Fatmata Lovetta Sesay
Ludwig Maximillian University
|Fifty years after the adoption of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees there is no sign of a reduction in the global refugee crisis. Many organisations-NGOs, governments of developed and developing countries and most especially the UNHCR-have been engaged on how to secure better lives for refugees. Several conferences and meetings are being held every year across the globe all seeking to find ways to help this vulnerable group of people. This paper seeks to address the reasons for the huge number of refugee flow across the globe with special emphasy on the Sierra Leonean situation. The paper starts with the presentation of some recent statistics of refugees to give an idea about the number of people (globally) that are been talked about. It is accepted that the largest cause of refugee flows in a global context is conflict. The paper will further investigate the root causes of conflicts which lead to enormous number of refugees and give suggestions on how to tackle the problem of conflict especially in the Third World. Words of encouragement to all involved in working for and with refugees will be given and a plea for more international concern for refugees will conclude the paper.|
The world refugee population increased to 14.5 million in 2000, up from13.5 million in 1998, and the number of internally displaced persons stands at 20 million, relatively unchanged from 1999 (UNHCR, 2000). In Sierra Leone, 1.4 million people, the report (United States Committee for Refugees (USCR) Report, June 19 2001) details, have fled their homes due to fear of rape and torture by rebels who sparked what has become a ten-year war.
Torn by civil war and consistent government bombings of civilian and humanitarian sites, the long-running conflict in Sudan has resulted in 4.46 million people who do not currently have permanent homes. Four million Palestinians are refugees, and the drought and steady turmoil inside Afghanistan have caused 3.9 million natives to leave their homes. Chechen refugees looking to leave bloody conflict behind are turned back at the border of the war-stricken breakaway region and Colombia's 2.1 million internally displaced people have had to abandon their land because of aerial anti-drug spraying. In Bosnia-Herzegovina alone, more than half the population was uprooted by the war, with an estimated 1.3 million people displaced inside the country. Around half a million Bosnian refugees went to other republics of the former Yugoslavia, where some faced further nationalist violence and the risk of refoulement. (USCR Report, June 19 2001).The report further detailed that the spike in refugee numbers since 1998 resulted from an exodus by Burmese to Thailand, a flight of 150,000 Congolese to various regions of Africa, a departure of 750,000 Eritreans to Sudan and Ethiopia in May and June 1999, as well flights of Afghans and Burundians. These alarming figures beg the question : Why are people all over the world fleeing? Amnesty International (2000) summarises the reasons for refugee flows as: "they flee war, terrified that they will be attacked or caught in the cross-fire. They flee individual persecution, frightened that they will be imprisoned, tortured or executed. Their fears are based on real suffering, real threats or the real experiences of friends and neighbours". The reasons given by Amnesty may not be exhaustive, because every refugee has a unique experience of fear and flight and the underlying reasons for persecution are numerous. But the most important points here are firstly, that human rights and refugees are not separate issues: all over the world, people become refugees because of fear. Fear of human rights violations. Fear of random violence. Fear of persecution and hence, in desperation, they choose the only option left to them-leave their homes in search of safety. Secondly, large-scale population movements have touched every continent in the world. Some people argue that the refugee crises happen mostly in developing countries because of poverty and conflict. But have we asked ourselves again what the causes of poverty and conflict are? This paper will attempt to provide some answers with special reference to Sierra Leone, a country that in many respects is illustrative of many other parts of Africa.
|SOURCES OF CONFLICTS|
The causes of armed conflict in developing countries are numerous and interconnected. Developing countries have different histories and geographical conditions, different stages of economic development, different sets of public policies and different patterns of internal and international interaction. The sources of conflict in these regions thus reflect this diversity and complexity, yet a number of common trends and legacies seem to tie them together.
|Historical legacies (Colonialism)|
A major cause of conflicts in some parts of the Third World relates to the historical process of state formation, which arbitrarily brought together different communities and ethnic groups to form single nations and also divided unified communities and ethnic groups to separate states. The newly independent states were faced with the challenge of settling disputed colonial boundaries which were major sources of conflict in, for example, North and South Sudan, and the ongoing Ethiopian and Eritrian border crisis. The post colonial states also inherited legacies that undermined their territorial integrity and attempts to achieve national unity. This situation was compounded by the divide-and-rule strategies that promoted ethnically linked economic and political inequalities which fuelled continuing cycles of rebellion and suppression. This was the case in Rwanda where the Germans, French and Belgians systematically empowered the Tutsis to the detriment and disapprobation of the Hutus. Thus the challenge of forging a genuine national identity from among disparate and often competing communities still remains. Sierra Leone is not exempt from those historical legacies. One could argue that the antagonism between the Creoles who had monopolised positions within the Civil Service since the 19th Century and the subsequent manoeuvres of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC) at the time of the independence has had some bearing on the development of the country since the election of 1967 as well as the succession of Coup d'Etats that followed. On the political front, Sierra Leone has had a chequered history characterised by repeated violent change of governments. After the attainment of sovereignty in 1961, it enjoyed a period of multi-party democracy, which degenerated into dictatorship when the first general elections after Independence in 1967 witnessed the first military interference with democracy. From then on, it had a one party political dictatorship interspersed with military interregnum. The era of one party dictatorial rule was characterized by total neglect of social needs, economic mismanagement and bad governance. The impact of this mis-governance engendered widespread dissatisfaction and frustration, especially among the youths and the disadvantaged segments of society. The resulting malaise is believed to partly explain the rebel uprising in 1991 and the initial popularity of the 1992 coup d'etat that ousted the one party government..
The nature of political power in many developing countries characterise by political exclusion through single party and state dominated authoritarian rule is a key source of conflict. It is generally the case that political victory assumes a 'winner-takes-all' with respect to wealth and resources, patronage, prestige and the prerogative of office. Political and economic powers are heavily centralised and monopolised resulting in massive corruption, nepotism, tribalism and abuse of office. Such state of affairs is often accompanied by insufficient accountability of leaders, lack of transparency in regimes, inadequate checks and balances, absence of peaceful means to change government and leadership, non-adherence to the rule of law and continuous violation of human of rights, with a consequent increase in the risk of violence. As observed by Saferworld : "weak institutions, corruption, lack of rule of law and the violation of human rights are a major drag on economic and social development, which in turn heightens the risk of violent conflict" (Saferworld cited in Wells et al,1999:xiv). Sierra Leone is a good example. Like in so many other countries, a Coup d'Etat after the 1967 election deprived the legitimate winners of their rightful electoral prize. Another coup in 1968 did not bring peace and the country fell increasingly into tribal violence. The Coup of April 29, 1992, where Captain Valentine Strasser ousted President Joseph S. Momoh, in power since 1985 under a single party system, did not make things better even though this coup was initially welcomed by the citizens. Political instability was further heightened when Capt. Strasser's deputy, Juluis Maada Bio ousted him promising a multi party election. Political instability and tension reached its climax when a group of soldiers on May 25, 1997 oustered the democratically elected President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. This last coup lead to a large number of Sierra Leoneans seeking refuge mostly in Guinea, Liberia, and The Gambia. (Africa News Service-30 May 1997).
Ethnic cleavages are tools leaders utilise to gain and consolidate political power. Many leaders have emphasised differences rather than similarities among ethnic communites and their desire for political power with authority over resource distribution is often tied to ethnic mobilisation. Also, pre and post-independence integration in developing countries has, all too often, been at the expense of various nationalities and peoples' distinctive identities, interests and aspirations and generally has been enabled due to the domination of small ruling classes belonging to or allied with one particular ethnic group that is strongly contested by others. Such situations have worsened underlying ethnic resentment resulting in frquent violent conflicts.
Economic factors have played a key role in generating and fuelling conflicts, as there are those who benefit from the chaos and lack of accountability. Competition for control and exploitation of resources such as diamonds (in Angola and Sierra Leone), timber (in Liberia) and inequitable distribution of oil wealth (in Nigeria) to local communities have ignited and prolonged conflicts in these countries. In Rwanda, disputes over land tenure and property ownership are the most explosive issues in the country. Recently, Paul Collier and others have strongly argued that, contemporary conflicts are overwhelmingly driven by greed rather than political grievances. He maintained that "rebellion is motivated by greed, so that it occurs when rebels can do well out of war" (Collier, 2000 cited in Goodhand, 2001:31). He highlighted a number of proxies that are likely to produce economically motivated violence. These are, firstly a high share of primary products exports in the GDP, seen as creating opportunities for looting; secondly, the proportion of young men in society, seen as creating a pool of potential rebels who will be attracted by the prospects of economic gain; and thirdly, a low number of years spent in education seen as likely to reduce the economic alternative to involvement in conflict (Collier, 2000b). This crude analysis of the root cause of the problem tends to focus on the African end of the equation. It shifts too much the responsibility upon the victims and away from the real culprits: the unfavourable terms of trade, external debt burden, economic reform programmes and austerity measures introduced in the context of economic stabilisation and structural adjustment programmes often intensify poverty and income inequality thus exacerbating insecurity. The predicament of diamond-rich Sierra Leone, which is in the grip of "rebels" who sparked what has become a ten-year war, is a case in point. For the past decade, the best part of the revenue from diamond and other mineral exports has been diverted by racketeers and smugglers to finance an endless civil war, leaving the country with a massive foreign debt, very poor infrastructure and huge weapons arsenal that invariably ends up used against the civil population.
Land degradation caused by climatic change and human activities such as farming and cutting trees heightens social inequalities and forces poor inhabitants of degraded ecosystems to compete for diminishing resources which often result in conflict as in the conflict between pastoralist tribes over haffirs-water-points-in Sudan (Conflict Prevention). Instability caused by environmental pressures almost always leads to further insecurity as people arm themselves for protection against theft of their resources and potential violence. The availability of weapons moves war-producing environmental causes (the Greenwar cycle) to higher levels of intensity. The Greenwar cycle develops new tensions and exacerbates political and racial antagonism. In a semi-subsistence economy the easiest form of attack is to destroy the natural resources an opponent needs for survival.
Local conflicts and civil wars have become more prevalent and deadlier since the end of the Cold War, leaving a security vacuum as super powers' ideological priorities give way to corporate rivalry over economic opportunities. During the Cold War undemocratic and oppressive regimes were supported and sustained by competing super powers, providing military and financial aid to maintain order and stability among friendly states and allies. In fact some of the bloodiest civil wars were fought at the height of the Cold War as developing countries served as battlefields for super power military supremacy. After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, many Third World countries in Africa were left to fend for themselves, compelled to foot the bill for the West's bloody extravagances and incompetence. The rules of a new global order promoting what the West perceived as democracy, good governance, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and better management of resources and economies were promulgated unilaterally by the G7. Rapid deterioration of living conditions led to unrest and violent conflicts. It is abundantly clear that new wars aimed at depriving civilians of resources, and also at forcing them to flee, or not to return, have been a major factor in the refugee issue at the turn of the millennium. Thus, the connection between war and displacement is becoming closer and more dangerous. Let me therefore stress the need for conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms in Africa and the world at large. Such mechanisms often exist on paper, but it is rare that they are successfully implemented because that would mean a major shift in the attitude of the West toward Africa and a better repartition of profits between North and South. An example here is the peace accord signed by the government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front in November 1996.
On 30 November 1996, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh signed a peace accord to end more than five years of civil war. Two weeks later, (14 December) the Sierra Leone news agency (http://www.sierra-leone.org) reported that : "The Sierra Leone government and the Revolutionary United Front have reportedly begun implementing provisions of the peace agreement signed November 30 in Abidjan". This sent sparks of hope to Sierra Leoneans. But this was a short lived hope as the news agency on 25 January, 1997 reported that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had accused the RUF of delaying the peace process by failing to nominate members of a joint monitoring group and demobilisation commission. This was the start of the implementation bottle necks of that accord which lead to its failure. Hostilites were again resumed until 7 July 1999 when President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh signed another peace accord in Lome to end more than eight years of civil war in Sierra Leone. An accord planned to be implemented within one year is only seeing results now in 2002.
Even though personal and corporate greed seems to be at the root of the refugee crisis, it is important to note that any large scale exodus is rarely caused or triggered by a single factor; rather it is an accumulative of diverse, interlinked factors that increase the risk to life. Many of us may think we know what turns someone into a refugee. By far the largest cause today remains war - sometimes, as in Rwanda or Bosnia, with the added horrors of genocide or 'ethnic cleansing'. In addition, thousands continue to flee seemingly more peaceful countries in genuine fear for their own personal safety, either individually or together with other members of a persecuted group. Many of them bear the scars of ill-treatment or torture as their passport to exile. Recently, Ali Mazrui has used an African proverb to describe the Cold War : "When two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers and when two elephants make love, it is still the grass that suffers" (Mazrui cited in Lederach 1997:9). This proverb may be also well suited to describe Africa in the elephantine games of Multinational Companies merging or tearing themselves apart in the name of shareholder profit.
Contemporary warfare creates greater scarcity and new economies of war in which factions take part in looting, extortion, smuggling, drug trafficking and the taking of captives for forced labour. Seizure of assets like land, diamond, gold and timber resources appear to be more important than military victories as articulated political goals are often completely absent. Conflicts in the 1990s have all too frequently been associated with certain features that suggest flight as the only option for survival. Firstly, most of the recent conflicts exhibit extreme barbarism and brutality. Mutilation, rape, torture, forms of ritualised violence and forcible involvement of relatives, children and spouses in committing these atrocities are often used to intimidate civilians. What has generally occured is a practice of extreme irrational brutality, orgies of senseless violence and violence as an apparent end in itself (Outram, 1997:362). Attacks on people are coupled with massive destruction of infrastructure-schools, clinics, wells, bridges, telecommunications-as well as homes and agricultural land, as was the case in former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone. Terror tactics are combined with the availability of more light weapons with greater killing power. So one can say that the nature of contemporary conflicts is in itself a push factor that increases the likelihood of flight. This is made clear when violence is directly targeted at civilians as well as people in positions of authority or influence (particularly where the attack's aim is ethnic cleansing), and, increasingly, at aid workers. This has produced huge numbers of refugees as well as internally displaced people that have attracted greater international relief response to avoid further human tragedy.
Strongly, related with war economy is the emergence of warlords. They operate by exploiting areas under their control, through looting and taxing and also developing export trades with external business interests, which include foreign firms and politically connected individuals in neighbouring countries (Allen 1999). A good example in this situation is the relationship between the rebel leader of Sierra Leone Corporal Foday Sankoh and the President of Liberia-Charles Taylor. Rebels smuggle illegally mined diamonds into Liberia which is the major source of getting arms and munations. In a recent CNN programme (Inside Africa-10, November 10, 2001), Sierra Leone's Ambassador to USA John Lee said that the only way to end the war and to stop the supply of 'blood' diamonds in Sierra Leone is to ensure that Liberia is under proper and responsible governance. He went on to say that as long as Charles Taylor is in Liberia there will be no peace in West Africa. I want to agree with Ambassador Lee and add that peace will come to Sierra Leone and the region only when Charles Taylor is brought to justice.
The international community is making an attempt to solve the problem from a bottom-up approach. The inefficiency of such a solution is demonstrated by the recent introduction of a certificate system between exporters and importers in the diamond industry. This will only lead to the sale of illegal diamonds on the "black market" and of course at a cheaper rate, hence no solution at all. Making this solution more ineffective is the fact that mechanisms to detect the origin of rough diamonds have not been put in place and diamonds from most war torn countries are not polished before sale. So I beleive criminalisation of war, which, involves illegal trade in arms, drugs, money laundering and warlordism should be adequately tackled. The halt on the illegal diamond trade is a move in the right direction but not enough in itself. Countries in the North should be actively involved in curbing the illegal trade in arms which is responsible for massive destruction and poverty in developing countries. The Proposed International Arms Surrender Fund is a step in the right direction. Similarly, tackling some of the economic incentives for conflict will go a long way in resolving some of the deadly conflicts in the Third World. For some countries, particularly in Africa, natural resources have become a curse rather than a blessing. Struggles for control of these resources forces their citizens to flee to all parts of the world looking for safe haven. The diamond fields of Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, the oilfields in Sudan and Nigeria to name but a few, which should enrich the local populations have instead impoverished them as rebel groups vie for control in order to finance arms purchases.
|MECHANISMS FOR RESOLVING CONFLICTS|
The increasing number of internal armed conflicts in developing countries, with their attendant social and economic devastation, shows that new strategies for the prevention and resolution of conflicts should be developed. They should then be applied at the international, regional, national and community levels by both governments and non-governmental bodies. Such strategies should be context specific in order to address the underlying causes and issues inherent in the conflict. However the measures discussed in this paper will definitely not end all conflicts but have the potential for resolving and addressing violent conflict.
A key strategy for addressing conflicts is collaboratively developing early warning mechanisms and following up with early and effective action so as to prevent or mitigate a crisis. Conflict prevention can be understood firstly, as measures which ease or mitigate a situation where an outbreak of violence is imminent; and secondly, as preventing the occurrence of such a situation.
A key holistic approach to resolving conflicts is peace building. This methodology includes non-violent processes (such as advocacy, development programmes and peace projects) which attempt to prevent, mitigate and transform violent conflict, contribute to building societies in which people have fair access to resources and which are based on social justice, respecting fundamental human rights recognised by international law. The approach focuses on building broken relationships within communities and promotes issues of truth, justice, peace and mercy, which are pre-requisites for sustainable stability. It makes provision for community participation and local sustainability and involves both cross-cutting (integrated into development and relief programmes) and stand-alone activities (Lederach 1997, Lewer 1999).
Thirdly, the influence and role of the international community cannot be overlooked, especially at the level of the United Nations, since it has played an important role in managing and resolving conflicts in developing countries. With the end of the superpower competition, the UN should increase its fact-finding and observation initiatives, mediation and negotiation efforts as well as its peacekeeping and peace enforcement duties around the world. It should also encourage regional organisations such as the, Oganisation of African Unity (OAU), Economic Community of West Afrocan States (ECOWAS) to assume greater responsibility for peace and security especially when such conflicts can have extremely costly regional impacts, including overwhelming refugee flows, military incursions into neighbouring countries, trade disruption, and environmental consequences.
Additionally, developed countries in the North should provide effective development assistance, combining the right policies with adequate resources having a 'pro-poor' approach. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank should also be sensitive to the real needs of the resident population in devising assistance programmes for developing countries.
Do people really want war? No. People from all over the world want peace.
I would like to use the words of Moraga and Anzaldua (1983) when they were addressing and admonishing feminist women of color. "I will address refugees, refugee activists, international organisations concerned with refugees and States of the developed world. Perhaps like me you are tired of suffering and talking about suffering, of counting the rains of blood but not the rains of flowers. Like me you may be tired of making a tragedy of our lives. Let's abandon the autocannibalism: rage, sadness, fear. Enough of shouting against the wind ; all words are noise if not accompanied with action. Let's work not talk, let's say nothing until we have made the world luminous and active in refugee issues. We can't afford to stop in the middle of the bridge with arms crossed waiting for the silver lining in an ever-increasing cloud."
And yet to act is not enough. We are beginning to realize that we are not wholly at the mercy of circumstance, nor are our lives completely out of our own hands. We are slowly moving past the resistance within, leaving behind the defeated images. We have come to realise that we are not alone in our struggles, nor separate nor autonomous, but we - refugees, refugee activists etc. - are connected and interdependent. Let us see ourselves as being accountable for what is happening down the street, south of the border or across the sea. And those of us who have more of anything: brains, physical strength, political power, spiritual energies and economic capacity are learning to share them with those that don't have. We are learning to depend more and more on our own resources for survival, learning not to let the weight of this burden break our backs. We have gone through the worst times, why not learn to bear baskets of hope and to step lightly. My colleagues in the struggle for refugees, refugees oursleves, let's not let the danger of the journey and the vastness of the territory scare us-let's look forward and open paths in these woods. Friends, their are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.
We are striving to find ways to address refugee problems and promote development. Working with people all over the world, every day, we draw a sense of hope from our efforts - and so, most importantly, do millions of people. Let me therefore conclude by appealing to all those present here - donor governments, international development organizations, but particularly the leaders of developed countries - not to leave refugees, displaced persons and returnees at the margin of these efforts. They, the most vulnerable people, deserve special attention. They are also the visible sign of broader problems which must be addressed if we are to continue working successfully towards peace and sustainable development.
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Lederach, J.P. Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, United States Institute of Peace press (1997).
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Moraga C. and Anzaldua G., This bridge called my back: writing by radical women of color Kitchen table: women of color press, 1983.
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|Fatmata Lovetta Sesay was born in Yele, Tonkolili District, Sierra Leone, She is currently working on her PhD in Post Colonial Studies at Ludwig Maximillian University, Munich, Germany. Her topics explore mainstreaming gender persepectives into golabalisation, conflict resolution and sustainable development with an emphasis on women in Sierra Leone. She considers herself a woman activist, fighting for the emancipation of women and believes that the potential of women should be fully used to enhance economic development for the world at large. She has a special interest in facilitating and participating in gender related activities and above all likes meeting and knowing people. Recent papers and conference presentations include : An Inquiry into the Economic Condition and Human Rights Violations of Sierra Leonean Returnee Women Repatriated from Guinea and Liberia Masters Thesis (2001) ; "Gender-Specific Forms of Persecution suffered by Women in Sierra Leone", presented at the International Conference on Refugee Women Fleeing Gender-based Persecution organised by the Canadian Council for Refugees (2001) ; "Root causes of Refugee flows in a global context", keynote address given at the Conference on "The refugee convention: where to from here" held in Sydney, Australia; "Amalgamated stories of human rights violation of women in Sierra Leone", paper presented at the Women's indigenous human rights court in Sydney, Australia (2001) ; "Alternative Sustainable Development and Gender equality; the case of Sierra Leone", paper submitted to a conference on Women and Development- the effects of globalisation" in Geneva, Switzerland (2002).|
|Paper presented at the International Conference "The Refugee Convention, Where to from Here?" convened by the Centre for Refugee Research (Sydney, December 2001).|