The UN estimates that in 2100, Africa will be home to 39% of the world’s population; about 4.4 billion people. To put that into context the population will be four times the current population and 2 in 5 people in the world will be from Africa. What does this mean for the continent? Is this going to be a blessing or will it mark the unbecoming of the continent?
As Africa’s population continues to rise, urbanization will continue to take place at a rapid rate, as has been already observed over the past two decades. For example, it is estimated that more than 71 African cities will have populations of 750 000 or more71 African cities will have populations of 750 000 or more. To the business person, this is a wider market opportunity for growth but not rosy for the urban planner, the 2100s will become a sophisticated equation to solve. In fact, by 2025, the UN figures show that African cities will hold 100 million more people than they did in 2010. Before one decides to go to town analyzing these figures, their credibility has to be tested. Wittgenstein Centre’s Samir KC argues that the UN model of forecasting population growth is simplistic as it does not take full account of the fact that, “Once countries urbanize and citizens become wealthier, fertility declines everywhere.” This is in tandem with a further assertion he posits that with education of the female population comes lower birth rates and indeed lower populations. Citing examples of Asia which in 20 years saw a decrease from an average of five children per woman to three and in particular India which had a decrease from 4.7 to 3.1, Samir surely raises doubt of the credibility of the UN figures. However, an analysis of figures from the Wittgenstein Centre shows that they are not materially different from those of the UN. That said, it is imperative to note that the effects of the dramatic population changes may not exactly be accurate but are within the confines of reasonable possibilities.
UN Habitat says that “Africa’s economic performance is promising with booming cities supporting growing middle classes and creating sizable consumer markets.”
The African continental GDP has been projected to grow by at least 6% till 2023 and by 2050, the Sub-Saharan GDP should be at $29 trillion but this unfortunately does not speak to equality in the distribution of the pie. The World Bank forecasts show that most African countries are expected to achieve the “middle income” status by 2025. This is defined by earnings of at least $1000 per annum for every income earner. The Economic Development in Africa Report 2015 remarks that, “The story of growth in Africa over the past decade can be partly explained by the remarkable growth in the services sector. The services sector holds so much promise.”
Clearly the fact that Africa has natural resources has not helped much as of now apart from causing widespread exploitation and political turmoil. Interestingly, the Development Report identifies a new frontier for African development in the services sector. The sad part is that in these expanding industries, foreign entities have already started establishing themselves with foreign bank penetration in terms of both ownership and bank assets is comparatively much higher in Africa than other regions. It is clear that the emerging middle class is a lucrative market. The foreigners have already tapped into the new money-maker in Africa and it stands to be seen if African ventures such as Ecobank will stand their ground in the soon to be “diamond fields” of service provision in Africa. It is surprising that at a promising time like this Barclays Bank would pull out of Africa.
One of the problems that Africa will have to deal with by 2100 is that of reconciling urban growth and amenity provision.reconciling urban growth and amenity provision. UN Habitat rightly asserts that “the continent continues to suffer under very rapid urban growth accompanied by massive urban poverty and many other social problems.”
Indeed, the Borgen Project says 1 in 3 people are undernourished, 589 million people live without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and less than 1 in 5 African women has access to education. These are problems that Africa will have to address as it builds a more robust futuristic system to cater for the billions who will live in cities by 2100. As the middle class swells up, one cannot pretend to be unaware of swelling urban poor in the coming years. The 864 million more people who will live in cities by 2050 are not going to simply join the middle class as this monstrous figure will mainly be made up of rural dwellers moving to cities. As of now, only 58% of Sub-Saharan Africa has access to safe water and cities will have to be built in a way to provide for the bulging population. Therefore one can foresee the development of forward-thinking infrastructure to provide water and hopefully the wildly under-utilized solar energy will be exploited fully. Africa has a chance to build its cities on purely clean terms, circumventing the ills that make Beijing an environmental nightmare.
Africans who might have solutions for these problems might as well start working on them now.The health of the continent, particularly with the nucleated and intensive urban population will be threatened especially with such communicable diseases as Ebola which are aggressive in a closely knit society. Even now, WHO estimates that 60% of the people with HIV/AIDS are in Africa and more than 90% of the cases of malaria are in Africa. To add onto the public health debacle, 1 in 5 children under five had stunted growth due to malnutrition between 2009 and 2013. One then wonders whether Western countries will still have the “every 30 seconds, one child dies of malaria” commercials on their televisions. It is to be expected that with a bit more modern exposure and education, diseases caused by unhygienic tendencies may be curtailed but maybe that is a proposition that takes no account of the population burden the cities of Africa will have. Just how much pollution will be in the cities if the levels are already alarming without the millions who will move to cities? It may be time for cities to privatise such cleaning operations and contract their work thus enhancing business while keeping whole populations safe from disease. Cholera outbreaks like Zimbabwe’s in 2008 should not be a reality of the next century. It is a disgrace to human development. Control of diseases such as Ebola will however prove to be tricky especially in the megacities Africa is forecasted to have. It has been said by 2025, Africa will have three mega-cities from the current one. Africans who might have solutions for these problems might as well start working on them now.
With the growth of the population, it is expected that the safety of the masses will become an important concern. Of late, there has been a rise in Jihadist terrorist activities in Africa with the most notorious culprits being Boko Haram and Al Shabaab. Boko Haram which has shot to worldwide fame for all the wrong reasons is best known for the abductions of the 276 girls in Chibok that gave birth to the #BringBackOurGirls phenomenon. Unfortunately, with more killings in West Africa added under their terrorist curriculum vitae, this seems to be an unapologetic group of sadistic murderers who just do not intend to stop. In 2014 alone, Boko Haram killed over 6600 people. The risk of suicide bombs going off in somewhere in a West African megacity in 2100 may be higher than the world realises. With false claims of obliteration of Boko Haram by the Nigerian army, one wonders if the day will actually come when true obliteration will be announced. In January this year, President Muhammadu Buhari claimed that Boko Haram was currently not holding any territory as he spoke. This of course rightfully caused widespread scepticism and indeed the highly dubious proclamation is no cause for celebration. Having pledged allegiance to ISIL, Boko Haram is now part of a Jihadist syndicate that needs to be destroyed before 2100.
A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) highlighted a problem that may have to be confronted by the continent in the coming few years; infrastructure. It detailed findings that poor transport, communication and energy infrastructure were slowing Africa’s economic growth.
Indeed Matthias Grossmann, a German Development Economist rightly argues that, “The majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa still experience regular power outages, which of course contribute to a low productivity in many firms.”
Power shortages have resulted in higher operating costs as companies try to find alternatives and this is no incentive for either local or foreign investment. Indeed in dealing with the problems of infrastructural development, China has emerged as the major partner for African countries like Angola, DRC and Gabon. With enhanced relations with the Chinese, 2100 could see an Africa with extensive transport networks, robust communication frameworks and a constant power supply essential for business.
Africa’s future cannot be confidently predicted but surely potential problems in the development of the continent are foreseeable and the time is now to build structures to mitigate their effects. The groundwork of a 2100 Africa that is at par with the rest of the world or even a step ahead should be laid now.