If you have ever experienced summer in the Deep South, then you will never forget the exhausting humidity and the oppressive heat–it feels like wearing a hot towel all day; t-shirts become nothing more than ornamental sop rags. Mowing the yard, for example, becomes a project that renders you useless (but deeply satisfied) the rest of the day. In years lost, my teaching schedule allowed your beloved blogger to spend most of his summers languishing wherever I could find a comforting veil of shade with a pile of books and a steady supply of drinks. (cue shift in person) If you were not too far lost in drink by time the sun had started to set, you were dazzled into a meditative stupor by the fiery fields of pink and purple and orange and their hypnotizing fever spell. Now that I have a family and a mortgage, more and more summertime is spent cutting grass and making sure my son is not eating something hazardous. Needless to say, my dilettantish reading (and drinking) binges have probably seen their final days–at least for the foreseeable future. I have, however, been poking my nose into Stephen Smith’s The Scramble for Europe: Young Africa on Its Way to the Old Continent lately. Though I am not too far into it, I appreciate the author’s decidedly evenhanded tone. In fact, in laying out demographic predictions, he clarifies, “I was impelled to write it not as a demographer–I am not–or an alarmist Eurocentric–I am not–but as someone who has spent of his working life engaged with sub-Saharan Africa” (8). If you are looking for Eurocentrist jeremiads, any number of websites will have to suffice instead, not this title.
To the degree that we can trust estimations based upon incomplete records, sub-Saharan Africa had only 230 million inhabitants as of 1960 (7). This number would quadruple, surpassing 1 billion by 2015 (7). In addition, “[h]alf the continent’s population now has access to 4G telephony or the internet, through fibre-optic submarine cables enabling video streaming and the downloading of vast quantities of other data” (7). This access to the Internet plays well into the hands of Africa’s exponentially growing population.
There are currently 1.3 billion people in Africa. By 2050, if present trends continue, this number will grow into an estimated 2.5 billion (8). To put this in perspective, according to that same timeline, there will be only 450 million Europeans (8). Thus, Africa will have five times as many people as Europe in only 30 years. This means that by 2050, nearly a quarter of the world’s population will be in/from Africa (27). Going by these same trends, by 2100 “Africans will represent some 40 per cent of the world’s anticipated population of 11 billion. Even more significantly, about 60 per cent of all people under the age of fifteen will live south of the Sahara: a solid majority of the world’s youth will be African” (27, emphasis mine). Of course, one should never be too confident when talking about the future. However, as demographics are destiny by non-cataclysmic metrics, it seems safe to say that the world will be indelibly shaped–if not guided–by Africa in the coming decades.
Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, may serve as a model for what future megalopolises may look like. In 2012, it overtook Cairo as Africa’s largest city with a staggering population of 21 million, and that number is set to double by 2050 (36). This led me to watch the following YouTube video on Lagos, published only 8 months ago. This documentary gives an incredibly raw look into a trash community on the outskirts of Lagos. The people in this video live most of the week–if not their entire lives–in crude shelters built on trash heaps. Why? This allows them a short commute to work, where they scavenge the daily dump deliveries, looking for anything that can be resold. The narrative is built around two men–one, his name I have already forgotten, who wants to be rap star (he goes by “Vocal Slender”) and one, Joseph, who is married and has two children. Joseph’s story is very touching, especially when he reveals details about his unfortunate childhood in a polygamous home. To meet the needs of the scavenging community, restaurants, bars, barbers, stores, and a mosque have been established. What really struck me (“convicted” is a better word) is how diligently these people hustle day in and day out for a life that most of us in the developed world would rather die than live. Going back to Joseph, all the long hours he puts in allow his wife to stay home with his two daughters in their one-room home–ten miles (if I remember correctly) away from where he works. Not once will you see him complain or resent his lot in life. To the contrary, at the end of the documentary, he praises Lagos and the life he has been able to make for his family. It is a life that, through modern technology, he displays to world.
Lest someone reading my blog think that I am a crusty old racist living in the Deep South, let me set the record straight. Though I have always been an old man at heart, I am not that old (young forties, right?), but I may be a bit crusty. While I do live in the Deep South, I doubt anyone who truly knows me would call me a racist–whatever that currently means. I do, however, believe in the reality of race and believe, mainly because I have seen with my own eyes and not because a certain ideological position dictates that I say such, differences among the races. I believe that IQ can serve as working guide for what to expect, not in moral behavior, but in civilizational accomplishment. Above it all, though, as a Catholic, I believe that every person bears the image of God and can have a part in God’s kingdom. In other words, I believe not enough for some and too much for others. Fine–I have never liked being a member of too many organizations anyway. Why even put this out there? Well, if Africa is the future of the world, we need to come to terms with what may come as a result.
One can see here countries ranked by the average IQ. (Though this really should not need repeating as often it does, we are concerned only with averages, not with exemplar individuals, who can be found among every people group in every country.) Africans countries can be found stacked at the bottom of this chart. Before you chime in, hush. If IQ, as some would have it, should be measured by the ability with which one can solve problems, then I am a self-admitted idiot. There is no way that I could last in one of the dump societies of Lagos. Those denizens have much sturdier grey matter than I. The aforementioned Joseph has been able to maintain a viable life–a flourishing one, if we speak relatively–for his family of four; I would have been found dead days after my arrival, let alone anyone depending upon me for subsistence.
Still, while cleverness greases social interactions and grants a keenness in matters of survival, it is not sufficient to create and sustain a civilization. One may, however, argue that not much can be expected of people groups whose members spend most of their time struggling to see another day. I would grant that; however, the accomplishments of the West are particular in their geography, and if we take the Middle Ages as an example, have often been produced by peoples whose living conditions were not that much better than those of modern Africa. If most in Lagos were able to rise into a middle class income bracket or better, would the world then see a city that rivals London (historically, at least) in artistic, architectural, political, and religious output? What will a world that is forty percent African look like?
Most of these are no more than questions posed in leisure, as, unless life-extension technology develops and I then choose to pursue it, I will be only a background specter in the thoughts of my children–if even they are still alive by the turn of the century–when this comes to pass. However, I do hope my lineage persists (for that is the only justification I have for not having gone into religious life) and that my descendants will have a role to play in this Africanized world. When the times comes, though, will there still remain any statues, monuments, buildings, cathedrals, art, music, and literature of the West, or will hustling in gritty megalopolises in a world that cares to strive primarily for resource allocation and not cultural creation be all they know? Will they want to know any differently?