In the study of Peace and conflict studies, there is a conceptual issue that explains the extent to which society is able to live or cope with conflict.
This concept is called “Conflict Carrying Capacity” Coined by Developing Capacity for Conflict Analysis and Early Response Training Manual, it describes a society characterized by strong repressive regime, a culture of silence, the size of the population, strong military, etc. In other words, the concept explains society ability to carry on with life while those conditions that potentially nourish conflict continue.
Arguably, a strong repressive regime is characterized by a government that rely on the might of the military or state police to restrict the fundamental civil liberties, political rights, press freedom by way of legislation to justify the actions thereof.
A culture of silence seen as the end product of strong repressive regime describes a situation in which people fed up or frustrated with the regime don’t dare to publicly criticize or voice out their opinions due to fear of severe repercussions.
In the culture of silence regardless of the population size, those fed up with the system hold unto to their criticism against the regime and pretend that all is well. Although the concept did not specifically pinpoint or how long will society carry on with lives in the face of conflictual conditions?
However, what is certain about this kind of society is what the Norwegian Theorist for Peace Studies Johan Galtung coined as “Negative Peace” that put society at the brims of protests that progress to armed conflict and consequently destroyed the basic social fabric difficult to rebuild as in the case of many post conflict societies.
What is also certain about this concept is that society that experienced negative peace has always demonstrated the limit of tolerance or patience as in the case of Burkina Faso and other countries.
In this kind of society experiencing negative peace such as oppression of the poor, police brutality, intimidation of ordinary people by those in power by some section of the society (Best 2011), life goes on favorably for some people, while those downtrodden and frustrated with such life patiently wait for an event that may pull the trigger for regime change or revolution. This kind of regime change may not necessarily be characterized or initiated by military takeover that is vehemently opposed by the international community on grounds that it undermines the basic tenets of Africa emerging democracy.
If there should be military takeover, it means that the action presumably favored the downtrodden masses that lack the resilience or tenacity to keep alive the remonstration due to the repercussion such as crackdown. In other words, the military with hidden agenda under their sleeves is inclined to justify its action to be in the cause of the people.
Arguably, there are societies that fit into the context of conflict carrying capacity. Without any attempt of causing hard feelings, let’s fit at least few societies into the context. Let’s see if we can fit Burkina Faso into the theory or concept.
The 2014 remonstration that exiled Blaise Compaoré, who has ruled the country for 27 years due to his quest to scarp the constitutional term limits for another five years cannot substantially explain the society limit of tolerance if the 27 years in power did not nurture conflictual conditions.
In the minds of the downtrodden masses, you would have discerned the bottom-line by asking the question in this way. What is essence for another five years when the 27 years have failed to tackle conflictual conditions? Enough is enough even if it will risk our lives, we must say big no to Compaore’s quest.
This assertion must have possibly flowed from the lips of the protesters. Tunisia is another society that fits into the concept. From all indications, the self-immolation or gruesomely symbolic suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi in 2011 as a result of police confiscation of his foodstuffs because he lacked a permit is not enough to explain the Tunisians limits of tolerance to live with the conditions that led to the genesis of the Arab Spring in Tunisia.
It only pulled the trigger for the regime change. The exile President Ben Ali from 1987-2011 did some good things during his regime. However, the same regime created toomany conditions that potentially nurtured conflict. Debatably, the system was characterized by corruption, unemployment and economic stagnation.
Importantly, many of the unemployed were young college graduates who benefited from Tunisia’s relatively good public schools and free post-secondary education, but struggled to make a living. “As we know, unemployed intellectuals make problems,” Granara says.
The absence of work violated an unspoken bargain struck between Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime and the people. Gee (2012) State-run television was a province of the regime, although some international stations like al-Jazeera retained clout.
The government by then kept a tight grip on the Internet which was tantamount to strong repression. As Clothilde le Coz, Washington director of Reporters Without Borders, noted, “They block websites, they chased down users, they tracked down IP addresses.”(Ibid).
You may agree that in the midst of all of the conditions that nurtured the conflict, the ordinary Tunisians managed to carry on with their lives until the sad incident of Mohammed Bouaziz self-immolation that altered the course of history.
Briefly, let’s look at the Gambia. Practically speaking, can any informed person refute the political atmosphere and system of governance of the Jammeh’s regime that created lots of conditions that could potentially force the society to run out of tolerance? With a population size of 1,776,000 according to 2011 census, the military and state security have been very instrumental when it comes to repression, restriction of political activities, Press freedom since the military coup in 1994.
The repressive regime has created a culture of silence in the Country. For example, in July 2013, the government passed the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act, through which journalists, bloggers and internet users can receive jail sentences of up to 15 years and fines of up to $75,000 for ‘spreading false news’.
From research, we learned that State apparatus, like the National Intelligence Agency have gained notoriety for the arbitrary arrest and detention of real or perceived government critics. State-endorsed incommunicado detention was even noted by the UN Human Rights Committee when reviewing Gambia’s human rights record in 2002.
In recent years, private radio stations, such as Teranga FM, Sud FM, Citizen FM and Radio 1 FM were visited by state agents and issued with arbitrary notices to shut down. This has resulted in most self-censoring their reports.
As mentioned early, in the midst of these happenings, lives still go on in favor of the few, while the down trodden masses in the Gambia carry on with lives in anticipation of some kind of event that will one day pull the trigger for regime change demonstrating to the world that they have reached their limits of tolerance either by series of protest or public demonstration as it was with Burkina Faso.
Similarly, Equatorial Guinea under the current regime of President Teodoro Obiang since 1979 is another society in which lives still goes on in the midst of conflictual conditions that are arguably evidenced by political repression. With this kind situation, the society limit of tolerance is arguably imminent for a regime change by any of the means pinpointed in this article.
About the Author Mr. Ambrues M. Nebo holds MSc in the top 5 % of the graduating Class in Peace and Conflict form University of Ibadan, Nigeria, Post Graduate Certificate with distinction in Public Administration from Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration Ghana, BA Hon (Magna Cum Laude) in Sociology from African Methodist Episcopal Zion University College in Liberia and various International Certificates in peacekeeping operations from the Kofi Anna International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana. Besides this article, he has authored a dozen of articles dealing with contemporary issues in Africa and Liberia in which some of his articles (Stop Pointing Fingers at the West for Political Problems in Africa, Is Prolonged Regime, a Recipe for Potential Problems in Africa? and Instead of the International Criminal Court, blame our Leaders) can be accessed online at google search and www.academia.edu.