Africa in the Next 50 Years
- Related story: What Will Africa Be Like in 2060?
Over the last 50 years, Africa has moved from mostly colonial states, through seemingly endless array of development challenges, to a continent on the verge of major political and economic transformation. Over the past decade in particular, despite successive global food and financial crises, Africa has been growing at an unprecedented rate to rekindle a growing optimism about Africa’s potential. Across the continent, there is now a greater sense to seize the initiative and take advantage of the emerging conditions to maximise the continent’s comparative advantages and bring about the necessary structural changes in its economy.
What does the next 50 years hold for Africa? This is the fundamental issue, which the Africa in 50 Years’ Time study undertaken by the African Development Bank, has sought to address. The main objective of the study is to identify the drivers of change and their likely consequences over the next half century, and to propose policy choices that will enable Africa to fulfil its potential in the years ahead.
Africa in the next 50 years
The balance of evidence suggests that the next half century offers good prospects for realizing an African vision of a dynamic, diversified and competitive economic zone in which extreme poverty is eliminated within peaceful, stable and vibrant societies. This vision involves the transformation of fragile and vulnerable African economies into more robust and developed market, creating opportunities for the poor and leading to peaceful, stable and vibrant societies.
Recent evidence shows that economic growth in Africa is generally strong, fuelled in large measure by business-enabling policy reforms, more favourable commodity prices and a marked improvement in peace and security. African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates suggest that both Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP per capita will increase steadily throughout the period 2010 to 2060 (Figure 1). By 2060, most African countries will attain upper middle income status and the extreme forms of poverty will have been eliminated.
In this most positive of scenarios, the AfDB estimates suggest that Africa’s GDP could increase to over US$15 trillion in 2060, from a base of US$1.7 trillion in 2010. Consequently, income per capita expressed in current US dollar terms should grow from US$1,667 in 2010 to over US$5,600 by 2060.
One of the outcomes of Africa’s strong economic growth in the past two decades has been a significant increase in the size of the African middle class (defined as earnings of between US$4 and US$20 per day). The middle class will continue to grow, from 355 million (34% of Africa’s population) in 2010 to 1.1 billion (42%) in 2060. Conversely, poverty levels are expected to fall, with the proportion of the population living on less than US$1.25 a day declining from 44% in 2010 to 33.3% in 2060
In the decades ahead, Africa’s growth prospects will be heavily influenced by trends in labour availability. Continued rapid growth in the size of the economically active population (men and women 15-64 years of age), at an average of around 3.5% per annum, will lead to an absolute increase in Africa’s working age population of around 1.87 billion. Around 74% of Africans will be of working age.
In general, Africa’s human development indicators show the potential for considerable improvement in the coming decades. Demographic indicators like population growth, fertility rates and mortality rates are declining. Life expectancy and education levels will continue to improve, reflecting improvement in human development.
Africa has already made some important progress in improving the health of its population, and this is projected to continue. Mortality rates will decline in most places over the coming decades as the strong focus on reducing the impact of communicable diseases continues. Child mortality is projected to decline from 127 per 1,000 live deaths in 2010 to 45 per 1,000 live deaths in 2060 North and East Africa will benefit the most from the reduced burdens of child mortality, in large part due to the declining impact of HIV/AIDS.
Although progress is expected on HIV/AIDS, it will remain the most important health challenge facing Africa, particularly sub-Sahara Africa. HIV prevalence rates are expected to decline from 2.1% in 2010 to 1.4% in 2060. The number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS is also projected to drop substantially as a result of HIV prevention programs and improved access to antiretroviral treatment.
With respect to literacy rates, the current trend of rising rates is projected to continue, reaching around 96% in 2060 against 67% in 2010. Education forecasts show that Africa is currently very close to the level of India, and likely to track the advance of that country fairly closely.
The combined effect of the positive human development indicators is that by 2060, the average life expectancy in Africa is projected to reach 70 years, compared to 56 years in 2010. North and East Africa are projected to have the highest life expectancy with 80 to 83 years, compared to the much lower 55 years in Central Africa.
Drivers of Change
Africa’s development outcomes for the coming decades will be determined by a number of drivers of change, and the policy changes adopted by African countries in response to changing world conditions. These drivers of change will be global, physical and human. Cumulatively, they will create dramatic changes for the continent and the global environment with which it interacts. Its prospects for development will in turn depend on the policies Africa implements to take advantage of its vibrant young population, its abundant natural resources and its considerable human capital.
Global Drivers of Change
For Africa, the next 50 years are likely to be shaped by three major global forces: the changing structure of global trade; new trends in technology; and the international architecture governing trade, finance and development assistance.
Physical Drivers of Change
Africa faces three drivers of change related to its physical environment: first, is climate change; second, the continent’s renewable and non-renewable natural resources; and, third, the continent’s endowment of land and water will come under increasing pressure.
Human Drivers of Change
Three human conditions will impact Africa in the next 50 years: a delayed demographic transition; the burden of AIDS; and land access and tenure.
By 2060, several changes will have transformed the opportunities and challenges facing Africa in at least six dimensions. Urbanization will accelerate. Migration will increase; and, agriculture may well decline, both in relative and absolute importance. Natural resources will remain an important part of the development picture and a major development challenge. Also, some African economies may have learned to compete globally.
How individual economies in Africa respond to these challenges will depend on the choices they make, individually and collectively. Broadly, countries in the region need to respond by investing in their cities, managing migration, transforming agriculture, managing their natural resources better, and making concerted efforts to break in at the bottom of the global market in goods and services. Collective action — by Africans, themselves, in the form of deeper regional integration, and by the international community in the form of improved performance on trade and aid — must support the efforts of individual counties.