On the 12th of July to be precise, the president of Tanzania, John Magufili, gave a speech in his hometown encouraging women to “set their ovaries free.” He meant, by this speech, to encourage reproduction. For him, this was the perfect plan to getting Tanzania to enjoy the demographic dividend provided by having a high population, like in China, India, and Nigeria.
However, he was ‘unenlightened’ in his prompting, considering that Nigeria, for example, is not benefitting economically from her population. In fact, we are so much at a loss that we have been described as multi-dimensionally poor. What this means, on a light note, is that if Nigeria’s poverty was an album, every track on it would be a hit back to back. From poor healthcare to poor education system; poor security to inadequate living facilities; unsanitary environment to poor working conditions; the list goes on.
Before I get back to further discrediting John’s justification for wanting his countrywomen to pop out more babies, let’s commit a few seconds to understanding what demographic dividend is.
What is Demographic Dividend?
According to Gribble and Bremner, the demographic dividend:
Is the accelerated economic growth that may result from a decline in a country’s mortality and fertility, and the subsequent change in the age structure of the population. With fewer births each year, a country’s young dependent population grows smaller in relation to the working-age population. With fewer people to support, a country has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic policies [are] developed, and investments made.
It is imperative to note that demographic dividend is possible only when mortality and fertility rates are both low. This is why a country like Nigeria with a high fertility rate is not enjoying demographic dividend. This is also why Tanzania won’t enjoy demographic dividend by simply mass-procreating. They would rather create more burden for the working-age population.
Fertility rate being low imposes less burden on the working class citizens, just as low mortality rate equates a high number of working-class citizens who contribute positively to growing the economy of the country.
China and India: Not all that Glitters is Gold
China is the most populated country on earth, with a human population of over 1.4 billion. B-I-L-L-I-O-N! This is almost twice the entire population of Europe. Her population easily makes her one of the most polluted countries in the world. As much as China benefits economically from her population – being the highest exporting country globally – she also pays direly for it.
According to a publication on Foreign Policy,
China’s industrialization has put heavy pressure on the environment. For decades, China was the fastest-growing country in the world, powered by a heavy industry that transformed it into the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases … The damage was so bad that over 1.6 million people in China are estimated to have died in 2013 from air pollution alone … water pollution has also reached an alarming level, with more than half the water in major rivers in eight Chinese provinces deemed “unsuitable for human contact” as of 2015.
When China hosted the 2008 Olympic Games, over $9 billion was invested in cleaning her atmosphere, in addition to other preparations. However, this didn’t suffice, as the air remained polluted, and some athletes refused to participate in the Olympics. The Olympic Games are to athletes what heaven is to Christians. There could be no higher gratification.
It gets so foggy in China that you can’t see your hands stretched in front of you. People sometimes need to walk around wearing gas masks. Most of China’s and India’s pollution is caused by coal burning and incineration. One of the common ways of waste disposal is combustion, which actually creates more waste than it destroys. When waste is burned, it emits fly ash, which in itself is a worse pollutant. So what incineration does is reduce the volume of the waste without eliminating the waste.
For these and many more reasons, China seeks to reduce its population growth rate through the two-child policy. For a country like China, with the fastest growing economy in the world, to rethink her proliferation morality, it certainly means that a high population is definitely uneconomical.
Let’s take a brief look at India. A human population of over 1.3 billion people sets India as the 2nd most populous country. This doesn’t go without its consequences, too. 22 out of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. If this was a contest, India has no threatening competitor.
I am not excited about the pollution problems in China and India. I am only trying to show that asking for an increase in population will come with consequences. Intentionally, other negative effects such as crime rates, security issues, etc., have been left undiscussed. Pollution is not the only negative effect of over-population. So far, only air and water pollution were discussed, leaving out other forms of pollution. If the details of other forms of pollution were mentioned, you’d discover that this is only a tip of the iceberg.
If John is asking for a higher population, he should be ready to enjoy the other gift items in the hamper. What I am also saying in effect is: before you present the China-and-India-benefits-economically-from-their-population-so-can-we argument, ask yourself how well the present population has been managed and if a spike in population growth rate can be managed.
You could argue that John intends to boost Tanzania’s military strength through its population, but you should not because you know now that war is not a game of numbers but of ammunition.
The fact is, if over-population posed no threat both on national and global resources, then it would be advisable to be fruitful and keep multiplying. Because this would mean dominance for the most populated country. However, we know better, because global warming, change in greenhouse gas effect, climate change, etc., are all chain reactions to human activities, which are necessary evils to provide for the huge and growing population.
We can do better.
We should, at this point, compare Nigeria and China’s state of affairs. Considering that Nigeria is less than 1/5th of China’s population, you’d expect that we would manage ourselves and resources five times better. This is clearly not the case.
Another thing to note is that the development of a country is not hinged on its population. Countries on both extremes of the population index are doing great. Countries in between are doing well, too. Development is dependent on the government, the policies they put in place; the citizens, what they accept and influence.
While Nigeria is still fighting against and for RUGA settlements, Russia, with a population of fewer than 143 million people, is expanding its territory into the Arctic. This expansion also applies to Denmark, Canada, Norway, which cumulatively have a population of less than 50 million, which is not up to a quarter of Nigeria’s population.
What Tanzania and other African countries should be focused on presently is how to make the best out of the human and natural resources available. It’s a shame that we are not embarrassed at being constant charity projects and perpetual debtors. Nigeria presently owes over 2.66 trillion naira, and plans to borrow more. You’d be left to wonder what happens to recovered loots and the money generated from oil. I really wonder what will happen when our creditors come down heavy on us.
Although we always receive grants, we are in constant need of money. It feels like the Nollywood movies we watch where ritualists get richer by doling money, but their beneficiaries get poorer by receiving. This is not hard to explain though, because the monies we receive are shipped back to the source through vacations, medical checkups, property acquisition, etc.
It may be easy to define population with numbers, but that should not make you lose the point. The problem of population is not simply a problem of numbers. It is a problem of human welfare and development. If development entails the improvement in people’s level of living, their incomes, health, education, and general well-being, and it also encompasses their self-esteem, respect, dignity, and freedom of choice, then the really important question about population growth is: how does the contemporary population situation in many African countries contribute to or detract from their chances of realising the goals of development, not only for the current generation, but also for the future generations?
It shouldn’t be about the quantity of human life, but the quality of human life.