Monthly Archives: November 2013

The African Spring

Cheetahs running. Namibia

You may notice a trend of this page focusing on fertility rates and population growth. While there isn’t quite the same ‘sky is falling’ syndrome that may have gripped Thomas Malthus’ writing, he was not crazy to worry. Population is increasing at a rate like it never has in human history. In the roughly 5-6 million years that hominini have existed on earth, never had the population exceeded 1 billion until the early 1800s. Since then – explosion. We’ve now rounded 7 billion.

There are expert hopes and reports of a plateau to this growth curve. I would agree with them, for as developing countries have shown, once certain levels of healthcare, social security, and quality of life are reached then fertility rates usually drop to very near replacement levels (2.1). But you can bet there are going to be some bumps in the road before the world reaches stability. Where are these bumps going to come from? The biggest one may be Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Arab Spring (which lasted much longer than a spring) erupted almost entirely unexpectedly to the international community. While politics and deep-seeded resentments helped fuel the region-wide uprisings, it was ultimately the energy, resentment, coordination, and chaos of the youth in these countries that allowed for such tumultuous insurgencies. Often these youth were un- or underemployed and fed up with their nation’s current system of governance.

Because of my current residence in Uganda, it will unfortunately be made the example of. Out of Uganda’s population of roughly 37 million, 60 percent is under the age of 18. Teen pregnancies, recorded for those between the ages of 13 and 17, are at 24 percent. And fertility rates show little sign of slowing, staying steady at 6.4 children per woman. These are astonishing figures. And while relatively high, they won’t sound shocking to most Sub-Saharan Africans. Need more confirmation? Visit Lagos. Then you may start to see into the future.

Africa’s population of over a billion is expected to double in the next 40 years, accounting for half of global population growth. Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa is still home to some of the world’s most questionable and corrupt leaders, many of whom do not strike hope into their citizens for the future.

Economic and social development are absolutely occurring in Uganda and many similar countries in SSA. But currently it seems children are aging faster than progress can spread, resulting in massive unemployment due to lack of proper infrastructure and industrial development.┬áThis year the IMF research conference made a point of showcasing the damages and long-term effects of large scale unemployment. The conclusions were that they are severe. ┬áSo what happens in Uganda and similar countries in 2020 when these now adults all enter the job market and the crickets are chirping? If government structure doesn’t drastically change to accommodate, then the prediction here is something very similar to the Arab Spring. But on an even greater scale.

It is true that some nations are more vulnerable than others, and in repetition this page is not attempting to say that the ‘sky is falling’ on an entire region. Sub-Saharan Africa has proven to be innovative and surprising when it comes to transitional periods. But expect a few chaotic blips on the radar as half a continent’s youth grow up to a very unfair global division of wealth and powers.