Ending Africa's Conflicts

by Tony Addison

War has destroyed the lives and hopes of millions of Africans. It poses major challenges to the United Nations system and to the wider development community. Why conflict occurs, why some countries avoid it, how we end it, and how we reconstruct afterwards are the key issues facing Africa today.

Rebuilding Africa’s war-damaged economies involves reconstructing communities, revitalising private sectors, and building state capacities. This is a demanding set of tasks given the scarcity of financial resources and skills.

By failing to deliver broad-based growth, the economic strategies of conflict countries contributed to the onset of war. Reconstruction, if it is to be successful, must avoid recreating the past. Past strategies must be rethought, and policies, public expenditures and institutions must be changed. Consequently, there is common ground between the agenda of reconstruction and the agenda of economic reform (or ‘transition’). Indeed, since both aim to raise living standards, their design and implementation should be one and the same process.

Somali refugee camp in Ethiopia. © A. Hollmann/UNHCR
Somali refugee camp in Ethiopia. © A. Hollmann/UNHCR

This is seldom the case, however, mainly because of the variety of donor agencies involved - each with its own responsibilities - together with weak national capacities. For example, communities are being helped to reconstruct but their needs are not adequately incorporated into either the design of privatization programmes or fiscal frameworks. Hence, possibilities for poverty reduction are missed.

The uneasy relationship between reconstruction and reform is a core issue in the UNU/WIDER project on ‘Underdevelopment, Transition and Reconstruction (UTR) in Sub-Saharan Africa’. This project focuses on Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Somalia. These countries share a common history; Marxism-Leninism underpinned their early development strategies, and economic failure together with the Cold War led to intense, and often recurring, conflict. War has killed at least 4 million people, mostly civilians, in these countries.


For Angola the peace agreement of 1994 proved to be yet another temporary cease-fire, and war has now resumed. Eritrea and Ethiopia began reconstruction after the Derg’s overthrow in 1991 and Eritrea’s independence, but began an unexpected war in 1998. In GuineaBissau a promising recovery was set back by a military revolt in 1998. There is as yet no end in sight for Somalia’s conflict. Much of the country remains insecure, while Somaliland (in the Northeast) has seceded. Only Mozambique has managed to maintain the momentum of peace, and considerable - although very uneven - reconstruction has been achieved since the end of the war in 1992.


Eritrea is creating the institutions necessary for a new state. Somalia never completed economic transition and the state itself collapsed.

Problems encountered in the economic transitions of Eastern Europe and the FSU are evident in Africa as well. These include institutional failure (especially in property rights), non-transparent privatization, the neglect of appropriate regulation (especially in banking), chronic fiscal imbalance, and a sharp and socially destabilizing rise in inequality (especially in Angola).

With the exception of Mozambique, economic reconstruction and transition have been reversed by new conflicts. Indeed, Eritrea’s introduction of a new currency (marking the end of its monetary union with Ethiopia) was one of the triggers of the present war. The difficulties encountered by UTR countries highlight the close relationship between economicpolicy decisions and the prospects for peaceful development. Country strategies do not adequately faced by the UTR countries: overcoming underdevelopment and the political instability associated with it, completing the transition from state socialism, and reconstruction from conflict so that peace endures.

Tony Addison, from the University of Warwick (UK), is a UNU/ WIDER research fellow, and the director of the project on ‘Underdevelopment, Transition and Reconstruction in Sub-Saharan Africa’.

For further discussion see Tony Addison ‘Underdevelopment, Transition and Reconstruction in Sub-Saharan Africa’ UNU/WIDER Research for Action 45 and ‘Rebuilding Post-Conflict Africa: Reconstruction and Reform’ Research in Progress 18.

UNU/WIDER gratefully acknowledges the financial contributions of the Governments of Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom to the project.

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