The ever increasing pronouncements of leaders in Uganda, especially those in public and civil service, which connote that Uganda is under developed because its peoples and their cultures are backward have motivated me to publish this analysis and commentary which I wrote in 2001. My motivation to publish this analysis and commentary is primarily driven by the repugnant connotations in the pronouncements by our public and civil servants, which are based on questionable premises, that assert that Uganda is underdeveloped and needs development. Recently, for example, during a dialogue on the National Land Policy, a highly placed civil servant dished out the Uganda’s-population-is-growing-too-fast scare and she concluded that the only viable solution was modernisation. She shared her observation that there is no policy which the current Uganda Cabinet, constituted by the National Resistance Movement Organisation – the ruling political party, will allow to be presented to parliament and or go through parliament unless it contains within it the words: modernisation, industrialisation, wealth creation, and poverty reduction. Albeit first written in 2001, my analysis and commentary is even more relevant to today’s Uganda, so I share it.
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. My analysis, which follows, is based on an analysis by Tom Hewitt and Ines Smyth that is contained in their article titled: “Is the world overpopulated?” (Hewitt & Smyth, 1992) In my analysis I discuss four views on population – the New (Neo) Malthusian View, the Social View, the Women at the Centre View and the New Consensus View; and I conclude by demonstrating how each of the four views takes culture seriously or not.
New (Neo) Malthusian View: The Neo Malthusian view is that population growth is the cause of poverty. Therefore, according to this view, the best solution to the population problem is to reduce birth rates, in order that development takes place. The view of development implied here seems to be the one held by the modernist and interventionist perspectives (Thomas, Meanings and views of development, 1992): a desirable ‘developed state’, modernised industrial society, which can be achieved by removing ‘barriers’ to modernisation. In this case population growth causes overpopulation, which in turn puts a strain on the world’s resources, resulting in political instability, poverty, environmental degradation, etc. Within this view, the measure of development seems that of the World Bank indictors such as gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP), which are associated with capitalism – Malthus, after all, was very associated with free market thinking.
Social View: Opposite to the New Malthusian View is the Social View, which suggests that the population problem is a result of poverty – that over population is a symptom of poverty. In this view, it is suggested that if a community has poor access to social resources such as health care and education, that community will have a high fertility rate and thus a high population growth. Development, however, is not just about economic growth, but also other aspects that affect the general wellbeing of people. In this view development is not only measured by economic indicators such as the GDP and GNP, but also ability of one to enjoy ordinary living conditions that the average people in ones community enjoy; it is about entitlement to resources. It includes one’s ability to make choices, one’s ability to access basic needs such as food, health care, housing and education that can enable one to live an acceptable standard of living. Measures for development within this view, in addition, include United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicators such as the Human Development Index (HDI) and Human Poverty Index (HPI). Implicit in this view, therefore, is that the solution to the population problem is development – of the kind in which people have access to and enjoy their entitled resources.
Women at the Centre: This view is quite similar to the Social View. However, emphasis is put on the position of women. The Women at the Centre view suggests that there is a close correlation between the status of women and the fertility rate of the community. It is suggested, for example, that the more educated women are the more they are likely to mother healthy children, this reduces the infant mortality rate, and subsequently the fertility rate. This view also goes further to suggest that the more educated women are, the more they will be able to access and interpret information on contraception. One way in which the population problem can be addressed, thus, is by elevating the social position of women, their welfare, and their autonomy within a community, the Social View suggests. Elevating the status of women facilitates them to have greater say in reproductive choices. It is implicit in this view that the development of women is the solution to the reduction of population growth.
New Consensus: This view is the compromise view, which brings all the other three views together. In this view it is recognised that the population problem is as a result of several factors and that the approach for solving the problem should be comprehensive and inclusive of the different conceptualisations.
It is clear from the analysis above that except for the New Malthusian View, all the other views agree with the conceptualisation implicit in the slogan: ‘Development is the best contraceptive’. The question though, is there data to support these conceptualisations?
If education of women is considered development, then the conceptualisation 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 HDI 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. As I have already noted in this analysis, 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’.
I would like to highlight, however, some of the problems in using data to support a particular position. Taking an example of my country, Uganda, it is quite possible that data collected on any subject is incomplete and or does not represent the whole country. It is logical to believe that the best place to find information on how many children are born in a country is hospital records. In Uganda, probably the majority of children born, especially in the rural areas are not born at a hospital and their birth is never recorded by hospitals. It is also important to note that sometimes the measures used for determining development like GDP, GNP, HDI, for example, may exclude some aspects which impact on people’s livelihoods. Continuing with the example of Uganda, there are several activities that our people, especially women, are engaged in, like subsistence farming, that are not measured by the standard measures for determining standards of living.
There is also the question of how data is interpreted. In this analysis I have used data to support the slogan: ‘Development is the best contraceptive’, but the same data could be interpreted differently and used to support an alternative position. It could be used, for example, to support the position that the poor are poor because they have many children. So while data can be used to support a particular position, one should always have in mind that the there is usually a margin of error in the data and that it could be used to support other views. Data alone, therefore, cannot be used as conclusive evidence.
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. The latter meaning of culture 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.
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.
This analysis and commentary I wrote for a tutor marked assignments for the Open University Course Module TUXX871 – Development Context and Practice; as part of my studies for the award of a Master of Science Degree in Development Management of the Open University, United Kingdom.
Allen, T. (1992). Taking culture seriously. In T. Allen, & A. Thomas, Poverty and Development in the 21st Century (pp. 443-465). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hewitt, T., & Smyth, I. (1992). Is the world over populated. In T. Allen, & A. Thomas, Poverty and Development in the 21st Century (pp. 125-140). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, A. (1992). Meanings and views of development. In T. Allen, & A. Thomas, Poverty and Development in 21st Century (p. 43). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, A., & Crow, B. (1994). Third World Atlas. Oxford: The Open University.