Population and development in Africa

The African continent is the world’s fastest growing region with a population of 1.4 billion that is expected to nearly double by 2050. By then, 2.5 billion people will live in Africa. Rapid population growth is exacerbating many of the challenges facing countries across the continent. However, with carefully targeted population policies governments in Africa have an opportunity to not only slow down population growth, but to achieve a demographic dividend.

A continent of demographic diversity

One cannot speak of 'Africa's demographic development' in general terms. The 54 countries across the diverse continent are at various stages of the demographic transition. While mortality rates have already fallen significantly in all African countries, fertility rates have not yet declined universally. Women in emerging economies such as Tunisia or South Africa, for example, only give birth to about two children on average, whereas fertility rates in many countries in West and Central Africa remain at above five children per woman. And while some countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda and Malawi are currently experiencing steep declines in fertility rates, in Niger rates have remained relatively stagnant at around seven children per woman since the 1950s.

Accelerating change

Interventions in strategic policy areas are needed to ensure that all countries continue in the demographic transition. African governments must strengthen fragile health systems to provide people with adequate medical treatment so that mortality rates – especially among children – continue to fall. Access to high quality education at all levels also needs to improve: Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind much of the rest of the world, both in terms of school enrolment rates and the quality of education. Probably the greatest challenge on the continent, however, remains job creation. To provide opportunities for the growing number of working age people, some 18 million new jobs are required annually in Sub-Saharan Africa alone – six times more than the number of new jobs currently created each year.

Innovative approaches and best practice examples

As daunting as the challenges in Africa appear, there are ways to meet them. Numerous promising approaches are contributing to advances in development and thereby to fertility decline: from health care workers reaching remote areas of Ethiopia and sophisticated supply chains for contraceptives in Senegal, to digital education programmes in Kenya and the expansion of value chains for agricultural products in Ghana. If it is possible to implement approaches like these at scale as African governments implement coherent population policies, countries can benefit from a demographically induced development boost – a demographic dividend.

Late and slow

The decline in fertility rates in Africa is clearly lagging behind that in other world regions. While Latin America and Asia experienced a rapid decline in the fertility rate between 1960 and 1980, this trend did not begin in Africa until 20 or 30 years later and then at a much slower pace. Currently at four children per woman, the average fertility rate in Africa is today at the same level as that in Asia and Latin America in the 1970s.

A broad spectrum

Africa’s diversity is evident in the number of children per woman. On average, women in Mauritius now have only 1.4 children, whereas women in Niger and Somalia still have more than six children. Fertility is declining at different rates, too: In Ethiopia and Rwanda, fertility rates have fallen significantly since the mid-1990s, but there has been much less progress in West and Central Africa.

Where children die early

A child’s chances of reaching his or her fifth birthday vary depending on their place of birth. New-borns have the best prospects in the highly developed island states of Seychelles and Mauritius, followed by the North African countries. The picture is rather less rosy in Chad and the Central African Republic, where 60 children out of 1,000 live births die.


Catherina Hinz

Executive Director

Phone: +49 30 - 22 32 48 45

E-mail: hinz@berlin-institut.org

© Berlin-Institut

Colette Rose

Project Coordinator International Demography

Phone: +49 - 30 31 01 95 91

E-mail: rose@berlin-institut.org

© Berlin-Institut

Constantin Wazinski


Phone: +49 30 31 01 77 67

E-mail: wazinski@berlin-institut.org

© Berlin-Institut

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