Fact Check – “Is Uganda breeding poor quality population?”

“Uganda breeding poor quality population. The rate at which Ugandan women produce children has a direct impact on the country’s socio-economic development, experts have warned.”

The New Vision

This assertion, reminded me of the analysis that I did as part of my studies for a Masters in Science in Development Management Degree from the Open University United Kingdom, debating the question: “Is development the best contraceptive?”

The slogan ‘Development is the best contraceptive’ implies that there is a population problem that needs to be solved and the best way to solve it is development. Indeed, deducible from The New Vision experts warning is the fear that Uganda has a high population growth rate which its socio-economic development cannot sustain. Here below is my analysis which I did then and which is relevant as a cultural anthropological perspective fact check.

In his article “Taking Culture Seriously” Tim Allen provides three major meanings of culture (Allen, 1992). Culture as reference to the symbolic human behaviour based on a fully fledged language; culture as what a person ought to have in order to become a fully worthwhile moral agent; and culture as that which distinguishes different groups of people, each viewed as worthwhile in its way – a way of life of a people.

Culture as a way of life is the most relevant to this analysis and is thus the one referred to in this commentary on the four different conceptualisations of development, poverty and population.

If education of women is considered development, then the conceptualisation in the slogan: ‘Development is the best contraceptive’ can be supported by an analysis of the relationship between women’s literacy and fertility (Thomas & Crow, Third World Atlas, 1994). Data provided by Thomas and Crow shows that there is a strong positive correlation between women’s literacy and fertility – the more literate, the lower the fertility.

An analysis, however, found that even though, for example, Zambia, Kenya, and Botswana at some point had the same percentages of literate women as China, the later at that point had a very low fertility rate as compared to the former. This could be explained by the fact that in China, in addition to women’s literacy, there is a strict policy to ensure that women have few children – the one child per couple policy.

In the conceptual analysis of the Social View it is implied that poor communities have high fertility rates because they have high infant mortality rates because of poor standards of living. Data provided by Thomas and Crow on infant mortality, fertility and the Human Development Index of countries demonstrates a clear strong positive correlation between infant mortality and human development – the higher the development, the lower the infant mortality.

However, there was an outlier in that analysis, Sierra Leone. A possible explanation is that the period during which the data was collected Sierra Leone was going through a civil war and the data which was collected is likely unreliable.

Data provided by the Word Bank, as quoted by Hewitt and Smyth, supports the assertion that high fertility has a positive correlation to high infant mortality. High fertility is prevalent where human development is low, therefore, to a great extent this evidence supports the conceptualisation implicit in the slogan: ‘Development is the best contraceptive’.

From the perspective of culture, it could be argued that the New Malthusian View does not take into consideration the different cultures in the world. That it holds a global western-centric vision of modernisation, in which other worlds (non-global-western worlds) are seen as underdeveloped and in need of assistance to develop and be like the west.

The Social View and the Women at the Centre View, on the other hand, seem to take culture into consideration in their conceptualisation of the population problem. These two views take into consideration the economic, political, as well as the social reasons as to why different groups of people may have more children. They appreciate the interconnectedness of the different aspects of human life and how they influence the way we behave and think.

So, for example, one of the reasons given for why ‘poor’ communities have more children is based on the value attached to a child by different cultures. It also goes further to analyse how political and or social reasons may influence decisions on how many children a woman may have – whose decision it is and which decision is more influential – issues of power structures in society.

Even though I have argued in this commentary that the Social View and the Women at the Centre View are more sensitive to culture, I would like to point out that they too seem to promote global-western views on the population problem.

Some in Africa, for example, could argue that in Africa we do not have a major population problem, considering the size of our land and the size of our population. It could be argued that if the majority of Africa’s population, which lives in the rural areas, continues to be supported by the land then it is okay.

The continued promotion of modernisation, however, is destroying our ecosystem and forcing us to adopt ways of living that are exerting undue pressure on our motherland, and thus creating the population problem.

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