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Demographic dividends

Par Zyad Limam - Publié en janvier 2022

In 2100, that is to say in a little more than seventy years, which is not much in the scale of human history, and which is not that far for the children born today, 40% of the Earth's population will be African. By that time, we will be around 4 billion (3 billion of which will be in sub-Saharan Africa alone) for a global earth population of 8 to 9 billion.

Nigeria will have nearly 700 million residents. And Niger will have around 200 million! Africa will then be, with the Middle East, an exception, as all other regions of the world will see their population decrease or stabilize. China could return to 1 billion inhabitants’ level (less than its population in 2021). Some countries, such as Japan or Russia, Italy and even Spain, could lose 40% to 50% of their population. The United States would then be just over 400 million people in a country that is heavily “racially” mixed, and with a "white" minority.

These figures, and their staggering implications for the world order, internal political and social balances, should surely be taken with caution. They are based on mathematical models. And 2100 remains a very distant horizon. All sorts of political, health and climatic events, or upheaval, could occur.

But the basic trend is there, at least in the medium term, over one or two generations to come. This is the power of "demographic inertia". Without looking ahead all the way to 2100, Africa will still have to absorb a tremendous demographic surge. Even if fertility rates and mortality rates fall, the continent could have between 1.6 and 2 billion inhabitants by 2050. The vast majority of these Africans will be young, very young. This is a seismic shock that is not yet sufficiently reflected in our public debate. Except to argue endlessly about religious issues or the highly taboo question of birth control.

Yet, the demographic question is at the heart of African issues. Birth control is the cornerstone of all positive scenarios including the "demographic dividend" theory. When fertility falls rapidly in a country, the share of the very young falls sharply, without the share of the elderly increasing significantly at first. Simultaneously, the working-age population increases sharply, offering an opportunity for economic development: creation of a consumer market, jobs, etc. This window of opportunity only lasts for a few decades. When the population ages again, the window gradually closes, due to the lack of a sufficient number of new workers and the weight of the elderly...

But for this magic operation to work, we must avoid being outnumbered by demographics, and above all create jobs and potential for this influx of young people. We need growth and functioning economies. We must also train these cohorts of new workers. Otherwise, the supposedly active population will join the ranks of the unemployed and informal precariousness, leading to an explosive social situation...

The virtuous path of the demographic dividend (growth, opportunities, birth control) is what China has experienced. In Brazil, Argentina and Latin America, in general, the "dividend" works much less well because of the lack of sufficient jobs and economic creativity.

For us Africans, the choices are crystal clear. No matter what the theorists of large population say, if we are to have a playable future, our numbers must stabilize, births must decline, we must move toward nuclear families of four or five. And all energies must be directed towards economic development and the imagination of new models.

Until then, I wish you all a more peaceful year 2022, to be fully vaccinated, energetic and active in the heart of the world.