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The Contemporary Shadow of the Scramble for Africa

Courtesy of James Cridland/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was published by VoxEU.org on 1 March 2017.

The Scramble for Africa has contributed to economic, social, and political underdevelopment by spurring ethnic-tainted civil conflict and discrimination and by shaping the ethnic composition, size, shape and landlocked status of the newly independent states. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU eBook, summarises the key findings of studies that use high-resolution geo-referenced data and econometric methods to estimate the long-lasting impact of the various aspects of the Scramble for Africa.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared as a chapter in the Vox eBook, The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, Volume 2, available to download here.

When economists debate the long-lasting legacies of colonisation, the discussion usually revolves around the establishment of those ‘extractive’ colonial institutions that outlasted independence (e.g. Acemoglu et al. 2001), the underinvestment in infrastructure (e.g. Jedwab and Moradi 2016), the identity of colonial power (e.g. La Porta et al. 2008) and the coloniser’s influence on early human capital (Easterly and Levine 2016).1 Following the influential work of Nunn (2008), recent works have explored the deleterious long-lasting consequences of Africa’s slave trades (see Nunn 2016, for an overview). Yet, between the slave-trade period (1400-1800) and the arrival of the colonisers at the end of the 19th century, the Scramble for Africa stands out as a watershed event in the continent’s history. The partitioning of Africa by Europeans starts, roughly, in the 1860s and is completed by the early 1900s. The colonial powers signed hundreds of treaties, which involved drawing on maps the boundaries of colonies, protectorates, and ‘free-trade’ areas of a largely unexplored and mysterious continent (see Wesseling 1996 for a thorough discussion).2 In this context it is perhaps not surprising that many influential scholars of the African historiography (e.g. Asiwaju 1985, Wesseling 1996, Herbst 2000) and a plethora of case studies suggest that the most consequential aspect of European involvement in Africa was not colonisation per se, but the erratic border designation that took place in European capitals in the late 19th century.

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Living Off the Land: Food and the Logic of Violence in Civil War

Courtesy of 마음 심/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 6 February 2017.

Does food security increase the frequency of civilian killings in some developing countries? Or can it make such atrocities less likely? The answer to these questions depends on how troops and civilians view the prospects of long-term cooperation, and the strategies they employ.

Current theories on violence during civil war frequently associate it with previous enmities and discriminate violence. Yet, even within countries that are experiencing civil war, violence varies over space and time. Some villages might suffer many civilian killings by armed troops while others do not. These villages might go through years of relative peace followed by years of intense violence. New research shows that, in the developing world, food availability and farmland density can help explain violence against civilians.

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A Plan for Winding Down the Syrian Civil War: Surge, Freeze and Enforce

WarThis article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 30 September 2016.

Five years of horrendous conflict in Syria has given birth to a menacing array of threatening and destabilizing repercussions. From the rapid proliferation of terrorist groups, to mass civilian displacement and an international refugee crisis, not to mention the disintegration of a major nation state at the heart of the Middle East, the consequences of the conflict’s apparent intractability are clear for all to see.

Until now, the United States has adopted an inconsistent and largely half-hearted approach to the crisis. Despite publicly proclaiming that President Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy in July 2011, the Obama administration has not once determinedly sought to push that political statement towards being a reality. Despite near-daily war crimes for over 1,800 days in a row, the United States has done little to prevent their continuation. Diplomatic statements of concern and non-binding and open-ended initiatives for dialogue based on non-existent trust have all fallen far short of what is necessary to at least slow the rate of killing and destruction.

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De-escalating South Sudan’s New Flare-up

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South Sudan Civil War, courtesy Surian Soosay/Flickr

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 12 July 2016.

Violent clashes in the capital of South Sudan have soured the country’s fifth anniversary of independence. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians were killed in the four days after 7 July, including two Chinese peacekeepers. The confrontation threatens to destroy the fragile progress made toward implementing a 2015 peace agreement to end a two-year civil war. The deal had allowed some opposition soldiers back into the capital, Juba, and the clashes have been between them and units of the national army and presidential guard. The UN is protecting tens of thousands of civilians in its compounds around the city, one of which has been repeatedly hit.

In this Q&A, senior analyst for South Sudan, Casie Copeland, explains what is behind the fighting in Juba and what can help prevent the conflict spiralling out of control.

What triggered this recent spate of violence, and who is responsible?

The return to conflict was a growing danger, as Crisis Group noted in its 1 July statement on Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan. In the nine months that the ceasefire has been observed, forces have simply paused hostilities while remaining in close proximity: there has been no joint security oversight or move toward unification or demobilisation. This would have been an untenable status quo even if there had been political progress, which has not materialised.

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To Guarantee Peace in South Sudan, Truth and Reconciliation is the Way Forward

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Courtesy of Surian Soosay/flickr

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review (HIR) on 5 July 2016.

South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, and one of its most troubled. Rich in oil reserves and with vast fertile lands it could—if peace is assured—feed itself and much of Africa. Instead, it has been racked by internal violence. Since its independence from northern Sudan in 2011, a devastating civil war has left tens of thousands dead and up to two million displaced.

There is little doubt both government and rebel forces were guilty of atrocities during that conflict, many of them ethnic crimes. It is because of the nature of these crimes that the international community must be careful about mechanisms for ensuring peace.

History teaches us that the birth pangs of new nations can be extremely painful, and that the likelihood of violent struggle over divisions of race can be high. Many newly independent nations have subsequently fallen into internal strife. It took the United States 200 years to reduce discrimination in the law, and the country descended into a civil war in the process. Less than a hundred years ago, southern Ireland gained independence from the United Kingdom after an internal armed conflict surrounding differences of religion and a desire for self-government.

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