Purpose Education as a weapon in the fight against conflict and violence remains widely debated in policy and academic circles. Against the background of growing political instability in Africa and the central role of the knowledge economy in 21st century development, this paper provides three contributions to existing literature. It assesses how political stability/ non-violence is linked to the incremental, synergy and lifelong learning effects of education. Design/methodology/approach We define lifelong learning as the combined knowledge acquired during primary, secondary and tertiary education. Principal component analysis is used to reduce the dimensions of educational and political indicators. An endogeneity robust dynamic system Generalized Methods of Moments is used for the estimations. Findings We establish three main findings. First, education is a useful weapon in the fight against political instability. Second, there is an incremental effect of education in the transition from secondary to tertiary schools. Third, lifelong learning also has positive and synergy effects. This means that the impact of lifelong learning is higher than the combined independent effects of various educational levels. The empirical evidence is based on 53 African countries for the period 1996-2010. Practical implications A plethora of policy implications are discussed, inter alia: how the drive towards increasing the knowledge economy through lifelong learning can be an effective tool in the fight against violence and political insurgency in Africa. Originality/value As the continent is nursing knowledge economy ambitions, the paper is original in investigating the determinants of political stability/non violence from three dimensions of education attainment: the incremental, the lifelong learning and a synergy effect.