The Risk of “Black Spring” in Africa


In 2010, the Arab Spring movement led to protests across the Arab world as citizens revolted against authoritarian governments and long-entrenched dictators.  As a result, four countries (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen) welcomed new governments, and demonstrations were seen in over a dozen other countries.

Last week, President Compaoré of Burkina Faso was ousted by massive demonstrations after he attempted to change the constitution to extend his 27 years in power. The move has been trumpeted as a possible beginning to a “Black Spring”, a potential movement forcing political reform in Africa. The FT highlighted the concerns in a recent article here.

While the article mentions several other countries which are positioned to join the “Black Spring”, which countries are most likely to do so?

Finding the Longest Serving Rulers in Africa

The protests in Burkina Faso occurred when President Compaoré attempted to amend the constitution to extend his already lengthy reign. Other countries in Africa with long-ruling leaders should be more at risk of Black Spring related protests, so we identified all the countries where leaders had ruled for over 20 years:

LongestServingAfricanLeadersEleven countries in Africa have had extremely long-serving rulers, with President Compaoré’s 27 year reign in Burkina Faso ranking as the 7th longest rule out of Africa before he was ousted. The list is a who’s-who of authoritarian regimes in Africa, with money from natural resources driving the top two spots in Equatorial Guinea and Angola. But what about countries that have relatively new leaders but are still subject to considerable political strife?

Finding the Most Vulnerable Countries in Africa

The list of long serving leaders is a good start, but there are many useful published reports we can look at to identify countries that are most at risk of joining the Black Spring. The Fragile State Index is one such report, and we’ve used it before in our Investment Safety Rankings. As an index that identifies when a country’s “pressures are pushing a state towards the brink of failure”, it has direct relevance to the question at hand.

FragleStatesIndexAfricaWorstThe FSI ranks countries across 12 categories out of 10 points, with a total theoretical worst score of 120. Countries with scores above 110 are considered on “Very High Alert”, while at over 100 countries are still on “High Alert”.

Only five countries scored above 110 and all five were in Africa. Another 11 countries scored between 100 and 110, and five of those were in Africa. Interestingly, only two countries have had long-serving rulers and terrible FSI scores: Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Finding the Least Free Countries in Africa

The third and final factor we consider is the level of restriction on personal liberties and civil rights in a country. We accomplish this by looking at the Freedom in the World (FiW) survey, which has been published since 1973. While there is some criticism of bias for this survey (the bulk of their funding is from the US government), its focus is exactly what we are looking for.

The FiW survey ranks countries in two categories, Political Rights and Civil Liberties, with a Freedom Rating (not helping those American bias accusations) as the average of the two. Both categories are scored out of 7.0 with a low score being a better score.

Twelve countries in Africa had a Freedom Rating above 6.0 with five countries scoring a “perfect” 7.0. Here is the round-up of the worst scores in Africa:

FreedomSurveyAfricaSudan is the one country that manages to place within the worst lists of all three of our indicators.

Combining Lists To Find Potential Black Spring Candidates

We ranked every country in Africa in terms of the longest serving leaders, through its Fragile States Index score, and through its Freedom Rating. Then by equally weighting each ranking we calculated a combined ranking of all three factors; here are the 20 countries in Africa with the most potential of having their own Black Spring:

BlackSpringLikelihoodThe list is led by Sudan, with Burkina Faso actually rounding out the group as the 20th most likely. Every single one of the countries with the longest serving rulers shows up on this list despite that factor weighing only a third of the total combined score. This highlights the issues in countries with long-ruling dictators, but given the length of their reign it is also possible that their control on their countries is great enough to quickly clamp down on a revolution. With the uniformly poor scores in every country for the leaders of this list, the risk of “Black Spring” is a real but unsurprising risk factor for any investors looking at these countries.


photo credit: Sokwanele – Zimbabwe via photopin cc

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