The best contraceptive is the education of girls and women
Our budgeting process follows a very regular and easily detectable IMF benchmark pattern if one knows what one is looking for. This typically leads to a rather conservative budget approach requiring all sorts of semantics to define and defend anything that deviates from this pattern.
It also displays a regularity which, I assume is part of the bigger picture when one deals with the financial management of a country. When the targeted intervention programme for employment and economic growth was announced in 2011, little did the budget staff realise it would lead to almost 16% nominal growth in the first year, followed by almost 14% nominal growth before settling back closer to the 12% long-term trend.
But these figures clearly show the impact of TIPEEG and all that remains is for all the many analysts who take the budget apart, to express a normative view on the success of spending N$14.5 billion to employ 80,000 people, most of them temporarily.
For the first time that I can remember, a Finance Minister makes mention of moral decay in an official budget statement. This, to my mind, reflects the fact that gender violence is occupying the top minds among our leaders, but also that it has assumed such epic proportions, there are pressure groups asking for a State of Emergency. That may be over-dramatic but the fact that the Finance Minister bothered to include this reference in her statement, hints at discussions where the financial means to combat gender violence, must have been investigated.
Yet, nowhere in the whole array of budget documentation did I find one single reference to fertility and its long-term economic impact.
It is generally assumed that economic growth shows a strong correlation to the combination of population growth and increased productivity, in other words, producing more with the same number of people. And this is a part of the debate that one never hears in Namibia.
This assumption that population growth is a driver of economic growth, is not defended in the available literature but there are many high-profile economist who hold this view. There are also an equal number of people who draws the common sense conclusion that if the number of people increases continually without a commensurate increase in overall output, the output per capita diminishes and everybody slowly, unavoidably gets poorer.
Fertility is my pet topic. It is the underlying principle in the way demographics develop, and it has the unstoppable power to determine our prosperity in twenty years from now.
I realise it is difficult to address fertility in a meaningful way because there are so many cultural impediments to reaching consensus on the topic, but I feel it is a debate we can not sidestep, even if at the moment, most people chose to.
Conditions in Namibia are not unique. In any third world country, fertility is an issue and a concern. I recently saw a report on fertility highlighting the relationship between girls’ education and fertility in general.
The more educated girls and young women become, the quicker the fertility rate drops, and the faster one sees tangible economic benefits from having less children.
Smaller families lead to better allocation and utilisation of available resources, in turn improving the quality of both nourishment and education.
Better educated individuals take better, informed decisions and the number of children they can reasonably care for, is one of these decisions. This leads to higher income from generation to generation, a workforce that is skilled and competitive, and eventually to the good life for all.
But that is only in theory.
In the real world, large families breed themselves into perpetual poverty, eat up government resources for education and development, and threaten political stability through a sense of entitlement that is exploited by unscrupulous profiteers, and often also by politicians.
Just as the minister went to the trouble of listing moral decay as one of our national constraints with an economic bearing, I would want to see a discussion on fertility feature in every future budget.
That will create a platform for a more open, generalised public debate so that hopefully, we can get to a point where an opinion on fertility does not immediately evoke a negative response.
If we do not start facing fertility in a constructive and dedicated way, it will continue to undermine prosperity, and in the long run, it will even undermine the country as a whole.