The other side of ‘overpopulation’ in Africa


While population growth is slowing in the developed world – and even shrinking in certain cases, such as Japan, Germany and Spain – Africa’s population is steeply increasing. For a continent that, in many places, still struggles to feed itself, supply power to rural areas and provide public services such as healthcare and education, population growth is a major challenge for Africa’s developing nations.

As populations increase, Africa’s developmental demands increase, piling more pressure on resources and budgets to provide living essentials and public services to a rapidly increasing number of people. With many African nations already behind on development targets, overpopulation threatens to compromise progress across the continent.

Is Africa really overpopulated?

According to the World Economic Forum, African cities will double in population by 2050, which gives you an idea of how rapid growth is. Let’s keep things in context, though – Africa is far less densely populated than Asia and significantly more resource-rich than Europe, which also houses a larger population.

China alone has a larger population than Africa and the Asian country has abandoned its one-child policy in a bid to boost its population.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric from key members of the international community on African overpopulation is strong. Population growth is bad for Africa seems to be the message and it makes sense that added pressure on developing nations is problematic. However, the fact that Europe manages to feed its huge population, without producing a great deal of food itself, proves the power of trade when it comes to feeding hungry mouths at scale.

This is where the notion of overpopulation becomes highly subjective. Africa is relatively sparsely populated compared to other continents but it’s the rate of population growth that is causing concern. It’s enough concern to bring a flood of western overpopulation experts to African and swarms of investment into NGOs and governments to halt population growth across the continent.

What’s interesting is that we don’t see the same thing happening in Southeast Asia – at least not on the same scale – where overpopulation is more extreme.

So why the focus on Africa?

Investing in population control

There are all kinds of theories as to why the international community is so concerned about Africa’s population growth – ranging from the strain on international aid to reducing the number of African refugees and all kinds of sinister conspiracy theories.

A simpler explanation could be the financial opportunities that come with turning African overpopulation into a global issue. The World Economic Forum generously offers four key steps to dealing with population growth in Africa:


  1. Accelerate investment in technology deployment for smarter urban infrastructure
  2. Develop comprehensive data analytics to drive smarter decision-making and investments in the future of African cities
  3. Reframe the debate on urban real estate development across Africa
  4. Invest in essential cutting-edge research to drive this work forward


Yes, that’s right – as usual, the solution to all of Africa’s problems is: spend, spend, spend. At a time when debt levels in African nations are rising at a far more damaging rate than their populations, the general consensus from the international community is that more money needs to be piled into keeping Africa’s population manageable.

As WEF puts it: “By 2050, more than 1.3 billion Africans will call a city home. If they are to live with dignity and seize tomorrow’s opportunities, Africa needs to assemble the greatest minds in urban planning, technology and sustainability today.”

It will be interesting to see how many of these proposed “greatest minds” come from within Africa and how much of the profit from these investment propositions exits the continent.

African overpopulation in context

If 1.3 billion Africans are living in cities by 2050 this will still be lower than the population of China, which has already passed 1.4 billion people. This doesn’t mean overpopulation isn’t a concern for African nations. It absolutely is. But it’s important to keep things in context and look at how Europe manages sustainability despite its huge population. Or how America feeds and educates its people as a single nation that consumes roughly 25% of the entire world’s resources.

It’s easy to say African populations will reach x-figure by y-date and make overpopulation sounds like a global crisis. Let’s not forget that the US, Europe and Japan suck up 80% of the world’s resources between them and ask why Africa isn’t getting its fair share – instead of devising investment strategies design to prevent the growth of African populations.

Featured image: Public domain.

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.