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The Sahel Region in West Africa, a Top-10 Conflict Spot to Watch in 2023, Says Crisis Group

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Burkina Faso’s military junta leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, left, visiting Mali’s interim president, Col. Assimi Goïta, Nov. 2, 2022. The two countries, which have undergone numerous coups in the last two years, are part of the vast Sahel swathe in West Africa where jihadist violence is intensifying despite longtime counterterrorism measures carried out by the West and now by Russians.  

LAGOS — The International Crisis Group has listed the jihadist violence in the Sahel region in West Africa as one of the 10 violent flash points to watch in 2023. The conflict area covers Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali but is also bordered by the Boko Haram-induced mayhem in the Lake Chad region overlapping the Sahel.

After Mali signed a security deal with Russia’s Wagner Group militia in late 2021, neighboring Burkina Faso’s young military junta leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, and his government have cozied up to Moscow, potentially creating resistance to Western aid and other vital interventions in 2023. (Complicating matters in Burkina Faso, the junta ousted the United Nations’ top development expert from the country, Barbara Manzi, in late December 2022 and, more recently, asked France’s ambassador to the country to leave.)

Nicolas de Rivière, France’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told PassBlue in August that his country needed Mali to cooperate with it to fight terrorism and that Mali would regret dealing with Russia’s Wagner troops.

“Western governments should feel chastened by their record over the past decade,” the Crisis Group said in its recent report on the 10 conflict spots to keep a close eye on this year. “But as some Sahelian leaders turn to Moscow, it would be a mistake to cut ties and try to force them to pick sides.” There have been a total of four successful coups In Mali and Burkina Faso since 2020 and an unsuccessful attempt in Niger last year. (In 2021, a coup also occurred in Guinea, in West Africa.)

The Sahel region aside, two other hot spots were identified in Africa: the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Great Lakes region as well as Ethiopia. The conflict in the Congo has been trudging along for decades, with a ray of hope shining two days before Christmas in 2022. The M23 rebels, who are backed by the Paul Kagame government in Rwanda, according to UN experts, withdrew from some of the territory they seized in the Congo since a renewed offensive began in March last year.

An East African peacekeeping force contributed by Kenya began arriving in the troubled region of the Congo in November.

In Ethiopia, Olusegun Obasanjo, a two-time former president of Nigeria, brokered a peace deal between the Ethiopian government of Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Force (TPLF), on Nov. 2 last year. Honoring the terms of the agreement, Eritrean forces, who are accused of widespread human-rights violations, began pulling out of the contested Tigray region before the new year.

Besides the flash points in various parts of Africa, the Crisis Group’s seven other current and brewing violent spots listed are:
• Ukraine
• Armenia and Azerbaijan
• Yemen
• Haiti
• Pakistan
• Taiwan
• Iran

“Besides Ethiopia, where mediation is currently ongoing, none of the other conflicts seems to have an end in sight,” Confidence MacHarry, a senior analyst at the SBM Intelligence security firm in Lagos, told PassBlue. “The rest, especially Pakistan, Haiti and Congo, all seem like they would blow into a deadly cold war.”

Two of the high-tension spots, Ukraine and Taiwan, directly involve permanent members of the Security Council: Russia and China, respectively. Such participation weakens the ability of the Council to react or deal with an erring country that is a veto power. (The others are Britain, France and the United States, which back Ukraine’s offensive against Russia by providing weapons and other assistance.)

“The UNSC has recently been at its weakest; in the past few months, member states have shown a tendency to take matters to the General Assembly rather than the UNSC, which weakens the institution rather than strengthens it,” MacHarry said of the Security Council.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the 10 conflict spots?

Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.

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