Girls and women cannot be left behind in the digital revolution

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Digital, Skills & Inequalities

Picture of Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke
Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke

Founder and President of Women’s WorldWide Web and European Young Leader

Extreme poverty, political and economic marginalisation, poor governance and lack of access to opportunities are not only challenges that millions of Africans face, but a fertile breeding ground for threats such as civil conflicts, extreme terrorism and uncontrolled migration.

Since the publication of the United Nations ‘A More Secure World’ report, threats to one are increasingly threats to all. The growth of fundamentalism in one region affects other regions in the form of export of terrorism, massive internal displacements and overflow of refugees. Similarly, poverty and poor health infrastructure in one region can lead to pandemics that easily reach other regions.

Security can no longer be effectively addressed from the traditional state-centric perspective, where national security and law enforcement apparatus are all that is needed to ensure the security of citizens. Instead, security has become global, with a focus on individuals and groups’ access to the benefits of development –a more people-centred security. The growing concept of ‘human security’ therefore underlines the importance of empowering individuals and groups to benefit from economic growth and development, so as to not only protect them from conflicts and tensions but also to build their resilience to engage in development activities. There can be no peace without development and, equally, no sustained development can take place without peace.

Security and political stability therefore have to be anchored in the availability of institutional capacities, opportunities and decent standards of living. Indeed, countries with high inequality and weak institutions often have high levels of social violence. Research shows that poor distribution of wealth, insufficient economic opportunities, jobs and limited freedom, particularly for a large young population, significantly increase the risk of instability; such societies tend to be far more affected by transnational and organised crime. Indeed, the purveyors of human traffic and other types of international organised crime find the most fertile ground in societies and communities that lack basic services and economic opportunities.

Building resilient communities and supporting the national development objectives mitigates the losses inflicted on countries due to insecurity

Particularly informative is the observation that whether or not conflict is correlated to growth depends on the type of growth or its unevenness across sectors or groups. For Africa, this is particularly telling – the human development index in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than nine per cent during the 1990-2014 period. Progress was also made in other areas, with almost 68% of Africans having access to safe water today, up from 55% in 2000. The under-five mortality rate decreased from 162 per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 83 per 1,000 live births in 2014. Life expectancy is now estimated at 60 years, compared to 47 years in 2000. Over the same period, Africa experienced its best economic and per capita income growth.

But with the global financial and economic crisis, and the subsequent collapse in commodity prices and poor management of resources, growth stalled in many economies on the continent. Africa has seen rising armed conflicts and unprecedented humanitarian situations, including a spike in forced human displacements (in country, inter-country and international). These events are taking place amid rising extremism and security challenges that are constraining opportunities for millions of people. The OECD reports that African migrants in Europe increased by about 1.4m people between 2010 and 2013, with the median age being 29.9 years. Most of these refugees are from the Horn of Africa and West Africa, and their movement is driven by conflict and poverty. The above observations confirm the need to pay more attention to the security-development nexus.

While acknowledging the limitations of the divide between humanitarian and development approaches in responding to the security and development challenges facing Africa, there is a need for caution. Specifically, we must recognise that violent conflict is a manifestation of fragility whose drivers need to be clearly identified. The African Development Bank High-Level Report on Conflicts and Fragility (chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia) and its Strategy for Addressing Fragility and Building Resilience in Africa consider fragility as a risk whereby the pressures are too strong for countries, institutions or communities to adequately respond. The report also notes that countries’ available capacities and resources for the required responses vary: hence the need to focus on key entry points for managing the underlying drivers in each situation. In this context, the AfDB focuses on building resilience and targeting communities without abandoning its larger national development mandate.

The growing concept of ‘human security’ underlines the importance of empowering individuals and groups to benefit from economic growth and development

Building resilient communities and supporting the national development objectives mitigates the losses inflicted on countries due to insecurity. Particularly disturbing is the observation that conflict is always associated with underdevelopment or regression. Whereas there is a dearth of statistics on the costs of insecurity, civil wars were estimated to cost an average US$64bn annually. Similarly, armed conflict is estimated to have cost Africa $284bn from 1990–2005. More recently, Africa has been hit by waves of violence in places such as South Sudan, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, north-eastern Nigeria and the regions of neighbouring countries, and Burkina Faso. This is in addition to the long-standing conflicts in the Great Lakes Region, Somalia and Central African Republic.

There are no greater impacts of insecurity than those felt in the tourism sectors of Tunisia, Egypt and Mali. Following the attacks in Sousse and Tunis in 2015, tourism revenues are estimated to have plummeted from $3.5bn to a mere $1.5bn in 2016. While the sector is slowly recovering, its impact on the tourist mix has seen daily tourist spend falling from about €60 to €30, leaving the industry’s revenue still depressed. In Egypt, insecurity threats and fears have led to a decline in tourist arrivals from more than 14 million in 2010 to less than ten million in 2016. Mali has similarly been impacted following the Timbuktu and Bamako attacks. Tourist arrival dropped by 50% in 2015 compared to the previous year while revenues plummeted from more than €76m to less than €5m. Given the labour intensive nature of the sector, thousands of employees have lost their jobs, while governments have boosted security measures in a bid to reassure tourists.

The security of countries, no matter how advanced, is intricately linked to development not just within their borders, but also in other countries and regions of the world. Responses to security threats cannot be limited to military action, but should incorporate development solutions to entrench the ‘peace dividend’ in communities, create societies that are more inclusive, and create conditions for sustained economic growth. Understanding fragility and implementing initiatives such as the ‘10,000 Communities in 1,000 Days’ are therefore crucial.


This article is from Friends of Europe’s discussion paper ‘Investing in People, Peace and Prosperity’, in which international experts in these fields consider how policymakers can address the security-development nexus to build peaceful and inclusive societies. This discussion paper complements the Friends of Europe Policy Insight debate ‘To achieve Agenda 2030, give peace a chance’, held as part of the 2017 European Development Days.

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