We are population deniers

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
  Elizabeth Ohene-The Writer
Elizabeth Ohene-The Writer

I know there are climate change deniers.

I do not know what the name is for those who refuse to see that population growth at our current rate poses a danger to our very survival.

If you lived on the street on which I live in Accra, you would see and feel the population growth, but whether you would deny that it has a direct relationship with our economic condition is something else.
Right opposite our home used to be a charming bungalow with many tall trees and a beautiful garden.

In its place now are three sets of four-storey apartments; and that means there are 12 families now living where one family used to live.

Right next door to us where an old lady used to live with her granddaughter, there is now a dramatic 17-storey block of high-end apartments.

By the time they finish selling them, I understand there would be about 80 families living where that old lady used to live.

This is how the rich people are dealing with the population explosion. My quiet street is gone and each time I try to get out of my home, I risk running into or someone running into me. I cannot see the oncoming traffic both to my left and right until it is too late.

The experience on my street is perhaps extreme.

Every time I drive out of Accra, I feel even more intensely the population pressure.

There are no breaks between the suburbs and what used to be little towns and villages outside Accra.

It is one continuous city all the way to Nsawam and beyond, all the way to Dodowa and beyond, all the way to Winneba and beyond, all the way to Afienya and beyond, all the way to Ada and beyond and even what used to be the scenic route to Aburi is now densely populated with traders and the ubiquitous kiosks.

There is no farmland near the capital city to grow vegetables. There might not be high-end apartments in these parts but the pressure of humans is no less.

I cannot understand why the conversation about the rate of population growth in this country is not being championed by those who are managing the economy.

I have never claimed to know very much about money and things economic, but if we have to build 1,000 six-unit classroom blocks, something tells me those classrooms cannot be equipped to the same level as if we were building 500 of the classroom blocks.

Whichever way we choose to look at it, childbearing is an economic activity.

Children are economic beings, they cost money.

 We cannot and should not pretend that having children has no bearing on the economy.

If our statistics department were working well, they would tell us how much it costs to bring up a child from pregnancy till he/she reaches free SHS and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo takes over responsibility.

Harsh realities

We cannot claim to love children if it is only to bring them into this world to grow up on the streets.

Why does the conversation about education never involve the sheer number of children being born?

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Why is the conversation about child trafficking and not about the man who sold his children for GH¢200 and whose story I once heard on the radio in a chilling documentary by Kwaku Sakyi-Addo?

Why do we shy away from the harsh reality that there are too many children being born to girls who are not ready to have children and those children cannot have a fair chance in life?

Why do we not talk about contraception?

Why do the churches not think that this is a subject that should interest them?

Why is it that when I hear radio presenters talking about schools under trees, about the lack of potable water, about children growing up on the streets, I never hear them mention contraception?

 Could it be because they don’t think these issues have anything to do with having children that are not being given a fair chance to compete in the world?

This country has had a population programme for the past 48 years and proof if some were needed that we do not take it seriously comes from the budget, or the lack of it.

The National Population Council for example is hidden somewhere within the Ministry of Health budget and is fully funded by aid donors.

This country does not consider population and contraception matters important enough for them to feature in our national budget.

Every once in a while, the subject gets into the headlines when we get someone who has the strength of character to take it up.

Prof. Fred Sai is the obvious example, but it is often a lonely campaign that is left to a voice in the wilderness.

 Currently we have Dr Leticia Appiah as the Executive Director of the National Population Council and she sounds like she has taken the Fred Sai mantle.

 She knows the subject and she is passionate.

 She has suggested we put a limit of three to the number of children that we should have. Hardly a revolutionary idea, if you ask me. Hardly a One-child-Policy.

But she has been left on her own to be attacked every once in a while by pretentious ideologues who deny the danger posed by population explosion. This is disgraceful.


It seems to me the National Population Council belongs properly in Economic Planning and not in health, and its funding should not be left to aid donors.

 The current situation means that every time there is an ideological swing in the government of the donors, we are at risk.

As President Akufo-Addo famously put it in his last State of the Nation address, employing an Ewe saying, that which is important, you cook it in an important pot.

In other words, we should fund the work of the Population Council.

We are not going to make much headway with building that modern, industrialised economy we aspire to with children who are growing on the street.

We have to accept that if our population continues to grow at the current rate, we will need a miraculous and sustained growth rate of the economy for it to make any difference in our lives. Our current rate of population growth is hurting us.

We should admit it, we should talk about it and we should do something about it.

It occurs to me that this being Ghana, it might well be that a stronger strand of argument that would be more persuasive would be to look at it from the death perspective, instead of birth.

We have run out of space to bury our dead.

 Currently if you want to bury somebody in Accra, it might cost you almost as much as the fancy apartments on my street.

If you take the dead body to the village, you will discover that the cemetery is miles out of town.

We have no space for the living and we have no space for the dead. Surely it is time to do something about the numbers.

Since the land mass area of Ghana cannot be extended, we have to keep the number of Ghanaians at a manageable rate.