Black Affairs, Africa and Development

Why do we continually misunderstand conflict in Africa? – By Lucy Hovil

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Violence in Africa seems particularly prone to the scourge of one-dimensional descriptions. Often described as ethnic or tribal, and sometimes as sectarian, the media prescribes an adjective that quickly becomes accepted as gospel and this explanation is then hard to shift. Thus we are told that the recent outbreak of violence in South Sudan is ethnic (Nuer against Dinka); and fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR) is sectarian (Christians against Muslims). It is seldom described in political terms.


The problem here is not just semantics or the irritation caused by inadequate descriptions of complex issues. The real problem lies in the fact that misdiagnosis is a dangerous business.

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by Dr Lucy Hovil is senior researcher, International Refugee Rights Initiative.

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