ISS Today: Africa’s future – seven key trends


    First published by
    ISS Today

    Opportunities for progress abound in
    Africa, but governments need to make more strategic investments
    to improve the development prospects for all on the continent.
    This is according to an Institute for Security Studies


    that identifies seven key trends to
    understanding how Africa’s future could unfold over the coming

    1 Africa’s population will continue to grow
    rapidly and remain the youngest in the

    2 Levels of urbanisation will keep rising,
    offering both opportunities and risks.

    3 The absolute number of Africans living in
    extreme poverty is set to increase.

    4 Africa’s economy will continue to expand,
    but countries’ individual performances will vary

    5 Africa is likely to remain relatively
    isolated – both from the global economy and across its

    6 Conflict in Africa is causing fewer
    fatalities than in the 1990s, but the number of violent
    incidents is increasing, and violence is becoming more

    7 Popular support for democracy in Africa is
    likely to remain strong.

    Africa’s population is expected to
    increase from about 1.2-billion people today to over
    1.8-billion in 2035. The demand for services will increase
    dramatically and put African governments under considerable
    stress. Besides these sheer numbers,


    structure of Africa’s population is
    critical. Even in 2035, half of sub-Saharan Africa’s population
    will be under 21, which means governments need to spend heavily
    on education, health care and extending basic

    As Africa’s population ages, the ratio
    between workers and dependants will improve – leading to a
    potential boost in productivity and economic growth. However,
    Africa’s poorer economies are several decades away from
    experiencing a demographic dividend – and more importantly,
    most lack the necessary investments in human capital and job
    creation to capitalise on it.

    Similarly, many African countries are
    unlikely to reap the potential benefits


    unless they systematically address some
    of the structural hurdles, such as lack of job creation, slow
    economic transformation to higher productivity sectors, poverty
    and inequality.

    On the current trajectory, population growth
    is likely to compound poverty in sub-Saharan Africa as it is
    outpacing economic growth (see Figure 1). By 2035, as many as
    170-million more Africans could live in extreme poverty (less
    than $1.90 a day) than today. This is if the continent’s
    economy grows on average around 4% per year to

    Figure 1: Population growth.

    Overall, African economies need to grow much
    faster and make more strategic investments in human capital to
    reduce poverty, improve development outcomes and build adequate

    Where will this growth come from? Much of
    Africa is likely to remain vulnerable to global shocks. Its oil
    and metal exporters will continue to be the most exposed to
    global price volatility. Growth in non-hydrocarbon-dependent
    economies – energy importers and agricultural exporters – is
    likely to remain stable. Current and expected growth rates for
    some of Africa’s agricultural exporters are in line with Asia’s
    fastest-growing economies.

    To improve resilience against external
    shocks, African states need to diversify their economies and
    tax base, raise revenue more effectively, increase
    productivity, create jobs and invest in critical infrastructure
    and the development of human capital.

    Countries also need to dismantle some of the
    regulatory barriers to deeper integration to facilitate the
    movement of goods, people and ideas across borders and create
    regional economies of scale. Failing that, Africa will remain
    isolated – both from the global economy and across its

    Africa’s ability to participate more in
    regional and global trade partly depends on improving
    transportation and trade infrastructure and streamlining
    regulations. That said, a strategy to connect Africa must also
    include investment in basic infrastructure, such as access to
    clean water, electricity and improved sanitation. These
    services are key components of productivity and hence

    Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest levels of
    access to basic infrastructure anywhere in the world, and
    prospects for improvement are moderate compared to other
    developing regions (see Figure 2).

    Figure 2: Basic

    Modern technology may offer a way to replace
    costlier forms of more basic infrastructure. However,
    leapfrogging the construction of roads, water supply or
    sewerage facilities, for example, is simply not

    The sixth trend identified in the ISS
    report is that levels of


    in Africa are now generally comparable
    to those of half a century ago and are significantly lower than
    during the post-Cold War period. However, the continent is
    witnessing an increase in the number of violent incidents
    largely driven by riots and protests (see Figure

    In 2016, riots and protests accounted for
    almost 40% of total conflict events in Africa, up 10% from the
    previous year, followed by violence against civilians, battles
    and the use of improvised explosive devices. In line with the
    global trend, terrorist incidents are also increasing in

    Figure 3: Violent

    Politically motivated violence, however, will
    not necessarily affect Africans more than profit-motivated
    violence. The increasing levels of criminal violence in
    Southern Africa, West Africa, North Africa and the Sahel are
    expected to cause more deaths than armed conflict in the
    medium-term future.

    Africa’s high conflict burden requires
    continued investment in conflict prevention, control of arms,
    security-sector reform, the rule of law and regional forces. In
    the face of capacity constraints and ongoing democratic
    transitions, the international community will continue to be a
    key player in Africa’s future security.

    The last trend identified in the ISS
    report is that popular support for


    in Africa is likely to remain robust –
    even when essential elements of democratic accountability on
    the continent are often absent. While democracy still isn’t the
    dominant form of government in Africa, unlike the global trend,
    levels of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa have improved. In
    fact, Africa is relatively more democratic than could be
    expected given its generally low levels of GDP per

    Many African countries are under pressure to
    increase inclusion when the foundations of sufficient security
    and state capacity upon which to build democracy are still
    fragile. The issue is not a choice between democracy and
    development, but how to steadily advance inclusion at a pace
    commensurate with social and economic

    While the challenges may seem overwhelming,
    this research points to areas that African governments could
    leverage to capitalise on the enormous potential that exists on
    the continent. DM

    Julia Bello-Schünemann is a Senior
    Researcher and Zachary Donnenfeld, a Researcher, African
    Futures and Innovation, ISS Pretoria

    Photo: Women buy coconuts in order to
    resell them in the Abobo community of Abidjan, the commercial
    capital of Ivory Coast, on  29 March 2004. The Ivory Coast
    was once one of the richest countries in Africa due to its
    valuable ivory exports. However, droughts in the region and
    economic recessions caused the country to experience hardships.
    Photo: Herve Gbekide/(EPA).