‘African Problems to African Solutions’: Re-thinking the Role of Internal Actors in solving African Conflicts

This paper seeks to analyze the relevance and significance of the ‘African problems-to African solution’ discourse in resolving conflicts in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular in this 21st Century. The paper argues that many political leaders in Africa have manipulated the African solution mantra for their own political gains. In the ensuing argument I pose critical questions on whether there is an African ‘problem’ and also whether there are ‘African solutions’ to the numerous crises unfolding in Africa. African Problems to African solutions, what’s in a Phrase? One may ask. Isn’t this a matter of semantics and vocabulary? This article seeks to interrogate these and many more questions in greater depth and in detail. The paper also seeks to further analyse the role of localized conflict resolution mechanism by Africans in purely African ‘crises’.


With the mushrooming of conflicts in Africa, many questions arise. The first question is whether the African solution to African problems thesis really work in light of the ever increasing emerging conflicts in Africa. Many African crises year in, year out has degenerated into full blown conflicts. However, in all these ‘crises’ African politicians seem to be quick in pointing out that the best solution in dealing with Africa’s conflicts is through home grown localised African solutions. From case examples of Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Zimbabwe academics and peace activists are confronted with a challenge of re-thinking sustainable conflict resolution alternatives. In light of the above there still remains a lot of controversy and debate amongst scholars and practitioners on whether there are ‘African problems’ so to speak.

However, given the history of the afore-mentioned countries, the African solution praxis seems obsolete. This is in light of the emerging conflicts and events in Africa. How can a problem become African or European? One may ask. Strictly speaking, the concept and praxis of ‘African solutions to African problems’ still remains the most controversial and easily manipulated term both in the academia (mainly in the field of conflict studies) and in the political arena.

Divide and Pacify

By and large it can be argued that the ‘African problems to African solutions’ thesis is a strategy or ploy to divide and pacify the African masses. Whilst sectarian conflicts are raging on in Nigeria, regional bodies like ECOWAS, government officials and civil society actors are preaching the ‘African solution-to African problems gospel’. However, as Nigeria is struggling to find home grown internal solutions to the religious and ethnic crisis, many innocent people are losing their lives at the hands of the extremists Boko Haram. It can then be argued persuasively that Africa as a whole has failed to act decisively in tackling conflicts related to ethnic, identity, religious and resource based conflicts. Consequently, these conflicts have emerged to become full blown conflicts, with Nigeria, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia being classic examples. More worrying is the fact that peace activists has stood on the sidelines, whilst the conflict entrepreneurs are preaching the language of home grown solutions to local problems.

What’s in a Name?

Do we really have peculiar problems in Africa, which are quite different with other problems in Latin America, South America, Asia, North America and Europe? If our problems as Africans are similar if not the same with other continents, what are we really saying if we are talking of an ‘African solution’? More critically, do we have unanimity on the scope and applicability of the so called ‘African solution?’ What is an African solution, who is responsible for crafting the African solution? Is it the ordinary people or the political elites who should come up with an African solution for the same problems they would have created in the first place?

Military Factor, ‘Coups’ versus the People

To me it seems the African solution to African problems thesis seem to have overlooked the fact that African dictators and army generals are part of the problem. It is the rebels and overzealous army generals who choose not to belong to the barracks but to the streets that are part of the problem and not the solution. As long as we have soldiers who fail to follow General Mao-tse-Tung’s rules of discipline, the African solution mantra will remain useless in building African democracy. As long as we have soldiers who subvert the will of the people in most African countries, African solutions will remain just a yearning but not a reality. Indeed AFRICA is at the crossroads. We have a painful decision to make, either to watch as Africa is burning and crushing, or to act. If we are to act the time is now. How long can we live in fear of the army and rebels in DRC, Mali, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda.

Indeed if we are to have African solutions, we should teach our soldiers about the basic tenets of democracy. Namely the concept and praxis of separation of power and rule of law as espoused by the great American fathers and other democracy and governance scholars. In my view, the greatest enemy in Africa is not poverty as we are made to believe. It is the political elite and the soldiers who preach the African solution mantra for them to continue plundering AFRICA’s God given resource. As ECOWAS, SADC and AU watches helplessly, our situation is going to get worse before it gets better. For it seems the military factor has become the in-thing across the African political plateau. To this end, our crisis is an ongoing crisis, given the example of Mali were soldiers can wrestle power from a civilian government in this 21st century.

Trapped In Discourse-Way Forward

The question that still remains nagging is how long shall we wait and be told that African solutions should be solved by African people themselves. In a continent full of sectarian conflicts, resource based conflicts, violent politics, failed peace processes, and a failed demilitarization process, is it still feasible to have African solutions? Before us are shining examples of how the SADC tribunal has proven to be a noble but incapacitated institution. So are the AU and ECOWAS. However, what is more worrying is the fact that each and every minute Africa is sliding back into the hands of the military and the rebels. Shall we remain entrapped in the vocabulary of African solutions to African problems or it’s high time we re-visit this discourse. In my view African solution to African problems has failed us. What’s African about dictatorship?

What defines a society is not what it overcomes during the night, but what it overcomes during the Sunlight. People have been cheated and betrayed in the long years after Sunlight in most African countries….Ben Okri.


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