April 27, 2012
During the last 60 years sub-Sahara Africa has seen an unprecedented population increase growth. In 1950, its total population amounted to some 200 million. Today, it is close to one billion, more than one third of whom illiterate! For the middle of the century, the UN Population Bureau projects more than 2 billion people, four times that of the EU!
To appreciate these figures one has to compare them with the surge of European population between 1850 and 1950: during Europe`s demographic explosion its population only doubled, from 276 to 547 million, thanks to rising levels of education, increasing recourse to contraception and massive emigration to America.
Sub-Sahara Africa is the poorest region on the planet, fraught with misery, unemployment, criminality, over-crowded urban areas, corruption, bad governance and recurrent conflicts .
Throughout history Africans never had to care much about controlling the size of their families. They had plenty of land for food and fire wood; and whenever the balance between man and resources became disturbed high infant mortality restored it. With the arrival of modern medicine in the 1960` the traditional patterns of demographic control have ceased to function
Today, Africans are the only major group of the human species that has not learned to adapt their offspring to the increasing restrictions imposed by their natural environment.
A family size of more than five children per woman, which continues to be prevalent in much of sub-Sahara Africa, is no longer sustainable. According to UN projections the family size will decline only very slowly during the next decades.
African governments do not seem to be much concerned. For them big populations often constitute a power factor, in line with ancestral tribal traditions. Still, some have started to wake up to the issue. Thus South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho have been successful in containing their population growth thanks to improved education and health services. The Nigerian government has launched free distribution of contraceptives in 2011.
Unsustainable population growth in sub-Sahara Africa should also be an EU concern: Europe is likely to become the preferred destination for millions of desperate Africans unable to make a proper living at home. Is the EU prepared to welcome such an influx ? It might be happy to receive doctors, nurses, engineers and technicians, whom Africa desperately needs for its own development. But what about the vast majority of those who lack the necessary training for making a decent living in a competitive European stetting?
African and European political leaders should therefore get together and discuss how to confront these demographic challenges. The EU cannot substitute itself to African policy makers. It cannot impose any recipes. But it can advise and help by financing appropriate actions.
The EU is by far the biggest donor to sub-Sahara Africa. About € 5 billions annually are programmed for 2014-20. A big chunk of that funding should be set aside for population and education programmes, especially for girls. Achieving literacy and basic understanding of reproductive health is the condition sine qua non for stabilising the African population by the middle of the century. Failing to curb the demographic explosion will neutralise all efforts to improve the living conditions.
It is time for Africa and Europe to wake up to the common challenge and engage in a comprehensive ten-year programme focused on practical primary and secondary education.
Author : Eberhard Rhein