Achieving the Demographic Dividend in Africa: Lessons Learned | Wilson Center
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Achieving the Demographic Dividend in Africa: Lessons Learned

Due to technical problems, this audio recording is incomplete. Only Ms. Mueni's remarks and the first portion of Dr. Radloff's remarks (about 35 minutes of the 90 minute event) are available. Please see below for more on Dr. Radloff and Mr. Mutunga's remarks.

On May 16, 2016, the Wilson Center Africa Program and the Environmental Change and Security Program hosted the event “Achieving the Demographic Dividend in Africa: Lessons Learned.” With three expert speakers, the panel analyzed the factors that have driven fertility decline in several Southern African countries, with an eye toward distilling lessons for other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa seeking to harness the demographic dividend—a phenomenon where rapid economic growth can occur after fertility decline, as a “bulge” of young workers moves through their most productive years.

Ms. Eunice Mueni Williams, a visiting scholar with the Wilson Center Africa Program’s Southern Voices Network,* was joined by Dr. Scott Radloff, senior scientist and director at PMA2020 and Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, as well as by the event’s discussant, Mr. Clive Mutunga, population, environment, and development technical advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ms. Mueni highlighted that while most of the world has seen a rapid decline in fertility rates, many Sub-Saharan African countries still experience high fertility, a youthful age structure, and high child dependency burden. Looking at Niger and Kenya as case studies, Ms. Mueni observed that high total fertility rates (TFR) are often due to a combination of cultural, socioeconomic, political, and religious factors, such as child marriage, high child mortality, low access to modern contraception, and low educational achievement for women.

Drawing from the successes of Mauritius, Botswana, and South Africa in achieving relatively low TFR, Ms. Mueni provided several policy recommendations for other African countries and international policymakers and donors. Her recommendations for African governments included promoting a small family size concept, revising and enforcing laws on the legal minimum age of marriage, prioritizing family planning, and making these services accessible for individuals. Ms. Mueni’s chief recommendation for international policymakers was to support, fund, and conduct rigorous monitoring and evaluation of projects such as FP2020 and the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend project. She also recommended that international policymakers support the efforts of African governments to empower women and girls.

Dr. Radloff reinforced Ms. Mueni’s observations with data demonstrating the beginning of a shift from a youthful to more mature age structure in a number of African countries. However, he pointed out that the timing of this shift will vary by socioeconomic level. Using 2008-2011 data from countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Nigeria, Dr. Radloff analyzed the differences in TFR and access to family planning across socioeconomic levels, with a TFR of 3.4 for the wealthiest quintile compared to a TFR of 7.0 for the poorest quintile in these four countries. Echoing this pattern, modern contraceptive use is also significantly higher among the wealthy.

Dr. Radloff built off Ms. Mueni’s recommendations for lowering fertility rates, emphasizing that the desire of women to space and limit childbirth needs to be met by policies and programs that support such decisions. This can be achieved through better access to education, family planning, and job opportunities, and through providing tools to increase child survival rates.

Mr. Clive Mutunga provided an additional angle to the discussion, situating the demographic dividend within the larger multi-sectoral framework of the Sustainable Development Goals and addressing the challenges of financing the implementation and evaluation of projects addressing these issues. He elaborated on mechanisms to encourage dedicated financing for family planning, women’s education, and other policies that can support the achievement of the demographic dividend.

*The Southern Voices Network (SVN) is a consortium of 22 research and policy organizations from across Africa that seeks to foster dialogue and increase the visibility of African perspectives within the U.S. policy arena. One of the main components of the SVN is the Africa Research Scholarship Program, through which the Wilson Center Africa Program hosts scholars from member organizations for a three-month resident scholar program in Washington, D.C., allowing them to engage with U.S. policymakers and practitioners and conduct policy-oriented research. The SVN is made possible through the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. For more information about the Africa Program's Southern Voices Network (SVN), please see here.

This event was live-tweeted. Follow the Africa Program on Twitter@AfricaUpClose and see the conversation with the hashtag #demographicdividend.


  • Eunice Mueni Williams

    Southern Voices Network Scholar
    Knowledge Translation Officer, African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP)
  • Scott Radloff

    Senior Scientist and Director, PMA2020, Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health
  • Clive Mutunga

    Population, Environment and Development Technical Advisor, USAID
  • Elizabeth M. Ramey

    Former Program Associate