Africa, the world’s poorest continent, will see its population double over the next three decades. Without significant development progress, this population tidal wave will cause great human suffering, trigger destabilizing migrations and impact global security. Development aid for Africa has not been a success. For both humanitarian and strategic reasons, America must lead the world community in finding new ways to help Africa.
Africa’s population is projected to grow from its current 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion in 2050. Three-fourths of this growth will occur in 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, whose population will at least double over this period. Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, will see its population grow from 191 million in 2017 to a staggering 411 million in 2050 to become the world’s third most populous country, behind India and China and ahead of the United States. These 27 African nations will have dramatically larger numbers of young people to feed, clothe, educate and employ.
The countries facing this tremendous challenge are poor. Their per capita gross domestic product (GDP), the best measure of economic prosperity, ranges from $3,100 in Angola and $2,200 in Nigeria, to just $780 in Mali and $434 in Somalia. To add some perspective, the world’s 2016 per capita GDP was $10,300. North America was first with $37,477 and Africa last with $1,809, preceded by Asia with $5,635.
A general look within these African societies is not comforting, either. The Fund for Peace publishes a Fragile States Index for 176 countries. The index reflects 12 indicators that measure economic, social, political and peace conditions. All these 27 African countries are above average in risk in the 2017 ranking.
For decades now, the advanced countries have been sending development aid to Africa — with disappointing results. Dambisa Moyo, a former Goldman Sachs economist, authored the book “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa.” She makes the following observations in a 2009 Wall Street Journal article: “Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Yet real per capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50 percent of the population — over 350 million people — live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades.” Ms. Moyo and other development experts argue that much of the aid has been stolen or wasted, granting credence to the saying that development aid is a tax on the poor in developed countries to benefit the rich in developing countries.
Still, past development aid failures are no excuse for giving up on Africa. The world must find new ways to help, and do so urgently, before this population crisis hits. One promising idea is to keep aid at the same high level, but make better governance the top objective. The No. 1 governance focus should be peace — there is too much war both within and among African countries. Other key objectives should be fighting corruption, building an independent judiciary, and training competent public servants.
Better governance is not a new aspiration. The African Union has a peer review and mentoring program in which African states evaluate each other against agreed-upon standards and provide assistance when requested. Similarly, Tony Blair, the former United Kingdom’s prime minister, founded the Africa Governance Initiative. It provides international experts to work with African presidents and government ministers in prioritizing, planning and performance management.
But progress has been slow. Mo Ibrahim, the billionaire African entrepreneur, created in partnership with Harvard University a good governance foundation that produces an index of African governance. The index consists of 95 indicators in four categories: Safety and Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development. Between 2006 and 2016 the index only improved from 49 to 50. Progress was held back by a decline of almost three points in Safety and Rule of Law, the category that reflects armed conflict between and within countries, as well as corruption and general lawlessness.
America’s primary strategic interest in sub-Saharan Africa is tied to its global war on radical Islamic terrorism. Weak countries with ungoverned territories have always been breeding grounds for terrorists, and Africa is no exception. Several African terrorist organizations, like al-Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, actually pledged allegiance to al Qaeda.
But America has one other strategic interest: The coming population tsunami may cause such human suffering in Africa that it could generate massive migration waves toward the Middle East and Europe and thereby destabilize American allies and threaten world peace.
America’s foreign policy is driven by ideals and interests. When the two coincide on a critical issue, we have a policy imperative. America has a moral duty to alleviate human suffering and promote growth in Africa. It also wants to prevent Islamic terrorist attacks and destabilizing migrations from Africa. It is imperative that America lead the world in a governance know-how transfer to accelerate Africa’s development in the interest of our strategic objectives.
• Dan Negrea is a New York private equity investor.