MICHEL GARENNE AND PIERRE CANTRELLE
When African countries became independent in the late 1950s and early 1960s, research on population was virtually non-existent in tropical Africa. At this time, modern demography was emerging as a new science. Until then, demography had focused mostly on population genetics and on mathematical models aiming at describing population dynamics. Modern epidemiological and statistical methods, now widely used throughout the world, were largely ignored in the field of population studies. Anthropologists paid little attention to demographic and health processes. Their focus was on local myths, religions, and social structure. Little attention was devoted to the cultural factors of population and health in tropical Africa. The concept of multidisciplinary research was not yet fashionable, and most researchers were working isolated in their own field.
Before 1954 most of the little available demographic data were based on censuses and vital registration of European populations living in Africa. There were only a handful of scattered bodies of reliable data based on African populations. These were usually localized and based on a small sample: for instance, local vital registration systems in cities and parish registers in rural areas. Other large-scale demographic data were considered unreliable: for instance, the administrative enumerations consistently showed a strong undercount of the total population, especially of young children.
The first systematic studies of African populations started in the early 1960s. A team of researchers working at Princeton University published one of the first comprehensive accounts of African demography ( Brasset al. 1968). At about the same time, a group of French demographers published a summary of their experiences and findings on tropical Africa, with emphasis on the sample surveys conducted by the Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques (INSEE) since 1954 ( Cantrelle 1967). The first seminar on African demography was organized by Franck Lorimer and held in Paris in