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Tag Archives: Africa
Across sub-Saharan Africa, marriage of minors is still a prevalent problem, particularly among young girls from impoverished families. In Nigeria, the practice is far more common in the Muslim North, where some areas practice Sharia law that allows for child marriage. “The Nigerian government made child marriage illegal in 2003, but according to campaigners from Girls Not Brides, 17% of girls in the country are still married before the age of 15. In the Muslim-dominated northwest, 48% of girls are married by the age of 15 and 78% are married by the time they hit 18.”
This is obviously a challenge for development, as girls who marry young are unlikely to finish schooling or stay within the protective proximity of their parents. There are countless health problems associated with childbearing at a young age, common among child brides. It threatens both the health and human rights of young girls.
For this reason, it was lauded news that “Malawi banned child marriage last week through new legislation that increases the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, representing a major victory for girls in a country that has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.” Malawi could function as a model nation in Africa for reforming the ways marriage and girls’s rights are approached.
The African Union is still considering a mass withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would be disastrous for human rights. The ICC can prosecute individuals for international crimes such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly in circumstances in which the country of the crime is unable or unwilling to do so.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on testimony against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo at the ICC in the Hague, Netherlands. He is the Congolese former Vice President and ALC leader who ordered mass rapes and killings in the Central African Republic from 2002-2003. His trial was historic because it was the first time that an individual was charged with sexual violence as a stand alone crime. Previously, charges of mass rape have been embedded under the umbrella of other wartime violence in general. It was an important step forward for women’s rights.
This sort of progress would not have occurred outside the framework of the ICC. The AU currently demands that sitting heads of state be immune from ICC charges, but such actors are exactly those who are least likely to face justice in their home countries. The ICC is most relevant precisely for them. Are such leaders making a bid to withdraw simply in anticipation of their own potential bad behavior in the future?
It’s home to millions of people who lack even one lamp, but also a frontier of great change and innovation. How much do you know about sub-Saharan Africa’s energy potential?
See how much you don’t know about oil spills and oil spill technology with this quiz from National Geographic.
When is it not in women’s best interest to embrace the motherhood frame to propel forward female protests? The problem with this essentialism in resistance is that it may compromise an ideological tenant for a pragmatic one. By definition, essentializing must simplify the experiences and forms of knowledge of participants in resistance, and thus inevitably omit those that are outliers. It is tempting to suspend a commitment to including individual needs if it means substantively furthering a cause beneficial to the subaltern group as a whole; it may serve as a means to an end. Tangible gains for social movements through the use of strategic essentialism may not outweigh the ideological costs of its use.
It can be problematic for a social movement to use this maternal identity as the basis for political authority, as it excludes those who are not mothers and confines participants to the mothering role. As Tripp, Casimiro, Kwesiga, and Mungwa (2009) describe it, “their roles may limit them to [only] that of mother. It also associates women’s participation with what many consider a natural role rather than agency and choice. It may prevent women from entering into politics on an equal basis with men if the focus is on their roles as mothers”. Additionally, such a tendency simplifies the variation in women’s lives.
In the Delta context, for example, the role of chiefs’ wives in resistance is very different from that of non-elite female farmers. Elite wives must navigate a different social terrain, in which their husbands may be using them to influence the actions of women in the community or, conversely, in which they may be able to exercise an unusual amount of autonomy. The princess of * told me, “My grandfather was founder of * [so] no, I cannot really go to protest, but I can tie my wrapper and turn it upside down to protest when I want in my house”. Farmers, on the other hand, may act with more freedom since they are not royalty or, conversely, their positions may mean they don’t have the resources or social capital to behave as autonomously as an elite woman. So, not only must one eschew gender essentialism and cultural essentialism but also socioeconomic or any other essentialism that discounts the variations in the ways that women experience society based on their economic, educational, or marital status.
One of the disadvantages of mothering as a frame can be found in a paradox: being mothers can justify women’s presence but, once they are engaged, then it constricts their actions within the movement. As an illustration, a majority of the two dozen female protesters I spoke with at Occupy Nigeria reported that their husband or a male organizer had directed them to come. None of them had made their own signs or banners. They all said that they would not return to protest for another day. They didn’t take up the bullhorn as often, nor did they chant very loudly, and they marched together in back of the procession behind the men. If women were not choosing to protest on their own, or were not exercising autonomy during protest, then it presents a paradox: Motherhood is their justification for public engagement, yet that same gender construct constrains their independent participation within that space of engagement. So, in all, the maternal frame offers the contradiction of empowering women to demonstrate while also possibly limiting their chance for success.
Bye-bye Big Men
Governance in much of Africa is visibly improving, though progress is uneven
Infrastructure meets tradition
LEAVING THE IVORIAN commercial capital, Abidjan, at 7am, you run straight into what is known as the civil-servant rush hour. The president has decreed that administrators must be at their desks by 7.30am, and most are. A Western ambassador says disbelievingly, “If you are five minutes late for a meeting, you have missed the first five minutes.” Having travelled to the office on elevated dual carriageways, civil servants leap into lifts and ride up to their desks on the upper floors of modern glass towers. Some sneakily keep an iPad or some other electronic gadget with which to while away the time.
Governance in Côte d’Ivoire is rarely as good as it looks. Bribes still solve problems faster than meetings. The opposition spitefully boycotted the most recent elections. Deep cleavages run across the political landscape. And yet the national accounts are in order, debts are coming down and new roads are being built. This is the picture in much of Africa. The allocation of power is becoming fairer and its use more competent, as in Ghana, though there is much more to do, especially in resource-rich nations like Nigeria.
African governments are beginning to accept the importance of good governance, not least for improving the lot of the poor. Rulers travelling on presidential planes strut their stuff at the World Economic Forum in Davos and declare their undying interest in “capacity-building”. Behind the jargon a remarkable change is taking place. The default means of allocating power in Africa now is to hold elections, and elections are generally becoming fairer. Sceptics rightly bemoan voter fraud and intimidation, and plenty of polls are still stolen. But the margins of victory that autocrats dare to award themselves are shrinking. Indeed, quite a few have discovered, in forced retirement, that by allowing notional democracy they have started something they cannot stop.
Until 1991 it was almost unknown for a ruling party to be peacefully ousted at the polls. Since Benin ticked up a first in that year it has happened almost three dozen times. In many countries such an event cements tentative gains, as it did in Ghana in 1992 and again in 2000. Crossing the border from Côte d’Ivoire into Ghana, the visitor immediately becomes aware that democratic expression here is unrestrained. An election is under way and supporters of the ruling party and the opposition cheerfully line one side of the road each, holding megaphones and waving banners. Opinion polls put the two main parties neck-and-neck even though the present government has achieved impressive economic growth: GDP increased by 14% in 2011.
After a few hours on the road, just past the city of Takoradi, the country’s economic turbo-charger comes into view. Pipelines run along the road and diggers make huge holes for storage tanks. A vast oilfield has been found nearby, but celebrations were muted. Ghanaians know that a resource bonanza can be dangerous and politicians may get greedy, so administrators are now being trained in handling a large influx of oil revenues. At a leafy campus with neatly trimmed grass on the outskirts of Accra, the capital, they learn about transparency, accountability and the intricacies of transfer pricing.
This stuff matters. Some of the biggest obstacles to better governance are not murderous tyrants but a lack of bureaucratic competence and a divided opposition. Ageing autocrats die eventually, but bad habits will not go away of their own accord. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator, now aged 89, could be deposed if rivals, with whom he has been forced to share power since the most recent election, were better at their jobs. Still, in neighbouring Zambia opposition politicians outmanoeuvred a tired government in 2011 and took office.
Luckily, competence is on the rise in Africa. White elephants are still being created, but are now generally designed to serve larger and more inclusive groups of people. South Africa’s football stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup (pictured) are in that category, as are many new dams and airports.
Politicians and officials are learning new skills to run such projects. It is hard to quantify the change, but traipsing in and out of ministries across the continent builds up a measure of confidence. There are plenty of shortcomings and allegations of corruption, but in a fair number of African countries the bureaucracies are not far behind standards in, say, India.
Transport management in particular has become much better. A bus ride from Accra across three African borders in one day is instructive. Departing at sunrise, the 15-seater easily crosses into Togo where it passes well-run port installations and warehouses. An hour later it arrives in Benin. The driver ignores the outstretched hands of traffic policemen. After a few more hours the bus reaches Nigeria amid throngs of packed lorries on their way to Onitsha, Africa’s largest market. Most of the bus passengers are professionals, including several telecoms engineers who commute weekly. All four countries have sensible transit policies and trade actively with each other.
White elephants are still being created, but now generally for larger and more inclusive groups of people
What has brought about this change? Across Africa both voters and leaders are better educated than they were even half a generation ago. Many of those in power are the first in their families with a university degree. Standards of political debate have risen thanks to better schools, modern media and the return of diaspora members who bring new ideas with them.
One lesson in particular seems to have sunk in: the need for solid and durable institutions. In the past, good practice all too often lapsed quickly after a change of incumbent. Foreign advisers ram home the need for institution-building. “Everyone is nagging us about it, from TB to Mo,” says an Oxford-educated official, referring to Tony Blair, a former British prime minister who now runs an African governance initiative, and Mo Ibrahim, an Anglo-Sudanese telecoms billionaire who awards prizes for political leadership.
Size matters here. Benin is nicely democratic—it has more political parties than cities—but with a mere 9m people it carries little weight. Nigeria, on the other hand, has 160m, so along with Kenya and South Africa it sets the tone in regional meetings and institutions—and it still struggles to get things right. When the parliament’s speaker needed a bit of extra cash before leaving office in 2011 (on top of more than $1m a year he got in pay and expenses) he gave himself a $65m government loan. He was charged but later acquitted.
Nigeria is famous for corruption, yet at issue is more than thievery. Members of the elite systematically loot state coffers, then subvert the electoral system to protect themselves. Everybody knows it, and a few straight arrows in the government talk about it openly. Perhaps half the substantial (but misreported) oil revenues of Africa’s biggest oil producer go missing. Moderate estimates suggest that at least $4 billion-8 billion is stolen every year, money that could pay for schools and hospitals. One official reckons the country has lost more than $380 billion since independence in 1960. Yet not a single politician has been imprisoned for graft. The day that Nigeria works properly, the battle for Africa’s future will have been won.
One step at a time
Such an outcome is not inconceivable. Take Lagos, the commercial capital, long a byword for chaos and skulduggery. The bus from Accra inches forward on an eight-lane bridge in dense traffic. The last 30 miles take longer than the previous 300. The city is choking. Roads jam up daily. Commuters sometimes sleep in their cars. Businessmen schedule at most two out-of-office meetings a day. Built on a swamp by the Atlantic, Lagos spreads out unplanned. Two out of three residents live in wooden slums. Already home to 20m people, the city is expected to double in size within a generation. When most of the public infrastructure was built in the 1970s, the population was perhaps 2m.
But help is on the way. The governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola, has begun an impressive campaign to clean up the city. Yaba bus station, where the bus eventually arrives at 9pm, used to be full of pickpockets and rowdy vendors. Now there is an orderly queue for taxis. The Chinese are building a vast urban rail network. Public buses have been assigned separate lanes. When the governor heard they were being used by unauthorised vehicles, he strode out one morning and made a citizen arrest of a stunned colonel.
The governor is playing to the crowd, but why not? The transformation of Lagos is worth trumpeting. Its economy is now bigger than the whole of Kenya’s. Tax revenue has increased from $4m to $97m a month in little more than a decade. Tax rates have stayed the same but the amounts being collected have risen dramatically thanks to the deployment of private tax “farmers” who get a commission.
Better governance is creeping beyond the metropolis. When your correspondent e-mails the governor of Ekiti state in impoverished central Nigeria he gets a reply within minutes, with the entire cabinet copied in and being told to assist with a visit. After a six-hour drive north, seven interviews across the capital, Ado Ekiti, are arranged in the space of a few hours. Cabinet members are mostly foreign-educated and highly motivated and have private-sector experience. A new employment agency sends out job advertisements by text message. All secondary-school pupils are getting free laptops with solar panels. All civil servants, including teachers, are tested annually; those who fail stand to lose their job.
To be sure, this sort of governance is still the exception. A visit to the capital, Abuja, another six-hour drive north flanked by red earth dotted with filthy shacks, is sobering. The seat of government moved here two decades ago to escape swampy Lagos; now it is as chaotic as the former capital. A programme to subsidise fuel alone cost the government $6.8 billion in theft in three years (on top of the billions wasted on the market-distorting subsidy itself). Shady deals between officials and oil companies have swallowed an estimated $29 billion in the past decade. Yet more than half of all Nigerians live on less than $1 per day and get almost no electricity because the grid has collapsed.
Still, even Abuja is not without hope. Inside gleaming ministerial palaces dotted along new ring roads a band of reformers is at work. They are in a minority, but seemingly fearless. The central-bank governor has started cleaning up the financial sector. The finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (who recently published a memoir entitled “Reforming the Unreformable”), is reducing fuel subsidies and thus the scope for theft. A special task force in the president’s office is privatizing electricity assets. The reformers have encountered strong opposition, as much from an understandably suspicious public as from the wily crooks who stand to lose out. The good guys are winning, but it will be a long time before they triumph.
I came across this blog post about the number of countries in Africa (54) after reading about world birth rates on the CIA World Factbook site. In looking at a list of the countries in the world with the highest birth rates, I saw that with the exception of Afghanistan and East Timor, all top thirty were African countries. Niger has the highest birthrate in the world (and is considered the poorest by most measurements) and Nigeria is ranked #13. Seeing those 28 slots taken by African countries made me think that that must be over half of Africa, and it is.
The UN membership roster contains 54 African states, and that of the African Union contains 53. While the AU list includes suspended members, it does not include a count for Morocco, who has decided to stay out of the AU. Thus AU’s implied total can also be said to be 54. Of these, 48 states are found on the actual continent, while 6 are island nations.
However, Africa is about to get a brand new country. Within less than two weeks, South Sudan will hold a referendum on whether or not to secede from the rest of Sudan. If it does secede, which currently seems likely, it would mean that the new total will soon be 55, right? Well, no, because the current total of 54 is true only to some degree.
Before I go on: what’s a country, anyway? I’m going to be somewhat untechnical here and use ‘country’…
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