The Tunisian Abdul-Rahman is currently working on an e-book titled African Overpopulation Trap: When God Balance Is Broken. His aim is to inform the African people about the devastating consequences of overpopulation. In the last sixty years the number of Africans has multiplied, on the average with a factor near five, whereas the population in the west has only doubled, in the worst case.
Abdul-Rahman gave The Ten Million Club the opportunity to read a preliminary draft of his book.
The subtitle of the book is intriguing: When God Balance is Broken
. The ‘balance of God’ is defined as a harsh natural equilibrium in which high birth rates are compensated by high mortality rates. In our opinion it is rather awkward to call a situation in which many children are born in vain and a surplus of people gets wasted through diseases or starvation a ‘balance of God’. Nevertheless, Abdul-Rahman truly believes that God’s population equilibrium has been broken, and he is trying to convince the African people of this truth. Unfortunately, neither in Christian nor in Islamic Holy Books one can find anything in favour of birth control, let alone population control. On the contrary, think of Onan. In lack of relevant revelations, religious leaders will be reluctant to support population control, unless one could convince them that the ‘balance of God’ has been broken. According to the author, western charity organisations and development aid have broken this balance by providing vaccinations, antibiotics and food. Even so, this was in the good intention of saving souls. Health care and nourishment are considered basic human rights in the book, but the fulfilment of these rights has led to overpopulation and a broken balance.
The book gives a thorough and well-documented and illustrated description of the socio-economic situation in present-day Africa and the inhuman living conditions in many countries as a consequence of overpopulation. Its negative effects are described in detail. The main cause of all misery is that there are too many mouths to feed; African countries have to sell out their natural resources (oil, gas, minerals, cash crops, even agricultural land) in order to be able to buy food on the world market (wheat, rice barley, corn) to ensure at least a subsistence level for their numerous inhabitants. This means that there is not enough hard currency left to set up an adequate infrastructure (supply of clean water and electricity, roads, sewage, schools, hospitals), let alone a national production industry. But as the question is raised who is to blame for this situation, the argumentation loses its ground and the author is begging the question. According to him, overpopulation in Africa has been deliberately created by western capitalists. First they provided medicines, thus lowering mortality rates. Then they gave loans, mainly for infrastructural projects. As a consequence, African countries ran into the population trap, set up by corporate capitalism and global banking organisations. African countries had to import food to keep their numerous citizens alive, and the loans had to be paid back. The only way to obtain the required hard currency was to sell their natural resources and labour force at a cheap price, because they had no alternative. This was exactly what the neo-colonialists wanted, so the author: cheap natural resources and cheap labour force to serve western economies. However, it is a pity that no evidence is produced to support this allegation. Abdul-Rahman has given an adequate description of the situation, but no convincing explanation. Each government should share the national income with the inhabitants of a country by investing in infrastructure, health care, education etc. However, with a growing number of people the return per capita goes down. This also holds for the gross domestic product. Other things being equal, with a growing population there is less money for each citizen. Things are getting worse, if the national income is partially confiscated by a ruling class, or if important parts of trade and industry are in private or foreign hands. This description is correct.
Overpopulation is undoubtedly a major cause, if not the main cause of Africa’s misery. But who is to blame for it? Not health care or food aid. Institutions providing them were just serving basic human rights. Not western capitalism, as no proof of the existence of any systematic ‘population bogging plan’ is given by the author. Then who can be made responsible?
It takes two to tango, a male and a female. If they both decide to have no or fewer children, they will reduce the population. This requires firstly that women are free to determine their pregnancy, and secondly that they are independent and can pursue their own study and working career. Malthus has remained a voice in the wilderness, as long as these two basic conditions were not met in the western world. Last century, however, especially from the fifties and sixties onwards, most western couples have realised that completing a study, starting a career and making money on one hand and having children on the other didn’t go together very well. They have used contraceptives, postponed pregnancies and given birth to lesser children, thus acting contrary to religious directives. Both the Roman Catholic and Protestant church were and are still opposing contraceptives as well as abortion.
It takes two to tango. In societies where males can enforce their sexual will on women, where they are allowed to have more than one wife, you cannot have any population control, nor in countries where woman are kept illiterate and cannot have any other career than housekeeping, doing some farming or low paid labour without having the right to purchase and use contraceptives. First of all, one should establish equal human rights for men and women.
In his book Abdul-Rahman makes a very interesting proposal concerning the target value of a country’s population. Two conditions should both be met to establish its optimal population size: firstly the Natural Carrying Capacity (NCC): a country must be able to support its population in a sustainable way by providing a constant flow of food and bio-resources. NCC is similar to the ecological footprint: no country should exceed its limits in order to accommodate its population. Secondly, the Hard Currency Returns per capita (HCR) should comply with a minimum standard, which is set on $ 2,500 a year. On the basis of these parameters the optimal population size can be calculated for each country. Present-day Somalia has e.g. 10 million inhabitants; according to the HCR only 150,000 people could have an acceptable standard of living there. Unfortunately, in many countries HCR do not benefit the population, but mainly the happy few or foreign investors. A solid, non-corrupt government should prevent this, but such governments are hard to find in Africa.
Other proposals in the book meant to improve the Africa situation are very convincing, such as the introduction of sustainable sanitation, concentration of a scattered population in many regions and the use of wireless internet for educational purposes. However, it seems to be ill-advised to try to copy western infrastructure in Africa, e.g. by creating remote central solar energy plants in the deserts comparable to the western remote gas supply. The necessary raw materials and energy to build a continent-wide distribution system of solar energy are simply not available, not in Africa, not on the earth. It is a far better idea to create small local economies spread over the country with their own nearby sources of sustainable energy.
Abdul-Rahman suggests that all Africans should learn English, because most information on the World Wide Web is in that language. Access to this information is most important to raise the level of knowledge in the continent. He proposes that French- or Portuguese-speaking Africans should give up their first language and become speakers of English. Like English, French and Portuguese are the languages of the former colonialists. But why shouldn’t Arabic-speaking Africans give up their first language and learn English instead? Arabic was spread throughout Africa by Muslim conquerors.
See also Abdul-Ramans blog on http://towardsbetterafrica.blogspot.com/