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African conflicts displace over 40 million people

By the Africa Center for Strategic Studies

ADDIS ABABA - Continuing a decade long trend, the number of Africans who are forcibly displaced has risen over the past year and now totals over 40 million people.

An additional 3.2 million Africans have been displaced due to conflict over the past year. This represents a 13-percent increase and continues an unchecked upward trend observed since 2011.

There are now an estimated 40.4 million forcibly displaced Africans (internally displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers), more than double the figure in 2016. For perspective, 40 million forcibly displaced people is more than the populations of Angola, Ghana, or Morocco.

More than 77 percent of these 40 million are internally displaced within their countries. Of those who leave their country of origin an estimated 96 percent stay in Africa. Most of those that move off the continent do so via legal channels (e.g., resettlement or education visas).

Of the 15 African countries generating the largest number of forcibly displaced people, 14 are experiencing conflict. Twelve of these 15 countries are also authoritarian leaning, underscoring that exclusive government is both a direct (via repression) and indirect (via conflict) driver of forced displacement.

Recognizing and addressing these primary drivers, therefore, is critical to alleviating the observable symptoms of record numbers of forcibly displaced people.

Many of the 16 African countries in conflict are contiguous, stretching from the western Sahel through the Horn of Africa, encompassing the Lake Chad Basin and Great Lakes regions. This is a reminder of the spillover these conflicts have on regional stability.

An illustration of this is Sudan. The clash between the army and the main paramilitary force has caused civilians to flee the violence into six neighbouring countries, many of which are already grappling with their own or other rounds of regional instability.

Below, are the five countries that saw the biggest increases in the numbers of forcibly displaced people over the past year. These five are responsible for 64 percent of the forced displacement on the continent.

Climate-linked Forced Displacement is Up Too

- Over the past year, the number of people displaced due to natural disasters surged almost threefold—to 7 million. This jump follows a trend of consistently growing levels of natural disaster-related displacement in Africa since 2014.

- Historically, forced displacement due to climatic impacts has tended to be more temporary than displacement due to conflict—precisely because there is no ongoing fear of safety to oneself and family due to violence. Most everyone affected by a natural disaster was able to return home once the threat passed. This has changed in recent years. Since 2019, there has been roughly 2 million people who have been unable to return “after the storm” due to the persistence of these threats–mostly flooding, followed by drought and storms. This figure expanded to 3.2 million in 2022.

- Protracted conflict and climate crises have been causing more permanent shifts of populations from rural to urban settlements, seeking security, stability, and livelihoods. Since the infrastructural development and employment opportunities of many urban centers on the continent are not keeping ahead of these population influxes, most of these forcibly displaced are moving into informal settlements with no public services or livelihoods on the outskirts of cities and major towns.