The increase in various forms of violent conflicts across sub-Saharan Africa has led scholars and policy makers to raise questions about the correlations between demography, peace and security. In regions such as the Sahel, peace and development have in recent years been threatened by increasing internal and cross-borders security challenges including armed conflicts, extreme terrorist attacks (by jihadist groups such as Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, or IS- affiliated groups, and the separatist Tuareg rebel) and organized crime. Precisely, the region has observed a devastating surge in terrorist attacks, with its so-called Sahel countries like Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso witnessing terrorist-related casualties increasing five-fold since 2016 (UN News, 2020). The situation is further exacerbated by environmental degradation, poor governance, and massive influx of migrants from other sub-Saharan African states.
Meanwhile, the general focus of explaining underlying causes of the armed conflicts and struggle for the control of resources and international terrorism across the region have been placed on lack of socioeconomic structural factors including economic opportunities, high level of poverty and political exclusion. Consequently, various regional and bilateral frameworks aimed at resolving the security challenges and combatting the cross-border threats have been put in place to realize these specific outcomes. However, the lack of effective solutions achieved so far with these mechanisms have made various policy-makers and academics suggest that the fragility and instability in the Sahel and other subSaharan region demand a more comprehensive approach. Approaches that place more emphasis on other underlying factors such as demography. In other words, it is important to note that while poor governance, high youth unemployment rates, resource scarcity and poverty have contributed to these unfavorable conflicts trends, it vital to take into account demographic elements as well.
In order to gain new insights on this dynamic, the United Nations Population Fund’s West and Central Africa Office (UNFPA/WCARO) therefore initiated this study on the topic of demography, peace and security in the African context. As there still remains few comprehensive empirical studies on this theme, the UNFPA (WCARO) aims to provide such evidence-based study, in order to highlight the demographic dimension of these continued security challenges. In order to better understand this dynamic, the current report specifically focuses on the relationship between demographic characteristics such as youthful age structure and violent conflict (e.g. armed conflict and terrorism). There is an increasing focus on these dynamics in security and demographic literatures. Research in these fields suggests that there is a clear correlation between large youthful age cohorts or so-called ‘youth bulges’ and risk of political violence. High unemployment, and political and economic marginalization have been highlighted as some of the structural reasons why countries facing these forms of demographic challenges and are more susceptible to armed conflict and terrorism. Such findings had led to the resurge of following inquiry: “does the phenomenon of youth bulges underline the increasing security challenges in the Sahel region?”. The African region is not solely regarded as the world’s youngest continent due to its large share of youth populations; it is also one of the regions hosting majority of the world’s underdeveloped and unstable states. As affirmed by Klugman and Moore (2018:1) “today’s generation of youth (aged 15-29 years) is close to
1.8 billion– of whom about 90 percent live in developing countries, and about 140 million live in the 36 countries classified by the multilateral development banks as fragile and conflict- affected states”. Most of these fragile and conflict affected states are found in Africa.
Undertaking an empirical study of this relationship is of great importance due to various reasons. Firstly, as one of the regions with the highest level of political violence, poverty and inequality, there is an urgent need to identify an effective solution to Africa’s security challenges in order to overcome development concerns, and achieve sustainable peace and prosperity. Secondly, by clearly understanding the relationship between these phenomena in this specific context, African governments may develop holistic policies to effectively manage various demographic factors. And to reserve the curse associated with Africa’s youth bulges, and turn it into a ‘demographic dividend’, or blessing. Furthermore, this evidence-based report may empower governmental stakeholders to mitigate other negative association between youth bulges and violent conflict and terrorism while attaining long-term political stability. The fact that the idea of youth bulges continues to be an important factor in explaining security threats faced by fragile states, means that identifying pathways to better manage its large youth populations have immense policy implications for states within this region.
Moreover, clearly understanding the demographic implications on security and peace in the context of sub-Saharan as a whole, and in particularly the Sahel region, and developing dynamic pathways by which countries within this region can reverse adverse security trends has important global policy implications.
Not only does it add invaluable insights to the growing literature of demography, peace and security, it is also of great importance for the overall economic development and political stability of Africa and other regions. In similar vein, the report ensures that the detrimental implications caused by exclusion policies which affect these youths in various societal spheres are acknowledged and effectively addressed. This in return will enable positive value creation in regards to the continent’s search for inclusive peace and sustainable development.
This report is an extension of a previous literature review work done for the UNFPA (WCARO). It integrates the previous report and add new valuable insights in order to provide a comprehensive overview on the determinants of peace and security in Africa. In overall, this extensive report explores and provides a comprehensive study on the relationship between demography, peace and security in the context of the Sahel region. The report also presents conflict projections between the year 2011-2050 based on an existing statistical model developed by Hegre et al. (2013). Lastly, it offers recommendations for how to address the region’s insecurities in the long term. The report does not provide a separate empirical model for West Africa or Sahel region, as such model is not likely to produce new insights, because the socio-demographic patterns do not vary extensively between countries within this region. Such analysis could also be done while using existing models, and the forecasting results presented in this report, to some extent cover this need. Moreover, we are not able to produce a statistical analysis model while using variable such as extremism or juvenile delinquency as dependent variable for the Sahel regions region separately. Such analysis is impeded by the lack of access to a cross-national time series data allowing for such analysis within the timeframe for this current report.