Africa’s population surpassed 1.2 billion in May 2017, a figure which represents almost 17% of the world's population and the continent with the youngest economically active population.  ‘Africa Rising’ has become a term synonymous with the rapid growth being witnessed across Africa.

African leaders have been urged to take advantage of their growing populations to boost their economies through economic integration and trade.  In a statement to commemorate Africa Day late last month the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, stressed that it is “important to transform this huge human energy into a dynamic and creative development tool.” 

“With an average growth rate of 5% over the last 15 years, with six countries among the top 10 in the world’s most dynamic economies, it is clear that Africa is one of the regions of the world where growth is definitely fastest but where challenges remain in reaping the full benefits of its human and natural resources”

Unemployment remains high in Africa and tragic conflicts still plague South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel.  To take advantage of the continent’s youthful population when so much of the world has an increasingly aged one, Mahamat wants governments to invest in youth by creating jobs, investing in education, improved social services and providing universal healthcare coverage.  He said investment should also encompass the promotion of culture, positive values and sports. 

Mr Orondaam Otto, of the West Africa Regional Advisory Board of Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, said Africa needs transformational leaders in all spheres of life who would serve their communities selflessly with commitment and dedication without lording it over their citizens.

What Africa’s does not need in order to thrive as people and families is the imposition of population control ideology as some organisations and opinion seems to espouse.  The first annual Africa-China Conference on Population and Development was held in Nairobi, Kenya in late April. The event was jointly hosted by the Government of China, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government of Kenya and organized by the Kenyan National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) and the China Population and Development Research Center (CPDRC), the research arm of the National Health and Family Planning Commission.  While the theme for the conference was “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend in Africa”, not all of the conference’s conclusions were sound.

Many conference participants emphasized the importance of investing in education, women’s empowerment, and job creation for youth in order to benefit from Africa’s young population.  However, it is worrying that Irungu Nyakera, Principal Secretary of the Kenya Ministry of Devolution and Planning opened the conference with an address on behalf of the Ministry’s Cabinet Secretary, Mwangi Kiunjuri which included statements such as this one:

“China has important population and development lessons that can benefit Africa such as the success in substantially declining the population growth rate from the 1970s which has resulted in more sustainable population growth rate numbers,”

Other speakers at the event, including UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee, also spoke highly of the Chinese Government’s population control policies over the past several decades, apparently saying that “China is an example to the rest of the developing countries when it comes to family planning,”.

A state which forcibly controlled people’s fertility is to not to be emulated.  Given the atrocities committed in China in the name of brutal population control policies, Africa should be wary of similar measures.  For instance, during the early to mid 1980’s the Chinese Government made IUDs mandatory for all women of reproductive age with one child, sterilization mandatory for women with two or more children, and abortion compulsory for all unauthorized births.

The Kenyan media didn’t seem adverse to the ideas expressed, with The Daily Nation, a leading Kenyan media outlet commenting :

With a controlled population, the Chinese economy boomed, benefiting from cheap labour from its many people and rising to be the second largest after the United States. Should Kenyans do the same?


Largely due to high fertility in the immediate past, Africa has the opportunity to harness a “demographic dividend” because of its large numbers of young working people.  This is in stark contrast to countries like China and much of the Western world facing a lack of working age young people due to chronically low fertility.  China is now grappling with how to make more women have two children to help to save the economy, along with the problems the selective abortion of girls has brought to the country.  In order to harness their demographic dividend, African youth need employment and positive values and leaders which celebrate family – not inspiration from brutal and undignified population control methods.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...