The New Times (Kigali)

8 July 2014

East Africa: EAC States Challenged On Demorgraphic Dividend

Demographers have challenged partner states of the East African Community to harmonise socio-economic policies with population growth patterns in order to realise the demographic dividend.

Demographic dividend refers to demographic returns on sustainable investment in policies and plans that aim at creating a balance between the population and the country's economy.

The call was made last week, during a media training session on demographic dividend, which brought together over 20 journalists from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, in Jinja, Uganda.

Among other things, the week-long training aimed at bringing on board media practitioners in the region in advocating for their respective governments to have demographic friendly policies.

The ultimate purpose is to ensure that current economic growth is commensurate with the current growth in population.

Alarming fertility rates:

It became clear to the participants that there was an urgent need to reduce fertility rates in EAC countries.

Instead of copying from European countries that managed to reach a low fertility rate within 150 years, EAC countries were advised to borrow a leaf from Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea.

The Asian countries managed to reach one of the lowest fertility rates - 2.64 (Malaysia); 1.66 (Thailand); and 1.23 for South Korea - in less than 50 years and matched it with country development.

This would mean that Uganda, with 6.1 fertility rate, would need to cut threefold this number to meet the needs of its population by 2060.

Similar efforts would be required for Burundi, with six children per wife,with a population of 10 million people.

By the same period of time, women in Kenya and Rwanda, with 4.6 and 4.9 fertility rates, respectively, would need to halve the number of children they produce.

"Families are reluctant to reduce the number of children given the high rate of child mortality caused by wars and diseases in the region," John Baptist Ssekamate, of the Uganda National Planning Authority, told participants.

Hannington Burunde, from the Ugandan Population Secretariat, said: "Even when countries are stable, other problems emerge hence affecting countries' transition from a high fertility to low fertility rate."

He gave an example of school dropout which affects many girl children leading to early pregnancy.

Burunde said all it takes for the EAC countries to curtail population growth is to be flexible during policy formulation and to always think about the impact their policies are likely to have on population growth.

In terms of education, there must be innovation to ensure that children are kept in school to contain dropout rates.

Partner states were also told to follow the Rwandan experience of the school feeding programme which involves parents in contributing to their children feeding while at school.

Participants said some leaders have facilitated high fertility rates, especially when they openly call upon citizens to bear as many children as possible.

In a regional conference in Kampala on July 4, experts said investing in the youth will help realise demographic dividend.

The world population day will be celebrated this Friday (July 11) under the theme: "Investing in the youth for a better future."

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