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FT Rejoinder: Africa cannot count on a demographic dividend: We See Things Differently

Dear David,

Africa cannot count on a demographic dividend: We See Things Differently

I have read with great attention your article titled ‘Africa cannot count on a demographic dividend’, which was published on the 16th of August 2018 online edition of the Financial Times. In your piece, you argue that contrary to claims that Africa’s rising population is a demographic dividend, the continent’s population growth is a disaster waiting to happen, which can be averted by slowing the population growth. Mr. Pilling, even though I am an admirer of your body of work, on this occasion and with all due respect, I must say that your piece comes across as a pound shop Malthusian Eugenics analysis. In response to your commentary, which was presented from a white western centric economic point of view, I will be presenting my case in the next couple of paragraphs from an Afrocentric moral and historical point of view. I trust you would read my rejoinder with an open mind.

Ever since Thomas Malthus’s published his essay on the Principle of Population and Paul Ehrlich published his Population Bomb book, white western thinkers have obsessed themselves with curbing population growth. However, through a strange formula, this obsession has been focused predominately on poor black, brown, yellow and red people. In short, it is okay for the white world and the well to do to procreate, but if you are poor or coloured, you should be ‘nudged’ not to procreate. Because Africa has a large concentration of black people and poor people, it has come within the crosshairs of eugenicists and pseudo-eugenicists who advocate for the “discouragement and suppression of reproduction among the unfit.” Your analysis and the theory underpinning it are dangerous.

You note “Scaremongering about an African population explosion, say others, smacks of racist fears. Those arguments are understandable. But they are misguided.” Whenever people in my community express their fears about the West’s obsession with Africa’s population growth, we are dismissed as misguided, alarmist and conspiracy theorists. But if you study history, you would begin to appreciate why our concerns are not misguided. We read from history how a third of the brown women of Puerto Rico were sterilized between 1930 and 1970; we read from history how a quarter of red Native Indian women were sterilized during the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States; we read from history how 65,000 white, black and brown poor Americans were sterilized between the 1930’s and early 1980’s; we read from history about apartheid South Africa’s Project Coast chemical and biological warfare program, which included a eugenic based agenda to control the black population.

Over the years, the Financial Times has devoted a lot of airtime discussing Africa’s population. In July 2016, you penned an article titled ‘Africa’s population boom is both danger and opportunity’; in July 2016, the FT published Dr John May’s letter titled, ‘A fall in fertility rates will help Africa prosper’; in July 2017, John May and Hans Groth published an article in your esteemed paper titled, ‘Failure to address Africa’s rising population is not an option.’ The publication of issues relating to Africa written by westerners from a western perspective is an example of the white supremacist narrative that Africa is incapable of charting its own destiny without western intervention. White journalists, white thinkers, white writers, white academicians, white politicians, white NGOs and white medical practitioners waste no time using white spaces to discuss what they think is best for Africa and very often, their opinions are turned into reality. Anglo Saxon men who pontificate African problems from a white tinted western-centric lens head the African desk of many global media houses. On the issue of Africa’s population, all voices have been heard except the voices of poor African women.

Your analysis also supports the white supremacist narrative that the black and brown world in general and Africa, in particular, pose an existential threat to civilisation. You suggest that Africa’s population size should be the most important trend shaping the world. You result to using alarmist rhetoric such as “unprecedented population explosion”, “Africa could become a focus of instability and desperation”; “The population of Nigeria alone … is expected to more than double again by 2050, surpassing that of the US”; “more than one in three” of the world’s population will come from Africa. Nearly a year before you wrote this article, French President Emmanuel Macron said Africa was held back by civilisational problems partly caused by women having 7 or 8 children. When some of us open the pages of western newspapers, we are greeted with headlines like: ‘White Britons could be in the minority by 2060’s’ and ‘Births percentage to foreign women reaches record high’. People in my community are often concerned with such rhetoric as the history books are filled with pages about crimes committed because of western melanophobia. We see this rhetoric played out in Europe where there is fear of a black and brown ‘invasion’.

You quote Asfa-Wossen Asserate claim that “future waves of immigration to Europe could dwarf existing numbers.” Quoting an African to support the threat of African migration to Europe follows the west’s pattern of using blacks to support a white supremacist ideology. Using a book written by a black Ethiopian gives your premise a veneer of authenticity. Perhaps it would have been worth quoting an article in the Voice of Europe titled ‘Africa’s population boom: A threat to the future of Europe ‘ in which the author Robert Ossenblok notes, “The outcome can be anywhere from” Fortress Europe” to” Eurafrica”. The first option seems unlikely as it is deemed morally unacceptable, while the second option will mean the end of the European welfare states and culture.

But there are many Africans who believe that Africa needs to ‘nudge’ its fertility rate down after all the African Development Bank recently said Africa’s population explosion is a ticking time bomb, you may argue. Once again, history provides a useful guide. ‘Nudging’ the fertility rate of poor black people is not the exclusive preserve of white thinkers. The black classes have a long history of collaborating with the white classes to reduce the size of the black masses. For instance, when Margaret Sanger (former eugenicist and now the patron saint of family planning) embarked on her Negro Project in 1939 to control the population in the black community, she engaged the services of black ministers stating, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” Other black eugenicists have suggested that only fit blacks should procreate because “among human races and groups, as among vegetables, quality and not mere quantity really counts.”

Your analysis also plays into the white supremacist narrative about the inferiority of Africa and Africans. You argue, “If adding people were enough, then Africa would already be rich.” This argument relegates Africans to economic metrics who are weighed and found to be deficient. Wealth is not and should not be the yardstick to determine a person’s humanity. Your analysis also relegates Africans to brutes whose only contribution to humanity is as breeding machines.

In explaining Africa’s population size, you quote a survey carried out by John Bongaarts of the Population Council. While you might find the organisation a reputable source, within my community, the organisation is viewed with suspicion. When we lift the veil on the organisation, we see the American Eugenics Society. History tells us that the first president of the Population Council was Frederic Osborn, who was a founding member and 10th president of the American Eugenics Society, an organisation initially set up with the aim of ‘improving the genetic composition of humans through the controlled reproduction of different races and classes of people.’

Your analysis also borders on ageism. In explaining the reason why Africa’s fertility rates have not fallen, you write, “The UN Development Programme says that, with an average age of 62, African presidents are out of touch with the policy needs of much younger populations.” Based on your analysis, should we also conclude that Queen Elizabeth (aged 92), Theresa May (aged 61), Donald Trump (aged 72), Angela Merkel (aged 64) and Shinzō Abe (aged 64) are all out of touch with the policy needs of much younger populations?

Rather than searching for the final solution to the African question, perhaps it is time for white thinkers to focus on other areas. For a start, they can focus on western foreign policies, which have a way of destabilising regions and sometimes exacerbating migration patterns. If not, they could focus on the declining fertility in the west. Otherwise, they could strive to solve the global paradox in which the world’s richest 1% own half of the world’s wealth.

Selah.

Kind regards

Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

@Alatenumo

August 2018

Writer and social critic