KAMPALA, UGANDA – So, the Rwanda government is pushing the concept of a three-child limit for families. It’s something for Ugandans to keep an eye on, because population growth rates of the two neighbouring countries, among the highest in the world, are virtually identical.
Women in both countries give birth to, on average, six to seven children. Here in Uganda, almost three in five people are now under the age of 15, and with its current birthrate, Uganda is going to balloon from 25 million souls to a 180 million by 2050. Earlier this year, Jinja mayor reportedly encouraged residents to reproduce “like rabbits” to grow Jinja threefold, to 500,000, and get formal city status.
Population, it seems, is power.
Still, there are other things to consider, like enough food and healthcare and education and jobs to go around for everyone.
And people in cities, anywhere, need decent infrastructure with minimal congestion and minimal strain on the environment. Then there is water. Ten countries along the 6,000km Nile River basin, nations to double in size in 20 years, are facing a looming water crisis. Rampant deforestation, which hampers rain cycles, doesn’t help.
Neither does Egypt’s claim of first-rights to the Nile, based on an archaic 1929 treaty with former governing East African colonialists.
Yemen, where my family has lived, is another country among the world’s fastest-growing, and fastest-drying. Which is interesting because Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula, is thoroughly Muslim while much of East Africa is Christian.
Clearly, entire populaces are deeply influenced by these, the world’s two largest faiths. And so Rwandan officials are wisely taking their small-family campaign to religious leaders first.
Muslims have traditionally believed that spreading Islam is dependant on large families. Muslims also gain value in their communities when they have more children. Meanwhile, African Christians also tend to shun family planning, often due to myths. At a recent Christian marriage seminar I attended in Entebbe, one Ugandan participant told the gathering that since no form of birth control is “safe,” none should be practiced.
Now, I’ve never been, but I understand that pregnancy is not entirely safe either. In fact, 6,000 Ugandan women die horribly during childbirth every year, something that Ugandan health workers are now, to the government’s credit, focusing on. Of course, children are a gift from God. In the rich and independent-minded West, where low birthrates are actually shrinking populations, some folks miss out on this truth.
They’re too easily distracted by their culture’s trappings of socalled success. Other people seem to approach the whole idea of family planning with a sense of fear, rather than relationship with their Creator, a relationship built on partnership and stewardship.
Still others – a significant number in countries like Uganda – want to, but simply can’t, access safe and effective birth control.
Ugandans need to consider these things while watching what now unfolds next-door in Rwanda. Because this dilemma won’t go away. Africa is set to mushroom from 900 million to 1.8 billion by 2050, and the planet from 6.5 billion to 9 billion.
Without planning, the consequences, especially for developing nations, could get too grim to imagine. We would easily see more wars over limited resources like water. That would only exasperate today’s politico-religious strife, including African-Arab tensions. And it would fuel more poverty, more disease and more deaths for, ironically, more innocent kids.
Surely nobody wants that kind of future for anyone.