Birth Control has a long history

By popular demand we shall continue the discussion on birth control in Uganda that we began last Sunday, January 27. Let me begin by restating that having children: how many, when and how to space them is a human right which must be exercised voluntarily. Anything done otherwise is a violation of that right.

Throughout human history, couples have controlled their reproduction behavior for various reasons on a voluntary basis or through coercion. For example, ancient Greeks kept their families small through abortion or women taking drinks that brought on violent vomiting and subsequent miscarriages. Others exercised vigorously through repeated jumping that terminated unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.

On the other hand, ancient Romans preferred large families. Even so they exercised birth control as well especially by women who married early. The first recorded use of contraceptives occurred in ancient Egypt (Reader’s Digest. How Was It Done? 1995).

Even in Uganda some couples decided and still do on their own about how many children they wish to have, when and how to space them. For example, longer periods of breast feeding coupled with prohibition of sexual relations during this period delayed pregnancy.

Struggle to control riches of DRC and suffering of Gt. Lakes people

The people of DRC especially those in the east need more of our prayers at this hour of intense human suffering. The three K leaders (Kaguta, Kagame and Kabila) with military background and their domestic and foreign backers need to come to their senses and end the suffering of the people. The United Nations too needs to move faster and end the war before it loses its credibility as an institution that was created in 1945 to maintain or restore peace and security in all parts of the world.

The fall of Goma town may sharpen the appetite of victors to want to capture the rest of DRC, Angola, Namibia, Congo and Gabon and then Kenya and Tanzania. Mark my words: if concerted and collective action is not taken that is what will happen. Rwanda and Uganda, the two countries alleged to be causing this instability are too poor to be acting alone. So those supporting them should stop.

There are troubling developments in Uganda that must be fixed

A close friend of mine with many years of accumulated experience advised me on four things. First, a message must be repeated (orally or in writing) until it is properly understood. He explained that listening and hearing or reading and following a story are important but they must lead to a full understanding of the story and its implications on society. Until that understanding has been attained, the story must be repeated. Second, when a conversation is about a forest it should not be allowed to degenerate into a talk about trees. When you focus on one or two trees, you miss the larger picture. Third, during economic and political hard times, people tend to be short-term focused and miss the long-term dimensions. Fourth, three treasures must always be protected and used properly: population, land and institutions. Let us examine the fourth point with respect to Uganda.

Since Museveni came to power, Uganda has become a laboratory to test new ideas (Sebastian Mallaby 2004). Uganda provided laboratory facilities for shock therapy structural adjustment experiment starting in 1987 after it had been rejected in Ghana in 1986 as very problematic (Paul Nugent2004). The people of Uganda have paid a very heavy price. Uganda has now become a center for testing genetically modified crops (GM) and birth control.

Museveni imposed birth control without informing the nation

Museveni’s long term vision is to make Bahororo dominate Uganda permanently. But Museveni knows that Bahororo as a group are numerically insignificant that even if their women bear children to the limit of their reproductive capacity they will never attain a critical mass for political domination. Museveni also knows that the military he has used so far has inherent weaknesses that it cannot be relied upon as an instrument of domination by Bahororo in the long term. Further, Museveni has realized that poor and hungry people he has created produce more children than wealthy ones he has also created through skewed distribution of income in favor of Bahororo (Museveni is a Muhororo). He has therefore come up with a silent strategy of increasing the number of those immigrants (particularly Somalis and Tutsis) likely to permanently support Bahororo who will also be encouraged to produce as many children as they can while reducing the number of majority Ugandans through birth control, among other measures. To those not familiar with subtle developments in Uganda this observation may sound mean but that is the truth in Museveni’s country.

Why has birth control become a priority in Rwanda and Uganda?

Whatever justification is advanced for birth control, such as eradication of maternal and infant mortality, the ultimate outcome is reduction in population size at family, community, tribal and national level. Because of cultural, ethnic and religious sensitivity associated with birth control, different terms have been used such as family planning and reproductive health and rights. However, they all end up in reducing population size.

The common message conveyed by Malthus and his heirs is that poor people (regardless of how they got trapped into poverty) wherever they live produce more children than they are able to support. Therefore they must reduce the size of their families through family planning.

In Rwanda and Uganda, a combination of wars, endemic diseases and AIDS pandemic has raised mortality rates. In Uganda, for example, life expectancy declined from 47.0 years in 1980-85 to 41.0 years in 1990-95. At the same time, thanks to western donations, the economies of Rwanda and Uganda are growing faster than population growth. Consequently, birth control should not be a priority needing urgent implementation.

Uganda government is warned to move cautiously on birth control

The sudden upsurge of interest in birth control (family planning) in Uganda has coincided with the rising anti-immigration mood in the developed western world. When family planning began after World War II, there was fear that population in developing countries was growing faster than Europeans’. The main fear was that there would be competition for scarce resources and consumers in developed countries would be forced to scale down their lifestyles. They were not prepared for that. To avert this threat, developing countries had to reduce their population growth through contraception. To avoid controversy, the proponents of birth control came up with a ‘sugar-coated’ idea that contraception would ease the suffering of women who produce too many children in rapid succession. They also replaced the unpopular birth control terminology with family planning to disguise the fact that in the end population at couple and national levels would decline with adverse national security and economic development implications.

Revised politics of birth control

There has been a resurgence of debate on the adverse impact of Uganda’s rapid population growth. The focus has been on fertility and its impact on economic growth and development. The analysis so far has missed the migration and political dimensions. Uganda has become a magnet attracting many people from the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region whose fertility has not yet been assessed. The debate also appears to overlook the political dimension. Therefore, this article will focus on the politics of birth control to provide lessons that may be useful as Uganda develops its population policy.

The politics of birth control has evolved since the end of the Second World War largely within the context of power relations. Politics is the science and art of getting power and how to use it to improve one’s welfare, making it essentially a struggle among groups. In this struggle numbers matter: groups with large numbers have an advantage over those who do not. The numerically inferior group knows its disadvantage and tries various ways including birth control to weaken the numerically superior group.

Why birth control in Uganda will be difficult to implement

Suddenly Uganda is witnessing a flurry of birth control activities. Where the urgency has come from is still baffling. Uganda is a country that has lost – and still losing – so many people since the 1970s due to the Amin murderous regime, the guerrilla wars in the Luwero Triangle and in northern and eastern Uganda, AIDS pandemic, malaria particularly in Kabale due to climate change that facilitated mosquito invasion of the district with devastating outcomes and increasing diseases of poverty. According to Shifa Mwesigye (Observer {Uganda} August 2010) there is a conflict between on the one hand Uganda leaders and politicians who want more children and on the other hand donors and experts who want fewer children. That is already a major stumbling block that needs to be resolved first.

Birth control programs in Kenya that started in the late 1960s experienced implementation difficulties because they were imposed on an unwilling national leadership soon after independence that was won after a devastating Mau Mau liberation war. But since birth control was a prerequisite for foreign aid, the Kenya government went along but was not keen on birth control implementation. This lesson should not be lost on those eager to implement birth control in Uganda where resistance is still very strong.

The population scare has raised its ugly head again

Since the 1950s when Third World people began to over-breed their European counterparts, the latter got scared. Europeans feared among other things that competition for developing countries raw materials would lower their standard of living. To avert this threat they recommended that Third World countries practice birth control through contraception. Researchers, commentators and policy makers at state and non-state levels painted a very bleak picture that needed to be addressed on an urgent basis. Statements likening population growth to a bomb by Paul Ehrlich and nuclear war by Robert McNamara occupied center stage in the development discourse. “Robert McNamara, president of the World Bank in the 1970s, compared the threat of unmanageable population pressures with the danger of nuclear war [McNamara had been secretary of defense before joining the World Bank]”(The Economist 2006). International conferences including those at the UN were held, expert reports were produced and institutions such as the Population Council and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) were set up. Developing country governments were advised or forced to undertake urgent measures of birth control or they would not get international assistance. In the rush to prevent this ‘catastrophe’, inappropriate or wrong assumptions, omissions and commissions were made and the prevailing circumstances particularly in Africa that was decolonizing were not properly assessed much less understood.

In Africa colonialism is still alive – and well

I have heard many times including at the United Nations commentators warning Africans to stop blaming colonialism for Africa’s ills. They argue that colonialism ended many decades ago and Africans must begin to take responsibility for their commissions and omissions. Before we decide – definitively – whether or not colonialism has actually ended, we need to examine what colonialism was all about and how colonies were administered.

Western countries colonized Africa in order to obtain cheap raw materials for their expanding industries, cheap foodstuffs for their growing populations, markets for their increasing surplus manufactured products and – to a certain extent – a home for their exploding population. Because European powers wanted to run colonies cheaply, they hired local agents through the indirect rule model. The agents had to be loyal and follow instructions from the few European colonial officers like the governor and district commissioners.