Rwanda, South Sudan and the 7 African Conflicts Every American Should Know About

Disclaimer: The list below is by no means an exhaustive list of issues going on in Africa. However, it includes some of the most violent conflicts that have recently developed that Americans should at least be aware of. Furthermore, it is not a list described in detail, so I encourage readers to pick a country or topic that stands out to them and read further news on it. 

1.. Sudan: Since South Sudan’s independence from Sudan last July, fighting has occurred in South Kordofan and Blue Nile between the Sudanese government and rebels in these border regions. A Darfur-like situation is happening in the Blue Nile, as refugees escaping into South Sudan retell stories of their government attacking civilians along the border region. The Sudanese army, commanded by President Omar al-Bashir, is using the same scorched-earth tactic it used in Darfur: storming into villages, burning down huts, destroying fields, poisoning wells, killing those who did not escape, and then leaving the scene behind, in ruins, in a state that villagers cannot return to salvage and forcing villagers to become internally displaced people or refugees. The government has banned journalists from coming into the Blue Nile as well as a majority of humanitarian aid organizations. At least 170,000 refugees have fled the country due to the violence. In addition to this conflict, Sudan and South Sudan continue to clash on agreeing how to split revenue from South Sudan’s oil-rich Abyei region, which had been a contentious issue during the Sudan-South Sudan split.

2. South Sudan: Tribal violence since December between the Nuer and Murle in the Jonlei state is threatening the newly independent state’s stability. Violence broke out as a result of cattle raiding. According to a UN report, at least 888 people – including women, children, and elderly – have died between December and early February. Hate speech written on school walls state, “We come to kill all Merle,” found against the backdrop of villages burning, corpses left throughout the areas, and attackers chasing women and children with machetes. The government is failing to protect its citizens, as disarmament campaigns have failed repeatedly and tensions grow more intense. As of earlier this year, humanitarian organizations have estimated over 100,000 displaced people as a result of the conflict.

3. Rwanda: Notorious for its 1994 genocide, Rwanda has since then been well on its way to recovery, particularly economically, in which observers have heralded it as being Africa’s Singapore. However, recent conflict fueling in the Congo is again marring the small country’s political reputation, as Rwanda-DRC relations deteriorate. The DRC and UN Security Council claim that Rwanda is assisting the conflict in the eastern Congo by creating networks that support the rebelling forces, engaging in recruitment of soldiers, and providing supplies including weapons for the forces. Rwanda has consistently denied backing the Congolese M23 group, and has expressed “deep regrets” to the UN’s decision to publish a document that accuses Rwanda of providing such support to M23.

4. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has claimed the most lives since World War II. Most recently, a new rebel group called M23 has formed, causing spikes in violence and displacements. A recent UN report documents that Rwanda has been supporting the movement by recruiting new members and providing weapons, health care, and training. This new rebellion will harm not only civilians in eastern Congo, but also to the fragile relationship between the Rwandan and Congolese governments. Furthermore, last time Rwanda’s actions in Congo were criticized, Rwanda threatened to withdraw peacekeeping forces from Darfur. There is no silver bullet solution to the conflict in eastern Congo, but without regional cooperation lasting peace and stability will be very difficult to come by.

5. Uganda: Surely by now you’ve heard about the Kony 2012 campaign, which addresses the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) movement which began in Uganda and has now spread to the DRC, the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. Last October, President Obama deployed 100 U.S. troops to the region to assist with the capture of LRA leaders, namely Joseph Kony, and ending LRA atrocities. The U.S. is to provide regional armies with military and technical training, while at the same time building regional unity amongst nations that have not traditionally worked with one another. The UN urges that the countries tracking Kony be fully equipped with uniforms, food, transportation, and training by December. As a result of LRA atrocities, at least 444,000 people have had to flee their homes for continued existence as internally displaced people and refugees.

6. Nigeria: As Goodluck Jonathan's administration struggles to contain northern Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency, the threat of sectarian and inter-communal violence in the country’s northern and Middle Belt states continues to mount. Boko Haram has emerged from a deep-seated, pervasive sense of socioeconomic discontent and political marginalization among northern Nigeria's disaffected populace. The insurgency is likely to continue in the absence of a negotiated, comprehensive approach to northern Nigeria's political, economic, and human insecurities. Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa's largest oil producer, and the instability in the country's southern, oil-producing states poses significant risks to its already-fragile political economy.

7. Mali: As the country attempts to mitigate multiple counter terrorism, governance, and food security challenges, the political conflict continues to test the country. Mali's present crisis began in January, when the Tuareg-based National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) launched an insurgency in the country's semi-autonomous northern region, which they promptly renamed "Azawad." In March, a group of mid-level military officers, frustrated with the central government's inability to mitigate the Tuareg crisis, staged a coup in Bamako, Mali's capital. Between the coup and the MNLA insurgency – which was, just a few months ago, a bright example of gradual, progressive democratization – a significant threat to regional stability has emerged, not to mention continuous ecological and humanitarian burdens.

Why Americans Should Care

While the African continent seems far away, the conflicts that occur on it can nonetheless impact American lives. Conflicts create instability throughout civil society, as governments are weakened or corrupted. Civil liberties and human rights are put in peril, with actual human beings suffering the consequences of resulting violations and atrocities. Mass emigration and forced displacement often occur, turning one country’s instability into an entire region’s instability; and one region’s instability impacts the entire world, affecting our entire economic, political, and social well-being.

Jessica is a student leader on STAND, a student-led movement for preventing mass atrocities around the world. She is also an active member of the Stanford STAND chapter, which addresses most of the conflicts on the list. If you are interested in getting involved with issues of human rights, civilian protection, or diaspora groups, email info@standnow.org. Many thanks to Caity Monroe for assistance on the DRC section.