Last week it was announced that Uganda will be the first African country to benefit from a new multi-million dollar global campaign to increase demand for family planning services and information.
Alarmed by our high population growth rate – 3.2% the third highest in the world, everybody is scrambling to prescribe all number of family planning options.
I am ambivalent about the urgency to lower our population growth rate.
That at the current rate we will double population by 2040 and this will put undue strain on our resources as a nation. But this argument really does not stand up to scrutiny. South Korea has a third the surface area of Uganda with a population of 48 million and we don’t hear that there population situation is an emergency. The UK which slightly larger than Uganda has almost twice the population size and no alarm bells are going off there. Singapore, which for all practical purposes is just a rock in the ocean has 50 times more people per square kilometer than Uganda. Uganda, by the way has nearly fifty percent of all the arable land in the community and has one in every five units of area under water.
We all understand the logic of a manageable population that can be well catered for and can enjoy a better quality of life. And it is virtuous to cut your suit according to the cloth you have, but a high population growth is a symptom of poverty, it therefore follows that we should be attacking the cause and not the symptom to be more effective.
Take for instance the statistic that our women have a high fertility rate. That on average the Ugandan woman bears seven children. This masks the fact that the urban woman on average has four children, meaning the rural woman’s average is higher.
Even in our own reality we see that there are some women who deliver less than the national average. The question should what is that the urban woman does (or does not do) that makes her have fewer children?
The immediate thought is to suggest that this is because they use more contraception, but average contraception use in Uganda is so low – about two percent of married women use contraception, that it cannot in and of itself explain why the urban woman is giving birth to fewer children.
What is more telling is that the urban woman is in school longer and therefore delaying her first pregnancy. Some survey last year showed that there was some decline in the teen pregnancies in Uganda and some analysts attributed this to the greater enrollment of girls in schools as a result of UPE.
Not only does the urban woman delay her first pregnancy, therefore reducing the number of babies she can get, but urban families are very busy. The number one guard against pregnancy is abstinence, no sex no babies.
This is not to take away from the libido levels of the urban couple, but it would be logical to think that urban couples are having less sex. The reason is obvious. Beyond the 9-to-5 day job there also so much else occupying our minds – the bars, tv, golf, gym and every added activity lowers the chances of having procreative sex.
The running joke is that because there is no electricity in the larger part of the country the closest form of recreation is sex. It would be interesting to see whether there was a spurt in urban population growth during the load shedding years.
The point is that a decline in poverty levels will be accompanied by an corresponding drop in p[population growth figures.
For those looking for the quick fixes they may wonder why not uplift the girl child and the problem will be sorted.
But it is futile to do so in the context of prevailing poverty with her father – who needs her labour in the fields and her dowry as soon as she has sprouted breasts and her brothers who for lack of nothing to do will have sex anyway.
So we should be working towards better, education, the more educated you are the higher the income; health, to increase on productive days at work; general infrastructure, so farmers can have access to markets and adopt more efficient work methods in all our economic activites, so we can produce more and more with less effort and of course resolve our land issues, so that the soil under our feet can be better utilized. We do all this and poverty as we know it now will fade our from our memory.
However there is another agenda behind this drive for lowering population growth in Uganda and in the third world as a whole.
According to the World Watch Institute the 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Europe account for three in five dollars of global consumption. Going by this figure alone if the whole world raised its level of consumption of the west its unlikely this world could sustain us. Yet it as agreed that in order that the poor in Uganda and elsewhere in order to lift themselves out of poverty they need to consume more.
The moral thing to do would be to ask the west to reduce its consumption levels to more normal levels so the rest of us can raise ours. I would be laughed out of the room if I suggested this in polite company!