|The Courier N° 134 - July - Aug 1992 - Dossier A fresh look at Africa? - Country Reports Grenada- Seychelles (EC Courier, 1992, 104 p.)|
|Dossier: A fresh look at Africa?|
The alarm bell on Africa's population growth rate has been sounding for over twenty years. The Lagos Plan of Action, various reports of the United Nations, seminars and conferences of all sorts have all focused on it as a serious constraint on the continent's economic development. Usually seen as a long-term handicap, the immediacy of the problem is no longer in doubt. If the mega-explosion is yet to come. micro ones are occurring with devastating consequences, sending shockwaves across to Western Europe and other industrialised countries in the form of increased immigration from the continent.
This serves as a warning that, although demographic growth is a worldwide phenomenon, the extremely high rates being registered in sub-Saharan Africa threaten not just the continent's economic survival but also the peace and tranquility of the rich nations.
According to the latest figures issued by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), Africa's population, which currently stands at 647.5 million, is projected to rise to 1581 million by 2025. With an annual growth rate of 3 % ( 10 million new souls annually as at now for the next twenty years and 15 million thereafter, says the report), the continent's population growth is the fastest 'in human history for an entire region'. By comparison, the populations of Latin America and Asia are growing at 1.4% and 1.8% respectively, while those of Europe and North America are as low as 0.2% and 0.7% respectively. The report estimates that, by 2025, a good proportion, probably one-quarter, of the populations of the industrialised North will be elderly people of over 60, while the poor South will be crowded with young people.
Seen of course in terms of area, Africa would appear capable of absorbing the expected increases. In reality it is already bursting at the seams under demographic pressure, with tremendous strains on land and water resources.
Only 30% of Africa is arable land. One-quarter of this is under cultivation. If the UNFPA estimates are anything to go by, arable land per rural person currently stands at only 0.4 hectare. This will drop further to 0.29 ha per person by 2025. Indeed 'six African countries- Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya, Burundi, Lesotho and Malawi-will be able to feed less than half of their ultimate populations from their own lands, even using high levels of farm inputs'.
Serious shortfall in food production
The effects of the population pressures are clearly visible: deforestation, overgrazing on marginal lands, desertification, a serious lag in food production (2% annual increase against 3% rate of population growth) and increased migrations, which have resulted in urban populations doubling in two decades- from 14% per annum in 1965 to 28% in 1989. This has brought in its wake serious environmental problems and health hazards, not to mention the rise in crimes.
It must, however, be admitted that this gloomy picture masks some positive developments in recent years in food production, particularly in West and Central Africa. These areas account for the bulk of the significant improvement in the continent's agricultural output- in the 1991-92 season, for example, cereal production rose by 13.5% and cassava output by 3.3%. At the same time, though, drought and civil wars in other parts of the continent have ravaged agriculture and, in some cases, brought it to a standstill. 25 out of 43 countries have experienced a drop in per capita cereal production.
In Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Mozambique, famine has again broken out and, it is feared this time, it might be on a bigger scale than anything seen yet on the continent. Already, haunting images of people dying of hunger are beginning to reach Western television screens. Even South Africa and Zimbabwe, traditional food exporters, which have been in the throes of drought for some time, are now hit by famine. As aid agencies and international organisations prepare to mount emergency relief operations and begging-bowls go out for public donations in the industrialised world, the question of Africa's development and self-sufficiency in food will again come to the fore. But will the conscience of rich nations be sufficiently pricked to make it a priority?
Africa has traditionally made up its shortfall in food production with imports. Financially broke as a result mainly of the tremendous deterioration in the terms of trade in recent years and with severe drought and civil wars compounding the situation, Africa's dependence on food aid is growing. Feeding rapidly expanding urban populations has become almost impossible.
There is of course a correlation between population increase and decline in income per capita. Africa's rapid population growth has resulted in a dramatic fall in the standard of living in recent years. Income per capita fell, on average, by 0.7% per annum between 1986 and 1990 and by 0.9% in 1991. Thus, despite the overall increase in GNP by 2.3% in 1991, the numbers of people living below the poverty line in the continent have risen significantly-300m, according to the UNFPA, a very high proportion of the total population. Worse still, unemployment has risen astronomically in the wake of the structural adjustment programmes being carried out by African governments. We are a long way from the assessment made by the International Labour Organisation five years ago that for Africa to keep up the same level of employment as it had then until the year 2000, it would have to create 40 000 new jobs every day. Far fewer than that are being created and more and more young people are expected to join the labour market in the coming years.
On the individual level, the growing number of children per family is clearly placing severe strains on family budgets as inflation, resulting mainly from devaluation of currencies, puts several basic commodities out of reach. There is, as a result, widespread malnutrition, but, beyond that' the negative effects of the improverishment of the African family on the education of children cannot be underestimated. And this at a time of structural adjustment, when African governments are unable to provide basic amenities in housing, health and education.
Emigration to greener pastures
Because of poverty, civil wars, drought and famine, mass migrations are taking place across the continent and beyond. For large numbers of unemployed and underfed young men and women, Africa has become a living hell, and going elsewhere is the only option, whatever that elsewhere is, so long as the conditions of living are better. It is not surprising that, for historical reasons, proximity and ease of access, the European Community is the most favoured destination with France, the United Kingdom and Germany being the most attractive. What was seen as a trickle a few years ago is turning into a flood. Africans are of course not alone. Immigration from other parts of world, especially from Eastern Europe, is also on the increase.
Although the European Community's frontiers are closing due to the multifarious problems linked to immigration (for example, racial tensions and political extremism, particularly of the right), Africa's deepening economic crisis and continuing demographic growth will ensure that the problem of immigration from the continent will not go away. For every illegal African immigrant sent back at the frontiers, it is estimated that ten more are preparing to make the attempt. Indeed the scenario in a BBC television film a few years ago of an invasion of the European Community by hungry and desperate Africans may not belong entirely to the realm of fiction. It could happen. The film was specifically made to draw attention to Africa's underdevelopment and demographic growth. Frontiers may close, but they can be breached, indeed, can be forced wide open under great pressure.
Apart from the search for minimum conditions of living, the salary obtainable in Europe is a powerful incentive to emigrate. This is sometimes five times what is available at home, a major consideration, particularly for the well educated. An article in Le Monde, quoting an OECD report, states that the organisation has calculated that emigrants from around the Senegal Valley living in France, together, earn 'more than twice the budget of Mali, more than five times that of Mauritania, and between 61% and 81% that of Senegal'. The funds emigrants remit home are not only vital to their relatives, they are also important stimuli to the national economy and an important source of foreign exchange.
Emigration thus has its positive side for Africa, but its resultant manpower and 'brain' drain entails serious losses to the continent's development. Often the ablest and brightest, as implied earlier, are among the emigrants.
Inequality in development
Inequality in development no doubt encourages immigration all over the world as has been demonstrated here. Experts have been trumpeting the idea for years that, in order to stem the flow of migrants, Africa needs to be realistically assisted to develop. It needs to be relieved of its immense debt burden. It needs an equitable world trading system that would guarantee the continent reasonable earnings from its exports. In this regard, the outcome of the GATT negotiations would be crucial. It needs, in the short term, massive injections of funds to carry out effective population control policies, to manage its lands and water resources better (protect the environment and bring marginal lands under productive use) and to educate the growing numbers of young people entering the labour force in skills that would enable them to be self-employed, should it be necessary, in the absence of dynamic private manufacturing sectors. If half the funds being put into Eastern Europe by the Group of Seven is invested in Africa, the continent would be sure to recover.
Urgent need for outside assistance
The factors responsible for Africa's population growth rates are too well known to warrant enumeration here. Suffice to indicate that, among solutions advanced, women's education needs to be emphasised; education not only in literacy but also in teenage pregnancy and birth control practices. The positive, though patchy, results in birth control obtained so far on the continent are attributable directly to women becoming more conscious of the need to have fewer children through contraceptive measures. A mere 14% of fertile women in Africa use contraceptives as against 34% in South Asia, 56% in Latin America and 74% in East Asia. Unless measures are taken to accelerate their use, only 27% of African women will be doing so in the year 2000. It is no use emphasising that improvement in living standards contributes to significant reduction in population growth as has been proved in east and south-east Asia. This is a chicken and egg question for Africa. What is however, very significant is the acceptance on the political level of the need for effective population control policy. All that is left is for that crucial outside help to arrive.