Tribal Conflict, Causes and Disrurptive Role in Sustainable Development in Africa

Shawgei Salah Ahmed

Conflicts in general are among the major security threats to the existence of any nation.

Tribal conflicts in particular have more impact on the existential state of countries and human entities because of their dual role in destroying the social fabric before the destruction of stone and people, but on the African continent the situation is getting darker.

According to databases from The Swedish Uppsala University, Africa witnessed the most cases of wars and armed conflicts in the world in the period from 1946 to 2006, when 74 conflict situations were recorded; Compared to Asia, which recorded 68 cases of conflict, and the Middle East, which recorded 38 cases.

The main causes of tribal conflicts in Africa

The African continent is a wide continent with multiple ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures, and this disparity is a blessing and a curse at the same time according to the decision-makers’ dealings with this reality.

The main cause of conflicts in Africa is due to several social, economic, political and historical reasons. The following are the most important reasons for conflicts in Continent:-

Lack of ability to manage diversity

The political systems in the African continent have been unable to deal, solve or settle the problem of pluralism because the African continent is full of cultural, linguistic, religious and sectarian pluralisms.

The political systems have been unable to manage the process of social pluralism within it, whether this deficit is due to weakness in the legal, social, and cultural structure of the state , or an inability to distribute scarce resources equitably among its citizens and to satisfy their minimum demands.

Competition for resources

One of the main factors in the emergence of tribal conflicts in Africa is climate change and the consequent change in the map of natural resources, especially the change in the distribution of rain and water resources, which created a new map of tribal conflicts within the tribe itself.

The conflict in the Darfur region is an example where tribal conflicts are linked to complicated factors such as conflict over land, water resources, grazing paths that intersect with cultivated lands and encroachment of animals on farms, environmental degradation, drought and desertification.

In some cases the conflict is within a single tribe or a single ethnic component due to competition for natural resources in the case of Darfur.

Over the decades it has not always been ethnic or politicized, as there were conflicts within the Arab groups themselves and within the Negroid among them as well.

Conflict between farmers and herders, competition over scarce water resources and arable land is one of the traditional conflicts within African continent.

Tribal politics

Political differences are among the important reasons for creating tribal conflicts on the African continent, due to the lack of legal or constitutional mechanisms for resolving political differences.

Which makes it imperative for each party to seek refuge in the tribal incubator to settle a dispute, as in most cases the conflicting tribes have no interest in continuing the conflict when the agreement of the political parties on the branches or positions.

One example being the state of South Sudan, where the bloody confrontation that took place between Nuer and Dinka soldiers and militias reflected the tribal divisions within the leadership of Southern Sudan.

Between the President Salva Kiir Mayardit of the Dinka and his former deputy Riak Machar Tiny Durgon, from the Nuer, Kiir had dismissed the latter on July 23, 2013.

The conflict between the two turned into a tribal conflict between the “Nuer” tribe, to which Riak Machar belongs, and the “Dinka” tribe, to which his rival, President Salva Kiir, belongs to.

Competition for sovereignty and leadership

The African continent has a multiplicity of nationalities and leaderships, by virtue of history, countries and ethnicities emerged that sat on the leadership of several countries, the Western colonialist came and changed some of them.

With some of those leaders changed during the colonial period, when the period of liberation came, many historical leaders sought to return to their old glory, which caused violent struggles between pre-colonial leaderships and post-colonial leaders.

A vivid example of this is many African countries ruled by religious and ethnic minorities that came during the period of Western rule, in 1959, the Hutu tribe, which represents the majority of the population in Rwanda, about 85%, overthrew the monarchical rule that was in the hands of the Tutsi minority, in what is known as the “Hutu peasant revolution”
Thousands of Tutsis fled to Uganda and neighboring countries.

The fleeing group formed a political-military group in their exile under the name “The Rwandan Patriotic Front”, and began launching attacks on Rwanda in 1990 in order to secure the return of Rwandan exiled Tutsis and to reconfigure the Rwandan government.

Western colonialism and imperialist powers

Ethnic pluralism is inherent in the reality of African societies due to European colonialism, and this pluralism has become one of the most important causes of wars and civil conflicts on the continent.

There are many examples of this such as conflicts in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, and many other African countries. The power of Western colonialism lead, directly or indirectly, to the occurrence of frictions from time to time.

Depending on the existing political systems in the countries between the opposition and those sheltered in Western countries, the political authorities that left the direct colonial administration in sub-Saharan Africa followed the framework of the “give and take” operation which often took place quietly.

The weight of the economic, technical and institutional tutelage of the direct colonial empire remained effective in general in most of these countries for a long time after the departure of direct colonialism.

The direct effects of tribal conflicts on sustainable development

The direct and indirect effects on societies and countries are numerous due to tribal conflicts, not for the least of, which is the destruction of people and stones, but also because of delays to sustainable development for several years compared to countries that have stability and security…

The following are the most important direct and indirect effects:-

Destruction of the human resources

Human resource is one of the biggest losses that cannot be compensated during the tribal wars, as a model for these losses being the region of East Africa.

In the Ituri conflict in the Congo, which was a conflict between two tribes, the agricultural (Endo) tribe and the different ethnic groups of the Hema pastoral in North Ituri In eastern Congo. An estimate of 60,000 people have died.

Unfortunately, most of the dead in armed clashes are young people and children, either because of the forced recruitment of children or because children are the most vulnerable groups participating in the conflicts.

Armed conflicts in various parts of the African continent may have resulted in the death of about 5 million children under the age of five, in the period between 1995 and 2015. It also killed more than 3 million infants.

Destruction of the environmental resources

One of the most important environmental resources that are destroyed during war in general, and tribal wars in particular is represented in the destruction of food and agricultural production, which directly affects the food security of the entire population, even those outside the scope of the conflict.

The youth of the past two decades are still affected by the civil wars that Africa witnessed from the mid-1960’s to the 2000’s, losses in agricultural production in the region amounted to more than $120 billion.

Disrupting the implementation of the sustainable development goals

The United Nations Final Report on the Millennium Development Goals indicates that “Conflict remains the greatest threat to human development.

In a more detailed way, wars affect issues related to a human being in his environment and his social and economic relationship, so war is the biggest threat to the educational process of the population in the place of conflict.

For example, in Kenya the conflict over the result of the national elections in December 2007 led to the displacement of more than 250,000 people.

Large groups of violence, affecting about 500,000 people, with the Kenyan Ministry of Education statistics indicated that about 62,848 pupils in elementary schools were affected as a result of the violence.

In conclusion, we can clearly say that there is no place for sustainable development in countries and societies that are unable to manage diversity, countries and societies capable of sustainable development yet are unable to achieve it.

Shawgei Salah can be contacted at

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