The World Is Becoming More African

Astonishing change is underway in Africa, where the population is projected to nearly double to 2.5 billion over the next quarter-century — an era that will not only transform many African countries, experts say, but also radically reshape their relationship with the rest of the world.

Birthrates are tumbling in richer nations, creating anxiety about how to care for, and pay for, their aging societies. But Africa’s baby boom continues apace, fueling the youngest, fastest growing population on earth.

In 1950, Africans made up 8 percent of the world’s people. A century later, they will account for one-quarter of humanity, and at least one-third of all young people aged 15 to 24, according to United Nations forecasts.

The median age on the African continent is 19. In India, the world’s most populous country, it is 28. In China and the United States, it is 38.

More than a third of the world’s young people will live in Africa by 2050

Share of global population aged 15 to 24

Source: U.N. World Population Prospects 2022. Regions are based on U.N. classifications. Regions with less than 1 percent of the global population are not shown.

By Lauren Leatherby

The implications of this “youthquake,” as some call it, are immense yet uncertain, and likely to vary greatly across Africa, a continent of myriad cultures and some 54 countries that covers an area larger than China, Europe, India and the United States combined. But its first signs are already here.

It reverberates in the bustle and thrum of the continent’s ballooning cities, their hectic streets jammed with new arrivals, that make Africa the most rapidly urbanizing continent on earth.

It pulses in the packed stadiums of London or New York, where African musicians are storming the world of pop, and in the heaving megachurches of West Africa, where the future of Christianity is being shaped.

And it shows in the glow of Africa’s 670 million cellphones, one for every second person on the continent — the dominant internet device used to move money, launch revolutions, stoke frustrations and feed dreams.

“It feels like the opportunities are unlimited for us right now,” said Jean-Patrick Niambé, a 24-year-old hip-hop artist from Ivory Coast who uses the stage name Dofy, as he rode in a taxi to a concert in the capital, Abidjan, this year.

Africa’s political reach is growing, too. Its leaders are courted at flashy summits by foreign powers that covet their huge reserves of the minerals needed to make electric cars and solar panels.

With a growing choice of eager allies, including Russia, China, the United States, Turkey and Gulf petrostates, African leaders are spurning the image of victim and demanding a bigger say. In September, the African Union joined the Group of 20, the premier forum for international economic cooperation, taking a seat at the same table as the European Union.

Businesses are chasing Africa’s tens of millions of new consumers emerging every year, representing untapped markets for cosmetics, organic foods, even champagne. Hilton plans to open 65 new hotels on the continent within five years. Its population of millionaires, the fastest growing on earth, is expected to double to 768,000 by 2027, the bank Credit Suisse estimates.

Dinner at Sushi Mitsuki, a new restaurant in a neighborhood with a rising skyline in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, starts at $200 per person.

“Africa is entering a period of truly staggering change,” said Edward Paice, the director of the Africa Research Institute in London and the author of “Youthquake: Why African Demography Should Matter to the World.”

He added:

“The world is changing.”

An expansive crowd of Muslims in holiday dress, standing shoulder to shoulder, their hands clasped and heads bowed in prayer.

“And we need to start reimagining Africa’s place in it.”

A woman lying under a blanket, nursing a baby wrapped in cloth.

The energy in Africa contrasts with the rising uneasiness in Europe and Asia.

Three young people doing a synchronized dance on a traffic island in a street.

In many countries, historically low birthrates are creating older, smaller populations. Caregivers in Italy, which is expected to have 12 percent fewer people by 2050, are experimenting with robots to look after the aged. The prime minister of Japan, where the median age is 48, warned in January that his society was “on the verge” of dysfunction.

Africa’s challenge is to manage unbridled growth. It has always been a young continent — only two decades ago the median age was 17 — but never on such a scale. Within the next decade, Africa will have the world’s largest work force, surpassing China and India. By the 2040s, it will account for two out of every five children born on the planet.

The median age on the African continent is 19

Source: U.N. World Population Prospects 2022

By Lauren Leatherby

Experts say this approaching tide of humanity will push Africa to the fore of the most pressing concerns of our age, like climate change, the energy transition and migration.

But it has also exposed the continent’s gaping vulnerabilities.

Peril and Potential

Africa’s soaring population is partly a result of remarkable progress. Africans eat better and live longer than ever, on average. Infant mortality has been halved since 2000; calorie intake has soared.

But while a handful of African countries are poised to ride the demographic wave, others risk being swamped by it.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is already deeply stressed: Nearly two-thirds of its 213 million people live on less than $2 a day; extremist violence and banditry are rife; and life expectancy is just 53, nine years below the African average.

Yet Nigeria adds another five million people every year, and by 2050 is expected to overtake the United States as the world’s third most populous country.

Young Africans are better educated and more connected than ever: 44 percent graduated from high school in 2020, up from 27 percent in 2000, and about 570 million people use the internet. But finding a good job, or any job, is another matter.

Up to one million Africans enter the labor market every month, but fewer than one in four get a formal job, the World Bank says. Unemployment in South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized nation, runs at a crushing 35 percent.

Frustration feeds desperation.

In countries like Somalia, Mozambique and Mali, opportunity-starved youths pick up guns to fight for jihad, or for money. In Gabon and Niger, youngsters fed up with sham politics crowd streets and stadiums to yell slogans in favor of military coups.

On the high seas, smugglers’ boats make perilous journeys to Europe and the Middle East, carrying desperate young Africans and their dreams of a better future. At least 28,000 have died on the Mediterranean since 2014, the United Nations says.

The climate crisis is an especially urgent concern.

Floods, droughts and storms have battered African countries.

Two boys walk by a large, resulted fishing boat stranded out of the water on a sandy beach, at sunset.

Concern about climate change is shaping plans for the future

Two young girls, one in a pink hijab, the other in a green one, sitting at a work table with others, welding a metal piece as they learn how to fix electronics.

and stoking worries about its impact.

A busy street scene in [], Kenya, with a man standing in the doorway of a bus as it passes schoolchildren in uniforms, and a woman in commute, wearing a floral suit set.

“Our generation takes things personally,” said Keziah Keya, a 21-year-old software engineer from Kenya.

Ms. Keya exemplifies the potential of that generation. Born into a poor family, she taught herself to code using the internet, and later represented Kenya at the International Math Olympiad in London. Last year, she was hired by a renewable energy company.

But she recently watched in dismay as a river near her home ran dry. Soon after, her grandmother’s crop of tomatoes withered. Starving cattle began to die. Three local herders took their own lives, she said.

“If we want to change things, we have to do it ourselves,” said Ms. Keya, who last month flew to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania to study computer science, on a full scholarship. But she sees her future in Kenya. “We can’t afford to wait.”

Forecasting population trends is a fraught and contentious business, with a history of flawed predictions. In the 1970s, books like “The Population Bomb” by Paul R. Ehrlich popularized fears that an overcrowded planet would lead to mass starvation and societal collapse.

Africans are rightfully cautious of foreigners lecturing on the subject of family size. In the West, racists and right-wing nationalists stoke fears of African population growth to justify hatred, or even violence.

But experts say these demographic predictions are reliable, and that an epochal shift is underway. The forecasts for 2050 are sound because most of the women who will have children in the next few decades have already been born. Barring an unforeseeable upset, the momentum is unstoppable.

Population by country

Angola Ivory Coast Cameroon Dem. Rep.of Congo Algeria Egypt 113M 160M Ethiopia 127M Ghana Kenya Madagascar Mozambique Niger Nigeria 224M 377M Sudan Tanzania Uganda South Africa






Source: U.N. World Population Prospects 2022. Regions are based on U.N. classifications.

By Lauren Leatherby

“It’s the mother of all megatrends,” said Carlos Lopes, an economist from Guinea-Bissau who formerly headed the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa.

Many others agree. The economic rise of China and India were the first great shocks of this century, they say. Africa’s youthful tide will most likely drive the next seismic shift.

Its first tremors are already being felt, and nowhere more than in global culture.

Cultural Powerhouse

When the Nigerian star Burna Boy stepped out before an adoring crowd at New York’s Citi Field this summer, he confirmed himself as pop royalty.

Weeks earlier, in London, he had filled an 80,000-capacity venue. In New York, he became the first African artist to sell out an American stadium.

He sang his new single, “Sittin’ on Top of the World.”

It was yet another milestone for Afrobeats, a West African musical genre that is becoming a global sensation. Afrobeats songs were streamed over 13 billion times on Spotify last year, up from eight billion in 2021; the genre’s biggest hit, Rema’s “Calm Down,” was a fan phenomenon at the soccer World Cup in Qatar. Countless TikTok dance challenges were born.

“It’s a great time to be alive,” said Laolu Senbanjo, a Nigerian artist living in Brooklyn. “Whether I’m in Target or an Uber, I hear the Afrobeats. It’s like a bridge. The world has come together.”

African artists seemed to be on red carpets everywhere this year — at the Grammy Awards, which added a new category for Best African Music; at the Met Gala, where the Nigerian singer Tems came fringed in ostrich feathers; and at the Cannes Film Festival, where a young French-Senegalese director, Ramata-Toulaye Sy, was a breakout star.

African fashion had its own shows in Paris and Milan. In Venice, Africa is the focus of this year’s Architectural Biennale. Last year, an architect from Burkina Faso won the prestigious Pritzker Prize. In 2021, Tanzania-born Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“Africa’s not just one place,” he said in an interview. “It’s complicated and complex; differentiated, contrasted.”

Long viewed in the West as a niche interest — or worse, exotica — African culture has become the continent’s soft power, and, increasingly, a source of hard cash.

The world’s fastest growing music market is in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the main industry body. By 2030, Africa’s film and music industries could be worth $20 billion and create 20 million jobs, according to UNESCO estimates.

Young Africans are honing their talents, sensing an opening.

In Lagos, young designers show their creations.

Onlookers look up and some cheer a model striding on a runway in a cropped t-shirt, embroidered wide-legged jeans and stiletto heels.

In Nairobi, hundreds in a poor neighborhood are learning to play classical music.

Three young Kenyans in the foreground of a classroom concentrating as they play violins.

In Dakar, a break-dancing team prepares to perform in the youth Olympics.

A group of young adults sharing a laugh, including a woman sitting on the floor in front of a bowl of dates next to two smiling men holding cellphones.

Scriptwriters and animators are shaking off the clichéd image of a continent defined by famine and conflict to tell new stories — frothy reality shows, gritty gangster tales and even children’s cartoons, made in Africa by Africans, that have aired on streaming services like Disney+ and Amazon Prime.

This summer, “Supa Team Four,” a cartoon series about teenage superheroes from Zambia who save the world, aired on Netflix. The theme is power — girl power, teen power but also plain electricity: The chief villain tries to knock out the city power grid.

Malenga Mulendema, the show’s creator, worked with a team across six African countries, and said that the movie “Black Panther,” when it came out in 2018, “paved the way” for new depictions of Africa. “People want to box us in,” she said. “But when you have multiple shows like this you can’t box in, anymore, what it means to tell an African story.”

The commercial potential of Africa’s cultural might is only starting to be realized. Netflix has spent $175 million in Africa since 2016, but has plans to invest $2.5 billion in South Korea. It was not until 2004 that a work by an African artist sold for over $1 million at auction, according to Hannah O’Leary, the head of modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby’s. Since then, another 11 have passed that bar‌. “But the market is still hugely under-realized,” she said.

Foreign companies are looking to cash in. This year gamma, a music company owned in part by Apple, set up an office in Lagos, hoping to discover the next Burna Boy, or even a host of smaller stars. “We’re going straight to the source,” said Sipho Dlamini, a gamma executive.

Born in Zimbabwe but raised in Watford, outside London, in the 1980s, Mr. Dlamini remembers being bullied because of his background. “We were called names,” he said. “All kinds of names.”

Now, “African” is a badge of pride. “Historically, the image was what people saw on TV: kids starving, kwashiorkor and flies,” he said, referring to a severe form of malnutrition marked by a swollen belly. “Now they will tell you they are dying to come to Cape Town, to Mombasa, to Zanzibar. It’s cool to be African.”

Jobs Crisis

Zeinab Moawad wondered if she was wasting her time.

The 18-year-old stood outside the tutoring center in Cairo where she had spent a year cramming for college entrance exams. But even if she was granted a place in Egypt’s best engineering or medical schools, she doubted that it would lead to a good job.

“We’re on our own,” she said.

Not long ago, technology was the big idea for enabling Africa to leapfrog its way out of poverty.

Start-ups sprouted in countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco. Innovative technologies, like M-Pesa, brought mobile banking to tens of millions of people. Women-only coding schools emerged. Microsoft and Google established major centers in Kenya, the self-styled “Silicon Savannah” of East Africa. Optimists spoke of an “Africa rising.”

But while technology brought billions in investment, it failed dismally on one crucial front: creating jobs.




Chronic unemployment, an old problem, is now a major crisis.

A young boy, covered in white dust, holding a bucket and walking by sacks of grain in a market.

The continent’s working-age population — people aged 15 to 65 — will hit one billion in the next decade.

Five fishermen working in a wooden boat on a gray sea under gray skies.

What will these one billion workers do?

A man in a white t-shirt and shorts leaning against the open doorway of a cinderblock house.

“That’s a problem,” said Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born telecommunications tycoon and philanthropist.

It is also a problem for the world, said Aubrey Hruby, an investor in Africa and an author of “The Next Africa.” She said, “After climate change, Africa’s jobs crisis will be a defining challenge of our era.”

Elsewhere, the answer was industrialization. In the 1970s and 1980s, when China, South Korea and Japan were the engines of population growth, their factories were filled with young people producing clothes, cars and TVs. It made them rich and lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.

Africa is poorly positioned to repeat that feat. Other than South Africa and a handful of countries in North Africa, most of the continent has failed to industrialize. In fact, it is losing ground: Africa’s share of global manufacturing is smaller today than it was in 1980.

Infrastructure is an obstacle. Six hundred million Africans, or four in 10, lack electricity. An average American refrigerator consumes more power in a year than a typical person in Africa. Major roads and railways often lead to the coasts, a legacy of extractive colonialism, which inhibits trade between countries.

And the baby boom endures, smothering economic growth.

Other regions, like East Asia, prospered only after their birthrates had fallen substantially and a majority of their people had joined the work force — a phenomenon known as the “demographic transition” that has long driven global growth. Britain’s transition took two centuries, from the 1740s to the 1940s. Thailand did it in about 40 years.

But in Africa, where birthrates remain stubbornly high — nearly twice the global average — that transition has proved elusive.

The picture changes greatly from one country to another. In South Africa, women have two children on average, while in Niger they have seven. Some smaller economies, like those of Rwanda and Ivory Coast, are among the world’s fastest growing. But on the whole, the continent cannot keep pace with its swelling population.

Adjusted for population size, Africa’s economy has grown by 1 percent annually since 1990, according to the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Over the same period, India’s grew 5 percent per year and China’s grew 9 percent.

Despite making up 18 percent of the global population, Africa accounts for just 3 percent of all trade.

For legions of jobless and frustrated young Africans, that leaves only one good option: Get out. Every year, tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, academics and other skilled migrants flee the continent. (At least one million Africans from south of the Sahara have moved to Europe since 2010, according to the Pew Research Center.) Migration is such a feature of life in Nigeria that young people have a name for it — “japa,” Yoruba slang that means “to run away.”

And the countries they leave behind depend on them to survive. In 2021, African migrants sent home $96 billion in remittances, three times more than the sum of all foreign aid, according to the African Development Bank.

“The African diaspora has become the largest financier of Africa,” said Akinwumi Adesina, the bank’s head.

In fact, the majority of young migrants do not even leave the continent, moving instead to other countries in Africa. But the plight of those who gamble their lives to travel further — left to die in sinking boats by the Greek Coast Guard, gunned down by Saudi border police or even stumbling through Central American jungle to reach the United States — has become a potent emblem of generational desperation.

The new big idea to invigorate African economies is the transition to green energy. African governments and investors are angling for a piece of the global effort, sure to involve trillions of dollars in the coming decades, which they hope can deliver Africa’s much-sought-after industrial revolution.

Africa has 60 percent of the world’s solar energy potential and 70 percent of its cobalt, a key mineral for making electric vehicles. Its tropical rainforests pull more carbon from the atmosphere than the Amazon. Ambitious ventures are taking shape in numerous countries: a dazzling solar tower in Morocco; a $10 billion green hydrogen plant in Namibia; a Kenyan-made machine that extracts carbon from the air.

The Africa Climate Summit, which took place in Nairobi in September, not only galvanized those seeking to profit from the climate transition, it also produced a bullish new narrative.

“Africa is neither poor nor desperate,” President William Ruto of Kenya said.

Whether young Africans can truly tap the potential of the coming energy revolution depends on other factors, too, not least the capacities of their entrenched and aging leaders.

Young Voters, Old Leaders

A youthful continent is run by old men. The average African leader is 63 years old; the oldest, President Paul Biya of Cameroon, is 90, a full 72 years older than the average Cameroonian. Under their grip, democracy has fallen to its lowest point in decades: Half of all Africans live in countries considered “not free” by Freedom House.

Five African heads of state, including Mr. Biya, have held power for more than three decades; nearly all are grooming their sons as successors. “Sick old men,” said the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in an interview.

Even so, foreign powers are scrambling to back them.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, in power since 1994, receives over $1 billion in Western aid annually, and has established his tiny country as a hub for sports and international conferences — even as he is accused of killing or kidnapping his critics, or purports to win elections by a margin of 99 percent.

As the United States, China and Russia vie for position, an array of middle powers is crowding in too. About 400 new embassies have opened in African countries since 2012, according to the Diplometrics Program at the University of Denver; Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and India top the list.

Embassies in Africa, 2012 to 2021

Opened more than 10 new embassies since 2012









48 embassies


United States










Vatican City



Saudi Arabia



South Korea





Note: Includes non-African countries with more than 20 embassies in Africa in 2021. Source: University of Denver Pardee Center Diplomatic Representation Database

By Lauren Leatherby

Yet there is one key group that Africa’s gerontocrats have disastrously failed to win over: the alienated youth of their own nations.

“Our elites treat us like idiots,” Nourdine Aouadé, a lawyer and young political leader, said at his office in Niger’s capital, Niamey, after a military takeover in August. Like many young Nigeriens, Mr. Awade, 32, supported the action.

“Coups are just the consequence of social injustice,” he said.

Most young Africans admire and desire democracy, numerous polls have found.

Male students in a university dorm room, sitting on wooden bunk beds and looking at laptops together.

But disillusionment with politicians’ empty promises is giving rise to a new age of protest

Young men throwing rocks, next to an overturned car in an urban shantytown.

and to political activism, like these performance artists focused on climate change.

Three people standing upright in rubble next to a patched corrugated iron building. They are wearing uniforms with straps crossing in X’s over their chests and small potted trees balanced on their heads.

Youthful uprisings first flared in 2011, during the Arab Spring, when an uprising in Tunisia inspired others in Egypt and Libya. Later, powerful demonstrations erupted in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Senegal and even Eswatini, a tiny kingdom of 1.2 million people in southern Africa.

This year, young people have channeled their anger into pro-military populism — cheering the new junta in Niger or, weeks later, Gabon, where they posted TikTok videos mocking their newly ousted president, Ali Bongo Ondimba. Other leaders, watching nervously, worry that they could be next.

The age gap between geriatric leaders and restless youth is “a major source of tension” in many African countries, said Simon Mulongo, a former African Union diplomat from Uganda. “It’s a powder keg, and it can explode anytime.”

One day last spring, Nuha Abdelgadir was hunched over her phone at a cafe in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Her thumb flicked restlessly through a gallery of smiling faces — friends who had been killed by Sudan’s security forces in pro-democracy demonstrations. Ms. Abdelgadir, 18, had come to take their place.

“We’re equal with the boys,” she said, gesturing to another young woman. “We’ve got shields, we throw stones, we clash.”

Her group, “Anger Without Limits,” was at the fore of the street clashes that had occurred every week since Sudan’s military had seized power in a coup 18 months earlier. Ms. Abdelgadir’s job was to pluck streaming tear-gas canisters from the ground and fling them back at the police. It was risky work, she admitted; over 100 protesters had been killed. But, she said, “I don’t care.”

Weeks later, Sudan tumbled into war. Fighting between rival military factions in mid-April rippled across Khartoum, then the country. On the third day of fighting, a stray shell punched through Ms. Abdelgadir’s home, sending it up in flames. She fled with her family to the countryside. By September, she was planning to leave Sudan, and even the continent.

Even then, she insisted she would be back to finish what she had started. “We will take to the streets again,” she texted, the night before boarding a bus taking her over Sudan’s border into Ethiopia. “The democracy we dream of will come.”

Militants Spreading

While some take flight, others pick up a gun.

In the Sahel, the semiarid region bordering the Sahara that runs across the African continent, tens of thousands of teenagers have joined militant groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State. They bring havoc in their wake — thousands of civilians killed, five million forced from their homes and political destabilization that has led to a string of military coups.

But the main driver of this powerful insurgency is not an extremist ideology or religious belief, according to a U.N. study of 1,000 former fighters from eight countries. Instead, researchers found, the single biggest reason for joining a militant group was the simple desire to have a job.

Modu Ali, from a poor family with 10 children in northern Nigeria, had barely finished primary school when he joined the extremist group Boko Haram, over a decade ago. His goal was to “fight for the rights of the deprived,” he said. “Instead it ruined my life.” He surrendered and joined a rehabilitation program for former fighters.

The Sahel leads the world in two ways. It is the global center of extremist violence, accounting for 43 percent of all such deaths in 2022, according to the Global Terrorism Index. And it has the highest birthrates — on average seven children per woman in Niger and northern Nigeria, six in Mali and Chad, and five in Sudan and Burkina Faso.

High birthrates alone do not cause insurgencies.

Women in hijabs and flowing dresses, many holding babies and children, waiting at a maternity clinic.

But they are a major accelerant when combined with weak states and deep poverty.

A boy holding an axe over his head, chopping wood in a pen holding longhorn cattle.

A warming planet is also a major factor, erasing livelihoods and driving people to desperation.

Young boys sitting on a small wooden boat that is stranded on a cracked, dry riverbed.

These factors are why many view the Sahel as the most worrisome manifestation of Africa’s “youthquake.”

One key to tackling that problem lies with teenage girls like Asiya Saidu.

Like many in Zaria, a Muslim-majority city in northern Nigeria, Ms. Saidu expected to be married by 14 and to have her first child soon after. “My uncle was hellbent on finding me a husband,” she recalled.

Instead, she enrolled at the Center for Girls Education, an American-funded program that has helped as many as 70,000 girls to stay in school, and ultimately to have smaller families.

Educating girls has an unusually large effect on family size in Africa because it delays the age of marriage and helps young women to space out their children, researchers have found. “It’s a natural kind of birth control,” said Habiba Mohammed, the program’s director.

Ms. Saidu, now 17, recently applied for nursing school.

“I do want to get married,” she said. But first, she said, “I want to be independent and learn to support myself.”

The Future Is Already Here

It could be that Africa will undergo transformations that are hard to see now.

When the economist Ha-Joon Chang was growing up in South Korea in the 1960s, his country was subjected to the same condescension and racism leveled at many African nations today, he said. It was poor, had just emerged from war, and was seen by American officials as a basket case.

“Nobody took us seriously,” said Mr. Chang, now a professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

That South Korea has become one of the world’s largest economies shows how success can strike in the most unlikely places, Mr. Chang added: “With time and effort, remarkable transformations are possible.”

A young population was a big part of South Korea’s success, Mr. Chang said. But it took other ingredients, too: visionary leaders, wise policies and education, as well as intangibles like drive, innovation and sheer good fortune, he said. “A lot of things have to work together.”

Could Africa’s youth boom portend a similar miracle?

This year’s surging turmoil — new crises, new wars and new economic slumps — would give pause to the greatest of optimists. Yet there are also reasons to hope.

“I tell my friends in England that the time will come when they will put out a red carpet for those guys now coming in boats,” said Mr. Ibrahim, the philanthropist.

African countries have a vital resource that aging societies are losing: a youthful population

Young people in sunglasses are among those walking across a plaza in front of a mosque with two tall fluted minarets

brimming with energy, ideas and creativity

A photo taken through the sun-filled window of an office building, showing workers in headphones sitting at laptops. Reflections create streaks of light across the window.

that will shape their future, and the world’s.

A young man skateboarding in the air on a skateboard, as he skates down a ramp

Some, like Nedye Astou Touré, are already reaching for the stars.

Ms. Touré, a 23-year-old student, stood over a pile of old aircraft parts at a university lab in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Her eyes gleamed with anticipation. “It’s for a rocket,” she said of the pile.

She and another senior at the university hope to launch their projectile 100 meters into the air, a first step toward building a low-orbit satellite.

It might take a while, Ms. Touré admitted. But while others with such grand dreams have typically left Africa behind, she wanted to show it can be done at home.

“Just wait,” she said. “Three years from now you might be hearing about us.”

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