Let us Deal with the Source of Conflicts

“If you’re in India, and the Brahmaputra river is being rerouted by the Chinese, you’re not muddling through; lives are being lost…the world will be drawn into a war for resources…I think we’ll see more wars”. This statement by Dambisa Moyo[1] captures the perspective-perhaps pessimistic, others would say realistic-of the types of war that we have been seeing and should expect in future. Increasingly, the argument goes, main causes of conflict would not be ideological differences, different religious views or identity differences but rather who gets to control which particular portion of the available natural resources. As the Chinese economy continues on its exponential growth trajectory and we continue to deplete the remaining natural resources one would expect that the pressure and competition for the few remaining resources would increase by the day. Eventually this would determine the livelihood of entire populations. When this happens then it would not matter the type or size of stick that international criminal law holds over the warring parties[2].

We can see snippets of this today. The first judgment was recently determined by the International Criminal Court and the perpetrator sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment[3].  However, in spite of this the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is far from resolved. Possibly, the world’s richest country in natural resources[4], the conflict in the Congo had at one time sucked in several neighbouring nations. The pull of and supposed need to control these resources far outweighs any consideration on the “big stick” that the ICC or any other international body carry. We all held our breath as Southern Sudan and Sudan amassed troops towards their common border in what would have been another full scale war. While the original war when Southern Sudan was part of the bigger Sudan had elements of religion and race involved, this would have been a fight for control of the oil fields along the common border. Keep in mind that the ICC still has unexecuted warrants of arrest over Al Bashir, the Sudanese President. Reason? The allure of the oil outweighs the risk of more indictments on any of the parties. Lastly, Kenya recently experienced clashes along its coastal region, even as the ICC prepares to determine cases involving four prominent politicians[5]. The possible involvement of more politicians on the massacre possibly indicates the contempt with which they hold the ICC. Perhaps they feel the ICC has a big bark but no bite. Perhaps the ICC never features in their calculations. Or maybe, yet again, the control of resources is perceived to be a matter of life and death and the ICC can just go jump in the pool. One could go on and on- about Libya, about Iraq, about Afghanistan and other resource rich nations.

The lesson? International criminal law and fear of retribution, by itself, is not enough to prevent people from fighting for resources. When people feel that their own lives are at stake they will take any steps-even committing international crimes-to extinguish the threat. Everyone has an innate need to be heard especially in the allocation of resources. When their views are ignored, as is often the case, conflict results. Is it not then time for the international community to examine how sharing of resources can be conducted in an equitable manner. Not after the fact-when the war drums are being beaten-but immediately after the resources have been discovered. For example, Uganda has discovered oil and gas. We know-from history-what will likely happen if any of the local communities feel aggrieved in the wealth distribution process: more work for the ICC. So does it not make sense for the international community to “poke its nose” into Uganda’s affairs right now, albeit in a subtle way.  This rather than having a court with international jurisdiction is perhaps the better way “to put an end to impunity…and thus to contribute to the prevention of these crimes”[6] After all, “it is the whole political economy of southern resource rich countries and their relations with the north that needs to change if inequalities and recurring conflicts are to be avoided”[7].

(by Ronald Rogo. He lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya. rogo.ronald@gmail.com )


[1] Dambisa Moyo, from Zambia, is an international economist and author. She has authored Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa among others.

[2] There is also the converse argument that an abundance of resources allows for the emergence of warlords able to sustain wars independent of the state’s largesse.

[3] Prosecutor vs Lubanga. Mr Lubanga was convicted and sentenced for conscripting child soldiers into his army

[4] DRC is rich in diamonds, copper, cobalt and lush natural forests. It is easy to see why each country wants a portion of these resources but sad to realize the effect on the citizenry who have not enjoyed this “blessed curse”

[5] Prosecutor vs William ruto and Joshua Sang- (Kenya 1 Case)and Prosecutor vs Uhuru Kenyatta and Francis Muthaura (Kenya II case)

[6] Preamble of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal court

[7] The political economy of resource wars by Philippe Le Billon at p. 40

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