The spread of developmental idealism's beliefs about how “modern” family practices help achieve a modern prosperous society did not happen spontaneously, especially in societies whose family systems bore little initial resemblance to the “modern” ideal. We examine how Kenya in the 1960s became the first sub-Saharan country to adopt a fertility reduction policy, even though Kenya's leaders and their Western advisers initially had very different population ideologies. The advisers were neo-Malthusians who viewed continued high fertility in the face of rapid mortality decline as a grave threat to Third World development, whereas most Kenyans were traditional mercantilists who viewed a larger family and a larger population as signs of wealth and prosperity. Kenyans' conversion to neo-Malthusianism is often presented as the simple result of education and reason: Kenyans came to be convinced that progress requires slower population growth and lower fertility, achieved through modern methods of fertility control. Our account differs. It recognizes that neo-Malthusianism was a Western export that faced substantial opposition and that its adoption was the result of a coordinated movement by neo-Malthusians that applied pressure on Kenyan elites to change the intimate behavior of their people. We conclude that developmental idealism has spread from its Western origins to ordinary people around the world, but that the process was not simple, inevitable, or uniform.
In his 2001 presidential address to the Population Association of America, “The Developmental Paradigm, Reading History Sideways, and Family Change,” Arland Thornton defined “developmental idealism” as a cultural model of development, constructed by various social scientists over the course of several centuries, that identified the pattern of societal changes, especially family changes, associated with becoming a modern industrial society. Thornton recognized the debatable validity of this model, noting that its originators lacked accurate historical data and took the questionable scientific shortcut of identifying stages of development by “reading history sideways”: taking the range of existing societies and then intuitively ordering them from least to most developed. Regardless of its validity, though, Thornton thought that numerous “ordinary people” throughout the world had come to accept the basic precepts of developmental idealism (454–55): that the modern society is good and attainable; that the modern family is good and attainable; that a modern family is a cause and an effect of a modern society; and that modern social relationships are based on the consent of free and equal individuals.
Today we have survey evidence from Argentina, China, Egypt, Iran, Malawi, Nepal, and the United States (Thornton, Dorius, and Swindle 2015:87) documenting the correctness of Thornton's belief. There is widespread acceptance among “ordinary people” that development is both a cause and a consequence of certain changes taking place in family life: marriage becoming a union freely entered into by mature and independent individuals, women achieving a higher status, and fertility becoming controlled. Controlled fertility is the easiest to measure of these modern family changes, and we have mounting evidence that not only does developmental idealism tell “people both how the world works and how they should live in the world” (71), but that many people actually have changed their behavior to correspond with this belief. Fertility decline has spread around the world. In 1960 to 1965 the world's total fertility rate (TFR) was 5 children per woman; by 2010 to 2015 it had fallen to 2.5 (United Nations 2017). The less developed world's TFR has fallen from 6.2 to 2.7, and even in Africa, the world's least “developed” area, the TFR has fallen from 6.7 to 4.7. Couples are bringing about smaller families largely through contraception. By 2015, 64% of the world's women aged 15 to 49 were using contraception, including a third of women in Africa (United Nations 2015:8).
The spread of developmental idealism's beliefs about how “modern” family practices would help achieve a modern prosperous society did not happen spontaneously, especially in societies whose family systems bore little initial resemblance to the “modern” ideal. What follows is a case study of how the “ordinary people” of Kenya came to accept that smaller families were a “natural” component of the changes that would produce a modern, prosperous Kenya. This story begins at mid-century. Understanding the confluence of events occurring at that time is essential for understanding this story.
Immediately after WWII America assumed sole leadership of the “free world” and found itself engaged in an intense global struggle with the Soviet Union for world influence. One area being fought over was the burgeoning “Third World,” an entity engendered by rapid postwar decolonization. By the mid-1950s many Third World countries were experiencing unprecedented population growth. The spread of an effective vaccine for smallpox, the use of newly developed antibiotics, and the application of effective methods for controlling malaria had produced unprecedented mortality decline. Rapid population growth was thought to be problematic for both demographic and political reasons. American demographers, especially the transition demographers at Princeton, worried that rapid population growth might be preventing the transformation of traditional agrarian societies into modern industrial societies. Largely believing in a developmental idealist view of how social change occurs, they feared that if rapid population growth made industrialization and urbanization unfeasible then that growth would not end “naturally,” with declining fertility. It would end with increasing mortality, through starvation, epidemics, and conflict.
These same scholars worried that starvation, economic stagnation, and growing poverty all would help the spread of communism. And communism at the time was offering a largely “political” solution to development issues: a strong state and a state-directed economy offered the fastest road to development. For Western advisers there appeared to be only one non-communist way to humanely resolve the Third World's emerging population dilemma and, incidentally, the geopolitical threat to the free world: inducing fertility decline in peasant societies before they industrialized. American population experts developed this vision of the postwar global population situation, and by the early 1950s John D. Rockefeller III and the leadership of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations had accepted its validity. They began a neo-Malthusian movement with a global focus. Their goal was to slow Third World population growth by distributing contraceptives to women in still-agrarian societies. They recognized that only governments could implement effective family planning programs, and their immediate task became to convince policymakers in both the free world and the Third World that high fertility was a major social problem in need of state-sponsored family planning programs.
At mid-century this neo-Malthusian population ideology confronted an older one, mercantilism, which held sway in much of the agrarian world. Unlike the neo-Malthusian, the mercantilist viewed a larger family and a larger population as a sign of wealth and prosperity. Mercantilism was especially deep-seated in Africa, both among the general population and among the leaders of the independence struggle. But, surprisingly, by the middle of the 1960s the government of newly independent Kenya had officially adopted the position that slowing population growth through family planning programs was needed to facilitate development. Our task is to explain how this unlikely occurrence happened.
Virtually all accounts of Kenya's adoption of a neo-Malthusian policy have been written by people connected with the population movement: demographers, foundation officials, World Bank officials, and USAID officials. All these individuals were “true believers” in developmental idealism. Their academic credentials largely were in mid-century demography, sociology, and economics, all of which had made “stage” theories of development a central component of their disciplines at that time. These storytellers tell a simple tale of the Kenyan government coming to see the merit of neo-Malthusian logic in a series of commonsensical steps. Census data showing increasing rates of population growth lead to concerns about providing education, health care, and employment for all these people, and finally to the establishment of a national family planning program. The steps are so obvious that no outside assistance beyond technical demographic advice and implementation of suggestions is required. These accounts, however, do not do justice to the influence of the population establishment, and they ignore the intense interaction between Kenyan elites and the global population movement. Our goal is to tell a more historically accurate version of Kenya's adoption of neo-Malthusianism.
In the 1950s the new neo-Malthusian movement seemed to have little interest in Africa. Africa did not have the high population densities of Asia; the desire for independence made many areas politically very volatile; and few thought that Africans could be induced to have small families. Yet the neo-Malthusian adviser does come to meet the Kenyan mercantilist only a decade later in an independent Kenya full of optimism and enthusiasm. All over independent Africa there is a conviction that now that the colonial yoke has been lifted, the prospects for development are great. The enthusiasm for freedom and development prominent in independent Africa is considered an opportunity by the community of Western advisers working in Africa at the time. Francis Sutton, in a paper written in 1966 for the Ford Foundation (quoted in Sutton 1996:34), captures the feeling:
We would miss superb opportunities for service, and enlightenment if we did not respond to the openness and the urgent needs of the fledgling governments we are helping in this part of the world. … We mix our efforts intimately with those of the governments we are assisting. … We are in this sense in the stream of history.
A new “scramble for Africa” begins as foundations, Western governments, and international organizations offer African governments advice and money in a wide range of areas: agriculture, economic development, and governance and law, as well as population. Although all believe that Africa is the least developed of all Third World areas in terms of wealth, health, education, urbanization, and industrialization, these very facts make it a tempting testing ground for those believing that controlled fertility could be a powerful stimulus to overall development.
The international population movement is experiencing heady times in the early 1960s. In March 1963 the Ford Foundation trustees enunciate a clear population ideology, stating their intention to “maintain strong efforts both in the United States and abroad to achieve breakthroughs on the problems of population control” (as quoted in Harkavy 1995:39). That same year the Rockefeller Foundation Population Program announces their bold goal to “bring about reduction of the growth rate of the world's population and its eventual stabilization” (44). Such a goal appears more plausible with the conversion of previously reluctant First World governments to neo-Malthusianism. In January 1965 President Johnson gives the first U.S. government endorsement of international family planning programs when in his State of the Union message he urges the United States to “seek new ways to use our knowledge to help deal with the explosion in world population and the growing scarcity in world resources.” That year USAID begins to provide technical assistance in family planning to countries requesting it. Oscar Harkavy, who was working at the Ford Foundation at the time, remembers the atmosphere: “We were full of optimism.” First World government support is increasing, efforts are underway to have the United Nations adopt a neo-Malthusian policy, and breakthroughs in contraceptive technology—the pill and the IUD—have substantially expanded contraceptive choice. There is also a feeling that the management “know-how” demonstrated in the post–World War II Marshall Plan could shape programs that bring about fertility decline: indeed, many early population activists in Asia had worked with the Marshall Plan (Harkavy 1997).
Kenyans are also optimistic about their capacities, but for different reasons. Kenya is being led by the towering figure of Jomo Kenyatta, whose many years in jail for leading the independence movement give him great legitimacy and even adulation among the people (Lonsdale 1997:4). He is also a “cosmopolitan man who had studied at the London School of Economics … [and] who had moved in wide-horizoned pan-Africanist circles” (4), making him particularly attractive to the West as well.
Kenyatta is every bit as full of optimism and the can-do spirit as the foundation officials in New York. In his Independence Day speech in December 1965, Kenyatta celebrates the new opportunities available to Kenyans:
The truth is simple. For the man today who wants to travel or to move his produce, new roads are there. For a man who wants a farm, there is the settlement programme. For the family seeking education, there are new schools. … For the producer needing loans, there is machinery for this. (12)
Kenyatta's optimism has much to support it. People's central concerns are about land and education. With independence, the limits on education and land that so troubled colonial officials seem, for a time, to lift. With the government in African hands, educational opportunities seem to be a resource that need not be rationed. Now, Kenyatta promises universal education, and expends great efforts to fulfill that promise. In the decade after independence primary school enrollments more than double, and secondary school enrollments quintuple (Widner 1992:50). The government buys white settler lands in the early 1960s, which “meant that significant amounts of unoccupied land were suddenly available. … For a short period at the beginning of the Kenyatta period, land appeared to be available for all” (43).
In the 1960s Kenya's Gross Domestic Product increases at a 6% annual rate, its agricultural production at a 5.4% annual rate, and its industrial production at a 10.2% annual rate (World Bank 1981:136). Kenyans, even though their numbers are increasing, experience noticeable improvements in living standards.
The optimism of Kenyatta's Independence Day speech contrasts starkly with a dour report by Edgar O. Edwards (1963), an American economic-planning adviser to Kenya's Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning supported by the Ford Foundation. Summarizing the growth of the economy between 1954 and 1962, Edwards acknowledges past economic growth, but says that “past achievements can be seriously misleading if future plans are based too heavily on patterns of the past,” and then launches into a standard pessimistic neo-Malthusian discussion, with projections of demand for education, health care, employment, and land, as well as projected estimates of per capita income. It is unlikely, however, that many beyond the ministry read his pessimistic report, or grant his predictions the same legitimacy as the optimistic visions of Kenyatta.
In addition to Edwards, there are other neo-Malthusians in Kenya in the period shortly after independence. These are predominantly expatriates. As far as we can tell now, however, there are only a few Kenyans in positions of power in the 1960s who adopt neo-Malthusian views; these are in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, along with Edwards and John G. C. Blacker (Ndeti and Ndeti 1980). Blacker was the colonial government demographer responsible for the last colonial census, in 1962, which reported 3% annual population growth, and he remains in Kenya after independence. The two Kenyans who seem particularly influential are Tom Mboya, the minister of finance and economic planning, and Mwai Kibaki, a technocrat who is Mboya's assistant minister and subsequently vice president for a time under President Moi. But they have nowhere near the influence of Kenyatta, either in setting policy or in influencing elites.
Our central question is a simple one: How does Kenya become the first sub-Saharan country to adopt a neo-Malthusian policy? Although the Kenyan leaders and their neo-Malthusian advisers both want development to occur in Kenya, their population ideologies, their assessment of resources, and their time frames initially are clearly quite different. The developmental idealism literature contends that the fertility decline occurring in much of the developing world over the past 50 years has an ideational component: more and more of the developing world's population, both elites and the masses, coming to believe that controlled fertility and smaller families are essential elements of a modern, developed society (Thornton et al. 2012). This conversion didn't happen by accident. At mid-century an active band of Western neo-Malthusian missionaries first focused on converting elites in developing countries to these Neo-Malthusian ideas, and then the masses. This conversion process varies considerably across space and time, and what follows is how it happened in Kenya.
THE NEO-MALTHUSIAN OFFENSIVE
The first Neo-Malthusian salvo in the effort to influence the Kenyan government appears to have been a memo from Blacker and Edwards to Mboya and Kibaki. Blacker (1963) provides demographic data and projections based on his analysis of the 1962 census, and Edwards provides their economic implications (interview with Blacker, October 1997). Blacker was modest about the influence of this memo. When asked whether his projections persuaded anyone, he was doubtful, pointing to the “dearth of educated Kenyans at the time.” The memo's neo-Malthusian analysis, however, soon appears in Mboya's “African Socialism,” an important 1965 sessional paper (Kenya 1965). The population passage in “African Socialism” is one paragraph in length. It acknowledges the need for population control but calls for family planning education, rather than the implementation of a government family planning program. The government of Kenya apparently recognized that demand for fertility control was still limited in Kenya and would need to be initiated through education.
Shortly after “African Socialism” is published in 1965, the government invites the Population Council to send a mission to Kenya. The council responds immediately, and that very year a mission spends three weeks in Kenya “meeting some twenty-five government officials in the Capitol, and visiting hospitals, clinics and schools” around the country (Coale 2000:66). The mission is chaired by Richmond Anderson (director of the Technical Assistance Division of the council) and includes Ansley Coale (director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, and a leading academic demographer), Howard Taylor (chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University), and Lyle Saunders (a program associate at the Ford Foundation). The specialties of each reflect the population movement's priorities at the time: the foundation representatives who organize the mission (chairing, keeping the trip report), the demographer who makes the scientific arguments for population control, and the medical expert who evaluates the issues involved in introducing family planning.
The mission sets in motion a chain of events that in retrospect we think had substantial repercussions. These events also suggest considerable ambivalence among Kenyans about a national family planning program. A comparison of the trip log kept by Lyle Saunders and an article by Bernard Berelson of the Population Council, “On Family Planning Communication,” published in the first issue of the journal Demography (1964), makes it clear that the recommendations offered by the mission are drawn much more from the wisdom of the West than from the mission's experiences in Kenya.
Like the mission, Berelson focuses on the necessity of a family planning program:
What we are up against is nothing less than trying to change the behavior of couples just emerging from a traditional state, where most actions are specified by social custom and cultural arrangements of long standing—behavior requiring sustained action by pairs of people on a matter of utmost privacy and delicacy, plus the complications provided by one of man's strongest drives, sex. (95)
The array of obstacles, he says, is “impressive,” including illiteracy, inertia and apathy, peasant resistance to change, lack of communication between husband and wife, desire for children, “occasional moral, religious, or ideological objections,” lack of alternatives for women, lack of trained personnel, and lack of supplies (95). Understandably, Berelson is more explicit about the obstacles than is the mission report, a document intended to persuade the government, not discourage it. The mission does, however, follow Berelson when it points out that
Traditional attitudes and values—although likely to change rapidly in the relatively near future—will probably be a hindrance to family planning in Kenya for some time. Particularly relevant are value systems that assign a subservient status to women, that favor high fertility, that rely on land and family relations for social security, and that are oriented more toward maintaining the past than improving the future. (Anderson et al. 1965:47)
As had Notestein (1953) much earlier, the mission predicts the weakening of the extended-family system and its replacement by a greater emphasis on the nuclear family. “As these changes take place, the advantages of family planning become more apparent to couples and the practice of family planning can be expected to increase” (Anderson et al. 1965:47).
The mission's advice on involving the government follows directly from Berelson, who wrote: “Persuasion is needed at one point in the society: governmental officers are badly in need of it, especially very high government officers. The people themselves, I think, need less persuasion than the public servants (especially at the elite level) who have ultimate responsibility for family planning programs” (1964:100). To persuade government officers will require “getting the true demographic situation and its implications brought to the attention of responsible governmental officers, and conducting surveys of attitudes toward family planning which measure desire for information and service, and bring them to official attention.”
Berelson recommends the IUD, as did the mission, and for the same reasons: it does not require sustained motivation or repetitive action, and it is not coitus-dependent. He is somewhat less than fully reassuring about its safety, however: “The newly developed intra-uterine devices are more nearly ideal from the communication and motivation standpoint, although all of the biomedical evidence is not yet assembled” (96).
In contrast to the obvious symmetry between Berelson's formulation of neo-Malthusian ideology and that of the mission report, there is little evidence that the conversations the mission representatives have during the three weeks they are in Kenya are in harmony with the content of their report. In Nairobi, where their conversations are with members of the “modernizing elite,” primarily governmental officials, those with whom they speak are polite and somewhat deferential. They express an interest in learning more about family planning, and in possible assistance. On the other hand, the mission is irritated (though perhaps not as worried as it should have been) that high-level government officials break appointments or are hard to reach—possible indications that they are not eager to talk with the mission or feel that they have better things to do.
Among government officials outside of Nairobi, there seems to be more opposition to a government family planning program, or perhaps less concern about appearing cosmopolitan or supportive to the visitors. As Saunders reports in his log notes (1965), the main objections that the mission hears from government officials in the provinces are based on the politics of numbers, a sort of mercantilism based on tribe, rather than on national ideology—which the mission did not hear in its conversations with the modernizing elite in Nairobi. When the provincial commissioner of Rift Valley Province describes the province for the visitor, he begins with tribes: the Masai live here, the Kipsigis live there; what proportion of the population of the provincial capital, Nakuru, are Kikuyu from Central Province, that is tribal interlopers who recently migrated from their home province. Tribal numbers, perceived as important for tribal strength and prestige in colonial Kenya, retain their importance in the new democratic regime, where control of the government implies control of its resources. The provincial commissioners of both Rift Valley Province and Western Province say that before a population program could be considered, there would have to be a program in Nairobi and in Central Province (dominated by Kikuyu, Kenyatta's tribe). Rift Valley Province's educational commissioner says that the government has to speak out firmly “so that all will know that this is not an underhand plot to limit the growth of certain tribal groups” (26). The provincial commissioner of Rift Valley Province points out that “there is considerable variation in receptivity of different tribes to any ideas that come from the government” (26). Saunders comments:
One got the impression in listening to him that he is somewhat resentful of the Kikuyu migration and gives the impression that there may be some tribal organized plan to take over the control of the Rift Valley Province. In any case the local tribal groups resent the migration and feel that there is some attempt or some danger of Kikuyu political domination. (2)
At the Ministry of Health, the mission finds little enthusiasm either for population control or for the family planning program that the mission's report recommends that it implement. There is an almost formulaic etiquette in the reports of the mission's visits with Ministry of Health officials. The officials represent their country to the visitors as ready for family planning. Then, however, they raise objections about the ministry's role in implementation, and express a desire to turn that responsibility over to the private Family Planning Association of Kenya. The Mission meets with Dr. J. C. Likimani, chief medical officer and director of medical services in the Ministry of Health, with Dr. Aruwa, director of hospitals, and with the personnel officer, Nganga. All three raise objections based on the mercantilist view that a larger population is better than a smaller one. “There was some suspicion at first and some feeling that this might be an attempt by Europeans and/or Asians to limit African numbers.” Although Likimani reassures the mission that “there seems now to be a growing acceptance of the idea. … The desire for fertility control is spreading rapidly,” his colleagues proceed to raise objections to the immorality that might follow from the distribution of contraceptives by a family planning program. Dr. Aruwa “interjected a somewhat impassioned objection to family planning. A Red Cross survey, he said, shows that it is now easy for ‘school girls, wives, and school teachers’ to buy contraceptives even in rural areas and as a consequence morality is deteriorating” (8). Aruwa returns discussion to the theme of population size, saying that death rates are still high and birth control might reduce numbers to dangerous levels. Saunders dismisses this in a parenthetical remark in the log, saying that Aruwa “apparently has no notion of what a limited effect fertility control can have and sees it as capable of reducing absolute population size” (8). Aruwa and Nganga, the personnel officer, also contend that Kenya still has plenty of land. At the end of the report for that day, Saunders says, “I got an impression that in the health ministry there is only a moderate amount of commitment to FP and that there is a considerable body of opinion that is strongly opposed. We should consider this carefully before recommending the setting up of any program in this ministry” (8).
The mission's apprehensions about the Ministry of Health are confirmed by a visit to the USAID field office, which only earlier that year had started being able to provide technical assistance in family planning. When the mission visits the office, its head mentions that money is now available for a family planning program, but then he notes “that the Ministry of Health is not nearly so alert to possibilities as other Ministries and the others are likely to snatch all the funds before health even hears that they are available” (39).
On July 9, after drafting its report and discussing it with Edwards, the mission meets with a group chaired by Kibaki, the Assistant Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, and including officials from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Services. Saunders says they are well received by all except Aruwa, from the Ministry of Health. Saunders comments in the log:
The guy is an idiot; but a determined one, and one highly enough placed in the Ministry of Health to have a dampening effect on the already faint enthusiasm of his colleagues in that Ministry. From this visit, as from an earlier one with a group of Health Ministry people, I came away with a distinctly unfavorable opinion about the ability and interest of the Health Services to design and operate an effective FP program. The components are there, and some of the local people we saw—most of them—were competent and keen, but the top leadership impresses me (in contrast to that of other ministries) as being weak, timid, uninformed, and perhaps inept. (32)
In the mission's log, we do not find evidence that the mission even asks about the acceptability or suitability of IUDs. Apparently convinced already that no other method would be suitable for the Kenyan population, they concentrate instead on the potential for implementing an IUD program. They do frequently mention numbers of IUDs inserted in various clinics they visit, sometimes noting that they are soon removed, but they seem to concentrate on asking whether paramedical personnel could insert them or whether insertion would need to be done by doctors (who, they understood, were in short supply in the rural areas where most Kenyans lived). In Nyeri, the mission talks with 40 women who have gathered at a Family Planning Association of Kenya clinic to receive IUDs. They have a question-and-answer session, which gives the impression of a staged event. In response to questions, the women agree that the ideal number of children would be four; if they were starting over they would want four; yes, they would recommend four for their daughters. There must have been some skepticism among the mission, since Saunders argues that perhaps these views are genuine:
This is a semi-rural area but it is reputed to be a fairly progressive one and perhaps the experience here is not entirely typical of what one might encounter in other parts of the country. But this is also a very densely populated area and if what we saw here is any indication there should be a considerable receptivity to family planning information on the part of village women. (31)
A week later, Saunders seems to be somewhat less optimistic about the IUD: “It may be significant that relatively few physicians attended the lecture and demonstration recently given by Dr. George Major who came down from Nairobi to discuss IUD's. Three were inserted at that time; two are already out” (36).
In summary, when we compare the mission's report with Berelson's wisdom and the mission's log, we conclude that the mission's report reflects received Western wisdom more than actual experience in Kenya. It is a rather undiluted expression of neo-Malthusian logic, a one-size-fits-all approach that only occasionally shows a sign of having been altered to fit the Kenyan context. Why, then, was the knowledge the mission gained of the Kenyan context overridden by their neo-Malthusian ideology? We think the answer is a sort of folie à deux, the interaction of a population movement which despite its global reach was rooted in its local networks of academics, foundations, and other population players, and Kenyan elites, also rooted in their local context but reaching out to the global community by presenting themselves as more neo-Malthusian and interested in family planning than they were.
The most striking omission, from both the mission's report and the interactions with Kenyans as recounted in the log, is the issue of tribal numbers. Although this issue is raised outside of Nairobi by the two provincial commissioners with whom the mission talks, the comments appear to have been brief and, like their discussion with Mr. Njoroge, whose worries about population decline are dismissed by Saunders in his log as a failure of understanding, not accurately assessed by the mission. Based on our own experiences in Kenya at a later date, we believe that those with whom the mission speaks undoubtedly prefer to present their country as a unitary nation rather than as a tribal society. Nation-states are modern, “tribes” are traditional and backward. The mission talks almost exclusively with members of the modernizing elites: government leaders and medical personnel, many of whom have been educated in the West or who, like some of the medical personnel, have a status that derives from their mastery of Western medical knowledge (Rutenberg and Watkins 1997). In the international community of nations which Kenya has just joined through its independence, the model is that of nation-states (Meyer 1994). Thus, we believe these elites prefer to talk in terms of “culture” to indicate tribal opposition to family planning, perhaps recognizing that the language of culture is acceptable in international exchanges in a way that the language of tribe is not. Cultural differences, like religious differences, are to be respected. And the mission can more easily deal with remarks such as those of Njoroge and the two provincial commissioners if they consider them cultural expressions and not legitimate tribal concerns. Archaic cultural values that impede the transformation to modernity will be eroded by education; the politics of numbers in a democratic multi-tribal society is not so likely to lessen in importance. Later, other Westerners in the population movement will make the same comforting interpretation.
The mission submits its report to the Kenyan government, which adopts it in 1966 and publishes it in 1967, under the imprimatur of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. For the population establishment this is a coup, and virtually every history of the movement in Kenya celebrates Kenya as the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to adopt an official policy to reduce the population growth rate. Procuring such official policy statements is important because it legitimizes population activity in the country: “These accomplishments may seem modest, and perhaps they are. But they are also important. For they represent the base of interest and activity, necessary for any external aid agency to operate effectively” (Gwatkin 1970:19). That the policy is Kenyan—in the sense of having been officially adopted by the Kenyan government—distinguishes it from past Western pronouncements of the need for fertility control. This is politically important for the global population control movement. As we have seen, however, the population policy was far from being a home-grown Kenyan initiative. Not surprisingly, its subsequent implementation did not proceed with great enthusiasm.
AFTER THE MISSION
There is a considerable gap between the categorization of Kenya as having an official policy to reduce the population growth rate and what it actually does between 1967 and 1978. When the Kenyan program is implemented in 1968 it experiences one year of success. The number of family planning acceptors increases from 11,700 in 1968 to 30,300 in 1969 and then virtually plateaus for the next two years (Radel 1973:95–96). It also becomes clear that continuation rates are quite low. Although the population movement remains enthusiastic about Kenya's progress in family planning for several years, by the mid-1970s disappointment has set in, and there are complaints. For example, in the mid-1970s the World Bank sends four missions a year to assess the progress of Kenya's family planning program. According to one observer at the time, the bank would say to Dr. Kimani, the Ministry of Health representative, “‘You haven't done this, you haven't done this.’ Kimani would answer, ‘It's under way.’ Everyone knew he was lying” (Krystall 1997). As transpired during the mission's visit, the government appears to be unwilling to voice objections directly to the international population community. Rather, it compromises, accepting those recommendations that are politically easier, and stalling on the implementation of the others.
The mission views government support as critical. Government support is very limited, however, and largely confined to carefully situated neo-Malthusian rhetoric in three development plans published between 1966 and 1974 (Kenya 1966, 1970, 1974). In interviews with eight Kenyan and Western population movement officials active in Kenya during this time (Archer 1997; Blacker 1997; Cege 1997; Harkavy 1997; Johnston 1997; Krystall 1997; Ndisi 1996; Sinding 1997), virtually everyone said that Kenyatta did not support the family planning program that was meant to implement the policy. Kenyatta gives it lip service when speaking to Western audiences in English; in private, however, and in Kikuyu, he questions it, at least for the Kikuyu, saying, “Don't listen to all these family planning people, you have as many children as sands in the sea” (Krystall 1997). Although these development reports use neo-Malthusian rhetoric, they also document the failure of the family planning program to lower fertility; in fact, they document an increasing TFR. One explanation for the failure of the program that international population control advocates offer is that Kenyans, elites as well as the general populace, do not understand the importance of controlling population. This is happening because they lack the appropriate information, or they misunderstand the information that the movement provided. Another, and increasingly popular, explanation for the failure is “culture.” The population movement does recognize that there are cultural differences between the West and sub-Saharan Africa that are relevant for reproduction. It had been possible for Kenyan colonial officers to dismiss local cultures as “superstitions,” and Kenyan elites still use this language to describe the rural folk who are less educated than they. But the population movement can no longer use the language of “superstition.” In the 1970s the context changes, in part because of the enthusiasm for development following independence, and in part because of the politics of the West, particularly the sensitivities that are central to the new social movements on race and gender that arise during that decade. The promoters of family planning thus begin to explain failures of implementation as due to “cultural barriers” (Gachuhi and Kiyanjui 1973).
One obvious explanation for the failure is carefully avoided by those evaluating Kenya's family planning program in the 1970s: a voluntary family planning program could not bring about substantial fertility decline in Kenya because most Kenyan couples don't want to have smaller families. Although the mission report (Anderson et al. 1965:3) recommends a program which would make “every pregnancy the result of a voluntary choice” and predicts that it “might reduce fertility by as much as 50% in 10 to 15 years,” it does so based on “studies in other countries” showing that most couples “would like to limit the size of their families” (6). Yet when Donald Heisel, whom the Population Council funds to teach demography at University College in Nairobi, conducts a Kenyan survey on the knowledge, attitude, and practice of contraception (KAP survey) in 1966, it is clear that most Kenyans do not want to limit the size of their families. Heisel (1968:641) finds that “ideals of family size, on the average, tend to remain near the average levels of achieved fertility.” The ideal family size is 6.03 (counting responses of 11 or more as 12), and the estimated achieved family size is 6.8. Regardless of what “studies in other countries” have found, in Kenya the KAP study documents most couples wanting and having large families. This is clear empirical evidence that developmental idealism is not yet making headway among most Kenyans, since they are not yet seeing controlled fertility and smaller families as essential elements of a modern, developed society. By as early as 1968, therefore, it would seem “irrational” for population movement representatives to believe that a voluntary family planning program could cut Kenyan fertility in half over the next 10 to 15 years. Yet donors still willingly provide funds to build and staff hundreds of family planning clinics throughout Kenya in the hopes of substantially reducing fertility. They then spend more funds to discover which program characteristics are responsible for the minuscule turnout.
Why does the Kenyan government adopt a population policy so early and then do so little to implement it? In retrospect, the lack of implementation is not what needs to be explained. The neo-Malthusian ideology that informed the policy had little in common with the population ideology of the Kenyan elites, and family planning was objectionable for a variety of reasons that over the years have been fully described by its promoters. What needs to be explained is the adoption of the policy at all. Here was a country in the full flush of independence and optimism about its future, with a perception that two of its priorities, land and education, were abundantly available, and with a view of population growth that saw it as self-evident that bigger countries were richer, more powerful, and more prestigious. Why would it adopt a population policy that most must have seen as coming from outer space, a policy that indeed was a direct translation of international neo-Malthusian ideology with virtually no adaptation to the Kenyan context? We suggest three reasons.
First, many key players in a major ministry, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, do appear to have been convinced by Neo-Malthusian logic.
Second, even those elites who were not convinced wanted to signal that Kenya was not a backward nation, that it was a member of a global community, a point that has been made more generally and with great elegance by John Meyer and his colleagues (Barrett 1995; Meyer 1994). Released from colonial control, Kenya was ready to play a part on a world-wide stage. A desire for recognition by the global community may have motivated other sub-Saharan African countries as well but may have been more critical in Kenya. Like other countries, Kenya was eager for foreign capital; unlike many others, it had also rejected socialism for a free-market economic ideology. Signing on to something that Western representatives clearly thought was important may have seemed to the government of Kenya as a way of signaling that it was respectable. They also may have predicted—correctly, for a time—that adopting a policy and implementing it were separate activities.
Kenyatta's great popularity, perhaps, allowed his government to adopt a population position based more on international than on domestic considerations. Although there were occasional outbreaks of tribal resistance to family planning (Wilks 1970), without an effective political opposition that might make use of anti-family-planning sentiment, the Kenyatta government had only a small political price to pay for adopting an official neo-Malthusian policy not in harmony with majority opinion.
A third reason for adopting such a position is more direct financial incentives. The Population Council mission made it clear that outside organizations would likely provide support. Although the mission said, and subsequent donors repeated, that eventually the government of Kenya would have to take over the recurrent costs of a family planning program, the government may have been very attracted by the value of current aid and highly discounted future costs (in which they were correct: Kenya's family planning program is still largely donor-funded). Because family planning services were delivered through hospitals and, especially, clinics and dispensaries, funds that could be used for the expansion of rural family planning also could be used to assist the Ministry of Health in providing maternal and child health care, a high priority for the immediately post-independent government in general, and of course for the Ministry of Health in particular.
In April 1968 former U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara becomes president of the World Bank. In his first address to the Board of Governors (September 30, 1968) he causes considerable controversy by stating that he wants the bank “to seek opportunities to finance facilities required by our member countries to carry out family planning programs,” and “to join with others in programs of research to determine the most effective methods of family planning and of national administration of population control programs.” In the early 1970s the bank's “new and relatively inexperienced staff [is] under substantial pressure to produce a ‘bankable project,’ particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa” (World Bank 1992:53). Kenya is willing and able to provide an outlet for the bank's largesse. In 1974 the bank funds a USD 12 million five-year population project in Kenya. The money goes to constructing rural health facilities and training schools: “89% civil works, 9% furniture and equipment, 2% technical assistance” (53). Although the project has a goal of reducing population growth from 3.3% a year to 3%, when the project ends evidence suggests that the rate has increased to 3.9%. In fact, UNFPA and USAID advisers at the time object to the bank's emphasis on construction, since it “would have little or no impact on the population growth rate during its lifetime” (53).
There might also be some less high-minded motives, at least among donors. Expanding service delivery points provides opportunities to choose contractors and suppliers, and thus opportunities to forge or maintain patron–client relations, considered by political scientists to be characteristic of African governance (Rothschild 1969). In addition, funds can be stolen—or, as the newspapers often call it, “mismanaged.” Money is flowing in, and there is very little monitoring and no sanctions. Eric Krystall (1997) recalls that “the World Bank was terrified they'd give back the money. World Bank policy was that you couldn't get development money without a family planning program, so they were very keen that Kenya be spending that money.”
The steady flow of family planning funds eventually has an impact on the attitudes of Kenyan elites to population growth. In fact, by the time Kenyatta's regime ends in 1978, elite attitudes have begun to change, as evident in a survey of elites that Ndeti and Ndeti (1980) conduct in the late 1970s. Unlike earlier accounts, which reported many officials freely expressing negative attitudes about the importation of family planning into Kenya, this survey finds a growing acceptance of the program. Ndeti and Ndeti ask respondents a leading question about foreign influence (87), clearly expecting to find the perception that family planning is a Western import. Of the program implementers in their survey, however, over half say the program is basically Kenyan because it is run by the government, and because family planning is a traditional Kenyan custom. One says that although family planning was introduced from outside, “now it is a Kenyan idea because the FPAK is a Kenyan organization” (88). A decade of substantial international funding of family planning in Kenya appears to have domesticated the movement. Many of the elite now accept developmental idealism's key principles concerning the beneficial role of controlled population growth and smaller families in Kenya's development process.
In August 1978 President Kenyatta dies and Daniel arap Moi, vice president since 1967, assumes the presidency. With respect to Kenya's fertility-control effort, Moi is a much more ardent supporter than Kenyatta, and his legitimation of neo-Malthusianism has been seen as crucial in Kenya's subsequent fertility decline (Robinson 1992; Sinding 1997). Unlike Kenyatta, Moi makes many explicit neo-Malthusian appeals. Moi has reasons to adopt a higher-profile neo-Malthusianism. First, the Kenyan economy is growing more slowly than it did in the 1960s, and, as a reading of the 1979-1983 Development Plan illustrates, neo-Malthusianism allows rapid population growth to be used as a scapegoat for economic stagnation. Second, program activists from those days say that Moi is shamed into it by Kenya's high profile in the population community. As the story goes, Moi returns from a meeting of Commonwealth nations saying, “I'm sick and tired of being laughed at as the country with the highest growth rate” (Krystall 1997). Third, Moi has to deal with population donors who have grown disillusioned by weak support for the family planning program among senior government officials, especially in the Ministry of Health. When Kenya applies to the World Bank for a second population project to begin in 1982, bank officials engage in “considerable analysis and soul-searching” (World Bank 1992:53) before funding the USD 23 million project. The bank sees to it that a National Council on Population and Development, outside the Ministry of Health, is established to direct the program. It makes its establishment “a condition for release of the second tranche of the Second Structural Adjustment Loan” to Kenya (54). When such a powerful institution uses its considerable leverage to link an effective family planning program to economic development aid, any leader is forced to take note.
By 1989 the first evidence of program success appears, and Moi gains some political benefits for his support of family planning. Kenya's Demographic and Health Survey of 1988 indicates a significant decline in TFR since the Kenyan Fertility Survey of 1978: from 8.1 children per woman to 6.7. By 1998 the TFR has fallen to 4.7, and by 2014, to 3.9 (National Bureau of Statistics of Kenya and ICF International 2015). Not only have government leaders adopted neo-Malthusianism, but also many in the general population have adopted the small-family norm and modern family planning—despite lingering uncertainties (Watkins 2000). In 1978 just 7% of Kenyan women used any method of contraception, and only 4% used a modern method (sterilization, the pill, IUD, condoms). By 2015, 60% of Kenyan women were using modern methods of contraception (United Nations 2016). In Kenya small families, gender equality, and women not marrying before age 18 have all become signals of modernity. Both fertility and contraceptive use are excellent behavioral measures that trace the spread of developmental idealism among average Kenyans. The 18% reduction in fertility from 1978 to 1988 was followed by a 30% reduction from 1988 to 1998, and the use of modern contraceptives went from virtually nothing in 1978 to 60% by 2015. These trends allow the observer to see the Kenyan population actively adopting the belief that smaller families are beneficial for themselves and the nation. The initial conversion of Kenyan elites to development idealism facilitated the establishment of the infrastructure and the ideology that allowed the general population to act according to its precepts.
By the late 1990s most Kenyans had adopted the neo-Malthusian views of developmental idealism: they see many children as a burden for a family and a rapidly growing population as a burden for the nation. Family planning is now widely considered a useful innovation, for both individual couples and the nation. International members of the neo-Malthusian movement have written the story of the diffusion of neo-Malthusianism and family planning to Kenya as a simple one: national elites, and ultimately indigenous citizens, came to understand that population growth must be contained and that the adoption of Western methods of fertility control is a rational response to changed conditions. A dramatic instance of planned social change is presented as the triumph of reason over outdated tradition, as an inevitable transformation that is in little need of historical examination. In these accounts, international actors did play a role, but they only needed to provide Kenyans with information, education and communication, technical assistance and minimal resources, and to exercise patience, not power.
We have problems with this version of events. It ignores the fact that women in Nyanza today call contraception “white man's medicine” and use the English word “family” to refer to it (Rutenberg and Watkins 1997:301). In any historical account of Kenyans' changed thinking about family size and population growth, family planning is an obvious Western export. In our version, its exportation takes place in phases. The focus of this paper is on the first phase: the promotion of neo-Malthusianism to Third World elites. This phase begins seriously in the 1950s and 1960s, when well-endowed foundations, Western governments, and international institutions come to fear rapid Third World population growth and establish a substantial international neo-Malthusian movement. The leaders of this movement believe (correctly, we think) that they first must convince Third World leaders of the harmfulness of rapid population growth before an infrastructure capable of bringing modern contraceptives to Third World populations can be established. Our narrative relates how this conversion of Kenyan elites was attempted through the 1960s and 1970s.
Our narrative describes the intricate pas de deux that ensued over time. Visions of what is problematic or desirable invariably differ according to where one stands, and movement agents and Kenyan elites initially stood in quite different places. Over time, however, they did construct a common arena of action. Both parties learned to modify their stances and to compromise so that each could partially attain its goals. Today we tend to focus on two results of the decades-old dance: the neo-Malthusian policies and programs adopted by the Kenyan government and the increasing proportion of Kenyan women who have begun to use “family” to have fewer children. But these are not the only consequences of the dance. Networks of health clinics were built, and long-term development loans granted. Even the neo-Malthusianism of movement agents changed, at both a theoretical and a practical level. Finally, the questioning of movement goals and assumptions that ensued during these decades, both within and outside of Kenya, has made it difficult for the movement to preserve a clear definition of “success.” Within the reproductive rights framework adopted at Cairo in 1994, for example, Kenya's fertility decline is no longer synonymous with “success.” The Programme of Action adopted at Cairo (United Nations 1994) defines the purpose of population programs as not the lowering of fertility but the promotion of reproductive health, defined in paragraph 7.2 as ensuring women “the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.”
Understanding the presence, extent, and timing of national fertility declines in the second half of the twentieth century requires greater attention to the interactions between international donors and national elites. One reason the timing, intensity, and general effectiveness of Kenya's fertility control efforts differed from those of Malawi or Malaysia is that Kenyan elites had a different pattern of interaction with agents of the international population movement (Chimbwete, Watkins, and Zulu 2005). Research that focuses on how arenas of action actually are negotiated by Third World elites and agents of international movements is critical not only to understand how widespread changes such as fertility decline occurred but also to understand the dynamics of newer global attempts to change the sexual behaviors likely to cause HIV infection or to establish a definitive list of universal human rights. Stories in which the role of international actors is hidden do little to improve our understanding of the past or our ability to influence the future. Useful lessons for influencing the future can only be drawn from accurate portrayals of the past.
There is little doubt that developmental idealism as a cultural model of development has spread from its Western origins to ordinary people around the world. But we should never view this process as simple, inevitable, or uniform. It takes place at particular times and in particular places for particular reasons that need to be uncovered if we hope to accurately understand this spread. Just look at the wide variation that currently exists in the total fertility rates among sub-Saharan African countries: from 7.4 children per woman in Niger to 2.55 in South Africa (United Nations 2017). Obviously, the pas de deux that we described as taking place between Western neo-Malthusian advisers and Kenyan elites has not been simply replicated throughout the region. There is not one story here but many.