Unless African countries adopt effective family planning programmes, the continent's burgeoning population is more likely to yield a demographic disaster than a demographic dividend, a specialist in population issues warned last week in a New York Times commentary.
Eugene Linden, author of several books on the environment, argued that African countries would have to achieve “unheard of economic growth” in order to reduce poverty rates in their rapidly expanding populations.
“Even maintaining the economic status quo — a very low bar — is beyond reach,” he wrote.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates, for example, that while up to 12 million young people enter the continent's workforce each year, Africa as a whole creates an average of only 3.7 million jobs a year.
Given projected population increases, Mr Linden said in an interview with the Sunday Nation, there is virtually no chance of achieving the demographic dividend, which is defined as economic advances resulting from a growing youth population.
The promising trend toward a higher percentage of working-age persons and a lower percentage of dependents has been under way for some time, Mr Linden noted.
“So the demographic dividend should have have happened by now,” he said.
But poverty rates have not fallen in most African countries, and “development efforts, begun in earnest in the 1960s, have gone nowhere,” Mr Linden commented.
The challenge of making African societies less poor is highlighted by the latest UN population projections.
In Kenya, 2.6 million of the country's population of about 46 million are currently categorised as food insecure.
Conflicts over land have simultaneously intensified due to drought.