When Obianuju Ekeocha’s parents named her, they couldn’t have foreseen that she would become the voice for African women, families, and the unborn. Her prophetic Nigerian name Obianuju means “she came in the midst of plenty” because she was an unexpected but still wanted baby.
Ekeocha told Catholic Digest, “Growing up in Africa, I was raised in a prolife society. It would never have occurred to me that there could ever be any society in the world where abortion was legal. Whenever anyone talked about abortion, it was to speak of something terrible.”
When Ekeocha was 26, she went to London to obtain a master’s in biomedical science from the University of East London, and after completing her degree, she became a specialist in hematology. Ekeocha was living a happy and fulfilled life in the United Kingdom, but she felt she had more to offer. While attending World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, she prayed for God to give her a mission, thinking maybe he would ask her to be a catechist.
I was raised in a prolife society.
Less than a year later, in August 2012, God swung open the door to a much more visible role as a human rights activist. It all began when Ekeocha saw a CNN interview with Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, highlighting her massive international project for contraception for women in the poorest parts of the world.
“Most African countries fall under that category. I thought, Oh my goodness! This woman is targeting us,” she said.
What Melinda Gates was proposing wouldn’t resonate with the African women, Ekeocha thought. “I don’t know many African women who would choose contraception over everything else. Africans cherish babies and celebrate motherhood even in the midst of poverty.”
Ekeocha knew from experience that what her people needed wasn’t contraception; it was education. That same evening, she began typing out the reasons why Melinda Gates shouldn’t flood Africa with contraception. The list ended up being a 2,000-word article eventually known as “The Open Letter to Melinda Gates” — a letter that went viral.
Africans cherish babies and celebrate motherhood even in the midst of poverty.
In the letter, Ekeocha wrote, “With all the challenges and difficulties of Africa, people complain and lament their problems openly. I have grown up in this environment, and I have heard women (just as much as men) complain about all sorts of things. But I have NEVER heard a woman complain about her baby (born or unborn).”
Increasingly, Ekeocha found herself writing about Africa’s position on life issues. People and organizations asked her to speak. She realized that she needed a platform.
In an interview with Catholic Digest, Ekeocha talked passionately about how Africans view contraception and abortion, and how in her view, Western governments and billionaire philanthropists are trying to import a culture of death to Africa.
Q: What is the African woman’s view on contraception and abortion?
A: Through six years of research, I have tried my best to understand what the African people want. From my own experience and poll results, it’s clear that the majority of African women are against abortion and even contraception. African women see abortion as a terrible thing because the Africans believe that every human life, even in the womb, is so precious, so sacred, and so much connected to the ancestors.
If you look at the research, when Western organizations come in and give contraception to African villages after about a year, the program sizzles out. There are high discontinuation rates, and donors are aware of this, so they are giving us long-acting contraception.
Q: Is it safe to say that African women don’t want abortion pushed on them?
A: Anytime you go into an African country where there is some push or agitation for the legalization of abortion, if you check behind that campaign, you’ll find radical pro-abortion groups such as International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, Ipas, or Pathfinder International, which are Western organizations.
In Africa, 80 percent of the countries have prohibitions on abortion that reflect the desire and the will of the people. When Pew Research Center and Ipsos polled Nigerian people, 80 percent rejected abortion. In Kenya, it’s 82 percent; in Uganda, it’s 88 percent; and in Ghana 92 percent of people said they wouldn’t accept abortion under any circumstance. Only four African countries allow for abortion without limits — Cape Verde, South Africa, Tunisia, and Mozambique — and even in those countries the majority of people believe abortion is morally unacceptable.
You don’t see the people on the streets shouting, “My body, my choice!” On the contrary, whenever an African country, like Mozambique, legalizes abortion, they don’t put it on the news or in the newspapers. If I call someone in Mozambique, they will tell me, “Oh, no we don’t know what’s going on because it’s all done secretly, so that the people don’t riot.”
Sierra Leone tried to legalize abortion back in 2015. The bill passed, but the people found out about it, and they were about to riot. An intervention of the Inter-Religious Council, which is comprised of Catholic, evangelical, and Muslim leaders, talked to Ernest Bai Koroma, who at the time was the president of Sierra Leone. Koroma said he would not sign the bill because it didn’t represent the will of the people.
You don’t see the people on the streets shouting, “My body, my choice!”
Q: Under what guise are Western governments, anti-life organizations, and philanthropists reaching the women in Africa?
A: There are several channels through which they come in, such as poverty, education, health care, food supply, and water supply. These infrastructure failures go on and on. The problem is these projects have strings attached. They’re tying up objectionable projects with things that should be good and helpful to society.
For example, they offer us contraception, but they don’t call it a contraception project; they call it a “maternal mortality reduction” program. Another option offered is abortion.
Under the guise of education programs, they are giving our children a comprehensive sexuality education. That means they are teaching children about their rights to sexual pleasure and sex without responsibility. They’re separating our children from our core values and our views on human sexuality and how sex is linked with marriage.
Q: Considering all of the strings attached to Western projects, do you think that Africa needs to stop accepting Western aid?
A: Individuals within African leadership believe that we cannot do without Western aid. Some African countries rely on donors for more than 50 percent of their national budget — that’s a most unfortunate situation. I believe that we are enslaving ourselves to the donors. They have us on life support. If you’re on life support, then you’re paralyzed. We’re going to have to quit aid cold turkey and look for other ways within our country to sustain ourselves.
Q: Do African women use natural family planning (NFP)?
A: You’ll see NFP methods among Catholic women because the Church teaches it in marriage preparation classes. It’s not [found] in society because most governments don’t know about it or don’t care about it. Fertility-awareness methods should be integrated into government programs, women’s health care, women’s wards in hospitals, and other women’s programs, but they don’t do that. In the absence of NFP, there’s a vacuum, and Western donors come in and give contraceptives to millions and millions of women, to their detriment.
Q: Does Africa also have a problem with unwed pregnancies?
A: We do have problems with unplanned pregnancies outside of marriage — every society has these problems. The solution is not to throw condoms into every bathroom in the schools so whoever is exploiting the girls can continue to do what they are doing undetected.
Abstinence programs are welcomed in Africa. Parents in Africa don’t get upset when someone comes into schools to teach their children about chastity and abstinence. But I saw African parents in Kenya who called for the arrest of people from Marie Stopes who came into a secondary school and gave their daughters contraceptives.
Abstinence programs are welcomed in Africa.
Q: Do you think African women have a different definition of feminism?
A: When an African woman talks of feminism, it’s not an anti-male movement. We are not competing with men in our society. Of course, without being naïve, there are problems just like any other society, but the African woman wants to be married. She wants to be a wife and mother, and she takes pride in those identities. Many African women want academic and professional advancement, and they understand that men are not out to stop them.
Q: What would you say to someone who says that African women need access to contraception and abortion because they have too many children?
A: I know women in different African countries who have no children and yet are poor. I also know women who have children and yet they’re doing well. What makes a difference in lives and in families is the level of education of the parents and the access that people have to necessary training for employment.
Q: What’s the main goal of your ministry, Culture of Life Africa?
A: My mission is to provide information to my people to bolster their confidence that we are already doing what’s right. Because we don’t want to legalize the killing of children doesn’t make us primitive. We should be proud that we are protecting our children.