“Longevism, ageism and aging: African issues and perspectives on longevity,” was the theme of the African International Bioethics Forum (FAIB) organized by the Institut Africain de Bioéthique (IAB) at the University of Dschang in Cameroon from December 6-8, 2023. My presentation at this international forum was entitled as follows: “Research against aging in Africa: necessity or contingency?“. Below is an article that shares ideas relating to this aforementioned theme.
With a much lower median age (18.7 years – Source: AfriqueRenouveau, “La jeunesse africaine renouvelle son engagement envers les ODD“, December 23, 2021) than that of its neighbors, notably Asia (31.9 years – Source: Database.Earth, “Median Age of Asia“), the United States of America (38.1 years – Source: Worldometer, “United States Population (LIVE)“), and the European Union (44.4 years – Source: Eurostat – “Half of EU’s population older than 44.4 years in 2022“), Africa has been often considered as a continent full of youth, and therefore with a promising future. However, this asset which has long remained unvalued, or even become a source of other problems, is not a lasting asset. Africa, also being a beneficiary, to a certain extent, of the advantages related to technological progress, is also not immune to its consequences, including the aging of its population in an already very problematic context.
1. Does Africa remain an eternally young continent?
Thanks in particular to hygiene, therefore to the improvement of living conditions and medical advances, life expectancy in Africa has so far been growing rapidly. Life expectancy thus increased on average by ten (10) years between 2000 and 2019. (“L’espérance de vie s’allonge de près de dix ans en Afrique (OMS)“. The United Nations Office at Geneva. August 4, 2022.)
According to a new report from the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the number of people aged 65 or over in Africa has increased from 3.5% (around 8 million) in 1950 to 4% (approximately 50.3 million) in 2017. Estimates suggest that this figure could increase to 173.6 million by 2050. (“Fourth Africa regional review on Madrid International Plan of Action calls for dignified ageing for all“. ECA. July 14, 2022.) The Total Fertility Rate (TFR), the average number of living children per woman, which represents 4.2 in 2022, will be reduced to 2.9 in 2050. (“L’Afrique face au vieillissement annoncé de sa population“. AFD – Agence française de développement.)
The growing number of elderly people, on the one hand, and the fall in the TFR, on the other, are significantly changing the demographic landscape of Africa. The latter, thus aging, will still have to face the challenges linked to its very fragile social security system which will still be severely tested. Added to this situation is the progressive decline of traditional African solidarity due to several other factors.
It must be recognized that the phenomenon of aging, or better, provocatively, “the pandemic of aging”, does not spare this euphoric Africa of the myth of youth and perfect and permanent solidarity.
2. Fight against aging: necessity and meaning
Is human suffering, particularly from degenerative diseases, ethically acceptable?
Every human being certainly ages. We are not born old, but we become old. While the elderly have youth behind them, the young have old age ahead of them. It is therefore, from experience, a matter of time. Aging is a problem that concerns all of humanity without distinction.
Thanks to the evolving mastery of technology, human beings have continued to transform their environment and even explore the universe. They therefore fight tirelessly against attacks on their health.
However, faced with certain phenomena such as aging, they seem caught in total resignation, while through their symbolism they express wishes for permanent physical, psychological and social well-being, and therefore eternal youth.
However, in recent decades, everything has changed. The collective confession of deep individual aspirations manifests itself even through social institutions or collective projects. Indeed, the principles set out in the Preamble to the Constitution of the WHO (World Health Organization) are undoubtedly a perfect illustration of this. Its definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” already announces the need to seek to preserve humans from the decline of biological and psychological functions, including, of course, the effects of aging. From this definition, no age group has been excluded, and no form of human suffering is considered legitimate.
Furthermore, WHO defines public health as “the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts of society.” (“Public Health“. Tilburg University.) This clearly confirms the absolute necessity of achieving control over aging and its symptoms in order to ensure human well-being through progress. It is then an increase or improvement in the mental and physical capacity or vitality of humans. In short, unless it is suicidal, all of humanity, even through its institutions, proves to be longevist, and even de facto transhumanist. The veritable human nature is this permanent disposition to improve one’s own nature.
Today, the fourth technological revolution generously provides human beings with new tools to improve themselves and their environment. These allow them to intervene with better precision in the infinitely small and to explore the infinitely large. The machine is endowed with capacities supposedly exclusive to humans: the senses and intelligence are added to automatism. Thus, human beings make great strides towards their objectives as they succeed in forcing nature to reveal its intimate secrets to them.
So, the human being, god of the “seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking and acting machine” sees himself improved by his creature and decides to face his physical and psychological decline by opening possibilities for “eternal youth”. Would he willingly accept to surrender to the vagaries of time, while the technical means to control them or reduce their effects are emerging?
Behind the fight against aging is the understanding of its mechanism, the mastery of the biological laws that govern it and then the development of possible solutions to control it. The assigned objective is therefore to develop interventions to significantly slow down, stop, or even make reversible the aging process.
More precisely, it is a question of finding above all radical preventive and curative solutions to diseases linked to aging such as rheumatological, ocular, neurodegenerative, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, etc.
If a longer and longer life is our hope or wish, we must remember that it would only be meaningful and desirable when we still remain possessors of our mental and physical capacities. This is a sine qua non condition for a fulfilled material and social life.
Researchers, donors, intellectuals, organizations, and a growing part of civil populations are supporting efforts in the fight against this pandemic across the world. More and more voices are being raised to make the fight against aging a national and international policy.
It is precisely this fight with multiple social, economic and political impacts aimed at improving the human condition that Africa must join.
3. Some issues relating to African commitment in the fight against aging
Is it conceivable that an entire continent with inestimable natural assets will still lag behind technosciences? (“L’Afrique à la traîne des technosciences?” AFT-Technoprog. December 6, 2018.)
It must be remembered that the project to fight aging is a continuation of technoscientific performance. It is a stage which follows three successive technological revolutions. This fourth revolution redistributes the cards, and missing this new opportunity amounts to ensuring one’s own vassalization in all areas.
Isn’t Africa also hit by increasing degenerative diseases that sow unhappiness in families?
How is it preparing to manage the growing number of multimorbid and inactive elderly people in a context of severe lack of medical infrastructure?
How will it finance its social security system in a context where natural assets cannot be transformed into finished exportable products to improve its economy?
Isn’t technoscientific poverty the mother of all Africa’s problems, including those relating to the aging of its population which are already looming on the horizon?
Is it not therefore obvious that the solution to the problem of African technoscientific delay lies in individual and collective awareness?
Isn’t it time that the feeling of inferiority complex, of sub-technicality now gives way to dreams, ambition, will, commitment, and responsibility?
Africa has the means for its policy in terms of technological innovation and must realize its duty to participate directly in improving the human condition, including the fight against aging. African participation in projects to improve the human condition represents an opportunity for Africa to engage in research and catch up.
Many hypotheses still remain unanswered, many current answers raise many more questions that deserve more research. Until now, happiness, in all countries of the world, still remains an ideality – which means attempts to bring it back to reality still remain a challenge, since everywhere in this world, despite everything, human suffering is still very present. The “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” is still far from the reach of even the most developed countries.
The amount of knowledge produced in medicine to relieve human beings of their suffering is certainly dizzying. However, given what remains to be done to achieve the objectives pursued, almost nothing has yet been done. In this context, latecomers can catch up if they have real will and commitment. The feeling of inferiority complex, of sub-technicality created and nourished by imaginations, continues to maintain Africa in its current state. Isn’t it time to get out?
The people of Africa must therefore nurture individual and collective audacity, develop collective intelligence and undertake very ambitious actions allowing them to project themselves towards a desired future for the nation, the continent and all of humanity. And this must be considered a moral responsibility.
Africa has the means and the duty to participate directly in improving the human condition, including fighting against aging.
Africa is not poor at all. No need for economic concepts to simply understand the difference between poor and rich countries. The former have no natural resources, no skills to develop, and no will to change their living conditions. The latter have at least the last form of wealth (individual and collective will). No Nation is in principle poor, unless its daughters and sons choose in complicity not to activate its wealth.
Africa is therefore neither one of the first nor the second. It therefore has very abundant natural resources, scholars or scientists, but simply lacks the individual and collective will to develop technologically.
Creating favorable conditions for technoscientific development on this continent has remained almost impossible. Its sons and daughters have just preferred for a long time to invest elsewhere than in technoscientific innovation, the provider of Freedom. The same ways of thinking, feeling, and acting reproduce the same conditions of existence whatever the time. The only guarantee that time reserves in inaction is the decline of biological and mental functions (aging).
Firm individual and collective will always finds the necessary means to achieve such noble objectives as improving the human and social condition.
Ultimately, Africa is not getting younger; it is also aging and poorly prepared to manage the looming crisis linked to the aging of its population. Consequently, the ambitious adventure to control the aging process in humans, thanks to new convergent techniques (NBIC – Nanotechnologies, Biotechnologies, Information technology [Computer science], and Cognitive sciences), must also be an African affair. Otherwise, Africa incurs biopolitical dependence, and once again a place as a passive, complaining spectator at the international bioethical decision-making table.
Siba Tcha-Mouza is the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Foreign Ambassador in Togo. Learn more about Siba Tcha-Mouza here.