The Coming Population Implosion

Anthony Zimmerman
Published in Fidelity
June 1994
Reproduced with Permission

As we glanced up at the brilliant constellations of the early morning sky, Father Matthew Habiger, OSB and myself missed our familiar North Star and the Great Dipper. We were in west Tanzania, 50 miles east of the Great Rift Valley, south of the equator. We were about to start on a 600 mile drive through Africa's savannah's and high country to the East Coast; our destiny was Dar Es Salaam. We had just completed several days of lectures here at St. Augustine Seminary in Peramiho, and were being treated to this safari. Fr. Julian Kangalawe, dean of studies, would be at the wheel. Until recently he had been pastor in a parish about half way across the country, and knew about AIDS and related matters from first hand experience.

A seminarian climbed into the back of the jeep beside Fr. Matthew, clearing a space for himself among the sacks of sundry farm produce which Fr. Julian would deliver to the sisters at his former parish along the way. The seminarian was hitching a ride to the nearest hospital which had vaccine against the rabies. A dog had bitten him and he was not about to take chances. We waved goodbye to Fr. Justin the rector who told us to drive carefully, then started off into the darkness.

Fr. Julian had already buried five parishioners, victims of AIDS. This was heavy on his mind as he warned the seminarian at least three times: "Be sure that your doctor uses a new needle." Doctors don't always change needles, he explained to us. They might infect 20 patients in a row with HIV if they use the same needle. And in Tanzania, we had learned, death from AIDS follows only two to three years after the initial HIV infection.

Our headlights traced the winding road through the extensive land holdings of the Benedictines since 1880, was a self-contained unit which, so they say, could survive for a long time even if cut off from the rest of the world. Four hundred thousand Catholics populate the area, and the seminary had already produced 361 priests and 10 bishops. Fr. Matthew and myself had spoken five times to the appreciative 165 major seminarians and staff.

Everyone speaks English, besides Swahili, and perhaps a tribal language. "Overpopulation" was a hot topic because the Tanzanian government had instituted an anti-population policy just a year before. Quite evidently, officialdom would not have instituted the policy had it not been practically coerced to do so by economic blackmail from abroad. Now media cranked out non-stop propaganda, and the seminarians were eager to prepare proper answers for the beleaguered people. Fr. Matthew and I did our best, and assured them that, though we love our Uncle Sam, we do not agree with his senseless "population imperialism."

We also learned that their moral theology professor had warned them against errors in the morals text they were using, the one authored by Fr. Karl Peschke: it has anti-Humanae Vitae overtones.

"This creek is the borderline of the Benedictine grounds," said Fr. Julian as he eased the Land Rover over a bridge, and into the rougher roads now ahead. Early morning pedestrians walking to the market with sacks of produce balanced on the head, stepped carefully aside to let our jeep roar past. Fr. Julian drove at break-neck speed where the road was smooth, but jammed on the brakes to crawl over bumps and holes. Fr. Matthew, hanging on to the seat in the back, and I strapped firmly to a front seat, soon gave up the idea of relieving the driver: we wouldn't dare to drive at his speed and then brake on time for the bumps. This part of the road was under construction, but from Songeya on we would cruise over the rest of the 600 miles on comparatively smooth tarmac.

"Make sure that the doctor uses a new needle," Fr. Julian warned again as we dropped the seminarian off at the hospital in Songeya. It was daylight now, and we were in the city near which the Pope had celebrated Mass on a hillside several years before. Several hundred thousand people had come from far and wide to attend the inspiring events. Fr. Julian had directed the choirs. One reason why the Pope likes to travel to Africa, I believe, is the music and pageantry at Mass. Choirs compete like our soccer teams: often in colorful uniform, familiar with Beethoven and Handel as well as with home-produced polyphonic songs, accompanied by the fetching rhythm of hand patted drums, they carry the day, and the entire congregation often joins them. Mass has become the center of culture in this part of Africa.

"Look-overpopulated Africa!" chuckled Fr. Julian as we sped through vast stretches of savannah, often without so much as a house in sight. Again we would pass through villages, with brick or thatched housing, children walking now to school, women approaching or leaving the market. The pictures we had seen of the African savannah, with the tall grass and eye-catching horizontal tree branching, we now saw in real life. The temperature in the predominantly higher altitudes was cool and refreshing, not at all like the mosquito infested lowlands of our destination on the east coast. Evidence compelled us to vote against the idea that Africa can be called "overpopulated." The truth is that more people, not less, are needed to develop its rich natural resources, and so to render the lives of the people more comfortable, healthy, productive, and secure.

"These truckers' stops are now all supplied with condoms" grimaced Fr. Julian as drove past scattered settlements along the way. "It's a government regulation. If restaurants and shelters don't supply condoms, the government threatens to shut them down." The government has done well, he said. It forged our 120 warring tribes into a nation at peace. Catholics, Lutherans, Moslems, tribals, all respect each other. When a few Moslem fundamentalists murdered Christians who sold pork, the government took swift action to capture them and bring them to justice. "But this condom business is crazy," he said, using that word. "Last year 47 million condoms were unloaded on the pier at Dar Es Salaam. The government is threatened: if they don't accept the condoms, foreign countries and banks will cut off financial resources." He cast a side glance at Fr. Matthew and myself, both citizens of the country which sent the condoms and keeps alive a despicable overpopulation myth.

At 1,500 meters we drove in and out of clouds and shivered a bit in the cold. Next we traveled through a tree plantation-past mile after mile of trees in straight rows to be harvested for lumber or pulp. Between them were large fields irrigated by water piped in from a reservoir. The spectacular scenery greeted us as we descended to the Great Ruaha River, then headed for Mikuni, the gateway to one of Tanzania's immense game reserves.

The terrain of the reserve was level as a billiard table, stretching endlessly until it touched the distant rim of mountains on either side; endless expanses of tall grass and scattered assortments of trees typical to the African savannah feasted our marveling eyes. Not a single house was here, home to Africa's fabulous animal kingdom. Wildebeests, always in the company of zebras, crossed the road in front of us; they ignored us when we sped through at 75 miles per hour, but snorted and dashed away a few steps if we stopped to take pictures. Giraffes, long necks protruding over the grass and gazing at us warily, or galloping away with kingly grace, were a sight to see. Elephants blinked but paid no other attention to us little folk. Lions we did not see, "but they are probably there in the grass and see us," remarked our driver.

"Why is this immense expanse of fertile plain not used for agriculture?" I asked that night at our lodge. We were staying near Morogoro, at the retreat house of the Renewal Prayer Centre. Justin Simon, who gave us a great welcome, gave this explanation. She had been born and reared next to the game preserve. She recalled that they had always feared the animals; the elephants trampled their gardens, the lions came into settlements during the night; the monkeys and jackals ravaged the gardens and stole fruit from the trees. "The animals were there first, before we came," she said. "To live there is risky and dangerous." In other words, people had not yet asserted themselves over the animals, when the government created the reserves and fenced them in. Fr. Julian looked slyly at me: "See? Overpopulated!"

Our destination, Dar Es Salaam, is a fabulously beautiful harbor city with broad avenues, fine houses along the seaside, much greenery and flowers. Then we drove through a series of city blocks that looked utterly desolate: houses were nailed up, grass grew through sidewalks, weeds everywhere, but no people. Why? "Aids!" said Fr. Canute, resident of the city who was driving us to the airport. The depopulated blocks presaged worse things to come.

The plane took us back north to Nairobi in Kenya, nestled cool and comfortable on a plateau, but near to the equator. En route, the matchless peak of Mount Kilimanjaro showed its graceful peak through the clouds, a crater framed by an immaculate collar of snow, symbol of God's designs for beautiful Africa. Africa, where AIDS now challenges its ancient cultures to mortal combat, threatening to swiftly decimate and perhaps even extinguish heedless populations.

The huge Kenyatta National Memorial Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa, had thirty percent of the beds occupied by AIDS patients when I visited there in August 1993. A resident doctor and professor cited statistics of a national survey which, when extrapolated to Kenya's population of 25 million, indicate that 2 million are already infected with the HIV virus as of August 1993. At present the number doubles in one year, he added, and the life expectancy after infection is a short two to three years in Kenya. He foresees a great tragedy now in the making.

St. Benedict's Hospital, Ndanda, Tanzania, tests all volunteer blood donors before accepting their blood for relatives and patients in the hospital. The hospital statistics indicate an explosive rise of HIV positive would-be donors during the past four years (1992 Annual Report).

An eyewitness living in Uganda told me that some of the villages have three to four funerals per week now; that orphans and elderly people live in lamentation there, bereft of a working population; that ghost towns already exist.

In an urban brothel, a dozen women can quickly spread diseases to hundreds of one night-stand clients. There are figures showing that "some Nairobi working-class area prostitutes average nearly 1,000 sexual contacts per year (see Caldwell et al., Population and Development Review, June 1989:222). Other studies suggest much lower frequencies, however. But it does not require a mathematical genius to foresee that brothels with HIV positive prostitutes can spread the disease among a client population with the speed and roar of a prairie fire.

And brothels in parts of Africa do have HIV positive prostitutes. In a controlled real-life study done in Kenya, it was found that in a little more than a year, at least one third of the prostitutes became infected (see Cameron, Family Research Report, July-August 1992, citing Science News, 7/25/92, p.54).

Brothels have infected entire housing areas of parts of Dar Es Salaam, where populations have imploded, as noted above. And when seasonal migrant laborers visit city brothels, they may sow the seed of AIDS into the sex networks when they return home. Brothels, then, are apt to spread AIDS with explosive force because of the great volume of partners to whom an infected prostitute can spread the virus. AIDS will bring a swift end to populations where prostitution is common. Nature now sentences brothel populations and clients to swift extinction unless they stop this way of life. Brothels multiplied all out of sync with the African culture in recent decades, and now nature is pushing them off the stage of cultured human living.

SEX NETWORKING A team of social researchers, after describing the predominant African type of culture which includes polygyny and its characteristic qualities, foresee that fear of AIDS will confront Africa with a choice: abandon polygyny or die. "If projections showing half the deaths of the region being caused by AIDS only a dozen years hence prove correct, then that disease will dominate all other considerations in African social policy, and society and social relations are likely to be ridden by fear" (Caldwell and al. 1989: 226). Fear of AIDS, they suggest, is likely not only to decrease the frequency of sexual relations outside marriage, but to support an historic cultural shift from polygyny to monogamy: "In the long run ... Africa may be nudged toward a Eurasian pattern (of monogamy) not by missionaries but by fear" (ibid. p. 225). Christ's re-institution of monogamy as it was "in the beginning" has by-passed much of Africa. Fear of AIDS may finally spur African populations to abandon polygyny and restore their family life to the monogamic pattern which God originally instituted for all mankind.

Various socio-economic factors now combine to erode polygynism. In the traditional slash-and bum type of agriculture, intensive labor yielded meager crops, and cultivators moved to new fields when the old were left to lie fallow. Women did most of the work, with hand and hoe, and so controlled the household economy. Each woman was relatively independent of her husband, had stronger ties with her family line than with that of her husband, and raised the children with the general support of her family lineage. Family ties with the husband and his family line were rather weak. Almost everywhere the system is characterized by polygynism-one husband with multiple wives. But when the plow is introduced, labor is less intensive and more rewarding, the same fields are cropped year after year, homes become less mobile, and men do the cultivation, becoming the main family breadwinners. Monogamy is more natural to modem agriculture than the slash-and-burn practice which has greatly supported polygynism in Africa.

A second engine now pulling Africa out of polygyny into monogamy is the enormous rural-to-urban migration, especially of the young. The predominant power of the patriarchal and matriarchal lineages is eroded when young men and women find stable employment in urban industries, and there establish nuclear families. The older type of sex networking is also eroded. The man in the rural area who had more than one wife who was not only economically independent but made a net contribution to the family economy, was wealthier with several contributing than with one, and typically had a rather stable relation with a handful of other women. Wives, on the other hand, not as strongly attached emotionally to the husband as in the monobasic system, also tended to have several ongoing extra-marital relations. Young women, especially, not greatly attached to an aging husband, sought younger company; and gained extra income from quasi-contractual relations with a handful of men. Sexual encounters were therefore multiple, but limited mostly to quasi-stable partners known face to face. AIDS does not spread in this situation as rapidly in the early stages of invasion, as it does via urban brothels. But the rural-urban migration tends to change all that.

Sex networking among a few familiar partners, on the other hand, of the type which is especially common in polygynous cultures, is apt to spread AIDS also, but at a slower pace than the brothel system. The extensive practice of polygyny among African and among Muslim populations invites us to take a closer look at the connection between this practice and the likelihood of the spread of AIDS.

Studies by I.O. Orubuloye, John C. Caldwell, and Pat Caldwell in Ondo State of rural Nigeria, via 488 interviews, indicate that "all respondents averaged more than seven different partners in their sexual lifetimes" (Studies in Family Planning, 1992:346). They also found that the mean age at which young men experienced their first sexual contact was 16 years, but the average age at first marriage was 27 years. Seventy-seven percent of the married men were in monogamous marriages and 23 percent were in polygynous ones, with 40 percent of all their wives being in polygynous marriages. Since the life cycle was not yet complete, the number of polygynous marriages would increase with time. Among their fathers, 60 percent had been polygynists. At the time of the study, all respondents currently averaged 2.3 sexual partners. Of all the married men in the study, more than 90 percent reported having current sexual activities outside their marriage (ibid.: 345-349).

Older men taking several wives sweep the young marriageable women off the market, leaving the younger men with diminished possibilities. And the married men are proportionately much older than their wives, present and prospective. The second, third and fourth wives being proportionately younger than their husbands, and having lesser emotional ties with them, tend to be available for extra-marital affairs. It would take us too far afield to analyze the picture more completely, but the polygyny system as such invites the situation in which, as was stated above, men as well as women go through an average of seven partners during a lifetime.

AIDS had not been reported in the area where the above study was made, but the inevitable is expected when young men migrate for seasonal labor to cities and coastal areas, where one or the other may be infected, and carry the virus into the home sex networking circuitry. The authors suggest that the pattern of limited sex networking, in which partners know each other face to face, in contrast to the one-night-stand more typical of brothels, will not spread AIDS in the explosive manner of the commercialized brothels. The southern Nigerian model "affords a great deal of protection to the population during the early part of an HIV/AIDS epidemic, with a low rate of spread of the infection for perhaps the first 15 years. But once the infection reaches a certain level in the community, it spreads rapidly thereafter in the absence of changes in behavior, and in fewer than 30 years, according to Anderson's projection, it catches up with the infection rate in societies where prostitution plays a more significant role" (ibid.:350). Ultimately, the epidemic will reach much higher levels of infection in the all pervasive sex networking community where the vast majority will eventually be exposed, than in the brothel model where exposure is more limited to the section of the population which frequents the brothels.


As noted above, the polygynous system is being out-moded by a change of agricultural patterns, and even more by the rapid rural to urban shift of populations. Polygyny is also a far second to monogamy in richness of the human experience. The system is also contrary to the God's original plan for monogamous marriage which extended to the entire human race, including Africans, Christ re-instituted God's original plan for lifetime monogamy for all peoples, calling all peoples to return to this pristine observance (Mt 19).

"The family," said Pope John Paul II referring to the monogamous family, "is the fundamental and central educating community, is the privileged means (emphasis his) for transmitting the religious and cultural values which help the person to acquire his or her own identity. Founded on love and open to the gift of life, the family contains in itself the very future of society (emphasis his)... The domestic virtues, based upon a profound respect for human life and dignity, and practiced in understanding, patience, mutual encouragement and forgiveness, enable the community of the family to live out the first and fundamental experience of peace" (Message for the 1994 World Day of Peace).

The Catholic Church is making rapid strides in Africa, and Protestant Christianity is doing the same, both rejecting polygyny and requiring monogamy among its members. Sometimes there is a half-way pause. A missionary made the rounds among mission stations in Ghana, for example, urging Catholic men who were not receiving Holy Communion, to rectify their marriages. Among 56 couples, 47 refused. "But why?" he pressed. A typical answer "Once I marry her in the Church , she will know that) can't divorce her. Then I can no longer be boss as now. She will be too strong for me."

It is always a touching drama, filled with joy for some, with pathos for others, when a married man, before Baptism, chooses one wife from among his several to be his one and only henceforth. The Catholic basic communities, very active now in East Africa especially, help to make arrangements for the others, the wives who part from him at Baptism, and the children. Monogamous life is supported on its shaky legs by the intense Catholic life cultivated In the basic communities by neighboring families, and by the parish with its socials, and the experienced catechists.

Primate of Kenya is Cardinal Otunga, no stranger to Africa's culture, a pillar of Catholicism and devotee of priestly celibacy. He is one, it is said, of 100 children of his father. With some of his bishops and clergy, he attended my lecture on "Celibacy began with the Apostles" and asked for a copy. Priests show the way to our people, he said.

Cardinal Otunga's charismatic and simple sincerity made time come to a complete standstill during his lecture at the conference amphitheater. Hearing him was a moving Catholic experience, perhaps not unlike that of early Christians in the Roman catacombs when they listened to the message of the still unwritten Gospel, often spoken by soon-to-be martyrs. Several days before, at the Holy Family Basilica, the Cardinal's Mass and ceremonies lasted at least three hours, with 40OO worshipers participating,, choirs sang their unabashed joy to the Lord In polyphonic harmony, timed by the soft but compelling "wum pa, wum. pa, wum pa pa" of the drums stroked by expert hands; colorful squads of immaculately dressed and manicured altar boys buzzed about or stood rigidly at attention, school girls danced their way energetically up the aisle, two steps and curtsies advancing, one step again in retreat; elegantly plumed parishioners brought Offertory gifts, including maize and melons and a bleating lamb. But the Cardinal, whose sermon lasted at least an hour during which an altar boy was quietly carried out after keeling over, was energized rather than exhausted by all this. At the recessional he marched in a lighted candle procession around the grounds reciting the rosary with his priests and people, then knelt on stone steps to dedicate Kenyans to Mary and ask her help:

May you, Mary, be the Mother of the Shepherds and help us to be more faithful to Your Son than we have been until now, so that together we may, work to fulfil His Will in us and in our people. Be the Mother of all the people of Kenya..."

The newly baptized are welcomed into a community which knows the ancient culture but now welcomes the Gospel message and feels the quiet joy which radiates from the mystery of its supernatural helps. Priests committed to celibacy, with the Cardinal at their bead, are a powerful locomotive pulling their people out of the old culture and into the new.


A study of sexual networking in Provincial Thailand opens with a generalization that "in Thailand young men commonly initiate sexual experience by patronizing a commercial sex worker... In a recent survey of urban men, 75 percent indicated they had had sex with a commercial sex worker.' A sample study indicates that the average age for men at their first sexual episode is 17 years of age. A cited study indicates that 12 percent of married men and 36 percent of unmarried men indicated having had relations with a commercial sex worker during the past year. The rates of infection with HIV among that's brothel workers reached 25.2 percent -as of December 1991. As of June 199 1, every province in Thailand reported HIV infection among brothel workers (see Havanon et al., Studies in Family Manning, Jan/Feb 1993). The percentages are considered to be understated.

Put these findings together and the following picture emerges: If 75 percent of the men have had intercourse with a brothel worker, and if 25 percent of the brothel workers are infected with HIV, then it is but a matter of time before the majority of Thailand's population will be an AIDS population, doomed to lingering sickness and untimely death. But it need not be so. The presence of so many brothels in Thailand is likely of recent origin. Within a population of 800,000 people studied recently, there were 44 brothel type commercial sex establishments (1991) with 371 sex workers, but these are mostly of comparatively recent origin. A 72-year-old respondent told the researchers that there had been only two brothels in the area before, one for Chinese patrons and one for the Thais (see Havarion, p.2). Today's huge sex industry is therefore not an authentic fixture in Thai culture. Hopefully the AIDS threat will close down the 44 brothels, and serve to relocate Thailand back into her truer ancient culture.

India is in grave trouble because hospitals spread the HIV virus via blood transfusions. Bombay, for example, will be a dying city by the year 2000,wrote an experienced administrator of nurses who knows from first hand how casually untested blood, which is often contaminated, is transfused into unsuspecting and helpless patients.

Japan has placed herself on guard. The notorious sex tours sponsored by employers of large companies, which used to frequent Taiwan, the Philippines, and Thailand, are no more, so far as I know. Knowing the situation here, I would suppose that the last thing a company would want to do now is sponsor a sex tour and have employees come home with AIDS.

When I came to Japan over 40 years ago, licensed prostitutes were examined for sexually transmitted diseases on a weekly basis. Prostitution has been illegal for several decades now, and activities under altered nomenclature are no longer under legal protection. Periodically the spectre of AIDS frightens careless patrons. For example, a Philipina prostitute living in Nagano city had been found HIV positive. For some the discovery was too late: today Nagano, a relatively small city, is ranked near the top of the nation in HIV infections. Because about 50,000 Philipina girls now enter Japan annually, many as dancers and entertainers, we can foresee that at least some kind of AIDS watch- perhaps informal-will be set up by sponsors or by the government. The number of infected persons is reported to be relatively small as yet: 1,301 people in Japan were either carriers of the HIV virus or showed AIDS symptoms, as of August 1993. Of the 47 new cases reported in July and August 1993, 29 were male and 18 female. Among the women, 12 were foreigners. Some 19 cases were from heterosexual contact, a disturbing development. Doctors tell me that more patients now ask for the HIV blood test.

The current WHO Global Programme on AIDS reports that about 2.5 million cases of AIDS have occurred, that about 13 million men, women, and children have been infected with the HIV virus from the start of the pandemic until January 1993. New infections in the second half of 1992 amounted to about 1 million, the majority in south and south-east Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa. WHO estimates that by the year 2000 there will be 40 million infections, and perhaps1 million deaths per year.

[Update, April 2000. The estimate of one million deaths from AIDS made by WHO in 1993 must, unfortunately, be more than doubled, to now read 2.2 million deaths per year, as this report indicates]:

AIDS is now the leading killer in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 23.3 million people are HIV positive or have AIDS. Ninety percent of the world's 11 million AIDS orphans are in Africa and although 200,000 Africans died from war in 1998, 2.2 million died from HIV/AIDS. Even though it has just one-tenth of the World's population, Sub- Saharan Africa is home to two-thirds of the world's HIV population. And in Africa's most affected regions, as many as one person in four is estimated to carry HIV. (UN News,United Nations Non Governmental Liaison Service, February-March, 2000, p. 30.)

The WHO estimate indicates the following statistics of HIV infections: Sub-Saharan Africa, over 7.5 million; the Americas, over 2 million; south and south-east Asia, over I million; western Europe about 500,000; north Africa and the Middle East about 75,000;eastern Europe and central Asia about 50,000;east Asia and the Pacific about 25,000; Australasia about25,000.(The above reported in The State of World Population 1993, UNFPA, p.3).

Typically the UNFPA authorities, committed to population control, deny that Africa's population growth will decrease because of depletion by AIDS between now and the year 2000;and ostrich-like, their report is silent about a projection of statistics beyond the turn of the century. Closer to reality would be a projection based on the figure of the one million new infections which occurred in the latter half of 1992, which indicates two million per year; these will all die if not cured; the future death statistic, then, is two million per year and rising; not rising only, but accelerating, then exploding over the continent, leaving a remnant of very young and very old survivors. UNFPA's Populi ' for example, mentions that by the year 20 10 one in six of Tanzanians "could be infected with HIV if more is not done to prevent its spread" (November 1993, p. 7). If all die within two to three years, and new victims are continuously infected, this portends a population implosion, not at all an explosion.

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