A version of this post originally appeared on Think Africa Press. The views expressed are the author's own.
A tiny landlocked kingdom with a largely impoverished population scattered in often inaccessible villages dotted around a stark mountain landscape, Lesotho appears to have little to offer the prospective Chinese migrant.
And yet, this country of just over two million inhabitants boasts a Chinese population of several thousand. This community is overwhelmingly made up of shopkeepers from China’s Fujian province who have established a trading network that extends deep into Lesotho’s mountainous hinterland, selling everything from basic groceries to clothing and manufactured goods.
But as in many other countries across the continent, the presence and success of Chinese traders has been a double-edged sword. Some Basotho – the local ethnic group – hail the availability of cheap goods from the Chinese, while others decry the squeezing out of local businesses and accuse the Chinese of shoddy practices. And like many observers, most also wonder how they have managed to become so successful.
Keeping to themselves
Despite the best efforts of the Lesotho government, no one knows exactly how many Chinese currently live in the country. Official census takers in mountain villages often encounter bolted doors or truckloads of tipped-off Chinese residents speeding down the road in the opposite direction, suggesting many of Chinese who reside in Lesotho do so illegally. Most estimates, however, put the figure of the Chinese population in Lesotho somewhere between four and twenty thousand. (To learn more about Chinese immigrants in Lesotho, read this piece on how one shopkeeper has found a niche for himself.)
Interestingly, Lesotho’s Chinese migrants also seem to be as wary of their own government as they are of national authorities. Despite their inescapable presence in the country’s retail sector, the Chinese tend to keep themselves to themselves and the Chinese embassy does not typically facilitate the entry of economic migrants to Lesotho.
Instead, it prefers to distance itself from the migrants. When discontent over the presence of foreigners in Lesotho’s retail sector boiled over into xenophobic violence in 1991, for example, the Chinese embassy in the capital Maseru shut its gates in the face of distressed shopkeepers who sought help.
Setting up shop
Rather than being in some way tied to Chinese state assistance to Lesotho then, migrants come to Lesotho under their own steam, lured by rumors of easy profits.
But they do not arrive as hostages to fortune, without a plan and alone. Rather, given that kinship networks are the main pull factor behind Fujianese migration to Lesotho, new arrivals usually have links to one of the local Fujianese business associations before they even land.
These commercial networks link Fujianese traders across Lesotho with wholesalers in neighboring South Africa and suppliers in mainland China, and help new arrivals in number of ways. The presence of Fujianese merchants in villages that, at first glance, seem too small or remote to support a retail business, is testament to the success these associations have had.
To begin with, these networks direct new migrants towards niches in the market and away from areas already saturated by Fujianese businesses. In this way, they create a centrifugal force, pushing new arrivals into remote corners of the country.
Fujianese commercial associations also give advice and provide start-up loans and insurance for new ventures. In fact, Fujianese traders typically spend their first couple of years in Lesotho paying off debts to these associations and to the migratory agents who facilitated their entry into the country.
This is part of the reason Fujianese businesses have a reputation for being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – their owners must work extremely hard and live very frugally simply in order to pay their initial debts.
Start-up capital, hard work and frugality are central to Chinese traders’ success. Also crucial, however, is the ability of Chinese businesspeople to undercut their local competitors. This is made possible by using local Chinese business associations to buy and ship goods in bulk. This helps lower wholesale costs and, additionally, given that the many of the goods sold by Chinese businesses are non-perishable, they can also be stored on site for long periods of time to save on transport costs.
All these factors help make the Chinese community in Lesotho commercially successful. However, all is not perfect. Despite – or perhaps because of – their success, strong anti-Chinese sentiment prevails in popular opinion in Lesotho.
Rather than distinguishing between different East Asian groups, local Basotho often designate all Asians as “Chinese,” sometimes calling them “the dog eaters.” Local frustration with the perceived Chinese takeover of the small-scale retail industry in Lesotho frequently manifests itself in stories of Chinese managers abusing local staff or of forbidding their Basotho employees from ever working at the till or handling cash.
Furthermore, Fujianese shopkeepers have been accused of every imaginable malpractice, from removing pieces of chicken from barbecue packs and selling the underweight packs at full price, to vending poisonous baby formula and rotten vegetables, to relabeling and selling goods well beyond their sell-by date.
Chinese businesses are also often accused of operating under fake licenses and avoiding tax. And Chinese migrants are widely believed to eschew the national banking system, preferring instead to keep their earnings under their mattresses or on their person. A combination of xenophobia and opportunism has made East Asians the most frequent victims of violent crime in Lesotho – though since 1991 there has been no popular violence against the immigrant community as a whole.
The prevalence of anti-Chinese rhetoric at all levels in Lesotho society, however, does not change the fact that the Basotho are increasingly reliant on the retail services provided by the immigrant Fujianese population. As one local told Think Africa Press, “if there was no Chinese in Teyateyaneng, where would I buy?”
As well as sometimes obscuring the benefits locals gain from cheap Chinese imports, anti-Chinese sentiments also sometimes obscure the realities of Fujianese immigration. While popular belief has it that Chinese immigration to Lesotho is increasing exponentially with the help of the Chinese government, for example, there is evidence to suggest that there are actually more Fujianese leaving the country today than entering.
In fact, as economic prospects in Fujian continue to improve and China transforms itself into a country of net immigration, we can expect to see a shift in Fujianese migratory flows in Africa away from the poorest countries such as Lesotho, and towards wealthier African countries and China itself.
Unless the Basotho take advantage of the Fujianese presence in the country and learn from their highly effective business model quickly, it may be too late, as we can expect Fujianese traders to be replaced by another wave of foreign merchants – if not from China, then from West Africa or elsewhere in the global South.
A version of this post originally appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own.
Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is likely to reach more than 5 percent on average between 2013 and 2015 as a result of high commodity prices worldwide and strong consumer spending on the continent, ensuring that the region remains among the fastest growing in the world.
In 2012, about a quarter of countries on the African continent grew at 7 percent or faster and a number of countries – including Sierra Leone, Niger, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Rwanda – are among the fastest-growing economies in the world.
Forecasts indicate that medium-term growth prospects remain strong and will be supported by a gradually-improving world economy, consistently high commodity prices, and more investment in regional infrastructure, trade, and business growth.
However, the need for faster progress in areas such as electricity and food in vulnerable areas of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, as well as significantly more energy and agricultural productivity, are desperately needed to raise the quality of life for Africans throughout the continent and reduce poverty significantly.
Specifically, without additional focus on electricity and higher agricultural productivity, Africa’s development future cannot prosper at the rate needed to address the still-high levels of poverty and inequality on the continent.
African governments should continue to be pressured to upgrade their specific country’s capacities so that their citizens can better measure and monitor their development progress and analyze the reasons for its success and failure, especially in resource-rich countries and fragile states.
The recent discoveries of oil, natural gas, copper, and other strategic minerals, and the expansion of several mines or the building of new ones in Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone and Zambia – together with better political and economic governance – are sustaining solid economic growth across the continent and bode well for the future, if managed correctly.
It is also forecast that by 2020, only four or five countries in the region will not be involved in mineral exploitation of some kind, such is the continent's abundance of natural resources.
According to the World Bank, resource-rich African countries will consciously need to invest their new mineral earnings in better health, education, and jobs in order to maximise their national development prospects.
Increased investment flows into Africa are also supporting the continent’s growth performance.
In 2012, net private capital flows to the region increased by 3.3 percent to a record $54.5 billion and foreign direct investment inflows to the region increased by 5.5 percent in 2012 to $37.7 billion.
Exports are also driving the continent’s growth and that the traditional destination of these goods over the last decade is changing as well.
Since 2000, the overall growth of African exports to emerging markets, including those of China, Brazil and India, and to other countries in the African region, has surpassed that to developed markets. Total exports to Brazil, India and China were larger than to the entire European Union market in 2011.
Even though the broad picture emerging from the data is that Africa’s economies have been expanding robustly and that poverty is coming down, the aggregate hides a great deal of diversity in performance, even among Africa’s faster growers.
As an example of this trend, Ethiopia and Rwanda saw their economies expand between 8 percent and 10 percent each, which directly resulted in a 1.3 percent to 1.7 percent annual drop in their national poverty rates. In contrast, poverty reduction in some other countries has lagged far behind growth.
A number of emerging trends on the continent could help to transform its current state of development over the coming years. These include the promise of large revenues from mineral exploitation, rising incomes created by a dramatic expansion of agricultural productivity, the large-scale migration of people from the countryside into Africa’s towns and cities, and a demographic dividend potentially created by Africa’s fast-growing population of young people.
A version of this post first appeared on the blog of the Enough Project. The views expressed are the author's own.
Nadia Taha is a producer at Sudan Radio Service (SRS), based in Nairobi, Kenya. We met in March to talk about her childhood in Darfur, activism at university in Khartoum, and work as the first female reporter with SRS. This Q&A is excerpted from our conversation.
Can you talk about your experience growing up in Darfur at the height of the conflict?
I grew up in El Fasher and did my schooling there, and then I studied law at El Nilein University in Khartoum. I was in high school during the time of war in Darfur, in 2003. Actually, I was just doing my final exam for high school in [the town of] Tina, on the border between Chad and Sudan, and at that time the rebels came and attacked the town – while we were there sitting for our exam. So the government had to cancel the exam, and we had to travel to El Fasher. Imagine, when I was traveling with the other students from Fasher to Tina before the exam we had come through many, many villages. We would stop in villages, eat in the market, sleep, and then take the bus in the morning – it took three days. But when we came back there were no villages there. Can you imagine? The villages had been burned down. And I said, "but we were just here, and now, nothing."
Who had burned all the villages?
It was the Janjaweed [government-aligned militia]. They were retaliating for the attacks by the [rebel] Sudan Liberation Army, but at that time we didn’t know. We were just traveling through the villages and finding them not there. It was a dangerous time, taking that road. We met many times the rebels, and they would ask where we were going, and we told them we are students. Before we came to El Fasher, like 50 kilometers from the city, we came to a village that had just been attacked. The people were crying, some people were injured. And we asked them, “Who did this?” And they said it was the government’s military.
So when you were back in El Fasher you took the exam to finish high school?
Yes, and I passed. Then I was going to Khartoum for university. My mother had died this same year – she had been sick. So in 2004 I traveled to Nyala with my grandmom and my aunties to sell my mother’s cows so that I could go to school. They sold most of them, and then they gave me the money so I could go to Khartoum to study.
Had you ever been to Khartoum before?
Never. I was very excited. I had heard so much about Khartoum, so when I was going there I was so happy. You know, after that incident in Tina I had much hatred for the government in Khartoum, the National Congress Party (NCP). So when I got to university I joined a Darfuri political activist group, and I was very active. I joined ... the student group that was supporting the rebel group on campus. We used to argue with the students of the NCP.
What kind of activities did those student groups do?
If there was any violence in Darfur we would do a demonstration. We did many demonstrations. During my first demonstration in 2004 it was really difficult. We went to give a letter to the UN saying there is genocide in Darfur. And there was a big reaction.
They came to our hostel [dorm] at the university and bombed it. Most of the Darfuri students were staying together in the same place, so we all had to run. It was a very big incident. No one died, but there were many injured.
Were there many women involved in the Darfuri student movement?
No, not many. We were very few Darfuri girls at the university.
Where do you feel like your political activism comes from? Are your parents political?
No, all my brothers are very quiet, they are doing their school. None of them are involved in politics, only me. When I was coming from Tina I could see that the government doesn’t want the civilians of that area to live, so they bomb and kill the people of certain ethnicities. My father used to tell me not to get involved; he would say, "they will kill you." But I didn’t listen to him.
I guess it was particularly risky for you as a woman, because you stood out among the male activists at school.
Yes, that’s true. Some of the other students used to call me Condoleeza Rice!
How did you decide to study law?
My mom wanted me to do it. To come to Khartoum to study law is very difficult for Darfuris. You have to have high marks. But some people succeed.
I did my training with a lawyer in Khartoum, but when I was finished in 2010 I didn’t find a job. But that’s when I got recruited to work for Sudan Radio Service. They were looking for women who could speak Arabic, some English, and the Zaghawa language, and a family friend knew about the job and nominated me.
So that’s when you moved to Nairobi, to do this job?
Yes, I came to Kenya immediately.
Do you ever go back to Sudan?
No, I can’t. The Sudanese government thinks of Sudan Radio Service as “rebel radio,” because we bring the news to Sudan, especially about the conflict areas, like Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains, and Darfur. We talk to the citizens there, and to the rebels as well, so it would be dangerous to go back. Today we’re also covering east Sudan as well.
You were the first female radio producer for Sudan Radio Service?
Yes, when I came to Sudan Radio Service there were no other women – just six guys. I started presenting in my local language, Zaghawa, and in Arabic. And finally I came up with the idea to do a program about women’s issues. The project agreed, so I started this program, focused on violence against women, women’s education, human rights. It airs on Fridays and Tuesdays in Zaghawa and Arabic.
Are there many radio stations that reach Darfur?
Yes, there are many, but the way we cover the news is different, because we believe in balance. Some radio stations only cover the rebel side. But at Sudan Radio Service, if the rebels say that they attacked a government position and killed a certain number of soldiers, we have to ask the government for its view. We put the two voices in the stories together. The listeners decide who is saying the truth.
Do you primarily cover Darfur, or do you cover other areas as well?
I cover Darfur daily. Other reporters focus on the other conflicts. I report daily on North and South Darfur in Zaghawa. I even went to Chad once, to visit the Darfuri refugee camps in the east. In some of the camps I was focused on women’s stories.
That must have been very interesting to speak to people from your home area but who had been displaced for a long time.
People were very happy that I came, because they listen to me on the radio and they know my voice, and I speak their language. I was there for Eid [the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice], and you know that for the holiday you’re supposed to buy new clothes for the children, have a big feast. But of course, no one could follow those traditions anymore. It was a sad story. The situation in the camps was very sad. Some people were hopeful they would be able to go home, but only, “after [President] Bashir,” they said. They told me only after Bashir goes to the [International Criminal Court] will we be able to go home. Some of them were even born in the camp, and they don’t even know their home.
Do you ever see yourself living in Darfur again?
Me? Yes, yes, I will. I have to go home one day. At any time that this Bashir government leaves I will go back, because I want to do projects to help my community there. Projects for women and kids, development projects, radio programs about avoiding tribalism.… There is so much to do there.
A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, Africa on the Blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
As competition for raw resources heats up globally, economic and political elites in the West are turning to Africa for quick and generous capital gains and for the promotion of British and American geostrategic interests.
This is not the first time that these elites have been optimistic about Africa – about a decade and a half ago “Africa experts” boosted new “progressive-minded” leaders, who were said to represent political reform, more grassroots participation in government, more transparent economic policies, and an end to tribal favoritism and conflicts.
Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, Isaias Afewerki in Eritrea, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, and Paul Kagame in Rwanda were symbols of this new leadership. It didn’t take long, however, before more tribal conflicts followed and persistent charges of corruption seemed to dash hopes for economic reform.
The problems facing Africa were compounded by the way HIV ravaged the continent, cutting down many men and women in the prime of their lives. Much of the media in the West questioned whether or not Africa would ever be able to recover.
By 2000 the Economist described Africa on its cover as being “The Hopeless Continent."
That was then.
Now, coverage of Africa promises a bright new future while noting that there are still a number of difficulties that African nations have to overcome. Population projections show that in the next 25 years Africa will more than recover its population losses from the '80s and '90s. At the same time, investment companies see Africa as having some of the world’s most promising opportunities for sharp economic growth.
Who's leading the charge?
There is, of course, South Africa, which is the leading economy on the continent. Price says that South Africa plays the role of the continent’s economic powerhouse, by providing the continent's other countries with goods and services, as well as investments. Price says that South Africa has a stake in seeing the standard of living rise in its potential trading partners and that this will continue to stimulate economic growth in the continent.
Then there is Nigeria, which Price describes as benefiting from a large population base and from the petroleum export business. Nigeria is consolidating political reform, as exemplified by two peaceful transfers of power within the past decade. Nigeria also has demonstrated its prowess in mobile telecommunications technology. Price points out, however, that the Nigerian economy is still hobbled by its political patronage system, and that the economy has not sufficiently diversified.
A third country investors have their eye on is Angola, which is growing rapidly due to oil exports. Price reports that Angola’s economy is vulnerable because it lacks diversity, but for the time being it is rapidly expanding its infrastructure as part of a controversial “infrastructure for oil” trade agreement with China, which critics believe benefits the Chinese more than the Angolans.
A fourth promising country in Africa is Ghana. Price reports that Ghana is “one of the fastest growing economies in the world.” Ghana’s economic growth is based primarily on its oil production, but Price says that political and economic reforms that were in place nearly two decades before oil was discovered in 2007, play a major role in the country’s long-term economic prospects and sustainability, even though Ghana’s rate of growth will not remain at its current astronomical levels.
Price reports that Ethiopia is yet another country with a promising future. Ethiopia represents a huge market that can drive economic growth and integration in the Horn of Africa region. Ethiopia’s economic growth has been fueled by hydroelectric power, which enables it to export electricity to neighboring countries. Price says that Ethiopia has also benefited from large-scale government investment in agriculture, industrialization, and infrastructure.
Much of the promising economic news coming out of Africa reflects rising commodity prices. The continent can also expect to capitalize on having a comparatively young demographic structure, as the growth 16 to 30 age bracket provides the potential for an expanded workforce. This is also the demographic that will rapidly adopt mobile technology, which is likely to increase both markets and productivity on the continent.
With sharp and rapid growth, however, there is greater economic disparity. While global demand for Africa’s natural resources will continue to attract investors, the growing gap between the rich and the poor could trigger social and political instability in the future if countries do not take measures to reduce economic disparity so that more people will benefit from the growth of national and regional economies.
African nations should also be careful to direct a sizable portion of the surplus from this growth into infrastructure and economic diversity, so that nations will not be dependent on high commodity prices to sustain a higher standard of living over the long-term.
But when Madonna visited Malawi last week, no one seemed to have gotten the script.
First, the American pop star fired off a rambling, handwritten note to the country’s president, Joyce Banda, congratulating her on her recent election (“what an honor and what a huge responsability! [sic]”) and requesting an audience during her six-day trip (“If you have any time in your busy schedule to meet that would be great”).
President Banda flatly ignored the request. But then, when Madonna turned up at the country’s main airport to fly home Saturday, she was told her VIP terminal access had mysteriously been revoked and she’d have to go through check in and security like any other passenger. And four days later, a blistering, 1,000-word invective from a government spokesman appeared against the pop star on a Malawian news site, entitled "State House responds to Madonna's outbursts."
“In the feeling of Madonna, the Malawi Government and its leadership should have rolled out a red carpet and blast the 21-gun salute in her honour because she believes that as a musician, the whiff of whose repute flies across international boundaries, she automatically is candidate for VIP treatment,” the statement read. “Neither the President nor any official in her government denied Madonna any attention or courtesy during her recent visit to Malawi because as far as the administration is concerned there is no defined attention and courtesy that must be followed in respect of her.”
The livid pronouncement is the latest installment in a long-running soap opera between Banda and Madonna that has pitted Africa’s second female president against one of the most visible enthusiasts for celebrity aid projects on the continent.
The bad blood between the two stretches back to 2009, when the singer broke ground on a glitzy $15-million all-girls boarding school in the village of Chinkhota – a gift, she said, to the country from which she’d adopted two of her children.
But two years later, the site remained a sun-baked empty lot, and an audit showed $3.8 million had disappeared into the project. Madonna abruptly called off the building of the school and fired its leadership, including the head of the school, Anjimile Oponyo – who just happened to be Banda’s sister.
In a withering audit, Madonna’s Raising Malawi organization described Mrs. Oponyo’s failings. "Her charisma masks a lack of substantive knowledge of the practical application of educational development, and her weak management skills are a major contributor to the current financial and programmatic chaos,” they wrote.
From there the feud turned bitterly personal.
When Banda became president in January, she appointed her sister to a senior position in the education ministry, and Madonna charges that the two have a personal vendetta against her and her ongoing educational projects in the country, which include the renovation of several existing schools.
For its part, representatives of the government have accused Madonna of overstating her impact on the country and say they have been puzzled by Madonna’s “do first, ask later” approach to aid.
As John Bisika, Malawi's national secretary for education, science, and technology, told the Guardian in 2012, "For someone to go to the papers and say, 'I'm building schools', without telling the government, I find it a strange way of working.”
“I wouldn't just go to the UK and start building schools. We need to be approached and work out where the schools are needed,” he said.
For now, however, Madonna has promised to stay the course. “I’m saddened that Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has chosen to release lies about what we’ve accomplished, my intentions, how I personally conducted myself while visiting Malawi and other untruths,” she said Wednesday in a statement on the website of Raising Malawi, her charity. “I made a promise to the children of Malawi and I am keeping that promise.”
And the Malawian government? They had some final moralizing words for Madonna’s humanitarian impulses in the country, for which they argued she wanted Malawi “forever chained to the obligation of gratitude.”
“Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous,” the statement read. “If it can’t be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else.”
A version of this post originally appeared on the author's personal blog. The views expressed are his own.
For a continent that has historically been largely unconnected via land-based telecommunications, mobile telephony uptake over the last few years has been nothing short of a revolution on the African continent.
In 1995 there were an estimated 600,000 mobile phone subscriptions in Africa. A decade later this number rose to 87 million and in 2012 it was estimated that there were 735 million mobile subscriptions on the continent. This makes Africa currently the fastest growing and second-largest market for mobile phones in the world.
For the first time in its history, large numbers of Africans can communicate with each other over distance, receive information, and access services via mobile devices. As a result mobile telephony has significantly impacted the way people communicate, socialize, play, pay for things, and interact with their governments.
These connections also offer an opportunity for education.
Mobile technologies are being used to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services.
A tangible example of this is Mxit, Africa’s largest home-grown mobile social network. The South African technology start-up not only allows its young users to stay in touch by text chatting, it also facilitates live tutoring for mathematics homework. Dr. Math on Mxit, a project launched in 2007, has helped more than 32,000 school-aged children work through math problems by connecting them with tutors for live chat sessions.
While the mobile revolution is taking off in Africa, it must be noted that the mobile landscape is spread unevenly across and within countries on the continent. Some areas have good mobile broadband in place, while in others access is unreliable and limited to basic services such as voice calls and SMS.
To have a real impact on education, mobile learning initiatives must – and do in Africa – cater to a range of technology contexts.
An example is Nokia Life, an information service with more than 70 million subscribers in India, China, Indonesia, and Nigeria. In Nigeria its popular information channels deliver exam preparation tips for middle and high-school students, health education aimed at families, and English language learning. The service has traditionally used SMS to deliver the content. Nokia Life+, launched in late 2012, uses mobile data to offer an improved content experience. As mobile data connectivity infrastructure improves, additional services will come online across Africa.
However, the barriers to fully realizing the potential of mobile learning in Africa are often complex and significant.
For instance, while prices for mobile usage have dropped, they are still too high for many Africans, who spend on average of 17 percent of their monthly income on mobile phones and connectivity plans. In comparison, people in North America and Western Europe spend under 2 percent. Additional obstacles include a shortage of local-language content, low levels of literacy that make mobile learning difficult and a low numbers of smartphones and digital tablets that could enable richer mobile learning experiences.
School or district policies that ban mobile phone usage are another hindrance. Still, despite the challenges, which are increasingly being addressed, mobile learning, either alone or in combination with existing approaches, is supporting and extending education in ways not possible before on the continent.
The past decade has seen a surge in the number and types of physical devices that can support digital platforms. Where it was once possible to categorize devices into three broadly delineated “classes” – mobile phones, tablet computers and desktop computers – the lines between these devices have shifted and blurred, and today technology that fits comfortably in a person’s pocket or handbag can open a plethora of educational opportunities previously restricted to stationary technology.
Small devices are hardly limited in terms of power. A high-end smartphone has the same computing power and many of the same multimedia functionalities as mid-range desktop computers that are 20 times as large. Additionally, high-resolution touch screens, intuitive operating systems and applications designed specifically for use on small screens have mitigated, if not eliminated, many of the disadvantages of mobile technology versus traditional desktop computers.
As mobile hardware and the networks that support them become more powerful, more dynamic and more affordable, the mobility of these technologies offers new options for teaching and learning. Education studies have historically conceptualized technology as existing in two separate spheres – at schools and in students’ homes – but this dichotomous view is changing and does not fully describe how many young people use and conceive of technology.
Today, learners are likely to have technology with them constantly, either at home, at school, on public transportation, at work, even in bed. Technology use is no longer, to a large extent, geographically constrained.
The widespread availability of information technologies has also sparked important societal changes, and these changes are beginning to ripple into education. People are rightfully asking what easy and instant access to these devices means for education.
A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.
Experts knew it was coming. In March of 2011 the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) warned that low rains in the Horn of Africa would make parts of the region food insecure through June of that year.
“A poor season could result in a major crisis. Therefore, these areas require especially close monitoring over the coming months,” warned the report.
Despite the warnings of a potential crisis, little action was taken. When the rains did not come and the drought led to famine in parts of Somalia by July, it was too late for some people. Food and fuel prices spiked. An estimated 11.5 million people needed immediate humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations, and tens of thousands died.
In just a span of 90 days, an estimated 29,000 Somali children died.
“The greatest tragedy is that the world saw this disaster coming but did not prevent it. Across Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Somalia this crisis has played out very differently, but common to all of them was a slow response to early warnings,” said former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland last year.
The England-based policy think tank Chatham House took a closer look at how countries respond to early warnings of famine and found that the case of the Horn of Africa is generally the rule, rather than the exception.
“All too often the link between early warning and early action fails and the opportunity to mitigate a gathering crisis is lost,” writes lead author Rob Bailey.
“This disconnect was starkly apparent in Somalia during 2010/11, when increasingly urgent early warnings accumulated for 11 months before famine was finally declared in July. Only after that did the humanitarian system mobilize.”
Although the international community failed to heed the warnings of FEWS Net, the fact that the early warning systems worked was a good thing. Aid agencies knew that a food crisis was possible because of the widespread tracking of rainfall, food prices, and crop yields through the system.
The Chatham House report points out that food crises are slow-developing events that can be anticipated, as seen in the case of the Horn of Africa, several months in advance. Despite having proper warning systems and dealing with problems that develop over time, it does not mean that action takes place quickly.
The Horn of Africa crisis and a similar crisis in the Sahel region of Africa illustrate the fact that responding to droughts is becoming more expensive. Consolidated and flash appeals from the UN for the two regions grew from $130 million in 2002 to over $2 billion by 2012. The financial needs increased as did the gap between the amount required and the funds raised. The same rising trend is seen in donor contributions to the World Food Programme as a whole.
Opportunities to exist to improve early warning systems, including better coordination, crowd-sourcing information, and differentiating between likelihood crises and humanitarian interventions. A comparison of the early warning systems capacity of countries shows that there are generally strong systems in countries such as Somalia, Kenya, and Niger and weak systems in Chad, South Sudan, and Mauritania. The larger challenges exist when it comes to how countries choose to respond when provided information by the early warning systems.
Early response to a food crisis requires a bureaucracy capable of responding within the context of national politics that will undertake famine prevention measures. Ethiopia is given as an example in the report of a country with the capability to respond in terms of assessments and response capacity, but stumbles over itself due to political holdups. It is in some part due to incentives to downplay the risk of famine.
“In the case of Ethiopia, this incentive is magnified by a national development narrative underpinned by double-digit economic growth and rapidly increasing agricultural productivity,” says the report.
When warnings were raised regarding a potential food crisis in the Sahel shortly after the Horn of Africa crisis, countries and the international community sprung into action.
“In the case of the Sahel last year, there was very clearly a big sense of shame about what had happened in the Horn of Africa and particularly Somalia, and people were openly talking about the need to show that we’ve learned lessons,” Mr. Bailey explained to AlertNet.
The response helped to avert a famine, but it is not necessarily a matter of lessons learned, explained Bailey. He said that the underlying institutions did not change. The difference was the fact that the motivation to mitigate political risk tipped in the favor of early action.
Ensuring that such disasters do not keep occurring will involve greater accountability measures for individual countries and changed incentives for donors to undertake preventative measures. The challenge that donor countries face is a fear that people will accuse them of wasting money.
Media attention can mobilize a response, says the report, but it takes place at the point of crisis.
“The media cannot be relied on to help trigger an early response because the so-called "CNN effect" depends on images of suffering not available before an emergency.”
Donors must deploy flexible and prevention-oriented funding in order to ensure that future food crises and famines do not take place. Concerns that the rebel group Al-Shabaab would take aid money and disbursements slowed down the US response to famine in Somalia. The problem created a greater burden on agencies who had to go through reporting hoops.
Solutions will require greater collaboration and a shared responsibility among donor countries, says the report. It recommends improving coordination activities as well as investments in what it calls "resilience labs," where new approaches to prevention can be tested, shared and improved. The donors can then turn back to their citizens to support the case that investments in prevention are worthwhile.
• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.
A meeting of the major middle-income countries in South Africa garnered plenty of attention, but produced little in terms of actual policies.
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) account for over 40% of the world’s population, one fourth of the world’s GDP, and are responsible for 55 percent of global economic growth since 2009. The BRICS have raced onward in the face of the financial downturn and are poised to take a larger share of the global economy in the coming years.
The recently published United Nations 2013 Human Development Report says that the BRICS are on track to overtake the economies of the longstanding Western powers.
“By 2020, according to projections developed for this Report, the combined economic output of three leading developing countries alone—Brazil, China and India—will surpass the aggregate production of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States,” says the report.
What will this mean for development – for the global push to reduce poverty, inequity, and the so-called north-south imbalance of power? Some experts think not much, because the BRICS are more a concept than a cohesive force.
Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill predicted a decade of massive economic growth by Brazil, Russia, India and China in a paper he published in November 2001. He argued that the changing landscape and the growing economies of the four countries gave reason to re-think the Group of Seven (G7) that is comprised of the major global powers.
The grouping recommended by Mr. O’Neill and the moniker BRIC stuck as the countries pursued a different avenue of cooperation outside of the G7. Its first formal BRIC meeting was held in Russia in 2009, and South Africa was granted membership in 2010.
“The grouping doesn’t make much sense, and any expectation that these countries will form a new geopolitical bloc is outside of O’Neill’s original intent,” argues economist Daniel Altman.
“Their political systems, population dynamics, and paths to economic growth are all different," Mr. Altman says. "Brazil and Russia both depend to a great degree on natural resources, and India and China must both use manufacturing to employ hundreds of millions of people.”
Will they Accomplish Anything?
The group agreed last year when meeting in India to launch their own development bank. It would represent a direct competitor to Western-influenced banks like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). India, a country that recently set up its own international development agency, made the proposal to pursue a BRIC bank.
“The BRICS countries have agreed to examine in greater detail a proposal to set up a South-South development bank, funded and managed by the BRICS and other developing countries,” said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the event.
The conference in Durban, South Africa one year later was meant to be the opportunity to move from talking about building a bank to actually establishing one. Despite news stories reporting an agreement to form a bank (as if the announcement a year earlier did not happen) however, the BRICS did not come much closer to forming a bank.
The group could not agree where to locate the bank – China wants it in China and South Africa wants it in South Africa – nor could they agree how much each country would invest in the bank.
The Russian envoy to Africa Mikhail Margelov told AFP that they want to pursue the BRICS bank in incremental steps.
“We believe in a step-by-step way of doing business,” he said. "We better talk about projects and then we talk about needed amounts of money.”
The inability to come to an agreement led to further questions about the feasibility of forming a bank and the ability of the BRICS to accomplish anything meaningful.
The Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board welcomed the effort to form a BRICS development bank, citing that its existince is an example of spreading universal liberal norms.
"It is, after all, helping humanity, or at least a portion of it where the BRICS want to have influence with what strings are attached to loans. The bank’s very existence plays to the idea of a free market of ideas, or a competition based on merit. And it will likely be run in a democratic way."
Martyn Davies, chief executive of Frontier-Advisory, told Businessweek that it was naive of the BRICS to think that they can quickly set up a competitor to the World Bank and said that the group lacked the "glue" that existed between the post-World War II nations that formed the World Bank.
Others pointed to the equally amorphous statement condemning the fighting in Syria as another example of a lack of cohesion. Russia has long stood in the way of Western attempts to more forcefully intervene through the United Nations. The BRICS made mention of the problem and called for humanitarian aid, but they put little pressure on any side and made no comments on the Assad regime.
President President Bashar al-Assad appealed to the BRICS to help in finding a political solution to the civil war in Syria.
“It’s less clear what the BRICS represent politically. Setting up a big new bank to give away money is easier than figuring out what to do with a desperate crisis like Syria. And on that test of global leadership, where so many have been so critical of the global powers-that-be, the BRICS this week stumbled miserably,” wrote Carroll Bogert in Slate.
Why is South Africa Included?
If the G8 was the proverbial adults table, that would make the BRICS the rapidly growing teenagers who eat fast and yell loud enough that they can be heard by the adults in the next room (Russia is the awkward kid who gets to eat at both tables, but doesn’t really fit in with either group).
The thing is that the economies of India, Brazil, Russia and China are undoubtedly large and growing quickly. Somehow, however, South Africa also managed to get a seat at the table of unruly teens when it is still an undersized ten-year-old yearning to be older.
China looms large over the group with an economy that is bigger than the other four combined. Meanwhile, the economy of South Africa is equivalent to that of China’s sixth larges province, pointed out Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer in the New York Times.
There are plenty of other countries that make for a better fit economically, says Altman, the economist.
“In terms of economic size and potential for growth, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey are much closer to the existing BRIC countries.”
Some have cited the inclusion of South Africa as a strategic move by China to gain better access to the continent of Africa. However, Roy Robins argued that idea is false in Foreign Policy.
“China would do just fine on the continent if South Africa did not exist. The truth is that China sees Africa as the gateway to a richer and stronger China,” wrote Robins.
He expressed concern that trying to keep up with the Joneses has South Africa prioritizing the wrong problems. He says that South Africa is not just along for the ride, but argues for a greater emphasis on fixing internal problems.
“It needs to look more deeply inward, where its challenges are enormous and increasing. Only when the country achieves greater stability, equality, and prosperity at home will it be a genuinely impactful player abroad.”
While opinions about the BRICS remain varied, the inability to accomplish much in Durban produced more criticism and gives greater credence to Bremmer’s conclusions from December.
“In short, the BRICs can agree to disagree with the global status quo. They will sometimes use their collective weight to obstruct U.S. and European plans. But the BRICs have too little in common abroad and too much at stake at home to play a single coherent role on the global stage.”
• A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, A View From the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.
African countries are making promising agricultural gains, but the progress remains in the balance due to a $4.4 billion funding shortfall, warns a new report by the ONE Campaign. That is in addition to $11 billion in agriculture funding pledged by G8 nations that has yet to be disbursed.
The ONE report cites 2013 as an important year for agriculture in Africa because it is a time when international and domestic funding agreements come to an end.
“African leaders have the opportunity to deliver on their goals of lifting millions from extreme poverty and hunger and preventing chronic malnutrition by meeting these commitments,” write the report’s authors.
Edward Carr of the University of South Carolina was general supportive of the report, but noted that the problem of agriculture may be one that is about markets rather than production.
“There is no discussion on the massive rate of loss between farm gate and market in this region,” Mr. Carr says. “The report raises further questions. Is there really a production shortfall or a marketable crop shortfall?”
The heads of state for the countries of Malawi, Senegal, Cape Verde, and Sierra Leone have been invited for a two-day visit to the White House at the end of this week. The countries are among the six highest performing African countries in the ONE report and have strong ties to US agriculture initiatives such as Feed the Future and the Millennium Challange Corporation (MCC).
ONE believes that the Obama administration may add Malawi and Senegal to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, a move that further commits US support for agriculture development in the two countries.
The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) established by African leaders in Maputo in July 2003 set forward the goal of countries allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. Since then, 24 countries signed the agreement and have developed national agriculture plans. The ONE report assessed 19 of the signatory countries and found that only 4 have met the 10 percent spending target.
Despite the fact that the majority of countries are off the spending target, there are signs of promising progress. Eight of the 19 countries are on pace to half extreme poverty by 2015, meeting millennium development goal 1a. Additionally, 13 of 15 countries with adequate data will meet the second CAADP goal of annual agriculture growth of 6 percent or more.
Duke University researcher Marc Bellemare pointed out that trade is missing from the report. He says that development gains will be made through policy changes as opposed to simply increasing aid.
“For 60 years, we have been telling developing countries to open themselves up to international trade, that trade is not a zero-sum game. But international trade only helps a country if it can tap into its comparative advantage, which for developing countries is agriculture,” says Mr. Bellemare.
“We are undermining the comparative advantage and constraining the economic development of the developing world by refusing to liberalize agricultural trade and heavily subsidizing our own agriculture,” he adds.
Ethiopia is one of the countries that performs relatively well in the report’s scorecard. The East African nation spent an average of roughly 15 percent of its national budget on agriculture in the 2000s and spent 19.7 percent of its budget on agriculture in 2011. The money has been invested in disaster risk reduction and food security programs for the country’s drought-prone populations.
The massive famine in Ethiopia from 1983 to 1985 killed an estimated 400,000 people and sparked the massive awareness campaigns like Band Aid’s Do they Know it’s Christmas and the Live Aid concerts (see a news report from 1984 on the famine here). The cycle of droughts and continuous food insecurity led the country to launch the Productive Safety-Net Programme (PNSP) in 2005 as a way of traisitioning from emergency food aid to cash-based social protection.
PNSP supported the food needs of 7.8 million Ethiopians, rehabilitated roughly 40,000 hectacres of land and undertook infrastructure building projects in its intial four year phase. The World Bank was optimistic about its early progress, but some doubts have been raised about the reliability of the data provided.
“The narrative is that the corner [as far as food security is concerned] has been turned, but that is a narrative carefully controlled by the government. Time will tell,” said an anonymous food security analyst to IRIN humanitarian news service.
ONE’s report called for a greater level of transparency from the Ethiopian government, citing that the information available "does not seem comprehensive."Transparency is among other issues that the report repeatedly presses for more improvements across the countries evaluated. Other areas in need of improvement include increasing the ability of non-state actors, such as civil society and the private sector, to participate in the implementation of programs and a greater focus on women farmers.
“While women farmers contribute up to 50% of labour on farms in sub-Saharan Africa, women do not have the same access, credit or inputs as men and own only 1% of land,” says the report. “More secure property rights for women, and indeed more transparent legal ownership of land overall, would help facilitate access to services as well as responsible investment.”
There is also a small, but important mention about nutrition, says Carr. He adds, “I like the fact that they are pointing to nutrition here, as I do think that is an under-discussed issue.”
With the African Union looking towards agriculture in 2014 and the upcoming meetings regarding hunger at the G8, the conversation is turning towards agriculture and food security. A coalition of British NGOs hope that their Enough Food If campaign can draw attention to the issue and propel the current momentum towards ending hunger.
“The agenda we have set out is radical – more so than Make Poverty History. This is the agenda we’ll campaign hard for, engage millions in and what we’ll judge by. The real challenge over the coming months is to put all our efforts into making as big a difference as we possibly can,” said the campaign in a statement at their launch.
A version of this post first appeared on the blog of the Enough Project. The views expressed are the author's own.
The United Nations reports that every day approximately 338 refugees cross from South Kordofan, Sudan, into the newly independent South Sudan. Yida refugee camp now hosts more than 70,000 Sudanese who are fleeing atrocities and starvation warfare in their home country.
However, the UN's refugee agency maintains that Yida, which lies mere kilometers from the international border between the two Sudans, is an unsuitable location for an “official” refugee camp.
Notwithstanding the fact that the camp has been hosting refugees for almost 20 months, the UN still classifies the camp as a "transit" facility. But the reality on the ground tells a very different story.
Aid workers report that the camp hosts scores of brick buildings and a bustling marketplace. Convincing refugees in Yida to abandon their new dwellings and livelihoods simply because of their technically inappropriate location will continue to be a huge challenge, especially since the community’s leadership sees benefit from the proximity to the border. Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees attempted, without success, to relocate the camp further south to the established camps of Pariang and Nyeel.
The refugee communities' leaders objected to the transfer, arguing that those camps were located in deforested areas that were prone to flooding during the rainy season. By December 2012, only 853 refugees had relocated to Nyeel camp and 763 to Pariang camp. Pariang temporarily hosted around a thousand people from Yida during the school year due to the education services that it offered.
Camp organizers object that Yida’s proximity to the border allows for Sudanese rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement, or JEM, and Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, to abuse the camp. Both groups are currently engaged in active hostilities with various Sudanese armed forces in Sudan’s Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states.
The UN’s refugee agency has repeatedly warned against the continued presence of armed men in the camps, as they undermine the fundamentally neutral character of refugee camps. In mid-March, Voice of America reported that one person died and hundreds fled as a result of clashes between unknown armed groups in the camps.
According to the UN, rebels cycle through the camp in between offensive maneuvers. In October 2012, a visiting U.S. official confirmed this objection, sharing, "we have asked them not to use the camp, which is supposed to be civilian, as a center for R&R [rest and recuperation] or the recruitment of soldiers." The leaders of the refugee communities, who largely support the SPLM-N, prefer living closer to the border so that they can maintain contact and stay closer to their original homes.
Unfortunately, refugee children are the victims in this standoff between the camp's leadership and the UN agency. The refugee agency has refused to establish schools there, pointing to a policy that classifies the camp as a "transit" point. This decision has been highly controversial, particularly since most of Yida's current residents expect to live there for some time, according to Enough Project sources on the ground.
Nearly 70 percent of refugees in Yida are below age 18, making the lack of educational facilities particularly problematic. Continuing to insist that the children of Yida don't need formal schooling is a bureaucratic mistake. The people of Yida attempted to complain about the lack of schools during a visit from UN officials last year, but this effort failed. In an attempt to force the issue, the refugee agency is now suggesting those who want their children to go to school need to move to one of the new camps.
The UN recently announced that it will be begin transferring refugees out of Yida at the end of this month. The refugee agency plans to open two new camps. The first proposed camp, Ajuong, a portion of which will open at the end of March, is being established in densely forested area, which should respond to the community's concerns about access to firewood and protection from flooding.
However, even when complete, the new camp will only have the capacity to host around 25,000 refugees. Aid workers on the ground confess that they are not on schedule to fully set up Ajuong before the rainy season, further complicating plans for people to move from Yida. No work has started in Gumriak, the planned location for a second camp. Realistically, the tens of thousands of people who live in Yida, which continues to grow, could not be accommodated in the new facilities, even if they could be convinced to move.