The future of Africa, in 6 charts

Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa

Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa. As the African population grows larger and more urban, preserving a balance between cities and nature will be crucial to sustainabe economic development on the continent. (© grahambedingfield)

The last large source of arable land, minerals and fossil fuels, Africa may also be the continent that is the least-equipped to manage and protect its resources sustainably. If pursued with nature’s value in mind, Africa’s growth could mean long-term prosperity for its people; if not, it could bring unsustainable consumption, resource extraction and environmental degradation.

Here are some of the changes facing the continent.

  1. There are more Africans than ever before.

Growth of Africa's Population

2. In 2014, one in six people on Earth were African. By 2030, it will be one in five.

Growth of Africa's Population 2

Africa’s population is projected to more than double by 2060, with 300 million new babies born just between 2015 and 2030. More mouths to feed will put increasing pressure on the continent’s agricultural production, which is already failing to provide enough food for Africa’s current population amid challenges like drought, insufficient financing and lack of infrastructure connecting sellers and buyers. More than half of the African population — and an even higher percentage in East Africa — is dependent on agriculture for at least part of their livelihoods, which means that changes to agricultural productivity would have widespread impacts. Of the world’s 20 countries most vulnerable to agricultural production loss due to climate change, 11 are in Africa.


CI is working across Africa to ensure nature is valued as the continent develops. Support this crucial effort.  

Given the importance of pollination, freshwater provision and other natural systems that make food production possible, implementing sustainable agricultural practices that increase productivity without depleting nature are critical. Conservation International (CI) led the development of a web-based monitoring system called Vital Signs to do just that; by providing diagnostic tools and near real-time data on factors such as precipitation and soil health, the system helps farmers and governments adapt their practices to changing weather patterns.

3. Africa’s workforce is growing faster than any other continent.

Growth of Africa's Population 3

While this shift reveals the potential of Africa to take a larger role in the global economy, having people ready to work isn’t enough. Michael O-Brien-Onyeka, senior vice president of CI’s Africa field division, explains: “By 2050, one in every four workers in the world will be from Africa — but I’m not sure if all of them will have jobs.”

In order for those jobs to be sustainable long term, they must reflect a new economy that accounts for nature’s value. If Africa’s economic growth continues at the cost of its “natural capital” — that is, the forests, fresh water, soil, wildlife and other elements of nature that its people rely on — the continent’s future as a global leader will be in jeopardy.

4. Almost half of Africans live in cities.

Growth of Africa's Population 4

To much of the world, Africa is synonymous with wildlife — but many Africans have never seen a wild giraffe or elephant. As the growing population of mainly young people migrates to cities in search of work, economists are asking the question: Will urbanization in Africa solve any of its economic problems?

Cities offer “investment, innovation, skilled labor, and higher incomes”; for many countries, they’re the hallmark of development. But cities can also bring “congestion, the creation of slums, worsening air quality, floods and inadequate sanitation, and joblessness arising from migration from poor rural communities to urban centers ill-equipped to receive them.” Which direction will dominate Africa’s cities? It will depend on the development path its countries choose.

5. Africa’s middle class is growing fast.

Growth of Africa's Population 5

A rising middle class is good news for the economy — and the newly affluent members of that group. But too often it goes hand in hand with overconsumption and a host of environmental issues that affect human health, the long-term availability of natural resources and ultimately, economic stability. In places like China, which is projected to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economic power, the short-term economic gains of a rapidly rising middle class — and its spending habits — have come with serious environmental ramifications like deforestation and increased carbon emissions from more cars on the road.

6. Half of the world’s 12 fastest-growing economies are in Africa.

Growth of Africa's Population 6

What can be done?

For Africa to manage its resources for future generations, it will have to account for the value of its “natural capital,” as it does its financial and human capital. The Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, a 10-country consortium spearheaded by Botswana, offers a model for bringing the value of natural resources into economic decision-making.

Will the rest of Africa follow suit?

Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer for CI.

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  1. Catherine says

    Great post – significant trends each one, together more of a challenge. Challenges that require the right actions to be taken by governments, and unfortunately, most governments and institutions are ill-equipped to meet these challenges. The good news is that it is not impossible to change, and it starts with the will. A free press to educate the public on these issues and to hold politicians accountable.
    And based on my experience living there, the young people of Africa desire and are increasingly equipped for these challenges!!

  2. Clive says

    My experience in all cities I’ve been to tells me urban sprawl can only be slowed down by urban density. Building more high rises and higher towers. With the environment it’s up to all of us globally to start lobbying the local government for industrial change. Tax incentives and several solutions I have come up with.

    How we can all save the world
    1 First off, get rid of that gas vehicle and buy an electric car.
    2 Second, install solar panels and get off the grid.
    3 Third, renovate your home to max efficiency.
    4 fourth, reduce, reuse and recycle.
    Then you can sit back and relax with a cold drink.

    10 solutions to save the world.
    – Kill the pests by removing the eggs of the pests.
    – Reroute runoff water with concrete lined waterways.
    – Fertilize with horse manure from horse farms.
    – Dig 3 huge lake size man-made lakes (away from people).
    – Municipal waste should be directed to man-made lake 1.
    – Industrial waste should be directed to man-made lake 2.
    – Nuclear waste should be directed to man-made lake 3.
    – Have new smoke stacks made from Cro-Molly with 3 UV filters.
    – Store chemical waste in large containers and
    mix the chemical waste with detox chemicals. Check
    the mixture’s balance and mix again with detox chemicals.
    run the resulting mixture through a UV water filter machine
    – Use the resulting dead water as a source for industrial needs.

    These solutions are not cheap and urging governments to provide tax incentives is paramount. Doing what we can with our entrepreneurial spirit to make businesses from these solutions. Go for it I am NOT patenting any of it.

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