Rwanda has reason to celebrate this World Population Day with a smile- if not a wide grin on her face. The theme for this years World Population Day celebrations is, ‘It’s a right, let’s make it happen.’
Though Rwanda is still faced with a major challenge of rapid population growth, estimated to increase to an overwhelming 12 million people by the year 2012, there are visible socio-political indicators that prove the gradual uplifting of the status life for an average Umunyarwanda in general over the past years.
In the past the landlocked nation has experienced a series of ethnic conflicts degenerating into the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, leaving the economy in tatters and a desperate populace.
A new regime brought to power in 2003, breaking from the past of retrogressive and disastrous policies, Rwanda has resiliently steered the economic ship on a path to full recovery - a 2008-2020(Vision 2020 Umurenge) poverty reduction strategy is under implementation to improve the welfare of every household.
The first step of the strategy was enforced on 26 May 2002, when Rwanda adopted a decentralized system of governance with the intention of effectively reaching out to rural areas that comprise 70% of the population with 60% of them living below the poverty datum line.
GDP has improved from $1.4bn in1996 to $2.5 in 2006 also witnessing an increase in the manufacturing capacity from 5% in 1996 to 30% in 2006. The country has continued to diversify in her agricultural sector and apart from coffee, tea and pyrethrum, it has also improved its export potential in fruits and vegetables.
In the past years there has also been redistribution of land by government in various areas such as the rural areas in the eastern province in Mutara.
Despite Rwanda’s progressing economy and firm security, there is a threat of increasing population pressure on her 26,338 sq km of land with an annual population growth of 2.4%.
“The big problem is that the population growth is very high compared to the surface area. There are 500 people per square km,” revealed Dr. Mathias Haredarungu, an economist at Kigali Institute of Education who also took part in the most recent population census of 2002.
At a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 6.1 with a much higher rural rate of 6.3 and urban at 4.9, Rwanda’s population growth rate of 2.4% per year is among the highest in sub-Saharan countries.
Sub Saharan countries with superior fertility rates include Mali 7.34, Niger 7.29 and Uganda 6.81. Those with the lowest fertility rates include Algeria, 1.82 Egypt 2.72, Namibia 2.71 and Botswana 2.66. Rwanda is also among sub-Saharan countries with low life expectancy of 45 to 50.
A 2006 Ministry of Health survey carried out in Rwanda reveals that women’s awareness on contraceptives is steadily increasing to curb the population increase.
“Among women currently in union the modern contraceptive prevalent rate increased from 4% in 2000 to 10% in 2005 with hormonal injections that provide 3months of protection as the most utilized modern method (5%),” reveals the survey.
It goes to say that Kigali city has the highest number of women (22%) currently in union using modern methods, while in the region the rates vary between 8% and 10%.”
According to the survey there is a high awareness of HIV/AIDS but risky sexual behavior is rampant mostly among town dwellers.”
Under-development in the sub Saharan countries is propelled by persistent high birth rates yet the biggest percentage of the population is impoverished, therefore unable to access the basic necessities like education, shelter, food and health.
According to UNICEF 2008 findings on Sub Saharan Africa; “Only 42% of births are attended to by health personnel.”
A World Health Organisation (WHO) 2008 survey on African women, reveals that their health conditions are deteriorated by the HIV/AIDS scourge affecting their unborn children.
According to a maternal, neonatal child assessment carried out in Rwanda in 2006 the health conditions of the children were found to be poor.
“45% have chronic malnutrition with 19% exhibiting its severe form. Wasting is amongst children 12-23 months which corresponds to a period of increased weaning and exposure to illnesses. The highest weaning of children is seen in Kigali city (8%).”
The survey further points out that; “with an under 5 child mortality rate of 152 deaths per 1000 live births, about one in seven children dies before reaching its first birthday. Infant mortality rate is 87 deaths per 1000 live births showing that a little over half of infant and child deaths take place during the first year of life.”
Dr. André Ruhirwa, lecturer of Economics at Kigal Institute of Education hailed the government’s strategy to have a predominately educated population, though he disagreed with the issue of Rwanda being overpopulated, arguing that the country’s pending industrial capacity needs to be realized.
“There is no overpopulation since the resources are not few. There should be more qualified people in the science sector and new technology should be emphasized. An educated population can create capital.”
Citing Belgium, Ruhirwa recounted that the population there was bigger than the surface area but there was no pressure on the resources.
He gave examples like of places like Singapore, Taiwan and Korea that were once Third World. He maintained that the technological improvements should be a priority that will cater for the needs of the people.
“In rural areas we need more people who are qualified in other areas not only agriculture. This is because the industrial sector is more productive than the agricultural sector,” he explained.
He advised that a certain percentage of aid received should be focused on industrialization that will employ the increasing number of the country’s scientists.
Ruhirwa said that industrialization will increase employment and increase production and eventually prevent the vicious cycle of poverty.
And so as Rwanda joins the rest of the world in marking World Population Day, she has much to ponder in terms of her challenges and much more to celebrate in terms of her achievements.