Mobile phone coverage and violent conflict

Klaus Ackermann, Sefa Awaworyi Churchill and Russell Smyth


We examine the effects of mobile phone coverage on violent conflicts in Africa using a new monthly panel dataset on mobile phone coverage at 55x55km grid cell levels for 32 African countries covering the period from 2008 to 2018. The base rate of a conflict event in a month across our data set is 0.0039 with a standard deviation of 0.0620. We find that access to mobile phone coverage increases the probability of a conflict occurring in the next month by 0.0028. This finding is robust to a suite of sensitivity checks including the use of various specifications and alternative datasets.

We examine heterogeneity on the impact of mobile phone coverage across state-based conflict, non-state-based conflict and one-sided conflict, and find that our results are being driven by non-state conflicts. We examine economic growth as a channel through which mobile phone coverage influences conflict. In doing so, we construct new satellite data for night-time light activity as a proxy for economic growth.

We find that economic activity is a channel through which mobile phone coverage influences conflicts, and that higher economic growth weakens the positive effect of mobile phone coverage on conflict.

Read the paper