First, the good news: In general, as a global trend, the prevalence of armed conflict has been reducing consistently throughout the twenty-first century, with less deaths overall and a reduction of inter-state conflict. Data from the Global Peace Index demonstrates that this continued into 2016, and while we await reports for 2017, this trend is likely to continue and, at worst, there would be a slight increase.
It seems worse for two reasons. The first is that the media, by its nature, will lean towards reporting newsworthy events of interest to their viewers, usually of the bad variety. They are sometimes criticised for this, unfairly so, as good reporting, when it is impartial and informative, is crucial to revealing wrongdoing and providing a wider perspective for the viewer than what they experience themselves every day. The second is that where armed conflict is occurring it is unspeakably grim, and even in the regions usually neglected by the mainstream media due to its focus on Syria and ISIS, the prevalence of human rights violations and the impact of armed conflict has pushed local and regional conflicts to the fore. These can be seen as the ‘badlands’ in a world that is becoming more peaceful in the brute terms of violence and non-violence. It is these that this blog focuses on, with five, sometimes overlapping areas of interest dominating this year: Syria, ISIS and global terrorism, the Rohingya Crisis, conflict in Africa, and Ukraine.
The Rohingya crisis, in fact the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, underwent a serious escalation in mid-2017, barely a year after a previous escalation. Both were linked to attacks in Myanmar by separatist groups claiming to represent the Rohingya but the outcome in both instances was that Myanmar’s army has systematically razed villages and towns to the ground and unleashed a campaign of sexual violence. This has contributed further to a refugee crisis that has seen the Rohingya forced from Rakhine State in Myanmar where tensions between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine have a long history and have been ratcheted up by extremist monks with the acquiescence of the State. That there had been inter-communal violence by both sides is undeniable, but the persecution of the Rohingya by the state, which they describe as a ‘clearance operation’, has created a mass exodus to neighbouring Bangladesh. The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh are edging towards an agreement that would see the Rohingya repatriated. Under current conditions this would be a mistake that could result in genocide. Some are arguing that this is already the case.
Understanding armed conflict in Africa is a stated aim of the website that generates this blog and thus far it has covered Somalia, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It should be stated that Africa is a massive continent with fifty-four countries and an unparalleled diversity of peoples and politics. The four countries covered represent only a fraction of these, while it is also the case that there are far more conflicts to understand. Forthcoming blogs will continue to focus on conflict on the African continent, beginning with Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram. The Africa series was reviewed in a recent blog and any general conclusions drawn relate to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo only. Here, what appears to be violence with ethnic roots are arguably violence driven by politics, lack of representation and competition over resources, which are visibly manifested along ethnic lines. When the identification of people along ethnic lines becomes the dominant form of categorisation it is not long before violence becomes targeted against people on the basis of their ethnicity. The results are localised within each country, the ‘badlands’ referred to above, with dire humanitarian consequences, and with both violence at the national level between the state and rebels and numerous ‘micro-wars’ at the local level. The prevalence of major human rights violations is shockingly high, and it is highly probable that hidden amongst the overall picture of violence are a series of cases of ethnic cleansing at the micro level. There are no simple solutions to this, but at the top of the list is the provision of effective security at a time when UN budgets are under review and peacekeepers are becoming casualties. For a more comprehensive overview see the link provided below.
Finally, we turn to the war in Ukraine, which has lumbered on throughout the year with the occasional spike in violence punctuating what has been a grinding standoff along fixed lines and with daily casualties. Sadly, this has become a norm from which both sides need respite. That Ukraine’s trauma is a result of the Kremlin’s involvement is an allegation dismissed with merely a half-hearted denial and a knowing wink. It is unlikely that the separatists in the east could have maintained their war without Russian support, as was the case in earlier years when they were mounting offensives. This hides the internal problems in Ukraine that resulted in the Maidan protests and exacerbated the country’s division between a pro-EU/NATO west and Russian orientated east. It also allows for the Kremlin to exploit and reinforce discontent in the east as it challenges the dominance of the EU and NATO in Europe. Ukraine’s war rests on internal division and the geopolitical rivalry both: the former is a tragedy that besets many nations, the latter is a disgrace. The Ukraine is a casualty of a geopolitical standoff between the West (in the form of the EU and NATO) and Russia that was avoidable and is ultimately resolvable through rapprochement and dialogue. Removing this incompatibility from the Ukrainian conflict will not lead to an immediate resolution, but it will remove a major contributing factor.
The blogs concerning the above conflicts can be accessed at the CARIS website, which has links for Twitter and Facebook:
For the review of the Africa series see:
Next week: Part two of this review, including Syria, ISIS and global terrorism.
Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator