Conflict in Africa

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on initiating the debate and on his excellent presentation.The subject is very broad and we do not have time to talk about the details of any particular country. I wish, therefore, to make general comments. During recent history, Africa has experienced significant turmoil, upheaval and war. That ranges from large conflicts including the problems in Darfur and the statelessness of Somalia, to the smaller, more localised problems including the turbulence in the north-east of Kenya involving disputes between different tribal groups.Africa is a vast continent comprising hundreds of distinct ethnic groups with complex histories. Therefore, the continent has witnessed conflicts of tremendous diversity in nature, size and scope, including struggles for independence, civil war, tribal conflict, genocide and terrorist attacks. All this means that it can be difficult to draw broad conclusions about the causes and consequences of these conflicts. Having said that, it appears possible to draw a clear link between conflict in Africa and poverty. Poor economic development can be seen as both a cause and a consequence of conflict. Conflict can quickly cause inflation, debt, reduced investment and unemployment.Poverty, in its many facets, can create social discontentment which in turn can create an environment more prone to conflict. Poverty, and specifically financial inequality within a society, can be exploited by leaders to mobilise followers and legitimate violent actions. Thus the nature of the problem goes in a cycle. Poverty results in conflict and conflict results in further poverty. There are also reasons to relate conflict to the absence of good governance. Weak government institutions, a lack of transparency and poor adherence to democratic principles all predispose a state to conflict. The ideas developed by Immanuel Kant in his essay, Perpetual Peace, in 1795 have since evolved into the theory that democracies rarely fight or go to war. It could be suggested that the absence or weakness of democracy in certain African states has led to conflict and war.Furthermore, conflicts have arisen from the failure of leaders to relinquish power, resulting in military coups and other attempts to seize power. The example set in 1991 by Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, who gave up power, needs to be repeated in states where unpopular leaders, such as Mugabe, cling to power. In the spirit of working with Africa as a partner, I would like to see Africa solving African problems, through an empowered African Union, albeit working with strong support from the international community. I feel this is probably the best way to deal with problems in Darfur.The implementation of an international arms trade treaty would represent an important step forward in preventing tomorrow’s crises in Africa becoming violent conflicts. Ninety-five per cent of the small arms in use in Africa were made outside the continent and ensuring tighter global controls on the sale and movement of such weapons would help to stem their flow into Africa, where they fuel conflicts and cause untold damage.If Africa is to become a peaceful, stable and secure continent, we need to show support to countries recently emerging from conflicts, otherwise those countries may slip back into a cycle of violence and conflict. Conflict resolutions are therefore very important. I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all of China’s heavy involvement in Africa. The concern is that the numerous projects and financial aid packages funded by China seem to be unrelated to any requirements for good governance.However, we are pleased to note that the EU remains the largest donor to Africa and that there seems to be a shift away from projects for Africa towards a more mature partnership involving projects with Africa. This method is to be commended as it represents a stronger and more responsible solution for obtaining peace and development in Africa. I am pleased that, despite problems connected with Mr Mugabe, the EU-Africa summit was held last week in Lisbon.A major challenge facing Africa as a continent is climate change, the effects of which could stoke new conflicts in the continent in the years to come. There are predictions from some scientists that the continent will have 25 per cent less water by the end of the century. These points towards an increasingly bleak scenario for certain areas of Africa, in which the availability of water will decrease and there will be a reduction in viable agricultural land and an increase in food shortages, possibly leading to conflict. We all appreciate that the problem of climate change needs to be tackled globally, but I am very pleased that we have taken the initiative and are discussing the Climate Change Bill.

Updated: 27/08/2009 — 4:00 PM