Understanding Geopolitical Issues and Risk Assessment in Africa: An In-Depth Analysis

2 December 2022

7 minutes read

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, it is essential to have an understanding of the geopolitical issues and risks in different regions. Africa, in particular, has been a focus of attention due to its vast resources, growing population, and strategic geopolitical importance. To understand the complexities of the African geopolitical landscape and to be able to effectively assess the risks, it is necessary to gain an in-depth understanding of the region. This article provides an overview of the geopolitical issues and risk assessment in Africa, exploring the political, economic, and security dynamics of the region. It provides an analysis of the key geopolitical risks in Africa, including political instability, terrorism, and resource exploitation, and offers a framework for assessing the risks in different African countries. It also seeks to identify potential solutions to address the geopolitical issues and risks in Africa.

Overview of geopolitics in Africa

The African continent is home to a wide range of countries, from large, well-developed economies such as South Africa and Nigeria, to the landlocked and underdeveloped countries of the Sahel and sub-Saharan region. Geopolitically, Africa can be divided into three regions: North Africa, the Sahel, and sub-Saharan Africa. In North Africa, the largest countries are Egypt and Algeria, followed by Morocco and Tunisia. South of the Sahara Desert, the Sahel region includes countries such as Chad, Niger, Mali, and Sudan, while sub-Saharan Africa is the most populous and diverse region, home to countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Political and economic dynamics in Africa

The political landscape of Africa is marked by endemic corruption, weak institutions, and authoritarian regimes. A majority of African countries are classified as “hybrid regimes,” as they have democratic elements but fall short of being full democracies. However, while the political systems in many African countries are not fully democratic, they are, nevertheless, considerably more open than they were 25 years ago. There has also been a significant expansion of political rights, particularly in the rights to assembly and free speech. In addition, there has been an increase in the number of women in parliament and a decrease in child mortality. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Africa is approximately $3,600, as compared to $50,000 in the United States. There is a wide gap between rich and poor, and there are significant inequalities in income and access to basic services in different African countries.

Security dynamics in Africa

The security environment in Africa is marked by persistent problems and challenges. The continent is home to 14 of the world’s 20 least-developed countries. It is the site of “endemic wars,” with 13 of them being ongoing as of 2017. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the fragility of the security environment in Africa. One key driver is the poor state of governance in many countries in the region. In many African countries, the state has been unable to provide public goods and services such as education, health, and infrastructure, as well as the rule of law and basic security. The lack of state capacity has undermined democracy, human rights, and economic growth.

Geopolitical risks in Africa

The political, economic, and security dynamics discussed above have led to the emergence of geopolitical risks in many African countries. The prominent geopolitical risks in Africa include political instability, terrorism, and resource exploitation. – Political instability: Political instability in sub-Saharan Africa has been on the rise in recent years. In 2017, the number of people killed in political violence in Africa was estimated to be 6,000. Political instability is mainly driven by two main factors: weak institutions and authoritarianism. In many African countries, political parties are weak and lack internal democracy, while democratic institutions and practices are either underdeveloped or have failed to evolve. The government of Zimbabwe, for example, has been accused of muzzling the opposition, arresting political opponents, and restricting the media. The government of Ethiopia has also come under criticism for repressing political opponents and the independent media. Such forms of authoritarianism and lack of accountability are likely to exacerbate political instability in countries such as Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. – Terrorism: Africa has become a “new breeding ground” for terrorism in recent years. It is the most populous continent in the world, with 17 countries that are home to at least one million people. Africa is also the most urbanized continent in the world, with more than 60 percent of its population living in cities. The rise of violent extremism, coupled with the poor state of governance in many African countries, has made the continent vulnerable to terrorism. There are several groups operating in Africa that are listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, ISIS-West Africa, and Al-Shabaab. These groups are involved in recruiting, training, and financing of terrorism activities in Africa. There have also been instances of collaboration between terrorist groups in Africa and other regions. – Resource exploitation: Africa has vast natural resources, including oil, minerals, and rare earth elements. The discovery of oil and gas in countries such as Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Nigeria has made the continent a key focus of attention for energy companies from across the globe. However, the surge of investment in extractive industries in Africa has been accompanied by criticism for the negative effects it has had on the environment and local communities. There are also concerns that African governments are not doing enough to ensure that their natural resources benefit their people. Resource exploitation has led to increased corruption and triggered environmental damage.

Risk assessment framework

The above geopolitical risks in Africa can be analyzed through a framework consisting of three components: the political environment, the economic environment, and the security environment. These components are interlinked and feed into each other. A weak political environment, for instance, may be accompanied by low levels of economic activity and insecurity. The political environment is a measure of the quality of governance in a country. It takes into account the functioning of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, as well as the capacity of state institutions to deliver public goods and services. A country with a strong political environment will have a well-functioning government that delivers public goods and services effectively, and respects human rights and the rule of law. The economic environment assesses the state of the local economy, including trade and investment flows, as well as socio-economic indicators such as the level of urbanization and the percentage of the workforce employed in agriculture. A country with strong economic fundamentals is likely to attract investment and benefit from trade. It is also likely to have a well-developed infrastructure, higher rates of urbanization, and a large and diversified labor force. Finally, the security environment analyzes the threat posed by terrorist groups and violent extremist organizations as well as the level of conflict between armed groups and the state.

Solutions to geopolitical issues and risks in Africa

There are a range of potential solutions to address the geopolitical issues and risks in Africa. These include promoting good governance, strengthening the rule of law, building state capacity, and promoting inclusive economic growth. Governments, the international community, and civil society organizations can collaborate to strengthen the rule of law and promote good governance in Africa through strengthening democratic institutions, improving the capacity of the state to deliver public goods, and fighting corruption. These efforts can be supported by initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Other solutions include promoting inclusive economic growth through the promotion of innovation, investment, and trade. This includes efforts to diversify the economies of African countries away from the extractive industries and towards high-technology sectors such as digital technology, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology, among others.


The geopolitical issues and risks in Africa differ from those in other regions such as Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas. Understanding the complexities of the African geopolitical landscape and being able to effectively assess the risks is crucial for businesses looking to expand their operations in the region. This article has explored the political, economic, and security dynamics of the African continent, as well as the major geopolitical risks facing the region. It has also provided a risk assessment framework, which can be used to analyze the different risks in African countries.

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