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POTENTIAL DIVIDEND?

Turn population bomb curse into boon

More than 60 per cent of the continent’s population is below the age of 25.

In Summary
  • One way to do this is by improved access to family planning and children spacing so that parents can afford a better life for themselves and the children they have.
  • The key to rapid economic transformation is to have a working population that can support its dependents.

Is population growth in Africa a curse or a potential dividend? On the face of it, the figures look daunting and even scary. The global fertility rate is now 2.5 per woman and Africa’s is 4.7 per woman. Whilst the latter is projected to decline, it will do so only slowly to 3.9 by 2030 and to 3.1 by 2050 although a Covid-19 instigated baby boom could adjust these projections.

In terms of population growth, the number of Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 will double to 450 million by 2050. This translates into a massive youth bulge. More than 60 per cent of the continent’s population is below the age of 25. This, in turn, has resulted in gargantuan challenges both past, present and future that could yet prove to be a boon or a curse depending on how we manage the challenge.

One-fifth of children between six-11 years are out of school. A third of the children between 12 and 14 years do not attend school. Healthcare provision and availability is patchy and weak. It is estimated between $25 billion to $30 billion needs to be invested in healthcare in Africa in the next decade alone just to get to basic healthcare provisions.

Over 20 million young Africans join the workforce every year trying to seek gainful opportunity or employment. The challenge is to turn the population bomb curse into a population dividend that boosts our economy and in turn our living standards.

One way to do this is by improved access to family planning and children spacing so that parents can afford a better life for themselves and the children they have. This gives them the opportunity to have children at a time that is more suitable for them. To put it another way, we need to enable the working population to support their dependents.

No country in the last 50 years has achieved the Demographic Dividend of transforming from a low-income country to a middle-income country without first giving their people the ability to have children at a time suitable to them.

Then there is greater opportunity to make better provisions for healthcare and education. This, in turn, enables those children to stand a better chance in job attainment. At present more than 40 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned and when couples cannot plan their families this often leads to parents struggling just to provide basic needs for those children.

The key therefore to rapid economic transformation is to have a working population that can support its dependents.

No country in the last 50 years has achieved the Demographic Dividend of transforming from a low-income country to a middle-income country without first giving their people the ability to have children at a time suitable to them.

One third of East Asia’s impressive economic growth from 1965 to 1990 is attributable to the Demographic Dividend, including investments in reproductive health and in turn reducing child mortality and increasing family planning.

In short, this is the key to attaining the Demographic Dividend which in turn leads to a country prospering faster and reaching middle-income status.

If Kenya is not able to maximise the economic potential of its people, it will attain only 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the progress on the relevant development indicators that it needs to equal African and Asian benchmark countries such as Mauritius and Malaysia.

Kenya has made impressive progress in the past decade or so. In 2008-9 modern contraceptive use by married women was in the region of 39 per cent. It increased to 53 per cent by 2014 and it has surpassed its target of 58 per cent by 20 per cent. The aim is to reach 66 per cent use by 2030.

The challenge now is to expand and deepen the outreach countrywide. This requires a multipronged strategy. First and foremost it requires dedicated political will both from the national and county governments.

The second is increased finances that are allocated and spent transparently, again both at the national and regional levels. This involves tapping donor funding for family planning projects. Coupled with this must be the training and build-up in human and medical resources to carry out this continuous outreach. Again this is vital at the county level.

Last but not least there must be continuous education of the benefits of and modalities of family planning so that greater demand for it is created.

Economic and public policy analyst. [email protected]