Kenya, you’ve upped your own game and you’re going to have to follow through

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Well, thanks Kenya. It wasn’t enough that you guys haven’t let anyone else win a prize-money marathon in decades? Or that you genetically Barack, like, Obama’d? No, you had to go and effectively Arab-Spring the rest of Africa with your High Court ruling and your election second-attempt. My goodness, what divas. The entire world has […]

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Africa: The Trump Administration’s First African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum

This week, some 40 African finance and trade ministers, along with a large contingent of senior U.S. government officials will descend upon the coastal city of Lomé, Togo for the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum.

There will be more eyes on this year’s Forum. Aside from Secretary Ross’ brief address at the Corporate Council on Africa’s Annual Summit earlier in the summer, this will be the first opportunity to hear the Trump Administration substantively outline their approach to economic and trade relations with the continent.

Leading the U.S. delegation to the Forum will be U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and he will be joined by representatives from the State Department, Treasury Department, USAID, Department of Agriculture, among other agencies.

AGOA, first approved in May 2000 and subsequently reauthorized, provides duty-free access for more than 6,000 items exported from eligible sub-Saharan African countries. The program is intended to stimulate economic growth through a market based approach that will help Africa integrate into the global economy.

Uniquely, the Administration is mandated by the legislation to organize the Forum annually, for the purpose of “discuss[ing] expanding trade and investment relations between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa and…encouraging joint ventures between small and large businesses.” By all accounts, the AGOA Forum continues to be the primary mechanism, and opportunity, for  discussing policy matters that impact the commercial relationship between the U.S. and Africa. Since the private sector and civil society are integral to these discussions they also have a seat at the table at the Forum.

It is expected that the American delegation will emphasize the importance of adhering to the eligibility criteria of AGOA, particularly on issues related to “the elimination of barriers to United States trade and investment.” AGOA and its cyclical (and off-cycle) review process gives the Administration a significant, and flexible, tool to push African governments on their priority issue – ensuring American companies can fairly compete on the world stage.

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By Worku Gachou

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No education crisis wasted: On Bridge’s “business model” in Africa

The dream is wonderful: provide a good education to millions of children growing up in poverty. That’s why Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the World Bank and the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs are pouring millions into a company that aims to turn that dream into reality. Investigations show, however, that both the children and their teachers get a raw deal.

Shannon May is clearly emotional when she walks onto the stage in early February 2017. The founder and strategist behind the world’s largest chain of kindergarten and primary schools is about to speak to a room full of women. She will talk about education, motherhood and the reasons why she founded her company, Bridge International Academies, with her husband Jay Kimmelman in 2008.

May and Kimmelman are in Nairobi, the city they live in and where Bridge has its headquarters. About 70 percent of the more than 100,000 pupils attending Bridge schools live in Kenya and around 6,000 staff work and live there. It was also the company’s base for expanding into Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria and India.

In her speech, May tells the story of the founding of Bridge: “I was speaking with mothers and with fathers, about their struggles… two things came up across hundreds of conversions I had… the first was health… the other thing was education.”

This made May think about her own childhood: if she hadn’t had good teachers, she would never have been admitted to Harvard and she would probably never have worked at Morgan Stanley. She would certainly never have come up with the idea of setting up Bridge, the “edu-business model” that aims to provide affordable, high-quality education to millions of children from families who have to live on less than US$2 a day. When the couple founded Bridge in 2008, their dream was to emancipate these children.

The exact number of children involved is unclear.  Sometimes her husband talks about 700 million children, at other times it’s around 700 million families.  According to the World Bank, 767 million people worldwide currently live below the poverty line of 1.90 dollars a day. Whatever the exact figures are, they are high and education opportunities fall short of what is needed.

There are not enough good state schools and private schools are often too expensive. May and her husband have spotted a gap in the market: education needs to be better than what state schools offer, and provided at only 30 percent of what the state currently spends per student.

May, close to tears, continues her speech in Nairobi: “Bridge is different because it exists for only one reason, it’s so that every child, not just the rich kids, not just the kids in the cities, not just the kids who have mothers and fathers who can look after them and teach them at home but every kid no matter what else is going on in their lives can go to a great school.” She is even more positive in an interview: “We fight for social justice, to create opportunities.”

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By Maria Hendeveld

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It’s time for youth to deliver South Sudan to lasting peace

The economy is destroyed. Inflation is the highest in the world. Fertile land has been left fallow because the danger of a violent death has kept farmers from tilling their soil. Food is so scarce and food prices so high that onions are cut into quarters for sale in markets in Yei! South Sudan is in desperate need of leadership.

Six years ago, South Sudan gained independence in a joyous occasion that marked a dramatic end to the inter-generation struggle of its people. After fighting two wars against Sudan in which millions were killed, the people of South Sudan were hopeful that a new era of peace and prosperity had dawned. Two years later, in a December night, the high hopes of independence were shattered when a power struggle between the country’s president, Salva Kiir, and his former deputy, Riek Machar, plunged the country into a civil war. Since then, the country and its hopes have become unrecognizable. The power struggle between South Sudan’s leaders has brought the country to a state of near total anarchy.

Nearly two million people, mostly women and children, have sought refuge in other countries. Hundreds of thousands are without any food to eat. If the war continues at its current intensity, half of the population will have starved to death or fled the country by the end of this year. Seventy-two per cent of women living in United Nations displacement camps in Juba have reported being raped or experiencing some form of sexual assault during the war.

The economy is destroyed. Inflation is the highest in the world. Fertile land has been left fallow because the danger of a violent death has kept farmers from tilling their soil. Food is so scarce and food prices so high that onions are cut into quarters for sale in markets in Yei!

These statistics should shock any leader into action. Not in South Sudan, it seems, where political leaders have squandered every opportunity to end the war and save the lives of their people.

There is no doubt that South Sudan is experiencing a man-made disaster of epic proportions. The political leaders of South Sudan from the warring factions are the primary constraint to peace. They have consistently failed to discharge the burden of leadership in the service of their people. For the last four years, South Sudanese citizens, regional and international leaders have been calling on the leaders of South Sudan to soften their hearts and prioritise the lives of their people. Tragically, these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

At this critical juncture in our history, before South Sudan goes beyond the point of no return and into the abyss, the country is in desperate need of leadership that will salvage it from a bitter power struggle and respond to the aspirations of the common South Sudanese for peace, stability and prosperity. There is a desperate yearning for a leadership that will bridge the deep historical cleavages between its peoples and embark on the project of nation building – leadership that will enter and uphold a social contract with the people of South Sudan rather than rule over them.

This is the strong and substantive message that a group of thirteen delegates from the South Sudan Youth Leaders Forum (SSYLF) of which I am a part of, will be taking to the region’s leaders, South Sudanese politicians and the people of South Sudan.  It is for this reason that we are repeating the same message to the leadership and policy fraternity of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan to share our views on what is needed to stop the war and place the nation on a path towards peace and stability.

These young leaders that I am travelling with are drawn from a diverse range of ethnic and political backgrounds. We include among us academics, church leaders, policy experts, government officials and civil society leaders at the forefront of peace-building, reconciliation and nation-building efforts in South Sudan.

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By Peter Biar Ajak

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Biafra as memoir

In 2005, a former diplomat from the Republic of Biafra, named Godwin Alaoma Onyegbula reflected in his memoir on what being Nigerian meant to him: “I was born in this country, over seventy years ago, and know no other country better than I know Nigeria.

I have lived through colonial Nigeria, independentNigeria, Biafran Nigeria, and present Nigeria.” Onyegbula continued, “We think we have lived through [this], [as] one country, but experience suggests otherwise. It is becoming more difficult to find an ‘authentic’ Nigerian; that is, someone whose ‘Nigerianess’ is obvious, and clearly distinguishable, to himself and others.”

In the last 50 years, hundreds of people like Onyegbula who supported Biafra or fought against it have written their memoirs, ranging from small hand-printed pamphlets to thick, heavily-footnoted volumes. In various ways, all address what it means to be Nigerian in the wake of the Nigerian Civil War. In the long period of military rule that followed the end of the war, closed archives and an officially enforced silence meant that few historians openly reckoned with Biafra’s legacy.

Fiction was one site where Nigeria worked through the meanings of the war, especially in the work of well-known novelists, such as Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Cyprian Ekwensi. Today the younger fiction writers, Chinelo Okparanta, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta are helping to bring debates about the war back into public discussion.

But by volume, the most significant body of writing on Biafra is neither history nor fiction, but memoir. A vast number of memoirs on Biafra circulate in Nigeria, and only a fraction of them are available outside of the country. The topics they address vary, from fiery political screeds on the causes and consequences of the war to intimate recollections of suffering and loss. Many, though not all, are written by people who supported the Biafran side. Some blend genres, mixing rumor with recollection, and a few take liberties with the war’s plot. As Onyegbula candidly warned in his own memoirs, “biography becomes boring when entirely true.”

Virtually every important military figure on both sides wrote accounts of their lives (some, like Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote more than one). A fair number of these were ghostwritten or “as told to” someone else; penning memoirs for prominent people has become a cottage industry for Nigerian historians and journalists. The recollections of well-known figures in the war – government officials, officers, scientists and intellectuals among them – are widely read and discussed in Nigeria today.

Some are hawked in bus stations and taxi ranks, alongside self-help books and prayer manuals. The contents of one unpublished autobiography by Emmanuel Ifeajuna, a 1966 coup-plotter turned Biafran officer, generates enormous speculation about the conspiracies leading up to the war.

But what is most remarkable about Biafra’s autobiographical literature is the number of ordinary people who wrote their memoirs. Most are privately published in tiny editions, intended for personal distribution rather than sale. They contain greater moral shading than most writings on the war – far more than the records of international humanitarian organizations and foreign governments, which are quickly becoming the go-to source for historians of Biafra.

Their authors include market women, rank-and-file soldiers, farmers, bureaucrats and teachers. Deserters and small-time war profiteers wrote them too, suggesting that there is more than self-aggrandizement to the war stories that ex-Biafrans tell. Their anger is often tempered with regret, and few are tales of unmitigated bravery or heroism. As a Biafran private named Thomas Enunwe recalled of his time in uniform, “going to fight in the battle field was like going to be tied up for the firing squad.”

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By Samuel Fury Childs Daly

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Was Lesotho’s low voter turn-out exaggerated?

One of the main issues around Lesotho’s general elections, including the recent poll of 3 June 2017, is the incredibly low voter turnout. Much of the commentary on this blames election fatigue, among other things. The 3 June general election was, for example, the third in five years. But, is there more to Lesotho’s voter apathy than election fatigue?

It is widely acknowledged that electoral participation is the cornerstone of modern democracy. Leading political scientists think low turn-out is a “common symptom of democratic ill health” (Norris 2012:221), and of “a crisis of democracy…[and] legitimacy” (Przeworski 2008:126). Politicians are thought to have more incentives to espouse policies in the ‘public interest’ when majority of citizens take free and fair elections seriously.

It was partly for these reasons that in the run-up to Lesotho’s snap election on 3 June 2017 — the third in five years— Lesotho’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) embarked on an ambitious campaign to attain a voter turnout of 85%. If achieved, this would have eclipsed the 47% average turnout recorded in the previous general elections.

This being a snap election, IEC’s ‘85% voter turnout campaign’ was limited to within the three months of the election campaigning period (from March to June 2017). The limited time notwithstanding, the campaign was rather ill-informed of the real factors behind the voter apathy that goes back to 2007, and is one of the lowest in the SADC region. The content of the campaign material was not underpinned by empirical evidence regarding the factors that keep the majority of Basotho disinterested in voting.

The IEC and its pre-election campaign had absolutely no social media presence despite its main target being the youth and first-time voters. The result was that voter-turnout in 2017 remained roughly as it has been over the past four general elections.

A few hypotheses have been advanced regarding the low turnout in this election. The IEC spokesperson, Tuoe Hant’si conjectured that the presence of the members of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) in the immediate vicinity of the voting stations might have intimidated potential voters, nullifying the positive effect of the ‘85% campaign’. Hantsi’s suspicions might hold water. While LDF has a long history of meddling in national politics, soldiers are usually confined to the barracks on the polling day.

Amidst allegations of connivance between powerful individuals within LDF and senior politicians in government, the unprecedented presence of armed soldiers around polling areas might have had a chilling effect. But we have no way of measuring how big the impact this was on turnout.

I have argued elsewhere that central to Lesotho’s high levels of apathy is an electorate that has been disenchanted with a fractured democracy for so long that it has given up on the notion that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for all others’. Basotho have grown weary of the political class that often pervert the idea of democracy to advance personal interests.

Regarding the recent poll, the straw that broke the Carmel’s back pertains to the circumstances surrounding the decision by the prime minister and the king to call an election instead of handing over to the opposition after the former lost the confidence of the majority of parliamentarians.

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By Moletsane Monyake

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