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.
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.