Representative of the United Nations on United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in China, Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi has called on Nigeria and other African countries to learn from China in order to reap the dividend of demography.
Ahonsi who spoke during a talk show on China Global Television Network on Thursday said, “We need to learn the lesson from countries like China by investing heavily in healthcare, education skills building, creating economic system that generates jobs for the growing working age population as the population of children has started coming down.”
He stated further that, “If Nigeria is able to make the necessary investment which I believe the current government is very sensitive to and beginning to act on them, then we might be able to reap some of the demography dividends. Those policies have to be made and sustained.”
He also noted that the government must deliberately invest in its working population. “There is this working population that is followed by a smaller population. If it has skills and jobs, it could be in a situation to drive the rapid economic growth because it has skills and jobs. But in Nigeria if those investments are not made, the larger population that will come will become a major challenge.”
Ahonsi also noted a rapid fertility decline affected countries may not be able to reap the demography dividends. “Unfortunately even for the few countries in Africa that have completed the demography transition like countries in north Africa, the likes of Tunisia, Algeria, or in the south like South Africa and Mauritius and many others are going into fertility decline.
“Now that they are going into rapid fertility decline like in the case of Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, the fear we have is that they may not be able to reap the first demography dividend to the extent to which China, South Korea and Japan have done because the investment they should have made 10 years ago in health, education, skills building, creating lots of decent jobs have not been made. Look at Tunisia, South Africa they have got to that phase without reaping the demography dividend.”
On what China can learn from Nigeria, Ahonsi said there are two things. “I think two things can be learnt. China as we know is becoming a big player in international development and global governance. One of the things President Xi has said is that China does not want to repeat the mistake of the old established donour countries.
“That is why China is emphasizing south to south corporation and one of the ways not to repeat the mistake of donour countries is to come to Africa to see where so many of those mistakes were made and to learn how not to repeat them and that is one important way China can learn from Africa especially in terms of how to avoid the old mistakes of the established donour countries in terms of how the centrality of our primary health care is sustaining health.”
On the kind of cooperation in place to link China with other developing countries in Africa, Ahonsi noted that there are several of such co-operations. “One area is using population data to guide your policy making and other economic interventions because at the end of the day population means people, to develop their number and how they will grow in size and that is one lesson Africa would learn from China and China is doing that through capacity building and training opportunities being provided by China.
He also noted that one of the main vehicles of reaping the demography dividend is to bring down child/maternal mortality rate which China has done with a lot of expertise with many years of spreading healthcare related assistance to Africa through technical assistance, equipment and more recently through capacity building and skills transfer.