Family planning is the next step for Harambee
The President’s Harambee Prosperity Plan is fantastic in its scope and will be enormous in its execution. In my mind it makes provision for both the core and the peripheral strategies we need to take us to the next level.
There is just one element I would have loved to see represented, at least in part by some of the interventions supporting the pillars. It is a sensitive consideration of demographics and the impact it will have on our future prosperity.
Whenever analysts talk about demographics, it is mostly within a specific framework dividing the population into gender and age strata. From this certain ratios are calculated, and by employing a range of models, a whole set of future demographics can be developed. These are usually fairly accurate in their number predictions, but very vague and weak on the economic contribution from each of the identified demographic categories.
For instance, we have a very good idea of who lives where, their gender, their age, their race and even their religion. But regarding their economic activities and contribution to building the Namibian House, the statistics are thin and unreliable.
This we try to remedy by the regular Household Income Survey but this commendable attempt to get an understanding of what is happening at existential level, is beset by all sorts of methodological constraints, not to mention the immense task of processing the raw data into dependable, representative statistics.
The shortcomings become more apparent when one dissects the survey results along demographic divisions. Such detailed divisions are basically absent so it is difficult to get to a reliable number for women-lead households, their mean income, and the rate at which growing children assume more economic responsibilities in such households.
This is not a uniquely Namibian phenomenon. All over the third world where rural communities are in urban transition, policy makers and national planners are desperately hunting for dependable data to form a workable picture of the state, composition, and transmission rate of rural households. We find statistics on remittances, which may be a very good proxy for a number of other hidden demographics but we do not get these broken down to existence level. In fact, most rural families are dependent on some form of remittance, but the nature of the relationship between the contributor and the beneficiary, is very difficult, if not impossible to determine.
I would appreciate if the importance of demographics is further developed as the implementation of Harambee starts showing who are most dependent, where they reside, where they find themselves on the development curve, and how their economic situation is improving as the implementation of the Harambee interventions gathers steam.
When one talks about demographics, part of the discussion always comes back to population growth. This is where I believe a formal framework to define our population goals will become a necessity, almost a planning tool, to determine how much of the Harambee investments is targeting the general population and how much is targeting specific weak demographic segments.
One of the key issues that must be addressed is family planning. This is a sensitive topic but without benchmarks and comparisons, it is useless to state what an ideal family size and composition should be.Just from my own observations, I believe that the majority of Namibian families find it difficult to support more than three children. Now, the reality is that many families have five, six or even more children. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty, but nowhere in Harambee do I find this issue addressed.
I think it must become part of official policy, not to restrict the number of children per household, but to make all fathers and mothers aware of the cost of raising children, especially if you care where they end up one day. In such a case, a good demographic planning model will be able to show young people, how much they will need to take care of each of their children up to the age of 20. Were such models available, I believe many families will carefully consider the implications before having a fourth, a fifth or a sixth child.
Planned families have a much better chance of bringing the children up for prosperity than those where pregnancies just happen without regard for the future of those babies.
Of course, this calls for a massive investment in family planning education and awareness programmes, but the alternative is for a very large section of the population to remain in poverty, living from handouts and government charity. Just think how much faster our economic progress will be if all our children are planned and wanted.