High Population Growth: Is Africa caught in the Malthusian trap?
Halving extreme poverty worldwide – that was the goal set by the United Nations at the turn of the century in its Millennium Development Goals Declaration. When the goal was achieved in 2010, celebrations took place internationally. But the reports of success in the relative reduction of poverty obscure the growing absolute numbers of poor people who have to survive on less than USD 2/day – above all in Africa. If the goal of eliminating poverty in all of its forms everywhere in the world is to be realised, it would be useful to once again contemplate an old – but also very current – discussion about population development and policy.
Population growth in Africa is extremely high. In most countries it is above 2.7 per cent. In 28 African countries, the population will double over the period from 2010 to 2050. In 2050, the continent’s population could reach two billion. Also the working-age population, the group that typically feeds migration, is set to increase even more rapidly—from about 480 million in 2013 to 1.3 billion in 2050 (see Chart 2).
In most African countries, the population growth over the last 30 years has, on average, been only slightly lower than the economic growth and the growth in food production. The mostly unproductive agricultural sector cannot adequately feed Africa’s poor. The soil is depleted, and most farmers are disconnected from markets. For this reason, food imports to Africa are increasing substantially. In addition, many African states are obliged to import energy in order to cope with the hunger for it.
A still-low standard of living
African societies have thus become caught in the “Malthusian trap.” Technological advances are resulting in increased population growth (due, for example, to medicines and the expansion of the healthcare system), but the standard of living remains low. Only in recent years has the latter increased. But despite the growth of the last decade, some countries have still not even achieved the average income of the 1960s. Only a few countries in Africa have experienced a demographic transition through a decreased birth rate – for example, Cape Verde and Mauritius.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population, the economist and pastor Thomas Robert Malthus put forward the thesis, in 1798, that the population grows geometrically while food production only increases arithmetically. The result is that the availability of food and the demand for it diverge, which means that food prices increase and real wages fall to a subsistence level.
The population is growing more quickly than the number of jobs.
Africa’s main problem, according to Franziska Woellert und Reiner Klingholz, is that the population is expected to double by 2050 but not nearly as many new jobs will be waiting for people. “A large share of young people in the population is a blessing for an economy, if these people can find appropriate employment. If this doesn’t work out, there is a significant danger that the surplus of youths will lead to unrest and armed conflicts.”
Whether Burundi, Uganda, Somalia, DR Congo, Mali, or Angola – many countries with high population growth have already experienced civil wars or are experiencing highly conflictive disputes. The probability of new internal conflicts and wars between countries is high, and it is especially those countries that have already undergone civil wars that are prone to new violent conflicts. Here, the institutions function more poorly, and here the neopatrimonial regimes have used their power to serve their own interests. It is also here that the share of young people in the population is extremely high. They cannot find jobs and they are fleeing, are surviving in the informal sector, are forming gangs, are operating in criminal milieus, or are joining terrorist or radical groups, be they in the Niger Delta, Boko Haram, or Al Shabab. The danger of intra-state conflicts and civil wars is increasing due to the extremely rapid population growth.
Consistent policy together with investments in education
Reducing the high rate of population growth is first and foremost the task of the individual African countries. A comparison with China’s rise over the last 30 years, or with that of Vietnam or Latin American countries, shows that development has to come from within – including a balanced population policy. Most countries in Africa do not have a consistent policy on family planning, if they have one at all. The education systems are inadequate, and the Christian or Muslim environments lead to an avoidance of discussions of population policy and birth control.
How can the “Malthusian trap” be overcome? What is required are massive investments in education – above all in girls’ education – together with a family planning policy. An additional task is the creation of jobs for youths. The churches and other religious communities must, more urgently than ever, engage in the dialogue on population growth. Only with them will it be possible to decrease the significant growth of the African population, and only with them will it be possible to reduce the danger of civil wars.
Table: Population Growth in Africa, 1950-2100, thousand
|Ethiopia||18 128||99 391||138 297||188 455||242 644|
|Angola||4 355||25 022||39 351||65 473||138 738|
|Burundi||2 309||11 179||17 357||28 668||62 662|
|DR Congo||12 184||77 267||120 304||195 277||388 733|
|Malawi||2 954||17 215||26 584||43 155||87 056|
|Mali||4 708||17 600||27 370||45 404||92 981|
|Niger||2 560||19 899||35 966||72 238||209 334|
|Somalia||2 264||10 787||16 493||27 030||58 311|
|Uganda||5 158||39 032||61 929||101 873||202 868|
|Tanzania||7 650||53 470||82 927||137 136||299 133|
|Zambia||2 317||16 212||25 313||42 975||104 869|