We live in an age where geopolitics is again an everyday issue. Even in quiet Australia, we’re grappling with the consequences of great power politics thanks to our own trade war with China. While the main stars – China, the US, the EU – are familiar, the global cast is actually far larger.
Adam Tooze’s latest newsletter introduces us to some of the future geopolitical players in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular Nigeria. If like me, your understanding of Africa is limited, I highly recommend reading it.
If I had one gripe, its with the ‘demographic determinism’ that lurks here. African countries will experience the bulk of population growth this century, so the argument goes, giving them more geopolitical significance.
It seems reasonable that three or four hundred million people create a concomitant kind of economic and political heft, but it also seems plausible they act as anchors – at least in the medium term. We need to interrogate how exactly rapid population growth translates one into a geopolitical power (or prey).
3 thoughts on “Africa and the future of geopolitics”
That’s not going to happen. The world cannot support that many people. We are already pushing beyond biophysical limits as it is. If you map population growth against agricultural production and also take into account other factors such as aquifer depletion (India may run out of groundwater soon which supplies 70% of their agricultural water), soil loss, desertification, increasing climate variability with climate change, and sea level rise, it seems clear that agricultural production will not be able to keep up. Then there’s all the other resources that people need too.
On the issue of agriculture and population I remain firmly un-Malthusian. I agree completely that certain consumption and production habits are unsustainable but we’ve shown remarkable ability to adapt with better technology and lifestyle changes. Dutch agriculture comes to mind. None of this is to suggest this would be easy, but I do not think we are doomed.
We can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. So we will have to draw a limit somewhere and at some time. The increasing incidence of environmental problems indicates that time may be fast approaching. We genuinely are facing the imminent collapse of some ecosystems. Climate change is just the start of the problems. Technological innovations will help but the returns will be diminishing. The low hanging fruit have already been picked. We need cultural change not just technical solutions.
We also need greater awareness of the seriousness of the problem. I note that you read widely, but your reading list doesn’t seem to include much natural science. I suggest you start with this article (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/11/halt-destruction-of-nature-or-risk-dead-planet-leading-businesses-warn-aoe) which refers to a letter from the CEOs of Unilever, H&M and nine other companies calling for ‘meaningful action on mass extinctions of wildlife and the collapse of ecosystems or risk “a dead planet”’. You might also want to read the latest Millennium Ecosystem Assessment from the UN. It makes for sombre reading. A gentler introduction might be to watch David Attenborough’s ‘A life on our planet’.
I do urge you to consider the issue more deeply. Most natural scientists I know are close to giving into despair at the environmental damage they see every day. We cannot trust that incremental changes will be enough to save the world.