In my Business Daily column last week, I wrote about the risk associated with Africa’s rapid growth in population.
Many readers wrote to me asking if I could provide a detailed synthesis of the Kenya’s population.
I could not do that in my Business Daily column, since it is limited to 700 words and not amenable to graphical visualisation.
That being the case, I have decided to use this online column, which gives me more acreage to delve deeper into the complexities of rising population, unemployment and poverty in Kenya.
The latest data estimates place Kenya’s population at 48.46 million in 2016. Since the census is conducted every 10 years, there is sometimes conflicting data on the precise population until the next census is conducted.
Yet dynamic population estimates are critical to planning, especially in estimating the number of jobs that need to be created in order to sustainably generate income opportunities for a growing population and mitigate against increasing poverty.
First, let me explain why rapid population growth is a greater problem today than it has been in the past.
In the past few years, the mortality rate has significantly dropped while at the same time life expectancy has significantly improved.
In Figure 1 below, even with a population growth rate of 2.7 per cent and a death rate of .60 per cent, more than 1.5 million people are added in Kenya every year.
This figure is twice the number of jobs that Kenya currently creates in any good year.
In other words, at the current job creation rate, we would have more than 700,000 young people every year without employment, assuming they are entering the job market.
But you and I know that they will ultimately require jobs and so far, we lack a job creation engine to match.
Further, poverty alleviation becomes impossible when a large number of people have no means of earning any income.
Table 1: Fifteen-year Population Growth Rate at 2.7% Showing Actual Population Addition.
Rate of growth%
Death rate %
How many were born?
Bitange Ndemo 2017.
From the table, it is clear that the population has expanded by 44 per cent over the past 15 years. Put differently, 44 per cent of Kenyans are 15 years and below.
There aren’t policy measures to slow down this population trajectory. In the past, sustained education through family planning helped lower Kenya’s fertility rate of 8.1 children per woman in the 1970s to 2.98 children per woman in 2017, as per the World Bank data and the National Demographic and Health Survey Reports.
Figure 1: Sub-national Poverty Model
World Data Lab 2017
Figure 1 above shows Kenya’s sub-national poverty model. The red and yellow counties that are largely pastoralist communities face the greatest risk of a population explosion.
A Kenya Demographic and Health Survey report of 2014 showed that northeastern Kenya has the highest fertility rate in Kenya, with women in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera leading nationally with an average of 7.8 children per woman.
Other counties with high fertility rates were West Pokot (7.2), Turkana (6.9) and Samburu (6.3).
Culture, religion, lack of education and poverty are to blame. In contrast, central Kenya’s fertility rate of 2.5 children per woman is lower than the national average.
The report adds that on average, fertility rates remained relatively higher among women living in rural areas and among those with low levels of education or no education at all.
Women from poor families also recorded higher birth rates compared to their counterparts from wealthier families, with fertility rates being lowest among women from the richest families.
It is clear that as we celebrate declining fertility rates nationally, the problem gets worse at the sub-national level.
Even at a lower birth rate, Kenya’s population is expected to rise to unsustainable levels. Already the crisis of grazing land in northern Kenya is as a result of an unsustainable resource base to support an exploding population.
Our modelling has multiple scenarios with declining growth rate. However, the fact the population remains young, coupled with lack of opportunities to absorb them into any meaningful income-generating activities, leaves us with no option but to urge policymakers to up their game on education and poverty reduction in order to lower the fertility rate to close to two children per woman at both national and sub-national levels for the next 15 years as a strategy to cope with declining resources.
Table 2 below assumes a fertility rate of two children per a woman, but by 2090, the population would have exploded to 117 million.
Table 2: Population figures and rates with 2 parents having 2 children scenario from now
0 – 15
Bitange Ndemo 2017.
SAFEGUARD THE FUTURE
We are already headed for a population that can’t be lower than 116 million in 2090. We need aggressive action to train all current 15-year-olds never to have more than two children, given that the average right now for women in Kenya is 4.6
It doesn’t take much work on the same table to put in the growth rate and see that we are more likely to be between 150 and 200 million people by 2090, given the growth and fertility rate we have now.
Every piece of data indicates that lack of education and poverty are the key variables that impact on population explosion.
We also know the consequences of our inaction today as we have seen crime soar as a result of hopelessness.
Those actions we take today will become the living legacy for those to come after us.
We have the wisdom to think about the future and manage resources as though we shall live forever. It is also a constitutional imperative to think about future generations. That is how we can safeguard the future of our siblings.
Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it.”
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.