WAR HISTORY IN CONTEMPORARY Africa is replete with tales of destruction, devastation, mutilation, rape, death, displacement, missing people and downward spiral in economies of affected countries. The common denominator is that of crisis upon crisis, with slow and sometimes jerky recoveries, or – in some cases – relapses into hostilities. Although stories of wars are no longer as widespread as before, some countries still have pockets of hostilities and flashpoints of breakdown of peace, with consequential effects of poverty, squalor, insecurity, infrastructural decay, educational backwardness, poor health care delivery and low ebb of economic activities.
From the West to the East, and from the North to the South, Africa has had its huge share of social, political and economic downturns that it needs to overcome very quickly and permanently if it must make any appreciable progress. In West Africa, Liberia and Sierra Leone are two contiguous countries that went through years of wars and bitter hostilities and came out the worse. The civil war that enveloped Sierra Leone, lasting 11 years from 1991 to 2002, resulted in over 50,000 killed, maimed, raped or forced to be child soldiers. The economy of Sierra Leone suffered severe setback as the civil war in neighbouring Liberia spilled over to Sierra Leone, particularly from 1995, causing a total collapse of the economy. Sierra Leone is still struggling to stand on its feet since then.
Liberia’s case has not been significantly different. It has had two civil wars, the first was an internal conflict that raged from 1989 until 1997. The second, however, began in April 1999, lasting till August 2003, slashing the size of Liberia’s economy by 90 per cent in addition to causing the death of a quarter million people between 1989 and 2003. Despite the massive influx of foreign aid that followed that turmoil, Liberia remains among the world’s poorest countries. What looked like a semblance of normalcy was exhibited in 2017 as one democratically elected president handed over power to another. As the World Bank’s database showed, total aid fell from an all-time high in 2010 of $359 per capita to about $130 in 2013, “although aid flows did rebound briefly to $243 per capita during the country’s 2014 to 2015 Ebola crisis.” Liberia has lost so much foreign support and its economy is struggling, with an uptick in violence and political unrest that’s now hard to ignore.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is still grappling with sporadic cases of insurgency after years of militias’ invasion. Angola managed to overcome years of UNITA resistance and appears to be improving economically, thanks to petroleum wealth. But the country’s story is nothing exceptional. Its economy remains heavily influenced by the effects of decades of conflict, particularly the 27 years beginning from 1975 – shortly after independence – and ending in 2002. a civil war in Angola, beginning in 1975 and continuing, with interludes, until 2002. The country’s wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a very few, leaving the bulk of the population in poverty. The inequality, if it persists, could breed some discontent and possible breakdown of law and order. The extreme case of Somalia provides an idea of a failed state in Africa. Somalia is yet to know any peace or stability after the toppling of the dictatorial Siad Barre who ruled Somalia till January 1991, when he was overthrown in a bloody civil war.
Burundi, like Rwanda, went through its own turbulence, but the aftermath is still widely known as a state of anarchy. To date, all economic indicators have sharply declined since civil war broke out in 1993 in Burundi, according to statistics. Poor governance has been blamed for Burundi’s dismal economy. The worsening economy could incite further violence in an already unstable country whose economy has suffered a sharp decline in the aftermath of the political and security crisis in Burundi since 2015, which has jeopardised the economy of the country. Burundians’ living conditions and access to services have been deteriorating, just as they live face-to-face with worsening unemployment and poverty. But, by contrast, Rwanda has managed to pull itself together, overcoming the predicaments foisted on it by its 1994 war. For such a small nation, Rwanda is very densely populated, using the 2019 population of 12.63 million people and one of the highest population densities in Africa, at 512 per Km2, with a young, mostly rural population with a median age of 19.6 years.
Rwanda appears prepared to unshackle itself from the past. The small country straddling East and Central Africa is leading the way in many different spheres of life. Take the land reforms, a policy meant for social and economic plurality as well as addressing inequality and social exclusion. The 2004 Land Tenure Reform Programme, introduced by the Government of Rwanda, demarcated, adjudicated, and registered nearly all individual land holdings between 2004 and 2012. That intervention has brought increased land security to many of the rural poor, while increasing opportunities and incentives for people to invest in their farms and livelihoods. The government establish a legal and institutional framework for land that recognises customary land ownership and equal land rights for men and women. Land registration has been made mandatory under the law. Under this arrangement, 10.3 million land parcels had been registered by 2012.
Land titles are also expected to help smallholder farmers to use land as collateral for bank loans, and to increase investments in agriculture. As part of the post-war rehabilitation strategy, in 1994, after the Rwandan genocide, returning refugees and an increasing population were stretching almost to the limit the Rwanda’s informal system of land tenure. It was considered necessary to urgently address different land ownership claims to avoid new conflict, and to codify the process of land tenure to help reduce poverty. The 2009 Land Tenure Regularisation programme of the government was to create a land registry to help Rwandans claim land title via legally valid land transactions. Rwanda has made a remarkable transition from post-conflict reconstruction to development in the past one decade and more.
In the area of human capital and intellectual hub, Rwanda has seen robust economic growth and human development and has embarked on an ambitious development strategy, moving from commodity- based economy to a knowledge-based service economy with 2020 in view. In recent years, Rwanda’s school enrolment, parity in boys’ and girls’ education, and child and maternal health have all improved. According to reports, the country has significantly reduced infant mortality, poverty, and income inequality. The economy of Rwanda has bounced back. Although 39 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, Rwanda has still come a long way, recovering from the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and seeing steady economic growth. In the year 2000, the government established Vision 2020, a long-term development strategy with its main objective to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020, based on a thriving private sector. This appears to be coming to fruition or nearly so.
The Rwandan economy has been growing steadily at seven per cent every year. This has earned the country a reputation as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. More than two decades after the genocide, Rwanda’s economy has improved considerably. Rwandans are generally living healthier and wealthier lives now. This is not contradicted by the finding that more than 60 per cent of the population still live on less than $1.25 a day while claims that poverty has fallen rapidly are being affirmed.