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China, India, Africa: The Great Demographic Rift

Demography is slowly evolving, as tectonic plates do. People are not necessarily noticing the change, but the end result is inexorable, and it brings repercussions on the economy, the power of nations, migration flows, the use of resources (water, raw materials...), conflicts, and the environment. The great thing about demography is that the trends are relatively predictable, so governments throughout the world should be able to prepare for the consequences. Unfortunately, very few governments think very long term. Some do, though.



From a demographic standpoint, 2023 was a very remarkable year that saw an alignment of three "planets": China, India, and Africa reaching 1.4 billion people each, at the crossroads of the demography of the 21st century, with very different dynamics however.


Three major interesting facts occurred in 2023:

1) for the first time, the Chinese population plateaued and has started to decrease,

2) India has surpassed China as the world's most populous country,

3) the population of Africa has reached the same level as China or India, but growing faster.


The dynamics are now getting very different from that point in time: China is clearly expected to decrease, Africa to increase. For India, we do not know yet, that remains uncertain.


And just as a footnote, the "West", in whatever way we summarize it, Europe & USA, NATO, or in its broadest definition OECD (1.3 billion people) is already behind and growing much slower.


(Source: Pew Research Center)



China's population has gone down for the first time in 2023:

(Source: Worldometer, UN 2022 Revision)


The uncertainty about China's population is about the speed at which the country's population will decline over the rest of the century. In the most pessimistic scenarios, Nigeria could even surpass China as the second most populous country in the world.


(Source: Pew Research Center)


On the opposite, the demographic growth in Africa will impact massively and durably the 21st century. Even though fertility rates will go down, we are still far from any inflection point in the growth of the African population. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is already talking about the "African century".


The continent is supposed to grow from 1.4bn people in 2020 to approximately 2.5bn in 2050, according to the UN, which means that approximately 25% of the world population will be African (18% in 2020). Demographic forecasts are subject to various assumptions, but they are generally relatively accurate in the medium term (20-30 years).


It is estimated that around 60% of Africa’s population is younger than 25 years of age, whereas European youth, for instance, is declining to less than 25%.


Beyond 2050, projections for 2100 are less accurate but show that the population of Africa could reach up to 4.2 billion people. That would mean that by the end of the century, Africa could represent 40% of the world's population.


This would also mean that the population of Africa might be 4 or 5 times China's and 2 times India's by the end of the century. That cannot happen without reshaping the relationships between China and Africa with regard to resource exploitation and economic exchanges.


In 2020, four countries already had populations above 100 million people in Africa: Nigeria (223 million), Ethiopia (126 million ), Egypt (111 million), and Congo (102 million). In 2100, five African countries might be in the top ten worldwide:


(Source: Statista)


A major difference between India, China, and Africa, is that India and China, in spite of their size and their multiple ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity are one country, while Africa is obviously a continent with 54 countries.


Which African countries will anticipate better than the others in order to seize the opportunities and mitigate the risks that this new demographic situation brings? Some countries might succeed due to their size and resources, such as Nigeria, and others due to better agility (Rwanda? Uganda? Kenya? Morocco?).


The challenges are well known: sustainability, impact on the environment, infrastructure issues, economic development, over-urbanization of certain areas, capacity to feed the population, management, and ownership of the resources (raw material, water...), energy, conflicts, political stability, democracy, and migrations.


However, the opportunities are huge for African peoples to take their share in the new balance of powers that demography is slowly shaping.


If you want to find out more about India's population, this is an excellent article from Pew Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/02/09/key-facts-as-india-surpasses-china-as-the-worlds-most-populous-country/


If you want to find out more about India's population, this is an excellent article from Pew Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/12/05/key-facts-about-chinas-declining-population/


To find out more about the "African century":

African Century
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