South African police officers. Violence containment costs as a percentage of GDP (including expenditure on the military and personal security) in South Africa is in the region of Somalia's and Sudan's. (Photo/ Wikimedia Commons)

The Economic Cost Of Violence In Africa: Some Rich ‘Peaceful’ Countries Might As Well Be At War

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SOUTH Sudan has again descended into violence, the latest flare-up since civil war erupted in December 2013. Just five years since it gained independence, South Sudan is the African nation hardest hit by the economic cost of violence.

According to the latest Global Peace Index, violence containment costs – that is, economic activity related to the consequences or prevention of violence where the violence is directed against people or property – in South Sudan was 35% of GDP in 2015, the highest proportional spending in Africa.

In terms of absolute spending, violence containment costs in Africa roughly correlate with GDP – large, wealthy countries spend more on their militaries because they have more to spend, and they do so as a projection of their political might; they also spend more on personal security because there’s more to steal.

South Africa is in first place on this measure with violence containment costs at $124 billion, Nigeria second at $104 billion, and Egypt third at $83 billion. Algeria ($54 billion) and Sudan ($33 billion) round out the top five.

As a percentage of GDP however, it becomes more complicated. Of the ten African countries where violence containment expenditure is proportionally the largest, five are experiencing armed conflict – apart from South Sudan, the others are Central African Republic, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Mauritania, too, is battling a long running insurgency in its remote desert interior.

But the data also reveals that the other four are relatively prosperous countries, and incidentally, all in southern Africa – Lesotho is in third place, spending 28% of its GDP on violence containment. Botswana is seventh (just after Somalia) with 19% of its GDP directed towards curbing violence, South Africa is eighth also at 19%, and Namibia tenth at 15%.

It’s an indication of the very high level of interpersonal violence (and the threat of violence) that these southern African countries have to deal with, so much so that proportionally, the economic cost is at par with countries at war. It’s possibly the one indicator where countries that are on completely opposite positions on the governance spectrum meet: failed states and successful ones in Africa are in the same league here.

That suggests that the conventional measures of governance quality in Africa are somewhat deficient – economically speaking, war and misery costs the same as wealth and prosperity.

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