The challenge of stability and security in West Africa

Alexandre Marc, Neelam Verjee, and Stephen Mogaka


The surge in violence and conflict in West Africa comes as the sub-region has registered some of the most impressive growth rates seen on the continent in years. This book analyses the trends and dynamics of conflict and fragility in the sub-region, and examines the ability of institutions to manage the internal and external stresses to the region. It argues that the rapid pace of change puts enormous strain on its institutions, pushing them to transform rapidly but also risking rendering them illegitimate and ineffective. The book concludes by providing recommendations on how donors can support stability and reduce fragility through development policies.

The book is based on an in-depth literature review and analysis of various data-sets on violence and conflict trends  in West Africa from 1946–2004.

Across the region stresses that increase the risk of conflict stem largely from global factors, including the rapidly growing youth population; sub-regional migration; growing inequalities and fast evolving regional disparities inside countries; the accelerated development of the extractives industry; and the explosion of various forms of trafficking and criminal activities, especially involving drugs. In particular it notes:

  • The problematic relations between state and customary institutions. Many institutions still need to adapt to rapid social change in issues such as women’s participation and youth engagement. While customary institutions often reflect rural social norms, state institutions are slow at responding to calls from citizens for greater engagement and participation in political processes.
  • Election violence has largely replaced military coups in West Africa.  Political violence is driven by the zero-sum stakes of many elections in several countries and the manipulation of identities for political gain.
  • Drug trafficking, maritime piracy and religious extremism are growing threats to stability in the region.
  • The frequency of regional spillovers from internal conflicts highlights the close level of inter-connectivity between countries in the region. The way in which extremist ideology and local grievances came together in Mali to escalate and internationalise conflict there is one example of this.
  • A number of lessons on resilience and fragility can be learned from the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, which shared a number of commonalities.

The book highlights a number of ways donors can support stability in the region including:

  • Integrating stability into the planning of development policies: stability needs to be a clear objective and recognised as essential for sustainable long-term growth and poverty reduction.
  • Supporting long-term institutional development: technical capacity building, political will and the buy-in of the population and other stakeholders, such as the local authorities, businesses, politicians, and civil society, is fundamental to successful reform.
  • Strengthening local governance, especially decentralisation, to improve social accountability, transparency, and quality of local services.
  • Improving land management and the management of extractives, particularly a sharper focus on improving land titling systems and regulations governing community land.
  • Enabling prospects for youth and displaced persons through programmes that mitigate drug use and petty crime in urban areas, and support youth participation in various state and non-state institutions.


Marc, A., Verjee, N., & Mogaka, S. (2015). The challenge of stability and security in West Africa. Washington, DC: World Bank.