By 2050 Nigeria’s population will top 400 million, allowing it to overtake the USA to become the world’s third most populous country. This is a key part of Africa’s surging demographic growth of 2.7% a year – more than twice as fast as South Asia (1.2% p.a.). That is to say, Africa adds the equivalent of the population of France every two years. So by 2050 Africa’s population will double to 2.5 billion or more than a quarter of the world’s people. By 2100 Africa will make up 39% of the world’s population.
The basic reason for this is the triumph of colonial medicine which dramatically cut infant mortality and lengthened life expectancy. In response African family size has been only slowly reducing so many African families are still far, far bigger than required for replacement. One result of this, of course, is that in many African countries a majority of the population is aged 20 or under, sometimes even 15 or under. We are frequently told that this is a great advantage for Africa because so many of its people are young and vigorous.
This is very, very foolish. As one looks around Africa today one is struck by the large number of failed states – South Sudan, Somalia, the DRC, much of the Sahel etc. In addition many African states are extremely rickety affairs – poor, unstable, often ruled by dictators, frequently racked by civil violence and virtually all are extremely corrupt. In that company even South Africa counts as a relatively stable, middle income and democratic state - and we all know how poorly those adjectives describe South Africa’s reality today.
The point is, if Africa adds another 1.25 billion people by 2050, what chance is there that these rickety states will be able to provide the housing, education, education, health facilities, food and jobs that all those extra people will need ?
The answer is that very few of those states will come anywhere near doing that. It is far more likely that many of Africa’s fragile states will simply collapse under this human avalanche. Very likely we will see many of them overcome by civil violence of one kind or another and it is frighteningly possible that all the gains of the independence period will be wiped out. Instead of moving towards some sort of African renaissance we could easily see the complete denouement of all the hopes of that independence era.
Moreover social scientists have emphasised that throughout history wars, revolutions and the breakdown of order is highly associated with the presence in the population of large numbers of unemployed young men. Africa’s demographic trajectory guarantees that precisely that group will be particularly numerous, so a breakdown into violence of one form or another is all too likely.