In the April 2023 Economist article “The world’s deadliest war last year wasn’t in Ukraine,” the author admirably delves into the intricate issues surrounding global conflicts, with a headline that is designed to catch attention.
Their focus is on countries destabilised by poor governance, climate change, and extremism. Notably, they look at the Sahel region, comprising Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, and northern Nigeria, which faced droughts, food crises, and floods in 2022. These events worsened existing conflicts and allowed jihadist groups to gain a foothold, accelerating the collapse of state authority.
In such a focus, the article highlights the contagious nature of instability, as farmers displaced by climate change cross borders and incite clashes in neighbouring countries. Jihadists seek refuge in other countries and rapidly spread their ideas online and in radical madrassas. Meanwhile, Western powers’ attempts to help have failed, exemplified by France’s withdrawal from Operation Barkhane in 2022.
The connections between crime and conflict are underscored, with illicit revenue sources extending the duration of civil wars. Government forces are also implicated in embezzlement and extortion, contributing to the perpetuation of conflicts. Haiti is a prime example of this issue, as the assassination of its president in 2021, potentially linked to the drug trade, led to chaos and gang control of the capital.
Myanmar is another notable example, with around 200 armed groups fighting for various causes. The country’s complex strife is further complicated by climate change and crime, with both the army and ethnic militias involved in heroin and jade smuggling.
The article provides hard reading.
In the Sahel, the lack of access to food and water has led to numerous conflicts, with the International Rescue Committee finding 70 conflicts in late 2021 in just one sub-region of Mali. This precarious environment has been exploited by jihadist groups promising justice in countries where formal courts are nearly non-existent. As a result, between 2020 and 2022, the number of schools closed due to violence tripled to 9,000 in the five Sahel countries mentioned.
In Burkina Faso, rival jihadist groups have made much of the country ungovernable. The government’s efforts to combat jihadists often worsen the situation, as trade is disrupted and remote areas become even poorer. The government’s inability to defeat jihadists has led to frustration and two coups in 2022.
Why such wars proliferate is a subject of intense debate. Sebastian von Einsiedel of the United Nations University in Tokyo argues that the spread of jihadist groups makes it harder to end wars. Their demands are often impossible to meet, their footsoldiers are fanatical, and external mediators are reluctant to deal with terrorists.
Meanwhile, James Fearon of Stanford University found that civil wars involving major rebel forces earning money from illicit drugs or minerals tend to last longer. The globalisation of crime has made it easier for such groups to access guns and cash. And Jason Stearns, in his book “The War that Doesn’t Say its Name,” argues that Congo’s unending war is self-perpetuating due to officers making fortunes from embezzlement and extortion in combat zones.
Haiti’s Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, is pleading for foreign military intervention to help restore order. However, Haitian opposition groups fear that such intervention would only serve to prop up Mr. Henry, who is widely regarded as illegitimate.
In Myanmar, the article describes the experiences of a member of the People’s Defence Force (PDF), an organisation set up after the military coup in 2021. The country has not had a conflict-free year since 1948, and norms have degraded significantly in recent years. Climate change and crime play a role in Myanmar’s ongoing conflict, as drought has impoverished the central dry zone, and both the army and ethnic militias are involved in smuggling operations. Richard Horsey of the Crisis Group predicts that the war may continue for another generation.
The author acknowledges several ideas for ending wars, such as finding respected mediators, engaging in unofficial talks, including more women and civil-society groups in peace processes, and accepting that peace deals may be imperfect. However, implementing crucial measures such as building functional states in war-torn countries and curbing climate change could take decades.
Efforts to promote global peace are hindered by the veto power of UN Security Council members like Russia and China, who often block resolutions aimed at addressing mass atrocities and promoting peace. The increased use of vetoes by these countries in the past decade has contributed to what David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, calls “an age of impunity.”
In summary, the Economist admirably delves into the complex issues surrounding global conflicts, focusing on countries destabilised by poor governance, climate change, and extremism. The Sahel region, Haiti, and Myanmar serve as examples of the challenges and interconnected nature of these conflicts. The article concludes with an exploration of the difficulties in ending wars and promoting global peace, emphasising the need for long-term solutions and the hindrances posed by the veto power of certain UN Security Council members.
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