Tanzania’s population jumped by more than 37% in a decade to 61.7 million, President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on October 30th, warning of the challenges posed by expanding numbers as she unveiled the results of the national census.  Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam is poised to become one of the world’s most heavily populated cities in the years to come.

The East African country’s population grew from 44.9 million in 2012 to more than 60 million, according to the census carried out earlier this year, with Hassan saying the numbers reflected an annual increase of 3.2%.

“Such population might not be a big deal for a huge country like ours but it’s a burden when it comes to allocating resources and delivering social services,” Hassan said during an event broadcast live from the capital Dodoma.  “We need development strategies to serve these people,” she said.

Dar es Salaam remains the most populated region with around 5.4 million residents, while the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar is home to 1.9 million people, an increase of 600,000.

“We need to start preparing development projects for these people and make necessary reforms in our policies to match with the current numbers,” Hassan said, pointing out that the country’s population was projected to reach 151.2 million in 2050. Dar es Salaam, which lies on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast, grew from a fishing village to become the country’s largest city.

A World Bank report in 2019 said Dar es Salaam was “one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, and with a growth rate of 6.5%, it is expected to reach 10 million residents by 2030.

“Because of this rapid growth, the city faces serious congestion and mobility challenges, which are worsened by an undeveloped road network.”  (© AFP 1/11 2022)

Tanzania is, of course, not the only African country facing huge population growth and having to deal with the issues arising from it.  A UN report published in July – World Population Prospects 2022 – showed that more than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries, five of which are in Africa – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Writing in the UK’s Guardian newspaper in January, Edward Paice, the director of the Africa Research Institute and author of Youthquake – Why African Demography Should Matter to the World said that the populations of more than half of Africa’s 54 nations will double – or more – by 2050, the product of sustained high fertility and improving mortality rates. 

The continent will then be home to at least 25% of the world’s population, compared with less than 10% in 1950. Expansion on this scale is unprecedented: whereas the population of Asia will have multiplied by a factor of four in this timeframe, Africa’s will have risen tenfold. 

“Chronic youthfulness”, as demographer Richard Cincotta has termed it, is the result: 40% of all Africans are children under the age of 14 and in most African countries the median age is below 20 (compared to over 40 in the UK, for example).

African mothers will have about 450 million children in the 2020s. This is projected to rise to more than 550 million in the 2040s, about 40% of all children born worldwide in that decade. Overall, low or rapidly declining birth-rates remain the exception rather than the rule in most of Africa. Globally, the number of births are at their highest level ever – 140 million a year – and are unlikely to fall by much in the course of the next two to three decades.

That is some bow wave underpinning future population growth, for good or ill (or both), says Paice. With continuing high fertility in east, west and central Africa, the continent will contribute 1.3 billion of the 2 billion increase in the global population between 2019 and 2050. By then, the populations of east and west Africa will each exceed that of Europe. Thereafter, Africa’s varied demography will be one of the principal determinants of whether the global population will peak in the second half of the 21st century or continue growing, a vexed and contested issue with added significance in the age of the climate crisis.

In a fascinating New Culture Forum interview, Paice goes into further demographic detail.  For example in Nigeria two thirds of the population are under 25.  In the Sahel and Uganda, the median age of the population is just 16 years old.  Fertility in East, West and Central Africa averages between 4.5 and 5 per family, compared to 3-3.5 in North Africa, 2.2 – 3 in Southern Africa and less than 2 in Europe. 

In this decade about 250 million Africans will reach working age (considered to be 15 years old); there are currently around 750 million people of working age (between 15 and 64).  So roughly 20 million people a year will need a job, whereas only 3 million decent jobs a year are actually created across the continent, leaving the rest with a choice of joining the so-called “hustler economy”, working in subsistence agriculture, or migrating.

Internal migration, within countries for example from rural to urban areas, and within Africa is much more significant than migration to Europe or other overseas countries, says Paice.  Going abroad is for the rich, families invest a lot of money, often their entire wealth, in supporting a family member’s journey.  And the risks, of course, are enormous.  Compared to the populations of their own countries the numbers arriving in Europe are a drop in the ocean, not a flood he argues.

Paice describes the current times as the “Age of Protest”, thanks to the potent brew of dissatisfied jobless youth and elderly leaders.  He mentions Sudan where protests have been going on since September 2019.  Now, nine months later protests against the authorities are still ongoing in Sudan and in countries across the continent – Burkina Faso, Chad, Comoros, DR Congo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Tunisia to name a few.

For further information about the Africa Research Bulletin:

Economic, Financial and Technical Series: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14676346

Political, Social and Cultural Series: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/1467825x