Mr. Bill Gates is wrong to say that babies of Africa are to be blamed for the spread of poverty amongst millions of households.
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 version. The hard copy has a love- lier 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 Melinda 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 Naeto Chukwu 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 newborns 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 ice blocks to Eskimos. There is therefore the fallacy of overgeneralization 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.”
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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.
Onwubiko is Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)