Cornell Admissions Essays

Post-Colonial African Conflict


Post-Colonial African Conflict

            After World War II, the people of Africa fought to end the effects of European imperialism to achieve political independence and reclaim African culture. After many years of being controlled by Europeans, Africa gradually gained independence following World War II. However, tensions caused by artificial political boundaries established by European powers failed to reflect tribal and religious divisions. The newly-born African states were unstable and struggled to deal with these conflicts, often resulting in civil wars and genocide. During this struggle, Africa received very little support from the rest of the world to either develop African economies or governments. Currently, the people of Africa are still attempting to solve several conflicts. Although 19th century European imperialism was a major factor in causing the political weakness within African states, the solution to Africa’s continuing political, economic, and social conflicts is in the hands of the Africans themselves.

            Under European imperialism, the African standard of living was extremely low. Colonial control forced the Africans to go through several hardships. Due to the extensive cost of World War II, England and several other mother countries struggled with their economies. Also, the African people were getting sick of the harsh treatment and cruelty. The Europeans claimed that they were helping Africa become civilized, but in fact were doing the opposite. They were taking the African resources for their own benefit (Nkrumah par 1). Africa has many resources; including diamonds, cocoa, and rubber (Nkrumah par 4). The first leader of independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, encouraged a strong, unified state to bring prosperity to Africa (Nkrumah par 5).  Nkrumah once said, “Only a strong political union can bring about full and effective development of our natural resources for the benefit of our people.” Because the Europeans controlled the agricultural aspects, African people suffered from poverty. Even though poverty was widespread among the Africans, the Europeans still imposed an extremely harsh tax (Mandela par 1). Nelson Mandela was an African leader who fought for African independence and equality. He encouraged the Africans to refuse to work for the Europeans just to receive poor pay (Mandela par 6). Africans were forced to work in mines (gold, diamonds, and coal), on farms, and at industrial based occupations (Mandela par 2). Mandela said that hardship, sacrifice, and militant action will result in freedom (Mandela par 10). Mandela himself sacrificed much of his life to help Africa become independent. He spent twenty-seven years in prison for leading groups that opposed imperialism (“Africa” par 1). Mandela tried to spread the awareness of the inequality and brutality of the Europeans. He explained that when the Africans were jailed and given a trial, the trial was not by any means fair (Mandela par 13). Another African nationalist leader, Jomo Kenyatta, backed up Mandela’s explanation by using a unique African story to create an analogy. This story uses jungle animals to portray the corrupt trials (Kenyatta par 6). Kenyatta explains that trials were not trials by peers, but the council was strictly made up of Europeans (Kenyatta par 4). The African people were fed up with inequality and discrimination that they faced. These nationalist leaders and groups combined with the European economic failure, resulted in gradual independence for the African people.

From the mid-1900s to 1994, African states escaped imperialism and gained independence.  Due to conflicts during the Cold War, tension between the USSR and the United States in Egypt, the United States interfered on the Egyptian side. The United States did this so the USSR wouldn’t get involved. The United States interference increased their power in Africa. As a secondary result, France and Britain’s power was decreased. This helped led to African independence (“Independent Africa and the Cold War” par 2). Also, to challenge the USSR who was looking for allies in Africa, the United States supported anti-communist independence movements. During the Cold War, the United States was trying to prevent the stop of communism and Soviet ways (Kte’pi par 7). The USSR also helped independence movements. They did this by sending military help and money (“Independent Africa and the Cold War” par 3). All of these events in the Cold War helped Africa gain independence. In 1951, Libya, with support from the United Nations, became the first independent African state.  In the next few years, countries such as Sudan and Tunisia followed (Desanker par 2). On April 27, 1994, apartheid ended in South Africa when Mandela was elected (“Archbishop Desmund Tutu” par 7).  Although the Africans were greatly relieved to finally be free, conflicts left over from the long-lasting colonial rule still affected the African economic, political and social aspects. The economy of post-colonial Africa was the worst conflict left by the Europeans (“Africa” par 2). In the 1960s and 1970s, attempts were made to implement economic systems, such as socialism and capitalism (Desanker par 6). These attempts usually failed because the economy could not support them. Conflicts increased in the 1970s when prices of African products decreased and debt increased. Also in the 1970s, the Africans also greatly suffered from disease. In this time period, a disease known as Ebola killed thousands of people. More recently, the number of Africans affected by Aids has greatly increased (Desanker par 7). Two thirds of the people who die from HIV/Aids are African people. Along with a poor economy and several diseases, Africa struggled, and still does today, with food and water. The people faced illness due to the lack of clean water available. Additionally, famines have occurred in 2010, in the West African region and in 2011, in the Horn of Africa (“Africa” par 2). For the African political aspects, colonial rule was so extensive that the Africans didn’t really know how to run governments effectively. Most African states turned to military dictatorships. In some cases, the military overthrew the government (Desanker par 5). Dictatorships and authoritarian governments were put into place to solve the lasting ethnic, religious, and tribal conflicts (“Africa” par 2).

The many different cultures and ethnicities of Africa led to conflicts over the boundaries drawn by the Europeans. The African culture was simply pushed away by the Europeans, who forced the Africans to follow Western beliefs. The Europeans neglected to respect the different tribes and their religious views. This is significant because civil wars and violence will last long after imperialism. For example, civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo erupted in 1998 due to ethnicity conflicts. It lasted for five years and ended in 2003 (Desanker par 7). Along with the Congo, Sudan, Angola, Chad and Somalia had many years of violence “armed conflict” and violence (“Africa” par 2). In Angola, civil war was caused by natural resource and ethnicity differences (Ziliotto par 6). This civil war resulted in over one million dead (Ziliotto par 10). As for Sudan, it was a civil war caused by lasting cultural problems from the 1800s. So far, about two million people have died from this internal war. However, charges of genocide are occurring now (“Civil Wars” in Africa par 5).

In Algeria, conflicts arose from the reinstatement of dominant Islam. After colonial rule, Algeria faced many political problems (“Algeria Cracks Down” par 7). In search of a way to prosper, some Algerians wanted to return to an Islamic state (“Algeria Cracks Down” par 8).  However, in 1992, the elections were revoked when the Islamic party won the election. Civil war erupted when the military took over (Catherwood and Horvitz par 1). During the civil war, tremendous acts of genocide were committed. Extreme Islamists tortured, raped and massacred many people. Like Sudan, trials went on for many years after the war (Catherwood and Horvitz par 2). The government of Algeria is trying to resolve their conflicts and prevent this situation from occurring again (Catherwood and Horvitz par 4). The Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said, “Reconciliation, in my view, must protect us from experiencing once again the two evil phenomena of terrorist violence and extremism, which brought us misfortune and destruction.”  

With European imperialism, diffusion of religions and the dismissal of African traditional beliefs occurred. The Africans were introduced to Christianity and Islam. These were two religions that grew in Africa quickly and replaced animism and other African cultures. The Europeans tried to convert as many people as they could. Occasionally, the Africans would mix the aspects that they liked of the Western religion with their traditional religion. This is important because it created completely new religions for the Africans (“Religion in Modern Africa par 2).  However, Islam and Christianity still spread greatly because the conflicts in Africa made the African people believe that their traditional religions weren’t working (“Christianity in Africa” par 3). Even though the religions are still spreading, Islam is spreading at a faster rate than Christianity. Islam is dominant in North and the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean range. This is because it was brought by the Europeans in early development (“Religion in Modern Africa par 3). On the other hand, Christianity is dominant in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Western coast, and in South Africa (“Religion in Modern Africa par 4). This rivalry between the two religions has and continues to bring violence. A threatened feeling has gone back and forth. (“Religion in Modern Africa par 5). This conflict is harmful to the African society. Many Muslims have parts in many aspects of the economy and transportation (“Islam in independent Africa” par 2). Additionally, several Muslims hold significant places in politics (“Islam in independent Africa” par 3). Non-Muslims have begun to worry about the recent growth of Muslim power and “religious radicalism” (“Islam in independent Africa” par 7). This goes for the Christians as well. Many Africans still follow Christian faith and believe that Christianity has the ability to resolve Africa’s conflicts (Phiri par 7). This is ironic because differences in religions and cultures have caused several internal African problems.

Due to tensions between tribes and favoritism by the Belgian colonists, violence and revolts have resulted in genocide in Rwanda. In Rwanda, the Hutu and Tutsi tribes have fought for many years. They’re quite similar, which makes historians question why these tribes have been rivals for so long. The Hutu and Tutsi share the same language and traditions (Straus par 2). However, they have slightly different views on agriculture and cattle. The Tutsi see the cattle as a symbol of wealth (“Tutsi” par 1). Other than that, the tribes share many of the same characteristics. Tensions arose when Belgians took control of the country. The Belgians favored the Tutsis, even though the Hutu were the majority. In the 1990s, eighty-five percent of Rwanda was Hutu (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 2). The Belgians characterized the Hutus and Tutsis by simple categories. These categories included intelligence and appearance (Destexhe par 8). Because of the Belgian favoritism, the Tutsi tribe had several advantages over the Hutus. The Tutsi people had a higher social status, which meant that they were leaders/rulers (“Tutsi” par 1). Additionally, most of the Rwandan schools taught Tutsi education. The Belgians attempted to justify the inequality by blaming the Hutu “passivity” (Destexhe par 9). By 1959, the Hutu tribe was well fed up with this imbalance. This discontent among the Hutu resulted in 300,000 Tutsi people to flee Rwanda. In 1961, the Tutsi leader was put into exile and a Hutu republic was created (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 2). In July 1962, Rwanda gained independence from the Europeans. After independence, the Hutu continued to revolt against the Tutsis. Many Tutsi were killed and many more continued to flee due to these revolts (Straus par 3). In 1973, a Hutu leader, Juvenal Habyarimana, became president of Rwanda (Straus par 4). Under Habyarimana, the Tutsis who fled to Uganda during the Hutu revolts were not allowed to return to Rwanda. These Tutsis formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which would play a major role against the Hutu (“Tutsi” par 2). Shortly after creation, the RPF attempted to regain power by attacking the Hutu government (Straus par 4). In August 1993, a transition government was formed, including the RPF (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 4). However, this was only temporary peace. On April 6, 1994, a plane containing Habyarimana and the president of Burundi, Ntaryamira, was shot down. This caused the Hutu extremists, government officials, and civilians to murder many Tutsis and any fellow Hutus who sided with the Tutsis (Straus par 5). In the next three months, 800,000 Rwandans were massacred. By July, the RPF controlled the government of Rwanda. Over 2 million Hutus fled Rwanda to Zaire and other countries (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 6).  To prevent more distress, a coalition government was formed with a Hutu, Pasteur Bizimungu as president and a Tutsi, Paul Kagame as vice president (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 7). 

As these acts of genocide and human rights violations occurred, the rest of the world basically turned a blind eye to Rwanda. In some cases the Europeans deliberately left acts of genocide happen. For example, France was allies with Habyarimana so they let some Hutus who committed genocide get away. Eventually, world organizations stepped in to take care of the situation. However, by the time aid was supplied, the genocide was already over with (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 8). Trials were held in 1995 for over a decade and a half to punish those who participated in this genocide. In 2008, three Rwandan officials who took part were convicted (“The Rwandan Genocide” par 10). In Rwanda and many other countries, the Africans struggled to maintain peace on their own and received very little aid from the rest of the world.

Overall, the international response to the African conflicts was unbelievably poor. Even though many African countries joined the United Nations after independence, the United Nations failed to provide significant help. For example, even though the U.N. did resolve problems in Congo, the organization didn’t even attempt to prevent republic governments from falling into anarchy (Nkrumah par 10). Overall, the United Nations interferences were either successes or failures (“United Nations” par 6). In Somalia, their interference was indeed a failure. In 1992-1993, the United Nations only caused additional problems in Somalia. The U.N. led by the United States attempted to use force to suppress “confrontations.”  The people of Somalia misinterpreted the aid as the United States simply trying to intervene in their business (“United Nations” par 9). Another failure included the Rwandan genocide. For some reason, the Security Council would not allow the United Nations intervene in the genocide. However, in late 1994, the United Nations created a special court of justice against the starters of this tremendous genocide (Straus par 7). Additionally, the United Nations did manage to send 5,500 soldiers, but could not end the genocide. The Africans felt “betrayed” because even the organization couldn’t stop the murders (“United Nations” par 10). Although there were many failures, some successes, such as in Namibia came from the United Nations interference in Africa. The United Nations helps economic, social and sustainable African development (“United Nations” par 11). Each African country has a development program that brings resources and more. (“United Nations” par 12). Overall, the general lack of international response has left the Africans to resolve their conflicts on their own.

Today, the African people are still in the process of addressing the economic, social, and political conflicts of the continent. In 1990, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed to maintain peace in Africa (“Organization of African Unity” par 7). A second goal of was to help solve economic situations. In 1997, the members of this organization created the African Economic Community to create “regional partnerships” (“Organization of African Unity” par 8).  The OAU also helped prevent human rights violations and end civil wars (“Organization of African Unity” par 9). Although the organization was beneficial, it could not help to its full potential due to financial issues. The result of this was the suggestion by Libya’s ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, to form a new group. So, in September 2001, the African Union (AU) was formed. The goal of this new organization was to support and spread the voice of the African people. The African Union has greatly benefited the Africans and has fought the problems of modern Africa. An example of this is the attempts by the AU to fight Islamic terrorism that is planted in Africa. Before the AU, the Organization of African Unity attempted to stop this terrorism. In 1999, the OAU created the Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism (“Terrorism in Africa” par 8). This counterterrorism is continued when the OAU developed into the African Union. However, the use of new technology, such as cellphones and Internet has allowed terrorism to grow not only in Africa, but around the world (“Terrorism in Africa” par 9).

The growth of terrorism and the continuation of Africa’s conflicts could be linked to the lack of beneficial leaders after Africa gained independence. One of the problems of the African leaders is that they are selfish. They have no desire to share political power. Two of these recent leaders would be a Sudan leader, Omar al-Bashir, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (Ayitley par 1). Only 20% of African leaders since 1960 have actually been successful (Ayitley par 3). In 2002, African children describe the leaders as unbeneficial for education and health (Ayitley par 4).  This is important because those children are the next generation after the selfish dictators. The children saw that they have to make changes to the society. The chair of the AU commission, Alpha Oumar Konare said, “Africa is suffering a crisis of leadership.” This is true because the African people need a leader who will reform the African society and lead the Africans to prosperity. The Africans must see the changes that are necessary. President Mogae said, “It is Africa’s own responsibility to achieve her full potential.”  The Africans need to see the accuracy in this quote. If the Africans can unite to solve their conflicts, Africa can prosper tremendously.

      The people of Africa must take matters into their own hands to achieve their goal of a stable unified state. Africa made progress when they gained independence from the Europeans. However, they were set back after this milestone due to the boundaries set by the Europeans that left a tension between the different ethnicities and religions. Civil wars and mass murders resulted from this lasting tension. With no worldwide aid, it was nearly impossible to unify Africa and make it strong and stable. Unfortunately, Africa is still struggling after numerous efforts to create stability. Africa’s struggle and conflicts are significant because of Africa was stable and prosperous, the rest of the world would also benefit, along with Africa and its people. 

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How to cite this essay (MLA)

Anonymous Student. "Post-Colonial African Conflict" Study Notes, LLC., 06 Sep. 2015. Web. 13 Jul. 2024. <>.