What Are The New Geopolitical Risks In Africa?

We have been trying to answer this question at SBM Intelligence, and we have come up with the African Country Instability Risk Report (Aciri).


The world is changing. There is no doubt that the “end of history” moment that was so proudly heralded by the noted political scientist Francis Fukuyama back in 1992 has passed, and history has returned with a vengeance.

As I type this, Israel is at war in Gaza, and I fully expect that it will soon be at war in Lebanon. The Muslim world is again unifying against Israel as a result of the war, and as a result, Yemen’s Houthis are having a showdown with the Americans and the British in the Red Sea, a showdown that is going to show up on the shelves of supermarkets around the world.

Meanwhile, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is at an advantage in the war in Ukraine as that war has ground into a war of attrition, which favours the Russians, especially as Ukraine’s Western backers are suffering from war fatigue. While the elections in Taiwan just ended unfavourably for China, new breakthroughs for Huawei will give China’s Xi Jinping reason to be satisfied that the emerging multi-polar order will be to his liking.

Finally, South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice against Israel over what is happening in Gaza is less a case against the Israelis and more a case against the ICJ and ICC. If the ICJ rules against South Africa, many will simply see such a ruling as confirmation that the international justice system is rigged in favour of the West, and if the ICJ rules against Israel and Israel ignores it or the US vetoes the ruling at the UN Security Council, the door will be open for all sorts of actors to ignore future rulings, rendering international law obsolete.

This global division has been reflected in the voting patterns of various UN resolutions since the Hamas attacks on Israel in October last year. Resolutions, which have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, have largely failed to pass because of entrenched voting patterns.

The divisions neatly mirror the new multi-polar world we are facing. China, Mozambique and Russia which were aligned with or in the Soviet camp during the Cold War have tended to vote together, France, Japan, the UK and the US, which are either NATO countries or closely aligned, have tended to vote together, while those that have mostly abstained were either non-aligned or neutral during the Cold War. History is back in a big way.

As an African, this brings the question, what happens to Africa in this brave new world? It is a question I touched on in an OpEd for Al Jazeera in March 2022 in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Africa, which experienced a brief period of stability and growth after “the end of history, ” is back to being potentially unstable. But Africa is not a monolith, and so the question becomes, which countries are more likely to see conflict, rebellions or violent change in government? We have been trying to answer this question at SBM Intelligence, and we have come up with the African Country Instability Risk Report (Aciri).

Aciri is a comprehensive report that assesses the political stability risks in Sub-Saharan Africa. In it, we analyse the political, economic and social factors contributing to political instability in African countries. The report provides a historical overview of the political paths taken by the countries and shows the reasons for their current political stability. The report also discusses the economic impact of political instability in these countries.

More importantly, it provides a framework for assessing the risk of coups d’état using factors such as ethnic tension, the country’s history of coups, dominant ethnic groups, economic concentration, ageing leaders, and monoproduct, bi-product or multi-product economies. Its goal is to identify the warning signs that may indicate a country is at risk of political instability.

Aciri is designed to help governments, investors, and corporations understand the key challenges to political stability in the region to make informed decisions about engaging, investing and operating in Sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, Aciri is a valuable resource for public and private sector players who need clarity on the political situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report can assist governments in identifying and mitigating political instability risks. For example, the report’s framework for assessing the risk of coups can be used to develop early warning systems and contingency plans. It could also assist in formulating informed conflict-resolution measures. Finally, it can help governments communicate the risks of political instability to businesses and investors within their jurisdiction.

Transnational corporations can use the report to identify countries with high political instability risk and develop contingency plans in a crisis. Using Aciri, corporations can gain insight into the condition of countries in their neighbourhood to understand noteworthy secondary influences better. Opportunities for partnerships with governments and other businesses are further ways in which the report can be valuable.

Aciri’s value can be extended to include non-governmental organisations, think tanks and development agencies, informing their efforts at promoting political stability and economic development in West Africa.

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Regional Breakdown

Aciri provides a breakdown of each region in Africa. It highlights the key challenges and opportunities for stakeholders and provides recommendations for mitigating the risks and capitalising on the opportunities.

West Africa is a diverse region with a mix of economies from coastal Nigeria, Benin and Ghana to the landlocked Sahel states of Burkina Faso and Mali. It is economically promising but faces significant challenges like political instability, security threats (terrorism, organised crime, piracy), economic inequality, and climate change impacts, evident in the Sahel.

For example, in recent years, countries such as Guinea and Mali have experienced political instability that can disrupt economic growth and investment. Despite these hurdles, West Africa offers opportunities through sectors like agriculture, mining and tourism. Also, a youthful population and abundant natural resources, including oil and gas, can be harnessed to drive economic growth and development.

Aciri also sheds light on the political stability and democratic depth of Central Africa. This sub-region has a turbulent history marked by coups, civil wars and underlying factors like ethnic tensions, fragile institutions and economic dependence on commodities like oil and precious stones. This reliance on commodities makes the region vulnerable to global price fluctuations, worsened by corruption and resource mismanagement.

Security threats such as terrorism, armed conflicts, and organised crime are significant challenges, hindering development and stability. Unique risks include the ongoing DRC conflict, armed groups in the Central African Republic and the looming threat of terrorism in the Sahel region, with organisations like Boko Haram and AQIM actively operating in the area.

A comprehensive assessment of the political stability risks in East Africa is not left out of Aciri. The region is home to some of the fastest-growing economies and some of the most fragile states in the world. East Africa faces challenges such as ethnic and religious tensions leading to violence like the recent clashes in Kenya. Likewise, economic protests, driven by inequality and corruption, have occurred in Ethiopia.

However, the region offers opportunities with robust growth in sectors like agriculture, tourism and telecommunications. Its youthful population presents a workforce and consumer base for economic development. Positioned at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the region is strategically important for trade and investment.

Finally, Aciri provides a comprehensive assessment of the political stability risks in Southern Africa, spotlighting countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe. Southern Africa grapples with economic inequality, evident in recent protests in South Africa. Some countries, including Eswatini and Lesotho, face political instability, hindering economic growth and investment.

However, the region offers significant opportunities for businesses and investors, with fast-growing economies like Botswana and Angola. Abundant natural resources, including minerals and oil, provide a strong foundation for growth. A young, expanding population offers a large potential workforce and consumer base.

In addition to the outlined contents and benefits of Aciri, it results from rigorous research and analysis, presented in a clear and accessible style, making it valuable to a wide range of stakeholders.

*Nwanze is the lead partner at SBM Intelligence, a Nigerian risk consultancy with offices in Lagos, Accra and London.