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Africa, Governance, Leadership

Consummate Challenges for Africa: Demographic Dividends, Governance, and Leadership

Africa Growth Report 2012 —  Robert I. Rotberg

Sub-Saharan Africa is exploding demographically beyond all but expert expectations. This coming youth bulge could create the kinds of population dividends that came decades ago to Asia. Productivity of all kinds could increase as educational attainments grow, fertility gradually shrinks, diseases are conquered, foreign and domestic firms invest to supply burgeoning markets, and outsiders (and the world’s media) recognize and celebrate sub-Saharan Africa’s new found potential. Or the coming potential demographic advantages could be forfeited. Most of sub-Saharan Africa’s forty-nine nations could be saddled with immense unmet social consequences, innumerable unrequited aspirations, painful intrastate conflict, crime, corruption, and cascading degradation. As a number of authors in this 2012 Africa Growth Report have indicated, whether or not sub-Saharan Africa benefits from its coming demographic surge depends almost entirely on whether its attributes of leadership and governance continue to strengthen rapidly, and whether its leaders can improve what are now weak rule of law institutions, enhance transparency and accountability (and media freedom), reduce rampant corruption, and deliver key political goods to their citizens, more of whom today consider themselves middle class, with accompanying desires to have governments serve their needs, not the other way round. Populations throughout sub-Saharan Africa will double, in some cases triple and quadruple, by mid-century or before. Crowded cities and countries will become more packed, in some places to surprising degrees. There will be no way to avoid coming to terms with vast numbers; literally, there will be no places to hide, especially for would-be leaders.

Demographic Realities

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 equalled 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, diarrhea 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. Within Africa, population numbers will show important and in some cases surprising alterations, decade by decade. In southern Africa, for example, South Africa will hardly grow over the century, from 50 million in 2010 to 54 million in 2100, Botswana will increase from 2 million to 2.4 million, Namibia will only enlarge from 2.2 million to 3.7 million, but Zimbabwe will almost double, to 21 million, Mozambique will increase from 23 million to 77 million, Zambia will zoom from 13 million to 140 million, Malawi will show the burst of people already noted, and Congo (Kinshasa) will increase from 67 million to 212 million and become the globe’s eighth largest entity, preceded by Pakistan and Indonesia and followed by the Philippines and Brazil.

Footnote: 1 UN Population Division, World Population Prospects, 2010 Revision,, 2011, accessed 12 December 2011. All subsequent population predictions, below, are from this source unless otherwise noted.

In this southern African sub-region, at least, the wealthiest and best governed countries will grow much more slowly than the others. The possibility of poverty will intensify if, as is likely, population numbers grow faster than jobs are created in the cities or on the land. Unless the nations of relatively well off southern Africa manage to educate their peoples in greater numbers and to higher standards than today, skills shortages will swell, and the educational advances that helped to create Asian tigers and widespread Asian prosperity in the twentieth century will escape southern Africa and its youth bulge for much of the twenty-first century. These conclusions are still robust in this one sub-region if, instead of projecting UN predictions to 2100, we look ahead only to 2020 or 2030. Congo will not quite have doubled in size, from 66 million to 105 million, but still over the next twenty years there will be 50 million more mouths to feed, clothe, educate, and care for medically. Malawi will double to 28 million; desperately poor now, can it cope? Madagascar, in a situation similar to Malawi, will grow from 20 to 35 million. Will there be a government in place in Madagascar that can plan appropriately for so many more people? Zambia will double, to 24 million. If China flourishes and copper supplies do not run out, Zambia might be well placed to become much more advanced than Malawi, Madagascar, and Congo. If not, its prospects are problematic. Mozambique and Zimbabwe will both grow marginally, to 35 and 17 million, respectively, over the same period. If democracy breaks out in time, Zimbabwe might be able to resume its onetime position as the best educated and therefore potentially the most prosperous country in Africa, proportionally. If not, not. For South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, the increases from 2010 to 2030 are about the same as they are from 2010 to 2100; in other words, they will not experience the fertility splurges that their poorer neighbors will display. And the rich ought therefore to get richer, proportionally, and profit accordingly from the demographical transition. Even though the last three countries, and Zimbabwe, will lose size proportionally in Africa, they should become relatively more prosperous per capita, working
from an already high potential. In Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa, high fertility rates and medical care improvements will bring about large upward shifts and several surprises for policy makers given the estimated future population sizes of nearly all of the components of this combined sub-region. Tanzania, in 2010 a nation-state with a mere 45 million people, grows to 82 million in 2030, 138 million in 2050, and a huge (for Africa) 316 million in 2100. It will then be the fifth large nation-state in the world. Compact Uganda, startlingly, begins with 33 million people and then swells rapidly in 2030 to 60 million, to 94 million in 2050, and then to a crowded 171 million in 2100. Next door Kenya grows at the same time from 41 million to 66 million, then to 97 million, and finally in 2100 to a projected 160 million. Ethiopia, in 2010 about 83 million, will grow to 119 million in 2030, 145 million in 2050, and only to 150 million in 2100. The Sudan’s estimates for the same years are: 44, 67, 91, and 128 million respectively (including South Sudan, not independent at the time that the projections were developed). In 2011, South Sudan’s population was estimated at 8.2 million; it will likely grow much faster than its northern neighbor so, rather than tripling, South Sudan could quadruple in people to 32-36 million in 2100. Somalia’s comparable numbers (including Somaliland and Puntland) are: 9,16, 28, and 73 million. Tiny and already densely peopled Rwanda increases from 11 million to 18, 26, and 42 million for the respective years. Burundi, with the same volatile ethnic mix, increases more slowly from 8, to 11, 14, and 15 million over the same period. Eritrea grows from 5 million to 8, 12, and 15 million. Djibouti, the smallest polity in the combined region, goes from .9 million to 1.2, 1.6, and 1.9 million over the century. The East African Community, now embracing five countries and poised someday to enroll Somalia and South Sudan, will grow much larger than its northern Horn of Africa neighbors. At the same time, with so many new people, arable land resources will remain limited, except in South Sudan, climate change could wreak havoc and marginalize drier areas now used for grazing. Unless the swelling cities of this combined region can absorb vast legions of incomers, and employ them (a major question), the per capita economic and social prospects of Ugandans, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Rwandans, and the rest will remain at serious risk.

In West and Equatorial Africa, Nigeria, as already noted, becomes over the period to 2100 the third largest polity on the planet, up from seventh place. In the nearer term, it grows from 162 million now to 258 million in 2030, 390 million in 2050, and 730 in 2100. (India is projected to hold 1.6 billion persons and China only 941 million in 2100. The United States will be the fourth most populous country, with 478 million.) That is, Nigeria will have approximately seven-eighths as many Africans in 2100 as all of sub- Saharan Africa holds now (856 million). No other country will be so well-peopled in Africa over the century. More than one-fifth of all sub-Saharan Africans (3.4 million in 2100) will be Nigerian compared to less than one-fifth now. (In 2030 there will be 1.3 billion sub-Saharan Africans, in 2050 nearly 2 billion.) This massive growth is based on the assumptions that fertility rates per woman will decline only slowly, from 5+ to 4+ in the next twenty years, dipping under 4 per woman after 2035, and that the yearly percentage of population growth, now well over 2.5 percent, shifts under 2.1 percent (the replacement rate) annually only in the decades after 2045. Demographers further base their predictions for Africa on enduring falls in infant, child, and maternal mortality rates, a slowing of the AIDS epidemic, only a very gradual spread of modern contraceptive use from its current low base, and no new dramatic threats to African survival. Implicitly, for Nigeria and the rest of Africa and the world, the UN Population Division presumes that natural disasters, increases in literacy and educational attainments, the results of catastrophic climate alterations, the spread of new and old diseases, intensive population planning, and major interstate wars and intrastate conflicts will not slow population growth severely. The median age of Nigerians is predicted to remain between 18 and 20 until 2040. Ten years later it will be 23. At that point, 420 Nigerians will inhabit the average single sq. km of the country, contrasted with 173 now. (Rwanda, Africa’s most densely populated place, will have increased from 403 persons to 987 persons per each sq. km over the same period – a density five times that of Japan. Sub-Saharan Africa’s average density per capita across the entire region will grow from 35 per sq. km in 2010, to 45 in 2020, 56 in 2030, 81 in 2050, and 138 per sq km in 2100 – not impossible high concentrations compared to Asia, but very congested for a continent with large deserts and comparatively limited arable land.

By contrast, all of Nigeria’s West and Equatorial African peers will remain relatively small in size. Niger, to Nigeria’s north, the home of uranium deposits and with empty semi-desert spaces leading to its northern border with Libya, will more than double its population in fewer than 20 years. So will Liberia. Niger moves stridently from 16 million to 31 and 55 million and then to 139 million in 2100.  Mali expands rapidly from 15 million in 2010 to 27 million in 2030, 42 million in 2050, and 81 million in 2100. Ghana will increase 24 million in 2010 to 37, 49, and 67 million in 2030, 2050, and 2100. Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s premier cocoa producer, swell comparatively slowly from a 2010 size of 20 million to 30 million, 41 million, and 57 million.  Chad, largely consisting of shifting desert and much dry land, surprises by growing from 11 million in 2010 to 18 million, 27 million, and 44 million. Guinea accelerates from 10 million to 16, 23, and 37 million. Sierra Leone increases in size from 6 million to only 9 million, 11 million, and 14 million. The forlorn Central African Republic starts at 4 million and becomes 6 million in 2030, 8 million in 2050, and 11 million in 2100. Guinea-Bissau’s progression over the same years is from 1.5 to 2.3, 3.2, and 5.5 million. Gabon’s 2010 baseline is only the same 1.5 million. That becomes 2.1 and 2.8 million in 2030 and 2050, and only 3.8 million in 2100.

All of sub-Saharan Africa, even some of the smaller countries not listed or discussed here, will experience significant population growths according to the estimates advanced by the UN Population Division. Sub-Saharan Africa will be larger than Europe and Latin America and more than half the size of Asia. Will the Africans who now feed themselves still be able to do so? Will agricultural pressure of people on the desiccated lands of the Sahel, combined with the probable effects of global warming, mean a rapid creep southward of Saharan desertification across Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and the Sudan? Will the larger places, such as Nigeria, which have relied for decades on trading oil revenues for food imports, still be able to import foodstuffs and other consumables in the quantities necessary for such expanded populations? Will the poorest countries in the world on average manage to continue growing rapidly to provide education and health services for their ever larger populations? How will they manage the inevitable social stresses of enhanced populations characterized by prominent youth bulges? How and when will the necessary jobs be created? If they are not, what is in store for Africans?

Governance Weaknesses

Only a handful of sub-Saharan Africa’s countries are well governed. Botswana, on the mainland, and the island nations of Mauritius, the Seychelles, Cape Verde, and even Sao Tome and Principe, all shine. According to the governance ranking scheme created by the authors of Strengthening African Governance: the Index of African Governance (2007, 2008, 2009) and now carried forward by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, those countries perform best for their citizens. They supply the five critical political goods of safety and security, rule of law and transparency, political participation and human rights, sustainable economic growth, and human development (education, health, etc.) to the citizens in quantities and qualities surpassing other African countries. Namibia, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, and Gabon usually follow the smaller nation-states in the rankings. But sub-Saharan Africa’s remaining thirty-nine countries, and all of the North African ones, are lower in the rankings. And the “worst of the worst,” according to governance criteria, are the collapsed, failed, and very weak states that traditionally have fallen to the bottom of the Index of African Governance and most international indexes that examine Africa: Somalia (but not Somaliland), the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, the Central African Republic, Eritrea (with its little known but appalling human rights record), South Sudan, Guinea-Bissau (a major narcotrafficking center), Guinea, Equatorial Guinea (a despotic, viciously corrupt, oil maven), Cameroon, Togo, and Angola (where vast oil riches fail to trickle down). In the middle of the rankings are places like Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi (which ranks higher than one might expect), Kenya, Tanzania, and heavily-controlled Rwanda. Madagascar and the Comoros, both with significant problems, fall even lower in the annual rankings. What this means is that much of sub-Saharan Africa operates deep in governmental deficit. Only a few places, such as Botswana and Mauritius, have really enshrined participatory (democratic) values, fostered proper rules of law, welcomed speech and assembly freedoms, and mostly banished corruption. Rwanda is trying hard. South Africa suffers increasingly across this corruption dimension, and also rates less well than it might because of high crime rates (safety), and increasing questions about its belief in the sanctity of the rule of law. Many countries batter the press and control the media (as in Zimbabwe). Some of the poor countries fail to vaccinate their children or provide adequate supplies of clean water. Only a few, again Botswana and Mauritius, educate their young persistently well. In some countries, too, fundamental infrastructures (such as roads) have deteriorated over decades, none more dramatically than in the DRC. Dangerous civil conflict persists, too, especially in Somalia, the DRC, the Sudan, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Mauritania. Rape is used as a weapon of war, especially in the DRC. Internal wars also are poised to break out in Zimbabwe,
Kenya, Guinea, and Madagascar. If Africa is to benefit from the demographic surge, and potential dividend, its leaders will have to ramp up their adherence to principles of good governance and the delivery of quality goods? The key question going forward is: will they become masters of their continent’s fate, or its victims?

The Leadership Deficit

For more than fifty years most of sub-Saharan Africa has endured a massive leadership deficit. If responsible, effective leadership is measured by results, then the early and middle decades of Africa’s post-colonial experience produced little in terms of real gains. In too many countries, food shortages grew, poverty intensified, economic growth was nugatory, life expectancies remained low, and educational advances were few. Security and safety became more, rather than less, compromised in too many places. Independence produced new castes of elites, many of whom grew wealthy, but – until this century – too few of the rewards that should have flowed from independence were returned to Africa’s peoples. Nelson Mandela demonstrated how ennobling good leadership could be. By his determination to be inclusive, to embrace all South Africans; by his refusal to demand vengeance; and by his focus on doing what was respectful and right, Mandela gave his followers (all South Africans, and Africans elsewhere) a supreme sense of being integral parts of a greater and lofty whole. He conveyed a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging to a higher, meaningful enterprise. Although Mandela was in presidential office too briefly to deliver many material improvements, his leadership helped to transform his own country’s expectations and African attitudes more generally. A few other leaders in post-colonial Africa were equally transformative.

President Sir Seretse Khama in Botswana created a well-functioning nation and a new sustainable democratic political culture by emphasizing the importance in new polities of strict adherence to the rule of law, respect for fundamental human rights, non-ideological transparency and accountability, and intolerance for corruption. In offshore Mauritius, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam did the same, and also ensured freedom of the media and assembly. Both leaders also insisted on significant performance: they delivered to their people gradual advances in educational opportunity and medical care, and critically presided over unprecedented decades of rapid economic growth. Botswana and Mauritius were the original African lions, joining the Asian tigers in bringing serious prosperity to their peoples, not to themselves or their families. Khama and Ramgoolam were largely derided by other African leaders in the 1960s and 1970s for their refusal to embrace Afrosocialism and one-party rule. During those years, and until the 1990s,much of sub-Saharan Africa instead suffered under despots like Idi Amin and Jean-Bedel Bokassa. Or, as in Nigeria and Zaire/Congo, pumped-up military officers occupied state houses, took what wealth there was and left their people poor and insecure. Even where there were elected political heads-of-state, there was little leadership. Few had a vision of uplifting their people. Few understood that their role was not solely to enrich themselves and dash around in motorcades and fly lavishly overseas. Today, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe exemplifies the worst of the worst kinds of leadership, having driven his citizens backward economically, educationally, and medically, and made them much more insecure. His opposites are leaders such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, recently re-elected in Liberia, and perhaps someone like Goodluck Jonathan in large and tumultuous Nigeria. Michael Sata might perform well in Zambia and John Atta-Mills in Ghana, over time. Now Africa’s newly emergent middle class demands better, responsive, participatory political leadership. They ask for leaders who have a comprehensive vision of uplift and service, who express emotional and possess analytical intelligence, who can operate with integrity and intellectual honesty, and who understand that their election to high office is much more than an opportunity to amass wealth and power. If Africans are going to take advantage of their potential demographic dividend, if they are truly to turn a population surge to beneficent purposes, and if they are to benefit from global developments in the favorable manner suggested by several of the optimistic contributions to this volume, then Africa must truly become well and wisely led. That is Africa’s key opportunity, and its toughest challenge.



2 thoughts on “Consummate Challenges for Africa: Demographic Dividends, Governance, and Leadership

  1. This is the most worrying forward-looking report on Africa`s future. It should lie on the desks of all policy makers dealing with Africa. It should be a major basis for the EU long-term Africa strategy. Indeed, Europe will suffer most from Africa`s uncontrolled demographic growth and be overwhelmed with poor and illiterate migrants from the Ssouth, for whom it is not preparedr
    Unfortunately the report fails to make any policy proposals.that is its single most important shortcoming.
    Eberhard Rhein
    European Policy Centre, Brussels
    eberhard.rhein@telenet. be

    Posted by Rhein, Ebehard | April 16, 2012, 10:23 am
    • Thank you for your welcome comment on my blog. Please let me know what ideas you have regarding policy recommendations re the blog posting on which you commented. I have also just posted a notice of my just published book on Transformative Political Leadership.

      Posted by rrotberg | May 9, 2012, 3:18 pm

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