An Overview of Africa’s Conflict Zones
Confl ict and instability have been common in postindependence Africa. While not all countries in the region have experienced these challenges, they have been widespread. Africa’s complex security environment currently comprises threats like Islamic extremism, ethnic and communal tensions, and internal challenges to state authority, as well as human security concerns including poverty, disease, and environmental degradation. These threats have not only state and regional impacts but also geopolitical security implications. Although there have been few interstate wars in Africa, large areas of the continent continue to be plagued by confl ict and instability. Despite the recent downward trend in warfare globally, 1 the Uppsala Confl ict Data Program (UCDP) reported that the greatest increase in confl ict between 2010 and 2011 took place in Africa, with the number of armed confl icts increasing by 50%, from ten to fi fteen. 2 The UCDP’s Nonstate Confl ict Database also reported that sub-Saharan Africa had 74% of all nonstate confl ict fatalities between 1989 and 2008. A nonstate confl ict is defi ned as fi ghting between two organized armed groups, neither of which is the government of a state. All but one of the top six countries with the most nonstate fatalities during this period were in sub-Saharan Africa. These countries included Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. 3 Deaths from political violence have increased since 2010, and the African countries with the most deaths from political violence in 2014 were Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR). Those countries accounted for 75.5% of politically related violence in 2014. 4 Adding to the potential for further confl ict, the 2014 Fragile States Index shows that fi fteen of the top twenty fragile states are in Africa. 5 On top of that, sub-Saharan African countries make up thirty-six of the forty-fi ve countries in the low human development category of the 2014 UNDP Human Development Index. 6
Poverty, economic stagnation, and a dependence on the export of primary products increase the chances of conflict and insecurity. Moreover, dependence on primary product exports is more likely to result in income inequality. 7 Minerals and fuel exports made up 64% of Africa’s exports in 2011, while agricultural products made up another 10% of Africa’s exports that year. 8 While some regions of Africa have recently enjoyed rising prosperity, especially
those exporting primary products, the 2010 UN Human Development Report showed that sub-Saharan Africa’s annual average GDP per capita growth rate for 1970-2008 was 2.7%, and a number of countries showed negative growth rates. 9 Although the global economic crisis of 2008 slowed growth, demand for primary products contributed to Africa’s recent economic growth and will continue to play a major role in sustaining Africa’s growth for the foreseeable future despite the end of what the World Bank called Africa’s “long commodities super cycle.” 10
Africa’s population growth provides a potential demographic advantage if growth can be sustained. Africa’s fertility rates are double the world average, and the continent’s population is likely to almost triple in the next forty years, 11 but if prosperity is not spread more evenly, conflict resulting from a large unemployed/underemployed population of young men will continue to be a strong possibility. Increasingly disillusioned by poverty and low growth rates, unemployed young men make a ready pool of recruits for rebel movements and terrorist organizations. 12
Africa’s socioeconomic indicators and the patterns of politics provide ample motivations for conflict. Ethnic and communal tensions, often centered on either the competition for scarce resources or the avarice spurred by abundant resources, 13 the struggle for political power, and weak and corrupt or inefficient institutions merely compound Africa’s problems. In the face of opposition, repressive states often depend on the security forces to maintain their power. Unprofessional and poorly trained soldiers often prey upon their fellow citizens to augment their meager pay or act with callous disregard for human rights. At the same time, as the record of coups and coup attempts shows, the security forces themselves may threaten the government. Military intervention in politics rarely ensures civilians’ security or prosperity.