CrisisWatch 2019: A Global Overview of September Trends and October Alerts
The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights dangers of escalating conflict in Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Tunisia. But there are resolution opportunities in Sudan.
In September, U.S. President Trump suspended talks with the Taliban, curtailing prospects for peace in Afghanistan, while an attack on Saudi oil facilities prompted a sharp rise in tensions between Riyadh and Washington on one side and Iran on the other. Cross-border attacks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Huthis could multiply unless they agree on steps to de-escalate, and fighting in Yemen’s south could also pick up. In Egypt and Algeria, security forces cracked down on opposition protests, and Tunisia’s second round of presidential polls could stir tensions. Violence around protests in Indonesia’s Papua left at least 30 dead. Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks in Somalia, violence between armed groups rose in the Central African Republic, security forces increased attacks in Cameroon’s Anglophone areas, and intercommunal conflict deepened in central Mali. In October, insecurity could rise in eastern DR Congo, northern Burkina Faso, Malawi and Mozambique. Talks between Venezuela’s government and opposition fell apart, and Haiti’s political crisis gave way to more violence. In Sudan, the appointment of a new cabinet consolidated a power-sharing deal and imminent talks between the government and armed opposition groups are an opportunity to advance peace in the peripheries.
U.S. President Trump dealt a blow to Afghanistan’s peace process when in a series of surprise Tweets he called off U.S.-Taliban negotiations and cancelled a secret meeting with the Taliban and Afghan government. The move, which harmed U.S. credibility and threatened to undo months of careful diplomacy, will mean at a minimum some delay in finalising a U.S.-Taliban deal that had seemed on the verge of completion. To repair the damage, talks should resume as quickly as possible.
Aerial attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia triggered a sharp rise in tensions between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. on one side and Iran on the other. Yemen’s Huthis claimed the assault, but both Riyadh and Washington blamed Tehran, which denied involvement. Crisis Group analysed how the principal parties read the attacks and argued that the cost of further regional escalation should compel the U.S. and Iran to walk back from the brink. Conflict in Yemen could escalate on two fronts in October. Cross-border attacks between the Huthis and Saudi Arabia could intensify if they fail to reach a mutual de-escalation agreement. At the same time, troop movements in the south suggest that pro-government forces and southern separatists are readying for a new bout. Several African countries face a possible escalation in violence in October.
Several African countries face a possible escalation in violence in October. In DR Congo’s north-eastern Ituri province, deadly attacks partly driven by ethnic antipathy could rise if talks between authorities and a militia leader collapse. The cyclical unrest underscores our call for the UN to support local peacemaking efforts even if the UN mission draws down. In Mozambique, both a rebel faction and radical Islamist militants could seek to violently disrupt general elections set for 15 October. Malawi could see protests and repression rise if the constitutional court rules against the opposition’s bid to have President Mutharika’s re-election in May overturned. In northern Burkina Faso, jihadists could exploit their momentum and security forces’ partial withdrawal and step up attacks on urban centres.
Insecurity worsened in four other African hotspots. Over the border in central Mali, violence surged as attacks on a banned local militia by both jihadists and the military fuelled intercommunal conflict. Al-Shabaab intensified attacks in south-central Somalia, and relations between the federal government and Jubaland soured further. In the far north east of the Central African Republic, fighting between rival armed groups rose, leaving over 40 dead. And in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, the military stepped up attacks on suspected separatist fighters and civilians. Ahead of a national dialogue on the Anglophone crisis, we urged the government to give more time to Anglophones, including federalists, to lay out their proposals, and let the UN and African Union help bridge divides.
Violence rose again in Indonesia’s Papua region, where at least 30 people were reportedly killed and scores injured as security forces clashed with protesters in Wamena city and the provincial capital Jayapura.
In Egypt, security forces cracked down on spontaneous anti-government protests, reportedly arresting some 2,000 people and deploying to prevent further unrest. The military in Algeria took a harder line against continued demonstrations there, stepping up arrests of protest leaders and preventing people from joining Friday protests in the capital. The two political outsiders who won most votes in the first round of Tunisia’s presidential election, including imprisoned media mogul Nabil Karoui, are due to face off in October. But the authorities could invoke his incarceration as grounds to cancel the second round or nullify the result, risking a constitutional void and power vacuum.
Talks to end Venezuela’s protracted crisis collapsed as the main opposition group pulled out of Norway-sponsored negotiations in Barbados, blaming President Maduro’s government for suspending talks in August and not responding to its proposal. The government in turn announced it had made a deal with a group of smaller opposition partiesnot involved in the Barbados talks. Political instability and unrest rose in Haiti as tensions boiled over in parliament, and several people were killed during anti-government protests.
Cause for some optimism in Sudan, where the new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, appointed a cabinet acceptable to key stakeholders, including the military, opposition parties and civil society, consolidating the August power-sharing accord. Talks due to start in October between the government and several armed opposition groups, who have refused to sign onto the transitional agreement, offer an opportunity to advance peace in the peripheries.