AFRICA AND THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT DEPOPULATION

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He was very explicit about his reasons when he said, “Demographics is important…My advice to all government leaders and people is: make sure you have children to create a new generation or the culture of Italy, Japan, and France will disappear. We are in danger of no longer having these countries.” Now that he owns the X platform, it has made his voice even louder about this agenda. Recently on the platform, Elon Musk has become more consistent about his aggressive pronatalism. A very recent tweet of his called the declining number of births in America ‘absolutely disastrous.’ In like manner, Andrew Tate tweeted recently that “if you’re 40 with less than five children, you’re probably gay.” They might sometimes sound like the average ranting or influencing of social media celebrities but the propaganda of white supremacists has been consistent – MAKE MORE BABIES, and this agenda is not harmless. It has become the basis to justify abortion bans, a decline in women’s rights, and a special hatred for LGBTQ people. In the later part of 2023, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, and Bulgarian President Rumen Radev met to discuss how to get Europe to make more babies. Viktor Orban made it into a government policy in Hungary. This article is not about them, but about how Africa is not responding correctly to white supremacists wielding population growth as a weapon to maintain racial superiority and domination.

Voices joining this conversation in Africa have only given a misguided response to these talks about using higher population numbers to conquer the rest of the world, and at least defend themselves from the rest of the world. The response has been that Africa should also reject malaria vaccines or COVID vaccines (because of conspiracy theories that they are meant for depopulation), convince women to stay at home and make more babies instead of embracing feminism, make abortion illegal, and make homosexuality illegal. For example, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, one of the richest pastors in Nigeria with a huge audience, has been vocal about how there is a sinister agenda to depopulate Africa through vaccines. Other theorists have falsely pointed to another billionaire, Bill Gates, as the mastermind behind this conspiracy. This has only turned the conversation about economic development into a game of numbers generally. The fact is that the responses agree in principle with the idea that more population means more national power. Just like when Fred Hampton warned about our response to racism, these responses are trying to ‘fight fire with fire’.

Advocates in Africa has been largely silent or neutral on this, as if it’s not a conversation worth having. But the realities in Africa speak otherwise. In Nigeria, I have heard many times from opinion leaders that our huge population can present an opportunity for economic development, but how? Most of them claim that population growth is positively correlated with urbanization and that urbanization is likewise a factor in economic development. This singular advantage that can be linked to population growth is far-fetched because there are other factors that contribute to economic development beyond urbanization, and there are other factors that contribute to urbanization beyond population growth. While population politicians of the Global North are using this population growth drive logic to repress immigrants and justify xenophobia, population ‘activists’ of Africa are using the population growth drive policies that oppress women and gender nonconforming people. A few months ago in Nigeria, little kids from a school were mobilized for hate to protest against anti-LGBTQ law in Nasarawa State. This population drive is being used to justify homophobic laws passed by African dictators like Museveni to punish same-sex relations with a death sentence because they are deviants. This has become the world’s harshest known anti-LGBTQ law. It has become a basis for the spread of right-wing populism and authoritarianism in Africa. In fact, some Nigerians once held a March for Trump in Onitsha, Nigeria in the run-up to the 2020 elections in America because of this right-wing ideological connection, despite Trump’s view of Africa as a ‘shithole’. It has become the basis for restricting reproductive healthcare in Africa. In Nigeria, abortion is illegal, and young girls get arrested by the police for buying or even having contraceptives.

Babies are lovely and children are bundles of joy, but we should avoid letting the fear of the emotional inertia of the people cloud our judgment. Africa has to be more vocal about the need to make fewer babies. It is no news that the three countries with the highest population growth in the world, Niger, Angola, and Burkina Faso (3.8%, 3.3%, and 3.0% respectively) are in Africa. Nigeria adds five million children to its population every year (with a 2.4% annual population growth rate when the global average is 1.1%), and this population growth is not an advantage for Nigeria and Africa. What makes this figure for Nigeria stand out from countries like Niger, Angola, and Burkina Faso is that the country is already the most populous African Nation with one out of three black people being from Nigeria. There is a lot of evidence to show that this population boom is dangerous to our development, especially when taken side by side with poor education and poor healthcare across Africa. While we must admit that Africa is rich in resources and inequality in resource distribution and allocation is a real problem, untamed and unplanned exploitation of our resources, even by ourselves, can lead to environmental degradation and that is not sustainable. The increasing population comes with pollution and deforestation, for sure. Resources and infrastructure like housing, transportation, and other public services take time to plan and if we don’t plan how our population grows, they will be strained. These are facts. There is even scientific evidence that a reduced population will make the world a better place. Already, research shows that sub-saharan African women want to have less children. In fact, research has shown us that Africa can only avoid dangerous overpopulation by empowering women so that they can afford family planning or contraception and be able to control how they give birth. We cannot listen to those who want to control women’s reproductive choices in order to maintain a steady supply of exploitable labor (because they can be easily replaced by an army of unemployed) for their wealth. Those parroting the population growth propaganda are only helping them to prepare a large market for them to sell their goods and services and make larger profits.

But what should we do? We cannot fight the fire of population drive with population drive, but we cannot also fight the fire of authoritarianism with authoritarianism. It will be impossible to take the path of China’s One-Child policy to avoid the fruits of authoritarianism like forced sterilization, sex-selective abortion, and female infanticide, which is a situation that can easily crystallize due to existing patriarchal cultures. This, like those canvassing population drives, will try to control women’s bodies. We cannot also subscribe to the Western motivation for driving down population growth in Africa, which is the neo-Malthusian propaganda to make the world believe that overpopulation is the main cause of poverty, social unrest, and environmental degradation in their effort to downplay their exploitation of Africa.

But, we cannot be totally neutral. We can not watch as the population grows so huge that it becomes the weight holding development down. This is not how to birth development. The solution is a collective planning of our abundant resources – human and material. This will have to include collective economic planning and family planning in the direction of sustainability. This will have to start with a bold acceptance of the fact that population growth is not presently beneficial to us as a continent. We must be realistic with ourselves and properly appreciate the situation we are in. We must define a clear purpose out of that which is to reduce our population growth rate as much as we can. We must passionately and carefully educate and persuade our people about this. We cannot be silent and allow our population to be convinced that making more babies is the way to develop Africa, and we must guard against any attempt to use this drive to justify any form of authoritarianism rooted in the anger of the rich class at the choices made by the poor or use this to downplay the impact of the continued neo-colonial exploitation of Africa by imperialism on the rate of development in Africa.

Omole Ibukun is a socialist activist based in Abuja, Nigeria.




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