Why Western Elites Can’t Keep Ignoring Africa’s Overpopulation Problem

In America today, talking about the problems of overpopulation is pretty much like placing oneself in the middle of two armies fighting. From the Left, you’re attacked as a Malthusian or, of course, a fascist. From the establishment Right, you’re accused of supporting Chinese totalitarianism or...

In America today, talking about the problems of overpopulation is pretty much like placing oneself in the middle of two armies fighting. From the Left, you’re attacked as a Malthusian or, of course, a fascist. From the establishment Right, you’re accused of supporting Chinese totalitarianism or...


n America today, talking about the problems of overpopulation is pretty much like placing oneself in the middle of two armies fighting. From the Left, you’re attacked as a Malthusian or, of course, a fascist. From the establishment Right, you’re accused of supporting Chinese totalitarianism or, as Bernie Sanders recently experienced, ‘killing brown babies in foreign countries.’

It’s not surprising then that the issue’s essentially untouchable for US presidents (as well as Western political leaders elsewhere)—Nixon was the last to explore it seriously and got nowhere. But for the current president, this is a missed opportunity. By not addressing the importance of demographic stability, especially in the Third World, the Trump communications team leaves on the table perfectly legitimate, bipartisan arguments that support the president’s immigration agenda. For instance, Trump could be arguing (as French President Emmanuel Macron has actually done) that without addressing off-the-charts Third World fertility rates, immigration programs seen as de facto foreign aid, such as the diversity visa, temporary protected status, the refugee program, and low-skilled immigration in general, will do nothing to help these countries. In fact, he could argue they might actually be strangling them.

This is the thesis of Duke University professor Stephen Smith’s latest book, The Scramble for Europe. Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa in particular, Smith posits that much of the region’s failed or teetering-on-failed status is directly connected to its overpopulation problems. And, as he shows, these problems are growing fast.

It’s not surprising then that the issue is essentially untouchable for US presidents…

According to UN projections, by 2050, twenty-eight sub-Saharan nations, including Nigeria, will double in size, while nine others, including Somalia and Uganda, are set to quintuple. By that year, notes Smith, three out of every four newborns in the entire world will come from this region. Considering sub-Saharan living standards haven’t improved by much over the years—due to population growth, says Smith, access to electricity has only increased from 20 to 33 percent of the population since 1990—the lure of crossing the Mediterranean or arranging to be smuggled into the US through Central America will only increase.

Of course, Smith’s pronouncements aren’t exactly new. Nearly 30 years ago, New York Times correspondent Malcolm Browne wrote that the Third World is “not a ‘developing’ culture”, but rather “a putrefying state of existence perpetually in the grip of a plague deadlier than anthrax: the burgeoning human race.”

And nor are overpopulation concerns limited to Africa. Numerous analysts like Jayshree Bajoria have linked the Arab Revolutions of 2011 to high fertility rates, urban density and “youth bulges”—Indeed, the populations of Egypt, Syria and Yemen jumped 2, 2.5 and 3 times between 1980 and 2010.

Allowing for mass outmigration from poor countries can present big problems for them on a long-term basis. As Latin America-analysts like Fredo Arias King and David Fitzgerald have noted, big population outflows work to relieve pressure on corrupt governments; pressure which would otherwise push them to make much-needed domestic reforms. As Numbers USA’s Roy Beck once asked, what, for example, would have happened to the Polish reform movement of the 1980s had Lech Walesa decided to emigrate to the US? And would Cubans have overthrown Castro if the hundreds of thousands of refugees brought over from the period of Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton were allowed to leave?

Then there’s the economic and institutional effects. Alex Nowrasteh of the open-borders Cato Institute likes to argue that immigrants do assimilate in the US because they self-select, meaning that those who decide to leave are the ones most dissatisfied, for instance, with regimes like Iran’s or Venezuela’s. Assuming this has validity, however, are these the types of people we really want leaving these countries? The ones most committed to domestic reforms?

The same goes for the most talented, educated, and entrepreneurial in struggling nations. As Smith points out, one-third to one-half of all African degree-holders have exited the continent—Throughout his long career, 1984 Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale railed against this so-called “brain drain” effect. This includes one-third of African-born doctors (who, Smith says, cost nearly $200,000 to train), all of whom are now working in rich OECD countries. As he asks, is it the UK or South Sudan that needs these doctors most? The former’s patient-physician ratio is 300; the latter’s is 90,000. This raises the question whether open-borders pushers like Cato are truly pursuing the most ethical course of action?

Long-term, much of the time and money we spend on refugee/asylee admissions, or programs like the diversity visa, would be better deployed promoting population stability in migrant-source regions. This should include dramatically ramping up aid tied to family planning—currently a paltry 1 percent of the State Department’s budget—including educating young people about contraception and the costs and responsibilities of parenting. 

Also, annual aid reductions should be imposed on all foreign governments which eject birth-control advocates, like in Ghana recently, until they change course—meanwhile, countries making progress in reducing unmanageable fertility-rates, like Bangladesh, should be rewarded.

Further, vis-à-vis Central America, the US must adopt the kinds of “wall of money” conventions (Smith’s term) that the EU has put in place with Ethiopia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Senegal. President Trump finally started this process recently, but the agreements must be made permanent to ensure these countries truly become buffer states.

Finally, let’s stop driving so hard to dramatically increase population figures in the West through unnatural means, like mass immigration. The West’s relatively high senior-to-youth ratio is a sign of our health, longevity, and first-rate medical care. These are symbols of our success and they should be celebrated, not denigrated.