By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Few years back, a friend called my attention to a very profound statement that was used for commercial advertisement by one of the leading automakers in Japan-Toyota or so.
The catch phrase goes thus: “good thinking, good products.”
This statement is factually accurate except that I have just ran into a conversation that seems to contradict that age long, tested and trusted wise saying in Japan.
That which contradicts that profoundly philosophical statement is the story carried in the current edition of the best known European news magazine – The Economist – about the development issue of fertility in Africa vis-à-vis the rapid decline of quality lifestyles amongst millions of African household due to poverty.
This story aptly captioned “Africa’s high birth rate is keeping the continent poor”. That is the soft copy’s version. The hard copy has a lovelier caption which says; Babies are lovely, but….
This article is associated with ongoing global advocacy campaigns centered around family planning being bankrolled by the richest living human being on the planet Earth Mr. Bill Gates of the United States of America and his wife Millenda Gates.
Mind you, this debonaire entrepreneur owns the largest online enterprises with over 2 billion audiences. He is the owner of microsoft.
It can then be understood that this powerful and wealthy man also wields powerful media influences. Whenever Bill Gates coughs, the global media landscape catches cold.
Ordinarily, one would expect that as someone who is clearly a genius that phenomenally rose from nothingness to become the most prosperous human person on Earth, Bill Gates is expected to be endowed with bottomless pit of wisdom and good thinking which inevitably should also bring forth good product.
But this is not the case in this instance whereby his otherwise humane venture of seeking an end to human miseries and suffering has led him into an error of judgment to believe that children breed poverty. I’m an African and a father and so i believe that on the contrary that the arrival of my baby (Prince NaetoChukwu Nnadozie) brought me enormous amount of fortune and goodwill which are beyond human comprehension.
Let me state my case clearly.
Mr. Bill Gates is wrong to say that babies of Africa are to be blamed for the spread of poverty amongst millions of households.
From all ramifications including but certainly not limited to metaphysical, philosophical and logical perspectives, the birth of new borns symbolizes the advent of life.
New babies bring so much joy and happiness amongst Africans to an extent that most communities yearn for such convivialism. Birth and death are two main symbolisms celebrated in African cosmology and epistemology.
How then can that which symbolizes the coming of life becomes the cause of poverty amongst Africans? Only a person cut off from such a beautiful African milieu would be seen trying to drive down our throats such unbelievable tales. It’s like a man trying to sell iceblocks to Eskimos.
There is therefore the fallacy of over- generalization in the debate being fuelled and heavily funded by this American billionaire to shift the blame away from the appropriate culprits (corrupt politicians) who brought widespread poverty on Africans, to now try to rope in innocent babies as the cause and origin of widening poverty.
These are the arguments of Bill Gates.
The Economist reports that “High fertility can also be seen as a global problem, says Bill Gates, whose foundation (jointly run with his wife, Melinda) will hold a conference next week about the state of the world.
Overall, humanity is becoming wealthier, he stated. But because birth rates are so high in the poorest parts of the world’s poorest countries, poverty and sickness are that much harder to eradicate, Bill Gates argued.
His words: “Kids are being born exactly in the places” where it is hardest to get schooling, health and other services to them, he explains.”
“There is nothing inherently African about large families. Botswana’s fertility rate is 2.6, down from 6.6 in 1960. South Africa’s rate is 2.4. And although the UN has a good record of predicting global population growth, it has got fertility projections badly wrong in individual countries. Sudden baby busts in countries like Brazil, Iran and Thailand caught almost everyone out. Could Africa also spring a surprise?”
The Economist then asserts that the UN’s demographers project that fertility will fall in every single mainland African country over the next few decades.
Hear them: “They just expect a much slower pace of change than Asia or Latin America managed when their families were the same size. It took Asia 20 years, from 1972 to 1992, to go from a fertility rate above five to below three. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to complete the same journey in 41 years, ending in 2054. Its fertility rate is not expected to fall below two this century. Because many Africans marry young (just as) the generations turn over quickly, leading to fast growth”.
Bill Gates is pumping in millions of dollars to ensure that three things could drastically change the picture, however.
“First, more African governments could promote family planning. Ethiopia, Malawi and Rwanda have done so, and their birth rates are dropping faster than average”.
The Economist continued: “Perhaps the starkest change is in Kenya. Alex Ezeh of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank in Washington, remembers showing Kenyan politicians evidence that wealthy people both desired and had small families, whereas the poor wanted large families and ended up with even larger ones. The government invested in clinics and propaganda, to some effect. Household surveys show that 53% of married Kenyan women used effective contraception in 2014, up from 32% in 2003. Kenya’s neighbour, Tanzania, is at least a decade behind”.
The second cause for optimism is education, says The Economist.
“Broadly, the more girls go to school in a country, the lower that country’s birth rate. This seems to be more than just a correlation: several studies, in Africa and elsewhere, have found that schooling actually depresses fertility. To attend school—even a lousy school where you barely learn to read—is to gain a little independence and learn about opportunities that your parents had not envisaged for you.”
Writing further, The Economist stated that researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria suggest that Africa’s schools are about to drive a large change.
“They point out that education spending weakened in some African countries in the 1980s as governments scrambled to cut budget deficits. Girls’ schooling, which had been increasing, flattened. It is probably not a coincidence that African fertility rates fell little in the 2000s, when that thinly educated cohort reached womanhood. But school enrollments have risen since then. If education really makes for smaller families, that will soon be apparent.”
The third profound change would be stability in the Sahel, The Economist stressed emphatically.
Hear them: “The semi-arid belt that stretches through Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, northern Nigeria and Sudan is lawless in parts and universally poor. Child death rates are still shockingly high in places. Partly as a result, and also because women’s power in the Sahel is undermined by widespread polygamy, people still desire many children. The most recent household survey of Niger, in 2012, found that the average woman thought nine the ideal number.”
However, The Economist contradicted themselves and Bill Gates when it appropriately located the exact cause of remarkable penury in Africa which is the absence of good governance, weak institutions to check lack of transparency and accountability.
The Economist averred that Progress on all three counts depends mostly on African politicians. This is correct. But wait for it, they still try to sell us the dummy that babies breed poverty; God forbid!
Hear them: “It falls to them to create more and better schools, provide security for their people and invest in family planning.”
But they returned to their familiar error of seeking to blame babies for ballooning poverty in Africa when they concluded the piece by stating wrongly that: “they, (African politicians) not foreign observers, need to conclude that their countries would be wealthier if they had rather fewer children. Like so much in Africa, almost everything depends on the quality of government. And that, sadly, is hard to decree.”
I will debunk this fallacy that babies breed poverty and state it clearly that in Africa, the one sure source of poverty is corruption by political leaders and the disposition of some western nations to act as conduits through which stolen African money are hidden and invested to grow the European economies. If i may ask, are African babies the owners of Swiss banks where African dictators launder the collective commonwealth of their people to only service their selfish desires and greed?
So much of the exotic housing assets in central London are owned by corrupt Nigerians and African politicians and their families.
But first let me venture to borrow from the traditional concept of new born in Africa.
Hallgren R. Jordemodern in 1983 did a landmark research on West African childbirth traditions whereby the metaphysical symbolism of the advent of new babies as occasions that remind us of the essence of the sanctity of life, was extensively highlighted.
The researcher states that religious and medical practices are steeped in the traditions of West African culture vis-a-vis childbirth.
It is customary for delivery to occur with the woman squatting on the ground surrounded by sisters and female relatives, some of whom function as midwives, the writer recalled.
Midwives get paid only if delivery is successful. A stool is also often used in childbirth. The name given to a child in the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria has to refer to the circumstances of the individual’s birth. The contact with the earth (as in the squatting position) has religious overtones–it indicates the fecundity of the earth, and the mother’s contact with it.
The researcher recalled that Infertility is considered the greatest tragedy in traditional African society.
“In Senegal, a childless woman pays a fertile one a certain sum in return for bearing her a child who would be raised as her own (this tradition is not unlike surrogate motherhood in Western countries). Men are never present at birth; however, in urban settings this practice is changing”.
The burial of the placenta and umbilical cord is thought to restore the woman’s fertility and help heal her womb, the researcher emphasized.
“This practice was even recorded in 19th century Sweden harkening back to heathen times. In Ghana, an infertile woman urinates on the ground where the placenta is buried in the belief that her fertility will be restored. The birth of twins is regarded as a great blessing, and as a sign of fertility; however, the inability of the mother to breast-feed both twins may result in the death of the weaker child. The harmony of nature, animals, and human beings is paramount in traditional West Africa religion and life, and undoubtedly Western culture could learn from some of these beliefs.”
Going forward, I will narrow my work to the great works done by a British journalist Mr. Duncan Clarke in which he reduced into a monumental work of scholarship the core issue of deeply entrenched political corruption as the cause of widespread poverty, conflicts and political instability in Africa contrary to the unscientific belief system been spread by Bill Gates and The Economist that babies breed poverty in Africa.
Duncan Clarke’s beautiful book is titled: “Crude Continent; The Struggle for Africa’s oil prize.”
In this book of 674 pages, this British journalist told us that African political leaders are corrupt and are in the business of diverting public fund to their private pockets. This reporter and author spent fourty years in different countries of Africa working as a journalist.
Mr. Duncan Clarke’s book was published in 2008, but in 2018, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea was arrested with over $1 million USD cash in Brazil and several valuables/jewelries worth over $15 million USD.
This great writer dedicated a chapter of his book to the criminal ways that African leaders divert revenues from the solid and crude oil resources to finance the lifestyles of these dictators.
He wrote that: “despite earlier neglect, Spain put major effort into development in the 1960s. it left equatorial guinea at independence with a balanced economy (Fernando Po’s income per head of $466 in 1965 was the highest in Africa, as were exports per head at $135), a high literacy rate (89%) and relatively advanced infrastructure. Telephone density was 12.3 per 1,000; the country had more vehicles per head than any other in Africa, 1 km of road per 10 sq km, and the continent’s fourth-highest energy consumption. All this was before Macias took the helm.”
The author recalled that: “Political misrule and economic chaos under the heavy hand of Macias rapidly drove the economy to bankruptcy and created deep social disorder, inducing political repression to an extreme degree. Relations with Spain deteriorated sharply. A coup failed in 1969, leading to widespread executions and intimidation of Spaniards. That year, 6,000 Spaniards were evacuated. Macias declared a state of emergency.”
He continues reeling out the historical trajectories of the correlations between political corruption and poverty by stating that: “By 1975, Nigeria had repatriated 25,000 workers and the US embassy had closed (followed by Spain’s in 1977). French diplomats stayed throughout the independence period. In 1977, the Gabonese president solicited Spain’s support for its claims to several Equatorial Guinean islands in exchange for diplomatic support”.
Various crises, he recalled, erupted up to mid-1979, by which time President Macias was widely suspected to be certifiably insane.
After two attempted coups, Macias was finally deposed and succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Teodoro Obiang Nguema (Macias’s nephew and military adviser), aided by a group of military and naval officers (constituted in a Supreme Military Council), he narrated.
“Obiang has ruled ever since and been blessed since the mid-1980s with the growing oil wealth of equatorial guinea, which has been run by a government akin to a family oil business.”
Equatorial Guinea’s misrule and corruption is how most nations are misruled in Africa such as Nigeria; Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola.
South Africa’s immediate past President Jacob Zuma Was forced by parliament to resign not for having too many babies from over 6 mistresses, but because of corruption.
This and many instances should tell the likes of Bill Gates that babies don’t breed poverty.
He can as well sell his family planning formula without unduly apportioning blames on innocent babies as the source of untold hardships in Africa.
African corrupt dictators should be blamed squarely for widespread African poverty.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.huriwanigeria.com; www.huriwa.blogspot.com; www.emmanuelonwubiko.com.