We are living in increasingly dangerous times. Between 2000 and 2023 the number of armed conflicts throughout the world increased by more than 60%, with there being more than 50 armed conflicts taking place in 2023 alone, with more than half of these conflicts taking place in Africa. This is an unprecedented situation and exceeds the number of armed conflicts that existed at the height of the Cold War. Such armed conflicts have taken a variety of forms, such as: conflicts where government security forces have been fighting armed opposition or insurgent groups; conflicts between competing armed groups; terrorism and other forms of violent extremism; and one-sided conflicts where government forces have perpetrated violence against civilians.
Interstate relations have become increasingly conflictual, particularly between the major powers, and these tensions have tended to exacerbate and/or prolong existing armed conflicts. In Africa, many conflicts span more than two countries, and a significant number of these conflicts entail both direct and indirect foreign involvement. In addition, major powers, such as the United States of America and China have established military bases on African soil (such as in Djibouti). Russia has also expanded its influence in Libya, Mali, Niger, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Since 2000, global military spending by governments has doubled, as has the volume in international arms sales. For the first time since the 1980s, data from the highly reputable Stockholm International Peace Research Institute clearly demonstrates that a major arms race between these states is gaining momentum, especially due to the insecurities associated with the Russia-Ukraine war, tensions between the US (and its allies) and China; and instability in the Middle East. The recent arms race has also been accelerated by advances in the military application of artificial intelligence which will dilute the effectiveness of existing arms and weapon systems.
Conflict and insecurity have contributed to increased human insecurity and undermined human development. Migrant flows towards safer and more developed countries have increased. Organised criminal groups and networks have flourished with states having increasingly adopted forceful measures to combat the activities of these groups. These developments are consequently impeding the universal realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in Africa, and have placed considerable stress on safety and security resources of governments, as well as the United Nations’ peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes and resources.
There has however been considerable violence reduction, conflict management and peacebuilding efforts in Africa, which have involved governments, international organisations and civil society. Examples include: the successful negotiation of ceasefires and peace agreements; the reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life; the destruction of illegal firearms; the downsizing of militaries; the establishment of systems of transitional justice; and the creation of democratic state institutions.
In addition, Africa is becoming more significant in a plethora of sectors, such as the extraction industry. Unpacking conflict and insecurity in to gain a better understanding of the trends will greatly assist in improving political risk ratings for African countries, usually measured with a Western centric understanding of what risk entails. To further assist political risks analysts, there should be a focus on emerging risks such as epistemic (in)security and climate change. An improved comprehension of risks facing the continent will facilitate mitigation.
Given this state of affairs, the Conflict, Peacebuilding & Risk Unit (CPRU) undertakes research on issues related to conflict, crime, political risk, peace and security in Africa.
Main CPRU thematic research areas
- Armed conflict and violence in Africa
- Violent extremism and terrorism in Africa
- Political risk and epistemic threats
- Climate change and conflict
- The arms trade in relation to Africa
- Peacekeeping and peace enforcement
- Peacebuilding and violence prevention
- Policing and urban safety
Current research projects
- DISARM: How post-accord disarmament affects peace and conflict dynamics (with the Peace Research Institute Oslo)
- Youth gangs in urban Africa (with King’s College London)
- Dr Guy Lamb (Director)
- Dr Derica Lambrechts
- Dr Mandira Bagwandeen
- Monique Bennett
- Chikondi Chidzanja
- Bathromeu Mavhura
- Chumile Samson
- Rolien Buhrmann
The CPRU will be partnering with the Global Law Enforcement and Public Health Association to host the African Regional Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health in Pretoria, South Africa, 1-4 December 2024