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Governance meets demography in Dakar

Seminar participants assembling for a group picture

A multi-country seminar explores how to integrate population dynamics in development planning

Harnessing the demographic dividend is an important opportunity for African countries’ social and economic development. But what needs to be done and when, based on which demographic indicators? At a seminar in Dakar, West African public administration employees exchanged experiences and explored methods and tools presented by renowned demography experts.

Think of Africa and you will likely think of its children. No wonder: the continent has the youngest population in the world and it is growing fast – by 2050, it is expected to almost double from 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion people. Some think that the large number of young Africans ready to enter the workforce could generate a demographic dividend, propelling their countries’ economic development forward. To reap this dividend, however, governments need to implement targeted vocational training and labour market measures that are based on accurate demographic data – still a scarce commodity in many African countries.

A 5-day training and mutual learning event

To forge stronger links between demographers and public administration and planning officials in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger, the Sector Initiative Population Dynamics, Reproductive Health & Rights and the Academy for International Cooperation, both implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, organised a 5-day training and mutual learning event for key partners and selected staff of German-supported governance projects in the three countries. The workshop took place in February 2020, just before the corona crisis, and was held under the auspices of Demography for Development Planning (D4DP) – a joint initiative of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ, the German Federal Institute for Population Research (Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung) and the University Koblenz-Landau. Since 2016, D4PD has been working to strengthen African partners’ capacities in applied socio-demographic research, data analysis, projection and interpretation, and demography-integrated policy and programme design. Two facilitators with longstanding experience in strategic political communication and planning processes, Marie Ganier-Raymond and Dr Moussa Gueye, moderated the event.

Making demographic data ‘easy-to-digest’ for political decision-makers

Marie Ganier-Raymond and Dr Moussa Gueye, the moderator team
Marie Ganier-Raymond and Dr Moussa Gueye, the moderator team

Prof. Köppen, Professor of Population and Urban Geography at the University Koblenz-Landau, joined the training via videoconferencing to deliver a presentation on the demographic transition and the ensuing demographic dividend. Dr Loichinger of the German Federal Institute for Population Research led a discussion on how best present and share demographic data in easy-to-understand formats, including policy briefs, briefing notes for specific sectors and downloadable charts, to ensure that local governments understand and use them for their decision-making. 

She explained that her institute regularly presents and shares these products at various formal and informal events with members of parliament and ministry staff. For the past year, for example, they have organised a regular press conference in Berlin on current demographic trends that are of particular interest to policy-makers and the public at large.

Participants listening to Prof. Köppen’s presentation
Participants listening to Prof. Köppen’s presentation

Ms Ganier-Raymond and Dr Gueye facilitated several interactive working sessions that looked at different demographic scenarios, letting participants role-play and discuss in subgroups in varying compositions: ‘We made sure that, in some sessions, the national teams worked closely with one another,’ Ganier-Raymond explained. ‘In other sessions, we had people with similar functions from different countries sit together to share experiences on the kinds of challenges they faced and how they solved them.’  

Learning from Togo’s experience

Victorine Epse Womitso, Director of Population Studies from Togo’s Ministry of Planning and Development, presented Togo’s experience of integrating and mainstreaming population dynamics across all Togolese ministries, as described in the case study ‘Getting a better grasp on Togo’s future’. Her ministry started by analysing the available demographic data in order to project five-year trends for selected sectors. Next, it trained 100 government representatives on the use of these trends for concrete planning purposes. According to Mrs Womitso, ‘The local actors who took part in this training said they would take these trends into account when planning, for example, the construction of roads or schools. And they asked: “Why didn’t we do this earlier?”’ 

Translating learning into transfer projects

By the end of the seminar, each of the three participating country teams had begun to plan a concrete transfer project to be realised upon return to their home countries. 

In Benin, the team from national institutions and municipalities decided to improve data collection and communication in and between municipalities. ‘During the training, we understood we can’t continue development without taking population dynamics into account,’ said Florent Dossou, director of policies and population programmes at Benin’s Ministry of Planning and Development. With mailing lists between involved communities and regular information sharing, they intend to closely monitor improved population data collection and use from the local to the national level. ‘As soon as we achieve satisfactory results with this project, we will move to work on this on a national scale, and organise a workshop for other government ministries – ministry of health, ministry of family – in order to train others,’ Dossou added.

Participants working on their transfer projects
Participants working on their transfer projects

The Burkina Faso team committed to piloting municipal information and documentation centers for population data to enable demographic monitoring and integration of population dynamics into municipal planning, as well as to improving data communication for national SDG monitoring.  

The participants from Niger agreed to try to improve the provision of policy guidance at the national level. The team, with members from the Planning and the Population Ministry and the Demographic Statistics Division, aim to revise a recently developed guide for trans-sectoral policy elaboration to integrate data analysis and questions on demographic trends. ‘It’s true that today in Niger we talk a lot about the high fertility rates. But there are numerous recent studies which show that these levels are going down. So, we are in the midst of entering an important phase of a demographic transition. It is important that sectoral policies take this into account,’ said Samaila Issa Ibrahim, head of the demographic statistics service of Niger’s National Statistics Institute. 

‘Coronavirus should not deter us’

In February, when the workshop was taking place, the coronavirus pandemic had just begun its spread around the world. In May, Healthy DEvelopments interviewed the two workshop facilitators and the advisors of the sector initiative via Skype in their respective home offices. For Dr Gueye, the inadequacy of some of the lockdown measures currently in place in African countries underlines the fact that governments should base their policies on up-to-date population statistics:  ‘In the face of a pandemic like this one, governments need to know the size, age composition and economic situation of the population for every city and rural area. How else can they plan for the required health services or for the social protection measures that will be needed if people cannot go out to make their living?’ He points out that the municipal information and documentation centers the team from Burkina Faso planned at the training will one day be able to provide just this information. 

While the pandemic has temporarily slowed down implementation of the teams’ transfer projects, Christine Schuster and Lea Gernemann of the GIZ sector initiative are convinced that the capacities built at the training in Dakar will, in the long run, contribute to the building of more democratic, resilient and digital economies and societies in partner countries: ‘Adapting development strategies to demographic realities will have an impact on countries’ development long after this pandemic has passed. COVID-19 should not deter us from this long-term goal.’

Inna Lazareva & Anna von Roenne, May 2020

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