Population and development in Africa

Europe's neighbour Africa is the region with the world's fastest population growth. By 2050, 2.5 billion people will live on the continent, almost double today's figure of 1.3 billion. Rapid population growth is currently exacerbating many of the challenges facing African governments. However, with carefully targeted demographic policies, the countries on the continent not only have the opportunity to slow down population growth. They can also hope for a demographic dividend.

A continent of demographic diversity

One cannot speak of 'Africa's demographic development' in broad terms. The 54 countries across the diverse continent are at very different points of the demographic transition. While mortality rates have already fallen significantly in all African countries, there are major differences in rates of fertility decline. 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 or Malawi are currently experiencing a steep decline in fertility rates, they have remained stagnant at more than seven children per woman in Niger 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. There is also a need to improve access to high quality education at all levels: African countries lag behind in international comparison, both in terms of enrolment rates and in the quality of education. Probably the greatest challenge on the continent, however, remains job creation. To provide opportunities for the growing number of young people of working age, some 18 million jobs are required annually in Sub-Saharan Africa alone – six times more than those created at present.

Innovative approaches and best practice examples

As daunting as the challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa appear, there are ways to meet them. Numerous promising approaches are contributing to advances in development and thereby to fertility decline: from health professionals in rural 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 these at scale as African governments introduce coherent demographic 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. © Berlin-Institut

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 still have more than seven children and those in Somalia more than six. 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. © Berlin-Institut

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 one child in eight dies before reaching the age of five. © Berlin-Institut


Lorena Führ

Project Coordinator International Demography

Phone: +49 30 - 22 32 48 46

E-mail: lorena.fuehr@berlin-institut.org

© Berlin-Institut

Thomas Nice


Phone: +49 30 - 31 01 77 67

E-mail: nice@berlin-institut.org

© Berlin-Institut

Catherina Hinz

Executive Director

Phone: +49 30 - 22 32 48 45

E-mail: hinz@berlin-institut.org

Catherina Hinz geschäftsführende Direktorin

© Berlin-Institut

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