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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Global, the Local, and Population Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Author(s): Sullivan, Rachel
  • et al.

Despite pronatalist governments and populations, starting in the late 1980s and continuing through the 1990s, one sub-Saharan African country after another announced national population policies aimed at reducing population growth through fertility limitation. I use country-level data for the period 1984-2003 to describe the diffusion of population policy across the continent and to determine why some governments were willing to take the risky move of adopting a population policy but not others, and why some governments did so earlier than others. My treatment of this subject rests on an understanding of policymaking in the African context as one that is mediated by a variety of actors at the global and local levels, including African governments but also multilateral and bilateral organizations. Unlike the standard diffusion story, in which the most modern actors play the role of innovators, I find that the first countries to adopt policies actually had lower levels of governmental capacity and were more traditional than those who adopted policies later or that did not adopt policies at all. I explain this paradox based on these countries’ greater desire to signal their modernity to outsiders, and their relatively weak position vis-à-vis powerful external organizations like the World Bank.

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