01 February 2024

Africa's Aspiring Future

"The eye never forgets what the heart has seen."

--African Proverb

(C) The Engineer

In 2050, one-quarter of all people will be in Africa--a sprawling continent larger than China, Europe, India, and the U.S. combined. Its fifty-four countries will have the youngest, fastest-growing population on Earth. (N.Y. Times) 

The continent's population is currently 1.4 billion and is estimated to be 2.5 billion in 2050.

Africa had 8% of the world's population in 1950. It will account for one-fourth of humanity a century later, with at least one-third of all young people aged 15-24. By 2040, it will have one in every five children living on Earth. (United Nations)

The median age of Continental Africa is nineteen; India is twenty-eight; and China and the U.S. are thirty-eight. 

What else lies beneath "the boundless African sky?"

Africa's landscapes are as breathtaking as its statistics. Yet, with all the beauty and mystery, what makes the "Cradle of Mankind" special is its warm and friendly people. 

The disparities

Our first trip to the continent was in 1987 to the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa. Sometimes known as Ivory Coast, the country identifies two capitals: Yamoussoukro (political) and Abidjan (economic). Despite a history of political instability, the economy is stable and growing; the thirty million population enjoys a relatively high-income level compared to other countries in the region. (World Bank)

If you like chocolate, it's worth knowing that Côte d'Ivoire's economic strength derives from being the world's leading exporter of cocoa beans. 

Travels in subsequent years to the Republic of South Africa and the Republic of Kenya in East Africa made diverse people, economies, governments, and material resources visible. The continent's burgeoning cities (eleven with more than five million in population), filled with traffic jams, are never far from poverty. 

For example, with a birthrate of five million people yearly, Nigeria, a country slightly bigger than Texas, is expected to double in size in the next 26 years, overtaking the U.S. as the third most populous country. (Business Insider)

Nigeria boasts the largest economy in Africa. Yet two-thirds of its people live on less than $2 a day. Life expectancy is fifty-three, nine years below African averages. 

An income threshold of $2.15 per day for low-income economies means an estimated 460 million sub-Saharan Africans are living in extreme poverty. Limited access to food, famines, the COVID-19 pandemic, and war contribute to those staggering numbers. (World Bank, Outreach International, World Food Programme)  

"Some 34 million Africans are migrants, and the majority are workers crossing borders to search for decent work--jobs that pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions and fair treatment," says a report from the Solidarity Center for Labor Migration. "Many workers find employers seeking to exploit them--refusing to pay wages and forcing them to work long hours for little or no pay," the Center adds.

Vast resources

Africa is home to 30% of the world's mineral reserves. It has the largest cobalt reserves, diamonds, platinum, and uranium. It's also a major source of gold, generating a quarter of the world's output, 870 metric tons in 2021. 

Almost 8% of the world's natural gas and 12% of oil reserves are on the continent. Add 65% of the total arable land and 10% of the planet's internal renewable freshwater source. 

Minerals for EV batteries, such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel, and graphite, are available in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, South Africa, Madagascar, and Mozambique. (Africa Development Bank) 

The world's automakers, wanting non-Chinese sources in their supply chains, are attracted to South Africa as the second-largest refiner of manganese.

Natural resources' financial and social benefits have only sometimes reached the people who work to extract them and the villages where they live. Will the push for green energy materials be different?  

Political influence

The magnitude of Africa's populace and resources draws attention from world powers. Even as the continent's countries strengthen ties, China, Russia, Turkey, and the Gulf Petroleum States have a presence there. India intends to become Africa's most significant trade and investment partner. (Brookings.edu)

With funding through the Belt and Infrastructure Campaign, China is deepening African relationships through industrialization and modernization of industry.

Meanwhile, U.S. involvement is growing on the continent with significant food and health investments, two-way trade deals, digital projects, and infrastructure upgrades like the recent rail freight services in Angola. The federal government in Washington, DC, is promising more support. 

Enterprising spirit

With a need to improve skills and digital tools for private industry and government, education is assuming greater importance in Africa. Studies show that 44% graduated from high school in 2020, up 27% since 2000. And 570 million people use the Internet. 

The struggle is finding good jobs. Thousands of doctors, nurses, and skilled migrants continue to flee the continent. 

Learning, reducing out-of-school children, and youth with apprentice skills are priorities for all countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Business schools are behind much of the change and transformation. A new generation of entrepreneurs is providing hope for economic solutions. With a ratio of four young people for every position available, starting businesses and creating jobs is critical. More outside help is needed to ensure those newly minted enterprises know what it takes to survive and thrive. (The Engineer)

Africa's heart

There are an estimated 660 million Christians on the African landmass, more than on any other continent. (Center for the Study of Global Christianity) The frequency of worship attendance and prayer among the world's Christians is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and lowest in Western Europe. (Pew Research Center)  

Africa's 240 million Catholics comprise 19% of the global Catholic population. (PillarCatholic.com

Christianity is the major religion in numerous African countries. The top five with 90% or more Christian population are São Tomé and Príncipe, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Rwanda, and Seychelles. (World Atlas)

A BBC documentary describes Christianity in Africa as an "agent of change." It destabilized the status quo, bringing new opportunities to some and undermining the power of others. With Christian missions came education, literacy, and hope for the disadvantaged. 

The World Religion Database reports that sub-Saharan Africa was home to 230 million Pentecostals and charismatics, or 35.6% of the global total in 2020. Those numbers are expected to reach 450 million and 43.6% in 2050.

Unlike the Western world, religious competition is transforming Africa, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal published in June 2023. Now 42% Muslim, sub-Sarahan Africa is expected by 2037 to have more Muslims than Islam's historical heartland of the Middle East and North Africa. (Pew Research Center)

Based on the Journal story, Christianity and Islam are the most practiced religions in Africa. 

Unlocked future

What needs to happen for Africa to realize an aspiring future? Research points to the following:

  • Make additional investments in human capital to improve health and reduce poverty.
  • Include young people in decision-making and give them appropriate education, work, and innovation opportunities.
  • Hold leadership accountable in all sectors--business, government, and nonprofits.
  • Keep growing intra-country trade and diversification of exports that meet current demands.
  • Continued religious freedom.


"What advice do you have on where to explore," asked the traveler.

"If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa--twice," was the reply. (R. Elliott)  


© Bredholt & Co