Nairobi — Uganda is projected to have the world's highest population growth rate over the next few decades, causing a leading demographer to suggest that the country is condemning itself to severe poverty and instability.
Uganda's current population of 27.7 million will soar to 130 million by the year 2050, according to a new study by the Population Reference Bureau. That represents a 377 per cent increase - a figure that Carl Haub, a demographer with the Washington-based non governmental group, calls "hard to imagine."
Such steep a rise will almost certainly negate Uganda's economic development efforts, Haub says. "No one would consider such a rate of growth to be sustainable," he observes.
The study forecasts Uganda's population to surpass by far that of both Kenya and Tanzania by the middle of this century even though Uganda's fertility rate is expected to decline in the coming years. If the anticipated drop in the average number of children born to a Ugandan woman does not occur, then "the numbers will be even harder to imagine," Haub adds.
He cites government policies as the main factor accounting for Uganda's population explosion. "There doesn't seem to be any commitment at the highest levels to effective family planning," Haub says. "It is completely unlike the government's response to the HIV/Aids crisis, which has been very effective."
Ugandan leaders may in fact be intent on encouraging the country's women to continue having an average of seven children. "I am not one of those worried about the population explosion," President Yoweri Museveni said in a speech to Members of Parliament in July. "This is a great resource."
But not all officials appear to share Museveni's attitude.
"What is happening is alarming and depressing," said Jotham Musinguzi, director of the population secretariat in Uganda's Ministry of Finance. In comments quoted by the London-based Guardian newspaper, Musinguzi added, "Are we really going to be able to give these extra people jobs, homes, health care and education?"
Kenya, by contrast, is found in the Population Reference Bureau study to have significantly lowered its demographic trajectory.
In 1978, Kenya had the world's highest fertility rate, with a Kenyan woman giving birth to an average of more than eight babies. The figure has fallen to less than five today. As a result, Kenya's current population of 34.7 million is projected to reach 64.8 million by 2050 - an increase of 87 per cent, or less than one-quarter of the anticipated growth rate for Uganda.
Tanzania's current population of 37.9 million will grow to 72.7 million by 2050, the study suggests.
Haub partly attributes Kenya's comparatively modest population increase to the high rate of Aids deaths the country had been experiencing until recently. Indeed, Aids has been a prime cause of Kenya's falling life expectancy, Haub points out.
"In the early 1950s," the study notes, "life expectancy in China, Vietnam, Honduras and Kenya was about 40 years - more than 30 years lower than in Sweden. Over the past half-century, China, Vietnam and Honduras have each improved life expectancy by about 30 years. As for Kenya, the HIV/Aids crisis of the last 25 years has reversed much of the life expectancy gains of earlier decades."
A Kenyan born in 2006 can expect to live, on average, until age 48, according to the United Nations. Life expectancy is even lower in Tanzania (45 years) and in Uganda (47 years).
In assessing the causes of Kenya's declining fertility rate, Haub cites the "modest success" of the country's efforts to promote family planning.
The Population Reference Bureau study indicates that 39 per cent of married Kenyan women between the ages of 15 and 49 have access to some form of contraception.
The corresponding figure for Uganda is 20 per cent and for Tanzania, 26 percent.
Haub cautions, however, that his organization's population projections for Kenya may be "conservative."
The country's projected 87 per cent growth rate through 2050 might actually prove significantly higher due to the recent decline reported in Kenya's HIV infection rate.
Haub further notes that the decline in Kenya's fertility rate has stalled in recent years. The country is no longer experiencing a slow but steady decrease in the average number of children born to Kenyan women.
Almost all of the world's population growth during the next 45 years will occur in developing countries, the Population Reference Bureau points out.
The number of human beings alive today stands at about 6.6 billion, compared with six billion in 1999.
Global population is expected to reach eight billion by 2025.
Black Africa's current population of 767 million is forecast to rise to 1.2 billion by 2025. Nigeria, with 135 million people, is the only black African country listed among the world's 10 most populous nations today.
By 2050, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia will join Nigeria in the top 10, according to the study.
India is forecast to surpass China as the world's most populous country by 2050. The United States is expected to rank third in 2050, just as it does today.