BY Sandra Appiah, 12:00am April 12, 2011,

Calculated Optimism: Africa’s Booming Youth Population and Demographic Dividends

By: Wilson Aiwuyor

Africa’s population has exceeded 1 billion, and is projected to top 2 billion by 2050. In addition to having the highest population growth rate, Africa is one of the regions with the highest proportion of young people as a percentage of its total population.

According to United Nations World Population Prospects, 60% of Africa’s population is less than 25 years old. Only 5% of Africa’s population falls within the age range of 60 to 80 years old, remarkably different from other regions such as Europe whose estimate for the same age group is 26%. Consequently, while Africa’s population doubles in 2050, Europe’s, which is currently over 700 million, will decline to 691 million. What are the economic implications of Africa’s population dynamic?

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that Africa may reap enormous demographic dividends from its young and fast growing population if over the next decade leaders on the continent embrace good governance and implement adequate social policies targeting improvement in education, health care, infrastructure, and women empowerment.

Some analysts have expressed concern over Africa’s population trend, claiming that the continent is overpopulated. They are, understandably, concerned about the strains of Africa’s population on the environment and natural resources. They caution against the effects of overpopulation on poverty reduction effort and on the continent’s overall capacity to sustain its people. But Africa’s population dynamic must be put in simplified statistical perspective in relation to other regions of the world in order to answer questions about sustainability, poverty, overpopulation, and envisage the economic benefits that could accrue to the continent.

Is Africa Really Overpopulated?

The 2010 World Population Data Sheet reveals that Africa has a population density of 34 people per square kilometer. With a population density of 170 people per square kilometer, Western Europe is five times more densely populated than Africa. The European Union, on the other hand, has a population density of 115 people per square kilometre, making it more than three times as densely populated as Africa. Yet, unlike Africa, neither Western Europe nor the EU bloc is considered overpopulated in popular discourse.

With a total area of over 30.3 million square kilometers, Africa has more than enough space to accommodate the geographical areas of China, India, US, Western Europe, and Argentina combined – whose total areas is about 29.9million square kilometers. Meanwhile, Africa’s present population is less than half the 3.6 billion people in China, India, US, Argentina, and Western Europe combined. In essence, it is counter-intuitive to regard Africa as overpopulated when other regions that have more than twice Africa’s population within a smaller area are not considered so.

Between Overpopulation and Sustainability

Africa has only 15% of global population but possesses 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land. The continent holds 20% of the world’s known natural resources. If Africa’s area alone can accommodate China, India, US, Western Europe, and Argentina, whose combined 3.6 billion population is more than half the world population, then the continent should be able to sustain a population that would be about 2.1 billion in 40 years.

Thus, the focus should be on good governance and responsible leadership. With good governance and adequate social policy, Africa can build the capacity to properly manage its resources, develop its human capacity, and maintain a sustainable population growth. There are enormous benefits to be accrued to the continent if its various governments invest massively in education, health care, infrastructure development, youth development and women empowerment. In fact, education and women empowerment alone can significantly regulate Africa’s population within sustainable proportion.

Africa’s Potential Demographic Dividends

Africa’s demographic dividends would be enormous and transformative if the continent can be politically stable and take due advantage of its booming young population. Africa’s population dynamic indicates that the continent, unlike other regions of the world, would neither face any shortage in domestic labor supply nor worry about the burden of an increasingly ageing population for the most part of the 21st century. By 2050, Africa’s working-age population, which is currently 54% of the continent’s total population, will climb to 62%. In contrast, Europe’s workforce will shrink from 63% in 2010 to 51% in 2050. European economy is already feeling the pinch of an ageing population. One analyst, Tim Colebatch, observes that:

European governments have stared into the future, and they don’t like it. They see a dwindling European workforce struggling to support a rapidly expanding number of retirees. They see their budget deficits swelling as millions of elderly people force up spending on pensions, health-care and nursing homes, while their populations fall and their tax base shrinks.

Africa will have more than enough workforce to sustain its economy. Europe – and other regions of the world where there is an ageing population – will increasingly need Africa’s surplus labor. Africa’s population will serve as a vast market for domestic production and for the support of the global economy. The McKinsey Global Institute expressed the spread of Africa’s potential demographic dividend beyond the continent in its recent publication, Lions on the Move: The Progress and Potential of African Economies. The publication states:

By 2040, (Africa’s labor force) is projected to reach 1.1 billion, overtaking China’s and India’s. If Africa can provide its young people with the education and skills they need, this large workforce could account for a significant share of both global consumption and production.

The continent’s increasing youth population would be an asset for transformation if its leaders would govern well and implement adequate social policies to improve education, health care delivery, infrastructural development, human capital development, and the empowerment of African women. The failure of African leaders to do what is right could on the other hand force the youths to orchestrate the change that they want to see. The revolutions that started in Tunisia and now spreading to many parts of the continent show clearly that a new Africa driven by the creative energy and transformative aspirations of the youth is possible. These revolutions, spearheaded by youths who yearn for good governance, a better society, and desire to transform their own socio-economic conditions, are already impacting African politics and the entire international system. The activities of these youths are a harbinger of what is to come in Africa as youths’ creativity, power and energy increasingly become the basis for transformation.
The enthronement of good governance across Africa would better position the continent to reap the demographic dividends and contribute more to the global economy. Again, high population growth rate is not Africa’s fundamental problem. Africa is not overpopulated.

Last Edited by: Updated: September 12, 2018


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates