Africa's Youth Bulge: Curse or Blessing?

2012-02-23 18:15

Africa’s burgeoning population, which has now passed the one billion mark, is viewed with much trepidation by African governments on account of three characteristics.

First, is the pace of its growth which is expected to surpass that of India and China – hitting the figure of two billion by 2050.

Second, is the pace of urbanization on the continent – Africa’s mega-cities have necessitated new challenges to governance.

Third, and most importantly, is the youth bulge.

Whilst the under-25s account for 30 percent of the population in the developed world, they constitute a whopping 60 percent on the African continent. Looking to developments in North Africa where unemployed, alienated and politically frustrated youth drove the protests against incumbent regimes, African political elites south of the Sahara increasingly look at their country’s youth bulge as a curse.

However this need not be the case. A recent article by Maike Currie makes the point that a youthful demographic profile is an asset for a country’s improved economic performance.

Indeed, much of the reason for Japan’s lacklustre economic performance has much to do with its ageing and shrinking population. By contrast, Currie notes, Africa’s current population of 500 million people of working age is expected to surge to 1,2 billion by 2050.

Moreover, the changing global economic dynamics also work in the continent’s favour. As Chinese society ages and decrease and as production costs in the Middle Kingdom increases, there is expected to be a manufacturing exodus from China to the continent.

In order for Africa to benefit from these positive internal and external dynamics, it is imperative for African policy-makers to place greater emphasis on education and to ensure that such education meets with the long-term needs of the economy – both local and global.

Second, the current emphasis on infrastructure needs to be sustained and expanded. Third, effective, inclusive and responsive governance especially at the level of the mega-city has to take place.

The youth bulge need not be a curse. Africa need not be poor. Africa need not be confined to the margins of the world economy. African governments and its one billion citizens do have a choice.

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