Africa is often said to be overpopulated. But it is quite easy to debunk this myth. The continent is a spacious, rich and arable landmass that can support its population well into the foreseeable future.
It should be obvious in this discussion that our goal is definitely not to contribute to the ‘politically correct’ rhetoric bandied about incessantly which calls for some ‘decrease’ in African population because we do not believe that Africa, in the first instance, is overpopulated. We must now examine this issue. The population argument is usually advanced on a number of fronts. First, there is a ‘theory’ that the given landmass which presently defines Africa and its various so-called nation-states cannot sustain the existing populations, but, more critically, the ‘projected populations’ in years to come. We shall examine the degree to which this ‘theory’ is able to stand up to serious scientific scrutiny first by comparing Africa’s landmass vis-à-vis its population and those of some of the countries of the World.
Africa’s population is currently 1 billion (all the statistics here on countries’ population, land mass and the like are derived from The World Bank, World Development Report 2011 and United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2011) covering an incredibly vast landmass (11,668,599 sq miles). Ethiopia’s landmass is 471,775 sq miles, five times the size of Britain’s 94,226 sq miles. Yet Britain’s population of 62 million is three-quarters that of Ethiopia’s at 83 million. As for Somalia, it is 2.6 times the size of Britain but has a population of only 9 million. Sudan and South Sudan provide an even more fascinating comparison. Whilst both countries are 10 times the size of Britain, they support a population of 45 million – about 70 per cent the size of Britain. In fact the Sudans have a landmass equal to that of India which is populated by 1.22 billion people i.e. more than the population of all of Africa! Britain is one-tenth the size of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which has a landmass of 905,562 sq miles, similar to the Sudans and India. In other words, the DRC is about ten times the size of Britain but with a population of 71 million, just nine million more than the population of the latter.
Second, let us examine similarly sized countries. France has a landmass of 211,206 sq miles close to Somalia’s. However, France’s population of 65 million is about seven times the population of Somalia. Similarly, Botswana is slightly larger than France at 254,968 sq miles but with a population of 2 million, a minuscule proportion of France’s. Uganda’s landmass at 91,135 sq miles is comparable to Britain’s, yet with a population of only 33 million. Similarly, Ghana’s landmass of 92,099 sq miles makes it approximately equal to the size of Britain. Ghana is however populated by only 25 million people, far less than one-half Britain’s population.
Southern World to Southern World comparisons can also prove useful in exposing the fallacy of either Africa’s ‘large population’ or ‘potential explosive population’. Iran’s size of 636,292 sq miles is about the same as Sudan and South Sudan combined. Yet, its population, unlike the Sudans’ 45 million, is at least one and one-half times as large at 75 million. Pakistan’s landmass of 310,402 sq miles is just about Namibia’s 333,702 but Pakistan’s population is 174 million while Namibia’s is 2 million. Even though Bangladesh’s 55,598 sq mile-landmass makes it roughly one-eighth the size of Angola (481,350 sq miles) as well as that of South Africa’s (471, 442 sq miles), Bangladesh’s population at 159 million outstrips Angola’s 13 million and South Africa’s 50 million. If we were to return to our earlier comparisons, Angola and South Africa are about 4-5 times the size of Britain but with one-fifth and four-fifths respectively of the latter’s population.
Finally, we should turn to the question of resource, its availability or lack of it, and therefore its ability or inability to support the African population – another component of Africa’s ‘over-population’ fallacy. Well over 50 per cent of Uganda’s arable land, some of the richest in Africa, remains uncultivated. Were Uganda to expand its current food production significantly, not only would it be completely self-sufficient, but it would be able to feed all the countries contiguous to its territory without difficulty. It must be stressed here that Uganda does not need any GM food technology to acquire this capability. Indeed no African country requires any shred of GM technology to acquire food sufficiency and security. None, whatsoever.
STATISTICS OF TRANSFORMATION
The overall statistics of the African situation is even more revealing as with regards to the continent’s long-term possibilities. Just about a quarter of the potential arable land of Africa is being cultivated presently. Even here, an increasingly high proportion of the cultivated area is assigned to so-called cash-crops (cocoa, coffee, tea, groundnut, sisal, floral cultivation, etc.) for exports at a time when there has been a virtual collapse, across the board, of the price of these crops in international commodity markets. In the past 30 years, the average real price of these African products abroad has been about 20 per cent less than their worth during the 1960s-70s period which was soon after the ‘restoration of independence’. As for the remaining 75 per cent of Africa’s uncultivated land, this represents 66 per cent of the entire world’s potential. The world is aware of the array of strategic minerals such as cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, industrial diamonds, iron ore, manganese, phosphates, titanium, uranium, and of course petroleum oil found in virtually all regions across the continent.
Despite the ravages of history of foreign conquest and occupation and the virulence of locally-brewed tyranny of genocidal regimes and fellow-travellers, Africa remains one of the world’s most wealthy and potentially one of the world’s wealthiest continents. What is not always or simultaneously associated with the wealth profiles of Africa is that it has vast acreage of rich farmlands with capacity to optimally support the food needs of generations of African peoples indefinitely. In addition, the famous fish industry in Senegal, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana for instance, Botswana’s rich cattle farms, West Africa’s yam and plantain belts extending from southern Cameroon to the Casamance province of Senegal, the continent’s rich rice production fields, etc., etc., all highlight the potential Africa has for fully providing for all its food needs. Again, without a shred of GM technology needed or emplaced. Thus, what the current African socio-economic situation shows is extraordinarily reassuring, provided the acreage devoted to cultivation is expanded and expressly targeted to address Africa’s own internal consumption needs. Land use directed at agriculture for food output, as opposed to the calamitous waste of cash-crop production for export or the parcelling away of land up and down the continent (the ‘land grab’ that is becoming a designer label all over the place!) must become the focus of agricultural policy in the new Africa.
It is an inexplicable and inexcusable tragedy that any African child, woman, or man could go without food in the light of the staggering endowment of resources in Africa. Africa constitutes a spacious, rich and arable landmass that can support its population, which is still one of the world’s least densely populated and distributed, into the indefinite future. There is only one condition, though, for the realisation of this goal – Africa must utilise these immense resources for the benefit of its own peoples within newly negotiated, radically decentralised socio-political dispensations which must abandon the current murderous ‘nation-states’. We now no longer require any reminders that the primary existence of these states is to destroy or disable as many enterprisingly resourceful and resource-based constituent peoples, nations and publics within the polity that are placed in their genocidal march and sights.
It is abundantly clear that the factors which have contributed to determining the very poor quality of life of Africa’s population presently have to do with the non-use, partial use, or the gross misuse of the continent’s resources year in, year out. This is thanks to an asphyxiating ‘nation-state’ whose strategic resources are used largely to support the Western World and others and an overseer-grouping of local forces which exists solely to police the dire straits of existence that is the lot of the average African. As a result, the broad sectors of African peoples are yet to be placed and involved, centrally, in the entire process of societal reconstruction and transformation. Surely, an urgently restructured, culturally supportive political framework that enhances the quality of life of Africans is really the pressing subject of focus for Africa.
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* Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is the author of Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature (Dakar and Reading: African Renaissance, 2011). This article was a discussion paper presented at a youth weekend-school, Stratford, London, 16 June 2012.
1. ‘Africa’s Development Disaster’, Comment, London: Catholic Institute for International Affairs, 1985:19.