Will we all be African again one day soon?  It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.  There has been an unprecedented demographic shift this century towards an increasingly African world. 

A report released this week by the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) found that by the end of this century about 40 per cent of all humans (and nearly half of all children) will be African – one of the fastest and most radical demographic changes in history.  In 1950 Africa accounted for only 9 per cent of the world’s population.  The population explosion will be biggest in West Africa. By 2050, Nigeria alone will account for an astounding one-tenth of all births in the world. It is currently the largest economy in Africa.

Fertility rates are actually declining in Africa as they are in much of the world.  However, they remain higher than anywhere else and, at the same time, life expectancy and child survival rates have drastically improved.

The population boom comes as a double edged sword for the African people themselves.  It creates potentially exciting economic opportunities.  According to the report, Africa could reap a massive demographic dividend from its bigger labour force and relatively fewer dependents, which could “transform the continent, breaking centuries-old cycles of poverty and inequality” (while the West continues to struggle with low fertility rates and a small working age, tax paying population). 

However, the situation must be well-managed to avoid the boom instead causing more Africans to simply fall into poverty.  UNICEF recommends further immediate investment in Africa’s children, largely through education programmes – especially among girls – and reducing child marriage rates.

Many argue that lots of misconceptions exist about the benefits of investment into Africa.  There are indeed problems, largely with infrastructure. However, many of the current investment deficits also represent opportunities.  Broadband is coming into more countries, and the telecommunications sector is expected to continue to grow.  Agriculture will also be a growth industry ripe for investors, as will many others.  

Earlier this year Ernst & Young released its Africa Attractiveness Survey 2014.  The most striking observation was how far Africa’s perceived attractiveness has improved. In less than five years, Africa has risen to become the second most attractive investment destination in the world, tied with Asia.  South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Kenya are considered some of the most attractive investment destinations.

The survey also found that, with the diversification of economic activity gathering pace, growing employment levels are creating a new consumer class. This has paved the way for increasing foreign direct investment in consumer-focused services and manufacturing sectors, and sectors other than extractive industries are growing in importance.

Let’s hope we see Africa moving to make the most of its demographic dividend.  These demographic figures are also a reminder that it would also be nice for other continents to have some babies!

Shannon Roberts edits Demography is Destiny from New Zealand. 

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...