Thematic research programmes

Africa reflects rapid global changes. To understand the global complexity, a more forward-looking research strategy is required. For instance, broad and mutually beneficial intellectual cooperation between researchers in the Nordic and African regions is indispensable to finding the most appropriate and sustainable solutions to the current development challenges in Africa.

Economic growth and challenges of poverty

Significant strides towards eliminating poverty have been made in the past decades, and extreme poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 1990. This trend is also notable in Africa; statistics show how African poverty has been on a declining trend over the past 15 years. However, poverty reduction is slower in Africa than on any other continent, and the high level of economic inequality implies that the poverty-reducing impact of growth is less straightforward than what was believed, due to the poverty and inequality traps. There is thus no automatic one-to-one relationship between economic growth and poverty alleviation. Alleviating poverty and reducing inequality in Africa are essential to ensuring sustainable livelihoods on the continent.

Climate change and sustainable development

The challenge of climate change has no borders. Human activities worldwide entail consequences for the way we all live and for the future of our planet. The effects of climate change are not a matter of speculation; people’s lives are being affected by rising sea levels and extreme weather. The UN has called for urgent action to tackle climate change and its impacts in the sustainable development agenda. The impacts of climate change are likely to strike Africa more severely than any other continent. Many African countries and regions are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, given their limited adaptive capacity, due to their geographical location, widespread poverty and low development levels. Water stress is projected to affect between 75 million and 250 million people on the continent by 2020. The high dependency on agriculture also implies that a large share of the African population risk malnourishment in the face of global warming.

Gender equality, human rights and social change

The sustainable development goals aim to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Gender inequality is a global problem, causing social progress and economic growth to stagnate worldwide. Inequalities for girls and women can follow them through life, entailing deprivation of access to health care, proper nutrition, education and job opportunities. For Africa, gender inequality slows down the process of poverty alleviation both through the loss of potential growth that could have come from women who are excluded from the growth process; and by excluding women from education and health care, hindering their rise out of poverty. Despite many successes for African women and girls in the past decades, women still constitute the majority of the continent’s poor, are more likely to drop out of school than boys and are less likely to be employed in the formal sector. Furthermore, maternal mortality rates remain high in many African countries and many women are victims of domestic violence. Ending all forms of discrimination against girls and women, and ensuring equal access to health care, education and participation in political, economic and public life is key to Africa’s development.

Conflict, security and democratic transformation

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, of which the SDGs are a part, is dedicated to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, the provision of justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. Societies affected by violent conflict often suffer from flawed democratic institutions and processes, human rights abuses and low levels of economic growth, as well as lack of access to education and health care. Furthermore, there is a dominant international agenda to find solutions to the threats of terrorism and organised crime. Armed interstate and intrastate conflicts, civil wars and terrorism are major challenges in many African regions. Understanding the driving forces behind conflicts, and exploring the many challenges of post-conflict transformation are imperative to promoting security and sustainable development in all aspects of life.

Mobility and migration

Understanding Africa’s migratory movements is equal to the challenge of understanding the social, economic and political developments on the continent. Migration can take many shapes and forms: internal movements such as rural–urban migration (and in some regions urban–rural); and cross-border and intercontinental migration due to conflict, ecological or economic downturns. As part of their goal to reduce inequality, the SDGs call for orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. In the face of increasing intercontinental mobility, African migration has become a global concern, not least for the EU and the Nordic countries. It is becoming increasingly clear that the need to understand the complexity of migration has increased at the same time as numbers of migrants have grown. However, international research on migration-related issues as regards the African continent has been unable to provide adequate and sufficient analysis of the whole spectrum of issues that need to be addressed.

To the top