Africa: the fragile peace

Sub-Saharan Africa recorded a slight fall in peacefulness over the last year according to the latest Global Peace Index (GPI) report, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

On the 2021 GPI, the average country score for sub-Saharan Africa deteriorated by 0.5%. Of the 44 countries in the region, 21 improved, 22 deteriorated in score and one remained unchanged. The region is less peaceful than the global average on the Safety and Security and Ongoing Conflict domains, but more peaceful than the global average on the Militarisation domain. Echoing the results from last year, disputes over election results and allegations of corruption led to a rise in civil unrest and political instability across the region, with violent protests breaking out in many countries.

The most peaceful country in the region is Mauritius, which is ranked 28th on the 2021 Global Peace Index (GPI). The country only recorded a slight deterioration. The biggest change occurred on the Safety and Security domain, most notably on the homicide rate indicator. The homicide rate for Mauritius increased from 1.8 to 2.9 per 100 000 people. The country also experienced increased civil unrest after thousands protested the government’s handling of a massive oil spill in August 2020.

South Sudan remains the least peaceful country in the region and one of the least peaceful countries in the world, despite an improvement in peacefulness on the 2021 Global Peace Index (GPI). Although levels of internal conflict in the country remain high, negotiations between government forces and a former rebel faction in late 2020 resulted in the appointment of an Upper Nile state governor, ending a month-long political deadlock with rebel groups.

The largest improvement in peacefulness in the region occurred in Gabon, which recorded a 4.2% improvement in its GPI score. The improvement in Gabon was the result of a fall in the level of political terror, with both Amnesty International and the US State Department reporting that government human rights abuses had fallen in 2019. Gabon also recorded an improvement on its armed services personnel rate, and improved the timeliness of its financial commitment to UN peacekeeping funding.

The largest deterioration in peacefulness in the region occurred in Burkina Faso. This was also the single largest deterioration of any country on the 2021 GPI. The government’s decision to fund and arm civilian auxiliary groups in its fight against insurgents led to an increase in the ease of access to small arms, worsened perceptions of criminality, and increased the intensity of internal conflict. Burkina Faso is now in a state of low-level civil war, with one million people internally displaced according to the United Nations at the end of 2020.

Ethiopia experienced the third largest fall in peacefulness in the region, with deteriorations in all three domains. The largest deteriorations occurred for the violent demonstrations and neighbouring countries relations indicators. Civil war broke out in the Tigray region with Eritrean troops entering the country in support of the government.

This conflict has resulted in thousands of deaths and displaced over 100,000 people. Additionally, civil unrest also broke out in June 2020 after unidentified gunmen killed the popular Omoro singer Hachalu Hundessa. This resulted in 291 deaths and 5 000 arrests from the subsequent demonstrations. International relations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan have also deteriorated due to disagreements over water rights, the Blue Nile, and the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The GPI also records feelings of safety by citizens and the 2021 report notes that feelings of safety have been decreasing in sub-Saharan Africa. 40% of people in the region feel less safe today than they did five years ago, the highest percentage outside of Central and South America. Zambia is the country where feelings of safety have decreased the most, with 60% of Zambians feeling less safe.

However, there are a number of countries in the region where feelings of safety have increased considerably. Rwanda has the highest proportion of people globally who feel more safe today than they did five years ago, at 67%.

Nearly a quarter of people in sub-Saharan Africa cite crime, violence, or terrorism as the greatest risk to their safety in their daily lives, making it the most commonly cited risk in the region.

South Africa has the highest proportion of people who cite it as the greatest risk, at 52%. There is no country in the region where less than 10% of the population identify violence as the greatest risk to their daily safety.

Fear of violence is higher in sub-Saharan Africa than any other region except South America, with 55% of people reporting that they are very worried about being a victim of violent crime. Madagascar is the only country where less than 20% of people are very worried, with over half of the population being very worried in 21 of the 34 countries in the region.

Experience of violence is also higher in sub-Saharan Africa than any other region. Nearly 38% of sub-Saharan Africans have experienced or know someone who has suffered serious harm from violent crime in the past two years. The five countries with the largest proportion of people globally to answer yes to the experience of violence question are all in sub-Saharan Africa. The percentage is highest in Namibia, where 63% of respondents had an experience of violence. Mauritania was the only country in the region where the experience of violence rate was under 20%.

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