As the world focuses on Niger and the junta’s standoff with West African states refusing to accept yet another coup d'état in their region, crises further east continue to deteriorate and merit more attention. On August 4, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency in Amhara, as clashes between the Amhara nationalist Fano militia and national defense forces escalated. The Ethiopian government’s April announcement that all regional security forces must integrate into the national military or police forces was always an easier-said-than-done exercise. The wartime coalition that Prime Minister Abiy assembled to fight Tigrayan forces has fallen apart, and peace has not delivered the rewards some were clearly expecting, making the prospect of giving up their leverage decidedly unappealing. With the terms of the Tigray peace still not fully implemented and heavy fighting in the city of Gondar, security remains elusive for many Ethiopians.
Meanwhile, Sudan continues its horrifying descent, where four million Sudanese people have been displaced. Neither credible and consistent reports of atrocities nor a deepening humanitarian crisis are budging the antagonists from their positions or spurring any effective international action. Instead, external patrons of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) continue to joust with each other through Sudanese proxies and to undermine attempts to create a unified diplomatic front pushing for peace, as yet facing no real consequences for their actions to fuel the conflict.
Of course, each of these situations developed from specific historical and political contexts, but one common thread running through these crises is that of unintended consequences resulting from prior responses to insecurity. In Ethiopia and Sudan, militia forces were empowered by the state to help protect the center, only to prove impossible to control. In Niger, years of primarily militarized responses to the country’s security crises, and, ironically, the previous president’s desire to hedge against a potential coup by generously empowering the presidential guard, helped to sustain an environment in which a military seizure of power always seemed like a viable option. Niger’s coup had multiple causes, both domestic and external, but it is clear that decisions taken ostensibly to strengthen state security and subordinate accountability to military muscle ultimately undermined the constitutional order—just as such decisions have clouded Ethiopia’s future and stolen the promise of Sudan’s revolution.
As more of the region wrestles with contagious instability, policymakers will have to deal with multiple complex portfolios requiring high-level attention. But they must also balance urgent needs with the application of lessons learned from the past to avoid sowing new crises in the future. Sustainable security requires far more than capable fighting forces.