OPINION – Africa, demographic change and our future (I)

Macau Business | March 2021

The latest “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Review” (‘The 2017 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables’), prepared by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, contains forecasts that are worth considering and should serve as a reference in the definition of long-term strategies and public policies.

Jorge Costa Oliveira – Partner and CEO of JCO Consultancy http://www.linkedin.com/in/jorgecostaoliveira/

The world’s population will rise from the current 7.8 billion people to 8.6 billion by 2030, to 9.8 billion by 2050 and is estimated to reach 11.2 billion by 2100. The forecasts’ assumptions seem reasonable and realistic (e.g., reduced fertility rates yet remaining high in many developing countries; high probability of controlling or mitigating the effects of pandemic risks due to concerted action by national and international health authorities) and, albeit it is always difficult to try ‘reading’ 80 years ahead, even if  a particular specific forecast may be questionable, there are clear trends that deserve serious consideration and concerted action.

The most relevant novelty of this UN Population Survey is the significant increase in population in Sub-Saharan Africa. Today this region is inhabited by less than one billion persons (c. 13% of the world population); the Survey estimates that by 2050 it will have about 2 billion; and by 2100 it is expected to reach 4 billion persons (c. 36% of the world population).

This population increase is expected to occur across the African sub-continent. Nigeria’s population is expected to exceed that of the United States of America by 2050. And the population of Angola will grow six times (from c. 30 million in 2017 to c. 173 million in 2100). In turn, Mozambique is expected to move beyond current c. 30 million inhabitants to c.135 million at the end of the century.

On the other hand, the trend towards urban concentration shall continue. Much of this demographic evolution will take place alongside a continuous migration from the countryside / hinterland to cities, especially to metropolitan areas, which will become mega-metropolises. According to a 2014 study by Hoornweg, Daniel & Pope, Kevin (“Population predictions of the 101 largest cities in the 21st century“), 44 of the 101 largest mega-cities in the world by 2100, will be African, of which 10 located in Nigeria.

African countries will face tremendously demanding challenges over the next few decades. Of course, any policy decisions to be made in Africa must be the responsibility of its peoples and their representatives. The challenges that this population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa will cause can only be solved if there is a clear political will on the part of African governments and a clear commitment of their elites to the search for solutions. To this end, it is important that they live up to their responsibilities and have a position in line with the aspirations, objectives and strategies set out in the African Union’s ‘Agenda 2063’, eradicating corruption as well as selfish and predatory practices that still persist in many of those countries.

But these significant changes in African demography, albeit primordially an African peoples’ matter, will not only affect African countries and peoples. They will also affect all those that have a relationship with African countries and African people for historical, economic, geographical and other reasons. Therefore, the predictable incoming demographic explosion is also a relevant matter of interest for the international community and international organizations. And, although these challenges also pose opportunities, the first task is to determine what can be done to assist African countries in mitigating the effects of this population change.

In the short term the international community must endeavor to promote and support, in conjunction with the respective African authorities, programs and actions aimed at attempting to reduce those fertility rates, notably: (i) an increase in the use of contraceptive methods; (ii) the widespread promotion of the benefits of a small family; (iii) the promotion of women’s rights, with a special focus on their decision to use contraceptive methods; (iv) strong investment in the education and health sectors, particularly aimed at women; (v) incentives to bring about a decline in fertility rates.

Focusing on the medium term, policies need to be devised with these countries with a view to assist in their economic development. The Compacts entered into with several African countries under the G20 Compact with Africa (CwA) to promote private investment in Africa, including in infrastructure, is an excellent example of the kind of initiatives that need to be undertaken.

Several of the abovementioned short-term measures are contrary to the tradition and practices in many regions in Africa. But without them, the UN Population Survey predictions will take place with all the dramatic aspects that will ensue. In any case, the international community must prepare for pessimistic scenarios. Not only based on Murphy’s Laws, but because a cold analysis of History teaches us that the effectiveness of political intervention in generating structural change is low…