A few years ago, the late John Magufuli, former president of Tanzania, urged women to “lose their birth control” and “continue to reproduce” in order for their country to be strong.
Magufuli, anti-Covid, dead – of Covid. But his thoughts continue. The idea of reducing population growth in Africa is controversial, often for good reason. It is difficult to argue against telling people not to have children from a history of forced reproduction, racism and eugenics.
Many African leaders – 53 of whom are men – believe that it is not a matter of how many children their people choose to have. The population growth in most African countries has not increased. The continent is six times larger than India, which has a relatively small population.
Jimi Wanjigi, a Kenyan businessman and politician, wants women in his country to have more children so that Kenya has “the power to negotiate like any other populous country”. If the goal of most people is then Kenyans are doing well. According to the UN Development Program estimates, Kenya’s population will be 90m by 2050, almost double today and 15 times that of 1950.
Kenyan mothers have 3.4 children. This is above 2.1 where the population is stable, but below the African average of 4.4. Countries at high risk of childbirth include Magafuli Tanzania (4.9 children), Democratic Republic of Congo (6.0) and Niger (7.0). Nigeria will surpass 400m by 2050, defeating the US as the third largest country in the world.
As the population of Africa grows, much of the country is heading in the opposite direction. In Europe, the Americas and most parts of Asia, the fertility rate has dropped by 2.1, indicating that the population is declining. In Japan the population is falling by one per minute. Where Japan goes, China and Europe will follow.
In the future, the world’s population will live in Africa. In 1980, 1 out of every 10 people in the world was African, writes Edward Paice, author of a new book. Youthquake is the director of the Africa Research Institute. By 2050, that will be one in four. At that time, one third of the world’s working age population, known as 15- to 64-year-olds, will be African, though not all will be employed. If the numbers are calculated, as Jimi Wanjigi recommends, Africa, often viewed as a circle, would be at the center of global affairs.
For others, these habits are dangerous, which promises more hunger, more conflict, and more damage to the environment. In fact, population dictators have been crying for foxes for years. Although climate change and the collapse of various species are proof that the predators were right, Africans are not to blame. Carbon emissions from each continent are minimal. Africa has much of the world’s desert.
However, somehow, both Magufuli and Wanjigi have some serious flaws. Like many, they feel that the population is growing rapidly as part of the human population. Africa is the smallest continent, with an average age of 19.7 as opposed to 42.5 in Europe. But youth should not be confused with the population growth that led to the collapse of the East Asian economy in the 1970s. In Africa, that power does not exist.
This is the confusion of the people. Is fertility rates declining as countries get richer? Or are countries richer when women have fewer children? In fact, it works in two ways.
The best way to determine a girl’s birth is how old the girls are in school. The general rule is that women who graduate from nine years of age have less than three children. In many parts of Africa, where the ancients were established and where leaders such as Magufuli happily tell women to “get rid of their eggs,” women do not have enough power over their lives.
Winnie Byanyima, UNAids executive director, rightly equates development with women’s rights. He recently praised Bangladesh, the most recent economic success, for reducing its fertility rate from seven in the 1990s to 2.2 today.
Smaller families are not really good. But it does show economic progress. In lands where women are well-represented in politics and in the workplace, declining birth rates and rising living standards have been consistent.
The picture in 54 African countries is not the same. The fertility rate in North Africa (3.3) and southern Africa (2.5) has dropped dramatically. But many African women remain submissive to the needs of men. If African countries are to cope with poverty, women need more power in their lives.