Framing the population debate in Africa: Part Two

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THE population debate taking place between Tobaiwa Mudede and Richard Hondo on one side and Marvellous Mhloyi on the other is one which we need to look at from a number of perspectives.
First, are the internal dynamics touching on population size, available natural resources in Zimbabwe, our capacity to exploit those resources, health issues centred on use of contraceptives and the empowerment of women etc.
Second, is the history of the country itself from the time Cecil Rhodes and his mercenary band of fortune seekers came to Zimbabwe in 1890 and proceeded to define it as a white man’s country.
A schizophrenic population policy was worked out in such a way that our country always had abundant space and resources earmarked for white immigrants from 1890 right up to 1979.
Special incentives to attract white immigrants from Britain and South Africa were put in place including land, financial loans and grants for resettlement purposes.
The agenda to increase the white population in the then Rhodesia, especially with people of Anglo-Saxon stock, was always a top priority during the colonial period.
On the other hand, special measures were put in place to reduce or to contain the African population which was regarded as the much dreaded black peril.
Shipping Africans to so-called native reserves in tsetse-fly infested areas with little rainfall and infertile soils, among other measures, said it all.
In light of the above, key questions that arise are:
a) Is Zimbabwe’s population policy simply a continuation of the policy which prevailed during the colonial era or not?
If so to what extent?
b) Is the current population policy an expression of the wishes and aspirations of Zimbabweans? Put differently, do we own the policy at all?
If so does such a policy address our interests, including security, in the short term, intermediate and long term?
If so how?
c) How much is the population policy that we are implementing an expression and projection of outside interests?
These interests could be for pharmaceutical companies from outside the country and or for foreign states whose strategic interests are promoted and protected when our continent remains sparsely populated?
To illustrate some of the external dynamics which might impinge on Africa’s population policies, we need to take into account some of the views on population growth in Africa of just few powerful countries in the world.
In 1944 King George VI of Britain set up a Royal Commission on Population “to consider what measures should be taken in the national interest to influence the future trend of population”.
The said Commission made the following findings and it is worth quoting at length:
“Britain is gravely threatened by population growth in its colonies since a populous country has decided advantages over a sparsely populated one for industrial production.”
The commission went on to warn that the combined effects of increasing populations and industrialisation in its colonies “might be decisive in its effects on the prestige and influence of the West, especially affecting its military strength and security.”
Of interest to us is the way these conclusions regard bigger populations in the colonies as a natural threat to British economic and political hegemony.
The assumption here is that population growth makes it possible for Third World countries to industrialise faster thereby reducing the influence that Britain has over those countries which in no time become its economic competitors as well. Further a bigger population also means a bigger market for goods and services which in turn promotes more economic growth!
Tied to the same assumption is the fear that the West may also be challenged militarily by such countries hence the desire by Britain ‘to influence the population trend’ in its colonies then.
And it is not a secret that one of the ways to control population growth in those former colonies is to introduce family planning programmes.
Another country, apart from Britain, which has been pre-occupied with the population densities pertaining to what it terms ‘the former colonial sector’ is the USA.
Its National Security Council completed its own study in 1974 titled, National Security Study Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas Interests. (NSSM200).
The same study concluded that population growth in Less Developed Countries (LDCs) was, “a grave threat to US national security”.
Such observations and conclusions began to influence directly US foreign policy towards so-called LDCs under President Gerald Ford in November 1975.
Of interest to us is that the memorandum indentified 13 countries in which the US had special political and strategic interest namely-India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.
Population growth in these countries was identified as particularly worrisome since, according the study, it would quickly boost their political, economic and military strength.
On Nigeria in particular the same memorandum stated:“Already the most populous country on the continent, with an estimated 55 million people in 1970, Nigeria’s population by the end of the century is projected to number 135 million.
“This suggests a growing political and strategic role for Nigeria, at least in Africa.”
And it is no accident of history either that today Nigeria has gone past South Africa and is now hosting the biggest economy on our continent.
With over 170 million people and many resources at its disposal Nigeria is well set to become an economic powerhouse-that is, if it becomes more organised and more disciplined than it has been so far.
What emerges from both the British Royal Commission of 1944 and from the NSSM200 of 1974 is raw fear by both Britain and the US that highly populated countries in the South could turn out to be difficult to control, more so when they have the population numbers needed to run serious and self-sustaining economies, and big numbers to back up their military capabilities.
And indeed both countries are not wildly off the mark as demonstrated by the emergence of an economically vibrant and strong China which is predicted to steam past the US before 2020 to become the largest economy in the whole world.
Why, one may ask?
Because China has the population numbers, the discipline, the leadership and work ethic and vision to become a great nation!
Because China today has a huge population and an impressive record of economic performance it is now busy, together with its populous neighbours, redefining the centre of the global economy; and that centre is beginning to shift away from Europe and the US to Asia.
This shift explains why today most European and US leaders seeking re-election in their own countries have to rush to Beijing first, cap in hand, asking to sign huge investment deals with the Chinese!
China is becoming the industrial workshop of the whole world and the West is scared beyond belief!
Controlling the growth of populations in the so-called LDCs has been and still is a priority of strategic proportions for the West for reasons stated above and we need to take that into account as we debate issues on population growth in Africa.

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