If there were a day in our lifetime on which Mwalimu Julius Nyerere would return even for just a few hours it should have been July 1, 2020.
Without a doubt, Mwalimu would have been delighted. The news of Tanzania climbing the economy ladder to a lower-middle income country sent a thunder of celebrations from Mt Kilimanjaro to Selous - and from Lake Tanganyika to Unguja and Pemba.
Congratulations indeed, to all hardworking men and women of Tanzania. However - lest we camp for too long on what is supposed to be only a place of momentary celebrations - what lies ahead is of immediate attention.
What role does a normal mwananchi play in the forth- coming journey? Boiling squarely down to individuals, is the issue of fertility.
How many children to have - and why? Inversely proportional to economic growth, is a population that grows faster. This will inevitably weigh down on the shoulders of a country already squatting on the ground, struggling to stand up.
In the case of Tanzania, the current five-year development plan (FYDP-II: 2016 - 2021), states that average total fertility rates are high, at 5.4 children per woman; higher in rural areas, at 6.1. In fact, fertility rates in Tanzania are relatively higher that regional counterparts such as Kenya and Rwanda, as well as other sub-Saharan African countries.
The FYDP II further reports that Tanzania’s population was growing at 2.7 per- cent per annum, more than twice the global average of 1.2 percent; and above the aver- age of 2.5 percent in Africa – expected to double in just 26 years. It states that “persistent high birth rate poses a risk for Tanzania to fall into a demographic trap and fail to reap the demographic dividend”.
Among the key reasons behind this trend is low usage of modern contraceptives which was reported to be at a mere 27 percent in 2010. Other reasons include early motherhood where about 44 percent of Tanzanian women are either pregnant or mothers by the age of 19; and early marriages where the median age at first marriage in 2010 was 18.8 years.
Women in rural areas are more affected due to other factors such as lower levels of education; poor access to employment opportunities and high levels of poverty.
The question then is how does Tanzania cover the ground between now and upper middle-income economy in relation to fertility rates?
Two things are of particular relevance here, albeit they haven’t received enough attention. Sex education Alarming numbers of schoolgirl pregnancies were reported in rural areas during the short period of Covid-19 school closure.
This has much to do with poor sex education among girls and boys. Many stakeholders advocate for strict measures against the perpetrators of these acts, and others debate whether pregnant girls should be allowed back to school or not. Both of these measures how- ever, are reactive in nature.
A more proactive measure to be added is sex education. Stakeholders can no longer continue walking with fingers stuck in their ears, refusing to hear the message that boys and girls are becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages.
As such, the role of stakeholders is to equip the young generation with tools and knowledge to enable their informed decisions … prevent unwanted pregnancies … but most importantly, prevent short- circuiting the journey to achieving their dreams.
Myths and contraceptives
There are myths among women both in rural and urban areas about the side effects of contraceptives. To a certain degree, contraceptives do not fit with some cultural and religious stand- points. It becomes only natural then, that some myths will emerge against them.
However, cases of unexpected pregnancies in society are plenty. In addition to public awareness campaigns, stake- holders must conduct original research to inform the public about the merits and potential demerits of contraceptives.
For instance, there is a myth that contraceptives can cause infertility among women. Some countries have invested in local research to debunk this myth - and Tanzania should do the same. As we chant ‘aluta con tinua’ … marching towards upper-middle income, we must set out from this new beginning on how to effectiveely tackle the challenges ahead.