Ethnic Conflicts In African Countries

June, 2006

Perhaps no film has captured better, the tragic scenario of ethnic conflicts in African Countries  than Hotel Rwanda. The movie which was released by Hollywood film makers back in 2004 is based on the true life story of Paul Rusesabagina, an ethnic Hutu hotel manager who turned his hotel into an impromptu refugee camp for more than a thousand terrified Tustis and some Hutus when ethnic Hutus went on a killing spree of their Tustsi neighbors. Every African should watch this movie.

The story recounted in Hotel Rwanda gave a gripping account of a genocide that claimed over 800,000 lives. Rwanda, an African Country of six million people, of which 85% are Hutus and 15% Tusti, who ironically share the same culture and speak the same language, was thrown into one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind. The event, a reminiscent of holocaust which lasted for about three months, went almost unnoticed by the rest of the World. The primary cause of the conflict is not unconnected to European colonialism. During the colonial era, the Belgian rulers preferred dealing with the Tustsis thus aiding their rise to positions of power. This however, led to the creation of resentment among the Hutus. Following independence, a Hutu dictatorship took over. This polarized the Country further through hate campaigns in the media culminating in the murder of Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana who was a Hutu. Next, a Hutu militia known as the Interahamwe, spurred by furious calls for blood by local radio stations went on the rampage, killing all Tutsi citizens.
Meanwhile, the international community turned a blind eye to the horrors of Rwanda. Commenting on this attitude of the international community on the crisis, Terry George who directed the movie Hotel Rwanda put it this way “It’s simple, African lives are not seen as valuable as the lives of Europeans or Americans”!
Unfortunately this assertion is true even among us, Africans. How long will take for the Africans to start seeing one another, irrespective of ethnic or religious background as brothers? A similar scenario was reenacted in Darfur in 2003. Since May 1999, Nigeria also witnessed a number of ethnic crises that led to massacre of thousands of Nigerians in Kaduna, Aba, Kano, Owerri, Jos, Lagos and more. This writer had the misfortune of being trapped in one of the conflicts back in 2000. As a youth corp. member serving in Abia State, I escaped death by the whiskers following the 1999 Killings in Kaduna during reprisal killings in Southeastern Nigeria. No mathematical formula exists to explain the miracle of my escape from the mayhem. After about seven days in a refugee camp at a naval base near Owerri, I returned and completed the service. Although a Hausa from Kano, today this writer fluently speaks Igbo language, courtesy of the crisis. It was simple. Why would an Igbo man want to kill me merely because I was not Igbo or not of the same religion as he? In an attempt to discover answers to this and many other questions, I found that we actually exaggerate our differences. An Igbo, Igala, Kanuri, Hausa, Nupe or Yoruba man is no less human than a Kataf. We all do share the same basic needs and deep within us, have those moral values that make us human. That one chooses to be a muslim, a christian or an animist, merely represents a means of expressing his or her humanity. No one is given the option to choose to come from the North or South. This is a matter of chance. God the Almighty created this world and made it in to regions. Imagine the confusion if we were to all come from the North or South. These differences are a manifestation of the Creator’s wisdom in which we have no say.
It is pathetic that in a world where borders are getting thinner, we chose to remain closed to our ethnic or regional leanings wearing a ridiculous garment of ethnic supremacy and sometimes hiding behind religious beliefs to kill and maim fellow Nigerians. A muslim who truly adheres to the Islamic religion should have no problem living with a christian and vice versa.
Unfortunately, the media, politicians and a number of regional and ethnic jingoists cash in on our limited awareness to set us against one another for their selfish ends. And since poverty breeds ignorance and Nigeria’s economic situation is in such a pathetic state, as symbolized by the huge population of either uneducated and unemployed youth or half educated opportunistic politicians, such primitive sentiments as ethnicity are easily manipulated and sometimes bought with money in exchange for acts of hooliganism to keep us busy from reflecting on their corrupt way of governing us.
Isn’t it unfortunate that, with the singular exception of football, there is virtually nothing on which the Nigerians are in reasonable agreement with one another? Very few Nigerians see themselves first as Nigerians. Unfortunately we got it all wrong. Many a Nigerian is willing to sell his conscience to support and vote a presidential candidate, who, though obviously corrupt and did nothing to deserve his vote, but he dies to support him merely because he is of the same ethnic group.
It is high time the African Countries stopped playing the victims of colonialism and assume the responsibility of nation building through learning to live with one another in peace and harmony for the development of the citizenry. No Country can be built where there is mutual suspicion amongst its citizens. No Country shall prosper when a reasonable percentage of its supposed leaders are in actual fact, ethnic lords who feel no qualms in manipulating ethnic sentiments for their selfish ends. Let us imbibe the will to live with one another without prejudice to each other’s region or religion. The key to solving this problem is massive investment in education. Let us, in what ever situation we are remind our Yoruba, Tiv, Hausa brothers and sisters that we do have the same basic needs for water, electricity, love, moral values, freedom etc. Let us remind one another that, though the Hausas sometimes spell the letter “P” as “F” or the Yorubas have a peculiar way of spelling the letter “H” and “R” or that the Igbos have a way of speaking that leaves you wondering they speak through the nose and so on,but we are all humans and hope for a better and prosperous Nigeria where everyone will have a place to sleep and worship, a job to do, food to eat etc. For if we ponder deeper, we will be shocked to find how foolish we are in exaggerating those small differences. No one can do this for us, we alone can change this.

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