Syria was the world’s most lethal conflict, claiming a further 50,000 lives in 2016. The second most lethal was Mexico where the battle with cartels claimed 23,000 lives, surpasssing the death tolls in Somalia and Afghanistan. In its 2017 Armed Conflict Survey, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) describes the picture for Africa as “mixed.”
DW has been talking to the editor of the survey, Dr Anastasia Voronkova
DW: What does the survey have to say about conflicts in Africa?
Dr Anastasia Voronkova: Although we see that fatalities in the sub-Saharan region are quite high, they have actually gone down.
They fell from 24,000 in 2015 to 14,000 in 2016. I think we have seen some success by the Nigeria military, for example, in the fight against Boko Haram. The group has continued to lose some of its territory. Apart from Boko Haram, there is very, very little optimism for the sub-Saharan Africa region.
The conflicts in South Sudan, Somalia and the Central Africa Republic (CAR) have got worse, displacement rates are at an all-time high. If we look at the conflict in CAR, for example, one of the key challenges remains the base and content of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program. The ruling elite have very little interest in implementing this and it remains unclear how these challenges will be addressed in the long term.
So what you’re saying is that this year’s survey paints a bleak of sub-Saharan Africa?
Yes. The only moderately bright spot is the Boko Haram conflict which has seen a 70 percent decline in fatalities, but the group remains quite strong, it remains capable of perpetrating hit and run attacks, night time raids, isolated suicide attacks, which continue to be registed across the Lake Chad basin as well as in some territories in Nigeria. So, despite all the ongoing counter-insurgency efforts, insurgency-related acticvity of Boko Haram and associated actors appears not be neutralized.
Even though security forces expelled the group from a growing number of areas, they have also had difficulty in holding on to the gains that they made in 2015. Boko Haram channeled its most significant resources into orchestrating a series of very high casualty attacks on army locations and towns it had previously held. So, even in the fight against Boko Haram, the picture is relatively bleak although there has been some improvement.
What were the main reasons fuelling these conflicts?
One of the aspects that continue to fuel the conflicts is ongoing state weakness and lack of legitimacy of state institutions and governance problems in most African countries. One of the broader essays in the survey addresses the challenges that states and non-state armed groups face in governing territories that have traditionally suffered from a very weak state presence.
We are seeing a very, very weak presence of state institutions in Somalia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and to a great extent in South Sudan, and it is very difficult for international actors to do anything substantive in the absence of the underlying legitimacy of the state for the local population.
One the themes that we are also discussing in this year’s survey is that the peacekeeping missions that a deployed in many African countries are also quite stretched. They are performing a wide variety of tasks and they are hardly coping with their mandates. They are finding it increasingly difficult to find any strong kind of support among the local population, and are generally struggling to provide security, especially given the wide array of highly fragmented armed groups that are emerging.
In some of the countries you have mentioned, there is the sense that external players are contributing to the fighting. To what extent does the survey address the influence of external players in armed conflicts in Africa?
We address – as I mentioned before – the interaction between the peacekeeping forces and the local population. We do try to analyze, for example, how changes in the US administration and US policy might affect these conflicts, but it is quite hard to predict, I think. The main focus is on the internal dynamics, the interaction between non-state armed groups, between non-state armed groups and civilians, and between the international peacekeeping forces, the local population and non-state armed groups.