21 apr 17
In the “piecemeal world war” incessantly decried by Pope Francis, those ultimately responsible are always and only – according to him – “those who make and traffic in arms” and thereby “profit from the blood of men and women.”
It is a very materialistic and economistic explanation, vaguely Marxist in flavor, which is even applied to terrorist acts. Francis has said so and repeated it countless times, most recently during the last Holy Week.
Curiously, however, the magazine that usually follows his thinking most closely, “La Civiltà Cattolica,” edited by his Jesuit adviser and ghostwriter Antonio Spadaro, in a recent scholarly article on the “armed conflicts in Africa” and above all on the “failure of the traditional approaches of analysis” entirely ignores the manufacture and traffic of weapons among the causes of these conflicts, and instead traces them back to very different causes.
In the ten pages of the article, the word “arms” appears only once, marginally and without any causal significance.
The author, Arsène Brice Bado, is a Jesuit from Ivory Coast who studied at Yale University in the United States and at Laval University in Canada and has done field research in various African countries involved in conflicts.
The thesis on which his analysis is based is that “the difficulty of the international community in contributing to putting an end to the conflicts” underway in Africa stems precisely “from a poor understanding” of this or that conflict, “of its causes, its actors, its evolution, and its questions at stake.”
Brice Bado then reviews the recurrent explanations that are given for the wars in Africa. He traces them back to six causal factors, which he examines one by one: identity, economics, institutions, geopolitics, chain of events, and finally motives of resentment.
And he writes at the end of this review:
“All of the explanations given have at bottom something of the truth. Nevertheless, some of them are not able to represent in full the complexity of the armed conflicts that break out in the African context. This leads to the necessity of emphasizing a holistic approach, capable of integrating different aspects of the conflicts in the best way possible.”
Moreover, Brice Bado continues, a “further element of complexity” is presented by the fact that “the initial causes and motivations undergo changes and are transformed over the course of the conflict,” as has taken place, for example, in the Central African Republic where Pope Francis visited in 2015, which has plunged “into a conflict with interconfessional connotations with the emergence of new actors, including the ‘anti-balaka’ or ‘Christian militias’.”
For a correct “holistic and dynamic” analysis of the conflicts – the author maintains – one must therefore combine “the structural causes, the aggravating factors, and the elements that unleash armed conflicts.”
As “structural causes,” with their respective aggravating factors, Brice Bado identifies “both Africa’s position in the international system and the institutional fragility of African states at the level of politics, economics, socio-demographics, and environment.”
But these causes alone are not sufficient:
“For a conflict to actually explode it is necessary that there be activists capable of setting the latent conflicts into motion ideologically, through events that we could call ‘catalysts.’ For example, in Niger an episode of violence by the army against three Tuareg elders was enough to unleash a civil war among the Tuareg communities, on the one hand, and the army and the rest of the Nigerian population on the other, which lasted from February 2007 to October 2009. The Tuareg rebellion, begun in Niger, was at the origin of the civil war in northern Mali in 2009. In Kenya, the civil war of 2007 broke out after a conflict over the results of the elections. The same thing happened in Ivory Coast, on the occasion of the elections of 2010. Another clear example is certainly the case of Mohamed Bouazizi, in Tunisia: the suicide of this street vendor unleashed protests, which in turn led to the outbreak of the ‘Arab spring’ in 2011.”
Not a single mention, then, of the “lords of the weapons” as driving forces of the African wars. And also on the economic causes the author of the article is cautious. “The priority of economic questions does not at all meet with unanimity” among the analysts, he writes. He offers the example of Liberia and of Sierra Leone, where “the diamond trade has served above all to finance the war, and did not at all constitute its initial cause,” and “this observation also applies to Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic, Angola, Mozambique, etc.” If anything, Brice Bado adds, what has had a role here and there in the outbreak of civil conflicts has been the control of resources like land or water.
The latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica” has also come returned to the topic of the genocide in Rwanda, with an article by a Jesuit from that African country, Fr. Marcel Uniweza.
And here as well there is not the slightest reference to the “lords of the weapons” as causes of the massacre that in only three months, in 1994, saw the deaths of almost a million Tutsi and moderate Hutus, killed for reasons of ethnic division.
But there the arms were not even needed. All it took was machetes and fire.