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.
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.