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Opinions of Saturday, 6 August 2011

Columnist: Afful-Dadzie, Anthony

The Leading Root Cause of Unemployment

Astronomical Population Growth in Africa - The Leading Root Cause of Unemployment

It is my strongest conviction that rising unemployment rates in Ghana and Africa in general has little to do with government’s inability to create jobs but rather the astronomical rate of population growth, or what could be termed, ‘the making of too many babies’. As to why this simple fact has escaped the notice of many African policy makers is a wonder. The negative impact of high population growth on a continent as Africa with a low job-creation rate can be better expressed with this allegory:

There lived a farmer and his family who owned a cattle farm that was their only means of living. The only source of food for their cattle was grass, and this could only be grown on a limited acres of land since the rest of the land was covered with water. As a result, the farmer made sure the cattle population always stayed below a certain threshold so that there was enough grass to feed them at all times. One day, the farmer travelled, and due to greed, the children allowed the cattle population to increase far above the threshold which led to over grazing. Because there was not enough grass to feed the cattle, one by one the cattle started dying of starvation and eventually got extinct before more grass could grow up again. Soon, the children also run out of food, and one by one, also died.

I need not go further for the import of this allegory says it all – that national population, like a dam, has to be controlled below certain levels. Many may not side with this judgment, but below I present compelling facts to support this proposition. It is a wonder why the populace keep pointing accusing fingers at the government, supposedly for its inability to address the increasing national unemployment rate. The truth is, with the exception of the government’s inability to educate and raise awareness of the collective impact of too many baby-making on unemployment and public infrastructure, leading to low quality of life, the buck stops with the populace who take delight in having too many children. A comparison of population increase of some African and European countries from 1960 through 1990 to 2009 will suffice to support the above claim.

Ghana’s population stood at just 6.8 million to 8.9 million of Portugal in 1960. From 1960 to 1990, Portugal’s population increased by just 10.6% to 9.8 million, while that of Ghana increased by 120.5% to 14.9 million, surpassing Portugal. By 2009, Ghana’s population had reached 23.8 million, an increase of 251.1% and 59.3% over 1960 and 1990 population figures respectively. Portugal’s population on the other hand stood at 10.6 million, an increase of just 18.89% and 7.4% respectively over 1960 and 1990.

A natural question to ask from this analysis is that with over 250% increase in population in just 50 years, are Ghanaians surprised at today’s unemployment rate and the subsequent low quality of life? Indeed, the government could be blamed for not doing enough, but how many jobs can the government or the private sector creates to match such population growth? Is it a wonder that many of today’s graduates cannot find jobs? If Portugal, having virtually a constant population for 50 years is struggling with unemployment, should Ghana not be grateful at its unemployment rate? Think about the allegory! Ghana is not alone. There is a consistent trend across Africa.

In 1960, the population of Ethiopia stood at just 22.5 million. The population of Germany on the contrary was a whopping 72.7 million. By 1990, Ethiopia’s population had reached 48.3 million (representing an increase of 114.2%), while that of Germany increased by only 9.3% to 79.4 million. By 2009, the population of Germany had reached 81.9 million, an increase of just 12.7% over the 1960 figure and just 3.1% over 1990. The population of Ethiopia on the other hand reached 82.8 million in 2009, an increase of 267.3% and 71.5% over the 1960 and 1990 figures respectively, surpassing that of Germany. The question (which many would not want to hear) is, if Ethiopia’s population is not controlled, what do you think is going to happen to the future unemployment rate? If Germany, a developed country having the fourth largest economy in the world, which is far capable of creating more jobs and with virtually stable population is struggling with high unemployment rate, what do you think should happen to Ethiopia? Egypt had a population of 27.8 million to 52.4 million of the U.K in 1960. By 1990, Egypt’s population had reached 57.8 million, an increase of 107.9%, while that of U.K stood at 57.3 million, just 9.3% increase as Germany. Within the next 19 years, the U.K’s population increased to 61.8 million, an increase of 18.1% and 8.0% over the 1960 and 1990 figures respectively. In contrast, Egypt’s population reached 82.9 million, representing an increase of 198.6% over 1960 and 43.6% over 1990 figures. Is it a wonder then that unemployment rate in Egypt has generally been higher than that of the U.K? In other words, what do you think would have been the unemployment rate or the quality of life in Egypt if it had had similar population growth rate as that of U.K? Nigeria is not spared either. Russia had a population of 119.9 million in 1960. It then increased to 148.3 million in 1990, and actually decreased to 141.9 million in 2009. How does Russia compare to Nigeria? Nigeria had a population of 45.2 million in 1960 which increased to 97.3 million in 1990, and thereafter increased to 154.7 million in 2009, surpassing that of Russia. Now, with an increase of 115.6% from 1960 to 1990, 242.7% from 1960 to 2009 (or 59.0% from 1990 to 2009), why shouldn’t graduate unemployment rate in Nigeria be more than 40%? Thus, is unemployment truly the inability to create more jobs and or lack of adequate skills in the job market, or it has more to do with these astronomical increase in population? I leave it to you to second guess. The general trend in Africa is very appalling. Between 1960 and 2009, Ivory Coast had a population increase of 511.8%, Libya 375.6%, Niger 371.6%, Malawi 332.5%, Congo DR. 329.1%, Togo 322.7%, Senegal 306.7%, Sudan 261.8%, Cameroon 261.0%, Burkina Faso 233.8%, South Africa 183.5%, and the list goes on. What do we see in Europe? Within this same time, the population of Hungary increased by only 0.4%, Belgium 18.3%, Austria 18.7%, Italy 20.0%, Denmark 20.7%, Sweden 24.4%, and Norway 34.8%. Europe might be better at creating jobs, but isn’t these huge increases in population probably the main source behind unemployment woes in Africa?

In fact, not only does population increase affect unemployment, it also puts pressure on accommodation, public infrastructure, educational facilities and food security. Any wonder why starvation is so common in some part of Africa or that many qualified high school graduates have no access to tertiary education? We can grow more food, expand public infrastructure, build more universities and hospitals, but these initiatives would not be enough if the population is allowed to increase at such an astronomical rate. The result of uncontrolled population is what we are witnessing in almost all cities throughout Africa where it is estimated that more than 50% of the inhabitants live in what can be described as slums, and in squalor. These cities cannot support any more increase in population and it is time African leaders made population control a national priority.

We shouldn’t necessarily go the Chinese way by instituting such stringent measures as the ‘one child’ policy. What is needed is education and awareness on the need to keep small families, especially in the rural areas where it appears having a larger family is a prestige. Such education spearheaded by our able radio stations could go a long way to disband the notion that larger family is a blessing.

I sign out with this warning to fellow Ghanaians, that we cannot and must not allow our population to continue to grow at such an alarming rate. Like in the allegory, failure to slow the current rate could lead to untold hardship and chaos in future. One of my old professors said some time ago that there was a time when companies competed for university graduates, when students obtained jobs long before graduating and that he is afraid that will never happen again. Surely not, not with this too many ‘baby making’ attitude!

By Anthony Afful-Dadzie