The high sensitivity about childbearing and suspicions regarding the intentions of western development partners in promoting family planning in order to slow population growth are dissipating as more Africans are opting to have fewer children and demanding family planning. Photo: Matteo Angelino

Despite commitments to the program of action for the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and MDG 5 (focused on maternal and reproductive health), little progress has been made in improving access to family planning and slowing rapid population growth in Africa.

Lack of political will has been highlighted among the key factors behind the lackluster performance in addressing these ‘sensitive’ development issues. However, the situation is changing with some African governments embracing family planning as a key tool for improving child and maternal health, slowing population growth and preserving the environment, and enhancing broader efforts to alleviate poverty.

The study; Africa on the Move!,  examines factors that have propelled the change in attitudes of some political leaders to champion family planning, assesses how such political will has manifested in different contexts, and explores how political will affects the policy and program environment. Mixed policy analysis methods were employed, including desk review of policy and program documents and stakeholder interviews conducted in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Rwanda – three countries that have made phenomenal progress in increasing contraceptive use in the recent past.

Lessons from this study will help galvanize efforts to improve access to reproductive health services in countries where little progress is being made. The results provide useful insights on the dawn of a new Africa where strategic political leadership is playing an increasingly valuable role in overcoming the continent’s longstanding development shackles.

The study shows that political will is mainly changing due to increased availability of evidence showing that high population growth undermines efforts to alleviate poverty, hunger and invest in the quality human capital that least development countries desperately need in order to transform their economies. The high sensitivity about childbearing and suspicions regarding the intentions of western development partners in promoting family planning in order to slow population growth are dissipating as more Africans are opting to have fewer children and demanding family planning.

This study points to the need for global development partners to be much more cognizant of the drivers of Africa’s emerging success and focus their development assistance on enhancing, nurturing, and highlighting local leadership traits, capacities, and systems that are producing positive results, and support governments that have embraced family planning to ensure that no woman has an unwanted pregnancy due to lack of family planning.

This is a research paper by Violet I Murunga, Nyokabi R Musila, Rose N Oronje and Eliya M Zulu of the African Institute for Development Policy, Nairobi, Kenya and the Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

The paper is part of The Wilson Center’s Africa Program and Leadership Project 2012 Southern Voices in the Northern Policy Debate Initiative, supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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