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Nairobi to host Africa’s Chinese-built population centre

Kenya is set to benefit from a research centre in Nairobi that will aid African countries in training experts on population management.

The centre, which is to be set up by China, is part of a series of collaborations between Kenyan and Chinese research institutes meant to help African countries to improve on planning for their rising populations.

Dr Josephine Kibaru-Mbae, the director-general of the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD), told the Nation its establishment will help the government to deduce proper statistics on Kenyans.

“We will be able to get real-time population data from the villages, the counties, all the way to the national level so that every month we are able to get all the necessary population data,” said Dr Kibaru-Mbae in Nairobi.

She added: “That is work in progress. Kenya has put a request to China as part of a bilateral engagement and, hopefully, when the Chinese government looks at the proposal, they will support it.”

The government expects the centre to change the way it drafts population planning programmes. Today, policies are based on population estimates obtained through surveys at the National Bureau of Statistics.

REGULAR DETAILS

Estimated at 48 million, Kenya’s population grows at the rate of 2.6 per cent against the recommended 2.1 per cent for the economy to run smoothly.

The new centre, argues Dr Kibaru-Mbae, will provide regular details about births, deaths, newcomers and other changes from the villages to the capital, which will give better figures for planning.

Dr Kibaru-Mbae spoke to the Nation on the sidelines of the 1st Africa-China Conference on Population and Development, a forum the Chinese government wants to use to discuss with Africans on managing numbers.

For the Chinese, population can be good or bad, depending on where you stand. Now they want Kenyans to hear their story and learn from it.

Dr Zhang Xuying, the deputy director-general of China’s Centre for Population Development and Research Centre, described how the abnormal Chinese population numbers in the 1970s threatened the survival of the very economy the people depended on.

Then, China, now the most populous nation with 1.4 billion people, had a population growth rate of 3 per cent.

DEMOGRAPHIC DIVIDENDS

“It was not sustainable,” said Dr Zhang. “We had to introduce policies to control it.

“Now China has successfully controlled the population from growing beyond an acceptable size. It is a benefit to the Chinese economy and has seen demographic dividends for the past 30 years.”
One-Child Policy

To control population, in 1979 China introduced a family planning policy colloquially known as the One-Child Policy.

Couples were generally restricted to one child and those who broke the regulation could be fined. However, the policy allowed exceptions to ethnic minorities, rural couples with a first-born girl and a couple in which at least one party was an only child.

With a controlled population, the Chinese economy boomed, benefiting from cheap labour from its many people and rising to be the second largest after the United States.
Should Kenyans do the same?

LEARN FROM POLICY

On Tuesday, Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri said there were many things Kenyans can learn from the controversial Chinese policy, which was shelved last year.

“As African countries pursue efforts to lower population numbers, care should be taken to avoid drastic declines in birth rates, including the acceleration of population ageing, which might impact negatively on African countries’ future socio-economic development,” said Mr Kiunjuri in an opening address read by Planning Principal Secretary Irungu Nyakera.

Chinese officials admit that the policy came with its own problems, however.

“Most people are getting older, leaving the workforce. We have a challenge of replacing the workforce and ensure that the economy does not suffer from an ageing population,” the Chinese official told delegates at the Hilton.

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