2023: The World This Year

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2023: The World This Year
Africa: Domestic instability, bilateral conflicts, and insurgencies ahead

  Anu Maria Joseph

TWTW#200, 29 January 2022, Vol. 5, No. 4

Africa: Domestic instability, bilateral conflicts, and insurgencies ahead

While internal ethnic and political divides are drivers of conflict in North Africa and the Horn of Africa region, Islamist insurgencies, armed rebellion and bandit attacks are major actors in the Sahel region. Instabilities in Africa seem to be expanding in its intensity and geographic reach. Humanitarian crises, migration and displacement will be immense this year. New non-traditional factors like climate change, food insecurity and migration will be significant perpetrators of conflicts.
Internal instabilities: Tunisia, Ethiopia and Sudan

First, Tunisia’s political crisis. Since 2021, Tunisia continues to be in a political crisis, after Kais Saeid sacking the government, freezing the parliament and instituting a new constitution. President Saeid has now taken control over the three pillars of democracy- the executive, judiciary and legislature. According to Statista, in 2022, the country recorded an unemployment rate above 15 per cent. The World Bank says Tunisia is under debt of 80 per cent of its GDP, seeking IMF bailouts. Protests are ramping up against the economic crisis and Saeid’s authoritarian drift. The protests are inclusive, represented by Ennahda Islamist opposition party, pro-democratic movements, civil societies and trade unions. Slogans reminiscent of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising are flaming. Considering its inclusivity and reach, the protests have the capacity to develop into another uprising taking up the Arab Spring legacies. 

Second, Ethiopia’s internal conflicts. The ceasefire agreement signed between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF in November 2022 was a great development ending a two year conflict. The new developments including restoring services, partial disarmament of TPLF and withdrawal of Eritrean troops were significant progress in terms of implementation of the ceasefire. However, a complete integration of Tigray with Ethiopia will be a complex process considering the humanitarian cost the conflict has caused. On the other hand, the peace deal has increased trust in the African Union and its ability to realise the idea of “African solutions to African problems”. 
However, the increasing violence by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLA) in Amhara and Oromia region raises a threat of an emergence of a new similar conflict in the country.

Third, political deadlock in Sudan. In October 2022, Sudan marked the one-year anniversary of the military coup. Since the coup, widespread protests have been going on demanding a civilian transition. In December 2022, Sudan’s pro-democracy coalition Forces of Freedom and Change signed a new deal with the military government agreeing for a two-year civilian led transition towards elections. Though this was a major development, the deal seems too vague and opponents claim that it does not cover any security reforms that would leave the militarily powerful and disrupt a democratic transition. Though the UN initiated a second phase of negotiations between the military and the civilian groups, the military's contest for state power and a divided civilian coalition says the political crisis in Sudan would keep lingering. 

Bilateral Conflicts: DRC-Rwanda
The resurfacing of the M23 rebels since November 2021 has soured DRC-Rwanda relations. The group continues to attack the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) in North Kivu and capture border areas between DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. The blame game between DRC and Rwanda over supporting the rebels continues. The involvement of the East African Community and deployment of its troops after DRC joining the bloc in April 2022 was significant, as by July, both the countries agreed for a de-escalation. The ceasefire agreement signed by DRC, Rwanda, Angola, Burundi and former Kenyan  President Uhuru Kenyatta calling on the M23 withdraw from all its bases and disarming and surrendering to FARDC was a major development which was expected to end the rivalry between the countries. However, M23 announcing a non-compliance to the agreement turned the table. By January, Rwanda-DRC tensions resurfaced with a new wave of M23 attacks followed by accusations and counter accusations. 

Rwandan government accuses DRC of wanting to perpetuate “conflict and insecurity” and failing to commitments of the peace agreement. Similarly, DRC accuses Rwanda and M23 rebels of “once more failing to uphold the commitments” of the agreement. As M23 advances and the fighting re-erupts along with regular incidents of DRC fighter jets violating Rwandan airspace, it threatens that the clashes could erupt into a full scale bilateral conflict in the coming months. 

First, Al-Shabab in Somalia. In August 2022, President Hassan Sheik Mohumud announced an “all out war” against al-Shabab militancy in the country. The campaign was successful to an extent in terms of re-capturing al-Shabab bases. However, beyond the campaign, al Shabab continues to carry out deadly attacks. However, with continued significant international assistance and the government's plan for the second phase of the campaign against al Shabab, the militancy in the country would see a significant positive turn. 

Second, Sahel. Islamist militancy, armed separatism and the rise of bandits. On 16 January, 50 women were abducted by Boko Haram Islamist insurgent group in Burkina Faso. Though the victims were released, the first mass kidnap in the country has raised a new concern that it would bring a new tactic by the Islamist extremists in 2023. With the two coups in 2020 and 2021, Mali grapples with Islamic State, and al-Qaeda linked militants fighting one another along with non-jihadist rebels. African Center for Strategic Studies says there were 2,800 incidents of insurgent attacks in Sahel in 2022 which is double that of past year.
The end of the Operation Barkhane and shattered France-Mali and France-Burkina Faso relations amid Russian involvement further deteriorated relations with western partners. It would mean that Islamist insurgency in the region would gain momentum taking advantage of the security vacuum, further increasing the threat of the spread of violence to the Gulf of Guinea and neighbouring countries. 
The gunmen attacks and abductions, and armed separatist rebellion in south-east Nigeria has usurped the powers of government officials in the country. With the failure of the government to address the insecurity, the violence seems to have no end in sight. 
Besides the insurgency, there are frequent incidents of farmer-herder conflicts across the Sahel countries which militant Islamist groups often exploit. 
Followed by a series of coups and attempted coups and challenged by deep-rooted and fragmented insurgencies, Sahel is in a bad shape. 

Non-Traditional conflict threats
The Horn of Africa is facing a worst drought in over 40 years, with consecutive failure in rainy seasons. Nearly 20 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia go through severe droughts and devastating consequences. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), nearly 7.1 million people in Somalia face acute food insecurity and three million are internally displaced. Meanwhile, the WFP report says in 2022, nearly 19 countries in West Africa went through above-average rainfall. According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs, 1.2 million people in 16 countries in the region were affected by floods. When Africa goes through two climate extremes in two regions. 
Along with political instabilities, climate-induced conflicts will equally escalate resource conflicts, food insecurity, humanitarian crisis, displacement and migration across the continent. 

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