Africa can learn much more from America than how to use the latest piece of technology.
Africans need to see how shifting morality, often influenced by the U.S., can harm their culture, according to Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian educator and advocate for traditional family values.
“We see children as an economic asset. To tell the poor to control the population, they find it very misleading,” said Okafor, who spoke to several groups in Milwaukee, Appleton and Green Bay recently.
When it comes to large families, Okafor said, many Africans subscribe to the adage: “One more mouth to feed, two more hands to work, one more brain to think.”
She blames Africa’s poverty on governmental upheaval and mismanagement.
“Children are not the cause of poverty,” she added. “When people are poor, they want to have more children because they believe that eventually that will enrich them.”
Okafor’s country is home to some 150 million, by far the most populous nation on the continent. More than 40 percent of its population is under the age of 15. When she looks at the West, though, she sees the “population pyramid” being inverted – that is, more older citizens than younger ones.
“The lesson of modern history is that population decline actually leads to depressed economies,” she said. “Workers are strained because they no longer are being replaced by a younger workforce. People are burdened by having to take care of aging parents. Even governments are suffering because there isn’t as much money coming in from taxation, and so much is being spent on Medicare and Social Security.”
In describing Nigeria to about 150 students in an assembly at Catholic East Elementary in Milwaukee, Okafor said people in Africa link their happiness to family life, not material possessions.
Students quizzed Okafor about Nigerian holidays and schools. They learned that her family owned six dogs, a tortoise and even a baby chimp when she was growing up.
“Have you ever touched a wild animal?” one asked.
“Oh no, I’m too afraid!” Okafor responded with a hearty laugh.
When another student asked if there was a lot of illness in Africa, Okafor turned serious and briefly addressed HIV/AIDS, along with malaria, typhoid and famine-related health problems.
Later in an interview, Okafor said that prevention of HIV/AIDS in Africa needs to take place within traditional structures and values.
“Abstinence before marriage and mutual fidelity within marriage are taught in West Africa,” she said. “Even in areas with polygamy, there is fidelity within it.
“HIV/AIDS is more common in places where there is a high condom acceptance, interestingly. In Uganda, there are whole villages that have been wiped out – rural villages, so I wouldn’t say it is an urban phenomenon. The more the use of condoms is being advertised, the more you have a rise in HIV because there is more promiscuity and infidelity.”
Pressure to slow population growth and the promotion of condom use to reduce HIV infection have come from organizations such as the United Nations and Planned Parenthood International, Okafor said.
Okafor serves as CEO of Life League Nigeria, a pro-life organization comprised of young professionals, and also is director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage, a network of 20 pro-life and pro-family groups continent-wide.
FACH, an interfaith organization, holds workshops on strengthening families. One of its current projects is a teen-oriented DVD called “Beyond Sex Appeal,” emphasizing strong relationships and refusal skills.
Professionally, Okafor, 45, is director of Quality Assurance and Research Development Agency in Nigeria. She also is a doctoral-level researcher at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
Okafor’s father was from a polygamist Nigerian family, the favorite son of one of his father’s seven wives. But he himself had only one wife, whom he met when both were studying at Oxford.
“My mother was Catholic and they were married in the Catholic Church,” said Okafor. “He married her properly, and thereafter he never practiced any religion. He didn’t believe in God. He didn’t want us to practice any religion at all.”
Okafor grew up with four brothers and a sister, raised Catholic by their mother.
“As children, we could see the benefits of being close to God,” she said. “We could see my father as very learned, very influential, very rich – but we could also see his gradual decline. We could see how he was exploited. In our home, we could witness the benefits of being in unison with God, and I think that’s what really influenced me.”
Okafor’s trip to Wisconsin – her first – was sponsored by ThinkMarriage.org, a Green Bay-based non-profit that educates and encourages people toward a healthy marriage.
The convergence of National Marriage Week and Black History Month led ThinkMarriage.org to invite Okafor.
“She’s a strong voice for intact families, a plumb line to see how crooked our understanding has become,” said Susan Dutton Freund, president and executive director of ThinkMarriage.org.
Okafor is single, and describes marriage as a vocation that is not for everyone. Regardless of marital status, God must be central in one’s life, she said.
“The flight from God is self-destructive, because God really has nothing to gain from us – we are the ones who have so much to gain from him,” she said.