Coups, COVID-19 and a Cease-Fire: Africa’s Top Stories of 2021
The year 2021 in Africa will be remembered like 2020 was — the year of COVID-19. But there were other big stories in 2021 in Africa, the world’s fastest-growing continent.
MILITARY COUPS — Over the past two decades, Africa has seen major declines in the frequency of coups. In 2021, however, that trend was reversed. Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan had military coups, adding up to more in 2021 than in the previous five years combined in Africa.
The Sudan coup was the second in that country in two years. The Sudanese army overthrew President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 after mass demonstrations against his dictatorial regime. Military leaders staged a second coup in October 2021 and removed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He later returned to the premiership under the terms of a deal with the military. He has since replaced all acting state governors appointed by the country’s military leader. Protests continue throughout the country as people call for a true democratic government.
CIVIL WAR IN ETHIOPIA — The Ethiopian civil war began in November 2020 in the Tigray region with the Tigray Defense Forces taking on the country’s national defense forces and its federal police.
As of late 2021, the civil war has become a humanitarian crisis, with all parties accused of war crimes and fighters from ethnic militias playing a destabilizing role. More than 8.6 million people in the region face acute food insecurity.
By the end of 2021, world leaders were warning that the violence and starvation in Ethiopia put at risk the peace and stability of the entire Horn of Africa.
TERROR IN THE SAHEL — Terrorists in the Sahel have forced more than 2 million people from their homes, and the past year continued a violent trend with more than 5,000 people killed in armed conflict across five Sahelian countries. Much of the violence occurred in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
France’s Operation Barkhane, an anti-insurgent operation that started in 2014, may be winding down as France looks to replace the mission with an international coalition of troops that will train and accompany local forces. The G5 Sahel Joint Force, a regional military effort, continues to play an important role but faces funding and equipment challenges.
COVID-19 — In 2021, the coronavirus caused more than 8.7 million reported infections and more than 222,000 reported deaths in Africa. South Africa and Egypt have been the continent’s hardest-hit countries. The pandemic has led to hospital overcrowding, a diversion of resources from fighting other illnesses, shortages of things such as medical oxygen and an enormous economic toll.
DISPUTED DAM — In July, Ethiopia began the second filling of its huge Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project on the Nile River. Egypt and Sudan continued to press for diplomatic measures to stop the filling out of concern that it will affect their access to fresh water.
The dam, which will generate 6.45 gigawatts of electricity, will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric power plant and the world’s seventh-largest dam. Ethiopia says that the volume of the Nile will not be affected because the filling is strategically done during the July and August rain season.
ALLIED DEMOCRATIC FORCES — Ugandan Soldiers teamed up with their counterparts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to start joint raids on the terrorist group, the Allied Democratic Forces, in late 2021. The group operates along the border of both countries.
Ugandan authorities have blamed the group for suicide bombings in the capital, Kampala. The group has carried out dozens of attacks in the eastern DRC. The terrorist group has killed about 6,000 civilians since 2013.
CABO DELGADO CRISIS — In an effort to control the long-running insurgency in northern Mozambique, the Southern African Development Community and Rwanda launched an intervention over the summer. The effort helped the Mozambican government liberate areas such as the key port town of Mocímboa da Praia. In November, Mozambique created a special force of elite Soldiers and police to combat the uprising. Islamist insurgents have been leading an uprising in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province since 2017. At least 3,340 people have been killed and more than 800,000 displaced.
THE WAGNER GROUP — Russia’s private military outfit, the Wagner Group, continued to play a destabilizing role in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Libya in 2021 and made plans to partner with Mali.
While Mali attempts to transition to democratic rule, the ruling military junta has tried to hire 1,000 Wagner “contractors” to deal with the region’s terrorists. In the CAR, an estimated 3,000 Wagner fighters operate from 30 bases across the country. In Libya, Wagner mercenaries ignored calls to leave the country and, after retreating from areas around Tripoli, planted land mines in civilian neighborhoods. Accusations of human rights abuses, illicit mining and trafficking continue to follow the Russian group.
CEASE-FIRE IN LIBYA — A fragile unity government held onto power in Libya in 2021, and a cease-fire took effect. Elections were scheduled for the end of 2021.
Libyan and international authorities have struggled to unify Libya since the 2011 civil war. Since 2014, two rival authorities have claimed to govern Libya, which led to the Second Libyan Civil War from 2014 to 2020. A series of court rulings have overturned the Libyan electoral commission’s decisions to block high-profile figures such as Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of the former dictator, from standing for the presidency. Interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Khalifa Haftar, the head of the self-styled Libyan National Army, have meanwhile been approved by the commission, with appeals filed.
NIGERIA’S SECURITY CRISIS — Security crises including an extremist insurgency in the northeast, mass abductions of schoolchildren for ransom, and violence between herders and farmers plagued Nigeria in 2021. The country also faces a separatist movement in the eastern region of Biafra.
Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy, must contend with Boko Haram terrorists who have killed more than 36,000 people and forced an estimated 2.3 million people from their homes. Many parts of the country also are hiring mercenaries to protect themselves from bands of roaming criminals who have no agenda other than violence and looting. President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged a return to stability, but in June he suspended the use of Twitter in a spat with the tech giant over the removal of one of the tweets from his personal account. The Twitter ban was lifted after four months.