Setting the Tone in tackling Sustainable development goals for Africa

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without assuring that all women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the dignity and human rights to expand their capabilities, secure their reproductive health and rights, find decent work, and contribute to economic growth.

According to experts, developing policies and investments to secure that future requires that governments know the size, sex, location and age structure of their present and future populations.

Countries with the greatest demographic opportunity for development are those entering a period in which the working-age population has good health, quality education, decent employment and a lower proportion of young dependents.

Smaller numbers of children per household generally lead to larger investments per child, more freedom for women to enter the formal workforce and more household savings for old age. When this happens, the national economic payoff can be substantial. This is a “demographic dividend.”

The demographic dividend is the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share of the population (14 and younger, and 65 and older).

Population Statistics

The world’s population may not be growing as fast as it once did, but by 2050, it’s expected to reach 9.7 billion, up from 7.3 billion in 2015, according to “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre.

In 1950 Africa had 230 million, Europe 549 million inhabitants. By 2100 Africa is expected to have 4200 million, Europe 640 million. Africa grows from half of Europe’s population to seven times the European population.

In 1950 Africa had 230 million, Europe 549 million inhabitants. By 2100 Africa is expected to have 4200 million, Europe 640 million. Africa grows from half of Europe’s population to seven times the European population.

The study noted that by mid-century, the world’s fastest-growing region, Africa, is projected to see its population more than double, while the slowest-growing region, Europe, is expected to see its population decline by about 4 per cent. This means that in 2050 there will be around 3.5 times more Africans (2.5 billion) than Europeans (707 million).

Meanwhile, the less-developed countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and parts of Asia are still experiencing an increase in the youth populations, according to reports

Countries like India, Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, and Kenya will see the working-age shares of their population grow between now and 2050, the study noted. Their challenge will be to make the investments in human and physical capital needed to take advantage of this demographic dividend.

What it Takes

Achieving a demographic dividend requires that each country understand the size and distribution of its population, its current and projected age structure, and the pace of population growth. A growing number of analytic tools are available for such “population assessments,” shortening the time and resources needed for a situation analysis of national circumstances.

National needs must be matched to a sequence of short- and medium-term investments that assure the rights of all young people to plan their lives, be free of violence and trauma, be assured of essential freedoms and reproductive rights, and have access to quality education and mentoring.

UNFPA Intervention

The rights and dignity of all people lie at the heart of development. This is why UNFPA, works to help countries realise the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, which links investments in each person to sustainable development.



The Fund supports national policy reviews on relevant legislation and national action plans. These include status and enforcement of laws on child marriage, protection of women’s rights, and youth policies, which form the basis of policy guidance on the investments needed for a demographic dividend.

UNFPA also provides clear guidance on the “multiplier effects” of investments and how support for the rights and capabilities of young people will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in an actionable and results-oriented way.

The UNFPA Regional Dire ctor for West and Central Africa, Mr. Mabingue Ngom has made the operationalisation of the demographic dividend (DD) a main priority, and the regional office has made concerted efforts around the region.

Youth Potential

So many of Africa’s young people grow up surrounded by poverty, inequality, conflict and instability, and access to education remains a challenge with about one third of adolescent girls not in school.

While unemployment remains a general challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment has remained at twice the adult rate and whilst young people aged 15-24 make up only 37 per cent of the working age population, they account for 60 per cent of all unemployed people in Africa.

A country’s economic growth is often shaped by overarching demographic trends. Developing countries with large youth populations and declining fertility rates could see their economies soar, provided they invest heavily in young people’s education and health and protect their rights, according to The State of World Population 2014.

Potential economic gains could be realised through a ‘demographic dividend,’ which can occur when a country’s working age population grows larger relative to dependent populations, the report shows.

Family planning is important an important part of this process because many countries have large youth populations that will almost ensure continued rapid population growth unless fertility declines, which is what offers the possibility of the demographic dividend.

Where rapid population growth far outpaces economic development, countries will have a difficult time investing in the human capital needed to secure the well-being of its people and to stimulate further economic growth. This issue is especially acute for the least developed countries, many of which are facing a doubling, or even a tripling of their populations by 2050.

Dividends are positive returns on investments, and in 2017 Africa has a huge opportunity to reap demographic dividends from her millions of youth and huge population size.

As the African Union (AU) summit holds this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, nations and leaders should seize the opportunity to make the right decisions, especially as the AU theme for 2017 is the demographic dividend. The best time to cash in on this dividend by investing in the youth of Africa is now. The youth lode must be mined for the development of Africa; and delay is dangerous!

Mike Mwenda

I’m passionate about understanding humanity and the environment we live in. I want our generation to be known for something incredible. I graduated in journalism and public relations, I have a blog where I document and write about environmental issues affecting the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). I have had the privilege of visiting Scotland, Italy and South Africa. Because traveling to me is adventurous; especially making new friends. In addition to writing about arts, environment and culture, I also advocate for women’s rights and empowerment in the Southern part of Africa.

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