Ethiopian culture dictates showing respect to all pregnant women.
Granting them priority for in all public
places is an unwritten rule. No one knows,
the saying goes, who the baby will end up
The culture honors pregnant women via the fetus. It identifies them as
the offspring of generations and symbols of
the nation. There are inevitably subcultures
that treat pregnant women inferiorly, but
they are in the minority. In the majority of
subcultures, however, expectant mothers are
provided with the utmost respect.
Even in cities, wherein several cultures prevail concurrently, pregnant
women are given conventional right-of-way.
Public transportation, recreational centers
and market places are typical places for
preferential treatment. It appears that
economic growth and modernization have not
as yet altered this upright cultural
The Boserupian policy of the Revolutionary Democrats gives this
cultural trait its best hope for survival.
Population growth brings new people with
knowledge and skills to thwart any
foreseeable challenge, according to Esther
Boserup, the founding scholar of
pro-population policies. Population growth
should not be seen as a burden, but in fact
as a complement, to production
intensification, technological advancement
and skills development.
She even goes so far as to assert that demographic pressure promotes
innovation and productivity growth. Unlike
Boserup, however, the Revolutionary
Democrats half-heartedly believe that
overpopulation might lead to land
fragmentation and productivity decline, if
not matched by economic growth. With a
population size of 73.6 million, they
contend, this is not yet an Ethiopian
To their credit, the double-digit economic growth of the past five
years, which averaged 11pc, has enhanced
absorption capacity. It has accelerated the
economy, created more jobs and improved
agricultural production. It has bolstered
capital formation, which grew by 22pc
between 2005 and 2010.
However, the economic growth was challenged by a bulging population
that continues to grow by three per cent
annually. Overall, the nationís crude death
rate and birth rate stood at 12 and 38,
respectively, in 2009. The gulf between the
two was bridged by a fertility rate of 5.2
births and an urbanization of 17pc,
according to UNICEF. Whereas urban
population continued to grow at a rate of
3.8pc, neonatal and infant mortality
remained at 36 and 67 per 1,000 live births,
For critics, denial of the population challenge by the Revolutionary
Democrats holds behavioral change back.
Waiting for demographic transition, gross
upward mobility in income and wealth as a
result of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
growth, cannot be a panacea. Settling for
marginal soft limits such as providing
family-planning information has not reversed
the predictable tide.
All the same, land fragmentation has increased significantly, as much
as 80pc, according to some estimates. The
average land holding size stands at 0.5ha.
With an increase in life expectancy,
standing at 56 years in 2009, the challenge
is to create an economic opportunity that
can absorb mounting demographic pressure.
Accounting for per capita income and inflation has made the challenge
apparent. Average annual inflation
oscillated around six per cent between 1990
and 2010, while Gross National Income (GNI)
per capita stood at 330 dollars in 2010.
Certainly, the situation is inching toward
the low-case scenario of productivity lag
amid rapid population growth.
Governmental efforts of improving access to information have brought
change, albeit marginally. A rise in life
expectancy from 47 years in 1991 to 56 in
2009 could be partly attributed to improved
health information. So would be the decline
in the urban population growth rate from
4.7pc in 1990 to 3.8pc in 2009. Yet, this
would not account for the low level of
contraceptive prevalence that remains at
No ground reality can underpin the reluctance of the Revolutionary
Democrats on population issues. Neither can
this reality call for a rather passive
population department to settle for a
marginal role under the Ministry of Finance
and Economic Development (MoFED).
Equivalently, it does not need the extremely
hard limits on the issue that critics
Creating a good balance between population and economic growth requires
a detailed analysis of the status quo in
both aspects. Trends guide the human side of
the equation, whilst resource dynamics
dictate the economics. As lopsided as the
equation remains, however, proactive policy
making is in high demand.
It has been 20 years since a national population policy was first
instituted. Yet, its implementation has been
undertaken at a snailís pace.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are
filling the gap by educating the public on
the benefits of family-planning and
contraceptives. Even so, the government
remains adamant about creating a conducive
operational environment for the NGOs.
Shortening the doubling time of population would have at least been in
the interest of the Revolutionary Democrats.
It would have provided enough developmental
dividends to uphold the demographic strain.
It also would have allowed for alternative
policy trials. But, it could not be realized
with a top-down, centralized arrangement.
As the current trend goes, rhetoric weighs in heavier than action.
Passivity is streamlined into the public
sector all the way down to the local
government level. The issue of population is
left to NGOs, without any monitoring and
evaluation. With flaccid local government
muscle action and the rural orientation of
NGOs, the fertility rate is rising in cities
and urban centers. The annual contraceptive
prevalence rate (CPR) of growth of 1.2pc in
cities and urban centers between 2005 and
2011, as compared to 20pc in rural areas,
Increasing population burdens public service in urban centers. Slow
progress in service delivery indicators
including primary school attendance,
sanitation, immunization, skilled birth
attendance and telecom penetration showcases
the potential impact of further growth in
population. A rural-urban migration rate of
4.5pc could even aggravate the burden.
The problem might not worry municipalities in the short-term, but it
could reach an irreversible state if not
attended to as soon as possible. Even in the
face of deteriorating services, most
municipalities do not address the problem in
their plans. The Revolutionary Democrats
cannot leave it to implementation excuses
when plans are non-existent. None of the
government policies are geared up for an
Ethiopian population of 120 million by 2020,
as projected by United Nations Fund for
Population Activities (UNFPA).
Addressing the population issue needs an updated population policy that
embraces the current reality. It needs to
give sufficient attention to male
involvement in family-planning. It should
also provide strategies for comprehensive
service delivery that blend clinical and
community-based family planning services. So
should it give adequate attention to
community ownership of service delivery.
Creating a smooth operational environment for NGOs to fill the
implementation gap is also essential.
Support needs to be tailored for all tiers
of government. It should be facilitated by
easy registration, community mobilization,
program partnership, and other
administrative procedures. Rigorous
monitoring and evaluation of activities,
however, should complement the support.
Restructuring the population department under MoFED into an
independent, influential and well-resourced
institution is also vital. It should be
empowered to include the population issue in
the fiscal policy of the country, not to
mention sector and regional plans. Research
and development efforts on population should
also be organized under the institution. It
is only then that policy practicality can be
However, the institutional structure should be decentralized along the
lines of the public sector in order to
create strong policy presence and
enforcement capability. Centralization can
only result in marginalization.
Going beyond marginal soft-limits should, however, be the prime
objective. The Revolutionary Democrats
should put an end to their dubious
reluctance. They should come out of their
shell of denial and face the current
challenge. Even if they do not opt for
Malthusian cynicism, they should think of
reimagining their Developmental State policy
to live up to the prevailing demographic
challenge. Certainly, it is only then that
their pragmatism will be
If this happens, the cultural trait of respecting pregnant women will
continue to thrive, even in the face of