Conflict in Africa is decreasing

15 February 2013 | ResolutionPossible

Last week the Guardian posted an article by Scott Straus, Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin, USA, which claimed that wars in sub-Saharan Africa are decreasing. He suggests that there are one-third fewer conflicts now than in the 1990s, in terms of the number and length of wars.

Professor Straus noted that conflicts have changed in nature, from large scale wars fighting for state control to smaller insurgencies by numerous independent armed groups. He also brings up other factors that are playing a part in the changing political landscape of sub-Saharan Africa.

Read the full article: Africa is becoming more peaceful, despite the war in Mali.

This article was particularly interesting to us because:

  • It challenges a mainstream perception of Africa as a continent ‘prone to nasty political violence’
  • It is an interesting example of the use of statistics when looking at conflicts

Straus challenges Jeffrey Gettleman for describing Africa as full of ‘brutes and criminals’ waging ‘pointless wars’ across the continent ‘like a viral pandemic’. How important is it to challenge this perception of Africa? What are the dangers of using negative language when talking about political violence? Does labelling a conflict as ‘pointless’ dissuade us from exploring the root causes? What have attitudes like Gettleman’s meant for Africa’s place in the global economy? Did reading Straus’ article make you think any differently about Africa?

While supporting a more optimistic portrayal of Africa, the statistics presented would benefit from further discussion. The article does not mention the human impact of the conflicts occurring today. If we were to look at the numbers of casualties and displaced people in conflicts in Africa, could we still say that conflict is decreasing? If we consider conflicts purely in terms of length, recurrence or frequency, how meaningful is the statement that conflict is decreasing if the loss and disruption of life is still significant? On the whole, positive reporting is welcome, but could it risk undermining the experience of those caught up in intense violence such as in the Congo?


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