Plans to tame Kenya’s exploding population By EDITH FORTUNATE | Wednesday, October 31 2012 at 15:22
Ann Wafula, 30, patiently waits to see the gynaecologist at Gilead Medical Centre, situated in the upmarket Upper Hill area of Nairobi.
The mother of a three-month-old baby boy, who is also her first born, is here to consult with the doctor on what contraceptives she should use, based on a hormonal test carried at the hospital.
In Hagadera, three hundred kilometres away to the east of Nairobi, 21-year-old Asha Abdalla is a proud mother of twin girls, delivered just a few days ago at a local dispensary. The twins are her second and third born, while her first born is aged barely two years. “I conceived when he was just nine months,” she explains.
Unlike Ann in Nairobi, Asha does not use any contraceptives, partly because of cultural inhibitions and largely because of misinformation and accessibility issues. She knows that there are things called contraceptives and a concept known as family planning, but she does not know how either works.
“All our culture expects of us women is to bear children,” Asha says. “In such a scenario, how dare I suggest family planning to my husband? It’s unheard of... almost impossible.”
Asha is semi-literate while Ann is a business executive in Nairobi. Asha’s biggest role in her community is homemaking and is excluded from making any important decisions that affect her and her family, while Ann, educated and climbing the career ladder, know that any decisions she makes or are made on her behalf will affect the trajectory of her life and children, and thus must carefully examine the possible outcomes of every step she takes.
Such scenarios are common all over Kenya, where the majority of rural and urban-poor know absolutely nothing about the socio-economic implications of their decisions and actions, while a pitiful minority stake a claim to the running of their homes.
This, according to the National Council for Population and Development Director General Boniface K’Oyugi, is a worrying situation.
Dr K’Oyugi is a distressed policy maker; he is among a group of experts who have formulated various family planning measures that only serve as short-term solutions as they explore the idea of a more educated, informed society.
“Statistics have indicated that the more a woman is educated, the less number of children she would bear,” he says. “An educated woman is an informed woman who has the will and access to explore contraceptives and thus plan her family well.”
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will launch its state of the world population report in a few week’s time, and it is expected that the economic benefits of family planning at individual, household, community and country level will be the highlights of the study.
In Kenya, despite attaining a contraception prevalence rate of 46 per cent, economic planners say the burden a rapidly growing population is putting on the available resources is worrying.
An exploding population growing at the rate of one million people per year and a stagnant economy that does not grow three times as fast as the population is can only spell one thing: disaster.
It is in this light that Parliament early this month passed Sessional Paper No 3 of 2012 on Population for National Development, which, among other things, aims to control the growth of the country’s population, expected to nearly double from the current 42 million to about 80 million in 2030.
If all goes as planned, women will give birth to an average 2.6 children compared to the current 4.6 as part of the government’s move to halve the prevailing fertility rates.
This, experts believe, will lessen the housing, utility, health and education burdens on the economy as well as push the country closer to achieving its development blueprint, the Vision 2030.
Half of Kenya’s population comprises the poor, and that segment, to which Asha at the beginning of this article belongs, is rapidly growing.
To tame the trend, the government plans to first popularise the short-term measure of universal access to family planning, then empower the current and next generations with the right information and education.
“Poor people highly contribute to a drop in economic stability because majority of them have the highest birth rate,” says Dr K’Oyugi, explaining the attention the state is giving this demographic.
“The tragedy is that, as the population grows fast, so does service delivery demand go up. If the taxable base does not correspondingly grow, the economy drops, sometimes rapidly.”
For instance, last year, the economy was expected to grow by 5.6 per cent but ended up growing by a measly 4.5 per cent, the worst percentage growth recorded in the last four years.
This year, the economy is projected to grow at between 3.5 to 4.5 per cent. Contrast this with the expected three per cent growth in population and you begin to see why the increasing number of people to cater for is worrying planners.
Vision 2030’s main aim is to transform Kenya into a newly industrialising, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by the year 2030, all in a clean and secure environment.
But this rapid population growth threatens the achievement of the three key pillars of the Vision, which include economic, social and political stability.
Suspended Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Director General Anthony Kilele has previously argued that, for the current poverty levels, which stand at 46 per cent, to drop, and for Kenya to stabilise, there is need for the economy to grow at thrice its population growth rate.
Already, the government is running a Sh25 billion deficit and, Dr K’Oyugi warns, if nothing is done to remedy the situation, the economy will remain dependent on foreign investors.
The outlook cannot be gloomier for the architects of Vision 2030, who had hinged the attainment of their goals on, among others, a 10 per cent growth in the GDP by the end of this year.
That target will be missed by more than five percentage points.
But demographers insist that, other than family planning, one of the government’s major investments should go to education in order to tap into the economic and social aspects outlined in the Vision.
“If we do not consider these issues, then we should expect to live in a country with an over 70 million people who are highly depended on foreign investment. If the current global economic outlook is anything to go by, such a scenario is quite a jittery affair,” says Dr K’Oyugi.
“Vision 2030 can only be achieved if we intertwine family planning with higher levels of education, boost the economy and achieve political stability.”
The government’s attention is now on the poor, whom it refers to as “special and vulnerable groups”. The strategy is to offer them vouchers for delivery and reproductive health services that include family planning.
UNFPA country representative Dr Zama Chi notes that citizens need to build their socio-economic being and start being responsible for their actions.
“If you give birth to a child, then you ought to have planned for it and ensure that the child’s livelihood and future is protected and catered for. This way, the government is able to sustain itself without having to shoot itself in the foot,” says Chi.
The government targets 70 per cent of women to be on contraception by the year 2015.
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