens, incessant unnecessary coup d’états, abuse of power, leaders’ inability to relinquish their positions and political instability.

I must admit that the points raised above are legitimate reasons which have contributed to the downfall of the African continent, but for me, the biggest of all which is not included is ethnicity and the ethnic conflicts which have resulted from it and how these conflicts sometimes led to war and have put the continent aback for decades and will continue to put it backwards if we do not eschew the pride attached to our ethnic groups.

By 1965, most African countries had gained what I will call some sort of “political independence” and had their various countries being run by their own ‘black’ leaders and as such one expected some form of egalitarianism which would bind the people together for better and advanced developmental projects. At this time, the ‘white man’ had left the shores of Africa and had left the administration of the various countries and so our destiny was in our hands whether to make or unmake our continent. And oh, how dreadful it has been!

This very article cannot talk about all the ethnic violence which have led to the downfall of the continent, but it will discuss a few of the incidences in some countries.

I begin with the Democratic Republic of Congo, also known as DR Congo or the DRC and formerly known as Zaire which is amongst the richest country in Africa and the world at large in terms of natural resources. Almost all the essential natural resources necessary for a country to develop can be found there but what we see today is not a true reflection and there is no correlation between their resources and development. Why is it so? Does this affirm what Professor Ali Mazrui said that “Africa is the richest continent yet the poorest?”

After gaining independence from Belgium on 30th June 1960, led by their nationalist Patrice Lumumba, things started to fall apart. The ethnic conflict started to draw them back as both Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and their president Joseph Kasa-Vubu had difficulties in working together. Joseph Kasa-Vubu belongs to the largest ethnic group the Kongo, while Patrice Lumumba belongs to the Tetele ethnic group. Things did not work out as the two could not put their ethnicity aside and work together in the best interest of their country. The issue escalated and later led to the overthrow and assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

Even after Lumumba’s demise, the issues have not died off as these recurrent conflicts have claimed and destroyed thousands of people and millions wealth of properties. One expected that as a country which had suffered from slave trade and colonialism would have ironed out their differences and put their country first, but this was not so and had made Congo poorer than before independence. “In 2016, the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index (HDI) ranked the DRC as the 176th least-developed country out of 188 countries with an HDI of 0.435.”

“Despite being the second-largest country in Africa, with an approximate area of 2.3 million square kilometres, and being endowed with rich natural resources, the DRC is the second-poorest country in the world” (Gregson Jonathan, Poorest Countries in the World Global Finance; June 2018). What an irony!

You may be aware of the civil war which occurred in Rwanda in 1994, which claimed nearly a million lives. What was the cause of this outbreak of war? Ethnic differences between the Tutsis and the Hutus led to this. But even before what was generally regarded as a genocide in 1994, in 1959, there was some ethnic conflict which claimed the lives of about 20,000 Tutsis and many others fled to Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. One would say what happened in 1959 should have been the last ethnic violence to have happened in Rwanda but this was not so.

In 1994, within the space of 100 days (April to June), more than 800,000 Rwandans were massacred. Can you see the carnage and havoc this ethnic conflict caused? Not even in the history of World War 1 and World War 2 were these numbers recorded within the space of these few days. But this has happened to a country which at the time could barely provide 3 square meal to its citizens. Rwanda has never been the same after the war.

I admit that under Paul Kagame, a lot of things have changed, and some are even surprised at the faster rate of development at which the country is experiencing after the genocide. But this could have been better if the war had not broken out. Loosing over 800,000 people in just a matter of 100 days is appalling, devastating and reprehensible. We have not spoken about the destruction of properties.

Nigeria, a very beautiful country with its richness in oil and other natural resources cannot be left off the hook when it comes to the issue of ethnic conflict. After gaining independence in 1960, one would have thought that Nigeria was on the right path to reach its peak in terms of development. Six years after independence, there was a military coup which many thought was born out of ethnic differences which led to the death of their first Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and other northerners and six months after 15 January 1966 coup, there was another coup which plunked the country into chaos and never made Nigeria remain the same.

Nigeria has over 100 ethnic groups but the major three are the Hausa Fulanis who mainly occupy the Northern territory, the Yorubas who also occupy the Southern and some part of the West, and the Igbos who also occupy the Eastern part. They could not put their differences aside and work together as one people but allowed themselves to be swallowed in their ethnic pride leading them into abject poverty and darkness. What a pity!

Anytime I think of the Biafra war in Nigeria, I cringe! I do so because Nigeria would have been better by now had they not engaged in that horrendous war battle. I cannot still fathom why this ethnic conflict broke out into war. I have asked myself, why can a government be so callous and very insensitive to its people and satisfy the demands of his ethnic group? The eminent writer Chinua Achebe has spoken at length about the outbreak of the civil war in his book "There was a country" "A Personal History of Biafra".

It has been reported that after General Yakubu Gowon a Northerner successfully overthrew Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi an Easterner and an Igbo man, the northern people thought they had got some form of independence. Reading from some of the literature and from “There was a Country” which is a personal history of Biafra, the Igbos before and after independence were seen occupying most of the prominent positions in Nigeria. In academia, in politics, in their military, business and many other areas. These the Southerners the Yorubas, and the Northerners mainly the Hausa Fulanis saw as a torn in their flesh. So, this coup to them was a relief.

After the coup in June 1966, there was an outbreak of ethnic violence in the northern part of Nigeria where it was reported that more than 3,000 Igbos in the northern territory were massacred and thousands of them fled away. What makes this incident very disturbing is that nobody was arrested and prosecuted for these atrocities committed. This seemingly unconcerned and unperturbed attitude from the federal military government gingered the Easterners who were known as Biafrans to advise themselves to call for a separate country out of Nigeria. To them, they were not secured and protected under the federal government.

These happenings led to the deadly Civil War which has ever happened to Nigeria. The war which started in late 1966 and ended in 1970 claimed more than 3 million lives and most of them were civilians. I call what happened in Nigeria during the civil war as a “government-organized and sponsored ethnic cleansing.” Chinua Achebe calls it “a calculated organized and systematic government ethnic cleansing.”

It was indeed a pogrom. The target was the Igbos and at the end of the day, many lives were exterminated.

Imagine over 3 million people vigorously working to boost the productivity and the output of the Nigerian economy! They lost all these abled and innocent men and women within 3 years. It takes decades to raise 3 million people. How do we expect to develop if these barbaric things continue to happen? The trepidation which comes with the emergence of war is even an issue to be looked at separately.

A government calculated attempt to wipe off one ethnic group and preserve his is something I have thought about and never conclude. The funny thing is that, while the continent was busily fighting for which ethnic group has the superior power by engaging in fruitless and destructive battles; the Western world that we have always blamed for our stagnation to development was working tirelessly to develop their country.

For me, I think all the leaders who were at the forefront of the Nigeria-Biafra war were prideful, self-centred, evil, and insensitive people. They have caused immeasurable damage to these innocent people. They did not think about the future generation. Almost all the leaders and soldiers who engaged in this destructive and combatant war have died or are inactive to contribute to the Nigerian economy and those who were born during and after are the ones suffering. It is so pathetic and very shameful that because of ethnicity, a country will gang up against its citizens to the extent that they nearly annihilated them.

It will be unfair not to discuss the ethnic violence which has happened in Ghana. Even though the number of people which have lost their lives as a result of this conflict cannot in any way be compared with what happened in Rwanda and Nigeria but at least we have lost over one thousand people because of these barbaric and uncultured battles.

In 1994, the conflict that broke out between the Konkombas and the Nanumbas claimed about 2,000 lives and displaced over 100,000 people. What makes Ghana's situation not darker like what happened in Nigeria and Rwanda was that Ghana’s issue happened in the northern territory but with the swift response from the Rawlings government made the issue not escalate. There is no call for jubilation since Ghana’s case is not like the other countries. Even one person’s life is valuable and talking of thousands! We should be ashamed of ourselves as a continent for letting such minute differences destroy our pride and future.

DR Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria and Ghana are not the only countries which have experienced this barbaric form of ethnic cleansing, the likes of Liberia, Sierra Leon, Central Africa Republic, Kenya and other countries have all tasted this distasteful nature of ethnic conflict and its negative effects are frightening.

Even away from the conflict which comes out as a result of our ethnic differences, there have been a lot of prospective marriages which became stillborn and never saw the light of day as a result of these ethnic differences. Many people have lost their jobs or could not get jobs because of their ethnic affiliation. When did competence depend on ethnic line? Many parents do not want their children to cross borders to get married to some ethnic groups in Ghana, even though the situation seems a little better today. And this case is not exclusive to Ghana, it’s an African issue.

Can we enmesh ourselves with such an outdated style of living? Can we engage in ethnic violence that will uproot the deep fibre of peace in our society as a continent? We cannot sit and witness such form of ethnic cleansing and brutalization of our citizens again. It takes many decades to even achieve one-third of the loss of war. Looking at what ethnic conflict which on several occasion has led to civil war had done to our dear continent! Are we going to give a second chance for such uncivilized things to happen again? There should be unity in diversity and the fact that you don’t agree with someone should not lead to destructions and massacre. It is time for us to wake up from our slumber.

We have no one to develop our beautiful continent for us and there is no place like home. Let’s not kill ourselves, for if we do, the future generation will not forgive us. I speak as a patriotic citizen of Africa. We have only one Africa. Say no to ethnic cleansing and ethnic pogrom. We have come far.

Africa must rise again, Ghana must work again, Ghana will work again, YOUNG POSITIVIST a concerned citizen of Ghana.

Columnist: Sampson Boamah

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