Opinion and Analysis

Kenya can turn its rising population into growth tool

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Kenya population numbers and projections from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics website. Kenya’s population will grow by around one million per year, over the next 40 years and will reach about 85 million by 2050. Photo/FILE

Kenya population numbers and projections from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics website. Kenya’s population will grow by around one million per year, over the next 40 years and will reach about 85 million by 2050. Photo/FILE 

By Wolfgang Fengler

Posted  Tuesday, April 13  2010 at  00:00

Kenya’s population has doubled over the last 25 years, to about 40 million people, and rapid population growth is set to continue.

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According to recent UN projections, Kenya’s population will grow by around 1 million per year — 3,000 people every day— over the next 40 years and will reach about 85 million by 2050.

These are projections; the actual numbers depend on government policies and the broader economic environment; and they may turn out differently.

But in the past population science has proven to be relatively accurate, as social structures and behaviours tend to change gradually.

How will this rapid population growth—and the even more rapid urbanisation that accompanies it—affect Kenya’s development prospects for the next decades?

Among other things, this demographic and geographic transformation will play a key role in determining Kenya’s social stability, which remains fragile after the post-election violence in early 2008.

At first glance, Kenya’s rapid population growth appears to be very steady.

In fact, a closer look finds that the growth occurred for different reasons, over two different periods.

Until about 2000, population growth was driven by increasing numbers of children.

That is no longer the driver.

The number of children per family has fallen sharply, from 8.1 children in 1978 to 4.6 children in 2008, and it is projected to possibly reach 2.4 children by 2050.

Based on these trends, the total number of children aged 0 to 14 is expected to increase by only 40 percent by 2050, from 17.5 million to 24.5 million.

But the total population will nonetheless more than double, due to several-fold increases of adult population groups

Why does Kenya’s population continue to rise rapidly, while family size declines? There are two reasons.

First, due to high fertility in previous decades, there are many more families in Kenya today.

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