No, this blog is not going to be about a dating or even matching challenge (although that could make for a fun idea for the future). We have spent the last few blogs getting into the nitty gritty of that and believe it should see you through at least a few blogs of alternative content.
Since you are here and listening, so to speak, we would like to take the opportunity to speak frankly about topics we believe to be important for Africa and hence, we hope, for you. First out is the population growth of the continent.
The population of Africa is currently around 1,3 billion. This we can all appreciate as a big number but in itself doesn’t really say much. It’s about 15% of the world population of today. Another number which probably still doesn’t move you very much. But if we add that the population in Africa under the age of 35 is already 77%, with average age standing at 19 years of age (compared to 29 in India and 37 in China) we imagine that all sorts of thoughts might start running through your head. At least it does for us.
By the end of the century Africa’s population, by moderate estimates, is set to reach 4 billion people, or at least one third of the entire world population. That is a staggering piece of information.
This huge population growth is largely due to increased life expectancy (due to improved health care and a decrease in number of deaths among babies and infants) and not an increased population growth rate, though high by international standards it is not on the rise.
Already by 2050 Nigeria is estimated to have the third largest population in the world with around 410 million (taking over from the USA) and could by the end of the century be the second largest only to India if China continues its downward population trend.
So, what’s in these numbers? Is this a problem or an opportunity or both? As with most things in life it depends on what you make of it. It is certainly not a problem of density, both Europe and Asia for example are far more densely populated. It’s not an issue of population growth or its control but rather whether the African economies will be able to develop to match the needs of its growing population. You could look at it this way: in the short term the African economies must run faster merely to stand still or expressed differently, – even with improved and increased economic development you wouldn’t get improved living standards as there are simply more people to share the cake. What you would get, unless managed properly, are increased economic inequalities which by itself will lead to its own set of problems.
Some estimate that more than 20 million new jobs must be created in the next 25 years, just to keep up. Not to mention the increased pressure on infrastructure: road, schools, health care services etc that the additional billion people will put over the next three decades.
So, the real question at stake is perhaps this: can the young workforce drive the needed economic development? While the rest of the world is going in the opposite direction with decreasing populations and a larger proportion of elderly people, posing its own set of challenges, Africa will have an abundance of workforce. And with such young average age it should make for a dynamic one which can easily catch up or lead the way when it comes to innovative thinking and solutions. Therefore, with the right political will, the enormous challenges posed by population growth could be turned into a positive, more modern, sustainable development. Investing in science, technology and innovation could be the key driver while ensuring that the growing urban population is housed in more sustainable cities. But there are a lot of “ifs” for this to come true and one of them will be the closing of the digital divide.
Are you up for the challenge?