The extraordinary demographic change currently sweeping Africa is one of the most important challenges facing humankind over the remainder of this century. United Nations projections predict that from its present population of nearly 1.4 billion people, the continent’s population will approach 4.5 billion people by 2100, which is the staggering equivalent in population terms of two Chinas and one India. Other carefully considered efforts to project global population trends, such as a recent study published in the Lancet, predict an even larger African population two generations hence.
Demographic growth on such a scale will affect nearly every human question one can imagine, from the future of the environment; to global trade, economics and prosperity; to conflict and large-scale human migration, both orderly and chaotic; to the fate of the postcolonial African nation state; to the future of many rich societies, whose populations are rapidly aging but many of which face rising xenophobic resistance to accepting immigrants to replenish their workforces and slow or reverse population shrinkage.
Obscured by the fantastical numbers contained in continental-scale predictions, though, are many fine details, some of which will play a critical role in shaping Africa’s future, and indeed that of the world. None of these are more important than the population transition taking place around urbanization, which is now occurring faster and on a larger scale in Africa than anywhere else in human history. According to one median projection for the end of century, Africa will have the three largest cities in the world: Lagos, in Nigeria; Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania; and Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By 2100, each will be home to more than 60 million people. Other African cities, like Cairo, Khartoum, Nairobi, Luanda, Kano and Abidjan, will also figure high in any global ranking.