Poverty vs. conflict: understanding Africa's wars

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) stands out from other developing regions by the sheer number of conflicts and the massive impact on lives and livelihoods. In SSA, as the distinction between criminal and political violence becomes ever more blurred, has armed conflict become the major determinant of poverty? If so, what can be done?

A report from the Institute of Development Studies argues that war and poverty are in a dynamic and mutually reinforcing relationship. The conventional portrayal of conflict as a deviation from 'normal' life fails to comprehend situations where conflict splutters, re-ignites and is rarely settled by 'peace' agreements. Policy interventions will not promote sustainable peace unless built on subtler analysis of war economies and failing states.

No less than 28 SSA states have been at war since 1980. Increasingly, conflicts are regionally connected. It is a moot point whether in the Great Lakes, East and Central Africa there is a series of interlocking 'national' conflicts or a single zone of conflict in which national armies and non-state armed groups cross frontiers at will.

Measuring the impact of conflict is problematic. It is clear, however, that violence is generally visited upon civilians, rather than combatants. The scale of killing is a crude proxy for human and other costs, which are magnified by the destruction of institutions and social capital. Measuring the effect of war on income and Human Development Index values is particularly hard in the most war-affected states. Determining the numbers of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) is also difficult. There may be as many as 18-20 million IDPs, the majority unsupported women and children struggling to survive in violent environments.

Other issues brought out by the report are:

Arising out of the report are suggestions that:

'Conflict and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa: an assessment of the issues and evidence' Working Paper #128, Institute of Development Studies by Robin Luckham with Ismail Ahmed, Robert Muggah and Sarah White, March 2OO1

Funded by: Department for International Development, UK

id21 Research Highlight: 21 November 2001

Further Information:
Robin Luckham
Institute of Development Studies
University of Brighton
Sussex BNl 9RE

Tel: +44 (0) 1273 678782

Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK

Other related links:
'Lessons from the past, agendas for the future'

'Getting war-affected households back on their feet: lessons from Mozambique'

'Lessons from conflict: a participatory review of a Ugandan refugee project'

Global Issues focuses on Conflicts in Africa

The Department of Peace Studies features further publications on the issue

Eldis focuses on ethnic conflict, peacekeeping and peace studies

Contemporary Conflicts in Africa has country-specific information

Views expressed on these pages are not necessarily those of DfID, IDS, id21 or other contributing institutions. Articles featured on the id21 site may be copied or quoted without restriction provided id21 and originating author(s) and institution(s) are acknowledged. Copyright © 2009 IDS. All rights reserved.

id21 is funded by the UK Department for International Development. id21 is one of a family of knowledge services at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. id21 is a www.oneworld.net partner and an affiliate of www.mediachannel.org. IDS is a charitable company, No. 877338.