Agriculture investment yields growth and nutrition gains for Africa
September 6, 2016 | 0 Comments
Growth in agriculture has pushed down poverty in Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, report says
By Isaiah Esipisu*
NAIROBI, Sept 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – African countries that took early action in the past decade to invest in agriculture have reaped the rewards, enjoying higher economic growth and a bigger drop in malnutrition, a major farming development organisation said on Tuesday.
In a report, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) said: “After decades of stagnation, much of Africa has enjoyed sustained agricultural productivity growth since 2005.”
That has helped push down poverty rates in places like Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, it added.
Countries that adopted the policies promoted by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) not long after it was created by African Union governments in 2003 saw productivity on existing farmlands rise by 5.9 to 6.7 percent per year, the report said.
That helped spur a 4.3 percent average annual increase in gross domestic product (GDP).
By contrast, states that sat on the sidelines saw farm productivity rise by less than 3 percent a year and GDP by only 2.2 percent, said the Africa Agriculture Status Report 2016.
“The last ten years have made a strong case for agriculture as the surest path to producing sustainable economic growth that is felt in all sectors of society – and particularly among poor Africans,” AGRA President Agnes Kalibata said in a statement.
Growth in agriculture is more effective at cutting poverty than growth in other sectors in sub-Saharan Africa because farming is a main source of income for more than 60 percent of the labour force, and will continue to be a major employer in most countries for a decade or more, the report noted.
On malnutrition, countries that were quick to put the CAADP into practice experienced an annual average decline of 3.1 percent, while those that did not sign up saw a drop of only 1.2 percent.
The countries adopting the programme early – between 2007 and 2009 – were Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo, according to the report.
MORE EFFORT NEEDED
“Africa is no longer in the dark. It has done a lot towards agricultural transformation in the past decade,” said David Ameyaw, AGRA’s head of monitoring and evaluation and a lead author of the report.
“But there is a need to double the effort by 2030 for a meaningful agricultural transformation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The report, released to inform discussions at the African Green Revolution Forum in Nairobi this week, noted that gains were made in early-moving African countries even if their governments did not hit a target set by the CAADP to allocate 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture.
Only 13 African countries have met or surpassed that goal, the report noted. If others followed suit, public funding for agriculture across Africa would rise from $12 billion – the amount allocated in 2014 – to $40 billion, it added.
Agriculture in Africa is still threatened by low productivity due to limited use of inputs like improved seeds and fertilisers, rising water stress, and climate-related disasters such as floods and droughts that are affecting crop, livestock and fish production, according to the report.
A 2014 World Bank study found that around two-thirds of small-scale farmers surveyed in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda did not use chemical fertilisers.
There is a need for such farmers to invest further in irrigation, both studies said, with the World Bank estimating that only 1 to 3 percent of land cultivated by smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated.
Ameyaw said further agricultural progress in the region would require political will, the right policies and technology transfer to improve productivity and reduce post-harvest losses.
Linking small-scale farmers to markets and giving them access to finance are also key, he said.
Reforming the land tenure system is important in countries where arable land is inherited by siblings, the scientist added.
“When agricultural land is subdivided from generation to generation, it shrinks (and) thus becomes meaningless for agricultural production,” Ameyaw said.
FIRST AFRICAN PASSPORTS GO TO PRESIDENTS OF RWANDA AND CHAD
July 18, 2016 | 0 Comments
The African Union wants to roll out the continental passport to millions of Africans.
The opposite of Brexit: African Union launches an all-Africa passport
July 1, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Anne Frugé*
On June 13, two weeks before the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the African Union announced a new “single African passport.” The lead-up discussion was much like the original debate on the European Economic Community, the E.U.’s predecessor. African passport proponents say it will boost the continent’s socioeconomic development because it will reduce trade barriers and allow people, ideas, goods, services and capital to flow more freely across borders.
But now the A.U. faces the challenge of making sure the “e-Passport” lives up to its potential – and doesn’t fulfill detractors’ fears of heightened terrorism, smuggling and illegal immigration.
The African e-Passport is part of a long-term plan for the continent
The e-Passport is an electronic document that permits any A.U. passport holder to enter any of the 54 A.U. member states, without requiring a visa. It will be unveiled this month during the next A.U. Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. Initially, the e-Passport will only be available to A.U. heads of state, foreign ministers and permanent representatives based in the A.U.’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, . The plan is to roll it out to all A.U. citizens by 2018.
The electronic passport initiative grows out of the A.U.’s Agenda 2063, a plan to mobilize Africa’s vast resources to strengthen the region’s self-reliance, global economic power and solidarity.
Why is the single African passport important?
The e-Passport is a step toward eliminating borders on the continent, aiming to enable deeper integration, increased trade and further development. Just as important, the passport is a powerful symbol of unity across Africa – and simultaneously a step toward connecting African countries economically and politically.
An A.U. passport represents the latest effort to create a common market spanning the continent, much like that in the E.U. Such efforts date back to 1963 with the creation of the Organization of African Unity. Pan-Africanistscelebrating the demise of the colonial state and hailing a United States of Africadesigned the O.A.U. to unite Africans and dissolve the borders between them.
Essentially, the O.A.U. sought to raise living standards by supporting leaders of anti-colonial struggles in their roles as heads of new states. In its quest to make the transition to independence as smooth as possible, the organization at times defended national sovereignty to a fault. For example, the decision to respect arbitrary colonial borders had far-reaching consequences, including numerous identity-based conflicts.
Over time, other entities arose to coordinate economic activity across national lines: the East African Community (1967), the Economic Community of West African States (1975), the Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa (1980) and the Southern African Development Community (1992), just to name a few.
In 2002, the A.U. replaced the O.A.U.
Moving away from the O.A.U.’s state-centric approach, the A.U. attempts to balance “the principle of sovereignty with the need to accelerate political rights and socio-economic growth and cooperation,” according to Matebe Chisiza, visiting scholar at the South African Institute of International Affairs. For example, the A.U. suspended 12 member states after “unconstitutional changes in government,” including Libya, Central African Republic, Egypt and Burkina Faso.
None of Africa’s regional organizations have yet been able to create a common market. This vivid dream has endured despite the enormous political and logistical challenges it would entail. Deeper economic integration is seen by many, including the World Bank, as the road to prosperity and stability. In fact, the A.U. is guided by this premise.
What might be the downsides of the e-Passport?
Opponents of the passport are concerned about a range of security risks. Detractors argue that visa-free travel would make it easier for terrorists to move within and between countries. Human traffickers and drug smugglers could take advantage of the new system. Disease and other public health crises could spread more rapidly in a borderless Africa. As has happened in Europe, an e-Passport may intensify competition for jobs and public services, leading to more xenophobic political rhetoric and attacks. Migration is already a contentious issue, as shown by deadly anti-immigrant riots in South Africa and Zambia and heated debates over refugees in Kenya.
Many elites favor the unrestricted movement of persons, goods and services. But if the effort is mishandled, such free travel may simply reproduce social inequalities — helping the well-off become richer and leaving behind the poor. We can see that already in the fact that only certain individuals will have the passport at first, which creates a hierarchy of citizens, only some of whom can travel freely.
Moreover, Bronwen Manby’s report for the Open Society Foundations describes how passports can become tools for repressive regimes to silence their critics. In 2007 alone Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and Zimbabwe denied or confiscated passports for a variety of opponents, including “from individual trade unionists, human rights activists, opposition politicians, or minority religious groups.” Fortunately, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Zambia have taken steps to put into law the principle that every individual has a right to a passport — even if the principle is upheld irregularly in practice.
The African Union can learn from the E.U.’s example
The E.U. offers a model that the A.U. can use to study both the progress and pitfalls of regional integration: managing a common currency, balancing economies of vastly different sizes and structures, and building solidarity within and across culturally diverse nations.
Brexit is a reminder of the challenges inherent in a shared political and economic space. The debates over debt, immigration and national identity that led to Brexit would only be magnified in Africa under the weight of industrializing economies, significant barriers to access in education and health care and ongoing conflicts over resources and identity.
An African passport is an exciting development that can spur growth and improve living standards. To capitalize on this potential, the A.U. needs to plan two steps ahead. Crafting thoughtful regulations will be essential to ensuring the e-Passport’s economic promise is genuinely available to everyone and not subject to abuse.
For example, integration needs to benefit the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, with both productivity and industrial capacity increasing in tandem. When some countries deindustrialize at the same time that others expand their markets, the stragglers strain the common pool and fall into crisis.
Further, governments need to fight against a race to the bottom in which commerce follows the path of least restrictions. This point is especially important considering that demos-centered Pan-Africanism underpins the A.U.’s mission.
And implementation plans must address practical obstacles that prevent many Africans from obtaining basic identity documentation, such as weak civil registration systems, slow and costly bureaucratic procedures, and corruption. According to the World Bank, 37 percent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have legal identification, a prerequisite for obtaining a passport.
In short, the path forward is to ensure fairness in integration. When the system rewards the few on the backs of the many, solidarity wanes and the unification project suffers.
*Washington Post.Anne Frugé is a PhD candidate in the department of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
Visa Free by 2018? Africa’s Open Visa Policy
June 30, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Michelle DeFreese*
African citizens currently face some of the most stringent visa restrictions in the world. According to the Africa Visa Openness Index Report launched by the African Development Bank (AfDB), citizens of African countries require visas to travel to 55% of countries within the continent. Within the next two years, however, the implementation of a proposed common visa policy under the African Union’s (AU) 2063 Agenda, a strategic document outlining the vision for African development, could profoundly impact the continent in terms of intra-regional trade, economic development, and regional integration.
While the AU’s visa-free travel proposal represents both challenges and opportunities for the security and economy of Africa, previous examples by regional communities and individual countries suggest that the benefits will outweigh the risks. As the plan moves from policy to implementation, the African common visa policy has the potential to impart substantial economic incentives through the removal of trade barriers, increased tourism and investment opportunities, and job creation.
The AU’s 2063 Agenda contains plans for a common visa policy with three primary components: visa-on-arrival for all African nationals, mandatory granting of a minimum 30-day visa for African citizens visiting any African country by 2018, and the ambitious goal of a single, continental passport by 2020. Challenges of implementing the plan include associated risks of widespread economic migration, the movement of illegal goods, cross-border terrorism, and the issue of stateless individuals. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made – regionally and nationally – with benefits that demonstrate the effectiveness of the policy in terms of stimulating economic growth.
The importance of regional integration was also discussed during the 2013 AfDB Annual Meeting, during which Professor Mthuli Ncube, AfDB Vice President and Chief Economist, stated, “Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements. Visa restrictions imply missed economic opportunities for intra-regional trade and for the local service economy such as tourism, cross-country medical services or education.”
Thus far, regional communities within Africa have made variable progress towards the goal of a pan-African, visa-free policy with largely positive results and spillover effects: the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) introducedfree movement between member states in 1979; a single visa is in place enabling nationals of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) free movement; a common visa policy unites Zambia and Zimbabwe; and the East African Community (EAC) now has a single tourist visa available for visitors to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda coupled with an East African passport that allows citizens freedom of movement within the trading bloc. Following the adoption of the EAC common visa policy, both Uganda and Rwanda benefited from increased tourism revenues by 12% and 8% respectively. According to the AfDB’s Africa Tourism Monitoring Report, comparable visa liberalization schemes could increase tourism by 5-25%.
Individual countries, including the Seychelles, Ghana, and Rwanda, have also made significant efforts to ease visa restrictions on travelers. The Seychelles is one of the few visa-free countries that does not require a visa for citizens of any country upon arrival. After adopting the policy, international tourism arrivals to the country increased by an average of 7% per year between 2009 and 2014. Ghana has adopted the 2063 Agenda’s visa-free policy, which will be formally introduced in July 2016. Rwanda in particular has made significant strides to ease visa restrictions for African nationals, and provides an important example of the potential for the adoption of the visa-free policy in other countries. According to the AfDB, Rwanda’s 2013 visa-free policy for African nationals resulted in several positivebenefits in terms of economic development; these include an estimated 24% increase in tourism arrivals from African countries and a 50% increase in intra-African trade. Trade with the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone increased by 73% since the implementation of the policy.
Beyond the implications for the continent, African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, has suggested that visa-free travel within Africa could potentially reduce emigration to other continents. At the same time, reduced visa restrictions will necessitate advances in electronic border management systems and improved interoperability of security architecture to address the increased risks of trafficking and cross-border crime.
Examples of the successful implementation of visa-free policies by regional communities and individual countries – and the benefits that have followed – are compelling arguments for the implementation of the AU’s common visa policy for the continent. For a continent that is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world and a burgeoning middle class, the dissolution of barriers to trade, increased free movement, and bolstered tourism will foster an unprecedented growth of untapped markets critical for the realization of thecontinued rise of Africa.
*HuffPost.Michelle DeFreese is a consultant with the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) based in Tanzania. She completed her Master’s degree in International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) and is an Africa Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.
African Agriculture Can Help Tackle Refugee Crisis
June 27, 2016 | 0 Comments
As the head of an international agricultural development organisation working in Africa, I am often asked why we don’t work to address the current migrant crisis from Africa that has overwhelmed Europe.
The question directed to me is usually a sincere one, not borne of xenophobia or racism, but rather from a deep frustration that in our advanced and sophisticated 21st century society we should not be witnessing such scenes, night after night on our television screens.
My answer to such questions is a short one. We are.
For it is only by improving the economic circumstances of rural poor people in Africa that we will ultimately provide them with an acceptable alternative to the hugely risky, life-threatening and demeaning choices currently being taken by millions, as they uproot from their communities and take their lives into their own hands in search of ‘a better life’ somewhere else.
Noone who has ever visited a refugee camp, which I have done many times during a 30-years career that included many years in humanitarian relief, would ever describe these places as anything other than a stopgap. As the name itself suggests it is a place of refuge from something terrible that is occurring elsewhere. It is not the ‘better life’ that millions are taking huge risks to seek out.
EU plan, announced this month, sets out a framework that the Union believe can tackle some of the root causes of migration from Africa.
While the ‘carrot and stick’ approach in these proposals – which include a combination of aid and trade incentives – has been criticized by some African countries, and by aid organisations, it should be viewed as a step towards addressing the underlying cause of much of the current crisis, poverty.
Only by boosting growth in economies, creating jobs, and ensuring that countries can provide a future for their populations will the current flood of migration be resolved.
Building walls, Brexit opt-out campaigns or any number of breaches by Euro states of the Schengen freedom of movement charter are reactions, rather than solutions, to a problem that has been with us for generations.
For too long we have failed to properly solve the problem of extreme poverty that continues to cast an enormous shadow across developing countries of the world. That there are almost 800 million people worldwide living in extreme poverty – that’s one in nine of our global population – is proof enough that we are continuing to fail the poorest, and the most vulnerable.
In the current clamour over immigration to Europe it is often overlooked that such mass movement of people is placing a huge burden on the fabric of society across Africa, as well.
Figures released in 2015 showed that the top six destinations for African refugees and migrants were within the continent of Africa itself. The figures were: Ethiopia (659,524), Kenya (551,352), Chad (452,897), Uganda (385,513), Cameroon (264,126) and South Sudan (248,152), who collectively were accommodating 2,561,564 people of foreign origin in camps within their countries.
Interviews that have been given by refugees themselves – whether in Kenya or in Calais – tell us that if given the choice, the vast majority of those who make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe would not do so, if their futures at home were not so bleak.
People aren’t only moving across international borders in search of a better life either. There is also an accelerating pattern of rural to urban migration taking place in sub-Saharan Africa that is placing a huge burden on national services.
Africa will become the most rapidly urbanized region on the planet in the coming 25 years, as the number of people living in its cities is projected to soar to 56% of the population, according to UN estimates. That means that many more shantytowns like Kiberi, an urban slum of one million people outside Nairobi, Kenya, will spring up across Africa in the years to come.
At Self Help Africa our focus is on supporting rural poor communities to support their populations through an innovative mix of agricultural and enterprise development activities.
By supporting rural poor households to grow more, and access profitable markets for their produce, Africa’s small-scale farming families can realise the better future that they desire for themselves and their communities.
There is no quick fix to the problems of extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, just as there is no quick fix to the current migrant crisis in Europe. But there are many steps that can be taken to move us in the right direction.
Self Help Africa believes that by contributing to the creation of an economically vibrant African agricultural sector, we can play our part in tackling this challenge.
And in the same way, the announcement by the European Union of a combination of new aid and trade deals with Africa to support economic growth, has to be regarded as a positive approach to a crisis that has been going on for too long.
Who should pay for African peacekeeping?
June 26, 2016 | 0 Comments
The problem for African peacekeeping is not so much where to find the boots to put on the ground, but how to pay for them – not to mention the helicopters, intelligence-gathering and technology crucial to conducting modern military operations and dealing with the new security threats on the horizon.
Since 2002, none of the five African Union peace operations have been financed through the AU’s Peace Fund, except for an allocation of $50 million for the African-led International Support Mission to Mali in 2013. The slogan of ‘African solutions for African problems’ falls a little flat when financing mainly comes from the European Union, individual European donors, and the United States.
But an AU summit at the end of July in the Rwandan capital Kigali hopes to change all that. African leaders are going to try to agree on a roadmap of alternative financing for AU-led peace support operations.
The meeting will explore innovative approaches – taxes on hotels, flights, text messaging, even a percentage of import duties – to self-generate 25 percent of peacekeeping costs by 2020: a significant step forward. The AU hopes that level of commitment would persuade the UN to cover the remaining 75 percent.
What happens now?
The AU wants to make funding sustainable and predictable. At the moment it’s neither. More than 90 percent of the AU’s peace and security budget is financed through the EU’s African Peace Facility. Since the APF was established in 2004, the EU has committed more than €1.1 billion.
But what is given can also be withheld. At the beginning of the year, the EU cut its allocation to the allowances of the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by 20 percent. The reasoning: there were other “competing priorities in Africa and the world in general”, including the need to shift resources into training the Somali National Army.
AMISOM, which has battled the al-Shabab insurgency for nine years, currently absorbs more than 85 percent of APF spending. The UN also provides a non-lethal logistics “life support” package that includes fuel, food, and health services. Nevertheless, AMISOM remains an under-manned, under-equipped and bare-bones operation.
Troop-contributing countries reacted with anger to the EU’s suggestion that they should make up the shortfall on allowances. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta argued that African troops were paying in blood for what is an international peace and security remit. Both Kenya and Uganda have threatened to withdraw their soldiers.
Who pays the piper
The EU’s policy shift exemplifies the problem of the ad hoc nature of the funding. “The challenge is that the financing for these types of missions is not fit for purpose,” said a senior AU official who asked not to be named. “It’s a hodge-podge. We can’t go on like this, passing around the hat.”
The AU has on paper a comprehensive security architecture, but little of its own money to pay for it. The organisation lost its main benefactor with the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and its other major contributors – Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, and Egypt – are all going through tough times. Dependency on external financing not only determines which conflicts the AU can intervene in, but also dictates when the missions must end.
At the beginning of the year, the AU appointed Donald Kabureka, former president of the African Development Bank, as its high representative for the Peace Fund. His role is to find the resources that will enable African contributions to hit 25 percent of the fund’s budget, and to lobby international partners towards securing UN assessed contributions for the remainder.
It hasn’t been plain sailing. Some members, including Kenya and Egypt, have frettedover the impact a proposed $2 hotel tax or $10 levy on air tickets would have on their tourism industries. Zambia argued that the surrendering of national taxes was a violation of citizens’ rights.
“There are also concerns over the accountability of the Peace Fund, which will be the repository of the funding,” said the senior AU official. “Little has been done on transparency and fiduciary rules.”
According to Paul Williams of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, Kabureka is embarking on a tricky two-step process.
First he needs buy-in from the member states at the Kigali summit. “Once the AU settles on what its Peace Fund will do and how it can be filled with appropriate funds, then the UN and AU must agree on how the UN should help support African peace operations,” Williams told IRIN.
The UN recognises that AMISOM represents something of a model for future peace operations. The UN envisages more regional interventions authorised by the Security Council, and regards the AU in particular as a key partner. The AU has shown itself willing to deploy in situations where there is “no peace to keep”, and which in the case of Somalia involved the bloody slog of house-to-house combat in Mogadishu. Hardly the traditional role for UN blue helmets.
Apart from the AU’s willingness to take on enforcement operations, it also has the advantage of speed. In response to the violence in Central African Republic and Mali, the UN authorised the rapid deployment of AU peace support missions, interventions that were later re-hatted as UN operations. Ten of the UN’s 17 current peace missions are in Africa.
The AU sees the way forward as a formalised partnership with the UN under the mandate of Chapter VIII of the UN charter, which authorises collaboration with regional organisations.
“Such a partnership should be based on the principles of burden-sharing, comparative advantage and division of labour, to better address the complexities of today’s conflicts,” an AU discussion note said.
Last year, a High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, established by the UN secretary-general to review peace operations, recommended that the UN should support AU-led missions on a case-by-case basis. That qualification falls short of “African expectations of more open-ended commitments in terms of institutional cooperation and financing”, noted a report by the European Centre for Development Policy management.
In the past year, there has been a series of reviews, framework documents, and common position papers exploring the steps to greater convergence. But there are still institutional and political challenges that could make working together difficult for both organisations – the ECDP paper noted financial and budgetary control mechanisms and compliance with UN peacekeeping principles.
The AU has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to combatting sexual violence and protecting human rights in its deployments – key concerns of some UN member states. The (underfunded) pillars of its security architecture also uphold the importance of pursuing conflict prevention and early warning – the mediation and political avenues – before getting to boots on the ground.
It’s not clear where the Western, permanent UN Security Council members – the US, France, and the UK – sit in terms of using UN-assessed contributions to finance AU peace operations. “I would say it’s too soon to attribute definitive positions to any of the key players at this moment in time,” said Williams.
But in a presentation earlier this year on regional approaches to security, he argued: “If Africa cannot find sustainable, predictable, flexible funding, then it raises questions of credibility, local ownership and sustainability.”
Without it, he added: “African states and organisations will never fully be in control; never own the agenda”.
A Trip to Nairobi Inspired This One-of-a-Kind Company
June 24, 2016 | 0 Comments
I majored in biology in college and thought I’d become a doctor. But I also wanted to travel. So as a way to do both, I spent years with international humanitarian organizations. The work was satisfying, but the social life was challenging: My colleagues would go back to their hotel at night — in part because they were almost all older than me, but also because they were fearful of the potentially unsafe, unfamiliar cities we were in. I didn’t want to be this far from home and not experience a place fully, so I often went out. And I discovered amazing things.
From a rooftop party at an advertising agency to road-tripping across the country for a DJ set, I was exposed to a side of Africa I’d never seen before. These were cosmopolitan movers and shakers, but distinctly African. In 2011, I met up with a photographer in Johannesburg; through her lens, I met entertainers, artists and other influencers. A year later, I connected with a sorority sister in Nairobi, Kenya, who was working on MTV’s African youth culture series Shuga. The show’s producer, fashion designer and filmmaker took me out to restaurants and nightclubs, and I had the time of my life.
That’s when the lightbulb went off. People weren’t exposed to this Africa, and I wanted to connect visitors to it — not just by talking about these amazing things, but by directing people to them.
I spent the next year or so developing Tastemakers Africa, a company to book epic experiences, with epic people, in every African city. In February 2014, I went to Lagos for Social Media Week to show off my early-stage mockup. My session was packed, which confirmed that I was really onto something. I was working for another NGO at the time but quit and joined MediKidz, a VC-backed healthcare startup, to learn more about building a company. The cofounder, Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair, was a sales genius. She was super-transparent with me about her funding process, and I saw a lot of her documents and pitch decks, and heard about the screwups. But the biggest thing I learned from Kim was to work harder than hard. Things need to get done in the NGO world, but there isn’t a sense of urgency; Kim always had a sense of urgency.
By that summer, I had fleshed out a prototype. As a proof of concept, we promoted a “Tastemakers Tour of Ghana” on my Facebook page, and it sold out in weeks. I still wasn’t ready to make it my full-time job, but then MediKidz was bought and I was laid off — so I slammed the gas on the startup. My boyfriend and I closed out our 401(k)s, and I entered an accelerator that gave us $20,000 and then raised another $100,000 from angel investors. I also won first place in a Lagos competition called She Leads Africa, which got me $10,000 and a mentoring network.
We launched our website in December 2014 and ended 2015 with more than $200,000 in experience and concierge bookings. Our app, Tstmkrs, launched in beta in December of last year, and we did $100,000 in Q1 bookings for 2016. We’re still figuring out who and where our audience is and what they’re willing to pay, but we’re learning and growing fast. In five years, we expect to be in at least 40 countries on the continent. We will be the brand, and our connections, support and infrastructure will make us important to many others who come here as well. We’ve already built partnerships with Uber, South African Airways and Radisson Blu (that one’s for a pan-African travel contest in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa), and have gotten interest in an acquisition from a large hospitality company. But no matter what happens, I know we’ll have played a huge role in not just how people think about traveling in Africa, but what people think of Africa itself.
PEACEKEEPING IN MALI: THE U.N.’S MOST DANGEROUS MISSION
June 15, 2016 | 0 Comments
Commander of the United Nations’ most dangerous peacekeeping mission is not a title that Major General Michael Lollesgaard relishes.
The Danish commander heads up the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Mali—known as MINUSMA—which is seeking to stabilize the vast Sahelian country amid ongoing threats from militant groups, including Al-Qaeda’s North African wing. In the process of doing so, the mission has suffered 101 casualties since it was established in 2013, 68 of which were due to “malicious acts”—i.e. attacks from militants or opposition groups—making it the deadliest deployment for blue helmets in recent years.
The mission has again come under siege in recent weeks after a series of attacks perpetrated by militants of a variety of stripes. Five Togolese peacekeepers were killed in May in Mopti, central Mali, after their vehicle came under fire and then hit a landmine. The attack was not claimed by any group, though a Malian militant group known as the Macina Liberation Front is believed to operate in the region. Days later, a base used by Chinese peacekeepers was besieged by mortar or rocket fire, resulting in the death of one U.N. soldier (three other non-U.N. personnel were also killed in a separate attack in Gao.) The attacks were claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM), which said that a branch of its group known as Al-Mourabitoun led by veteran Algerian jihadi Mokhtar Belmokhtar was behind the incident.
“I’m very sad about that fact,” says Lollesgaard from Bamako, referring to the MINUSMA casualty count. “It’s my responsibility, it’s my task to set up the troops in the best possible way, to make sure that the soldiers are as safe as possible.”
The recent attacks have led U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to recommend that an extra 2,500 uniformed personnel be added to the ranks of MINUSMA, which currently has around 12,000 peacekeepers in the field. Lollesgaard says that the extra troops are required to upgrade the mission’s capacities in key areas—including countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are increasingly used by militants in northern Mali—but that more boots on the ground will not provide a panacea to Mali’s problems.
“The only way to improve the situation here in the long term is to get the political process running,” says Lollesgaard. “You can add 5,000, you can add 10,000 [peacekeepers], but if we’re not getting progress in the implementation of the peace agreement, it will never be enough.”
The agreement referred to by Lollesgaard is a momentous peace deal signed by the Malian government and an alliance of rebels from the Tuareg ethnic group, who inhabit Mali’s vast and arid northern deserts, in June 2015. The deal was hammered out in light of the latest rebellion to seize northern Mali, a restive region that has seen four major uprisings since independence from France in 1960.
The most recent Tuareg rebellion occurred in 2012, when an organization called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) began campaigning violently for greater autonomy for the ethnic group in northern Mali.
In March 2012, Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré was overthrown in the capital Bamako by mutinying soldiers dissatisfied with his handling of the Tuareg rebellion. In the midst of the chaos, the MNLA seized control of northern Mali’s three major cities—Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu—initially with the backing of Islamist militant groups including Ansar Dine. Once they had seized control and declared Azawad’s independence, however, the MNLA was overthrown by Ansar Dine and an AQIM splinter group, leaving the extremist militants in control of northern Mali from July 2012 until the start of 2013. At this point, and following a plea for foreign intervention by the Malian government, the French military launched a counter-operation—known as Operation Serval—to overthrow the militants, backed by African Union forces. The overthrow of the militants was swift, with most of northern Mali being returned to government control by February 2013. France still deploys more than 3,000 troops across five countries in the Sahel—a vast belt across Africa, separating the Saharan Desert from the savannas of central Africa—including in Mali, as part of Operation Barkhane, the successor mission to Operation Serval.
MINUSMA was established in the wake of this complex recent history in April 2013 with the mandate of overseeing a ceasefire, supporting peace and reconciliation and, significantly, protecting civilians. This last clause means that, according to Lollesgaard, peacekeepers are permitted to conduct “pre-emptive strikes” if they find militants whom they deem to be an immediate threat to the mission or civilians. But there is little support from Malian security forces in the north of the country, according to Marie Rodet, Mali expert and senior lecturer in the history of Africa at SOAS, University of London. “The state institutions haven’t been redeployed in northern Mali. The only security forces you have are [MINUSMA] and the French mission Barkhane,” says Rodet.
The U.N. mission draws its military personnel from some 48 countries—from near neighbors Niger and Burkina Faso to distant countries such as Bangladesh—and the varying levels of training that each troop-contributing country provides serves to complicate matters, according to Lollesgaard. He highlights a lack of counter-IED training as particularly significant—Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants regularly use landmines and roadside bombs to attack, such as when five Chadian peacekeepers were killed in Kidal, northeastern Mali, in May. “This [IED use] is a threat that is growing and growing and we need to adapt here, and it takes a lot of training. We would prefer that most of that training was done in the country before they arrive, but currently that’s not the case,” says Lollesgaard.
As well as within northern Mali, Al-Qaeda has been stepping up its attacks across West Africa. AQIM or its affiliates have claimed responsibility for at least three major attacks in the past eight months. One of these took place in the Malian capital Bamako, when gunmen raided the Radisson Blu hotel, killing some 20 people. The others occurred in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, where militants took control of a hotel and fired on a nearby cafe, killing 30 people; and in the coastal town of Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast, where 19 people were killed in an attack on a beach resort. The U.N. commander says he is concerned by the ability of militant groups to seep across the region’s borders, which he describes as “close to non-existent.” “They can operate within a number of countries without being attacked or influenced in any way. This is, of course, an issue,” says Lollesgaard.
As Lollesgaard indicates, the state of affairs in northern Mali has not progressed much since the peace deal was signed in June 2015. Both sides have criticized each other for stalling on the terms—which include the disarmament of militias and the integration of Tuareg groups into joint military patrols in the region—and, despite the U.N.’s pleading, not a huge amount seems to have changed on the ground. “The implementation of the agreement is at a very low point at the moment,” says Rodet.
Despite the manifold challenges facing MINUSMA and northern Mali as a whole, Lollesgaard is optimistic. He says that, should the political process pick up pace, he could envisage MINUSMA winding down within the next three to four years. Lollesgaard says the fact that Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop spoke of an exit strategy for MINUSMA when addressing the U.N. in January was a good sign—“it’s always good to have an exit strategy.”
The force commander himself could be out of Mali by then—unit commanders usually rotate on a two-year cycle, and Lollesgaard is already 15 months into his term—but Lollesgaard says that, despite the high casualty count, there is no other mission he’d rather be working on. “It’s very challenging but I hope that people feel that we’re trying the best we can,” he says. “If somebody feels they can do it better or if the U.N. feels they can find someone to do it better then I’m happy to go home, but I’m not going to ask to do that.”
Africa Is Now Host To Historic Number Of Refugees
June 8, 2016 | 0 Comments
The continent is housing more than a quarter of the world’s displaced people.
By Eleanor Goldberg*
Images of Syrians losing their lives while taking desperate measures to escape have effectively awakened the world to the refugee crisis.
But the Syrian civil war is just one of a number of conflicts that’s contributing to the highest rates of displaced people on record.
In Africa, more than 18 million people have been forcibly displaced. That’s more than a quarter of the total worldwide and the most the continent has seen in its history, according to the World Bank.
In Africa alone, eight conflicts have erupted or have been reignited since 2010 in such countries as Libya, Mali and South Sudan. As a result, there was a 17 percent spike in displaced people in Sub-Saharan Africa from 2014 to last year, according to UNHCR.
To help prevent future conflicts and foster development in fractured regions, the World Bank and six other multilateral development banks committed to bringing funds and programs to affected regions in Africa.
The World Bank announced the initiative at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul last month. It approved “credits” totaling nearly $250 million this fiscal yearto provide support for refugees, internally displaced people, returnees and their host communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Great Lakes Region, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Uganda in the Horn of Africa and Zambia.
Together with the six other banks involved, the World Bank is going to work to collect improved data on the issue, devise innovative financing mechanisms and work on country-level engagements.
In Zambia, for example, the project is working to fully integrate former refugees by granting residency and access to lands rights.
In the Horn of Africa, they’ll work to develop “social cohesion” between host communities and the displaced populations by providing opportunities to make joint decisions on development priorities.
The World Bank has also called for an alternative to refugee camps, saying they “aren’t the answer in the long term.”
That statement comes at a time when experts remain divided over the closing of all refugee camps in Kenya.
The country made the announcement last month, a decision which would displace 600,000 people, CNN reported.
The government said the decision was motivated by the “very heavy” economic, security and environmental burdens of the camps.
A number of humanitarian aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, came out against the decision.
“We see these different examples of people being pushed back into crises,” Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, told HuffPost in May of the decision to close the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. “For us, that’s really tearing at the fabric of the most basic protections that international law, and the conventions, that most states have joined are responsible to uphold.”
Daadab has been home to about 350,000 Somali refugees.
Cone was speaking to HuffPost about the organization’s decision to pull out of the World Humanitarian Summit due to concerns that the event wouldn’t effectively address pressing human rights issues.
Still, the World Bank remains hopeful about the disposition of people residing in refugee camps and of their prospects for the future.
“Despite the hardships, many long-term camps are buzzing with activity,” Vara Vemuru, World Bank senior social development specialist, said in a statement, “a place where people are concerned about today, yet hopeful about tomorrow.”
African Development Bank says continent far from debt crisis
May 31, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Matthew Hill*
Africa is a long way from facing a debt crisis even as commercial lending to the continent soars and Mozambique became the first regional country to miss a payment on a dollar loan this year, according to a senior official at the African Development Bank.
Debt levels across the continent’s 54 countries average 17 percent to 18 percent of GDP, which is low, Abebe Shimeles, acting director in the AfDB’s development research department, said Thursday in an interview at the lender’s annual meetings in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.
“In terms of the continent we are not even close, forget about crisis, we are not even close to a debt burden, especially the external debt,” said Shimeles. “It’s not systemic now. It’s not that all African countries are exposed to a debt crisis. The bad news is sometimes heard faster than the good news.”
Countries on the continent raised $26 billion in Eurobonds from 2006 to 2014 and a further $12 billion last year, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said on May 24 when he officially opened the meetings, warning a debt crisis must be avoided. While foreign-currency debt has soared, currencies on the continent have weakened, making repayments more costly as economic growth slows.
“Some countries have also experienced a spike in their debt levels that may be worrying in particular cases, unless they take measures to contain it,” Shimeles said. “The AfDB and other multilaterals can learn from previous mistakes and really step in with a solution to manage the debt, restructure it and also undertake some necessary reforms before we reach a level of crisis.”
Dollar debt sold by sub-Saharan African nations have returned 6.3 percent this year, compared with the 7.1 percent average return for emerging markets. Average yields have climbed to 7.63 percent, compared with 5.8 percent a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The bank would consider assisting countries that ask for it, and could work with other lenders including the International Monetary Fund, he said. Nigeria is already in talks with the AfDB for a $1 billion facility.
Growth on the continent will probably exceed the 4.5 percent the AfDB forecast for 2017 in a report published this week, Shimeles said. Domestic demand in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Sudan will lead to “much higher” economic expansion, he said.
“I believe that Nigeria has now taken the right steps in terms of the macro-economy,” he said.
Africa’s biggest economy this month cut fuel subsidies and signaled a more flexible exchange rate policy for the naira, which has been pegged to the dollar for 15 months.
“We are optimistic,” said Shimeles. “Still, this doesn’t mean we deny the headwinds. They are strong but I think the economies are resilient.”
New Book Highlights “The Most Influential Contemporary African Diaspora Leaders”
May 25, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Dr. Roland Holou*
Many books have been written about people of African descent, but so far no single volume has highlighted the lives, visions, achievements, policies, and strategies of exceptional contemporary African Diaspora leaders across the globe. To fill the gap, an International Selection Committee composed of some of the top African diaspora Leaders in the Caribbean, Europe, North America, South America, and West Africa was created to nominate and vet recipients of “The Most Influential Contemporary African Diaspora Leaders Honor.” For the first edition of this book, 30 leaders were featured in detail and out of the 50 chapters of this 336 page book, one was devoted to each. Others chapters were devoted to one hundred other nominees whose contribution warranted their inclusion in this book.
The stories of these Leaders showcase the diversity, complexity, and richness of the ongoing global African Diaspora engagement efforts. Their experiences of struggle, failure, growth and success will motivate current and future generations of people of African descent to take initiative, provide guidance to those interested in Africa’s development, and promote interest in the growing field of diaspora engagement. The featured leaders are known for their long-lasting achievements. Their bold actions contributed to important historical movements that significantly shaped and transformed the lives and history of people of African descent and removed major roadblocks preventing the prosperity of Africa and its Diaspora. They have brought about enormous and rare progress that would have been impossible without their leadership, including economic and political development of Africa and its Diaspora. To get your copy of the book, please visit www.AfricanDiasporaLeaders.com/order
Some of the initiatives featured in the book include the African Union African Diaspora Sixth Region Initiative, Healthcare Reform in Africa, Pan-Africanism, Global Anti-Racism Initiatives, International Decade for People of African Descent, Implementation of the UN Durban Declaration and Programme of Action; the Commission on Reparations, the Hebrew Israelites, the Initiatives of the Central American Black Organization; the World Diaspora Fund For Development; the Projects of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century; the Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe, the Pan-African Holiday Kwanzaa; the Educational Initiatives of Steve Biko Cultural Institute in Brazil, the Initiatives of DiasporaEngager concerning the Map of the Diaspora and their Stakeholders, the Diaspora Directory and the Global Diaspora Social Media Platform; the Initiatives of the African Diaspora in Australia and Asia Pacific; the AU Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus Organization in the USA; the “Taubira Law” Voted by the French Republic to Recognize that the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean are a Crime Against Humanity; The Global Movement for Reparatory Justice; the Ratification of the Article 3q of the AU Constitutive Act which “invites and encourages the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of Africa; the Economic Development for Black Empowerment in America and Europe; the African Diaspora Contribution to Democracy and Development in Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America; the Initiatives of the Brazilian Association of Black Researchers; the Oprah Effect; the Promotion of the Black Population in Brazil; the Palmares Cultural Foundation in Brazil; the Celebrations of Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil; the Caribbean Community [CARICOM] Commission on Reparation and Social Justice; the Initiatives of famous Prophet Shepherd Bushiri (Major1, the World’s Sharpest Major Prophet), and many initiatives in the USA, etc.
Some of the struggles still faced by the African Diaspora and discussed in the book relate to: Afrophobia, civil rights, denial of justice and devaluation of Black lives, education with curricula full of “lies” regarding history and history of scientific discoveries, healthcare problems, high rates of unemployment and imprisonment, housing problems, institutional racism and slavery, lack of access to good education and justice, media which persistently diffuse open racist stereotypes, multiple forms of discrimination, police violence, political and economic marginalization and stigmatization, poverty, racial discrimination, vulnerability to violence, xenophobia and related intolerance and discrimination. The book also addressed some of the strategical mistakes and divisions among the Continental African Diaspora and the Historical African Diaspora.
If you are interested in learning the secrets, agendas, strategies and potential of these modern leaders, then this is the book for you. Since influence can at times have negative effects, this book also addresses the destructive actions of certain leaders that are pulling down both Africa and its people. To learn more about the recipients, please visit www.AfricanDiasporaLeaders.com/recipient. Join the International Diaspora Engagement Social Media Platform today by creating a free account .
About the Author
Dr. Roland Holou is a scientist, businessman, and an international consultant in Agriculture/Agribusiness, Biotechnology, Diaspora Engagement, and Africa Development. He is the Founder and CEO of DiasporaEngager, www.DiasporaEngager.com and the architect of the map of Diaspora and their stakeholders . To learn more about him and contact him www.RolandHolou.com.
The Africa We Want -The Leadership We Want! Where are the eagles?
May 25, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Yohannes Mezgebe*
We should not allow the chickens to lead the eagles even if the chickens convince themselves that they’re actually eagles!
From 10 – 18 July 2016, African leaders will be meeting in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda for the 27thOrdinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU). A key highlight of the forthcoming summit will be the election of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC). The winner, he or she, will lead the continental body for the next four years, renewable once.
The AU was founded, as a premier continental institution for the promotion of accelerated socio-economic and political integration of the continent; not just as the level of countries or governments, but also by forging greater bonds amongst citizens of Africa.
To give expression to the above imperatives, the African Union Commission (AUC) of the AU is tasked to serve as the crucial administrative hub for driving and achieving the numerous mandates; including the implementation of Agenda 2063, a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. The Commission is, in particular, envisaged to be the key organ responsible for the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Union. It represents the Union; the yearnings and aspirations of member states, and also defends the continent’s collective interests. Alongside, it is expected to articulate and give concrete expression to the African common position, determine the strategic vision, plan and future horizons of the Union.
Whatever the AU has become today builds on the pioneering efforts of prominent sons and daughters of the continent; from His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Sellasie to Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, and Seiko Toure, to name a handful. These founding fathers, without an iota of doubts, had a clear vision; they could see far where the continent was heading, almost as if they had the power to look into the future. All of them, without exception, made their mark in the struggle for freedom and liberation. When three years ago, Africans celebrated the 50thAnniversary of the Organization of African Unity/AU, it was a milestone opportunity; both to celebrate but also begin to contemplate how to translate our collective dreams into concrete results to make Africa a better place for the present and future generations. The celebration was the beginning of a new phase in the collective journey, not its end.
Clearly, the AUC has generated considerable amount of momentum around African development and Integration issues. Yet, many of the ‘teething’ challenges the continent faced at inception continue to slow the pace; just as new ones have crept in. Most of today’s problems may be attributed to the slow progress made in the quest for unity and integration. At best, these have remained aspirational despite best of efforts. If 1963 the continent’s leaders were preoccupied with colonial and post-colonial struggles, and the consolidation of independence, nowadays, there are myriad new – no less daunting – realities.
Given the many challenges Africa faces now, the continent needs to have at the helm of the AUC a leaders with proven track records in dealing with Africa’s myriad problems: poverty, resource use, economic development, wealth sharing, peace and security, democracy, human rights, neo-colonialism, environmental protection, climate change and corruption. The list is far from exhaustive. The experience of the new AUC Chair as well as his or her unshakable determination to overcome the challenges – not merely deal with them – would be critical if the continent is to realize the vision of a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa.
Because the AU represents the hope of Africa and its peoples, it must care about the caliber of leaders who aspire to head the Commission. So, in Kigali this July 2016, when convening to elect the incoming Chair and leadership of the Commission, all eyes will be on the Heads of States and Governments to do what is right. They must put aside petty politics and permutations to decide what is best for the AUC and the continent. We stand at a crossroads: if Africa fails to make the right decision in electing the right leader the AUC deserves, the continent risks taking several fatal steps backwards.
Because it does not pay to allow chickens to lead the eagles even if the chickens convince themselves that they’re actually eagles, African citizens must demand a move from mediocrity to excellence. The incoming chairperson must not be determined by which region the candidate comes from but rather by his or her strength of character to lead.
Africa has had its faire share of failures over the years since 1960’s. It still carries old scars and new bruises, but it must look into the future with hope. In 50 years, the architects of Agenda 2063 and those currently tasked with its implementation might no longer be around given the mean life expectancy on the continent. This means, there will not be a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa unless the youth – the very people who will still be around in 50 years – is actively engaged in the process. The message of African youth calls for a different mindset, a different way of thinking, a different way of making decisions and acting. The choice before the Kigali conclave in July will be a tall one.
As they elect the right leader, they will have no better loyal partner than African citizens. They must deliver by all means; posterity will remember and not forgive them doing otherwise. As Frantz Fanon puts it perceptibly decades ago: “Each generation discovers its mission. It either achieves it or it betrays it”.
*Founder, Ubuntu Leadership Institute
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia