As Ambush Alley fans might be aware, the Africa focused supplement to Force on Force, Bush Wars, Africa 1960–2010, is coming next month. As it turns out, the continent has been very much in the news lately due to a number of crises. The new supplement will help provide wargamers a good overview of common sources of conflict and scenarios and force structures from a wide time frame. The recently released Day of the Rangers also looks at conflict on the continent, though specifically in Somalia. No doubt that those who purchase these supplements will also look to take the information in the supplement and expand to scenarios based on recent events. Here's a quick look at some of the areas that might be of interest to gamers looking to explore conflict in Africa.
Sudan (and Now South Sudan)
Like most countries in Africa, Sudan has a long and complicated history of conflict rooted in things like weak institutions, competing territorial claims, and natural resources. Sudan occupies a significant portion of the "Sahel" or "Trans Sahara" region of Africa, which serves as a dividing line between Semitic and non-Semitic Africans among other things. Conflict in regions of Sudan like Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile, as well as what is now the independent country of South Sudan have much to do with this ethnic divide. An associated religious difference between the two groups further fuels conflict.
As it stands now, the Sudanese government continues to find itself tangling with insurgent movements internally. Though the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was supposed to establish a stable status quo between Sudan and insurgents in the South, and did ultimately lead to the creation of South Sudan, border disputes linked to natural resources have recently inflamed tensions again, with the potential to lead to a major interstate conflict.
Mali and Tuareg
On the other side of the continent from Sudan, but still in the Sahel region another crisis has exploded. Tuareg insurgents recently returned to Mali from Libya, after former Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, one of their major benefactors, was deposed and killed during a revolution. This revolution had attracted world attention and a UN mandated no-fly zone and naval blockade, enforced first by a US-led coalition as Operation Odyssey Dawn and then by NATO as Operation Unified Protector. The Tuaregs, reported to have possibly fought on behalf of Qadhafi loyalists, found themselves no longer welcome.
Nomadic historically, but agitating for an independent state on land occupied by Mali, Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso, the Tuaregs have a long history of conflict with the regions governments. The Malian military felt itself to be under-equipped to face the increasing Tuareg threat and that their needs were being ignored. As a result, they deposed the government there in a coup d'etat in March. Now the Tuaregs have declared an independent state in the north of the country, the coup leaders are still attempting to form a functioning government, and the crisis has allowed an Islamist group, Ansar Dine, reportedly liked to Al Qaeda, to appear on the scene. These groups are no doubt being carefully watched by foreign powers in the region, such as the United States, which is operating persistent surveillance aircraft and maintains a small force (Joint Special Operations Task Force - Trans Sahara [JSOTF-TS]) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom - Trans Sahara.
The Lord's Resistance Army (and other conflict in Central Africa)
In the 1980s, Joseph Kony led a rebel organization called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the government of Uganda. Kony's group had a nominally syncretist spiritual component, having himself been brought up as a member of the mystical Holy Spirit Movement. After making peace with the Ugandan government in 1988, Kony changed his mind and continued to operate with little in the way of concrete objectives. Kony's group has since been chased around the region, linking up for periods with other rebel movements in other countries and committing vicious atrocities. No longer operating in Uganda, the LRA continues to be a threat along with numerous other groups in the region. The LRA operates sporadically in Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan, and what is now South Sudan.
Operating alongside similar groups in the DRC, the LRA has long been the target of regional efforts. One of the most significant of these was Operation Lightning Thunder, a combined operation between Uganda, the DRC, and what was then the de facto authority in Southern Sudan. US advisers were also reported to have been present. The operation failed to neutralize the LRA, and many reports suggested that the lack of professionalism on the part of the forces deployed to catch him soured relations between people living in Eastern DRC where the operation was conducted and the governments of all the nations involved.
In late 2011, after taking a hard stand on the LRA as a matter of policy, the US government announced that it was again planning to assist regional governments to stamp out the LRA, this time as part of Operation Observant Compass. Special operations forces from Special Operations Command and Control Element - Horn of Africa (SOCCE-HOA) were to deploy to help train forces in the five affected nations. Persistent surveillance assets, such as the Tusker Sand aircraft already operating out of Entebbe in Uganda, were to be focused on the LRA threat. The African Union established a 5,000 strong multinational force specifically to hunt down Kony and the LRA. It has yet to be seen whether this latest intervention will prove successful and what effect removing the LRA, just one of many such groups in the region, will have on the overall situation there.
Somalia (including issues of piracy)
Since the fall of the government of Mohamed Said Barre in 1991, Somalia has had no functional government. Numerous international interventions have been launched in attempts to both form a functional state and simply to provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance to the country. Somalia remains the poster child for failed states. Unfortunately, recent events have turned it into a geopolitical pawn for regional actors. The ever worsening economy has driven segments of the population to seek alternative sources of income, leading to an explosion of piracy and kidnapping in the Horn of Africa/Gulf of Aden area.
The geopolitical issues surround the appearance on the scene in the mid-2000s of the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which sought to create an Islamic state. The UN-backed and internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which had until recently been based in Kenya, took issue with the ICU's campaign and solicited help from neighboring Ethiopia to combat them. The resulting Ethiopian invasion dispersed the ICU, the militant wing subsequently forming the group Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab quickly turned its attention to leading a new campaign to take over the country, or at least those portions not already operating under semi-autonomous governments (Somaliland and Puntland). In 2008, the US branded the group a terrorist organization, and Al-Shabaab claimed recently to have become an Al Qaeda affiliate. The Ethiopian and Kenyan governments had continued to fight them on behalf of the TFG, with reports that Eritrea has been supporting Al-Shabaab as a proxy against Ethiopia. The African Union has also recently announced its intention to form foreign forces already operating in Somalia on behalf of the TFG into a recognized AU peacekeeping mission.
While all this has been going on, piracy has remained a significant threat. The US, NATO, and the European Union have all initiated military operations to combat this, including Operations Ocean Look, Ocean Shield, and Atalanta. Numerous other navies from around the world are also in the region escorting commercial shipping. Armed guards have become a common sight on commercial ships. In addition, western nations have been conducting missions to rescue hostages, such as the successful Operation Octave Fusion earlier this year. While there was initially some speculation that the reactivated USS Ponce, now designated as an Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) (AFSB[I]) might be positioned in the region in response to tensions with Iran, it is more likely that it provides another staging location to tackle piracy related issues.
These are just some of the current areas of conflict on the continent. There are a number of others where conflict is possible (Guinea-Bissau) or has just been resolved (Cote de Ivoire), or where low level strike has the potential to turn into something larger (such as with Boko Haram in Nigeria).