Themes We Think Will Shape 2018

Global Challenges Counter-extremism

Themes We Think Will Shape 2018

Posted on: 25th January 2018

    Renewing the Centre

    Renewing the Centre

    2017 was the year of the populists and we expect them to make further gains in 2018. Democratic institutions and norms will continue to come under pressure from populist and authoritarian forces, heightening the need for centrists to defend openness, multilateral institutions and democratic solidarity in ways that resonate with alienated and fearful voters.

    Hear more of our thoughts on populism via our podcast, “The Brainstorm”.

    We hope to see a realisation from centrists that they need to demonstrate how our economies can be reformed to benefit the many, addressing people’s concerns about security and immigration, and showing how domestic political priorities can be reconciled with openness to the rest of the world.

    Pressures on mainstream political parties will continue to mount this year and—if the above is not achieved by centrists—we will see larger numbers of people feeling as though they are not represented by these parties.

    We expect to see the global economic recovery gain momentum over the course of 2018. However, the forces driving inequality within our economies will persist, meaning that an improvement in wages and living standards is either unlikely to be felt or considered reliable, seeing people’s anxieties about their futures remain high.

    An increase in active discussions on immigration measures is something we expect to see, along with governments looking at policies that harness the huge potential of technological change without further aggravating inequality and division within our societies.

    Finally, in the pursuit of change, we also hope to see our leaders rekindle the politics of optimism.



    Our work in this area is primarily in Africa, where a renewed focus on effective governance is likely to emerge as it becomes clear that the quality of a country’s governance is often what determines whether it succeeds in securing both peace and prosperity. To that end, 2018 sees us expanding our work, supporting political leaders to fulfil their vision for improving lives and livelihoods in 13 African countries. 

    More widely, we expect African institutions and leaders to continue to exercise a more powerful voice, given the challenges being raised against international institutions and free trade in the West. Within this, we’re expecting to see further reform of the African Union, which will become an increasingly effective bloc in this time of rapid change.

    It’s likely that there will be an increased dual focus on how to promote development while addressing security issues, for example in the Sahel. This will include a renewed focus on migration, due to both an increased concern about modern slavery and research challenging the assumed link between improved development and lower migration.

    High growth should continue as automation and the fourth industrial revolution take hold, seeing technological innovation both emerging from and being used on the continent. But, at the same time, poverty will remain deep-rooted, and we expect policymakers to make an increasing shift towards inclusive growth as governments come to terms with the jobs gap. 

    Our paper The Jobs Gap: Making Inclusive Growth Work in Africa provides more thinking on this.

    New solutions in revenue and resource mobilisation are also likely this year, with governments looking to gain greater independence from donors. We also expect to see increased attention by nontraditional actors, for example from the Gulf, as well as the continued rise in impact investment.

    Finally, as the dust settles on political events in 2017, including those in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, we expect a continued debate around the development model countries are pursuing and the tensions (or otherwise) between democracy and development.

    Middle East

    Middle East

    The ongoing situation in Gaza is expected to be the major issue for the Middle East in 2018. The regional shifts taking place in the area will certainly affect the next steps for the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Wider developments in Palestinian and Israeli politics and the reconciliation process are also likely to be leading the discussion in the Middle East.

    Iranian influence in the Middle East is likely to be seen in multiple areas. The security challenges facing the region, particularly the role of Iranian-backed extremist groups are likely to progress in the next 12 months, as we start to see more of these challenges impact developments.

    Political developments in the Gulf will almost certainly have an effect on the Middle East as we start to better understand the impact of Saudi Arabia’s new, modernising forces on the region.



    2018 will see an increased understanding of the link between ideology and violence. As a result, we expect to see more people in the Middle East challenging the concept of politicising religion in this way, as is already being seen in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There will also be a greater understanding that this is a global, not a regional, phenomenon.

    The jihadi landscape will continue to shift in 2018. After the fall of ISIS’s so-called caliphate last year, we’ll now see a process of evolution and regrouping for ISIS, which will have major implications for jihadi groups globally. Returning foreign fighters are likely to be an issue that will shape the year, as many governments will have to consider the best approaches to deradicalisation. However, as defeating ISIS does not equate to defeating jihadism, the latter will remain an ongoing security challenge this year.

    The nature of extremism and terrorism is expected to evolve further throughout 2018. Far-right extremist movements are likely to become more prevalent, while acts of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism could well increase in the year ahead. Escalating conflicts in Africa, including in the Sahel and Somalia, are expected to lead violent groups to turn to Africa for recruits and a safe haven.

    The influence of Iranian-backed armed militias is a significant theme for the year ahead as their presence is increasingly felt. 2018 is likely to see the development of additional dimensions of such groups’ presence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

    Find out more about what the Co-Existence team thinks will shape 2018 in this in-depth commentary.   

    Find out more