Vicious cycles exist in societies, but it is possible to transform them into virtuous ones. Serge Stroobants and Lea Perekrests draw on research by the Institute for Economics & Peace to illustrate how an understanding of the systemic nature of challenges makes it possible to build resilience and treat the root causes of problems.
Floods and droughts, food and water insecurity, inflation and migration, the cost of living and the political instability create a long to-do list for African leaders. Each topic is highlighted, debates are held, budgets are created, and projects implemented on the ground, which tirelessly try to “solve” the issue or “defeat” the threat.
In the face of violence and suffering, we need to understand the nature of the challenges we face and how they impact and interact with one another in order to find adequate solutions to our most pressing obstacles and problems. Instead of treating the symptoms, we should address the causes.
These questions are routinely raised by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), a non-profit think-tank that aims to create a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks about peace. Through the development of global and national indices, calculating the economic cost of violence, analysing country-level risk and fragility and understanding positive peace, the organisation is committed to provide data-driven evidence to support and guide this transition.
IEP’s reports show that the continent of Africa faces diverse challenges at varying degrees. The Global Peace Index (GPI) presents the most comprehensive data-driven analysis to-date on trends in peace. The GPI covers 99.7% of the world’s population, using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators across three domains: the level of societal safety and security, the extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict, and the degree of militarisation.
Looking at the regional GPI results for 2022, we see that the Middle East and North Africa region was the least peaceful region in the world, followed by South Asia and then Sub-Saharan Africa.
As we can see in the graph, the MENA region and South Asia improved in peacefulness over the past year while Sub-Saharan Africa became less peaceful than the previous year.
One driver of the decrease in peacefulness is violent demonstrations. The GPI recorded that over the last year, Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced five coups, disputes over election results, and allegations of corruption, leading to increased levels of civil unrest – a trend which is reflected across the globe. When compared to other regions, Sub-Saharan Africa recorded the second highest score, behind South Asia, for frequency and intensity of violent demonstrations. When looking at the broader trend over time, the violent demonstration score has deteriorated by 54% since 2008.
Low levels of societal safety and security, intense conflicts, and high rates of militarisation lead to suffering, taking an insurmountable toll on communities directly facing violence and the fear of violence. However, it also causes a ripple effect with far-reaching impacts.
IEP has calculated that violence costs the globe $16.5 trillion in 2021. Three of the top four countries with the highest cost of violence in relation to their GDP are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. These are South Sudan (40.8%), Central African Republic (36.6%) and Somalia (32.8%).
In addition to analysing the levels and cost of peacefulness in the GPI, IEP produces an annual Ecological Threat Report, which examines threats related to food risk, water risk, rapid population growth and natural disasters. This research has uncovered that ecological risks exist in a cyclical relationship with conflict.
The report provides unique insights as it identifies hotspots (shown in red on the map). Hotspot regions are those that face a combination of catastrophic ecological threats and low levels of societal resilience. Two-thirds of these are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are a number of factors contributing to this, not limited to rapid population growth, supply shocks (such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine), and an increase in the intensity of natural disasters.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region experiencing the fastest population growth – which is expected to rise by over 95% to reach over 2bn by 2050. This rapid expansion places stress upon the already limited resources, which in turn can lead to competition and conflict.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 37 countries recorded extremely high levels of food insecurity. With 67% of its population impacted, the region represents the highest levels of food insecurity in the world. Coupled with the expected population growth, and with increasingly severe natural disasters, we can expect resources to further dwindle.
These challenges are critical as they do not stand alone. Limits to food and water access and security, population increases, and natural disasters can lead to major displacement, migration, demographic pressures, increases in civil unrest, violent demonstrations, and terrorism, among many other by-products. Conflicts negatively impacts security and access to food and water, land use, and more. The resulting instabilities and humanitarian crises often spill over to adjacent countries which can have serious implications.
IEP’s research shows that vicious cycles in societies exist, but that it is possible to transform these vicious cycles into virtuous ones. By recognising the systemic nature of challenges, including peace, economics, and environmental concerns, systemic resilience can be built. Mitigating ecological or economic threats treats symptoms. Building resilience is a holistic process to transform all aspects of a societal system, which can cure root causes.
IEP has been able to analyse the systemic nature of challenges and utilise this research in order to create a framework to build resilience called Positive Peace. IEP works with partners globally to provide data-driven analyses and to train multi stakeholders in peacebuilding and resilience building. Visit www.visionofhumanity.org to learn more about the Institute for Economics & Peace.