High population growth in Africa's poorest countries is putting decades of progress in the fight against poverty at risk. We must invest in human capital to avoid a crisis, say Bill and Melinda Gates.
Held to coincide with the UN General Assembly and attended by luminaries from the worlds of business, philanthropy and celebrity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Goalkeepers event in September offered a glitzy platform to drive progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
While guests in New York were treated to feel-good musical performances and inspirational stories, billionaire technologist Bill Gates left attendees in no doubt that Africa faces its most serious threat yet from the continent's startling pace of demographic change.
"To put it bluntly, decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling," wrote Bill and Melinda Gates in the Goalkeepers Data Report. "This is because the poorest parts of the world are growing faster than everywhere else ... extreme poverty is becoming heavily concentrated in sub-Saharan African countries. By 2050, that's where 86% of the extremely poor people in the world are projected to live. Therefore, the world's priority for the next three decades should be a third wave of poverty reduction in Africa."
While those warnings may fly in the face of optimists predicting that Africa will receive a "demographic dividend" from a spike in the young, Gates' stark vision of the future under a worst-case scenario was illustrated by detailed projections.
By 2050, more than 40% of the world's extremely poor people will live in just two African countries, according to the Gates Foundation--Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nigeria's population is projected to jump from 190m today to 429m in 2050, with the number in extreme poverty expected to increase from 81m to 152m. Meanwhile, the population of the DRC will more than double to 171m, with over 70m of those expected to be in extreme poverty.
"Sub-Saharan Africa represented a relatively small slice of extreme poverty in 1990, but because [poverty] has fallen so quickly in East and South East Asia ... you can see that the sub-Saharan slice is becoming a very substantial part of the pie," Gates told the attendees.
"By the end of the century its almost getting to the point where half of the babies on the planet are not just born in sub-Saharan Africa hut overwhelmingly in the poorest...