Abstract This paper investigates the asymmetric effect in the energy-growth nexus. Using the data for real GDP per capita and energy consumption per capita over the period 1971-2008, we examine the relationship for 12 sub-Saharan African countries employing hidden cointegration approach. For Gabon, Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire, the results show that their growth rates could be adversely affected by conservation policies. However, for Benin, Kenya and Sudan the results show that conservation policies could enhance the growth process in these countries. We also find instances of policy dilemma for Nigeria and Benin that conform to both the growth and the conservation hypotheses.