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Assessing long-term state fragility in Africa: Prospects for 26 ‘more fragile’ countries

by Dr Jakkie Cilliers, Executive Director, Institute for Security Studies and Prof. Timothy D. Sisk, Professor of International and Comparative Politics Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.



This monograph provides a future-oriented forecast for 26 ‘more fragile’ countries in Africa using the International Futures forecasting system. The forecast is based on a model of dynamic interaction among long-term structural drivers of fragility, which is presented in terms of a mutually reinforcing system or syndrome of fragility. The forecast is presented as a base-case scenario and in terms of an optimistic and pessimistic manipulation of the base-case trends.

Fragility can be defined as low capacity and poor state performance with respect to security and development. A state is fragile when it is unable to provide for the security and development of its citizens. The majority of citizens in highly fragile countries in Africa (1) are poor, (2) experience high levels of repeated or cyclical violence, (3) experience economic exclusion and inequality, and (4) suffer from poor/weak governance. The drivers of fragility are clustered in terms of these four groups or dimensions. Each group includes internal, external, deep and proximate drivers of fragility. There is no claim that these dimensions operate at the same level or are mutually exclusive – indeed, they are not. Poverty is in many senses a deeper and less direct driver of fragility than poor governance or violence, for example. There are also considerable interrelationships among these four groups, which are accounted for in the construction of the forecasts.

The list of ‘more fragile’ states consists of the 19 African countries that have benefitted from the financial support of the African Development Bank (AfDB) since 2008, plus seven additional countries (underlined), giving a total of 26: Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The remaining grouping of African states are considered ‘more resilient’ and are used as a reference group to compare with those in the ‘more fragile’ grouping. In sum, the monograph finds that ten fragile states (Comoros, the CAR, the DRC, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, the Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan/South Sudan and Togo) will continue to experience poor governance, chronic poverty, potentially widening inequality, and continued vulnerability to violence and armed conflict well into the future.

The base-case forecast is that by 2030 at least Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Côted’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Uganda and Zimbabwe would have escaped from the current ‘more fragile’ label: they are forecast to experience sufficient progress in security and development equivalent to today’s more resilient grouping. By 2050 it can be expected that Eritrea, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone would also have exited the ‘more fragile’ grouping.

The monograph features a base-case forecast, and an optimistic and pessimistic scenario. An optimistic scenario would envision better-than-expected gains in governance, conflict prevention and development. In such a scenario one could expect a combination of advances in technology, or better regional and global governance, or more effective approaches to capacity development at the national and local levels, or breakthroughs in inclusive growth (perhaps related to better-than-expected global growth and the integration of Africa more fully into international trade and financial systems).

On the other hand, there could be many origins for a pessimistic or worst-case scenario such as an increase in local-level conflict over resources such as land, water and grazing, and in crowded urban settings, as the impact of ever higher levels of greenhouse gases disturbs the current climate balance. This could see ten countries remaining in the ‘more fragile’ category by 2050.

The scenario analysis reveals three major future risks: extreme poverty may widen in fragile states, and the gap between ‘more fragile’ and ‘more resilient’ states may widen considerably; democratic deficits, in terms of which Africa’s fragile countries evidence less political inclusion than could be expected for similar levels of education and economic growth, could increase; and vulnera- bility to conflict could grow worse, particularly over natural resources such as land and water.

Based on an understanding of the potential role that organizations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank could play in responding to the challenge in Africa’s ‘more fragile’ countries, the monograph concludes with a set of recommendations that are grouped in accordance with the dimensions of fragility. These comprise recommendations for:

  • Thinking long term by planning for long-term fragility and data innovation. This proposes a collective approach with each of the ten long-term ‘more fragile’ countries to facilitate the development of individual long-term national development plans to be monitored by a self-assessment process and the establishment of an associated financial facility. The use of big data and innovations in data interpretation can help fill many of the current gaps in understanding causality in Africa, particularly at the substate level.
  • Preventing and managing conflict by responding to a bad neighbourhood and the security dilemma, as well as an enhanced partnership with the United Nations (UN). These could address cross-border interference and eventually result in appropriate security sector expenditure and practice. Much more can be done to improve interaction and mutual support between the African Union and the UN, to their mutual advantage.
  • Reducing poverty and inequality by reforming the extractive sector (by adopting and implementing recommendations from the Africa Progress Panel, including paying appropriate tax) and handing a large share of future oil/gas income as unconditional taxable cash transfers directly to citizens in poor countries.
  • Improving governance by building the foundations of the state, including support in the establishment of tax systems and essential infrastructure, while balancing security demands with other requirements.

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More ISS documents available at www.issafrica.org/publications


Dr Jakkie Cilliers

Executive Director: Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

Read more about the author and his view on being a futurist.



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