Although a war situation provides a condition in which peace has totally broken down, other conditions in which peace either hangs in the balance or under a serious threat should also engage everyone’s attention as the world marks the World Peace Day.
Hunger - and other situations that could induce it such as unemployment, disenchantment, socio-political injustices and economic deprivations – represent one major condition that could threaten peace anywhere and at any time. These situations are common denominator of the economies of many underdeveloped countries particularly in sub-Sahara Africa.
War in Iraq, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Middle East, and in any other part of the world stands condemned. But we would be saving ourselves the trouble of war if we could sit back and address the issues that bring war about squarely and honestly.
Veritable source of conflict to which attention has to be paid are nuclear proliferation, misery (and underdevelopment) in Africa, insufferable poverty, conventional arms transfer which fuels armed conflicts in developing conflicts and tendency by those in position of leadership to personalize power and turn it into an instrument of exclusion.
It is important to deal with matters that have a bearing on war, nuclear proliferation, landmines and weapons of mass destruction. But it is equally important, if not more important, to deal with issues that elicit the thought of weapons, violence, destruction and war.
Majority of people in sub-Sahara Africa live on less than an equivalent of a dollar a day. Meaning that as much as 76% of Africa’s population live below the poverty line.
The pity of it is that the leadership in most of these poor countries live and act in manners that are, at best against the interest of the people, and at worst, in manners that are inhuman and provocative.
Nigeria, for example, is a country where economic policies known to be capable of inflicting pain on the people are embarked upon without regard to the hues and cries of these people.
The attendant pauperization of the people leads many youths to resort to crime particularly armed robbery.
The increasing high cost of living, unemployment and socio-economic injustice pervading the land gave birth to ethnic militias who sometimes vent their angers on fellow citizens. The Niger-Delta provides a practical example of what can happen to a society with the kind of socio-economic injustice going on in Nigeria.
The Niger-Delta area of the country produces oil on which about 90 percent of Nigeria’s income depends. In the area, living for many is more or less a daily affair, in that violence could – and does - break out at anytime. Such violence that is usually a reaction to hardening economic hardship take various forms.
On highways and in urban areas, armed robbers make daily living a testy affair. While the horde of unemployed youths known as Area Boys’ harass other citizens in major cities, the economic hardship is forcing many otherwise virtuous ladies and girls into compromising their bodies thus thus increasing the risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases including HIV/AIDS.
The totality of current situation was captured by the drop in the quality – and life expctancy – of Nigerians as seen in the Human Development Index which announced recently that Nigeria fell by 8 points on a scale used to measure human development in one year! It was occupying 159th position in 2004, but fell to 157th posistion in 2005. Her citizen’s life expectancy also fell from 52 to 43 years!
What makes the issue of hunger topical this moment is the recent warning by the United Nations World Food Programme. The world body has warned last month that a sum of $187 million is urgently needed to bring food to 10 million people who face severe food shortage in southern Africa alone.
The situation is so serious that in the next six months as much as 10 million people are under severe threat. They are made up of four million people in Malawi, four million in Zimbabwe, one million in Zambia, 400,000 in Mozambique, 500,000 in Lesotho and 200,000 in Swaziland.
Just a few months ago, several lives were lost in land-locked sub-Sahara Africa to lack of food. Unfortunately, while the international community was showing concern and taking steps to mollify the situation, the authority in Niamey kept saying that the noise about famine in his country was being exaggerated. The attitude of the country’s president is typical.
In spite of hues and cries, authorities in Zimbabwe is hell-bent not only in impoverishing everybody but to make as many as possible homeless by taking the most basic of human possession – land – away from them.
For those whose houses have ben pulled down and those who suddenly lose ownership of their lands including those who lose their means of livelihood to boot, the only ‘peace’ they would cherish is the one that restores what they unjustly lost to them.
Or Niger and Sudan where nature seemed to conspire with an insensitive leadership to ‘feed’ people on starvation.
The restiveness in the Niger-Delta of Nigeria is heightened by the high unemployment and pollution of arable land which people could cultivate to earn a living. Just as socio-economic injustice is implicated in the excuses used by terrorists in any part of the world.
If we are not to, year in year out, lament over conflicts, terrorism and war situations in various parts of the world, we should pay greater attention to what breeds conflict and war. The Millennium Development Goals and participatory governance provide a good starting point.