Tag Archives: Africa

Africa is setting an example for Arabs

Arab leaders and citizens do not often look at Africa for inspiration. For decades, the Dark Continent has been beset by civil wars, military coups, famine and recurrent outbreaks of endemic diseases. Millions of lives have been lost and economies destroyed. But Africa is waking up and moving forward and for the first time in decades achievements have been secured and growth sustained in many of the continent’s 55 nations.

This month something remarkable happened that promises to change the fate of African nations for good. At the African Union’s summit in Niger, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari gave the African Continental Free Trade Area a major boost by signing the continent’s largest economy onto the deal. With Nigeria joining the pact the world is now seeing the birth of the world’s largest free trade zone — a 55-nation bloc worth $3.4 trillion.

The pact aims are creating a single market for goods and services, facilitate free movement of people and investments, and eventually introduce a single-currency union.

Even more remarkable the leaders launched a Pan-African payment system aimed at reducing the use of third currencies — US dollars and Euros — in bilateral trade settlement across Africa saving nations between $5 billion and $7 billion, according to Okey Oramah, president of the African Export-Import Bank.

Geopolitical impact

There are efforts to push for the creation of an African Monetary Fund to help African states engage more actively in regional trade and intra-regional trade. The purpose is to help supplement what the IMF provides to countries facing balance of payments problems. Once operational it will have a capital subscription of up to $22 billion, but for the fund to exist a treaty that was agreed on in 2014 must be ratified by at least 15 nations.

Coming into effect by 2020 analysts believe the bloc will become the world’s largest free trade zone by cutting trade tariffs and barriers between 1.2 billion people. Aside from improving the continent’s infrastructure and bilateral trade, leaders hope that the free zone will have positive geopolitical impact by bringing in stability and preserving peace.

Raising the income of citizens and improving their living standards will help in the fight against terror groups in the long run, according to observers. UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed was quoted as saying that the AU’s goal of achieving peace across Africa by 2020 was attainable, adding that “we must work hard to silence the weapons.”

The continentwide trade agreement took 17 years to negotiate and approve but its rewards will be felt within few years, according to observers. African countries currently trade only about 16 per cent of their goods and services among one another, compared to 65 per cent with European countries. But by agreeing to reduce tariffs on 90 per cent of goods and services the AU estimates it will give a 60 per cent boost in intra-African trade by 2022.

Positive flow OF FDIs

In addition the agreement is expected to increase the positive flow of direct foreign investments into many countries in Africa. With more than 75 per cent of Africa’s external exports are raw material, such as oil and minerals which has stripped the continent of its natural wealth for centuries, the new pact will attract foreign investors who are expected to invest in the manufacturing sector, thus creating a new wave of industrialisation.

Yet the deal will have to go through a teething phase that includes tough negotiations on removing barriers and providing for fair competition. Also the deal faces legal and stereotypical challenges in the form of existing World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements that may hinder Africa’s collective negotiations on free trade with the rest of the world.

But overall the perception is positive and exciting and this is why one feels, as an Arab, that we have fallen behind.

The Arab world, of over 300 million citizens, should have moved to integrate its economies and create a viable free trade zone long ago. Ironically, the legal frameworks and agreements within the Arab League charter and beyond do exist and references to intra-Arab free trade have been made since the mid 1950s. But a quick look at intra-Arab trade reveals that it only makes less than 10 per cent of total external Arab trade estimated at $1.75 trillion dollars.

Interestingly, trade among GCC countries makes up more than 70 per cent of total intra-Arab trade and more than 80 per cent of total Arab external trade, the bulk being oil and related products. It is incumbent upon the GCC countries to take the lead in integrating other Arab economies since they have the infrastructure, wealth and experience.

There is a lot or work to be done especially as we need to move from the rhetorical assurances to enforcing agreements and creating a real pan Arab economic structure that ensures free trade, economic complimentarily, movement of people and intra-Arab flow of investments. The rewards are not only financial but political as well. That is the only way this part of the world can compete, innovate and preserve its achievements for future generations.

— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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From drug dealers to tortillas sellers: the future of former gang members

Becoming a gang member is often assumed to imply few long-term life opportunities beyond dying or being imprisoned. In most of the world, however, this only concerns a minority of gang members, with the majority tending to “mature out” out of their gang, and becoming (more or less) upstanding members of society.

Indeed, a striking finding of my longitudinal research in Nicaragua is that many former gang members can actively thrive directly as a result of their gang-related experiences, to the extent that we can talk about there being clear dividends.

Only gang leaders thrive

In their book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner famously highlight how the benefits of being a member of a drug-dealing gang are often quite limited. In particular, the authors describe how the overwhelming majority of those involved in the US drug trade earn less than the minimum wage, with only gang leaders receiving anything in the way of substantial material returns.

While this is not necessarily the case everywhere, there is no doubt that the material benefits of drug dealing can often be unevenly distributed. In a scene from the film Scarface (1983), gang leader Tony Montana enjoys the profits of his drug-dealing business before going ‘legit’.

In a scene from the film Scarface (1983), gang leader Tony Montana enjoys the profits of his drug-dealing business before going ‘legit’

At the same time, being a member of a drug gang can also provide individuals with more intangible benefits drawing from street-experience or specific skills and knowledge inherent to the “job”. These can potentially have more important consequences for post-drug dealing trajectories than any putative material returns.

However, the long-term benefits are highly variable, as my research shows through the contrasting trajectories of Milton and Bismarck, two former members of a drug-dealing gang in the barrio Luis Fanor Hernández, the poor neighbourhood in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, where I carry out my work.

Selling crack on a bicycle

Between 2010 and 2011, Milton was a crack dealer, selling drugs in a concealed manner to avoid attracting attention. As he explained:

“I wouldn’t sell on the streets but would only sell to regular clients and … deliver drugs to them directly, whenever they wanted it instead of having them come to the barrio … I had a good number of clients, who would text me whenever they wanted some crack, which I’d then deliver to them on my bicycle.”

Milton was a successful dealer but he did not save much money, preferring to spend conspicuously. He ceased drug dealing in 2011 after the drug trade in Luis Fanor Hernández collapsed due to the local wholesaler’s arrest. Finding himself out of work, he decided to start a tortilla-making business instead.

“Everybody likes tortillas”

“Why a tortilla-making business, you ask? Well, my mother was a tortillera – you know, a tortilla-maker – but she was getting old and wanted to give it up, so I told her, why don’t you let me take over?”

Milton went on to explain how normally tortilleras would make their tortillas early in the morning, but by the time they go out to sell them they would be all stale and cold, and “nobody likes a cold tortilla”. He had an idea that would enable him to sell fresh, steaming-hot tortillas:

“I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I do like I did with drugs, get people to text me when they want tortillas, and I’d then make them and deliver them straight away?’”

Tortillas come in all form and shapes (Mexico, 2016). Omar Torres/AFP

Milton therefore confidently approached local businesses with samples of his tortillas, and told people that if they wanted fresh, hot tortillas, they should just text him.

“At first only a few people did so, but word got around, and pretty quickly I was getting more orders than I could cope with.”

A success story

These were the days when rapid-food delivery companies were in their infancy worldwide. In Nicaragua such services were unknown, so this new way of producing and delivering tortillas was a game changer. Milton’s business expanded rapidly, to the extent that he had to hire five people to make tortillas and invest in a motorcycle for deliveries.

A delivery motor-bike parked in front of a tortilla restaurant in Mexico. digiyesica/FlickrCC BY-SA

Now producing around 3,000 tortillas a day, Milton’s business is extremely successful, and completely dominates the tortilla market in Luis Fanor Hernández and its surroundings.

In 2016, it provided him with a weekly profit of almost US$200, more than twice Nicaragua’s monthly median wage, and about 80% of what he used to make as a drug dealer.

This success is directly due to Milton’s having drawn on his drug-dealing experience to structure his new business. In particular, the use of mobile technology and the “just in time” delivery enabled him to gain an edge on existing tortilla sellers. Normally this field of economic activity has traditional means of operating and low profit margins. But Milton established the basis for an exceptionally profitable mode of operation.

Bismarck, the real-estate baron

At the same time, the knowledge and skills learned in gangs are not always useful or deployable in a sustainable manner. The case of Bismarck, who dealt drugs in barrio Luis Fanor Hernández between 2000 and 2006, is a case in point.

Unlike Milton, Bismarck saved a significant proportion of his drug-dealing profits. He had much less of a conspicuously consuming lifestyle, and would regularly invest in real estate, buying houses to rent out and building an inexpensive hostel in Luis Fanor Hernández.

When he stopped dealing drugs, these properties ensured that he continued to enjoy a comfortable monthly revenue, albeit equivalent to about 55% of what he had earned as a drug dealer, something that Bismarck professed himself to be more than happy with insofar as “being a businessman was much less dangerous than being a drug dealer”.In Colombia, tour operators guide tourists around Pablo Escobar’s famous properties. But real-estate can be risky.

In Colombia, tour operators guide tourists around Pablo Escobar’s famous properties. But real-estate can be risky.

A risky venture

Unlike other property owners in the neighbourhood, Bismarck was successful at obtaining prompt rental payment because he drew on his gang experience to intimidate, threaten and sometimes enact violence against his renters.

This proved to be something of a double-edged sword, as within a few years, Bismarck lost all of his property portfolio except for his own home, due to the very reason that had made his real estate business initially successful. Some of his houses were expropriated by renters, themselves former gang members, who banded up to intimidate and beat up Bismarck. His hostel was burned down by a group of ex-military men staying there who did not take well to being threatened when they failed to pay their rent.

Bismarck’s post-drug dealing trajectory thus contrasts strongly with Milton’s, and highlights how the skills and knowledge gained through having been a gang member can have different consequences and variable outcomes. Not all gang-related skills and knowledge are always beneficial, and their dividends depend very much on the way and field of activity within which they are deployed.

But knowing that the gang member experience is not necessarily always negative and can sometimes potentially lead to more positive outcomes is clearly important in relation to developing coherent policies and opportunities for former gang members that will harness their undoubted vitality and allow them to maximise their post-gang contribution to society.

Dennis Rodgers is a research Professor, Anthropology and Sociology, Graduate Institute – Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Improvement in sub-Saharan Africa housing but millions of people still live in slums

Study identifies major transformation in quality of living conditions, but governments urged to improve urban sanitation

From cities to the countryside, Africa has undergone a dramatic transformation in living conditions over the past 15 years, according to a new study.

But the research, based on state of the art mapping and published in science journal Nature, also found that almost half of the the urban population – 53 million people across the countries analysed – were living in slum conditions.

Led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the study offers the first detailed estimate of housing quality in sub-Saharan Africa.

Using the most recent data available from 31 countries, researchers found housing had improved across several measures over a 15-year period. Sufficient living area, improved water and sanitation and the durability of construction were found across 23% of houses in 2015, up from 11% in 2000.

The study’s senior author, Dr Samir Bhatt from Imperial College London, said: “Our study demonstrates that people are widely investing in their homes, but there is also an urgent need for governments to help improve water and sanitation infrastructure.

“We saw a doubling in the number of people living in an improved house. This parallels the success stories we are seeing in terms of Africa’s development. It is supported by a wide variety of other studies that show that when people get sufficient income, one of the things they do is invest in their homes.”

Bhatt said the improvement will have a “huge impact” on people’s health and susceptibility to disease.

“You can give someone a mosquito net with insecticide, but having a window you can close makes a huge difference,” he said.

The study found the need for adequate housing to be “particularly acute” in Africa, since the continent has the fastest growing population in the world, predicted to rise from 1.2 billion people in 2015 to 2.5 billion people by 2050.

The improvement was highest in Botswana, Gabon and Zimbabwe. South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were among countries where progress was less marked.

The researchers found that improved housing may be linked to economic development. Improved housing was 80% more likely among more educated households and twice as likely in the wealthiest households, compared with the least educated and poorest families.

The new data could guide interventions to achieve universal access to safe and affordable housing and to upgrade slums by 2030, one of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Dr Lucy Tusting, who conducted the work while at the malaria atlas project, University of Oxford, said: “Adequate housing is a human right. Remarkable development is occurring across the continent but until now this trend this had not been measured on a large scale.”

The UN definition of a slum household is one that does not protect against extreme weather, has more than three people to a room, lacks access to safe water and adequate sanitation, and has no security of tenure.

The researchers, who examined 600,000 households using an innovative technique that allowed the prevalence of different house types to be mapped across the continent, defined housing as “improved” if it had the first four conditions, but did not look at security of tenure.

Cyclone Idai crisis takes deeper turn as cases of Cholera confirmed

Five people test positive for waterborne disease in flooded port city of Beira amid warnings outbreak will spread.

The first cases of cholera have been reported in the cyclone-ravaged Mozambican city of Beira, complicating an already massive and complex emergency in the southern African country.

The announcement of five cases of the waterborne disease follows days of mounting fears that cholera and other diseases could break out in the squalid conditions in which tens of thousands have been living since Cyclone Idai struck on 14 March, killing at least 700 people across the region.

The first cases of the disease were confirmed in Munhava, one of the poorest areas of the hard-hit port city of Beira, the national director of medical assistance, Ussene Isse, told reporters. The city of roughly 500,000 people is still struggling to provide clean water and sanitation.

“We did the lab tests and can confirm that these five people tested positive for cholera,” said Isse. “It will spread. When you have one case, you have to expect more cases in the community.”

The World Health Organization is dispatching 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to affected areas from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to be sent later this week.

Cyclone Idai smashed into Mozambique at about midnight on 14 March before tearing through neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and flooding an area of 3,000 sq km.

Cholera has been a major concern for cyclone survivors now living in crowded camps, schools, churches and any land exposed by the still-draining flood waters. The disease is spread by contaminated food and water and can kill quickly.

Last week, the Guardian visited a number of areas, both in the city itself and outside, where those who had fled the storm and subsequent flooding were surviving by collecting standing water from the floods, including from puddles in the city, for cooking and cleaning.

The huge extent of the flooding in the countryside is also feared to have contaminated wells, which villages rely on for clean drinking water.

The disclosure of the cholera outbreak follows a warning by the WHO of a “second disaster” if waterborne diseases like cholera spread in the devastated region.

Mozambique’s president, Filipe Nyusi, was to address the nation on Wednesday afternoon about how his government is responding to the cyclone, which has killed more than 460 people in the country and left 1.8 million people in need of urgent help.

After flying over the vast, flooded plains of central Mozambique early last week, Nyusi estimated that 1,000 people had been killed. The toll could be higher, with some emergency responders warning that more bodies will be found as floodwaters drain away. They said the actual figure may never be known.

Cyclone Idai destroyed most parts of Beira. Photo: Karel Prinsloo/DEC

Health workers were opening clinics across Beira, the centre of relief operations for the region.

Underlining fears of more outbreaks of disease, Gert Verdonck, emergency coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in Beira, said: “The scale of extreme damage will likely lead to a dramatic increase of waterborne diseases, skin infections, respiratory tract infections and malaria in the coming days and weeks.

“The cyclone substantially damaged the city’s water supply system, resulting in many people having no access to clean drinking water. This means that they have no option but to drink from contaminated wells. Some people are even resorting to drinking stagnant water by the side of the road.

“This, of course, results in an increase of patients suffering from diarrhoea. The MSF-supported health centres have seen hundreds of patients with acute watery diarrhoea in the past few days.”

Unicef, the UN children’s agency, said parts of the city’s water supply system were working again, with “water running in 60% of the pipes”. The government is also operating water trucks.

Relief operators continue to explore ways to deliver aid to the city, which is reachable almost solely by air and sea. More challenging still is getting to rural communities, some of which have had no contact with the outside world since the cyclone hit.

More humanitarianworkers are arriving, as the UN urges the international community to fund a $282m (£213m) emergency appeal for the next three months.


SOURCE: The Guardian, Africa

Blame media owners for Poor coverage of floods in southern Africa

South African media has been criticised on social media for its initially superficial and underwhelming coverage of the massive floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the wake of the devastating Tropical Cyclone Idai. Serious news consumers had to rely on foreign news sources instead of local media as the grim picture of the destruction – which included hundreds of deaths, flooding, disease and havoc to resources and infrastructure – started emerging.

In my view the criticism is valid. The coverage of the floods by South African media has been poor. In fact, I’ve hardly seen a local journalist’s face from on the scene coverage.

Based on my experience of newsrooms, plus my research and as former co-ordinator/author of the annual State of the Newsroom report as well as presently co-ordinator of the Job Losses/New Beats project in South Africa – its clear that this is due to the fact that local newsrooms have been depleted of journalists. This, in turn, is because the media companies have not handled the transition to digitisation well.

But are journalists to blame? I would argue that people should scrutinise media companies rather than blame the profession. Those who criticise journalists tend to conflate media companies and the individuals who are the work horses in the newsroom. They are not the same thing.

This is happening all over the world where companies are clumsy in how they are handling the transition to digital. It’s a disaster for democracy because the experience of trained journalists is lost and we have little context in reporting on events such as natural disasters as well as elections. You find that younger journalists don’t have mentors to help them through reporting. Media companies are looking for profits by cutting the experienced journalists salaries and employing those who they can pay less.

What this shows is that traditional media is dying. It is also not fulfilling its mandate to be informative, to provide the facts and serve the public.

What’s gone wrong

Newsrooms have mainly “content producers” who know techy stuff like video uploads and mobile journalism. Podcasts are good, but even there you need journalists who can ask the pertinent questions and do good intros and angles with context.

Editors are increasingly demanding that journalists stay indoors in the newsrooms so that they can do desk work to fill pages with content rather than to travel out on a breaking story. The main reason cited for this is that there isn’t budget set aside for travel, which would include flights to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi as well as accommodation and food.

Another factor is that newsrooms have turned into “content producers”, made up of people who have technical capabilities such as producing videos and podcasts.

The third factor is that newsrooms have been shrinking at an alarming rate. Conservative estimates in research to be published later this year show that South African newsrooms have shrunk by about half in the past decade. In 2007 there were about 10 000 journalists. Now there are about 5 000.

South Africa fits very much with the developed world global pattern of job losses in the traditional media sector. The losses are mainly in the senior category of journalists (40-60 year olds). In other words, those who are experienced.

The age-old practice of having journalists who are specialists – they write about specific fields such as science and education, also known as beat reporters – have all but disappeared. Other layers that have been removed from newsrooms included those responsible for editing articles and fact checking for accuracy. This explains the spike in mistakes in newspapers as well as online publications.

South African media has been criticised on social media for its initially superficial and underwhelming coverage of the massive floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the wake of the devastating Tropical Cyclone Idai. Serious news consumers had to rely on foreign news sources instead of local media as the grim picture of the destruction – which included hundreds of deaths, flooding, disease and havoc to resources and infrastructure – started emerging.

In my view the criticism is valid. The coverage of the floods by South African media has been poor. In fact, I’ve hardly seen a local journalist’s face from on the scene coverage.

Based on my experience of newsrooms, plus my research and as former co-ordinator/author of the annual State of the Newsroom report as well as presently co-ordinator of the Job Losses/New Beats project in South Africa – its clear that this is due to the fact that local newsrooms have been depleted of journalists. This, in turn, is because the media companies have not handled the transition to digitisation well.

But are journalists to blame? I would argue that people should scrutinise media companies rather than blame the profession. Those who criticise journalists tend to conflate media companies and the individuals who are the work horses in the newsroom. They are not the same thing.

This is happening all over the world where companies are clumsy in how they are handling the transition to digital. It’s a disaster for democracy because the experience of trained journalists is lost and we have little context in reporting on events such as natural disasters as well as elections. You find that younger journalists don’t have mentors to help them through reporting. Media companies are looking for profits by cutting the experienced journalists salaries and employing those who they can pay less.

What this shows is that traditional media is dying. It is also not fulfilling its mandate to be informative, to provide the facts and serve the public.

What’s gone wrong

Newsrooms have mainly “content producers” who know techy stuff like video uploads and mobile journalism. Podcasts are good, but even there you need journalists who can ask the pertinent questions and do good intros and angles with context.

Editors are increasingly demanding that journalists stay indoors in the newsrooms so that they can do desk work to fill pages with content rather than to travel out on a breaking story. The main reason cited for this is that there isn’t budget set aside for travel, which would include flights to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi as well as accommodation and food.

Another factor is that newsrooms have turned into “content producers”, made up of people who have technical capabilities such as producing videos and podcasts.

The third factor is that newsrooms have been shrinking at an alarming rate. Conservative estimates in research to be published later this year show that South African newsrooms have shrunk by about half in the past decade. In 2007 there were about 10 000 journalists. Now there are about 5 000.

South Africa fits very much with the developed world global pattern of job losses in the traditional media sector. The losses are mainly in the senior category of journalists (40-60 year olds). In other words, those who are experienced.

The age-old practice of having journalists who are specialists – they write about specific fields such as science and education, also known as beat reporters – have all but disappeared. Other layers that have been removed from newsrooms included those responsible for editing articles and fact checking for accuracy. This explains the spike in mistakes in newspapers as well as online publications.

An aerial view shows damage from the flood waters after cyclone Idai made landfall in Sofala Province, Central Mozambique, 21 March 2019. EPA-EFE/Emidio Jozine

The issue of resources is a particularly big challenge when disasters are being covered. For example, it’s also not possible simply to send one person. At the very least a team of two is needed – a camera person or photographer and a journalist. And resources and backup are needed for natural disasters, especially of this scale – and journalists just do not get this support.

The role of social media

Social media is partly filling the gap left by traditional media. But not completely. It’s also an arena for misinformation, malinformation (disinformation with malicious intent) propaganda and general falsehoods.

On top of this there’s a great deal of hatred on social media. The latest and most worrying is cyber misogyny and the trolling and vilification of women, especially women journalists who are prominent, those who speak out and investigate corruption.

There are no checks and verification on social media. Anyone can post anything – unfiltered. Anyone can believe anything. Right wing movements and populism are growing – enabled by social media. Not because of social media but enabled by – these types are able to connect with each other and discuss strategies on how to kill, for example.

It’s contrary to what we all thought 10 years ago, that social media would act as the equaliser, the leveller – everyone would have access. In fact, what has happened is that the promise of cheap broadband has not been rolled out, nor does everyone have a smart phone to be engaging in debates and discussions.

Social media has become more of a divider between rich and poor than ever. It’s also a platform for great divisiveness.

This is a disaster for democracy. The government needs to act swiftly to roll out cheap data, and regulate social media. Trolls need to be eliminated and finally, if media companies don’t press the pause button to reflect on what they are doing, especially their bull in a china shop retrenchments, this is going to cost South Africa’s democracy dearly.

The New Beats is an international research project based in Melbourne.

Can Africa catch up with the world in the fight against poverty? Here’s how

By M Niaz Asadullah and Antonio Savoia

The world is making remarkable progress in combating poverty. From 2000 to 2013, the portion of the world’s population living on less than the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day fell from 28.5 % to 10.7 %. That’s about one billion people lifted out of poverty.

In 2000 the United Nations launched the Millennium Development Goals, a coordinated international effort to eradicate poverty and raise living standards worldwide by 2030.

An even more ambitious global effort to eradicate poverty, called the Sustainable Development Goals was adopted in September 2015. This also seems to be producing significant results. An estimated 83 million people have escaped extreme poverty in the first three years after the goals were adopted – between January 2016 and July 2018.

At the same time, there’s been a dramatic shift in the geography of poverty around the world.

Today, extreme poverty is mostly around Africa, where 23 of the world’s 28 poorest countries are found. These countries have poverty rates above 30%.

Poverty projections up to the year 2030 (the end of the Sustainable Development Goals) suggest that even under the most optimistic scenario, over 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will still be in extreme poverty. Thus success in poverty eradication under these goals will depend crucially on what happens in Africa.

According to our research, the adoption of the goals in 2000 played a significant part in accelerating the process of poverty reduction in the world. The implementation of antipoverty programmes and poverty reduction strategies in individual countries became a routine part of national development plans. But, there was considerable disparity in how different countries responded to the development goals as well as in their capacity to implement these plans.

In the early 1990s, African countries such as Nigeria, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Zambia had similar poverty levels to those of China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Yet, this group has been successful in reducing poverty, while the African countries haven’t.

So, why this disparity and how can poverty reduction in Africa be accelerated?

Poverty trends

We looked at poverty trends in the developing world between 1990 and 2013. Using standard income poverty measures expressing the part of the population living on less than $1.25 and $1.90 a day, we found that poverty tended to fall faster in more poverty-ridden countries.

Good news? Yes, but such progress, although significant, doesn’t imply that the end of poverty is in sight everywhere. For example, if trends continue in a poverty-ridden country such as Mali, where 86.08% of people were living below $1.25 a day in 1990, it would take about 31 more years to eradicate extreme poverty altogether.

And, even a much less poor economy like Ecuador (where 6.79% people lived on less than $1.25 a day in 1990) is predicted to take about 10 more years to eradicate extreme poverty altogether.

State capacity

Our research identifies a crucial role for state capacity in differing levels of poverty reduction. Sub-Saharan African states often suffer from limited institutional capability to carry out policies that deliver benefits and services to citizens. In other words, they have limited state capacity.

Building state capacity depends on many variables. It is greater when ruling elites are subject to effective limits on the exercise of their power through institutionalised checks and balances. It’s also greater in countries with a longer history of statehood. For example, China, an experienced state which is centuries old, may have developed a greater ability to administer its territory – through learning by doing. It has thus become more effective at delivering on policies compared to less experienced African states.

And our own research suggests that countries with the most effective governments reduced income poverty at up to twice the speed than countries with the weakest states.

Fighting poverty in Africa

The weaknesses of a state affects the fight against poverty in a number of ways.

Firstly, fighting poverty requires direct policy interventions. Yet poorer African countries are less effective in reaching their poor. For example, governments in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have the data and administrative know-how necessary for reliably identifying their poor. This means they can’t target resources to them. Anti-poverty programmes in countries such as Malawi, Mali, Niger and Nigeria miss many of their poorest households.

The growing evidence on the gaps in state capacity and the importance of effective states for poverty reduction implies that, without significant improvement in governance, Africa may fall further behind in meeting the first sustainable development goal target of ending poverty.

To accelerate the end of poverty, African states should focus on developing enough capability for designing and delivering poverty reduction strategies. Implementing these reforms is vital. After all, improving the quality of government is not only important to accelerating poverty reduction. It’s also a development goal in itself.

Bribery patterns in Uganda’s health care system

In September 2017 Uganda’s former Minister of Health, Dr Sarah Opendi, disguised herself in a hijab and travelled by boda boda (motorbike taxi) to Naguru Hospital in Kampala. The minister then asked for routine laboratory tests. They should have been given to her free of charge but instead the health workers asked for a bribe.

Experts fear that Uganda’s efforts to eliminate graft in its health care system are not sustainable.
Experts fear that Uganda’s efforts to eliminate graft in its health care system are not sustainable. Photo: Suuba Trust/Flickr

A camera crew was on hand to film the confrontation that followed. The police were close behind to arrest the two health workers. The drama captured national and international headlines.

Our fieldwork, which looked for surprising “success stories” in bribery reduction efforts in Kampala, began a day before this “investigation” took place. The minister’s involvement in the plot was exceptional but we learned that publicised anti-corruption raids in Uganda’s health sector are not unusual. Rather, they are emblematic of a high-profile strategy devised by the government to crack down on bribery and other sources of corruption in the sector.

Our research was done under the umbrella of the “Islands of Integrity” project which uses global data to identify sectors within a country that have experienced a significant – if surprising – reduction in bribery relative to other sectors.

We found that in Uganda, contrary to expectations given the sector’s history of corruption, bribery for health services reduced dramatically between 2011 and 2015.

This achievement has been widely applauded. But our research also showed that were serious downsides to the “naming and shaming” approach taken by the administration. This includes a disgruntled workforce and question marks over the long term sustainability of the approach.

Corruption in Uganda

Almost half of all people who made contact with the health sector in Uganda in 2010 paid a bribe. But by 2015 this rate was just 25% . This is an almost unprecedented reduction, especially in such a short time frame. And runs counter to the trend in other sectors where bribery remained at high levels.

Our research shows that the main factor was the introduction of the Health Monitoring Unit which was launched in 2009.

The unit is a highly visible institution with wide ranging powers to monitor and evaluate the performance of health facilities, investigate and arrest corrupt health workers and audit Uganda’s health procurement and supply system. It also works with the courts to prosecute health-care related crimes.

Its most high-profile work involves carrying out unannounced investigations in health facilities, which are either randomly selected or in response to specific complaints. These complaints often include bribery claims.

While the unit prides itself on getting the job done observers have criticised its investigations for being “militaristic”, based on a strategy of catching health workers “red handed” and then “naming and shaming” them in public.

It is true that unit arrests are often covered by the media. Its exploits usually receive front page coverage. Nevertheless, the fear of exposure has been a useful deterrent for potential bribe seekers.

Sustainability questions

We found that bribery patterns were indeed disrupted because health workers were afraid of being monitored, arrested and punished. All the health care workers we interviewed in Uganda’s Central, Eastern and Western provinces knew about the unit and its raids. All of them were of the opinion that the raids were the reason bribery in the health sector had decreased.

However, the case isn’t an uncomplicated success story.

The first big question is over sustainability. A disruptive strategy like this is expensive, time consuming, resource intensive and requires constant rebooting to keep people on their toes. As far as we can tell, there are no real plans for ongoing disruption or next steps.

The approach also doesn’t take into account the real-life “benefits” of bribery such as supplementing the meagre wages in the health sector. Because of this, we found some evidence in our interviews with front line health staff that bribery patterns are reemerging, a trend observed in research done by others looking at the role of social norms and “camouflaging” behaviour in bribery.

Rather than halting completely, it looks like the patterns may be changing. Bribery strategies are changing and could return in full force when the pressure comes off.

Ultimately, and of the utmost importance, is the fact that the approach doesn’t tackle corruption higher up the chain, which is where the problem begins.

Unintended consequences

Our research also uncovered evidence of some unintended consequences of the unit’s name and shame approach. As early as 2010, the unit’s work was said to be “humiliating” health workers and negatively affecting staff morale.

In December 2017, members of the Uganda Medical Association went on an unprecedented nationwide strike which lasted over a month and brought the already weak health system to its knees. The health workers cited the unit as one of the key causes of the strike.

In keeping with the sentiments of the strikers – and research done by others – our findings suggest that the unit’s ultimate impact on service delivery could be negative, with staff morale falling to an all-time low. Fearful, demoralised staff are not likely to provide the best care possible in the circumstances.

While Uganda’s health sector is a positive outlier on bribery, the evidence suggests the cost of controlling the vice might be too high. And the consequences of the present approach is likely to be become apparent in years to come.


Additional research was carried out by Pius Gumisiriza. Pius is a lecturer at the Uganda Management Institute.

SOURCE: The Conversation

Africa is heroin’s new highway to the West

The trade is poisoning politics and fuelling addiction on the continent.

Alizea smit sits on a plastic crate in front of her fruit and vegetable stand in Wynberg, Cape Town. It is a convenient spot. There is brisk custom for her oranges and avocados. And her heroin dealer is on the corner, just a few metres away. Ms Smit (not her real name) has used the drug for six years, buying three or four pellets a day at 30 rand ($2.21) each. If she does not sell enough fresh produce to feed her habit, she works as a prostitute in the evening. “Heroin is the worst,” she says. “It’s the first drug I’ve taken that you can’t escape.”

Until recently heroin addicts were rare in Africa. In the 1980s and 1990s users could be found largely in tourist spots, such as Zanzibar, or in enclaves of white hipsterdom in cities like Johannesburg. Since 2006, however, heroin consumption has increased faster in Africa than in any other continent, according to the un Office on Drugs and Crime (unodc). The trade in the drug is having ruinous effects, not just on public health, but on politics, too.

The rise of heroin in Africa partly reflects a surge in global supply. As the Taliban has consolidated its hold on parts of Afghanistan, where 85% of the world’s heroin is made, more of the country has been given over to poppies. In 2017 opium production increased by 65% to 10,500 tonnes, the highest recorded by the unodc since it began collecting data in 2000.

Not only is there more heroin being produced, but a rising share of the crop is being trafficked via Africa. The so-called Balkan route, encompassing Iran, Turkey and south-east Europe, has been the main way of getting heroin to the West. But over the past decade moving drugs along it has become harder, a side-effect of Turkey tightening its borders in response to the war in Syria and European countries’ attempts to keep out refugees. As a result, more of the harvests are being dispatched along the “southern route” (see map).

On this route, sometimes called the “smack track”, heroin is taken from Afghanistan to Pakistan’s Makran coast, where shipments are put on dhows, traditional Arabian boats with triangular sails. (Some heroin is also smuggled via containers in larger ships.) Throughout the year, save for the monsoon season, dhows sail south-west through the Indian Ocean before anchoring off Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. Smaller boats collect the contraband, taking it to beaches and coves, or to commercial harbours. From there heroin is taken by land to South Africa and shipped or flown to Europe or America, according to a report by Simone Haysom, Peter Gastrow and Mark Shaw of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime. Although it is longer than the Balkan route, the high margins on drug-smuggling more than compensate.

Authorities have largely failed to curb the traffic. Since 2010 there have been seizures in the Arabian Sea by an American-led multinational naval force. But it is mainly a counter-terrorist outfit, not a drug-busting one. It seizes heroin on the basis that drug sales help finance the Taliban but it does not have a mandate to arrest smugglers. As for seizures on the African mainland, these have been “extremely low”, notes Shanaka Jayasekara of the unodc. Police may not even try as the authorities and their political patrons are often in league with traffickers.

The corrosive effect that the heroin trade is having on politics is most evident in Mozambique. Though data are hard to verify, heroin may be Mozambique’s largest or second-largest export (after coal), reckons Joseph Hanlon of the London School of Economics.

In Mozambique trafficking is controlled by powerful families and covertly regulated by Frelimo, the ex-Marxist ruling party. In a hotel in Nampula, in the north of the country, an employee of a drug kingpin explains the deal between smugglers and the state. In exchange for political donations and personal kickbacks, Frelimo grants traffickers protection from arrest. The party also issues permits allowing smugglers to import and export goods without detection at the port of Nacala. In one alleged case, a trafficker imported hundreds of motorbikes using the Frelimo imprimatur, all of which had heroin packed into their petrol tanks.

No arrests of major figures for drug-trafficking have taken place in Mozambique. Seizures by police are all but unheard of; South African criminal-intelligence officials complain that their Mozambican counterparts block their investigations. For their part, donors to Mozambique have been reluctant to bring it up; development honchos pay little attention to crime. This is short-sighted. A report published in November by Ms Haysom suggests that conflict related to heroin and other illicit trades is helping fuel the insurgency in the far north of the country, near huge deposits of natural gas.

The drug trade is harming South Africa, too, which is used as a base for onward shipment because of its good infrastructure and weak currency (which makes services like those of lawyers cheap). Competition for control of the heroin market among gang bosses has contributed to a spike in murders in Cape Town.

South Africa is also where the public-health effects of the heroin trade are starkest. Since intermediaries are typically paid in drugs, as the wholesale trade grows, more heroin leaks out into the domestic retail market. A ready army of dealers then push heroin on consumers.

Ms Smit’s pusher, a 35-year-old Tanzanian migrant by the name of Juma, describes how his patch works. New users are offered “starter packs” and repeat users are rewarded for loyalty: a free pellet worth R30 for every five they buy. He pays R500 for a “booster pack”, from which he nets a R250 profit, after paying gangs a “tax” for protection. Though dealing is risky, Juma says it is better than his life in Zanzibar, where he was paid the equivalent of $2 a day for repairing telephone poles. That was not enough to support his wife and two children, so he emigrated to South Africa. “Shit, it’s a tough life, boss,” he sighs.

Data on South African heroin users are patchy. There are more than 1,000 people receiving treatment, up from almost none two decades ago, but this is a fraction of users. One estimate of injecting users puts the number at 75,000, or 0.2% of adults. Yet solo injecting is just one way heroin is consumed. Many smoke it in a toxic cocktail of washing powder, sleeping tablets and methamphetamines. A few indulge in “bluetoothing”, where they share the hit by withdrawing, then injecting, the blood of a fellow user into their own veins. In a country where hiv remains common, this is mind-bogglingly risky.

For Craven Engel, a pastor who runs Camp Joy, a rehabilitation centre near Cape Town for gang members who take drugs, there is no doubt that heroin is now “the fashionable drug”. Over the past five years it has overtaken methamphetamine as the drug of choice, he says. Recovering addicts agree. For many of them, taking heroin was a way of expunging violent memories of fighting for drug turf. “I needed the drug to alleviate my conscience,” explains a member of a gang. So long as the southern route thrives, the demand for opium to salve the soul is unlikely to ease.


This story was first published by and on The Economist. All rights reserved.

Why are African women more at risk of violence?

‘Nigerian women are disadvantaged in an unabashedly patriarchal society that does little to acknowledge their rights.’ Lagos, Nigeria Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

I grew up in a country where female subjugation is too often justified as reflecting ‘traditions’ and abuse can become normalised

As the United Nations launched its 16-day worldwide campaign to combat violence against women on Sunday, I was reminded of how, while it is a global problem, it is one that leaves women in developing countries particularly vulnerable.

UN report shows women in Africa are most at risk of violence. In Nigeria where I grew up, 23% of women have been victims of physical or sexual violence committed by a previous husband. While many incidents of domestic violence go unreported, in a country of 194 million people, even this 23% figure translates into millions of women suffering physical and sexual violence.

When they complained about abuse, they were told they must have done something to ‘disrespect’ their husband

The Guardian

In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, 22.3% of women aged between 15 and 49 reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period. So what are some of the unique challenges faced by African women on this front?

A friend of mine recently went through the hellish experience of trying to free herself from a violent husband. This involved being advised by her own family to stick with him because he was affluent. “He can afford to take care of you and the children. If you leave him, you’re condemning yourself and your children to hardship,” she was told. Sadly, this is all too common advice in a society that offers no social safety net or well-functioning justice system to ensure women cannot simply be thrown out on the streets (with their children) by an angry partner.

While poverty affects both genders in sub-Saharan Africa, it affects women more: 122 women aged 25 to 34 live in extreme poverty for every 100 men of the same age. For such women, the decision on whether to leave a violent partner would involve practical issues of food and shelter for herself and her children. However, the problem is much more than just economic. I also have friends who are middle-class professionals yet tolerated years of domestic abuse.

In their cases, when they complained to their families that their husband was abusing them, they were usually told they must have done something to “disrespect” him. While Nigeria is a multicultural society comprised of hundreds of ethnic groups, each with their own traditional value system, what they all have in common is a view of the male as an authority figure who deserves automatic “respect” from his wife. This involves the expectation she will regularly acknowledge her subordinate position to him in the household.

If he is abusive, it is thus often attributed to the woman not playing her role properly, not being a “good wife”. When one of my friends who spent many years in the UK before marrying and relocating to Nigeria complained to her family about how her husband was treating her, she was told she had “spent too long living among white people where everything is upside down and the women control the men”. Female subjugation can be justified as reflecting “African traditions”, conveniently ignoring values like basic respect and equal treatment for all humans. Nigerian women, even those who are better off financially, are thus disadvantaged in an unabashedly patriarchal society that does little to acknowledge their rights.

One issue that is often grossly under-appreciated is that tolerant attitudes towards domestic violence have a domino effect on society, producing adults traumatised by childhood experiences of seeing their father regularly abuse their mother. How does a society that lets its children witness such consequence-free abuse expect them to grow up fair-minded sensitive adults?

Non-governmental organisations combating violence against women do their best, but the harsh realities of life in a society with endemic poverty, a nonexistent social safety net and weak formal mechanisms for safeguarding the vulnerable, compel too many women to make unfortunate choices for themselves and their children.

Meanwhile, many Nigerians have been desensitised to the damaging effects of violence against women due to their own childhood experiences. Domestic abuse now needs to be robustly denormalised. Nigerian women need economic empowerment, but they also need cultural empowerment. This would benefit not only women but society as a whole – including, importantly, the future of any society, its children. Eliminating all forms of abuse against women is what gives credence to societies truly committed to decency and basic human rights. Anything else is an exercise in societal self-harm.

  • Sede Alonge is a Nigerian writer and lawyer