Africa’s Demographic Trailblazers: How falling fertility rates accelerate development

Ayele Addis Ambelu (

Nowhere else in the world is the population growing as fast as it is in Africa. By mid-century there could be 2.5 billion people living on the continent – almost twice as many as today. The continuing high fertility rates make it increasingly difficult to provide hospitals, schools, housing and, above all, jobs for the up-and-coming generations. In addition, the high fertility rates are hindering a change in the age structure that could generate a demographically determined boost to development.
A number of regional trailblazers have shown that a prudent demographic policy can make progress in development and a “demographic dividend” possible.The new study examines seven pioneer states – Tunisia, Morocco, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal – and explains what circumstances have led directly or indirectly to a decline in their fertility rates.

In terms of geography, culture and language the African continent is enormously diverse. Occupying a fifth of the earth’s total land mass, it comprises 54 states, whose inhabitants cultivate widely varying traditions and religions and speak a total of 2,000 different languages. In Europe, by contrast, there are only 300 languages.1
This degree of diversity alone makes it difficult to talk about Africa’s demographic development. After all, the countries that make up the African continent are at very
different stages of the demographic transition.
The countries in North and Southern Africa, in particular, are much more advanced in this respect than those in the other regions of the continent, although in the meantime
certain countries, especially in East Africa, have started to experience a rapid decline in their fertility rate. This raises the question of why these differences in demographic development exist and what the influencing factors are.
This chapter takes a closer look at some of the regional trailblazers – in other words,
countries that either already have a comparatively low fertility rate or are moving in that direction. The countries
were selected on the basis of how the important socio-economic parameters outlined in Chapter 1 have changed – in other words, child mortality, level of education and poverty rates. In addition,

we have taken into account indicators of gender equality and urbanisation as well as social norms and the political commitment of governments to promoting family planning.
Altogether we have chosen seven countries that either on the continent as a whole or at least within their respective region can be considered trailblazers in demographic
development. In East Africa this applies to Kenya and Ethiopia, in Southern Africa to Botswana, in West Africa to Ghana and Senegal and in North Africa to Tunisia and Morocco.

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