IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

More on Africa and conflict

I continue to read through some relatively recent scholarship on Africa, and to learn and re-learn many things.  I just read ” ‘Civilization’ on trial:  the colonial and postcolonial state in Africa”, by Mueni wa Muiu (Journal of Third World Studies, Vol. XXV, No. 1, 2008).  This is an article with a definite point of view that is very critical of Western policies.  While I find it just a touch one-sided it contains much truth about what happened during the colonial period and the consequences for the current era.

In one section the author speaks about the impact of colonialism on conflict in Nigeria, and I think the arguments should be taken seriously (Note:  I lived in Nigeria for about 11 years):

“In contemporary Nigeria [here the author means pre-colonial Nigeria], different ethnic groups lived together under indigenous systems. This does not mean that there was no conflict. The potential for conflict increased when Britain brought diverse ethnic groups within the same borders. Furthermore, individual tenure limited the land available for grazing, therefore increasing conflict. Differences that could have been resolved within indigenous systems were accentuated because indigenous institutions were not allowed to resolve conflicts as they had done before. For example, women had been pivotal in resolving conflict. Sometimes they did so through veto power, coming between two warring groups who were forced to resolve the conflict or simply refusing to support conflict. Colonialism undermined women’s power. Second, conflict resolution was based on European law, which was not recognized by the colonized people. Finally, as had happened during slavery, the people turned against each other instead of uniting against a common enemy. In brief, under colonialism conflict became an everyday reality.” (p. 73)

While the paragraph focuses on Nigeria, the same dynamic occurred in other colonial societies:  indigeneous institutions responsible for order and conflict resolution were undermined or eliminated, and foreign practices introduced.  The general changes brought about under colonialism introduced all sorts of new tensions, but there remained increasingly less means to resolve them short of violent conflict.  I would go so far as to say this would happen in almost any society where rapid change and social stress combine in such far reaching and profound ways.

One conclusion of the article is that the consequences of this situation are still working themselves out.  That being said, there are several societies in Africa where both formal and informal institutions have begun to take conflict resolution and reconciliation seriously–often adapting traditional ritualistic practices to this end.

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January 24, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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