Africa’s population boom doesn’t mark demographic dividends

A few years ago, John Magufuli, the late former president of Tanzania, encouraged women to “throw away the Pill” and “continue to reproduce” to make their country great.

Magufuli, a Covid denier, is now dead – of Covid. But his point of view persists. The idea of ​​limiting population growth in Africa is controversial, often for good reason. It’s hard to debunk telling people not to have children from a lewd history of forced sterilization, racism, and eugenics.

Many African leaders – 53 out of 54 are men – believe that it is not their own business to have how many children their people choose to have. Population density in most African countries is not high. The continent is 9 times larger than India with a slightly smaller population.

The fertility rate in Africa is much higher than the world average

Jimi Wanjigi, a Kenyan businessman and political strategist, wants his country’s women to have more children so that Kenya has “the bargaining power of other populous countries”. If more people are the target, the Kenyans are doing well. Based on United Nations Development Program projections, Kenya’s population will be 90 million by 2050, nearly double what it is today and 15 times its 1950 level.

The average Kenyan woman has 3.4 children. This is higher than the 2.1 for which the population is stable, but much lower than the African average of 4.4. Countries with much higher fertility rates include Tanzania’s Magafuli (4.9 children), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (6.0) and Niger (7.0). Nigeria will surpass 400 million people by 2050, overtaking the US to become the world’s third most populous country.

If Africa’s population is exploding, much of the world is moving in the opposite direction. In Europe, the Americas, and parts of Asia, fertility rates have fallen below 2.1, indicating a declining population. In Japan, the population is decreasing by one person per minute. Wherever Japan goes, China and Europe will follow.

In the near future, most of the world population growth will be in Africa. In 1980, one in ten of the world’s population was African, writes Edward Paice, author of a new book Youthquakee and director of the Institute of African Studies. By 2050, that will be one in four. By that time, one-third of the world’s working-age population, defined as between the ages of 15 and 64, will be African, though by no means all of them will be working. If the raw numbers are counted, as Jimi Wanjigi emphasizes, then Africa, often seen as the periphery, becomes more central in world affairs.

Marimekko shows Africa's rapidly growing population

For others, these trends are disastrous, promising more hunger, more conflict and more environmental destruction. Yes, demographic alarmists have been wailing for decades. Even if climate change and biodiversity collapse are proof that the apocalypse were right, Africans are hardly to blame. The continent’s per capita carbon footprint is minuscule. Africa contains much of what is left of the world’s wilderness.

However, in a way, both Magufuli and Wanjigi were wrong. Like many others, they see rapid population growth as a demographic dividend. Africa is the youngest continent, with an average age of 19.7 compared with 42.5 in Europe. But young people should not be confused with the demographic engine that has fueled East Asia’s economic development since the 1970s. That is projected to be due to a sharp drop in the birth rate, which has increased the share of the population within the age group. working age relative to dependents. In Africa, that dynamic is absent.

The demographic conundrum is this. Do fertility rates fall as countries get richer? Or do countries get richer when women have fewer children? Actually, it works both ways.

The best predictor of births is the number of years girls attend school. The general rule of demographers is that women who have completed 9 years of education have less than 3 children. In much of Africa, where patriarchal regimes are entrenched and where leaders like Magufuli gleefully tell women to “free their ovaries,” women do not have enough autonomy over their lives. their.

Africa's population is set to nearly double to 2.5 billion by 2050 Bar graph showing Population (selected regions, billion) for 2020 and forecast for 2050G2023_21X

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAids, appreciates development with women’s rights. She has just praised Bangladesh, a recent economic success, for reducing the birth rate from 7 in the 1990s to 2.2 today.

Small families are not good in nature. But they do reflect economic progress. In countries where women are well represented both in politics and in the workplace, falling birth rates and rising living standards tend to go hand in hand.

The picture in Africa’s 54 countries is not uniform. Birth rates in North Africa (3.3) and South Africa (2.5) have fallen sharply. But too many African women are still subject to the whims of men. If African countries want to overcome the poverty trap, women need more power in their lives.

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