The population conundrum

The population conundrum

AS we grapple with the cholera outbreak in Harare – a symptom of so many years of leadership failures and neglect — there is an undeniable population factor. Harare, like most towns and cities in the country, was designed for a much smaller population than it is hosting today.

Source: The population conundrum – NewsDay Zimbabwe September 25, 2018

Develop me: Tapiwa Gomo

Why is the population subject worth worrying about today in Africa? It is no brainer that there is a strong relationship between population growth, economic growth and development or lack thereof and the environment. Migration too is adding to the matrix. A shift in any of these factors will affect the ecological equilibrium. Balancing these factors require major political and economic trade-offs which sometimes require making tough choices.

Where is the conundrum? The debate on the relationship between population and economic growth is now scattered, discordant and lacks cohesion. Human race reached one billion people in 1800 and it took 125 years to reach just two billion people. But it only took 35 years to reach three billion. And in 60 years, the global population rose from 2,5 billion in 1950 to nearly eight billion in 2018. The later years witnessed colossal leaps in technical advancement, economic growth and human development.

China and India host the biggest population sizes, altogether contributing nearly 2,8 billion people. Being the emerging global economies, their growth has been linked both to high production and increased consumption proportions resulting from their large population sizes.

While these countries are among the leading global economies, they also have among the lowest development indicators in the world. But that is not the story being sold to the world. The new story in town is that high population growth equals to high production and consumption even when Africa today is fast being ‘invaded’ by some very poor Chinese and Indians fleeing overpopulation from their countries.

The policies driving these narratives are simple; to overpopulate is to dominate. Racial numerical visibility is becoming a new mode of domination than political and economic power as it was during colonialism.

This is becoming problematic. Last week the government of Tanzania banned family planning adverts after their President allegedly urged women to have as many children as they wish. Tanzania has just pressed the population explosion button.

We cannot blame them because they have understood from both Asia and some of their neighbours that population growth is the new battle field and it is now trending.

This is a problem East African countries are having to grapple with on two fronts. The first, is the increasing population from the two Asian countries — China and India.
Secondly, some of their neighbouring countries are using migration and population growth as a weapon of dominance with the objective of spreading their race and religion. Population numbers are beginning to count now than before.

For instance, one East African country is alleged to have withheld the census results of one race/tribe from a neighbouring country because the numbers are estimated to be higher than any of the local tribes in that country. A migrant group is now the majority.

It is feared that releasing those results, as they are, would simply legitimise that race in that country as the new dominant group and this would have political, social and economic ramifications on the other tribes. It is even worse that some members of this race bring with them huge amounts of wealth which can potentially influence and alter the cultural fabric of the receiving nation.

How then is this a problem? Generally, every individual has a right to make a choice to reproduce but that comes with the responsibility of ensuring a decent life for the children.

For most advanced African countries, there has been a huge investment into family planning aimed exclusively at slowing population growth with the objective of improving the living conditions, preserving the environment for future generations, promoting household economic growth by cutting down on consumption.

The general assumption is that rapid population growth has a negative impact on national and family economic growth in developing countries and that a decline contributes to reducing the severity of poverty. For most middle-income groups, this has paid off as they live much longer and life becomes much more assured.

They are now increasingly planning ahead as they are saving and investing for their future and in their children’s education, health and other services. But then, if their numbers are being overtaken by a growing immigrant population, it simply means these gains are under threat.

In a context where an immigrant group decides to multiply and cause population explosion to the extent of numerically dominating the local population, how then are governments expected to balance between their long-term push for family planning for their local population while respecting the right of immigrants to multiply?

And what if that group of immigrants bring with them their cultural and religious baggage which becomes dominant because of their increasing numbers?

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa