The Buzz

The Wars Ravaging Africa in 2016

With the exception of Syria, African countries currently get the worst rep when it comes to violence and conflict. Virtually every story coming out of the continent seems to showcase one atrocity or another.

This narrative is both true and false. In 2014, Africa experienced more than half of worldwide conflict incidents, despite having only about 16 percent of the world population. This is a slightly larger share of the world’s conflicts than even during the chaotic years of the post-Cold War 1990s.

But there are two important caveats. First, the absolute number of conflicts worldwide has greatly decreased over the last two decades. So despite shouldering a larger share of the conflict burden, in absolute terms, Africa has become more peaceful as well. And secondly, the remaining conflicts seem to cluster in specific regions and involve only a few of Africa’s 54 nation-states.

According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, twelve African countries experienced armed conflict in 2014. Three additional countries—Burundi, Niger and Chad—will likely be added to the list for the 2015 data.

Geographically Africa’s conflicts are tightly clustered along an arc stretching from northern Mali through southern Algeria and Libya into Egypt, extending into the Sinai peninsula.

The Boko Haram conflict in northeastern Nigeria is another epicenter and situated in relative proximity to an area of conflict hot spots in the Central African Republic, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and Darfur.

On Africa’s eastern coast, the Somali civil war is still going strong in its third decade.

Modern conflicts in Africa are thus highly localized, and they defy simplistic explanations based on stereotypes. That being said, these are our predictions for Africa’s conflicts in 2016.


Boko Haram

War Is Boring reported frequently on the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government throughout 2015 and with good reason. The insurgency is the deadliest conflict that Africa is currently experiencing and has now spread firmly into neighboring countries as well.

Still, there is some hope. Monthly deaths in Nigeria are at their lowest levels in years. Like we expected (or rather hoped) in our 2015 forecast, Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari made some serious changes to how the conflict is managed, and these now seem to be paying off.

But Nigeria, like neighboring countries, still lacks a long-term strategy on how to deal with the insurgency. Current military successes in combating the diverse groups labeled as Boko Haram are dependent on spending billions on modern military gear that none of the countries involved can actually afford, riding all of them into serious debt.

France and the United States are providing critical assistance, both in terms of intelligence and combating other terrorist groups farther north, so that Niger’s army can focus on the Boko Haram threat. It goes without saying that this is not terribly sustainable.

In 2016, we are looking for the Boko Haram insurgency continue to be a substantial source of violence in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, although not on the extreme level experienced in 2014 and early 2015.


Mali, Algeria and Libya

The other international terrorist hot spot in Africa is the Mali-Algeria-Libya triangle. With many groups—including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—being active across some of the most arbitrary borders in the world, these conflicts are interrelated. But their resolution will still require primarily national approaches.

Libya officially has a new peace deal, but with the country in open civil war, it will take more than a signed piece of paper to end the violence. The Islamic State also seems to have put its eye on Libya as a potential refuge, should its position in Syria and Iraq come under threat.

Mali is only held together by the presence of international troops and donor money, while still becoming more insecure even in the country’s south. The corrupt and inept political elite obviously has learned nothing from the near collapse experienced in 2012, and there is little hope that it will do so miraculously in the coming year.

The international community is too invested to let Mali collapse, but the population will nonetheless experience widespread insecurity and fighting in the north, while the south will see further terrorist attacks on government institutions and targets associated with the West.

Algeria is a really interesting case. Its politics are so elite-driven and tightly interwoven with the security establishment that they are virtually impenetrable from the outside. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika consolidated power over the last year, but he is a very old man with a confirmed history of serious illnesses.