Mwalimu Nyerere supported birth planning at a time when Tanzania’s population size was quite small – 13 million – in 1968.

By Edward Kinabo

SEVERAL times, I have heard a very shocking “tone at the top” urging the people of Tanzania to ignore family planning, calling them to bear as many children as they wish, and stressing that the country needs more people!

It’s not my intention to argue over the given opinions. But I intend to remind them the perspective of the Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, with regard to this burning issue.

But there is a personal dilemma.  Mwalimu Nyerere had a huge family, but he embraced family planning initiatives for the nation since 1960s..

In a meeting with a delegation of activists that sought after his endorsement to register the National Family Planning Association, locally known as “Chama cha Uzazi na Malezi Bora (UMATI), Mwalimu Nyerere said:

“You’re late, you know, too late”.

And after a calculated pause, he burst out laughing and said:

“Too late – I’m a Roman Catholic and I’ve got 12 children.”

Finally, he supported the Family Planning Association.

There is one important aspect to note here, that is, Mwalimu Nyerere supported birth planning at a time when Tanzania’s population size was quite small – 13 million – in 1968.

You know why? Because he understood so well that family planning is more of planning when to start giving birth and how to space births intervals than necessarily limiting the number of children or population size.

In other words, family planning facilitates gradual and intervallic delivery, and thus offers a mother enough time for health recovery prior taking more births.

In 1969 when speaking about the second Five Year Development Plan, Mwalimu, among other key issues contained in his speech, said that:

“Giving birth is something in which mankind and animals are equal, but rearing the offspring and especially educating them for many years is a unique gift … and it is responsibility of a man to look after them properly rather than thinking about the number of children and ability to give birth … for it happens that man’s ability to give birth is greater than his ability to bring up the children in a proper manner”

Here, as a visionary leader, Mwalimu emphasized on the concept that “births must be planned”;

Otherwise man’s biological ability to give birth tends to overwhelm household and country economy against rapid increase in children’s needs, in particular, nutritious and educational requirements.

In 1982 Mwalimu hit further on the same topic when he said that:

“Women in Tanzania are the greatest workers…one cannot expect these people to give birth every year …unless Tanzanians are careful, our daughters will be giving birth every year like rabbits”

He gave us a lesson that women shouldn’t be treated as “children delivery machines” or as he rightly put in his own words, treated as “rabbits”.

Instead, women should be considered as a potential workforce that deserves enough time to do other important productive works for their families and country development at large.

Whereas one can wrongly think that family planning reduces the size of workforce, Nyerere’s thinking was vice versa. He knew that by spacing-births women will be spending more time in developmental activities than it is when they frequently tied up to bearing children.

He put it clear “women are the greatest worker”

Till now family planning remains relevant and crucial area of intervention for improved health and socioeconomic status of Tanzanians, even after many decades of Mwalimu’s Nyerere regime. Actually we currently need the services more than we used back then.

Family planning helps couples to have children by choice, not by chance. As the services, supplies and information enable couples to plan when to have and space births, it prevents not only unintended pregnancies, but also unsafe abortions, street children and deaths of mothers and children.

While Tanzania ranks badly in maternal and child mortalities, evidence shows further that spacing the interval between pregnancies can prevent 44% of all maternal deaths and reduce high risks of infant mortality (Tanzania RMNCH Sharpened Plan).

Tanzania is among countries in the world with high rate of stunting (chronic malnutrition) among children under the age of five ((34.7%).

The UNICEF Nutrition Situation Report (2015) informs further that risk factors for stunting range from inadequate food and illness to poor access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. High rates of anemia and low body mass index among adolescent girls and pregnant women are also causes of concern.

In a few words, the factors causing stunting can be summarized as “household poverty and lack of nutritious knowledge”.

Family planning could reduce this burden of “stunted children” as it prepares families to afford costs of taking care of their planned children.

Economically, family planning is very critical in addressing the total dependency ratio, and in helping countries to set free some resources free for economic investments.

Tanzania is also among the countries with highest dependency ratios of population in the world, which stands at 81.5% (

Dependency ratio of population refers to a ratio of people who are generally not in the labor force (the dependents) to workforce of a country (the productive part of population). The dependent part includes the population under 15 years old and people aged 65 and over.

The fact that nearly half of the country population constitutes children less than 15 years of age (44%) … concludes how important and necessary family planning is for Tanzanians.

Assisting couples to plan and space birth intervals will off-course going to reduce rapidity of the population growth and attract a good balance between the dependents and the work force of the population.

Consequently, some country resources currently spent for such services as children’s education, nutrition and health expenditures will be set free to support country economic investments.

This is to say family planning is not just a health and social issue, but also an economic agenda.

Tanzania has been aspiring to become a middle economy country like Malaysia as her role model.

However, while the total dependency ratio of Tanzania population is 81.5%, Malaysia is just at 52%.

This implies that to reach the middle economic status like Malaysia, Tanzania needs to work on creating a good balance in her population structure, among many other important efforts. In this, investing in family planning and education is inevitable.

Any informed leader would have promoted family planning practices instead of condemning them.

At least the fair thing we can do with regard to family planning agenda is to dialogue on what proper and efficient family planning methods should be used, is it modern contraceptives or traditional methods? But not to dialogue on whether family planning is good or bad.

Besides, the Father of the Nation, the great leader and the most respected thinker of our country had said it all on the importance and necessity of family planning.

Who else should we listen to?