The recently concluded Africa-China Conference on Population and Development has set the stage for more engagements on how Africa can harness the demographic dividend and achieve sustainable development. The conference held in Nairobi on 18th and 19th April 2017, was a learning and knowledge-sharing opportunity for different stakeholders to share their experiences and efforts towards overcoming some of the continent’s development challenges such as rapid population growth, child marriages, below par education outcomes, gender inequality, among others.
The Africa-China Conference was a follow up to action points outlined at the International Inter-Ministerial Strategic Dialogue on South-South Collaboration on Population and Development held on 18th March 2016 in Beijing, China. The Dialogue recommended deepened cooperation in various population and development issues including sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, among others, in the broader context of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Lessons from China on harnessing the demographic dividend
Since China and other East Asian countries have already harnessed substantial demographic dividends, they present an excellent learning opportunity for Africa on how to make timely critical investments in their people so the continent can harness a demographic dividend as well.
Dr. Joe Thomas, the Executive Director, Partners in Population and Development (PPD) noted that there are important lessons for Africa on facilitating lower fertility (the average number of children per woman) to harness the dividend. Investments in family planning programmes are critical in getting this done. Advocacy efforts on the benefits of having fewer children should also be strengthened in order to ensure that investments in family planning programmes translate into lower fertility.
Other lessons from China include investments in quality education from basic to tertiary level and the mainstreaming of technical and vocational education as a job creation strategy. Governments and other stakeholders should also collaborate in order to increase job opportunities for the continent’s burgeoning youth population. Further, China is noted to have invested heavily in gender equality by increasing both education and employment opportunities for women. Having more women going to school for longer and then joining the labour force reduces early marriages and early childbearing. This in turn contributes to smaller family sizes. As a result, the child dependency burden reduces significantly.
Notably from the success of China, is that the window of opportunity to harness a demographic dividend (which is opened by fast decline in fertility rates) must be accompanied by simultaneous investments in human capital and the creation of work opportunities to make the demographic dividend a reality.
Opportunities for south-south cooperation
As noted by stakeholders at the forum, south-south cooperation not only provides an opportunity for China to contribute towards the socioeconomic transformation of Africa, but also for China to learn from Africa. For instance, China is currently faced with challenges associated with a rapidly aging population as a result of the country’s One Child Policy, which was in effect from 1979 to 2015. This collaborative effort provides an opportunity for African countries to do things differently in order to avoid similar challenges.
China is also set to support the establishment of a population and development centre in Africa, to ensure African countries are better able to plan for their population dynamics. For instance, improving analysis, access and sharing of population data through modern technology is a priority.
The engagements at the two-day forum culminated in a CommuniquÃ© that outlined resolutions to work together towards improving the quality of the population and achieving socioeconomic transformation in Africa and China.
First, stakeholders committed to enhancing advocacy by organising strategic dialogue including the annual Africa-China Conference on Population and Development. This will also include sharing of experiences and existing evidence on different thematic areas such sexual and reproductive health, youth empowerment, healthy aging, among others. Collaborative effort will also gear towards mobilising support for advocacy activities
Second, capacity building and technical cooperation. This shall be done through facilitating the establishment and nurturing of centres of excellence in population and development. Stakeholders shall seek to nurture the training of experts in population and health, facilitate exchange programmes and also support youth volunteering and internship programmes. This cooperation shall also facilitate building of national capacities on data analysis, research and dissemination, population projection, among others.
Third, stakeholders committed to strengthening partnerships through fostering cooperation between national institutions including governmental and non-governmental institutions, and fostering partnership with the youth and the elderly in harnessing the demographic dividend.
Finally, stakeholders also resolved to partner for strategic dialogue to renew commitments to the International Conference for Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 and the SDGs.
A tool for accountability
As noted by Kenya’s National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) Director General Dr. Josephine Kibaru-Mbae, the resolutions from the conference shall be handed to the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Devolution and Planning. She also indicated that the resolutions shall be incorporated in the Kenyan government’s planning documents and shall also be a tool to hold the Council (and other stakeholders) accountable.