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NIAS Africa Weekly
Africa’s displacement crises: Three key drivers

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #15, Vol. 1, No. 15
07 June 2022


Africa’s displacement crises: Three key drivers
The Norwegian Refugee Council brings forth the neglect of several displacement crises in Africa in contrast to the world’s keen attention to the war in Ukraine. However, beyond the international selectivity towards Ukraine, there are underlying key drivers to Africa’s displacement crises.
Apoorva Sudhakar

On 1 June, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) released an annual report “The world’s most neglected displacement crisis in 2021.” The top 10 countries facing the crises, for the first time, are all African, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo being ranked first for the second consecutive time. The remaining nine countries follow the DRC in the order: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, South Sudan, Chad, Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Burundi, and Ethiopia. The countries were ranked on three parameters: lack of international political will, lack of media attention, and lack of international aid. 

The report outlined a glaring difference in the way the international community responded to the Ukraine war: “The war in Ukraine has highlighted the immense gap between what is possible when the international community rallies behind a crisis, and the daily reality for the millions of people suffering far from the spotlight.” The report said the selectivity in media coverage, public sympathy, and donations toward the Ukraine war vis-a-vis other crises in the world has seldom been more evident. 

Unfortunately, according to the NRC, it is difficult for a country to be taken off the above list once the country has been listed. Different reports warning of impending crises and famines across the world show that the situation in some African countries has worsened over the years despite the progress achieved by the continent so far. For example, six of the top 10 countries in the NRC’s 2018 report on the displacement crises were African. This number increased and in the 2020 report, nine African countries featured on the list. In 2021, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies said ten African countries account for 88 per cent of forced displacement in the world. The NRC attributes this trend to a vicious cycle of international apathy, little media coverage, donor crises, and increasing humanitarian requirements. 

Displacement in Africa: Three key drivers
First, conflict-induced displacement. A large proportion of the displacement in Africa is driven by conflict and violence. Some displacements are rooted in decades-long unresolved conflicts, like the case of the DRC, which has been on the list for six consecutive years. The situation in such countries is worsened when new conflicts arise or dormant ones resurface. On the other hand, some countries faced an unexpected wave of displacement. For example, Ethiopia is among the top three refugee-hosting countries in Africa. However, the breakout of the conflict in Tigray in November 2020 and the instances of instability and violence in different parts of the country led to a multifold increase in internal displacement, thereby bringing Ethiopia to the tenth position on the NRC’s latest report. Other countries can be categorised in either of the above two categories. 

Second, Islamist militancy as an increasing threat to Africa. In countries like Burkina Faso, Chad, and the rest of the Sahel region, the threat of Islamist militancy is increasing. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies says that since 2016, there has been an upward trend in Islamist militancy in all of Africa; in 2021, the Sahel alone witnessed 2,005 attacks linked to Islamist groups. The above had led to 2.4 million people being displaced in the Sahel. This includes internally displaced people and refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. This threat, however, is not sudden; for example, the Islamic State and al Qaeda shifted their base from the Middle East to Africa gradually. Crisis Group says one reason behind this shift could be that weak states with limited power over borders in African countries have created space for terrorists to grow. 

Third, non-traditional security issues. New challenges like climate change and COVID-19 have fuelled displacement in several African countries. In the Horn of Africa and across the Sahel, climatic variations, failed monsoons, and prolonged droughts have forced people to move in search of food, water and pasture. For example, the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2021 says 4.3 million new displacements were recorded across countries like Burkina Faso, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon and so on, of which 2.3 million people were internally displaced. 

The above three drivers have worsened the humanitarian situation, namely hunger and malnutrition, compounded by the block on exports from Russia and Ukraine due to the ongoing war. Several UN agencies and the World Bank have raised concerns several times, over rising food insecurity in African countries as a result of the war; the continent depends on Russia and Ukraine for over 80 per cent of its wheat, grain and fuel imports. 

The striking selectivity
Drawing from the NRC report, the above issues do not seem to be of urgency to the international community. The apathy of the international community and big powers was visible in the immediate reaction to the war in Ukraine, wherein restrictions placed to prevent African refugees from entering Europe were eased to welcome Ukrainian refugees. Funds were mobilised in weeks to begin addressing the humanitarian needs of Ukrainians. 

On the other hand, when reports of massacre after massacre in parts of West Africa were released, the sense of urgency was missing. Media monitoring agency, Meltwater, said around 85,000 English articles were written about Ukraine in the first three months of the war, while in the whole of 2021, only 27,000 articles in English were written about the crisis in Burkina Faso. 

The impact of the above could be felt in how several donors reallocated or deliberated moving their funds from Africa to assist Ukraine. But are international donors the only ones to be blamed? The lack of improved situations despite years of funding, the emergence of new conflicts and the weakness of African governments are discouraging to donors. Donors would consider it feasible to, therefore, donate to places of geopolitical importance in their own neighbourhood than to countries that show little hope of improvement. African countries, on the other hand, have to increase their efforts to address conflicts and deliver results that would ensure humanitarian needs are met and assistance is secured when required.

01 June 2022-07 June 2022
Apoorva Sudhakar and Anu Maria Joseph

President fires 57 judges alleging corruption and links to terrorists
On 1 June, President Kais Saeid dismissed 57 judges on allegations of corruption and protecting terrorists. Saeid said before sacking the judges, he had provided “opportunity after opportunity and warning after warning to the judiciary to purify itself.” One of the judges had headed the Supreme Judicial Council which was replaced in February 2022. Saeid’s decision comes amid widespread opposition to his move to hold a referendum on the new constitution in July. On 5 June, over a hundred judges met and agreed to hold a week-long strike starting 6 June against Saeid’s decision. The Association of Judges’ president said the strike may be extended later. In the meeting, some dismissed judges said Saeid’ decision came after they refused intervention from the justice minister or others closely associated with Saeid. (“Tunisian president sacks dozens of judges, tightening grip on judiciary,” France24, 2 June 2022; Tarek Amara, “Tunisian judges to strike for a week in protest over purge,” Reuters, 5 June 2022)

UNICEF outlines dire hunger situation; calls for widening gaze from Ukraine
On 7 June, UNICEF warned of an "explosion of child deaths" in the Horn of Africa if the international community fails to tackle an impending hunger disaster. The UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa said 386,000 children in Somalia require immediate treatment for acute malnutrition. This figure is higher than the 340,000 children who needed treatment during the 2011 famine. Further, the Regional Director said 1.7 million children across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia need immediate treatment for severe acute malnutrition. The UNICEF official maintained the issue will not be addressed "if the world does not widen its gaze from the war in Ukraine." The UNICEF warning comes amid a consecutive failure of four rainy seasons in two years and likely failed monsoons next October-December. ("'Explosion of child deaths' imminent in Horn of Africa if world does not act immediately - UNICEF," UNICEF, 7 June 2022)

UN envoy urges military response to M23 rebellion
On 1 June, the UN Secretary General’s special representative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo said a strong military response was necessary to tackle the M23 rebellion. The UN official suggested other measures along with military operations were necessary, including a political solution through regional mechanisms and disarmament and reintegration of the rebels by the government. (Samba Cyuzuzo, “UN envoy urges 'strong response' against Congo rebels,” BBC, 2 June 2022)

50 people killed in a gunmen attack in a church
On 5 June, at least 50 people including children were reportedly killed in a gunmen attack in a Catholic church in southwestern Ondo state. Terming the attack “vile and satanic, Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu said: “Our hearts are heavy, our peace and tranquillity have been attacked by the enemies of the people.” President Muhammadu Buhari released a statement: "Only fiends from the nether region could have conceived and carried out such dastardly act. No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win." Though the country has regular events of gunmen attacks and ransom kidnappings, Ondo is a relatively peaceful region in Nigeria. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. ("‘Evil and wicked’: At least 50 killed in Nigeria church attack," Al Jazeera, 5 June 2022) 

One protester allegedly killed by security forces in capital city 
On 1 June, one person was reportedly shot dead by security forces as people took to the streets in the capital Conakry protesting against a 20 per cent hike in gasoline prices. The security minister condemned the development and promised an investigation. A coalition of politicians said the security forces’ alleged actions were not in line with coup leader Colonel Mamady Doumbouya’s claims when he seized power, wherein he criticized killings during demonstrations. (“One killed in first major protest under Guinea junta,” Reuters, 2 June 2022)
UN peacekeepers killed in two attacks; military rejects report Mamay on army killings
On 3 June, the UN’s Mali mission (MINUSMA) said two UN peacekeepers were killed and two injured in an IED explosion on the way to Timbuktu. Previously on 1 June, one UN peacekeeper had been killed and three injured in an attack on its convoy in Kidal region in the north. The UN said as many as 170 UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since it began its operation in 2013. The latest attacks come after the UN released a report which said 543 civilians were killed in violence between Mali’s armed forces and rebel groups or Islamist militants. The report linked 248 deaths to the use of force by armed forces. However, Mali’s military government rejected the report claiming that the allegations are “tedious, uncross-referenced, reported in non-contradictory ways, and not supported by any tangible evidence.” (“Egyptian UN peacekeepers killed by improvised bomb blast in Mali,” Al Jazeera, 3 June 2022; “UN peacekeeper killed in Mali attack,” BBC, 1 June 2022; “Mali refutes UN report on alleged army killings,” BBC, 1 June 2022)

ECOWAS postpones decision on Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea to July
On 4 June, leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), excluding heads of Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, met to assess the situation in the three countries and help them restore constitutional order. However, the summit was concluded without any decision and is scheduled to meet in July. Mali, which is under sanctions from the ECOWAS, expressed disappointment over the lack of ECOWAS’ decision on sanctions. Mali’s Foreign Minister hoped the regional organisation will revisit the issue in July. (“ECOWAS leaders postpone decision on sanctions in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea,” France24, 4 June 2022; “Mali ‘disappointed’ as Ecowas maintains sanctions,” BBC, 6 June 2022)
Russia’s senate chairperson visits Mozambique
On 1 June, BBC reported the chairperson of the Russian Federation Council (senate) was on a visit to Mozambique. The two sides signed a deal to enhance bilateral cooperation between the parliaments; this would include information sharing. The chairperson outlined that Russia had assisted Mozambique throughout the latter’s independence movement to the current training of Mozambican forces. The development also comes after Mozambique abstained from voting against Russia in the UN General Assembly’s vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. (Jose Tembe, “Mozambique and Russia agree to deepen ties,” BBC, 1 June 2022)
WHO official says Africa should not be sidelined in monkeypox fight
On 1 June, the WHO regional director for Africa said the world should avoid two different responses to the ongoing fight against monkeypox, one to the western world which was experiencing higher monkeypox transmission for the first time and another to Africa. The regional director outlined that the spread of monkeypox has changed and exemplified Nigeria wherein monkeypox was mostly in the south until 2019; by 2020, it had been reported in central, northern and eastern Nigeria. Therefore, the regional director highlighted the need to ensure availability and accessibility of vaccines against monkeypox to every community which requires it. (“'We must work together' - WHO says Africa must not be left behind in monkeypox fight,” News24, 1 June 2022)

UK to begin deportation to Rwanda on 17 June; several asylum seekers go on hunger strike
On 3 June, BBC reported 17 asylum seekers near Sussex had launched a hunger strike after they received notices for deportation to Rwanda as part of the UK’s latest asylum deal. The hunger strike was launched after UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said the deportation of the first batch of asylum seekers would begin on 14 June. The Home Office did not specify the number of people that would be deported; however, an aid agency estimates around 100 asylum seekers who arrived in May have received warnings of deportation. Previously, The Guardian reported to have seen a letter from the Home Office which said deportation of those observing the hunger strike may be prioritised for their health and safety. Meanwhile, aid agency Care4Calais has accused the Home Office of attempting to deport minors. The Home Office has denied these claims. (Mohamed Shalabey and Emir Nader, “Asylum seekers stage hunger strike as UK prepares Rwanda deportation,” BBC, 3 June 2022; Diane Taylor and Matthew Weaver, “Home Office threatens hunger strikers with faster deportation to Rwanda,” The Guardian, 2 June 2022; Mark Townsend, “UK accused of attempting to deport children to Rwanda,” The Guardian, 5 June 2022)

AU delegation meets Putin; raises concern over grains and fertiliser shortage 
On 3 June, African Union Chairperson and Senegal’s President Macky Sall and AU Commission’s Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat met with Russia’s President Vladmir Putin in Moscow. Sall told Putin that though African countries were far from the war in Ukraine, they were “victims on an economic level.” Following the meeting, Sall tweeted that Putin had assured that Russia could ease Ukraine’s export of cereals and Russia’s export of wheat and fertiliser. Meanwhile, Russia blamed the West’s sanctions which impacted Russia’s exports. However, Germany rejected Russia’s position and accused Putin of attempting to frame the narrative “that it's the West that's responsible for the famine threatening Africa” and not Russia’s war in Ukraine. (“Africans 'victims' of the Ukraine war, AU head tells Putin,” Deutsche Welle, 3 June 2022)

About the authors
Apoorva Sudhakar is a Project Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Anu Maria Joseph is a postgraduate scholar at the Department of Political Science in Madras Christian College, Chennai.

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