Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program evaluates the role of
non-state actors in threatening the peaceful futures of Africa through her
eighth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not
necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
As with tribalism, non-state actors are not inherently prescribed as positive or
negative. Non-state actors have the opportunity to sow division or foster
greater unity as Africa works toward a conflict-free future. The motives and
values of non-state actors are vast and diverse – and often multi-dimensional.
The discussion of non-state actors really calls into question contemporary
geo-politics and proxy wars specifically.
It is important to understand the influence that non-state actors bring. What is
the motive of the non-state actor? What is the strategy of the non-state actor?
Why is the non-state actor involved? What is the benefit to the non-state actor
for being involved? These questions are critical as non-state actors bring a
real threat of proxy wars. In proxy wars, non-state actors may instigate lasting
harm to already weak nations by escalating conflict, struggle, and violence.
Keep in mind that many proxy wars involve various foreign state actors. And, the
interconnectedness and layers of complexity in proxy wars can evolve throughout
the duration of the war.
Since 2014, Libya has experienced civil war. With armed extremists along with
rival tribal groups all fighting to claim power in the country, this is a prime
example of a proxy war originated by non-state actors. Or, consider violence in
the Sahel. Though originally the Sahel experienced more climate-induced
conflict, it evolved into more extreme conflicts including militia and religious
groups. Libya and the Sahel are merely two examples demonstrating the role of
non-state actors in conflict.
The motivations and actions of the non-state actors in these two conflicts are
generating war, unrest, and violence now. How must their motivations and actions
evolve over the next three decades to ensure a conflict-free future by 2050? Is
that type of evolution even possible in 30 years? Or, might the hope of a
conflict-free future be too big and complex a problem to achieve?
Prevalent non-state actors include the vast number of African tribal groups,
American Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and Chinese State-Owned
Enterprises (SOE). Being a continent where tribal affiliations are stronger than
national affiliations, non-state actors enhance the complexity of the continent.
The actions and decisions of non-state actors – whether tribal groups, NGOs or
SOEs for example - create avenues for greater division and strife throughout
African regions. With African governments greatly influenced by tribal
affiliations, non-state actors have heavy influence with national cohesion and
local governments. In addition to the tribal influences, the Great Powers bring
an added layer of complexity to conflicts.
Conflict is created when a non-state actor influences a party to take power from
another party. Seeds are sown for growing - and cyclical - conflict through
corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power. The growing violence and presence of
armed groups along the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Great Lake
States is merely one example of how non-state actors exacerbate existing
conflicts among African nations. Ethnic divisions, fractured relationships, and
power struggles shape much of the present conflict.
Another thirty years of tribal warfare, religious rivalries, and armed groups
inhabiting the area will certainly not need to a conflict-free future – if any
viable future to imagine. A continuation of groups vying for power or asserting
dominance over weaker groups will not bring about a conflict-free future. How
can this cycle of conflict be broken? Is a conflict-free future even possible?
If so, how might non-state actors bring unity toward a conflict-free future? If
not, what will happen in the coming decades if the conflict cycle continues? The
cyclical, patterned power-based conflicts will not bring about intra-continental
cooperation, help foster local entrepreneurship, or allow for critical
infrastructure to be established. And, without those aspects, what type of
future is possible for the African people?