What is necessary is a solid approach to reduce the funding for rebel groups.
One can hardly open a newspaper or newsmagazine without being confronted with tragic images of violence and destruction in several countries around the world. Typically these countries are impoverished nations on the brink of total despair and commonly marginalized by the global community. The conflicts in these countries exhibit the most extreme types of violence and warfare, causing experts to scurry to diagnose the causes of these apparent interethnic conflicts in a world where globalization and modernization is advancing everywhere else at warp speed.
However, despite the instinct of many individuals and the international media to view these conflicts as ethnically or racially based, most of them are primarily economic in nature. In order to properly evaluate the causes and effects of interethnic conflict on modernization, it is important to attain some clarity on terms. As Goldberg and Solomos (2002) offer, the boundaries between the terms ‘ethnic’ and ‘race’ are often blurred. Therefore, it cannot be immediately assumed that an interethnic conflict or a conflict between individuals of differing ethnicities is automatically a racial conflict, though it could be.
In its simplest terms, race is a function of physical differences associated with biological descent while ethnicity is a function of cultural choices and perceptions. The blurriness comes when people attach cultural perceptions to physical observations (Goldberg and Solomos, 2002). In general, race is a broader category than ethnicity. Paul Collier (2003) agrees but would place less of an emphasis on distant history and lineage than on a group’s most recent past. His assertion is that the economic decline is the cause of interethnic conflict and, ultimately, civil war.
This conflict is not only precipitated by the effects of poverty but also by the need to control natural resources (Goldberg and Solomos, 2002; Kasfir, 2005). This need gives rise to guerrilla-type rebel groups which may be drawn along ethnic lines, or, according to Goldberg and Solomos (2002), along class lines. Sadly, according to Collier (2003), the risk for any third world nation to become engaged in interethnic civil war is about 6% every five years, but these risks increase with a dependence on natural resources and a decline in economic standing.
Money and resources are necessary for modernization. Attention to the modernization and industrialization of lesser developed countries (LDCs) has increase in the last decade. Trade organizations, financial and humanitarian aid, and preferential market access are some ways that more developed countries (MDCs) are attempting to ease the burden of suffering countries. However, the only way for this to truly happen in the long term is for these LDCs to reduce their own dependence on foreign handouts and special treatment.
In order for this to happen, these countries must develop their own resources, establish and maintain steady political regimes and develop the solid infrastructure necessary to support all of these ventures, now and into the future. Unfortunately, this is not so easy. Poverty, sickness and inability to develop have frozen these countries in time and, in some cases, made them their own worst enemies. At this point, the interethnic conflict becomes more probable. According to Collier (2003), ethnic and religious diversity are often said to be the causes of conflict but rarely are.
His only exception to this rule throughout his study was the case in which one majority ethnic group lives alongside a large minority ethnic group. In this case, the risk of civil war nearly doubles. However, he is quick to argue that some conflicts may appear “ethnically patterned without being ethnically caused” (Collier, 2003). Most causes of conflict are the result of increased competition for resources, which, of course, bring money and power and the need to “control market towns” (Goldberg and Solomos, 2002).
Collier (2003) explains the need to control natural resources. Rebel groups can use these resources to fund their operations and to fund efforts of succession in order to keep control of those resources. In addition, the central governments of these areas are typically weak, making victory seem more likely and raising the confidence of these rebel groups. He gives the example of diamonds fueling the uprising of the rebel group, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), in Angola, and the group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in Sierra Leone.
Many times these groups seize control of plants, mines and even workers and demand payment in exchange for their safety (Collier, 2003). Even grislier tales hail from Sudan’s Darfur. Not surprisingly, this conflict between the Sudanese government, primarily Arab, and Darfur’s rebels (and, sadly, regular citizens, primarily African, is also the result of a fight to control resources. Kasfir (2005) is quick to point out that the ethnic differences between the Arabs and the Africans in question have only surfaced since the outbreak of the war.
Intermarriage is common in this country, and ethnic conflicts based upon race alone were virtually non-existent before the conflicts began. Only after the killings did issues of Arab vs. African arise. In the Darfur region, these resources in conflict used to be water and land itself. The motivation for the conflict was simply survival in the face of a growing population that could not be sustained on the limited supply of farmable land and water. Everything escalated when oil was discovered in the southern region of Darfur in the 1970s.
The Arab Khartoum has always controlled the revenue from this oil, but now the Darfurian rebels want a share (Kasfir, 2005). This lends support to the thesis that interethnic conflicts are more the product of economy than ethnicity. Violence in Darfur is additionally tragic because of the attacks on innocent civilians. The government seems to be attacking its own people as a way of warning other rebel groups to stay quiet. As of 2004, estimates number the casualties of this conflict at 2. 5 million people, military, rebel and civilian (Kasfir, 2005).
Luckily, some countries have been able to avoid these types of conflict and continue to develop and modernize their economies. Botswana is one such example. Botswana shared Sierra Leone’s and Angola’s dependence on diamonds as a natural resource. Instead of falling victim to fighting over these resources, Botswana “harnessed this opportunity, becoming the fastest-growing economy in the world” (Collier, 2003). Like the conflict regions, Botswana is multiethnic but managed to avoid the pitfalls of a sagging economy dependent on natural resources. Unfortunately, many others do not and can not.
Therefore, modernization may necessitate the input of larger players in these interethnic conflicts. International organizations and humanitarian groups are already becoming involved. According to Collier (2003), some nations have such high risks of conflict and renewed conflict that military peacekeeping forces are necessary. These military forces are external to the existing nation because the internal development of military forces and presence is likely to cause even more fighting. Unfortunately, these peacekeeping missions do not last forever.
What is necessary is a solid approach to reduce the funding for rebel groups. More effort has to be made to increase the economic development, enhance and equitable distribute the profit from natural resources and to drastically reduce poverty in these nations in order to effectively curb these horrifying instances of interethnic conflict.