The influence of foreign powers did not end with the end of the great colonial empires, when France, Great Britain and Portugal were swept from the continent wave after wave between the 1950s and 1970s. With the ejection of the Europeans as the “dominant ethnic group”, the conflicts passed almost seamlessly into intra-state conflicts between social or ethnic groups. These confronted each other primarily in two conflict scenarios:
On the one hand, the population fragmented into local factions of the most diverse political or social groupings and identities. These became increasingly radicalised and held a wide variety of irreconcilable positions. In this polarised atmosphere, compromises were no longer possible and the common state came to a standstill – and in many cases this mutual blockade turned into violence. In the second, one political or ethnic group was so large and powerful that it was able to dominate all others. This enabled it to take over all state structures, to assume all important political positions in all relevant institutions – from the government to the judiciary to the military. A separation of powers was thus de facto no longer present in the state, which promoted the independence aspirations of the other groups and thus secessionist wars.
The new superpowers of the world order, the USSR and the USA, as well as regional powers such as South Africa, Israel and Libya, used the internal divisions of African states on the continent to fuel conflicts of interest and escalate them into civil wars. Mozambique’s national resistance fought the Mozambique Liberation Front, the Marxist Derg regime fought the Eritrean and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Fronts, and Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia competed against the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy. With fatal consequences for democracy: every crack and every willingness to compromise within society was used to help his side to victory, and to pull the country as a whole into his own camp. By the end of the Cold War, 85 per cent of African nations were under the control of a civilian, military or cult junta – whose power, however, rusted away all the faster with the fall of communism.
But apart from media reports, Africa’s self-empowerment also began at the same time in the 1990s.
Read more in Africa’s Century – Is the Grip on Prosperity Working?