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It focuses on issues related to incomplete and contested data collection on this topic; the important distinction between state-based and nonstate armed conflicts; the complex array of often incoherent belligerents involved in armed conflicts in Africa; trends in governance, notably backsliding on democratic reforms; as well as more assertive peace operations deployed by the UN and regional organizations within Africa.

The Struggle for Land in Africa – Lionel Cliffe : Centre for African Studies (LUCAS)

The second section analyzes the key elements of continuity in armed conflicts in Africa, focusing on the importance of understanding repeat civil wars and other protracted forms of organized violence; contested government transitions rooted in problems of democratic deficits and often minority rule; continuing forms of interstate contestation and practices of mutual destabilization; as well as the consistently high levels of nonstate armed conflicts, especially when compared to the rest of the world.

The final section highlights some of the more novel patterns since , notably the rise in state-based armed conflicts; growing levels of popular protests; the increased significance of religious especially Islamist factors in state-based armed conflicts on the continent; the likelihood of more intense livelihood struggles exacerbated by environmental change, especially among some nonstate actors; and the growing use of remote forms of violence, especially IEDs and suicide bombings.

The conclusion reflects on the challenges these developments pose for orthodox approaches to peacemaking on the continent and the more militarized forms of peace operations deployed by both the UN and African Union AU involving elements of counterinsurgency, stabilization, and even counterterrorism. The political context in which the current armed conflicts occur exhibits several notable characteristics.

The struggle over land in Africa: Conflicts, politics and change

The first point is that despite some important recent advances in data collection—most notably in generating geo-referenced data—our collective knowledge about armed conflicts in Africa still rests upon weak foundations. While the analytic community working on these issues has improved its ability to catalogue events by engaging local reporters, field research can be difficult and dangerous, media outlets are unable to report on all relevant conflict events, nongovernmental and international organizations are not uniformly present across the continent, nor are governments there able to provide accurate data, not least because many of them lack stable and effective bureaucracies to act as repositories of such knowledge.

Data about casualty figures remains particularly unreliable. This is connected to a third problem of interpretation: the fog of war is as difficult to penetrate in contemporary Africa as elsewhere. Whose interpretation of events should be treated as authentic? Taken together, analysts and policymakers alike should start from the assumption that our knowledge of this topic is incomplete and contested.

As discussed further below, most of the nonstate armed conflicts in Africa revolve around struggles to secure local sources of livelihood, notably issues connected to water, land, and livestock. A third notable characteristic of the current political context in Africa is the prevalence of incoherent conflict parties. Most of the state-based armed conflicts on the continent involve a multitude of stakeholders and armed groups, including government forces, paramilitary fighters, militias, as well as opportunistic criminal gangs.

Many of these groups are incoherent inasmuch as they lack a single, unified chain of command but operate instead as relatively decentralized entities with their constituent parts retaining significant autonomy. Some of them also lack or fail to articulate clear and coherent political agendas. Engaging with this variety of incoherent conflict parties has posed considerable challenges for peacemakers and peacekeepers trying to manage local consent and retain their impartiality and legitimacy. During the past decade or so, governance indicators across Africa were mixed, with some areas showing improvement and others backsliding.

They also vary according to the institution measuring them.

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Similarly, 33 African countries regressed in terms of corruption and bureaucratic effectiveness, with 24 of them registering their worst recorded scores in This shows that annual scores across the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa reached a peak of freedom in these areas in and Record numbers of peacekeepers have deployed across the continent in recent years with a range of mandates to use deadly force beyond self-defense, usually to protect civilians, degrade spoiler groups, or extend and consolidate state authority. This section briefly summarizes four such elements: the preponderance of repeat civil wars and other protracted forms of violence; contested government transitions rooted in problems of democratic deficits and often minority rule; continuing forms of interstate contestation and practices of mutual destabilization; as well as consistently high levels of nonstate armed conflicts, especially when compared to the rest of the world.

Incredibly, every civil war that started since with the exception of Libya has been a continuation of a previous civil war. This focus on governance leads to the second major element of continuity visible in many armed conflicts across Africa: the importance of contested government transitions stemming from problems of democratic deficits and often the dynamics of minority rule. The roots of contested government transitions lie in the deficit in democratic governance, the increasing militarization of Africa most notable in rising defense budgets since , the growth in political militias and various manifestations of presidential praetorian guard units, the suffocation of free and fair electoral processes, and the willingness of populations to participate in organized protests against their governments.

As a consequence, it has been relatively common to view modern Africa as lacking many interstate armed conflicts.

The problem with this approach is that it ignores the ways in which state-based conflicts in Africa have frequently involved interstate contestation and mutual destabilization. It remains evident in persistently high levels of clandestine cross-border military operations and various forms of sometimes covert support to proxies by neighboring countries across Africa. Since the end of the Cold War, data collected by the UCDP has identified Africa as the global epicenter of nonstate armed conflicts, with the continent being home to more than 75 percent of the global total between and On average, each of these conflicts has killed an estimated people in battle-related incidents, totaling more than 80, battle-related deaths.

There are no obvious patterns in the number of nonstate armed conflicts in Africa during this period, although overall there has been a slight increase since the early s with a peak in Most nonstate armed conflicts stem from localized disputes over sources of livelihood, often related to environmental issues such as access to land and water. To what extent is the character of armed conflict in Africa changing? This section summarizes some of the most significant novel trends since First, having declined considerably from the early s until , the number of state-based armed conflicts in Africa has recently increased.

Among the most notable examples of this reversal are the wars centered on northern Nigeria involving Boko Haram, the civil war and NATO-led intervention in Libya, the resurgence of Tuareg rebels and various jihadist insurgents in Mali, the series of revolts and subsequent attempts at ethnic cleansing in the CAR, the spread of the war against al-Shabaab across south-central Somalia and north-eastern Kenya, and the outbreak of a deadly civil war in South Sudan.

Not only were these some of the most deadly wars of the 21 st century, most of them reflected the repetitive tendencies discussed above. All of them generated new or reinforced peace operations or other forms of external military intervention. They also exhibited important elements of interstate contestation noted above , where external states, particularly those from the immediate neighborhood, were directly involved politically or militarily or both.

Sadly, these new and intensifying state-based conflicts brought with them an upsurge in the deliberate targeting of civilians by a range of belligerents, including governments, rebels and other nonstate actors. Any deliberate targeting of civilians represents a failure by the perpetrators to respect contemporary laws of war, international humanitarian law, and hence the fundamental distinction between combatant and noncombatant.

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But it is notable that some of the existing belligerents in Africa explicitly reject the whole edifice of the modern laws of war, perhaps most notably those groups claiming inspiration from a warped version of religious beliefs. The deliberate targeting of noncombatants has raised enormous challenges for peacekeepers mandated to protect civilians and for peacemakers who have usually operated on the presumption that the conflict parties will eventually be willing to respect such international norms and legal standards. A second important development since has been the large spike in popular protests across Africa.

Of course, popular protests in Africa are not new per se but their number has increased significantly since the mids and especially after following the Arab Uprising. As Africanist scholar Valerie Arnould and her colleagues have pointed out, such protests have assumed distinct but related forms:. They include street demonstrations against rising food prices and the cost of living Chad, Guinea, Niger , strike actions over arrears in wage payments and labor disputes Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe , protests over rigged elections or attempts by leaders to extend their constitutional term limits Burkina Faso, Burundi, DRC, Gabon, Togo, Uganda , student protests Uganda, South Africa , and outbreaks of unrest over police violence, extortion, corruption and impunity Chad, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda.

Most of these protests have not developed directly into civil wars or stimulated the formation of insurgencies, but nor are they always completely disconnected from such processes, as the cases of Libya and to a lesser extent Burundi demonstrate. Although unlikely to lead directly to regime change, popular protests are important barometers of the likelihood that the country in question will go through a contested government transition, with all the risks those entail noted above. A third source of contemporary change revolves around the impact of environmental change on patterns of armed conflict across at least some parts of Africa.

Their number will likely rise because increasingly significant changes in the climate will increase the risk of the outbreak of armed conflict, especially in those parts of Africa that are already suffering the consequences of these global processes more intensely than most regions.

Struggle Over Land in Africa: Conflicts, Politics & Change

Specific wars are always the result of the conscious decisions of groups of humans, not the weather. As a contextual factor, how humans respond to climate change is therefore always politically open-ended. But in contexts of poor governance and already existing conflicts that proliferate across at least a dozen African countries, environmental concerns can be a threat multiplier or exacerbating factor. These effects will not be uniform across entire countries.

Data about casualty figures remains particularly unreliable. This is connected to a third problem of interpretation: the fog of war is as difficult to penetrate in contemporary Africa as elsewhere. Whose interpretation of events should be treated as authentic?

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Taken together, analysts and policymakers alike should start from the assumption that our knowledge of this topic is incomplete and contested. As discussed further below, most of the nonstate armed conflicts in Africa revolve around struggles to secure local sources of livelihood, notably issues connected to water, land, and livestock. A third notable characteristic of the current political context in Africa is the prevalence of incoherent conflict parties.

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Most of the state-based armed conflicts on the continent involve a multitude of stakeholders and armed groups, including government forces, paramilitary fighters, militias, as well as opportunistic criminal gangs. Many of these groups are incoherent inasmuch as they lack a single, unified chain of command but operate instead as relatively decentralized entities with their constituent parts retaining significant autonomy.

Some of them also lack or fail to articulate clear and coherent political agendas. Engaging with this variety of incoherent conflict parties has posed considerable challenges for peacemakers and peacekeepers trying to manage local consent and retain their impartiality and legitimacy.

During the past decade or so, governance indicators across Africa were mixed, with some areas showing improvement and others backsliding. They also vary according to the institution measuring them. Similarly, 33 African countries regressed in terms of corruption and bureaucratic effectiveness, with 24 of them registering their worst recorded scores in This shows that annual scores across the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa reached a peak of freedom in these areas in and Record numbers of peacekeepers have deployed across the continent in recent years with a range of mandates to use deadly force beyond self-defense, usually to protect civilians, degrade spoiler groups, or extend and consolidate state authority.

This section briefly summarizes four such elements: the preponderance of repeat civil wars and other protracted forms of violence; contested government transitions rooted in problems of democratic deficits and often minority rule; continuing forms of interstate contestation and practices of mutual destabilization; as well as consistently high levels of nonstate armed conflicts, especially when compared to the rest of the world.

Incredibly, every civil war that started since with the exception of Libya has been a continuation of a previous civil war. This focus on governance leads to the second major element of continuity visible in many armed conflicts across Africa: the importance of contested government transitions stemming from problems of democratic deficits and often the dynamics of minority rule. The roots of contested government transitions lie in the deficit in democratic governance, the increasing militarization of Africa most notable in rising defense budgets since , the growth in political militias and various manifestations of presidential praetorian guard units, the suffocation of free and fair electoral processes, and the willingness of populations to participate in organized protests against their governments.

As a consequence, it has been relatively common to view modern Africa as lacking many interstate armed conflicts. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the ways in which state-based conflicts in Africa have frequently involved interstate contestation and mutual destabilization. It remains evident in persistently high levels of clandestine cross-border military operations and various forms of sometimes covert support to proxies by neighboring countries across Africa.

Since the end of the Cold War, data collected by the UCDP has identified Africa as the global epicenter of nonstate armed conflicts, with the continent being home to more than 75 percent of the global total between and On average, each of these conflicts has killed an estimated people in battle-related incidents, totaling more than 80, battle-related deaths. There are no obvious patterns in the number of nonstate armed conflicts in Africa during this period, although overall there has been a slight increase since the early s with a peak in Most nonstate armed conflicts stem from localized disputes over sources of livelihood, often related to environmental issues such as access to land and water.

To what extent is the character of armed conflict in Africa changing? This section summarizes some of the most significant novel trends since First, having declined considerably from the early s until , the number of state-based armed conflicts in Africa has recently increased. Among the most notable examples of this reversal are the wars centered on northern Nigeria involving Boko Haram, the civil war and NATO-led intervention in Libya, the resurgence of Tuareg rebels and various jihadist insurgents in Mali, the series of revolts and subsequent attempts at ethnic cleansing in the CAR, the spread of the war against al-Shabaab across south-central Somalia and north-eastern Kenya, and the outbreak of a deadly civil war in South Sudan.


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Not only were these some of the most deadly wars of the 21 st century, most of them reflected the repetitive tendencies discussed above. All of them generated new or reinforced peace operations or other forms of external military intervention. They also exhibited important elements of interstate contestation noted above , where external states, particularly those from the immediate neighborhood, were directly involved politically or militarily or both.

Sadly, these new and intensifying state-based conflicts brought with them an upsurge in the deliberate targeting of civilians by a range of belligerents, including governments, rebels and other nonstate actors. Any deliberate targeting of civilians represents a failure by the perpetrators to respect contemporary laws of war, international humanitarian law, and hence the fundamental distinction between combatant and noncombatant.

But it is notable that some of the existing belligerents in Africa explicitly reject the whole edifice of the modern laws of war, perhaps most notably those groups claiming inspiration from a warped version of religious beliefs. The deliberate targeting of noncombatants has raised enormous challenges for peacekeepers mandated to protect civilians and for peacemakers who have usually operated on the presumption that the conflict parties will eventually be willing to respect such international norms and legal standards.

A second important development since has been the large spike in popular protests across Africa. Of course, popular protests in Africa are not new per se but their number has increased significantly since the mids and especially after following the Arab Uprising. As Africanist scholar Valerie Arnould and her colleagues have pointed out, such protests have assumed distinct but related forms:.