Is Africa really overpopulated?

Do we have an overpopulation problem in Africa? There is a long-standing and persistent perception that Africa is overpopulated. And that we breed too much. We have high fertility rates compared to other regions around the globe [for Sub-Saharan Africa upto 5.04 babies per woman] but we are not densely populated for the most part.

The terminology: Population density is mid-year population divided by land area in square kilometers. A high population density, is relative, to other nations, or geographical regions.

Table 1: The Data on global Population Density:

  Country/Territory Population Density

(people per land area)

1 Macao SAR, China 19073
2 Monaco 18811
3 Singapore 7736
4 Hong Kong SAR, China 6896
5 Bahrain 1768
6 Maldives 1336
7 Malta 1335
8 Bermuda 1303
9 Bangladesh 1222
10 Sint Maarten (Dutch part) 1107
11 Channel Islands 857
12 West Bank and Gaza 713
13 Barbados 659
14 Mauritius 621
15 St. Martin (French part) 579
16 Aruba 574
17 San Marino 526
18 Korea, Rep. 517
19 Netherlands 500
20 Rwanda 459
Source: World Bank Data (2014)

As you can see in table 1 above; of the 20 most densely populated countries and territories in the world, Rwanda is the only African country that features and even then at number 20! Our high fertility rates are not necessarily associated with population density. The main reasons being high mortality and morbidity in the African region. The burden of ill health in Africa is at least two times higher than that of any other region in the world. As a result, the high fertility aims to compensate or balance out the high mortality rates.

By comparison, the birth rates of Europeans dropped dramatically (with differences influenced by region and class) between the 1780s and 1950s. Early and classical population theory at these times depicted Europeans as ‘rational’ in disciplining their bodies through strict control of fertility. Those European regions who had relatively larger families such as in Sicily, Southern Italy were depicted as animalistic, backward, poor and unable to control their sexual impulses. This is not much different from how black Africans are regarded today by Westerners with reference to our fecundity.

Fast forward to today: all over Europe, declining demographic trends attract negative media attention. The total fertility rate for the European Union is 1.58 children per woman. (World Bank, 2013). The ‘replacement rate’ required to keep population numbers from declining is at least 2.1 children per woman. More than this and the population should grow. Even in racially diverse North America; the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest projection shows that by 2042, so-called racial minority groups will make up the majority of the U.S. population. The Pew Research Center projects from 1960 to 2060, white Americans will have gone from making up 85 percent of the population to comprising just 43 percent.

Some European members states have instituted family-oriented policies to try and stem the trend. In countries like Italy, Poland, France and Sweden policies practiced feature financial transfers and tax breaks for parents with children, extended child-related leave and provision of child care. These also include a variety of measures that support gender equality, reconciliation of work and family life or finding affordable housing. Some politicians such as President Putin of Russia in 2006 offered 10,000$ for mothers who would have a second child. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (2003) offered women a baby bonus of 1,000 euros ($1,250) to European or Italian citizens who gave birth to or adopted a second child.

Patrick Buchanan, in his book, ‘Death of the West’ (2002) incites caution: ‘The death of the West is not a prediction of what is going to happen, it is a depiction of what is happening now . . . . Outside of Muslim Albania, no European nation is producing enough babies to replace its population.’… ‘The First World has to turn this around, and soon, or it will be overwhelmed by a Third World that is five times as populous and will be ten times as populous in 2050.’ 

Therefore, population theory is far more than a theory or a principle. It is a deliberate political strategy that masks structural power differences and justifies domination between different groups in societies;.  The ‘too many’ are hardly ever the speakers, they are always ‘the Other’.

As long as access to and control of resources (land, food, water, shelter, etcetera) is determined by unequal power relationships, either local, national or global; the earth will always appear ‘over-populated’. Because no matter how much food is produced, how few babies are born or how dramatically human numbers fall, it is the nature of the modern market economy to remorselessly generate ‘scarcity’. So as to sell commodities and products at ever increasing prices in a bid to generate ever-increasing profits indefinitely.

Mis-directing explanations for socially-generated scarcity and ecological degradation onto political theories of ‘overpopulation’ or ‘underproduction’ has long provided cover for the socially privileged and powerful in a way that does not indict them and further legitimizes their various ideologies of social exclusion.




, , ,

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: