How can Africa control the birth rate

Guest Commentary: Let's talk about Africa's birth rate

Many African politicians reject birth control as "racist" or "imperialist". They fight against the pill, condom and IUD. In doing so, they present themselves as fighters for the African cause. Because, according to their message, having many children is African. Few of the children are European. And anyway, the Europeans would see what they got out of it - namely a shrinking population. African heads of state show their power and their virility with children: The King of Swaziland, one of the poorest countries in the world, has 30 children. Even in the model country South Africa, the former President Jacob Zuma has 23 children.

Nevertheless, the word birth control does not even appear in the “10 theses for a Marshall Plan with Africa” by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation. Of the 10.2 billion euros in development funds (2019), just 200 million go to Africa's most pressing problem, i.e. a mere two percent. Population growth is not bad per se as long as there is enough to eat and enough doctors, schools and jobs. If not, however, then many children increase the pressure on the few informal jobs as security guards, cleaning ladies or orange sellers. For many, all that remains is to prostitute themselves, to get into the drug business or to work for a terrorist group.

The arguments for more birth control are clear: women must be able to shape their lives. It is part of their freedom and dignity not to have to give birth if they do not want to. If girls and women can control if and when (and by whom) they get pregnant, they and their children will be healthier. This relieves the already completely overwhelmed health systems. Contraceptives are also used to control the timing of pregnancy. This is how women can prevent getting pregnant during illness or drought. Or during an apprenticeship that enables them to learn a trade, earn money and make a long-term contribution to the national economy. Some say women in developing countries work more disciplined than men anyway. Less struggle for distribution also means less aggression - and fewer fighters for Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. Of course, the fight against terror is not just a fight against poverty. But the terror camps must not be the only place where a young man (or woman) learns something.

In many African countries the influence of the church is great, which is not helpful for birth control. But there are related issues where the bishops could be asked for assistance, such as combating child marriage, sexual violence, and polygamy. The latter aims, among other things, for a man to have many more children than a wife could bear.

What can be done is relatively easy to describe: Let us provide three-month injections for contraception free of charge and we link aid money to appropriate goals. Let's set up gynecological departments to educate women about the possibilities of contraception. We offer chairs for contraception research and birth control. Let's train educators in the subject of health and contraception - for both boys and girls. Let's look for partners in countries with promising population policies such as Rwanda, Botswana, Ethiopia. In order to increase acceptance, Tunisia would be an option for Muslim countries. But above all: let's finally stop trying to gloss over Africa. Whoever does that is not a friend of Africa. In any case, he is an enemy of the African girls and women who hope for a better life.

The author is a member of the German Bundestag and development policy spokeswoman for the Left Party.