Chronic. « African rush to Europe », « migratory invasion », see « great replacement ». Slogans, fueled by the reality of a galloping birth rate south of the Sahara, populate the political debate. Their simplism does not stand up well to rational analysis: demography is only one of the many factors of emigration and the majority of African migrants actually reside… in Africa itself.
But criticizing the instrumentalization of African demography as a machine for xenophobic fantasies should not prevent us from considering this as highly problematic. Before constituting a challenge for the developed countries, the demographic explosion of sub-Saharan Africa is a real scourge for the continent itself, a major obstacle to its development.
While a French woman has an average of 1.8 children, an African has 4.4 and even 7 if she lives in Niger. At the current rate, the billion inhabitants of Africa will have doubled in 2050. Nigeria will have dethroned the United States as the third most populous country on the planet (behind China and India).
With a population increase of more than 3% each year in the Sahel, demography makes any prospect of escaping poverty illusory. Niger, a country of which only 8% of the surface is arable, had 3 million inhabitants in 1960. It will have more than 40 million in twenty years. As for Mali, its 20 million inhabitants should more than double by 2050. Even in less deprived areas, the sharp increase in population largely absorbs economic growth, perpetuates general impoverishment and leads to underemployment. or in the jihadism of the hopeless masses of young people.
A highly sensitive subject
Unlike other parts of the continent, West Africa, and in particular the Sahel, has not begun the demographic transition that allows a reduction in the number of children per woman as infant mortality decreases. As for the « demographic dividend », which is released when the active population weighs more than the dependents, the continent is far from perceiving it, while 40% of its population is under 15 years old.
For a long time, this « curse of demography » was taboo, unspeakable for Europeans, former colonizers. Emmanuel Macron was called a racist in 2017 after claiming the vanity of aid plans “when countries still have seven to eight children per woman”. As for Africans, they have long avoided an ultra-sensitive subject, which touches on the most intimate of societies, brings into play ancestral traditions, and constitutes one of the keys to the domination of men over women.
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