Demography and destiny: blessing or time bomb?

People are seen at a crowded market a day before the Hindu festival of Dussehra amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India, October 24, 2020

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.


But the world of work has changed, and that could be bad news for still-emerging countries like India, Indonesia, and Africa's largest economies. Manufacturing, central to China's boom over the past few decades, is now often performed by smart machines. New jobs for people often demand digital-age education and training that relatively few workers in poorer countries have access to.

There is also now less outsourcing of work from wealthier countries because production there depends less than in the past on low-wage workers and more on machines that don't need salaries, lunch breaks, vacation time, safety protections, pensions, and health insurance. Nor do they go on strike or test positive for COVID-19.

In short, the new world of work doesn't create as many opportunities for people with little education and training to escape poverty through hard work alone. And yet, populations of young people in many poor countries are still growing. Where will they work and how will they live?

How will the next wave of poor countries become more prosperous? Their governments and companies need to prepare young people for a new economy by investing more time, money, and energy in education, and in the training and retraining of workers for the 21st century workplace. They also need safety-net protections to help workers make this difficult transition and to protect those who fail. They also need to create many more opportunities for girls and women, because no nation will succeed while sidelining half its population.

Beyond these basics, challenges differ from country to country.

India's government knows it must do more to prepare children for the future. This is a country that produces state-of-the-art engineers and digital entrepreneurs, but India's new National Education Policy is designed to solve the problem that half of rural students in grade 5 can't read at a grade 2 level, and less than one-third can do basic division. India produces more than its share of stars; it needs entire generations of well-educated kids.

In Indonesia, already the world's fourth most populous country, the state is working to ease future demand for jobs and social services by lowering the birth rate. Its government is investing in education and tech development and training, but it's also actively promoting later marriages, family planning and contraception to flatten population growth by 2025. Success will depend not just on smart policy but on the willingness of people to live with fewer children.

The governments of Africa's 54 countries will have varying rates of success in meeting these challenges, but population growth is a shared problem. The United Nations predicts that the rate of global population growth will slow sharply over the rest of this century — but that Africa's population will surge from 1.34 billion to 4.28 billion.

Major security threats in large states like Nigeria and Ethiopia, chronic youth unemployment in South Africa, and political instability in a number of other countries undercut the ability of governments to invest in the future. They are also the kinds of problems that spill across borders into neighboring countries.

And beyond the humanitarian desire to see others succeed, it's this cross-border flow of trouble that makes this everybody's problem. A surge of young people who can't work can create the kind of turmoil that can spill from one country or region to another. Many poorer countries were already burdened with heavy debt before COVID made matters much worse. If the world's wealthier countries expect these governments to invest in the future of their young people — they'd better be prepared to collectively invest in their success.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

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Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, for instance, which is shut out from COVAX due to US sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power — following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars — in a bid to exert its superpower bonafides.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

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Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

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