Difficult prospects for sub-Saharan Africa

Un dossier publié en anglais par CAIRN, édition internationale, juillet 2018, avec un jeu de questions-réponses à Harouna Mounkaïla, géographe et enseignant-chercheur à l’université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey et membre du LMI MOVIDA.

Lire le dossier complet sur ce lien.

“French-speaking countries are among the lowest ranked”

Education levels in English-speaking Africa are significantly higher than in French-speaking Africa. Do you think this leads to differences in how these nations develop socioeconomically?

The poorest countries in Africa, in terms of educational achievement, are indeed French-speaking. Several explanations have been offered for this split between Anglophone and Francophone Africa. And, given the role human capital plays in economic and social development, this situation necessarily affects the socioeconomic trajectories of the two regions. Such differences are reflected in economic growth and standards of living. The poorest countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) are mostly French-speaking. Those with the best economic performance are Anglophone.

But education levels alone are not enough to account for the divergence in these countries’ socioeconomic trajectories. Infrastructure, the macroeconomy, health, labor market efficiency, institutional quality—all these also have to be taken into account.In your opinion, what are the current and future effects of Europe’s cutback on migratory flows from sub-Saharan Africa?

To me, Europe’s cutback in the face of migration from sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionate, given the statistical realities of sub-Saharan immigration, and especially given the relatively small proportion of Africans among migrants to Europe. Europe’s cutback will result in an increased “clandestinization” of migration to the continent, increased costs and risks for migrants, and the strengthening of illegal immigration networks.
The population of sub-Saharan Africa is very young and is growing rapidly. It will be increasingly educated in the future; this creates labor market pressures and will continue to do so. That will certainly have an impact on mobility, whether within or beyond the continent. Europe’s cutback means that Africans are likely to explore destinations such as Asia and America, and intra-continental mobility (still the most prominent form) will continue.

According to the latest UN projections, the population of sub-Saharan Africa could rise from 1 billion to 4 billion or more by 2100. How does this prospect look to someone living in Niamey?

The prospect is hardly surprising for somewhere like Niger, which has an average of 7.6 children per woman and an annual growth rate of 3.9%. According to the United Nations, Niger’s population could increase from 22 million today to 68.5 million in 2050, and 192.2 million in 2100. The resulting high fertility level, sociocultural pressures in favor of early marriage, persistent pronatalism, and the status accorded to women all mean that women do not enjoy a full range of rights, particularly health and reproductive rights. Despite its lack of control over the fertility rate, Niger has entered the first phase of a demographic transition, with mortality indicators falling significantly—particularly infant mortality (51 per thousand in 2012) and maternal mortality. Many causes underlying the pronatalism of the past no longer hold. This results in a very high dependency ratio, with 123 potentially inactive people for every 100 potentially active ones. This is likely to remain true in the coming decades, with only small changes expected in the population’s age structure. This situation is not helpful for economic and social development.

We are well aware in Niger of the pressure such demographic growth may place on resources, and the challenges it poses for food, health, education, employment, and so on. Households in both urban and rural areas already feel demographic pressure, in a context where needs of all kinds are not being met. But behavioral changes—particularly changes in procreation rates that could lead to a fall in fertility—remain slow and unsteady.  We need to gain control of fertility rates through education (particularly of girls), through a significant rise in contraceptive use (currently among the lowest in the world), and through the fight against early marriage. We should focus, at the same time, on other areas, particularly health, if we are to reduce infant and maternal mortality, which are still very high. And, of course, we have to focus on producing wealth. The question is whether Niger be able to turn the extreme youth of its population—nearly 70% of which is under 25—into an opportunity for economic and social development.

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