From the Editor’s Keyboard

Is West Africa a haven for coups, conflicts, violence and vengeance?

10 April 2009 at 03:33 | 538 views

By Binneh Minteh, Guest Writer, New York.

If anyone should argue that Africa has indeed reached a point of departure as a result of coups, conflicts, violence and vengeance, such argument would fall right on the evolutionary violent pattern that overshadowed the region in the year 2008 -2009.

The resurgence of the military into politics took the forefront of West African affairs, thus threatening democracy as the triumphant political ideology of the region.

The 2005 and 2008 military coups in Mauritania brought to light the region’s compelling realities that the military will continue to be critical actors in the region’s political affairs.

This came to light when in another theatre and turn of events, the military quickly dissolved the civilian government that was to continue ruling after the death of Guinea’s dictator, the Late Lansana Conte.

Even in the tiny West African nation of the Gambia, a 2006 report of an alleged coup that sent the country’s army chief of defense staff into exile.That raised so many eyebrows.

The March 2009 deadly turn of events in Guinea-Bissau also brought to light West Africa’s compelling realities. On that sad day, General Batista Tagme Na Waie was killed when a bomb detonated at the army headquarters. His death was followed by the brutal killing of president Nino Vieira a few hours later by troops loyal to the slain army chief.

Guinean-Bissau’s army dismissed reports of a coup and vowed to uphold the constitution. Recent reports indicate that the army still plays an active role behind the scenes of the impoverished nation’s state of affairs.

Scholars of modern international affairs may be right about their theories on West Africa’s peripheral trajectory of coups, conflicts, violence and vengeance. Their question is: What has gone wrong in West Africa? That’s one of the most difficult questions of our time.

For example, both McGowan and Saine made compelling arguments that poverty, and the region’s integration into the global capitalist economic system - creating class structures causing competition for resources, is the fundamental cause of West Africa’s points of departure - violence, vengeance, coups and conflicts. What has even worsened the situation is rent seeking as a result of mal-governance and poor leadership.

The Ghanaian Professor of economics, Dr. George Ayittey, made similar arguments during the Sixth Annual African Economic Forum, held at Colombia University, March 27 - 28. In his key note address, Dr. Ayitteh argued:

"Poverty, corruption; the trail of wanton destruction and collapsed institutions; a catastrophic failure of leadership; plundering resources in the interest of empowering a selected few elites; and the neo-liberal capitalist market system, are the most daunting challenges facing the African continent.”

In view of the aforementioned thesis, West Africa continues to be a volatile region, due to its periodic evolution around the peripheral cycle of violence, vengeance, coups and conflicts. Although economic growth is reportedly registered by governments and global financial institutions, much remains to be done at a time when our planet is threatened by financial and economic crisis.

A decline in capital flow, foreign direct investment (FDI), foreign aid, and commodity prices, lack of regulatory oversights and the imbalances on major global economies may also propel West Africa’s peripheral volatility to higher heights.

A new trend of West Africa’s volatility is the deaths of thousands of young men and women in the high seas fleeing from poverty for greener pastures overseas. How long that trend will continue remains to be seen.

From the post-independence era to date, West Africa has indeed been a periphery or site of violence, vengeance, coups and conflicts. Thousands have been killed in the Biafran, Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Ivorian civil wars. Thousands of others died as a result of violent military political ruptures. Today, thousands of young people are dying in the high seas from fleeing the hazards of poverty. The region has recently become the newest front for Latin American drug barons.

How could one therefore usher a paradigm shift of West Africa’s volatile and deadly environment?

Responding to the aforementioned question requires an understanding that modern scholars came up with numerous theories and hypothesis in confronting the onslaught. Some scholars argued that an effective use of market-oriented economies with vibrant capital financial institution domination, with the job of capital accumulation and poverty reduction is the best way forward.

Others ,however, argue that a Marxist-Leninist economic structure, where the state plays the predominant role is the only solution to Africa’s economic problems. Some scholars argue that unless Africa is totally disconnected from the global capitalist-economic structure, using traditional African market structures, coups, conflicts, violence and vengeance will continue to be a hallmark of West Africa’s peripheral states.

With Africa’s evolution along transformations that continue to shape our times, it is my contention that unless we effectively address poverty using a combination of Neo-liberal, Marxist-Leninist and Traditional African market structures, with agriculture and education as essential components of our economies, West Africa will continue to evolve around the periphery of coups, conflicts, violence and vengeance.

Failure to effectively address poverty will continue to threaten stability, undermine institutions of government, pose a challenge to democracy, thus paving the way for an active involvement of the military in politics.

The reversals democracy have suffered in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry and Mauritania are testimonies to that reality. Volatile nations such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and minuscule Gambia may fall into the same whirlpool.

Editor’s note: Binneh Minteh(photo) hails from The Gambia and he is an independent researcher, analyst and consultant. He also produces The Sword of Truth at http://www.sofawarrior.blog.com/ He holds a Masters degree in Global Affairs from New York University. He could be reached by email at: bsm235@nyu.edu.

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