Peace in Sub Saharan Africa

More than half of all countries in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) saw their level of peacefulness deteriorate in 2017. Out of the five countries with the largest declines in peace worldwide, four were in Sub Saharan Africa.

The level of peacefulness in Sub Saharan Africa, as measured by the 2017 Global Peace Index (GPI) regional score, deteriorated to its worst level since 2008.

Although the region recorded notable annual improvements between 2011 and 2013, SSA’s GPI score has consecutively worsened for the past four years, albeit by different magnitudes.

Militarisation in Sub Saharan Africa

The trend for the safety & security and ongoing conflict GPI domains improved since 2008 in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite that, the worsening trend in the militarisation domain drove the overall score deterioration since this reference year.

The reason behind this becomes clear when we disaggregate these domains by their respective GPI indicators; with access to small arms, military expenditure and UN peacekeeping funding being the ones that deteriorated the most since 2008.

Political Terror is another indicator that deteriorated significantly during this time.

Notable improvements were however recorded in the indicators for political instability and the deaths from conflict. Although the indicator for intensity of conflict worsened since 2013.

Although SSA’s global ranking as a region remains unchanged at sixth out of nine regions, it is one of only three regions that saw its score deteriorate across the three GPI domains between 2016 and 2017.

The magnitude of SSA’s deterioration is reflected by the fact that 24 out of 44 countries in the region recorded worse scores in the 2017 Global Peace Index than in the 2016 edition. Bear in mind that scores are reflective of data from the year prior.

Countries in Sub Saharan Africa with largest declines in peace

Most importantly, four of the five countries to record the largest global deteriorations of peace this year were Ethiopia, Burundi, Mali and Lesotho. All are in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa.


Ethiopia suffered the biggest deterioration, both within Sub Saharan Africa and globally. Violent demonstrationspartly driven by rising ethnic tensions – led the government to introduce a six-month state of emergency in October 2016.

A sharp worsening of the indicators measuring internal peace levels reflected this. As a result, Ethiopia suffered a 16 rank deterioration: falling from 118th to 134th.

Although SSA’s global ranking as a region remains unchanged at sixth out of nine regions, it is one of only three regions that saw its score deteriorate across the three GPI domains between 2016 and 2017.


The controversial re-election of Pierre Nkurunziza triggered the GPI score deterioration in Burundi. In July 2015, Nkurunziza began his third consecutive five-year term in office.

This resulted in major protests that developed into a low-level insurgency. A significant repression and a drift towards authoritarianism was the only way to contain it. 


Mali continues to suffer from a difficult security situation, despite the recapture of the northern region from Islamist groups in 2013. The country also signed a peace agreement with an alliance of Tuareg groups in 2015.

Mali recorded declines in all three GPI domains. Its worst-performing indicators were political instability and level of violent crime.

This is indicative of the difficulties in implementing the 2015 peace deal, coupled with an opposition that became more vocal since the November 2016 local elections.

In addition, the indicator for the number of deaths from internal conflict deteriorated

This is attributed to the fact that UN peacekeepers and a contingent of French troops remain engaged against West African jihadists and groups violating the ceasefire agreement.


Further south, Lesotho’s score deteriorated primarily due to two indicators: relations with neighbouring countries (in this case with regional partners due to a reform programme it has largely failed to implement) and political terror.

Lesotho’s internal security issues stem from a failed 2014 coup d’état against the recently re-elected Prime Minister Tom Thabane and the political instability that has followed.

The political turmoil worsened following splits in the ruling Democratic Congress party over an alleged corruption scandal.

In contrast, several countries in Sub Saharan Africa improved in the 2017 GPI

The Central African Republic (CAR) recorded the biggest improvement in the region and the world. And the region continues to emerge from a wave of inter-communal violence.

Scores for the number of deaths from internal conflict and political terror have improved. However, much of the CAR’s remote northern and eastern regions remain under the control of rebel groups. The overall political situation remains fragile.

In Djibouti, a lower likelihood of violent demonstrations helped the country recover some ground it lost the previous two years. Robust economic growth helped defuse some of the tensions caused by the government’s increasingly authoritarian political stance.

In Ghana, a smooth transition of power followed the December 2016 presidential and legislative elections. This is reflected in an improved overall score for the country. In fact, Ghana rose to the top five most peaceful countries in the region.

At the same time, Sierra Leone, which recovered from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, also registered improvements in its overall level of peace. Sierra Leone ranked third in the region for 2017.

Improvements in Rwanda’s overall score are consistent with the country’s well-entrenched democratic institutions. The country also experienced sustained economic growth.

In the past two years, the pace of economic growth in Africa decelerated while the space for democratic contestation dwindled.

The most and least peaceful Sub Saharan Africa countries remain unchanged from last year.

Mauritius continues to top the rankings, while South Sudan is firmly at the bottom.

South Sudan registered the fourth largest improvement in the region, despite alarming levels of famine, political tensions and violence.

This, however, can be attributable to a ‘base effect’. It’s a reflection of the dire situation the country plunged into when armed conflict relapsed at the end of 2013. However, South Sudan is slowly recovering, despite recurrent setbacks.

Closing thoughts

Overall, the deteriorating trend in peace across the region sheds light on the many challenges it continues to face.

In the past two years, the pace of economic growth in Africa decelerated while the space for democratic contestation dwindled.

This comes at a time when labour strikes protesting against working conditions and perceived lack of democratic accountability have multiplied. Africa also increased violent crackdowns on political dissenters.

Finally, the regional dispersion of non-state armed groups remains a source of international concern.

Terrorist attacks continue to undermine the security landscape across SSA despite multinational efforts.

As examples, the Lake Chad Basin countries launched efforts to fight Boko Haram and the African Union led operations to combat Islamist armed groups in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.