On the Horizon: October 2023-March 2024
On the Horizon: October 2023-March 2024
On the Horizon / From Early Warning to Early Action 9 minutes

On the Horizon: October 2023-March 2024

On the Horizon offers a snapshot into emergent conflicts and crises in the next three to six months in a clear, accessible format, identifying triggers, key dates to watch and potential behaviour of conflict actors, to support global conflict prevention efforts. This edition includes entries on Bangladesh, DR Congo, Ethiopia and Somaliland.

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The information provided below relies on our monthly global conflict tracker, CrisisWatch, and qualitative assessments provided by Crisis Group’s analysts based in or near conflict areas. The selection is not exhaustive, and should be read in conjunction with country/regional reports and other early warning products.

In the October 2023-March 2024 edition of On the Horizon, we showcase entries in Bangladesh, DR CongoEthiopia and Somaliland.
 

Bangladesh

What to Watch in the Coming Weeks and Months

1. A high-stakes and potentially violent election in January 2024 

  • The ruling Awami League is expected to ignore calls for it to step down and hand power to a caretaker government that would oversee the election, and instead continue crackdown on BNP members. 
  • Rival supporters could clash in street battles or attack party offices or candidates. Islamist groups could become more active in opposing the government.
  • Facing the prospect of a rigged poll, the opposition will probably boycott the election and could become radicalised, adopting more violent tactics. 
  • The military might intervene should the election’s aftermath become chaotic.

To Watch: Violence could surge in the lead-up to or after voting in January 2024.

Potential Consequences:

  • A rigged or disputed election could trigger fierce anti-government protests. It could also cause the government to increase its dependence on India and China, as the U.S. (and potentially other Western countries) will probably respond with sanctions, such as visa bans on top officials.

2. Flickers of insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) could be reignited 

  • The status of a government ceasefire with the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) is uncertain; the group will probably continue clashing with rival armed forces.
  • Military operations to neutralise a new Islamist group, Jama’atul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya, that has allegedly based itself in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, could increase, aggravating tensions and fueling a backlash. 
  • Armed groups in Myanmar (e.g. Arakan Army) may increase their support for insurgents in the CHT; others may support Bangladesh military operations against insurgents. 
  • Stalled 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts peace accord implementation and influx of Rohingya refugees could drive conflict.

To Watch: Election-related activities, such as campaigning and voting, could become flashpoints for violent attacks; Spillover could also increase from restive states in India’s north east.

Potential Consequences:

  • The reactivation of dormant insurgencies in the region could lead to an upsurge in violent competition between ethnic armed groups, while civilians could be targeted or caught in the crossfire. 
  • Instability in tri-border area could encourage greater collaboration between armed groups in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India. 

3. Insecurity could worsen in Rohingya camps amid deteriorating conditions 

  • A turf war between criminal and armed groups, especially Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and rival Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, could intensify in and around camps in Cox’s Bazar District, trapping civilians in the crossfire, including camps 8E and 8W.
  • Donor fatigue could compound food insecurity and joblessness facing refugees. 
  • Some Rohingya armed groups, particularly ARSA, will probably oppose repatriation with violence, while security forces might collude with other groups to coerce refugees into repatriating. 

To Watch: Further shortfalls in aid funding could force the UN to cut rations and services; The government hopes to repatriate thousands of Rohingya by late 2023, but safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation is not possible at present. 

Potential Consequences:

  • A lack of hope, insecurity and poverty threaten to create a vicious cycle in which desperate Rohingya – particularly young men – join criminal gangs and armed groups out of necessity, further fuelling the violence.

Download the Bangladesh PDF here.

Democratic Republic of Congo

What to Watch in the Coming Weeks and Months

1. Electoral preparations could crystallise tensions, especially if opposition is obstructed

  • Party in power and opposition will likely continue to instrumentalise security situation for electoral purposes, especially in the east, where further fighting could disrupt the vote scheduled for 20 December; may continue the hard line position against M23 insurgents and Rwandan interference.
  • Security forces could continue heavy crackdown, suppress anti-government demonstrations and campaign meetings, especially in the east where state of siege (akin to martial law) in place since May 2021.
  • Political opposition, fragmented among high profile leaders including Moise Katumbi, Augustin Matata Ponyo, Martin Fayulu and Denis Mukwege, could launch major protests, underlining their rejection of voter registration to buttress arguments for a boycott, even though it is unlikely all major candidates would withdraw. 

To Watch: The arrest/killing or exclusion of political leaders from final list of presidential candidates in November could inflame tensions; divisive discourse and conspiracy theories on social media could fuel mistrust; lifting of state of siege in the east could ease tensions between voters and security forces.

Potential Consequences:

  • If opposition is suppressed, many Congolese could seek ways to express protest, including not voting in presidential, legislative, provincial and municipal polls. Should the contest be close, lack of trust and wide perception of a stacked process could lead major opposition to reject outcome.
  • Prolonged crisis could impede indirect elections of senators, governors, and vice governors planned for late February/March 2024.

2. Violence could rise across country, lead to national crisis

  • Political leaders could instrumentalise armed groups to intimidate opponents and/or civilians, especially in the east, in Katanga and around Kinshasa.
  • Opposition coalitions could emerge in late November/early December and reduce number of candidates, with major impact on whether elections are close.
  • Armed groups could increase violent attacks; M23 could step-up its offensive, or national army could increase attacks against it. Given army ill-discipline and the M23’s record of abuses against civilians, such an offensive would likely fuel displacement and unrest, at least in short term.
  • Losing parties could reject final electoral results, call for supporters to take to the street.
  • Absent elections in the east, National Assembly will not reach its 500 members, may be unable to function properly.
  • To Watch: Campaign and vote carry multiple risks including repression of meetings, extortion of voters, spread of fighting.

Potential Consequences:

  • When final results of presidential election are announced in January 2024, it could fuel violence/political crisis; significant delay in holding elections in North-Kivu will add to feelings of neglect and inflame violence in the longer term.
  • In former Katanga province, contested results could fuel communal tensions between Kasaiens and Katangais, especially in urban centres like Lubumbashi, and lead to major violence given the presence of armed groups in the area eg, Maï Maï Bakata-Katanga in Kundelungu and Upemba parks versus Baluba of Kasaï.
  • Politicisation of violence could lead to the creation of more militias to support political movements/leaders.

Download the DR Congo PDF here and in French here.

Ethiopia

What to Watch in the Coming Weeks and Months

1. Clashes between Amhara militants and federal forces will likely persist

  • Amhara nationalist militia known as Fano will likely continue clashing with federal forces in rural areas of Amhara. Federal and regional forces will probably continue heavy military operations to try to quash rebellion. Defectors from Amhara Special Forces/other disgruntled Amharas will likely continue to back rebel forces. PM Abiy Ahmed set to continue relying solely on military approach, increasing Amhara suspicions he is promoting an Oromo nationalist agenda. 

To Watch: Any federal plans to return disputed territories to Tigray’s control could lead Amhara rebels to launch more attacks; violence toward Amhara populations (e.g, in Oromia) risks stoking ethno-nationalist sentiment further; political killings of federal/regional targets could perpetuate ongoing federal military activity in Amhara region; perceived federal government/Abiy support for Oromo nationalist groups could fuel tensions.

Potential consequences: 

  • Forceful federal response risks further alienating an already aggrieved population in Amhara and stoke insurgency, causing more killings and mass displacement.

2. Tensions between Amhara rebels and Tigrayans could rekindle Tigray conflict 

  • Tigray/Amhara regional leaders/Federal government will likely seek implementation of 2022 Tigray peace deal, including resolution of western and southern Tigray dispute. 
  • Amhara rebels could seek to disrupt potential loss of territorial control if there are any federal efforts to dissolve Amhara’s administrations in disputed areas controlled by Amhara.
  • Any steps to return displaced Tigrayans to western Tigray could lead to potential clashes with Amhara populations.
  • Eritrea will likely continue to support Amhara control of western Tigray, could intervene militarily to prevent Tigray leaders from recouping the disputed area, which it regards as strategic because of its proximity to Sudan. 

To Watch: Federal plans to control or hold a referendum on disputed areas could fuel tensions; greater Eritrean military involvement could escalate violence. 

Potential Consequences:

  • Escalating tensions between Tigray and Amhara raise the risk of spreading violence in Ethiopia’s north and atrocities against civilians.
  • Eritrean involvement could tip PM Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s fraying détente into outright hostility.

3. Violence could spread, further destabilise the country and the wider region 

  • Fano and other groups could seek ways to topple Abiy.
  • Tensions between Amhara and Oromo factions of Abiy’s ruling Prosperity Party could rise, increasing factionalism in military and other federal institutions.
  • Oromo militants’ killings of Amharas in Oromia region or by Fano militia of Oromos could worsen intercommunal violence.

To Watch: Any alliance between rebel group the Oromo Liberation Army and Oromo authorities against Amhara militias would make situation highly dangerous (though no signs yet of such an intra-Oromo pact).

Potential Consequences:

  • Ethiopia’s two biggest communities, the Amharas and the Oromos, could turn further against each other. Most concerning scenario is that burgeoning power struggle could erupt into conflict and lead to nationwide civil war if ruling party, military and other federal institutions split along Amhara-Oromo lines. 
  • Fighting could draw in regional powers, especially Eritrea, Egypt and Sudan, and further destabilise region.

Download the Ethiopia PDF here.

Somaliland

What to Watch in the Coming Weeks and Months

1. Fighting for control of Sool region could resume, drawing in wider array of actors 

  • Dhulbahante leaders, who have long rejected Somaliland’s state-building project, which they view as both secessionist (vis-à-vis Somalia) and serving the dominant Isaaq clan’s interests, will continue steps toward establishing their own administration in Sool region.
  • President Bihi could attempt to re-enter lost territory in Sool to reverse losses ahead of November 2024 Somaliland elections. He could do so to try to strengthen internal cohesion after the recent deal on elections restored Isaaq unity.
  • Clan militias on both sides of the Isaaq-Dhulbahante front line could take up arms against each other, fuelling intercommunal violence.
  • If the conflict resumes, quietly supportive neighbouring Puntland could send state forces more overtly into the fray to shore up Dhulbahante militiamen, with a view to protecting Dhulbahante’s control of Sool region.

To Watch: A spark from either side could set off new fighting on the frontline between Oog and Guumays towns in Sool. The conflict could expand to other parts of Somaliland if Dhulbahante militias push further into areas that are inhabited by Dhulbahante but are of mixed clans, such as parts of Cayn and Sanaag; Puntland could be forced to withdraw support to Dhulbahante if electoral violence flares in lead-up to January 2024 elections in Puntland state.

Potential Consequences:

  • A resumption of conflict between Somaliland and the Dhulbahante would likely take on increased clan undertones, pitting the Isaaq against the wider Darod clan (of which the Dhulbahante are part). This would likely result in more intense fighting, intercommunal violence and further displacement.

2. Election-related tensions might turn violent in some locations 

  • In Awdal region, the Gadabursi clan's resentment regarding perceived marginalisation in Somaliland may grow, as evidenced by Hilaac political association's rejection of the election deal (and other attempts by prominent Gadabursi to organise themselves, both inside and outside Somaliland).
  • Clan tensions in different parts of Somaliland may be inflamed by electoral proceedings. Notably, newly-formed Haber Yonis militia, which has recently agreed to lay down arms, could re-emerge if implementation of electoral agreement stalls; unresolved conflict between Haber Yonis and Haber Jeclo sub-clans may continue to result in small-scale skirmishes around El Afweyn.

To Watch: Implementation of August election deal, including the National Election Commission’s announcement of a new electoral roadmap.

Potential Consequences: 

  • If implementation of electoral agreement does not proceed smoothly, it could be a trigger for inter-clan violence and increase risk of disputed results.

Download the Somaliland PDF here.

Contributors

Director of Research
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Research Manager
Senior Research Analyst
DZAnderson2
Research Analyst
mirandasunnucks

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