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Is your future decided by where you're born?

Charlotte Attwood | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 28 April 2010

An international art exhibition in London this week is looking at the lottery of birth. This got us thinking about what it is that dictates our future?

children.jpgSome believe that where you are born will decide your future, but can you not shape your own destiny? Is it not down to personal determination to overcome adversity, or do you feel the odds are too heavily stacked against you?

Is this attitude holding Africa back?

Do you feel your fate was decided by where you were born? Have you overcome adversity in your life and succeeded against all odds? How did that happen? What can you as an individual do to shape your own destiny? Send us your views.

If you would like to debate this topic LIVE on air on Thursday 29 April at 1600 GMT, please send us a telephone number to africa@bbc.co.uk. You can also send an SMS message to +44 77 86 20 20 08



  • Comment number 1.

    I think in Africa, sadly, this notion may have some truth in it. Africa has so many regional inequalities within each country. In one country the South are better off than the North or vice versa. It is possible for the few determined people to break the pattern, but this is rare. In Ghana every campaign year the difference between North and South is highlighted. It is clear than you are more likely to succeed if you are born in Accra, even if you go to school in Cape Coast (to the west) and this is always addressed in campaigns, the problem is these differences are never solved, because those in the political class were all born in Accra and so are unable to see the solution, because they never saw the problem. Maybe in the next generation, everything I'm saying may be incorrect or irrelevant, but I see it in my paternal homeland, Nigeria also and so right now there's some truth in it.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks BBC for this important topic, yes it is so because in Africa some people were born in the villages, grew up the village and their entire life is circled with village experiences with no quality education nor formal training, you don't expect the person to become a world class Pilot,software inventor,medical expert etc do you? though people struggle to climb to the top from those areas but its really hard.

  • Comment number 3.

    It is a known fact that environment shapes human being, but we are always the architect of our future, where one was born plays a very big role in our life, we get lost in the quest to run away from our area of birth though traveling and migration are just part of our existence on earth as that help us the be the best in our place of origin.
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 4.

    The problem is with places we were born at . Some time we ( Africans ) belive that our destiny is to lve with poverty and watch otheres succeeding . In fact some african can give up their battle to make a better life, and or sometimes we just do not want to work hard to achieve our goals . I've seen many people who were born in remove areas became great people and mad history write about them .

    A man can change hid destiny and a man can do more in his life no matter where he was born .

    It is all about believing in our selves . Some times goverments do not bring more to help people ( as is the cae in the most African country ) but still that is not a reason to give up and belive that our destiny is related to our birth place .

  • Comment number 5.

    Where one is born merely defines the struggles (odds) he/she must overcome before being 'successful'. These odds are largely a product of one's own definition of success.

    For Example, a peasant farmer who is content with his lifestyle defines success very differently to what an aspiring Hollywood actor born into wealth would.

    Therefore if, as Africans, we feel held back by the odds stacked against us, then we should redefine what success is from an African perspective. In doing so, we will also take control of our destinies.

  • Comment number 6.

    Being a Cameroonian born into the "bad" part of the country, our fates are sealed even before we are born. Officialdom in the country and those who think they are the rightful owners of the nation can easily put a cross on you and you are condemned for life. No matter how hard you try to excel, they would do everything to bring you down. They control everything: the education system from primary school through university, the professional schools, the public service; they are the ones who dish out contracts so even if you decided not to go to school and not to seek public service employment but do business, you would still meet them and they would still push you down. They would not award you a single contract even if you put up the best tenders. It is so frustrating and that is why people of my breed and origin are leaving the country in their 'droves'.

  • Comment number 7.

    What difference does it really make whether you were born in Europe, America or any sophisticated place on earth, but yet you choose to live a life of a serial killer, Gangster, drug dealer, prostitute etc.? It’s the way you choose to live your life that determines your future to a great degree regardless of where you were born. Charles Taylor’s son, Chuckie Taylor who was born in Boston USA, committed the most heinous crimes while his father was president of Liberia .One would have thought that with all his US exposure and sophistication, he would not have committed such horrible atrocities on behalf of his father.

  • Comment number 8.

    Where one is born could determine your future to some extent; but even more important to state that one's choice about life to a very large and significant extent ultimately determines your future. If you accept the notion that your circumstance cannot change beyond that which life doles out to you then your future is completely determined by where and when you are born. But if through self realization, ambition, hard work and brute-force determination you commit to achieving your goals in life regardless of any and all odds,then you are the "master of your fate" and "the captain of your life". As an immigrant from Sierra Leone to the US, at one point I had so much odds against me - a few of these were; no place to call home; no job; and therefore no money for food, books and transportation to and from school. On many occasions I even walked from Arlington, VA to Washington, DC for school(about 8 miles walk) both in the winter and summer seasons/rain or sunshine; I could have easily given up but through belief in my self, eternal optimism in a better future, blunt determination and undying spirit to achieve my goals I did succeed to become a medical doctor. It is important that those of us who have overcome tremendous obstacles to reach our goals should educate other Africans especially on the continent to hold onto hope and optimism and work very hard with the belief that one can change his or her circumstance regardless of your place or time of birth. No body can do it for you but you.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    There is a sense of truth in the restriction causative by location and association, it is worsened by the judgment of suspicious observers who despite the visible odds, creates a system of restriction and rules which are impediments to actualization of dreams, it is not the Child that is not determined, it is the society that restrict his will

  • Comment number 11.

    True, one's ancestry can determine how far one goes on the success ladder, especially in Africa. But I think when you know of that fact, then you can use it arm yourself to struggle your way to the top if the odds are against you. However, many people nowadays use it as a fall-back position or statement to justify their failure. And this is the biggest attitude holding back African societies. There is so much belief in our lives being predetermined by other spiritual media.

  • Comment number 12.

    Oh definately the place you are born in determines your future. For example, children born in Europe and North America have more chances of succeeding in life because they have the luxury of picking up from the many opportunities provided to them in addition to the full support of their family and government. While a child born in Cameroom for instance has no chance and hope in life unless his/her parent(s) happened to support and promote the ongoing dictatorial government policies. This is sadly the reality of our 'global village'!!

  • Comment number 13.

    No one knows where he/she future lies. You can be born in at your country of birth but your properity and destiny are not cannot met met or seen in that nation. what is common, I believe, is the culture of hardwork. you can be born in a wealthy nation/family but if your future is not destined in that nation/family, it will be difficult for you to succeed. People are born in Africa but their future can be decided by western nations. Good education also helps greatly in deciding one's future rather than where he/she was born.
    Abdul Salam, F/T S.Leone

  • Comment number 14.

    Past or future, it's just a question of perspective. When we talk about the two, we are definitely inferring to time. And it's ok as long as it's clock time we are talkin' about not psychological time. Both the past and future are projections of the prese. To my fellow Africans who might be thinking that things cant change, I say always look for the gift in the curse. You might even be the very gift in the curse! Don't let anybody give you an identity of your situation.
    Peace Love and Respect for all

  • Comment number 15.

    Place of birth has a lot to do in determining your tomorrow. Those born in cities have better opportunities than those born in the rural areas. Again, those born in developed countries have better chances of making impact more than those born in underdeveloped countries.

  • Comment number 16.

    From the nature school of thought, ones future is determined by your place of birth,this school dwells on the fact that inasmuch as society is like a mirror on which peoples characters reflects sends a message that a child born and raised in a remote hamlet look at life from that mayopic point of view because of the reclusive life he finds himself.Another school of thought strongly disagreed with the latter,in essence a man's future is determined by his hard work,courage,and humulity to say no to despire when life become unbearable.

  • Comment number 17.

    It is true that where you are born has some influence in shaping your future. But there are other major drivers that impact our final outcome, such as the environment you were born and to some extent luck. If everybody around you is poor without any hope for education or a decent means of living, it is almost impossible that you will outgrow your surrounding. It is very likely you will remain a product of your environment and at the end of the day, that is what will give you comfort. To outgrow your environment, you need hope and hope can only come from discovery of who you are and the relationship you have with your surrounding. Personal commitment and perseverance is a most if you are ever going to move beyond your environment. Personally, although I was born poor in Nigeria with little or no hope of ever outgrowing my environment, I was fortunate to have people to emulate with the hope that one day I will be able to do better. Nevertheless, I do believe luck also has some impact on how you turn out.

  • Comment number 18.

    To certain extents, ones future is determined by where he or she is born children born in remote African settings do not afford a balance diet, basic health care and many more,their environment does not motivate them like children born in an average African home,in such home some of the relatives must have had some form of education which they could see as a window to the universe,because these people have tested a bit of western life could do all they could to push their children as compare to those parents that had never tested western life.Sierra Leone

  • Comment number 19.

    The judgement on place of birth has so many factors good and bad, it like social stratification your place of birth determined your friendsand attitudes, but the fact still remain that the prople born in less disadvatage places will struggle to goals while those in advantage places will be able to set their goals and achieved it in time. For example in nigeria university placement is on quotas, cut-off mark in JAMB(MATRICULATION BOARD) and catchment, some fall within less educational states and educational state so to say. But this is on disadvantage to people in educational state bcos their is less place in the university, the cut-off mark is always high and their bursary is also minimal or nothing but in less educational state their low cut-off marks, high bursary. The place determined so many things and it depends.........

  • Comment number 20.

    My answer to this question will be yes and no depending on the personality involve, the degree of persistent and resistance and the vision of the individual.
    To the greatest extend yes, because when you are born into a certain environment or surroundings, these surrondings and the people begin the work of shapping your focal point, vision, thinking, altitude and charactered. Since what you see is what you will get, it will be difficult to visualized what the sight has not perceived. The greatest game changer of the well-being of a man is what constantly occupied his/her mind. Many people born in the village in Africa end up marrying early because that is the practice of the community. May be only one out of hundred nay break loose from this bondage of culture. The better opportunities are limited and they tend to depend on what they have. Remember the surrounding cannot lead an individual to where it has not been itself.
    Finally to a lesser extent no, because if think that you can, you will irrespective of your limitations due from your area of birth; and if you think cannot, you will surely not. The reallity is that many people cannot with stand the heat of life. They will prefer to settle at the lower wrung of the life's ladder and will be doom forever. Many people are risk avoiders and will never adventure into unchartered territory.

  • Comment number 21.


    In most situations---the place of your birth has a relevant chance of your future in the society....


  • Comment number 22.

    I do not believe that were I was born will shape my future, but my determination, prayers and effort towards my vision will. I am from Liberia but now live and study in Japan in one of the most expensive universities (APU) in the world. It is through my hard works and prayers not my birth place. I have traveled in many countries and have experienced the culture of others as well. There are some people born in Africa who are per far better off than some of those born in the so-called developed countries. I have seeing beggers, drunkers, homeless, sex workers in the most developed countries you may have in mind. Therefore, I strongly believe that ones future is shape by his awareness of his situation and his work towards shaping it to the best. Do not give up!

  • Comment number 23.

    My future is in GOD's hands and is being dictated by GOD too so,my birth place is just where i was born and has nothing to do with my future.

  • Comment number 24.

    Where you are born does shape you destiny significantly. That is is not to say anyone born in the developed world in going to sail through life without challenges. At the same time there are lots of us born in poor countries yet made the most of what we have and constantly aspire to improve ourselves. The point is, if you are someone who want to make a difference in you life however have no means of doing so due to the poverty that surrounds you, then it matters a great deal.

  • Comment number 25.

    To some extent where we're born still determine one's fate in my beloved continent. As a person who was born in Sudan, raised in Kenya and educated in Australia, I believes that this concept will change, I know that it's well overdue but If people of Africa are willing to look beyond our place, ethnicity (Tribes)and region of births, then we'll overcome this concept. African should not judge each other base on ethnicity, subnations or family interconnection but rather on the merits and the ability to perform the required tasks.

  • Comment number 26.

    I totally disagree with this. Your future is determined by your own determination with life, where you spent most of your time and more so God holds our future.

    Thanks alot for the debate you always bring to our attention and keep on.

  • Comment number 27.

    my fate was not decided by where i was born or who gave birth to me,.. i worked hard to reach where i'am. and so can any african child with big dreams.

  • Comment number 28.

    Undoubtedly, we are all in a large measure, a product of our environment.
    If we were born where there is little or no opportunity to achieve our goals, we can either try to create that opportunity there, or move to wherever such opportunity exist. Having said that, there is always an exception. How can anyone explain why two siblings raised by the same parents, in the same environment, yet, one became a successful medical doctor while the other chose a life of crime spending most of his life in and out of prison. Yes. We are a product of our environment, but we can also shape our future.

  • Comment number 29.

    Certainly. One is born in Newton-Le-Willows, the other in Ajegunle. The later is 1000 years behind. The one born in Ajegunle lives like it is still the Medieval times in 2010, the one born in Newton-Le-Willows lives in the real 21st century.
    Couples in Africa should really think hard before having kids. The reality is these kids dont have a future even before they are born unless you are among the less than 1 per cent Africans who live in comfort

  • Comment number 30.

    I spent about a year in Cameroon in West Africa and this is the comment I said to myself almost everyday after meeting some of the most intelligent, capable people I've ever met in my life. I met one man, Caleb, who for without question is the most intelligent, ethical and hardworking person I've ever met. When I got to know him and these things about him, this is the first time I said to myself, 'I only have what I have because I was born in Canada.' I continue to say this to myself as I go through medical school, travel, go to art galleries, apply for documents in government offices etc. because I am always reminded that I can do those things because of where I was born, and had I been born in Africa, I would have little to no chance to do those things easily if at all. I only have the opportunities I have exclusively because of where I was born. It is unfortunate that people like Caleb must stay and struggle, have his intelligence wasted, his ideas lost in a a sea of corruption and bureaucracy instead of being able to spread his thoughts, use his skills and intelligence to really benefit the world. I hope that he has enough luck to get through the jungle of corruption and get into a position high enough where he will be able to make a difference, express his thoughts and make change in Cameroon. Perhaps Caleb would be a different person had he been born somewhere else but I know that the person he is today cannot be expressed and shared with the world because of where he lives and that being an offshoot of where he was born. It makes me incredibly sad everyday to know that he needs to struggle so hard to even move one cm. forward. We have the opportunities we have because of where we were born - so use it and use it to help people who deserve to have the same opportunities you have.

  • Comment number 31.

    'Is your future decided by where you're born'? is the HYS question.
    This is a closed and negative question - ask instead:

    'What will I do to improve my future in where I am born'?
    'What will I do to improve where I am born'?
    'What makes me content and what are my gifts and abilities'?
    'What makes me feel bad about myself and why'?

    Incidentally, these posts inspired me to post comment:
    Post#5 @ 11:03pm on 28 April
    Post#11 @ 0839am on 29 April

  • Comment number 32.

    In my opinion it all comes to having been give opportunity and using that opportunity to develop ones self, wheather you are born in Africa or in one of the most developed nations like the US. You can be a wealthy Person who can afford to go to Harvard University or you can be a man born in the run down areas of downtown LA,what differs is the extent and the obtainablity of the opportunity which can be changed by determination and hardwork.

  • Comment number 33.

    Definitely. The wheel of Fortune is hit first time when you come to light. Being born in a secluded region, or under pressure of war, famine,
    disease-struck environment, poverty, slavery or any kind of cultural dependence, scanty or absent at all education, doesn't give you the strenght of lifting your head. Decades of helps from every part of the world to Africa, did they make a change? And what about other parts of the world, there is not only just Africa. There are many Africas around the world. There is a subtle almost invisible Africa even in my misled country, one of the great Powers, where a sweating system is ruling. Fair of resource exploitation would make the difference, but who wants it?
    Stella Mischiatti - Montegrotto

  • Comment number 34.

    Your future is decided eighty percent by where you are born - generally. The rest of twenty percent is a matter of struggling, sheer luck, determination and hard work. The chances of a child born in a developed country to be successful are far greater than the child born in an underdeveloped country. My parents were farmers and we used to help them on the farm - sometimes we had to wake up at four o'clock in the morning to go to farm and then to school. How can such a child compete with the same child in a developed country? Poverty as seen in the developing countries is a menace and it has to be uprooted with all the force it needs.

  • Comment number 35.

    Place of birth can have affect on a person life;however,that does not mean we have to live by it. In Africa, its true that place of birth have a huge impact in Pearson success in life. There is also, small amount of percentage do change and succeed in life.

  • Comment number 36.

    at time the future depend on where born. especialy in afria. if u look around u and it is backwardness and the ori entation you are hearing it wil contribute alot to it. but if you move out of dat mentality then you are step one out. my own phylosophy says the succesful man did double of what the failure refuse to do. aborisade femi

  • Comment number 37.

    Does the future depend on were you are born? at time the future depend on where born. especialy in afria. if u look around u and it is backwardness and the ori entation you are hearing it wil contribute alot to it. but if you move out of dat mentality then you are step one out. my own phylosophy says the succesful man did double of what the failure refuse to do. aborisade femi

  • Comment number 38.

    Is your future decided by where you're born? This is an interesting question or topic. As an African born, I can categorically say that where you are born cannot determine or decide your future. As generally saying that environments detemined once life but we as person can always be the architect of our future, we can always take control of our detiny, our future/destiny is in our hands and we chose the way we want to live or control of future. I do not have the opportunity to graduate from university when I was back in Africa, made an attempt several times but dropped out cos of funds, eventually have the opportunity to travel out which has been one of my priority but I made up mind that I need to have control of my future despite the fact of doing odds jobs in US, I went to college and badged my Bachelor degree, followed by my Master degree. Therefore, born in Africa does not and cannot determine or decide one future. Today am an IT security analyst. Thanks to God.

  • Comment number 39.

    in other parts of the world whre your zip code does not determine your future, the opposite is true in Africa.
    Education is the path to prosperity and there are many areas in Africa where there are no schools. Even where there are schools if your parents are poor to afford the tution your fate is sealed to the lives of your forefathers that never went to school.

  • Comment number 40.

    What I see here in the Western world is that a lot of people lose orientation in life. They think that money can bring happiness and security and thus they end up being too busy with work to care about their own life, their true reason for being in this world and even about their friends and follow human beings.
    Is our destiny really to be successful and rich? And why do we think that the "solution" for Africa is to follow our example?
    I always wonder if I am naive, because I have never had any troubles in life like other people who grow up in areas of war, hunger and violence, but I think that the world is how we see it and therefore we can shape our destiny.

  • Comment number 41.

    It does in some respects. I am Kenyan and while I certainly don't want to change my nationality, situations can make me do so for school and work commitments in a foreign country. In the long run, this change will determine my good/bad future. People even change names for the sole reason of being stigmatised. For instance, the world tends to think ALL natives of Muslim countries are terrorists. Surely that can't be right.

    Then there is the good old racism which can only totally disappear when the human race ceases . . . when we leave Africa and reside abroad for extended periods, we 'discover' we are 'black' and can be [but not always] treated in a strange manner. It can be direct or indirect (you can call it 'smartly-implied' racism, where patronising is used).

    Red, pink or blue, I think we should appreciate ourselves as we are; every individual is unique. Be yourself, work hard, stay positive and avoid using "racism" to explain failure (people of colour–if i may use that phrase–can be very fond of this one). Don't expect everyone to like you either, just live your life. Be proud of your background: I know I am. Truly Kenyan, regardless of the shame Kenyan politics casts on me out here.

  • Comment number 42.

    To a large extent, this will be true, until a new culture of equal rights and justice, rule of law, and freedom of expression takes root in Africa.
    Right now, the fact is, the inqequalities are steeped sharply against the bulk of the African population, and has been so for a very long time. When you look at external factors, such as the imbalance in global trade, your guess is as good as mine.

  • Comment number 43.

    you can not predict your future but you only prepare for it, so fate is not decided by where i was born .it is you to choose what you will be in future.

  • Comment number 44.

    "If your born into a poor family in any country in the world you have to work much harder to obtain any thing to inprove yourself and family life , education, jobs, money, the list is endless. But some do it, is not easy for many in any country?????

  • Comment number 45.

    Yes ........ is the short answer

  • Comment number 46.

    Realy I know that how much it matter.In my homeland being from south parts of the country is very uncofortable. Ethiopia is dominated since long ancient time by semetic or northren ethic groups. Becouse of this reason they have less opportunity for education and economical gain. But few individuals get overcome this problems. In my case I search most parts of the country it is not safe for me. Then I decide to move further to Europe and Asia also too much suffering.Now I am somewhere searching better life but most of the time I am unhappy becuase of my family in danger situation in my country by the donimant ruling party.


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