High population growth complicates Vision 2030

Mothers  leave hospital with  their new-borns. Economists are raising the alarm  that  Kenya’s population would affect social programmes. Stephen Mudiari
Mothers leave hospital with their new-borns. Economists are raising the alarm that Kenya’s population would affect social programmes. Stephen Mudiari  

If technocrats in President Kibaki’s administration are not convinced that Kenya’s growth credentials are fading by the day as the country’s population continues to grow at a pace out of tune with development goals, new fertility projections should clear up the doubts.

Kenya’s multi-billion shilling investment in education and health — the biggest consumers of the national budget — are increasingly coming under threat of failure in the next decade due to population.

Millions of children could find themselves out of school in the coming years while households might not get access to medical facilities as high fertility rates pile pressure on physical and social infrastructure, according to independent analysts and officials at the Ministry of Planning and Vision 2030.

Figures show that averagely there are four children per woman. Economists say at this rate the number of school-going children will double by 2040 — reaching close to three million. This means the Government will, for example, have to double allocation per child under the free primary education from Sh1,120 to about Sh3,000.

“Despite the numerous efforts to address population and development challenges over the years, issues are still emerging that require urgent attention,” said Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya.

“Achieving the goals of Vision 2030 will be impossible if population growth is not contained. Rapid population growth contributes to poverty and deprivation especially in areas where there is competition for resources.” Planning ministry data shows the current level of population growth requires doubling annual spend on health to at least Sh50 billion, to cushion households from raging effects of killer diseases such as malaria.

Economists at the ministry see a lower fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman being ideal, as it is expected to be in tandem with growth in public expenditure over the years. Failure to control population would mean Kenya cutting down on social budget that has been expanding in the last eight years to find headroom for higher investment spending.

“Investing in family planning can help mitigate the impact of population growth on economy, health outcomes, the environment and social economic stability, ” says a Ministry of Planning policy brief just released.

Census data released in September show Kenya has to prepare to feed an additional one million people yearly translating into a population growth rate of 2.8 per cent, above the global average of 2.1 per cent. This would require the economy to grow at the rate of more than 12 per cent to remain in step with development targets.

More analysts agree the realisation of Kenya’s development goal under the Vision 2030 will largely depend on how fast the country slows down population growth, mainly because of the pressure it exerts on public goods and services. “Population growth of this magnitude comes at a high cost to a developing country in terms of providing facilities for the younger population. This means the government must stimulate higher economic growth or stop providing some social programmes,” said Prof Joseph Kieyah, the head of private sector development division at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research an Analysis in a previous interview.

The projections and government spending is placing more scrutiny on the effectiveness of the trickledown economics favoured by President Kibaki administration since coming to power in 2003 as analysts questioned its ability to significantly reduce poverty.

The National Social and Economic Council (Nesc), says while Kenya might realise the target 10 per cent annual rate of economic growth, this will not be enough to lift the estimated 60 per cent of the population out of poverty — even if that level of activity was sustained in the next two decades.

Kenya aims to grow her economy by at least 10 per cent annually by 2012, a medium-term target it hopes will create more jobs, raise household earnings and close the gap between the rich and the poor.

East Africa’s largest economy has come under increasing pressure to find a policy mix that will tame population growth, accelerate economic growth, stem rising cost of living, spur the economy’s ability to create jobs and put more money into the pockets of households by supporting key sectors. “For economic growth to impact on poverty, it has to be sustained at relatively high levels and also well distributed,” Nesc says in a report it released on Monday aiming, to position distribution at the centre of Kenya’s development discourse.

The fertility rate assessment means that despite concerns that education is already taking up more than its fair share of national resources at Sh140 billion in the current fiscal year, the allocation might soon be a too small to sustain the sector and help build the much needed pool of human capital.

Raising GDP

Census results showed that 14.1 million people were attending school last year, another 14.2 million had left school at various levels and that 6.1 million had not attended school at all.

“The challenge before us now is to raise the country’s GDP and inject creativity in our development processes and procedures, ” said Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka at a conference on population and development in Nairobi on Wednesday.

“We must manage the size of Kenyan families in tandem with available resources.” But some analysts, however, maintained that the high population growth could be harnessed to benefit the economy.

“The way out is to tap the thousands of skilled workforce and export both to the region and the diaspora,” said Patrick Obath, the chairman of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa). “If our economy cannot fully absorb these people, other nations have a shortage of key skills which we can take advantage of and boost remittances.”

Additional reporting by George Ngigi.