A FEW DAYS ago when the world news was about dramatic projections about Africa’s population in 2050, Botswana too spoke about 2050. However, it was not about population.
The Managing Director of Debswana, Balisi Bonyongo, confirmed that the projected life span of his company’s diamond mining operations in Botswana has now been extended to 2050. Bonyongo was on the something. How Africa of 2050 turns out, could be determined as much by what is on its lands, as by what’s underground.
That Africa’s future, has many people working overtime. In mid-July the South African-based pan-African think tank, The Brenhurst Foundation, and the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung held an interesting little conference on the theme “History didn’t end in Africa: Ideas and Ideologies shaping Africa’s future” at a villa on Lake Como, in Italy.
The conference briefing noted, in part, that; “2014 is a notable anniversary, for Western nations in particular, of the 100 years since the start of the First World War. It is also the 75th anniversary of the commencement of the Second World War.
“For many in the developing world, however, these seem distant events, concerned as they were with imperial ambition and conquest.
“Yet 2014 also marks the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the seminal event in ending the Cold War. For Africa this was a watershed moment, which promised not only superpower proxy wars which devastated parts of the continent but also their support for many of Africa’s authoritarian leaders…
“In the ensuring 25 years new powers have emerged…on the face of it liberal democracy and economics appear to have prevailed in Africa…Evidence of this can be found in the spectacular assent of Africa’s multiparty democracies; from just two to over 40 in the past 20 years.
And nearly all now have regular multiparty elections, even if some fall short by international standards. The continent has also enjoyed its best economic growth record since independence, too.
“All this is good news and these advances should be noted. But there are also important nuances and exceptions…most African countries face a highly uncertain future unless they prepare themselves now for the coming population boom…”
There was a notable omission in the brief: That 2014 is the 130th anniversary of the Berlin Conference, when the European colonial powers carved out most of Africa’s present borders and divided into their separate spheres of influential.
How Africa’s prepares itself for its coming challenges, could also determine whether its borders that were drawn at that Berlin Conference remain intact or are dismantled.
That, for better or worse, Africa’s population could change both the continent’s and the world’s fate is in no doubt.
Looking a few years down the road, the numbers are staggering: By 2050, Africa will be home to two in five of the world’s children; by 2050, Africa’s under-18 population will increase by two thirds, reaching almost 1 billion by the middle of the century.
In 2067 the continent will overtake Asia as that with the most children; by 2015, one fifth of Africa’s births will take place in Nigeria— 5% of all global births.
However, the continent still accounts for half of all child deaths, and this will rise to 70% by 2050, and life is still shorter in Africa than anywhere else. ( READ These new facts about Africa’s population will simply blow you away).
In 2050, Niger will still be the continent’s youngest country, with a median age of 17.5, along with Mali, Zambia, Somalia and Nigeria making up the top five youngest countries.
And Africa’s oldest nation will be Mauritius, Tunisia, Cape Verde, Seychelles and Libya—countries which are already starting to age today, and will have more than half of their population over 40 by 2050.
Interestingly, two very young countries will border very old countries: the median age in North Africa will range from 34.6 - 43.4 years, while that in Mali and Niger will be just 17.5 - 19.7 years. So we could see a huge migration of people to the north as the biggest job opportunities in the next few decades in that region will be to care for the elderly.
But it will be bad business for coffin-makers, though good business for geriatric doctors—those who specialise in treating the nagging, chronic illnesses of old people. By 2050, life expectancy at birth in Tunisia will be 82 years, as long as Japan today. In all of north Africa it will be over 74 years, as well as in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Wives in Central Africa
Some places in Africa will see a skew in the sex ratio by 2050. Northern Africa will be the place where women outnumber men the most—but that is largely because it will be a very old old place, and women generally live longer than men.
But if you’re looking for young, marriageable women to bear you children, you will have to look for them in central Africa—countries like DR Congo, Angola, Gabon and Congo. Eastern Africa, too, to a lesser extent, will have a surplus of women, so these two areas could become a polygamist’s - and wife seeking - haven.
But western and southern Africa will have more men than women, and especially in the young countries—such as Zambia, Nigeria and Chad—we could see a rise in frustration among young men and the risk of social tensions.
Women might be in short supply in the next few decades in some places in Africa, but one thing that people will very likely be fighting about is water. Environmentalists and conflict experts have been raising the alarm for years on an impending water war in Africa— contrary to some popular perceptions the continent is the second-driest in the world after Australia, home to just 9% of the world’s freshwater resources but 15% of the global population.
By 2050, this situation is likely to reach critical limit—we divided a country’s freshwater reserves today by its projected population in 2050, and the countries which will have the least water per capita in 2050 will be Libya, Algeria, Djibouti, Burkina Faso and Kenya, with less than 350 litres of water per person per year.
Hydrologists consider a country “water-scarce” if it has less than 1,000 litres for each citizen in a year. These countries are the most vulnerable to collapse over water shortages.
Still, DR Congo comes out glowing, and not only does it have abundant water for everybody until 2050 and beyond, it also has Africa’s biggest arable land potential, with 598 million hectares which could be put under cultivation. So in the next few years, if you’re looking for somewhere to farm or build a house, this is the place to go.
If a pan-continental war ever broke out in Africa over water, land or women, Nigeria, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Egypt will have the biggest adult populations, the demographic that can be conscripted into the army.
Nigeria will have 250 million people aged 15-59, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan will as well have more than 50 million citizens aged between 15-59, so if they ever go to war, these countries can raise standing armies of millions.
Kenya seems to be the country in the most dire straits, with an shortage of water and a relative abundance of women, the army might have to defend the country against invaders from water-abundant nations intent on stealing their women, taking over the country, and piping in water from the invaders’ home country. These are scenarios—but scenarios, sometimes, become reality.