When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Africa's Demographic Boom Is The Continent's Greatest Resource

The projections from the United Nations Population Division for African demographics reveal some striking figures. And it's up to leaders to turn it into economic growth and social vitality.

People walk past a street market selling accessories and produce

A street market in Ngaliema, an area in the west of Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sophonie KOBOUDE


DAKAR — The African population is set to double in the next 30 years, and by 2050, about 100 cities on the continent will have more than a million inhabitants. In 2100, the number of inhabitants on the African continent is estimated to reach 4.2 billion people.

Consider other measures of the growth: A child born today in Burundi (which currently has about 12 million inhabitants) will witness their grandchild being born in a country that will have quadrupled its population. Nigeria, with a current population of 206 million people, is projected to reach 400 million inhabitants by 2050, while Niger will nearly triple its population in just 30 years, going from 24 million inhabitants in 2020 to 66 million by 2050. The Democratic Republic of Congo, with a current population of 89 million, is expected to have around 362 million people by 2100.

These demographic projections have revived the theory of "Malthusianism," through various apocalyptic speeches and theories.

The futility of neo-Malthusian fear

According to some experts, African population growth will be an obstacle to the continent's economic development. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said during the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute think tank forum in Oct. 2017 that "If we do not reduce the size of our families, our country will continue to suffer from poverty because the available resources will no longer be able to meet our needs." This reasoning is a fallacy — the fallacy of the fixed pie.

The wealth of the continent is not fixed. It is a false idea to assume that as the population grows, the share of each individual diminishes. In fact, the "pie" itself will expand based on the number of people. We have a reference point in history: it would be highly inaccurate to consider that the population growth in Europe during the 20th century, often referred to as the baby boom, had a depressing influence on Europe's economic development.

It is an immense reservoir of long-term capital for financing the real economy.

And the probability of having great thinkers and inventors actually increases as the population grows. Hence, the following thesis arises: with widespread education of children, African demographics will be an asset for the continent's development. Innovation is directly linked to the size of the population. This reminds us of the insightful statement from philosopher Jean Bodin: "There is no wealth except for men."

Ultimately, economic growth rests on two pillars: demographics and productivity. Here, the structure of the African population is an undeniable asset: it consists predominantly of young people, with a median age of about 19 years.

This is an opportunity for pension funds, as they could accumulate the savings of these individuals for the next 40 years without the pressure of payments observed in developed economies with an aging population. It is an immense reservoir of long-term capital for financing the real economy, particularly infrastructure and housing.

A street filled with matatu and pedestrians in Nairobi, Kenya

Matatu are privately owned minibuses that serve as the most popular public transport in Nairobi, Kenya.


Family solidarity

Since the early 2000s, several African countries have initiated a contraceptive revolution to reduce the fertility rates among Sub-Saharan populations. The rate of contraceptive use is estimated to be 26% in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared to an average of 75% in wealthy countries.

Religion and culture are often cited as reasons for the low contraceptive rates. Additionally, contraceptives are regularly out of stock in medical centers, which are often located hundreds of kilometers away from households, discouraging some women who are otherwise eager to follow a contraceptive program.

It is now widely acknowledged that the near-absence of health insurance, old-age pensions and unemployment benefits, coupled with low incomes and limited savings capacity, leads Africans to rely on family solidarity. Therefore, from an economic perspective, it is perfectly rational for Sub-Saharan households to have high fertility rates.

Ultimately, fertility rates tend to decline in economically developed countries, a reminder of history's universal lesson: the best contraceptive method is economic development.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Not Just Paris! Mongolia Is Also Battling Bedbugs (And Cockroaches... And Centipedes...)

Public extermination services were halted during the pandemic. Residents have embraced cheaper DIY solutions — but there are risks.

Photo of a bed bug

A bed bug photographed in the Biology Institute at the Technical University (TU) in Dresden, Germany

Khorloo Khukhnokhoi

ERDENET, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — Oyuka dresses for domestic battle. Mask. Gloves. Hair shrouded under a black hood. A disposable white gown reminiscent of a surgeon. It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday; her husband is at work and their two young children are at school. She shoves the oven, freezer and washing machine away from the kitchen walls and grabs a lime-green spray can from behind the bathtub, where it’s out of the children’s reach. “Magic Cleaner,” the bottle says in Chinese. A pesticide.

Oyuka — who asked to be referred to only by her nickname, out of fear of being criticized by her neighbors — lives on the eighth floor of a 10-story building in Erdenet, Mongolia’s second-largest city, where towering apartments cram together like subway riders. Lots of people means lots of trash, which means lots and lots of bugs. Cockroaches. Bedbugs. Centipedes. And what Mongolians call black bugs, speck-like insects that Oyuka fears will bite her children and make them sick.

Over the past year, Oyuka started noticing them in corners, under furniture, on windowsills. She increased how often she sprayed Magic Cleaner, from occasionally to every three months — even though the smell makes her stomach lurch. “Because I don’t know any other good poison, I use this poison often,” she says.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest