Tanzania is destined to become one of the most populous nations in Africa over the next few decades. The British Council’s latest research into Tanzania’s ‘Next Generation Youth Voices’ looks at the country’s huge demographic shifts and the great challenges - but also opportunities - they pose. With similar shifts taking place across the region, we examine the likely impact on Tanzania, and the potential implications for the UK.

Tanzania has long been a recipient of large quantities of UK government aid (indeed, it is the third biggest receiver in Africa). Recently, however, significant reductions in infant and child mortality alongside high fertility rates has contributed to a seismic demographic shift that is transforming the country and could drive future development, unlocking the potential for a new relationship with the UK. 

Tanzania is a country of 55 million people, of whom 28 million are under 25, making it one of the youngest populations on Earth

Tanzania is a country of 55 million people, of whom 28 million are under 25, making it one of the youngest populations on Earth. It is projected to have a population of 137 million by 2050, according to the UN World Population Prospects forecast, which would soon also make it one of Africa’s largest . With the birth rate eventually expected to decline, this could result in a baby boom followed by an ageing population, providing Tanzania with a one-off opportunity use its larger workforce to expand its economy, but eventually leaving it in a race to ‘get rich before it gets old’ . 

How can Tanzania cash in on this potential demographic dividend? When it comes to employment and opportunity, the 2016 Commonwealth Global Youth Development Index ranked Tanzania in 180th place out of 183. And, whilst access to primary school education has greatly improved, with net enrolment of 94% (according to UNICEF), there is still a lot of work to do to improve quality at all levels of education. 

70% of Tanzania’s population is rural. Yet despite government encouragement of careers in agriculture, there is a growing tendency in Tanzania, as in so many countries, for young people from rural areas to want to move to urban ones, and for those from urban areas to want to move to other countries, including to the UK. Unemployment is a central challenge: almost 1 million graduates a year struggle to transition into jobs in Tanzania. This state of affairs is mirrored across the continent with around half of African graduates facing difficulties finding a job after leaving education

If Tanzania could find a way of educating and providing opportunities to these large numbers of young people, the country could see a significant increase in prosperity and become a beacon of development in its region, as well as a more important trading partner for the UK. Yet there is a risk that lack of opportunities for young people could lead to mounting frustration, emigration, and perhaps even instability. Understanding the ambitions of young people will be crucial for any government looking to reap the demographic dividend. 

Young Tanzanians' hopes and fears

The British Council conducted the (‘Next Generation Youth Voices’) research in Tanzania in partnership with DfID to explore the attitudes and aspirations of Tanzania’s young population. With a new Government in Tanzania after a contested and controversial election in 2015, the report develops insights for policymakers and highlights the issues seen as priorities by young Tanzanians. More than 2,500 aged 15-24 from across Tanzania were surveyed on the issues that mattered to them. 

Infographic chowing Challenges faced by youth
Challenges faced by youth in Tanzania, British Council Next Generation Youth Voices: Tanzania Report 2016.

The research found that young people were largely ambitious and positive about Tanzania’s future. For example, one respondent said ‘I am proud of myself because I am the next generation; I contribute to the development of the nation’. This was typical of the positive attitude of many respondents. Yet many also said they didn’t always feel valued in their communities: only 17% said they were engaged in community decision making, with many feeling their voices aren’t heard or respected in areas where decisions are traditionally made by elders.

Strikingly, 65% of respondents were neither in education or employment. 71% said lack of jobs was the main challenge they faced. Their top priorities were education, followed by health and employment. The majority were aspirational about their working future, with 50% citing being a business leader as a career dream, but 42% weren’t happy with the current employment situation they faced. 

Corruption and nepotism was the biggest reported concern and 80% felt the government does not provide enough support to young people. Frustration is particularly apparent in Zanzibar, where 39% think things are going in the wrong direction. 

Rapidly expanding populations do add pressure on resources, which can lead to conflicts between communities. This, combined with large-scale urbanisation adding pressure on basic service provision , provides potential for trouble. In a situation where large numbers of young people are unemployed, frustration can increase. Tensions can also arise through ‘thwarted masculinities’, where young men are unable to fill traditional notions of their role, including having land, a job, and providing for a family. 

The path forward

If they are to realise their aspirations, Tanzanian young people need a supportive policy environment. The report recommends that the Tanzanian government, with help from International NGOs – including those based in the UK - prioritise quality education and employment opportunities, including skills training and financing mechanisms to provide capital for young entrepreneurs. 

It also suggests greater efforts to listen to Tanzania’s booming youth population, many of whom feel that they are not being heard. One way of making these changes would be to implement the National Youth Development Policy and the 2015 Youth Council of Tanzania Act, which is yet to be put into effect. A Youth Council with regional representatives is one solution to engaging young people in meaningful dialogue and ensuring their views are represented.

A more prosperous Tanzania would be a beacon of stability rather than potential instability and a source of trade rather than a recipient of large quantities of aid

The UK can be a constructive partner for Tanzania, based on its experience of supporting areas such as education, training, and assistance schemes for young entrepreneurs - including social entrepreneurs - in other countries in the region.

Realizing the social and economic potential of the next generation matters enormously. As well as the huge difference it would make to Tanzanians themselves, A more prosperous Tanzania would be a beacon of stability rather than potential instability and a source of trade rather than a recipient of large quantities of aid. Policy support and youth engagement, as well as traditional development work, would help to ensure Tanzania could look forward to a demographic dividend not a demographic disaster. 

Next Generation is a British Council research collection that aims to understand the attitudes and aspirations of global youth, amplifying their voice, and using their evidence to inform policy so they can develop into productive, fulfilled and active citizens.