Malawian Speaker urges African MPs to develop policies that facilitate local solutions

Africa Science News

By Catherine Gotani Hara

It is an honour to address you today at the ninth African Population Conference parliamentary and Policy Forum.

This gathering under the theme closing Africa’s policy limitation gap in Population and Development is the right platform for addressing some of the most pressing issues facing our continent.

Africa is at a critical juncture. Our population is growing rapidly with a significant development trajectory. By 2050. Africa’s population is projected to reach 2.5 billion representing a quarter of the global population. This growth presents both challenges and opportunities and I think for us to hear from the President’s speech this morning on the opportunity and our responsibility to make sure that we harness this potential to drive sustainable development.

We are committed to tackle this challenges head on.

Malawi has made significant strides in health care with increased access to maternal and child health service. Our efforts to promote education, particularly for girls have led to higher enrollment and retention rates in schools. I personally think that girl child education is the  key because when I do an assessment of my colleagues that went to school, and have managed to finish through two universities, none of them has got more than two or three children. And nobody had to tell us that we have to go for family planning.

Nobody came to us to tell us what we’re supposed to do. It just comes natural. You’re thinking of your career. You’re thinking of how you want your children to be educated. If you want to get a good education it’s not cheap. Therefore, you’d rather invest with your children, because you want them to have the best. That’s why I’m saying girl child education for me, is the key.

If the girl child is educated, you don’t need to tell her that she shouldn’t have children. What she will want is to go through university, immediately after maybe, she’ll have one child, choose to do her master’s degree and get a better job and that on its own automatically controls the population without anybody having to tell the girl child education.

Governments need to focus on girl child education as they focus on the population development. I think girl child education needs a lot of attention support.

We know that our colleagues and partners who are assisting us in various ways, but I think we really need to do serious investment on child education because you don’t need proof. If you go around most of the principal secretaries, most of the educated ladies, none of them will have seven children, very few of them.

It’s because they have to spend most of their time advancing their career and wanting to get the best out of life.

Significant opportunities presented by our growing population is the potential for a demographic dividend in Malawi. 46% of the population is under the age of 50. And across Africa young people aged 15 represent about 20% of the African population.

This useful demographic group can be a driving force for economic growth and development if equipped with the necessary skills and opportunities.

By investing in education and skills development, we can transform them into a productive workforce that contributes to our economic and social development.

The relationship between population dynamics, healthy environment and development are critical. In Malawi, we have observed that population growth, and pressure on the natural resources lead to environmental degradation.

This in turn affects agriculture productivity and food security, posing challenges to sustainable development.

Governments must adopt an integrated approach that addresses these interconnected issues. By improving health outcomes, particularly in reproductive health, we can help manage population growth.

These efforts will collectively contribute to our overall development goals. Honourable Members of Parliament have a crucial role in this endeavour.

As representatives of the people, members of Parliament have the power to influence and enact policies that can drive significant change. Their leadership and advocacy are essential in assuring that population and development issues remain at the forefront of the national agenda. I know over time waited for policies to come from elsewhere and tried not to generate own policies and in the end, the drivers of those policies leave us worse.

I know there was a time when issues of population and family planning were very very attractive. Every time one opened a radio station, you most likely heard it talking about family planning and population. But once that drive was gone, then it also died down. It’s about time that as Africans we drove this agenda us ours. So it is about time that we also generate policies that suit us. Africans should not leave this agenda in the hands of others when they come to assist and help us to try fix it.

That is the reason why as Africans, we need to invest in research and development solely grown in Africa, I think it is a very critical, important tool that needs to be tested because we end up using research and development sometimes developed elsewhere, which is only suiting or fitting us because we’ll get some resources to bring a few activities, but maybe it’s not necessarily 100% fitting us. We need to ask ourselves hard questions. Where are we in terms of research and development and development policies that are home grown?

The government of Malawi is actively championing civil initiatives in line with our discussions here today. We have 10 times the implementation of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education programmes to ensure that our youth have the knowledge and resources they need to make informed decisions.

We are also working on legislative measures to end child marriage and gender-based violence, recognising this practices undermine the health and potential of our young people. We have already enacted quite a number of laws in support of this under the leadership of President Lazarus Chakwera.

The President’s administration has committed to enhancing public health infrastructure, improving education, and promoting gender equality. One notable initiative is the Malawi Vision 2063, which outlines a long term strategy for transforming the country into a wealthy, industrialised and inclusive nation. This vision aligns with our goal of harnessing the demographic dividend by investing in human capital and creating new opportunities for our youth.

We are also focusing on strengthening our health system. To address the high maternal and child mortality rates.

The government has launched several programmes aimed at improving maternal health services and increasing access to contraception.

These efforts are already showing positive results with a steady decline in maternal and child mortality rates over the past few years In the pipeline, we also have ambitious plans to further integrate population, environment and development policies. The parliament is working closely with the various stakeholders to develop a comprehensive framework that addresses these future connected issues.

This includes initiatives to promote sustainable agriculture practices, enhance environmental conservation efforts and ensure that our development strategies are resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Our development plus population scientists and civil society organisations also play an indispensable role.

Their expertise, research and support are vital in helping us understand the complexities of random dynamics in designing effective interventions.

Together, we can create a synergy that drives progress and achieve sustainable development. The linkages between population health, environment and development cannot be overstated.

Population growth puts immense pressure on our natural resource, leading to environmental degradation and food insecurity. We must adopt a holistic approach that addresses these integral issues. By improving health outcomes, particularly in reproductive health, we can manage population growth more effectively, while equally protect our environment through sustainable practices. That way, we will ensure that our natural resources are preserved for future generations. These efforts will collectively contribute to our overall development goals.

As we gather here today, therefore, let us be guided by a shared vision of a prosperous and sustainable Africa. Let us commit to taking bold actions that close the policy of limitation and ensure that our population dynamics contribute positively to our development goals.

We face a complex and multifaceted challenges that require a collaborative approach. It  is imperative that we work together across sectors and borders to develop and implement policies that address our shared challenges.

This forum provides an excellent platform for such collaboration, bringing together policymakers researchers and practitioners from across the continent and beyond. As we engage in discussions over the next few days, let us reaffirm our commitment to strengthen our partnership and take decisive action towards achieving our shared vision. I express my heartfelt gratitude to the Union for African population studies, the African Institute for development policy, the United Nations Population Fund, organisers and and participants for your dedication to this cause. your efforts are instruments instrumental in driving the progress we seek.

Let us seize this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to strengthen our partnership, and take decisive actions to want to achieve our shared vision. Together we can build a brighter and more sustainable for Africa.

The writer is the Speaker of the National Parliament, Malawi

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