Jesse A. Heitz considers the issue of African security in a unique way by answering the question of “Which of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Conquest, War, Famine, or Pestilence - has most affected African security in the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century?”  He argues that of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, war has posed the greatest threat to African security. But the other horsemen have had significant roles to play – and are often closely linked to war…

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov. 1887.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov. 1887.

Pestilence – Libya & Kenya

War has a great effect on the horseman known as Pestilence. The term pestilence will extend beyond its biblical connotation.  It will be comprised of both its traditional identity of disease, as well as what can be described as a political disease, that being political instability.

In 1969, Libyan King Idris was deposed in a military coup by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.  The freshly-minted dictator quickly introduced state socialism and nationalized virtually all of the country’s industry, including the all-important oil industry.[1]  Over the next several decades Gaddafi’s Libya militarily intervened in neighboring states and its nationals engaged in terrorist acts around the globe, most notably the 1988 Lockerbie Bombing.[2]  In early 2011, violent protests broke out in Benghazi following the arrest of a human rights campaigner.[3]  Gaddafi’s security forces quickly retaliated, leading to a full-scale civil war.[4]  With help from allied airstrikes, Gaddafi was expelled from Tripoli in August of that year.  Within two months he had been captured and killed.[5] 

While Gaddafi had maintained his rule for four decades through the use of exceptional cunning and political mastery, the Libyan public had grown tired of the rampant corruption within his regime, whose officials often demanded millions of dollars in consultancy fees from foreign firms.[6]  He was documented to have extorted $1.5 billion from oil companies to pay for the Lockerbie settlement, and was said to have siphoned off tens of billions of dollars in state revenue into his own personal coffers.[7]  With Gaddafi’s corrupt, but relatively stable, government gone the post-Gaddafi Libya has been in a veritable state of violent flux ever since.

In Kenya, the course of events has been considerably different insofar as its government never experienced a period of state failure.  However, that is not to say that it did not fluctuate between efficient and ineffective.[8]  The swansong of the British Empire in Kenya, the Kenyan Emergency, lasted from 1952 to 1960.  With the level of conflict and tension so fierce, Britain opted to hasten granting Kenya its independence.[9]  For the following forty years, Kenya was marked by tribal animosity, political assassinations, and human rights violations.[10]  In recent years Kenya has stabilized, but the U.S. State Department has warned that regional instability in the Horn of Africa is the greatest threat to its security.[11]  Kenya has thus far extracted itself from its tradition of political pestilence born out of years of armed conflict and opposition, only to have its newfound stability threatened by the wars taking place in neighboring lands.

The nations of Africa are not the sole actors in the creation of political instability.  Foreign actors continue to jeopardize the political stability of developing nations in Africa.  Once it was perpetrated by the colonial powers, then dueling superpowers at the height of the Cold War, now it is nations that seek to service their own national interests.  For example, Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, which waged war against Robert Mugabe’s forces throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and the oppressive South Africa, found commercial partners in the United States.  The U.S. and its firms purchased large sums of manganese, platinum, and chromium from South Africa[12], while it bought chromium from Rhodesia[13] as well.  It cannot be doubted that such transactions did well to fund and prolong the conflicts raging in those states.


Pestilence & Disease

The final manifestation of pestilence heavily influenced by war is disease itself.  The Darfur Conflict illustrates this well.  Since fighting broke out in 2003 between the Sudanese government, its allied rebel groups and militias, and its enemies in the southern reaches of the country, some 2.7 million have been displaced[14], with an estimated 300,000 deaths.  Of those 300,000 deaths, it is reported that 80% were due to disease.[15]  While humanitarian organizations have made strides in caring for refugees, the threat of violence and attacks on convoys diminishes the ability of aid groups to combat disease by providing medical care and immunizations, clean water, and the rations necessary to stave off malnutrition-related illness.[16]

During and in the wake of war, numerous endemic diseases have surfaced, plaguing civilian populations.  The massive migrations of refugees have allowed a disease such as malaria to infect millions, and as of 1998 Africa accounted for some 90% of the world’s cases of malaria.[17]  Additionally, sub-Saharan Africa is horribly afflicted with varying types of infectious illness ranging from cholera and tuberculosis to dysentery.  Authorities estimate that 70% of the deaths in this massive portion of Africa are due to infectious disease.[18]

Another disease which is decimating many African nations is HIV/AIDS.  According to the U.N., in 2011 there were 1.8 million new cases of HIV for a total of 23.5 million people living with the disease, with some 1.2 million people dying from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.[19]  Stable and relatively conflict free states such as Botswana have achieved an 80% treatment level for its citizens suffering from HIV/AIDS.[20]  For war-torn and recovering states such as South Sudan and Somalia, the treatment rate falls to below 20%.[21]  Perhaps the most horrific correlation between HIV transmission and war is the widespread occurrence of sexual assault in war zones.  For example, scholars have alleged that there was a “willful transmission” of HIV, or the use of HIV as a weapon, during the Rwandan genocide when an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 women were raped.[22] 

One of the forgotten health concerns stemming from war is mental health.  Some sources have stated that the population of Uganda, which has been battling an insurrection in its northern territory for two decades, may have an incidence of PTSD in excess of 50%, and an incidence of clinical depression that sits above 70%.[23]  As shown, war can create and exacerbate the physical and psychological manifestations of pestilence.


Conquest – Troubles in Congo and Rwanda

The second horseman, Conquest, has been showcased in a series of intertwined wars that marred the Congo and its neighbors for decades and continue to define its security.  In the early 1950s, the native peoples of the Belgian colony of Congo achieved citizenship, which placed them on a more even footing with the Europeans that occupied their land.[24]  By 1958, the Congolese people began their march towards independence in earnest with the rise of Kasa-Vubu.[25]  Despite the tangible signs of progress, the call for immediate independence grew louder.  The Belgians had hoped to ever so slowly transition into releasing the reins on the Congo, but after riots in 1959, it was clear that such lofty aspirations were unrealistic.  By June the following year, the Belgians abruptly left their prized colony.[26]  Revolts and rioting quickly ensued, leading to several years of government instability, external interventions, and bloody conflict.[27] 

By November, Joseph Mobutu had seized power in a coup and wasted little time in tightening his grip on the infrastructure barren state, going so far as to rename it Zaire.  He cemented his control over the military, nationalized the industry within the state, and racked up the favor of Western governments who saw him as an opponent of the Communist Sphere.[28]  Throughout the 1970s, he engorged himself on the industry he had absorbed and brutally crushed any opposition to his rule.[29]  By the 1980s, an opposition party under the leadership of Etienne Tshisekedi emerged and kick-started the process of eroding Mobutu’s position.  As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, the West found decreasing utility from the murderous dictator and began applying diplomatic pressure on his regime.  Mobutu’s control continued to fade as his military began voicing their displeasure.[30]

Events in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 sealed Mobutu’s fate.  At that point Rwanda had a population of approximately seven million people, ripe with ethnic tension between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis.[31]  In April of that year, Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and violence erupted almost immediately.[32]  Officials capable of stemming the bloodshed were quickly dispatched.[33]  By the end of the 100-day genocide, nearly three-quarters of the Tutsi population had been wiped out.[34]  Refugees and Tutsi rebel forces flooded into Zaire, eventually launching a counterattack and regaining control of Rwanda.  Then it was the turn of the perpetrators of the genocide to flee to Zaire.[35]

Congolese rebel forces under Laurent Kabila, a longtime Mobutu opponent, which had been growing in strength for years, led the charge against the Hutu rebels operating in Zaire.  With the support of Rwanda and Uganda, Kabila’s AFDL soon marched on Mobutu.  The First Congo War was well underway.  Kabila quickly overthrew Mobutu, who fled into exile, and renamed the nation the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).[36]  Yet, Kabila ruled with a firm hand.  Such a governing style was not in the best interests of his backers, who had hoped to plunder the DRC’s vast resources.[37]  Rwanda and Uganda then began funding the rebel groups fighting to unseat him.  Soon, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Chad, all sent troops in support of Kabila, with the intent of serving their own economic interests.[38]

War continued to ravage the DRC for the years that followed.  By 1999, the United Nations had stepped in levying the Lusaka Peace Accord.[39]  All signatories except Rwanda and Uganda withdrew their troops.  With violence still raging, the U.N. grossly increased its peacekeeping force.[40]  In 2006, Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, stated that all of his troops had been removed from the DRC’s Kivu provinces.[41]  Later that year, Joseph Kabila, Laurent Kabila’s son and successor following his 2001 assassination, signed a new constitution which ushered in sweeping reforms.[42] 

In 2008, Rwanda and the DRC, which had been steadily rebuilding the foundations of its government[43], joined forces to fight a rebel group named Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which had been operating in the DRC’s Kivu provinces.[44]  Unfortunately, by 2012, relations between the two rival states had broken down once more, with the DRC accusing Rwanda and Uganda of arming the M23 band of rebels.[45]  By the close of 2012, the U.N. was forced to maintain a 20,000 man strong peacekeeping force in the DRC.[46]  This seemingly endless string of war has devastated the DRC, with some four million people, nearly all of whom were civilians, perishing.[47]  The recent Kivu Conflict alone has displaced a reported three million people.[48]


Famine – From Ethiopia to Nigeria and beyond

The third horseman to be discussed is Famine.  Again, here we will extend beyond the word’s strict definition.  It will deal with both food shortages and economic difficulties, or hunger and poverty.  War is commonly attributed as a factor capable of causing famine.  In times of war and targeted violence, fields and food production facilities are often damaged or destroyed, efficient transportation is often impaired, and large populations of people are relocated to sometimes barren refugee camps where rations may be substandard.

A prominent example of war impacting or even causing famine could be witnessed through an examination of a portion of the Ethiopian Civil War during the 1970s and 1980s, when Ethiopia’s dictator, Mengistu, withheld food assistance to the Tigray peasantry, of whom his opponents were comprised.[49]  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, war has worsened food shortages.  During the never-ending sequence of war in that country, farmers in certain regions have lost up to 50% of their tools and 75% of their livestock.[50]  The 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia resulted in approximately one million deaths alone.[51]  The Nigerian Civil War, which took place from 1967 to 1970, witnessed 3,000 to 5,000 people lose their lives each day due to starvation.[52]  Famine, while complicated by numerous factors, can most certainly be both a cause and effect of war.

The second form of famine takes the shape of economics.  War has the ability to directly affect the properties that can drive economic decline and stagnation.  War can, and often does, cripple infrastructure, displace civilians including laborers, and foster the growth and extension of disease that can greatly tax healthcare systems.  One only needs to look at Libyan GDP per capita from the years 2010 to 2012 to view the economic impacts war can cause.  In 2010 Libyan GDP per capita was $15,900.  In 2011, the year of the civil war that ousted Gaddafi, it was reduced by over half to a paltry $6,100.  The following year it had rebounded to $12,300.[53] 

As mentioned above, the African continent had long been pilfered by colonial occupiers, self-indulging dictators, and opportunistic states.  There may be no better example of such a situation than that of Sierra Leone during the 1990s.  Rich with diamonds, ominously nicknamed “blood diamonds”, Sierra Leone was once besieged by rebels so brutal that their hallmark was amputating the hands and arms of civilians, including children, yet its neighbors such as Liberia, as well as nations and companies hailing from several different continents, have coldly picked sides based on who promised to auction off diamonds for the lowest price.[54]


War – The ultimate horseman?

In several African nations, economic growth is underway.  The mining and oil industries in particular are rushing into the “Dark Continent” with an almost unprecedented fervor[55], and the resultant influx of revenue for many once perpetually impoverished nations will only serve to bolster their security.  However, Malawian Vice President, Justin Mawelezi, warned in 2002 that armed conflict in southern Africa was a threat to attracting meaningful direct foreign investment.[56]  In other words, war could jeopardize economic growth.

In terms of African security, war has proven itself to be the bringer of pestilence, famine, and conquest.  War can cripple entire institutions such as education[57], it can create armies of child soldiers, and it can propel itself through attracting arms traffickers[58].  What makes the case for war’s supremacy amongst its fellow horsemen is that it is quantifiable and visible, its barbarism and resultant chaos are in plain view.  In biblical terms, war is fully capable of being, and often is, the proverbial “Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.


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[1] "Libya Profile." BBC News. BBC, 26 June 2013. Web. 12 July 2013. <>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid

[6] Lichtblau, Eric, David Rohde, and James Risen. "Shady Dealings Helped Qaddafi Build Fortune and Regime." New York Times, 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 July 2013. <>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Charles Hornsby, Kenya: A History Since Independence, (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012), p.3

[9] Duncan Hill, World at War: 1945 to the Present Day, (Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK: Transatlantic, 2011), p.22

[10] "Kenya: A Political History." BBC News. BBC, 24 Dec. 1997. Web. 10 July 2013. <>.

[11] "U.S. Relations With Kenya." U.S. Department of State, 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 16 July 2013. <>.

[12] Thomas G. Paterson, John Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. . Hagan, American Foreign Relations: Volume 2, Since 1895, (Boston Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), p.424

[13] Paterson, p.384

[14] "Darfur--Overview." UNICEF, Oct. 2008. Web. 18 July 2013. <>.

[15] Associated Press. "Study: Most Deaths in Darfur War from Disease." NBC News, 23 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 July 2013.

[16] "Darfur--Overview.”.

[17] Thomas C. Nchinda, "Malaria: A Reemerging Disease in Africa." Emerging Infectious Diseases 4.3 (1998): 398-403. World Health Organization. Web. 15 July 2013.

[18] Maire A. Connolly, and David L. Heymann. "Deadly Comrades: War and Infectious Diseases." The Lancet Supplement 360 (2002): 23-24. Rice University. Web. 11 July 2013.

[19] "Regional Fact Sheet 2012: Sub-Saharan Africa." United Nations, n.d. Web. 9 July 2013. <>.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid

[22] Obijiofor Aginam, "Rape and HIV as Weapons of War." United Nations University, 27 June 2012. Web. 13 July 2013.

[23] Stephen Leahy, "Africa: Untreated Mental Illness the Invisible Fallout of War and Poverty." All Africa, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 July 2013.

[24] Sean Rorison, Congo: Democratic Republic and Republic, (Chalfont St. Peter: Bradt Travel Guides, 2008), p. 65

[25] Rorison, p. 66

[26] Rorison, p. 66

[27] Rorison, p. 67

[28] Rorison, p. 68

[29] Rorison, p. 69

[30] Rorison, p. 69

[31] "Genocide in Rwanda." United Human Rights Council, n.d. Web. 16 July 2013. <>.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Rorison, p. 70

[36] Rorison, p. 70

[37] "DR Congo." Refugees International, n.d. Web. 17 July 2013.

[38] Rorison, p. 71

[39] Rorison, p. 72

[40] Rorison, p. 73

[41] Rorison, p. 74

[42] Rorison, p. 74

[43] "Q&A: DR Congo Conflict." BBC News. BBC, 20 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 July 2013. <>.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Rorison, p. 71

[48] "DR Congo.”.

[49] "Ethiopian Famine 25th Anniversary - Questions and Answers." One, n.d. Web. 16 July 2013. <>.

[50] "Congo: Grappling with Malnutrition and Post-Conflict Woes." IRIN Africa, 9 Aug. 2007. Web. 11 July 2013.

[51] "Ethiopian Famine 25th Anniversary - Questions and Answers.".

[52] Hurst, Ryan. "Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970)." The Black Past, n.d. Web. 18 July 2013. <>.

[53] "Libya." The Central Intelligence Agency, 10 July 2013. Web. 16 July 2013.


[54] James Rupert, "Diamond Hunters Fuel Africa's Brutal Wars." The Washington Post, 16 Oct. 1999. Web. 14 July 2013. <>.

[55] Leka, Acha, Susan Lund, Charles Roxburgh, and Arend Van Wamelen. "What's Driving Africa's Growth?" McKinsey & Company, June 2010.

[56] "Instability Scares Off Investment, Malawi Official Warns." Panapress, 12 Jan. 2002. Web. 15 July 2013.

[57] "Conflict Makes Millions Miss School." Al Jazeera English, 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 July 2013. <>.

[58] Kester Kenn Klomegah, "Russia Eyes Africa to Boost Arms Sales." Guardian News and Media, 04 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 July 2013. <>.