From the Wall Street Journal, one of those articles where the reporter starts out with the current party line, then undermines it with an abundance of distressing facts.
PROMISE OF YOUTH
Will a baby boom pull the world’s poorest continent into the center of global affairs?
By Drew Hinshaw
… The biggest human increase in modern history is under way in Africa. On every other continent, growth rates are slowing toward a standstill for the first time in centuries, and the day is in sight when the world’s human population levels out.
But not here—not yet.
Some 2.5 billion people will be African by 2050, the U.N. projects. That would be double the current number and 25% of the world’s total. There will be 399 million Nigerians then, more than Americans. When the century closes, if projections hold, four out of 10 people will be African.
The article has a perhaps overly sophisticated graph of birth rates using that 2015 U.N. Population Prospects data that I’ve been emphasizing so much in recent months. The problem is that you have to scroll down through it to make it go through its animation and you can get the incorrect impression that your computer is hung up.
Billions of them will be living in cities that are today small towns. The land of open spaces that was Africa will have blended into one big megalopolitan web.
Whether that makes Africa the next emerging giant, or giant emergency, one thing is certain: At 93, Mr. Musa has something to do with all this. In his seven decades as the reigning nut trader in town, he has had 21 children by five wives, and 118 grandchildren.
… One of the great questions of the 21st century is unfolding outside his window: How will the world look with vastly more Africans in it?
Better, by some measures. Humanity is aging. By 2050, nearly a fourth of the people on earth will have passed their 60th birthday, compared with just one-eighth now. A swelling portion of the global economy will be spent hospitalizing or retiring old people.
By comparison, the average African will be 28. Some 1.3 billion people here will be both young and old enough to start a business, educate themselves, build new homes, embark on a career—and give the world’s farms and factories a reason to grow.
Simply put: A baby boom will lift the poorest continent on Earth into the center of global affairs. Africa will soon become the world’s most reliable source of new life: of college graduates, young workers and budding consumers.
The big question looming over all of this: Will Africa figure out a way to tap this fountain of youth? Will the world?
So far, the prospects seem mixed at best. The developed world faces a coming shortage of workers—but a disinterest in taking more immigrants, especially Africans. Europe would be a natural destination for young Africans, most of whom speak a European language. But the continent is currently dialing back its intake of Africans to clear room for Middle Eastern refugees and to reassure voters worried about terrorists.
Africa isn’t finding much use for its young, either. In Nigeria, just 9% of adults are employed full time by someone else, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. It is a number typical for the continent.
There is no clarity on where the next batch of jobs will come from. Africans have watched car dealerships and shopping malls land in their biggest cities after a decade of economic growth. But that is slowing, and what hasn’t followed are factory jobs or modern farm work. If Africa is to follow East Asia’s example and become a manufacturing base for the global economy, evidence is thin.
I’ve been intermittently following the “Made in …” labels on my shirts for the last 35 years, because making cotton shirts has been pretty much the first phase of the industrial revolution in a country since Britain in the 18th Century. In this century it’s not unkown to see labels from African countries, which you never saw in the 1980s.
In the meantime, this continent is losing one of the great races of the century. Africa’s population has been growing faster than governments can lay down the basics of a modern economy: power plants, roads and schools.
In Nigeria, electricity cuts out daily. The public schools are packed, their textbooks few, and teachers regularly strike. …
Banks barely lend. Nigeria has just 20,000 mortgages open for a country of 182 million. Ports are congested and mainly ship out oil—and there isn’t enough of that to support a population that grows by 13,000 people daily.
Hundreds of day laborers sit on a single strip in downtown Lokoja and periodically fistfight over gigs. “We are too many here,” said Sani Mohammad, a 33-year-old watching cars drive past. Another day laborer, Jamidu Mohammad, leaned on his shovel and agreed. “But if there’s no work, what can we do?” he said.
… It is here in the cities where the next and paradoxical second chapter in Africa’s demographic story is unfolding. The larger Africa’s cities grow, the more families inside them shrink.
Africans in town are having fewer children these days than their village compatriots. Many have broken away from extended families, into nuclear abodes. A new African suburbia is branching out, as young parents try to buy distance from their elders and siblings….
This shift is what economists call the demographic dividend. It is the moment when big families become small. Parents find themselves with fewer mouths to feed, and more money on hand at the end of the month.
Invariably, many spend it educating their children, creating a workforce that will earn higher wages—and one day pay for their retirement. It is a phenomenon that has already helped push Latin America and East Asia up from poverty.
The next candidate for that economic miracle is Africa. And yet the continent is still a ways off.
In every African country, women are averaging fewer children now than their mothers had in 1990. But not by much: In Nigeria, it has taken 25 years for the birthrate to fall from 6.8 children per woman to six. Meanwhile, millions of mothers are giving birth in a delivery room for the first time in their family’s history. So their children are surviving more often, and growing up to have more children.
Birth control has been slow to catch on. Women in Nigeria who choose it are typically waiting until their 30s. Mariam Audu, a walk-in to Lokoja’s state family planning clinic, waited until she was 34, when she finally convinced her husband.
A few weeks after he agreed, he announced he was marrying a second wife—a teenager—so he could keep bringing children into the world.
“It’s our culture,” said the mother of five. “I didn’t want it, but as God brings it, I accept it.”
Family planning remains a delicate subject in this conservative country, which is almost equally divided between Muslims and Christians. Women need permission slips from their husbands to take birth control in the city of Kano, whose metropolitan population nears 10 million. All of the files from all the women who went on birth control last year in the largest hospital in the state don’t fill a single filing cabinet drawer.
Still, the idea is spreading, slowly, privately. In Lokoja, nurses at the state hospital have helped women hatch elaborate plans to covertly begin contraceptives. On a recent day, a new mother purposefully left her purse in the office—then ran back, without her husband, for a quick and surreptitious birth-control shot.
“Some people are with seven children, and their husband still wants more, but the strength of the woman, they can’t take it,” said Esther Akubo, the head nurse here. “So they come in secretly.”
If there’s a preview into how the world will be remade by Africa’s baby boom, it is to be had in Lokoja.
Much of the economy here revolves around petty trade—outdoor markets, or salesman stepping through traffic. What’s for sale is largely for children.
The article ends with a 91-year-old patriarch with 5 wives telling one of his 118 grandchildren that it’s time to cut back on having so many kids.