Sunday 16 May 2021
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Abortion and the African Value of Humanness

Allow me to continue with the debate on abortion, that subject that some sector of society thinks should be legislated as a matter of urgency. Many people think that being opposed to the idea of cosmetic abortion is primarily for religious reasons. That is a profoundly untrue assumption.
Dr. Matti Kimberg (not the subject of this piece), argued that ‘the current Namibian Abortions Laws are a sad archaic reminder of a draconian and theoretic male dominated past.’ Although I think that to blame to issue on patriarchy is indicative of lack of awareness of the overwhelming socio-cultural context.
Another issue he appeals to is the number of baby abandonment/dumping and risky backdoor abortions.
However, he jumps to abortion as an answer to these challenges, without somehow engaging the practical rationalities that govern the Namibian society. I appreciate her honesty that he thinks of this option out of concern for the health and safety of women and young girls and to avoid the painful moral issue of dumping babies. Yet, that does not excuse the seriousness of the ultimate options he is suggesting.
How ought we to decide among the demands of incompatible options of perceived good(s) for our moral and social allegiance and progress? In this case, what’s the best way to deal with unwanted pregnancies?
To know what is the best or probable best, one cannot appeal to your personal experiences alone, for a decision that involves life must be done on the basis of engaging the rationalities involved from ‘every’ side. That is to say, when we argue for or against an idea or practice, we need to be aware of our own socio-cultural inheritances and traditions which have informed our societies.
The blanket rejection of anti-abortion claims as merely draconian and religious, only fosters the unwillingness to engage the socio-cultural context, by that I mean African. The discourse of bioethics, in the African contexts is not a mere medical and physical phenomenon. In as much as one may disagree with the African worldview, it’s a reality that informs how we interpret life and its ensuing events. From that perspective, it’s important to understand that the very concept of cosmetic abortion in the African cultural perspective does not provide a softer technical term. It only has the clinical understanding of killing or murder. Literally, in the African worldview abortion isn’t mere ethical discussion to a moral one.
For whatever reason, no one is willing to engage this African conceptualisation on this issues. I suspect, it’s because we despise whatever is African and popularised views seem to be more appealing, and often attracts monetary incentives. But we forget that the very idea of legalising cosmetic abortion springs from a fundamentalist rationality that refuses to discuss fundamental disagreements, let alone the exploration of non-radical options to unwanted pregnancies. The pro-abortion argument refuses to acknowledge that the subject of abortion in the African context is no a mere individualistic issue, but one that involves a whole community. As a result, it is pushing for an option that would disturb the social equilibrium of societies without realizing that in many cases, such actions come with consequences of social ostracising.

For some reason, only known to those who advocate for abortion, we don’t take these cultural factors into consideration. Instead, there seems to be a general unexamined consensus that since many countries in the West have legalised abortion, it should have a ripple effect for African societies to follow suite.
This is where we see evident contextual alienation, simply because abortion has been legalised elsewhere doesn’t make it a suitable option for the Namibian situation.
While this subject is an ethical one, it’s also a cultural one. With a loss of our own cultural mandate to construct our own history, destiny and universe of meanings, we’re left with no other choice but to make the reality of others our reality. Eventually we are bound to attain the cultural destiny of others, subject to their perspectives of the world and naively call that as being humane, modernised, or progressive.
The issue of abortion thus far hasn’t been filtered through the lens of African values; and this forced progressiveness disguised under the ethics of care, if left to medical practitioners and abortion activists who have no consideration for the African context, we’ll see the conquest of the one thing we’ve preserved even through slavery, colonialism and apartheid, our humanity.
The cosmetic abortion question is a relevant point of discussion but the radical search for its implementation only signifies how it seeks to eradicate the vital realities that have sustained us a people and would return us to the very ideological captivity. A captivity in which we’re simply actors on the stage directed by Western socio-political debates.
Finally, I strongly hold that the cosmetic abortion debate is being advanced in culturally insensitive ways. It is being forced down the throats of Africans without consideration for our own system of rationality, thus making it an imperialist tool that would undermine our values and way of life. Whatever, alternatives we seek to address issues of unwanted pregnancies must begin within the context of our value systems and never from those who are willing to turn abortion into another global funding project in Africa while cunningly withdrawing funds for refugees, AIDS, malaria, famine, education etc.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are in my private capacity. These are not the views of my employer IUM or its affiliates.

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