‘Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020’ was the key resolution during events to celebrate 50 years of the African Union, formerly the Organisation of African Unity (OA U) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2013 as the continent unveiled its Transformation Agenda 2063.
Although this slogan was a testament that conflict was a bigger issue confronting Africa’s progress, the challenges from other issues, such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, poor health, climate change, illegal financial flows, corruption etc, were equally daunting.
But in 2021, Africa has been further torn apart by conflicts, which have engulfed several countries and regions, with new theatres constantly being opened domestically and regionally within member states.
While guns were over the years silenced in previous hotspots like Cote d’Ivoire and Mali, new battle frontiers are opening in other countries, such as Libya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Mali, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon. Violent extremism in the Sahel and parts of the Horn and eastern Africa remains worrisome.
The latest attacks in Chad’s Nokou in Kanem by the rebels of the Front for Change and Concord, which resulted in the fatal injuries to the late President Idriss Deby, is a major blow to regional security in the Lake Chad region of West Africa. The Front, led by Mahamat Mahadi Ali, had vowed to reach the capital, N’Djamena.
The Chadian conflict was said to have been fueled after rebels, backed by Hafta, entered the country through the Tibesti mountains, near the Libyan border.
Chad has been a major player in regional security operations, with N’Djamena being the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), which was revived with the upsurge of terrorism in the Lake Chad region and other regional security outfits, with countries like Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
Being a member of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Chad has been complimenting Nigeria’s efforts to keep at bay, terrorist groups such as Jama’atul Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, Ansaru and the Islamic State of the West African Province (ISWAP), which has afflicted Africa’s most populous country, especially in the North-East.
Besides, in Nigeria, there are pockets of new internal asymmetric warfare brewing in North-West, Middle Belt and South-East, perpetrated by bandits attacking villages, armed herdsmen and farmers and secessionist agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) respectively.
The Boko Haram began in 2002 with an ideology which seeks to promote a different form of Islam. When their then leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in 2009, the now radicalised group, led by Abubakar Shekau began to wage war against the Nigeria.
The violence has led to the death of thousands while over two million people have been displaced. Refugees from Nigeria have been spilling into neighbouring countries of Chad and Cameroon as terrorist groups, particularly Boko Haram, ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group, according to Global Terrorism Index, continue to attack communities and military formations.
Libya’s second civil war broke out in 2014 between different armed groups with multiple fronts since the former leader, Muamar Gaddafi, was deposed and murdered. There were election disputes between the country’s House of Representatives, which controls the eastern and central Libya and the Government of National Accord (GNC) in western Libya, backed by various militias from Misrata.
Violence escalated after the House of Representatives established its parliament in Tobruk, under the forces of a warlord, Halifah Hafta. Egypt, Turkey and other countries have gotten involved in the conflict.
The current conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) is over ethno-religious and resources issues. The fight between Muslim Seleka and Christian anti-Balaka armed groups since 2013 has had spillover effects on Cameroon and Chad. The alleged failure of the government to abide by the agreement reached after the 2004 to 2007 Bush War in which former President Francois Bozize fought, has stirred the current war. Despite Bozize’s abdication and rebel leader, Michel Djotodia emerging president, renewed fighting began between Seleka and opposing militias, known as anti-balaka.
Religious differences between the Muslim Seleka and Christian anti-balaka and historical antagonism between the farming anti-balaka and nomadic Seleka, and the struggle to control the country’s diamond and other resources are also in the conflict.
The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region erupted in November, 2020 when government forces invaded the region to crush the forces of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPFL), who declared separate election over perceived marginalisation of the region, which borders Eritrea and Sudan. Over 500,000 have fled their homes.
The Tigray people and other ethnic groups who feel excluded from government had resisted attempts by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to increase the powers of the central government over the region and other ethnic groups in the country.
In South Sudan, a civil war broke out between the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by Riek Machar, former deputy president, after President Salva Kiir accused him of coup plot. Over 400, 000 have been killed between Kiir’s Dinka and the Machar’s Nuer ethnic groups. Despite ceasefire agreements supervised by the United Nations and several peacekeeping forces, there are still clashes.
Since 1988, the Somali army has been fighting with the Salvation Democratic Front in the northeast, the Somali National Movement in the northwest and the United Somali Congress in the south. After Ethiopian troops seized the newly formed Islamic Courts Union to ensure peace in the country, the body splintered into more radical groups, notably, Al-Shabaab. Attempts by the Kenyan troops to crush Al-Shabaab and set up buffer zone inside Somali escalated the war, with over 4,000 civilians reported dead. Since the government was established in 2012 and Al-Shabaab was forced out of Mogadishu, some efforts are being made towards stability.
Fighting has been raging in Congo Democratic Republic’s North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri between government forces and the March 23 Movement (M23). A peace agreement was reached in 2013 in Uganda, but the fighting has multiplied in fronts. In 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) reported that more than 2,000 were killed in renewed fight in the eastern Katanga region of that country.
Inter-ethnic struggle for the control of the mineral resources and other unresolved issues is also fueling the conflict, with abductions and displacements.
Furthermore, there are reports of insurgency in Mozambique, which has resulted in the death of 2,600 people in the last three years. The conflict has been linked to a local Al-Shabaab militia with links to the Islamic State (IS) who have been aggrieved over lack of access to land and jobs in the Cabo Delgado region.
Tensions in Uganda, Western Saharawi, Niger and Cameroon also continue to be a source of concern on the continent.
Experts are worried that widespread conflicts across Africa, especially in its two most populous countries of Nigeria (200m) and Ethiopia (110m), could lead to regional destabilisation and mass displacement. This will have grave implications for food security, economic and social development as contained in Agenda 2063.
A security, risk management and intelligence specialist, Dr Kabir Adamu, said Africa was gradually descending into several conflict zones despite AU’s Agenda 2063, with possible collapse of governments.
He said, “We haven’t seen much action in the implementation of this action. There is discursive silence on the implementation of this agenda. Tied to that is the lack of good governance in several African countries, which is breeding this violence.
“It is worrisome that that particular element is not being addressed. The best way to address these challenges is to enhance good governance so that there is diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Thirdly, is the influence of foreign players like France, US, UK, and China and several others. They all have different agenda and we have seen that play out in different parts of Africa, how, despite their huge presence and assets they have, conflicts still take place. A good example is the recent assassination of Chadian president.
“France has Operation Barkhane and its headquarters in Chad, with an enormous surveillance capability, yet rebels moved 200km outside the capital N’djamena. How come this surveillance capability was not used?’’ he asked.
Also, the executive director of Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Frank Tietie, said the death of President Idris Deby of Chad had grave implications for Nigeria as Boko Haram might wax stronger in the absence of a strong leader in the neighbouring country.
“There are growing fears and concerns that persecution of religious minorities might increase in ungoverned spaces in Nigeria’s North and ultimately in the South if the country does not take the lead in providing security in the West African sub-region,” he said.