The lesson from Sodom and Gomorrah

November 1, 2009 • Daily Email Recap

Carefully stepping round another heap of fetid refuse in Sodom and Gomorrah, it is easy to despair of Africa’s future. Accra’s notorious slum is aptly named. Here, about 30,000 families (no one knows for sure how many) crowd into a warren of hastily thrown-together shacks on the fringes of Ghana’s capital: there is no power, sewerage or running water, diarrhoea and other diseases are rife and deadly fires rapidly take hold. It seems to contain all that is wrong with modern Africa—too many people, deep poverty and the failure of inept or corrupt governments to do anything to help. Yet Sodom and Gomorrah also has a more hopeful story to tell.

Africa is undergoing a “demographic transition”. As our briefing shows (see article), African women are now following their sisters in Asia and the rich world by bearing steadily fewer children. Admittedly, Africa is lagging behind Asia by about 20 years, and the continent’s fertility rates are still high, but the trend is clear. In Mozambique in 1950 a woman had, on average, 6.5 children over her lifetime; now she has five…

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