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Crying fowl

In 1994, a simple disagreement in a marketplace in Ghana over the price of a guinea fowl turned ugly. The quarrel led to the violent death of one person, which provoked subsequent killings and then escalated into a cycle of revenge attacks. The dispute quickly grew to become what is today known as the Guinea Fowl War. By the time the Ghanaian military restored order, more than 400 villages had been burned and over 15 000 people are thought to have been killed.

West Africa is an immense region of great geographic and cultural diversity. Tragically, this part of the continent has long been identified with instability and violent conflict. Conflict over Resources and Terrorism: Two Facets of Insecurity, by the OECD’s Sahel and West Africa Club, looks at the drivers behind the myriad conflicts that have plagued, and continue to plague, this vast part of Africa. Interestingly, there is no factual evidence to support the idea that the scarcity of certain resources leads to violent conflict in this area. Food insecurity, migration, population growth or climate change do not play a role in boosting the number of conflicts in the region, though they do pose many other important challenges.

So where are the root causes of conflict in West Africa? The Guinea Fowl War is a good place to look. The roots of this war are grounded in a complex combination of long-standing tribal conflicts and territorial disputes, colonial intervention, the quest for more modern forms of governance and economic liberalisation. And indeed, it seems that most wars in this region are brought about by complicated combinations of factors, present-day and historical, and it is diffi cult to isolate the leading cause or trigger. Nevertheless, weakness in government policy and judicial administration appear to be an overarching risk factor. Promoting peace is an important regional challenge and vigilant governments, land reforms and policies to help create jobs can all make a positive contribution.

Conflict over Resources and Terrorism: Two Facets of Insecurity

See also www.oecd.org/governance

©OECD Observer No 296, Q3 2013 

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