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Southern Africa: Forecasts for insecurity and conflict in 2014

by Nick Branson
Miners march to Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, in an attempt to stop operations, 10 September 2012 (Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Miners march to Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, in an attempt to stop operations, 10 September 2012 (Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Some narratives have painted Southern Africa as a region largely absent of conflict and insecurity.

In reality, instability persists beneath the surface due to inequitable settlements following independence or struggles for national liberation. Conflict and insecurity are products of a combination of volatile factors. Understanding these underlying drivers is 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 quality of governance; the impact of natural resources; 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 timeframe 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 a wildcard, which is possible but unlikely, and usually brings 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 10 countries in Southern Africa whose drivers and internal volatility may create instability and conflict over 2014. While the region has, in general, experienced around two decades of freedom and prosperity, drivers of insecurity remain. Paramount among them is the growing inequality between rich and poor. The majority of citizens in the region are unable to enjoy the same level of prosperity as the small elite that has profited from the natural resource boom in Angola, Mozambique and Zambia, or the wealthy white minority in Namibia and South Africa. Another major concern is the extent to which the region’s economies were affected by the global financial crisis, particularly the diamond exporters and tourist destinations, such as Botswana and South Africa, and the degree to which the emerging middle class in these countries have become dependent on credit to maintain their new lifestyles.

Politics across the region continues to be dominated by an aging generation of figures involved in national liberation movements, and ‘struggle credentials’ will play a critical role in leadership successions in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique in 2014. These qualifications contrast significantly with the priorities of the educated ‘born free’ generation, many of whom have no job prospects and feel disconnected from both political elites and popular narratives. A similar picture emerges in agrarian Malawi, where the political class is engulfed in scandal ahead of elections in 2014, and in Swaziland, which remains an absolute monarchy in a region that leads the continent for political participation and human rights.

This report focuses on the above states and excludes the stable mountain kingdom of Lesotho and the prosperous island nations of Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles. However, Madagascar is included in the study, as it will pose a continued test for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and international actors in 2014. In terms of the SADC members not already mentioned, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was included in a previous report on Central Africa and Tanzania would be better treated alongside its neighbours in East Africa.

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

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