Our African future


According to Auguste Comte, demography is destiny. If he's right, the future is African.

By October this years there will be 7 billion of us on the planet. Sometime around 2025 world population will reach 8 billion.

We're not talking about more of the same. Europe is shrinking. Africa is exploding.

Africa’s population has almost doubled between 1975 and 2000, growing from 416 to 811 million; it will add another 75 percent to reach 1.4 billion people in 2025, and presumably another 55 percent to reach the staggering figure of 2.2 billion by mid-century.

Asia remains the largest human reservoir, holding more than 60 percent of the world’s population — a proportion that should still be around 55 percent by 2050.

What is most striking, though, is the unabated demographic swelling of Africa.

The population of Africa as a whole is expected to keep growing briskly, from only 9 percent of the world’s population in 1950 to 24 percent by 2050. The absolute figures will have increased tenfold within that century.

And while countries such as Nigeria (230 million in 2025, 390 million in 2050); Ethiopia (110 million and 145 million) and Congo (95 million and 148 million) have since long been identified as the demographic giants of sub-Saharan Africa, new applicants are following suit.

With a population of 45 million inhabitants today and a fertility rate of 5.5, Tanzania is on the path toward 71 million in 2025 and 138 million in 2050. Kenya is expected to jump from 41 million to 59 million and then to 97 million in that same time span, while Uganda might reach the 100 million mark after mid-century.

A consequence of the growth curve is the pressure to emigrate generated by the annual arrival on the African labor markets of some 20 million youths. That bulge is liable to increase year after year, reaching 40 million by 2050.

The migratory pressure will be directed in the first place toward Europe, whose population, in sharp contrast with Africa’s, is bound to age and stagnate.

Within a decade Europe — for the first time in peacetime — will have no natural increase of its population. Russia’s population has been declining for two decades; more recently so has Germany’s (and Japan’s). The issue is not only one of decline in absolute figures, but also one of a graying population and a shrinking workforce.