Published on Development for Peace

In fragile settings, good country outcomes require good foresight

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The town of Bor in South Sudan flooded at the start of the rainy season The town of Bor in South Sudan flooded at the start of the rainy season

What does the future hold and are we ready to face its challenges? For front-line development practitioners tackling fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV), the urgency of the now often overshadows the proverbial long-run.  But while focusing on the priorities of the hour – a refugee crisis or a pandemic in a conflict zone – we risk losing track of the megatrends that will shape good country outcomes in the decades to come. This is why partnering with foresight experts is so important: good scenario planning can help us test our ways of thinking and ensure strategic rather than tactical responses to poverty reduction in fragile and conflict-affected settings. 

One such exercise took place after this year’s Paris Peace Forum in November, where our team showcased its work on geospatial analysis in FCV and participated in a global conversation on peace and prosperity. Building on insights from a broad range of partners, we teamed up with the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) for a day-long conference exploring the links between foresight and fragility. Our starting point was the launch of the EUISS Africa Futures Task Force, which will analyze trends affecting economic, political and social developments in Africa until 2030, specifically focusing on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The Task Force comprises thought leaders from European and African research institutions, such as the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, Research ICT Africa, Thinking Africa, and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Addis Ababa.

What did we hear? First, a tale of paradox and cautious optimism predicated upon the promise of an economically integrated continent. With an estimated GDP growth rate of 4 to 6 percent by 2040, Africa will continue to surpass the forecasted global growth average of 2.9 percent for the same period. This will largely be driven by structural transformations such as Africa’s demographic dividend, and the next commodities super-cycle shaped by Asian economies, particularly India.

The newly signed AfCFTA could address the continent’s economic and logistical fragmentation and create a large internal market for goods and services. The existence of large internal markets has proven an essential catalyst for growth in the United States, Europe, and China, but it is still absent in Africa. But researchers throughout the world think this could change. Some analysts claim that the AfCFTA could increase the value of intra-African trade by 15-25 percent by 2040, and boost economic output by US$29 trillion.

Still, Africa is not progressing fast enough. While the share of extreme poor has declined from 60 percent in 1990 to 36 percent today, the increase in Africa’s population means that the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty is on the rise. This is especially true in FCV-affected settings, many of which are in Africa. Indeed, EUISS Task Force members think that Africa will miss the headline goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, accomplishing this aim perhaps by 2063. Today, half of Africa’s population is under the age of 19, but between 2050-2075 the number of people active in the workforce will grow larger relative to the dependent population.

This window of opportunity is still three decades away, however. In the meantime, experts noted that pockets of violence and insecurity will coexist side by side with economic and social development gains. About 500 million people across Africa live in cities, a figure that will double in 10 years. More urbanization and greater trade risk bringing higher urban crime and illicit trafficking , unless states improve their security sector governance.

Climate change will also bring lasting consequences. Africa contributes only 4 percent to global carbon emissions today, and it is likely to contribute 6 percent of the global total by 2030. But by 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa could have more than 85 million climate migrants , according to World Bank estimates.

What do these forecasts mean for the development programs in FCV settings? According to foresight experts, success will depend on how we will handle some “wicked problems.” One is the challenge of extending programming cycles and institutional incentives to longer-term timeframes rather than just the usual 3-5 years. Another is the need to adapt the scope of these programs to encompass regional and subnational FCV dynamics, which are not adequately addressed in standard country programming. We should also invest in our analytics – both to better monitor project results on the ground, but also to anticipate when good country outcomes risk being jeopardized by FCV drivers. Yet another wicked problem is figuring out how to work with security actors and improve the governance and fiscal sustainability of the security sector.

General Dwight Eisenhower, a former U.S. President, is reported to have said that “in preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” What he meant was that the specific details of a plan matter far less than the thinking about contingencies and alternatives that goes into it. Good foresight can help poverty reduction efforts in FCV settings not by predicting the future, but by giving us ways to think about it. And with good foresight, we can strive for good country outcomes.


Olivier Lavinal

Manager of the Global Concessional Financing Facility (GCFF)

Paul M. Bisca

Conflict & Security Consultant, Fragility, Conflict & Violence Group

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