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Population Growth and Security in Africa

As recent projections estimate, population growth will remain a challenge throughout Africa, although growth rates have slowed over recent decades. Africa’s population will continue to grow strongly over the next few decades, especially in sub-regions such as the Sahel. Many observers and practitioners have started to warn that population growth may escalate distributional conflicts and could increase related challenges such as uncontrolled migration.
FFO, 2020-2021

Research Questions

• To what extent is population growth a security challenge in Africa and elsewhere?
• How and through what mechanisms does population growth create conflict and security risks, particularly in the selected cases (Egypt, Mali and Niger)?
• What policy recommendations follow from the analysis?

Contribution to International Research

This project summarizes the academic state of the art on the link between population growth and security in Africa (and elsewhere). It investigates three pertinent case studies (Egypt, Mali, and Niger) and draws conclusion for policy to tackle population pressure related conflict risks. The results are presented to practionners in several events.

Research Design and Methods

After providing a brief overview of developments regarding population growth, we explicate the academic state of the art on the link between population growth and security, including some evidence on population growth rates and conflict occurrence in Africa as a whole. We then investigate three pertinent cases in more detail – Egypt, Mali, and Niger. The report concludes by summarizing the findings and outlining recommendations for future policy. 

Preliminary Findings

Africa remains a trouble-ridden continent, and population growth can be one factor that fuels these conflicts. African countries with higher levels of population growth indeed show on average an increased risk of violent conflict. However, absolute population growth is most probably not the prime cause of conflicts across Africa or even worldwide. Demographics are rather a secondary factor, engendering or increasing risks only in conjunction with other factors, especially economic ones. However, differential population growth, in particular a high or growing share of (male) youth, seems to increase security challenges. Generally, societal divisions and economic suffering can worsen when population pressures increase and governments prove unable to tackle related challenges.