Our annual special report reviews the past year of data for 10 key conflicts and crisis situations with a look toward trends to watch in the coming months. Access ACLED data directly through our export tool, curated files, or API, and find more information about ACLED methodology in our Resource Library.
10 Conflicts to Worry About in 2022: Foreword
Each year, ACLED identifies 10 conflicts or crisis situations around the world that are likely to worsen or evolve in the coming months. These 10 cases are not just hotspots, but represent areas of new directions and patterns of violence, and where there have been major shifts in conflict dynamics.
In 2021, few conflicts ended, many continued, and some got markedly worse. In 2022, we will be confronted with increased violence, demonstrations, and divisions. What explains this continued decline in global stability? There is no unifying theme that links a violent insurrection in the United States, the rise of Islamic State affiliates across Africa, demonstrations against pandemic restrictions in Europe, the anti-coup local defense forces of Myanmar, mob violence in India, increased gang activity in Haiti, and attacks targeting civilians in Colombia. These trends have emerged as elites, armed groups, state forces, and civilians have grappled with volatile domestic politics, armed competition, splintered security forces, and impunity for the perpetrators of violence. These conflicts are directed towards local, regional, and national challenges, not ideological poles or shared grievances. They represent a failure of political agents, systems, and identities to create and sustain stability and to address threats. They further expose how the international community lacks the tools, cohesion, and approach to address the world’s longest and deadliest conflicts.
Of the 10 conflicts we address here, half appeared on our list last year, and Ethiopia, Yemen, and the Sahel also appeared in our 2020 list. However, in each case, the conflicts took on new dimensions in the past year and continue to devolve. In Ethiopia, we warned that the capacity of the state would be too stretched to contend with its myriad threats: this was evident as the TPLF/TDF and OLA/OLF-Shane insurgents threatened larger parts of the country throughout the year. In a shocking turn of events, Ethiopian government forces, with regional militias, turned back the rebel advancement, but many battles lie ahead as the country forges a path that will likely entrench divisions in the short term. In Yemen, conflict has raged for seven years and it remains the world’s largest humanitarian disaster. With no central state to speak of, several fronts are frozen and fatality levels are on the rise again in 2022 as the population bears the brunt of the fighting. Meanwhile, the Sahel continues to disintegrate in new ways. Going into 2022, Burkina Faso has replaced Mali as the epicenter of the violence, and both countries saw radical changes to their central governments through recent coups.
Nigeria is witnessing the opening of new fronts, reinvigorated latent fronts, and a state security structure unable to contend with rapidly diversifying violence. Only 18% of Nigeria’s violence involves Islamist militant groups, yet this conflict dominates the collective understanding of the state’s threats. Instead, most violence involves militias proliferating across the state and destroying public security as they go. Afghanistan and Colombia share a future where civilians face an increase in targeted violence as state, state-affiliated, and post-conflict armed groups continue to contest authority structures. In Lebanon, the risk of collapsing central institutions and the economic crisis has created massive needs and volatile reactions. Hundreds of violent riots broke out last year, and security challenges continue as governments form, and then fail, to deal with entrenched nepotism, mismanagement, and corruption. In Haiti, responses to government overreach and reforms, the assassination of the president, and public concerns about gang activity rocked the small state. Gangs and government forces are now battling for control of economic assets and territory, as the ‘deals’ and ‘truces’ between armed groups and elites have fallen apart. Myanmar’s military coup in February 2021 was met with overwhelming public discontent, voiced through demonstrations that were forcefully put down by the military junta. Violence against civilians has exploded, spurring the proliferation of local defense groups at an unprecedented rate. In Sudan, the military and senior elites of the governing council are responsible for a retreat from the ‘road to democracy.’ A coup, an embattled and unsupported prime minister, and a return to mass public demonstrations suggest that Sudan’s vast and functional security sector will both control the state and suppress the protesters violently.
There is enough destabilization to be worried about the collective effects of fallen democracies, aborted transitions, reinvigorated authoritarianism, and beyond. These current threats are very different from a time when concerns were concentrated on the growing specter of Islamist violence or ‘ethnic conflict’: the conflicts noted here represent competition for political, territorial, and economic authority by those in power or recently out of power. There is no evidence of contagion and diffusion of coups or other forms of destabilization (barring the very purposeful contagion in the Sahel), but it is far worse to consider how states are destroying their own governance institutions and structures with internal competition, leaving their citizens adrift in violent chaos.
A special note on Ukraine, which is not profiled in the 10 conflicts series at present: at the time of writing, the actions that precipitated current international diplomatic tensions include an intensification of posturing, threats, and military deployments. Nevertheless, despite the rise in tensions, ACLED has not recorded significant shifts in conflict trends on the ground, beyond what is typical for the state and subregion. However, should violence escalate, we will extensively cover all conflict developments in future weekly updates.