Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 267–296 | Cite as

Negotiating Development Prescriptions: The Case of Population Policy in Nigeria

  • Rachel Sullivan RobinsonEmail author


Countries of the global south must constantly respond to development prescriptions from donor organizations. In this paper, I develop a spectrum of response to these prescriptions that applies to key actors at the country level—national leaders, technocratic elites, and social groups—and ranges from acceptance to negotiation to rejection. The interplay of these responses in conjunction with the social, economic, and political context drives the overall response to, and impact of, development prescriptions. To illustrate this process I use the case of population policy in Nigeria, where a technocratic elite led by a charismatic minister of health accepted the policy largely on its own merits; national leaders negotiated the policy so it facilitated state-society relations, promoted nationalism, deflected blame for economic woes, and represented commitment to political restructuring; and the representatives of social groups rejected the policy. Donor pressure served as a backdrop to the whole process. Parsing country responses to development prescriptions in this manner explains why Nigeria, a country with pronatalist citizens and in which population was highly politicized, adopted a policy aiming to limit fertility. It also demonstrates that different actors within countries of the global south use development prescriptions as opportunities to achieve locally important goals. To make these arguments, I draw on rich primary data from key informants and Nigerian government documents. Ultimately, the rejection of the policy by women’s organizations and religious groups, combined with financial duress, political chaos, and continued high desired fertility, prevented the policy from strongly influencing contraceptive provision or fertility.


Population policy Nigeria Governmentality Policy diffusion Ransome-Kuti 



The fieldwork for this research was supported by the University of California, Berkeley Center for African Studies Rocca Scholarship in Advanced African Studies and the University of California, Berkeley Institute for Business and Economics Research. General support was provided by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I am deeply indebted to my respondents in Abuja for their time and insights. I also gratefully acknowledge the thoughtful comments of the editor and reviewers at Population Research and Policy Review, as well as those of Phil Brenner, Neil Fligstein, Shannon Gleason, Gene Hammel, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, Kate Haulman, Adrea Lawrence, Damon Mayrl, Benjamin Moodie, Aliya Saperstein, Susan Shepler, Sarah Staveteig, Ann Swidler, Bryan Sykes, Sarah Walchuk Thayer, Sarah Tom, Kenneth Wachter, Susan Watkins, Brenda Werth, and Danzhen You.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of International ServiceAmerican UniversityWashingtonUSA

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