This is the second of a short series of blogs, by a group of colleagues at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, about 21st century progress in Africa, covering different topics from democracy and security, to health, education and the economy.
On 26th April 2012, Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes against humanity and other crimes in relation to the 1990s civil war in Sierra Leone which killed at least 25,000 people.
I have a close personal interest in this verdict. In 2006, when I was working in 10 Downing Street, I helped to ensure the UK offered to put Taylor in a British prison if he was convicted. As no other country was offering, Taylor would not have been extradited to The Hague to face trial if the UK had not made that offer.
The civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s were two of several wars which have left Africa with a reputation as a war-torn region. But not unusually, the reputation lasts a lot longer than the reality.
In fact, the number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa facing internal or external conflicts has been falling steadily since 1993. A paper, Conflict Trends in Africa, 1946-2004, by Dr. Monty G. Marshall, shows that the magnitude of conflicts has fallen by about half since its peak in 1993:
Other major wars which gave Africa its reputation for conflict – Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda & DRC (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) – have also ended. The border wars between north and Southern Sudan, and between Ethiopia and Eritrea, have ended, despite ongoing incidents. Even Cote d’Ivoire has regained some stability recently. Darfur was the only conflict in sub-Saharan Africa in the last decade which killed as many people as these major conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. Somalia remains the most protracted civil war in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Economist Intelligence Unit has looked at the issue in a slightly different way. It has shown that the number of coups has fallen sharply since 1990 and especially in the last decade:
The swift regional responses to the recent coup in Mali has been very different to what we would have expected in the 1990s. Civilian rule has been relatively peacefully restored within one month.
In these various ways, we can see that overall trend of violent conflict in sub-Saharan Africa is down, since the early 1990s. This does not mean there is no violent conflict in Africa at all. But it does mean for more and more countries in Africa, that conflict is no longer an impediment to progress.
So we have seen here, as in the previous blog, that the end of the Cold War had a huge impact on sub-Saharan Africa – perhaps as big as it had on the former Soviet Union itself. And we will see in future blogs that it also had a tremendous impact on the economy and society as well – opening up markets and allowing both democratic governments and international development assistance to become focused on the Millennium Development Goals instead of geo-politics.
A downward trend in violent conflict over the last decade on its own might be too early to cheer about. It has not been irreversible in every country. But combined with positive trends in the last decade on democracy, economic growth and improvements in health and education, we can feel more confident that the progress made in Africa at the start of the 21st Century will be sustained and will continue. The aim is to accelerate it.