Beware of The Agenda Behind “Population Control” in Africa


Less or more? Photo: Linda De Voldar –Flickr

[Letter From New York]

Population control –family planning, mother and child healthcare, reproductive health– is back in the news with enhanced momentum.

A few years ago some leaders who were encouraging their citizens to produce more children because the optimal size for economic development hadn’t been reached have abruptly changed their minds.

In support of population growth, they argued that Europe and North America developed fastest when the population was growing fastest. They reasoned that birth control for the Developing World advocated by the Industrialized World was designed to create conditions for the re-colonization and continued exploitation of countries in the South.

The rapid population growth in the now developed countries provided adequate labor for industries and markets for finished products which the developing countries also need.

They emphasized that ipso facto developing countries need more economically active population to drive national economies to take- off and into sustained growth and sustainable development.

As noted above some of these leaders and their advisers in the South have abruptly changed their minds and are now saying that national economies are crashing under the heavy weight of population size and growth rate.

Birth control using any methods appropriate is being advocated vigorously principally targeting the poor who out of economic and old age necessity produce many children taking into account high mortality rates.

The negotiations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which culminated in the historic agreement at the U.N., became extremely contentious within and among negotiating groups when it came to population control. The negotiations reintroduced the element of population numbers that had been resolved and dropped from future debates and policy formulation at the Cairo Conference in 1994.

Some negotiators argued in formal and informal settings that if economic development could take place rapidly when population growth was exploding in the countries now developed and industrialized, why can’t that happen in countries of the South especially in Sub-Saharan Africa that has become the target for massive birth control?

What should be kept in mind as the debate on birth control progresses is this:

Historically, the champions of birth control including Thomas Robert Malthus, Francis Galton and Margaret Sanger had two principal concerns.

1. To control population growth so that it doesn’t exceed the supply of food. If population growth exceeded food production there would be war over limited supplies, famine would occur among those unable to access food and people would die from diseases related thereto.

2. To promote growth of high quality population, birth control should be applied to weed out genetically inferior populations.

If Malthus, the argument goes, had his way he probably would have stopped poor people from having children. He worked hard to abolish the poor law that subsidized food for poor people according to family size but he failed. His idea was considered too uncaring.

Francis Galton in his science of eugenics advocated selective breeding in favor of the rich that had the quality to improve the human race. He “railed against birth control among the middle classes since this would deprive Britain of its finest children and allow the national stock to be diluted by the fertile lower classes”(Richard J. Evans 1994).

The potential danger is that much of writing and speaking about population is increasingly being dominated by propagandists in favor of massive birth control who have strong financial and political backing. Those that think population matters should form an integral part of the development process and not treated as a prerequisite for development are being sidelined by the very people who advocate that no one should be left behind in any activity of human endeavor. This is a clear case of double standards.

The big question is who is genetically inferior and should be weeded out of the human race?

Think about that and act appropriately so that the new wave of birth control with a primary focus on Sub-Saharan Africa is done within the agreed-upon framework.

Countries that rushed into massive birth control in other parts of the world are now reversing course because they are at a serious disadvantage in the absence of a young population.

Let us not repeat the same mistake.

Kashambuzi is a human rights activist and international economist

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