Africa: conflicts and coups


Several conflicts in Africa took on new dimensions in 2021 and are likely to continue unabated through 2022. In June, the separatist Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) retook Mekelle, the Tigray regional capital, turning the tide in the war against Ethiopian federal forces and their Eritrean allies. Emboldened by their success, Tigrayan forces proceeded to advance into the Amhara and Afar regions, prompting the federal government to launch a new offensive.

With both sides entrenched, international peace efforts will continue to be ignored and other parties could be drawn into the conflict, while the civilian and humanitarian costs of the war will rise. The Sahel region also continues to be plagued by insecurity and instability, with domestic and international security forces unable to stem the violence from jihadist and other armed militant groups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

France has vowed to scale back its operations in the Sahel region in 2022, prompting Mali’s military leaders to allegedly pursue a deal with the Wagner Group – a Russian mercenary company already involved in several conflicts in Africa and accused of carrying out human rights violations. The deployment of Russian mercenaries is likely to isolate Mali from the rest of the international community, which will in turn complicate counter-terrorism efforts and exacerbate insecurity in the Sahel.


While military coups used to be the norm in Africa between 1950 and 2000, the trend of military leaders seizing power slowed in the following two decades. However, four coups occurred in 2021 alone, with new military leaders overthrowing governments in Mali, Chad, Guinea and Sudan.

While the African Union (AU) and the rest of the international community condemn such acts, military leaders have acted with impunity to take power from leaders with questionable legitimacy. The justifications for military coups, including corrupt elites, poverty and bad governance, have largely been the same for decades, and with these undemocratic practices still prevalent in many countries on the continent, more coups are likely in the years ahead, especially as coup leaders avoid paying a major price domestically or abroad for their actions. Success does not guarantee impunity, but it makes it much more likely to follow.


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