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A long-standing, primarily qualitative body of scholarship has debated whether Africa’s historically lower population densities are one of the factors responsible for some of the governance and developmental problems experienced by societies across the continent. This paper draws on this debate but applies a quantitative and geospatial approach by leveraging Afrobarometer Round 7 survey data and localised population density data to determine whether population density patterns are related to current governance outcomes at the sub-national level in sub-Saharan Africa. The primary sample is cross-sectional and reveals that meaningful statistical relationships do exist between variations in population density and experiences and perceptions of governance related to infrastructure quality, institutional trust, the rule of law, and citizens’ satisfaction with government. Higher population densities at the sub-national level are associated with improved infrastructure but are also linked with lower trust in institutions, decreased satisfaction with government, and decreased confidence in the rule of law. These results are confirmed when we include several individual-level and group-level control variables, as well as when we use a second, independent data set. These findings have significant implications for policy makers across the fastest-growing and fastest-urbanising region in the world.

Pranish Desai

Pranish Desai is a researcher with Good Governance Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa