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Ten Conflicts to Worry About in 2021

Conflict levels in 2020 slightly decreased from 2019 in all regions except Africa. Still, many conflicts continued unabated despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, and several took on new dimensions as actors responded to the health crisis. Because the pandemic is a unique development, we expect global conflict levels, locations, and agents to increase significantly in 2021 — ultimately to a higher point than both 2019 and 2020.

Each year, ACLED identifies 10 conflicts or crisis situations around the world that are likely to worsen or evolve in the coming months. Not just hotspots, these 10 cases represent areas where new directions and patterns of violence are becoming clear, where there have been major shifts in conflict dynamics, and where there is a significant risk of conflict diffusion. This year’s report reviews key trends in Ethiopia; India and Pakistan; Myanmar; Haiti; Belarus; Colombia; Armenia and Azerbaijan; Yemen; Mozambique; and the Sahel. Ethiopia, Yemen, and the Sahel were previously highlighted in our 2020 series, and their re-inclusion here underscores how these conflicts have changed substantially in the preceding year, and how new risks continue to emerge.

All 10 conflicts are expected to evolve in 2021. They do not fit the standard narratives of state failure, exclusive politics, grievances, or resource competition. Each is shaped by the decisions governments have made in order to exert or retract their control and strength, as well as the ramifications, opposition, and vulnerabilities exposed by those decisions. While many world leaders stole the spotlight with political antics and by inflaming dangerous domestic fault lines, state actors in these 10 conflicts exploited global distractions to repress, attack, and subjugate their citizens. Others took advantage of rising radicalism and populism to sustain their leadership, ultimately resulting in scapegoating and further violence. As a result, violent and brutal governance is on the rise in many of these countries, while multiple powers compete for control in others.

Each case also illustrates the wide range of different political violence patterns currently affecting states: Haiti’s gangs have arisen in a context of highly politicized ‘law and order’ campaigns; the Sahel’s jihadi threat is reinforced by pastoralist populism and poor international coordination; Mozambique’s conflict was initially viewed by its government as a local revolt, but reached unprecedented levels of sophistication in 2020. Russian interests are a growing and determining factor in Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; and the violent indirect effects of incomplete peace agreements are felt in Yemen and Colombia.

2020 was a sobering year, and one in which politics has failed the vast majority around the world. In 2021, we may be forced to reap what has been sown: the coming year is likely to be a dangerous and violent period leading to more uncertainty and less peace, especially for the countries embroiled in these 10 conflicts.

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