This volume is the first published output of ACDESS under its project Comprehending and Mastering African Conflicts, a proactive, basic and fundamental research and strategic study of Africa's war-torn societies and polities. Although the project was launched in June 1996, the idea itself was conceived during the UNDP/UNICEF-commissioned study on pay, Productivity and the Public Service: priorities for recovery in sub-Sahara Africa which took place early in 1995 and in which both Reginald Green and I took part.
That study was concerned primarily with measures to restore public service productivity as a major factor in achieving good governance and promoting economic and social recovery. The mission took us to Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mali and Mozambique, in addition to transit stops in Cote d'lvoire, Kenya and Benin. It provided me with the opportunity to visit eight Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) member states for the first time since relinquishing the post of ECA's chief executive officer in July 1991. Not surprisingly, I had several encounters and discussions with a large number of stakeholders in these countries - cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, professional associations, labor leaders and senior members of the research, business and diplomatic communities as well as with ordinary folk (wananchi). Many of the heads of state and/or government of the countries were also gracious enough to grant me private audiences and to discuss as frankly with me as they were wont to do when I was at ECA.
As I reported in the ACDESS Bulletin of March 1995, three major issues recurred in all the discussions: (i) the failed African state, particularly in the light of the sharp rise, both in number and intensity, of countries facing open armed conflict; (ii) the abortion of the political democratic reform process; and, (iii) the SAP (structural adjustment programme) debacle. It was in the course of these exchanges that the idea of ACDESS initiating and launching a proactive policy research and strategic studies project on African conflicts was born. The lack of comprehension of the nature and causes of African conflicts by both African governments and the international community and consequently the glaring lack of success in mastering them and drawing the necessary lessons from experience, particularly in the domains of governance and public policy, need to be urgency redressed through independent policy research. Three years later, in 1998, the UN Security Council convened at the level of foreign ministers to consider the problems of conflict in Africa. To facilitate the deliberation of the council, the UN Secretary-General submitted a report entitled The Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa, the first of its kind in the Council's history. The debate itself, at such a high level, has no doubt deepened UN understanding of the complex nature of these conflicts and has driven home the point that they cannot be explained by the usual stereotypical analysis. I hope that this awareness will make the analysts and pundits of African conflict situations more humble. Indeed, the reality is that neither the UN and the international community nor the African conflict countries themselves are in a position to master these conflicts, owing to the inadequate comprehension of their nature and causes.