Half a bil­lion Tan­za­ni­ans?

Over­pop­u­la­tion could ruin Africa’s fu­ture

The Witness - - INSIGHT - GWYNNE DYER

IWAS one of five chil­dren, so I am in an in­vid­i­ous po­si­tion when I write about pop­u­la­tion growth. That was quite nor­mal at the time where I grew up, but I and my broth­ers and sis­ters 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 last 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 con­tin­ued. “I have trav­elled in Europe and else­where and have seen the harm­ful ef­fects of birth con­trol.”

This is not re­ally a prob­lem in Tan­za­nia, where the av­er­age woman has more than five chil­dren. The pop­u­la­tion has grown at a steady three per­cent 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 less than 20 years. Yet Magu­fuli thinks women should throw away their con­tra­cep­tives be­cause 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 that 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 just 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 that 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 to­wards 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 (as they have not dropped in past decades), then these two coun­tries alone will have a bil­lion peo­ple in 2100. That’s a very bad idea.

Tan­za­nia and Uganda to­gether have about twice the area of France, which has only 65 mil­lion peo­ple. They would, with a bil­lion peo­ple, be about eight times more densely pop­u­lated than France — and un­like France, the great ma­jor­ity of their peo­ple would still be poor. The long-term eco­nomic growth rate in both coun­tries is about three per­cent and their pop­u­la­tion growth rate is ex­actly the same, so most peo­ple stay poor.

And still Magu­fuli wants to get the birth rate up. He pre­sum­ably be­lieves that 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.

Magu­fuli has won pop­u­lar­ity through­out east Africa with his flam­boy­ant cam­paign against cor­rup­tion. He is also a thin-skinned au­thor­i­tar­ian who has banned street protests, closed down two ra­dio sta­tions for “sedi­tion”, and brought charges against at least 10 peo­ple for “in­sult­ing” him on so­cial-me­dia plat­forms, but a re­cent opin­ion poll in Tan­za­nia gave him 96% sup­port.

Hardly any­body in Tan­za­nia sees curb­ing pop­u­la­tion growth as a pri­or­ity, and it’s cer­tainly not a vote-win­ner. In­deed, this is true for sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa as a whole, and those who point out that it re­ally is a prob­lem that 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 now got its “to­tal fer­til­ity” down to four chil­dren per woman, and if the birth rate con­tin­ues to fall, the pre­dic­tion is for “only” 73 mil­lion peo­ple at the end of the cen­tury. Dr Leti­cia Ade­laide Ap­piah thinks this is still too many.

Ap­piah is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ghana’s Na­tional Pop­u­la­tion Coun­cil, and a very brave woman. She has pro­posed that women should 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 onechild-per-fam­ily pol­icy (which is now aban­doned), 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 that Ghana will ac­tu­ally adopt such a pol­icy in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, but Africa needs more women like her. Ur­gently.

• Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work).

YU­VAL HARARI, IS­RAELI HIS­TO­RIAN AND BEST-SELL­ING AU­THOR

The most im­por­tant ques­tion in 21st-cen­tury eco­nom­ics may well be, ‘What should we do with all the su­per­flu­ous peo­ple...?

“Tan­za­nia and Uganda to­gether have about twice the area of France, which has only 65 mil­lion peo­ple. They would, with a bil­lion peo­ple, be about eight times more densely pop­u­lated than France — and un­like France, the great ma­jor­ity of their peo­ple would still be poor.”

Tan­za­nia’s Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli thinks women should throw away their con­tra­cep­tives be­cause the coun­try needs more peo­ple.

Ghana’s Na­tional Pop­u­la­tion Coun­cil’s Dr Leti­cia Ade­laide Ap­piah has said that women in Ghana should be re­stricted to three kids.

Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni of Uganda called his coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion ‘a great re­source’.

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