No continent for old men
Nigeria, Algeria, and Egypt are the most populous countries in Africa. All these countries have one thing in common: they have seen rapid population growth up to 49% between 1990 and 2022. This has stressed their limited natural resources, housing, sanitation, education, health care, and created an endless thirst for new jobs.
To meet the demographic challenge (30% of the global population by 2050), African economies have to grow at a minimum of 6-7 percent per year. This is a tall order for any nation. (Sunday Alamba/AP)
However, in everyone of these countries, total fertility rate (TFR) fell from roughly 5.5 children per woman in 1980 to just over 3.9 by 2021 providing some relief. However, deteriorating economic conditions in these countries hasn’t abated the desire for big families. In rural communities in Nigeria, Egypt, and Algeria the TFR averages out to about 4.0 (2021 data). Rural communities is where the most extreme poverty resides, yet having babies in abundance hasn’t subsided.
It is this very high fertility rate in rural areas that is also fuelling mass urbanization. The city of Lagos is now home to 15 million people, and the population of Cairo now exceeds 10 million.
Urbanization isn’t the only problem of unchecked population growth. The endless need for job creation is now a fundamental development challenges for Africa’s three most populated countries. Nigeria needs to create 1.8 million jobs for people entering the labor market every year. Similarly, Egypt and Algeria need to create 1.4 million jobs per annum to fend off high unemployment.
Job creation is also an Africa wide challenge. Projections have shown that the continent’s share of the world’s population will grow from one-fifth to one-third by 2050. More alarming is that the median age on the continent is now 19.7.
To create the numbers of jobs Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt require, these economies have to grow at minimum of between 6-7 percent of GDP per annum. This is a tall order for any nation. Annual budgets also have to keep pace with rapid population growth to finance education and health care. This is because you need an educated, employable, and healthy work force.
To offset the challenges of countries with TFRs approaching 4, you can either become a model for rapid economic growth like India, or slowdown population proliferation like China. But, none of the African government’s in question have made curbing population growth a priority. The endless government campaigns encouraging birth control seem to have vanished.
None of these governments are following what China did in the 1970s when it limited subsidies to families exceeding one child, and prohibited movement to urban areas to offset mass urbanization. Population growth seems to now be taken as a given.
Yes, India has managed to grow economically even with high population growth, but this is an isolated case. Curbing population growth has to be in lock step with economic development, or the consequences for these developing nations will be dire.