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Inside Africa’s forgotten conflicts

May 16, 2024
topic:Peace and Reconciliation
tags:#Africa, #Sudan, #Democratic Republic of Congo, #civil war, #humanitarian crisis, #Rwanda genocide
located:Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea
by:Bob Koigi
While the world focuses on conflicts in the Middle East and Europe, underreported wars in Africa are creating humanitarian crises of epic proportions, deeply affecting people, livelihoods and regional stability.

In a 2022 report dubbed Breaking the Silence, Care International, a global humanitarian agency that provides emergency relief and implements development projects, observed that African countries affected by conflict, political instability, climate change and poverty received significantly less attention compared to other regions or global events.

As an example, the report highlighted the 2022 Oscars incident where American actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock, noting that this event garnered nearly 100 times more media coverage than the food crisis in Malawi.

"Our 2022 report shows that all of the most under-reported crises are now in Africa […] media attention on countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Chad fall into the shadows of the news headlines," noted a section of the report. 

As political instability and civil wars continue to devastate livelihoods and affect entire regions in some African countries, we spotlight these protracted conflicts and examine their impacts on people, economies and neighbouring countries.


What began as a power struggle between two rival generals in 2021 has escalated into a full-scale conflict, claiming over 15,000 lives, displacing millions and now posing a threat of spillover into an already volatile region.

How it started

When former dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 during an uprising, Generals Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the army leader, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia, assumed power. The military had pledged a transition to civilian rule, and a negotiation committee comprising both the army and a pro-democracy group, which included civilian movements, was established. But disagreements over the process of transferring power and the proposal to integrate the RSF into the army led to the collapse of the negotiations.

When the transition to civilian rule failed, cracks started to emerge and the relations between the two camps strained. Each camp wanted to demonstrate its dominance in the coalition and demanded more stake in the military government. Finally, mistrust between the two generals and neither willing to concede led to a battle of wits and might that erupted in April 2023. By now, it has metamorphosed into what the UN officials labeled as 'one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history.'

The fighting was initially limited to Sudan’s capital Khartoum, but later spilled over to the rest of the country, claiming over 14,000 lives. More than 8 million people have been displaced internally and across the country’s borders - with close to 2 million having fled to neighbouring Chad and South Sudan in what has been described as the world’s worst displacement crisis. 

The human cost of the conflict 

The conflict, characterized by killings, theft, property destruction, rape and sexual violence, has reignited dark memories of the genocidal conflict in Darfur - Sudan's western region where combat and starvation claimed 400,000 lives two decades ago.

Close to 28 million people in the region, 18 million in Sudan, 7 million in South Sudan and 3 million in Chad are currently facing chronic food insecurity, the World Food Programme says. 

At Zamzam camp in Northern Darfur, Doctors Without Borders reports that up to 40 per cent of children aged between 6 months and 2 years are chronically malnourished, with one child dying every two hours. The UN Population Fund warns that these children and their mothers face the risk of death in the coming months unless food rations and medical care are provided.

The situation has been exacerbated by the two camps having blocked humanitarian efforts, especially to those who are trapped in conflict zones. They are either demand fees to allow humanitarian vehicles to pass through checkpoints or loot relief cargo destined for internally displaced camps. 

The conflict has also severely impacted Sudan's education system, once a hub that attracted international students due to its robust offerings. Since the onset of hostilities in April 2023, the closure of schools and universities has led to what the United Nations now describes as the world's worst education crisis, with an estimated 19 million children currently out of school.

Uncoordinated mediation

To improve the situation, various entities including the UN, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) - a regional bloc in the Horn of Africa, the United States and the African Union, have made efforts to bring the warring factions to the negotiation table to establish a lasting peace and truce.

But the disjointed approach of the talks, with each entity trying to lead the mediation on its own, and lack of coherence have stalled the negotiations. 

"One of the reasons the talks keep collapsing is because there are powers and proxies of war outside Sudan that do not want the talks to succeed - because they have vested interest in the country," Jackson Mutiso from the University of Nairobi Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, told FairPlanet. Given Sudan's strategic location on the Red Sea, he added, and its rich agricultural land and resources, including gold, livestock, oil, Arabic gum and cotton - all highly demanded in the Middle East - the stakes are extremely high.

According to Mutiso, foreign powers such as Egypt and Iran have been providing the army with financial and military support, including drones. Eritrea, which is concerned about the RSF's advance toward its eastern borders, has also been backing the army.

The United Arab Emirates has emerged as a major supporter of the RSF, while Ethiopia, which maintains close ties with the UAE and is a rival of Egypt, has also shown support for the RSF.


The ongoing conflict in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to claim lives, displace thousands and fuel a humanitarian crisis of epidemic proportions.

This includes disease outbreaks like cholera and the closure of hospitals, which has severely impacted healthcare. The situation is also drawing in neighbouring countries, threatening to escalate into a regional conflict.

The Rwanda genocide factor

The conflict has its roots in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, during which over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu armed militias. As the violence escalated, the masterminds of the genocide fled to the DRC.

Going after the architects of the massacre, Rwanda supported M23, a rebel group that targeted the tumultuous eastern region of the DRC, where the perpetrators had fled. M23's significant insurgency ended over a decade ago following their defeat.

In 2021, as conflict in the region intensified, the M23 rebel group became active again. Rwanda's concerns centered around the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group with members who participated in the genocide and were integrated into the Congolese army. Rwanda has also accused the Congolese government of initiating military operations aimed at banishing Congolese Tutsi civilians.

DRC’s government, on the other hand, along with the UN and US, has accused the Rwandese government of funding and supporting the M23 rebel group to fight FDLR, an allegation it has denied.

The conflict has now taken on a regional dimension, with Rwanda allegedly supporting M23, while South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi and Burundian forces are combating the rebel group to curb the spread of the conflict and support the DR Congo's government as key allies.

Worsening humanitarian crisis

As combatants flex their muscles in a war that has engulfed East African nations, including DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, which has commercial interests in Eastern Congo, and Burundi, which is hosting refugees fleeing the conflict, along with Southern African countries that have sent troops, the humanitarian situation in the DRC remains dire.

The flare-up has caused about a quarter of DRC’s population, over 25 million people, to face severe hunger, and with a neglected health sector, diseases such as measles and cholera have been proliferating. 

Women and children have particularly borne the brunt of the conflict, and have been exposed to sexual violence, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups. Between 2021 and 2022 the number of reported cases of gender-based violence had doubled from 40,000 to over 80,000, with more than 31,000 cases reported in the first three months of 2023 according to data from Care International. 

Furthermore, the recent surge in combat has displaced over 7 million people. With internally displaced person camps at capacity, makeshift tents are being set up along roadsides in the eastern region of the country and in areas where access to humanitarian aid is severely limited.

The conflict has escalated in recent months, with reports indicating that the use of air raids, explosives and shelling has quadrupled since the start of this year compared to last year. As M23 seeks to seize more mineral-rich territories, government troops have retaliated to block them. The use of heavy weaponry has resulted in civilian casualties and significant destruction of vital infrastructure, including roads, schools, and health centers.

Meanwhile, various negotiation and peace talks initiated by regional bodies such as the East African Communities continue to falter as political animosity grows. Examples of such unsuccessful bids include the ‘Nairobi process’ and ‘Luanda process.’ 

Exasperated by the conflict, citizens have taken to the streets and set ablaze US and Belgian flags, accusing the international community of being silent regarding the humanitarian crisis. 

"The cyclic conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo is a failure of leadership at the national, regional and international level," Anita Nkirote, a Kenyan-based political and development expert, told FairPlanet.

"Regional blocs including the East African Community, Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union and the United Nations must put more pressure on the leaders to call off the conflict and negotiate a sustainable peace and security deal. A harmonised mediation process involving all these players will force the parties to the conflict to the negotiation table."

She added, "Ultimately, the DRC government must walk the political talk and adopt far-reaching political decisions to address the conflict, which include a reform of the military, reconciliation, non-discrimination and allowing its people to benefit from the country’s resources. But for that to happen, its neighbours must also desist from trying to destabilise it." 

As conflicts in Africa escalate and humanitarian crises deepen, thought leaders are voicing concerns over the world's silence and the media's limited coverage, particularly when compared to other global conflicts.

"Colorism plays a big factor in wars, genocides, who gets aid, who gets discarded and whose voices get listened to," artist Mayowasworld noted in a recent Instagram post.

"When a conflict of this magnitude happens in Europe or Middle East, global media pitch a tent in the affected areas, highlighting the various dynamics of the war such as the genesis, the impacts and the demands of the parties to the conflict," Mutiso from the University of Nairobi added. "That coverage and exposure triggers action, including humanitarian assistance, mediation and intervention by the international community, which ameliorates the situation."

In Africa, he pointed out, the situation is starkly different. Conflicts such as the one in DR Congo have persisted for decades, he said, and the situation in Sudan is escalating toward genocide. Yet, the response from the international media and community has been sluggish in his view.

"It is a collective failure on the part of the global community. By now, drastic measures like sanctions and censures should have been  enforced on the perpetrators of war." 

Image by UNMISS.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Sudan Democratic Republic of the Congo Rwanda Burundi Egypt United Arab Emirates Eritrea
Embed from Getty Images
In Sudan, a power struggle between two rival generals that began in 2021 has escalated into a full-scale conflict, claiming over 15,000 lives, displacing millions and now threatening to destabilise an already volatile region.
Embed from Getty Images
In Congo, the ongoing conflict is claiming lives, displacing thousands and fueling a humanitarian crisis of epidemic proportions.
Embed from Getty Images
A 2022 report noted that the incident at the Oscars ceremony where American actor Will Smith slapped Chris Rock received nearly 100 times more media coverage than the concurrent food crisis in Malawi.