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Central Africa: Forecasts for insecurity and conflict in 2014

by Nick Branson
Anti-Balaka militiamen gather in a forest clearing outside Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, 15 December 2013 (Photo: AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Anti-Balaka militiamen gather in a forest clearing outside Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, 15 December 2013 (Photo: AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Central Africa displays several trends that exacerbate the propensity for violent conflict.

Firstly, governance effectiveness is significantly lower than other regions on the continent, and it would take 20 years of improvement to reach a level comparable with that in West Africa and the Horn/East Africa today. Secondly, the conflicts that have devastated the region have created a profound level of instability, cycles of repeat violence and a ‘bad neighbourhood’ from which its members have no recourse, particularly landlocked states. Thirdly, and perhaps most concerning, the region has the greatest youth bulge in Africa, with over 50% of citizens aged between 15 and 29 years old.

Conflict and insecurity is a product of a combination of these and other volatile factors. Some narratives have painted Central Africa as a region 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. This study from Open Briefing attempts to avoid generalisations by analysing specific factors and identifying forecasts for individual countries in the region.

The drivers that are examined range from those influencing ongoing events to more structural long-term factors. Hence this report draws on a number of themes, including: levels of poverty; socio-political instability; the democratic deficit; incomplete transitions from autocracy to democracy; the role of the armed forces; youth bulges; post-conflict environments; the bad neighbourhood factor; the quality of governance; the impact of natural resources; border disputes; Islamic extremism and insurgencies; narco-trafficking; and small-arms flows. These factors are analysed with the purpose of understanding the weight that they have in shaping the country’s recent history and its likely future.

Over 50 carefully vetted sources of qualitative and quantitative data were used throughout this 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 time frame covered by this 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 factors outlined in the previous paragraph.

The forecasts set out in this synthesis report derive 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 have been developed: the baseline, which is the most likely outcome; a plausible alternative, which is possible but less likely; and wildcards, which are possible but unlikely, and usually bring about dramatic outcomes. Each of the narratives is built around different assumptions for the same drivers, which allows for the generation of differentiated but not impossible scenarios. These variables were applied according to specific features within a country. Also included are brief country overviews and short analyses of the origins of current insecurity in each case.

This synthesis report focusses on those countries in Central Africa whose drivers and internal volatility are likely to create substantial levels of insecurity and conflict over 2014. Given the high levels of poverty and lack of opportunity, the forecast for much of the region looks bleak. 2014 will see a continuation of the crisis in Central African Republic (CAR), necessitating increased involvement from France and the African Union (AU). It is probable that tensions will simmer in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Burundi, where spoilers have access to weapons and the indigent populations have yet to benefit from the peace dividend or economic growth. While in the Republic of Congo the focus will be on leadership succession after nearly 30 years of rule by the septuagenarian president.

This briefing paper is the second of three planned reports from Open Briefing forecasting insecurity and conflict in West, Central and Southern Africa during 2014.

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