Violence and Conflict Theories & Obstacles to Peace in Africa’s Great Lakes Region

AFRICA, 2 Jan 2012

Dr. Pierre Celestin Bakunda – TRANSCEND Media Service

Social classes and class conflict in the light of recent sociological theory

Parson Talscott analyses Marx’s theory in terms of social classes and class conflict in the light of sociological theory. His analysis brings about the state of the weaker and the powerful classes showing that Marxian ideas have had an important place, forming a point of departure for the formulation of many of the fundamentals of theory of social institutions.

How the point of view of Persons Talscott contributes to understand the theory of social stratification in our modern society without rejecting Marx’s theory?  Parsons shows the importance of Marx’s theory on social class in terms of the lack of deep analysis and states: ”The opposing ideologies of business and labour groups in the modern industrial society was provided by Marx as a beginning of analysis but did not go far.” One of Parson’s functions is to stabilize the social systems due to the systems of stratification. Actually, conflict in a social working environment is aroused by the lack of communication between different strata that compose the whole community. What is essential to handle harmony within any hierarchical group is to meet regularly in order to assess the relationship amongst individuals i.e. social scales normally have to state if their life conditions are as good as they wish. In case a problem is identified, the best way is to find a solution through debate, which might be a compromise for everyone and fixe it once for good.

The causes of conflicts according to Parsons Talscott are defined as follows:

*          Inherently competitive aspect of our individualistic occupational system;

*          The way an organization copes with discipline by the authority;

*          The resistance between authority and workforce;

*          The exploitation of the weaker by the powerful;

*          The shock between the labour market and the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.

The conflict parties are, indeed, the Upper classes and the Lower classes or in other words ”the haves and the have-nots.” According to the author, the Marxian view of the class structure has in broad way been vindicated. The way conflicts are carried out is based on social stratification and can facilitate an open conflict when there is no dialogue. A cumulative separation of classes due to the role of the integration between occupation and kinship. For Parsons Talscott there is no sharp and fundamental sociological destruction between capitalist societies and all non-capitalist industrial societies. To the modern sociologist the rigid evolutionary scheme of Marxian thought appears as a trait jacket rather than a genuine source of illumination of the immensely variant facts of institutional life.

As an example we may analyse the strata in any industrial factory, which has a number of workforce, professionals to fix the machines and the upper class that includes Executive Manager, administration and engineers. The factory has its own culture and a series of implicit rules. The lower class composed with workforce implements the instructions given by engineers through the chief in charge of the section. The technicians / professionals depend on the engineers. If the machines are kaput, the workforce will not get their wages since they are paid according to their hour production. However, if the professionals fix the machines all workforces will accomplish their tasks and earn money. Assuming there is a trade union to be put into place, the technicians will be in good position to be elected by workforce because they fix their machines. In terms of stratification those groups will get along with each other and constitute a solid strata whereas the upper class will strengthen their authority to control / exploit the lower class.

In this respect, Persons states p17: “Thus class conflict and its structural bases are seen in a somewhat different perspective. Conflict does not have the same order of inevitability, but is led back to the interrelations of a series of more particular factors, the combinations of which may vary. Exactly how serious the element of conflict is becomes a matter of empirical investigation. Similarly, the Marxian utopianism about the classlessness of communist society is brought into serious question. There is a sense in which the Marxian view of the inevitability of class conflict is the obverse of the utopian factor in Marxian thought.“Indeed Marxian theory influenced other rhetoricians such as Vilfredo Pareto, Emile Durkheim, and Marx Weber but they did not really fall into his philosophy as such. ”Each pushed on to a further development in a distinctive direction which in spite of the diversity of their backgrounds contains a striking common element, see Talk Parsons, The Structure of Social Scion.

Furthermore, as taken under the angle of social stratification in terms of Modern Sociological Theory, it is noted that: ”On the basis of modern sociological approach, it may perhaps be said that Marx looked at the structure of capitalistic enterprise and generalized a social system from it, including the class structure and, to him, the inevitable conflicts involved in it. Conversely, the concept of the generalized social system is the basis of modern sociological thinking. ”Analysed in this framework, both capitalistic enterprise and social stratification are seen in the context of their role in such a social system. The organization of production and social stratification are, of course, both variable in these terms, though also functionally related to each other. For the functional basis of the phenomena of stratification, it is necessary to analyse the problem of integrating and ordering social relationships within a social system. Some set of norms governing relations of superiority and inferiority is an inherent need of every stable social system. There will be immense variation, but this is a constant point of reference. Such a patterning or ordering is the stratification system of the society.”

Now, I may say that in capitalistic enterprises there exist such stratifications that the Upper Classes neglect the Lower Classes, which are exploited. The main argumentation is that the owner of enterprise has invested and he aims at profits as the employees are to execute the tasks given by their superiors no matter what the extent of the exploitation. In this respect, the Trade Union were put into place to protect employees who claimed to be exploited and even could be dismissed without any reason and no compensation. To facilitate a dialogue between Upper Classes and Lower Classes is very crucial to avoid long lasting conflicts, which can lead to strike and cause lost in terms of production. Studies made by Michel Crozier demonstrated that when there is no exchange amongst all classes i.e. Upper, Middle and Lower classes, clashes are inevitable. If there should be a common encounter point, which would put together all actors to engage constructive debates so that conflicts could be solved in peaceful way. This system is called by Michel Crozier: ”the Concrete System of Action”; it helps find solutions to problems that could create conflict and even paralyse the production.

If we analyse the stratification from micro to macro point of view, we can find that any country built on social scales with social gaps is subject to conflict even to revolutions, which can be a handicap to social, political and economic development. In African Great Lakes, the rule of “divide and rule” imposed by colonials created such differences amongst individuals that to educate them to handle their own concern in peace and harmony could not be easy, rather social conflicts destroyed the social unity. The theory of stratification is fundamental to handle the reality in social life; it  uses the sociological paradigms inherited from Marx and can contribute to problem- solving because one should understand first the principle of inequalities due to selfishness. The seed of hate that was planted by colonials in Africa in general is the cause of its underdevelopment and constitutes the real obstacle to unity, hence to peace.

Obstacles to Peace in Africa Great Lakes Region

Apart from Uganda, a former British colony, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo are former Belgian colonies, from 1800c up to 1960s. Before the colonial era, there was no chaos as it was during the colonial era and it is today. A huge number of the populations have been slaughtered since the era of independences in 1960s up to now. Poverty has been rampant as the region has huge natural resources, which would be beneficial to everyone if they were well managed by nationals having good objectives.

Wars have been carried out by people under foreign geo-politicians who want to own the DR Congo mineral resources no matter what hell local people will endure. So, the whole region is destabilized due to individualistic interests, as they should be the real actors of their region development rather than being killed or simply persecuted.

Stabilizing Rwanda for a Confederation of the African Great Lakes Region

Rwanda was conquered by the Germans in 1898; they were replaced by the Belgians from 1916 to 1962. The Catholic Missionaries arrived in Rwanda in 1900 and worked hand in hand with colonials with the principle of “divide and rule.” Before and during the colonial era, Rwanda was a kingdom where the Monarch and the Queen Mother were at the center of power. They were advised by the elites of secret called “Abiru” that regulated daily life at the Royal Court. In 1959 after the refusal of power sharing by Tutsis, Hutus made a social revolution to implement democracy but since independence July 1, 1962, up to 1967 Tutsi rebels tried to destabilize the new regime. They stopped the attacks and resumed them on October 1, 1990. In fact, being a refugee is not an easy task but by attacking Rwanda both sides reached an agreement, which was not implemented since the killing of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents as well as their delegates put the region in a gloomy situation.

Background of the issue

On the 6th April 1994, Rwandan and Burundian Presidents as well as their delegations were killed while their plane was landing at Kigali airport. This incident resulted in a backlash of mass killings of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. These massacres were rapidly qualified as the 20th century genocide. Since then retaliation and counter reprisal were carried out by both Hutu and Tutsi. Peace in Rwanda was replaced by war, which meant that if absence of war equates to peace, the former Belgian colonies i.e. RD Congo, Burundi and Rwanda are the area where genocides were carried out according to the UN Mapping Report of October 2010. There, people struggle for their daily life in total fear of being killed or persecuted due to internal and external insecurity; everyone wishes to feel free and the key word is democracy, freedom of speech and Rwandan inter-dialogue to resolve their long lasting conflict. By doing so, a window of peace would ignite the hope of nonviolence to spread confidence around the whole region with an aim to a shifting from poverty to economic growth from which human being would be more responsible for his destiny. However, if the local people do not identify the evil that is hidden behind all these sad events, the whole region will be subject to mistreatments forever.

Is there any hidden hand  behind this, if yes who?

            One can ask oneself how can the minority rule the majority if the regime is not under a dictatorship system? After the social revolution of 1959, a democratic regime was created and majority Hutu, 85%, got power against Tutsi 14%, whose elite preferred to refuse power-sharing and rather a few people went to the neighbouring countries such as Burundi, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Those refugees made alliances and strategies within the countries where they were by integrating socially through marriages and business. This happened especially in Uganda where the alliances between refugees and president Museveni were to help him get on power and in return, he would render to his counterparts the same service permitting them to rule Rwanda.  The president of Uganda influenced Western countries to benefit from their support by arguing that Uganda was full of Rwandan refugees and they needed to go back home. Even though all means were put forward to solve the conflict, those geo-politicians considered the region as having potential natural resources, which could be stolen by force using the armed minority. The target was the former Zaire especially the Eastern area bordering Rwanda. One can state without any fear that French influence in Rwanda had to be tackled by the Anglo-Saxon world and politically the French Right and left wings cohabitation could not facilitate things, their presence in Rwanda was as seen as a way to control the area. Belgians also were losing their influence in their former colonies, which was seen as a French provocation. That is why the US and Great Britain together with the Ugandan government were involved in helping the Rwandan refugees to engage in a war against Rwanda and to defeat the French influence. All parties against France had concluded implicit agreements to own the control of the region by destabilizing Rwanda first and then by chasing Mobutu away in order to appoint a person who will be collaborative. The latter would let them control the huge natural resources of the DR Congo.

Why destroying a peaceful country and installing a new regime?

            It was not easy to tackle Mobutu away, a former allied/supporter of US without destroying his own ally and neighbouring country, Rwanda. By doing so US and Great Britain took Rwanda as a military base using the minority to engage in a war, which brought about the 1994 genocide. Such a proxy war caused desolation amongst the Rwandan population and the Congolese population, an estimated number of more than 6.000.000 were slaughtered. After Mobutu was chased away by the new Rwandan army, Joseh D. Kabila was imposed as the new president of the DR Congo but he was killed in an ambush well prepared by a hidden hand. One can wonder why and how this quick change in the region with two presidents assassination both Burundians, the president of Rwanda, the exile of Mobutu to Morocco and the killings of both Kabila and Savimbi in Angola. There might be unidentified reasons, which drive the Western countries to plan horrible atrocities in African. However, if Africa is in this pity situation, its sons and daughters contribute to destroying its future. The enemies of Africa are Africans themselves, who do not want to change their mind and plan for the good future of their inhabitants by creating awareness to boost new generations in dreaming of stable local economies.

How this occurred?

            As said above, the strategic alliances amongst foreign stakeholders and Rwanda nowadays, are the trigger factors of the destabilization of the African Great Lakes Region. The strategy consisting of using minorities who say yes to neo-colonialists has affected the social behaviour of the population in sense that those minorities use guns to kill no matter who you are. It is a win-win game which shows that African leaders still are immature and do not know how to behave in order to protect their own people. The axis of the evil in African Great lakes Region is known as the KKK axis, Kampala, Kigali and Kinshasa where imperialists act to destabilize the whole area using the local leaders who cannot say no to Western countries.

When this Happened?

When  president of Uganda came to power in 1986 by guerrilla, he was helped by the Rwandan refugees  who wanted him to cooperate in doing the same gesture to let them retake power lost during the election of 28 January 1961. When this project was successful, the president of Uganda gave passport to the Rwandan refugees, to be considered as Ugandans by international organizations where they were appointed to represent Uganda. Furthermore, other countries dared to use Rwandan refugees in their highly ranking administration even in the army. The Rwandan government did not know that Uganda would betray them as they had played a role in assisting their president when he was fighting the legitimate Ugandan government. Then in 1990, both Ugandan army and Rwandan refugees invaded Rwanda. “How can a political refugee become a soldier in a country where he sought asylum, become a highly ranking commander and hold a national passport to represent internationally the same country or attend overseas studies?” I think the Rwandan government failed to follow-up their people outside of Rwanda even invite them for talks so that they could reintegrate their country peacefully.

Where was this planned?

The war imposed to Rwanda by rebels from Uganda was planned in Uganda. However, all countries hosting the Rwandan refugees were aware of such an act since it was organized under the international umbrella. In October 1, 1990, when rebels launched the attack from Uganda, a period of negotiation took place and reached the Arusha Agreement of August 1993. This agreement was sabotaged by another plan, which was the act of the shooting down of the aircraft carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents as well as their delegations. International Community were involved in the matter since they could not manage the aftermaths of the killing of the Rwandan president, rather UN troops in Kigali preferred to leave people on their own instead of assisting them as they were under threat.

The Challenge

Rwanda continues to violate human rights, human dignity by eliminating the leaders from the opposition or putting them into jail whereas other search asylum in neighbouring countries or in the Western countries. The challenge is to bring Hutu and Tutsi around a negotiation table so that they can reconsider the failed Arusha Agreement of 1993, which allowed them to share power but could not achieve such a mission. Inter-dialogue and the National Reconciliation through Peace-building mechanisms will be an asset to solve the Rwandan crisis definitely, which affects the whole area. The study on “Inter-ethnic Relation in Rwanda” could particularly be fruitful as it gave readers insight and awareness about how many countries, such as South Africa, handled the same issue. The greatest achievement would be to understand that multiculturalism is an asset rather than a handicap; indeed, diversity constitutes social cohesion. Thus, Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda should settle their differences and respect each other in order to build their state in peace and harmony for a better social and economic development. Then once this process will have produced a positive outcome, it would be imperative to find a way the whole African Great Lakes Region could be a Confederation of States. This new State Confederation would be composed of Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Congo Brazzaville in one hand, and Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya in the other. These two big entities would generate a Union-based economy in the long run with freedom of movement and establishment.


Pierre Celestin Bakunda, Ph.D. is a researcher in Social Sciences. His focus is Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation in African Great Lakes Region. He is a Peace Activist who attended Peace Studies Programmes at the European University Centre for Peace Studies, Schlaining, Austria, and Wold Peace Academy, Basel, Switzerland. He is the author of Rwanda, the Inferno of Implicit Rules, L’Harmattan, July 2006, Paris; and his thesis, The implicit Rules of the Rwandan Society and their Impact on Social, Political and Economic Development, Anrt Press, October, 2007.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Jan 2012.

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One Response to “Violence and Conflict Theories & Obstacles to Peace in Africa’s Great Lakes Region”

  1. David Doerr says:

    In order to attain peace, before someone engages us in an internecine nuclear war – killing unarmed citizenry,like in the tales of chivalry they never used to teach kids – we have to educate the poorest nations (sub-Saharan Africa) every option regarding birth control methods, including natural birth control methods (that you can learn from searching the Internet). Then, coupled with this approach, we have to teach priests and ministers, and other clerics of the world religions, how to seek communion with the Spirit through the observance of signs and revelations. Global conflicts must be decided through a process of involving the Spirit in the determination of right social policy.