Africa’s Plight — The 2050 Scenario
What challenges will an already-troubled Africa face in the future?
January 10, 2004
It was in Africa where the greatest increase in population during this period occurred — from 642 million people in 1990 to 2.25 billion in 2050.
This represented an increase of more than 1.5 billion people.
It translated into a percentage growth (253%) more than twice the rise in total population of the developing countries taken as a whole — including China and India (109%).
Throughout Africa, though, this growth was uneven, largely owing to AIDS deaths in some sub-Saharan states. Nevertheless, Nigeria alone exceeded 500 million people by the middle of the 21st century.
This enormous influx of population into the ecosystem of the African states accelerated the process of deforestation that had already been well underway in the 1990s.
One result of this deforestation was the triggering of the first 20-year drought, which began in 2007-08.
This drought brought about a shortage of fresh water so severe that even the development of genetically modified hybrid strains of sorghum and cassava was unable to alleviate Africa's grain shortfalls.
Indeed, the availability of water proved to be the principal bottleneck to agricultural progress in many areas of the globe during the first two decades of the 21st century.
It was years before laser-fusion technology made desalinization practicable. By that time, however, Africa had been struck with a new plague, the so-called weather epidemics of the mid-2020s.
"Weather epidemics" are so-named owing to illnesses that appear to arise from unusual disturbances in the weather patterns of a given ecosystem. It is still not clear what the source was of those bizarre weather conditions that began in the winter of 2026.
Were they the result of covert experiments by private companies in Africa that went awry? Were they another consequence of deforestation?
Did they result from intense development without the environmental quality restraints that took place on the West coast of Africa in the beginning of the century? Or were they, alternatively, some combination of many unknown causes?
In any event, a general malaise leading to extreme enervation, but usually not death — if dehydration and starvation were treated — struck the African continent below the 10th parallel.
Although there were deaths in the tens of thousands, the worst consequences of these weather epidemics — like those of the 20-year droughts — were avoided by a voluntary system of secular tithing in the developed world.
That move was stimulated by advertising campaigns and administered through various NGOs — including the Red Cross.
Wireless hand-held communicators were able to transmit images of starving African children worldwide.
It enabled first-world individuals to "adopt" — and monitor — particular children in refugee camps. It also stimulated a response from the international public that dwarfed anything governments were prepared to do.
The money raised was used to bring food, medicine and water to the dyshygenic new cities of West Africa — and to the swollen refugee camps of Central and East Africa.
Medical historians now believe, however, that it was an indirect consequence of this outpouring that led to the third — and most lethal — of the plagues.
There is an emerging consensus that it was the pirating of portable X-ray machines from the Red Cross facility in Kinshasa — and their subsequent misuse — that resulted in the mutated virus known as OOA-V.
Like HIV, this virus can be transmitted through sexual contact. It thus spread quickly through polygamous societies of Africa, before leaping the Atlantic and turning up in the Caribbean.
But this time, unlike the HIV crisis of the late 20th century, the disease had been identified and definitively traced.
Simple sputum tests were given to passengers of air or ocean craft. Whole countries were quarantined (Equatorial Guinea was the first).
The medical infrastructure of the African states, still reeling from the weather epidemics, was completely overwhelmed. This time, there was no commensurate outpouring of aid from the northern-tier states.
The funds that people were willing to offer for the problem were spent on prevention and quarantine measures.
By the end of the decade — 2049 — OOA-V had claimed, directly or collaterally, something approaching 26 million lives and appeared still unchecked.
There was a pervasive sense that an international society that could be so rich — and at the same time not be bothered to alleviate, much less prevent, a human catastrophe on this scale — had much to answer for.
Sheer materialism had become more glamorous, more accessible, and yet more alienating. Not everyone was well positioned to succeed in the era of global competition. Africa certainly was not.
Adapted from "The Shield of Achilles" by Philip Bobbitt. Copyright © 2003 by Philip Bobbitt. Used by permission of Philip Bobbitt.
Professor of Law, University of Texas at Austin Philip Bobbitt is the A.W. Walker Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas at Austin. As one of the nation’s leading constitutional theorists, Mr. Bobbitt’s interests include constitutional law, international security and the history of strategy. Mr. Bobbitt is a member of the American Law […]