The African continent is experiencing some of the highest population increases in the world. So far, the most populous nations in the world are in Asia, which has also, in the past, experienced a stronger population growth compared to Africa. That trend is, however, likely to change in the future. In 2020, five of the most populous nations in the world will be in Asia, but by 2100 five African nations that include Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Egypt will be among the ten biggest countries. Some Asian countries will continue to experience growth but at a slower rate. Countries like China and Bangladesh, which have had strong population growth in the past, are expected to shrink due to improvement in the standard of living and higher education levels.
Africa today is home to populous countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt and smaller countries with populations of under 1 million such as Seychelles, Comoros, Sao Tome and Principle, and Djibouti. In some countries such as Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia, fertility is rising. In others such as Mozambique and Nigeria, fertility is high but stable – dropping by less than 1% per year. While in others such as Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Serra Leone, fertility is high but dropping at a rate of 2.5% or more a year. In some countries such as Mali, Somalia, Niger, Chad, and DRC, fertility rates are exceptionally high, exceeding six children per woman. Tunisia and Mauritius, however, have fertility rates that have fallen below replacement levels. Annual population growth rates on the continent range from 0.5% in countries like Mauritius and Libya to about 4% in countries like Niger and Equatorial Guinea. Countries vary widely in the level of urbanization. For example, countries such as Angola, Botswana, and South Africa are highly urbanized with urban populations accounting for about 60% of their total population. While countries like Burundi, Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Rwanda have urban populations that are less than 20% of the total. Africa can, therefore, be considered one of the most demographically dynamic continents in this century. Going into the future, the continent, which is home to countries with some of the youngest populations in the world, will be a key source of the labor force that will drive the world economy.
Africa Going Into The Future
Africa is currently home to about 1.3 billion people, which translates to roughly 17% of the world's total population. By 2050, the continent's population is expected to rise to 2.4 billion, and in 2100, the population is expected to hit a staggering 4.2 billion. The continent is expected to become the second most populous continent after Asia, which is projected to have a population of 4.8 billion. Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, which has a population of about 190 million people, is expected to have a population of 400 million people by 2050 and a population of about 733 million people by 2100. The Democratic Republic of Congo, which currently has a population of 81 million, will have a population of 195 million by 2050 and 362 million by 2100. Ethiopia, which currently has a population of 105 million, will have 294 million people, Tanzania, which has a population of 57 million, will have 286 million and Egypt which has a population of 97.6 million will have a population of 225 million by 2100.
Nigeria, which is already ranked 7th according to population projections for the year 2020, is expected to rise to third place by 2100. The country is also expected to lead an African dominated list of countries with the highest projected increases in population with a gain in population of about +527 million. Other countries that are projected to have the largest gains in population include DRC (+272 million), Tanzania (+226 million), Pakistan (+182 million), Ethiopia (+179 million), Angola (+155 million), Niger (+141 million), Egypt (+122 million), and Sudan (+98 million). The DRC, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Egypt will overtake Brazil, Russia, Bangladesh, and Mexico in the list of the top ten most populous countries. Mexico, which is currently ranked the tenth most populous will experience sluggish growth (+10% by 2100) while Brazil, Russia, and Bangladesh will experience population losses of -15%, -14%, and -8% respectively by 2100. China, which is the most populous country in the world, is expected to have the largest population decrease (-374 million) by 2100.
Reasons For The Rapid Growth
African nations have among the highest fertility rates in the world. At least thirty-two nations on the continent have a fertility rate of 4.5 or higher. Tropical regions of the continent have some of the largest populations with sub-Saharan Africa having a fertility rate of 5.2 children per woman in the period between 2010 and 2015. Overall, Africa had a fertility rate of 4.72 in the same period. Populous countries on the continent, such as the DRC, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Egypt, have fertility rates of 6.0, 5.5, 5.0, 4.3, and 3.4, respectively. The rates are significantly higher than the global average (2.4) in 2017. Other African counties with high fertility rates include Niger, Somalia, Chad, and Burundi, with 7.0, 6.2, 5.8, and 5.5, respectively.
In recent years, Africa has made remarkable progress in the reduction of mortality. Improvement in sanitation, nutrition, and improved capability in combating malaria and other tropical diseases has led to significant increases in the lifespan of most people on the continent. In 1950, the continent had an average life expectancy of fewer than 40 years, much like Europe in the 1700s. By the 1980s, average life expectancy had surpassed 50 years, and in the period between 2010 and 2015, life expectancy had reached 60 years. There is, however, regional variation in life expectancy with North African countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, all having a life expectancy of above 71 years. Western African countries such as Nigeria, on the other hand, have a life expectancy of just less than 55 years. Infant mortality has also fallen by 29% in the last decade. In the period between 2000 and 2015, countries that had achieved the largest reductions in infant mortality include Ethiopia (a decline of 41%), Rwanda (51%), and Congo (43%). The UN projects that by 2050-55 the average life span will have risen to 70 years.
Challenges Expected Due To Population Increase
Infrastructure in the continent is expected to come under tremendous pressure as the population continues to increase. Experts estimate that the continent needs around $170 billion annually to plug the infrastructure gap so that it can deal with that additional population increase. The estimate illustrates the financing challenge that the continent will have to overcome to deal with the additional numbers comfortably. African countries had made considerable strides in developing critical infrastructure following their independence. Civil wars and systemic corruption have, however, made the infrastructure gap worryingly wide as the population continues to expand. In 2018, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimated that the continent lost $148 billion annually as a result of corruption and other fraudulent activities. The figure represents approximately 5% of the continent's average GDP.
African cities such as Lagos, Kinshasa, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and Kampala that are expected to experience a large population increase due to urbanization are expected to suffer some of the greatest infrastructure pressure. Unfortunately, most of the cities are already suffering from insufficient infrastructure. African governments have been forced to turn to international creditors such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, AfDB, the EU, and recently, China to finance infrastructure development. In 2018 the continent's external debt was $417 billion, which was about 20% of the debt owed to China. The World Bank has already classified at least 18 African countries as at a high risk of debt distress where the debt-to-GDP ratio exceeds 50%. Experts believe that relying on high levels of debt to meet the $170 billion annual threshold set by AfDB is unsustainable, especially as the continent continues to hemorrhage resources due to corruption.