Africa Braces for More Civil Wars and Famine: Analysts

By Darren Taylor
Darren Taylor
Darren Taylor
Darren Taylor is a reporter based in South Africa.
January 28, 2022Updated: February 2, 2022

Even by the standards of analysts who for decades have been watching Africa numbed by overthrown governments, conflict, corruption, brutal repression of populations, and mass poverty and hunger, the continent is looking at a rough year.

“A rough year? Yes, given what we saw in 2021, and given the economic fallout from the (COVID-19) pandemic that’s getting worse by the day, leaving millions of people poor and desperate,” Dr. Remi Adekoya, who teaches politics at York University in the United Kingdom, told The Epoch Times.

In 2021, four coups d’etat succeeded in Africa—in Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Sudan—the highest number in more than 40 years.

The new year has already seen its first overthrow, with the military in Burkina Faso seizing power on Jan. 24 from President Roch Kabore, apparently after its demands for more resources to fight Islamist extremists were ignored.

There have now been 96 military takeovers on the continent since the first one, in Egypt, in 1952.

Fifteen of the 20 countries leading the 2021 Fragile States Index are in Africa. They include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan, all of which have been fractured by conflict.

With the rapid rise last year of a group affiliated with the ISIS terrorist group, and the subsequent deployment of troops from several Southern African countries, including Rwanda, in response, terrorist insurgencies are raging in all of Africa’s major regions. These involve a multitude of actors, including mercenaries, as well as armies without the resources to mount counterterrorism operations.

In addition, elections are scheduled in countries where political tensions are high, including Angola, Kenya, and Senegal.

The new year began with battles between Ethiopian government forces and fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), sparked by the “marginalization” and “persecution” of the people of the Tigray region by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration.

In Southern Africa, 2022 started with emergency talks between members of the Southern African Development Community about its mission in Mozambique, with growing concern that militants there continue to find willing recruits in the restive northern province of Cabo Delgado. The government of Mozambique has invested heavily in the province’s oil and natural gas reserves and signed multibillion-dollar contracts with multinationals, while the political class has for decades neglected impoverished locals.

In Sudan, 2022 began with security forces killing scores of people protesting military rule.


Adekoya says that more instability and coups in Africa are the reality this year and beyond.

“In the postcolonial decades, 1950s to the late 1990s, coups were happening at a rate of 15 to 20 a year. The coup leaders always offered the same reasons: poverty, bad governance, state-led violence, and corruption. These conditions haven’t gone away; many say they’re intensifying.”

In Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy and most populous country, and in South Africa, the most industrialized with the second-biggest economy, one in three people who should be working are unemployed.

In July 2021, South Africa, one of Africa’s most stable democracies, was hit by the worst public violence since the end of apartheid in 1994, when mobs torched property and looted malls and warehouses.

One of the triggers for the violence was the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma for defying a court order to testify at a commission of inquiry into graft dating back to when he led South Africa between 2009 and 2018.

Zuma will go on trial in April on charges that include corruption, racketeering, and fraud related to a $2.5 billion arms agreement; he has repeatedly denied the allegations. His supporters, many from his Zulu ethnic group, have vowed “to fight to the death” if he is convicted.

Adekoya says poverty is a major driver of “general instability” and coups in Africa.

According to a World Bank estimate, there are 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or half the population, who are “extremely poor.”

The World Bank classifies Africa as the youngest continent, with a median age of 20, and as having the fastest-growing population in the world.

“So, there’s hundreds of millions of people in their 20s, early 30s, who don’t have jobs, who are frustrated, who are angry when they see corrupt leaders flaunting their wealth and not seeming to care a damn about the poverty all around them,” Adekoya says.

“This creates the space for military officers, especially those in their 40s who are seen as young and dynamic, to launch coups and–most importantly—to take over to popular support, to crowds that embrace them, at least at the beginning.”

Chaos in the Sahel

In Africa’s western Sahel region, 2022 heralds the 10th year of conflict, with Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger locked into a seemingly intractable war with an array of jihadist groups, including the ISIS terrorist group in the Greater Sahara.

The UN Refugee Agency says almost 3.5 million people have so far been displaced by the conflict in the Sahel.

As the militants spread terror across the region, including massacres of entire villages and kidnapping women and girls to use as sex slaves, growing numbers of international actors, the United States included, have been drawn into the conflict.

U.S. special forces are backing French troops in the Sahel, primarily with intelligence and logistics, while the Army has a drone base near Agadez in Niger.

American blood has been spilled in the war, with terrorists ambushing and killing a group of Green Berets conducting an “advise, assist, and accompany” mission in Niger in 2017.

In July, the Biden administration signed an agreement with France to strengthen bilateral special forces operations in Africa, suggesting it’s preparing to take the fight to the terrorists in 2022.

The instability caused by the fighting in the region can be seen in the coups in Mali and Chad, an attempted overthrow in Niger, and ongoing pressure on Burkina Faso’s president to resign, Dr. Issaka Souaré, a former special adviser to the African Union’s High Commission for the Sahel, told The Epoch Times.

The worst terrorist attack yet in Burkina Faso occurred in November, when insurgents raided an army base in the north of the country, killing almost 50 military police officers, seizing weapons and ammunition, and burning buildings.

While in 2021, regional armies were supported by 5,000 French troops, the French government says it will cut these forces to 3,000 in the first quarter of 2022.

Despair in Ethiopia

Ethiopia will be another flashpoint in 2022, according to Africa watchers. Not so long ago, the nation was a beacon of hope on the continent.

Last year, however, civil war intensified as the optimism initially generated by Abiy Ahmed, one of the youngest leaders in Africa, was lost amid gunfire, hunger, and death. When he assumed leadership following a peaceful transfer of power after his coalition claimed victory in 2018 polls, Abiy released thousands of political prisoners and invited exiled political parties to return. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

Less than two years later, he was accused of gross human rights violations, as his troops, bolstered by Eritrean forces, fought a bitter battle against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in northern Tigray Province.

Almost 9.5 million people across northern Ethiopia are in danger of starving, the U.N.’s World Food Program says. The federal government has blockaded the Tigray region, which the U.N. says is preventing relief groups from reaching famine-ravaged areas where children are dying of malnutrition.

The European Union and the Biden administration, among others, are regularly voicing concern about the situation. The country remains a strong ally of Washington in its war on terror, against international Islamic terror groups that have bases across the Horn of Africa.

But William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group, says the ongoing conflict shows that the international community doesn’t have much leverage.

“Concerns about an enduring conflict, one which involves lots of atrocities, to some degree committed by all sides, but particularly by Eritrean and Amhara and federal forces … all those concerns and desires to get a ceasefire and the Ethiopian parties to return to dialogue … well, they’ve made very little impact on the Ethiopian protagonists here, let alone on Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki,” he said.

“They have been outraged in Addis Ababa at the positioning of the U.S., and there’s a real plummeting of relations, especially as the U.S. has stepped up its efforts by threatening but not really carrying out punitive action. That’s convinced people in Addis that the U.S. is leading some sort of global conspiracy against Ethiopia.”

He says it’s hard to see anything but more conflict in the months ahead.

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