Africa's population time-bomb.

Author:Wambu, Onyekachi

The population growth rate has been rising in Africa and by the end of this century, the continent will have half of the world's population. How can we cope with this explosion? The time to start planning is now.

Discussions about population management in Africa are always sensitive, given the depopulation of the continent that took place during the slave trade, and the various attempts at population control through sterilisation, eugenics and genocide during colonialism.

However, given the continent's growing population, a conversation amongst Africans is badly needed. If it follows the current trajectory. Africa's population is predicted to reach 5.5bn people by the end of this century--that is barely 82 years away. Improvements in healthcare and greater nutrition have resulted in what is an extraordinary population explosion.

In 1950, Africa represented only 9% of the world's population, with 230m out of 2.5bn people. In 2015, the figure had risen to 16%, with 1.2bn out of 7.3bn worldwide. In 2050, the estimates are that it will be 25% of the global population, with 2.4bn out of a world population of 9.5bn. In 2100, the figure will be 50% of a world population of llbn.

In terms of individual countries, Nigeria will have 700m people; Congo nearly 400m; Tanzania 300m; Ethiopia 250m; Uganda 200m; Egypt 200m and Kenya 160m according to the UN's worst-case scenario.

Challenges and opportunities

A series of challenges and opportunities unfold from these projections. First, how would we generate jobs for all these people? What will be the impact on food security or access to water? What about the impact on the environment, particularly at a time of extreme climate change?

For a country like Nigeria, struggling with a current population of 189m, what would another 500m people in that space mean? This will be a Nigeria presumably without oil, with limited industrialisation, and where there is already fierce competition from contesting groups for limited resources. Can we expect even more conflict?

The demographic explosion is also happening at a time when industrialisation may not be enough to solve the problems of a huge population. Given the profound change in the mode of production that is under way with AI, robotics and digitalisation, the reality is that Africa will not be able to generate all the jobs that it needs domestically, and will have to export labour.

This exporting of labour is already under way...

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