Besides being Europe's neighbouring continent, Africa is also the region with the world’s highest population growth. While 1.3 billion people live on the continent today, this figure is expected to double by 2050 reaching 2.5 billion. The rapid growth in population is currently aggravating many challenges facing the African governments. However, with a carefully targeted demographic policy, the countries of the continent not only have the chance to slow down population growth. They can also hope for a demographic dividend.
A broad spectrum of demographic diversity
It is difficult to speak of "Africa's demographic development" because the 54 states across this diverse continent stand at very different points of the so-called demographic transition. While mortality rates have already fallen significantly in all African countries, there are major differences in levels of decline in or fertility rates in general: While women in countries with emerging economies such as Tunisia or South Africa, for example, only give birth to about two children on average, the fertility rates in many states of West and Central Africa remain at above five children per woman. And while some states such as Ethiopia, Rwanda or Malawi are currently experiencing a rapid decline in fertility rates, they have remained at more than seven children per woman in Niger since the 1950s.
To ensure that all countries move forward in the demographic transition, African governments must work on a number of parameters simultaneously: They need to invest in the health systems, which are inadequate in many places, so that mortality rates - especially among children - continue to fall. At the same time, they should offer sexual and reproductive health service, including family planning, making sure that every citizen can enjoy the right to be able to decide on the number and spacing of children for each individual, free from discrimination, coercion or violence. There is also a need to improve education levels: African countries are lagging behind in international comparison, both in terms of enrolment rates and the quality of education. Probably the greatest challenge on the continent, however, remains job creation. In order to provide a perspective for the growing number of young people of working age, some 18 million jobs would be required annually in sub-Saharan Africa alone - six times the number than are created annually at present.
Innovative approaches and best practice examples
Just as diverse as the challenges on the African continent are, so are the ways to meet them. From health workers in the Ethiopian hinterland and well thought-out supply concepts for contraceptives in Senegal, to digital education programmes in Kenya and the expansion of the value-added chains of agricultural products in Ghana - there are numerous promising approaches and measures that can contribute to advances in development and thus also to declining fertility rates in Africa. If it is possible to spread them widely and if African governments implement a coherent demographic policy, the countries in Africa will have the chance to benefit from a demographically induced development boost - a demographic dividend.