Of polygamy and economic planning: How many people can South Sudan support?

Posted: September 8, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël in Ajang Barach-Magar, Commentary, Contributing Writers, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

Ajang Barach-Magar, Juba, South Sudan

Ajang Barach Daau

A selfie of Ajang Barach Daau

September 8, 2017 (SSB) — You look at South Sudanese’s penchant for polygamy and siring of numerous offsprings and this question becomes more relevant than ever before. In his remarkably impressive book “The Future of Life”, Edward O. Wilson formulated a related version of this question. He then attempted to address it by postulating that humans’ unquenchable urge to reproduce would ultimately lead us to overpopulate the planet, eat up all its resources and die in a mass famine.  So, when are South Sudan’s food reserves running out? When will this country become too small to host her estimated 15 million inhabitants?

Well, at this point in time, we ought to be producing more than we can consume. Besides, there is more than sufficient space for everyone. Yes as a society, our economy is precariously teetering on the brink of collapse while our major towns are grappling with choking overcrowding. But it must be remembered that every last one of these woes is self-inflicted. They are not a reflection of the country’s inadequate capacity to feed or support all of us.

Returning to my central question, what happens, then if our bulging population continues on its frightening trajectory, say 100 years into the future? As can be empirically substantiated, nearly all less affluent cadres of the South Sudanese society reproduce at rates far above the replacement level. There are no explicit demographic data sets to enable us to determine the average fertility rates in this country. Thus, based purely on personal observation (which could well suffer from statistical validity), many families have 5-7 children per woman. This, of course, is comparatively better than certain societies (past or present).

The Amish people of the US state of Wisconsin are not known to practice any form of contraception. In such tribes, childbearing starts as soon as possible, after menarche and continues until menopause. Women spend most of their active age either lactating or pregnant. Between 1921-1930, the Hetturites (again from the United States) had on the average 12-14 children per woman. This is close to 15 which has been recorded as the highest. That was 90 years ago, though!

In the South Sudanese case, it is fair to acknowledge that there are famous public officials who are renowned polygamists, folks who literally have countless children, but common sense tells us that the weak numerical standing of these folks renders them irrelevant.

Now, what are the most imminent implications of failure to effectively tame our reproductive extravaganza? The obvious one is that our descendants will rapidly overpopulate this country and unquestionably make a notable contribution to the seething population of humans gracing the face of the planet earth. In a few decades, territorial entitlement would fast fade into the distant past. Astonishingly large segments of society would be forced to cram themselves into tight living quarters.

There would be increased human-wildlife conflict. When push comes to shove and the matter of existence gets down to choosing between us and the lower animals, the poor organisms will inevitably be decimated. This represents a major affliction to the diversity of life in the animal kingdom. Generations of posterity might even describe it as a major extinction, this time, the principal architects being the humans and not a natural phenomenon like the meteor that hit the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, wiping out the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.

As our numbers continue to surge, the next victims to exit the stage would have to be the plants. In this case, there is a grave risk to our environment in addition to the immediate threat it poses to the lives of vegetarians. And with animals gone, every member of such an era would ironically have to be vegetarian.

Edward O. Wilson’s postulate as earlier outlined is, however, highly unlikely to materialize. First of all, as societies advance, contraceptive campaigns may finally have a more prominent effect. Secondly, dwindling resources and living spaces would almost certainly prompt more intensified national and global conflicts. Warfare, as history has shown, has the uncompromising reputation of ruthless elimination of the weak, unlucky and other groups. Some societies might resort to taking drastic reproductive control measures and this could see the return of biological determinism and its associated militant eugenics ~ human breeding theory that was once demonized as immoral, harmful or both. Individuals that are adjudged to be carrying certain autosomal recessive traits would by virtue of their natural genetic composition, be automatically barred from marrying. The most potent technique for achieving this is often via sterilization.

Some societies might resort to taking drastic reproductive control measures and this could see the return of biological determinism and its associated militant eugenics ~ human breeding theory that was once demonized as immoral, harmful or both. Individuals that are adjudged to be carrying certain autosomal recessive traits would by virtue of their natural genetic composition, be automatically barred from marrying. The most potent technique for achieving this is often via sterilization.

These factors in association with others or an entirely new set of circumstances that we can’t competently predict in our time, would either fix our descendants’ population at a certain constant, or alternatively cause it to plummet and the children are back to where we started.

Even without any of the above, the possibility of a mass famine is a remote one. Overt human maneouvres aside, nature alone is capable of checking our population. In this view, it can allow our numbers to grow to as far as its capacity can permit, but this will certainly hit some maximum.

The author, Ajang Barach-Magar, holds a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Technology (First Class Honours) from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and can be reached via his email: Barach Magar <barachmagar@gmail.com>

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

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