In the African scenario about to open with the New Year of 2017 there are a number of crisis situations that are in danger of degenerating. This analysis examines five of these that are particularly significant. Three of them, we may describe as being ‘in disorder’, while the other two apparently constitute two ‘satellites’ of the triangle but which, for the extent and the seriousness of their problems, would constitute a separate topic.
One apex of this ‘triangle of disorder’ is Libya. This north-African nation has, at the time of writing, three governments (only one of which is recognised by the international community). The attention of the International community was drawn by the fact that this Islamic state had taken control of the city of Sirte and threatened to make it a base for attacks in the region and in the West. An offensive by the militias supported by the UN-backed Government of National Accord, carried out with American air support, almost succeeded in taking control of the city from the Jihadists but, even when that does take place, Libya’s problems will not be over.
Militias with other aspirations are clashing in various zones while illegal trafficking proliferates and terrorist groups move freely in the south. Interventions by states such as Egypt and Russia in Libyan affairs, especially in providing assistance to General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army, further complicate the situation. This Mediterranean state could soon descend into chaos. The consequences of the Libyan crisis are (and will continue to be) being felt by Tunisia, Algeria and Chad. Another country at risk of civil war is the Central African Republic, a nation where the efforts of the international community have failed to restore order and put an end to the instability that began with the ouster of President Francois Bozize in 2013.
On the ground the confrontation continues between the Muslim-inspired militia gathered in the Séléka coalition and the mainly Christian and animist one called ‘anti-Balaka’. Efforts to disarm the militia on the basis of agreements signed by the various parties to the conflict are not producing results. The French mission Sangaris, which had reduced the scope of the violence, officially ended on 31 October 2016.
The MINUSCA, UN mission in the country, is increasingly contested by the population who see it as useless since it is not able to protect them from armed gunmen. At least during the first months of 2017, when the dry season facilitates militia movement, there will probably be an increase in clashes with violence also among the groups that make up the Seleka. The Catholic Church, mostly through the newly-appointed Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, is trying to reconstruct the fabric of society torn by the conflict with the help of other denominations. Action by internal and external groups (from Chad, for example) could cause these efforts to fail.
Nigeria. Three emergencies.
The situation of Nigeria is relatively better. The most populated African nation has democratic institutions which, despite the many difficulties, have shown themselves capable of guaranteeing stability within certain limits. However, the country finds it has to deal with three centrifugal forces in both north and south which could result in catastrophe.
Despite the successes achieved by the security forces in the north (and especially in the north-east), the extremist Boko Haram still survives and continues to strike government forces and the civil population in nearby states (Niger, Cameroon, Chad). To this, in the past two years, were added the movement for the independence of Biafra and the armed groups that seek the autonomy of Niger Delta. In the case of the first of these, popular protests organised by the various branches have sometimes ended in violence: Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian security forces of killing 150 pro-independence people between August 2015 and August 2016.
As for the second group, after a period of peace following agreements between institutions and the various formerly active armed groups, oil-refinery installations in Niger Delta have again become the target of attacks by new militia formations that claim for the population of the region control of their own land and its mineral resources.
The present economic crisis in Nigeria, caused mainly by the drop in oil prices on the world market, deprives the leaders of Nigeria of the means to counteract these three emergencies. To these we must add the growing tension between the Sunni majority and the Shiite community, especially that of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria.
In South Sudan, the peace accord fell apart in July; fresh heavy fighting has caused many causalities and a million fleeing their homes. Prospects for a political solution look bleak. Vice president Riek Machar and president Salva Kiir have shaken hands but never pushed hard for peace.
Another new scenario giving particular cause for concern is that of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The decision of President Joseph Kabila to stand for election for a third term, something he did not actually say explicitly, has provoked a clear reaction by the opposition parties including organised protests.
The Kinshasa institutions have apparently succeeded in having the international community and the opposition accept the postponement of presidential elections from 2016 to April, 2018, in exchange for the creation of a government of national unity. However, tensions remain strong in this country which must tackle such issues as the activities of various armed groups (especially in the north-east), widespread corruption and obstacles to economic growth.
Finally we have Mali, a nation that, since 2012 has seen an insurrection by the Tuareg community, a coup that led to the dissolution of its institutions and the establishment on its territory of extremist groups allied to Al Qaeda through Al Qaeda in Islamic Meghreb and Ansar Dine. These groups were responsible for strikes such as the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako on 20 November, 2015, in which 20 civilians died. Much of the north is outside effective state control and the peace agreements signed with institutions and armed groups representing the different communities have not succeeded in stabilising the situation. Instead, insecurity is spreading to the central areas of Mali and to ethnic groups such as the Peul that, up to recently, were only slightly involved in the tensions.
One element that will influence in one way or another the dynamics referred to above is still, at the moment, to be evaluated. We refer here to the policy of the new US administration regarding Africa. In this, as in other questions, that which Donald Trump and his collaborators will do in the next four years has still to be ascertained since the new president has not made known any coherent articulated policy regarding the African continent.
One might at present formulate a hypothesis on the basis of positions taken by Trump during the electoral campaign, but, since he won the elections, the victor seems to have significantly altered his opinions. In any case, if he remains faithful to his position defined as ‘isolationist’, this, in practice, would amount to a reduction in pressure on various authoritarian governments in Africa to defend the human rights of their citizens better. The fight against terrorism is a priority indicated by Trump but he seems to focus his attention on Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with no reference to the African branches of the group such as that in Libya or Boko Haram. Neither has he made clear what he intends to do with that other great terrorist web, Al Qaeda, present in Africa through Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) and its allied groups.