A big deal was made last week of President Yoweri Museveni’s supposed change of heart on the issue of population control.
Museveni is reported to have said in the past that he is not too concerned about Uganda’s high population growth rate. In fact he welcomed it as a bigger population would be a source of labour and potential market for investors wanting to set up here.
Champions of population control rent their hair whenever Museveni made this view known arguing that a growing population without the corresponding economic growth would put strain on the nation’s resources and lower the average living standards. They argue that we need to bring the population growth rate under control before it’s too late.
Uganda’s population is growing at 3.6 percent or put another way if the population continues growing at its current rate into the future our numbers will double every twenty years.
Uganda’s population stands at 35 million.
Museveni’s office later clarified that the president made the distinction between family planning, which is good for the health of the mother and population control, which refers to the overall growth of the population. He is all for family planning and still wholeheartedly behind the population
continuing to grow. In his mind there was no contradiction between the two.
First of all no one wants a population that is poor, sickly and generally cannot sustain itself. They would be no good to themselves or to potential investors.
"To seek to control the population in order to pre-empt a poor economic environment in the future is to put the cart before the horse...
The history of populations shows that as economies grow and health facilities improve there is a surge in numbers.
It’s not hard to see why this is so.
Societies lose less children during child birth and in their infancy, for one.
Then as more women go to school and join the workforce, population growth rates hit a plateau before going into decline.
As resources increase among families girls get a chance to not only go to school but to stay in school longer, as fathers with increasing prosperity feel less and less the need for dowry. In addition every year the girl stays in school after she has reached puberty is one less baby added to our population.
It is part of the explanation why urban women have low fertility rates – the number of children they give birth to during their child bearing years, than their rural sisters.
But also with more education and financial independence women are better able to control their reproduction cycles either through contraception or just deciding their choice of partner.
The history of the world will show that if you want to bring populations under control you need to improve the economy first. As incredible as it sounds you can have an economy that is rich but a population, while small, which is poor.
We don’t have to go very far for examples.
The oil rich nation of Equatorial Guinea has one of the richest populations in the world at $25,000 per capita, but is only ranked 20 places above Uganda on the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI). Uganda’s per capita GDP stands at around $600.
The HDI measures the welfare of the society in terms of access to, education and health services, clean water and sanitation, human rights and other freedoms. The better a country’s HDI the better the quality of the lives of its people.
And the population of Equatoria Guinea? The population of this little West African nation is 1.2m people.
Two things stand out, that for population to be brought under control the women have to be economically empowered and secondly, that this can only happen in the context of an overall improvement in the population’s wellbeing.
To study Europe during the industrial age or the US after the Second World War may be a stretch but we can take a leaf from the East Asians, who while they have had aggressive population control measures in place, these only complemented improvements in their economy in stabilising their population growth rates.
And finally the claim that we better watch it since our land doesn’t have the resources to sustain a bigger population. That claim does not stand up to the facts.
"The UK, which is the size of Uganda, has a population of 93m and a population density of nearly twice our own. Anyone who has been to the UK or knows anything about it from high school geography knows they do not hold a candle to us in terms of natural resources, but I have never heard of their population being a problem?..
There are other reasons than concern for us that is driving this whole agenda of lower population. A story for another day.
It seems to me a linear logic, you improve the economy to lower population growth, not lower the population growth rate to improve the economy.