The fall of the Berlin Wall brought an end to one-party states and authoritarian rule in many parts of the world and ushered in a new era of multiparty democracy. Africa was not unaffected by these changing times. Many countries in Africa saw the fall of one-party states and the introduction of multiparty democracy, too. This paradigm shift was welcomed across Africa and the world, and brought a new energy to governance, with respect for human rights, accountability and human-centred development at the forefront. Positive economic growth was posted across the continent, with many calling it the era of the African Renaissance, and declaring that this would be the “African Century”.

Africa’s potential in natural and human resources makes the assertions of an African Renaissance a real possibility. Africa’s development can be driven by its endowment of natural resources. Africa possesses 60% of the world’s arable land, and the industrialisation of agriculture can ensure Africa’s future food security. Africa has adequate hydroelectric and solar energy potential to drive infrastructure development and complement the creation of industrial economies. The continent has a dominant share of the world’s resources that are necessary to drive the information and space revolutions. It will also have the largest youth population in the world – almost one billion youth in the next two decades – ensuring that Africa will have the human resources to drive its development of the agricultural, industrial, information and space industries.

In a May 2017 publication by the global consulting firm PwC, it was reported that of 80 chief executive officers (CEOs) in Africa who were surveyed, “no less than 97% are confident about their own companies’ growth prospects in the medium term. Among African CEOs, this is the highest level since our survey started in 2012.”1 In the same report, the CEOs surveyed indicated that social instability and unemployment are among the key threats that undermine their prospects for growth.

Analysis of the current conflict environment in Africa indicates a growing degree of social instability driving conflicts at the local and national levels in countries across the continent. For almost a decade and a half after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we saw the resolution of a number of violent intrastate conflicts. Examples include Mozambique (1992) and Angola (2002) in southern Africa; Burundi (2005) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (2003) in Central Africa; Guinea-Bissau (1999) and Sierra Leone (2002) in West Africa; and Sudan-South Sudan (2005) in East Africa.

However, in the last decade there has been a resurgence of conflict in Africa. South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Libya and Burundi have all erupted in conflict, while ongoing conflict in Somalia and the Eastern DRC remain unresolved. In addition, social unrest has occurred in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia and Burkina Faso. Many countries will face the same fate over the next decade. Exponential population growth and rapid and unplanned urbanisation without the creation of new economies to absorb the millions coming into cities will result in increased poverty, unemployment and inequality. This will result in further competition for scarce resources such as education, housing, land, sanitation and healthcare.

This competition, coupled with political rivalry and the exploitation of ethnic, racial and religious identity, will result in urban social unrest. If left unresolved, this will deteriorate into civil wars that threaten national and regional peace and security. Therefore, it is critical to intervene at the local and national levels to ensure that conflicts are managed through dialogue and mediation by local and national actors – and where this fails, to have a cadre of outside mediators available who can intervene.

Over the last 25 years, we have built an impressive conflict resolution architecture at the United Nations, the African Union and sub-regional organisations. Our challenge over the next decade is to build national and local capacities for peace.


  1. PwC Report (2017) ‘The Africa Business Agenda: Changing Gear’, Available at: <http://www.pwc.co.za/en/publications/africa-business-agenda.html>
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