Spotlight: Africa’s long-term plans must heed the structural drivers of violence


African leaders’ ambition to ‘silence the guns’ by 2020 demands an evidence-based understanding of the economic, political and demographic drivers of conflict, says Jakkie Cilliers, head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). In April, he was invited to present a forecast based on ISS conflict analysis to the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) as it prepared to review the first ten-year plan of the AU’s Agenda 2063.

Incidents of political violence are increasing while casualties from armed conflict are decreasing, Cilliers told ambassadors, civil society and donors at an open PSC meeting. Civil unrest, riots and protests often follow the messy business of modernisation and democracy. Violence and instability are more likely in the cities on a rapidly-urbanising continent.

The ISS’ data-driven analysis of African conflict and its impact was welcomed in Addis Ababa. Cilliers was commended for his ‘brilliant presentation’ by Steve Agbana, minister in Nigeria’s permanent mission to the AU, amongst others.  

Cilliers says the aim to silence Africa’s guns by 2020 is more likely to be achieved if the causes of violence are understood. ‘We are demonstrating the ISS’ ability to make forecasting a tool of strategic policy advice. Our work helps the AU and African leaders to make informed decisions that support their long-term goals.’

Silencing Africa’s guns by 2020 is more likely to be achieved if the causes of violence are understood

The ISS identifies seven main drivers of violence in Africa, among them poverty and population structure. About 37% of Africans live in extreme poverty. Rapid population growth is outpacing social and economic improvements, with the number of people on the continent increasing by 50% from 2000 to 2017. At current fertility rates Africa needs sustained growth in excess of 10% per annum for several decades to significantly reduce poverty.

Half of Africans are under 19 years old, and Cilliers notes that youth bulges in poor countries are robustly associated with increased risk of conflict and high rates of criminal violence. This is particularly the case during urbanisation and social change and when young people lack education and employment opportunities. Other drivers of violence include poor governance and political elites that cling to power and fail to generate inclusive growth.

‘There is no quick fix, so it’s essential that those planning for a peaceful African future take account of the long-term structural drivers of violence,’ Cilliers says.

He identifies priorities for the AU and African leaders, including better governance and service delivery. Elections need to be fair and independently monitored, and governments must ensure the police, military and courts serve the people not the president. The continent needs to boost economic growth through manufacturing and should stimulate agricultural development to alleviate deep poverty.

Cilliers warns the AU against unrealistic optimism about Africa’s demographic dividend. Economies grow when a working population is big enough to ensure rising income, with a median age of 26 to 41. Africa only reaches this point after 2050 at current population growth rates.

‘African leaders need to reflect on the widespread belief that Africa’s large youthful population is an advantage, when for at least the next three decades the large youthful population is actually a drag on development.’

By reducing births from the current average of 4.5 to 2.8 by 2040, instead of the current forecast of 3.3, Africa would have almost 100 million fewer people by 2040, with billions of dollars less required for education, infrastructure and housing.

The AU has made huge investments in reducing conflict. It now has a better understanding of the structural drivers of the violence that accompanies development and democracy.

‘The bottom line,’ says Cilliers, ‘is that violence has distinct and understandable causes, and we know what works in the long-term to reduce instability. Africa will be less volatile if it promotes good governance, stimulates rapid economic growth and is able to advance its demographic transition.’

For more information contact:

Jakkie Cilliers, ISS: +27 83 644 6883;

Picture: Amelia Broodryk/ISS

feature-5icon-printerlogo-chlogo-frPSC REPORT