Developing Conflicts to Keep an Eye on in 2022

In comparison to the 20th century, intrastate (country vs country) conflicts have appeared to calm. Furthermore, the number of overall battle-related deaths has been falling since 2014, another encouraging statistic. However, this by no means insinuates the world is now a harmonious, peaceful place.

Whilst international conflicts are low, internal conflicts (civil wars, uprisings, coups, within a country’s borders) are at an all-time high. One positive aspect of these internal conflicts is that they seem to be less intense i.e. a low number of battle-related deaths. Unfortunately, soldiers and rebels are not the only people affected by war. These conflicts have resulted in millions of civilians being displaced, with others experiencing famine and starvation.

So, whilst the official statistics around global conflicts look encouraging at a glance, the reality is millions of people are experiencing humanitarian crises due to conflict. Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and Central America are all currently dealing with several internal conflicts. Areas of Eastern Europe, such as Bosnia and Ukraine, are beginning to simmer once again. We are going to take a look at which conflicts are likely to develop further throughout 2022.

Ukraine

Source: BBC News

A Brief History

Although I mentioned the majority of contemporary conflicts are internal, tensions are running high between Russia and Ukraine at the moment. As you may know, Ukraine was formerly a province of the former Soviet Union. On more than one occasion, Russian President Vladamir Putin has claimed that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” part of the “Russian Civilisation”. Ukraine does not accept this narrative. Basically, they know each other pretty well.

Most recently in 2014, Ukraine had its “Revolution of Dignity”. The Ukrainian people rose up in protest, adamantly rejecting the Russian-supported leader, Viktor Yanukovych. They were crying out for a path to join the EU and NATO. A fascinating documentary I would highly recommend watching to gain a deeper understanding of this revolution is “Winter on Fire”.

Anyways, the pro-Moscow leader Yanukovych was ousted as a result of the uprising. However, Putin used this power vacuum to his advantage and annexed Ukraine’s autonomous Republic of Crimea. To add fuel to the fire, Putin also backed separatist movements in the Southeastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (both bordering Russia). To put it lightly, tensions have been rising. To put it less lightly, these conflicts have killed 13,000 people and displaced millions.

Back to Today

Toward the end of 2021, Russia amassed as many as 100,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border in annexed Crimea. Both Kyiv and the West are worried. A top military expert within Ukraine told Al Jazeera that if Russia wanted to invade “it would be brief and victorious”.

So, why does Russia want to invade? After the pandemic, Putin’s approval ratings are way down. The Kremlin remembers after the annex of Crimea, his ratings skyrocketed. Thus, a new war could be used as a distraction from his domestic downfalls and improve his popularity. Yes, it is a ridiculous reason to invade a country! Putin also wants to stop the expansion of NATO.

Ethiopia

Source: BBC News

What Has Been Going On?

The current unrest in Ethiopia has been developing throughout 2021 and began in November 2020. Ironically, this was merely a year after the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, received a Nobel Peace Prize for resolving a 20-year border conflict with its northern neighbour Eritrea. Anyway, in November 2020 the PM sent troops to a military base in the Northern region of Tigray (which borders Eritrea and Sudan).

A quick sidebar – Ethiopia has a number of regions or states that have the autonomy to govern themselves and have their own armed forces, Tigray is one of these regions.

After sending the troops to the military base in Tigray, the PM accused the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking the military base. Days later, the Ethiopian forces bombed the facility. Bloodshed ensued between the Ethiopian government forces and the Tigray forces. The neighbouring region of Amhara and Eritrea have since joined the war in support of the Ethiopian government forces.

There has been growing tension between Abiy Ahmed and the TPLF for many years. Ahmed has excluded the TPLF from his central Ethiopian government in Adis Ababa. Consequently, the TPLF refuses to answer Ahmed’s call to unify the country.

The Current Situation

The past year has severely affected Ethiopian civilians (both in Tigray and elsewhere). Around 400,000 people are currently facing famine-like conditions in the North. 80% of essential medicines are not available in the Tigray region as much of the region is blocked off from receiving international aid. Furthermore, over 2 million people have been displaced. The situation is worrying in Ethiopia and, without significant diplomatic talks, the violence looks set to continue throughout 2022.

Haiti

A Year to Forget

2021 stands out as a particularly bleak year for many Haitians. You may remember hearing in July that their President, Jovenel Moise, was assassinated by a group of hitmen in his home in Port-au-Prince. Subsequently, there was an inevitable scramble for power among the Haitian elites. Ariel Henry became the country’s interim leader and Prime Minister.

One month later, the country was hit by an earthquake that devastated much of Southern Haiti. This, in addition to rampant kidnappings in Port-au-Prince, a weak Covid 19 vaccination rate, and an increasing level of emigration has left the country in quite a vulnerable state.

New Beginnings?

The scramble for power in the wake of the President’s killing has led to two competing agendas. Prime Minister Henry, and several parties, have signed a deal to keep him in power until the general election in 2022. Opposing this agreement, the Commission for a Hatiain Solution to the Crisis (an umbrella group of civil society organisations and political parties) is striving towards a total reform of the Haitian political system. They want a two year transition with a council of representatives in charge in the meantime.

Quite a hectic year, right? Well, 2022 has kicked off in the same manner. Prime Minister Henry was forced to flee the country on 3 January. There was a shootout in the city of Gonaives between his security forces and an armed group that had previously warned him not to enter ‘their’ city. Unless the political parties on both sides of the power struggle in Haiti can agree on how to govern the country, it would seem that the turmoil of 2021 will develop further throughout 2022. 

Sudan

A Fragile Journey to Democracy

Up until 2019, Sudan was ruled by a longtime authoritarian ruler, Omar al-Bashir, for 30 years. After years of economic uncertainty, as a result of US sanctions and a loss of oil revenue, as well as poor living conditions, the Sudanese people began to protest. The protests eventually spread to the capital, Khartoum.

The protests, which were initially focused on rising costs, evolved into the masses calling for the removal of Omar al-Bashir. After months of protests, al-Bashir was eventually removed and replaced by a military council. So, the long-time authoritarian leader was ousted. The next step was to transition to a civilian government. In 2019, the main civilian coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change, decided to put former economist Abdallah Hamdok as Prime Minister. He was seen as the most viable option to help the country transition, along with military generals.

On 25 October 2021, the Sudanese army once again implemented a military coup to regain total power. Hamdok was placed under house arrest and members of his cabinet were placed in prison. The military council that seized power declared that elections would be held in 2023.

The coup was internationally condemned and, believe it or not, Hamdok was reinstated a month later. In addition to his reinstatement, Hamdok agreed to a deal with the military leaders that called for an independent technocratic cabinet (leaders are elected based on their technical skills and proven performance, not voted for) under military oversight.

Now What?

Well, needless to say, the Sudanese pro-democracy movement denounced the agreement made between Hamdok and the military. On 2 January, Hamdok resigned as Prime Minister due to political deadlock. He stated he could not bridge the gap between military and civilian leadership. A Sudanese lawyer and legal commentator told Al Jazeera, “what remains is a full-fledged military dictatorship”. However, it is unlikely that Sudan’s pro-democracy movement will accept this lightly, making it a fragile situation.

Myanmar

Myanmar is yet another country that experienced a high-profile military coup in 2021. Their democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was forcefully removed from power in February 2021.

Why Was There a Coup?

In 2015, Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party were victorious in the country’s first contested election in 25 years. She won by a landslide. In 2020, her party, once again, secured an impressive victory, with even more votes than the 2015 election. The military, who still held significant power in Myanmar, disputed the results and claimed it was a fraudulent election. There has been no proof of fraud. Suu Kyi and other political leaders remain under arrest.

Consequences of the Coup

The military coup has resulted in a cycle of armed clashes all over the country. There are around 17 armed ethnic groups in total in Myanmar. This widespread violence has resulted in mass displacement. In 2021, an estimated 220,000 civilians were displaced, this adds to the 330,000 already internally displaced before 1 February 2021.

Economic impacts of this instability, such as rapid price hikes, combined with COVID-19 movement restrictions and ongoing insecurity have plunged much of the country into poverty. According to a UN Humanitarian Needs overview, the turmoil has driven almost half the country’s population into poverty by the start of 2022. Furthermore, the Rohingya refugees now have even less protection from the armed groups that have persecuted them for years. Myanmar faces a difficult 2022 whilst the military remains in power. 

Source: BBC News

Whilst the stats show that the conflicts themselves are lessening in intensity, the consequences they are having on civilians appear to be worsening. 2022 will certainly be an important year for the countries on this list. Hopefully, diplomatic talks can prevail to limit the humanitarian damage.

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Ronan Kirby

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