The World Needs to be Prepared for Africa's Booming Population

A Quarter of the World's Population Will be African by 2050


The population of the world will surpass 8 billion in 2022. In only the past two decades, it has grown by a third. Reputable demographers predict that there will be 9.5 billion people on the earth by 2050. Elon Musk's recent comments are puzzling in light of this. According to him, "the low birthrate and the steadily dropping birthrate" is "one of the biggest hazards to civilization".

The level at which populations remain stable with constant mortality rates is 2.1 births per woman, while fertility rates in Europe, North America, and east Asia are often below this level. Some nations' trajectory is especially startling. The birthrate in Italy is at its lowest point in recorded history. After spending an estimated $120 billion (£90 billion) on attempts to increase it, South Korea's fertility rate has remained below one birth per woman for decades. Japan had 128 million residents at the beginning of the century, but by 2050 it will only have 106 million. China's population will reach its peak of 1.45 billion people in 2030, but if it is unable to increase its fertility rate, it may end the century with less than 600 million people. The "major risk" Musk alludes to is this. The issue is that his assertion seems to exclude Africa from "civilization," which is problematic.

By 2050, the populations of more than half of Africa's 54 countries will have doubled or more due to continued high fertility rates and decreasing death rates. Compared to less than 10% in 1950, the continent will then be home to at least 25% of the world's population. This level of growth is unparalleled; in comparison, Asia's population will have increased by a factor of four over that time, while Africa's population will have multiplied tenfold. The outcome is what demographer Richard Cincotta has dubbed "chronic youthfulness": 40% of Africans are under the age of 14, and the median age is under 20 in the majority of African nations.



In the 2020s, there will be 450 million children born to African moms. This is anticipated to increase to over 550 million in the 2040s, or over 40% of all children born globally during that time period. Throughout most of Africa, low or fast dropping birthrates continue to be the exception rather than the rule. The number of births worldwide is at its greatest level ever (140 million per year), and it is unlikely to decrease significantly over the next two to three decades.

For better or worse, the bow wave is what will support future population expansion (or both). East, west, and central Africa will contribute 1.3 billion of the 2 billion rise in world population between 2019 and 2050 as a result of the continent's continued high fertility rates. By that time, both east and west Africa will have populations greater than those of Europe. After that, Africa's diverse demography will play a key role in determining whether the world population will peak in the second half of the 21st century or keep expanding, a contentious and divisive question that will take on even more relevance in the wake of the climate crisis.

The idea of Elon Musk's population collapse is not new. It is reminiscent of Dr. HB McKlveen's 1895 Journal of the American Medical Association warning about the "depopulation of civilized nations," as well as the 1930s predictions of many western economists, including John Maynard Keynes. Explosion stories continue to surface more than 50 years after the release of Paul Ehrlich's best-selling The Population Bomb. Demographic disasters (like the Black Plague in the 14th century) and sporadic alarmism have so far been resolved by human adaptability and resilience. This is not meant to sound glib or Panglossian; rather, it is a warning that alarmist tales are frequently promoted for ideological or other particular motives. Demographic futurology is dangerous beyond two or three decades, but not nearly as dangerous as medium- and long-term economic or meteorological predictions.

Musk's announcement left out information about African demographics, which is a sign of the west's profound ignorance of Africa and its individual nations. Notwithstanding the consequences of the climate issue for the continent, African delegates only play a minor role at international conferences like Cop26 (and its potential for countering deleterious effects). In the fight to contain COVID-19, Western countries have lagged behind their African counterparts and provided pitifully little aid. Even in stereotyped images in the majority of western media and most western residents' minds, Africa continues to be profoundly marginalized. This appalling situation must and will not continue.

Africa's nations and peoples must be reimagined due to the sheer weight of the numbers. Geopolitics, international trade, technological advancement, the destiny of the leading religions of the globe, migratory patterns—pretty much every element of life—will all be impacted by this alone. This reinvention benefits from a greater understanding of the numerous demographic traits and trends that characterize the continent. Oh, and it might also be helpful to constantly remember that the continent that will continue to grow in importance in the lives of its neighbors and the rest of the globe can fit the landmasses of China, the US, Europe, India, and Japan.

About the author(s)

Lawrence Slade is CEO of the London-based Global Infrastructure Investor Association, or GIIA.

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