The Demographic Transition, which started in Europe in the late 18th century, had a huge positive impact on average human welfare. Population levels and growth rates became dependent upon societal preferences rather than upon famine and disease. The demographic transition has now spread around the world to all continents, except Africa. Surprisingly, Africa has not made the switch. Rather than seeing population growth easing and then stopping, in a typical post-demographic transition pattern, African population growth rates have stayed at a very high rate for many decades. Even in recent years, while many demographers expected a slowdown finally to take hold, African population levels have rocketed up. So for example, from the National Geographic:
“The experience in Asia and Latin America, says Pison, led demographers to expect a similarly rapid transition in Africa. Now they’ve been surprised again—unpleasantly this time. Over the past decade or two, it has become clear that fertility is falling much more slowly in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa than it did on other continents. That realization has come gradually because vital statistics in Africa are so poor. As new data come in, researchers revise their estimates not only of the future, but also of the recent past.”
There have now been over fifty years of high population growth rates in Africa and, with demographic momentum playing its part, there is a continuing exponential growth forecast for the next several decades. See the graph here for a long-run comparison of European and African population levels; see here for detailed analysis of worldwide population trends. The very long-run forecast (assuming a demographic transition eventually occurs in Africa) is that the population of Africa will be five and a half times the population of Europe. Nigeria alone is forecast to have a population 36% larger than all of Europe (914 million vs. 670 million). The conventional view of the two continents from the 1950s, of a large European population and small African population, is out of date; Africa is already much more populous than Europe and the gap is growing quickly.
Long-running and continuing high population growth in Africa is an important consideration in many European policy discussions. For example, the Irish Navy vessel L.E. Eithne is engaged in an EU-sponsored mission rescuing sea-bound African migrants from off the coast of Libya and transporting them to safe haven in Italy. This Mediterranean maritime crisis is variously ascribed to Middle Eastern political turmoil, or civil unrest in Libya, or weaknesses in southern Mediterranean maritime safety standards. The crisis is not fundamentally caused by any of these: it is fundamentally caused by population pressures in Africa. L.E. Eithne’s de facto mission objective is about providing transport out of Africa as much or more than it is about providing sea rescue.
African population pressures are the underlying fundamental cause of the Mediterranean maritime emergency. This impacts the evaluation of the likelihood of success for the L.E. Eithne rescue-and-transport mission. The mission is described as short-term, but the population pressures causing it will increase next year, and for the foreseeable future.
In my opinion (others may disagree) European resettlement of African migrants does not provide a viable solution to Africa’s demographic problem. The magnitudes simply do not add up. There needs to be an African solution to an African problem, but with an enormous increase in European aid, and an acknowledgement of the underlying demographic causes.