Sub-Sa­ha­ran africa birth rates not sus­tain­able

Tillsonburg News - - OPINION - Gwynne dyer Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work).

i was one of five chil­dren. that was nor­mal at the time when i grew up, but my sib­lings and i have had a to­tal of only 10 chil­dren, so we’re down to re­place­ment level in this gen­er­a­tion. this is not hap­pen­ing in tan­za­nia.

“women can now throw away their con­tra­cep­tives,” said tan­za­nia’s pres­i­dent John magu­fuli on Sun­day. Sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion is now free in the east african coun­try, he pointed out, so chil­dren are no longer such a ma­jor ex­pense. tan­za­nia needs more people, and women who don’t have more ba­bies are just lazy.

“they do not want to work hard to feed a large fam­ily, and that is why they opt for birth con­trol and end up with one or two chil­dren only,” magu­fuli said. “i have trav­elled in europe and else­where and have seen the harm­ful ef­fects of birth con­trol.”

the av­er­age woman in tan­za­nia has more than five chil­dren. the pop­u­la­tion has grown at three per cent an­nu­ally for decades, and since in­de­pen­dence in 1961 it has in­creased six­fold, from 10 mil­lion to 60 mil­lion. there is no sign of the birth rate drop­ping, and the coun­try is on course for 100 mil­lion in fewer than 20 years.

yet magu­fuli thinks the coun­try needs more people. he is not alone in this con­vic­tion. pres­i­dent yow­eri mu­sev­eni of uganda (which has about the same birth rate as tan­za­nia) once told me his coun­try could eas­ily feed 100 mil­lion people. he called the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion “a great re­source.”

uganda’s pop­u­la­tion at in­de­pen­dence in 1962 was seven mil­lion people. it’s now 45 mil­lion, and will reach that 100 mil­lion tar­get in about 30 years. and there is no rea­son to be­lieve it will stop there. uganda’s birth rate has not dropped in decades ei­ther.

the end-of-cen­tury pre­dic­tions for these coun­tries if birth rates grad­u­ally drop to­ward re­place­ment level, as they did in asia and latin amer­ica in the past 50 years, is around 300 mil­lion each. but if the birth rates don’t drop in fu­ture decades, these two coun­tries alone will have a bil­lion people in 2100. that’s a very bad idea.

and still magu­fuli wants to get the birth rate up. he pre­sum­ably be­lieves a big­ger pop­u­la­tion makes a coun­try stronger, but if that were true tan­za­nia would al­ready be as pow­er­ful as France. Five or 10 times its cur­rent pop­u­la­tion will make it weaker, not stronger. it will also ruin the en­vi­ron­ment and leave a lot of people hun­gry.

hardly any­body in tan­za­nia sees curb­ing pop­u­la­tion growth as a pri­or­ity, and it’s cer­tainly not a votewin­ner. in­deed, this is true for sub­Sa­ha­ran africa as a whole, and those who point out it could ruin the con­ti­nent’s fu­ture are fre­quently ac­cused of neo-colo­nial or racist at­ti­tudes. but there are a few bright spots, and one of them is on the other side of africa, in ghana.

ghana’s pop­u­la­tion was five mil­lion at in­de­pen­dence in 1957; now it’s 30 mil­lion. but with great ef­fort, it has got its to­tal fer­til­ity down to four chil­dren per woman, and if the birth rate continues to fall the pre­dic­tion is for 73 mil­lion people at the end of the cen­tury. leti­cia ade­laide ap­piah thinks this still is too many.

ap­piah is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of ghana’s na­tional pop­u­la­tion Coun­cil, and a very brave woman. She has pro­posed women be re­stricted to hav­ing three chil­dren, and de­nied ac­cess to free gov­ern­ment ser­vices if they ex­ceed that num­ber. it’s a long way short of China’s now-aban­doned one-child pol­icy, but at least it addresses the prob­lem.

She has faced a storm of crit­i­cism for her pro­posal (al­most all of it from men), but she has stood her ground. there is lit­tle prospect ghana will ac­tu­ally adopt such a pol­icy in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, but africa needs more women like her. ur­gently.

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