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Tanzania

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Half a Billion Tanzanians?

I was 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 ten 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 3% 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 President 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 7 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 3% and their population growth rate is exactly the same, so most people stay poor.

And still John 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 ten 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 had banned street protests, closed down two radio stations for “sedition”, and brought charges against at least ten 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 5 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.

Dr 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 one-child-per-family policy (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.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 10. (“Tanzania…poor”; and “Magufuli…support”)

World Population: The African Exception

24 June 2013

World Population: The African Exception

By Gwynne Dyer

The news on the population front sounds bad: birth rates are not dropping as fast as expected, and we are likely to end up with an even bigger world population by the end of the century. The last revision of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, two years ago, predicted just over 10 billion people by 2100. The latest revision, just out, predicts almost 11 billion.

That’s a truly alarming number, because it’s hard to see how the world can sustain another 4 billion people. (The current global population is 7 billion.) But the headline number is deceptive, and conceals another, grimmer reality. Three-quarters of that growth will come in just one continent: Africa.

The African continent currently has 1.1 billion people. By the year 2100, it will have 4.1 billion – more than a third of the world’s total population. Or rather, that is what it will have if there has not already been a huge population dieback in the region. At some point, however, systems will break down under the strain of trying to feed such rapidly growing populations, and people will start to die in large numbers.

It has happened before – to Ireland in the 1840s, for example – and it can happen again. In fact, it probably will. When you look more carefully at the numbers, you can even identify which regions will be hardest hit, because even in Africa there are large areas where population growth is low and dropping.

None of the Arabic-speaking countries of northern Africa will increase its population by more than one-third by 2100, and some will even be declining. South Africa, at the other end of the continent, will only add another ten million people by the century’s end. It’s in the middle belt of Africa that things will get very ugly.

Between now and 2100, six countries are expected to account for half of the world’s projected population increase: India, Nigeria, the United States of America, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. Four of the six are in central Africa.

In this area, where fertility is still high, the numbers are quite astonishing. Most countries will at least triple in population; some, like Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, are predicted to grow fivefold. That is on top of populations that have already tripled, quadrupled or quintupled in the past half-century. Uganda had 5 million people at independence in 1962; it is projected to have 205 million in 2100.

The numbers are simply preposterous. Niger, a desert country whose limited agricultural land might feed 10 million people with good management, a lot of investment, and good luck with the weather, already has twice as many as that. By the end of the century it will have twenty times as many: 204 million people.

All these numbers are based on assumptions about declining birth rates: if we all just carried on with the birth rates of today, there would be 25 billion people on this planet by the end of the century. The key question is: how FAST is fertility declining – and all the numbers in this article so far are from the UN’s “medium estimates”, i.e. the moderately optimistic ones. The “high estimate” for Niger gives it 270 million people by 2100: an extra 70 million.

It makes no practical difference. Even the “low estimate” of 150 million people in Niger by 2100 is never actually going to happen. That is fifteen times too many people for the available land, and Niger certainly cannot afford to import large amounts of food. Even without reckoning in the huge negative impact of climate change, large numbers of people in Niger (and quite a few other African countries) will begin starving long before that.

So the real picture that emerges from the UN’s data is rather different. It is a world where two-thirds of the world’s countries will have declining populations by 2100. China and Russia will each be down by a third, and only the United States among the major developed countries will still have a growing population: up from 320 million now to 460 million. (By the way, that means there will only be twice as many Chinese as Americans by then.)

In terms of climate change, the huge but ultimately self-limiting population growth in Africa will have little impact, for these are not industrialised countries with high rates of consumption and show no signs of becoming so. The high economic growth rates of African countries in recent years are driven mostly by high commodity prices, and will probably not be sustained.

It is the developed and rapidly developing countries whose activities put huge pressure on the global environment, not only by their greenhouse gas emissions but also by their destructive styles of farming and fishing. Their populations are relatively stable but their actual numbers are already very large, and each individual consumes five or ten times as much as the average African.

So the frightening numbers in the UN’s latest population predictions are mostly of concern to Africa – but the rest of the world is still in deep, deep trouble on many other fronts.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“It has…very ugly”)

 

 

An African Iceberg?

22 May 2013

An African Iceberg?

By Gwynne Dyer

Keeping a file of random clippings is an old-fashioned thing to do, but sometimes it offers you unexpected connections. Sometimes it’s a connection that you don’t even want to see. But there it is, so what are you going to do about it?

In June, 2009, South Africa’s Medical Research Council published a report which said that over a quarter of South African men – 27.6 percent – have raped somebody. Almost half of those men admitted to raping two or three women or girls. One in thirteen of the self-confessed rapists said they had raped at least ten victims.

The numbers are astonishing and horrifying, but on the assumption that at least a few of the interviewees were ashamed, or were afraid that their admission might later be used against them, those numbers are probably low. The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, where the study was conducted, are among South Africa’s poorer provinces, but there is no self-evident link between poverty and rape.

The study was a model of statistical rigour. It used a Statistics South Africa model of one male interviewee in each of 1,738 households across all racial groups and income levels in both rural and urban areas. Half of the men interviewed were under 25 years old; 70 percent of the rapists had forced a woman or girl into sex for the first time when they were under 20.

The researchers were not even trying to count South Africa’s rapists. The study was called “Understanding Men’s Health and Use of Violence: Interface of Violence and HIV in South Africa,” and it was really investigating the linkage, if any, between sexual violence and the spread of HIV. It turned out there was none – but that the actual amount of rape going on is completely off the scale even for an extremely violent society like South Africa.

I found another report claiming that 40 percent of South African women can expect to be raped during their lives, but I had nothing to add to the discussion so I just filed the information away. Then last November I saw a report in The Guardian about a study carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in which 34 percent of the men interviewed – over a third – admitted to rape.

That’s a war zone, of course, and it may not be representative of the Congo as a whole. But I did begin to wonder how widespread this phenomenon was, and I came across a study in the African Journal of Reproductive Health dating back to 2000, in which 20 percent of a thousand women interviewed in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (hardly a war zone) said they had been raped. Only one-tenth of those rapes were reported to the police.

And early this month came a report from the Rwanda government’s Gender Monitoring Office that a survey of more than 2,000 schoolchildren across the country revealed that 43 percent of them were aware of other pupils being raped. Teachers were allegedly among the chief offenders.

“If teachers are responsible for the problems of teenage pregnancies, that is a serious problem as they’re supposed to protect them,” said Education Minister Vincent Biruta. But Katherine Nichol, who works at Plan Rwanda, an NGO that promotes girls’ education in rural areas, was willing to go a little further. “We only know the tip of the iceberg of this issue here in Rwanda,” she said.

That’s the question, really. Are these reports just anomalies and exceptions? After all, South Africa is very violent, the eastern Congo is a war zone, Rwandans have been traumatised by the genocide of 1994, and Tanzania is – well, maybe just an anomaly. Or are they the tip of a continent-wide iceberg?

Rapes happen everywhere, not just in Africa, and it’s especially bad in war zones. There was practically no German woman left unraped in the eastern parts of the country when the Soviet army swept in in 1944-45.

Armies seem to have a special problem with sexual violence even when there isn’t a war. Last year, there were 26,000 reported cases of sexual violence against women in the US military – and the Pentagon believes up to 80% of sexual assaults go unreported. Indeed, a female soldier in the US military is more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by one of her own colleagues than injured in battle.

But the subject today is Africa, and the few statistics available suggest that there is an astoundingly high number of rapes in several widely separated countries. So what is needed now is more and better statistics.

Is the proportion of rapists among the male population in the western Congo (which is more or less at peace) much lower than in the East, or not?

Are Kenya’s official rape statistics (over 300 women per week) accurate, or should they be multiplied by ten to account for non-reporting, as in Tanzania?

Are the true numbers for rapes different in Muslim countries in Africa (all the ones mentioned above are predominantly Christian), or are they really the same?

Nobody will win a popularity contest by gathering these statistics, but hundreds of millions of African women have the right to know the answer. And when the scale and nature of the problem is clear, there needs to be urgent, decisive action.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3, 5 and 12. (“The numbers…rape”; “The researchers…Africa”; and “Armies…battle”)

 

 

The Congo’s Best Chance

21 August 2006

The Congo’s Best Chance

 By Gwynne Dyer

As soon as the election results were announced in Kinshasa on Sunday and it became clear that President Joseph Kabila had won less than half the votes in the first round, the shooting started. Army troops loyal to Kabila showed up outside the compound of the main challenger, Jean-Pierre Bemba, his guards opened fire (or returned it, depending on whom you believe) — and the United Nations had to send in twenty armoured personnel carriers to extract the American, French, Chinese and other foreign diplomats who had been meeting with Bemba.

Not a happy omen for those who hope that this election can end the long nightmare of the Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) by producing a president whom everybody would accept as legitimate. Most people assumed that it would be Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country without benefit of elections since his father, former president Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated in 2001, but he only got 45 percent of the votes in the first round of voting.

The runner-up, with 20 percent, was Bemba, who will now face Kabila alone in the second round of voting (probably on 29 October). Bemba will pick up votes from some of the other presidential candidates who were eliminated in the first round, but it’s almost inconceivable that he can catch up with Kabila, so the question is: will Kabila’s victory be the starting gun for another civil war in the Congo?

The Congo, with 60 million people, is one of Africa’s biggest countries, and it has certainly been one of the worst-governed. It has only recently emerged from a civil war that also involved six other African armies and directly or indirectly caused the deaths of four million Congolese. This is its first free election in forty-one years. If your dream is a future of peace and prosperity, you definitely wouldn’t want to start from here.

Yet fully 70 percent of the population turned out to vote. Despite their poverty and all the disappointments of the past, ordinary Congolese still see some hope of a better future — and so do the foreign countries that provided 17,500 troops, the biggest UN peacekeeping force in the world, to ensure that the election happened at all. Are they all wrong?

For almost half a century the Congo has been a symbol of how bad things could get in Africa: a huge, resource-rich country where nothing works any more, where even the roads have vanished, where most people live in misery, poverty and despair. But that’s not what most African countries are like, and it needn’t have been the Congo’s fate either.

The Congo got its independence in 1960, but its former Belgian rulers were determined to hang onto the rich mines of Katanga province even if they had to leave the rest of the country, so they sponsored a separatist movement there. When that didn’t work, they and the US government (which feared that the Congo was going Communist) conspired to overthrow the new president of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, and subsequently had him murdered.

The man who ruled the Congo for the next 32 years, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko), was a former sergeant in the colonial army, rapidly promoted to general by Lumumba and then chosen by the CIA to replace him. He stayed in power for a generation by taking over the state’s revenues for himself and his supporters, and NOTHING got spent on maintaining the Congo’s existing infrastructure, let alone improving it. So the country went back to the bush.

Lumumba’s surviving allies fought back, including Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who spent twenty years leading a futile guerilla struggle in eastern Congo. (At one point, in 1965, he even had Ernesto “Che” Guevara and a hundred Cubans helping him, but to no avail.) Kabila ended up in exile in Tanzania, and his son Joseph grew up there, so Joseph ended up speaking Swahili, the lingua franca of Tanzania and the eastern Congo, but not a word of Lingala, the language that serves the same purpose in the western Congo, including Kinshasa — and he speaks French, the Congo’s official language, with an English accent.

Mobutu’s time ran out when the Cold War ended, because without the “Soviet threat” the US lost interest in supporting him. Laurent-Désiré Kabila led a revolt in the eastern Congo that drove Mobutu into exile in 1997, but the war turned into a free-for-all that wrecked what was left of the country, and when Kabila was assassinated in 2001 his son Joseph, aged 29, took over as unelected president. A truce in 2002 brought a kind of peace to the country, but at the expense of making the four biggest warlords vice-presidents.

The current election is an attempt to move past that corrupt but necessary bargain and provide the Congo with a properly elected parliament and president for the first time since 1961. It may not work, and even if it does, the Congo will be starting over again poorer, more divided and less developed than it was at independence 46 years ago.

But if the peace can be kept and the income from the mines can be invested in basic services and infrastructure, the Congo could be transformed in a decade. What is required is not a miracle, but the political stability that comes from democratic legitimacy. The effort is worth making, and it hasn’t failed yet.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 9. “For almost…either”; and “Lumumba’s…accent”)