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KIHORO: Future demographic changes must be addressed now

Thursday November 21 2019

Census

Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani (left) hands President Uhuru Kenyatta the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census results at State House, Nairobi, on November 4, 2019. PHOTO | PSCU 

GICHU KIHORO
By GICHU KIHORO
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Recent data published in the World Politics Review by American journalist Howard French sheds light on a very important but infrequently discussed issue of global importance: Africa’s rapidly expanding population.

FEAR-MONGERING

In 2019 there was no lack of fear-mongering-style news pointing to climate change, the rise of China and decline of American power, Brexit and the lack of stability of the European Union.

International media barely focuses on our continent’s demographic change. Perhaps the issue is neglected because of racism or maybe due to lack of knowledge. But with each passing year, the topic is of increasing importance and must be acknowledged both within and outside of Africa.

Consider the following statistics: Africa is currently home to almost 1.2 billion people. By the mid-21st century, this number is projected to rise to 2.5 billion - more than double the current number. That is more than China and India combined.

By the end of the century, it is possible that the population will rise to four billion people - or even more - though it is hard to predict. At this rate, Africa’s population would number one third of the world’s human population just one hundred years from now.

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MATERNAL HEALTH

Meanwhile, Europe’s population has been continuously on the decline, and lower childbirth rates in Asia account in part for the continents shrinking and aging population.

It is hard to comprehend the vastness of such large numbers, especially since these unprecedented demographic transitions are occurring in the future. But changes are already underway.

The recently completed government census already proves that the transition is happening here in Kenya. At over 47.5 million citizens, our population has increased by more than ten million in just one short decade.

This can, in part, be attributed to improved maternal healthcare, especially following First Lady Margaret Kenyatta’s Linda Mama initiative and President Uhuru’s Big Four Agenda explicit focus on universal healthcare.

Maternal and infant mortality rates are decreasing in Kenya as women have access to more sanitary hospital conditions, free maternal healthcare, better medicine, and access to knowledge.

EMPLOYMENT

Elsewhere in Africa, changes are just as palpable. In Lagos and Johannesburg, for example, cities are becoming so congested that a typical commute within the city can take more than two hours.

As a result of the population surge in African cities, governments must constantly innovate ways to deal with sanitation, water, waste removal, transportation, infrastructure, and adequate housing. Another issue in the back of everyone’s minds is the future of employment.

How will our government deal with these transitions and make Kenya a global powerhouse of the 21st century? How do we reconcile population growth with turning the country into a prosperous middle-income country for all despite the contemporary challenges?

OVERBURDENED

Under Uhuru’s stewardship, the Big Four Agenda was launched to shepherd Kenya’s smooth transition into the 21st century. As our population grows, it is essential that food production and manufacturing grows at the same pace to accommodate.

More people are moving to cities and leaving behind traditional village lifestyles. As a result, the President’s programme seems to seek to build adequate, dignified homes for all Kenyans migrating in search of employment and more prosperous lives.

The healthcare system is constantly improving and becoming one of the best in Africa. If better healthcare was not one of the central policies of the administration, our hospitals would be overburdened and patients would not have access to the treatment they need.

REPRESENTATION

Our population is already diverse. As it grows, the problem of representation will expand as well.

So the fact of an expanding population cannot be ignored. But if managed properly, it could make us the most powerful nation on the continent in years to come.

Mr Kihoro is a research and data expert. [email protected]

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