ENROUTE
editorial opinion

Forecasting the next 150 years

Some events are certainties but you can bet on some wild cards as well.



Ethnic and sectarian fighting have been rare thus far, but Islamic extremism is reportedly on the rise. Perhaps most troubling, there is no plan for political succession once President Islam Karimov, now 74, leaves power. Arbour calls this "a recipe for regional upheaval."

Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaïre, has been at war with itself since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960. First under dictators Mobuto Sese Seko and Laurent Kabila from 1965 into 2001 and under Joseph Kabila since then, it has seen almost constant military repression and rebel insurgency.

Congo's eastern provinces are home to some 2.4 million people displaced by fighting since 1990. The latest round of violence stars an organization called M23, whose members once gave up rebellion and joined the military.

Reports of human rights abuses, murder and displacement of local populations have been constant since the mutiny began in Apr 2012. Congo's Garamba National Park has become a refuge for members of Uganda's Lords Resistance Army.

Iraq

As the final US convoy pulled out of Iraq in Dec 2011, it left behind a broken country with no hope of stability. Expect the next major wave of violence to disrupt campaigning for the 2014 elections.

When US and allied troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011, sectarian conflicts were supposed to cool down. Things have not worked out that way. Iraq Body Count, an independent monitoring group, reported 4471 civilian deaths in 2012—a few more than the year before. On average, there were 18 bombings per week in Iraq, and 52 violent deaths, the rate slowing as the year progressed.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, "has repeatedly burned his bridges with Iraq's other religious and ethnic communities, taking measures to expand his control over political institutions and the security forces," writes Louise Arbour. "Maliki now faces resistance not only from the president of the Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, but also from Sunni and secular opponents—and even from cleric Muqtada Sadr in his own Shiite Islamist camp."

He will remain as an unpopular leader until elections scheduled for 2014, which gives us a timetable for the next major outbreak of violence in Iraq.

Kenya

Like much of Africa, Kenya has a long history of strongman rule, contested elections, and polarization, in this case between ethnic Somali and Muslim communities. With elections planned in Mar 2013, many observers anticipate a wave of political violence.

They have reason. The Somali-based Islamist militant group al-Shabab has threatened attacks, and the separatist Mombasa Repub­lican Council plans major protests. Complicating the picture, 2 of the leading contenders, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, have been charged with crimes against humanity and are due for trial by the International Criminal Court this April.

Pakistan

Here again the picture is one of instability. The Islama­bad regime has little or no control over large parts of the country. Military operations, insurgency and 3 years of devastating floods have caused widespread humanitarian problems that have received little attention from government or international aid workers.

A national election due in May 2013 is likely to bring even greater instability. At the end of January, the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on suspicion of helping a former oil and gas official flee the country rather than face charges of embezzlement and taking kickbacks.

Renewed large-scale conflict with India over control of Kashmir seems unlikely but cannot be entirely discounted. If relative security can be established, large reserves of coal, natural gas, copper, gold and other resources could make Pakistan a frequent destination for energy and mining executives.

The Sahel

Africa's Sahel region is a hotbed of instability second only to central Asia. Frequent civil wars, periodic famine, widespread poverty, government corruption and, most recently, Islamist violence are endemic throughout the region.

In northern Mali, the French army has wrested control from Islamist militants, but the militants themselves have simply disappeared, either across the border into Chad or into the deserts. They will return the moment France withdraws its troops.

In northern Nigeria, another radical Islamist group called Boko Haram is blamed for killing thousands, despite confused and often indiscriminate security efforts by the government in Abuja. Throughout the arid region, which stretches from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, food shortages are a continuing problem. In all, this is as unstable a region as we are likely to find.

Sudan

Having gained independence from Britain in 1956, this country spent 38 of the next 49 years in civil wars between the Muslim, largely Arab north and the non-Muslim, non-Arab south. A peace agreement in Jan 2005, followed by southern independence in Jul 2011, seems to have produced an uneasy truce between the 2 sides.

An exception is the region of Abyei, which both sides claim. The arrival of some 4200 UN peacekeepers from Ethiopia in 2011 has put the fighting more or less on hold. However, in Apr 2012, Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir declared his government's intent to destroy "the insect government in Juba," the southern capital.

Within Sudan, major rebel groups from the states of Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur have combined to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front. They control parts of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, while Darfur is largely governed, to whatever extent it is, by Khartoum.

The government reportedly does not distinguish between rebel fighters and civilians, targeting anyone in these regions for bombing and ground attack. It is difficult to be sure, since it bans outside organizations from most of the disputed areas.

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for President Umar al-Bashir and other Sudanese officials on charges of war crimes and masterminding genocide.

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