April 28, 2012

LOOK OUT WORLD:

Greetings From the New Africa (RICHARD DOWDEN, 4/20/12, WSJ)

For Mr. Severino, in "Africa's Moment," what matters now is the demographics: the coming African population explosion and the mass movement of people from rural areas to towns. The population boom is partly due to a decline in infant mortality. According to the World Bank, in 1970 there were 136 deaths per thousand live births; by 2009, the number had dropped to 72.6. But the birthrate itself remains very high in many African nations. The U.S. fertility rate is estimated at 2.1, Europe's is 1.59. Sub-Saharan Africa's is estimated at 4.94. One simple fact is clear: Many Africans want to have many children.

Africa, Mr. Severino notes, had a fifth of the world's population in 1500 and then suffered four centuries of mortal disruption. It is only now catching up. But this raises a question. Historically, when populations have exploded--such as Europe's in the 19th century--the answer was emigration. But tomorrow's young Africans will have nowhere to go. The African population boom, Mr. Severino believes, will be "the most incredible demographic adventure that human history has ever known. A time neither for rejoicing nor for fear, but simply for recognizing the facts. . . . Africa's demographic advance over the next fifty years is unstoppable. The worst thing to do would be to ignore it."

"Africa's Moment" is a wake-up call. The book--which Mr. Severino wrote with Olivier Ray, one of his former colleagues at the French aid ministry--is a broad survey of contemporary Africa. Its message is simple: Look out world, here comes Africa. Early on, Mr. Severino dismisses Afro-pessimist theories that claim that the continent is immutable because of its culture or climate. He predicts that the Africa of the future will be urban. The cities will enable social freedom that will melt ethnic and cultural differences and allow people to form communities of choice.

Mr. Severino thinks that churches rather than the ethnic groups will be the particular glue that will bind people together in the future and offer them solidarity in hard times. The growth of evangelical Christianity all over Africa is an extraordinary recent phenomenon--whole communities forming around a single pastor. Funded by American fundamentalist churches, these pastors and preachers are quickly drawing members away from the traditional established churches.
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Posted by at April 28, 2012 7:49 AM
  
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