Foreign Interests and Internal Conflicts in Developing Countries
Date: Saturday, May 29 @ 05:29:41 UTC
Topic: Africa

By Onochie A. Onuorah
May 29, 2010


The question: "Is there something generic one can say about the nature and root causes of internal conflict in developing countries, or are they entirely context-specific?" can be addressed properly when analyzed from a historical perspective. This approach will be employed extensively in this essay with the primary goal of unearthing the underlying commonalities in the root cause of salient internal conflicts in developing countries. The political, economic and social climate of many developing countries share many similarities such as: resource rich yet poor (1), cultural and material resources, racial or ethnic feuds, religious conflicts, undeveloped democratic institutions and lack of civil participation etc. As will be shown in this article, the internal conflict that many developing countries face can be attributed to a common cause and, as will be demonstrated, the root cause of this pervasive social turmoil is foreign interests.

Foreign interest represent powerful organizations that conceive their aims in these indigenous lands as being most efficiently and effectively achieved when the conditions that allow unhindered exploitation of resources has been intricately constructed. If the evolution of developing political entities is traced back to pre-colonial times it can be seen that these polities did not experience such heightened levels of internal conflict nor the multitudinous problems that come with adoption of nation-statehood. Back then most of today's developing countries with multiple ethnic groups who were forced into the contraption of nation-statehood were largely fragmented into cohesive autonomous societies. The political and economic amalgamation of these autonomous societies by colonialists resulted inevitably to conflicts of interests as groups struggle for power to prioritize their own agenda (2). This struggle in turn accentuates the identity crisis that is defined by language, race, ethnicity, culture and religion. Local power elites whose interests are aligned with colonial interests are usually empowered and backed by external forces. By giving the externally selected incumbent leader political power and aid to aggressively repress any form of local resistance to foreign exploits; this strategy enables foreign interest to carry out exploitative activities with impunity as is the case with the DR Congo. The case studies for this essay will be the DR Congo and Sudan. Both cases will be looked at separately and their internal conflicts will be placed in a historical context as this will give insight on the continuity of what was initially orchestrated in pre-colonial times.

Arabism vs. Africanism in the Sudan: Although control and appropriation of oil revenue is a contributing factor to the long standing rivalry between north and south Sudan, the issue of resource control is not the root cause of the extant antagonism that has cost millions of lives and displacement of millions of southerners who fled to refugee camps upon the invasion of janjaweed. The root cause however is the problem of foreign imposition of Arab identity and the concomitant re-definition of indigenous African identity. The enduring resistance of the southern ethnicities against the incursion of Islamic imperialism under the banner of sharia has been sustained for centuries and this struggle has currently spilled over from a cultural dimension to the dimension of resource control. The Sudan has had contact with the Middle East for thousands of years through Egypt. The wealthy Arabs integrated themselves as they traded ivory, gold and other commodities with the indigenous African groups. The Islamic civilization rose in the seventh century and the Sudan was invaded aggressively by the Arab Muslim empire who, by the nineteenth century, had gain limited control of over the country after a peace accord had been brokered with the northern groups. It was after the first invasion in the seventh century that Arabs began slave raids; this commenced the enslavement of indigenous Africans who were seen as heathens with an inferior culture. The Arabs protected their settlements, trades and free migration of Arabs while maintaining contact with the Middle East. With time, the Arab traders worked to integrate their blood line into the heritage of the local Sudanese aristocracy who found the wealth, privilege and religion of the Arabs appealing and also as a potential means to boost their status. Thus, in time, the Sudanese royalty and ruling class became heavily mixed with Arab settlers through marriage. The Arabs then schemed their way to leadership through maternal linage before the line of inheritance switched to patriarchy system. Northern groups who claim to be of Arabian descent believed that they are culturally and racially Arabs despite their Negroid features. They associate the Negroid race with inferiority and slavery (3). This notion is based on ignorance because the so called Negro are the founders of civilization, and all religions have their origins in Africa. In fact, Sudan is the cultural and ethnic source of the great ancient Egyptian civilization. Sudan already attained high culture and science thousands of years before the birth of Mohammad or the Islamic renaissance. There are even more pyramids in the Sudan than there is in Egypt (Kemet) and these pyramids were build at a time when the socio-cultural group called Arabs were a bunch of savage warring pagan tribes (9).

The African can pass into the supposedly free and superior Arab Islamic identity by converting to Islam, learning Arabic, marrying an Arab and assimilating Arabian culture. Nonetheless, this does not guarantee complete acceptance into the Arab "master race" due to colorism which assumes that the darker ones skin is the more they are considered of slave origin. Over the years this self-perception and a corresponding national symbolism would intensify. Arab settlements were concentrated in the north which unlike the south had more favorable Middle-Eastern-like environmental conditions; besides, not only did southern warriors put up fierce resistance against Arab settlement, the Arabs did not want to lose the profits and sex slaves derived through the slave trade(which will be the case if they Islamize the south). In the 1820's the Sudan was invaded again by Turkish and Egyptian forces who continued the enslavement and oppression of southerners but their authority was seen as illegitimate by both northern and southern Sudanese. The mutual feeling of contempt that both north and south had toward the invading Egyptian and Turkish forces compelled these rival sects to work together toward the removal of the foreign intruders. However, the south continued to be oppressed and its people enslaved after a successful opposition; the power to oppress changed hands and returned to the Arabized north under the Mahdist government. In 1899, the Sudan saw yet another invasion by the British in strong alliance with Egypt. These invading anglo-egyptian allied forces abrogated northern slave raids in the south and partially integrated both regions which were under different administrative programs (4).

The south, prevented from interacting with the north, was westernized and introduced to Christianity which also existed along side traditional African ways of life. Relative to the Arab north, the Negro south remained undeveloped due to blatant neglect and exclusion by the Anglo-Egyptian colonials. This administrative strategy implemented by the British led Anglo-Egyptian forces further broadened the rift between north and south thus setting the stage for more intense internal conflicts in the future as the north, after being handed power at independence, ruthlessly sort to annihilate southern culture through Arabization and Islamatization. There are indeed perplexing historical parallels between Sudan and Nigeria and it's equally interesting to note that many ethnic groups in Nigeria claim to have come from Sudan. I digress.

1955 saw the dawn of a never ending war waged by the north against the south with the vision of totally assimilating the spirit and body of southerners into northern Arab hegemony which the Sudan's people liberation army(SPLA) in the south has resisted. Like most African countries after independence, The Sudanese bureaucrats inherited amputee states with an undeveloped legislative and parliamentary system; the efficaciousness of such amputee states comes to play when an economy of extraction is to be maintained as was the intent of the colonialists. Further, independent Sudan, like other African countries at independence, had to deal with the issue of integrating different ethnic groups under one state. Foreign political advisers encouraged the use of authoritarian regimes to address the problem of nation-statehood all to the detriment of democratic institutional development and participation (5). But the pursuit of assimilation policies by the Sudanese military regime that took power in 1958 was motivated more by religious and cultural chauvinism than by the socio-economic benefits of nation-statehood. This war has continued(with brief intermittent periods of respite) since 1955 through General Abboud's (1958) and Nimeiri's leadership in 1969 to the present radical Islamic military regime under the leadership of Al-bashir who has amplified the role of religion as a divisive factor in the conflict.

The genocidal activities of the state sponsored Islamic fundamentalist jajaweed rebel group has forced the SPLA, a group once committed to unity, to call for secession and there seems to be support coming from surrounding regions and non-Arab northerners. The evolution of this conflict shows how the war between both parties(who share many African attributes but radically different perceptions of self) has helped to simultaneously mold inter-ethnic interactions within both regions in ways that allow the formation of viable entities (3). Sudan is the largest country in Africa with a large oil reserve but, like most resource rich developing countries, the majority is poverty stricken. The Sudanese government at Khartoum lacks resources and also legitimacy in the neglected and undeveloped south and this has left much of the country in anarchy. The international community and global press have given an ineffective lukewarm response to this crisis that involves extensive human rights violation and atrocities. Their indifference does not betray a racist historical paradigm of the relation between the Africans and non-Africans, where little value is placed on the well being of the Africans. Foreign interests, whom are opportunists by nature, have found ways to benefit from the internal conflict in the Sudan.

This is exemplified by the insidious activities of the Chinese in Sudan. The NGO human rights first claims (with sufficient evidence) that 90% of the light weapons used in the conflict were bought from the Chinese who receives oil in exchange. The Chinese also provides the Sudanese army with technical support. The infrastructures that the Chinese are developing are designed to facilitate the extraction and transportation of oil out of the country which is to their economic benefit. Most of the revenue derived from the oil trade with china goes to the Sudanese army who use it to sustain their jihad. The increase in oil sale from 1999-2005 have increased the purchase of weaponry by 700 fold. The international criminal courts have made an indictment against Al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes which is a positive step, however, since it took close to 20 years of atrocities to get a token response from the ICC, it is doubtful that this indictment will be acted upon any time soon, if at all. This historical analysis of the Sudan shows that a sequential intrusion of foreign interest who impose their values, set normative orders and re-define indigenous identity (thereby violating a peoples right to self-determination) are the root cause of the internal conflict in the Sudan.

Resource exploitation by Foreign intersts in the DR Congo:

The beginning of the political and socio-economic turmoil in the DR Congo can be traced back to the Berlin conference in 1885 where six European nations territorialized the African continent by carving it up amongst themselves as they partook in a scramble for the resources of the rich African continent. All this was done in the absence of any representation of the African natives. King Leopold II of Belgium acquired the Congo territory at the Belgium conference but he had begun colonial activity in the Congo over a decade earlier. Through bogus treatise with the natives, he acquired large expanse of land. He turn the Congo into a corporate state with no constitution of which he was the sole share holder, something akin to a private company, and he named it "Congo free state." In reality the "Congo free state" was anything but free and, in fact, King Leopold's regime was one of the most brutal regimes ever known to man. The natives were forced to build infrastructure like rail roads to maximize profit and facilitate the siphoning of resources (also extracted with forced labour).

His (Leopold) military would lay siege on the local communities, holding women and children hostage while the men where sent into the interior of the forests to tap rubber. Natives were forbidden to sell items (which had fixed price set by the government) to anyone outside the state. Detractors and those who failed to meet the daily quota of rubber collection were either killed or had their hands severed. At the end of a typical days work, baskets full of thousands of limbs were recovered. Leopold's exploits in the Congo turned in huge profits and made him very wealthy and by the end of his 25 years of tyranny it is estimated the death toll suffered by the natives could easily surpass 15 million. That's more than twice the number of deaths the Jews claim to have suffered during the Nazi regime in Germany.

The native population suffered genocidal wars, starvation, diseases and low birth rate. Responding to the British inquiry into allegations of Leopold's violation of the Berlin agreement, Sir Rogers Casement exposed bone chilling eye witness reports of the crimes been committed in the Congo which was eventually confirmed in 1905. In 1908 Leopold was forced to relinquish authority in the Congo which was then annexed to Belgium rather than being returned backed to the natives thus violating their rights to self-determination again (6).

The misery and strife imposed on the native Africans by the Belgian monarchy was indirectly supported by powerful international industrial capitalists who saw an opportunity in the rubber exploits in the "Congo free state." This opportunity was developed by building robust industries (i.e. Firestone Tires) that use rubber as the primary raw material. Having survived the tribulations of the Leopold's colonial regime(1885-1908), the Congolese transited into the era of Belgian paternalism(1908-1960) where they were denied political rights indefinitely. The Belgian colonials saw Africans as "Big children" whose moral, material and spiritual needs must be met through domination. These paternalistic colonial policies were taken on by parastatal organizations such as the Catholic Church that took on the responsibility of re-defining native spirituality while a partially autonomous and public corporation addressed the social welfare of the natives.

Almost every area of the natives' human activity was extensively regulated and control by the Belgian authority through compulsion. In the towns, mobility was restricted due to curfew, there was heavy police presence and surveillance, and natives were told what to buy and what to farm and at what price to sell. Natives were forced to abandon the cultivation of the local crops; their forced labour became organized into routine for the production of taxable cash crops that satisfy European demand. The decline in nutritious local produced resulted in the degradation of the well-being of the indigenes. Though the colonial chatter of 1912 abolished slave labour in some industrial sector i.e. rubber extraction, forced labour continued in other sectors(i.e. mining) well into the 1930's. In an attempt to increase productivity by introducing modern farming practices and conserving soil fertility, the colonials uprooted native farmers from their communities and relocated them to farm reservation thereby disrupting native culture and relations to production. By dubious means, the colonial administration appointed fraudulent chiefs who served as middle men mediating links between Africans and the authority. A system of native tribunals was also introduced in the 1920s. The Congo was highly sectored with chiefdoms governed by salaried chiefs, empowered with the authority to use legal force and rule their subjects within the confines of what is deemed appropriate and non-disruptive to the colonial state. The natives were excluded from political participation and the democratic institutions that would enable political education and experience were not introduced to the masses thus setting the stage for political instability after independence.

After World War II, there was an increased vocalization of anti-colonial sentiments in both rural and urban areas as profound economic and political changes were starting to take place in the international and local scene. Migration to town increased, literacy rates increased, demands for reforms increased, labour disputes increased along side industrial strikes. By 1958, the administration, despite a continued ban on native political party organizations, made some reforms that accorded Africans some measure of political freedom but decades of unfamiliarity with the political process proved to be a disservice to the natives' ability to mobilize effectively. Urbanization and identity cards contributed to growing ethnic identity awareness; migrants to township formed ethnic based associations. This reinforcement of ethnic lines would eventually metamorphose into inter-ethnic conflicts. After independence in 1960, Patrice Lumumba became the first democratically elected prime minister of DR Congo. His government was faced with the problem of legitimacy, a rise in ethno-nationalism and an insufficient pool of civil servants. He inherited a nation-state with a constitution that was the same as colonial Belgium-Congo; the president had the status of a paternalistic figurehead due to the duality of executive powers. This happened during the cold war period and Lumumba, being a noble socialist leader with anti-colonial policies, was considered a threat to the foreign interests of Belgians and the US who worked collaboratively to remove him from office. The Belgians conspired the mutiny of the Congolese army, redeployed troops from Brussels and where supporting the secession of Katanga (a predominantly European settlement). Under colonial influence, President Kasavubu, who had conflicts of interest and identity with his Prime Minister Lumumba, dismissed Lumumba and several other executives (7).

On January 1961 the plot to remove Lumumba from office was completed as he was kidnapped and assassinated on his way to Stanleyville. Mobutus' second republic (1965-1997) can be described as a personalistic regime with an incoherent bureaucratic apparatus. His pro-western linings and extremely liberal market policies attracted external backers who put him in power and maintained a network of extensive support in loans, aids, training and equipments as they seek rent to exploit the vast mineral wealth of the land. He re-established the colonial political structure of paternalism and privatized the countries resources and security apparatus; ruthlessly repressing ethnic rivalry and secessionist factions. Promotion to high ranking offices was based on favoritism implemented through patron-client exchange. The funds he looted from state treasury were used extravagantly and deposited in international banks. Given that the ruling class set normative standards that the commoner emulates, such unbridled corruption at the commanding heights of the state automatically spreads to lower levels of the bureaucracy and this subverts the predictability of state action. Mobutu's presidential monarchy turned the government into a predatory state with society as its prey (8). Social services and infrastructure were neglected and investment allocations were mismanaged; this drove the masses further into poverty. After the cold war in 1990, foreign aid subsided and internal and external pressure mounted for the institutionalization of multi-party politics and democracy. In 1997, Mobutu was forcefully removed by a rebel group led by Laurent Kabila's and from 1998-2005 the DR Congo will be the ground zero on which the African world war will take place. Over six million Congolese have died thus far. Nine African countries fought against each other over the control of land and resources which are in demand by foreign interest and this is a violation of the sovereignty of the country. The war has been funded and supported by various international corporations and governments who have hidden agendas that are tied to the outcome of this conflict or its sustenance thereof.


What we see today in DR Congo and Sudan (and other African countries) is the continuations of colonial styled leadership where the state prohibits any form of political involvement or organization by the society and a heavily funded military represses any group opposed to state policies and its appropriation of resources for purposes other than human development. The extravagance and mismanagement of Mobutu's regime plunged the DR Congo into debt hence giving creditor government and organizations leverage over internal affairs; internal politics becomes subordinate to external politics. Western imperialism justifies its violation of the rights to self-determination of its colonial subjects by claiming that its modern values are "universal" and progressive; however, such argument is sophistic since truly universal values cannot be monopolized by one group. By construct, the very foundations of the superstructures that creates the state apparatus in the Congo and Sudan, as established by the foreign interest, had all the corrupt ingredients to guarantee an indefinitely sustainable economy of extraction in a politically unviable entity. The state was setup to fail from the start. The current identity crisis stems from the historical collaborative activities of the colonial administration, the corporations and religious institutions who forcefully integrated several ethnic groups, destroyed their traditional institutions and replaced them with foreign values. This has made it difficult for the people to truly integrate and forge ahead.


1) Ross, Michael. 1999. "The political economy of the resource curse." World politics 51(2): 297-323.

2) Martinussen, John. 1999. Society, State and Market: A Guide to Competing Theories of Development, London & New York, Zed Books Limited: 182-202.

3) Deng, Francis. 1995. "War of Visions". Brookings Institution Press: 2-14

4) Teny-dhurgon, Riek. 1995. "South Sudan: A history of Political Domination - a case study of Self-determination." University of Pennsylvania - African Studies Centre.

5) Young, Carwford. 2004. "The End of the Post-Colonial State in Africa? Reflections on Changing African Political Dynamics." African Affairs 103: 23-49.

6) The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2007, Columbia University Press.

7) The library of congress.

8) Evans, Peter. 1992. "The state as problem and solution: Predation, embedded autonomy and structural change." In the politics of economic Adjustment. Eds., Stephan Haggard and Robert Kaufman (chap.3): 139-181.

9) The African Origin Of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop.

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