Demography, Environment and Conflict in West Africa
Author: Kwesi Aning and Andrews Atta-Asamoah
Size: 27 pages (330KB)
What are the links between demographic factors, economic and environmental pressures, and conflict in West Africa? This paper examines West African conflicts, focusing on the 1990s, and argues that demographic, economic and environmental factors need to be given greater consideration in attempts to promote peace.
Many West African countries have had to grapple with the mutually reinforcing destabilising factors of economic down-turns, population changes (particularly 'youth bulges' and migration), and social tensions resulting from resource scarcity. However, so far little research has attempted to test the argument that a combination of such factors has contributed to conflict in West Africa.
Developing countries with high young adult populations seem to be more susceptible to conflict. In the 1990s, the demographic factors that were most closely associated with the likelihood of civil conflict around the world were a high proportion of young adults (aged 15 to 29 years), and a rapidly growing urban population. In the conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, young people comprised 95 per cent of the fighting forces.
However, other West African countries with equally high young adult populations, such as Ghana, managed to avoid conflict. It therefore seems that leadership, mobilisation and the political exploitation of young people have contributed to the role of the youth 'bulge' in West African conflicts.
Migration can add to social tensions. For example, in 1998, migrants made up over a quarter of Côte d'Ivoire's population. This high proportion contributed to the rise of Ivorian nationalism that in turn was a factor in the country's conflict.
Competition for environmental resources has generated tensions in West Africa between locals and migrants (sharing scarce arable or grazing lands, forests, or water). In addition:
It is important to undertake research to try to further unpack the influence of demographic, economic and environmental factors on conflict in West Africa. It is also important to consider the following policy options:
Aning, K. and Atta-Asamoah, A., 2011, 'Demography, Environment and Conflict in West Africa', Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, Accra, Ghana