This article was originally drafted by the Center for Democracy and Development for the newsletter “West Africa Insight” as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Searchlight Process. For more Searchlight content on futurechallenges.org, please click here.
Africa is said be the last region in the world to undergo a demographic transition. In West Africa, it is doing so precariously, as poor people without capital move from the rural areas to burden urban areas that are at best poorly planned. Culture still values large family sizes, keeping the total fertility rate high with every woman almost likely to give birth to five children, even as the pervasive opinion is that population control must not be the priority of governments. This view is justified especially by juxtaposing it with legitimate demands for provision of social infrastructure and employment.
Interest in curbing population growth in West Africa has been more non-governmental than from the regimes in power. The West Africa Long Term Perspective Study commissioned in 1991 by OECD and Club du Sahel (and published in 1998) projected that the sub region will have over 300 million people in the year 2020, and that will include “more than 25 million people, including 5 cities of more than 1 million inhabitants” between 500-kilometre stretch from Benin City in Nigeria and Accra, the capital city of Ghana. In 2011, nine years earlier than 2020, that stretch already has that many inhabitants.
International organizations like CEDPA, UNFPA, the Planned Parenthood Federation and a handful of other national organizations have been in action with behavior change communication and family planning messages. But it is in a sub region largely devoid of political will. The urban-rural ratio is rising, and because food production is largely done in the rural areas, food security will become a great source of concern. The largely young-people-dominated population only consumes to stay alive in unemployment. Now and then, they join to take up arms to fan the flames of conflict.
Forced migrations resulting from conflict will still contribute to the spatial dynamics of population settlements. As the WALTPS stated, “West Africa, as a region of rapid population settlement transition and prolonged imbalance, will be subject to great political, economic, social and environmental tension. Changes will be abrupt, unstable, and varied.”
Private sector forays across the sub region such as the Nigerian Dangote Group, telecoms service providers Glo, and Ghanaian bottled water producer Voltaic hold in them potential models for pursuing sub-regional unity in the light of failure of the intergovernmental organization ECOWAS to achieve that all-important mandate. Private business interests are their largely legitimate concerns are better positioned than governments to reach out through corporate social responsibility and other efforts, mobilizing the youthful populations toward more positive deployments of their strength. Such corporate organizations only need to be supported by governments and international development partners.