The Many Paces of Development in Africa

African and global megatrends such as population growth, digitalisation, and urbanisation will dramatically change African societies over the next twenty to thirty years. The way in which the interactions of different trends manifest, and the heterogeneous starting conditions on the African continent form the central starting point for Germany’s role in transformation to sustainability within Africa.

Africa is not a monolith. The fifty-four African societies and economies pursue different routes of development. If German and European policies on Africa want to contribute to more sustainability towards 2030, they will need a multi-faceted strategy operating with different instruments. The heterogeneity ranges from groups of countries with constant economic growth that contributes to a better quality of life (such as Ghana, Namibia) to countries whose populations live in poverty despite a wealth of natural resources (such as Mozambique, Nigeria) and fragile states where war-like conditions prevail (such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan). The course the future takes in African societies will depend on these starting conditions and current megatrends.

Driving Forces: African and Global Megatrends

Megatrends transform societies – and in many cases, they have a disruptive character. Once megatrends and their potential consequences have been identified, shaping them is primarily a task for policy and society. In 2034, there will be more employed people in Africa than in China and India.The forecasted massive population growth on the African continent occupies a central place in European media. If it occurs as expected, African societies will change extensively. However, in order to grasp the implications of a single megatrend and to discuss its political configu­ration, it must be taken into account that different mega­trends are taking place at the same time and there are interactions between them. This applies to Africa-­specific trends on the one hand, and to global trends on the other hand. The effects can also be seen in Africa (see Figure). Political solutions for shaping these trends must be based on social conditions, and must not be unilateral.

Immense Population Growth in Africa

There are currently 1.2 billion people living on the African continent (2016). Population forecasts are unanimously predicting an increase to 2 billion people by 2050, or 4.4 billion by 2100. If these forecasts materialise, population growth will reinforce other megatrends. While fertility rates have fallen to 2.1 children per woman in a few African countries, such as South Africa and Tunisia, and slowly dropped to three children per woman in twelve others (such as Ghana, Cameroon, Namibia), twenty-seven of the thirty countries with the world’s highest average birth rate of 5.4 children per woman are located in Africa, among which the most populous countries of the continent, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

These trends are resulting in a vast rejuvenation of the African population, especially in less developed countries and regions. Over forty per cent are under fifteen years old, and twenty per cent are between fifteen and twenty-four. If this trend continues, by 2050 one-third of all young people in the world will be living in Africa, growing from one-fifth in 2017. In 2034, there will be more employed people in Africa than in China and India.

Implications: While the rejuvenation of the African population holds great potential for social transformation, it also constitutes a challenge to generating sufficient employment and income. Creating positive future perspectives for young Africans depends on the prospect of a reliable income. African economies currently offer little in the way of formal employment (eight per cent formal economy and eight per cent civil servants), and instead mostly offer temporary jobs without secure contracts in the informal sector (eighty-four per cent). In order to realise demographic dividend, the productivity of African economies would have to be increased massively, and approximately twenty million jobs would need to be created each year. This can – if at all – only be achieved through a structural transformation towards sustainability.

Rapid Urbanisation in Africa

African societies have the highest rate of urbanisation in the world. In seven years’ time (2025), an estimated 187 million additional people will live in urban centres.

Interdependency of African and Global Megatrends

Mutual influence of global and African trends.

By 2045, an additional twenty-four million people will have moved to cities every year, compared to nine and eleven million in China and India. Two-thirds of new arrivals will live in slums without adequate housing and sanitation (WBGU 2017). In other words, two billion people will be living in slums under inhumane and precarious conditions in 2100 if no policies are enacted to reroute the trend. The social structure in rural areas will change as a consequence of urbanisation.

Implications: While urbanisation can also be a driver of innovation, creativity, and competitiveness (take, for example, digital start-ups in Kenya), one of Africa’s biggest challenges lies in creating sustainable and inclusive cities with decent living conditions for all. If urbanisation is not shaped sustainably, there will inevitably be negative consequences for the environment and climate change.

Diverse Social (In-)equalities in Africa

After Latin America, the continent of Africa has the second highest income inequality within societies. Ten of the world’s nineteen most unequal countries are African6. By 2045, an additional twenty-four million people will have moved to cities every year, compared to nine and eleven million in China and India. On average, income inequality has not fallen over the last two decades and is likely to rise as a result of demographic trends. The inequality profiles of individual countries vary greatly. While inequality tends to decrease in countries that start from a low base of inequality, it is increasing in countries with already high levels of inequality. Especially countries with a relatively good level of development (average income) in Southern Africa have very high inequality rates (Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, see Figure). Social inequality is compounded by different levels of equality of opportunities, for example due to religion, ethnicity, or gender. This is particularly the case in countries with weak governance and exclusive political institutions.

Implications: While the stagnation or slight decline in income inequality indicates positive development in some countries, population growth is expected to reverse this trend in several countries. As social inequality grows within societies, the risk of conflict increases.

More Local Conflicts in Africa

A quarter of global violent conflicts affect African societies (fewer than in Asia), with levels of violence decreasing in recent years. On the other hand, the number of local conflicts with low levels of violence is high and rising (see Figure). These are expressed in the form of protests, uprisings, and vandalism. These low-threshold social conflicts are often motivated by economic and political exclusion. In densely populated countries with good economic growth, the population’s dissatisfaction with exclusive economic policies and a lack of government services is increasingly expressed through open and manifest conflicts (see Figure). For example, riots against governments’ infrastructure projects erupt when the population is not included in the planning, or against the economic activities of international companies that mine local raw materials but do not allow the population to share in the profit.

Ten of the world’s nineteen most unequal countries are African.

Implications: While peaceful social conflicts lead to increased demand for public goods and can thus put pressure on governments to reform, there is a risk that the growing young population and unequal, exclusive urbanisation could lead to the intensification of social conflicts. Young people are increasingly networking (digitally) and mobilising politically. Responsive political institutions and an inclusive economic policy are required to peacefully contain the reciprocal effects of African megatrends.

Global Megatrends and their Implications for Africa’s Future

Global technological, economic, and natural trends interact with African megatrends. They can reinforce them or contribute constructively to structural transformation. It is therefore important to act simultaneously on different levels of global and national policy in order to shape these future trends from a political standpoint.

Global disorder. Power relations and roles in global politics are currently shifting. Support for nationalist governments (‘My country first’) is on the rise worldwide, especially in the US and European countries. The decline of multilateralism and departure from global institutions and multilateral agreements is a consequence of this. Value orientations such as liberalism, and minimal common denominators such as the inviolability of human rights and trade agreements, are openly questioned and undermined. This is also reflected in rising international tensions between the world powers China, Russia, and the US. In this context, for global powers, economic and political cooperation with Africa has become an important aspect of maintaining economic power. African governments are also using this global context to reform their foreign relations. The resulting resource diversification gives African governments and regional organisations such as the African Union (AU) the opportunity to better enforce their political priorities, but also to legitimise undemocratic government practices internationally.

For African societies, there is a chance that IT formats could complement or partially replace weak physical infrastructure and institutions.

Digitalisation. Artificial intelligence and the digitalisation of work processes and social interactions will change the world within a few years. For African societies, there is a chance that IT formats could complement or partially replace weak physical infrastructure and institutions (‘leapfrogging’). Digitalisation in African societies varies greatly and is still low by global standards. For example, in countries such as Kenya, thirty per cent of the population has access to broadband Internet, while in Central and West Africa, this figure is less than five per cent. The main reason for the persistence of these differences is the gap between income and the affordability of Internet access. Young people have higher Internet access rates (forty per cent of the population in 2017), with significantly fewer women having access to the Internet than men.

The rapidly growing mobile telephony market may lead to improvements. In countries such as Kenya, many services such as account management and payments are already offered through mobile phones. In view of this, cybersecurity is of particular relevance, especially since about eighty to ninety per cent of African end devices are infected with malware. Economically, due to the low level of education, digitalisation, and innovation, African economies risk becoming dependent on global IT developments. Exceptions are IT pioneer countries like Kenya. Unless the economic and social opportunities of digitalisation in Africa are exploited, social inequality (in particular the equality of opportunities) in and between African countries will intensify.

Global economic change. Changes in the world economy in the near future will be driven, above all, by the increased digitalisation and automation of sectors and labour markets. For example, if China steps out of low-wage production because of wage increases, proactive economic policies could result in the establishment of labour-intensive light manufacturing in Africa. This could contribute to productive economic growth in Africa, which would create more jobs for the young population. However, the transition to manufacturing industries in Africa remains difficult because of the global demand structure. The incomes of resource-­rich countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Nigeria still correlate heavily with volatile international commodity prices. Global population growth and consumption patterns will increase competition for food worldwide. In order to participate in global competition, productivity in the African agricultural sector must be increased and difficult land issues resolved to prevent the continued rise of social conflicts.

Cybersecurity is of particular relevance, especially since about eighty to ninety per cent of African end devices are infected with malware.

Climate change. Global climatic changes such as global warming have harmful effects on the African continent. Overall, climate-related and environmental disasters such as floods and droughts are increasing, caused by soil siltation and poor water management. Populations in Africa who are already vulnerable are additionally affected by these natural disasters, especially in urban areas. Responsive and preventative policies must attend to these issues in order to contain, or at least prevent reinforcing, the possible negative consequences of African megatrends.

Possible Political Configurations

Depending on the starting conditions, the interaction between these African and global megatrends affects the transformation of African states differently (see Figure). For example, digitalisation dynamics in countries with a middle income, but weak state capacity, can contribute to inclusive urbanisation policies by taking advantage of digital service potential for use in public services.

African and global trends have a high momentum. There is consensus in politics and science that policy needs to shape the dynamics of current trends to drive them towards sustainability transformation. Functional and effective states, as well as inclusive political systems, are normative and institutional prerequisites for this. In the African context, the starting conditions are as follows.


A functional state is characterised by its ability to exercise its monopoly of power for the protection of its citizens, to provide public services such as healthcare and education, and to claim a broad base of legitimation.  In Africa, a predominant share of states (forty-one of them, or seventy-four per cent) are relatively stable but have very weak government capacities. In Africa, a predominant share of states (forty-one of them, or seventy-four per cent) are relatively stable but have very weak government capacities and thus have problems with the effective implementation of sustainability policies (see Figure). However, these countries are more prone to conflict: they have only weak formal institutions for conflict resolution and poverty is being reduced at a sluggish pace. Two African states, South Africa and Lesotho (3.6 per cent), are struggling with problems in the exercise of state power and high crime rates. While it is possible to provide basic services within these contexts, it becomes very difficult to reduce social inequality.

Although efficiency and state power are relatively high in three North African states, the state has a legitimacy problem because it only enjoys limited acceptance by its population (5.5 per cent). Here, the introduction of responsive public institutions must play a role to ensure a successful sustainability transformation. The social stability of countries that demonstrate average performance in all three dimensions of statehood (3.6 per cent) provides those countries with good prospects for successful reform. Finally, there are still six states – primarily in Central Africa – that are dysfunctional, that is, failing in all three dimensions and characterised by wars (eleven per cent). The fundamental prerequisites for the sustainability transformation still have to be established here.


Democratic systems are the best political alternative for devising inclusive and participative policy processes. They also provide institutional options for the peaceful resolution of social conflicts within a society. Internationally, too, there are advantages from the perspective of building peace. Democracies do not wage wars against each other. The conditions for inclusive politics in African societies vary. These conditions are favourable in twenty-two African states (forty per cent; liberal and electoral autocracies), while in twenty-seven states (forty-nine per cent), only limited political competition and limited civil liberties prevail (electoral autocracies), six other states (eleven per cent) have very closed political and social systems (see Figure). Some electoral autocracies have indeed made considerable progress in human development in recent years, and they have been able to use their economic growth for development. However, there is a risk that permanently exclusive policies could destabilise their societies.

Africa in Transition


The outlined institutional requirements are necessary but not sufficient for shaping transformative policies. The ability and political will of the elite to formulate and implement good economic and social policies, as well as to respond to the consequences of megatrends, play a central role. Even though the primary political responsibility lies with the African elite, in the context of this volume, it must be asked what role Germany’s Africa policy plays and what influence it can have on shaping sustainability transformations in Africa.

The Economisation of Germany’s Africa Policy

Foreign and development policy circles often call 2017 the ‘Year of Africa’. In fact, German cooperation with Africa enjoys greater attention on the political agenda and in the media community than virtually ever before.

The demographic dividend is the guiding principle of Germany’s Africa policy. In other words, cooperation with Africa focuses on ensuring that the majority of the growing population of working-age Africans can work. This should be achieved immediately and quickly. Its main goals are to build up the private sector, to develop important infrastructure such as roads, or to create jobs. Stronger and systematic cooperation with the European Union would increase Germany’s influence on comprehensive, structural transformations in Africa. What remains largely unanswered, however, is whether and how economic gains can contribute to the sustainability transformation, human development, and the reduction of inequalities. The reorientation of German Africa policy focuses more on the symptom (growing population) and less on its causes (lack of education, inequality between men and women, social inequality, and so forth). Education policy, which is a key prerequisite for reducing inequalities and developing human capacities vital to a knowledge-based, digital society, has traditionally played and continues to play a subordinate role in German Africa policy. The majority of educational policy projects promote dual education and operate through the German Academic Exchange Service for Universities.

Consequently, in terms of sector policy, Africa policy currently focuses on economic development and cooperation with the private sector. German companies in particular shall invest in the African economy to contribute to economic development. Building an effective private sector in Africa is important because an increase in private capital can lead to an increase in productivity. Given the interplay between African and global megatrends, other areas, such as the institutional requirements for inclusive growth, should not be neglected. But it is not unlikely that this prioritisation of the private sector will take place at the expense of pertinent areas of action such as human development and good governance. A large number of political initiatives prioritise the private sector. The German G20 presidency under the direction of the Ministry of Finance created the “Compact with Africa”, the Development Ministry presented key elements for a Marshall Plan with Africa, and the Personal Represen­tative of the German Chancellor for Africa launched a digitalisation initiative for start-ups in Africa. Development policy should additionally be tasked with improving the global conditions for the economic activity of African governments, for instance by reducing tariffs on African goods imports into the EU. Other ministries, such as Foreign Affairs or Research and Education, continued to follow their usual course.

Two Principles of Cooperation in German Africa Policies

Partnership. The German government should “not preach, but rather listen”. It is up to African governments to make substantive proposals for reform partnerships. The idea that African governments should name their own political priorities has been shaping German cooperation with Africa since 2005 at the latest and will continue to do so. However, ‘voluntariness’ is a new element.

Voluntariness. According to the “Compact with Africa”, cooperation with African governments should not be subject to any political conditionality imposed by Germany. This is in line with the partnership principle but bears the risk that political conditions will be relegated to a subordinate position. Even if political aspects are neglected in the allocation of funds, the appropriate use of German taxpayers’ money must be guaranteed.

Three countries have so far entered into a reform partnership with Germany (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Tunisia) while eleven have signed a G20 compact at the time of writing (three reform partnerships plus Egypt, Ethiopia , Benin, Guinea, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo). Private sector investments in infrastructure are at the forefront of these partnerships, with the mobilisation of domestic income also on the agenda. However, significant increases in German private sector investments are taking their time to materialise. It remains to be seen whether more government guarantees will increase the willingness of German companies to invest in the future. Two-thirds of German private investment in Africa (six billion Euro) goes to southern Africa, much of it in the automotive industry. The remaining third (three billion Euro) goes mainly to East African countries.

Germany’s Role in Africa: Reputation is Better than the Weight of Political Influence

German foreign and development policy has a good reputation in African countries. A survey of partners of German Africa policy showed that Germany is highly valued and very successful in agenda setting. All the same, German influence in policy consultation and the support of concrete reform projects receives mixed reviews. The concretely observed influence exercised by Germany is asymmetrical compared to the extent of the international scope of German development efforts.

As the second largest donor in the world – twenty-eight per cent of its development efforts are dedicated to cooperation with Africa –, its influence could certainly be increased. Influence is mainly exerted by multilateral financial organisations and smaller donors, with development policies concentrated on just a few sectors. Stronger and systematic cooperation with the European Union would increase Germany’s influence on comprehensive, structural transformations in Africa. During German colonial rule between 1904 and 1908, about seventy thousand people of the Nama and Herero population groups were killed. The 2017 Africa policy initiatives have received much attention in Africa, with mixed acceptance. On the one hand, the principle of voluntariness and the fundamental German commitment have been praised by African partners. This was accompanied by the (unfulfilled) hope that the German initiatives would be backed by additional funding for investment in Africa. On the other hand, African politicians have criticised the Marshall Plan and the G20 Compacts as Western initiatives, and signalled that the many initiatives initiated by Germany lack a clear guiding principle, with an opaque assignment of responsibilities within the Federal Government. In the coming years, it will be important to fulfil the expectations created by German Africa policy, and to keep the high priority of cooperation with Africa on the political agenda.

Germany has a Good Reputation

Germany’s good reputation will continue if Germany remains credible. This is also necessary with a view to maintaining a stable global order. Two dynamics have endangered Germany’s credibility in Africa policy since 2017.

Motivation for cooperation with Africa: one of the main motivations of current German Africa policy is the so-called ‘fight’ against causes of flight and migration. In connection with the idea that population growth will lead to more migration to Europe in the medium term, German support should contribute to better living conditions in Africa. While it is important for partnership-based cooperation to identify self-interests clearly, African governments view ‘migration causation logic’ with scepticism. Most African migrants move within their countries or regions, with only the smallest number migrating to Europe. For example, the number of citizens of sub-Saharan African countries who submitted initial applications for asylum in the EU between 2008 and 2015 was equivalent to just 0.15 per cent of the total EU population. While African governments are encouraging the establishment of European migration centres such as in Niger or Senegal, they question the seriousness of Germany’s concern to support the structural transformation of economies and societies. Ultimately, the goal of creating lasting better living conditions will not be achieved through short-term policies.

Recognition of the genocide in Namibia and the return of works of art: the colonial history puts a strain on German relations with Namibia. During German colonial rule between 1904 and 1908, about seventy thousand people of the Nama and Herero population groups were killed. Although there is official talk of a genocide, Germany is not prepared to make reparations to the Southern African country. This would set an international precedent and also affect other colonisers such as Belgium, France, and Great Britain. Assuming political responsibility for the genocide is crucial for Germany’s credibility beyond the borders of Namibia. The idea of exhibiting bronze statues stolen by British colonisers in the nineteenth century and displaying them in Germany at the new Humboldt Forum in Berlin also contradicts a respectful approach to African governments and societies, damages Germany’s reputation, and undermines the cooperation principle of a reciprocal ‘partnership’.

In principle, German Africa policy has great potential to contribute to a sustainability transformation in Africa. To achieve this, a new culture of cooperation must be created and a comprehensive approach – beyond the logic of the ‘demographic dividend’ – must be pursued, coordinated within the Federal Government and with the European Union, taking into account the interaction between global and African trends.


How We Must Act

  • Rethink! Mitigating the causes of flight and migration requires long-term structural change. Short-term action based primarily on European interests will undermine Germany’s credibility.
  • Simplify and make remittances cheaper. Remittances by African migrants from Europe constitute an important contribution to sustainable development in Africa.
  • Build a global debt system. If the debt crisis in African countries intensifies, it will endanger economic success in partner countries in the long term. Germany should advocate for a global debt system in forums such as the G20.
  • The interministerial Africa Committee (Coalition Agreement) should develop a Guiding Principle of German Africa Policy based on African and global megatrends and recognise the key role of human rights, democracy, and social security in creating space for creativity, innovation, and a dignified existence in peace.
  • Strategies for different groups of countries. Private ­investments are mainly focused towards stable and ­development-oriented countries. Strategies are ­necessary for other groups of countries, for example fragile states.
  • Multisectoral crisis prevention with peace, democracy, and economic policy goals, especially in local conflicts caused by exclusive economic policies, for example apply social follow-up analyses of foreign investment.
  • Increase investments in inclusive, sustainable cities, agrarian economy, and education. Africa’s capacity for transformation is decided in its growing cities, and depends on the educational level of the population. If African economies want to benefit from the stronger global competition for food in the future, they must increase their agricultural production.

Dr. Julia Leininger is Director of the research programme “Transformation of political (dis-)order: institutions, values, and peace” at the German Development Institute (DIE) and coordinates Africa research at the DIE. She is Co-director of T20 Africa, an association of think tanks from African and G20 nations that works on issues of international cooperation with Africa.