Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli has urged his country’s women to “set your ovaries free” and have more children in a bid to boost the economy.
John Magufuli said a higher population could turn the East African nation into a regional powerhouse, but critics warned it would instead worsen inequality and poverty.
Since taking office in 2015, the president has presided over a campaign of industrialization that has helped buoy economic growth. But Mr Magufuli claimed a higher birth rate would stimulate faster progress.
Speaking in his home town of Chato on Tuesday, President Magufuli said:
“When you have a big population you build the economy. That’s why China’s economy is so huge,” he said, citing India and Nigeria as other examples of countries that gained from a demographic dividend.
“I know that those who like to block ovaries will complain about my remarks. Set your ovaries free, let them block theirs.”
Since taking office in 2015, Tanzania has sustained relatively high growth, averaging 6 to 7 percent a year. The nation of 55 million people already has one of the world’s highest birth rates, at around 5 children per woman.
Tanzania’s population is growing by about 2.7 percent a year while most public hospitals and schools are overcrowded and many young people are unemployed, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Last year, the president criticized Western-backed family planning programmes, saying curbing the birth rate was “for those too lazy to take care of their children.”
However, Opposition leaders in Tanzania have criticized Mr Magufuli’s stance, saying the country’s already rapid population growth is a time bomb.
The president’s latest remarks also raised eyebrows on social media.
“As a modern woman I can’t believe this bulls*** especially coming from him,” said one Tanzanian Twitter user. Others branded the president an “eccentric clown” and “crazy”.
Critics also said it was simply bad economics for Mr Magufuli to urge Tanzanians to have more children.
“High population growth in Tanzania means increased levels of poverty and income inequality,” said a rights activist based in Dar es Salaam. Another said: “Women’s ovaries should never be used as a tool for seeking economic prosperity.”