Counting the cost: How Africa is spending all its lunch money on managing violence

Cash spent is equivalent to twice the combined GDP of all countries on the continent, new think tank finds

Wars cost money. Trillions of dollars of it. But until now all previous measures have focused on the cost of paying for them, not preventing them. 

A new study has tried to crack this conundrum—just how much does it cost to prevent violence instead? 

Using what it says is groundbreaking methodology, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has detailed the costs of 13 different types of violence, (admittedly not all, meaning it could get more grim) for 152 countries which constitute 99.6% of the world’s population.

The findings are staggering, with big significance for Africa. Using the concept of “violence containment”, which is defined as economic activity related to the consequences or prevention of violence directed against people or property, IEP found that in 2012 the world would have saved $9.46 trillion, or 11% of global GDP, if it had instead focused on more fruitful economic activities.

This amount would have met the extra funding needs of the Millennium Development goals, and is twice the combined GDP of African countries, the think tank says.

Essentially, the less a country spends on violence-related functions, the more resources it can direct to the more productive areas of its economy.

Dwarfing investment
The numbers are particularly stark in Africa. Some of the countries with the highest expenditure on violence are also some of the poorest, with the cost dwarfing investments or aid.

Post-conflict Liberia tops the regional list, spending $670 per person to prevent violence, translating into 22.7% of its 1.8 billion of its GDP as at last year.

In 2011, according to the OECD, official development aid to Liberia totalled $765 million, and made up 73 per cent of its gross national income. Last month, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf submitted a draft budget of $559 million to parliament.

Fragile Libya comes in second in Africa, spending 19.6% of its GDP in activities aimed at containing violence, while war-weary Somalia is putting out 18.4% of its meagre internal resources towards preventing violence.

These “containment” activities include spending on the military (which gobbles up over half of the total amount), internal security such as bulking up the police, jailing felons, UN peacekeeping, homicides and terrorism. 

The last category would be of special interest to a number of African countries struggling to keep the lid down on militancy, from Nigeria to Kenya and Egypt.

Zimbabwe and South Sudan round out the top five African countries in spending on containing violence.

The huge costs incurred are a clear argument in favour of peace – and having an exact figure is a powerful illustration of what African countries can gain by avoiding conflict. 

Here’s the full list—and ranking—of African countries’ spend: 

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