Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 102, 3 June 2020

A Week of violence in Africa: From Libya to South Sudan, across Congo 
Harini Sha

In the news

Violence erupted in three of the African countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Libya this week. On 28 May, South Sudan faced a fresh wave of inter-communal violence which killed hundreds of villagers indicating another cycle of retribution between the two competing cattle-herding communities. On the same day, the neighbouring country of the Democratic Republic of Congo witnessed the latest series of massacres when a group of rebel fighters attacked a village in Ituri province and killed at least 40 people with machetes. Such reports of massive violence and constant threat to civilians are accountable even in the oil-rich country of Libya. The unilateral ceasefire announced by the rebel fighter, Haftar on account of Eid and the COVID-19 crisis was rejected by the ruling government that led to the continuance of violence. Thousands of refugees have been forced into overcrowded detention camps without food and shelter, leaving them to the mercy of brutal armed groups.

Issues at large

Ethnic divisions, resource politics, and networks of the arms trade are the issues driving the violence in the region.  

First, ethnic divisions in South Sudan. The country of South Sudan is divided along ethnic lines and the leaders in power frequently exploit the divisions by fractioning the military in fighting the ethnic conflicts. South Sudan is engulfed in inter-communal fighting wherein the Nuer ethnic community backed by the State's President is fighting with the sub-tribal community of Marle who is represented by the ousted vice president. As the ethnic politics deepen, the violence among the group has simultaneously increased with an aim to control political power. 

Second, resource politics in Congo. The competition for power in resource-rich zones is dominated by the dozens of armed groups who often take up the ethnic clashes among the communities as a reason to continue violence. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the active presence of more than one hundred armed groups such as the Ugandan Allied Democratic forces that terrorize communities and control weakly governed areas. These areas are often resourced rich regions which are then used by the armed groups to wield power and money. The government authorities have failed to protect the people which emboldens the rival militia groups from the neighbouring countries like Rwanda to gain assets in Congo's rich resources.

Third, the network of arms trade sustains violence in Libya. The states are engulfed in more or less a proxy war between the countries of the US and Russian forces or regional powers like Turkey and Saudi Arabia who are much more eager on 'oil' than the "peace in the region." The flow of arms and ammunition to the rebel groups channelized through the arms black market networks that receive from the International bodies have kept the conflict in oil-rich Libya alive.

In perspective

The African continent is facing violence since decolonization. The countries became democratic with an offer for independence that has remained short of nation-building and systemic fault lines. These democratic leaders have taken up old warring techniques to access power in the new governing style which has ultimately failed the democracy of peace in the continent.


Harini Sha is a Research Intern at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). The author is pursuing a Masters in International Studies from Stella Maris College, Chennai. 

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