African Continent: Challenges of Climate and Demographic Changes



African Continent: Challenges of Climate and Demographic Changes

Impacts of climate change and growing population, as well as the threats to human development – such as poverty, crime and health – could lead to insecurity and instability in African countries. Hence, the continent must already start preparing to deal with these risk factors. For this purpose, paying close attention to business-intelligence and geopolitical-risk-analysis will help stakeholders to understand the risks involved in Africa and how to mitigate them.

In 2019, a United Nations’ report concluded that the global population could reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. An interesting estimation from the report was that the countries of sub-Saharan Africa could account for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2019 and 2050.

This will have a significant impact on world politics, global economy, and business. The scope of change could be enormous. Firms and investors would be tempted to invest heavily in Africa owing to an increased population and skew long-term strategic plans to cash in on the demographic windfall.

It is usually argued that, under the right conditions, a young population can help spur economic growth. If sustained economic growth is achieved, demand for upgraded infrastructure and amenities would also exist. Accordingly, large international businesses would want to meet those demands, especially when the populations in other parts of the world would not be growing as fast as Africa’s.

Climate change problems

Yet, these demographic trends also overlap with the core problem of the 21st century: climate change. In Africa, this problem will be exasperated by the continent’s present security problems, which rely heavily on ecology. For example, a study by the World Bank found that conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa was more likely to take place after years of poor rainfall.

It is worth noting here that the UN currently starts its data for population sizes from 1950, which helps the policy-makers to see into the distant future and anticipate the trends better. The businesses should do the same, especially when trying to foresee problems and opportunities within its strategy.

Considering the present population trend in Africa, the businesses and investors might well find the continent appealing for strategic development. However, the impact of climate change is a much worrying factor for any investment in the continent. They should be even more wary of the climate change impacts in those states that are unstable or economies that are not fully advanced.

In a recently published book, Africa security scholars Stephen Emerson and Hussein Solomon claim

“What is frequently overlooked by outside observers is African scarcity conflict fueled by heightened competition over basic livelihood resources, such as land, water, and pasture”.

There is data to demonstrate that localized violence over the aforesaid basic resources is already increasing across the continent. One study even concluded that approximately 35% of all conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa is resource related. Furthermore, the UN Peacekeeping operational experts gauge that 40% of all intra-state conflict globally in the past sixty years had links to natural resources.

In fact, resources have been used in the past to fund militias and insurgencies such as the infamous ‘blood diamonds’ during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991 – 2002) that helped fuel war crimes.

Although wars over water have not taken place yet, there is a strong possibility that this resource could trigger conflicts in future. Indeed, climate change will act as an intensifier of conflicts and violence.

Chances of conflict

There remains a huge risk that the local problems could spin out of control into a wider national or international security crisis. For instance, during the second war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the civil war resulted in military interventions by Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Although nation-to-nation war in Africa is now relatively infrequent, this does not mean that there would not be any conflict between/among African nations in future. After all, there is the risk that the projected impacts of climate change in Africa twinned with a rapidly expanding population across the continent could flare-up international conflicts.

However, climate change impacts and growing population would be giving rise to more intrastate low-intensity conflict than the international ones. These two factors are more likely to result in the intensification and proliferation of small-scale low-intensity conflict, the kind that already occurs in the continent. For example, competition between herdsmen and farmers over water and arable land fuels much of the internal violence of the Sahel. Climate change and the expanding demographics will mean that these may become more widespread, longer-lasting and intense.

Alongside the climate change impacts and growing population, the threats to human development – such as poverty, crime and health – could lead to insecurity and instability. Indeed, the threats to human development historically led the African countries to instability. Hence, the continent must already start preparing to deal with these risk factors.

Paying close attention to business-intelligence and geopolitical-risk-analysis will help the businesses and investors to understand the risks involved in Africa and how to mitigate them. An understanding of the present public policies of African countries will allow businesses to observe whether or not a country is putting proper mechanisms in place to mitigate future risks. It is very much certain that over the coming years, some countries will adapt and plan better than others.

Moreover, the businesses should also pay close attention to other problems in case the aforesaid problems act as catalysts for other grievances to result in instability, creating further risks.

In Conclusion

Prior to making investments or other plans, it would be prudent for businesses, which want to operate in a specific country or geographic area, to devote the time necessary to understand the dynamics of the conflicts in that country/area. For example, it would be helpful to understand the nature of violence that usually occur in a particular area. After all, it would certainly help a business to take an appropriate decision regarding investment into a country if the business knew that small-scale violence can be mitigated far easier than the potential for international war, or deeply ingrained guerrilla insurgencies or terrorist cells.

These risk-factors may seem a lot for businesses and investors to analyze. An agribusiness or an investment bank is not in the geopolitical analysis industry, after all.

Hence, businesses and investors that are looking to invest in African countries have the option of reaching out to those people who are professionally engaged in the field of analyzing the relevant risks involved for a particular industry in a given region/country/area.

The consultancy from such experts would help the businesses and investors to understand, and decide, whether or not to invest in an African country given the facts that the climate change impacts are worsening in Africa, the continent’s populations are expanding and there are more extreme and pressing factors today in the world than ever before.



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