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A roundtable at the 8th African Population Conference

African experts discuss what it takes to realise the demographic dividend in their countries

Pr Dramani introducing panelists

Harnessing the demographic dividend is seen as important opportunity for African countries’ economic and social development. But which preconditions are essential and which investments are needed to seize this opportunity? At the 8th African Population Conference in Uganda, German development cooperation invited experts to discuss these questions.

The 8th African Population Conference on the topic of „Harnessing Africa’s Population Dynamics for Sustainable Development: 25 Years after Cairo and Beyond”, organised by the Union for African Population Studies (UAPS), took place in Entebbe, Uganda from 18th to 22nd of November 2019. Edward Ssekandi, Uganda’s Vice-President, and Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), jointly opened the conference. About 1000 delegates, including representatives from governments, academia, civil society and youth organisations from all over the African continent as well as bilateral and multilateral development partners, gathered at the Imperial Resort Beach Hotel in Entebbe to share and jointly reflect on current research and practical experiences related to population policies and their implementation. 

They took part in scientific plenary and side sessions and workshops on topics ranging from sexual and reproductive health and rights to population data and statistics, migration, climate change and technological innovations. In one of these sessions, Christine Schuster of the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Dr Elke Loichinger of the German Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB) presented how German development cooperation implements a cross-cutting approach to addressing population dynamics in their work in different sectors (see this online handbook for more details). 

One question that came up in many discussions was how countries can transition to lower birth rates and a well-trained and productively employed young population so as to generate the so-called Demographic Dividend. To promote fruitful exchange on this topic, the Sector Initiative ‘Population Dynamics, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights’, implemented by GIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) hosted a roundtable of African experts in the fields of demography and development. The session was well attended and started a lively debate amongst panelists and audience.

Harnessing the Demographic Dividend calls for a multisectoral and inclusive approach

Mr Djagadou presenting his perspective

As roundtable moderator, Pr Latif Dramani, Coordinator of the “Centre de Recherche en Economie et Finances Appliquées de Thiès” in Senegal, started the discussion by pointing out that countries aiming to harness a Demographic Dividend needed to mobilise relevant stakeholders across all sectors. Margaret Edison, Director of Nigeria’s National Population Commission, agreed and emphasized the important role the education sector has to play, especially in relation to quality education for girls and young women. Dr Bernard Onyango, Senior Knowledge Translation Scientist at the African Institute for Development Policy, stressed the importance of the labour sector: Educated young people need decent employment to turn their skills and knowledge into produce economic gains. Also, both the education sector and the labour market should aim to be inclusive and avoid to leave anyone behind. Dr Oluwaseyi Somefun, research fellow at the University of Witwatersrand, pointed out that young people are often regarded as problematic risk group rather than as agents of change and valuable resource. She suggested that governments should offer special tax reductions to young entrepreneurs and see this as investment in their countries’ economic development.


New mechanisms for collaboration are needed

There was broad agreement amongst panelists that new mechanisms for all-society collaboration are needed. Dr Somefun underlined that in addition to young people civil society and the private sector have important contributions to make. To convince them of the urgency of the issue and to get them to join the efforts, governments should invest in sensitization, communication and awareness-raising about the Demographic Dividend. Awareness-raising efforts need to reach out to the subnational level in order to ensure the active participation of local communities. 

Agreeing on a clearly defined roadmap which outlines the different stakeholders’ tasks and responsibilities will help to move the process forward. According to Kokou Sename Djagadou, project officer at the AU Commission, an agreed and budgeted roadmap can strengthen accountability and accelerate the necessary investments. Stella Kigozi, Director of Uganda’s National Population Council, reminded participants that roadmaps can only make a difference where they are taken from paper to implementation. Measures agreed in the roadmap should be context-specific, included in district development plans and their implementation closely monitored.


Pr Dramani, Ms Edison, Dr Somefun, Dr Onyango, Ms Kigozi, Mr Djagadou (from left to right)

Quality demographic data are essential for planning and for measuring progress

The scientists on the panel, Pr Dramani and Dr Onyango, both emphasised the need for high quality, reliable and disaggregated demographic data. Pr Dramani strongly recommended the use of specific composite indicators such as the Gender and Demographic Dividend Index, a measuring tool he helped develop and test in Senegal. Such indices make it possible to identify gaps in necessary investments, direct decision-makers to areas for action and allow for the tracking of progress in implementing existing commitments to harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa.

Dr Onyango highlighted the great potential of demographic projections. Where these are based on quality data and diligently calculated they can help relevant stakeholders prepare for the mid- and long-term effects of population dynamics and serve as basis for realistic planning.   

Overall, the roundtable format and the lively discussion it generated were highly appreciated, not just by the panelists but also by the audience and the German colleagues who organised it. In his conclusion of the session Pr Dramani stated ‘What I hope became clear today is that the demographic dividend doesn’t just fall into your lap. But where a society pulls together, where we use good data for decision-making and invest in our youth, we stand a good chance of reaping it!’   

Eleana Dongas, December 2019


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