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Forecasting insecurity and conflict in Africa

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Open Briefing published three synthesis reports over February outlining the findings from our major project forecasting insecurity and conflict in Africa during 2014.

Conflict and insecurity is a product of a combination of volatile factors. Some narratives have painted Africa as a continent where conflict and insecurity occur naturally due to ethnic tensions and porous borders. In reality, the underlying sources and drivers of instability are critical to understanding events. Our Africa desk team avoided generalisations by analysing specific factors and identifying forecasts for individual countries in the region.

The reports for West, Central and Southern Africa focussed on those countries whose drivers and internal volatility are likely to create substantial levels of insecurity and conflict over 2014. As such, stable and prosperous states were excluded, and the synthesis reports outlined our various scenarios for 25 countries across Africa.

The forecasts set out in the synthesis reports were derived from the application of the cone of plausibility method, which consists of isolating the main drivers that shape events in a country and enables the formulation of fair assumptions. From these assumptions, three types of scenarios for 2014 were developed: the baseline, which is the most likely outcome; a plausible alternative, which is possible but less likely; and a wildcard, which is possible but unlikely, and usually brings about dramatic outcomes. Each of the narratives was built around different assumptions for the same drivers, which allowed for the generation of differentiated but not impossible scenarios. These variables were applied according to specific features within a country. Also included in the reports were brief country overviews and short analyses of the origins of current insecurity in each case.

Over 50 carefully vetted sources of qualitative and quantitative data were used throughout the study, with numerous other local sources used for each individual country. Statistics and profiles from sources such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Economist Intelligence Unit and the annual African Economic Outlook, helped to identify the main features of a country. News articles from the BBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, Africa Confidential and local media, provided a descriptive element that contributed to a better understanding of the dynamics of insecurity along the timeframe covered by the study. Intelligence and risk companies, such as Control Risks and red24, provided up-to-date, on-the-ground security overviews. And civil society organisations, such as the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Global Witness and local NGOs, provided background information on many of the interrelated structural factors shaping events.

Taken together, the three synthesis reports are a tour de force of African politics and security issues. They are a major accomplishment for Open Briefing, as they showcase our unique approach and the abilities of our analysts, while providing civil society groups and governments with intelligence and forecasting that can inform their decision-making. The study forms part of a wider research theme within Open Briefing, which is concerned with developing effective methodologies for forecasting political, security and economic risk within countries.