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According to the World Bank, population growth rates have decelerated globally, but Africa will nonetheless experience strong population growth throughout the predictable future. By the year 2050, the population of Africa is projected to double, reaching up to two and a half billion inhabitants. While population growth may come with lots of problems, many observers and decision makers and concerns individuals have started to issue warnings about population growth in Africa as a potential cause or risk factor for conflict or for weakening security, along with related forecasted problems such as increased and uncontrolled migration. Regarding conflict risks, high birth rates or other drivers of population growth can lead to population pressures that may create a greater scarcity of economic resources and, as a result, lead to violent conflicts over the distribution of scarce resources, uncommon practice to produce food at the detriment of the environment.

European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in 2022 reported that;  

environmental degradation is driv­en not only by climate change but also by factors such as rapid population growth, over-consumption, unsustainable manage­ment and depletion of natural resources, in­dustrialisation, and also conflicts, has put pressure on African ecosystems. This has resulted in harm to habitats and wildlife with ensuing bi­odiversity loss, increased food insecurity, exacerbation of socio-economic deprivation and grievances, and the emergence of poverty traps for a large por­tion of the population living in rural areas who are dependent on natural resources for their own livelihoods. In turn, this also fosters increased pressure through intensified illicit and unsustainable use of natural resources (e.g. illegal logging, felling of trees, poaching, overfishing, animal trafficking, smuggling).

Today, most developing countries have achieved quite low levels of mortality and fertility and much lower rates of population growth than in the 1960s. The situation is quite different in Africa and especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In that region of the continent, mortality declines have stalled, or even reversed, in the 1980s and 1990s because of the impact of HIV/AIDS and civil unrest. In addition, fertility declines generally associated with mortality declines, in what is called the demographic transition, have occurred in most African countries much later than elsewhere in the world. As a result, most African countries still have very high levels of fertility, high rates of population growth and very young populations.

Increase in population at first instance may no have seem as a threat or something to worry about. But in-depth study of the phenomenon will give a clear understanding of the threat increasing population pose on the world. This paper looked carefully at the trend of increasing African population growth and pointed out some of the possible problem rapid population growth poses to the world. Careful observation at the outburst of population growth in Africa, will rise lots of questions, one may have no option than to ask series of questions, such may include; what is happening to Africa’s population? What will Africa look like by 2050? What could be the possible results of over population in Africa? Etc. many of these questions require an immediate answer and a swift response. Guengant and May (2022) emphasised that;

African countries must today confront two major population related challenges: (a) they have to address the doubling or even the tripling by 2050 of their working age population; and (b) they have to better prepare for the future of their upcoming young generations. At the same time, almost all African countries will need also to confront the rapid increase of their elderly population, whose numbers will be multiplied by a factor of 3 to 5 by 2050.

Population Trend in Africa

Historically, in the last one century Africa's population has grown at an alarming rate. The various estimates of the population size of Africa indicate that prior to 1900, the annual growth rate of population was less than 0.1%; during the period 1900 to 1950, the population increase was 1.2%; while, in the period of 1950 to 1970, the population growth rate was estimated at 2.8%; in the period 1980‐1990, the rate was about 3.2%. These data show that the recent demographic trends in Africa are characterized not only by unprecedented rapid growth rates but also associated with youthful unemployment (Organization of African Unity and Economic Commission for Africa 2011).

The major overriding objective of development is to provide and improve the quality of life for all citizens. Populations are therefore at the centre of development. Understanding demographic trends provides policy-makers with the tools to design interventions that lead to development by for instance targeting social sectors and providing tailored infrastructure services. Knowledge on the population trend is crucial for planning resources allocation and designing appropriate policies. Africa’s current and projected demographic trends, growing population, urbanization, and the ratio of working age to non-working age and aging populations require in turn appropriate responses to the anticipated pressures on basic amenities (e.g. food, energy, and water resources). 

Africa have faced major population explosion in the last few decades. Africa's population which was estimated at 257 million in 1960 had increased to 482 million in 1983 almost two times the initial population. One decade later the population of the continent was estimated at 682 million. The average annual growth rate during that decade was 3.2%, the highest among Third World regions. In 1983, the Economic Commission for Africa, using high variant assumptions, projected that total African population will be about 1.1 billion by 2008, taking an annual growth rate of 3.2% during the 25‐year period of 1983 to 2008, that we have seen the progress in reality. 

By 2012 African Development Bank have in projections to 2030 affirmed that, the African population is expected to peak at 1.6 billion from 1.0 billion in 2010, which would represent 19% of the world’s population. Asia and Latin America will account for 58% and 8%, of world population, respectively. These projections rely upon assumptions about vital fertility and mortality rates. The fertility rate is assumed to increase at a varying pace by country, and follow a trajectory similar to the one in other major global areas.

AfDB in 2014 said 

“Africa’s population has increased by 2.5 percent per year and in 2011 the number of people living in the young continent exceeded the 1 billion mark. This is expected to rise to at least 2.4 billion by 2050, with some of the countries doubling or even tripling their numbers, making Africa the region with the largest population growth.”

Urban Population Trend, Africa, 1950-2050


Source: African Development Bank 2014

The Challenges

In recent years an increasing number of Africans are being added every year. This was not always the case, these population increases are unprecedented in history. But the problem of population is not simply a problem of numbers it is a problem of human welfare and of development. Rapid population growth which may have serious consequences for the wellbeing of humanity worldwide. If development entails the improvement in people's level of living i.e. their incomes, health, safety, education and general well‐being. And if it also encompasses their self-esteem, respect dignity and freedom of choice then the really important question about population growth is how does the contemporary population situation in many African countries contribute to or detract from their chances of realizing the goals of development, not only for the current generation but also for the future generations? Conversely, how does population growth affect human development?

Here are more questions raised by many concerned scholars as to the rate and level of population increase in Africa. 

  1. Poverty alleviation: What are the implications of increase population growth rates among the third world country’s poor for their chances of overcoming the human wretchedness of absolute poverty? Will world food supply and its distributions be sufficient not only to meet the anticipated population increase in the coming decades but also to improve nutritional levels to the point where all humans can have an adequate diet?
  2. development in health and education: Given the anticipated population growth will African countries be able to extend the coverage and improve the quality of their health and educational systems so that everyone can at least have the chance to secure adequate health care and basic education?
  3. Poverty and human freedom of choice: To what extent are the low levels of living an important factor in limiting the freedom of parents to choose a desired family size? Is there a relationship between poverty and family size?

considering the questions above, it is imperative to frame the population problem not simply in terms of numbers, or densities, or rates, or migration but with full consideration of the qualities of human life: affluence in place of poverty eradication, education in place of illiteracy full opportunities for the future generations of children in place of current limitations. 

Possible Problems

The product of rapid population growth is snowballing, the more births increase today makes it difficult to slow the population growth in the near future, because today's children will become tomorrow's parents. In general, food supplies and agricultural production must be greatly increased to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, this limits the allocation of resources to other economic and social sectors. Similarly, the rapid increase in population means that there will be an increase in the dependency ratio, this implies that the country concerned will have to allocate increasing resources to feed, clothe, house and educate the useful component of the population which consumes but does not produce goods and services. 

Again, a rapidly growing population has serious implications for the provision of productive employment Since the rapid population growth is normally associated with a proportionate increase in the supply of the labour force, it means that the rate of job creation is expected to match the rate of supply of the labour force. In Africa the rate of labour force supply has outstripped that of job creation, implying that the rates of unemployment have been increasing rapidly. In other words, the number of people seeking employment increases more rapidly than the number of available jobs. Hence, the increase in crime, theft, migration and all sort of problems bedevilling African continent.

Monica et al (2011) added that rapid population growth can be a constraint on economic growth, especially in poor countries with policies that do not encourage rapid rise in productivity. It must be noted that When a constant‐growing number of graduates cannot be absorbed in the modern economic sectors and workforce. The graduates and unemployed youths are forced either into unproductive activities, heinous crime or back into the traditional means of livelihood with its low productivity and low wage levels. This large supply for cheap labour tends to hold back technological advancement, growth and development. Industrialization is slowed by mass poverty, which in turn reduces the demand for manufactured goods. The possible results are low saving rates and low labour skills, both of which inhibit the full exploration of potentials, development and utilization of natural resources embedded in many African countries. In some countries, the growing population would outpace the levels at which renewable resources could be sustained, and the resource bases would deteriorate. Thus, widespread poverty, migration, crime, low labour productivity etc. The growing demand for food and slow industrialization distort and degrade the international trade of African countries.

Likewise, another major possible outcome of rapid Africa's population growth is the phenomenal growth rate of city population. Due to an increase in the total population, the Africa's urban population is expected to reach 1.3 billion by the year 2025 (OAU & ECA 2020). This will come without adequate provision of housing facilities, basic and social amenities. The rapid population growth rate will result in poor and crowded housing in the urban slums of the rapidly growing cities, and this could also produce further social problems. Hence, Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent in the world (AfDB 2014).

Cost adequacy and nature of health and welfare services might also be affected by rapid population growth in much the same way as are those of educational services. In the individual family death and illness might be increased by high fertility and frequent pregnancies, and the necessity of caring for excessive numbers of children. It should also be noted that the physical and mental development of children are often affected in large families because of inadequate nutrition and the prevalence of diseases associated with poverty, and also many of such children grew without parental affection. This affect their affective domain of learning, that may be the reason why a child can kill a fellow human without feeling remorseful about it.

Possible Solutions

Empirical studies increasingly support the idea that countries which have incorporated population policies and family planning programs in their overall economic and social development strategies have achieved high and sustained rates of economic growth and that they have also managed significant reductions in poverty. Fertility reduction is by no means an economic development panacea and is certainly not a sufficient condition for economic growth, but it may well be a necessary condition, establishing conditions in which governments can invest more per capita in education, human and health, thus creating the human capital for sustained economic growth. Likewise, with fewer children to care for and raise, families can improve their prospects for escaping the poverty trap. At both the macro and micro levels, moderating fertility enhances economic prospects.

Recent studies by Monica et al conclude that reducing fertility facilitates economic growth in low-income countries. Low dependency ratios (resulting from fertility decline) create a window of opportunity for savings, increased productivity, and investment which if properly managed can transform living standards permanently. The more rapid the fertility decline in a region, the wider the window of opportunity, though its duration will be shorter because the population will age more rapidly. Micro-studies also find that lower fertility is also associated with better child health and schooling, reduced maternal mortality and morbidity, increased women‘s labour force participation, and higher household earnings. This is quite aside from the intrinsic human right of being able to control ones’ own fertility.

Family planning programs are intrinsic to anti-poverty efforts by facilitating increases in living standards. They also form part of a package of measures addressing basic government failures that help sustain poverty and high fertility ― including efforts to improve health and schooling, and to expand income-earning opportunities. Family planning programs help by increasing access to contraception, and by providing informational outreach to enhance perception of the benefits of shifting to a more secure equilibrium in which people have fewer children and are able to invest more in them.


Finally, there is no doubt that the high population problem in Africa is factual and challenging. The influence of the effect of high birth-rates and low death rates, increasing population size and density, rapid population growth, and increasing dependency burden all translate into greater demands on the African governments in productive activities which in turn highlights the problems of unemployment, underemployment, persistent poverty, urban slums, crime, drug pushing and political unrest.


African Development Bank Group (AfDB) (2012). “Briefing Notes for AfDB’s Long-Term Strategy”

African Development Bank Group (AfDB) (2014). “Tracking Africa’s progress in figures”

European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) (2022). “African Spaces: the new geopolitical frontlines.” Edited by Giovanni Faleg. Printed in Belgium by Bietlot.

Guengant, JP and May, JF (2022). AFRICA 2050: African Demography. Emerging Markers Forum.

Monica Das Gupta, John Bongaarts, and John Cleland. (2011). Population, Poverty, and Sustainable Development: a review of the evidence. The World Bank Development Research Group Human Development and Public Services Team.

Organization of African Unity and Economic Commission for Africa (OAU & ECA) (2020). “Population and development in Africa” 

Steven W. Sinding. (2008) Population, Poverty and Economic Development. Paper prepared for the Bixby Forum, The World in 2050, Berkeley, California.


Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:41 AM

I think the title is a bit unfortunate at the very least. I am also skeptical of the article's thesis of highlighting population growth as the problem itself.

I want to echo sentiment that this piece would be improved a fair bit if the word "plague" wasn't in the title. The current wording could be misinterpreted to imply that the humans involved in this "plague" are a "disease" which should be "eradicated," paralleling some old racist talking-points. (Of course, having both read the piece and noticed from scrolling over your profile that you yourself are Black, I obviously don't think you were trying to imply anything like that – I just figured you might want this feedback as to why your piece might be generating an averse reaction from some readers.)