Are Groups like the LRA Really Spreading Across Africa?

In a Foreign Policy feature, Jeffrey Gettleman describes the kind of roving banditry practiced by the LRA and in Eastern Congo as “Africa’s un-Wars.”

What we are seeing is the decline of the classic African liberation movement and the proliferation of something else — something wilder, messier, more violent, and harder to wrap our heads around. If you’d like to call this war, fine. But what is spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic is actually just opportunistic, heavily armed banditry. My job as the New York Times‘ East Africa bureau chief is to cover news and feature stories in 12 countries. But most of my time is spent immersed in these un-wars. (Emphasis mine)

His piece is well worth a read. but I wonder if it’s actually true that these conflicts “are spreading across Africa like a viral pandemic.” The opposite seems to be the case. In fact, they seem fairly contained to the Niger Delta, the Congo borderlands of north-eastern Congo, and a few places in the greater Horn of Africa (Sudan, Somalia). Also, to the extent that the resource-fueled conflicts in western Africa a decade ago can be considered part of this trend, the number these conflicts appears to be in decline.  Sierra Leone and Liberia, for example, no longer face big threats from roving, rootless militias.   

I don’t mean to minimize the brutality and human suffering caused by these groups. (And Gettelman does a good job explaining why it is so hard to reach a political compromise with them.)   It just strikes me that calling this a “viral pandemic” is a bit hyperbolic.     

Image: flickr user hmvh