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The Lack of Old Age Savings among Sub-Saharan African Employees

In sub-Saharan Africa, a concerning trend has emerged where less than 10% of workers save for their old age, marking the lowest savings rate for any region globally. This alarming statistic indicates that the majority of breadwinners in the region may not have sufficient funds to afford basic necessities once they retire. Recognizing the critical role of pension plans in securing a stable financial future, The Conversation Africa spoke with Owen Nyang’oro, a financial economist, to shed light on the challenges surrounding Africa’s pensions and the urgent need for comprehensive solutions.

With the impending consequences of inadequate retirement savings, it becomes imperative to explore the reasons behind this lack of preparation and seek remedies to address the issue at hand. By delving into the insights shared by Owen Nyang’oro, we can gain a better understanding of Africa’s pension landscape and the crucial steps needed to rectify the current situation.

Understanding the Current State of Pension Savings in Sub-Saharan Africa

A recent study examining retirement savings in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding francophone countries) reveals a diverse landscape of pension funds characterized by variations in architecture, coverage, and performance. However, the region’s pension systems significantly lag behind other global regions regarding reforms. Furthermore, pension savings in sub-Saharan Africa remain alarmingly low compared to global standards. Only 19.8% of individuals above the statutory retirement age receive a pension, and a mere 8.9% of the labor force is covered by pension schemes. In stark contrast, the global average stands at 77.5% and 53.7% respectively.

The limited progress in pension schemes within sub-Saharan African countries can be attributed to various factors. Low contributions stemming from low earnings, a prevalence of informal employment, high levels of financial illiteracy, and a lack of awareness regarding the long-term benefits of adequate pension contributions all contribute to the current state of affairs.

Examining market data, it becomes evident that South Africa emerges as the continent’s top performer in absolute terms, boasting pension fund assets valued at approximately $330.3 billion in 2019 (latest country update). Other noteworthy pension savers in 2021 include Nigeria with assets worth $32.6 billion, Kenya with $13.7 billion, and Namibia with $13.3 billion. On the other end of the spectrum, countries such as Mozambique with $224 million, Zambia with $745 million, and Angola with $861 million exhibit low levels of pension savings.

However, when considering pension assets relative to the size of the economy, the best performers in 2019 were Namibia (95.4%), South Africa (82.6%), and Botswana (51.9%). Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Nigeria, and Ghana trailed behind, with pension assets falling below 10% of their respective gross domestic products.

In a global context, it becomes apparent that Africa’s pension assets remain considerably small compared to the retirement funds of countries like the United States ($40.0 trillion) or the United Kingdom ($3.8 trillion). The state of pension savings in sub-Saharan Africa raises significant concerns. With less than 10% of workers in the region actively saving for their old age, sub-Saharan Africa boasts the lowest savings rate in the world. Consequently, a vast majority of workers are ill-prepared for retirement, leaving them vulnerable to financial hardships in their later years.

The implications of insufficient pension savings are far-reaching, affecting both individuals and their families. Retirees may struggle to meet basic needs and maintain their desired standard of living. Furthermore, the overall social and economic stability of the region may be compromised.

Addressing the challenges surrounding pension savings in sub-Saharan Africa demands a comprehensive approach. Policymakers and stakeholders must prioritize reforms aimed at promoting financial literacy, expanding access to formal employment and benefits, encouraging the establishment of robust pension schemes, and fostering a culture of long-term savings. By implementing effective solutions and overcoming these hurdles, the region can strive towards improving the financial security and well-being of its workforce during their retirement years.

What’s peculiar about Africa’s population?

Africa’s population exhibits distinct characteristics that set it apart from other regions. With a predominantly young population and high fertility rates, Africa stands out as a continent of youthful energy and potential. However, these demographic patterns bring unique challenges and opportunities for the region. In this article, we delve into the peculiarities of Africa’s population, exploring the implications of its youthfulness, population growth rates, and evolving social dynamics.

Youthful Population and High Fertility Rates:

Africa’s population is predominantly young, with a significant proportion of the population falling within the working-age bracket.

High fertility rates contribute to population growth, with the annual population growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa reaching 2.5% in 2022, more than three times the global average.

The old-age dependency ratio, which measures the number of elderly individuals per economically active person, is relatively low compared to other regions, averaging 5.5 in 2022.

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Also read: Ensuring Transparency Hidden Terms and Conditions of Savings Accounts

Emerging Challenges of an Aging Population:

While the aging population in Africa remains relatively small, it is gradually increasing over time.

The annual growth rate of elderly people in the region is projected to exceed 3% between 2022 and 2050, highlighting the need for adequate social support systems.

Currently, only one in five people of pensionable age receives an old-age pension, highlighting the disparity between Africa and the global average of over three in four.

Income Challenges and Changing Social Dynamics.

High levels of unemployment and the predominance of the informal sector, which encompasses over 89.2% of the labor force, pose income challenges for the elderly.

Changing household structures, and transitioning from traditional multi-generational setups to skipped-generation or one-generation households, impact the availability of social support for the elderly.

The shift towards smaller households can strain the ability to provide care and support for elderly family members, potentially exacerbating income and social challenges.

As Africa’s population continues to grow and age, it becomes crucial to address these emerging challenges. Strategies must be implemented to ensure adequate social support systems, income opportunities, and provisions for the aging population. Enhancing pension schemes, promoting employment opportunities, and fostering intergenerational solidarity within evolving household structures are vital steps toward creating a sustainable and inclusive environment for Africa’s population.

Africa’s population stands out with its youthful demographics, high fertility rates, and unique social dynamics. While this presents opportunities for economic growth and development, it also brings forth challenges concerning income security and social support for the aging population. By recognizing and proactively addressing these challenges, policymakers, communities, and stakeholders can work towards creating a more resilient and inclusive society that harnesses the potential of Africa’s population for the benefit of all.

Importance of a Strong Pension System (Financial Security and Retirement)

A good pension system offers several benefits that contribute to the well-being of individuals and the overall economy. Firstly, it helps individuals maintain their standard of living in retirement by providing a reliable source of income. Savings through a pension plan act as a safety net, ensuring financial security and supplementing retirement income to cover unforeseen expenses.

Group pension plans, in particular, provide the advantage of guaranteed, monthly income for life. This feature significantly enhances financial security in retirement, making it more achievable for those who have such plans. The primary goal of pension savings is to provide income and livelihood in old age, ensuring a comfortable retirement.

Moreover, pension savings can be mobilized to finance productive activities and improve living standards. In regions with significant infrastructure funding gaps, such as Africa, pension funds can play a crucial role. By investing in infrastructure projects, pension funds contribute to economic development, create job opportunities, and enhance the overall quality of life.

Pension funds also have the potential to reduce public borrowing. By providing an alternative source of long-term financing for government projects, pension funds contribute to financial stability and reduce the burden on public finances. Additionally, pension systems create incentives for the formalization of businesses, leading to increased efficiency in the labor market. Defined benefit pension plans, which guarantee a specific amount of retirement income based on a formula considering earnings and years of service, provide individuals with peace of mind and ensure their financial well-being in retirement.

Also read: Understanding the Reasons for the Decreasing Savings Account Interest Rates

How Can Countries Improve Pension Planning

Countries can take several measures to improve pension savings and ensure a robust pension system. Firstly, they can increase pension participation and coverage by including the unemployed and those in the informal sector. This can be achieved through the implementation of targeted universal pension schemes and greater financial literacy initiatives. A mix of universal schemes and schemes with payroll deductions and employer contributions can be considered.

Bundling pensions with other financial products, such as life insurance, can incentivize greater participation and long-term savings in pension funds. Matching contributions and favorable tax considerations can further enhance the growth of contributions and assets in pension funds. By leveraging digital technology, countries can increase pension coverage, especially in the informal sector. Simplifying enrollment and contribution processes through digital platforms can make it easier for individuals to participate in pension funds.

Reviewing regulatory frameworks in the pension sector is crucial to opening up access to unserved populations. Streamlining pension management and minimizing administrative costs, particularly for private pensions, can allow pension funds to extend investments to other assets, including foreign ones, leading to improved returns. These reforms should be prioritized within national development plans, addressing informality in the labor market and harnessing the potential of technological advancements and the youthful population.

A well-developed pension system is of utmost importance as it provides income security for the aging population. It helps individuals save for their future retirement and ensures a dignified life in old age. Moreover, a robust pension system contributes to financial stability, reduces budgetary strain, provides financing for infrastructure development, and supports the growth of capital markets. By implementing these measures, countries can strengthen their pension systems and better prepare for the needs of their senior citizens, promoting fairness and intergenerational equity.


In conclusion, increasing pension savings is essential for people’s long-term welfare and financial stability. A strong pension system has several advantages, including the ability to maintain a certain quality of life in retirement and provide extra money in case of unanticipated needs. Through group pension plans, it also offers guaranteed, lifetime income, fostering financial stability in retirement. Pension savings can also be used to fund productive endeavors, assist in infrastructure improvement, and promote capital market expansion.

Countries should concentrate on raising participation and coverage, investigating the bundling of pensions with other financial products, utilizing technology, and evaluating regulatory frameworks in order to improve pension savings. More people may benefit from pension plans by including the jobless and employees in the informal sector, fostering financial literacy, and creating universal and contributory programs. The accessibility and convenience of pensions may be increased by bundling them with other goods and using technology, and legislative reforms can foster an environment that is favorable for pension fund investments.

In addition to providing the elderly with economic security, a well-developed pension system also benefits society as a whole. It eases the burden on the public purse, aids in infrastructure expansion, encourages the expansion of the capital market, and advances financial stability. Countries may construct a sustainable and inclusive pension system that benefits people and supports overall economic growth by giving pensions a high priority in national development goals, tackling informality in the labor market, and utilizing technology improvements.

Also read: The erosion of savings account value due to inflation

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