From the Financial Times
Dividend or disaster? Nigeria grapples with demographic conundrumAfrica’s rapid population growth was touted as an attraction to investors but is seen now as a riskYESTERDAY by: Maggie Fick in GusauLawali Audu, a Nigerian primary school teacher, is proud to have had “as many children as possible”. He has 18 with three wives.Explaining that he sees his large family as part of his contribution to society, Mr Adu hopes his children will give back to the community. But he also has a practical rationale: he believes his children will guarantee him a comfortable future.“When I get old, I know they will take care of me,” says Mr Audu, who is in his mid-40s.The size of his family is an extreme case, but such sentiments are common in Gusau, a city in the north-west Nigerian state of Zamfara, where the fertility rate equates to an average 8.4 children per woman. The statistic highlights one of Africa’s most pressing issues: whether the continent’s population expansion will be a demographic dividend or a disaster.Two years ago, the rapid growth of Africa’s — and Nigeria’s — population was touted as one of the attractions drawing investors and multinationals to the continent. With the number of Africans forecast to double to 2bn by 2050, chief executives and economists talked up the potential of an aspirant, youthful populace wanting to open bank accounts, buy the latest smartphone and splurge on consumer goods.
In other words, the continuing disastrously high fertility of sub-Saharan Africa isn’t just a product of their ancient culture, it’s a strategy
that has been repeatedly urged upon African politicians by white billionaires and their journalist lackeys at Davos and elsewhere.
But the fall in commodity prices and resulting economic slowdown in many nations has refocused attention on the risks associated with a swelling youthful population, which is jobless, trapped in poverty and frustrated.“Our people are an asset but we have to have the wherewithal to invest in them — without that, it’s a tragedy,” says a Nigerian government minister who did not want to be named. “It’s frightening.”Africa’s population is growing at 2.6 per cent, while birth rates are slowing or stabilising in most parts of the world. But its economic growth has dipped to its lowest pace in more than two decades, with the World Bank forecasting that gross domestic product will expand by 1.6 per cent this year….Youth unemployment is widespread across the region, with many young people idle or in part-time work in the informal sector. The continent will have the world’s largest working-age population by 2034, according to McKinsey.The consultant group said in a report last month that African markets still have huge opportunities for growth driven by their demography, in particular its status as the fastest urbanising region.
So McKinsey is still
egging on African elites to keep the fertility pedal to the metal.
“To benefit from this, African governments and the private sector urgently need to work together,” says Acha Leke, a director at McKinsey, adding that job creation will be critical. “Clear policies are needed to ensure that industrialisation takes off, that youth are equipped with the right skills to create the jobs needed and that entrepreneurs are enabled.”In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, demographic pressures are already being felt as nearly 200m people push the country’s rundown roads, schools and hospitals to breaking point. …In Gusau, barefoot children clutching plastic begging bowls roam the streets fighting over food scraps. But civil servants, subsistence farmers and professionals still see it as an obligation to have many children.Yahya Abdullahi, an economics professor at the university, says most of his colleagues have large, polygamous families.“They have their head in the sand about the impact of this, yet they criticise me,” he says, explaining that he has just four children and one wife. …“People still do not see the connection between being poor and having four wives, 14 kids and a limited plot of land and resources,” says Lamido Sanusi, emir of the northern state of Kano.… Yet for the governor to speak out in favour of smaller families would be “political suicide”. “I would be stoned,” he says.