Like the mid-1960s, the early 2020s has been heated and filled with war rhetoric. This rhetoric has been well oiled by claims of nepotism, corruption and everything that has been proverbial fertilisers for conflict in post-independence Africa. From Freetown to Kinshasa, the story has always been the same. And intriguingly, the results have also been similar. Deaths and more deaths, reconciliation, then business as usual. Hardly any lessons learnt!
Let’s retake this: the science of war in Africa is essentially a story of frustration, then misinformation, then delusion, then deception, then destruction, then reconciliation and finally rehabilitation. But, except maybe for places like Rwanda, the root causes never get addressed, the warlords never die, the corrupt politicians/soldiers mostly come back wealthier and more confident to assume the mantle of leadership. And the masses who fought and killed one another are further plunged into disillusion and poverty.
Why then does this story keep repeating itself if data tells us that the investment always ends in red and that the returns are always intertwined with regrets? Here are a few observations, supported by both learning and experience:
Violence is a Political Statement
The old saying that where gentility fails, brutality prevails holds true today as it did in Nigeria’s 1960s, Liberia and Sierra Leone’s 1980s, and Rwanda’s 1990s. Politicians have basically two tools: debate and violence. In climes where one ceases to be effective, the other is automatically activated. And because both do not really take much from politicians by way of casualties, both have been greatly valued assets in their political estates. To change this, the citizens must be enlightened enough to see beyond the rhetoric. And usually, this mass education has to be ultimately championed by concerned and more enlightened citizens outside the political class.
The War Mongers Mostly Have a Contingency Plan
Suppose the chances of death for both leaders and masses in a civil conflict are equal. In that case, the apparent possibility is that wars will hardly be fought, and misinformation will get as little funding as possible. Unfortunately, the truth is that leaders usually have collaborators outside the borders of their countries and these collaborators typically stop at nothing to rescue their friends when things get worse. So, with this in mind, leaders at both ends of the divide beguile their cannon fodders to get the job done while they await the desired if ominous outcomes.
War Promises Freedom and other “Sweet” Things
History is replete with people taking the path of violence and war to regain their freedom. And beyond freedom, war promises access to places, bodies, resources and positions that were otherwise inaccessible. In a strange turn of things, Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone rose to a position almost as powerful as the President after his rebellion that led to the loss of reportedly 50,000 lives, including hundreds of Nigerian and other ECOMOG/UN Peacekeeping forces. He committed the crimes, then, for the sake of peace, got rewarded with laurels! Who is going to bring back all those lives, especially those of his loyal foot soldiers? Most of these people willingly took arms because they dreamt of enjoying what only Sankoh could enjoy, while their ultimate lot was destruction. War promises a lot of prosperity, ironically, but delivers a lot of destruction in reality.
The Crux of the Matter: it’s Difficult to Find a Suitable Alternative to War
Not that people want to lose routine or the calm of home. Not that they like to see the hacked body parts of loved ones or wade through the blood of a beheaded or gunned down neighbour in search of safety, not that they like to be refugees and be treated as slaves in strange lands, just that in the heat of the burning issues, with the accusations and counter-accusations and the mutual acrimony that ensues, it’s “difficult” to find a suitable alternative. Or better put, the other options have been abused and exhausted. Elections and coup d’état are the usual alternatives to war in our postcolonial political dispensation, but the two have hardly ever provided the desired outcomes. Therefore, it is safe to say the fault is not in our enemies; the fault, rather, lies in us. People are willing to change evil until they become beneficiaries of such evils. And how quickly do their fans often forget this fact!
In the final analysis, people plan for wars, heat the polity, sponsor misinformation, make promises of victory, but then war is so creative that it hardly subjects itself to anybody’s plans. And when the gruesome scenes of death and destruction start being plastered all over the media, and mercenaries and warlords start gaining unfettered access to national resources and the treasury, when hunger subdues the strongest amongst us and ruins the future that is so dear to us, when ammunitions are in short supply, and the enemy forces are about to be in total control, that’s usually when it becomes clear that it is not really the war we wanted, but the promises it offered from a distance. Too late!
AF Sesay is a writer based in Lagos. He can be reached via email@example.com.