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Reaping the Demographic Dividend in West and Central Africa and promising projects: SWEDD and MUSKOKA

Twenty-five years after the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, while significant progress is being made in other parts of the world, West and Central Africa seems to be lagging. In many countries, efforts to stimulate economic growth over the last two decades, which have resulted in growth rates of around 5 per cent per year, are being undermined by population growth (of about 2.7 per cent), which is increasing poverty by reducing per capita incomes.


Over the past five years, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has shown leadership in conducting political dialogue and communication around the demographic dividend to accelerate the implementation of the Cairo ICPD Programme of Action. The term ‘demographic dividend’ refers to an acceleration in economic growth that occurs in a country when the proportion of the working population is higher than that of people who are not yet or no longer of working age.


Generating a demographic dividend relies on significant investments in empowering women and young people, particularly in the areas of education, reproductive health, including family planning, and job creation for people with the potential to be productive. The demographic dividend is also closely linked to the international community’s new development agendas, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the African Union's Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, and the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action.  



Strategic partnerships to solve development problems

Emulating the dynamism around the SWEDD Project

The Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Project (SWEDD) is one of the successful initiatives that is worth replicating across the continent. It is a multisectoral regional project involving seven West and Central African countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – most of which have invested their resources in addition to World Bank funding. The project has a total budget of $295 million.

The primary beneficiaries are adolescent girls aged 10 to 19. Activities implemented under the SWEDD project aim to improve life skills and knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, keep girls in school and expand economic opportunities to enable girls and women to work in better-paid jobs.

The SWEDD project’s theory of change is a key pillar for supporting the demographic transition in the region during the period through to 2023. Applications from five other countries are being examined by the World Bank with a view to extending the project across the continent, in line with one of the recommendations made by governments at the review of the Addis Ababa Declaration in Accra, in October 2018. These are Senegal, Togo, Gambia, Guinea and Cameroon.

UNFPA is playing a leading role in the regional coordination of the project, in collaboration with the West African Health Organization, and is forming strategic partnerships with several specialized technical agencies and the private sector with the support of GBCHealth. A conversation with the French Development Agency has been initiated to synchronize efforts and make investments more efficient.


Muskoka, a catalytic partnership: renewed trust

Another example of a successful demographic dividend initiative is the Fonds Français Muskoka (FFM), created by France in 2010, which enables four United Nations agencies – UNFPA, WHO, UN-Women and UNICEF – working in eight countries in West and Central Africa[1] to pool their technical expertise to conduct high-impact interventions in maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health.

The initiative has proven successful, particularly for adolescents, under UNFPA leadership, in reducing teenage pregnancy in the region through the development of key actions such as comprehensive sexuality education, improving the user-friendliness of adolescent and youth health centres, empowering young people and more. Another FFM flagship programme is the development and broadcasting of the television series ‘C’est la vie’, the first education through entertainment series in the region to be broadcast on national channels as well as on the radio in French, English and local languages. The series has already reached millions of viewers and recently attracted more than 4 million listeners per episode on RFI.

The strong results obtained during the first seven years of implementation and the advocacy led by the agencies has made it possible to continue the mechanism for a new five-year cycle (2018-2022) for an amount of €10 million per year, including €3 million for UNFPA, as well as Denmark’s entry into the mechanism. 


Not a step without young people, #25Hours of Dakar

Most recently, the Executive Director of UNFPA participated in the 25 Hours of Dakar organized by young people in the region. This resulted in a strong statement calling on political leaders to take the aspirations of young people into account at the upcoming Nairobi Summit.


The regional office has also documented its experience in partnership management over the past five years in a book entitled “Goal 17. Partnership: UNFPA’s Approach for the Transformation of Africa and the World”


[1]Benin, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.