What drives instability in Africa and what can be done about it

Africa will remain turbulent because it is poor and young, but also because it is growing and dynamic. Development is disruptive but also presents huge opportunities. The continent needs to plan accordingly.

Levels of armed conflict in Africa rise and fall. Data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, the Global Terrorism Database and others indicate that armed conflict peaked in 1990/91 at the end of the Cold War, declined to 2005/6, remained relative stable to 2010/11 and then increased to 2015, although it peaked at lower levels than in 1990/91 before its most recent decline.

Armed conflict has changed. Today there are many more non-state actors involved in armed conflict in Africa – representing a greater fracturing of armed groupings. So it’s not a matter of “government vs an armed group” but a “government vs many armed groups”. Insurgents are often divided and sometimes even fighting amongst themselves. This greater fragmentation complicates peacemaking.

Terrorism has also increased, but depending on how one defines it, it has always been widely prevalent in Africa both as a tactic to secure decolonisation as well as between and among competing armed groups. The big question for 2017 is: is violent political extremism going to move from the Middle East to Africa? Put another way, is it in Africa that Al Qaeda and the Islamic State will find solid footage as they are displaced from the Middle East?

Anti government turbulence has also increased in recent years. In Africa, this has led to disaffection and violence around elections that are often rigged rather than free and fair. Generally this is because governance in many African countries present a facade of democracy but don’t yet reflect substantive democracy.

Seven relationships lie behind patterns of violence on the continent, and provide insights into whether it can be managed better.

Relationships explaining violence


Internal armed conflict is much more prevalent in poor countries than in rich ones. This is not because poor people are violent but because poor states lack the ability to ensure law and order. The impact of poverty is exacerbated by inequality, such as in South Africa.

Updated forecasts using the International Futures forecasting system indicate that around 37% of Africans live in extreme poverty (roughly 460 million people).

By 2030, 32% of Africans (forecast at 548 million) are likely to live in extreme poverty. So, while the portion is coming down (around 5% less), the absolute numbers will likely increase by around 90 million. It’s therefore unlikely that Africa will meet the first of the Sustainable Development Goals on ending absolute poverty on a current growth path of roughly 4% GDP growth per annum.


Democratisation can trigger violence in the short to medium term, particularly around elections. Recent events in Kenya are an example. Where there is a large democratic deficit, as in North Africa before the Arab spring, tension builds up and can explode.

And a democratic deficit – where levels of democracy are below what can be expected when compared to other countries at similar levels of income and education – often leads to instability.

Instability is also fuelled by the manipulation of elections and constitutions by heads of state to extend their stay in power. Examples include Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Uganda.

Regime type

The nature of the governing regime is another structural factor. Most stable countries are either full democracies or full autocracies. But most African countries have mixed regimes with some elements of democracy mixed with strong autocratic features. They present a façade of democracy but lack its substantive elements. Mixed regimes are inherently more unstable and prone to disruptions than either full democracies or full autocracies.

Population structure

Africa’s population is young, with a median age of 19. By comparison, the median age is 41 in France (a relatively young country by European standards). So 22% of adult French are in the youth bulge of 15-29 years compared to 47% of Africans.

Young countries tend to be more turbulent because young men are largely responsible for violence and crime. If young people lack jobs and rates of urbanisation are high, social exclusion and instability follow.

Repeat violence

A history of violence is generally the best predictor of future violence. Countries such as MaliCentral African Republic and the DRC are trapped in cycles of violence. This is very difficult to break. It requires a huge effort and is very expensive, often requiring a large, multi-dimensional peace mission that only the UN can provide. But, scaling peacekeeping back rather than scaling it up is the order of the day at the UN.

A bad neighbourhood

Where a country is located can increase the risk of violence because borders are not controlled and rural areas not policed. Most conflict in Africa is supported from neighbouring countries. Violence spills over national borders and affects other countries while poorly trained and equipped law and order institutions generally cannot operate regionally.

Slow growth and rising inequality

Africa is quite unequal, so growth does not translate into poverty reduction. In addition, the world is in a low growth environment after the 2007/8 global financial crisis, with average rates of growth significantly lower than before. Africa needs to grow at average rates of 7% or more a year if it is to reduce poverty and create jobs, yet current long term forecasts are for rates significantly below that.

Opportunity amid challenges

These seven related factors indicate that the notion that Africa can somehow “silence the guns by 2020”, as advocated by the African Union as part of its Agenda 2063 is unrealistic. Violence will remain a characteristic of a number of African countries for many years to come and Africa should plan accordingly.

In the long term only rapid, inclusive economic growth combined with good governance can chip away at the structural drivers of violence. It is also clear that middle income countries are making progress in attracting foreign direct investment but that poor countries will remain aid dependent.

The ConversationMuch more international and regional cooperation will be required as part of this process, including substantive and scaled up support for peacekeeping.

– Jakkie Cilliers is Chair of the Board of Trustees and Head of African Futures & Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies and Extraordinary Professor in the Centre of Human Rights at the University of Pretoria.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Source: news24

Continent is central to SA’s future

Malusi Gigaba writes that our socio-economic development is and must be linked with the rest of Africa for the AU’s Agenda 2063 to be realised.

Johannesburg – Africa Day presents a chance for South Africans to reflect on our great continent’s shared destiny. Our enduring Pan-African unity is based on unbreakable ties of history, culture and shared struggle, and an awareness that our socio-economic development is and must be linked for the AU’s Agenda 2063 to be realised.

Africa’s support for our struggle was steadfast, principled and costly: When the apartheid regime tightened its noose around the necks of the oppressed, and banned the national liberation movements in 1960 following the Sharpeville protests, Africa opened her arms to receive our freedom fighters as exiles. They extended their unconditional warmth, friendship, solidarity and hospitality to our freedom fighters. Even the poorest of African states gave their all in support of the South African liberation struggle.

For this support, innocent citizens of Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique were butchered in their sleep by the apartheid army, and Zimbabwean and Angolan territories were violated by a regime that had no respect for human life, let alone the national sovereignty, territorial integrity and stability of its neighbours.

South Africa’s liberation in 1994 guaranteed Africa’s long-term stability and development. It meant the country ceased to be what Hendrik

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Verwoerd had called “a piece of Europe on the tip of the African continent”.

The struggle bore a Pan-African identity with historic responsibilities that stretched far beyond South Africa’s borders. During the past two decades, the liberated South Africa has contributed towards the new African renaissance by supplying the materials requisite towards this all-encompassing effort.

South Africa was among the foremost advocates for the development and adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad). We invested time and resources towards uniting the continent, helping to forge a united global political and economic agenda at a time when imperialism and the neo-liberal globalisation was further marginalising and ruthlessly exploiting the continent.

For Africa to develop on a sustainable basis, we need to entrench peace, democracy and good governance, and advance major economic growth strategies, including infrastructure investments; beneficiation of mineral wealth; industrialising and diversifying of economies to free ourselves from the resource curse and drastically improving intra-African trade and trade with other emerging economies.

Only these programmes can radically alter Africa’s relations with itself and the world, and place it on a footing for sustained growth, job creation and enhanced political power in the global arena.

South Africa needs Africa: It has integrated itself into the continent not only through political and peace efforts, but increasingly through growing investment, trade and tourism.

While the country remains largely an exporter of primary commodities and an importer of manufactured goods, during the past 20 years sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana and most of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has emerged as the largest importer of South African-manufactured goods. It has been estimated South Africa exported about R300 billion worth of goods last year. Trade, investment and tourism with the rest of the continent has created and sustained 160 000 jobs in South Africa.

While we celebrate the growth of South African trade and investment in Africa, there is an obvious imbalance in favour of South Africa. So, if Africa is so vital for the South African economy, it should stand to reason that African integration, intra-African trade and the overall growth and development of the African economy should be equally as important.

We cannot do this alone! Our global political and economic aspirations are interconnected with, and not separate from, the continent as a whole.

We are one! We cannot fulfil our historic role and responsibility to raise Africa’s position in global affairs if the people of the continent think we have a condescending attitude towards them or want their support, but do not want to help them in their hours of need.

The recent violence against African migrants is inexcusable and has cost us. The attacks set back our African agenda. We must not take this for granted, or be naive as to the cost we incurred.

While fellow Africans may understand they have a responsibility to address the “root causes” of migration, to fix their economies and minimise the incentives for their nationals to travel to South Africa at all costs, they also know we have a responsibility, out of an African solidarity, to help build their economies because they supported our struggle to defeat apartheid.

Agenda 2063 can only be achieved by sustained, co-ordinated actions between increasingly integrated African countries.

South Africa has made critical contributions in this regard and will continue to do so in a quest for a better life for all.

* Gigaba is Minister of Home Affairs and member of the ANC NEC. A version of this article appeared in the ANC Today.


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