MORE PEOPLE, FEWER FARMERS, CONGESTED CITIES
Africa has always depended on its people. Their industry; their intrinsic innovativeness; and their resilience in the face of the challenges of debilitating diseases, limited educational opportunities, poor soils, challenging rainfalls, and intense poverty have permitted many unexpected triumphs over adversity. But until now their total people numbers have not been worryingly large, compared to the rest of the world. Nor have those cascading numbers threatened to diminish the past decade’s healthy per capita economic growth advances. Sub-Saharan African fertility rates hitherto have not greatly exceeded those of the rest of the globe, their youth proportions not grown exponentially, their urban inhabitant percentages not equaled those of Asia, nor have their probable pressures on available national resources seemed so stark. Over the next decade, and for the remainder of the twenty-first century, all of these relatively comfortable expectations will shift. How Africa takes advantage of its new demographical opportunities and realities will determine how Africa advances, and how Africa’s peoples prosper.
Half of all of the persons born in the world from now until 2050 will be Africans. Sub-Saharan Africa is growing faster than any other part of the world, despite HIV-AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrheal and many other ailments, drunk drivers, high rates of infant and maternal mortality, and the rest. Fertility rates have fallen considerably, but at a sub-Saharan average of more than 2.2 children per woman, African fertility now exceeds every other section of the globe. Its families are larger, with more dependent children, than anywhere else. Its median age is younger, at 20, than other continents or parts of continents. Even at mid-century, sub-Saharan Africa will have the globe’s youngest population, with a median age in 2050 of 38. By then sub-Saharan Africa may have realized a beneficial demographic dividend, or not.
If the growth in aggregation of the planet’s peoples follows today’s official predictions, in 2100 there will be 10 billion of us. About 4.6 million will be Asian, 3.7 million African, .7 million living in Latin America and the Caribbean, another .7 million in Europe, .5 million in North America, and under .1 million residing across the scattered islands and continents in Oceania. Those numbers represent a major shift in percentages of the total from today, when Asians, Europeans, and North Americans are much larger percentages of the whole. Africa’s puny size will swell, and nearly all of the major explosion in new peoples will come from a sub-Saharan Africa that will burst its own seams.
Whereas Africa in 1975 had half the population of Europe, it exceeded Europe’s entire population in 2004 and will have doubled Europe’s total numbers by 2020. By 2050 (compared to 2010), Africa should have doubled in size, containing 2 billion people, Europe just 720 million. This will mean major shifts in the sizes of Africa’s countries. Nigeria, now 162 million and the ninth largest nation-state in the world, will grow and grow until at the end of the century it holds 730 million people and has become the third largest polity on the planet. Kenya will grow from 40 million to 160 million. Ethiopia is expected to swell from 83 million in 2010 to 150 million in 2100. Little Malawi, a poor sliver of a narrow country in southern Africa, will expand from 15 million to 129 million. Guinea will increase from 10 million to 37 million over the same period. Even the Gambia, a tiny place along the river of the same name, will increase from 1.7 million in 2010 to 6 million in 2100.
Asia benefited significantly from growing population numbers in the 1980s and 1990s, and from the wedge of working-age citizens that naturally accompanied that surge. Asia was poised to educate its new young people, and did so to dramatic effect in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Taiwan. Investment in the upcoming generations of their young people enhanced productivity, attracted foreign investors, boosted personal incomes and consumer spending, led through a healthy multiplier effect to great advances in national GDPs and consequent continuous improvements in the living standards of succession of youthful cohorts, and finally caused lowered fertility rates that boosted per capita incomes and improved dependency ratios. That was the happy demographic dividend: more and more workers could support those younger than 15 and older than 35, leading to happy and prosperous outcomes because official policies were put in place nearly everywhere in Asia to take full advantage of the dividend’s potential. The tigers (and some near tigers, like Indonesia) did so, and prospered as nations together with their citizens.
Africans could claim the same opportunity, and make it their own. The nations of sub-Saharan Africa could well follow Asia, and ride high anticipated population waves toward the long deferred goal of higher real incomes and social attainments. But transforming that claim into a substantive opportunity is far from guaranteed. What will make a major difference between success and failure is a replica or at least a near replica of the serendipitously wise policy solutions devised in Asia. Those included sensible macroeconomic decisions regarding the openness and stability of economies, meaningful attacks on prevalent patterns of corruption, the considered reduction of conflict and war-mongering, transparent elections and political stability, overall good governance, and – critically vital – responsible and far-sighted leadership.