Predicting the coups of 2014

The dart-throwing chimp takes a look.

Marko Djurica
Demonstrators in Kiev would like to see the back of Viktor Yanukovich. They might get something else.

Where are coups most likely this year? Political scientist Jay Ulfelder, who uses statistical models based on past history from who colonized a country to GDP to frequency of coups in a nation's past, takes a stab at it.

He cautions (at his blog The Dart-Throwing Chimp) that identifying where a coup is "likeliest" doesn't mean one will occur - far from it. As he writes: "Statistically speaking, the safest bet for any country almost any year is that a coup attempt won’t occur. The point of this exercise is to try to get a better handle on where the few coup attempts we can expect to see this year are most likely to happen."

He separates nations into fifths - the top fifth, the countries likeliest to suffer a coup, the bottom fifth where it's least likely. The bottom three-fifths aren't really at risk at all. Within the top fifth of 40 countries, seven stand out as far more likely than those that follow. In order:

  1. Guinea
  2. Madagascar
  3. Mali
  4. Equatorial Guinea
  5. Niger
  6. Guinea-Bissau
  7. Sudan

There are no countries from Europe in the top-fifth on his map (represented by the color red), with the Ukraine the only country in the second-fifth (orange). Ecuador and Haiti are the only two countries in the Americas in red on the map. Six countries in Asia are in the most at risk category, and only one in the Middle East (Iraq). To a casual observer Yemen being in the second fifth rather than the top tier is kind of surprising, but that's what his numbers show. The remaining countries are in Africa (among them Egypt and Algeria).

Recent coups, among other factors, increase the chances of a coup in the coming year in his model, and the numbers rely on the definition of "coup" by the Center for Systemic Peace. (Correction: While Jay relied on CSP last year, he writes in to say "this year I used a mash-up of coup lists from two sources, not just CSP.) Since that's a somewhat subjective determination, it can effect the numbers substantially. As Ulfelder wrote about his 2013 predictions:

Finally, notable for its absence is Egypt, which ranks 48th on the 2013 list and has been a source of coup rumors throughout its seemingly interminable transitional period. It’s worth noting though, that if you consider SCAF’s ouster of Mubarak in 2011 to be a successful coup (CSP doesn’t), Egypt would make its way into the top 30.

Again - the safe bet is that a coup or coup attempt won't take place in any of these countries. At least, in particular. But Ulfelder's post on the matter, full of details about how his models are built and tweaked, is an interesting window on how this type of forecasting is done warts, uncertainty, and all.

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