Africa Is Central to the Modern World’s Future—and Its Past

Africa Is Central to the Modern World’s Future—and Its Past
Detail from the Catalan Atlas, a medieval map produced in the 1370s, depicting Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire (Bibliotheque Nationale de France, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

No regular reader of my columns at World Politics Review can be surprised by now that I believe the future of Africa is one of the most important as well as one of the most neglected questions facing humankind.

Africa is so routinely marginalized from the concerns of global affairs that even among otherwise well-informed people, most are unaware that it is the continent where almost all the action is taking place in terms of worldwide demographic growth. So it bears repeating here what I have written before: Africa’s population, which at the outset of my own career was about 800 million people and is currently estimated at 1.2 billion, is projected to rise to 2 billion people by the middle of this century. Naturally, the further into the future one projects, the more uncertain such things become, but by this century’s end, Africa could potentially have as many as 4.5 billion people, according to the United Nations, making it more populous than two Chinas and an India combined.

More imminent changes in global demographics are in some ways even more impressive. Pause to consider that by 2030, Africa is projected to be home to 60 percent of the world’s working-age population. This should concern everyone, even those who usually never give a thought to Africa, and it confronts governments worldwide as well as global bodies—like the U.N. and World Bank, for example—with challenges whose urgency is totally out of proportion to the energy being devoted to Africa as a topic.

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