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One Billion More People are Coming to Africa

There is one major factor that makes Africa stand out from other continents when looking at predictions of the future. This is population growth, with Africa’s population set to double by 2050 to 2.4 billion people, according to the UN. If this prediction is accurate, then by 2050 Africa’s population will be increasing by 3.5 million people per month. This rate of growth is unprecedented in human history, and the implications are massive.

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This population growth is overdue: it is taking place because infant mortality rates have finally been reduced in the past few decades. In addition, average life expectancy across the continent has risen from 37 in 1955 to 60 today. This is why the entire continent currently has a population smaller than China’s, despite being three times the size. It is also why Africa is now set to rapidly catch up, with the ramifications of this promising to bring seismic changes both domestically and to international relations.

In 1998, businessman Peter Drucker said that “Demographics are the single most important factor that nobody pays attention to, and when they do pay attention, they miss the point.” He foresaw the potential problems of ageing populations in developing countries, which today have become reality. In the vast majority of countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa, the rate of population increase is on the decline. In some countries, such as Germany, Japan and Spain, the population is actually decreasing. This is leading to great concern over multiple issues, including building a social security system that can handle these ageing populations and finding ways to maintain economic growth without the aid of population growth.

On the other hand, by the end of the century, 82% of global population growth is expected to come from Africa alone. There is great potential in this, with many economists arguing that the “demographic dividend” from population growth brings better opportunity than anything else for economies to expand and GDP to grow. However, the situation could equally go the other way.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo argues in his new co-authored book ‘Making Africa Work: A Handbook that it it will take ‘visionary leadership’ and the strength to put in ‘strong institutions’ to turn this situation from disaster into success. Without heroic measures to improve food security, healthcare, employment and education (including on family planning), the major issues still faced by some African countries such as poverty, joblessness and health will only get worse. For GDP per capita to improve, growth will have to be at breakneck speed to keep up with the population. Cities will have to be especially prepared, with the share of Africa’s population living in cities set to jump from 36% now to 60% in 2050.

Obasanjo’s new book summarizes the situation best: “Properly planned for and harnessed, this situation is a tremendously positive force for change. But without economic growth and jobs, it could prove a political and social catastrophe.” African leaders must accept the facts of this extraordinary population growth, and start planning far into the future now.