KIGALI - Rwanda’s fast growing population will make it hard for the country to effectively fight poverty and achieve its development objectives if not checked.
The remarks were made by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, James Musoni, during an exclusive interview with The New Times.
“Yes, I agree it is a major concern, it is even clearly stated in our EDPRS that the population must be managed so that we march with development” Musoni said. EDPRS is an acronym for Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Rwanda’s population is estimated at 8.8 million (2005, Ministry of Health statistics) and growing faster at an annual rate of 2.7 and women on average giving birth to six children. With a land area of 26,340 square kilometres, Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
“There was a time when people were proposing a law enforcing three children per family,” – “we opted not to put this law in place,” he revealed.
“We thought we can mobilize our people and not use coercive measures,” he explained.
Musoni was quick to stress that Rwanda’s people are ‘its assets’ and thus the policy on population is to encourage people to practice family planning. Population issues involve planning for the people’s needs in education, health and all other sectors of development.
“We think our people can be able to understand this,” he said, “in the few months we have been in this [mobilization and sensitization], we got very good results,” he said.
“There are a number of issues, we look at our people as assets, and we need people with good health, education, shelter, income and all other basic requirements.” Apart from mobilization, other incentives like the ‘one family one cow’ project are to be considered.
Musoni pointed out several challenges in the population stabilization campaign. These include the slow pace of understanding due to mentalities and culture.
“Our capacity to avail family planning services to the people is another challenge,” he added. Analysts also point to religious groups that misguide people as another significant stumbling block.
Dr. Jean-Damascene Ntawukuliryayo, The Minister of Health last month also voiced concerns over the population question.
While highlighting the various constraints encountered by his ministry at local levels, he urged local authorities to double efforts in sensitizing the population about the country’s population problem. He suggested that the fertility rate must be reduced from six children to at least two.
“I have given the population problem the highest priority,” he said.
“If we want to attain Vision 2020, we must seriously consider this issue,” Ntawukuliryayo advised. He called upon health counsellors and local authorities to educate the population about family planning.
“Given our fertility rate, demographic calculations do not allow us to go beyond two children per family,” he pointed out.
“We have to educate our people.”
Ministry of Health key statistics (2007) indicate that only 10 percent of Rwandans use modern family planning methods.
The immediate measures include urging all government administrative levels to include sensitization to family planning in their mandates. Schools have also been requested to include family planning in their curriculum.
Family planning services will also be made available at all local health centres where counsellors will educate the population on the subject Medium term measures include ensuring that completing high school be made compulsory and means to enforce and facilitate it are put in place.
The media will also be used in sensitization and education efforts and more research will be conducted on what more could be done to check the population growth.