WHO shall fill the "empty spaces" of the world? This pressing question has come to the fore today as a result of the assumption by Europeans of control over non-European territories during the last three centuries. These territories were not vacant, and indeed were not underpopulated in terms of the skill of the indigenous inhabitants. But where there was land suitable for European methods of exploitation in a climate to which Europeans were accustomed, and where the indigenous population was sparse, Europeans settled. In some of these areas, North America and Australia for example, the natives were pushed out of the way; in others, South, Central and East Africa for instance, regions were demarcated for European settlement and the natives relegated to reservations, though employed in European districts as laborers. In such countries as India and Indonesia, on the other hand, where climate and methods of cultivation were unfamiliar and the population was dense, there was no settlement by Europeans.

The causes of these migrations were mixed, but a basic impulse in the whole movement was the desire of Europeans to expand trade -- in other words, to develop these territories. Sometimes they developed them by forming settlements to work the soil, sometimes by introducing more orderly conditions which permitted the native inhabitants themselves to use their resources and expand their commerce. Demographic influences -- the pressure of population -- were thus secondary in the migrations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But the development of these North American, Asiatic and African territories led to demographic changes of great importance in Europe. By promoting the exchange of manufactured products for food, and by thus increasing the food supply of European countries, population growth was stimulated, and though this did not provide the original impetus for the migrations, it became important in the course of the story. It was not until towards the end of the eighteenth century that population began to increase markedly in Europe, and at first this took place only in certain countries. But as time went on, a high rate of natural increase made its appearance throughout Europe, and emigration seemed to offer at least a partial solution of the resulting problem of overpopulation.

There came a swing of the pendulum. A decline in fertility followed a decline in mortality, and in the years after the First World War interest shifted from a concern for the dangers of overpopulation to a concern for the dangers of a falling population, since evidence seemed to point towards a decline of numbers in the western countries. Though it was apparent that large areas in the East were overcrowded, it was the fashion in the West at that time to look upon eastern countries as fortunate because they were free from "the menace of underpopulation." Now the picture has changed once more. The fear of yesterday is looked upon as groundless, for the prospect of a decline in numbers in the West is now judged to be remote. But the steady increase of population in some eastern countries is regarded as a very serious threat to their well-being.

Reflections upon the history of population movements have also produced noteworthy shifts of opinion as to their causes. There was formerly, for instance, a tendency to think of the large-scale migrations of the past two centuries or so as "normal." But a closer view of history did not support such a view, and when, in the third decade of this century, migration began to slow down it began to seem likely that we were living at the end of an age which is exceptional in its population movements. There was formerly also a disposition to look upon the causes of migration as measurable forces. Areas became congested, it was thought, and internal tensions were generated. Then migrations followed more or less automatically, and very likely led to strife with neighboring areas; or, if population movement was impeded and the tension not relieved, a danger zone was created. Quite possibly a predictable sequence of events of this kind did occur in the earlier phases of human history and among the more primitive peoples -- the Polynesians, for example. But it has become evident that the effects of population changes on international relations are unpredictable. That is not to say that population changes in a country do not affect its relations with other countries, but only that we cannot tell what the response of various countries will be.

The main features of the world population situation at present are the contrast between this rapid growth of numbers in certain Asiatic countries, whose populations are already very dense, and the apparent underpopulation of certain other areas. Australia, for instance, certainly looks empty, and since no Australian authority seems to put the desirable population of the continent at less than 20,000,000 or 25,000,000, we must conclude that, in fact, it is only partially peopled. Other areas, such as New Guinea and East Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika) are also sparsely populated. The level of technical skill in these areas is low, compared to that in Australia, and it may be that at this level they are not, in fact, underpopulated. But there can be no doubt that with improvement in methods of industry and agriculture these regions could hold much larger numbers of people.

The problem offered by contrasts of "empty" and crowded lands is ancient, though the form which it now assumes is new. In Utopia there was a recognized way of solving it, Sir Thomas More told us:

If so be, that the multitude throughout the whole Ilande passe and excede the dewe number, then they choese out of every citie certein citezens, and build up a towne under their owne lawes in the next land where the inhabitauntes have muche waste and unoccupied ground, receaving also of the same countrey people to them, if they will joyne and dwell with them. Thus they joyning and dwelling together do easelye agre in one fassion of living, and that to the great wealth of both peoples. For they so bringe the matter about by their lawes, that the ground which before was neither good nor profitable for the one nor for the other, is now sufficiente and fruteful enoughe for them both. But if the inhabitauntes of that lande wyl not dwell with them to be ordered by their lawes, then they dryve them out of these boundes which they have limited, and appointed out for themselves. And if they resiste and rebel, then they make warre agaynst them. For they counte this the most juste cause of warre, when anye people holdethe a piece of grounde voyde and vacaunt to no good nor profitable use, kepyng other from the use and possession of it, whiche notwithstandyng by the lawe of nature ought thereof to be nouryshed and relieved.

In real life, as in Utopia, man's sense of justice is offended when valuable land is put to no good or profitable use, as in central and southern Italy today, where peasants are occupying under-cultivated estates. And when the under-cultivated estate is in "the next land," or overseas, serious international problems can arise.

Such differences in density of population do not, however, mean that there must inevitably be a movement from the overcrowded countries into the sparsely settled ones. In some instances the peoples of overpopulated areas are too ignorant to realize their true condition, or too apathetic to attempt to remedy it by emigration; and there are cases in which the leaders of overpopulated countries have virtually forbidden all emigration except to areas under the national flag, as did Mussolini. Yet while nothing is predetermined in these matters, the coexistence of areas in such different circumstances is a fact of much importance. It is now generally realized that emigration is very unlikely to solve the difficulties of an overpopulated country, even when the country is small. (The Irish were fortunate in that, just when they were in trouble, a great stream of emigrants which they could join was flowing across the Atlantic.) The increase in population in countries like India is so huge that outflow by emigration could be no cure and hardly even a palliative. But though this is fairly well understood in India, nevertheless the pressure of population there influences the attitude of Indians toward other countries.


In particular, of course, overpopulation in India affects the attitude of Indians toward the three sparsely populated East African territories to which we have referred -- Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. This particular case is worth examination in some detail, as an illustration of the general problem. The recent census of East Africa shows that there are about 17,000,000 Africans, 180,000 Indians and 50,000 Europeans in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, and that of the Europeans, 65 percent are British. Indian opinion, of which Mr. N. Gangulee's recent book, "Indians in the Empire Overseas," may be taken as representative, holds strongly that Indians should have a large degree of freedom to enter these territories. Mr. Gangulee does not maintain that emigration offers even a partial solution of India's population problem, but he says in effect that since East Africa offers opportunities to Indians possessing skill, ambition and enterprise which they cannot find in their overcrowded home, they should be able to enjoy those opportunities if they want to. In other words, if nationals of other countries are allowed to contribute to the development of this area, why should Indians be excluded?

Mr. Gangulee's position is moderate. He does not ask for unlimited entry of Indians. "A realistic view of the problem should . . . convince Indians that the policy of the Open Door in the Dominions and Colonies cannot be a practical proposition," he writes. Yet he insisted: "There should be scope for Indian immigrants to share in the utilization of the natural resources. This suggestion . . . does not mean an unrestricted immigration and settlement of Indians . . . irrespective of the interests of other communities or irrespective of the economic possibility of the region in question."

This claim is strongly denied in East Africa. Both European and African members of the Kenya Legislature, for example, as reported in the London Times on August 18, 1949, insist that Asian immigration should be drastically curtailed. It was said in the legislative debate that the existing legislation is wrongly based on economic considerations, and that formation of the right national character of the nation now coming into being in Kenya should be the first aim in immigration control. European elected members of the legislature pointed out that further Indian immigration would be disastrous to people living in East Africa; and an African member of the legislature said that "Indians were obstacles in the paths of Africans who consequently could not advance in such employment as the government service, commerce or as artisans." Such views may be taken as representative.

The Government of Kenya (a Crown Colony and Protectorate) has full power to regulate the entry of all who wish to come to the country, whether they are British not domiciled in Kenya, members of a sovereign nation within the Commonwealth, or aliens. In other words, the Government of Kenya, and also the Governments of Uganda (also a Protectorate) and Tanganyika (a former Mandate, now a U.N. Trust Territory under British administration) have their hands more or less free. What considerations are relevant when they face this situation?

About one fundamental matter there can be no doubt at all. At the time when Europeans first entered East Africa the inhabitants were without even the most elementary acquaintance with all those scientific, technical and administrative skills available in western civilization. Responsible Africans now clamor to possess these arts, and non-Africans, however conscious they may recently have become that the possession of these powers is no guarantee of a good life, rightly think that it is proper to hand them on. But if non-Africans are to do this, it cannot be just by advice; if there are to be schools and universities for Africans, non-Africans must set them up and conduct them, and so must they set up and administer the machinery of government and take the lead throughout the whole field of social and economic life.

It would be possible to design and carry out a program of assistance for Africans which assumed that, after a certain time, non-Africans would withdraw from the country. But East Africa is not taking this path. Almost all the Indians and a certain proportion of the Europeans are settlers -- that is to say, people who have committed their future to the country, who expect to end their lives there, and who intend that their children shall make their careers in the country. The settlement of Europeans has been encouraged in Kenya, and more than 12,000 square miles have been set aside for white farmers in the highlands. There are not many attractive openings for white settlers, apart from farming, since the European is willing to take only the higher positions in trade; the less remunerative openings, in retail trade for example, are attractive only to Indians. The settlement of Indians was not directly encouraged by the Government; they were brought to the country for construction work, especially on the railway, and when they were allowed to stay on they discovered that the openings (chiefly in retail trade) were good according to their standards. Other Indians, hearing of these opportunities, followed.

The economic progress of Kenya is due very largely to the energies of the European settlers in the highlands and of the Indians in trade. In Tanganyika there is less white settlement, and in Uganda none, but in both these territories the Indian is ubiquitous, engaging in trade and also to some extent in manufacture. Thus settlement has speeded things up in the economic sphere, and the consequent increase in the wealth of the territories has made possible a rate of development in education, health and other governmental services that could not otherwise have occurred. The problem of further Indian immigration has arisen because Indians compete, or seem to compete, with both Africans and Europeans, whereas Europeans and Africans do not at present get much in one another's way. And, of course, Indians already in East Africa would like to see their numbers strengthened.

The debate in the Kenya legislature got near the root of the matter when it emphasized that speed of economic development can be bought at too high a price, and that the ultimate character of the emerging community is the important issue. So far so good. But the settlers are there, and no one has suggested that they ought to depart except at their own wish. In short, they must be incorporated within the emerging nation. The problem is the problem of nation building.


Recent events in Malaya are instructive in this regard. In certain respects the situation in Malaya is unlike that in East Africa; each component of the Malayan population inherits an ancient civilization, and hence the country has an advanced cultural level, and, moreover, the standard of living is relatively high. But at the same time there is no pressure of population on the land, and in consequence the country is attractive to immigrants. Chinese constitute more than 40 percent of the population and Indians 10 percent. (Malays comprise something more than 40 percent of the total inhabitants.) Nearly all the Chinese and Indians may be regarded as settlers, and the economic development of the country in recent decades has been due to their activities, aided by considerable amounts of European capital and some European direction. The Chinese have played a part in retail trade very similar to that of the Indians in East Africa. At the moment there is little movement of population and no net immigration.

It is interesting to find that in Malaya, as in East Africa, the question of further immigration is a matter of keen debate, and here too the problem is that of making a nation. Mr. Malcolm Macdonald, speaking as chancellor of the University of Malaya on its Foundation Day in October 1949, used the following words: "The various racial groups are joining spontaneously in a common citizenship; there is talk of a Malayan nationality; a Malayan patriotism is growing. We are witnessing in Malaya the birth of a nation. . . . So great a change cannot happen overnight, not even in a few years. It is a process to be accomplished carefully and gradually, step by step. But the course is mapped, the journey has begun. The peoples of Malaya are marching along the road to free nationhood."

A bill which was introduced in the Singapore Legislative Council by a Chinese member in September 1949 contains the following clause: "No person shall be admitted into Singapore except on a temporary visit unless under the immigration laws of his country persons born in Singapore . . . are allowed admission into his country for permanent residence;" and another clause defines a "country," in this connection, as "any territory with a Commonwealth, Dominion or Colonial status." Tit for tat, one might say: if we are not good enough for you, you are not good enough for us. The attitude is to be found in all parts of the world today and is easily understandable.

The East African Governments are European and, it should be remarked, are committed to a social and economic policy of racial equality; the law recognizes no group or community as privileged and none as inferior. The task therefore is to build a harmonious society which will include Europeans and Indians as well as indigenous Africans. The formation of new societies out of elements with diverse origins has gone on throughout history, but as a rule the process has been slow and sometimes has proved impossible. When national sentiments are very strong and consciousness of color differences very acute, as they are everywhere in the world today, a fusion of such diverse elements as are present in East Africa is difficult.

It may be noted that fusion does not necessarily imply intermarriage, but it does imply coöperation on an equal basis within a single economic and social framework. That is to say, it implies that the members of the professions and the governing class be recruited from all elements of the population on the basis of ability and training, and that their services be accepted by all without discrimination. With or without intermarriage, this is a remote goal in East Africa, but it must be the objective of policy. Such a policy is achieving some success in Ceylon, and is being energetically promoted in Malaya. In East Africa, the question is whether continued immigration aids the attainment of this goal or hampers it.

In the eyes of the great mass of East African population incoming settlers are invaders, and there is no event so menacing and disturbing as an invasion. So long as invasion of this kind is going on, a harmonious society cannot begin to form; indeed, it can hardly be thought of. Continued settlement thus postpones the day when the task of nation building can start, and must tend to make the task harder. Moreover, though settlement has in the past increased the speed of economic development, it is doubtful whether further settlement will be economically beneficial, as increasing resentments and fears divide the community.

We may note that in Central and South Africa the governments are in the hands of settlers who do not ask the natives "to join dwell with them," but wish to maintain a privileged position for themselves. Because the Indian settlers menace this position more seriously than do the native Africans, the governments aim not merely at preventing Indian immigration but even at persuading Indians to leave. Nation building, as elsewhere understood, is not desired. So long as this is so, discussion of South African policy cannot be profitable.


The author of the bill introduced in the Singapore Council, to which we have referred above, was not thinking of Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda or South Africa, but of Australia. Australia is making a strong bid for immigrants from Britain, and also from continental Europe under an agreement with the International Refugee Organization; but she bars almost all Malayans from permanent residence. The Australian aim, shared by all political parties, is a "homogenous white Australia" in which the total population has been increased from about 8,000,000, as at present, to about 20,000,000 within the lifetime of most Australians now alive. The natural rate of increase, now about 1 percent per annum, yields a surplus of some 70,000 a year, and the plan is to add to this surplus each year a sufficient number of immigrants to bring the total annual increase up to 2.5 or 3 percent. In explanation of the "white Australia" policy, Mr. A. A. Caldwell, former Minister for Immigration, has said: "The only claim ever made or implied in our policy is that there are different varieties of the human species distinguished from one another, not by skin pigmentation, but by languages, religions, standards of living, cultures and historical backgrounds, and that it is wise to avoid interracial strife and the problems of miscegenation which such differences have caused in all countries throughout history where races of irreconcilable characteristics have lived in the same community."

The problem in Australia differs from that in either East Africa or Malaya since the Government is in the hands of European settlers and the country is virtually cleared of natives. Australians explain that Europeans alone are welcomed, not because they are white, but because only Europeans will enable nation building to go on smoothly. The attitude is reasonable and commands careful and sympathetic attention. At the same time, if "skin pigmentation" has nothing to do with the matter, it can be argued with some force that if Australians were to set about the task with skill and tact they could turn settlers from India and China into Australians and incorporate them into their society. Because Australians are not willing to try this, Indians and Chinese seem to have grounds for protesting that they are excluded without due reason from assisting in the development of Australia.

On the other hand, it is necessary to raise the question whether the Governments of India and China are really willing to see their departing nationals become Australians. For Australia, as for any area under one government, attainment of a social and economic system in which there is "one fashion of living" is properly an overriding aim. In such a system there is no place for those who have prior allegiance to other cultures, and who think of themselves as outposts of other civilizations. Until this is more clearly understood in India and China, Australians may well hesitate to embark upon the experiment of accepting migrants from these lands.

It was suggested at the beginning of this article that we may be witnessing the end of an epoch in the story of population movements. Recently many things have conspired to reduce the strength of the forces, summed up as the "pull" of foreign countries and the "push" from home, which play upon potential emigrants. National planning, for example, now engages attention everywhere to a greater or lesser extent, and in overpopulated countries such planning, coupled with the realization that emigration is no cure for demographic troubles, has meant loss of interest in openings in foreign lands. As regards the sparsely populated countries where the so-called "empty spaces" of the world are found, the problem is often, as in most of Africa, not who shall fill them but how to ensure that the present rapid growth of the indigenous population shall not outstrip resources. What now causes strong feelings in the people of densely populated areas is no longer so much the sense of confinement there while other lands lie "empty" as the nature of the barriers that keep them out -- specifically, barriers to entry on racial grounds. But it is a mistake to think that these barriers are always due only to irrational prejudices; sometimes, at least, they may be justified on the ground that in their absence nation building would be imperiled.

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  • SIR ALEXANDER M. CARR-SAUNDERS, Director of the London School of Economics since 1937; member of the Royal Commission on Population, 1944-49; author of "The Population Problem," "World Population" and other works
  • More By Alexander M. Carr-Saunders