The nexus between migration and demography

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Africa and Europe have a duty to share responsibility to put an end to human trafficking. That was one of the final recommendations of the Africa-European summit, whose focus was meant to be on development and investment in youth. It was ineluctably overshadowed by the migrant crisis in Libya. It has been 10 years since the joint Africa-European Union strategy was adopted but the links between the two continents still need to be broadened at various levels, especially in facing migration and demographic challenges.

When migration is done right, by respecting all the rules and regulations, migrants can contribute actively and positively to host countries. However, when migration is controlled by criminal organizations intent on capitalizing on the vulnerable, forced and unforced labor of migrants can be used to finance global terrorism and illegal trade rackets. The International Organization for Migration insists that the nexus between migration and demography is complex and requires a comprehensive approach: “vastly differing population growth rates, together with extended life expectancy in most regions, is resulting in significant demographic differences between regions and corresponding variations in labor supply.”

Population growth presents opportunities and risks. By 2050, Africa’s population is projected to increase from one billion to 2.4 billion people. Birth rates have moved in opposite directions in North and sub-Saharan Africa, with total fertility rates (TFR) declining in the former and remaining high in the latter. In Egypt, for example, the TFR has decreased to 3 children per woman, whereas the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s TFR has remained constant at 6.3 children per woman.

Any strategies and plans pertaining to the management of population growth in Africa should be discussed and planned not only at international level but also in concert with religious and civil society leaders at grass roots level. There is evidence that cultural attitudes can be changed on the continent. A handful of countries have been able to reduce population growth by encouraging smaller family sizes. Women’s education, employment opportunities and inclusion in political decision-making have a positive effect on family planning and help reduce population growth. These strategies have proven to be successful in countries like Rwanda (the most densely populated country in Africa) and even in Mauritius, where the reduction of family sizes has been purposefully achieved.

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The “youth bulge” in Africa is another cause for concern. Research on the linkagesbetween political instability and population age structures coupled with rampant unemployment rates demonstrate that African countries with a large proportion of young adults are more prone to civil unrest or democratic aspirations. There is also the ambit of a young and enterprising population on the labor force, and who could serve to drive economic growth in sclerotic countries, as was the case in a number of Southeast Asian countries.

The challenge for African leaders is to design strategies and policies that monopolize the productive potential of young Africans while mitigating the tensions that could result from an increased competition for resources. This is why it is crucial to properly manage the interplay between economic growth and demography, as highlighted by Angela Merkel during the summit in Abidjan.

The SADC region faces several challenges, such as State fragility, severe economic underdevelopment, humanitarian crises, and population displacement. The region also suffers from violent non-State actors, such as armed militias and insurgent groups. The inherent need for mechanisms to integrate marginalized youth into society is evident. 75% of Kenya’s population and 77% of Uganda’s population are under the age of 30, and Africa’s overall population is projected to become even younger over the coming decades.

In this context, ministries dealing with youth issues are critical but they often face poor funding, lack of strong mandates, unclear policies and/or institutional weightage. They were often seen as ‘‘soft portfolio’’ departments, with less influential leaders assigned to them. We need to allocate more resources, attention and renewed energy to the youth to steer them towards bolder productive paths, while staying away from radicalization and drug trafficking. A decisive connectivity with accessible and practical educational/vocational programmes for new migrants is also an important catalyst to redirect the youth to transcend the trap of dropping out, joblessness, and criminality.

Is Africa ready for a brave new world or will it remain stuck in the dark model of ‘‘no growth planning scenario’’? However, The Economist (02/03/2013) has predicted that the growth rate in Africa will reach 6% every year from 2013 to 2023.

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