Even without the curse of COVID-19, the year 2020 was not an entirely happy one.
In addition to a little-expected pandemic that brought the global economy to its knees, the world witnessed violence and a number of military confrontations.
In the beginning of the year, the tension between Iran and the US reached an all-time high, casting the shadow of yet another war over the Middle East.
Later, Sino-Indian border skirmishes were about to get out of control. The conflict was ignited with the beginning of a road construction project in the disputed Galwan River valley, which displeased Beijing.
Fortunately, and thanks to restraint shown by both sides, a full-blown military confrontation was avoided: the last thing the world needed in 2020 was a war between the world’s two most populous powers.
Toward the end of 2020, however, the world did witness a tragic war between two nations in the Caucasus. Between September and November, 2020, Azerbaijani and Armenian forces exchanged fire over their age-old claims regarding the ownership of the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
While Azerbaijan considers Karabakh part of its soil, Armenia backs the breakaway, self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh which has been controlling the region since the early 1990s. A ceasefire was finally arranged in Moscow, with Azerbaijan gaining the control of five previously occupied cities, four townships, and some 286 villages.
In the meantime, many took up arms in Africa to solve their own internal issues and border skirmishes. Regrettably, many such conflicts in Africa were overshadowed by other news, though they did not escape the notice of The Business Year.
Below, we have compiled a list of growing military tensions in Africa in 2020, their historical background, and prospects for the coming year.
Cabo Delgado and Mozambique
Radical Islamist militants have been trying for a while to establish a so-called Islamic State in the province of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, but their efforts have met resistance from the Mozambican state and law enforcement authorities.
Insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Sunna (Mozambique) have been indiscriminately targeting servicemen and civilians in the region throughout 2020, though no exact statistics of the casualties is available.
In March, 2020, Islamist insurgents went so far as to capture the northern port city of Mocímboa da Praia, and wreaked havoc on the city’s infrastructure.
The rebels were forced to withdraw only two days later, and they retaliated by carrying out different raids, including one attack on April 7, 2020, which claimed the lives of over 50 villagers in Xitaxi.
Insurgent attacks and counterattacks have been taking place repeatedly in Mozambique in 2020, but news of the events rarely make it to major media outlets due to limits on the freedom of media.
Civil conflict in Cameroon
On the west coast of Africa, meanwhile, another crisis is going on in Cameroon.
Often dubbed as the Anglophone Crisis, the Cameroonian Civil war is fought between the separatist Anglophone territories of Ambazonia—on the Nigerian border in the west of the country—and the government of Cameroon.
While the central government has been more-or-less successful in subduing this insurgency, the Anglophone forces occasionally show up in cities and the countryside from time to time and set up their frontlines to fight the country’s armed forces.
The government mainly focuses on keeping the major urban areas free of rebels, leaving separatists the de facto controllers of many of the smaller townships in these parts of Cameroon.
The conflict has led to the displacement of over half a million people, with 3,000-5,000 servicemen and civilians from both sides losing their lives. In 2020, the separatists became more defiant and the government had to deploy more gendarmerie to fend off the insurgent attacks.
However, with the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic already putting extra pressure on the Cameroonian government and its limited resources, this has been a challenge for the state.
Since May, 2020, the government has been setting up military bases at strategic locations to cut off the supply route of the separatists—mainly from Nigeria.
Instability in Nigeria
Nigeria itself has been dealing with unrest for some years now.
Despite being the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria is not immune to instability and civil wars.
Many still remember the country’s bloody civil war over “Biafra”, the region bordering Cameroon’s Ambazonia, which lasted between 1967 and 1970 and claimed 45,000-100,000 lives, with around 2 million more dying due to the ensuing famine.
As of 2021, the security problems of Nigeria have not been solved yet.
The country is a mosaic of of over 200 ethnic groups, often speaking different languages and practicing different religions. Often, groups claiming to represent Christians, Muslims, or those who practice indigenous African religions decide to solve their problems by resorting to military confrontation.
However, Nigeria’s relatively robust economic growth over the last decade has accelerated the process of nation-building.
Boko Haram, a radical jihadi sect active in northeast Nigeria, is currently the greatest threat to the nation’s peace. Beginning its campaign of terror around 2002, the group has a reputation doe brutal violence, which includes all forms of massacre, bombing, abduction, and the destruction of mosques and churches.
The group has also targeted people and places in nations neighbouring Nigeria like Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, among others. In 2020, Boko Haram took responsibility for a bombing that occurred on January 6, in Gamboru, Borno State, and the year that followed was characterized by destabilizing activities across the north of the country.
Turmoil in DRC
Much like Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo still suffers from the wounds of a devastating war: the First Congo War of 1996-1997, which claimed the lives of up to 800,000 people, and left 222,000 people homeless. The Second Congo war (1998-2003) had even higher casualties—over 2.7 million to 5.4 million direct and indirect deaths.
Although the latter conflict came to an end in 2003 with the birth of the Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, violence is still rampant in certain parts of the country, especially in the east.
Ongoing disputes over national electoral politics, spillover from violent conflicts and refugees from Uganda, Rwanda, and the Central Africa Republic, and the presence of valuable ores such as columbite–tantalites or “Coltan” (central to electronics manufacturing) continue to fuel instability in the Kivu, Kasai, and Ituri regions.