The New StatesmanThe New Statesman

Anarchy unbound: the new scramble for Africa

By Robert D Kaplan

16 Aug 2023 · 12 min read

informed Summary

  1. The author, Robert D Kaplan, argued in 1994 that environmental issues, including drought and desertification, would become a significant national security issue of the 21st century.

Almost 30 years ago, in the February 1994 issue of the Atlantic, I wrote a lengthy cover story, “The Coming Anarchy”, that ended with these words: “The same day that Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat clasped hands on the White House lawn, my Air Afrique plane was approaching Bamako, Mali, revealing corrugated-zinc shacks at the edge of an expanding desert. The real news wasn’t at the White House, I realised. It was right below.” In fact, the Rabin-Arafat handshake led to a peace process, the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine, that ultimately collapsed; whereas my main contention in “The Coming Anarchy”, that the Earth’s natural environment, including drought and desertification, would emerge as “the national-security issue” of the 21st century, has been vindicated. Though now it goes by the term “climate change”.

Whereas the opinion pages of the 1990s, both liberal and conservative, were obsessed with the ideal of democracy shaping the post-Cold War world, I concentrated on how the increasing lack of underground water and nutrients in overused soils would, in indirect ways, inflame existing ethnic, religious and tribal divides. This factor, merged with an ever growing number of young males in economically and politically fragile societies, would amplify the possibility of extremism and violent conflict. Natural forces were at work, I wrote, that would intensify political instability: if not necessarily everywhere, then certainly in the world’s least governable zones. The most benighted parts of West Africa were a microcosm, albeit in exaggerated form, of the turmoil to come around the globe. Africa certainly had something to teach us.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content