Countering ICPD25: Africa’s Overpopulation Narrative a “fallacy”, a “myth”

Protesters holding placards in Nairobi against ICPD25 on the eve of the convention on November 11, 2019
Credit: Public Domain

Some African Catholic professionals currently in Kenya's capital, Nairobi have criticized the narrative around controlling the rapid population growth in Africa, one of the issues implied in the five-theme agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) that got underway Tuesday, November 12, terming the narrative fallacious and mythical because “Africa is not overpopulated”.

ICPD25 has been organized by the Governments of Kenya and Denmark, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The agenda to ensure Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH&R), which the UNFPA is spearheading has had the implication that people can engage in satisfying and safe life of sex, and especially that people have the freedom to choose if, when, and even how often to reproduce, rights and freedoms that seem to justify abortion and the use of contraceptives to curb population growth.

In that regard, concerns have been raised about the institution of family planning programs across Africa and other countries of the world as one of the documented commitments following the first ICPD held in Cairo, Egypt in 1994 and being evaluated during the ongoing Nairobi Summit.

In particular, as the Ambassador of Zambia to Ethiopia who is also a Permanent Representative to the African Union (AU), Emmanuel Mwamba has noted, it is the attempt to implement ICPD goals including family planning programs “without due regard to national, religious, cultural and traditional values and interests of Africa and other UN member states that remain conservative on such matters” that has generated controversies.

“This agenda of saying, oh, we are so populated, is a fallacy,” the Regional President of Pax Romana International Catholic Movement for Intellectuals and Cultural Affairs (Pax –ICMICA), Dr. Frederick Wamalwa said. 

“When you talk about rights generally to reproductive health, it is sort of connected to this issue of population, which is the development,” he told ACI Africa, Tuesday on the sidelines of the Pro-life and Family Friendly Side Events, that has been organized to counter the ICPD25 agenda. 

“So, the main conference (ICPD25) is drawing participants from the international development community. It's also drawing participants from civil society organizations, research institutes, but also government officials, planners,” he said and continued, “especially for national government planners, economists, their interest is how do we plan finite resources we have to be able to benefit everyone?” 

“And their interest is to have a population growing at a decreasing rate,” he added. 

He further explained the importance of having large populations saying, “Population is not an issue. For me, in fact population is good. Because population also creates demand for production. If you are producing, then you need people to consume, you need people to purchase. It is the population.” 

Rather than depopulating, the Kenyan economist advised, “Africa needs to focus on population growth because “we need to grow the population of working people, which is very important for us.” 

“If you go to some of the European countries, they don't have the working age population. So, they have this larger population of old people who are no longer working,” he added, “We don't want to be caught up with what we're seeing there.”

“The honest truth is that Africa is not overpopulated,” the director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage and the African representative for the World Congress of Families, Dr. Theresa Okafor also said.

For Dr. Okafor, the narrative of Africa being overpopulated is a “myth” that is “worrisome.”

“It's really worrisome. You know, this myth about overpopulation,” she said and added, “If you look at the northern hemisphere, they bought the arguments of the world going to be overpopulated and already begun to put in place structures to reduce their population, “now the population has imploded and now they're having to deal with a crisis situation because their depopulation has reached a non-replacement level.” 

“How then are we (Africa) overpopulated when our landmass is much more than the UK, US, China, India and the rest of Europe, our landmass is much more,” the Nigerian representative for Africa the World Congress of Families added.

In the considered view of Dr. Wamalwa and Dr. Okafor, Africa needs to focus more on empowering its citizens than depopulating its continent. 

As Dr. Wamalwa argued, “From a developing country point of view, population shouldn't be a problem. What we need to be stressed with is being able to give these young people who are coming, joining the labour market the right skills to be able to be productive in the labour market.”

For him, countries in Africa need to have clear “policies around education, policies around health, policies around labour market, policies around social protection,” among other relevant policies.

According to Dr. Okafor, “Africa is too rich to be poor. We have the resources to get around to the population. We have enough resources to change our medical facilities, our health facilities, to empower our youths.”

She explained, “When I say empower our youths I mean, providing employment for our youth and showing that they have the right kind of education that would enable them to become creators of wealth and not necessarily to be employed, but people who get to employ others and create jobs for others.”

In the days leading to ICPD25 Conference, the Vatican and the African Union (AU)  made known their concerns, with the former withdrawing from the summit and the latter withdrawing its initial document.

“We withdrew the document that should have been tabled as the ICPD as Africa's position. So, we stopped as the African Union who are quite alert and we stopped it because it didn't go through the due process of the policy organs of the Union,” Amb. Emmanuel Mwamba told ACI Africa.

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]