Structural Pressures and Political Instability: Trajectories for Sub-Saharan Africa

Structural pressures and political instability Trajectories for sub-Saharan Africa


Download report.

Summary: Sub-Saharan Africa faces many structural pressures that increase the risk of political instability and violent conflict. Understanding the nature and trajectories of structural pressures is key for conflict prevention, development and peacebuilding. Using five models of instability and the International Futures system, this report finds that the risk from demographics and poor development has eased and will reduce further. Anocratic regimes pose the greatest challenge to stability, and horizontal inequalities are likely to continue to fuel grievances.

Key findings:

  • Structural pressures refer to broad development contexts in which events may happen. They tend to change slowly, but don’t necessarily change uniformly. They are not immediate drivers or predictors of political instability, but they show why some countries may be more likely to experience political instability.
  • Countries in sub-Saharan Africa face various structural pressures that increase the risk of political instability and violent conflict.
  • Structural pressures stem from demographics, low levels of development, regime type and horizontal inequalities.
  • Uneven progress across key development transitions can also increase risk.
  • States are vulnerable for multiple reasons, and there is no unified set of drivers of instability.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa’s tendency for political instability has declined.
  • The region’s age structure does not promote stability, but demographic risk has been reducing steadily and will decrease further to 2040.
  • Risk from low levels of development has also eased and is projected to reduce more with better socio-economic performance.
  • Horizontal inequalities and state-led discrimination between groups are likely to continue to fuel grievances and instability.
  • The greatest challenge to future stability are regimes that combine autocratic and democratic features. Democracies with high levels of poverty appear to be particularly vulnerable too.
  • Understanding structural pressures over long time horizons can provide a more nuanced understanding of risk. This can inform conflict prevention, development and peacebuilding efforts.


  • Policy makers need to invest more to identify entry points for mitigating political instability and capitalise on opportunities for stability, development and peace.
  • A dynamic understanding of risk should be adopted, as there are multiple paths to instability.
  • Policy makers should become more familiar with the distribution and evolution of structural pressures.
  • Insights generated from several models and integrated forecasting tools should be used, including for regional and country strategies and programming.
  • Structural analysis should be paired with agent-based analysis to better understand how structures and agents interact.
  • Governments and their partners should support efforts to generate better data, including on a subnational level.
  • The United Nations needs to maintain the renewed momentum for the multilateral conflict prevention agenda.
  • Decision making by governments and their partners should expand inclusion across identity groups to achieve better international peacebuilding partnerships.
  • Demographics should be recognised as central to political stability. Policy makers need to better manage population dynamics and intensify efforts to improve socio-economic development.
  • The role of uneven progress across key development transitions needs to be taken into account.

Keywords: success and failure, peacebuilding, instability, inequalities

Return to search all publications