Category Archives: Africa

Lagos la Vida Loca

Traffic jams, Lagos

By next year, more than half the world’s population will for the first time in history be living in cities. Current’s Mariana van Zeller tours Lagos, Nigeria, the world’s fastest-growing “Megacity”, creating a thought-provoking vision of one of Africa’s most difficult cities.

Don’t miss it.

The Economist: missing the point, once again…

Shooting Pencils At Target @ JupiterImagesThe Economist reviews this week Forces for Good, a new book about exceptional NGOs, which according to the weekly are too few and rare to be worthy of the illustrious paper’s attention. The authors, Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, surveyed thousands of (US) nonprofits, and finally concentrated their attention on a sample of 12, which they believe have achieved the highest levels of impact.

These included America’s Second Harvest, Habitat for Humanity and – much to the Economist’s delight – the notoriously right-wing Heritage Foundation, a proof that this was a “serious piece of research, not the usual sentimental tosh that gets written about left-leaning NGOs” [sic!].

The Economist once again shows its contempt towards the NGO sector and its lack of understanding of its internal diversity. Kicking off with a series of scathing (and unreferenced) remarks about social enterprises, which seem to reduce the debate to a pathetic comparison between the successes of Google and those of the Grameen Bank (apples and oranges, anyone?), it then sings the praises of the 12 selected nonprofits for their excellent achievements (data, anyone?). The fact that social enterprises and nonprofits might not actually be one and the same thing, or that being based (as the 12 selected organisations are) in the US as opposed to Bangladesh might offer considerable advantages to – for example – making the most of market forces does not seem to be a relevant piece of information for the illustrious weekly.

The Economist is not alone in displaying a lack of understanding towards the complexities of the third sector, and of social enterprises in particular. Roger L. Martin & Sally Osberg – echoing Muhammad Yunus – have already made a plea on the pages of the Stanford Social Innovation Review for strengthening the definition of social entrepreneurship [PDF], but definitions are not enough when we are facing the challenges of applying them to different cultural contexts. We might reach an agreement on what a social enterprise might be in the US (therefore what parameters we can adopt to evaluate its success), but this does not mean we can apply this model to the whole world.

Aside from these important theoretical considerations, “where is the social-entrepreneurial equivalent of a for-profit start-up like Google or Microsoft […]? where is the evidence of massive social change?” – asks an irritated Economist.

Kick Start Kenya - oilseed pressThe answer is Kick-Start, a Kenya-based organisation that develops and promotes technologies that can be used by dynamic entrepreneurs to establish and run profitable small scale enterprises. As reviewed by the MIT’s Innovations journal, Kick-Start has started 50,000 new businesses, generating $52 million a year in new profits and wages, and is directly responsible for a 0.6% increase of Kenya’s GDP. See a good video by the Schwab Foundation on Kick-Start’s successful water pump here.

Now, can someone at the Economist more interested in facts than in rhetorical preaching let me know if Google can be said to have had a comparatively similar impact on the US economy and on its social needs?

My heart’s with Ethan

 Chris Jordan, Cell Phones, 2007 (courtesy: http://www.chrisjordan.com/)

Ethan Zuckerman remains my No. 1 favourite blogger of all times, and given how much I struggle to update GlobaLab at least 2-3 times a week, while trying to work and retain a decent social life, I am in awe at his amazing prolificacy.

A quick browse at his last few entries would be enough to feed an average person’s brain for 6 months. Over the last few days, he’s been busy reporting from the PopTech conference, which he describes as “the annual three-day gathering of scientists, inventors, geeks, philosophers and thinkers in coastal Maine“. The event is a catwalk for amazing projects and ideas that are truly transforming the world. If you haven’t followed the event, you can read Ethan’s posts on some of the most interesting presentations, including (but there are more):

It took me good part of the day to read them all, and there are many more celebrity bloggers who reported from the event, including BoingBoing, Next Billion, and a few (but not many) non-English speaking bloggers.

If this isn’t enough for you, check out Ethan’s earlier post about a new initiative to fight counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Ghana (hopefully soon the whole of Africa), mPedigree, which will use mobile phones to track drugs from their original producers all the way to the pharmacy shelves, allowing each buyer in the chain to ensure that they’re dealing with a legitimate product. Or check out the entry in which he takes a good shot at unravelling the complex situation in Somalia, in response to the Onion’s eye-opening video Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex, a must see for all Africanists:

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

What can I say? Ethan, you are my personal hero!!!

Coeur of darkness

 Bozize, Chirac, BFFE

The Independent’s Johann Hari writes a long overdue report on France’s secret involvement in the Central African Republic, the most forgotten and under-reported country of Africa.

This is classical, old-fashioned war-reporting and political journalism, an uncompromising indictment of France’s foreign policy in Central Africa (and Africa more generally), and a very uncomfortable read for those who still think *we* are the good ones, and *they* are the underdeveloped ones. Francewatcher will be pleased…

Down at the (social) market

Dude, do I look concerned enough?

The IHT writes about the current wave of scepticism over social marketing, a market-inspired strategy to get the poor to start using mosquito nets by asking them to pay a minimum price for them, which the WHO’s director Dr. Arata Kochi bluntly describes as a pointless approach to reach the most vulnerable.

Clearly, no one has informed of such policy-shift Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who’ve been visiting Tanzanian hospitals implementing government-backed and USAID-funded net distribution facilities adopting a social marketing strategy, allegedly very successfully.

Beyond Good Intentions

Via Natasha Hanshaw’s blog, Exploring Development, I found out about Tori and Eric’s project ‘Beyond Good Intentions‘, a documentary film about inspiring stories of international aid. Here’s the trailer.

And from their website, an outline of their project:

We are currently living in an age where endemic poverty, natural disasters, and war are defining factors in the lives of much of the world’s population. However, we are also living in an age of extreme generosity in which the desire to help others who are less fortunate is quite strong. Perhaps even you have been compelled to donate your time or money to help people in remote parts of the globe. But have your good intentions been enough to produce effective changes for those who need it most?

We are two filmmakers who are embarking on the journey of a lifetime to look beyond good intentions to discover what really works in international aid.

Our documentary film is taking us around the world to ten different countries over the course of a year including Colombia, Peru, Argentina, India, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa. We are actively seeking out effective examples of international aid and inspirational humanitarians who are making the world a better place through their work.

Our film will document a remarkable journey of discovery as we attempt to answer the question, “What really works in international aid?” We are ready to be inspired. Are you?

Tori Hogan, co-founder of Beyond Good Intentions, spent the last three months of 2006 filming and interviewing aid organizations and inspirational individuals in Colombia, Peru and Argentina. The trailer is a rough cut of this filming and an introduction to the documentary.”

The end of Coca-Cola?

Arabic Coca Cola 

Dana Milbank writes a scathing report about yesterday’s press conference by the Sudanese ambassador to the US in response to President Bush’s new sanctions against his country, criticised as overdue by Human Rights Watch:

A dozen reporters, and a similar number of Sudanese Embassy officials, watched the ambassador for an hour as he shouted into the microphone and delivered a circular and rambling complaint about the injustice of U.S. sanctions. His fingers, fists and arms flew through the air, exposing the flashy gold watch on his wrist.

Dana goes on to dismiss the laughable idea that Sudan might halt its exports of gum arabic, hence depriving the world of a crucial component in the production of Coca-Cola:

What’s more, the good and peaceful leaders of Sudan were prepared to retaliate massively: they would cut off shipments of the emulsifier gum arabic, thereby depriving the world of cola. “I want you to know that the gum arabic which runs all the soft drinks all over the world, including the United States, mainly 80 percent is imported from my country,” the ambassador said after raising a bottle of Coca-Cola. A reporter asked if Sudan was threatening to “stop the export of gum arabic and bring down the Western world.” – “I can stop that gum arabic and all of us will have lost this,” Khartoum Karl warned anew, beckoning to the Coke bottle. “But I don’t want to go that way.”

Dana would probably laugh less if he realised that gum arabic is indeed a prime export of Sudan, which was responsible for 56% of the $90 million-worth world trade in 2000. The rest came from Chad and Nigeria, two countries which cannot be said to be the most peaceful in the world, and where production can be seriously hampered by local political upheavals and conflict too.

It is unlikely that Sudan will halt production altogether, since millions of its citizens depend directly or indirectly on this product. But there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect Sudan to retaliate against the US by dramatically increasing the price of the product, in very much the same fashion as OPEC did in 1973 thanks to its monopoly on oil production. Moreover, the protracted conflict in Darfur – one of the prime spots for the cultivation of gum arabic – is already seriously affecting exports, and price increases are a realistic expectation.

Since no one really knows the exact formula of Coca-Cola, except for its two top executives, Coke aficionados might rest in peace for the time being, especially since Wikipedia does not list gum arabic as one of the suspected ingredients. But should gum arabic be present in even little quantities – like in most soft drinks – expect to pay quite a lot more for your fizzy drink in the near future.