In this entry, we describe the context of instability in Africa and its impact on the continent’s development trajectory. We then also present the counter view and discuss how improved stability can benefit Africa’s development outlook.
- Africa’s current conflict burden reflects a close correlation between poverty and poor state capacity. The factors that drive stability yield both a concerning and a reassuring outlook for the future.
- Africa’s developing economies have large, youthful populations and with limited control over rural spaces and borderlands that increase the risk for conflict.
- Both the nature and the periodic trends of conflict have changed in Africa over the past 70 years. Today, fatalities from armed conflict generally seem to be concentrated in a few countries, although the effects can spill over into neighbouring countries, inhibiting growth and creating safe havens for conflict actors.
- The susceptibility of people to engage in jihadist terrorism in Africa often stems from personal experience, marginalisation, poverty and poor governance that is framed by radical Islam. It has allowed Islamic terrorist ideology to gain a foothold in countries such as Algeria, Somalia and Nigeria.
- Anti-government protests and riots are increasing in many African countries, fuelled by social tension and discontent.
- The effect of the climate on conflict is a challenge that indirectly affects socio-economic outcomes such as agricultural income, human health and residential mobility. These effects are more pronounced in low- and middle-income settings, where the state of the economy is generally closely linked to agricultural production.
- Most African governments function as mixed regimes, so-called anocracies, which are prone to instability.
- Stability is essential for economic growth and investment. That requires much more African-led peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
The transition from small, nomadic hunter-gatherer communities to agricultural settlements and farming is generally considered the first step in human development. However, the agricultural revolution was largely incomplete in Africa (see Agriculture), possibly because of the extended north-south geography, which straddles several climatic zones, a high disease burden (see Health/WaSH) and the resulting low population density.
For centuries, even preceding the large south- and eastward migration of the Bantu people from West Africa, Africa’s general low population density meant that tribal wars were not fought over land but over labour—to capture slaves. The subsequent Arab and Western slave trades had a similar effect. Constantly denuded of sufficient, productive human capital, Africa was in almost perpetual turmoil and development here generally took a different route from that in Europe and Asia. With low population densities and few technological advances, Africans could offer little organised resistance to foreign occupation. Then, during colonialism, stability became a function of external powers that brought substantial military assets to the continent in an effort to suppress or contain internal uprisings. Conflict between colonies in Africa became proxy wars between European states, and the occupied territories regularly changed hands between Prussia (later Germany), France, Belgium, Portugal, the Dutch Republic, Italy and Great Britain.
The redistribution of several colonial territories in Africa after the two world wars weakened the colonial powers and the promise of the Atlantic Charter emboldened Africans to embark on renewed efforts of emancipation. Fearful of the turmoil that could follow if the borders that colonialism imposed on Africa were adjusted, the continent’s independent leadership endorsed them shortly after forming the Organization of African Unity in 1963.
Over time, imposed nationhood has translated into a sense of identifying as being from a particular country rather than being from a particular family, tribe or ethnic group. However, this is a multigenerational challenge, where the central state is constantly struggling to impose its will on an unpoliced and distant periphery that may ascribe to quite different cultures and authorities. This legacy remains at the heart of many of Africa’s development challenges today, more than half a century after the end of colonialism.
With states’ limited capacity to impose order and often balancing numerous factions across borderlands, Africa has consistently experienced a considerable conflict burden. Today, Africa’s conflict burden reflects the close correlation between poverty and instability, compounded by the lack of nation-building processes.
Developing countries with young populations are typically more unstable because of the large youth bulge and the weakness of the central government. In addition, the arbitrary partitioning of Africa that followed the Berlin conference has had long-term effects. According to research by Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias Papaioannou,  the incidence of civil conflict or the likelihood for conflict is markedly higher in the homelands of partitioned ethnicities, including for ethnic homelands near national borders. In addition, divided groups have fewer household assets, poorer access to public utilities and lower levels of education.
However, as elsewhere in the world, Africa is seeing a general decline in intrastate and civil war as national incomes rise and governments’ capacities to ensure stability increase,  as shown by data from both the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the two largest publicly available data providers that comprehensively cover Africa. [ ] Both rely on media sources as their primary sources to collect and categorise events and fatalities, [ ] as do others such as the Social Conflict Analysis Database and Global Terrorism Database.
Fatalities measured in these databases are associated with violent events and not those caused indirectly by conflicts, such as starvation or lack of healthcare,  and as such the tally of direct fatalities as captured by UCDP and ACLED is much lower than the total human cost of conflict. [ ]
The UCDP database includes conflicts in which at least a thousand battle-related deaths are incurred per year and in which one of the parties in the event is a government. Four types of armed conflict are subsequently defined:
- Extrasystemic conflicts: Conflict between a state (such as a colonial power) and a non-state group outside its territory (such as during liberation struggles).
- Interstate armed conflict: Conflict between two or more states, most common in the Horn of Africa (between Ethiopia and Somalia in 1977/78 and 2006/09; between Ethiopia and Eritrea between 1998 and 2000; and between Eritrea and Djibouti in 2008).
- Internal or intrastate armed conflict: Conflict between the government and one or more internal opposition groups, characteristic of many countries in Africa.
- Internationalised intrastate armed conflict: Conflict between the government of a state and one or more internal opposition groups, which also sees intervention from other states. An example is the recent civil war in Libya where, by 2020, several thousand mercenaries from Turkey, Russia and elsewhere were fighting on opposing sides.
Chart 1 presents the incidence of the four types of armed conflict in Africa from 1946 to 2019 as recorded and coded by the UCDP 
Extrasystemic conflicts (primarily liberation struggles) dominated after the Second World War, followed by a subsequent increase in intrastate (internal) conflicts and which have remained at roughly similar levels over four decades. Levels of interstate conflict have generally been low. Internationalised internal armed conflict increased in recent years, with the war in Libya serving as a textbook example.
Sustained violence in African countries reflects deep (or structural) drivers of conflict, which include a history of armed conflict and its social, political and economic legacies, a youthful population, high levels of unemployment, inequality and poor governance.
Africa’s most violent period (since independence in the 1960s) occurred shortly before the end of the Cold War in 1989. Levels of organised, armed violence in Africa increased faster than the global average during the 1970s and 1980s. The continent served as a proxy battleground between the former Soviet Union and the United States of America (US) and its allies, each backing particular clients. As tension between the East and the West mounted, the burden of armed conflict increased and then plateaued at unprecedented high levels.
For some years following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the international system appeared to promise ‘the emergence of a new form of global security governance’  premised on human as opposed to state security concerns, as ‘a significant source of conflict from the international system’ [ ] had been removed. After the initial sharp decline in global armed conflict, instances of organised violence and the burden of fatalities continued to steadily decline over the following two decades, with the period from 2004 to 2006 being more peaceful than any other in Africa’s recent history.
Although Africa seemed to be becoming more peaceful, high levels of conflict were seen on the continent between armed groups and factions fighting each other rather than against government forces—referred to as ‘non-state conflict’ by the UCDP. Non-state conflict reflects the absence of effective government control and the inability of a government to exert its authority, collect taxes, enforce compliance or provide services. Regions that experience high levels of non-state conflict typically have competing systems of power, often determined by tradition, community structures or criminal groups. Corruption is rife, and communities provide limited and grudging compliance to shifting dominant groups. The vacuum allows local militias, criminal gangs and traditional groups to advance or protect their livestock, land, mineral resources and other possessions.
Chart 2 shows the global trends in non-state conflicts and associated fatalities since 1989, with the most notable increases seen in the Middle East and South America in recent years.  The levels of non-state conflicts in Africa have remained fairly constant, with the countries most affected from 2015 to 2019 being: Nigeria, to be expected given its large population; Libya, due to the civil war; the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), given its legacy of instability; the Central African Republic (CAR); and Sudan and South Sudan. These are currently all home to a peacekeeping or UN mission.
As the number of conflict actors increases, resolving conflict in countries such as Sudan and CAR becomes more complex.  Rebel (and extremist) groups that split into smaller groups complicate efforts at mediation or reconciliation. Although commentators and interest groups readily agitate for maximum inclusion as part of agreements, the problem with most peace agreements is a lack of implementation rather than inclusivity. [ ] No sooner do mediators persuade the warring parties to sign an agreement than a group splits off and a new faction emerges, and additional demands follow.
In a similar vein, political inclusion, such as having a broadly representative cabinet, contributes less to peace than most suspect—a finding underlined by data on the composition of cabinets for a number of countries collected by the African Cabinet and Political Elite Dataset. Most African leaders are involved in complex, dangerous and costly games of ‘elite management’ in the interest of remaining in power, thereby severely constraining their ability to undertake economic or other reforms. 
Because Africa has a rapidly growing population, it is essential to view the number of violent events on a proportional basis rather than using absolute numbers.
Chart 3 presents fatalities  relative to population growth. [ ] It distinguishes between state-based conflict (involving a government), non-state conflict (no involvement of government armed forces) and one-sided violence. One-sided violence refers to a government or a formally organised group using armed force against civilians.
Three distinct periods seem to emerge from the data, namely a period of extremely high numbers of fatalities between 1990 and 2000, a sharp decline until 2005 and then increasing again, with an acceleration seen after the Arab Spring in late 2010. After 2005, the increase in conflict-related fatalities is generally consistent with Africa’s population increase (excluding a peak in 2014). At this level of analysis, stability in Africa is not improving, although Africans are generally less exposed to organised armed violence now than in the 1980s and 1990s.
Prominent events seen in Chart 3 are explained as follows:
- The spike in fatalities in 1990 were mainly in Ethiopia due to the civil war that overthrew the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
- In 1993, the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi’s first democratically elected president, tipped the country into a civil war between the army, dominated by the Tutsi minority, and Hutu rebel groups.
- High numbers of fatalities were recorded in Angola in 1993 after its warring parties rejected the internationally supervised elections of 1992. [ ]
- According to the UCDP, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 resulted in 534 468 deaths, mostly of Tutsis. This represents the most prominent spike on the chart.
- In 1999/2000, almost 100 000 fatalities were recorded during the Ethiopian-Eritrean war, with the two governments supporting dissident and armed opposition groups against each other and drawing in neighbouring countries such as Somalia and, to a lesser extent, Sudan.
- In DR Congo, the support of Rwanda and Uganda enabled Laurent-Désiré Kabila to overthrow President Mobutu Sese Seko during the First Congo War (1996/97). When Kabila subsequently broke ties with his former supporters, the countries invaded DR Congo, which gave rise to the Second Congo War. This conflict wound down only from July 2003, at which point it had involved nine African countries and nearly 20 rebel groups. The UCDP dataset includes more than 34 500 battle deaths in DR Congo in 1996, almost 14 000 in 1997, and more than 1 000 annually until 2003. Fatalities again peaked above 5 000 in 2009 and 2017.
- The Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) pitted the government forces in Khartoum against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) based in the south. The struggle eventually resulted in the Naivasha Agreement (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) in 2005, a referendum, the secession of South Sudan in 2011 and independence, only for a civil war among opposing factions in the ruling party to commence in South Sudan in December 2013.
- Armed conflict in the Republic of the Congo intensified after parliamentary elections in 1993 but ended with a peace agreement in December 1994. Conflict again intensified in the run-up to elections in 1997. The war in the Republic of the Congo eventually wound down in December 1999.
- Violence accelerated after the Arab Spring (late 2010), with an increase in incidences of violent Islamist terrorism and external involvement in countries such as Libya and Mali. Violent incidents peaked in 2014/15 with the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria (see Chart 4). This was followed by a general decline until a spike in DR Congo in 2017.
- An increase in instability, particularly in the Sahel, has been seen in recent years, resulting from the governance vacuum that accompanied COVID-19 (not shown).
Fatalities from armed conflict generally seem to be concentrated in a few countries (see Chart 4), particularly Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo and Nigeria. The seven countries that experienced an annual average of more than a thousand fatalities between 2014 and 2019 are Nigeria (particularly in 2014 and 2015), DR Congo (particularly in 2017), Somalia, Sudan, Libya, CAR and South Sudan. Fewer than ten fatalities related to armed conflict were recorded in 21 African countries between 2014 and 2019.
Chart 5 presents fatalities from non-state and one-sided violence between 2005 and 2019. Spikes are seen in DR Congo and Sudan in 2009, and in CAR and Nigeria between 2013 and 2014, with terrorist incidents accounting for almost half of the total fatalities.
Countries with large populations inevitably record a high number of fatalities from armed conflict,  and as such, data from UCDP shows that the highest absolute numbers of fatalities for the period 2015–2019 were recorded in Nigeria, DR Congo, Somalia and Libya. However, when considering population size, i.e. fatalities per thousand or million people, the fatality burden for the corresponding period was significantly higher in CAR, Libya, Somalia and Sudan than elsewhere in Africa.
Stability in these four countries would have a disproportionately positive impact on continental levels of armed conflict, investor confidence, governments’ ability to invest in development, and improved wellbeing.
The contribution of Islamic terror to Africa’s conflict burden has waxed and waned since the 1960s. It has recently increased, expanding its footprint in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001, an event now generally known as 9/11.
Domestic grievances primarily drive terrorism, which is then contextualised and animated within a broader religious or political framing.  This remains valid even as several copycat insurgencies have recently emerged, such as in the eastern DR Congo and northern Mozambique. Although people’s decisions to join armed jihadist groups reflect marginalisation, poverty and poor governance, the decision to engage in violence is primarily related to personal experiences at the hands of authorities rather than ideology such as radical Islam. Eventually, a specific incident mobilises local leadership, who then frame the reasons for the situation and the need for action within a broader political, ideological or religious context. [ ]
Many of the groups that eventually became associated with Islamist radicalism stem from the Society of the Muslim Brotherhood, established as an Islamic revivalist movement in Egypt more than a century ago. It rapidly grew in popularity through its extensive charity work but was regularly banned and unbanned as the Egyptian government sought to manage the relationship between religion and politics. The Brotherhood was legalised in 1948 but the failed assassination of the Egyptian president, Abdel Nasser, on 26 October 1954 saw the imprisonment of thousands of its members and the execution of some of its leaders. It was again banned after a splinter organisation assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981. 
Linkages with al-Qaeda appeared in 1995, evident from the assassination attempt on President Husni Mubarak while on a state visit in Addis Ababa.  The most prominent associated radical grouping in Egypt, al-Gama’a al-islamiyya, launched a particularly brutal attack on tourists at Luxor in 1997, but renounced violence in 2003 as support dropped off. [ ]
An estimated thousand Egyptian combatants were active in Afghanistan before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. Egypt’s domestic counter-terrorism efforts managed to contain the domestic threat but inadvertently exported extremists elsewhere until a resurgence occurred in the volatile Sinai Peninsula in 2003, where terror attacks continue to this day.
Tension was therefore already high when the spark that ignited the Arab Spring in Tunisia in December 2010 spread to Egypt. Egyptian President Husni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 amidst widespread protests, transferring his powers to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The head of the Muslim Brotherhood and leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Morsi, won the subsequent presidential elections. After a year of divisive rule and rolling mass protests, army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed Morsi in a coup d’état and was subsequently elected president. Egypt has since managed to keep a lid on terror, although often intervening and engaging elsewhere to contain the threat, such as in neighbouring Libya.
Algeria’s bloody independence war ended in 1962, with the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale, FNL) government, initially closely aligned to the Soviet Union, assuming power. Once in government, the FNL resisted any political role for Islam despite its prominent role in mobilising anti-French support. Instead, the FNL chose to embark on a concerted effort to increase cultural and educational Arabisation and Islamisation to displace the use of French in education and culture. The FNL consolidated its grip on power with a coup in 1965 but was forced to institute a multiparty system to soak up discontent as Algeria’s youth bulge expanded, culminating in widespread rioting—notably the so-called bread riots of October 1988.
In a state-dominated economic and political system characterised by slow growth and little opportunity, these efforts laid the groundwork for a subsequent national Islamist awakening. Eventually, the Algerian military stepped in to annul elections in 1992 when the recently legalised Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS) appeared to be heading for victory. Several veterans of the jihad in Afghanistan who had fought with Osama Bin Laden and others were subsequently crucial in establishing the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé, GIA) of Algeria and supporting their campaigns.
In the Algerian civil war that followed, the GIA massacred many fellow Muslims. These tactics eventually split the GIA, leading to the formation of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat, GSPC), which subsequently became the more prominent grouping. Effective security force action and an amnesty emasculated the GIA. A ceasefire, declared in 1997 and ahead of the elections in 1999, saw Abdelaziz Bouteflika being elected as president of Algeria.
In addition to links to various organised criminal networks, the GSPC sought to spread its message and embarked on training new members from Chad, Sudan, Libya, Mali and Mauritania. It also deepened its relationship with al-Qaeda, although steadily losing ground against the Algerian security forces. In 2007, the remnants of the GSPC announced that it had changed its name to al-Qaeda in the land of the Islamic Maghreb, reflecting its open support for al-Qaeda.
Together with the impact of the Arab Spring, the US’s intervention in Iraq revitalised Islamic terror globally and facilitated the growth of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS).  US troops left Iraq in 2011, even as the impact of the Arab Spring washed across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which eventually forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia to flee, initiated changes in the Egyptian regime and led to the deposition of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
However, the momentum of the Arab Spring was insufficient to replace the pre-existing order in key authoritarian states. Instead, it effectively facilitated the Islamic State’s expansion from Iraq to Syria and destabilised large parts of the Maghreb, the Sahel in particular.
After the intervention of NATO, the collapse of central authority in Libya provided a space for Syrian combatants from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to relocate. It also facilitated the looting of the giant arms supplies that Gaddafi’s regime had built up over the years, eventually serving as the primary source of arms in the region. The weapons and Tuareg fighters from Libya stoked a simmering conflict in Mali and Nigeria, igniting a war in the Sahel. Former members of Gaddafi’s armed forces fled to northern Mali in 2011, where they provided the backbone for the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad). After taking control of cities and territories in the north of Mali, they advanced on the capital Bamako. French military intervention narrowly averted the capture of Bamako, but neither a subsequent UN peacekeeping mission nor regional efforts have been able to restore stability.
Beyond Egypt and Algeria, terrorism in Africa is also generally associated with Somalia. The origins are rooted in a history of war and invasion between Ethiopia and Somalia, including the British allocating grazing land in the Ogaden to Ethiopia’s Emperor Menelik in the 19th century. 
Contemporary extremist Islam in Somalia began as an underground movement in the mid-1970s in response to the repressive tactics of the secular Siad Barre regime, corruption, the failure of secular nationalist ideology to resolve the status of Somalis living outside the colonial borders, and economic pressures.
Siad Barre actively pursued the dream of a Greater Somalia and invaded the Ogaden (in Ethiopia) in July 1977. The tide turned very rapidly when the Soviet Union abruptly shifted its support from Siad Barre to Ethiopia. With the aid of some 11 600 Cuban troops and 6 000 advisors, an air bridge from Moscow and two South Yemeni armoured brigades, Ethiopia eventually expelled the Somali forces from the Ogaden. This and the extensive brutality of Barre’s regime facilitated the subsequent civil war.
In 1991, the Barre regime collapsed, allowing Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI) to spread its influence.  Members of AIAI fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and would subsequently plan and conduct both the US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 and attack an Israeli hotel and an airliner in Mombasa in 2002. [ ]
Hardliners in the AIAI eventually joined forces with an alliance of sharia courts, known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and gained control over the Somali capital, Mogadishu. That event triggered intervention by Ethiopia in December 2006, eventually driving al-Shabaab and the ICU from Mogadishu. 
Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia in 2011 to fight al-Shabaab and, like the Ethiopians, later joined the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force in its mission in Somalia. In subsequent years, a string of ruthless and high-profile attacks, mostly in neighbouring Kenya, continued to keep al-Shabaab in the news, even as a rival organisation, the Islamic State in Somalia, mounted increasingly well-publicised operations.
Successive bouts of widespread and intense instability have also plagued Nigeria since independence from Britain in 1960, including the effort at secession by the Eastern Region as the Republic of Biafra (1967–1970) and ethnic violence for control over the oil-producing Niger Delta from 1992 to 2009.
Recent violence has been closely linked to Islamic terrorism. The dominant narrative remains that a Christian government in the south caused deprivation and poverty in the north. A 2015 study on regional extremist linkages found that ‘Boko Haram has been able to build on relations of loyalty and support across borders, such as long-existing networks of trade, the influence of local big men, and the discontent of disenfranchised youths’.  In 2015, a faction of Boko Haram also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, naming itself the Islamic State West Africa Province.
Commentators such as the Global Terrorism Index argue that ‘the “centre of gravity” for the Islamic State (IS) group has moved away from the Middle East to Africa’ and that most of the countries with the largest increase in terrorism (Burkina Faso, Mozambique, DR Congo, Mali, Niger, Cameroon and Ethiopia) are in sub-Saharan Africa.  Whereas in 2010 only five African countries experienced sustained activity from violent Islamist extremism (Algeria, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Somalia), that number increased to 12 countries by 2019, with Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Kenya, Libya and Tunisia added to the list. [ ]
In sharp contrast to the gradual decline of armed violence (if viewed over long time horizons), and the more recent increases in terrorist violence, Africa is experiencing increased anti-government riots and violent protests. Protests have become a more acceptable public behaviour in many countries, initially associated with democratisation and, since 2020, the hardships that followed lock-down measures to combat COVID-19.
It is not clear what the short-term impact of the increase in social instability and protests will be, although mass uprisings have led to autocratic leaders being toppled in countries as diverse as Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mali, South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia and, most recently, Algeria and Sudan.
According to ACLED, non-violent protests and violent riots in Africa have increased elevenfold in the decade since the start of the Arab Spring, compared with the population increasing only by a factor of 1.3.  The continent generally seems to be becoming more politically aware and restless (although better reporting and access to social media probably accentuate the increase).
Crowd-based mass violence typically requires politicisation and triggering event(s), such as the decision by the young Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi to self-immolate on 18 December 2010, the event generally accepted as having triggered the Arab Spring. For such a spark to ignite the widespread violence and unrest that follow, societies need to be afflicted by high levels of social tension and discontent.
In the case of the Arab Spring, tension was primarily the result of limited social, economic and political opportunity against a backdrop of relatively high levels of education and a bulge in the size of the youthful population (aged 15–29 years) as a portion of the total population. In addition, North Africa experienced a downturn in economic growth before the Arab Spring that inevitably increased the sense of relative deprivation.  Similar dynamics underpin the widespread violence in South Africa that erupted in July 2021 following the arrest and incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma. South Africa is generally accepted as having the highest levels of inequality and unemployment globally.
As elsewhere in the world, democratic governments in Africa are less repressive and tend to use less violence against civilians than their autocratic counterparts. In general, few civilians are killed during protests, even if the number of protest events may increase compared to incidents of armed conflict. 
Countries with larger populations appear to experience more protests, even on a per capita basis. The highest absolute numbers of events between 2015 and 2019 were seen in South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia and Algeria; the highest per capita numbers in the corresponding period were seen in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt and DR Congo. 
The increase in the number of riots and protests reflects the impact of increased levels of education on Africa’s youth amidst limited job opportunities, together with the continent’s urbanising social landscape and the impact of social media and Internet access. The combination has instigated a power shift away from political elites and towards the public, now armed with information and the ability to communicate in real time with one another.
On a per capita basis, ACLED data shows almost double the number of riots and protests in Nigeria as in Ethiopia, the country with the second-highest relative riot/protest numbers. The high level was driven, to a large extent, by the 2019 general elections eventually won by incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, amidst ongoing terrorism by Boko Haram in the north-east, increased communal violence between nomadic herders and farmers and a general increase in banditry and violent crime.
In 2016, Ethiopia similarly experienced an extraordinary increase in the number of riots and protests driven by ethnic groups’ discontent with the perceived dominance of the minority Tigray ethnic group, exacerbated first by an acute drought and then floods in the highlands, particularly in the Amhara and Oromia regions. The change in political leadership following the riots and protests eventually culminated in a failed coup attempt in the Amhara region, ongoing efforts to end Tigray’s violent subjugation in 2020 and 2021, involving troops from neighbouring Eritrea and eventually a full-blown civil war.
Generally, riots and protests appear to have become less deadly over time, meaning that there are fewer fatalities per event. For example, while Africa experienced an average of eight deaths per event between 2001 and 2003, the average declined to three between 2015 and 2017. However, broader access to social media reporting may also have contributed to the decline. 
The increasing number of riots and protests is associated with the steady rate of urbanisation as these events are overwhelmingly urban phenomena. Sub-Saharan Africa was only 31% urban in 2000, but this increased to 40% by 2019 and is likely to get to 50% by 2043.
Being significantly less urbanised than other regions in the world, more rapid urbanisation in the future could prove to be politically destabilising, especially as riots and protests may increase because of democratising and changes in regime type being experienced here. With many people living in towns and cities, population density can facilitate the kind of crowd and mass dynamics that eventually ejected Ben Ali from his presidency in Tunisia, forcing a rotation in the governing elite in Egypt and culminating in a civil war in Libya.
Recurring conflicts are a massive problem in Africa and cycles of war tend to repeat themselves in the same countries, such as Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. As a result, the best predictor of future instability is past instability.
Apart from inhibiting development, armed conflicts also spill over into neighbouring countries.  According to the World Bank, a ‘country making development advances, such as Tanzania, loses an estimated 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) every year for each neighbour in conflict’. [ ] Furthermore, neighbouring countries that are in turmoil regularly offer safe havens for rebel groups and insurgents that operate across borders. [ ]
Unaddressed grievances are often the drivers of recurrent violence, suggesting that lasting peace, or at least more stability, requires these grievances to be addressed. The result is that efforts at negotiating an end to violence or stabilising a situation through the deployment of peacekeepers, such as in South Sudan or CAR, often need to be measured in decades rather than years.
The spillover effect of instability  is currently most evident in the Sahel, a region described as having ‘experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets’, [ ] which has eroded public confidence. In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, casualties have increased fivefold since 2016: more than 4 000 deaths were reported in 2019 compared with less than 800 three years earlier. Terrorist attacks also increasingly threaten West African coastal states. [ ]
There is no scholarly consensus on how factors related to climate change, such as desertification, are linked to the outbreak of conflict, although it seems evident that it could increase the likelihood of conflict. 
The drought in Ethiopia before the 2016 riots and protests serves as an example. Protests started because of the proposed expansion of the Addis Ababa city plan, which would have encroached on precious farming land of the Oromos. The subsequent events eventually led to almost 700 deaths and a state of emergency, as the government responded forcefully. In retrospect, the drought seems to have intensified pressures on land and associated livelihoods. 
Northern Nigeria has been described as ‘a textbook case of environmental changes stoking deadly conflict’  given frequent droughts and desertification, with the Sahara advancing southward at an estimated rate of 351 000 hectares annually. Many natural water sources have dried up, and the changes have intensified long-standing competition between herders and farmers, with both communities mobilising armed groups for protection. Fatalities from herder-farmer conflicts have regularly exceeded those from Boko Haram activities in recent years. Yet, paradoxically, total agricultural production has increased despite the amount of arable land contracting each year, as farming on the remaining land has become more productive—pointing to the unexpected outcomes of climate change.
The role of climate change in accelerating a trend towards violent competition is increasingly evident. Commentators argue that ‘societies experience climatic variables in continuous time and respond to both short-lived and long-lived changes, making the frequency of short-lived events an economically relevant feature of the climate. For example, if hot temperatures increase the likelihood of riots in a city—even if extreme temperatures are experienced only for a few hours—then this is important for understanding climate impacts because the frequency of these momentary events may change if the distribution of daily temperatures changes’. 
The effect of climatic events on conflict emerges as several potential challenges that indirectly affect various socio-economic outcomes such as agricultural income, human health and residential mobility. For example, water shocks due to deviations in rainfall ‘may lead to social conflict via their effects on resource competition, poor macroeconomic outcomes, and reduced state capacity’.  However, these effects transpire more readily in low- and middle-income settings in which the economic variations are more significant owing to their importance to local agricultural production. [ ]
African countries will experience widely different effects from climate change in the coming decades, which will strain the ability of large regions to support local populations under current developmental conditions. Some areas of the continent are likely to become warmer and drier and experience more frequent and severe droughts close to major population centres, particularly in the Sahel.  Other parts of the continent may also experience widespread drought and potentially famine without proper government intervention. In contrast, the eastern swathes of the continent will likely experience heavier rainfall, which could also adversely affect crops and food security.
The impact of climate change on conflict is therefore country and region specific—and depends on the quality of governance and development level. For example, observations from East Africa suggest that socio-political factors are more robust drivers of conflict than climate change.  In contrast, our work on the futures of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger points to a more direct link between climate change and conflict. In this region, competition in pastoral communities is intensifying as herders start moving earlier in the dry season and further southward in search of grazing.
Burke, Hsiang and Miguel find that ‘contemporaneous temperature has the largest average impact, with each 1σ [standard deviation] increase in temperature increasing interpersonal conflict by 2.4% and intergroup conflict by 11.3%’.  Thus, every 0.5-degree Celsius increase in local temperatures increases the risk of conflict by 10–20%. Bear in mind that the period from 2011 to 2020 was the hottest decade in recorded history. The Sahel was particularly affected, with temperatures rising 1.5 times the international average during this period.
Chart 6 presents the Notre Dame-Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) country vulnerability index, which measures a country’s exposure, sensitivity and capacity to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.  The data is for 2018. Except for Afghanistan, the 13 countries most vulnerable to climate change and other global challenges are all in Africa.
In March 2021, the AU Peace and Security Council issued an unprecedented statement regarding the effects of climate change on peace, security and stability in Africa,  calling for specific actions to address the threats posed by climate change on stability, including establishing an AU Special Fund for Climate Change. The following month, US President Joe Biden convened a summit for 40 world leaders, including the presidents from Nigeria, South Africa, DR Congo, Gabon and Kenya, where the response to global security challenges posed by climate change was on the agenda.
Although climate threats may not affect conflict risk to the same extent everywhere, it is notable that the largest peacekeeping missions are in climate-change hotspots, including South Sudan, Mali, DR Congo, CAR, Sudan and Somalia. To this end, military experts such as the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change have raised their concerns for more than a decade. 
Eventually, the extent to which climate threats, conflict and displacement translate into violence depends on context, which means that localised responses are vital. 
Generally, liberal democracies are more stable and peaceful than other regime types. However, the transition from autocracy to democracy is often turbulent, and mixed regime types (so-called anocracies or electoral rather than substantive democracies) are volatile. For example, of the 16 African countries that experienced sustained armed violence in 2021, none are fully democratic. 
The level of stability depends on the nature of the government (i.e. democratic or autocratic), sustained economic growth and the means to provide or enforce security. Developing countries have fewer resources to devote to either security or development. In that sense, Africa is trapped in a vicious circle: many countries are unstable because they are poor, and because they are poor, they are unstable. Before COVID-19, Africa was making steady progress in general living conditions, which has the potential to translate into stability because the capacity of governments to provide or enforce security increases, best reflected in larger budgets for the various security agencies.
In Africa, government spending on security tends to be low relative to the level of insecurity on the continent and compared with spending in other conflict-prone regions, such as the Middle East. Spending inevitably tends to be skewed towards providing security for the governing elite rather than responding to real security needs. Given the continent’s long history of coups d’état and military interference in government, security spending is often also divided between competing and overlapping security services as leaders try to ensure that no single agency could pose a threat to them. At the same time, many areas in Africa are unpoliced, with limited government representation. Institutions are weak, and because of high levels of poverty, rent-seeking is high in these unpoliced borderlands.
Given that only inclusive economic growth can produce the resources required to alleviate these root causes of instability, conflict-torn countries in Africa are trapped. Poor countries are more violent, and because of this, they cannot grow rapidly enough to alleviate the stresses and grievances that lead to instability.
In Southern Africa, the extraordinarily high level of inequality in countries such as Namibia, Botswana and South Africa presents a potential threat to stability, largely because the informal sectors in these countries are relatively small compared with those in other countries at similar levels of development. The extent of autocratic repression in countries such as Equatorial Guinea and the Kingdom of Eswatini also presents a problem if left unattended, and these countries experience recurring bouts of violence. Efforts by leaders such as Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea), Mswati III (Eswatini), Paul Biya (Cameroon), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Alpha Conde (Guinea) and Alassane Ouattara (Côte d’Ivoire) to extend their terms in office or effect dynastic succession present obvious challenges as pressure mounts without the prospects for either democratic change or generational succession.
Because military rule and one-party governments have generally been an unmitigated disaster, there is strong support for democracy in Africa, as elaborated on in the theme on governance. However, the problem is that when leaders eventually allow reform, it is for nominal, not substantive, democracy. In Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Algeria, governments hold regular elections, yet there is no actual choice, freedom of opposition or genuine debate.
Genuinely free and fair elections, which offer real prospects for change in leadership, underpin development. Electoral competition incentivises politicians to deliver on the provision of public goods and services. Improved government effectiveness (and hence better service delivery) can therefore be associated with substantive democracy but generally not with nominal electoral democracies. 
At present, many African governments include elements of both autocracy and democracy and function as anocracies,  for example Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Algeria, Burundi and The Gambia. Despite regular competitive elections in these intermediate regimes, the legislature has little practical control over the executive branch of government and political elites are often focused on ensuring their own continuity rather than performing fundamental governance tasks. [ ]
Anocracies are less stable than full autocracies, which in turn are less stable than consolidated democracies, and those in which one ethnic grouping is advantaged over others are particularly vulnerable to instability. Intermediate regime types are six times more likely to experience new outbreaks of civil conflict than democracies and 2.5 times more likely than an autocracy. More than half of anocracies experience a significant regime change within five years and 70% within ten years.  Anocracies are therefore considered ‘a middling category rather than a distinct form of governance’.[ ]
In addition, if a country is significantly more democratic than other countries at similar levels of income and education, such an imbalance increases opportunities for corruption and the risk of acute episodes of violent protests and demonstrations. Examples include Mozambique (low-income), Kenya (lower middle-income) and South Africa (upper middle-income). In contrast, if a country is significantly less democratic than could be expected given its levels of income and education, the pressure for political participation and accountability is likely to grow; Equatorial Guinea and the Kingdom of Eswatini are textbook examples to watch. Such pressure could lead to instability and even a violent rupture, particularly around leadership renewal. Other examples include North Africa before the Arab Spring but also possibly Ethiopia (low-income), DR Congo (lower middle-income) and Libya (upper middle-income).
Given a median age of 20 years in Africa (19 years for sub-Saharan Africa), the continent has an exceptionally youthful population (although rates differ significantly between countries and between rural/urban groups, income groups, etc.). Having a large population between 15 and 29 years of age (young males in particular) relative to the total adult population is generally associated with an increased risk of conflict and high rates of criminal violence, particularly if secondary and tertiary education is expanding. Thus, ‘the combination of growing youth cohorts and educational expansion often leads to increased political violence even in the presence of low youth unemployment’.  The associated high expectations are hard to satisfy by governments and labour markets, leading to relative deprivation and social unrest.
Chart 7 presents the per cent of the population aged 15 to 29 as a per cent of the total adult population in each global region in 2019. In sub-Saharan Africa it is 48% compared to 35% in North Africa which is included in the MENA region in the chart. It is below 20% in Europe.
Youth bulges appear to be more closely related to low-intensity conflict than to civil war.  Although the size of the youth bulge is often considered to have been an important contributing factor in the Arab Spring, the size of Tunisia’s youth bulge was about five percentage points below the average for North Africa at the time, which was, in turn, much smaller than in the rest of Africa. This points to the role of other factors, such as the mismatch between higher levels of education and low levels of political, economic and social inclusion.
Chart 8 shows the size of the youth bulge in 2019 and that expected in 2043 for each country in Africa.
In 2019, more than half the adult populations of Uganda, Chad, Somalia, Zambia, CAR, Malawi, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso were in the age bracket 15–29 years. These countries are therefore particularly at risk of violence and conflict, given that they also have high levels of unemployment. Others, including Angola, Mozambique, The Gambia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and DR Congo, follow a similar trend.  The only African countries with less than a third of their adult population in the youth bulge are Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritius and Seychelles.
Although higher education levels are generally associated with lower conflict vulnerability, it depends on the size of the youth bulge, levels of employment and degree of urbanisation. 
- For example, the youth bulge is declining in several North African countries, which reduces its importance as a structural driver of violence. Still, it is likely to have a positive effect only if accompanied by substantive economic freedom and economic growth that provides economic opportunity to a significantly larger swathe of citizens.
- An expansion in higher education often precedes rebellions. [ ] A sudden increase in university enrolments by young people seeking upward social mobility can lead to social status competition and the marginalisation of elements in the dominant elite. [ ]
- A causal link between youth unemployment and violence in developing countries is widely assumed, particularly with reference to crime, gang violence and domestic violence, but solid evidence remains insufficient. [ ]
The difference between stable and unstable developing countries is often a political elite that effectively distributes services (particularly among different ethnic groups), develops sustainable institutions, minimises corruption and encourages the development of the private sector while focusing on equitable growth. To this end, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance defines governance as ‘the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has a right to expect from their state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens’. [governance.] The index measures overall governance performance across four subcomponents, namely: safety and the rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development. In 2019, Burundi, the Republic of the Congo, Libya, Chad, Sudan, DR Congo, CAR, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia all scored below 40 out of a possible 100. Also see the theme on
High levels of inequality often point to a government that essentially looks after the interests of specific sectors or elites or is unwilling to undertake the necessary measures to address disparities, as reflected in the high inequality scores of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Comoros, Zambia and CAR. Today, former liberation parties that have grown complacent in their power dominate governments in Southern Africa. Their inability to grow their economies means they have also been unable to change the patterns of inequality inherited from colonialism, white settler dominance and apartheid. Instead of growth, they turn their attention to (re)distribution, which has limited potential. With no prospects for political, generational and policy renewal to impact these structural imbalances, the promise inherent to regular, free and fair elections is frustrated. Zimbabwe best reflected this trend when the slightly younger Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced octogenarian Robert Mugabe, but with little substantive change to a country where income levels are much lower than when the former white minority government declared unilateral independence from Britain several decades ago.
In South Africa, only its relatively high levels of democracy have constrained violence, given high levels of inequality and unemployment seen in the country—until the lockdowns associated with COVID-19 and political mobilisation around imprisoned former President Jacob Zuma tipped the scales in July 2021, resulting in widespread looting and violence. Eventually, without leadership and political renewal, countries inevitably grow below their potential and social problems fester.
Perceptions about the distribution of wealth between groups and levels of equity in society have an important role and fuel discontent. But inequality changes very slowly. In Central Africa, the downturn in global commodity prices has exacerbated an already fragile situation. Governments are unable to deliver the most basic services, yet the political elite have been exceptionally creative in designing strategies to retain their hold on power through ‘personalised presidential systems supported by patronage networks sustained mainly through elite bargaining and collusion with traditional rulers’. 
A similar trend is also evident in West Africa. In recent years, governing parties have either increased the registration fees that aspiring candidates must pay (Guinea, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali) or require contenders to obtain the endorsement from a host of other political actors. The result is that opposition parties have to negotiate, beg or bribe the ruling party to allow their participation in elections. 
Besides having a history of conflict and chronic underdevelopment, countries in sub-Saharan Africa that suffer severe inequality, rely heavily on primary commodities, have a prominent youth bulge and an oppressive regime are virtually assured of future instability and even a violent rupture.
In response to the end of the Cold War era and the potential impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union on Africa, the Organization of African Unity (the predecessor of the AU) realised, already in 1990, that it was imperative for Africa to map out a strategy for sustained development.  Several mechanisms for conflict prevention, management and resolution were subsequently set up although most only came into effect quite recently.
Today, conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacekeeping in Africa are led and managed by Africans, largely because of a decline in the willingness of others to participate in peacekeeping in the continent combined with the push towards greater ownership. The evidence on peacekeeping is clear: the risk of conflict recurrence drops by as much as 75% in countries where UN peacekeepers are deployed. 
It is against this background that the AU launched Agenda 2063 as a ‘call for action to all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa’.  To this end, the AU’s 50th anniversary declaration noted its ‘determination to achieve the goal of a conflict-free Africa, to make peace a reality for all our people and to rid the continent of wars, civil conflicts, human-rights violations, humanitarian disasters and violent conflicts, and to prevent genocide. We pledge not to bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans and to undertake to end all wars in Africa by 2020’. [ ]
In December 2020, the AU belatedly agreed to extend the original timeframe to 2030.  Instead of a trend towards less violence developing, AU chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa, had to admit that ‘incidents of conflicts are intensifying and spreading to all regions of the continent’. [ ] The increase in conflict is deeply associated with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated reductions in government services, including less security. [ ]
Against this rather concerning background, we turn to a scenario that emulates improved stability.
Although it is possible to argue that improved stability will only follow increased defence expenditure, our logic is that considerations other than military responses—largely efforts at conflict prevention, such as better and inclusive governance and an end to interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries—will lead to a general decline in threat perceptions and beggar-thy-neighbour views. A positive turn of Africa’s fortunes such as this will also require a globally facilitating environment, including international (Western and/or Chinese) collaboration in Africa and, particularly, countries from the Middle East having a positive role in the Horn, which has become something of an arena for proxy competition.
The broad logic of the scenario set out in Chart 9 sees African countries benefit from larger inward investment flows and lower requirements for defence expenditure. These impact positively on capital contributions to growth, meaning that more government revenues can be allocated to the provision of health, education and other services even as levels of economic growth accelerate.
- a reduction in the probability of state failure or internal war is applied to the 23 most conflict-affected countries. [ ]
- a reduction in government security risk (an internal risk index with IFs) is applied to all African countries but with different magnitude for low, lower middle- and upper middle-income countries.
- reduced defence expenditure is applied to 29 countries that spend more than 1.5% of GDP on the military. [ ]
With regard to the parameters of defence expenditure, the following should be noted:
- We use 1.5% of GDP used as a reasonable target on defence expenditure by 2033, based on the 2019 average for defence expenditure in Africa being 2% (although large country differences are seen [ ]). As a result, instead of spending US$150 billion on defence in 2043, African countries are expected to spend US$123 billion. Within the IFs platform, the associated revenues are automatically reallocated to education, health and infrastructure.
- Defence expenditure in Libya is reduced from its last recorded figure of 15.5% (in 2014) to 4% by 2033 and that of Algeria, at 6.7% in 2020, is reduced to 2% by 2033. These two countries spend significantly more than other African states on defence and more rapid reductions may not be realistic. [ ]
It is not surprising that the countries that gain the most from greater stability, lower levels of defence expenditure and more foreign investment are Libya and Algeria. By 2043 GDP per capita of Libya is US$1 927 higher in the Stability scenario compared to the Current Path forecast, and that of Algeria US$709. Other countries that benefit from reductions in defence expenditure are Angola and Morocco.
The impact of the scenario is that, instead of foreign investment flows equivalent to 3.7% of GDP in 2043, Africa would attract 4% as investor confidence grows. The difference is equivalent to an increase of US$254 billion in the stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) by 2043. The effect is a marginal improvement in the gap in FDI inflows in other comparable regions, South America in particular. In the theme on financial flows we model the additional impact of efforts to attract FDI.
More stability and foreign investment translate into a bigger economy and improved economic growth. The Stability scenario suggests the following key impacts:
- By 2043, the African economy will be US$468 billion larger than in the Current Path forecast (in market exchange rates).
- By 2043, the average GDP per capita (in purchasing power parity) would be US$7 423, increasing by US$266 above the Current Path forecast for that year.
- Approximately 31 million fewer Africans would be living under the international extreme poverty line of US$1.90 per day, with South Sudan and DR Congo expected to experience the largest reductions in the percentage of extremely poor people.
- Levels of democracy are likely to increase, with an associated improvement in governance.
Chart 10 shows the expected growth in the economy of each African region in 2043 if the Stability scenario applies. Given the state of insecurity in Central Africa, it is no surprise that this region will benefit the most from the Stability scenario. Its 2043 economy is expected to be 8% larger than in the Current Path forecast, although West Africa sees the largest absolute increase (an economy almost 6% or US$158 billion bigger in 2043 compared with that in the Current Path forecast).
A different, and perhaps more effective, way to consider the impact of improved stability is to review the additional contribution to GDP per capita. At the continental level, GDP per capita would increase by 4% in the Current Path forecast (from US$7 157 to US$7 423) by 2043. The contribution does, of course, vary hugely between countries, as shown in Chart 11.
Generally, states in sub-Saharan Africa are younger and financially poorer than most international peers. Colonialism and its legacies have severely disrupted their natural evolution, and political violence has been a central feature of the region’s recent history. African states are imposed creations that remain fragile, although less so with each passing decade.
The summary view on future stability in Africa is both reassuring and concerning. Africa is a safer place than at any time since the end of colonialism. But the rise in conflicts in the Middle East, global flux, increases in global and national inequality, and the impact of COVID-19 have all disturbed the old repressive order without allowing the evolution of a new system.
Africans lead in making peace in Africa, but without inclusive, sustained growth combined with substantive democracy, armed conflict will not end. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global resurgence of autocracy both have a negative effect on Africa’s stability. Because of the marginal position that the continent occupies politically and economically, and because of the potential multiplier effect of limited and poor governance in many African countries, levels of armed conflict in Africa remain sensitive to global developments. Against this background it is concerning to see that some of the components of the African Union's comprehensive peace and security response system such as the Continental Early Warning System have been dismantled while others, such as the Panel of the Wise and the African Standby Force are not used as originally intended.
Instability and violence structurally constrain economic growth, deter foreign and domestic investment, and compound already pressing welfare and humanitarian challenges. Economic growth is further hampered by limiting long-run capital accumulation, whether in savings or investments, and the horizons for effective policy change are often shortened unrealistically, which creates volatility and negatively affects macroeconomic performance. Political instability lowers productivity growth rates and physical and human capital accumulation.
Structurally inclusive economic development, coupled with substantive electoral accountability, offers the best prospect for greater peace and stability. Generally, countries become more peaceful as they become more prosperous and, above certain levels of income and development, democracy is the most stable form of government. However, at low levels of development, democracy may hinder growth, and development may actually stimulate violence in the poorest countries. 
It will take time for Africa to become more peaceful and less violent because of the slow rate at which the structural changes needed for stability occur. For example, conflict-affected countries typically have much younger populations than more stable regions, and population structure shifts very slowly. The impact of COVID-19 is such that instability will likely increase for several years given that the pandemic led to more hunger, job losses and reduced government revenues, which, in turn, translate into less service delivery and smaller security budgets. Africa is also democratising, and it is difficult for democracies to counter insurgencies. Democracies struggle to fight internal wars, particularly low-insurgency type conflicts. Mobilisation for political purposes such as in the run-up to elections tends to reverse any reconciliation that may have been achieved as part of the counter-insurgency efforts.
Violent armed conflict and resource insecurity will continue to occur, mainly in poor countries where the following variables are present: weak governance; previous experience of conflict; spillover from being located in a bad ‘neighbourhood’; and widespread youth exclusion co-existing with a median population age below 25 years, ironically fuelled by the rapid expansion of secondary and tertiary education. 
An important argument for Africa, with its weak states, poor governance and porous borders, is that territories with a single government, defined borders and a shared, central administration experience only a quarter of the average death rate as states without a national government.  A continent consisting of countries whose governments ensure law and order across their territories will be more peaceful and experience lower mortality of all types.
Ironically, Charles Tilly noted three decades ago: ‘If protection rackets represent organised crime at its smoothest, then war risking and state making—quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy—qualify as our largest examples of organised crime’.  The complex and country-specific structural drivers of conflict in Africa are influenced by external factors such as the impact of radical ideology and geopolitical competition, as seen between the US and China. Yet, we are likely to see further reductions in instability in the 21st century, because of increasing levels of education and literacy, together with substantive democratic accountability and increasing global connectivity. The COVID-19 pandemic will slow and may disrupt these trends but is unlikely to change the positive direction of progress or long-term trends in a fundamental way.
Although armed conflict is often more prevalent in rural areas, riots and protests are becoming an overwhelmingly urban phenomenon, as the share of Africa’s urban population living in slums is steadily rising. Political violence in Africa is already largely urban based, and instability in Africa is likely to affect cities and unpoliced and unplanned urban sprawls, rather than rural areas.  Conflicts over land, property rights and services for urban residents need to be addressed by integrated urban development strategies. [ ]
Against this backdrop, the gains in peace and stability over the past two decades are impressive, although inevitably disrupted as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19. These gains include significant multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts and investments in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. However, much remains, such as ending the spillover effects from conflict in one country, such as Libya or DR Congo, which fuels instability in its neighbours.
An approach premised on longer-term stability requires clear standards for governance, accountability and security provision. Africa needs to shift from conflict management (expensive peacekeeping) to substantive conflict prevention and focus on addressing the structural drivers of violence, such as poor governance and low levels of inclusive economic growth. Few investments can compete with the provision of education, for example, as a means of draining the swamp of ignorance that allows radical ideologies to flourish.
Addressing violence, instability and armed conflict in Africa requires an ongoing and dedicated response from the AU, its member states and the international community to provide aid, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping towards the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals.
S Michalopoulos and E Papaioannou, 2011, The long-run effects of the scramble for Africa, National Bureau of Economic Research Inc, Working Paper No. 17620
A Mack (ed), 2013, Human Security Report 2013 – The decline in global violence: Evidence, explanation, and contestation, Vancouver: Simon Fraser University
See: Uppsala Conflict Data Program, n.d., https://ucdp.uu.se; Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, n.d., www.acleddata.com.
Although riots and protests are increasing, they are not included in measures of armed conflict.
For example, 2.4–5.4 million deaths are estimated to have occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 and 2008 as a result of the Second Congo War (also known as the Great War of Africa), mostly from disease indirectly associated with conflict rather than from armed conflict itself.
See the debate on deaths in the Human Security Report 2009/2010: The causes of peace and the shrinking cost of war, 2011, New York: Oxford University press
UCDP includes Egypt in the Middle East, not Africa.
A Mack (ed), 2013, Human Security Report 2013 – The decline in global violence: Evidence, explanation, and contestation, Vancouver: Simon Fraser University
A Mack (ed), 2013, Human Security Report 2013 – The decline in global violence: Evidence, explanation, and contestation, Vancouver: Simon Fraser University
Data from ACLED shows a similar trend of increased armed violence since 2006, even when considering the steady increase in population. See https://acleddata.com/data-export-tool/.
UCDP measures and codes these as conflict dyads consisting of two conflicting primary parties.
M Joshi and JM Quinn, 2017, Implementing the peace: The aggregate implementation of comprehensive peace agreements and peace duration after intrastate armed conflict, British Journal of Political Science, 47(4), pp. 869–892.
C Raleigh and D Wigmore-Shepherd, 2020, Elite coalitions and power balance across African regimes: Introducing the African Cabinet and Political Elite Data Project (ACPED), Ethnopolitics, 21(1), pp. 22–47
Data on fatalities is from UCDP, who define an event as ‘an incident where armed force was used by an organised actor against another organised actor, or against civilians, resulting in at least 1 direct death at a specific location and a specific date’. (H Stina, 2020, UCDP Georeferenced Event Dataset Codebook Version 20.1, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala: Uppsala University). However events are only included in the UCDP data when fatalities amount to 25 deaths per year and per group. In this way, the dataset tries to exclude individual murders and deaths from crime but includes most organised armed actors such as rebel groups.
Population data is from the UN Population Division, reflecting an increase from 613 million people in 1989 to 1.315 billion in 2019.
The struggle between the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, MPLA) and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, UNITA) eventually ended only with the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in February 2002.
Although per capita fatality measures can help measure the comparative conflict burden across countries, they obscure subnational discrepancies. For example, in Nigeria people in the north are significantly more likely to experience violence at the hands of Boko Haram than people living in Lagos.
J Cilliers, 2015, Violent Islamist extremism and terror in Africa, ISS Paper 286
See: Institute for Security Studies, 2016, Mali’s young ‘jihadists’ fuelled by faith or circumstance? ISS Policy Brief 89
The organisation was the Egyptian Islamic Group, which split from the Brotherhood when it renounced violence in 1970. Also see: R Engel, 5 July 2011, Sadat’s assassination plotter remains unrepentant, NBC News; Stanford University, 2015, Mapping militant organizations: Egyptian Islamic Jihad
Asharq Al-Awsat, 26 February 2020, How did Mubarak survive 6 assassination attempts?
Stanford University, August 2012, Al Jama’a Al-Islamiya
ISIS later changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
K Menkhaus, 2002, Political Islam in Somalia, Middle East Policy, IX(1), pp. 109–123, also available at; A Le Sage, 2001, Prospects for Al Itihad and Islamist radicalism in Somalia, Review of African Political Economy, 28(89), pp. 472–477; G Pirio, 2007, The African Jihad: Bin Laden’s Quest for the Horn of Africa, Trenton: Red Sea Press.
A Weber, 2015, Al-Shabaab: Youth without God, In: G Steinberg and A Weber (eds), Jihadism in Africa: Local Causes, Regional Expansion, International Alliances, Berlin: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik.
Stanford University, 2016, Al Ittihad Al Islamiya
K Willemse, M de Bruijn, J Both and K Muiderman, 2015, What are the connections between Africa’s contemporary conflicts?
F Gardner, 3 December 2020, Is Africa overtaking the Middle East as the new jihadist battleground? BBC News
Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 28 June 2018, Militant Islamist groups in Africa show resiliency over past decade
ACLED defines a protest as follows: ‘A non-violent, group public demonstration, often against a government institution. Rioting is a violent form of demonstration’. ACLED, 2019, Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) Codebook, Oslo: International Peace Research Institute.
According to BB Hughes, ‘A 1.0% drop in a moving average of economic growth (carrying 60% of the moving average forward) is associated with a 0.04 point increase on a 0-1 scale for the rate of internal war’. BB Hughes, 2019, International Futures: Building and Using Global Models, Cambridge: Academic Press; Also see: E Ianchovichina, L Mottaghi and S Devarajan, 2015, Inequality, Uprisings, and Conflict in the Arab World, New York: World Bank.
J Cilliers and S Hedden, 2014, Africa's current and future stability, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
Calculated from ACLED, 5 December 2020
See the analysis in: J Cilliers, 2018, Violence in Africa: Trends, drivers and prospects to 2023, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
S Gates, HM Nygård and E Trappeniers, 2016, Conflict Recurrence. PRIO Conflict Trends, 02
World Bank, 2011, World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development, Washington DC: World Bank
H Hegre, J Karlsen, HM Nygård, H Strand and H Urdal, 2013, Predicting armed conﬂict, 2010–2050. International Studies Quarterly, 57(2), p. 7.
JA Goldstone, RH Bates, DL Epstein, TR Gurr, MB Lustik, MG Marshall, J Ulfelder and M Woodward, 2010, A Global model for forecasting political instability. American Journal of Political Science, 54(1), pp. 190–208; H Hegre, HM Nygård, J Karlsen and H Strand, 2013, Predicting armed conﬂict, 2010–2050. International Studies Quarterly, 57(2), p. 7.
United Nations, 8 January 2020, ‘Unprecedented terrorist violence’ in West Africa, Sahel region, UN News
United Nations, 8 January 2020, ‘Unprecedented terrorist violence’ in West Africa, Sahel region, UN News
M Burke, SM Hsiang and E Miguel, 2015, Climate and conflict, Annual Review of Economics, 7, pp. 577–583
See, for example: H Buhaug, NP Gleditsch and OM Theisen, 2008, Implications of Climate Change for Armed Conflict, Social Dimensions of Climate Change Workshop Paper, Washington DC: World Bank; also see: P Andrews-Speed, R Bleischwitz, T Boersma, C Johnson and G Kemp, 2012, The Global Resource Nexus The Struggles for Land, Energy, Food, Water, and Minerals, Washington DC: Transatlantic Academy. pp. 3–4; M Tempest, 2017, Ethiopia admits 2016 unrest death toll reached 669, EURACTIV.com,
T Ghani and R Malley, 2020, Climate change doesn’t have to stoke conflict, Foreign Affairs
M Burke, SM Hsiang and E Miguel, 2015, Climate and conflict, Annual Review of Economics, 7, pp. 578–579.
CS Hendrix and I Salehyan, 2012, Climate change, rainfall, and social conflict in Africa, Journal of Peace Research, 49(1), p. 36.
M Burke, SM Hsiang and E Miguel, 2015, Climate and conflict, Annual Review of Economics, 7, p. 590.
Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), 2014, The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report: What’s in it for Africa?
M Burke, SM Hsiang, and E Miguel, 2015, Climate and conflict, Annual Review of Economics, 7, p. 577.
According to the ND-GAIN index hosted by the University of Notre Dame. The index measures the overall vulnerability based on six life-supporting sectors: food, water, health, ecosystem services, human habitat and infrastructure. For rankings, see: https://gain.nd.edu/our-work/country-index/rankings/; for methodology, see: https://gain.nd.edu/our-work/country-index/methodology/.
African Union, 2021, Communique of the 984th meeting of the PSC held at the level of Heads of State and Government on 9 March 2021 on the theme ‘Sustainable Peace in Africa: Climate Change and its Effects on Peace and Security in the Continent’
Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change, https://www.gmaccc.org/.
A-M Mbiyozo and O Maunganidze, 2020, Climate change and violence in Africa: No time to lose, ISS Today
Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2021, Autocracy and instability in Africa
Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2021, Autocracy and instability in Africa
On the Polity score, a mixed/intermediate regime type has a score from +5 to -5 in an index that ranges from +10 to -10. V-Dem distinguishes between different types of democracy, each with its own index. Its electoral democracy index is closest to the Polity IV index.
MG Marshall and GC Elzinga-Marshall, 2017, Global Report 2017 Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility, Vienna: Center for Systemic Peace.
MG Marshall and GC Elzinga-Marshall, 2017, Global Report 2017 Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility, Vienna: Center for Systemic Peace; Also: JA Goldstone, RH Bates, DL Epstein, TR Gurr, MB Lustik, MG Marshall, J Ulfelder and M Woodward, 2010, A global model for forecasting political instability. American Journal of Political Science, 54, pp. 190–208; CH Knutsen and HM Nygård, 2015, Institutional characteristics and regime survival: Why are semi-democracies less durable than autocracies and democracies?, American Journal of Political Science, 59(3), pp. 656–670; H Hegre, T Ellingsen, S Gates and NP Gleditsch, 2001, Toward a democratic civil peace? Democracy, political change, and civil war, 1816–1992, American Political Science Review, 95(1), pp. 33–48.
MG Marshall and GC Elzinga-Marshall, 2017, Global Report 2017 Conflict, Governance, and State Fragility, Vienna: Center for Systemic Peace.
H Weber, 2019, Age structure and political violence: A re-assessment of the “youth bulge” hypothesis, International Interactions, 45(1), pp. 80–112.
H Hegre, J Karlsen, HM Nygård, H Strand and H Urdal, 2013, Predicting armed conflict, 2010–2050. International Studies Quarterly, 57(2), pp. 250–270.
Ethiopia’s youth bulge is reducing more rapidly than most other low-income countries in Africa owing to the successful implementation of the provision of water, sanitation, basic healthcare and availability of contraceptives, which, combined, have resulted in a rapid decline in total fertility rates in recent years. Ethiopia is expected to experience a decline in fertility rates from 4.6 children per woman currently to 3.7 by 2030. See: Z Donnenfeld, A Porter, J Cilliers, J Moyer, A Scott, J Maweni and C Aucoin, 2017, Ethiopia Development Trends Report, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
H Hegre, J Karlsen, HM Nygård, H Strand and H Urdal, 2013, Predicting armed conflict, 2010–2050, International Studies Quarterly, 57(2), pp. 250–270.
J Goldstone, 1991, Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World, Berkeley: University of California Press.
H Urdal, 2012, Youth bulges and violence, In: J Goldstone, EP Kaufmann and MD Toft, Political Demography: How Population Changes are Reshaping International Security and National Politics, London: Paradigm.
See, for example, I Idris, 2016, Youth unemployment and violence, GSDRC
M Ibrahim, 2018, Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG)
Z Donnenfeld and F Akum, 2017, Gathering Storm Clouds: Political and Economic Uncertainty in Central Africa, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
Endorsement may be required from citizens, a number of sub-regions (in Senegal), parliamentarians or mayors (in Benin), or elected officials (in Burkina Faso). D Zounmenou and N Adam, 2021, ‘Electoral reforms’ are stifling democracy in West Africa', ISS Today
See: H Lulie and J Cilliers, 2015, Salim at the Organization of African Union, In: J Cilliers (ed), Salim Ahmed Salim: Son of Africa, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.
S Gates, HM Nygård and E Trappeniers, 2016, Conflict Recurrence, PRIO Conflict Trends, 02
African Union, Agenda 2063: The Africa we want
See: African Union, 2013, 50th Anniversary solemn declaration (2013)
See: African Union, Agenda 2063: The Africa we want
South African Government, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa: Closing statement at the 14th Extraordinary Session on Silencing the Guns
BB Hughes and JR Solórzano, 2014. IFs Governance and Socio-cultural Model Documentation. Working paper 2014.03.05.a. Pardee Center for International Futures, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver
These countries are: Angola, Burundi, CAR, Comoros, DR Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe
These countries are: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, CAR, Chad, Comoros, the Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Lesotho, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, S Sudan, Eswatini, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia Zimbabwe.
Listed in note 79 above. Reductions for Libya and Algeria differ from the 1.5% average applied to others.
These are the last two publicly available data points on military expenditure for the two countries. SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, 1949–2020. The data in IFs is from the World Development Indicators and is only up to 2019 for Algeria.
H Hegre, T Ellingsen, S Gates and NP Gleditsch, 2001, Toward a democratic civil peace? Democracy, political change, and civil war, 1816–1992, American Political Science Review, 95(1), pp. 33-48.
J Cilliers and J Schünemann, 2013, The future of intrastate conflict in Africa: More violence or greater peace? ISS paper no. 246
C Tilly, 1985, War making and state making as organized crime, In: P Evans, D Rueschemeyer and T Skocpol (eds), Bringing the State Back, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
See, for example: S Commins, 2018, From Urban Fragility to Urban Stability, Washington DC: Africa Center for Strategic Studies
J Bello-Schünemann and C Aucoin, African Urban Futures, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 2016
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Jakkie Cilliers (2023) Stability. Published online at futures.issafrica.org. Retrieved from https://futures.issafrica.org/thematic/02-africas-stability/ [Online Resource] Updated 7 December 2022.