Why is Japan’s Population Falling?

Yesterday, Japan released the data from its 2015 census. It indicated that Japan’s population has declined by 947,000, or 0.7%, since the census was last taken in 2010. With a population of of 127.1 million, Japan is still the world’s 10th largest country in terms of population. But that is set to change. Although this was the first time that the census has registered a fall in population, demographers were already in agreement that growth was about to turn negative. So why is Japan’s population falling? And how will this negative population growth affect Japan?

There are two primary reasons for Japan’s declining population. One is a falling birth rate and the other is a lack of immigration. The simple truth is that Japanese families are not having as many babies as in the past, and too few people are coming into the country to make up the difference. The result is that people are dying more quickly than they can be replaced by new people.

Japan’s falling birth rate is no surprise to demographers. One of the most common demographic trends is that population growth begins to slow considerably as a country develops, and Japan is certainly a very well-developed country. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the economies of undeveloped countries are often dominated by the agricultural sector, and many people need to grow their own food to survive. As a result, families will have more children to increase their agricultural productivity. Another reason is that in less developed countries, access to birth control is very limited, so couples do not have the power to decide when they want to have children.

In Japan and other developed countries, on the other hand, the economic situation favors fewer children. It is not necessary to have many, as the economy is not dominated by agriculture. Also, the cost of raising a child is high in developed countries, leading many to choose to have fewer children. They are able to do so because access to birth control is widespread and sex education is common. In fact, education of women is an important contributor to lower birth rates. Education empowers women, and as a result many can choose when to have children. They often choose to have fewer children later due to the demands of their careers. The combined result of all of these factors is that people are simply having fewer children.

In the United States and Europe, immigration largely compensates for falling birth rates. With the United States very close to Latin America and Europe very close to North Africa and the Middle East, a constant flow of economic migrants and refugees replenishes the population. Japan, on the other hand, is not located very close to any source of immigrants. Also, Japan’s homogenous culture can be a daunting prospect to migrants. Many European countries have cultural ties to their former colonies and large immigrant communities. Japan does not share these characteristics, and as a result it is not a popular destination for permanent immigrants.

All of these reasons for Japan’s population decline are long term trends, and consequently one should not expect the country to return to growth. In fact, according to projections by the Japanese government, its population is expected to fall below 100 million in 2048 and continue to fall towards 80 million by 2100. These population trends will have huge negative effects on Japan’s economy. As the population declines, it also ages. More than 40% of the population is expected to be over the age of 65 by 2060. The cost of caring for these older citizens will be immense, putting enormous strain on Japan’s citizens and welfare system. This is especially true considering that fewer young people will be available to fund and care for these older citizens.

The shrinking workforce will also have negative effects beyond the difficulty of caring for retired citizens. If there are less workers, there will be less taxpayers. This is especially concerning considering Japan is the world’s most indebted country–its debt is equal to 230% of its GDP. And although its GDP is the 3rd largest in the world, that is set to change. Every economy is dependent on consumers and workers. If there are fewer consumers, there will be less consumption, less demand for goods, and consequently less economic output. If there are fewer workers, there will be less productivity and consequently less economic output .

Thus Japan is on a path to almost guaranteed economic contraction. And with fewer people paying taxes and more people dependent on them, a smaller economy is not good news for Japan’s government or its people. But there are some solutions. The negative effects of this demographic crisis certainly cannot be avoided, but they can be minimized. One way to do so is to encourage immigration in large numbers. Assimilating immigrants would be a very difficult task, as one of the world’s most homogenous countries would be forced to accept the children of immigrants as Japanese–and perhaps redefine what it means to be Japanese in the process. But doing so may be necessary. Another way that Japan can address its population crisis is to make it easier to manage both children and a career at the same time. This would prevent some people from choosing not to have children because of their careers. It would also allow more women to work–most Japanese women stay at home to raise their children–thus bolstering Japan’s shrinking workforce.

The release of new census data confirms a trend that has long been expected. In a way, the fall in population is an official beginning to Japan’s long journey of decline. But Japan is an exceptional country. From its post-war economic miracle to its reputation as one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Japan has shown itself to be capable of amazing things. Perhaps it will be able to avoid the worst of its population crisis. But perhaps not. Either way, Japan is about to face a challenge that will be instrumental in determining its future.


Bolivia’s Choice: Evo Morales Denied a Fourth Term

Last Sunday, Bolivians went the polls to choose whether or not they would approve proposed changes to their constitution. But while they’ve done so before, the stakes were higher this time.

Located in western South America, Bolivia is a landlocked nation of around 11 million people. 60% of the country’s population are ethically indigenous, and indigenous culture is still ubiquitous in Bolivia. While much of the country’s land is composed of Amazon rainforest, most of the population is concentrated in Bolivia’s high plateau–the Altiplano. Flanked on either side by the Andes mountains, the Altiplano is one of the highest plateau’s in the world. La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, is the world’s highest capital city at an elevation of 3640m (11,942 ft).  Despite its high elevation, La Paz is a bustling metropolis. And in a clear sign of the importance of the referendum, walls and buildings across the city are covered in political graffiti.

Bolivia's location in South America
Bolivia’s location in South America

The crux of the proposed changes to the constitution is a provision allowing Evo Morales, Bolivia’s current president, to seek re-election in 2019. In power since 2005, Morales would not be allowed to run again under current rules. Consequently, this referendum has largely boiled down whether Bolivians are satisfied with Morales or whether they want a new president in 2019. So what did they choose? Preliminary results indicate that, by a tiny margin, Bolivians have voted “No” to the constitutional changes. They’ve decided not to give Morales his coveted fourth term.

Following a string of electoral victories, this defeat is a blow to Morales’ Movement for Socialism Party. Since he took power with his socialist program in 2005, Bolivia has seen significant progress. Natural resources have been nationalized to fund social programs, the GDP has grown threefold, poverty rates have plummeted, and the constitution has been amended to give greater recognition to indigenous communities. As Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Morales is wildly popular among the poor and those living in rural areas.

But he has his critics. With corruption rife throughout the government, he has been attacked for his weak response to the issue. He is also embroiled in a scandal in which he is accused of helping an ex-lover to accrue valuable government contracts for her company. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, his opponents accuse him of authoritarian tendencies, asserting that he is using this referendum as an attempt to undermine democracy and consolidate his rule.

His critics most certainly have a point. Already on his third term, Morales has technically exceeded the constitutional maximum of two terms per president. But a controversial ruling before the previous election decided that he was eligible for a third term. Why? Because in a 2009 referendum, Morales succeeded in passing significant changes to Bolivia’s constitution. In accordance with the egalitarian tradition of the Movement for Socialism, it, among other things, renamed the country to “Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia” to recognize its multi-ethnic heritage. As a result, it was decided that Morales could run for a third term because it would only be his second term under the new constitution.

By the end of his third term, Morales will have been in power for 14 years. While they will have been a 14 years of consistent progress, they will also have allowed Morales to slowly increase his power through the entrenchment and consolidation that accompany any longtime ruler. Thus while one may argue that Morales provides a better future for Bolivia than the fragmented and ineffective opposition, perhaps it is time for that opposition to be given a chance to organize itself into a viable alternative for Bolivia. It is this narrative that Bolivians have chosen. While many will be bitterly disappointed to see their effective and beloved ruler go, even more will be relieved that the country has chosen to deny Morales the chance to consolidate his rule any further than he already has.

Graffiti arguing in favor of allowing Evo to run again
Graffiti arguing in favor of the proposed constitutional changes
Graffiti arguing against the proposed constitutional changes
Graffiti arguing against the proposed constitutional changes

Uganda’s Election Result: Why Nobody is Surprised

With most of the votes from Uganda’s recent presidential election counted, it is now clear who has emerged as the victor. Yoweri Museveni, the country’s incumbent president, has come away from Thursday’s election with around 60% of the votes. His closest rival, Kizza Besigye, won around 35%. With such a huge margin of victory, one would expect Museveni to feel an immense sense of accomplishment in light his feat. But he probably doesn’t. In fact, he’s probably used to the feeling. He has beaten Besigye in the last three of the country’s presidential elections. And with this January marking his 30th year in power, he probably wasn’t surprised at all by the result of the elections. Really, no one was surprised.

Yoweri Museveni rose to power in Uganda on January 29, 1986. His rebel forces had just taken the capital, Kampala, and defeated the regime of Milton Obote. Museveni was sworn in as president and soon occupied himself with the task of putting down the various insurgencies that had sprung up across the country. Having been plagued by instability for much of its existence, Uganda could certainly use an effective leader. And effective he was. After pacifying much of Uganda, Museveni fulfilled his promise of a transition to democracy, albeit ten years late, by holding elections in 1996.

Museveni won the 1996 elections, as his previous ten years in power had been marked by enormous progress. The country had been pacified, the economy had grown, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic had been managed well. But in 2005, Museveni’s promise of democracy began to fall apart. Constitutional changes were introduced that removed presidential term limits, allowing Museveni to continue running in perpetuity. He appears to have taken full advantage of these constitutional changes, continuing to run for president and showing no signs of stopping any time soon.

Museveni’s 30 years in power, along with the constitutional changes of 2005, practically guarantee that he will win any election that he runs in. While this would not be the case if Uganda were a fully-functioning democracy, Museveni has used his time in power to make loss impossible. According to the Freedom House, which rates Uganda as “not free,” his government has used media bias to strengthen his position among the electorate, has provided him with far more funding than other candidates, and has used paramilitary groups to intimidate voters. Museveni’s grip on power is so strong that Kizza Besigye, the opposition leader, has been arrested by the government multiple times over his 15 years of political activity.

Thus it is no surprise that Museveni has emerged victorious from this election. And it will be no surprise when he emerges victorious from the next election and the one after that. He will likely remain in power as long as he maintains widespread support in the upper levels of the government. While some might not mind these anti-democratic developments in light of Uganda’s progress under Museveni’s tenure, that progress will not last forever. Why? Because as Museveni consolidates his power further, he will not need the support of Uganda’s people to remain in power. And when that happens, his policy decisions will not be based on what is best for the country. They will be based on what is best for himself.


Central African Republic Elections: A Turning Point for the Country?

With almost constant coverage of debates, candidates, and poll numbers, the United States presidential election is likely to become America’s biggest source of news in 2016. But the United States is not the only country with a presidential election this year. In fact, the Central African Republic held the second and final round of its election just last Sunday. Picked up by some international news outlets, the event was reported on with only vague explanations of the platforms of each candidate and the violence that has gripped the country over the past few years. So how is this election tied to the country’s recent turbulence? How do the final two candidates differ in platform? Will they be able to pacify the country? These questions are crucial to understanding the future of this fragile nation.

The Central African Republic has long been an unstable country. As the name suggests, it is located roughly in the center of Africa. A former French colony, it now has a population of around 4 million people. Like much of Africa, it became a repressive one-party state after its independence in 1960 and has since been plagued by a chain of coup d’états that eventually led to the current crisis that has gripped the country.

The location of the Central African Republic in the center of Africa
The location of the Central African Republic in the center of Africa
A more detailed map of the Central African Republic
A more detailed map of the Central African Republic







In 2003, Ange-Félix Patassé, the president at the time, was overthrown by François Bozizé, setting of a chain of events that are crucial to understanding the Central African Republic’s instability over the past few years. Bozizé’s actions prompted a low-level civil war, called the Central African Republic Bush War, that lasted from 2004 to 2007. Peace was finally reached in 2007 when the government granted amnesty to rebel fighters and allowed them to organize into a political party. But peace would not last.

Eventually, rebel leaders accused the government of violating the terms of the peace agreement. Rebel groups, primarily from the Muslim north of the Christian majority country, joined together under the name Séléka. The group succeeded in overthrowing Bozizé in 2013, installing their leader, Michel Djotodia, as transitional president. But the violence did not end. Séléka continued to carry out atrocities against civilians, and in response the mainly Christian Anti-Balaka militias were formed. They, too, committed mass atrocities and slaughtered civilians. The country had descended into sectarian strife.

It was under these circumstances that Central Africans headed to the polls late last year and early this year. The first round of the elections were held in December. 30 candidates were approved to run, including three former prime ministers. It was two of these former prime ministers, Anicet-Georges Dologuélé and Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who took first and second place, respectively, and advanced to the runoff that was held on Sunday.

The candidacies of Dologuélé and Touadéra have many similarities, with both advocating primarily for a restoration of national unity while also emphasizing the importance of economic development. Both served as prime ministers under Bozizé, indicating ties to the former government. Dologuélé, who won first place with only 24% of the vote, was endorsed by Bozizé’s political party and has emphasized his economic and business credentials. He has stressed the importance of foreign investment to the country’s economic future. Touadéra, unlike Dologuélé, is running as an independent, which strengthens his pro-unity position. Portraying himself as a man of the people, he surprised many with his second place finish in the first round of the elections.

The similar platforms of Dologuélé and Touadéra indicate that both men understand the primary concern of the people: peace. Central Africans have grown weary of the violence in their country, and these candidates are promising to restore peace and bring economic growth. But will they succeed in doing so? If history is any indication, success will be an enormous challenge. In countries as poor and uneducated as the Central African Republic, changes in leadership often rotate among members of the same corrupt elite. But so far, the Central African Republic has followed its plan for a democratic transition to peace. If its new leader can mimic this success and follow through with his own program, this election, the result of which will be released within a few weeks, will hopefully mark the end of the country’s long period of instability.

A Summary of the African Union’s 26th Summit

On January 31st, the Assembly of the African Union concluded its 26th summit. Held every 6th months, the summit was held in the location of the headquarters of the African Union: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union is a supranational organization consisting of every African nation except Morocco. It exists to promote cooperation between African states, work towards higher living standards for all Africans, protect the sovereignty of African nations, and integrate the policies of African governments. Responsible for achieving these goals is The Assembly of the Union, the highest governing body of the African Union. Composed of heads of state of each member nation, it is responsible for setting the policy of the Union. It was this body, The Assembly of the Union, that met last week, with heads of states from all over Africa convening to discuss the path forward for their continent. So what did they accomplish? Read on to find out!

This is map of the African Union with its member states colored green. The countries colored in light green are suspended members.
This is map of the African Union with its member states colored green. The countries in light green are suspended members.

Agenda 2063:

Much of this year’s discussion is influenced by Agenda 2063, a document that has provided the vision for the African Union for the past few years. Conceived as a 50 year plan starting in 2013, the Agenda envisions a future Africa of economic prosperity, political unity, better governance, security, and common cultural identity. The Agenda draws heavily from the ideas of the African Renaissance and Pan-Africanism. The former refers to a flowering of technological and cultural progress from the continent while the latter refers to the development of much stronger political and cultural ties between the countries and peoples of Africa.

Topic-African Year of Human Rights:

The theme of the 26th AU summit was “African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women.” It is difficult to tell, at this time, the policy decisions made concerning this topic during the summit. While the AU always releases a document containing the decisions and declarations of the summit, it has not yet been released.

New Chairperson:

Every year, a new Chairperson of the AU is chosen from among the heads of states of African nations. In 2015, the Chairman was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. During this summit, he was replaced by Idriss Déby of Chad. The role of Chairperson is quite ceremonial, as they are responsible for little more than representing the AU at international events. Thus the appointment of Déby will have little effect on the decisions made and policies pursued by the AU.

Mugabe Sleeps:

The retirement of Mugabe as AU Chairman is, nonetheless, probably a positive change. Why? Well, Mugabe is quite well-known the world. An ailing dictator who drove Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground, his name recognition is due more to infamy than to fame. And at the age of 91, he is likely not a fitting figurehead to oversee the future of Africa. This was made abundantly clear during this summit, as there were reports of him sleeping through heated debates.

Decision on Burundi:

With the political crisis in Burundi overshadowing this year’s summit, the AU had been under pressure from the United Nations to convince the Burundian government to allow a peacekeeping force to be deployed in the country. Burundi has been simmering since last year, when it was shaken by protests and a failed coup d’état in response to an announcement by the president that he intended to seek an unconstitutional third term. Despite a request from Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general who spoke at the summit, the AU decided against sending troops to Burundi. It instead opted to send delegates to engage in dialogue with the Burundian government.

Criticism of the ICC:

Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, submitted a proposal that the AU develop a roadmap for withdrawal of African nations from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The proposal exposes the common feeling that the Court unfairly targets African nations because most of those prosecuted by the court have been African leaders. While a withdrawal by AU nations would certainly be concerning, alarm should be reserved for a later date as the decision made during this summit was simply to explore the option of leaving the ICC.

Criticism of the United Nations:

In his speech at the summit, Mugabe sharply criticized the United Nations. In a show of strong anti-western sentiment, he slammed the body for favoring western nations and neglecting African countries. He called for reform, proposing that Africa be given a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council. While the extent of the Mugabe’s antagonization of the west is quite extreme, they do bely a common frustration. Like the criticism of the ICC, his comments show a growing weariness of the western-dominated status quo of international politics.