31 December 2013 |

Internal displacement in Sub-Saharan Africa

Figures and causes

There were 12.5 million IDPs in the 21 sub-Saharan countries that IDMC monitors as of the end of 2013, more than a third of the global total. Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan had the largest populations of IDPs in Africa, and were closely followed by Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR). The Nigerian government produced figures on internal displacement for the first time since IDMC’s monitoring began, and the official number of up to 3.3 million contributed to a rise in the overall figure for the region, from 10.4 million at the end of 2012.  This made Nigeria the country with the largest IDP population in the region.

The increase continued an upward trend set in 2012, linked mainly to worsening conflict and violence throughout the region, but also to an improvement in the collection of data on IDPs.

Displacement was caused by struggles for political power, extremist violence, disputes over natural resources and inter-communal violence that was often linked to land. In many cases, however, conflict and violence in the region were the outcome of a complex mix of causes. In South Sudan, a struggle for political power had ethnic overtones from the outset but morphed into widespread inter-ethnic violence, while in CAR a coup led by Séléka, a Muslim-dominated armed coalition, led to widespread retaliation between Muslim and Christian groups and indiscriminate attacks on people on the basis of their religious affiliation. 

Two countries with large populations of IDPs made progress towards peace and stability in 2013. A foreign-led military intervention in Mali at the beginning of the year brought an Islamist insurgency that had destabilised the country during much of 2012 to an end, and the government of DRC signed a peace agreement with the March 23 Movement (M23) in December. M23 had caused significant displacement in eastern DRC, and in November 2012 it took control of Goma, a city of a million people and capital of North Kivu province, and held it for two weeks. Mali, along with Kenya and Zimbabwe, held peaceful elections in 2013 that marked important milestones in all their political landscapes.

New displacements

Central Africa was the sub-region worst affected by new displacement in 2013, with the largest population movements taking place in DRC, CAR, Nigeria, Sudan and South Sudan.

The crisis in CAR, which began towards the end of 2012, escalated in March and intensified dramatically in December. By the end of the year, almost a million people fled their homes, more than half of them in the capital Bangui. This was a seven-fold rise on the figure of 130,000 at the end of 2012. Political violence also flared in South Sudan in December, displacing almost as many people in a month as in the rest of the year put together, and bringing the number of new IDPs in the country to 383,000.

Two of the region’s most intractable conflicts also caused new large-scale displacements. In DRC up to a million people fled their homes in the east of the country, bringing the total number of IDPs to 2.9 million. In Sudan, at least 470,000 people were displaced in the Darfur region and in South Kordofan, North Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

In Nigeria, the radical Islamist armed group Boko Haram stepped up the campaign it has been fighting since the 1990s for an independent state in the north of the country. Its brutal attacks triggered the displacement of more than 300,000 people in the north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Protection issues

IDPs caught up in both the region’s unfolding emergencies and its long-running conflicts remained in dire need of protection and assistance in 2013. Hundreds of thousands of people in CAR, DRC, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan faced significant threats to their physical security including armed attacks and clashes, forced recruitment, arbitrary killings, sexual violence and abductions. 

Many IDPs continued to face protection challenges even once they had returned to their places of origin. In Uganda, the return of those who had fled the conflict between the government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been marred by land disputes, some of which have led to violence, the destruction of property, marginalisation and secondary displacement.

Returnees to northern Mali found their homes occupied or destroyed and their land littered with explosive remnants of war. Ethnic tensions were heightened, in some cases causing the further displacement communities accused of association with one party to the conflict or another. Chronic food insecurity was also a serious concern. 

Gender-based violence (GBV) was widespread in CAR, DRC, Somalia and South Sudan. Displaced women and girls were reportedly exposed to sexual violence while collecting firewood and water or when using latrines that were often shared with men. Makeshift shelters in camps and settlements, poor lighting and the ease with which armed men can enter only add to the risk. Some IDPs have resorted to “survival sex” to pay for their food and other essential goods, and harmful traditional practices such as forced and early marriages are more common during displacement. Domestic violence is also an issue, made worse by stress, loss of livelihoods and shifts in gender roles as a result of displacement.

Internally displaced children are particularly exposed to all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation. Armed groups still frequently recruit those as young as nine to serve as combatants. Separation from their families leaves displaced children more vulnerable still as they have to fend for themselves, in some cases as heads of household. There were thought to be more than 60,000 unaccompanied children among CAR’s IDPs.

Durable solutions

The complexity of displacement patterns in the region made the achievement of durable solutions in 2013 uneven at best, and called for nuanced and tailored responses including humanitarian, development, human rights and peacebuilding initiatives. In DRC, Somalia and Nigeria, people sought solutions alongside the newly displaced, and at least two-thirds of IDPs in some areas of DRC and Somalia are thought to have suffered multiple displacements, either repeatedly from their places of origin or onwards from their places of refuge.

Access to livelihood opportunities was a significant factor in determining IDPs’ settlement choices, and despite the region’s much vaunted decade-long growth rate of five per cent, many still encountered huge obstacles in this sense. Access to land, restitution and tenure security are among the many challenges they face in making a sustainable living. In some cases, IDPs’ settlement preferences have changed over time as a result. In Burundi, most of the IDPs surveyed in 2011 said they would prefer to integrate locally, but in 2013 half those surveyed said they thought they would have a better chance of re-establishing their livelihoods if they returned to their places of origin. In Côte d’Ivoire, in contrast, returnees found their land occupied or sold illegally, leaving them unable to rebuild their lives.

State support was not always available or effective beyond the end of a crisis, and was not always in line with IDPs’ choices in terms of solutions. In Mali, the government’s clear preference once the Islamist insurgency had been defeated was for them to return to the north of the country, but after nearly two years in displacement, an increasing number said they would prefer to stay in their places of refuge in the south.

International donors and agencies placed increasing emphasis on integrating displacement into long-term responses, but this is yet to translate into changes on the ground in the way aid is delivered. Somalia’s first-ever consolidated appeal process, which aimed to improve resilience and address the protracted nature of the country’s crisis, was only funded by a third by mid-2013. The shortfall led to priorities being reassessed, and little investment was made in basic services and resilience programmes. In Burundi, humanitarian and development agencies increased their cooperation and joint planning, particularly on initiatives aimed at returnees’ socio-economic reintegration.

As of the end of the year, 15 out of the 21 sub-Saharan countries monitored by IDMC had IDPs living in protracted displacement, and there were significantly fewer returns in 2013 than in 2012, when there were estimated to have been 1.3 million. Most IDPs in Africa do not live in camps, making their achievement of durable solutions important not only to themselves, but also to their host families and communities.

Around 130,000 people went back to their homes in northern Mali once the insurgents had been driven out, but this happened alongside new displacements on a similar scale. Relative improvements in security in some areas of Somalia during the year contributed to around 63,000 people returning, either assisted or under their own steam. In many countries, including some of those with large displaced populations such as South Sudan and Sudan, return movements are not sufficiently monitored or tracked, so any information available is sparse.

Few steps were taken in 2013 to implement the UN Framework on Ending Displacement in the Aftermath of Conflict, but the appointment of a durable solutions coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire signaled an important opportunity to design plans and programmes that bridge the gap between humanitarian and development action.

National and international response

The concurrent crises in CAR and South Sudan in December and the large-scale displacement they caused created enormous challenges for the international community, and tested the ability of its emergency response system to support countries with immense needs and weak local capacities.

IASC, the body that coordinates the UN’s humanitarian agencies, applied its latest protocols in an effort to provide a coherent response.

Its efforts were in line with the so-called transformative agenda for humanitarian response, involving the deployment of adequate leadership and coordination mechanisms, and ensuring accountability. 

Within this framework, it declared a level-three emergency in CAR, the highest possible, but two other emergencies of the same level in Syria and the Philippines competed for global attention. To improve resources for CAR, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator made $10 million available from a dedicated fund for rapid response. As of the end of the year, however, the country’s humanitarian plan was only 52.9 per cent funded, in keeping with a long-standing trend of chronic underfunding.

In South Sudan, OCHA launched a crisis response plan that provided for a needs assessment and appealed for $209 million in funding. As of the end of the year, the appeal launched in December was 20.6 per cent funded.

The UN response in the region was also criticised for operational shortcomings, including security regulations that made it impossible for staff to provide relief where it was most needed. The response to escalating needs in CAR was also hampered by a shortage of experienced staff and the late deployment of emergency response capacity. Lack of coordination was also an issue.

More than half of the world’s fragile states were in sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the link between fragility and displacement is clear. States with some of the most fragile governance systems also have some of the largest populations of IDPs, as in DRC and Somalia, or saw major new displacements take place during the year, as in CAR and South Sudan.

As such, state fragility will have to be addressed if IDPs are to achieve durable solutions and further displacement is to be prevented. Steps in this direction were taken in 2013 as part of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, made up of the g7+ group of 19 fragile and conflict-affected countries, plus their development partners and other international organisations.

Somalia’s New Deal process was launched in May and endorsed at a Brussels conference in September to determine priorities for reconstruction. South Sudan started its New Deal process in 2012. It held consultations in all ten states during 2013, and a donor meeting in New York in September to prepare a roadmap. Displacement, however, was all but absent from the initial fragility assessment that created the framework for consultations in South Sudan and the compact for Somalia. This despite the mutually reinforcing relationship between the two issues.

Progress took place on developing legal and policy frameworks for IDPs’ assistance, protection and support in achieving durable solutions, albeit at a much slower pace than required by the unfolding crises in the region. 2013 marked 50 years since the creation of the Organisation of African Unity. Its successor, the AU, continued to promote the ratification and implementation of the Kampala Convention, a regional instrument that binds governments to provide legal protection for IDPs’ rights and wellbeing. By the end of the year 39 countries had signed the convention and 22 had ratified it. DRC, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, however, are still to ratify. In December, states gathered at the AU to reinforce their commitment to implement the convention on the first anniversary of its entry into force, and acknowledged significant challenges in doing so.

Progress in the development and adoption of national laws and policies on displacement was made in five countries, including some, such as Somalia, that are still to ratify the Kampala Convention. After significant progress in 2012, however, the process of adopting and implementing national legislation in both Nigeria and Kenya stalled in 2013.