Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

Follow Mojisola Karigidi

View Profile

Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

What prospects for Africa as driver of world population increase 15 Jan 2023

On 15 November 2022, the United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs announced that the world population has reached 8 billion as earlier projected. Countries with the highest fertility rates drove this unprecedented milestone. But, ironically, these countries are among those with the lowest income per capita in the world, majority of which are in the sub-Saharan African (SSA) region. This paradox of many people with very little income is not only worrisome but also speaks to the inability of a number of countries in SSA to take economic advantage of their numbers.

Africa is home to the largest number of young people in the world. According to the United Nations’ Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, around 70 percent of sub-Saharan African population is under age 30. However, this region due to peculiar development challenges, still mostly relies on development aid and unable to harness commercial opportunities. Of the 27 countries in the most recent list of World Bank’s Low-Income Countries by GNI per capita, 24 are SSA countries including Mozambique, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Niger, Togo, Gambia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea Bissau, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mali.

A forecast by the UN says that it will take longer – about 15 years for the world to increase by another billion, which is longer than the 12 years it took to hit 8 billion from 7 billion population in 2010. That’s a signal to global slowdown in population growth in the coming years. But Africa and Asia are projected to continue to drive global population growth until the world reaches 9 billion by 2037. The greater concern has been for the African continent because of its many development challenges while having five (Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania) among the eight countries (others being India, Pakistan, and the Philippines) whose population altogether constitute more than half of the current global population.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, with an estimated population of 216 million people, now has the sixth largest population in the world. But the country has remained the ‘poverty capital of the world’ since 2016, as four in every ten Nigerian live below the poverty level of USD 1.9 daily. Despite efforts to curb unplanned population increases through the creation of National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development, National Council on Population Management, and attempts to increase access to contraceptive methods across the country, not much has been achieved. Cultural beliefs, child marriage, religious beliefs, insecurity, fear of the unknown, limited access to higher education, poverty, population for political gains, high cost of implants and some other pregnancy prevention techniques and limited access in underserved communities – especially in rural areas – are factors contributing to the country’s unsustainable population surges.

Despite its current development challenges, Nigeria is expected to continue its rapid demographic growth, reaching an estimated population of 546 million by the end of the 21st century, while the United States – the world’s richest country and which currently has the third-largest population worldwide – will be around 400 million.

The SSA region is projected to contribute more than half of the global population increase till 2050 or beyond. But now that its current population is becoming a burden than an asset, the region must find sustainable ways to productively engage its populace, strive for higher GNI per capital, and make profitable use of its youthful population.

Here are some of the things we can do differently. Leaders across SSA must significantly increase investment in young people. The governments must continue to make technical, career-driven, and professional education affordable and accessible to all. It must be noted that it is unsustainable for African countries to invest in education only to lose the best brains to the developed world as young people are forced to look for greener pastures outside the continent. Brain drain is undeniably a huge loss and must be stemmed.

The political leaders must create more enabling environment for the development of expertise and its optimal use for national and continental advancement. Establishing and implementing policies that ensure suitable and motivating work environments, massive industrialization, and support for innovation and entrepreneurship are as important as investing in country- or continent-wide education (including higher education) for young people. The potentials of our young people must be properly harnessed and adequately rewarded locally for our population size to become an economic asset.

Africa’s population is expected to hit 2 billion in the next 15 years. The actions taken by the authorities today will determine future outcomes. How does the continent plan to feed 2 billion people in the near future when adverse effects of climate change and environmental and soil degradation may have worsened, when it is still struggling to nourish its current 1.42 billion people? As demand for food, healthcare, and other growth enablers increase on the continent, there needs to be a corresponding increase in supply. But unemployment and under-employment rates in the SSA region are among the highest in the world.

Since the governments do not have all the resources to meet the development needs of their jurisdictions, they need to improve Public Private Partnerships. The PPP framework has been underutilised in Africa to bridge the gaps between demand and supply of resources and capabilities. Strengthening the framework can improve development outcomes.

It is also essential for African countries to improve their attraction for foreign investments to meet local demands while ensuring optimum benefits for the citizens. Improving the continent’s investment climate and strengthening the capacities of countries to absorb sustainable investments can significantly contribute to economic growth, better living standards, and environmental sustainability. Also, supporting young people to innovate and engage in development-oriented endeavours, and putting in place a system that rewards local innovators, can yield good outcomes.

Leadership at the community levels is also very important and young people have to be involved in it. Until now, in many parts of Africa, highly intelligent and talented young people have to wait for too long before they come into limelight – if they ever manage to do. We must change the system locally, nationally, and continent-wide to get the best of young people in their prime.

As the continent continues to grow in population numbers, we have to look inward to maximize the potentials. Africa needs to harness the potential of its young people to create wealth. Creating opportunities and platforms for mentorship for generational advancements is also key to the sustainable socioeconomic progress of the continent.

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.