PRB Discuss Online: Africa's Demographic Challenges

(March 2012) Of the 48 least developed countries in the world, 33 are located in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, this region stands out with the highest birth rates in the world. By the year 2050, the number of people in the region may double, and by the end of the century it may even quadruple. The Berlin Institute’s study, Africa’s Demographic Challenges: How a Young Population Can Make Development Possible, reports on 103 current and former developing countries, showing that no single country has developed socioeconomically without a parallel decline in its birth rate.


If fertility decreases, a population’s age structure changes: Proportionally, there are fewer children and more people of working age. According to the theory of the “demographic dividend,” this favorable age structure can boost development. The experience of the Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan), who translated their population boom in the working-age group into rapid economic growth, is proof of this dividend.


The Asian Tigers had a demographic starting point comparable to many sub-Saharan African countries today and were similarly less developed. Through massive investments into education, family planning, and the job market, these Asian countries managed to take advantage of their demographic dividend—an estimated one-third of the economic growth in East and Southeast Asia can be attributed to this dividend.


In a PRB Discuss Online, Reiner Klingholz, Tanja Kiziak, and Manuel Slupina from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, answered questions from participants about Africa’s demographic challenges and opportunities.


March 13, 2012 11 AM (EDT)


Transcript of Questions and Answers


Sissoko Foussénou: Issue of Population, Health and Economic outcomes is particulary acute in Africa, and, all set up population policies failed ; what to make now ?
Tanja Kiziak: We don’t share your opinion that all population policies in Africa have failed. In fact, fertility decreased in countries that invested into education and the provision of family planning (such as the North African countries or Mauritius). However, the results are not as convincing as in the Asian tiger nations, and there seems to be a lot of room to improve these population policies.


Kelly Leibfried: For the past 10 years I have brought my students to the point of looking at Africa as the next “work shop” of the world. Do you believe this is a pliable look at African development considering that China is not likely to allow the Chinese middle class to continue to grow at the cost of employment and the developmental difficulties of many African nations?
Tanja Kiziak: As production costs and wages are rising rapidly in China, new workshops of the world certainly will be set up in countries with cheaper production conditions. Whether or not these countries will be in Africa is a question of bureaucracy, planning reliability, political stability, corruption etc. It is unlikely that the workshop jobs will remain in China due to the better education of the Chinese and the upcoming demographic shrinkage of the working-age population. Some experts even project that manufacturing will return to the US because of rising production costs in China (see


Emeka Nwosu, Nigeria: If Demography is the statistical study of human populations and sub-populations how can we put this into positive use in positioning African states to benefit from her numbers
Tanja Kiziak: Demography is less about human numbers than it is about human capital. Africa will only benefit from her numbers, if education levels rise and if jobs are created so that the large numbers of people in working-age will be able to become economically productive. For many African countries, great numbers of young people are however a burden rather than a bonus because the costs of providing the infrastructure (schools, hospitals etc) are so large that governments cannot invest into employment and higher education.


Dr. Anima Sharma: Hi, As I understand most of the Sub-Saharan countries are in the early phase of development. They are inviting foreign expertise for the development and lot of International grant is diverting to the education and health sectors in these countries. When these basic challenges are met, especially health then it does have a positive impact on the population growth. I think this is what has lead us to assume about the population condition in 2050. But associated with development are several social issues, which need to be attended simultaneously. What is Africa doing in this regards?
Tanja Kiziak: You are right that health is one of the key factors for lowering high fertility rates. Education certainly is another one. But of course, there are important social issues, especially women’s empowerment. In a number of African countries, girls do not have any adequate access to schools and education. As long as these girls do not have an alternative to early motherhood and as long as the planning of the family size is out of their reach, population growth will continue—resulting in youth bulges, violent conflicts and food shortages.


Peter Mutanda: The donors have always supported the African government to come up with very good policies on family planning, commodities support and service delivery guidelines. What role can the multi-lateral donors do to enable the African understand the connection between development and population growth and commit more resource to slide back population growth?
Tanja Kiziak: It is in the natural intention of African governments to improve the living conditions of their citizens. Therefore it is worthwhile for them to look at the former development paths of emerging nations such as Thailand, Brazil or South Korea. Some decades ago, these were very poor nations, but they are now on the road to success. The blueprint of development is a combination empowering women and of investment into education and health, voluntary family planning programs and carrying out the necessary economic reforms.


Lanre Ikuteyijo: What exactly do you think is the greatest problem of sub-Saharan Africa; is it population explosion or mismanagement of resources and official corruption?
Tanja Kiziak: There are even more problems than the ones you mention such as food scarcity, water shortage, lack of infrastructure, political instability and violent conflicts. All these problems have to be solved on the long run, but rapid population growth certainly makes finding the solutions even more difficult. Therefore, population growth is central to all other problems and has to be tackled with maximum effort.


Mark: Why you think that strong dependable solution to population problems could not emerge in the world? Why the proposal of fertility decline and political interest could match for long time in Africa?
Tanja Kiziak: Population growth is a global problem. In absolute numbers we still grow by a billion in the next 14 years. However, growth rates have halved in the past decades. The fertility rates in all countries are going down, and by the end of this century, world population growth will turn into a decline. The question is: Will this happen early enough to prevent major ecological damage? Compared to other continents, Africa is sparsely populated, and therefore, for a long time, large population growth rates used to be seen as a benefit. But as fast-growing populations draw on natural and financial resources, many countries actually become poorer due to population growth.


Sanjay Mishra: The way disease,poverty inflation or any other problems are globalized, technology, access to health or other things not globalized, while many African countries have considerable agricultural conditions including land (except irrigation problem), and the most demographic question now is making Africa free from hunger and mal- nutrition, looking at current status shows that there is some gap either in policies or in implementation—may I know whether it is policy or implementation and if the problem is tracked what measures are taken to resolve the issue?
Tanja Kiziak: There are a number of policies to reduce hunger and malnutrition like improved irrigation and agriculture programs, management of food storage, fair international trading conditions etc. Most of these policies are not well implemented. Rapid population growth by itself is thus not the only factor for hunger and malnutrition—but all solutions become more difficult if it continues. The next decades will be critical for the global food security in any case: if the poor countries will keep their high population growth rates, hunger will not disappear. If they develop, and population growth slows down, their demand for higher food quality with more animal protein will grow and put more pressure on global food production.


William Ryerson: Reiner Klingholz and Tanja Kiziak, et al make a statement at that “Population growth and high birth rates can in no way be fully attributed to the desire to have large families. Rather, they are in part due to the fact that women and couples lack effective birth control methods.” In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the most recent Demographic and Health Survey shows that, compared to a fertility rate of 5.7, married women want on average 6.7 children and married men want 8.5. Only 10% of married women report they currently use modern contraceptives. Of the non-users, 55% say that they never intend to use family planning. The top reasons for non-use cited are opposition to family planning (39%), the desire to have as many children as possible (17%), fear of health effects (11%), and not knowing a method (8%). Lack of access and cost were cited by only 0.2% each. This pattern is seen in many African countries and is not reflected by the statement of the authors.
Tanja Kiziak: The figures for Nigeria are correct, but it is interesting to look at the details of these statistics. The number of desired children is high among women with no or little education, in the lowest income classes, and in the Muslim North where women’s rights are restricted. So it is plausible that desired family size would diminish if the government took action to improve education standards, income generation and gender equity. The DHS statistics clearly show that women with higher education and better living standards (especially in the South of Nigeria) want 3 to 4 children less than their uneducated and poor peers.


Laurie DeRose: Would further fertility decline in sub-Saharan Africa really create the potential for a demographic dividend when simultaneously considering the loss of population in the prime productive years due to HIV/AIDS? I know the key to a demographic dividend is a low youth dependency ratio; what I don’t know is if that ratio can drop enough to contribute significantly to development potential, especially in south and east Africa.
Reiner Klingholz: You are right that high incidence of HIV/Aids increases the youth dependency ratio. So HIV/AIDS makes it more difficult to harvest the demographic dividend. However, today, medication makes it possible to reduce HIV-related mortality. In Botswana for example, HIV-related fatalities have been halved in only seven years. The affected countries have to fight HIV/AIDS and decrease fertility rates at the same time. To some extent the methods are the same: offer sexual education, reduce promiscuity, use condoms.


Ugochukwu Onyeonoro: Now that many African countries particularly my country Nigeria are failing to buy into the idea of making population a developmental issue, how can the continent address the challenge of population of growth as well as harness the opportunities presented by the growing population?
Reiner Klingholz: Please also take a look at our answer to William Ryerson’s question. In short words: offer information and materials for family planning, open access to secondary education especially for girls, provide jobs to the large cohorts of young people in productive age. If governments have problems to swallow the idea of family planning, concentrate on education (especially for girls) and job creation and demand for family planning and a decline in fertility rates will follow.


Cristina Bradatan: Sub Saharan Africa is one of regions that will/are suffer(ing) significantly from the effects of the climate change. How much impact do you see climate change will have on the future development of this region?How will these nations cope with this impact?
Reiner Klingholz: Indeed, most parts of Northern and Southern Africa will see increased water-stress due to climate change. In a number of countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture are expected to be reduced by up to 50 percent. This is bad news for poor countries with high population growth rates. Most parts of equatorial East Africa can expect higher rainfalls. This can have a positive effect on agriculture if the rains are distributed evenly across a longer time period. In general, rich countries with high education levels can adapt more easily to the effects of climate change.


Eliya Msiyaphazi Zulu: There are many differences between Africa and the context in which the “demographic dividend” worked in Asia, which must be taken into when assessing its potential relevance to Africa. For example, Africa does not enjoy the cozy trade relationship that the Asian Tigers had with industrialized countries. Fertility seems to be destined to fall quite rapidly in Africa before we can see the massive investments in education and job market transformations that are required to benefit from the dividend. And it is hard to see how Africa can develop massive capacity to gainfully engage its “demographic dividend” without transforming its agricultural sector as well. So, the dividend is a valuable rallying point to get African governments and development partners invest in family planning. But that is the easiest of the transformations that are needed for the expected labor force bonus to become a demographic dividend rather than a “demographic curse”. Southern Africa, North Africa, and a few East African countries (notably Rwanda) have set in motion a reproductive revolution, which will reduce fertility in Africa more rapidly than many think. Of course, this is as long as we continue galvanizing political commitment and investments in family planning. So, the bigger question regarding the demographic dividend is whether the economic end of things will change fast enough, and to what extent the demographic change will help engineer economic transformation. Comment
Reiner Klingholz: We hear time and again that Africa is different from other continents and that progress as known from Asia or Latin America cannot be expected. This view is not only unfair, but it is not even correct: Many countries in Asia and Latin America were not better off economically and politically 50 years ago compared to African nations today. However, we agree that Africa has been very slow on the path of development, but there are good examples that African nations can indeed follow the way of the Asian tigers as shown by Mauritius, Tunisia, South Africa or Namibia. These countries enjoy the trade relationships you mention. Trade relations are a matter of supply and demand. A number of African countries have not yet been able to build up a profile as a supplier of marketable goods. They will need to do that in the future.


Sissoko Foussénou: Population Growth and Economic Development in Africa ; What needs to be done ?
Tanja Kiziak: Secondary education for girls is the proven recipe to reduce fertility rates. At the same time, secondary education (of course also for boys) is essential for an initial economic boom. However, this is of course not enough. Well-educated people need jobs to become productive. And for the investors to come, bureaucratic obstacles and other impediments like corruption must be removed, stable structures created and supportive services (in infrastructure, the finance sector etc) offered.


Stoufa: What about the demographic transition in the world and in Africa? What about tunisian demographic challenges for the future? What can we learn from the Tunisian experience
Manuel Slupina: Tunisia has created a perfect demographic bonus, with a fertility rate at replacement level and a high share of people in working-age. To bring these people to work, enormous investments into jobs are necessary. This is a big challenge not only for Tunisia, but for the whole North-African region.


Charlie Teller: To reap the demographic dividend, the authors correctly state that working age people “must have the change to find a job” (and let me add: including access to sufficient productive land). How can the “politics” and agricultural and employment policies help to determine the correct course? Are there more individual African country case studies that can guide us? In our recent book: The Demographic Transition and Development in Africa (Springer, 2011), we (Teller and Assefa) identified 9 preconditions for reaping the dividend in Ethiopia (p. 345). These include not only human capital formation, but also better governance, technological adaptation, higher quality institutions and higher youth aspirations and elongated transitions to adulthood.
Manuel Slupina: Your preconditions are in line with our observations. With agricultural and employment policies, we see one challenge: as agriculture absorbs a great number of people, raising productivity will put a lot of people out of job. They add to the large number of people who are either unemployed or working in the formal sector. There exist a number of case studies such as the following on Uganda:

Angelina Pillay: Hi Tanja, Namibia a country that is 68% the size of South Africa, having a population of merely 2.1m people, and having the highest Gini Index in the world (sources CIA World Fact). Unemployment 51.2%. Natural rich resources such as precious metals, fish. Suspected opportunitys of oil, coal and iron ore. Country has rich natural resources, limited capacity to perform cause the population is not skilled for the opportunities in the country, and a small population for a large land space, do you believe fertility reduction will address the current issues and address economic inefficiencies in the country?
Manuel Slupina: Namibia is a very large country with limited agricultural and water resources. So it might be over-populated even with 2.1 m people


Angelina Pillay: the statement “Few children, more people working in working age which boosts development”——Maybe so as a short term solution? But long term problematic, as we see with China (a growing aged population), sustanability for all their hard work—who takes it forward if the population is growing in age, but limited in working age entry.
Manuel Slupina: The alternative to the demographic transition would be a permanently growing population, which doesn’t sound like an option for a limited planet. Of course, a reduced birth rate leads to a graying of society and possibly a shrinking population, but this seems to be the unavoidable path for all nations that develop. On the long run, we will see a shrinking world population, much older but better educated and wiser than today, more peaceful and better equipped to adapt to the anthropogenic changes like climate change.


Violet Murunga: Some countries in SSA have in the recent past demonstrated their commitment to family planning as a health and development issue and the gains are beginning to be registered. However, the issue of addressing the SRH needs of youth as a way of lowering the high teenage pregnancies (which contributes to high fertility rates and poor maternal and child health outcomes) in these and other countries in the region is still a major. Notwithstanding the cultural beliefs surrounding youth and sexuality, SSA governments recognize the importance of catering for youth SRH needs and have policies to this end. However, implementation is hampered by health system issues as well as underfunding. There are also questions on what programs to implement. Can you comment on the experience of the Asian Tigers with regards to targeted SRH programs.
Manuel Slupina: Let’s take Bangladesh as an example: it was an extremely poor country some decades ago, but it has halved its fertility rate within the past 20 years. This was achieved by an integrated approach of women’s empowerment, micro-credits for women, women’s literacy programs and family planning. Such integrated programs seem to have a bigger effect than pure SRH-programs, because they offer new opportunities for young people and therefore create a higher demand for family planning.


Yibeltal Tebekaw: I personally agree that young population can make a difference in a specific area. However, the demographic dividend may not have similar impact all across because of the different socio-economic and political environment. How do you see the DD against political stability and educational quality of a nation in SSA countries context? Don’t you think family planning has a content of family limiting in such environments? I said this because I personally don’t believe that people are using contraceptives based on their real need to solve their problem. Who should play the main role to use the demographic ‘bonus’? Do you think still FP is the main solution to lower fertility levels?
Manuel Slupina: We don’t think that family planning is the main solution. It is only an instrument. You have to create a demand for it first. The best way to do this is education for girls, because it provides an alternative to early marriage and motherhood. Educated women start having children later, they space their pregnancies further apart and have fewer children altogether. After all, education opens up professional opportunities and enables young people to really plan the size of their families, i.e. make responsible and deliberate reproductive decisions.


Joseph KAYEMBE MUBIAYI: An international development organization whose core’s mandate is to achieve universal access to health and reproductive rights in order to improve the lives of young people in particular, is about to develop a new five-year cooperation with a country of sub-Saharan Africa. This country is a fragile state, having experienced more than a decade of armed conflict and 70% of the population lives below the poverty line. Its population consists mostly young (68% are aged under 25) of which 50% have their first sexual intercourse before age 15 years. The PRSP is based on which the new cooperation program target a particular way access to employment as a priority for young people. In this context, what are the strategic priorities for inclusion in the new program of cooperation with this country to help prepare the youth to be the engine of national development?
Reiner Klingholz: This is the most difficult question, not only for us, but also for Africa. Our recommendation is:


    1. Convince political and religious leaders, elderly etc that population growth is at the core of the crisis because it makes the solution of all the problems more difficult.


    1. Develop a national strategy with the various interest groups and set priorities.


    1. Build up a basic health care system to reduce mother and child mortality. This should include reproductive health services and access to family planning.


    1. Provide education in order give young people an alternative to early parenthood. Try to give some basic education even to young adults who have not had the opportunity to go to a school .


    1. Provide jobs for young adolescents (primarily in agriculture—to improve food security)


dell erickson: What is sustainable population level for the various countries and the continent? Why are you not discussing sustainability? Why do we see panoramas of what amounts to destroyed lands and yet no mention is made of it?
Reiner Klingholz: According to the global CO2-emissions, mankind is over-populated by the factor of two. So we (especially the rich countries) should reduce our emissions in order to achieve global sustainability. Or we reduce the world population by 50% and then we could afford our consumption level. In reality, we do not only have to reduce the consumption level of the rich countries, but also give the poor countries a chance to develop—so that population growth will decline. That definitely calls for a better supply with commercial energy. In order to provide this energy on a non-fossil basis, the developed countries have to export the best green technologies to the developing countries to enable them to skip the fossil phase.


Richard Cincotta: In a recent multi-author book on SSA, entitled “Africa’s Turn?”, the editor observes that the two factors that most distinguish under-developed African states from states that are experiencing rapid per capita economic growth are “bad economic policy” and “weak institutions”. Why do you think most economists continue to ignore fertility decline and age structural maturity as factors that contribute to economic and political progress?
Reiner Klingholz: Hi Richard. I’m not an economist, but the classic economical theory regards people as a factor of productivity. So if you invest into the education of every single child and the number of children is permanently increasing, the profit for society becomes unlimited. The problem for many poor countries is the shortage of financial means for investing into human capital. Weak institutions certainly worsen the problem. (BTW: “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist.” Kenneth Boulding)


Holly Reed: Eliya Zulu’s and William Ryerson’s questions bring up some important contextual factors (economic development/trade, low unmet need) that are different in Africa than they were in the Asian Tigers. However, Africa is rapidly urbanizing. Do you think that demographic change in Africa will accelerate due to rapid urbanization? But, will this simply create more divisions within countries (perhaps between urban elites and rural dwellers)? And what will the impact of the brain drain be?
Tanja Kiziak: Nowhere does the urban population grow as fast as in Africa. There, the number of people living in cities has doubled during the past 20 years. Urbanization will decelerate population growth, as women in cities (even those living under poor conditions) have fewer children than women in rural areas.


Erica Dhar: How would you address the question that in developing countries, populations will age before the countries get rich, versus the industrialized world which got rich before it got old. With longer life expectancy rates in Africa what is your prognosis for the region?
Tanja Kiziak: This is the second most difficult question of this session. Certainly today’s developing countries will age faster and poorer than today’s industrialized countries. Unlike the latter, the developing countries know what lies ahead of them demographically, so they try to prepare for the aging, e.g. by setting up micro-insurance programs or building up state funds that have to be accumulated during periods of economic growth.


Mesele Araya: Can Africa have a Demographic Transition without development? In other words, to see a free hunger of Africa, which has to come first? Development or Demographic Transition
Tanja Kiziak: From a historical perspective, development doesn’t take place without a demographic transition. The two go hand in hand.


Ed Barry: You state that development opportunities for families and entire societies grow with a decline in birth rates, but we would add, unless the availability of natural resources constrains growth. Human population numbers seem to be fundamentally out of balance with the natural resources of many African countries. So our question: why don’t demographic research reports include more focus and information about the nexus between population numbers and the natural resource capacity needed for economic growth?
Reiner Klingholz: Carrying capacity can be increased enormously by technology. So the natural resource capacity is a relative indicator for sustainability. With better technology, Africa could not only feed its population, but also live in harmony with the environment.