Two African dictators, who between them ruled 85 million people, were ousted from office last month. This was no coincidence. The popular unrest that dislodged Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is part of a wave of conflict engulfing northern Africa and posing grave risks to stability in the region and beyond. The discord is likely to produce major new refugee flows and increase the potential for a dramatic expansion of Islamic State and Al Qaeda in northern Africa.
It’s not that this region hasn’t known conflict before. But even during the Arab Spring, which rocked states large and small, only small states experienced the kind of total collapse that can usher in major transnational threats. There was the 2011 revolution in Libya, for example, which removed the government and spawned a civil war that continues today. But Libya’s total population is just 6.5 million.
Libya’s destabilization contributed to a rebellion and coup in neighboring Mali (population 19.7 million). Combined with the long-term crisis afflicting Somalia (population 15.6 million), that sounds like a full-blown regional crisis. But these three states together are barely the size of one of the two states now in danger of collapsing, Algeria and Sudan.