The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria are, along with Ukraine, the Sahel, Mozambique and Ethiopia, some of the conflict regions that have been flagged as likely to evolve for better or worse in the coming year, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).
The organisation has identified a range of crisis areas in its new Conflict Watchlist that examines some of the world’s most complex conflicts, where a combination of subnational, regional, and international dynamics are likely to produce major shifts in each case’s trajectory in 2023.
Countries and regions covered in ACLED’s special report on conflicts to watch in 2023 include Ukraine, the South Caucasus and Central Asia, the Sahel, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, the Kurdish Regions of the Middle East, Myanmar, Colombia, and Haiti.
Not surprisingly, the invasion of Ukraine is highlighted as having cast a shadow of uncertainty on global security. “Russian President Vladimir Putin defied the expectations of many and attacked a sovereign country at its borders after a years-long military build-up. To this day, Ukrainian forces, backed by Western political and military aid, have prevented Russian troops from capturing Kyiv and taking control of the entire country. Yet, Moscow’s actions – which include indiscriminate bombings, summary executions, and enforced disappearances, likely amounting to war crimes – have killed tens of thousands and devastated the country’s infrastructure. With millions forced to flee Ukraine, the war’s consequences have stretched far beyond Europe, prompting dramatic shifts in other crisis areas around the world, from Africa to the Middle East,” ACLED notes.
“And the war in Ukraine was just one of the conflicts that escalated in 2022. Overall, political violence increased by 27% globally last year, with an estimated 1.7 billion people exposed to its effects. A wide range of actors contributed to the spike in violence, including state forces, government-backed militias, non-state armed groups, criminal organizations, and mercenary outfits, which have perpetrated violence against other armed actors as well as civilians – often with the promise of impunity. These conflict agents share a common desire to maximize power, either globally or locally, and do not operate in a vacuum. The proliferation of violent actors represents a failure to create governance structures that can nurture stability and prosperity, and promote peaceful resolutions for the world’s most severe conflicts,” ACLED’s report read.
The organisation notes that while Russia is embroiled in Ukraine, it is simultaneously seeking to enlarge its political and military influence in the Sahel, where regional governments grapple with a decade-long Islamist insurgency.
“Mercenaries of the Russian private military company Wagner Group began operating in Mali in December 2021, while calls to replace French troops with Russian operatives were also heard in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Local and foreign troops, however, have failed to deter the rise of the local franchise of the Islamic State, which has emerged as the dominant actor in the Liptako-Gourma. Its attempt to establish a pseudo-state in the tri-state border area will likely continue to intensify in 2023.”
This year, elections in Nigeria and the DRC are due to take place amid increasing violence. Nigeria will go to the polls this month in an election whose run-up has been marked by widespread electoral violence, including attacks on election offices and staff, candidates, and political party supporters. “This violence comes against the backdrop of multiple security crises that threaten local communities in the north and the south of the country. Taken together, these crises could depress voter turnout and affect the regular conduct of the elections,” ACLED believes.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, political violence has raised concerns about a postponement of the December election, as with the 2018 vote. “The conflict in the east of the country experienced yet another violent escalation, as the Rwanda-backed March 23 Movement launched a new offensive against Congolese and United Nations forces in North Kivu. Rwanda is under mounting pressure to cut off its support to the rebels, but regional mediation efforts have thus far failed to subdue the conflict,” ACLED states.
Elsewhere across the globe, the return of all-out war in Yemen remains a possibility until negotiations between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia are concluded, while the Kurdish Regions have been a hotbed of violent tensions due to Turkish military operations as well as Iranian attacks. Resistance to military rule in Myanmar continued in 2022, with the junta resorting to increasing levels of violence against civilians. In Colombia, a lull in the conflict between the national government and the myriad armed groups active in the country did not bring lasting peace, with violence continuing. And Haiti continues to face a political vacuum and a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
“Ongoing conflicts in the Horn of Africa, heightened gang warfare in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, rising tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories and East Asia, and instability in South America and Afghanistan underscore the widespread and complex threat of political violence worldwide,” ACLED stated. “These contemporary conflicts are often transnational in nature, combining local competitions over political, territorial, and economic authority with international influence.”
ACLED has dedicated ongoing coverage of the conflict in Mozambique and Ethiopia, where violence continues on a weekly basis. Since 2017 Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has been facing an insurgency that has displaced a million people and resulted in 4 000 deaths and in spite of the deployment of Southern African Development Community and Rwandan forces, insurgent attacks continue.
In Ethiopia, the war in the northern Tigray region has calmed since the signing of a peace deal in November 2022, but a separate conflict is intensifying further south in Oromia, where civilians are suffering as anti-government rebels step up attacks.