Wed, Sep

The writer, Elizabeth Ohene

At Large
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  • And I wonder about someone having eight children.

I return to a subject that seems not to interest many people in this country.

Many of the people who seem to have an interest in the subject would appear to disagree with my viewpoint and those who, I believe, align with my viewpoint, are reluctant to make their voices heard on the subject.

Population growth

In whatever way I look at the problems that confront us in this country, I am convinced that such problems cannot be successfully tackled without dealing with population growth.

As the current refrain puts it, 2020 is an election year.

Everyone weaves whatever they say into this fact.

Our roads, this is an election year; the cost of goods in the market, this is an election year; rent prices, this is an election year; nurses, this is an election year; teachers, this is an election year; quarrels between husbands and wives, this is an election year; funerals, this is an election year; I need a new phone, this is an election year; getting divorced, this is an election year; men of God preaching sermons, this is an election year.

I have no doubts in my mind that the issues that will dominate all discussions and debates in this election year would be jobs, poverty, education, security/insecurity and all other matters emanating from these.

Or, as was famously said, “It is the economy,” (unacceptable word in the Ghanaian context, deleted).


Each one of these is inextricably linked with population growth. Population growth is linked with the provision of infrastructure, it is linked with the provision of quality education, it is linked with crime.

Rapid population growth as we have in this country breeds unemployment.

Rapid population growth means a high dependency burden. The consequent young age-structure leads to high consumption, low savings, high interest rates and low investments.

The result is low economic growth and a low standard of living.

Somehow this phenomenon produces high fertility rates, which in turn heightens the dependency burden with increased consumption and reduced investments and savings.

As we all do over the holidays, I heard from a young friend who I had not heard from for quite a while.

I tried to find out what he was up to and how things were with him and in the course of the conversation, which I knew would end up in a MoMo transaction, he told me he now had eight children.

I took a deep breath and tried to process that bit of information. This man, in his late 40s, has eight children and he wanted me to M0Mo him something urgently.

It occurred to me that unless you were Bill Gates or Aliko Dangote, if you had eight children, there would always be something urgent in your life. Children cost money.

Children cost money, even with Free SHS.

We have all agreed that the biggest challenge we face is poverty.

We vote for people to run the country, who we believe will be better able to reduce poverty and take the largest number of people out of poverty.

I have been taking a look at the poverty figures and the uncomfortable fact remains that there is a strong correlation between high fertility and poverty; the poorest regions nationally and globally also have the highest fertility rates.

If poverty is the greatest challenge we face and if there is a strong correlation between high fertility and poverty, how come the subject of population growth is never mentioned in the discussions about poverty?

I am not sure I want to in any way provoke the ire of the fundamentalist religious community, but I do regard it as the height of unforgiveable hypocrisy that we go on about children being a blessing from God when we are willing to tolerate children being born into abject poverty and growing up in the most deprived circumstances.

Family planning

According to the Ghana Statistical Service Living Standards Survey, about 91 per cent of women who were pregnant in the 12 months preceding their survey or at the time of the survey received antenatal care.

That is the good news.

On the use of family planning methods, as much as 75 per cent of women or their partners never used any method of family planning. (Read that sentence again slowly).

Less than 20 per cent, indeed, 18.1 per cent of women aged 15-49 or their partners used modern methods of family planning to avoid pregnancy, limit or space births.

And I wonder about someone having eight children.

There are passionate, even heated discussions about the deficit in our infrastructure, housing, education and health provisions.

We don’t have enough dwelling houses and the quality of what is available is below par; we don’t have enough classrooms and laboratories and what we do have, is not well equipped; we don’t have enough hospitals and clinics and what we do have, is not well equipped.

Education costs money, housing costs money, roads cost money, health care costs money, railways cost money, food costs money, Planting for Food and Jobs costs money, football costs money.

The Olympic Games are coming up this year and will be held in Tokyo.

I have no idea if we have a team, but I do know that many Ghanaians would like to watch a Ghanaian compete in some event and even win and have our national anthem played in that world stage. We don’t have the money to raise a credible team.

At the heart

At the heart of all these and many of the failings we are plagued with is how many of us Ghanaians there are and the age distribution of our numbers in the population.

All the things we need to do cost money. I lay no claim to economics, but I do know that a country that always has more than 50 per cent of its population below the working age cannot prosper.

According to this same Living Standards survey, close to a quarter (24.9 per cent) of the female population 15 years and older have never attended school.

The girls who attend school escape child marriages, and I suspect they do not have eight children either.

Why do these matters not form part of the discussions towards our elections?

Since population affects the economy and is a critical component of how we deal with the problems that face us, those who seek our votes should surely tell us what their views are on the subject.

I do not want to hear anyone say what I hear from the educated Ghanaian population deniers.

One such lecturer says:

“If we make the right investment in education, if we make the right investment in health, if we make the right investment in job creation… we shall get demographic dividends.”

We have been making the right investments in education, in health and in job creation, but let us admit we are being overwhelmed by the size of the population growth.

The countries who lead in all the living standard indicators all have stable populations.

China and India resorted to drastic and dramatic interventions to get a handle on their population growth; methods which nobody would recommend today.

A smaller manageable Ghana is far more attractive to me than a big-size Ghana that is constantly struggling and trying to cope.

We must talk about population growth.

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