Population, Media and Global Governance - An African Perspective
Pat Made

IPS Regional Director for Africa

"African governments have perhaps taken on that international package of values when it comes to population policies. But when it gets to the level of being at home and implementing those values at the national level, other considerations come into play. And here you can see a strong sense of government and governance and how actually that
effects development," said Pat Made. Below an abridged version of her remarks.

There has been a shift in African governments' attitudes since the 1970s on population. At that time their attitude was large families. In the 1990s in the international arena, they began to take on the values that population, development, smaller size economic growth was the consensus. And now actually you find many governments having started to write population policies. They have units to look at population planning and they are also trying to implement on the ground these policies in relationship to development.

There are several factors that actually influence a government's ability in Africa to implement population policy programmes. The first factor is political will and commitment. And here we get to the problem of government, strong leadership and the whole question of peace and stability of which we talked about this morning as peace being a major component of population policies.

The other thing is proper planning in social strategies based on reliable information. And this is the point where the media come in but other channels of information too within our societies because the media is limited. And then the questions of cultural and religious constraints coming to the problem of governance and who participates in population policies programmes at a national level and who is kept out.

We also have to consider issues such as institutional arrangements to decide upon and pursue those strategies, both in civil societies in terms of governance and other structures in terms of government's institutions. And with the whole concept of globalization and economic reform we are beginning to see that another set of values are coming in. And then is also the question of the degree of participation of NGOs and others.

If you take the question of peace and political and economic stability you look at Nigeria which is Africa's most populous nation with 118 million people. Population programmes in terms of the design and the implementation right now are basically on hold because there is no commitment of the military regime to population and development. That begins to affect all the others things in terms of education, health and policies that facilitate gender equality, that actually facilitates the advancement of women and other groups.

Look at Rwanda, another country that went through conflict. Genocide and war there have reduced the country to such a level of poverty that now as the government is making choices about development, population and population programmes are not necessarily on the agenda.

When you look at another issue, the question of participation, the inclusion of women and youth becomes key to population programmes and policies in terms of the international values. Most of the African governments - virtually all of them - signed onto the 1994 IPDC which actually made a commitment to better sexual and reproductive health for women and the youth. Yet those values are really in conflict with many of the laws and the cultural values against the promotion of the advancement of women's gender equality.

So you find on the ground once again a tension between the international values they have signed to accept it and what actually happens on the ground at home. Because of the economic values coming up with globalization, African governments are beginning now to move resources from health and education. But education is key to the empowering of women. So we are getting in to a vicious circle now where for a primary level you have young girls in school but from a secondary level it begins to taper off. And once again in terms of education and skills, they stay in the spiral of poverty and therefore the very population programmes they have on the books to address these issues are not moving because of these other factors.

The same with the youth. You'll find that in the African context adolescent sexuality is still basically taboo. But youth is coming more and more vulnerable. Because of adolescent sexuality, in many African countries in less than three decades Africa's population is projected to double again from the current 620 million. But they have no access to contraceptional and family planning services. At the same time, the media is limited in Africa for a variety of reasons, controls and what have you. But it is also the question what kind of information goes through the media and other channels, it is a question of the complementarity of the two when it comes to providing messages communication new values to people.

And this is a challenge before governments dealing with the issue of population. Because we are not talking about just transmitting information, we are also talking about transmitting values that are often in variance with the internal values that people have. And therefore if you just bomb them everyday with information they may block it out because it does not fit in with what they believe. So the question is how to use information creatively to communicate and break through those barriers. That is a challenge of governance also.

To give you one example of information and views: in Burkina Faso, for example, 63 per cent of the women know about at least one modern method of family planning. Yet only 28 per cent of them know where to go to get it. So there is a big gap in being able to use what they know. Then the question becomes who should provide that kind of information to them? Is it the media that should say the structures and services in your rural areas are here here here? Is it the government, is it the civil society?

On the other hand, many women in Africa have information on population and contraception but because of their social and economic position they cannot exercise their right. Men still control whether they can actually even go to obtain the contraception or what have you. So you find actually that being able to negotiate safer sex, being able to exercise her right has a lot to do with her marginalization within the society and low participation. So information alone has to counter a lot of other barriers and that is why my view that we have to begin to look at a much broader spectrum than the media alone.

Of all the population programmes in Africa, Zimbabwe is one example of how to begin to target men. Understanding that giving information to women alone is not enough and male moderation campaigns through the media using other creative forms of information channelling like drum and what have you in communities where people don't read, where there is no literacy are being used also to sensitise and inform men to bring them actually into the mainstream of making informed choices. That would be better not even for women but begin to enhance the development of society as a whole.

The other question, when it comes to governance, is that most African governments spend much more on military spending than in health or education. We can talk about the international values and a consensus coming up on that basis. But actually for it to be translated down at a national level presents a major challenge.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Dezember 1998

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