Claude Biao is a political analyst at Stake Experts, an international consulting firm that provides political and security analysis to clients on the African continent. They have a team of 11 international experts and several observers across the entire African continent. The team at Stake Experts have recently published a new book, entitled ‘African Geopolitical Atlas 2020’, which strives to assist decision makers with geopolitical changes occurring across Africa.
Claude was able to answer a few of our questions about his new book.
Claude, before we address the book, how did Stake Experts come into being?
We created Stake experts at the end of 2016, as a consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations to more serenely address the security risk in African context. I’ve been working with NGOs in West Africa and elsewhere for about 5 years before. Since 2010, we could see the security situation become more and more challenging for managers of both NGOs and the private companies operating on the continent. So our bid in 2016 was to come up with sound services, political and security risk analysis and monitoring, and in-office tailored training; to give them the keys to understand and make informed decisions in the environment they are operating in.
What was the motivation behind writing this book and were there any challenges early on?
The aim of the ATLAS is to give a snapshot of the geopolitical changes taking place on the continent over the last two years, 2018 and 2019. You know, security issues move at a very fast pace on the African continent. What was a consistent trend three of four years ago might be anecdotal today or at least not as relevant as it was before, and our clients and partners experience the challenges linked to that fast-moving reality in their everyday commitments. In that context, the role of the ATLAS is to show Africa as it is at the beginning of 2020. And of course, we are not trying to say this is a definitive “picture” of the continent. We are rather representing relevant benchmarks on maps, for the reader to make their own picture of what the continent is like, in 2020.
How long did it take to write the book in its entirety? Were any aspects of the writing process more difficult than others?
We drafted the very first project of the book back in March 2017! As we were intending to cover both 2018 and 2019, the team started to collect and process data in January 2018. In terms of challenges, I’d say adopting a comprehensive methodology and abiding by it throughout the process was a bit difficult. We had to be specific from the very first day on what we were incorporating or not and how we were going to handle major changes; as changing essential segments of the methodology during the process could have catastrophic consequences on the coherence and validity of our maps. On the other hand, we could not just wait for the end of 2019 and collect data from major open source databases because some of our maps are very specific, so we had to monitor local media and available governmental communication to triangulate data from them.
In terms of content, what does the book include specifically and over what time period?
The ATLAS is a fully bilingual book with contents in both English and French. It includes 84 maps, consisting of 30 thematic maps and 54 country maps representing core security-related information for each African country. The maps cover 2018-2019 span, and are divided into three geographical levels: continental, regional, and national. In the first part, we focused on “classical” indicators such as the countries’ populations, GDPs, climate zones, military expenditures, or the foreign military presence on the continent. Then the second part focuses on more specific regional security challenges and dynamics. For example, we made a map to represent the complexification of the crisis and multiplication of players in the Sahel, and another one to show how Boko Haram and the ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) have sanctuated the Lake Chad Basin. We also mapped how the Cameroonian Anglophone crisis increases the instability of the Cameroon-Nigeria border area. Finally, the third part includes maps of individual African countries, focusing on the “fighting demographics” (the number of both military and non-state armed groups’ personnel for 1000 population), the security grey and red zones at a national level, among other indicators. One thing interesting to note is that the first and the second parts each start with an introductory chapter which can be seen as an overview of a specific topic by an expert.
The book has been labelled a “policy-oriented” publication. What does this mean and how will it help its readers?
Our methodology of collecting and processing data for this ATLAS focused on its value in helping informed decisions. As a consulting firm, our relevance as perceived by the clients we work with is determined by the value we create in their decision-making process. This book is the continuity of that commitment. We are not trying to promote any kind of “African exceptionalism”, or to show an idealistic or catastrophic picture of the continent. We’re rather taking a bid with our reader to help them design more informed and less biased policies in the countries they operate in. Are they into a peacebuilding and mediation project in Chad (or Sudan or either)? Great! How do they incorporate the culture of non-state armed groups for example, or how did the 70s Aouzou strip conflict shape the structure of hideouts and supply systems in both northern Chad and Southern Libya? These are practical examples of policy issues that of course cannot be thoroughly assessed with maps, but that the ATLAS aims to give insights about.
What are some of the specific geopolitical concerns currently facing Africa?
Terrorism has been an increasingly challenging issue in several regions of the continent (including the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, and the Greater Horn). To some extent, it is even questioning the state-building and sustainability itself, especially for countries like Mali and Sudan that went through high-intensity political crisis and violence in recent years. Working together as countries in the same region will be vital to design sound coordinated counter-terrorism policies. However, regional initiatives in that area are still weak if not irrelevant. On the other hand, the African Union recently enforced AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) agreement which opens up an economically promising decade, provided the member states address the almost inevitable security setbacks. Finally, the coronavirus crisis that the world is currently experiencing is a major source of uncertainty. Nobody really knows what the world will be like after the crisis. As the effects on the economic growth of several countries on the continent begin to appear, decision-makers will need to make tougher arbitration of their development priorities.
Are there any further publications in the pipeline at the moment?
We are already drafting the methodology for the next edition of the ATLAS which should come out in 2025. But in the meantime, Stake experts will publish a report on African borders.
Thank you Claude for your time!
You can follow up with Claude Biao at https://stakeexperts.com