In 1970, there were 360 million Africans and they amounted to a tenth of the world’s population. If fertility were to drop roughly in line with Asia’s 1970-2000 trajectory, there would be 2.1 billion Africans by 2050. If it continues on its current path, there will be 2.7 billion—a quarter of the global population then. Africa’s population will almost triple in 40 years.
This extra half-billion people will damage Africa’s prospects. The continent will find it hard to educate the next generation—and education is the most important step in realising the demographic dividend. By 2050, there could be twice as many Africans below 14 years of age as there are now.
Despite a decade of growth, the continent is not generating enough jobs in the formal economy to finance education properly. And if population growth and urbanisation continue at their current pace, the continent’s big cities could become ungovernable. Kinshasa could have 30m people by 2050; Lagos, 40m. That would make them larger and harder to manage than China’s giant cities are now.
Recent census and survey data suggest that African fertility is falling more slowly than the UN had expected in 2010, when it produced its regular worldwide population survey. Since then, 17 African countries with half the continent’s population have reported fertility rates higher than the UN had estimated. Only ten, with 14% of the population, came in lower. In almost all countries fertility is falling. But in about half of them, the fall has slowed down and in a few cases it has stopped.
Many economists fret that the recent story of “rising Africa”—a virtuous circle of economic growth and improved governance—is already starting to wear thin. Dani Rodrik of Princeton University, for example, reckons that manufacturing and private investment have hardly budged despite a decade of rising incomes. Some economists, to be sure, say that Africa is ripe for a manufacturing surge. But it is still the case that African growth depends heavily on commodity exports to China, where demand for raw materials is slowing.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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