Thursday, 22 August 2013

HUMANITARIANS

In today’s development world, the word “humanitarian” is bandied around so much that one can be forgiven for thinking that it equates with military intervention that at best complicates or worsens already tenuous conditions OR at worst self-serving interference under the guise of protecting the innocent.

19th August has been set aside as World Humanitarian Day and I figured this is as good time as any to focus on the true meaning of the word. I could easily use this piece to wax lyrical about diverse NGOs both international and local as well as multilateral and bilateral institutions providing direct aid to the needy but I won’t.

I am convinced that the “foot soldiers” in these organisations; the unsung heroes who sacrifice their lives daily to ensure that the needy are looked after – whether by getting food to remote and dangerous regions or tending to bullet-wounds with their bullet-proof vests on – they are the humanitarians. They hardly appear on the cover of glossy magazines or the two-minute TV segments but they are the ones who are making a difference between life and death for millions across the globe.

The definition I’ll finish today’s post with is by one of these people who works for the World Food Programme. Don’t get me wrong, there are probably other more scholarly definitions of the word but this definition is one I think we can all relate to and should all try to aspire to in our daily lives. Regardless of our race or gender, if we can each try to play our part, the world will be a better place indeed.

“A humanitarian is one who possesses a spirit of empathy for needy people regardless of their race, colour or religion. He or she is willing to give up his or her own welfare for the sake of others.” Khin Moe Aye

Are you a humanitarian or are you aspiring to become one?

Until the next time…………

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The never-ending spectre of conflict and violence in Africa

Hello everyone. In whichever part of the world you’re living in, I want to say thanks for reading this blog and I do hope that you will pass this blog link to others who might be interested. I wish you a fruitful and fulfilling 2013. The subject matter isn’t a nice one to be starting the year with but we just can’t become de-sensitized to violence and conflict in the continent.

2012 ended with news of the rapidly-deteriorating civilian conditions in the Rwanda-orchestrated violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Let’s not forget the ignominy of the deaths of the 34 miners in South Africa and the violence that is smouldering like a slowly-awaking volcano in that country. Of course the roll call of violence won’t be complete without mentioning the terror unleashed in Northern Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram claiming hundreds of innocent lives.

Within the last few weeks, France and the UK have taken upon themselves yet another “so called mission of stability and solidarity” in Mali (at least that’s what my definition of modern day humanitarian intervention is). Of course, the African troops are welcome to come along on what promises to be another setting for brutality, violence and bloodshed that will mostly claim the lives of the innocent. I can’t claim to be na├»ve; such is the nature of conflict and violence – it is brutal, messy and there are rarely true winners. What is incredibly sad about the Mali conflict is the senseless way in which a band of “uncivilized brutes” (they can’t claim to be any better) have systematically destroyed important and priceless artefacts; decimating irrecoverable parts of their history and civilisation. Watching some clips of the destruction of some of the structures in Mali last year; I wondered what or who was driving these brutish acts. It was like watching a disaster movie, only this was all too real - innocent people were and are still caught up in fear, hopelessness and despair in its wake.

Over and over again, we see across the continent the ways internal violence destroy and threaten to desecrate all that is beautiful and powerful in these nations. Why is Africa fighting itself? The widespread violence can no longer be explained by the widely-documented “natural-resources curse” or the legacy of colonial meddling with geographical boundaries and other stuff. Needless to say that this latest Western intervention can only at best bring a temporary cessation of violence or at worst become an abysmal failure on a scale worse than Somalia’s.
As a continent, who and what are the troubled parts of the continent fighting? What drives and continues to feed this thirst for bloodshed bearing in mind that all it does is push ailing communities into a comatose state? A land that is divided against itself cannot stand. Why is it so difficult for sub-Saharan Africa to figure out for itself what it takes to be a peaceful and progressive society for all its citizens not just a select minority? Why have places like Mali become breeding grounds for terrorists and extremist groups?

These are questions that sub-Saharan Africa has to find answers to as a matter of urgency. There has to be an acceptance on the part of the Western donor community that none of the historical data or theories can sufficiently answer these questions let alone surmise feasible solutions. It will be foolhardy of me to even think I have any concrete responses at this time. However, I don’t think this should stop the search for answers. There are elders who have been a force for good on the continent. People like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are living examples of wisdom that we should take heed to before it’s too late (these guys aren’t getting any younger). One of the lessons from African traditions is about seeking the counsel of wise elders in solving family and community problems. It is high time SSA goes back to basics, draw on its hidden strengths and vanquish a relentless enemy that will destroy its landscape permanently if unchecked taking with it the beauty and soul of the sub-continent. Not forgetting innocent lives already lost and still been lost daily.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Does sub-Saharan Africa require a different kind of democracy?

This blog post isn’t intended to rile anyone I promise; rather it is to force ourselves to ask some uncomfortable questions of the region and recurring issues of governance that refuse to go away.
The death of Meles Zenawi erstwhile President of Ethiopia on 20th August 2012 compels me to ask the above question. To wonder whether the Western definition of democracy can be strictly applied to SSA isn’t meant to belittle the African people after all concepts of liberty and human rights are applicable to all human beings regardless of their race, creed, geographical location or any other qualifier.

Zenawi will go down in history as a leader who whilst able to attract foreign investment and turn around his country’s fortunes also did everything to crush dissent in flagrant disregard for the human rights of his people. When he assumed power, he was seen as a beacon of hope for a nation that had hitherto been dogged by famine and unrest. So how did this man perceived as “an example of African renaissance – part of a new generation of African leaders” end up becoming one who condoned the killing of civilians and multiple arrests during the 2005 elections in a bid to suppress protests about vote-rigging allegations. He squashed any form of dissent as a threat to his authoritarian system of government by any means necessary from arbitrary legislation (under the guise of protecting national security) to multiple arrests. However, because he delivered some positive results that the West felt they could work with – at the forefront of the battle against regional terrorism; they could turn a blind eye to the cruel and brutal side of a dictator who wanted to keep his “system” intact at all costs.

As we see this pattern repeated across the continent over and over again – Rwanda’s Kigame another prime example; one cannot but ask the question: is the Western definition of democracy – free and fair elections, transfer of power at appropriate intervals, transparency and accountability – truly applicable in Africa? It is truly difficult to tell. Just because something isn’t working doesn’t necessarily mean one has to ditch the quest for the ideal and its undergirding principles. However, this should also force a re-think of governance orthodoxy in the continent.

What a lot of people fail to factor into the equation is this: with its diverse ethnic and tribal factions within each country – these often fraught with simmering tensions and hostilities - some of which go back decades if not centuries – it is often difficult to find credible means of unification that doesn’t involve iron-fists. But the issue then is this: where does the government draw the line between restoring stability and flagrant abuse of human rights? Needs must; respect for human rights and dignity of ordinary people as well as upholding the rule of law is a necessity for every human being. In the African context though, I’m not totally convinced that democracy as we define it has all the answers. Something isn’t working as it should, a re-think is necessary. I for one will never advocate dictatorship, repression or violence – they are counter-productive; in fact these often end up fuelling resentments that lead to the conflict that keeps dogging pockets of the region.
In order to move forward, sometimes it can be useful to trace the path that led to a particular point.

Whilst the customary law and traditional ways in African communities have a lot that is discriminatory or abusive, maybe the hierarchy or model represented can be applied in a way that protects the rights of citizens. There might also be a need to re-assess the impact of reconfigured geographical boundaries imposed during colonisation. No-one is asking for the maps of countries to be re-drawn yet again. However, a better understanding for example of why certain tribes or ethnic groups have been or were embroiled in conflict and what the true cost has been might be step towards working towards reconciliation within communities. One thing is clear, for as long as the ethnic tensions remain, SSA will be dogged by the curse of conflict and the band-aid of “democracy” won’t make that much of a difference. I’ve got to admit that it is a conundrum but the search for better alternatives can’t stop. African children deserve to be left a better legacy than the one they have right now – no-one can dispute that.
Until the next time…………….

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Beyond entrepreneurship: role of mobile phone technology in mobilising civil society in Africa


That mobile phone technology is sweeping Africa by storm is just a fact. Africa is said to be the fastest-growing mobile market in the world growing at the rate of 20% per year over the last 5 years. The number of subscribers is expected to be in excess of 735 million (more than half the population) by the end of 2012. Beyond creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and enabling communication across the continent, mobile phone technology has been put to further use in ways that are as innovative and creative as the people of the continent. In countries like Kenya, mobile banking has opened up people’s access to money; been able to receive money by text – a valuable resource for those who can’t afford to open bank accounts.

In a continent where there has always been a tendency to look at the development glass as half empty rather than half full, it is reassuring that in spite of multiple constraints, people are being empowered to do more with what is readily available.

One area without a doubt that requires continuous improvement is that of birth registration. According to UNICEF, there are approximately 66 million unregistered children in sub-Saharan Africa. With these vast numbers of children unaccounted for, it makes planning for children difficult; whilst also making tackling issues like child labour a herculean task. It is no wonder that the region is one in which children in hazardous labour are on the rise as opposed to the decline in other areas.
I was therefore excited when I found out about an initiative that has been piloted in a rural part of Senegal – birth registration using mobile phones. In the Kolda region of Southern Senegal, only there had previously been a high drop-out rate from schools as children’s births were rarely registered and they were therefore unable to write exams as a result. Swiss NGO Aide et Action introduced the system in September 2011 whereby parents unable to afford the cost of travelling to a registration centre can give the information to the village chief who in turn sends the government registrar a text message at one-sixths of the normal cost of registration. Security of information is ensured using a coding system. In 3 moths, 20 births have been registered and there are now plans to roll out the initiative in 500 villages across Southern and Eastern Senegal. The link to the full article is below:
http://allafrica.com/stories/201208100527.html

What the above example shows is that it doesn’t have to cost huge sums of money and cumbersome bureaucratic systems to address some pertinent issues in SSA. With the success of this scheme in Senegal, there is no reason why it can’t be rolled out across rural SSA. The cautionary tale (there’s got to be one lest we get too carried away) though is that there has to be political will to put a stop to schemes that might undermine the initiative’s success.

For example in a country like Nigeria, a court-issued document referred to as: “statutory declaration of age” makes a mockery of the whole birth registration process. Anyone can go to a court house, lie under oath to obtain fictional birth registration details. In this instance, it will be necessary for the said declarations to be banned by law making it mandatory for children born after the passing of the law to be registered. If it is made clear that children can’t be registered for school exams without a proper registration of birth, this will serve as an incentive for parents to get used to the idea and of course the text service registration if it gets that far will make it lots easier for rural communities.


Some might think that my suggestion is discriminatory but in actual fact it isn’t. In many parts of SSA where rules have been routinely broken for decades, without this kind of ‘stick and carrot’ mechanism, a lot of things won’t change in SSA. If people know that the key to their children’s futures lie in the registration of birth at no initial cost to them, take-up for the initiative will rise. Governments have to see this as a priority and ensure that databases are maintained accurately and efficiently.
I would love to get people’s comments on this – at least there is a better alternative – let’s be very grateful for mobile phones.
Until the next time…………

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Do the children of the poor matter? Challenging the status quo of child labour in Africa

Over the coming months, the different facets/dilemmas surrounding child labour especially the hazardous type will be a frequent feature. One of the initial drivers of child labour as evidenced by research is absolute poverty. Parents won’t subject their children to hazardous, hostile or even degrading conditions under which they work. On the continent, there is the prevailing view that there is a demand for child labourers and that the work is the only way for the families to get out of the cycle of deprivation and poverty. This argument is a double-edged sword.
In her Economic Impact of Child Labour Report, Rosanna Galli states and I quote: “In the short-run, child labour increases households’ income and probability of survival. The evidence on children’s contribution to household income is relatively large pointing roughly at 20% of family income. In the long-run however, child labour perpetuates household poverty through lower human capital accumulation.”

Children who work full-time and don’t get the opportunity to go to school don’t get the necessary skills that are required to improve their job prospects and so the poverty is carried on from one generation to the next.

Your views on that aside though, the real question is: do the children of the poor really matter? Do they possess the same rights as the children of the well-off? To ask that question of a Western audience would evoke outrage and indignation as they hold view that every child matters regardless of their socio-economic status and therefore their human rights are inalienable. However in SSA, the concept isn’t a shocking one. In fact the average African will tell you that in reality the poor don’t really matter to the government – nothing they do show that that they truly care about the welfare of poor children. For the children trapped in child labour themselves, the issue of rights and dignity that is their due as human beings is a moot point – after all from cradle to grave they don’t see anything different amongst those of their socio-economic status.

Before child labour can be properly addressed in SSA, there has to be a recognition that the current estimates just won’t do. There are so many children whose births and deaths are not registered. The fact that there aren’t reliable statistics of this drives the point home. That there are children who the State doesn’t even know about the existence of means that it isn’t inconceivable that no provisions are made for them. These children though are not anonymous entities; they are some people’s children, the future of their families. In this regard, very simple solutions that won’t cost a lot of money can actually upscale birth registration. Whilst there are schemes being put in place to improve access to birthing facilities or train midwives, the training can incorporate the registration of birth at the time of delivery and this can be fed into existing records. In a lot of African communities where children names are not given straight away, follow-up checks by health practitioners within a fortnight of a baby’s birth will ensure that no child falls through the cracks and ‘disappears’. In local health centres or at people’s homes as well, local health practitioners can also ensure that death records are made by stressing the point that every child matters. Getting this point across to the poor not just in words but by small acts of humanity and kindness supported by governments will go a long way.
The African society needs a re-orientation of mindset that is beyond legislation and recommendations that are frankly of no use on the ground. With a broken down judiciary, it is obvious that the law in itself cannot be relied upon to ensure the protection of every child regardless of their economic background.

In a future post, one of the questions that will be answered will be: why should this be of any interest to anyone outside the affected groups?
Until the next time…………….

Monday, 16 July 2012

African Union: a force to be reckoned with or a microcosm of inefficiency and bad governance?

I don’t know how many people are excited or filled with such renewed hope about the just concluded 19th African Union Summit currently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The theme for this year is: “Boosting Inter-African Trade”. There is no doubt that trade will be an invaluable part of any poverty-reduction strategy. However, this can only bode well for the continent if essential elements like good governance, stability and respect for human rights are present.

This is an incredibly difficult post to write not least because I for one question of what lasting value the AU or its predecessor OAU (Organisation of African Unity) founded in 1963 has been. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate throwing out the baby with the bath water – the CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme) has been one of the few initiatives of the AU that has had measured success. (See post on sustainable development 23rd August 2011.)

How can this group of leaders prove that they are more than rabble-rousers when there is so much that is out of whack in the continent? In this post I will just focus on the hunger crisis that is currently sweeping 8 countries in the Sahel region namely: Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, The Gambia and Senegal. The reason for this focus is simple: why does a hunger crisis appear to be a yearly event in some part of Africa or the other? Surely, it couldn’t be that people aren’t hard-working enough or there aren’t enough natural resources? When I think of what it must do to those people’s dignity and humanity to be at the beholden to well-meaning strangers over and over again whilst their leaders live in luxury oblivious to all these – my heart breaks for them. Let’s face we can all criticize the international development machine but then if the governance in these African states haven’t gone so badly wrong; dependence on aid to survive won’t be the reality for millions. But then I do know that bleeding hearts or good intentions don’t solve any problem at all.

Yes, boosting intra-African trade will be one of the keys that will unlock Africa’s potential- however; there are bigger problems to solve before that can even get off the ground. Hunger and instability are two enemies that African leaders have to be willing to confront and deal with. Ignoring the issues or the use of force to quash any dissent won’t hack it anymore. As the reach of technology and social media make further inroads into the most remote parts of the continent, more and more would refuse to embrace the status quo. People can only pushed so far, when they hit the wall and are out of options, they’ll just turn round and fight. The sad reality is that due to the dearth of solid leadership, the mode of fighting back is often destructive – Northern Nigeria and Mali are cases in point.

The political elite in Africa had better take note: Africans aren’t ignorant people whose emotions and prejudice can be eternally stirred to support dictatorships masquerading as democracies. Failure to wake up and smell the coffee can only mean bad news and more chaos; surely the continent can do without that.

Until the next time….

Monday, 9 July 2012

The continued saga of the scramble for Africa

A while ago I wrote about what can only be termed a “skewed marriage of convenience” between China and Africa. Until now, I have refrained from writing about land grab and the politics of greed and opportunism – a favourite pastime of Africa’s political elite and Western investors. It is easier and of course more headline-worthy to talk about the big bad Eastern wolf that is taking over businesses and controlling purse strings the world over.
There is no doubt that the Chinese are grabbing all they can in Africa with full cooperation of African leaders (I must add) but that isn’t the full story.

Check out an article published in The Guardian on 26th June 2012. Here’s the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jun/26/uk-investors-africa-land-summit?newsfeed=true&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRoiua7PZKXonjHpfsX77O8pXa6g38431UFwdcjKPmjr1YEFSsZ0dvycMRAVFZl5nQhdDOWN

If ever there was a time that the livelihoods of ordinary people in SSA is threatened and being destroyed – it is now. The kind of greed and speculation that brought the global economy to its knees over the last 4 years is now been put to use in SSA this time to grab one of its most treasured resources – land. Apart from the destruction of livelihoods, what about the long-lasting environmental impact of the flagrant abuse of this most precious of resources? The cost of the tickets at the Agriculture Investment Seminar (£3000 each) proves beyond reasonable doubt that this is the business of profiteering at the expense of struggling communities which will lock generations in absolute poverty and deprivation.

We know what the investment bankers did to global economy. Ordinary people in SSA who are just doing their best to eke out an existence are not given credible or sustainable alternatives when they’re forced off their land. A lot of what passes for land reform in the communities affected is tantamount to bullying at best and grand theft at worst. If the glowing promises of developing communities and improving livelihoods were true, then people living in areas covered by the 5% land that has been taken already should be living in prosperity and shouldn’t need any external assistance to survive.
We all know that is not the case – the example given in the article drives home this point. African leaders need a wake-up call like never before. The scars of slavery haven’t totally faded from our consciousness. These speculators and so-called ‘investors’, are a different breed of sharks – out for the blood of the communities at all costs. The decisions made by African leaders today will either condemn or acquit them. One thing is clear: the speculation and greed does not bode well for SSA communities.
Until next time…………….

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The untold story of the heartache of child labourers

In 2002, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) set 12th June aside as a day to highlight the plight of children labourers the world over who are deprived of education, health and basic freedoms, violating their rights.
The theme this year was: “Human rights and social justice: let’s end child labour”. Call me cynical but I’ve always been sceptical about days commemorating issues or people whose rights have been abused in any way. Let’s face it: how many of the children whose lives are being blighted by child labour – whether it’s hazardous or not- realise that the 12th June has been set aside for the past 10 years to discuss their plight.

According to latest figures from the ILO; whilst other regions have seen a decrease in child labour, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has seen an increase. One in four children in the region are child labourers more than half of that in hazardous work that violate their human rights and hamper their mental, physical, emotional and psychological development.

One of the views that I’ll keep harping on about in this post and subsequent ones is that there are real people behind the statistics and “well-intentioned grand plans”. Having read some accounts of some of the true stories behind the sensational headlines; the following is a fictional account based on true events. The story is of a boy called Hamza originally from Niger now working on a cocoa plantation in Ghana. He has been working there roughly for over 3 years alongside his sister Fatima.

I can still remember that morning; my mother woke me and my sister up earlier than she normally did – in fact it was still dark outside. I was frightened but I put on a brave face since I’ve had to be the man of the house since my father died the year before. We had to drop out of school as my mother could barely afford to feed the six of us – most days we only ate once a day and we just had to drink water to fill up our bellies the rest of the time.
With tears streaming down her face, my mother told us that she met 2 men in the village square who promised to give us domestic work in Ghana that we’ll get to go to school and be fed in exchange for our services. She said she couldn’t just sit and watch us starve to death without doing something about it. She told us how much she loved us, hugged us both and said she will have to pray very hard that we won’t come to any harm. A couple of older women in the village told her that in order to do right by us, she needed to think of our future rather than her wish as a mother to keep us with her.

Needless to say – that was the beginning of the nightmare that we have lived for a long time now. I had just completed the first grade when my father died now I can barely write my own name. My sister has never been to school. We have been stuck on this plantation since about a week after we left home. No-one knows for sure how old Hamza is but it is estimated he must have been about 9 years old and his sister about 6 when they arrived at the plantation. This means that he’s about 12 years old but he looks 4 years younger – the signs of malnourishment clearly evident. He has so many cuts all over his body and scars he got from beatings for begging to be returned home to his mother in the early days following his arrival. Now he feels that he will never
see his mother or other siblings ever again. As for his sister, she doesn’t speak anymore – no-one can even begin to comprehend the depth of trauma that has robbed her of speech. As for the promise of education and a better life – that’s just a fantasy – it won’t ever happen says Hamza. I hope I don’t die here but it’s looking like a real possibility; Fatima is like a ghost now, she doesn’t talk to me anymore – she’s just going through the motions. Even if I leave this place, where can I go? I barely speak the local language here and my own language – Hausa - is rusty. I can’t read or write my own name; of what use am I to society apart from working in this place? Hamza concluded. The sorrow on his face palpable and heartrending…

The above story shows that the issue of child labour in Africa is more complex and multi-faceted than what the headlines can convey.
• The despair and desperation that drives a widowed mother to hand over her children to strangers because she can’t see any other way out of starvation.
• The lack of proper registration of births and deaths hence millions of undocumented or what I’ll call a missing generation of children
• The trauma and psychological impact of horrendous abuse that scar children emotionally for a long time or even for life
• Childhood and innocence lost – children robbed with little hope of redress or recompense….

I could go on and on but I won’t. I do hope I’ve given you food for thought and challenged some of the myths or views that you might have had about child labour in SSA. You will be hearing more from me on this issue in the coming months.

Until next time………..

Sunday, 27 May 2012

The niggling issue of maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa





For those of you who are interested in special dates and such like, two days ago it was African Day. Should that be a course for celebration or contemplation or just plain apathy? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
What I do know is that for a lot of pregnant women in the region, a time that they should look forward to with excitement and joy is fraught with anxiety, stress and even fear. When you know that depending on where you live and your socio-economic status; that there is a high probability that you might not carry to term or you might die whilst giving birth or shortly afterwards; you are robbed of the joy of that special time.

Figures released by the UN a few days ago state that more than 56% of the world’s maternal deaths in 2010 occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. The maternal mortality rate in the region is 1 in 39 compared to 1 in 3800 in the developed world and 1 in 290 in Asia. That puts into perspective how much work Africa needs to do to protect and look after its pregnant women. So many of the reasons for this morbid statistic are well-documented: inadequate antenatal and obstetric facilities, harmful traditional practices, poverty with all its attendant problems; the list is seemingly endless.

Beyond every statistic though there is a real woman – someone’s partner, daughter, sister, relative or mother. The extended family have to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives when one of their own dies. I personally know the value of proper antenatal care having been a recipient of it myself. 8 years ago, without the excellent care that I received, I could easily have died from pregnancy complications that I only became aware of after the event.
There has to be a shift in attitudes of people in power about the value they place on human life. The political elite in Sub-Saharan Africa are often so out of touch with the reality faced by the masses but worse still there is a cruel indifference to the tragedies they face. Until they place the proper value on human life realising that these women are more than statistics and they deserve better because they are NOT inferior human beings just because of their gender or socio-economic status; there won’t be sufficient progress made.
African women are resilient, hard-working, a-force-for-good, the glue that hold their communities and valuable; it’s time the political leaders recognise that and tailor programmes to keep them healthy and alive. The region will be a bleaker place if maternal mortality is allowed to continue on this scale.

Until the next time……………..

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Beyond Busan: re-thinking aid in era of economic instability

Happy new year everyone!!!! I do hope that 2012 has got off to a flying start for you all. It has to be said that 2011 was an eventful year to say the least. From the economic struggles in the Eurozone and the impact of that on its trading partners to the Arab Spring and the fragile democracies that are being birthed as a result; the Horn of Africa crisis and the Occupy Movement; some key events in 2011 had a lot of people on the edge of their seats for both economic and political reasons. That this wasn’t just about developing nations who historically are deemed ‘unable to get their act together’; but also about the instability of the markets and the attendant political dramas that unfolded in the developed world was a rare occurrence for all concerned.

As the dust has settled on the High Level Conference in Busan on Aid Effectiveness, it is an opportune time to realise that as the global economic landscape is changing dramatically so also will the way Aid is defined have to change. With most of the powerful nations struggling with crippling budget deficits and the political fallout of biting austerity measures within their own countries, it is inevitable that international development aid budgets will be slashed dramatically too. If ever there was a time for sub-Saharan Africa to pull itself up by the boots straps, this is it. Africa has to sort out its own problems not least because the nations and organisations holding the fat cheque books cannot afford to give as much as they used to and there’s no sugar-coating that fact. It goes without saying that the leadership issues in Africa represent the biggest obstacles to its sustainable development.

Some of the key issues or pertinent problems in 2011 and what they represent give a good indication of the challenges ahead. However, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom though as shown by success stories from World Bank blogs as well as NEPAD initiatives especially the one that is designed to address food insecurity (see a previous blog on sustainable development).

Here are some of those issues from 2011:
• Elections in Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo etc. The high tension, sense of danger and discontent that has often gone hand-in-hand with elections in sub-Saharan Africa has to be dealt with once and for all. Why should losers in elections make life difficult for their countries by holding them hostage to their insatiable quest to hold on to power at all costs? Without political stability, development becomes a moot point.
• The famine in the Horn of Africa – initiatives to tackle food insecurity have to go beyond knee-jerk responses to crisis; the local knowledge and technical know-how to solve these problems are there if only there is genuine political will and commitment to the cause
• The major security issues exacerbated by terrorist groups who appear to be more organised and deadly than the governments who are always playing catch with these agents of destruction. The case of the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria is a major concern not least because of the escalation of violence as a result of inefficient security services and the lack of political will to take a firm stance to deal with issues. The absence of effective leadership is the fertile breeding ground for organisations that are bent on causing damage and chaos that results in the loss of lives and carnage that Nigeria has seen in recent months.
• The birth of Africa’s youngest nation – Republic of South Sudan in July 2011 and the ongoing problems and conflict with Sudan. That state creation hasn’t brought calm to the situation – it is still early days so maybe the issues are teething problems that can be dealt with in due course
• The issue of foreign investors and human rights abuses of workers. Until governments start making the rights of their citizens a priority, the abuse of power by foreign corporations will continue unchecked. This might yet be one of the most devastating for Africa as its natural resources are being plundered for maximum foreign profit in a way that threatens the livelihoods of people struggling to eke out an existence. Governments need to realise that all that glitters is not gold and they should be more cautious about selling off their assets to the highest bidder.

If 2011 was any indication, 2012 will see some dramatic shifts in international development policy. Whether that is a positive or a negative thing remains to be seen.
Until the next time……………