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- CLIMATE CHANGE WILL AFFECT DEVELOPING COUNTRIES MORE THAN RICH ONES
- AFRICA’S ALTERNATIVE PATH TO DEVELOPMENT
- A NEW PAN-AFRICAN FUND WILL GIVE A BOOST TO FRANCOPHONE AFRICA’S FLEDGLING STARTUPS
- MORE PEOPLE THAN EVER NOW HAVE ELECTRICITY IN AFRICA, BUT 600 MILLION ARE STILL IN THE DARK
- U.S. POLITICIANS GET CHINA IN AFRICA ALL WRONG
- UPWARDLY MOBILE AFRICA: BOOM-TOWN SHANTYTOWN
- AN INDIAN NIGHTMARE. IS NEW DEHLI READY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY?
- CHINESE INVESTMENT IS RESHAPING AFRICA’S MANUFACTURING SECTOR
- HUNGRY CATERPILLARS AND HUNGRY PEOPLE: AN ARMY OF WORMS IS INVADING AFRICA
- AFRICA’S ALL TOO PREVENTABLE CHOLERA CRISIS
- FORESIGHT AFRICA: TOP PRIORITIES FOR THE CONTINENT IN 2018
- LAGOS IS SET TO OVERTAKE NAIROBI AS AFRICA’S STARTUP CAPITAL
- LAKE CHAD: THE WORLD’S MOST COMPLEX HUMANITARIAN DISASTER
- NEW TEXTBOOK: AFRICAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and African Union: MINERALS AND AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT
- AFRICA: NATIONAL STATISTICAL OFFICE WEBSITES, WITH HYPERLINKS
- GENERAL INFORMATION SOURCES ON AFRICAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Comments and Questions
The objective of this Blog is to facilitate access to research resources and analyses from all relevant and useful sources, mainly on African Economic Development.
This Blog will include analyses and observations of the three authors, Steven Langdon, Arch Ritter and Teddy Samy. It will also include hyper-links, abstracts, summaries, commentaries and observations relating to other research works from academic, governmental, media, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.
Commentary and discussion on any of the postings is most welcome.
Temperatures in tropical climates will become far more variable.
Original Article: Climate Change and Africa
By THE DATA TEAM, The Economist, May 9th 2018
GLOBAL warming is often used as a synonym for climate change, and most discussions of the topic focus on the expected increase in average global temperatures. However, the frequency and severity of individual, catastrophic weather events depend heavily on the variability of temperatures as well as their mean. The larger the swings, the more often extremely hot or cold conditions can wreak havoc.
Unfortunately, according to a new study by Sebastian Bathiany of Wageningen University and three other scientists, poor countries are not only predicted to bear the brunt of the increase in average temperatures, but also to suffer from higher variation. Their paper finds that, as the planet warms, soil in areas near the equator will dry up, reducing its ability to dampen temperature swings. This problem is expected to be especially acute in the Amazon rainforest. Consequently, the authors expect the standard deviation of monthly temperatures to increase by nearly 20% in Brazil.
In contrast, countries in the northern latitudes, which are mostly rich, will not be affected nearly as much by changes in soil moisture. Far from the equator, countries will actually see smaller temperature fluctuations, because of changing atmospheric patterns. In terms of both means and variances, the countries that bear the most historical responsibility for climate change are likely to be the ones least harmed by its consequences.
BROOKINGS, Thursday, May 3, 2018; Brahima Sangafowa Coulibaly
Original Article: AFRICA’S ALTERNATIVE PATH
Recent projections indicate that several Sub-Saharan African countries will experience robust economic growth over the next five years. By 2023, around one-third of the region’s economies will have grown at an average annual rate of 5 percent or higher since 2000.
And yet, as The Economist observed last year, Africa’s development model “puzzles economists.” After all, only four of the continent’s high-growth countries are natural-resource dependent. Nor is overall performance due primarily to industrialization, as traditional development models would have predicted. What, then, explains the strong economic performance?
New research by the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative and the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) might hold the key to answering that question. According to the forthcoming book Industries Without Smokestacks: Industrialization in Africa Reconsidered, there is evidence to suggest that Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing a more profound structural transformation than we think.
Africa owes this structural transformation not to traditional industries, but to new developments in tradable services and agro-industries that resemble traditional industrialization. Aside from horticulture and agro-business, these new industries include information and communication technology-based services (ICT) and tourism.
This is a departure from the historical norm. Traditionally, as Harvard University economist Dani Rodrik points out, economies that have sustained robust growth rates without relying on natural-resource booms, “typically do so through export-oriented industrialization.” But in Africa, manufacturing as a share of total economic activity has stagnated at around 10 percent, with economic activity moving from agriculture to services. And because the rate of productivity growth in services is only about half that of manufacturing, the aggregate productivity gains needed for sustained growth have fallen relatively short.
This process of premature deindustrialization is not unique to Africa. But it is more consequential for the continent, given the scale of its development challenges. Owing to its young, rapidly growing labor force, Africa now needs to create more than 11 million jobs in the formal economy every year. But as Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has warned, Africa cannot replicate East Asia’s manufacturing-led model, so the question is whether it can leverage modern services to achieve economic development.
According to Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for 2018, a Brookings Institution report previewing the results of Industries Without Smokestacks, services exports from Africa grew more than six times faster than merchandise exports between 1998 and 2015. In Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa, the ICT sector is flourishing. In Rwanda, tourism is now the single largest export activity, accounting for about 30 percent of total exports. Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Senegal are all integrated into global horticultural value chains, and Ethiopia has become a leading player in global flower exports.
As these smokestack-less industries have grown, they have generated new patterns of structural change that are distinct from those of East Asia’s manufacturing-led transformation. But, if properly stewarded, they could play the same role in Africa’s development as manufacturing did in East Asia.
Manufacturing-led growth proved to be an effective development model in East Asia for three main reasons. First, manufacturing has higher productivity than agriculture, and it can absorb a large number of moderately skilled workers migrating out of the agriculture sector. Second, manufacturers benefit from technological transfers from abroad, so their productivity rises in line with global trends. And third, the shift to manufacturing in East Asia was oriented toward exports, which allowed production to be scaled up.
According to John Page, one of the editors of Industries Without Smokestacks, Africa’s growing service sectors share these same characteristics. In addition to being tradable, they have higher productivity and can absorb large numbers of moderately skilled workers. And like manufacturing, they also benefit from technological change and economies of scale and agglomeration.
Moreover, Africa’s smokestack-less service sectors have the added advantage of being less vulnerable to automation. Notwithstanding automation’s many benefits, it presents challenges for countries where the overriding priority is to create a sufficient number of formal-sector jobs.
While economists have been increasingly confident that Africa’s development model will be different from that of East Asia, they have been less certain about what shape it will take. An industries-without-smokestacks model offers one possible answer.
From a policy perspective, African leaders should explore more ways to support these industries’ growth, either through targeted reforms or by incorporating them into national industrialization strategies and broader development agendas. The development of industries without smokestacks can occur alongside efforts to develop those with smokestacks, thus offering a multifaceted approach for Africa to achieve structural transformation.
Original Article: NEW PAN-AFRICAN FUND
Partech Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital (VC) firm, has launched an Africa-focused fund which will look to provide early-stage funding to promising startups and founders on the continent. The fund has raised $70 million of its $100 million target, making it one of the largest Africa-focused funds.
Partech Africa is backed by French bluechip corporate partners with “a strong footprint in Africa” including Orange, Edenred, JCDecaux Holding and Bpifrance, a French investment banks as well as multilateral financiers: International Finance Corporation and the European Investment Bank.
The new fund plans to differentiate itself by not limiting operations to Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s leading ecosystems.”We think the impact of a local VC should also be to widen the scope and look at other markets that people know less of,”says Tidjane Dème, general partner at Partech Africa. This includes Francophone African countries Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Cameroon as well as Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda.
Francophone Africa in particular has been a significant under-tappedmarket for tech startup investors over the last decade. The region of over 120 million people in 24 countries across West, Central and North Africa includes some of the world’s fastest growing economies led by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.
And yet, between 2010 and 2016, there were 167 private equity deals in Anglophone East Africa alone (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda), according to AVCA data. During the same period, Francophone West Africa saw a third of that. More than 30% of that has gone to Côte d’Ivoire. Investment for tech startups is even more scarce.
Perhaps a testament to that stance, Partech Africa is headquartered in Dakar, Senegal and is looking to build permanent presence in other African cities to ensure a first-hand understanding of local markets. “We’re making sure our investment team is based in Africa and lives and works in the same context as these startups and can really understand where they’re coming from and the product they’re building,” Dème says.
More Africa-focused VC firms are raising significant funds to support local startups on the continent. Last October, CRE Venture Capital, an African VC firm, led the $40 million Series C round of Andela. The round also saw participation of TLcom’s Africa-focused fund, headed by Omobola Johnson, Nigeria’s former ICT minister. Partech’s research showed startups on the continent raised $366 million in 2016—a $90 million increase from the prior year.
Another gap Partech Africa is looking to plug is the lack of early stage funding much of which has typically been provided by incubators and accelerators on the continent. With majority of private equity investment going towards tickets above $10 million, according to Partech’s data, Dème says it’s the gap below $10 million that needs to be addressed. As such, Partech Africa will be providing funding between between $600,000 and $6 million. The big hope for Partech Africa, according to Dème, is that its smaller early-stage funding tickets “not only address existing demand but also hopefully drive demand for the lower stages as we create a call for more startups.”
Original Article: Electricity in Africa
If you have read an article about electricity in Africa before, this number is not new to you. It has become a familiar, almost totemic refrain in every op-ed, panel discussion and program launch addressing electrification on the continent. The statistic is so frequently cited that it can sometimes wash over its audience like a repeated cliché.
Several days ago, the World Bank quietly updated the statistic based on 2016 data. This update provides us with a space to appreciate, again, the heavy and urgent burden of human consequence this statistic represents. It should imbue us all with a renewed sense of urgency.
But some 600 million people still lack access to electricity in Africa, according to World Bank 2016 data. In other words, no absolute progress has been made since 2014.
Over the two years from 2014 to 2016, the off-grid population has gone down slightly. In fact, electricity has reached an impressive additional 76 million people and the electrification rate increased by 5 percentage points to 43%%. But, these 76 million new connections only slightly outpaced population growth of 54.5 million people. So the absolute number of people living without electricity has fallen by only 21 million and the headline statistic remains basically steady at a rounded 600 million people.
There are some encouraging signs. 60% of the newly connected population were in rural areas, where people are more difficult to connect. The urban electrification rate moved slightly from 72% to 74% while rural electrification increased from 16% to 23% in the same time frame. So, progress is being made in the more difficult task of rural electrification. But it’s not enough.
What does this all mean?
The electrification sector has not been standing still. Pay-as-you-go solar has attracted $750 million in investment over the past five years, mini-grids are gaining traction with hefty donor funding allocated across the continent (our estimate is over $600 million) and public sector electrification efforts by national governments are intensifying.
But, this update confirms again that universal electrification is hard and expensive. Grid connections cost anywhere between $250 and $2500+ depending on proximity to the grid. Mini-grids that offer a grid-like service still cost between $500 and $1500 to connect each household. Electrification in a continent where over 60% of the population still live in rural areas is even harder.
So our message isn’t one of discouragement. Instead, we’d propose that we use this update to look with fresh eyes at this staggering statistic; 600m people in Africa lack electricity. We must renew our appreciation for the scale of the challenge and the human consequences of failure.
Universal electrification is the seventh of the Sustainable Development Goals that the global community has committed to achieve by 2030. Even on very optimistic assumptions about the current connection trajectory, 240 million people in Africa will still lack electricity in 2030. To reach our goal, governments, donors and investors need to rally anew behind both government electrification efforts and private sector players in the utility, mini-grid and solar home system sectors
By Deborah Bräutigam
The Washington Post, April 12, 2018
Deborah Bräutigam is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy and director of the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her latest book is Will Africa Feed China?
In Washington, Republicans and Democrats generally look at China as a new imperial power in Africa: bad news for Africans. But is this really the case?
Just before his visit to Africa last month, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson accused China of using “predatory loan practices,” undermining growth and creating “few if any jobs” on the continent. In Ethiopia, Tillerson charged the Chinese with providing “opaque” project loans that boost debt without providing significant training. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton sang the same tune, warning Africans to beware of this “new colonialism.” China, we are often told, is bringing in all its own workers or “grabbing” African land to grow food to send back to feed China.
But researchers who have explored China’s role in Africa suggest that many of the things our politicians believe about Chinese engagement are not actually true.
- Jobs and training
Take jobs and training. Lina Benabdallah, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, studies Chinese investments in African human resource development programs. “Africans are being invited to Chinese universities. China is offering scholarships,” she said. “When Africans are thinking about technology [and] skills, they are thinking of China as a valid option.”
Surveys of employment on Chinese projects in Africa repeatedly find that three-quarters or more of the workers are, in fact, local. This makes business sense. In China, textile workers now earn about $500 a month — far more than workers in most African countries. Chinese investors flocking to set up factories in low-cost countries like Ethiopia are not thinking about importing Chinese workers. Like U.S. and European factory owners who moved their factories to China in past decades, Chinese firms are now outsourcing their own manufacturing to cheaper countries.
- Predatory lending
Are the Chinese engaging in predatory lending? Here, researchers can also shine light on a murky subject. Scholars at Boston University and Johns Hopkins University have been painstakingly assembling databases of Chinese loans provided since 2000.
In Africa, we found that China had lent at least $95.5 billion between 2000 and 2015. That’s a lot of debt. Yet by and large, the Chinese loans in our database were performing a useful service: financing Africa’s serious infrastructure gap. On a continent where over 600 million Africans have no access to electricity, 40 percent of the Chinese loans paid for power generation and transmission. Another 30 percent went to modernizing Africa’s crumbling transport infrastructure.
Some of these were no doubt pork barrel projects and white elephants: airports with few passengers, or bridges to nowhere. African presidents, like others, love to cut ribbons and leave legacies of big buildings. Chinese companies will receive nearly all of the contracts to build this Chinese-financed infrastructure. Questions have been raisedabout its quality. Yet on the whole, power and transport are investments that boost economic growth. And we found that Chinese loans generally have comparatively low interest rates and long repayment periods.
- Land grabs
“Land grabs” — a term used for any purchase, rental or theft of relatively large amounts of land — are controversial around the world, but especially in Africa, where colonial powers like Britain and France grabbed nearly the entire continent. The stories that China was now a “land grabber” in Africa seemed to make sense. After all, China has 9 percent of the world’s arable land, 6 percent of its water and over 20 percent of its people. Africa has plentiful land and the planet’s largest expanses of underutilized land and water. And Chinese companies were clearly interested in investing in Africa; some came to inquire about land.
And so the land grab rumors began to spread. On the CBS Newswebsite, we read: “China recently purchased half the farmland under cultivation in the Congo.” German president Angela Merkel’s top African adviser told reporters that a devastating famine in the Horn of Africa several years ago was partly due to China’s “large-scale land purchases.” Even Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell recirculated a “land grab” story: “I read just the other day that China has rented land in Kenya to move some one million peasants to Africa.”
Intrigued by these stories, I did what academics do. Instead of tweeting what might have been fake news, I set up a research project.
Our team at the International Food Policy Research Institute and at Johns Hopkins University collected a database of 57 cases where Chinese firms (or the government) were alleged to have acquired or negotiated large (over 500 hectare) amounts of African farmland. If all of these media reports had been real news, this would have amounted to a very alarming 6 million hectares — 1 percent of all the farmland in Africa.
We spent three years tracking down every single case. We travelled from Madagascar to Mozambique, Zimbabwe to Zambia. We confirmed that nearly a third of these stories, including the three above, were literally false. In the remaining cases, we found real Chinese investments. But the total amount of land actually acquired by Chinese firms was only about 240,000 hectares: 4 percent of the reported amount.
The stories of large-scale land grabbing and Chinese peasants being shipped to Africa to grow food for China turned out to be mostly myths. As researchers at the Center for International Forestry Research concluded after their own rigorous research: “China is not a dominant investor in plantation agriculture in Africa, in contrast to how it is often portrayed.”
We found a story of globalization, not colonization; a story of African agency, rather than Chinese rapacity. In Mozambique, I met African investors like Zaidi Aly, who had traveled to Brazil to learn how to grow soybeans for local chicken feed. There, he met a Chinese firm buying soybeans. Aly invited them to invest in soybeans with him. Hit by a prolonged drought, their joint venture failed. The Chinese returned home. But Aly told me it was a net gain: “I learned so much from them.”
To be sure, increased Chinese engagement comes with significant and very real challenges for many Africans. Traders complain about competition from Chinese migrants. In our research on Chinese factories in Africa, we’ve interviewed African workers who now have jobs but complain about Chinese bosses who expect long hours at low pay.
Chinese demand for African ivory, abalone, rhinoceros tusk and materials from other endangered species has taken a significant toll on conservation efforts. And Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent lifting of his own term limits is bound to embolden African leaders who are reluctant to leave their comfortable presidential posts.
China is often lambasted as a nefarious actor in its African dealings, but the evidence tells a more complicated story. Chinese loans are powering Africa, and Chinese firms are creating jobs. China’s agricultural investment is far more modest than reported and welcomed by some Africans. China may boost Africa’s economic transformation, or they may get it wrong — just as American development efforts often go awry.
African Union Building, Addis Ababa; Another Chinese Project
The ECONOMIST, Dec 22nd 2012.
Original Article: Kibera, Africa’s biggest shanty-town
“Kibera may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet! “
MEN in patched overalls and women in freshly washed blouses walk down a narrow lane just after six in the morning. They are packed in tightly like spectators leaving a sports stadium, but this is their life, their every morning. Backs are straight; trousers and sleeves rolled up, exposing mottled yet able limbs. They crush discarded wrappers of quick-fry breakfasts under foot, corn and oil dripping from mouths. Banana skins are ground to dust by thousands of feet.
Everyone is moving in one direction, jostling and shoving, out of a maze of low-strung shacks, past shops selling shoes and phones that have already been open an hour, out into the high-rise centre of Nairobi, where factories and offices pay salaries—everyone, that is, except a limp male figure huddled in a corner strafed by the first delicate rays of the sun. He seems to wait for the crowd to pass or at least thin before he dares to swim upstream. His hair is short and shiny as if sanded down rather than cut; his shirt is in pieces. He tells your correspondent that he has just arrived from the countryside. This is not home, he says. He does not sound convinced it ever will be.
His name is Jonah Kasiri and he is 23 years old. He came to Nairobi on an overnight minibus with his worldly possessions—a battered alarm clock and an additional pair of cotton trousers—packed into a canvas bag that smells of ripe fruit. His village in Kenya’s west, as he describes it, sounds like many: a verdant clump of trees and animals where man eats what he can hunt or gather but has little chance of betterment.
For that one has to come to the city. His cousin went to Nairobi two years ago and returned for a visit last week, wearing two mobile phones in a leather pouch on the belt of a brand new pair of pleated trousers. That made an impression on Mr Kasiri. When his cousin offered to help him follow suit, he jumped at the chance.
The crowd eases and we walk into the maze of shacks. Mr Kasiri says he must relieve himself but cannot afford to. In the city nothing is free. We come to a cement floor divided into seven stalls, each with a hole. “Is it clean?” asks the customer in front of us. The proprietor, Teresia Ngusye, seated on a stool, handing out tissue paper, says she cleans every hour, pointing down the alley to similar looking shacks. “See the competition I have.” She charges us ten shillings (12 cents), which she says will go toward building a second set of toilets. Mr Kasiri nods. Everything in the city is an opportunity. He too might one day like to run such an establishment. In parting, the newly minted city boy hears a warning, “Bowel problems are expensive.”
This is Kibera. Often, and probably rightly, described as Africa’s biggest slum, it is home to perhaps a million people. Nobody knows for sure, since Kibera is left to its own devices. Government is absent: it offers the residents (regarded as squatters) no services, opens no schools, operates no hospitals, paves no roads, connects no power lines and pumps no water into homes.
To equate slums with idleness and misery is to misunderstand them
And yet Kibera, wedged in between ornate embassies and a well-tended golf course, is an integral part of Nairobi. Its residents live in a dozen villages on a piece of land half a mile wide and two miles long, draped like a bath mat on a tub across a slope falling into a man-made lake. Once the slope was wooded and each village had only a few houses. In the past 30 years they have fused to become one of the world’s most densely populated places, garnering a measure of first-world notoriety. Kibera features in the film “The Constant Gardener”, based on the eponymous John le Carré novel, as well as in a music video by Sarah McLachlan, a Canadian pop singer, representing the epitome of poverty.
Kibera’s origins are Western. A century ago British colonial rulers gave small plots of land on the edge of Nairobi to Nubian soldiers serving in the King’s African Rifles. They built mud huts below the road leading to the farm of Karen Blixen—made famous in the film “Out of Africa”, based on the Danish writer’s life. The land was later nationalised but the Nubians stayed put and rented parts of it to newcomers. Today most homes are made of ragged tin and reused timber. Walking in the warren of narrow lanes that divide them, some only shoulder-wide and all of them devoid of cars, one is reminded of a medieval European city.
At seven in the morning Cecilia Achieng leads the children in her school in prayer and song. They chirp like birds; not all have had breakfast. When lessons begin at eight, she inspects a well-thumbed ledger that records who has paid school fees. We don’t expel kids who cannot afford class,” she insists. They may be asked to rear chickens in the schoolyard and sell the eggs.
Ms Achieng has frizzy hair that forms a tall bulb and is partly dyed red. She wears large silver earrings with a baby-blue two-piece suit. The 36-year-old has given birth to four children, adopted a further two and also looks after a niece. With no public schools to send them to, she started her own four years ago. Other mothers helped her rent an empty church hall and hire teachers. She was soon inundated with children. Asking parents to pay 7,500 shillings ($87) in annual fees enabled her to move to a bigger hall. Two years later she had saved enough money to erect half a dozen primitive classrooms: cement holds in place sturdy sheets of corrugated iron known as mabati. Yellow paint gives them an uncomplicated cheerfulness.
With her charges settled in, Ms Achieng takes a mid-morning stroll. She navigates lanes that look like dry river beds. When it rains, Kibera floods. Open sewers are covered with planks worn smooth by water and constant trampling. Scavengers rake over debris before it is washed downhill. Residents burn the rest, enveloping homes in acrid smoke. Laundry on washing lines is covered in soot.
“This street was much wider a few years ago,” says Ms Achieng. Vendors line both sides, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, soap, sweets, cigarettes. They have encroached on what once was a thoroughfare, building stalls ever farther into the throng of customers. The economy is booming and incomes are rising in Kibera. “What’s playing?” Ms Achieng asks Tyson Muigai, who rents out a 600W sound system for parties, weddings and wakes, charging 5,000 shillings ($58) a day. “Happy or sad?”
We pass a shack with a sign saying, “Load music on iPods”, and another, “We do not write any local material.”. Ms Achieng explains, “They make [counterfeit] copies of Jay-Z or Beyoncé songs, but not of rappers from Kibera. We protect our own.” Around the corner John Mwangi runs a cinema with 70 plastic seats, which he fills six times a day. Ms Achieng marvels at the orange clock face on his gold watch. “I tell you, people have money,” he says.
Kibera is a thriving economic machine. Local residents provide most of the goods and services. Tailors are hunched over pedal-powered sewing machines. Accountants and lawyers share trestle tables in open-air offices. Carpenters carve frames for double beds along a railway line. Whole skinned cows hang in spotless butcher shops. “Give me 30 bob,” says a customer to a paraffin seller, who has just taken delivery of several jerry cans from a porter with a steel-frame wheelbarrow. All day long, sweaty porters cart supplies along filthy lanes, hissing to shoo people out of the way.
Life in Kibera can be harsh. Disease is rife, food is short for some, and death can come suddenly. Just after eleven o’clock an explosion thunders past the paraffin seller. Lights in the shops along the lane expire instantly, then a mob charges past, accompanied by sharp screams and a sizzling, dancing power cable that has blasted off a faulty transformer overhead. The cable eventually goes limp and the crowd disperses. Minutes later the lights come back.
The transformer, like all power in Kibera, is run by shady types who tap into the city grid. They are less than scrupulous when it comes to safety and they charge heavily. But at least Kibera has power, unlike many other parts of Africa. Soft drinks sold in shops are chilled. Rooftops are awash with TV aerials and mobile phones are as ubiquitous as in the West.
Kibera may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet
The key to making it in Kibera is access to capital. A market of one million potential customers crowds in on entrepreneurs, but raising the money to start a business is hard. Most banks won’t lend to them because they have no collateral, perhaps not even a fixed address. Those who manage to borrow face high interest rates. Moses Mwega pays 25% a year and considers himself lucky. Over the years he has built up a cosmetics shop selling creams, wigs and shampoos. The bank recently accepted his stock, a television set and a second-hand sofa, including lace doilies, as collateral. He got 350,000 shillings ($4,000) to expand his business.
But first the 53-year-old had to join a savers club—a cross between a support group and a control organ. Late in the morning Mr Mwega sets off to attend the group’s weekly meeting, wearing black shoes as polished as his bare forehead. His skin is smooth and his hands shiny, proud testament to his choice of products, he says. He joins a dozen men and women in a dank shack to receive instructions on record-keeping. Then they inspect each other’s books—no secrets. Mr Mwega takes in 15,000 to 20,000 shillings a week and pays 7,000 shillings to the bank. He will be done in 15 months. “Then I will get a proper loan,” he says.
After the meeting we have lunch at the Katulani café, a bare room with an anaemic roof that lets in daylight and fresh air. Guests sit on wooden benches and talk over each other. Most are penniless students who call this “the campus”. Boniface Ngewa, the owner, serves chapati bread and sukuma wiki, a leafy vegetable whose name translates as “push the week”, which is how long it is said to last. He goes through 100lb of flour a day, serving 3,000 customers.
In Kibera everyone eats out, Mr Ngewa says. Home-cooking is a luxury. The poor have no capital and cannot buy food in bulk. A single portion of charcoal to cook a meal costs at least 20 shillings (23 cents). Employing cooks, on the other hand, is cheap (300 shillings a day) and café prices are low. Mr Ngewa charges 30 shillings for a meal. An hour later when we leave the café, as if to prove his point, the lane outside resembles a food court: countless stalls have fired up pots and pans; vendors fan grills laden with nyama choma (cooked meat) and throw potatoes into roiling fat.
In the afternoon, school is out and Ms Achieng turns to her second career. She is in the food business too, but as a caterer. She regularly cooks for private functions attended by 500 people, and has served as many as 1,600. “Funerals are a good business,” she says. Couples getting married are too picky. They do not want plastic plates and Ms Achieng cannot yet afford to buy her own ceramic ones. “I have bid for a few weddings but didn’t win the tender.”
Kibera may be the most entrepreneurial place on the planet. Residents have no choice but to look after themselves. If they want to escape poverty—and have the necessary drive—they will try to strike out on their own. Ms Achieng has a third career as a hairdresser. When she has a free moment she goes from door-to-door and braids, earning 250 shillings ($3) in two hours. Regular clients call on her by mobile phone. At the annual Miss Kibera beauty pageant she is the lead stylist.
Does Mr Kasiri, the new arrival, have what she has? He finally finds his cousin after wandering the dusty lanes for hours. Kibera is bigger and denser than he had imagined. Every speck is in use. Residents have started building second storeys to expand upwards. In the Nubian language, kibera means forest, but there are no trees left.
The country boy stands at an intersection and looks left and right and left again. His cousin has arranged for him to meet a man about a job. But where is he? Mr Kasiri looks tired. His luxuriant hair is covered with flakes of ash from a rubbish fire. At least he no longer waits for crowds to thin; he plunges straight in and gropes his way past wheelbarrow porters, careful to jump out of the way when their sharp-edged carts swivel around. Talking about jobs he would like to do, a note of excitement creeps into his voice. “I could repair stoves. I saw a man do that,” he says. His cousin whistles and shakes his head. “Where will you get tools? Who will pay for them?”
Around six in the evening Kibera fills up to bursting point. The tens, or perhaps hundreds, of thousands who left in the morning for faraway offices and factories are returning. To save money, prim secretaries and exhausted labourers walk back rather than take a bus. Their wages are meagre and yet in compound several million dollars walk into the slum every night.
Kibera is an African version of a Chinese boomtown, an advertisement for solid human ambition. Like Guangzhou and Xiamen, it acts as a magnet for talent from rural areas, attracting the most determined among young farmers. To equate slums with idleness and misery is to misunderstand them. Two out of three Nairobians live in one, half of them in Kibera. Officials occasionally try to evict squatter-residents but many fight back, with the help of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, their own lobby group. In “Shadow Cities”, a book that describes a tour of slums across the globe, Robert Neuwirth recalls that New York’s Upper East Side was once a shantytown and suggests that all bright shining cities start as mud. Slums are far from hopeless places; many are not where economic losers end up, but rather reservoirs of tomorrow’s winners.
The pace of commerce on Kibera’s streets picks up with the setting sun. Jane Nzembi sells cereals to mothers cooking dinner; she holds cobs of corn with both hands and twists them in opposite directions to strip off the husks. Ruth Chesi refills buckets of charcoal as soon as they are empty. Carolina Awuor’s electric maize mill—rented for 15,000 shillings ($175) a month—runs nonstop to make flour for ugali buns.
When the vendors eventually close down around eight o’clock they deliver their cash receipts to nearby mobile-phone stores. Kenyan phone companies double up as banks; they take deposits and transfer funds. After decades of being excluded from banking, slum-dwellers now move their money fast and often; they no longer keep it under a mattress.
Mr Mwega, the cosmetics man who took out a loan, closes his store at nine, having eaten already at his counter. Through a curtain he slips into his windowless living room at the back of his streetside shack. An electric Christmas tree is perched on a stereo. He removes his polished shoes and rests them on a low table. He is halfway through reading “The Last Don” by Mario Puzo but says he prefers the thrillers of James Pattinson. He keeps a thick dictionary by his side.
The room is immaculate, as are those of many neighbours. Kibera only looks like a slum from the outside. Mr Mwega’s wife fetches water from a privately run street tap, paying a few shillings to fill a 20-litre jerry can, and does the washing up. Mr Mwega says in the wealthy parts of Nairobi the residents get municipal water and pay a tenth of what it costs here. “But still I’m not moving. My friends and my business are here.”
The evening is reserved for leisure, and leisure is good business. Barber chairs are never empty more than a few seconds. Ogola Simenon, whose salon is five feet high and about as wide, calls this the rush hour. Customers keep coming through his diminutive door. “Pray, why not in daytime?” He charges about 40 shillings (46 cents) to snip, shear, crop and clip. Economists define the African middle class as people earning at least $100 a month—that is many of his customers. They have a little money left over after paying for food, rent and school fees.
All manner of paid entertainment is available in Kibera. Some residents drink changaa, a moonshine made in backyard stills. Blindness is one of the lesser side effects. One step up is busaa, a fermented maize drink made on site in bars like Mama Sarah’s. The bar uses half-litre tin cans instead of glasses to serve customers. Many are cost conscious, says a waiter, John Wasilwa. When the price of maize goes up the bar owner cuts a strip of tin from the top of each can. The punters prefer that to higher prices. And it does not seem to slow their consumption. Around ten o’clock several of them have bedded down blearily on the mud floor next to a plastic sheet filled with roasted maize. Others throw empty tin cans at waiters. Mr Wasilwa fires them back.
Better-off residents congregate at beer taverns with cement floors and cushioned seats. The aspirationally named Pentagon features a large poster of Barack Obama, celebrating his Kenyan origins. Talk is of politics and sport. This could be almost anywhere. One group of patrons is drinking draft beer and debating why busaa joints are so rowdy. Often those people have not eaten, says one. “Straight to their head,” crows a carpenter with more than a hint of superiority.
During the day, Kibera is a rough place but a safe one. Guns are rare. No tolls are charged, no protection fees paid. Most of its markets are free of cartels. The slum is so vast and diverse that no ethnic group dominates it. But what is a virtue during the day turns into a danger at night. With nobody ruling the roost, muggers and thieves have a free rein. Some residents have installed metal gates at the entrances to their alleys and lock them at midnight.
Leaving the Pentagon, your correspondent is persuaded by concerned patrons to hire a watchman as an escort. He is summoned by mobile phone and turns up in minutes, dressed in red-and-white beads and a red cloth and carrying a spear and a torch. Most watchmen in Kibera are Masai. They have a reputation for fearlessness and loyalty—for which they are paid 50 shillings (58 cents).
Walking through empty streets we hear music doodling behind thin walls. Life happens indoors now. Most people are too scared to even visit a public toilet at night. Those who need to instead use a plastic bag at home and throw it over a wall. This is known as a “flying toilet”. Anyone out walking late is advised to look up as well as down.
We bump into Edith Nyawate, a vegetable seller escorted by another Masai watchman. She sets off to the wholesale market in the city centre every night around this time to buy produce when it opens and bring it back to Kibera at daybreak. She is tired, she says, but does not want a daytime job in a factory. “Maybe they pay you 50 bob but that’s not enough for school fees.”
Slum business runs around the clock. An electrical workshop is finishing a rush order at three o’clock. A lone baker’s face is illuminated by the earthy glow of his cavernous wood-fired oven. A tithe-hunting preacher, Augustus Omiti, is holding an all-night vigil at a shack church with a sturdy gate. His congregation is locked in until morning, singing and dancing—for their own safety, he cackles. They have nowhere to sit because he has rented out the church’s plastic chairs for 1,000 shillings ($12) to a wedding that is taking place nearby. Nonetheless he has high hopes his flock will donate generously.
The Masai watchman, who alone among residents refuses to divulge his name, takes your correspondent to where many of his nightly journeys end. We knock on the door of the Stage Inn, a spot for revellers to bed down for a few hours—for 300 shillings ($3.50). A dimly lit corridor bordered by sheet-metal walls leads to two dozen rooms with sagging beds, many of them unmade and recently vacated. Who would depart at this hour? The Masai and a hotel porter exchange glances. A young woman in a light dress passes us on the way to the communal washroom.
Worried about getting home at night? Phone a Masai
Emmanuel Mukhoa, the 35-year-old porter, hears a knock on the front door and walks over to a peephole, then opens up and hands a room key tied to a black shingle to a drunk, older businessman with a girl in tow. “I know most of the guests. They come at all times,” he says, and adds wistfully, “wish I was one.”
Mr Mukhoa is a rarity, a salaried worker employed within the slum. He is paid 5,000 shillings ($60) a month. His hours are long but regular, his financial risk minimal, yet he dreams of running a business, like his guests.
The new day in the slum starts by five o’clock. Alarms echo down dark streets, drowning out what little music is left from the night. Ms Achieng rouses herself and then the brood of children that surrounds her on the floor, washes them and erects her frizzy dome of red and black hair. She can afford to feed her children but mornings are always chaotic and some of the older ones miss breakfast.
Heading to school, they join the ranks of workers walking to one of Kibera’s eight exits and on to jobs in Nairobi proper where buildings rise higher than just one or two floors. The shoving and jostling resumes. The lanes are bursting with people by six, all heading in one direction. Among them is Mr Kasiri, the new arrival. He has been promised work on a construction site and is following a foreman through a world that has yet to fully reveal itself to him.
Mr Kasiri is amazed that among the people surrounding him is not one face he recognises, not one man who would lend him a few bob. Yet nor would any of them tell on him if he spent his wage on a bottle of changaa and got drunk tonight after his shift. They do not care. There are just so many of them squeezing through the gate; they crowd in as if celebrating a festival, yet few talk to each other or even look up. They are not unhappy, at least most of them are not. They have jobs to do and things to buy. Last night he talked to a man who sells stoves and learned that broken ones are cheap and easy to repair. Soon he will try his hand. He finds the idea of going back to the village hard to imagine.
This is an interesting article on India. However, there are implications for Sub-Saharan Africa as well respect to growth, urbanization, demographic change, lack of manufacturing, education, jobs etc.
Original Article: Foreign Affairs [USA], 1 March 2018 https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/2018-03-01/indian-nightmare?cid=int-fls&pgtype=hpg
REVIEW ESSAY: IS NEW DEHLI READY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY?
By Milan Vaishnav
If the end of the twentieth century heralded the dramatic rise of China, many believe that it is India’s turn to claim the spotlight at the dawn of the twenty-first. In January, the World Bank loudly proclaimed that India was set to be the fastest-growing major economy in the world in 2018, overtaking its slowing Chinese rival for the top spot. The global consulting giant McKinsey has called the emerging Indian middle class a “bird of gold,” harking back to an ancient aphorism about the country’s dynamic marketplace. IBM simply refers to the coming age as the “Indian Century.”
Despite these glowing projections, India’s future is by no means assured. With the right mix of economic reforms, administrative savvy, and political leadership (not to mention sheer luck), there is no doubt that India could enjoy widespread prosperity in the coming century. Yet absent such conditions—by no means a given—it faces an unnerving dystopia: one in which the aspirations of hundreds of millions of Indians are foiled rather than fulfilled, with potentially explosive implications for the country’s social fabric. This grim scenario is the subject of Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World, a harrowing new book by the Indian journalist Snigdha Poonam.
THE INDIAN DREAM
Predictions of a coming Indian golden age are typically based on two trends. The first is urbanization. Between 2010 and 2050, India’s urban population will grow by as much as 500 million—the largest projected urban population growth in world history. Historically, urbanization has been linked with rising literacy, the establishment of a middle class, economic dynamism, and increasing cosmopolitanism.
The second trend is what economists refer to as the “demographic dividend,” or the economic benefits that accrue to an economy when a massive influx of young people enter the labor force, triggering increases in both economic productivity and the savings rate. At a time when other major economies are graying, nearly one million Indians will join the work force every month until 2030. According to United Nations estimates, over the next few decades India is expected to account for as much as one-quarter of the projected global population growth among those between the ages of 15 and 64.
Yet in stark contrast to the boosterism surrounding a rising India, the outlines of a much darker alternative narrative are beginning to appear—one where the combined forces of urbanization and demography lead not to a rich dividend but to a social disaster. This is a future in which India’s urbanization, while creating pockets of wealth creation and prosperity, excludes many more thanks to decrepit infrastructure, poor services, and inadequate opportunity. According to this perspective, India will fall drastically short of creating enough jobs to keep up with its burgeoning labor force, spurring India’s youth to cling more, not less, fervently to identity as a means of finding their way. This resort to identity markers risks sharpening ethnic divisions and fueling the growth of sectarianism.
This is the world that Poonam explores in Dreamers. In it, Poonam—a national reporter for the Hindustan Times—sets out to understand the aspirations and anxieties of young residents of the vast north Indian Hindi heartland. Like Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Poonam’s book turns its attention to the underbelly of Indian democracy. But this is a work less concerned with India’s megapolises than the second- and third-tier urban towns that constitute India’s flyover country, where the potential downsides of haphazard urbanization and anemic job creation are most evident. In Dreamers, readers become richly acquainted with the teeming, pockmarked lanes of Allahabad, Meerut, Patna, and Ranchi.
Poonam calls her young and restless subjects the “Dreamers” and claims that they are the “most desperate generation of Indians since Independence.” Whereas the children who came of age after India’s independence in 1947 were content with the freedom they wrested from the British Raj, the Dreamers expect their government to actually deliver on the freedoms enshrined in the constitution, such as eliminating status hierarchies in society, minimizing the unequal concentration of wealth, providing gainful employment, and guaranteeing social protection. Empowerment must come between elections, not simply during them.
Unfortunately, Poonam argues, Indian democracy shows few signs of attaining such lofty ideals. Today, the bulk of India’s youth bulge falls into at least one of three categories she calls the three “Es”: uneducated, unemployed, or unemployable. The problem with India’s education system is not schooling but learning. At the primary level, India is approaching universal enrollment. Yet over half of all students enrolled in the sixth grade cannot read a story suitable for second graders. One-tenth cannot even recognize the numbers one through nine.
These failures exist at every rung of the ladder. A recent assessment of Indians between the ages of 14 and 18 conducted by the nongovernmental organization Pratham produced a slew of depressing statistics: 40 percent cannot tell the time looking at an analog clock, 36 percent do not know the capital of India, and 62 percent cannot compute a ten percent discount on a given price. Higher education has become a lucrative business in India, leading to a surge in university enrollments. Between 2000 and 2015, according to the political scientist Devesh Kapur, India established almost six new colleges every single day. Barring a few isolated examples, however, these institutes are a classic case of quantity over quality.
The second crisis relates to the lack of jobs. The Indian economy needs to create roughly one million jobs each month just to keep up with the natural growth in the labor force. The government’s own estimates suggest that India is creating between 350,000 and 400,000 a month. Those who are not lucky enough to find employment in the formal sector join the growing hordes trying to make ends meet in the informal sector. A big part of the problem is that unlike its East Asian neighbors, India adopted a “precocious” economic model that leapfrogged manufacturing altogether and went straight into services.
The trouble with this model is that not every Indian can become a software engineer; establishing a robust manufacturing base is the only tried-and-true strategy for mass employment generation. Unfortunately for India, it is not only failing to industrialize, it is prematurely deindustrializing. Frustrated job seekers have increasingly turned to the public sector. Unfortunately for them, the number of government posts has been consistently shrinking for the last two decades. This explains the absurd sight of more than 2.3 million Indians rushing to apply for 350 government positions to serve as lowly office helpers, as happened in 2015. The most perverse twist is that despite India’s abundance of labor, industry struggles mightily to recruit qualified workers. A 2016 report studied 150,000 engineering students across the country, only to find that 80 percent of them are unemployable according to industry standards.
Not every Indian can become a software engineer.
India’s labor market pains are matched by equally grave woes when it comes to urban infrastructure, which are not only inhibiting urban growth but also deforming it. In an evocative chapter on the north Indian city of Allahabad, Poonam has this to say about her arrival in the city: “Nowhere else in India I’ve been has the conflict between the past and present of a place resulted in a more disastrous outcome. The broken jampacked roads, the half-finished buildings, the open drains and the thick haze of dust that greet you outside the station are the result of the same things that make the whole of second-tier India one giant pothole: crazy construction, overcrowding, civic collapse.”
India’s inability to generate adequate jobs and its struggle to ensure its cities are livable are, of course, symptoms of a larger issue: the spectacular failure of the state to perform its sovereign functions. As the government has proven incapable of providing basic services to its citizens, those with means have simply exited, resorting instead to private doctors, teachers, and security guards. The belief that the state is able and willing to deliver basic amenities to its people has evaporated.
The result is not simply a substitution of private provisioning for public goods but also an attitudinal shift that pushes Indians to find work-arounds that often involve illegality and cutting corners. Many Dreamers, Poonam argues, have become cheaters. The most disturbing example she marshals is the cottage industry of call center fraudsters she manages to penetrate in New Delhi. Poonam uncovers entire neighborhoods specializing in scamming young Indians by asking them for up-front payments in order to land a good-paying job that will never materialize. “In Delhi, you can’t become an important man without pulling some kind of fraud,” one wayward call center recruiter explains to Poonam with a smile.
In Poonam’s telling, even those who start on the straight and narrow succumb to the temptation of exploiting others since they have been so thoroughly exploited themselves. Take the case of aspiring actor Mohammed Azhar, who gets repeatedly ripped off by casting directors as he struggles to piece together a career. In the book, we watch the innocent, defeated Azhar slowly transform into the type of unscrupulous scamster that preyed on a younger version of himself. “I couldn’t blame him for thinking that cheating is essential to success,” Poonam writes. “He didn’t know a single person who became rich without cheating his way up.”
However disturbing Poonam’s revelations are, her stories of despair do not completely displace stories of hope. The most gripping of these is the tale of Richa Singh, a young woman who has the audacity to stand as a candidate for student union president at Allahabad University. Singh is running in order to correct a routine but illustrative practice of gender discrimination: she and her friends simply want to hang out at the teashop outside the student union, where women are forbidden. Facing both the threat and the actual use of violence by angry young men for the crime of defying social customs, Singh improbably wins the election.
Danish Siddiqui / Reuters Children celebrate the festival of Diwali in Mumbai, October 2017.
THE INDIAN CENTURY?
These heartwarming victories, however, cannot obscure the fact that something has gone seriously amiss in the Indian growth story. The failure of the state to exploit the advantages of urbanization and India’s demographic shifts, if not remedied quickly, will lead to two adverse outcomes. The first is a deepening of already worrying levels of inequality. A recent paper by the economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty found that the proportion of national income accruing to the top one percent of India’s income earners is now at its highest level since the creation of the Indian income tax in 1922.
The second outcome is the cancerous growth of sectarian rage. Poonam takes readers on a chilling tour of frustrated young men who have become foot soldiers in the service of a virulent strain of Hindu nationalism. As the author puts it, “They have enrolled themselves in the battle to protect Hindu identity, but what they are really fighting for is their shot at any identity at all.” Far from decreasing the salience of sectarian attachments, India’s demographic shifts might be increasing them. In state after state, young Indians have begun agitating for ethnic quotas that would guarantee their communities a slice of lucrative public sector jobs. The youth who have flocked to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction hail from social groups not on the bottom rungs of the ladder, but near the top. Angry about affirmative action given to traditionally disadvantaged communities, they are now demanding protections for themselves.
How the Indian state manages the dual pressures posed by urbanization and demographic change will define the nature of Indian democracy itself. Will its citizens prioritize economic growth or social justice? Will they continue a proud tradition of liberal democracy or succumb to the temptations of majoritarian democracy? It is hard to come away with a feeling of optimism after reading Poonam’s incisive account. Many of the disenchanted Dreamers, she writes, are aggrieved about the same thing: “that they have no future in this country, and it has no future in the world.”
Dreamers smashes the slick hype that has been constructed around India’s aspiring middle classes, calling our attention to the corruption, frustration, and dashed hopes bubbling beneath the surface. It may be convenient for India’s elites to whitewash these inconvenient truths. But, as Poonam shows, it would also be suicidal.
Published on November 4, 2017
Original Article here: Chinese Investment in Africa
Eric Olander 欧瑞克; Asia-based Media Executive. Content Strategist. Podcaster. Social Media Creator.
Author Irene Yuan Sun argues in her now book that Africa is poised to become the world’s next manufacturing boosted by Chinese investment and production expertise. With costs steadily rising in the PRC, more and more companies are looking to offshore production from China to more affordable countries. Africa and its abundant population of young workers, free trade access into the US market and proximity to the European Union make it an attractive investment destination for cost conscious manufacturers.
But Africa is not alone vying for the estimated 85 million jobs that will be in play as China transitions away from manufacturing to a services/consumption-based economy. African countries will have to compete vigorously against Vietnam, India and other Asian nations to lure Chinese manufacturers.
“You have to be crazy to run a factory in Africa. It’s hard work, it’s risky, and success is far from assured. In this day and age, the only sizable mass of people crazy enough to take on the job are Chinese people, fresh from working their way up in factories in China and ready to take a gamble to make their fortune. It takes crazy people to build a factory in Africa, and that’s one of the main reasons Africa’s shot at industrialization is tied up with China.” — Irene Yuan Sun
Time is also a key factor. Major international manufacturing companies like Foxconn and Pegatron, contract manufacturers that both produce hi-tech products for Apple, HP and Dell among others, are working very hard to automate their production lines using robots powered by artificial intelligence. With more companies, including once low-tech industries like apparel and furniture assembly, moving as quickly as possible to automate their production lines, African policy-makers must no doubt be concerned that with the pace and sophistication of automation steadily increasing, might encourage Chinese manufacturers to keep their operations rolling back home, albeit with fewer workers.
Sun, for her part, argues the fear of technological dislocation is overblown. “The essential point automation alarmists miss is that technological adoption happens through millions of individual decisions by companies that are constrained by the demands of their value chain, the financing capability of their balance sheets, and their own managerial know- how. Just because they could produce something in a more automated way doesn’t mean they will,” she said. Already, Sun contends, Chinese-factories in Africa are using robotics and automation with human labor still playing an essential role throughout the production process.
Sun joins Eric & Cobus to talk about her new book, “The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa.” The book is part travelogue, part business intelligence of a fascinating trend that operates largely out of sight yet has potentially massive implications for the future direction of almost every economy in Africa.
Stopping the spread of Spodoptera frugiperda
AFRICA has been invaded on quiet wings. First they landed by ship in the west. Then they spread across the continent, wreaking havoc as they went. Now, two years later, the invaders are worrying officials in almost every sub-Saharan country. It’s not the French, British or even the Chinese. This time it’s a simple American moth, the voracious fall armyworm, that has marched through Africa’s fields and is threatening to cause a food crisis.
When just a hungry caterpillar, the fall armyworm will happily munch on more than 80 plant species. But its favourite is maize—the staple for more than 200m sub-Saharan Africans. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that sub-Saharan Africa has about 35m hectares of maize grown by smallholders, and that almost all of it is now infested or at risk of infestation.
If the pest is not controlled, it could gobble up as much as 20% of the region’s total maize crop. Some countries may be particularly hard hit. The Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), an association of agricultural research centres in 12 countries, thinks that big producers such as Nigeria or Tanzania could lose more than half their maize harvest.
Originally from the Americas, these worms were a plague there for hundreds of years. Yet American farmers have beaten them back with the help of genetically modified plants and advanced pesticides. By contrast, the worms are meeting little resistance in Africa. They were first officially detected in Nigeria in January 2016. Now they can be found in 43 other African countries (see map).
Two factors explain their rapid spread. The first is biology. Africa already has its own variety of the worm, which farmers can control. But the foreign species migrates and reproduces much faster. After it turns into a moth, it can fly as far as 100km (60 miles) a night. During her ten days of adulthood, a female moth can lay up to 1,000 eggs.
The second is that most of Africa’s farming is done by smallholders who use outdated techniques and whose yields are already low. The worm “is coming on top of other constant threats faced by farmers, including drought, new crop diseases, and low soil fertility,” says Joe DeVries of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
Yet labour-intensive farming also offers opportunity. Experts fret that if farmers use too much cheap pesticide to kill the worms, they may end up poisoning their crops. Allan Hruska of the FAO hopes instead to teach farmers to use some of the techniques that smallholders in the Americas have long used. These include mixing crops, encouraging natural predators and patrolling fields to crush the eggs by hand.
Better still would be to copy America’s commercial farmers, who plant GM crops that are largely resistant to the worm. Almost all African countries apart from South Africa have formally or informally banned GM crops, following iffy advice from ecowarriors. Lifting these restrictions would lead to fewer hungry caterpillars and fewer hungry people.
Tonderayi Mukeredzi, IRIN contributor in Zimbabwe
IRIN, The inside story on emergencies, HARARE, 1 February 2018
Southern and East African countries are facing a severe cholera outbreak that is exposing the failure in public sanitation and the impact of government neglect.
Last year, there were more than 109,442 cholera cases resulting in 1,708 deaths in 12 countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region (ESAR), according to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
Since the beginning of 2018, there have been more than 2,009 cases and a further 22 deaths in seven countries – Angola, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Zambia has been among the hardest hit, with the waterborne disease killing more than 74 people since October last year. Cases have been centred on the capital, Lusaka. To contain the outbreak, the government banned street food vending and public gatherings, which triggered violent protests by traders. The World Health Organization says that while sporadic cases of cholera are regular occurrences in Zambia during the five-month rainy season, 2017 exceeded the average annual caseload.
The government and the WHO blame poor waste management and inadequate personal hygiene for the contamination of water and food in the townships, which has driven the epidemic. The government’s response has been to call in the army to help enforce control measures, clean markets, and unblock drains. It also launched an oral vaccine programme with a target of immunising one million people, and the number of cases is now beginning to fall.
Zambia, as a lower middle-income economy, lies in the middle of a range of countries caught in the surge of cases in the region, from struggling Mozambique to relatively prosperous Kenya.
“In the last four weeks of 2017 alone, Zambia reported 217 new cases of cholera including 11 deaths, Tanzania 216 new cases including eight deaths, Mozambique 155 new cases, and Kenya 44 new cases,” UNICEF’s regional WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa, Suzanne Coates, told IRIN. But by far the worst-affected countries have been war-debilitated Somalia and South Sudan, with 72 percent and 16 percent respectively of the total cholera caseload.
Coates noted that while progress has been made on access to improved WASH services over the years, no country in the region managed to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal on water and sanitation – to halve the proportion of the population without access to sustainable water services and basic sanitation.
Latest WHO and UNICEF estimates indicate that only 53 percent of ESAR citizens have access to basic water services; 30 percent to basic sanitation; just 20 percent to basic hygiene; and that 21 percent of people still practice open defecation.
“So, in the region, we still have more than 148 million people using unimproved drinking water sources, over 108 million still practising open defecation, and over 300 million with no handwashing facility,” said Coates.
“Strategies to prevent and respond to cholera outbreaks are known and are effective and have helped [other] countries effectively control cholera outbreaks,” she added.
Tackling the risk factors requires a developmental response and long-term investment. “Cholera outbreaks will unfortunately recur as long as these factors are not addressed,” said Coates.
Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government has struggled to make those investments in sewerage infrastructure and water management systems, with cholera outbreaks becoming more frequent since the early 1990s when the economy first stalled. Large outbreaks occurred in 1999 and 2002, with the deadliest between August 2008 and July 2009 – a cumulative total of 98,592 cases and 4,288 deaths. Oxfam Zimbabwe WASH coordinator Abigail Tevera said poor inter-ministerial coordination and a lack of commitment to enforce existing regulations also derails efforts to prevent outbreaks.
Four people have so far died from cholera in Zimbabwe, with over 200 cases of typhoid – a similar waterborne disease – confirmed by 16 January.
Portia Manangazira, the director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care, acknowledged that the public health and sanitation situation in the country was “appalling”, and the nation could do much better to stop “creating” avoidable health crises.
“There have also been no resources to identify high-risk groups and protect them with vaccination, the second layer of population protection when primary prevention has failed,” Manangazira told IRIN. “For this reason, the threat of both cholera and typhoid forever looms.”