There's a fundamental tension between population size and economic development. Too small a population and mass markets don't develop keeping the cost of goods and services higher and impeding the development of a middle class (which tends to bring social stability, stronger civil society, and other benefits). Too large a population and resource scarcity becomes a problem, along with the challenges of providing infrastructure and basic services to mega-cities.
There isn't time or space to rehearse the various views on how this tension is best managed (assuming it's something that can be 'managed' at all), but a recent post from the (UK) Guardian's Katine Chronicles blog caught my eye. Reporter Anne Perkins responds to Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim's assertion that Africa is underpopulated.
Some alarming facts include that Uganda's population of 33 million will triple over the next 30 years - if you've ever been to Uganda, you have to wonder WHERE all those people could possibly go? Kampala is already dysfunctional outside the city centre in many respects, I can only shudder at the notion of a sprawling mega-city of 20 million that swallows Entebbe, and even Jinja - but that's the kind of development that's on the cards it seems.
Perkins does a nice job of highlighting the importance of demographics and citing examples from China, India and elsewhere. If you're interested in development in Africa - as every Responsible Traveller will be - it's worth a read.
Further policy wonkish reading for those really interested:
- The Urban Challenge in Africa: Growth and Management of Its Large Cities (Mega-city)
- The Harvard Series on Population and Development Studies
- Urban Livelihoods: A People-Centred Approach to Reducing Poverty
(Photo from the Katine Chronicles blog, photographer Dan Chung)