Africa’s opportunity: reaping the early harvest of the demographic transition and ensuring no one is left behind

Research reports and studies
October 2017
Emma Samman and Kevin Watkins
Ennestina Muyeye from Kanyera, Dedza Malawi. Photo: Emmet Sheerin/Trócaire.

This report aims to make the case for governments – national leaders and ministries including finance, economic planning, health, youth, agriculture, water, and natural resources – and private sector leaders to develop ambitious policy agendas geared toward kick-starting and supporting the nascent demographic transition in sub-Saharan Africa. It demonstrates that not only is this necessary, but possible – and that it could have potentially far-reaching positive effects. 

It argues that the population of Africa is expected to rise sharply relative to that of other regions, and within sub-Saharan Africa, sizeable increases in the share of youth is, in turn, expected to translate into a rise in the share of workers relative to dependents. This has two consequences. First, sub-Saharan Africa will feature even more strongly in global development agendas. Second, the nascent demographic transition has the potential to offer a significant dividend in most of the region.

The good news is that evidence shows clear pathways through which these ambitions can be realised, and several successful examples of what is possible. Such investments are also cost effective, given economic and social rates of return. Building on these successes and investing in their expansion could yield manifold gains with long-term cumulative effects.