DNA tests, and the future price of kids (Part II)

Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo

What you need to know:

Industrial production of children of some form then, horrid as it might be to contemplate, is the future.

Last week in “DNA testing is about politics and economics, stupid!”, we offered that the current DNA paternity craze that recently swept Uganda, and has now spread to countries like Nigeria, is all not just about who the father of the children is.

We also cited studies that have suggested that the majority of men have historically either known, or suspected they are not the biological fathers of their children. DNA is, therefore, mostly a bureaucratic thing (required for emigration purposes at the US Embassy), confirmatory or part of a domestic war. The man wants to reduce his costs on the children, so he tests to kick out some, or wants to find a defensible excuse to divorce, and hitch up with a new woman. Everything else is noise, and wounded pride.

The one unanswered question is why do women “stray”? Are they just being “loose”, strategic, or spiteful? The facts suggest that they are being strategic.

Some years ago, I was discussing this subject with a Ugandan friend. He rocked me – in a good way - with the story he told me. He had a liberal, feisty and dry-humoured grandmother. Her reputation as an outspoken woman spread over many villages. A noisy domestic fight over the parentage of children in a nearby home in their village broke out one day when they were visiting from the city. Villagers gathered to witness the commotion, and the story was later to be told for many days.

Their grandmother told them the man of the house was a fool. She said in the “tribe”, there was a silent code among women and the elders that they would have some children outside the marriage. It was risk management for a time when too many children at or immediately after birth, and modern medicine wasn’t widespread.

That was a time when women had 10 to 14 children. It was a lottery, because anything up to half of them – or even all - would die. To lower the risk of a deadly genetic disease killing all the children, the women diversified the father pool. The elders who were in charge of the greater viability of the clan and community, endorsed this privately. She gave the example of the tragedy of having, say, 12 children who were all “basiru” (the polite translation in English is “idiots”) from the same man. It would be irresponsible. The women, therefore, took out insurance by having children with another bloke or two in the village. Maybe one would not be a drunkard. And the other would be smart, go to school, get a job, and bail out the family.

Looked at this way, this diversification, considered a serious sin by the church and modern moral guardians, probably accounts for the success of our society. We might have perished as a people, as others who practiced pervasive incest and bred within the same narrow circles like communities in Asia and Latin America in years gone by, did.

Of course, times have changed. In an age when you can have two children, and both enjoy good health and live to be 90, the value of the fidelity currency has increased. And we are looking at a future where the value of a natural child will skyrocket. In this context, it is not really smart to discard one who already is half yours (your wife’s) on the back of a DNA test.

The reason for this is the falling birth rates, as seen in several countries; South Korea, Italy, Japan, China, Portugal, Singapore, Taiwan, and so forth. Africa’s population is booming, but from the middle of this century, its birth rates too will begin to fall off considerably.

The world won’t just fold its hands and do nothing. Very soon, reproduction will be state policy in countries that want to survive, with growth targets set out in the national budget or the president’s state of the nation address.

Last year, one Hashem Al-Ghaili rattled many when he presented a conceptual project called EctoLife, which foresaw a future where a facility could “incubate up to 30,000 lab-grown babies per year”. Many things taken for granted today - like mobile phones and aeroplanes, started that way.

Also, human reproduction is now simply too inefficient for low-birth-rates times. A 75-year-old man who has been sexually very active has probably dispersed as many as three trillion five hundred seventy-five billion (3,500,000,000,000) sperms and might not have made a single child. Additionally, there is some cruelty in asking women to carry a child in their womb for nine months - and not a good return when only one is produced. Industrial production of children of some form then, horrid as it might be to contemplate, is the future.

At that point, naturally born children will become precious (in much the same way organic food is more expensive than the GMO thing). Count your child blessings early.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”.