History | Geography | PSHE

Huge population shifts to change our planet

Is this Africa’s century? By 2050 the African continent is forecast to account for nearly 25% of the entire global population, more than three times its share in 1914.  “Africa is a continent in flames,” the musician and activist Bono once famously said. But a new book by the historian Edward Paice has a very different message. Africa is in the middle of a historic boom, it says. Paice's book is called Youthquake and it shows that Africa is growing very fast. In 1914 the continent had 124 million. Now it has 1.4 billion: more than ten times as much. Why is this happening? The short answer is simple: many people are being born and those people are living far longer. Africa’s population is extremely young. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, the median age is 18, compared to roughly 40 in Europe and the USA. This means the population will continue to rise. This is the opposite of everywhere else in the world. By 2050, a quarter of the world’s people are likely to live in Africa. More people can create more challenges. For instance, more people require more resources like food. People have sometimes worried about population growth. One example is the British economist Thomas Malthus over 200 years ago. Another is Paul Ehrlich, who warned of a "population bomb". Both of them predicted doom. Neither of them turned out to be right. In fact, rising populations can also lead to economic growth. African economies are growing fast. This might also give them a more powerful voice in global politics, Paice argues: “It is very important we understand Africa better, treat it better and stop marginalising it." Is this Africa's century? Africa rising Yes: Africa has been hobbled for centuries by the legacy of slavery and exploitation. Now it is finally stepping out of the shadows. The dynamic youth of this neglected continent has the world in its hands. No: More people, more problems. The rising populations of African countries will just make the continent’s existing problems worse – this is a cause not for celebration but for concern. Or... Demography isn’t destiny. The future of Africa won’t be decided by economists’ formulas but by choices made within the continent and beyond: the fate of the African continent has consequences for us all.     KeywordsThomas Malthus - A clergyman who was interested in maths and political thought and became famous for his extremely influential work An Essay on the Principle of Population. Predictions about population growth leading to food shortages are known as “Malthusian” after him.

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