LEADERS REPRESENTING 44 European countries gathered at the weekend in Prague, capital of Czech Republic, for a symbolic summit with energy prospects and security as top items on their agenda as the winter sets in. They have come under pressure to find viable and dependable alternative sources of energy for their population to forestall political uprising and protests from their countrymen on this impending crisis that may likely arise should gas supply be insufficient to carry them through the cold months ahead. They have even commenced talks about post-winter months of early spring next year and what to do to secure adequate gas for use. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, has proposed a joint purchase arrangement of gas by the European countries from next spring to give a bloc bargaining power and avoid having some countries getting less of gas than they need. This, obviously, cannot be achieved satisfactorily without reliable underlying statistics of energy requirement and uptake. In Peter F. Drucker’s words on marble, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
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The continental Europe’s united response is instructive for Africa as a continent. Despite the many challenges besetting Africa since the wave of independence about half a century ago, the responses of the member countries have been anything but united. One of the reasons is because all the countries carry out most of their social, political and economic activities in isolation. Even when and where there has been some semblance of coordination as in the case of French former colonies in West and Central Africa, a lot still held them back from all-out progressive achievements as they remain among the most economically backward in the continent. Most countries of Africa cannot be said to be ideologically different or even similar. Most also don’t have ambitious economic programmes, growth projections, institutional standards and benchmarks, contingency financial provisions for emergencies. For the most part, rounds or rolling plans have since been jettisoned and much is now done reactively instead of proactively. The perennial problems of poverty, diseases, infrastructural deficits, food insecurity, foreign aid dependency, institutional failures have all been inextricably linked. One of the symptoms of the institutional failures is that of inexact and unreliable population statistics.
A common mistake often made by policy makers, implementers and interventionists is to treat population figures that are mostly fluid in a dynamic environment as absolute and static rather than as moving averages that are variable. A path of convenience chosen in determining population figures has been more of extrapolation, making the population changes based on some subjectively determined parameters such as annual percentage of increase. This and some other related criteria set in concrete are most often not subjected to tests of realities and circumstances that either slow down or enhance population growth. The case of Eritrea mentioned last week is one of those ridiculous instances, in which a small population that is less than 10 million is estimated as being between 3.6 million and 6.7 million people. Such a wide margin between the lowest and highest estimates leaves room for a lot of deliberate errors, especially for a country that has not done any population census. It is therefore easy to imagine the extent of false estimates that can be found in many bigger countries within Africa.
Manipulating population figures for political, economic and social advantage has been a common practice in Africa. In northern Nigeria, in particular, the huge population figures officially allotted to many rural parts of the country do not reflect in productivity, in reality; nor does it add significantly to the economic output. Yet, over 60 percent of annual national revenue allocation going to the region is not showing in the real sector or in Human Development Indices (HDI). Planning for education, healthcare, housing, labour and employment, security, food production, energy, among other critical areas of the socio-economy requires hard data obtained through rigorous statistical activities. Absence of these predisposes or exposes people to corruption. How these can be correctly determined in a fluid and dynamic environment would require a resort to global best practices in social statistics, devoid of biases, prejudices, sentiments, innuendoes, unfounded or unsubstantiated assumptions and deliberate modifications of figures to suit certain ends.
The newly operational African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) would probably have taken off more smoothly and more effectively if all member countries that have signed up to it had adequate vital statistics upon which AfCFTA’s activities could be built. But, despite all the years of preparations, it appears like the countries were more preoccupied with setting up a continental market of such a huge size, leaving out details that could help the smooth take-off and sustainability. Without those details, the nascent AfCFTA is still greatly prone to abuse and various forms of sharp practices even as countries are still trying to get fully on board or get used to the new trading system. Black market, trading without supply chain integrity and transactions involving products of questionable quality are parts of the initial and possibly long-term challenges the continental free trade is expected to face under the circumstance of paucity of vital statistics at the sub-national, national, regional and continental levels. Border porosity and cross-border insecurity, particularly with infiltrations, are major challenges as found in those West African countries where terrorists now have foothold, for example Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.
One of the greatest social innovations of contemporary times is the pension fund. Pension funds are population-based. The idea became popular within countries as a huge repertoire of wealth to be tapped into for funding a variety of large scale legacy projects by governments. Pension funds, however, ran into trouble as population configurations in some countries highly dependent on them began to change, with the population pyramid inverted upside down. The ageing of the older population while the younger population shrinks has created difficulties for many countries in funding their pension schemes now. The first set of baby boomers, generally known as the demographically large generation born between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s, have entered their retirement age, while those that came later are now above 50 years of age, moving closer to retirement. These baby boomers occupied prominent social, political and economic strata in the US because of their high numbers when their population surged and coincided with the relative prosperity of the US economy during their active career years, making them an economically influential generation.
Based on U.S. Census Bureau’s December 2021 data, America’s population size stood still but grew only at 0.1 percent and was considered slower than any other year since the founding of the nation. Mortalities running into over one million were attributed to the COVID-19 outbreak, said to have contributed to the decline in population, in addition to the declining birth rates. The small population gains, which has masked the real decline, could be attributed to international migration. China, since 1979, had experimented with the one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979 to slow population growth, albeit with many undesirable and unintended consequences. Apart from paving way for far fewer younger generation children, the promulgation of one-child policy – more of a decree – led to circumvention tactics such as selective abortions that resulted in gender imbalance skewed in favour of more male children than female. The immediate implication of the preponderance of men is that of procreation in which many Chinese adult males have had to go to neighbouring countries to find women to marry. This outcome, and the grim prospects of shrinking workforce as well as the uncertainty of providing for the ageing population of the elderly from the incomes and contributions of the younger forced the Chinese authorities to revise its one-child policy to two-child policy on January 1, 2016. Unfortunately, not too many in the younger generation are impressed with the new idea as a significant proportion among them prefer to marry without having a child. Many of those who have are discouraged by the prohibitive cost of education even for a single child.
The shrinking population is forcing some industrialised countries to rethink their coping strategies, particularly in relation to industrial outputs and services. Australia, Canada, China, Germany and Japan, facing negative population growth, little growth or no growth at all, are dealing with the challenges of the workforce by applying a variety of measures. While Japan, in particular, has responded by focusing more on technology as a replacement for humans, especially artificial intelligence, Germany chose family-friendly policies to encourage more couples to have children. It became the foremost among the developed countries to become population-conscious, as well as to develop a set of appropriate policy responses, making it also easier for more immigrants to come in. Incentivising families to have more babies led to the birth of more babies in Germany in 2016 than any of the preceding twenty years. Some developed countries have responded to the negative trend in population by reviewing their immigration laws to allow foreigners to come in and take temporary or permanent jobs. Canada and the US – since over a decade ago – have been issuing visas to encourage immigration. On an annual basis, the US opens the immigration window through its diversity visa lottery. Australia’s immigration policies have evolved since 1945, from emphasis on attracting migrants, primarily from the United Kingdom, for the purpose of increasing Australia’s population to one involving attracting workers and temporary skilled migrants to meet the skilled labour needs of the economy. Australia’s migrant population has become increasingly diverse since the policies restricting emphasis to the UK migrants were dismantled in the 1970s.
Reasons for population drift into the developed countries could vary from one part of the world to another and depending on the timing. Countries that fund their economies largely from taxation are keen on population movements. Their annual economy rests on projections based on earnings from individuals and corporate taxation. The US has forecast income tax revenues as a percentage of GDP spanning from 2000-2032. In 2021, its income tax revenue was $2.04 trillion, roughly 9.1 percent of the country’s GDP. Health budgeting and spending – private or public – are population-based, and health insurance is a growing industry. A bulk of the health coverage conversations in the US can be made based on analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. In a country with an estimated population of 326 million individuals, 298 million – representing 91.4 percent – were insured in 2020, leaving about 8.6 percent uninsured. Life expectancy for 2019 in the US was 78.79 years, unlike in Africa where determination of life expectancy is rather problematic at 64.13 years.
The odds against African countries are varied, many of which trigger and sustain the incessant emigration. The reasons can be classified as economic, social, political, educational or environmental in the forms of wars and unrest, poor governance, political persecutions, bad official policies and climate change. The unidirectional migration is not good for Africa. Nothing seems to have changed in all areas of human endeavours to slow down emigration. Brain drain is affecting Africa’s economy rather negatively as the best from the continent are snatched, poached or lured into advanced countries where they bring their significant impacts to bear. As long as population growth, distribution and socio-economic impacts are not measured, governance will continue to be done by instinct and major decisions affecting hundreds of millions of people will continue to be based on baseless assumptions and problems will continue to be complicated. One of the interesting aspects is the GDP determination, which will continue to be misleading in countries that have poor mechanisms for generating official data. The chances of encouraging more corruption are high while social and political crises will linger still. It is time for African leaders to get serious with accurate population figures as a basis for planning and policy implementation. Without these, there will continue to be extrapolations, estimations and decisions based on suppositions. Real time decisions will need to be made on the basis of qualitative data. All countries in Africa must look inwards and get the population issues right: almost all other parameters for governance flow from this. To manage the people well, their population must be well measured, it is time to do that.
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