18 November 2017

Ethiopia: Demographic Explosion

Photo: Jean Rebiffé/WikiMedia
Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia is the most populated landlocked country in the world, and the second one in Africa, next to only Nigeria. Estimates that put the number of people on the other side of a 100 million have become common. There was a census a decade ago, conducted by the Central Statistical Agency (CSA). The figure then was about 74 million, which did not precisely square off with non-governmental institutions' data, probably having to do with the fact that the technology was a little backward at that time.

We are all eager for the new census to be carried out: to find out how many of us Ethiopians are out there. The latest figures will probably be legitimate with the use of the right type of technology.

Nonetheless, there are certain things we have to consider. Then, a demographic boom meant that Ethiopia is biting off more than it can chew, exacerbating matters like supply constraint. And as things stand now, under the chaotic political circumstance, one cannot be sure but wonder whether or not the census can take place. All we can perhaps advice is that a lot of training and public awareness campaigns have to be carried out.

Counting people or rather children of a household is not a familiar practice in our county. There is not much a statistician can do if the family is not doing its part to help. It would also be hard to have a detailed figure of the demography if families feel the need to lie to protect advanced members' ages.

The Agency should also do its part in conducting a transparent census. Mass media should partake in the process, as the increase or decrease in a regional states' population number has political implications that can very well be taken advantage of by the government.

And for the ruling party, citing numbers that make little sense are not uncommon. This is a government that claims there was double-digit growth the past fiscal year. which does not hold water if the balance of payment of the country is anything to go by. And banks are starved for hard currency, in fact, the government has been rationing foreign exchange for years.

And it could be a similar thing with the census; we may get a number we do not trust shoved down our throats. But knowing the exact figures of Ethiopians is crucial since we need to know how much needs to be produced before it becomes surplus.

Whatever the case may be, or the final intentions, the census will show a booming population, most probably close to 100 million. This will mean, considering the country's low productivity, the demand for goods and services may not be met easily.

The recent shortage in supply of sugar is an excellent example of what is in store for Ethiopians. When the number of people increases, naturally, all resources and products become scarce when taken as a percentage. And with the population growth rate, the estimated figure of 100 million will shortly be a figure of the past.

Whatever any government plans for the country, the question"for how many people?" is an essential component. The demand for sugar that could not be met on time will soon be one incident amongst many, which Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn asked to be excused for. It is strange when all the government can do, with all the economic and political keys at its disposal, is apologise. It shows inefficiency and inability to manage a country with such a large population.

The ruling party's clinginess to power has been effective so far. But tomorrow is another day. Change is coming. And what has worked thus far will not be sufficient forever. There is more youth than ever, and the media is not a sole prerogative of a few people, but through social media, a tool for the populace.

There is nothing in the political and social dynamics of the country to show that the sporadic unrests in the Oromia and Amhara regional states will cease. And with a growing population that would inevitably exacerbate the economic problems of the country, it is only sane to assume that they will get worse.

However, designing the format for population count has to be done carefully and systematically to include all sorts of data which may be necessary for the development planning of the nation. But this needs to be squared off with the rule of law, and the socially responsible reasoning of keeping the country unified. The fact that there are a 100 million people is a good thing, especially if demand can be met, but it is of no use if the country continues to be engulfed in turmoil.


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