While the promise of the “Afro-Asian century” is real, it will be tempered by two factors: economic and population growth
This piece is part of the series, India@75: Aspirations, Ambitions, and Approaches
Only select countries in Africa will be able to maintain moderate to high levels of economic growth for at least one generation, which is key to becoming a significant player in the global economy in addition to achieving mass prosperity.Indeed, there is a great opportunity for economic growth for certain countries in the African continent. Together with the force of large economies in Asia, the two regions combined will hold considerable economic clout. At the same time, however, the population growth rate in most South Asian and African countries are well above replacement levels, while in Europe, it will stagnate and possibly decline in many countries with higher incomes. This is where India and Kenya enter the frame.
The poorest citizens of many countries in SSA will experience a regression in the gains from poverty reduction, and the welfare of many more will be adversely affected in the long run.The second factor is population growth. The challenge comes from a complicated but convenient claim that African population growth rates will carry forward for at least a generation and, thereby, lead to a convergence in population sizes between Africa and Asia. This assumption involves an extrapolation of the comparatively high fertility rates in some countries within Africa. These analyses posit that since most SSA countries will be far more populous in the coming years, by extension, African populations and workers will dominate world numbers. However, this argument is flawed. While many SSA countries have yet to undergo a demographic transition, the rising literacy rates and modest but real economic growth render the fear of an “overbreeding” continent unfounded. Fertility rates in Africa are likely to fall more sharply going forward, much faster than the straight-line extrapolations suggest. Meanwhile, the large sizes of Asia’s major economies ensure that the region will have an expanded role in the 21st century. The drivers will include the economic size of Japan, its challenges notwithstanding; and the economic and demographic sizes of India and China. Thus, Africa is faced with the challenge of making itself count in the 21st century. In all likelihood, it will be a mixed picture, with a few superstars; many middle-level countries; and a small number of countries trapped in conflict, poor governance and an inability to initiate and maintain necessary economic reform.
Fertility rates in Africa are likely to fall more sharply going forward, much faster than the straight-line extrapolations suggest.
The opportunities for diplomatic leverage and the inheritance of a common bureaucratic ethos provide a solid historical platform for the two nations to work together in the new century.Kenya has ambitions to serve as a bellwether of growth in the East African Region and in the southwest of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). There is a clear convergence of interests and opportunity for developing maritime commerce by ensuring the safety of trade routes, the readiness of ports, and a commitment to rules-based international commerce. Through the Lamu Port, Ethiopia, South Sudan Transport Corridor (LAPPSET) project, Kenya leads Ethiopia and South Sudan in building the largest infrastructure project in the Eastern African seaboard, linking a port, highways, railway line, pipeline, new cities and airports. These countries estimate correctly that the significance of the Indian Ocean as an avenue for global commerce will rise in the future, and this location will become invaluable. Further, East African nations should welcome India’s commitment to preventing any nation from establishing hegemonic control over the IOR. Finally, there are commercial links for airlines based in East Africa and the Middle Eastern region that link cities in Kenya and India. At the same time, Kenya is enthusiastic about inter-African trade at regional and continental levels with the East African Community and the African Continental Free Trade Area. Already, China has shown interest in the African Union, which is leading the quest for continental convergence. Perhaps, it is time for India to show similar interest.
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