Analysis of the Narrative: Beyond Ukraine and Gaza: The reporting of other world conflicts is rare and anti-Western

Most domestic media, reporting on international conflicts that significantly affect regional or global relations, focus on the war in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza. At the same time, conflict events with enormous humanitarian consequences in other parts of the world, primarily in Africa and Asia, such as DR Congo, Sudan, Myanmar and Yemen, are often missing from the media radar.

When they appear in the pro-government and pro-Russian media in Serbia, they are almost exclusively presented in an anti-Western context. This is how accusations are made against Western countries and their alleged support for the rebels in the DR Congo and the conflict with the Houthis in Yemen. In the case of Sudan, on the other hand, the attempts of Russian mediation between the conflicting parties were reported, while the conflict in Myanmar, where India and China play the most significant geopolitical role, was almost not followed.

Democratic Republic of Congo – Visible “Anti-American Protests”

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the largest and most resource-rich countries in Africa, during the spring and summer of 2023, clashes broke out between the militant rebel group M23 and the regular armed forces. After several years of inactivity, the activities of the M23 organization in the eastern parts of the Congo have been revived with the support of the regime of neighbouring Rwanda, which is politically and economically interested in the resources in that region. Months of brutal conflicts in the Congo, in which thousands of civilians died, resulted, according to UN estimates, in the displacement of approximately 7 million people in this country.

In parallel, violent unrest has spread following announcements of the withdrawal of international and regional peacekeeping forces. East African Community troops began their withdrawal from Congo in December 2023, and the profoundly unpopular UN mission (MOUSCO) also announced plans to leave Congo by April 2024, despite some opposition from the US. The mission has been present in eastern Congo since 1999. Still, it has failed to stabilize the security situation and protect civilians, earning it a bad reputation among the local population.

Congo’s re-elected president, Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in January 2024 after controversial and contested general elections, has expressed intentions for regular armed forces to fill the security vacuum. However, in recent weeks, the conflict in Congo has brutally intensified, with the M23 militant rebels advancing towards Goma, the most strategically important city in eastern Congo.

The domestic media looked back briefly at the events when they conveyed a symbolic message from the African Nations Cup, while the RT, the Balkan service of the Russian state media, in the headline “American and Belgian flags are burning in the Congo: Out of our country”, highlighted the protests in the central city of Congo “accusing Western governments of supporting rebels in the African nation.”

Sudan – “The response of the international community is inadequate”

Violent clashes between factions of the armed forces in Sudan, which began in April 2023, are escalating into a new civil war in the country. In 2019, Sudan’s regular army and the Rapid Support Force paramilitary group staged a coup and ended the three-decade rule of Omar al-Bashir. A democratic transition and the transfer of power to civilian officials were announced, but due to the extension of the state of emergency, the implementation of those decisions was postponed.

In December 2022, an agreement was reached between the two main parties – the Sudanese Army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Force – to integrate and hold national elections within two years. However, the rivalry and struggle for control of resources soon, in the spring of 2023, turned into an open, violent conflict in the capital, Khartoum.

In recent months, there has been an escalation towards a full-scale civil war in Sudan. The turnaround took place in October 2023, when the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces occupied the territory of the Darfur region, where the most serious crimes were committed during the previous civil war in the mid-2000s. While the regular armed forces launched a series of offensives in the first months of 2024, paramilitary units are consolidating their control over the southern and western parts of the country with a diplomatic initiative aimed at gaining recognition. Earlier joint mediation efforts by the US and Saudi Arabia to negotiate a truce did not bear fruit, and the United States recently appointed a special envoy for Sudan, which suggests increased involvement in the coming period.

The civilian population has experienced the worst consequences of the war in Sudan, as by March 2024, over 10 million citizens have either been internally displaced or have left the country to neighbouring unstable areas. RT and Politika reported on the crimes in Darfur and the catastrophic humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Sudan. Politika regularly broadcast international reports on the consequences of the civil war in Sudan, highlighting statements that “the response of the international community is inadequate” and that “the Sudanese are forgotten while an unprecedented tragedy of food shortages threatens again.” On the other hand, Sputnik Serbia mainly dealt with attempts by the Russian mediation between the warring parties, which did not bring results.

Absence of news about the civil war in Myanmar

Analysis of the rivalry between the neighbouring great powers, China and India, for influence in Myanmar, as well as announcements by government and military officials in Southeast Asia about efforts to restore order in the border areas with China and India, are topics covered by the leading media when it comes to about Myanmar. It is a country where the most significant regional conflict has been simmering in previous years. Myanmar’s civil war has been ongoing, in varying degrees and phases, since 2021 and the return of the military junta to power after a coup that ousted the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The three-year conflict, which flared up sharply in October 2023 when a coalition of armies from three ethnic groups launched attacks – Operation 1027 – against junta forces in western and central Myanmar, has left nearly two million displaced and refugees. As a result of particular ethnic violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, which the military junta continues to carry out, the largest refugee camp in the world – Cox’s Bazar – was created for members of this community.

The state of emergency in Myanmar was again extended for six months in January 2024, with the re-introduction of mandatory military service, which further threatens to escalate the conflict, deepening the humanitarian and economic crisis and endangering broader regional stability due to fears of the possibility of the conflict spilling over into next period. There were virtually no reports on this conflict in the domestic anti-Western media.

Yemen – the forgotten civil war and the “Houthis against America”

Houthi attacks on international cargo ships in the Red Sea and retaliatory airstrikes by the coalition, led by the USA and Great Britain, only partially brought the civil war in Yemen back into the focus of Serbian media covering international topics. However, most of the pro-government and pro-Russian media try to interpret the Houthis’ conflict with the leading Western countries from an anti-Western perspective.

Illustrative is an article in Politika entitled “How a Yemeni Tribal Militia Defies World Powers”, which emphasizes that “the lesson of this undeclared war is that even with its enormous economic power, the United States…is particularly vulnerable to economic attacks by seemingly small groups such as the Houthis.” Sputnik Serbia writes in the context of the conflict between the Houthis and Western countries that “the advantage that can be observed by simply comparing the coefficients on military potential in practice may not mean much…in the specific case of Yemen, they mean nothing.” However, articles about the civil war in the country, which is still not over, and the resulting devastating humanitarian disaster rarely appear.

The civil war in Yemen has been going on since 2014. As of 2021, the US has withdrawn support for the offensive operations of the coalition around Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels, as well as the status of a terrorist organization for the Houthis. During the following year, a ceasefire was established with the mediation of the UN, after which the intensity of the conflict remained low.

The year 2023 was marked by negotiations between the Houthis and officials of the Saudi-backed regime, but which ended abruptly with the outbreak of the Gaza war and Houthi attacks on international shipping. According to information from the International Crisis Group, the risk of renewed high-intensity conflict has drastically increased in Yemen itself, with the re-concentration of troops along the front lines, which can potentially cause a new dramatic humanitarian crisis.

In addition to the mentioned most prominent political-military hotspots on the African and Asian continents, which do not occupy significant media space in Serbia, current political instability, inter-ethnic conflicts, and confrontations between criminal groups and terrorist organizations of lesser intensity also shake other regions, such as Central America, the Caribbean belt, Southeast Africa or the Pacific.

Author: Igor Mirosavljević