By Paul Goble
Anatoly Vishnevsky, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demography, says that population trends and especially the share of under-employed men in third world countries make it likely that the next place from which terrorism is likely to emerge is Africa.
A week ago, the distinguished Russian demographer drew that conclusion at the end of a public lecture on “Demography and Terrorism” at the Sakharov Center in Moscow and argued that the world should be preparing for that challenge now because it is almost certain to emerge in the coming years (lectures.gaidarfund.ru/articles/2487).
Vishnevsky noted that demographers have been warning about the consequences of the unprecedented “human tsunami” since 1950 when the world’s population began to shoot up from 2.5 billion to seven billion and when the vast majority of these people lived in impoverished third world countries.
Given their numbers, he said, one had every reason to expect that people in these countries would seek to change the world order so as to redress the imbalance against them. But the specific form this challenge has taken arises from what he called something “more important,” the massive number of men in these societies without adequate employment.
In the third world countries at present, there are approximately 1.9 billion men, of whom 1.6 billion are between the ages of five and 50. They are the ones who should form the backbone of the economies of these countries, but at present, many of them are unemployed or underemployed.
A large fraction of these men are in African countries, Vishnevsky said; and their numbers are especially impressive because they have learned to redress the impact of deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS by increasing the birthrate, something that means there are ever more young men there who are now looking for work.
This means, the Russian demographer continued, that “quite soon a new hearth of tensions” is likely to emerge in African countries, as unemployed and impoverished young men seek various means, including terrorist violence, to achieve their goals. At the very least, he said, developed countries should be focusing on this potential risk.
Vishnevsky’s analysis is important for various reasons, but perhaps the most significant of these is that he shifts the predominant focus from the ideological banners under which terrorist act to the underlying reasons why people in certain parts of the world are inclined to march under them.
As Slon observer Georgy Neyaskin points out in a comment on Vishnevsky’s remarks, it is certainly not the case that terrorism is explained entirely by demography; but one thing is clear: what is happening now was something those in power could have foreseen and possibly countered but did not do so (slon.ru/posts/61115).
One can only hope, he suggests, that those who are now threatened by terrorism will not repeat the mistake and compound their earlier failures to prevent or at least limit the further rise of that tactic of the weak of the world against the strong.