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The President's Take

Lesser-Known Conflicts Need Urgent Attention

Introducing the May/June 2018 CrisisWatch, our President Robert Malley spotlights three under-covered crises: Burundi, where constitutional amendments imperil the ethnic power balance; Venezuela, where citizens languish amid economic collapse; and Cameroon, where state repression of Anglophone demands threatens civil war.

Plus ça change… This month’s take could be an almost exact replica of the last. As predicted, U.S. President Donald Trump recklessly withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal; as anticipated, its fate now depends on European creativity and Iranian prudence; and as feared, the risks of war have escalated. As of this writing (a caveat seldom more apposite than in this case) the summit between Trump and North Korea’s leader is back on, and with it the hope for an outcome somewhere between the illusory American dream of immediate denuclearisation and the possible North Korean aspiration to slow-walk talks, lessen pressure on Pyongyang and solidify its status as a nuclear power.

But the focus on these two developments ought not obscure what is happening elsewhere – in places too often ignored or neglected, and where Crisis Group analysts assess and warn about risks of conflict.

In Burundi, the approval of constitutional amendments in a controversial referendum on 17 May not only could allow President Nkurunziza to prolong his stay in power potentially for another sixteen years, but also sets the stage for the dismantling of the carefully negotiated ethnic power balance between Hutus and Tutsis that helped end the country’s civil war. Major violence might not be on the immediate horizon, but its seeds have been planted, and the regime is playing with fire.

In Venezuela, President Maduro’s victory in another contentious election on 20 May likewise represents a further step backward in a country that has experienced one of the most precipitous economic collapses in history. Here, too, the absence of an immediate outbreak of violence should not mislead: the country is at a political impasse, humanitarian conditions are calamitous, and the mass exodus of Venezuelans is placing immense stress on neighbours. The situation is not sustainable. At some point, something will have to give.

In Cameroon – already described by many as the arena of Africa’s next civil war – violence pitting Anglophone separatist militants against security forces has intensified.

Finally, in Cameroon – already described by many as the arena of Africa’s next civil war – violence pitting Anglophone separatist militants against security forces has intensified. In an all-too-familiar dynamic, the state’s repression of popular demands and rejection of dialogue have radicalised Anglophone constituents, giving rise to an armed insurgency that presents a graver security threat to the state than Boko Haram.

Of course, we need to remain focused on Iran, where U.S. policies could trigger a region-wide war, and on North Korea, where a successful summit could put us on a path to a (more) sustained peace. But neither should blind us to what is happening in places across the globe where conflict rages or threatens, where civilians pay an inexcusable price and where global powers, too often, avert their gaze.

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