Here’s Why the 21st Century Belongs to Africa

While the rest of the world grays, Africa’s population grows, setting the stage for the continent to become an economic superpower before the century’s end.

Let’s take a quick poll. Take a look around and ask the colleague, friend, family member, or stranger nearest to you which of the world’s continents will dominate the global economy in the year 2099.

How did they answer?

I’m guessing that many would bet on Asia with its heavy hitters China and India. A large percentage probably also said North America, expecting its hegemony to endure for another 90 years.

If your neighbor said Africa, however, you may be in the presence of real prescience. The stage is set for the continent to be the world’s economic powerhouse before the end of the century.

Here’s why.

Photo by Luca Rossato

Africa’s Dropping Dependency Ratio

Last week we looked at the implications of Africa’s declining fertility rates – a hopeful trend triggered by big advances in the fight against child mortality. To summarize that article, African women are increasingly confident that their babies will survive to adulthood, and therefore decide to have fewer children. This allows families to invest more resources into the well-being of each child. The cumulative impact of all these household-level decisions taken over years and decades is an exponential increase in the productive capacity of the continent’s population.

Today, African adults, on average, support more dependents than do adults from any other region. This is measured by the dependency ratio. According to the UN, Africa’s dependency ratio is 79.5. This means that for every 100 African adults, there are roughly 80 children and elderly relying on them for food, shelter, healthcare, and education. In Asia, 100 adults care for just 47 children and elderly.

But thanks to lower fertility rates, Africa’s dependency ratio will decline steadily over the next four decades. Take a look at the chart below.

[easychart¬†type=”vertbar” height=”150″ title=”Dependency Ratio for World Regions” groupnames=”2012, 2050″ groupcolors=”005599,229944″ valuenames=”Africa,Asia,Europe,Latin America,North America,Oceania” group1values=”79.5,47.3,47.1,51.1,50.2,52.2″ group2values=”58.7,54.1,72.7,57.2,65.8,59.0″ ]

Take a look at Europe in the above chart.

It’s pretty clear to see why its economic future looks so cloudy, isn’t it? In a few decades, Africa’s colonial powers will have some of the highest dependency ratios in the world. A hundred French workers will be caring for 71 children and elderly in 2050. Germany’s dependency ratio will be 77.6.

Growing — Not Graying

Granted, Africa’s workers will still shoulder more of a demographic burden than their counterparts in Asia. Asia’s 2050 dependency ratio is projected to be just 54.1 compared to Africa’s 58.1, but the second half of the century looks pretty wrinkly for Asia, as the chart below illustrates.

[table id=88 /]

Roughly 17% of Asia’s population will be age 65 or older in 2050. Meanwhile, over 30% of Africa’s population will be younger than age 15. Which one will be better prepared to compete in the latter half of the century?

Here Comes Everybody!

Finally, it’s important to note the scale of this shift. The following chart illustrates the trend with some real numbers.

[table id=89 /]

Africa will have 808 million more working-age citizens in 2050 than it does today – more than doubling its current pool of labor. This far surpasses any other continent. China will actually have 211 million fewer workers than it does now, while Nigeria alone will add 155 million. India will add an impressive number of workers between now and 2050, but arguably with a greater strain on its resource base.

Africa’s Century

The wild card to this prediction, of course, is whether African governments can effectively harness this demographic shift to productive ends.

But I’m very bullish. Few observers would have guessed 1912 China, riven as it was by violent internal conflict, would transform into an economic juggernaut within a century.

Africa, by contrast, is a continent of steadily improving stability, infrastructure, and political reform. Combine this with a growing, increasingly capable base of human capital, and the stage is set for the emergence of an African economic superpower.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your feedback. Am I too optimistic? Tell us which countries and continents you think will be the centers of economic power at the end of the century in the comments!

Related Reading

15,013,767 Reasons for Afro-Optimism

Africa’s Demographic Dividend

13 thoughts on “Here’s Why the 21st Century Belongs to Africa”

  1. You are right. Africa is the next big thing in the global economy, and offers an enormous, diversified market for investing in all sectors. Just look at the way ICT is growing with new solutions coming up daily. Investing in Africa and the African youth is the way to go.

    1. My sister, I too have been preaching this for years to the point that I just simply gave up on American Black business. For years I was based in the US and as an “accepted” engineer and business lawyer I had access to some of the so-called sucessful black business people there but after many attempts and visits to the continent, I found that they were not serious…somehow thinking that they had “arrived into the mainstream” and generally developing amnesia as to how they took risks to be sucessful. They simply forgot basic economics when it came to Africa. This was very disheartening. Since then global economic events have shifted such that there is almost depression in both the US and Europe where focus on “individualism and greed” have deliberately clouded and distorted economic reality. Because of racism African economies largely escaped these downturns and GDP growth rate all over this continent literally dwarf thos of the traditional world powers. The question, therefore, is does Black business now see the handwriting of the wall and will again waste another opportunity? I’m trying hard to remain optimistic but have to come to grips with the reality that perhaps we as a people cannot overcome the pervasive legacy of the past. What are your thoughts?

        1. Dear Bill,
          Yes I am. Currently based in South Africa and just had plans delayed (don’t know how long) to move to Egypt. Have spent some time years ago in Accra and Kumasi. Ghana is on the brink of a major break though economically as I see it from here. The key will be internal and iner-Africa investment rather then waiting for western investment which I don’t think will come.
          The housing project you are working on, give me some more info. Is the final design in? I have some innovative ideas for residential, light and heavy commercial construction in Africa that has not been adequately capitalized upon. Currently I have a proposal that has been submitted to another West African country that’s being considered but has potential application throughout that region and can be the basis of a completely new revenue generating industry.
          Howard

        2. p.s.
          Bill,
          Hope President Mills unfortunate and untimely recent passing won’t set Ghana’s forward movement back.
          Regards,
          Howard

  2. Yes, this could well be the case. I would like to see Africans get together and guard their human and natural resources against incursions from resource-hungry Americas/Europe/Asia…how about a pan-African reserve currency based on African-produced gold?

  3. Thank you for your contribution to what I hope is the growing knowledge of Africa’s growth and positive future. Indeed, aside from the demographic transition, there are many reasons for the likelihood that the next century will feature the rise of the continent. Glad to see others promoting this bright future as well; here’s hoping that others will get the message.

  4. the africa is the superpower of the third millenium. africa economic superpower of the third millenium. 21 century and the third millenium belong to africa. god bless africa and the world.

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