Causes and Impact of Armed Conflict

Causes and Impact of Armed Conflict

Warfare has been and may remain a constant feature of human history. Hardly any nation or age primeval, ancient, dark, medieval, and modern or post-modern has been spared its grisly devastating grip at one time or another and global concern over the continued use of war as a means to settling disputes either domestically or internationally is inevitable.

Perplexing questions like would the world ever be in peace? It has becomes necessary these days that echoes of war resound from the four poles of the earth bearing shocking news of horror, death and untold calamity.[1]

Many complex factors lead to armed conflicts within States. Some conditions that increase the probability of war include the inability of Governments to provide basic good governance and protection for their own populations.[2]

In many instances, weak Governments have little capacity to stop the eruption and spread of violence that better organized and more legitimate Governments could have prevented or contained. Armed conflicts can also be seen as the struggle for power by a section of the elite that has been excluded from the exercise of power in authoritarian systems of one-party rule.

Countries afflicted by war typically also suffer sharp inequalities among social groups. It is this, rather than poverty, that seems to be a critical factor, although poor countries have been far more likely to be involved in armed conflicts than rich ones. Whether based on ethnicity, religion, national identity or economic class, inequality tends to be reflected in unequal access to political power that too often forecloses paths to peaceful change.

Economic decline and mismanagement are also associated with violent conflicts, not least because the politics of a shrinking economy are inherently prone to conflicts as compared to those of economic growth. In some instances, the impact of radical market-oriented economic reforms and structural adjustment imposed without compensating social policies has been seen to undermine political stability.

Ethnic and religious animosities, mass violations of human and minority rights, and ethnic cleansing resulting from extreme forms of nationalism propagated by hate media are factors that exacerbate conflict. The relative ease with which arms are trafficked all over the world, particularly in countries and regions afflicted by civil wars, is also a contributory factor.

Although not in itself a cause of conflicts, the wide availability of such weapons tends to fuel them, undermine peace agreements in situations where combatants have not been completely disarmed, intensify violence and crime in society, and impede economic and social development. It is estimated that some 500 million light weapons are in circulation in the world.

At least seven million small arms are in West Africa, where they have killed more than two million people since 1990, more than 70 per cent of them women and children.[3] Induced, mass movements of populations have also contributed to the spread of conflicts, as in Central and West Africa.

In some countries in the sub-Saharan region, struggles for control over key natural resources, such as diamonds and gold, coupled with wider political ambitions, have increased the level of intensity of armed conflicts. For example, in Angola, where the rebel movement UNITA controls a substantial part of the diamond production, estimated revenue of $3.7 billion from the sale of diamonds between 1992 and 1998 allowed UNITA to maintain its armed forces.[4]

The Angolan Government, for its part, is financing the war mainly with revenue from oil concessions granted to foreign multinational companies. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a number of complex factors, including the desire to get a share of the country’s rich potential wealth in minerals, especially diamonds and gold have drawn six States in the region into a battle either for or against the Government.

Impact/Consequences of Armed Conflict in Nigeria

Present-day internal wars typically take a heavier toll on civilians than inter-State wars, and because combatants increasingly have made targeting civilians a strategic objective.[5] Women and children, in particular, suffer unspeakable atrocities in armed conflicts.

In the past decade, according to one estimate, up to two million of those killed in armed conflicts were children.[6] Three times as many have been seriously injured or permanently disabled, many of them maimed by landmines, and millions were psychologically scarred by violence. Countless others have been forced to witness or even to take part in horrifying acts of violence.

The widespread insecurity and trauma due to the atrocities and suffering of the civilian population is another terrible legacy of these conflicts. Conflicts create extensive emotional and psychosocial stress associated with attack, loss of loved ones, separation from parents and destruction of home and community.

Many children develop problems, such as flashbacks, nightmares, social isolation, heightened aggression, depression and diminished future orientation. These problems of mental health and psychosocial functioning persist long after the fighting has ceased and make it difficult for children, who may comprise half the population, to benefit fully from education or to participate in post-conflict reconstruction.

Sexual violence is another ruthless weapon of war. Warring parties resort to rape and sexual slavery of women to humiliate, intimidate and terrorize one another, as, in the recent conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda. In Bosnia and Herzegovina many women were forced to give birth to babies conceived during rape. Other women were forced to have abortions. There were also cases of sexual violence against men.

Millions of children suffer from starvation and disease as a result of war. The high incidence of malnutrition, disease and deaths among young children is attributed to war tactics of disrupting the production and distribution of food supplies.

Children are also tortured and raped to extract information about peers or parents, to punish parents or simply for entertainment. Girls are sometimes obliged to trade sexual favors for food, shelter or physical protection for themselves or their children, causing intense psychological trauma.[7] In addition, the incidence of HIV/AIDS has increased.

Wars have separated millions of children from their families. In 1994, the war in Rwanda left 100,000 children without families. In 1995, 20 per cent of children in Angola were separated from families and relatives, according to a UNICEF study. In Cambodia, a country where half the population is under 15 years old, the war deprived children of adult caregivers.[8]

Refugees and internally displaced persons are the symptoms of wars, communal violence motivated by ethnic or religious hatred, persecution and intolerance. At the start of the 1990s, the decline in intensity of several longstanding armed conflicts bred optimism about a fall in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world.

In fact, the grim reality is that at the end of the 1990s their number was about 50 million, of whom 30 million were internally displaced persons. The number of refugees increased from 17 million in 1991 to 27 million in 1995 and then declined to 22.25 million in 1999.[9] Countries affected by armed conflicts or internal strife generally have large numbers of refugees and displaced persons, although such factors as natural disasters and widespread human rights violations have also contributed to the number of displaced persons.

Ultimately, a solution to the problems of refugees and displaced persons depends on an end to wars that force people to flee their homes. The international community has sought to prevent, contain and resolve conflicts through a variety of initiatives, including improved early warning systems to help identify and remove the sources of conflicts.


[1] News services, April 24, 1994, p.19, Bakassi “thr troubled land of our ancestors”

[2] United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the organization, supplement No.1 (A/54/1).

[3] United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network, Workshop on small arms trafficking in Africa, 9 August 1999

[4] Global witness, A Rough Trade: the role of companies and governments in the Angolan  conflict; <> accessed 10 March 2019

[5] United Nations, report of the Secretary General on the work of the organization, supplement No.1 (A/54/1)

[6] United Nations, Impact of Armed Conflict on children: Report of Graca Machel, Expert of the Secretary General of the united nations (selected Highlights) New York, 1996, p.7 (DPI/1834-96-22765-October 1996-5M)

[7] UNICEF, Report on the state of the World’s Children, 1996

[8] UNHCR by numbers,<> accessed 10 March 2019

[9] ibid

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