"Where the Land Is a Tinderbox, the Killing Is a Frenzy: Across Africa's midsection, man and nature conspire to set off murderous outbursts," by Somini Sengupta, New York Times, 16 June, p. A4.
Great NYT article on persistent conflicts in central Africa, arguing that you need to think of all the competing pressures as though you're looking at a Russian nesting, or matryoshka doll. Yes, in the outer layers you find all the familiar pieces: "tribe and creed, resentment against outsiders, competition for political power, an overabundance of guns and frustrated young men to put them to use." But the little "doll" you find at the middle of it all is the age-old fight between the farmer and the cowboy.
I know, it's almost enough to make you want to start singing that song from the musical "Oklahoma": "Oh the cowboy and the farmer should be friends . . .."
But it's basically true: many of these violent outbursts in central Africa get dressed up by the media and experts with all the "outer layer" explanations, when in reality they start with struggles over who gets to control the land and how. As the reporter puts it, "It is as old as civilization itself, the clash of men attached to their cattle and men attached to their land. It is a clash of two cultures, two ways of being in the world."
What drives this fight more and more is a combination of factors, such as desertification, over-harvesting of trees for firewood, and soaring populations. In short, this is all about sustainable development. Sure, once the machetes come out, then it's all about tribes and religions and ethnic cleansing and political power, but the driving force beneath all that is the inability to pursue sustainable development pathways.
You can say, "give them more aid and that'll do the trick," but you'd be only partly correct. Until better rules are put in place to attract foreign investment and external trade that involves something other than raw materials or simple commodities like food, this cycle is unlikely to end: people will continue to barely scratch out a living, having as many babies as possible to man the farms/herds, etc., and keeping their daughters home from school as a result.
What tends to stand in the way of such better rule sets emerging? That would be Africa's "Big Man" problem, or the corrupt dictators who tend to treat the national economy primarily as an unending source of personal enrichment. That's the biggest rule set reset required for Africa: ending the notion that the only way to become rich is to control the government and exploit that power for all the corrupt gain it's worth. That's why they're so few millionaires there, because it's very hard to become rich in Africa without being part of the corrupt political systems of rule.