The consequences of the West’s demographic winter for Africa

Countries that produce fewer than two children per family are no longer able to produce a large enough work force to maintain their economy
– Father Ludovic Lado SJ, Cameroon

In a fascinating article, published in La Croix International on 21 June 2018, Jesuit anthropologist, Fr. Ludovic Lado SJ from the Cameroon, stated that the next big battle for civilization will be a demographic one. While “whites” are having fewer and fewer children, “blacks” and “Arabs” – according to the siren voices of demographic control – are having too many, he states.

It is true, Fr. Lado writes, that the West as a whole is going through what is being referred to by some as a “demographic winter.” This is mainly evident in a remarkable decrease in birth rates.

For example, in the European Union, the average birth rate is 1.7 children per woman, However, this figure may mask several disparities, as countries like Germany and Italy are falling below the rate of 1 child per woman.

The situation is similar in North America: the USA (1.8) and Canada (1.6).
Basically, “whites” no longer want to have a lot of children for economic, social and even ecological reasons. One of the main factors in this demographic winter is a concern for balancing domestic and family constraints (principally the constraints of maternity) and women’s needs for professional development and fulfilment, which is one of the effects of gender politics.

The contraceptive breakthrough in the second half of the last century is another key element in these socio-demographic changes.

Fr. Lado looks at some of the consequences of the Western world’s demographic winter — also for Africa — within the Catholic Church and in society.

One of the most obvious consequences for the Church in the West is the decrease in those choosing to follow religious vocations. While prevailing secularization has had erosive effects on the practice of faith, the addition of the demographic winter means that there are fewer and fewer young people who want to become priests or religious sisters. Furthermore, the recent scandals of pedophilia have worsened this already very worrying situation.

In the West, priestly and religious vocations in their classic form are increasingly rare. Bishops are appealing to Africa and Asia to minimize the damage. It remains to be seen whether this can be a lasting solution, especially as there is no guarantee that the Church in Africa will not suffer the same fate in years to come. But the consequences for Africa are not limited to the ecclesiastical domain.

The other consequence of the demographic winter in Europe and North America is the destabilization of the mechanism for reproducing the work force: hence the very subtle but effective politics of selective immigration. Countries that produce fewer than two children per family will no longer be able to produce a large enough work force to maintain their economy.

The demographic winter is a threat to the social equilibrium of some societies in which abundance coincides with a particular kind of individualism. Having a child thus appears to be a burden that can become an obstacle to personal ambition.

So, the gap in the work force needs to be filled with people from elsewhere, including people from Africa.

Africa, with its essentially young population (almost half of the population is made up of children under the age of 15) is one of the main targets of the politics of selective immigration. In general, Africans still have a lot of children, relatively speaking.

Indeed, in Sub-Saharan Africa, even if the new post-colonial generations have many fewer children than their parents, the average birth rate is around 4.7 children per woman, whereas the world average is about 2.5. In a country like Niger, the average is 7 children per woman. That being said, because of the AIDS epidemic, contraceptives are being used far more in Africa now. Time will reveal what the result of this is will be.

However, although Africa is not experiencing a demographic winter, it is often hit by political and economic winters. Many children are produced, but Africa does not generate sufficient means to look after them, hence the high rates of poverty.

The West wants Africans, but also wants to screen them: this is where the concept of selective immigration comes in. Obviously, the West prefers to select from the best, resulting in a brain drain from the continent.

Unacknowledged in their homeland, many Africans prefer to go to the West where their talents will be valued. This is why Africa is losing its doctors, nurses, engineers teachers and other professionals. The West is offering them a hand, in order to maintain – if not re-populate – itself. On the other hand, young, unqualified Africans are embarking on the risks of illegal immigration.

Is this good or bad news for Africa?

According to Fr. Lado it’s difficult to say, as the history of humanity is the history of migratory ebbs and flows.

But is seeking human resources elsewhere a durable solution for the West? The least we can say is that the demographic winter threatens the white race with disappearance. Out of self-interest and self-preservation it might be better to curb the contraception culture in order to insure the birth of more children.

French President Emmanuel Macron (among others), states Fr. Lado, rarely speaks of Africa without expressing his concern about its demographic explosion. Why this obsession? Instead of worrying about the fact that others are having far too many children and trying to stop them, it seems, says Fr. Lado, that Westerners would benefit from having more of their own. They are losing the demographic battle.

Africa has no interest in continuing to lose its most talented people to the West. It is a loss of brain power that calls to mind the loss of “strong arms” during the times of slavery. In principle, Africa has enough resources to be self-reliant. The fundamental problem is governance.

Seeking to reduce Africa’s birth rate, concludes Fr. Lado, as some Western powers are trying to do, without first resolving the problem of governance has more to do with an ideology than a solution.

Father Ludovic Lado is a Jesuit anthropologist from Cameroon.