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Bill Gates: The world is growing older but Africa stays the same

Jamilah Nasir

Bill Gates and Melinda, his wife, say 2018 left them with many surprises — both good and bad, but the top of the list is that Africa is not growing along with the world.

The co-founder of Microsoft and his wife expressed this view in the 2019 edition of the annual report on their philanthropic work, lessons learned, and priorities ahead.

In the report, the 11th of its type released on Tuesday, the couple said Africa’s median age, at 18 years old, is the lowest in the world, making the continent the youngest.

Bill blamed the statistics on population explosion in the “poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa”.

He, however, said the young population can be an asset if they get quality health care and good education.

“The world keeps getting older, but Africa stays (nearly) the same age. It sounds confusing, but it makes sense when you break it down,” Bill said.

“The global median age is on the rise. In every part of the world, people are living longer. As more children survive to adulthood, women are having fewer kids than ever before. The result is a global population that’s creeping slowly toward middle age.

“Except in Africa. The median age there is just 18. In North America, it is 35. And the number of young Africans is expected to rise in the decades to come.

“There are a lot of reasons for this. One is that the annual number of births is going up in the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa, even as it goes down in other parts of Africa.

“This can be either an asset or a source of instability. Melinda and I believe that the right investments will unlock the continent’s enormous potential. Young Africans will shape the future of not only their own communities but the entire world.

Commenting on the issue, Melinda said most importantly, emphasis must be placed on the girl education.

“When economists describe the conditions under which countries prosper, one of the factors they stress is ‘human capital,’ which is another way of saying that the future depends on young people’s access to high-quality health and education services. Health and education are the twin engines of economic growth,” Melinda said.

“If sub-Saharan Africa commits to investing in its young people, the region could double its share of the global labour force by 2050, unlocking a better life for hundreds of millions of people.

“Girls’ education, especially, is among the most powerful forces on the planet. Educated girls are healthier. They are wealthier. (If all girls received 12 years of high-quality education, women’s lifetime earnings would increase by as much as $30 trillion, which is bigger than the entire U.S. economy.)”

Other surprises listed by Bill and Melinda include building an entire New York city every month; data can be sexist; you can learn a lot about processing your anger from teenage boys; there is a nationalist call for globalism.

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