Can we predict political uprisings?

 at The Conversation: “Forecasting political unrest is a challenging task, especially in this era of post-truth and opinion polls.

Several studies by economists such as Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler in 1998 and 2002 describe how economic indicators, such as slow income growth and natural resource dependence, can explain political upheaval. More specifically, low per capita income has been a significant trigger of civil unrest.

Economists James Fearon and David Laitin have also followed this hypothesis, showing how specific factors played an important role in Chad, Sudan and Somalia in outbreaks of political violence.

According to the International Country Risk Guide index, the internal political stability of Sudan fell by 15% in 2014, compared to the previous year. This decrease was after a reduction of its per capita income growth rate from 12% in 2012 to 2% in 2013.

By contrast, when the income per capita growth increased in 1997 compared to 1996, the score for political stability in Sudan increased by more than 100% in 1998. Political stability across any given year seems to be a function of income growth in the previous one.

When economics lie

But as the World Bank admitted, “economic indicators failed to predict Arab Spring”.

Usual economic performance indicators, such as gross domestic product, trade, foreign direct investment, showed higher economic development and globalisation of the Arab Spring countries over a decade. Yet, in 2010, the region witnessed unprecedented uprisings that caused the collapse of regimes such as those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

In our 2016 study we used data for more than 100 countries for the 1984–2012 period. We wanted to look at criteria other than economics to better understand the rise of political upheavals.

We found out and quantified how corruption is a destabilising factor when youth (15-24 years old) exceeds 20% of adult population.

Let’s examine the two main components of the study: demographics and corruption….

We are 90% confident that a youth bulge beyond 20% of adult population, on average, combined with high levels of corruption can significantly destabilise political systems within specific countries when other factors described above also taken into account. We are 99% confident about a youth bulge beyond 30% levels.

Our results can help explain the risk of internal conflict and the possible time window for it happening. They could guide policy makers and international organisations in allocating their anti-corruption budget better, taking into account the demographic structure of societies and the risk of political instability….(More).