Insecurity and poverty: How can we put an end to this ‘fertile couple’ in Central Africa?

Central Africa is one of the regions most affected by insecurity in the world. Insecurity manifests itself in a number of ways, the most prominent of which are inter- and intra-state armed conflicts, terrorism, inter-community conflicts, piracy and even organized criminality. However, insecurity generally refers “both to the fact, for an individual or a group, of being concretely exposed to immediate or future dangers, and to the feeling of being exposed to these dangers” (1). If we adopt this broad conception, insecurity refers to the aspects of anti-social behaviour and criminality identified as the most challenging to live with on a daily basis by the population, as well as to duly established crimes or risks. In Central Africa, as elsewhere, there is a clear observation that poverty is more prevalent in the context of insecurity. Poverty in this context is much more material and refers to a state of destitution in which people lack the bare minimum to live or, more precisely, to survive. The World Bank considers those living on an income of less than $1.25 a day extremely poor (2). But is there a correlation between insecurity and poverty in Central Africa?

In a classic work with an eloquent title, entitled Classes laborieuses, classes dangereuses, published in 1958, Louis Chevalier was able to demonstrate that in the poor neighbourhoods where the proletarians are concentrated, poverty goes hand in hand with criminality, prostitution, alcoholism, violence and broken families (3). The author seemed to have already established the link between poverty and insecurity, which is also evident in the writings of the anthropologist Oscar Lewis. In his classic work Les Enfants de Sanchez (1961), Lewis explains that poverty produces a particular ‘personality,’ the main traits of which are a feeling of dependence and inferiority, fatalism, lack of self-control, a poor ability to project oneself into the future and an attitude focused on the present (4). Of course, there are limits to these analyses in that delinquency and violence can arise in contexts of well-being in the form of illegal trafficking, fraud or crimes and attacks on the physical integrity of others. Similarly, poverty is not always linked to a context of insecurity and is sometimes rooted in poor governance and climatic or cultural factors. In any case, analysis shows that poverty and insecurity reciprocally influence Central African countries.

I- Poverty as a breeding ground for insecurity in Central Africa

Poverty creates a context conducive to insecurity in the sense that poverty leads those who suffer from it to use any means, including violence, to create acceptable living conditions. By way of illustration, the Chadian rebellion regularly bases its attacks on the fact that the resources available to their country are not equally distributed. They generally base their attacks on the poverty in which the populations of the hinterland live. The first president of this country, Tombalbaye, logically declared that: “The populations in revolt are people who quite simply ask that we take care of them, that we drill wells for them, that we build schools, open paths for the movement of their livestock. These are citizens who want to pay their civic taxes only once.” By fighting poverty, the public authorities are also helping to combat insecurity. It is rare for people with stable jobs and incomes to engage in acts of violence, with a few exceptions due to psychological problems. In Central Africa, many internal and international conflicts simply manifest a feeling of exclusion from acceptable living conditions. This is, for example, one of the justifications for the conflict between the Ambazonian separatists and the State of Cameroon, because as a former governor of one of the English-speaking regions David Abouem A Tchoyi stated: “For having been stripped of important powers exercised, in complete autonomy, by the State of Western Cameroon (English-speaking part), many compatriots in this part of the territory have developed a deep feeling of nostalgia, unease, frustration and discomfort”.

In his work, the economist Armatya Sen (5) recommends placing the growth of individual “capabilities” at the heart of the development process. This means taking into account all the economic, social and political opportunities available for individuals, which are directly linked to their state of health, education level, life expectancy and ability to make their voice heard in local and national debates. This is the way to lift people out of the grip of poverty and end their desire for violence.

II- Insecurity as a factor that aggravates poverty

Nevertheless, a reverse analysis also shows that insecurity often breeds poverty. At least this is what Philippe Hugon demonstrates when he writes: “Largely explained by underdevelopment and exclusion, conflicts are, in turn, factors of insecurity and underdevelopment reflecting the existence of vicious circles and traps to underdevelopment and conflict (6)”. By analyzing this reciprocal influence between insecurity and poverty, it emerges that:

1.    Security is a fundamental criterion of an attractive business climate for investment. Insecurity, therefore, has the effect of discouraging investors and increasing the unemployment rate.

2.    Insecurity in its most violent form leads to the destruction of public and private property, which undermines the development efforts made by governments. For example, the recent armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon destroyed many hospitals, schools and infrastructure. The destruction of these development efforts is keeping the countries of Central Africa even poorer and over-indebted.

3.    Insecurity hampers competition and the spirit of enterprise because of the uncertainty it creates, the instability and uncertainty about the future.

The experience of certain States such as the Democratic Republic of Congo confirms these conclusions, because for a State so rich in natural resources, it is inconceivable that it cannot be counted among the emerging countries. This regression is mainly due to the insecurity that has undermined this state for decades.

What strategy should we consider?

From our point of view, it is clear that the Central African states must place public policies aimed at combating poverty and those relating to insecurity on an equal footing. As such, the administrations responsible for defining policies against insecurity and poverty must work together in the conception and implementation phases.

It is even more important to take account of the interactions between the two phenomena to develop common solutions. Identifying and highlighting these interactions will help to better understand the relationship between the two phenomena and define appropriate solutions to deal with them.

It is important to conclude with this declaration from the United Nations Security Council dated November 9, 2021, according to which, “there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development, and that the activities carried out by the entities of the United Nations development system within the framework of their respective mandates, when requested by countries experiencing or emerging from conflict, while respecting national priorities and plans and the principle of “ownership of activities by the country, contribute to the consolidation and sustainability of peace in the countries in question by contributing to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

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Holder of a PhD/Ph.D in Public Law, option Public Finance, Dr. Nguimfack is currently Lecturer at the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences of the University of Dschang.


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