Africa needs to make use of the demographic dividend

Currently, 50 per cent of the people on the African continent are under 18. By 2030 there will be 170 million more children and young people between the Mediterranean and the Cape of Good Hope. We need to invest in the future of these people, according to the authors of the study “Generation 2030: Africa 2.0”.

In 2050, 40 per cent of all young people under 18 will live in Africa, rising to half by 2100. The world needs to invest in this young future so that Africa can cash in on its demographic dividend, says Sandie Blanchet.

She is the head of the UNICEF office in Brussels, the organisation which produced the study “Generation 2030: Africa 2.0”. She presented the study in November 2017 to the EU Committee on Development, at the start of the EU’s African Week, and one week before the 5th EU Africa Summit at the end of November in Abidjan in the Côte d’Ivoire.

The demographic dividend is the potential of a young population living in good health and stable conditions that can bring vast growth to the entire continent. If the programmes fail, there will be growing poverty and pressure to migrate. News coming from the African continent is often bad, but Sandie Blanchet also has positive stories to tell.

Niger is one of the poorer nations in Africa, but in the past 15 years the percentage of elementary school pupils has risen from 20 per cent to 69 per cent. “This is simply incredible,” Blanchet says. Even with little money, the country has been able to make this leap. The share of the budget spent on schools and teachers was raised steadily from 17 per cent to 22 per cent, doubling the number of schools and tripling the number of teachers. Families without elementary education generally have between six and seven children. With primary education the number drops to an average 5.8 children, and with a secondary education it drops again to 3.6 children.

Investment in education has lowered both the fertility rate and the number of child marriages. According to Blanchet, Niger shows what is possible with a consistent policy and partnership with the private sector.

The focus of the Abidjan summit is on working with young people. The UNICEF report shows what needs to be done. The health care and social system must be systematically expanded in Africa. Education and vocational training is needed in order to meet the challenges. For this, Africa’s children and young people need to be protected against violence and exploitation.

Work is needed on the fundamentals of development. 49 per cent of children live on less than USD 2 a day, compared with 38 per cent of adults. “Children suffer more from extreme poverty,” Blanchet comments. Malnourishment keeps them mentally and physically below their potential. Children who have to walk up to ten kilometres every day to the nearest well have no time to go to school.

The issue of children and young people is very complex. Even so, Blanchet talks of a “moral imperative” for the industrialised nations to help these children. Without Africa, the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved.

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Roland Krieg, journalist, Berlin/Germany