Denmark Call for Birth Control in Africa Will Hurt Economies, Not Help


The recent pledge by Denmark to provide $14 million for family planning in Africa, although well-intentioned, is likely to hurt the overall effort on migration and jeopardize Africa’s economic growth.

According to the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Ulla Tornaes, the intervention would reduce the number of migrants to Europe in the future and help Africa’s economy. Rather than achieving these goals, family planning aid could affect labour supply and potentially increase government spending.

Ironically, most African economies are deprived of skilled labor – especially in poorer economies, which contributes to the mass migration out of many of these countries. Instead of trying to limit reproduction, letting Africa’s population sprout could have valuable economic effects as Africa has limitless potential in the form of human capital. Moreover, well-performing African economies stand to lose more from birth control.

For instance, Ethiopia has 102 million people and the Democratic Republic of Congo has 82 million. Both are two of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and would desperately need increased labour supply to meet demand in key sectors like mining and manufacturing in the future. Considering their high birth rate, they could be a target of the birth control aid and this would affect the needed labour supply in the future. This is a resonating scenario across most countries in Africa hence, the economic danger in the call for population reduction. Europe can instead see lessons in India and China, two countries where big populations helped propel growth.

In 1979, India’s GDP growth was -5.20 and China had GDP per capita lower than two thirds of the African average. Both counties lost parts of their workforces to Europe and the Asian Tigers (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong). Today, India and China boost bigger workforces than most of Europe and the Asian Tigers combined. In fact, China alone has successfully pulled over 700 million people out of poverty through capitalist reforms that helped increased labour productivity.

The secret is that both India and China leveraged their population density to meet the demand of new industries like construction and tech, which have created more jobs and helped the GDP.  If big population were a problem, their pro-market reforms would not have worked. Africa should be encouraged to adopt the better elements in their policies especially free trade and fair labour laws.

Moreso, dwindling oil prices and the rampaging effects of harsh weather on agriculture is hurting economic development efforts in Africa. A sustainable economic alternative could be a having a prolific and competitive labour economy that fills the void for bereaved economies. China and India proves population is an asset if the policies are right Africa can outperform both economies.

If Denmark wants to help Africa’s economy, it should do so by increasing its investment in Africa. Already it has good economic relationships with Kenya but partnering with more African countries can be mutually beneficial. Denmark has a thriving candy market and Swaziland and Mauritius are among best sugar producers in the world. Denmark can invest in their sugarcane industries in return for good sugar supply. Likewise, the likes of Nigeria and Niger can supply its growing meat market. Improving trade agreements with Africa would be better than giving aid.

Denmark can also help by influencing African leaders to create better tax reforms to improve individual income, which is the economic factor for migration. Most African countries have exorbitant tax rates that burden small businesses and low income earners. If people can keep more of what they earn, there would be enough for potential migrants to save, invest and consider spending on family planning.

Birth control should be a last resort to the migration crisis if at all it is necessary. Denmark can save its aid for better use on its economy and instead partner Africa for more internal approaches to migration. Any move on migration must be well considered to avoid worsening the situation in the future and this aid policy from Denmark is one not to be considered.

Author: Ibrahim B. Anoba is the Acting Executive Director of the African Liberty Organization for Development. A political economy pundit and Young Voices Advocate, Anoba is from Lagos, Nigeria. You can follow him on Twitter @Ibrahim_Anoba.