Despite efforts by various stakeholders to establish a peaceful Africa, armed conflicts continue in parts of the continent. The nature of violent conflicts in Africa has changed since before independence when they were mostly ideologically-driven guerilla warfare. Many of the current conflicts are driven by prospects of political power or financial gain, with armed groups fighting to acquire valuable mineral resources, assert their ideology or address grievances.
In its quest to “Silence the Guns” in Africa by 2020, which is its theme for the year, the African Union and other partners ought to focus on the main crisis spots currently: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Libya, where tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The war in the DRC is one of Africa’s deadliest. More than five million people have been killed in the Congolese war, according to the news agency Reuters. It began in 1998 with the involvement of about 20 different armed groups who maraud the country’s vast jungles. Many of these groups fight each other, while others from neighbouring countries use the Congolese territory to launch attacks on their home countries. Others simply exploit the country’s mineral resources, including gold, platinum and coltan fueling the various conflicts further.
Among the several armed groups are the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda; the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan rebel group based in the Rwenzori Mountains of eastern Congo; the Lord’s Resistance Army, another Ugandan rebel group based along the northern border; the National Forces of Liberation, a Burundian rebel group operating in South Kivu; and the Mai-Mai militias operating in the Kivu.
In the first half of 2019, about 732,000 new displacements were recorded, 718,000 associated with conflict and 14,000 associated with disasters, posing additional challenges for the new DRC government.
About 18,500 UN peacekeepers, including military and police personnel, provide security for civilians threatened by the armed groups and support the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants. The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) also helps to strengthen institutions for reconciliation, law enforcement and justice, and the equitable management of natural resources. Furthermore, it is involved in disarmament, demobilisation and community violence reduction efforts.
After a brutal civil war, South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan in 2011. However, tensions persisted over natural resources, specifically access to the oil fields in newly-independent South. Matters have also been strained between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement led by President Salva Kiir, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition led by Mr. Kiir’s former vice president Riek Machar.
Since civil war broke out in 2013, about 380,000 people are reported to have been killed and more than two million have been forced to flee their homes. A 2015 peace deal fell apart after clashes between government forces and rebels. A new “revitalized” peace agreement was signed in 2018 however progress is slow. A second deadline to form a unity government has passed with Mr Machar expressing concerns over some unresolved issues.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was established in 2011 and consists of about 17,000 uniformed and civilian personnel. It works to support peace consolidation, assist in protecting civilians, create suitable conditions for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, among other tasks. As part of its women, peace and security efforts, it is actively working to increase women’s participation in political processes.
Central African Republic
CAR has suffered more than six years of conflict. The initial trigger was the Séléka armed opposition entering the capital city Bangui in March 2013 in opposition to then-President François Bozizé and effectively seizing control of the country.
Security conditions deteriorated further in December when clashes erupted between various armed groups. This fighting persists and has been further complicated by the fragmentation and reforming of alliances.
In response, the UN Security Council established the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) in April 2014. It was mandated to protect civilians, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and support national efforts to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate former combatants and armed elements.
In February 2019, the Government and 14 armed groups signed a peace agreement which has led to fewer direct clashes. The UN, the African Union and others are cooperating in support of the agreement to end violence against civilians, strengthen the extension of state authority and bring social and economic development to the country.
With approximately 14,000 peacekeepers, MINUSCA continues to support the implementation of the peace deal and its other mandated tasks. However, insecurity and attacks against civilians, humanitarians, and UN peacekeeping forces continue. More than 600,000 people are internally displaced, and thousands have been killed.
The ongoing conflict in Libya began in 2011 after the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and centres mostly around the control of territory and oil fields.
Fighting has been between the House of Representatives’ (HoR) which came into office in 2014 and controls eastern and southern Libya and its Tripoli-based rival, the General National Congress (GNC). In December 2015, the warring parties signed the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), committing to a Government of National Accord (GNA). However, the GNA, which is recognised by the UN, continues to face opposition from within the HoR and GNC.
In April 2019, Khalifa Haftar, the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controls much of the countryside, launched an attack on Tripoli. About 1,000 people were reported to have been killed in that attack and more than 128,000 displaced since the latest round of the conflict began in April. A UN arms embargo continues to be breached with both sides drawing on international support for weapons.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) was established in September 2011 to assist the country’s transitional authorities in their post-conflict efforts. This includes support to implementation of the LPA and future phases of the transition process.
The Boko Harem insurgency in Nigeria that began in 2009 has extended to neighbouring countries, including Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Currently led by Abubakar Shekau, the jihadist group’s initial objective was to confront what it perceived as the westernization of Nigerian culture. In 2015, Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS, rebranding his organisation as the Islamic State in West Africa.
More than 30,000 people have been killed in Nigeria’s long-running conflict with Boko Haram. About two million people have fled their homes and another 22,000 are missing, believed to have been conscripted. In April 2014, the group abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok, a village in Borno State, northeast Nigeria. A few managed to escape or be rescued. More than 112 girls remain missing.
A multinational joint task force of about 10,500 troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria is currently battling the insurgency.
In 2012, the Tuareg separatist rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawa (MNLA) conquered northern Mali. Prior to this, a sizable number of Tuareg rebels had moved to Libya to join Muammar Gaddafi’s fighting forces. They returned with sophisticated weapons to join the 2012 attack on northern Mali after the fall of Gaddafi’s government.
Since then several other armed groups emerged or splintered off from existing ones with different interests related to self-determination and political and socio-economic grievances. The Malian government and two coalitions of these armed groups — the Plateforme and Coordination — signed the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali in May 2015. However, fighting continues with armed Islamist groups attacking civilians, state counterterrorism actions, and intercommunal violence.
The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was established in April 2013 to support political processes and bolster security in the country. The 15,000 uniformed and civilian personnel work to support the implementation of the peace agreement and reduce violence. They also protect civilians, support the re-establishment of state institutions and basic services, and support the cantonment, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed groups. MINUSMA is one of the UN’s most challenging operations and it has suffered significant casualties in recent years.
The Somali civil war began in 1991 when the government of President Siad Barre was overthrown. Armed groups started competing for power. Without a central administration, Somalia became a failed state, with rival warlords and different groups controlling the capital Mogadishu and other southern parts of the country.
The Al-Shabaab militant group emerged as an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union which controlled Mogadishu in 2006, while a transitional federal government was in exile in Kenya. Ethiopian forces routed the courts union, paving the way for the government in exile to return home. Al Shabaab carried out attacks against the government, prompting the deployment of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2007.
In 2012, a new federal government was constituted. The same year Al-Shabaab declared allegiance to the militant group al-Qaeda. Fighting between armed Islamist groups and pro-government forces has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians and the displacement of over two million people. Despite gains against the group, Al-Shabaab insurgents continue to launch sporadic attacks against civilians and the government.
The UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) provides policy advice to the Somali government and AMISOM on security sector reforms, disengaging combatants, rule of law, among other issues. Futhermore, UNSOM is helping build the Federal Government’s capacity to promote respect for human rights and women’s empowerment, promote child protection, and prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence.