Birth control or better development policies?

It seems that time has come to debate the demography of Africa. Reports, experts and politicians have been concerned for some time on the subject, which is sensitive in most developing countries, of the rapidly growing population and sometimes even dealing with the idea of birth control. Some are referring to some ancient theories, like Malthus’, and, not without a certain logic, compare the rate of population growth with the rate of growth of the economy. Others are witnessing in the demographic growth a sign of liveliness and future wealth for our countries.

Let us first look at the figures: the latest report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), “World Population Prospects, the 2017 revision”, indicates that Africa will have nearly 4.5 billion inhabitants by 2100, 40% of humanity compared to 1.3 billion today (17% of the total population). Africa will have a population comparable to that of Asia (Asia should see its population stabilize at 4.8 billion, whereas it is 4.5 billion today – 60% of the world population). The global population should then be 11.2 billion inhabitants compared with 7.5 today.

By 2030, Nigeria is supposed to account for 410 million inhabitants, more than the United States. The UN report adds an interesting point: most of the world’s population growth should be concentrated in only nine countries, most of them in Africa: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. Currently, the African population is growing by 2.5% against 1.7 at the world level.

Population growth is due to several factors: the fertility rate (5.5 in 2006 vs. 5.0 in 2016) is very high – with Niger’s extreme example of 7.4 children per woman of reproductive age – but also the increase in life expectancy which has gained 20 years in Africa since 1950 and is now 57 years old. One point to remember also: population density in Africa is one of the lowest in the world.

Of course, one can’t be as specific about the rates of economic growth. But the optimistic projections indicate for the coming years a growth of 4 to 6 points per year in Africa. A figure envied by most other regions of the world. We have already said how much these growth rates did not take into account the whole economic reality of our countries, the informal sector in particular, and that they were often distorted in one way or another. Faced with this situation, which party to choose? Should we even choose a camp? Is it possible? At a time when China has reversed its enforced policy of birth control, Africa must in turn try to limit births by constraint, while studies show the desired number of children per woman in Africa Sub-Saharan Africa is greater than five?

Children are still seen in Africa as a source of wealth and an economic and social safety net: manpower for farming and other works, but also pension insurance in countries that do not have any system of the sort. These are all factors that must be taken into account and which make it impossible for us to adopt binding policies. Besides, no one reckons that China has been handicapped in its economic development by its strong demographic and its 1.3 billion inhabitants.

On the other hand, making women’s health and education a priority, fostering access to modern means of contraception while creating the conditions for the real emancipation of women and girls so that they can choose to or not undergo their pregnancies, that could lead to lower fertility rates.

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