Is Tanzania's growing population a ticking time bomb?

Shoppers in Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam. The latest United Nation’s World Population Prospects report — which has data covering up to 2015 — indicates that Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are among the 33 countries whose population is projected to increase at least five-fold by 2100. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • In its last year report, the World Bank (WB) said the population would comprise the youth aged 18–23 in 10 countries, including Tanzania, between 2015 and 2035.
  • Other countries are Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda

Dodoma. The 89.2 million population Tanzania is forecast to have by 2035 can be defined as a ‘ticking time bomb’ if appropriate measures are not taken, experts have warned.

They have, instead, called for authorities to take action and turn the growing number of Tanzanians into an opportunity.

The anticipation would be significantly higher considering the fact that the Eastern African nation had only 11 million people in 1963 – just two years since independence.

The current population was projected to be 59.4 million in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In its last year report, the World Bank (WB) said the population would comprise the youth aged 18–23 in 10 countries, including Tanzania, between 2015 and 2035.

Other countries are Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda.

Economically, the population growth is associated with many challenges and opportunities, too. Some of the challenges include climate change, food shortages and overcrowded urban areas.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus was astonished to see the growing mass of humanity and warned about its consequence.

The English cleric, scholar and influential economist said; “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.”

On the other hand, population growth is credited as an opportunity for economic growth and development. Some scholars ague that “population growth and urbanisation go together, and economic development is closely correlated with urbanisation. Rich countries are urban countries.”

The United Nations (UN) suggests that population growth would not be a threat upon intensified war against climate change mitigation measures especially on reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Another challenge African countries, especially Tanzania, should be ready to face is the growing demand for massive infrastructure development that would be caused by increased rural-urban migration.

The experts say Tanzania should massively invest in women and young girls’ education, provision of skills, market understanding and decision-making powers similar to their male counterparts.

Challenges that could hinder development such as absence of strong social policies, absence of funding sources, poor planning and improved infrastructures should be resolved with immediate effect.

Senior lecturer at the University of Dar Es Salaam (UDSM), Dr Abel Kinyondo said the country’s rapid population growth will not be sustainable if the pace in which the country’s economic growth will not absorb them.

“The country’s ability to sustain the said growth isn’t sustainable. In fact, it can make matters worse, if we won’t improve our economy in order to create more jobs, a proportion arrangement between potential retirees and the labour force is required to prepare the share of the newcomers,” he said.

He said contrary to developed countries where population is a plus, the growth should be controlled in developing countries like Tanzania.

According to him, even the US at one point controlled population growth.

“As a result, they have raised life expectancy and an ageing population, hence they are now facing a severe problem of declining fertility rate,” he said. Dr Kinyondo who most recently worked as a principal research fellow at REPOA, explained that through the Diversity Visa Programme (Green Card), the US administration allows injection of up to 55,000 people into the country’s labour force annually. He therefore urged the government to take different measures including scaling up investments in order to trickle-down the effect that would be realised.

Furthermore, he suggested revamping the education system in order to prepare potential graduates in the employment market, reform the country’s financial policies, improve access to capital and reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Prof Haji Semboja of State University of Zanzibar (Suza) was of the view that the situation wasn’t as bad as others think.

“If we don’t have enough labour force, that is where the problem starts,” he said.

He added: “If you compare Tanzania and other countries, we are still on the safe side. We need to use population growth for the country’s benefits and reap wealth from the lucrative natural resources.”

He named some of the resources as land, minerals, forests, water bodies, noting that more investment is needed and the country has to make its intended growth.

Prof Semboja said stalled economic development was something that would turn population growth a ticking bomb, adding moreover that the world will not allow that to happen.

“Tanzania is for the world, if you don’t go with their pace then they will get your people and your country to be their solutions,” according to him.

Furthermore, he said being a net importer of wheat, cooking oil despite having the vast fertile land, Tanzania can turn things around and become a major exporter.

“The country’s system has failed. We don’t have suitable policies, legislations and vibrant institutions. Industrial Policies of 1999, don’t answer the current country demands,” he said.

“Tanzania has at least 22 percent of the worlds’ freshwater, but the mindset of its people remain in the rain fed agriculture despite enough water for irrigation purposes,” added Prof Semboja, suggesting the need for immediate change in order to make the country accommodate the said massive population growth.

For her part, Dr Mariam Hassan, an independent consultant said: “The relationship between population and economic growth is controversial. You need to link the increase in population, growth of per capita output and the overall economic growth.”

According to her, changes in population have huge implications on the pace and progress of economic development. For example, the proportion increase in the elderly population may pull back or slow down economic growth, because a small working population is required to produce enough to complement what was supposed to be produced by the non-working and dependents.

“The rise in life expectancy can also bolster the economy by creating a greater incentive to save and to invest in education, thereby strengthening the financial capital for investment and human capital that would strengthen the economy,” she said.

Furthermore, she said whenever a country experiences flourishing babies that is followed by a decline in fertility, the relative size of the workforce is increased.

“If Tanzania is able to absorb the baby boom generation into productive employment, it can experience a rapid increase in economic growth. But, if we are not able to take the opportunity to our advantage, we will face a risk of creating a large, chronically underemployed and increasingly restive working-age population.”