Disease, war, corruption, and famine are the first images that come to mind when most people think of Africa. Beneath this veneer of negativity, however, lies a very different and positive story. Entrepreneurship is thriving, governance is improving, hunger is dissipating, and economic growth is accelerating. The continent is young and its population is booming.
I have been visiting Africa with some regularity since 2004. On virtually every trip, the sheer size of the continent catches my attention. It is huge! Think about the fact that Cape Town is approximately 13,000km from Casablanca, almost 3x the distance between New York City and Los Angeles.
Few of us acknowledge or can comprehend the size of the continent, and the visual distortions found on two-dimensional maps don’t help (click HERE). Correcting for these distortions results in a stunning revelation: Africa’s physical footprint on the planet is as large as the United States, India, China, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Japan – COMBINED! (Click HERE). Not surprisingly, the continent’s population density is quite low…but this is changing.
According to the United Nations Population Division (click HERE), Africa’s population is expected to quadruple between 2010 and 2100, when the continent is expected to have more than 4 billion people. Nigeria, already Africa’s most populous country, is expected to approach 1 billion people – in a geographic area that is equivalent in size to Texas!
So what? Rapidly rising populations generate a demographic dividend as the labor pool expands more rapidly than the old and young who are dependent on the workers and government. As dependency declines and fewer resources are allocated towards caring for others, economic growth accelerates. Today, 44% of the African population is dependent upon the 56% that is working. By the year 2100, 35% of the (much larger) population will be dependent upon the 65% that are working (click HERE).
Given this outlook, it’s not surprising that Ashish Thakkar, Africa’s youngest billionaire and a successful African entrepreneur, has noted “The Indian tiger and the Chinese dragon have had their day; now is the time for the African lion.” While it may be time for the lion to rise, not everyone agrees. Professor Dani Rodrik suggests Africa’s outlook is weak and prospects for structural reforms and industrialization are poor (click HERE).
Regardless of what transpires economically, one thing remains certain: Africa’s thundering population boom should not be ignored. The impact of a leaping lion on the demand for food, fuel, commodities, healthcare, education, travel, and other consumer products and services is likely to be felt far and wide.