Why some anti-corruption campaigns make people more likely to pay a bribe

Commuters waiting at a bus stop in Lagos Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, University of Bristol

Donors and civil society groups spend tens of millions of dollars every year trying to combat corruption. They do it because corruption has been shown to increase poverty and inequality while undermining trust in the government. Reducing corruption is essential to improve public services and strengthen the social contract between citizens and the state.

But what if anti-corruption efforts actually make the situation worse?

Our research in Lagos, Nigeria, found that anti-corruption messages often have an unintended effect. Instead of building public resolve to reject corrupt acts, the messages we tested either had no effect or actually made people more likely to offer a bribe.

The reason may be that the messages reinforce popular perceptions that corruption is pervasive and insurmountable. In doing so, they encourage apathy and acceptance rather than inspire activism.

Fighting corruption

Efforts to combat corruption in “developing countries” initially focused on law enforcement by political leaders and bureaucrats. But these strategies met with limited success and so efforts switched to raising public awareness of the dangers of corruption.

This change of approach made sense. One reason that leaders don’t deliver on reforms is that they benefit from the way things are. Encouraging citizens to reject corrupt leaders would give those in power an incentive to act.

The last 20 years therefore saw a vast array of campaigns, from newspaper and radio advertisements to Twitter messages. Short films, theatre productions and signs that proclaim that government institutions are “corruption free zones” were also included.

These messages are seen by large numbers of people, but until recently there had been remarkably little systematic research on whether they actually work.

Researching corruption

To test the impact of anti-corruption messages we developed five short narratives like those promoted by civil society organisations and international donors. One message focused on explaining that corruption is widespread and damaging. Others emphasised the local impact of graft and the way it wasted citizens’ taxes.

To test the effect of more positive messages, one narrative talked about recent successes that political leaders had in curbing corruption. Another detailed the role that religious leaders played in promoting clean government.

We read the messages to 2,400 randomly selected people in Lagos. While corruption has often been identified as a major challenge in Nigeria, the Lagos State government has made some progress towards reducing government waste, ensuring all citizens pay taxes and delivering better services. It was therefore plausible that both positive and negative messages about corruption would resonate with Lagosians. The state is also ethnically diverse, with considerable poverty and inequality, and so reflects the kind of context in which anti-corruption messaging is often deployed.

Each person we interviewed was given one of the narratives. A control group was not given any anti-corruption information. This was to enable us to compare the impact of different messages. We then asked everyone a number of questions about their attitudes towards corruption.

In an advance on previous studies, we also invited 1,200 people to play a game in which they had an opportunity to win real money. In the game, players could take away more money if they were willing to pay a small bribe to the “banker” who determined the pay-outs. The game tested players’ commitment to rejecting corruption in a more demanding way than simply asking them if they believed corruption was wrong.

We were then able to evaluate whether anti-corruption messages were effective by looking at whether those who received them were more likely to demand clean government and less willing to pay a bribe.

More harm than good

In line with prior research, our findings suggest that anti-corruption campaigns may be doing more harm than good. None of the narratives we used had a positive effect overall. Many of them actually made Lagosians more likely to pay a bribe.

Put another way, the good news is that public relations campaigns can change citizens’ minds. But the bad news is that they often do so in unintended and counterproductive ways.

The reason for this seems to be that anti-corruption messages encourage citizens to think more about corruption, emphasising the extent of the problem. This contributes to “corruption fatigue”: the belief that the problem is simply too big for any one person to make a difference generates despondency. It makes individuals more likely to go with the flow than to stand against it.

This interpretation is supported by another finding that the negative effect of anti-corruption messaging was far more powerful among individuals who believed that corruption was pervasive. This reveals that the problematic consequences of anti-corruption messages are not universal. Among less pessimistic people, messages did not have a negative effect. And one message had the desired effect of reducing the probability of paying a bribe. This was the narrative that emphasised the relationship between corruption and citizens’ tax payments.

Our study therefore suggests that if we can target anti-corruption messages more effectively at specific audiences, we may be able to enhance their positive effects while minimising the risks.

What next?

Other studies have come to similar conclusions in Indonesia, Costa Rica and to some extent Papua New Guinea.

We therefore need to take the lessons of these studies seriously. Anti-corruption campaigns that send untargeted messages should be halted until we work out how to target them more effectively. The most logical response is to embrace new ways of working.

This might mean identifying messages that persuade citizens that corruption is fallingand so “nudge” them to believe it is a problem that can be overcome.

Where that’s not possible, it is also worth considering a more radical break with the past. As others working within the Anti-Corruption Evidence Consortium have argued, the most promising approach may be to abandon traditional anti-corruption messaging in favour of working more indirectly. This would involve building public demand for greater political accountability and transparency without always talking directly about corruption.

Such an approach would be less high profile, but is far more likely to be effective.

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, Lecturer in International Public Policy and Governance, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The voices missing from South Africa’s response to COVID-19

A woman making masks in Alexandra, Johannesburg. The South African government hasn’t consulted with its citizens on COVID-19. (Photo by Michele Spatari / AFP via Getty Images).

Isayvani Naicker, African Academy of Sciences

Ten days after South Africa reported its first case of COVID-19 on 5 March 2020, the government moved quickly to declare a national state of disaster. Within days a National Coronavirus Command Council had been formed, travel restrictions imposed and schools closed. A national lockdown was announced on 23 March. This remains in force though restrictions are being lifted slowly.

South Africa’s response has been praised by the head of the World Health Organisation. But it has also come under intense scrutiny from those who cite major shortcomings in how the government has arrived at decisions. Specifically, it’s been criticised for whose advice it has sought and who it has chosen not to engage.

These limitations are exposed in three dimensions.

The first is the reliance on a small subset of the science community in deliberating on the response. South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 is dominated by medics and medical professionals.

The second dimension is the seemingly erratic policy options being communicated from different advisers. For example, some have supported the lockdown while others have been calling for it to be halted.

The third dimension is the absence of engagement with the public and civil society organisations. Here, the government could learn from one of the country’s provinces – the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature – which has gone online to strengthen public participation during COVID-19. The Democracy Works Foundation and Westminister Foundation of Development developed an online engagement series that allows communities to bring their challenges to the legislature.

Policy implementation is about the execution of political decisions, informed by evidence. But part of it is also about politics – being informed by the electorate. It is therefore important that government decision making and interventions be judged in terms of their capacity for effective problem solving. And for generating legitimacy.

Diversity of scientific expertise is needed

The economic, health and socioeconomic effects of the lockdown are multidimensional and far reaching. This suggests that advice from social scientists would be essential to inform the government response. Yet the voices of social scientists and civil society are filtering through to government opinion pieces and commentary in the print and social media – not through structured institutionalised advisory committees.

A public statement on COVID-19 recently released by the South African Academy of Sciences cautioned:

it is crucial that the National Coronavirus Command Council, and the structures reporting to it, such as the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, include in its advisory bodies scientists from a much broader range of disciplines. While it is important to have epidemiologists, vaccinologists and infectious disease experts on these bodies, we believe that the pandemic is not simply a medical problem but a social problem as well. This means that social scientists and humanities scholars should also form part of these advisory structures.

Yet this isn’t happening.

Even the advice from scientists who have formally been drawn into the process of advising government has its limitations.

Scientists on the ministerial advisory committee typically frame the issue based on their involvements and expertise.

What South Africa needs now is scientists to move from being issues advocates who seek to reduce the scope of available choices. They need to become what political scientist Roger A. Pielke refers to as honest brokers of policy alternatives.

This would involve scientists engaging in decision making and integrating scientific knowledge with stakeholder concerns, thus embracing the politics of expert advice. These stakeholder concerns would include business, labour, women’s organisations, religious organisations, professional societies and civic groups.


The government has recently moved from a strict lockdown to a differential risk-adjusted model of alert levels.

The five risk-adjusted levels are guided by a set of criteria. These include the level of infections and rate of transmission, the capacity of health facilities, the implementation of public health interventions and economic and social impact. Built into the model is the possibility of a differentiated approach to deal with those areas that have far higher levels of infection and transmission. Decision makers in the Department of Health say they are currently implementing what is practical and implementable. This, it’s envisaged, would be done in a way that’s “coherent and aligned to many factors”.

The question is: why are ordinary citizens not involved in decisions about what is practical and implementable, coherent and aligned?

Isayvani Naicker, Director Strategy and Partnerships, African Academy of Sciences, African Academy of Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Africa’s dependency on commodity exports, including oil, makes it more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19. Getty Images

How a post-COVID-19 revival could kickstart Africa’s free trade area

Africa’s dependency on commodity exports, including oil, makes it more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19.
Getty Images

By Faizel Ismail, University of Cape Town

The African Continental Free Trade Area was launched two years ago at an African Union (AU) summit in Kigali. It was scheduled to be implemented from 1 July 2020. But this has been pushed out until 2021 because of the impact of COVID-19 and the need for leaders to focus on saving lives.

Studies by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and others state that the free trade area has the potential to increase growth, raise welfare and stimulate industrial development on the continent. But there are concerns. Some countries, particularly smaller and more vulnerable states, could be hurt. For example, they could suffer revenue losses and other negative effects from premature liberalisation.

The impact of COVID-19 will only worsen these structural weaknesses. The Economic Commission for Africa has reported that between 300,000 and 3.3 million people could lose their lives if appropriate measures are not taken. There are several reasons for this level of high risk. These include the fact that 56% of urban dwellings are in overcrowded slums, 71% of Africa’s workforce is informally employed and cannot work from home and 40% of children on the continent are undernourished.

Africa is also more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 because it is highly dependent on imports for its medicinal and pharmaceutical products and on commodity exports. The latter include oil, which has suffered a severe collapse in price.

Other contributing factors are high public debt due to higher interest rate payments than Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, a weak fiscal tax base, and the negative impact on Africa’s currencies due to huge stimulus measures taken by OECD countries.

The COVID-19 crisis has brought these weaknesses into sharp relief. But it also provides an opportunity for African countries to address them. For example, they could accelerate intra-regional trade by focusing on the products of greatest need during the health crisis. Countries could also start building regional value chains to advance industrialisation, improve infrastructure and strengthen good governance and ethical leadership.

These are all vital to guiding African countries through the current crisis.

These goals can be achieved if African states adopt a “developmental regionalism” approach to trade integration. This would include fair trade, building regional value chains, cross-border investment in infrastructure and strengthening democratic governance.

Fair trade

A number of conditions need to be met for a free trade area to succeed.

Firstly, African states vary widely in size and economic development. As a result some may warrant special attention and specific treatment. In particular, among Africa’s 55 states 34 are classified by the United Nations as least developed countries. These are low income countries that have severe structural problems impeding their development.

Building trade agreements in favour of small and less developed economies will contribute to fairer outcomes of the free trade deal.

Secondly, African governments should include their stakeholders – businesses (both big and small), trade unions and civil society organisations – in the national consultation process. This will require effective institutions that enable the fullest participation.

Additional steps countries should take to cope with the fallout from COVID-19:

  • Reduce tariffs on vital pharmaceutical products (such as ventilators), personal protective equipment and food products;
  • Stimulate intra-regional trade by prioritising these products for an immediate or early phase down in the free trade area.

Building regional value chains

African countries are increasingly connected to the global economy, but tend to operate at the lowest rung of the ladder. They are mainly supplying raw materials and other low-value manufactured outputs.

Cooperation is needed between Africa’s emerging entrepreneurs and industries to improve their competitiveness in global markets. This would have a number of positive outcomes including:

  • triggering industrialisation, which will transform economies
  • helping African countries obtain a fairer share of the value derived from African commodities and labour, and
  • improving the lives of people on the continent.

The current crisis creates an opportunity for African countries to build value chains on medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment.

The clothing and textile sector could also be restructured to meet the needs of the health sector while taking advantage of the breakdown in supply chains from China and Europe.

As more countries lock down their economies and apply movement controls, agricultural and processed food supply chains are disrupted. This creates opportunities to build regional supply chains and partner with retailers.

There are also opportunities to build infrastructure to support the health response: hospitals, water and sanitation, schools, low-cost housing and alternative energy.

African countries can also benefit from the growing interest in environmental tourism.

Cross-border infrastructure investment

Since most African countries are less developed, and many are small, intra-regional trade will require them to cooperate to improve their infrastructure. This includes physical ports, roads and railways as well as customs procedures, port efficiency and reduction of roadblocks.

Progress is already being made. Examples include the Mombasa-Nairobi Corridor; the Addis to Djibouti road, rail and port connection; and the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor, which handles more than two-thirds of West African trade.

Increased investment in these types of cross-border infrastructure projects will benefit regional integration.

Democracy and governance

Most African states have started accepting multi-party systems of governance. Many have also embraced a culture of constitutionalism, rule of law and human rights.

Democratic governance supported by active citizenship will create an environment of transparency and predictability that encourages domestic and foreign investment. Both are vital for growth and industrialisation. The process is also essential for the sustainability of regional economic integration and democracy in Africa.

Countries are becoming better at fulfilling their democratic obligations. For example, 40 African countries, including the Seychelles and Zimbabwe, voluntarily joined the African Peer Review Mechanism. The mechanism is a remarkable achievement that the free trade area agreement must build on.

The way forward

The free trade area could become a landmark in Africa’s journey towards peace, prosperity and integration. The COVID-19 pandemic, notwithstanding its devastating impact on the health and economies of Africa, could be an opportunity to advance the free trade area in a more developmental, inclusive and mutually beneficial way for African countries.

Faizel Ismail, Director of the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Nigeria’s efforts to support poor people fail, and what can be done about it

People receiving food handouts in Lagos, Nigeria. AAP

Peter Elias, University of Lagos

Urbanisation remains a big challenge for city managers in low- and middle-income countries. This includes Nigeria, where the proportion of the urban population increased from 17.5% in 1969 to 51.2% in 2019. An estimated 18% of the urban population live in poverty.

A 2018 UN report has projected that 55% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. It says half of the 130 million people living in cities lack access to adequate housing, water, sanitation, durable dwellings, adequate space, and secure tenure.

This makes it imperative for governments to apply social assistance programme for the poor and vulnerable . These can include income or material support such as retirement pensions or health care schemes, as well as feeding programmes for school age children and food handouts.

According to the World Bank, per capita spending on social assistance programmes is lower in low- and middle-income countries (less than $1,000) than in high-income countries ($4,000-$5,000). It reports that Nigeria’s total spending on social assistance programmes is 0.28% of GDP and covers only 7% of the population. This is low compared with South Africa (3.31%), Benin (2.95%), Rwanda (1.5%) and Ghana (0.58%).

There is ample evidence that social assistance programmes are failing to improve housing, access to health care and basic services. They are also failing to integrate the informal economy and improve local economic development in Nigeria.

Poor and vulnerable people live below the poverty line of $1.90. They bear the brunt of disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

My research shows that a host of factors – such as social and economic exclusion – stand in the way of safe and liveable cities.

In a separate paper, I identified the need for proactive measures to create stronger institutions and policies in Africa. This will lead to wealth creation and reduce poverty, social injustices and inequality.

I also found out that this requires a bottom-up participatory approach. This makes for better understanding of issues at the local level. It also ensures that location-specific methods of assistance are designed and that local resources are harnessed.

The Nigerian government introduced a lockdown strategy to contain the spread of the virus. At the same time it initiated various palliative measures. But these have not reached their intended beneficiaries, and have been plagued with difficulties.


The first problem is that the government has adopted a top-down distribution system which has been poorly coordinated and highly exclusive.

In addition, the requirements for accessing the relief packages were unclear, fraught with secrecy or too restrictive. In the case of unconditional cash transfer, grain distribution and credit loan scheme for households and businesses, selection methods were also vague.

The poor and vulnerable could not fulfil some of the bank related requirements for accessing the credit facility by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Social assistance programmes in Nigeria include national cash transfers. This is aimed at financial support for the poor and vulnerable whose incomes or livelihoods are at risk due to natural, human or economic crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdown.

Others include youth employment and community social development projects, like the home-grown school feeding programmes to address poverty and hunger.

Some of these programmes are being reactivated to address the consequences of COVID-19 lockdown on the poor and vulnerable.


The Nigerian government could take a number of steps to improve the situation.

Firstly, it should apply the principle of accessibility as well as diversity. Interventions should be made accessible to the poor irrespective of age, class, ethnicity, gender or education, or residence or disability.

Secondly, the principle of social participation and human rights should be applied. This requires collaboration and partnership with pro-poor organisations and grassroot networks such as civil society or non-governmental organisations, religious groups, trade associations, and community development associations.

Thirdly, planning and implementation should be done in an open and transparent way. This could include using technology and social media for tracking and monitoring of beneficiaries and outcomes.

Fourthly, every available channel and language of communication must be used.

Lastly, there needs to be a bottom-up approach through the identification and use of local groups, resources and champions to create investment opportunities, increase incomes and build resilience of the poor and vulnerable.

Effective social assistance programmes will produce multiplier effects. They will help poor people escape poverty by enhancing their socio-economic status. They can also boost purchasing power, build resilience and catalyse local and regional economic development.

Peter Elias, Development Geographer, Team Lead, Lagos Urban Studies Group (LUSG) & Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Lagos

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How stealing and selling children became a business in South Sudan

PIBOR, South Sudan — Ten years ago, Mary Oleyo hid in the bushes and watched as armed bandits launched a days-long attack on her town to steal their cattle. When the dust settled, she realized that two of her children had been taken, too.

“I almost went mad,” said Oleyo. “I don’t know where they are, or if they’re dead or alive.”

Her children are just two of the thousands that have been forcefully taken from their families in South Sudan. Once kidnapped, children are often bought and sold for cows and used as brides or laborers.ADVERTISEMENT

Child abduction has been taking place for centuries in South Sudan, but the kidnappings spiked when nearly 20,000 kids were forced to the frontlines during the country’s six-year civil war. The fighting ended two months ago and many of the child soldiers have returned to their families. But those who were abducted for other reasons, Oleyo’s kids, are still missing — and South Sudan’s government has made little effort to find them.

In an act of desperation, Oleyo turned to a former warlord named David Yau Yau to help get them back.

“It becomes a business,” said Yau Yau, now governor of the state that includes Oleyo’s town of Pibor. “If someone manages to get a child from the neighboring community, he’s going to take the child to the market.”

A decade ago, when Oleyo’s children were taken, Yau Yau was the leader of a rebel group called the Cobra Faction, one of South Sudan’s fiercest anti-government militias. He was responsible for forcing more than 1,700 children, some as young as 10, to join his ranks. 

It would be years before he’d disband his rebel group and return his child soldiers to their families.

Yau Yau would then use that one act to burnish his reputation as a reformer to get himself appointed as the Governor of Boma State. He’s now South Sudan’s most vocal advocate against child abduction.

“We realized that it was totally wrong,” Yau Yau said. “We need to apply all the efforts to be able to bring back children and return them to their owners.”ADVERTISEMENT

But after two years of these efforts, Yau Yau has only managed to return 54 abducted children to their parents. Oleyo is still waiting for her children to return.

Asked if she thought Yau Yau would find her children, Oleyo said, “If there was no hope, many women would have died.”

Camera: Phil Pendlebury, Roberto Daza. Editors: Michael Shade, Josh Luddeni

The child beggars at the centre of the Coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria

Kids from different district of Nigeria learn to read and memorize the verses of the Quran written with ink on wooden panels at a boarding school in Jimeta, Nigeria on December 08, 2014.
Image captionMany poor children enrol in Koranic schools in northern Nigeria

Powerful politicians in northern Nigeria are pushing for the scrapping of controversial Koranic schools after some pupils found themselves at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, write the BBC’s Nduka Orjinmo and Mansur Abubakar.

Tens of thousands of Koranic school children were recently crammed into open vans and sent back home from cities and towns across northern Nigeria in a controversial move by state governments to prevent the spread of coronavirus within their territories.

There was a ban on travel, but the vans, with children sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, were allowed to criss-cross the country’s highways to get the boys to their homes in villages, often thousands of miles away.

All of Nigeria’s 19 northern states had two-way movement – some children were leaving for home while others were returning home.

It was probably one of the biggest ever state organised mass movements of minors in Africa’s most-populous state, whose population of around 200 million is divided roughly equally between Muslims and Christians.

A crowd of child beggars struggle for alms from a man in northern Nigeria's Kano city (file photo)
Image captionLarge numbers of child beggars used to roam the streets of Kano

No-one knows how many of the children – known in the local Hausa language as almajirai (singular almajiri), which is derived from the Arabic word al-Muhajirun, or emigrant – were sent home but Kaduna state alone said it had repatriated 30,000.

What no-one knew was that hundreds of the children already had coronavirus, so officials had inadvertently contributed to spreading the virus rather than containing it.

‘Time bomb warning ignored’

As the children arrived in their home states, some of them were quarantined and tested.

The results caused widespread consternation – of the 169 tested in Kaduna, 65 were positive, as were 91 of the 168 tested in Jigawa.

Child being tested for Covid-19
Image captionIt is unclear how the children got infected

In Gombe, eight of the 48 children tested had Covid-19. In Bauchi, the number was seven out of 38.

Hundreds of test results are still being awaited, while many thousands more have not been tested – Nigeria has faced criticism for its low testing rate.

The head of Nigeria’s presidential task force on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, had warned that the repatriations could cause a “time bomb”, but northern state governors ignored him.

They saw the pandemic as an opportunity to scrap the almajirai-based Koranic schools that have long been part of the Islamic education system in the mainly Muslim north.

In Kaduna state, the almajiri system is dead”Nasir el-Rufai

Governor of Kaduna

“We’ve been looking for ways and means to end this system because it has not worked for the children. It has not worked for northern Nigeria and it has not worked for Nigeria. So, it has to end and this is the time,” said Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai.

He added it was better to give the almajirai “some kind of modern education than to allow them to waste their lives away, roaming about the streets begging for what to eat”.

“In Kaduna state, the almajiri system is dead,” Mr el-Rufai said.

The almajirai are mostly children from poor homes who go to live for five to 10 years in a boarding-house style setting to memorise the Koran under a teacher, known as a mallam.

Kids from different district of Nigeria learn to read and memorize the verses of the Quran written with ink on wooden panels at a boarding school in Jimeta, Nigeria on December 08, 2014
Image captionMuslims believe those who memorise the Koran will go to heaven

About 10.5 million Nigerian children aged between five and 14 years are not in school, according to the UN children’s agency, Unicef.

Unicef does not consider the almajirai as being in school so they make up a large part – if not the majority – of this number.

Children sent to beg on streets

The almajirai-based schools admit children as young as five, and they are expected to give their teachers the token sum of 100 naira ($0.30; £0.25) every Wednesday, which is the end of the week for the pupils with Thursday and Friday – a religious day for Muslims – being their weekend.

The mallams say the money is for the maintenance of the schools, and they do not pocket it.

Most almajirai have no means of paying and resort to begging on the streets to get the money. Sometimes they carry out menial jobs for families, in exchange for food or clothes.

They often live in squalid conditions with poor hygiene, and can go without a bath for weeks, despite the fact that Islam puts huge emphasis on cleanliness.

The mallams themselves are mostly poor, untrained, and unregulated. They tend to teach, and do subsistence farming. Some children help out on the farms, without getting anything in return.

Presentational grey line

Islamic teachings on hygiene:

  • Cleanliness is half of faith
  • Wash hands before and after eating
  • Wash hands after going to the toilet
  • Wash hands, face and feet before each of the five daily prayers
  • Bathe before main weekly prayer on Fridays
  • Wash a person after death; some clerics say it is fine if this cannot be done in current circumstances
Media captionCoronavirus in Africa: How to save water so you can wash your hands
Presentational grey line

The schools were shut when state governments announced the closure of places of learning in late March, but with nowhere to go, thousands of almajirai continued begging on the streets.

It was at this point that state governors – fearing that the children could be infected, and could spread it to the hundreds of people they come in contact with daily – decided to send them home.

Former almajiri student standing in front of his gas shop
Image captionFormer almajiri Imrana Mohammed chose to become a businessman

But it was too late.

No-one knows how the children became infected with the virus but Imrana Mohammed, a former almajiri, said they most likely “got it through meeting strangers while begging for alms”.

Mr Mohammed, who now runs a small business selling petroleum products, said that as an almajiri 14 years ago, he did domestic work for about $6 a month, and also got food to eat.

There have been discussions in the past about ending the system but in a region where religion is an extremely sensitive issue, defenders of the schools accused those who wanted them reformed of attempting to stop Islamic education.

Hopes of a father

Former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Nigeria’s south, invested billions of naira in building almajiri schools in the north that incorporated Islamic and secular education.

But his successor, Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim who is popular in the region and has called for a ban of the almajiri system, handed over the schools to state governments and Islamic scholars for management. Most of the schools are now abandoned and the pupils back on the streets.

group of child beggars
Image captionMost children use plastic bowls to beg for food

Some parents, like Shafiu Yau, do not want the system scrapped “because it is the way to heaven”.

He told the BBC that his 15-year-old son is currently an almajiri in Kano state, seen as Nigeria’s Islamic heartland. Not all the students have been sent home, especially in Kano.

“This is his second year as an amajiri and hopefully after five years he will come back with vast knowledge of the Koran and his religion,” Mr Yau said.

But that view is not shared by all.

The almajiri system, as it is today, is nothing but slavery”Sheikh

Abdullahi Garangamawa
Senior Muslim cleric in northern Nigeria

Sheikh Abdullahi Garangamawa, the chief imam of the Jafar Adam Mosque in northern Nigeria’s main city Kano, told the BBC that the almajiri system was being abused.

“The almajiri system, as it is today, is nothing but slavery and governments should stop their dragging feet and act fast on it.

“These boys sent from the villages no longer seek Islamic knowledge – many of them become criminals and thugs for politicians,” he said.

This is a harsh view of an ancient system of Islamic education in northern Nigeria, and it is unlikely to end until the government tackles poverty and offers the children – and their parents – a better alternative.

Naked protest: how ordinary citizens reveal truth to repressive regimes

Ugandan activist and writer Stella Nyanzi outside a Kampala court after a ruling in her favour against President Yoweri Museveni. Sumy Sadurni/AFP via GettyImages

Rebecca Tapscott, Graduate Institute – Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

The past two decades have seen the rise of new forms of authoritarianism. These modern authoritarian regimes use diverse tactics to keep democratic institutions weak.

For example, governments in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda have formally decentralised power under the guise of democracy, development, and diversity, while in practice weakening and fragmenting local government.

Such regimes do not eliminate democratic spaces completely, rather they make them fragile and uncertain. Citizens can criticise the regime, they can vote for the opposition, and they can bring cases to court. But there is the ever-present possibility that the regimes will intervene to restrict collective action and stifle democratic voice.

Take Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni has held power since 1986. Museveni adopted seemingly democratic policies of decentralisation, multi-partyism, and even participation in the International Criminal Court. These measures have only served to centralise the regime’s control.

Uganda’s democratic space has been described as “shrinking”. Increasing political intimidation and patronage have steadily undermined the quality of Uganda’s elections. Most protests these days are met with heavily armed police, who deploy teargas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

Such regimes raise important questions around the ability of citizens to claim rights and resources from the state. Citizens who attempt to make collective claims, whether at the ballot box or in the streets, face high risks. These include arrest, detention, physical or economic harm, and even death. So how can these citizens adapt to make their voices heard?

Scholarship has already identified numerous non-violent approaches that citizens employ in politically-repressive contexts. These approaches – both novel and timeworn – include humour, art, and rudeness.

Our research examines another form of ancient, non-violent protest: the baring of naked bodies. During our study in Uganda, my co-authors and I found that although public nakedness can have political effect it is not without its risks.

Ugandans employ naked protest in situations they view as desperate, where authorities are violating fundamental rights. Our analysis suggests that naked protest in Uganda is a “last resort” for the weak and vulnerable in a public space that is heavily militarised and policed.

Naked protest therefore offers a window into the strategies that ordinary citizens can use to exercise political voice in contexts marked by overt and covert forms of repression. It illustrates that though authoritarian states seek to dominate and control public space, citizens can still use creative means to disrupt the infrastructure upon which this dominance is built.

Public nakedness

Public nakedness has been documented as a means of political protest worldwide, in vastly different cultural contexts from India to Russia. In Kenya, it has been used from pre-colonial times to the modern day.

In a context such as Uganda’s, it is perhaps surprising that citizens would willingly take off their clothing in protest. This makes them even more vulnerable than they already are. But sometimes they do. A closer examination reveals both the opportunities and limitations of collective protest in such regimes.

Nakedness as a form of collective public protest has been used across Uganda by ordinary citizens when they feel that there is no alternative. In a highly publicised case, Professor Stella Nyanzi stripped to her underwear to protest work conditions at Makerere University in 2016. Women in Kampala had also used it to protest police brutality in 2012.

One of the best-known contemporary cases of naked protest in Uganda occurred in a town called Apaa, northern Uganda, where the government has been attempting to appropriate land for decades. To oppose an anticipated forcible displacement in 2016, the community gathered to protest. At the protest, elderly women stripped naked, cursed the authorities, and rolled on the ground.

By baring their naked bodies and juxtaposing them against the heavily armed bodies of the state’s security personnel, citizens employed three types of overlapping and entwined power.

First, they showed that the state cannot control them in a basic and bodily sense, thereby challenging the very foundation of the state’s authority. This is biopower.

Second, naked bodies expose strong social and cultural norms. For example, in northern Uganda female bodies are associated with the “wife” or “mother” of the community. People think that they should be protected, and therefore their juxtaposition to the violent bodies of soldiers has strong symbolism.

As a result, it can shift the terms of protest from a political framing to a moral one. In a context where might makes right, a moral framing is much better for ordinary citizens than a political one. This is symbolic power.

Finally, in northern Uganda, nakedness also has certain cultural associations. It can be used interpersonally to curse those who have challenged the moral order. The curse is believed to cause illness and even death. This is particularly relevant for citizens who seek to challenge repressive regimes because, unlike unarmed citizens, the curse cannot be stopped by armoured cars, uniformed officers, or guns – and it can strike at any time after the protest has occurred. This is cosmological power.

Last resort

These three types of power help us understand why citizens employ naked protest, and how it affects its target – in this case the militarised Ugandan state.

The naked protest in Apaa achieved its short-term goal – the military and government officials who had come to demarcate the contested land left without displacing residents. However, subsequently there have been repeated instances of state violence in Apaa to remove people from the land and hand it over to private investors. Residents have since employed various other tactics to resist. For instance, in 2018, Apaa residents occupied a United Nations compound to defend their land.

Baring naked bodies may be one way for citizens to protest militarised regimes. But in this case, its use demonstrates that the space for public dissent is extremely limited. To strip naked is a last resort. This reflects the constraints placed on exercising political voice, and resultant obstacles to instigating collective political action.

Rebecca Tapscott, Research Fellow, Graduate Institute – Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sexual and gender-based violence during COVID-19: lessons from Ebola

Victims of sexual and gender-based violence suffer trauma that lasts long beyond medical crises.
Corbis News via GettyImages

Monica Adhiambo Onyango, Boston University

The COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster that has severely disrupted the normal functioning of populations around the world and continues to proliferate indiscriminately.

Disease outbreaks like COVID-19 threaten the health of all. But women and girls are disproportionately affected. During epidemics, the very measures taken to protect populations and keep health systems afloat leave women and girls especially vulnerable to violence.

Sexual and gender-based violence is a hidden consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities around the world are forced to stay at home, women and girls are at a heightened risk of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

Because disasters exacerbate pre-existing gender inequities and power hierarchies, violence in the home may worsen as prolonged quarantine and economic stressors increase tension in the household. Women and girls are isolated from the people and resources that can help them, and they have few opportunities to distance themselves from their abusers.

During epidemics, it’s harder for sexual and reproductive health workers to appropriately screen for sexual and gender-based violence. And referral pathways to care are disrupted.

Our research shows that an increase in sexual and gender-based violence was observed during the 2013-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. During that outbreak, response efforts focused on containing the disease.

This focus was important, but protocols were never established to protect girls and women from violence during the outbreak. Quarantines and school closures were put in place to contain the spread of disease. This left women and adolescent girls vulnerable to coercion, exploitation and sexual abuse.

There is already concern that COVID-19 is leading to an increase of sexual and gender-based violence.

Rising levels of violence

Sexual and gender-based violence does not begin with disasters like COVID-19. But the chaos and instability they cause leave women and girls more vulnerable.

The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, has sounded an alarm on a “horrifying global surge” of domestic violence.

In Kenya, cases of sexual, gender-based and domestic violence have increased significantly since the country began its response to the virus. In China, domestic violence reports nearly doubled after cities were put under lockdown, with 90% related to the epidemic.

Helpline calls have increased in Malaysia, Lebanon, France, Argentina, Cyprus and Singapore. A sharp drop in calls in Italy suggests that the lockdown also prevented many women from seeking help.

According to the World Health Organisation, 35% of women around the world have already experienced some form of sexual and gender-based violence in their lifetime. In some crisis settings, this number skyrocketed to more than 70%.

Ebola experience

Increases in sexual and gender-based violence were observed during the 2013-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Estimates concerning the scope are difficult to obtain and vastly under-reported. Survivors of violence were ignored as health workers counted the number of Ebola cases.

According to some reports, Guinea reported a 4.5% increase in sexual and gender-based violence and twice as many rapes. More often than not, this violence was evident only by its devastating consequences for women and girls.

In the aftermath of Ebola, both Sierra Leone and Liberia saw an upswing in teenage pregnancy rates.

The parallels between the response to Ebola and COVID-19 are striking. Public health infrastructure during Ebola came to a grinding halt. In a desperate attempt to control the virus, governments employed many of the current social distancing strategies. These included school closures, curfews, and quarantines.

As Ebola spread throughout West Africa, heavily burdened relief efforts failed to account for particularly vulnerable populations. The needs of women and girls, especially concerning sexual and gender-based violence, were largely ignored in response and recovery planning.

Many organisations waited until Ebola was under control before addressing these needs. By then it was too late.

Lessons learned

One of the key lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak was that epidemics leave women and girls especially vulnerable to violence. Mistakes made during the Ebola epidemic are valuable lessons in the COVID-19 response.

Governments must ensure the protection of women and girls right from the beginning of an epidemic. However, a top-down approach is not enough. Prevention and mitigation initiatives need to be integrated across sectors.

Research has found independent women’s groups to be the single most important factor in addressing violence against women and girls. In light of this, women and girls should be involved in the development and delivery of services during COVID-19. And comprehensive data on the gendered impact of COVID-19 should be collected.

All protective services for women and girls must be classified as “essential” during any disaster. Domestic violence hotlines, safe spaces, sexual and reproductive health services, referral pathways, and justice mechanisms are necessary in pre-pandemic times, and even more important in crisis.

Governments should identify organisations already focused on sexual and gender-based violence and give them the tools and resources to continue supporting women and girls during the pandemic. Since social distancing limits screening opportunities, these organisations should explore alternate entry ways for women to access care, especially in places like supermarkets and pharmacies.

As hospitals and clinics deal with infected patients, the health sector should collaborate with gender-violence organisations to deliver services creatively and strengthen referral pathways in accordance with virus mitigation measures.

High-quality clinical care for survivors should be accessible at all times. Community gatekeepers including religious, traditional, women, and youth leaders should play a key role in both virus and violence mitigation initiatives. They can also serve as early warning and alert groups within the community.

Frontline workers should be trained to recognise and safely refer cases of sexual and gender-based violence. And women should be aware of the increased risk during times of crisis, and where to access help.

The consequences of sexual and gender-based violence do not end when medical crises are contained. The impact of COVID-19 will be wide scale, longstanding, and likely generational. Response and recovery planning must ensure that those most impacted by COVID-19 are not forgotten.

Additional research was done by Alexandra Regan, a Master of Public Health candidate at Boston University School of Public Health

Monica Adhiambo Onyango, Clinical Associate Professor, Global Health, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Online funerals, face masks and elections: the new Ghana

n our series of letters from African writers, journalist and former Ghana government minister Elizabeth Ohene writes about the new normal – from how to hold a socially distant election to attending online funerals.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have come to accept that our lives have been turned upside down.

We have been learning to cope with things nobody had ever dreamt about – like not hugging or shaking hands. Social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine have all become terms of everyday use.

Schools have been closed, and parents are discovering anew just how much food growing children eat.

There are things we studiously avoid talking about; the mortuaries are full, not from coronavirus deaths (so far in Ghana, there have been 16 from the disease) but the ban on public gatherings, which means we cannot have normal funerals.

Private burials are allowed but with no more than 25 people and that really is an unbearable experience for most Ghanaians.

So, we are keeping the bodies in the morgues in the hope that this dreadful nightmare will soon be over and the dead can be given befitting Ghanaian burials.

I joined an online funeral last week dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Nobody attends a funeral dressed like that”

Elizabeth Ohene
Ghanaian journalist

people now sit at home by their laptops and log on to join the service.

If this trend continues, it will totally subvert our funeral culture. I joined an online funeral last week dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Nobody attends a funeral dressed like that.

Now that we have gone through seven Sundays, including Easter Sunday, without church services, it is dawning on all of us that coronavirus is rather dramatic.

Teenagers watch the live broadcast of church service from home as all religious gatherings are suspended over concerns of the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Accra, Ghana, March 22, 2020.
Religious gatherings have been restricted because of Covid-19

We are into the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims have started their fasting, without the congregational prayers in the mosque that mark the breaking of the fast. More and more of us now accept that we are in unsettling times.

The capital Accra and its environs, and the second city Kumasi, were put under lockdown for three weeks and we have emerged from that too with the restriction on the movement of people now lifted.

Frantic activities

At the centre of the entire Covid-19 experience has been President Nana Akufo-Addo. He addressed the nation on the evening of 12 March to tell us of the first two cases of coronavirus in the country.

He announced the ban on social gatherings, the closure of borders, the lockdown in the two metropolitan areas, and he enumerates the tally of confirmed cases of infections.

Media captionHow can I practise social distancing at work?

There is an unstated but awkward fact that runs underneath all the frantic coronavirus activities in the country. We are due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 7 December.

Elections are keenly contested here and campaigns are usually loud, chaotic and, of course, crowd-centred. Preparations were on a tight schedule and did not leave much room for anything to go wrong.

Poll plans derailed

Then the virus struck and the first casualty was the National Identification Authority. It has not yet been able to finish giving identity cards to everybody above the age of 16. Without it, people cannot register to vote.

The electoral commission wants to compile a fresh voters register, but the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) is having none of that and has sworn loudly that it will do everything it can to make sure it does not happen.

The commission had, in fact, planned to start the registration process more than a week ago, but since all gatherings are banned, it seems to be stuck.

A watch showing the time at noon, is displayed for a photo as people walk past Ring Road Central Street, which is almost empty during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Accra, Ghana, March 31, 2020
Image captionThe lockdown in Ghana’s capital Accra brought the city to a standstill

Furthermore, the two main parties are gauging each other as the nature of politicking has changed with the advent of coronavirus.

No-one knows if the people’s judgement is going to be based mostly on how the parties and their candidates fare during this crisis.

The candidate of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), President Nana Akufo-Addo, and the NDC candidate, former President John Mahama, know each other pretty well. This is going to be the third time they will be facing each other.

The NPP should have conducted primaries in about 150 constituencies in which it has sitting MPs last December but postponed them to April – only for them to be derailed by lockdown measures. The candidates cannot campaign, at least not in the manner we know.

Party officials are in a bind, will they be able to hold primaries and how will they manage the tensions that come with internal elections if there is no time to heal wounds?

We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life”

Nana Akufo-Addo
Ghana’s president

The NDC has most of its parliamentary candidates but its presidential candidate would have wanted to announce his choice of running mate at a big rowdy event – not at an event dominated by social distancing.

And how do you campaign when a malignant virus loose in the land and there does not seem to be any appetite for partisan arguments?

The president has addressed the country eight times since the outbreak and the whole nation listens to him.

He makes a speech and part of it goes viral: “We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life.”

The president says the virus does not have a political colour, this is not the time for politicking, and right now we must defeat our common enemy. He is having a good pandemic.

The NDC started its Covid-19 politicking on a dodgy note when its general secretary, Asiedu Nketia, expressed doubts about the existence of the virus in the country.

When Mr Nketia announced the first two cases of Covid-19 and placed a ban on social gatherings and political activities, he said the virus was a big hoax, and part of a grand design by the president to rig the elections.

But the NDC soon regained its poise and the party set up its own Covid-19 committee and Mr Mahama started issuing his own daily bulletins on the progress of the virus.

He had a digital conversation the other day, which sounded suspiciously like an address to the nation.

One week into the lockdown, tempers began to fray, small businesses were feeling the pinch, the daily wage earners were in distress and the confirmed cases of Covid-19 were rising.

An NDC MP accused government officials of asking the vulnerable for NPP party membership cards before being given food.

‘Father Christmas’

A video was released of Mr Mahama distributing food parcels in a poor suburb. He was appropriately clad in his face mask and told the recipients he knew they were suffering and could feel their pain.

The president announced a raft of interventions to ease the economic difficulties brought on by the pandemic; the government would pick up 50% of everybody’s electricity bill for the next three months, water would be free during that period, and health workers would not pay taxes.

Women wearing face masks chat at the Nima market as Ghana lifts partial lockdown amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Accra, Ghana April 20, 202
Image captionMany people wear masks to prevent infections from spreading

Last Sunday, Mr Akufo-Addo announced the government was about to start a huge hospital building programme. He said the pandemic had exposed just how badly underserved we were with hospitals and he would build and equip 94 new ones within the next year.

We had not seen the president as a Father Christmas before but there he was dishing out goodies. For the NDC, it is difficult when it wants to defeat him in elections.

Since nobody has any idea when we will get rid of this virus and there are no provisions in the constitution to postpone presidential elections, we are having to work around the possibility of holding the polls with Covid-19 around us.

South Korea did it and we might have to do it as well, socially distanced and with our masks.

Pentecostals and the spiritual war against coronavirus in Africa

Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images

By Benjamin Kirby, University of Leeds; Josiah Taru, Great Zimbabwe University, and Tinashe Chimbidzikai, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

Since the emergence of COVID-19, a number of media commentators and academics have reflected on the “spiritualisation” of the pandemic among responses in different African settings.

There’s been particular interest in the influence of prominent Pentecostal pastors on public health messaging. Some have expressed concern about the possible consequences of their invocations of spiritual warfare.

We’ve examined how idioms of (spiritual) warfare have been deployed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and wish to bring a broader perspective to recent debates about these dynamics. We consider examples from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, drawing on our ongoing research in these settings.

Many Pentecostal Christians, in Africa as well as other continents, portray the coronavirus as a “spiritual force of evil” rather than as a biomedical disease.

Through this lens, the world is presented as a battleground between God and the agents of Satan. For those who enlist to “fight for Jesus”, the most effective weapon is prayer.

Spiritual warfare provides a framework for explaining and responding to both mundane and extraordinary events – from a cancelled flight to a global pandemic. But despite their close association with Pentecostals, these militarised idioms may also resonate with other groups.

The prophet

In Zimbabwe, Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa has been criticised for reassuring his congregants that they will be “spared” from the virus. This will happen through prayer and the divine protection he mediates. “You will not die, because the Son is involved in what we are doing,” he says, calling it

the freedom that no medication can offer.

This declaration epitomises a sense of Pentecostal “exceptionalism”, embodied in the claim to be “in this world but not of this world”. It clearly risks instilling a level of complacency among his followers about the threat of the virus. It amplifies the possibility of noncompliance with government safety measures.

Advert for online service led by Prophet Makandiwa.
Christ TV Channel/Twitter

Prophet Makandiwa has also been accused of perpetuating conspiracy theories. Drawing Biblical allusions to the “mark of the beast”, he has warned followers about “microchip” implants. These, he predicts, will accompany future vaccination campaigns. This claim has also been made by pastors elsewhere in the African continent.

In Uganda, steps have already been taken to prosecute pastors spreading misinformation.

The president

Efforts to “spiritualise” the virus have also been pursued by some African leaders. For example, Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli described COVID-19 as a demon (shetani). Through it Satan seeks to “destroy” Tanzanian citizens.

Despite the government promoting physical distancing, he declared that churches or mosques would not be closed because this is where God and “true healing” (uponyaji wa kweli) are found.

Invoking the idiom of spiritual warfare, Magufuli explained that COVID-19

cannot survive in the Body of Jesus (and) will be burned away.

Commentators have observed that Magufuli is himself a Roman Catholic (albeit with Pentecostal ties). Yet few have acknowledged his implication that God can also be “found” in mosques, nor his recommendation that Tanzanians also embrace indigenous medicinal practices for protection.

In a country where Christians don’t constitute a clear religious majority, Magufuli invokes the rhetoric of spiritual warfare to articulate a sense of national religious identity.

A woman walks past an election billboard featuring now president of Tanzania, John Magufuli in Dar es Salaam.
Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Images

These invocations mostly adopt a rhetorical style reminiscent of Pentecostal pastors but maintain a broad, inclusive focus on God (Mungu).

Tanzanians responded enthusiastically to Magufuli’s call for citizens “of every faith” to participate in three days of national prayer. Many took to social media to circulate photos and videos featuring the Tanzanian flag and words of prayer.

Some perspective

Yet a growing number of commentators have criticised Magufuli. As with Makandiwa, they argue that his use of spiritual warfare rhetoric generates a dangerous expectation of viral immunity.

Some commentators have taken Magufuli’s emphasis on prayer to be emblematic of the government’s perceived failure to adequately address the pandemic.

The government, say critics, has fallen prey to “superstitious” thinking. Some draw allusions to the use of water-based medicine in the Maji Maji rebellion against German colonial rule.

As others have observed, the act of giving spiritual agency to the virus as a “personal demon” can also serve to downplay structural failures which have contributed to its spread. It divests responsibility to both COVID-19 as a sentient “enemy” and citizens.

There is a risk, however, that exaggerating the “idiosyncrasy” of the Tanzanian government’s response to COVID-19 – and indeed that of Prophet Makandiwa – may perpetuate another myth of “exceptionalism”. One which echoes colonial depictions of African populations as singularly “superstitious” and “incurably religious”.

A billboard in Lagos, Nigeria.
Markus Matzel/ullstein bild/Getty Images

In truth, spiritual warfare idioms have been diversely invoked – and unevenly received – across the continent. They have prompted lively “religion and science” debates.

Moreover, the plausibility of spiritual warfare idioms should not be exclusively attributed to people’s religious sensibilities. After all, “warfare” is the signature trope with which global political figures, health experts, and media commentators have framed COVID-19.

Like Magufuli, world leaders like the UK’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron and the US’s Donald Trump have all invoked warfare motifs against the single, identifiable “enemy”.

European governments have also been accused of using this framing to shift responsibility onto citizens as “combatants”, whether for failing to adhere to physical distancing or for their biomedical frailty. Narratives of individuals heroically “winning their war” against a decidedly personal demon are no less persuasive to some in Europe than to some in Africa.

None of this is intended to take away from the ambivalent and sometimes plainly harmful effects of attempts to spiritualise the pandemic. Nor is it to imply that religiously informed strategies of communication and implementation are incompatible with more “temporal” methods.

Religious groups like Pentecostal congregations may indeed constitute an important “public health resource” when it comes to delivering services and messaging. And they can cultivate a sense of hope and mutual care in the face of uncertainty.

Rather, we suggest as anthropologists and scholars of religion, this warfaring rhetoric might stem from a shared discomfort among Africans and Europeans alike at the prospect of an adversary without discernible self-will or conscience. An impersonal demon.

As literary critic Anders Engberg-Pederson
articulates it:

We declare war on the virus, because we want it to be something that it is not.

Benjamin Kirby, British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Leeds; Josiah Taru, Lecturer, Great Zimbabwe University, and Tinashe Chimbidzikai, Doctoral Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Covid-19 could mark a deadly turn in Ghana’s fight against fake drugs

Substandard hand-sanitisers have been seized by Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority since the coronavirus outbreak began. Photograph: Nana Kofi Acquah/mPedigree Global Image Archive

When Joana Opoku-Darko’s daughter Anna was 18 months old, she came down with malaria, a disease common in Ghana and especially deadly for children.

She bought medication from a pharmacy in Ghana’s capital, Accra; when Anna’s fever didn’t subside she took her to a hospital, where they ran some tests.

“I was anxious, as a first-time mother. I didn’t have the experience to tell whether it’s going to get any better, or am I going to lose my child?” she says.

“They told me the medicine was no good, and we needed to start treatment all over.”

Opoku-Darko had bought fake malaria treatment drugs. Had she not gone to the hospital, Anna could have become another sorry statistic in a country flooded with substandard medicines.

The experience has Opoku-Darko worried about the pandemic, especially as experts warn issues of falsified drugs, already very deadly in Africa, will become even greater under Covid-19.

The current focus on curbing Covid-19 spread means there is less focus on routine market surveillanceDelese Mimi Darko, chief executive of Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries are either substandard or fake, which is both dangerous and a waste of precious family money. Various academic studies have put the prevalence at between 11% and 48%.

Of 1,500 reports of such products, most came from Africa (42%), with south-east Asia also a major hotspot for fake medications.

It is impossible to know precisely how many such medicines are in the system. Delese Mimi Darko, chief executive of Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority (FDA), says this is an ongoing problem, especially as people smuggle drugs across the country’s borders. She too worries that Ghana, with more than 1,500 reported Covid-19 cases, will see an increase in falsified and substandard medicines due to the pandemic. Already the FDA has seized substandard hand-sanitisers.

“The current focus on curbing Covid-19 spread means there is less focus on routine market surveillance,” says Darko. “This means there could be an influx across porous borders of substandard medical products – including those for Covid-19.”

Measures like social distancing and lockdowns limit the work the regulators could do, she added.

The FDA is also keeping an eye on social media posts offering unsubstantiated cures. Ghana’s police service has cautioned people to beware online offers of vaccines for Covid-19. Earlier this month, the WHO warned of falsified chloroquine products found in Cameroon, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and called for “widespread vigilance” from all countries.

Chloroquine has been used in Africa for decades as an antimalarial, but it became internationally famous after Donald Trump said it could be a “gift from God” in the fight against Covid-19. Such claims have led to people hoarding the medicine, leading to reports of price hikes and shortages. In Nigeria, three people overdosed on the drug.

Activists for the campaign group Fight the Fakes at a Wellcome Trust-sponsored launch in Accra, Ghana. Photograph: Fight The Fakes

Kwasi Boateng, director of United States Pharmacopeia-Ghana, a public health non-profit that focuses party on combating falsified medicines, is concerned the pandemic might eventually cause a shortage of essential medicines in Ghana, allowing substandard or falsified treatments to fill the void. While he has not seen shortages of essentials yet, he says Ghana is still early in its battle with the virus and “time will tell”.

Boateng fears that if and when any official Covid-19 treatment is found, fake versions might find their way into the county.

“The kind of medicines that people normally want faked are the ones that are in demand. So, if a new medication comes up which manages the condition, that makes it very attractive for people to want to latch on to it, so we all have to be vigilant.”

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Chloroquine is no longer used in Ghana to treat malaria, but rumours suggest substandard chloroquine has been in circulation. “If we find any chloroquine on the market now, there is likely to be issues with it,” says Boateng.

In March, an Interpol operation reported an increase of more than 100% in seizures of unauthorised chloroquine, compared with the previous year. The organisation said this could be connected to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The WHO’s public health expert, Dr Mary Stephen, has said: “From the beginning of the outbreak there has been a lot of rumours and speculation in terms of which drugs will be effective for Covid-19, for Africa.”

She says steps have been taken to stem the tide of fake drugs. In January, a handful of African leaders signed the Lomé initiative, pledging new measures, including better border controls and legal processes against the smuggling of falsified products.

The founding director of the Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit, Dr Paul Newton, warns of a “parallel crisis” of quality, availability, and access to medical products and medicines, for all essential medicines.

With global supply chains interrupted and physical distancing rules in place, regulatory work inspecting pharmaceutical factories is decreasing, Newton says. “That raises the risk of substandard medicines, and of companies cutting corners and making mistakes in the rush to manufacture,” he warns.

Newton is concerned about what will happen if and when health authorities do find medicine to prevent or treat Covid-19, and how the world’s 7.8 billion people will access it. There needs to be coordinated production and strict quality surveillance, he warned.

Before a medicine is found, Newton says he suspects criminals will have the equipment ready to make vast amounts of it.

“When they know it’s ‘medicine X’, they will make fake copies, insert them in the supply chain and make enormous amounts of money – and kill people, to be brutally frank.”Advertisement

To counter this parallel crisis, Newton calls for a global, prepared approach to assure the quality of diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines, where drugs are affordable and not hoarded or diverted from treating existing conditions.

From Bamako to Gaza: victims of coronavirus that the world forgot

They have survived ethnic militias, jihadists and machetes.

Now the 1,000 men, women and children sheltering amid clouds of flies and mounds of rubbish in the ‘Faladie Garbal refugee camp near the Malian capital of Bamako say their community is being slowly destroyed by coronavirus.

“We been told about the disease but we have nothing to protect ourselves against it. No gel, nothing,” said Hama Diallo, the head of the camp. “We all live closely together … and more people are arriving every day from the war.

“People who usually come to give us food are not coming anymore because of the coronavirus. We have nothing to eat and we are afraid to go out and fetch food because the police stop us,” he added.

With over 200,000 displaced people, an estimated 1.3 million in dire need of food, and the fastest growing Islamist insurgency on earth, Mali was buckling under a humanitarian crisis even before novel coronavirus arrived last month. 

But it is only one of dozens of global trouble spots where aid agencies are warning the impact of the coronavirus epidemic could dwarf anything seen in China or Europe.

More than 1.2 million people could dies of Covid 19  in Africa and Asia’s poorest countries unless immediate action is taken,  165 serving and former world leaders including Gordon Brown warned on Tuesday.

In a letter backed by Save the Children and Oxfam, the former British prime minister called on G20 governments to ditch debt payments and and provide $150 billion in urgent funding to help developing countries cope with the public health and economic fallout of the pandemic. 

Particularly alarming are the world’s active conflict zones. 

“We are seeing how this Covid pandemic is playing out in advanced countries with sophisticated health systems that are totally overrun. Now think about that happening in Somalia, or Syria, or Yemen, where the health infrastructure has been destroyed,” said Robert Mardini, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“The only thing we can do now, and we are doing as much as possible, is to work on the prevention side.  Because if it reaches the point it has elsewhere, it would be a catastrophe.”

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant on migrant workers before they board a bus to return to their villages, during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus disease  CREDIT: Reuters

It is already clear that poorer countries which cannot afford the measures rich countries in East Asia, Europe, and North America have adopted to save lives – rapidly expanding and retooling health systems and shutting down sections of the economy – are likely to suffer higher death tolls and greater economic shock from the global coronavirus crisis.

Add in hospitals destroyed in bombing campaigns, supply-chains wrecked by the threat of attack, and thousands of people living in tightly packed, often squalid refugee camps,  and the chances of “flattening the curve” fade to nothing.

The implications are so alarming Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General has made an extraordinary appeal for a global “Covid-19” ceasefire in all war zones to allow everyone to focus on defeating the pandemic.

So far, few are heeding the secretary general’s call for sanity.

The UN said in a statement on Friday that fighting has increased in Afghanistan in recent weeks despite peace talks earlier in the year. Global health experts believe a largely unmonitored coronavirus pandemic, borne by refugees returning from neighbouring Iran, is already underway in the country.

In Libya, fighting between the UN-recognised government and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army has escalated rapidly since the country’s first coronavirus cases were reported late last month, despite both sides promising to respect a “humanitarian pause.”

Meanwhile a fresh conflict between US forces and Iranian-backed militia is threatening to break out in Iraq, where official figures stood at 772 confirmed covid-19 infections and 56 deaths on Friday.

Aid agencies, conscious of the disaster uncontrolled outbreaks could cause, are concentrating on trying to prevent coronavirus breaking into refugee camps, migrant detention centres, and prisons.  

In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the UNHCR has been scrambling to set up rudimentary isolation units and extra handwashing facilities in a bid to prevent the virus getting into the overcrowded camps that house more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees who fled a genocide campaign in Myanmar in 2017. Their current goal is to get just ten intensive care beds up and running.

In northeast Syria, The Red Cross has attempted to set up quarantine measures at the already overburdened hospital in the al-Hol detention camp, which houses tens of thousands of displaced people and where malnutrition and other diseases are already rife.

Indian people rest in a shelter for migrants set up by the Delhi government to provide shelter for migrant workers, amid lockdown, in New Delhi CREDIT: Shutterstock

In many places, however, the virus has already arrived.

In Gaza, at least 12 people have already been infected with the coronavirus according to Hamas, the Islamist terror group in control of the territory. It will almost certainly spread rapidly through the extremely dense population of two million people, and many inhabitants are only too well aware that the fragile healthcare system will likely be overwhelmed.

“The world is not only not paying attention to Gaza, it is not paying attention to anything except the virus,” said Fadia Nassar, a 37-year-old mother. “This means everyone of us must take utmost care and not wait for others or the world to tell us what to do and what not to do. To be honest, I can’t blame the world in such conditions.”

Other refugees, like Mr Diallo in Mali, have received little more than well-meaning but next to useless advice.

“They told us to wash your hands with soap and eat good things to be safe from corona,” said Gul Mir, a 46-year-old living in a make-shift refugee camp on the outskirts of the Afghan city of Herat.

“But we don’t even have water to drink, let alone washing our hands with water and soap. The price of everything skyrocketed due to corona and this quarantine, most of the refugees here who had good conditions are now near to begging.”

His sons used to scrape a living of £1 to £1.50 a day trawling for rubbish, but have seen even that precarious source of income cut off after authorities imposed a curfew to fight coronavirus infections.

Like Mr Diallo’s community in Mali, they are living a more brutal iteration of a cruel dilemma facing millions of people in poorer countries around the globe: to protect themselves from coronavirus, or starve.

As Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, summed up in a televised address to the nation on March 17: “If we shutdown the cities – people are already facing difficult circumstances – we will save them from corona at one end, but they will die from hunger on the other side.”

Pakistan’s Ministry of Planning has estimated that 12.3 million to 18.5 million people in the country will lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus shock, and in provinces that have implemented shutdowns, the pain is already being felt. 

Abdul Rauf, a 43-year-old resident of Karachi’s North Nazimabad neighbourhood, who usually makes £5 a day as a house painter, told the Telegraph he had not had a day’s work for a fortnight.

Across the border in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the other path, announcing a three-week shutdown on March 25 in an attempt to protect the underfunded and understaffed healthcare system of the world’s second most populous state.

But ninety percent of Indians work in the informal sector, typically without contracts or monthly salaries, and many were left facing starvation overnight. Millions of internal migrant workers and left their rented homes in urban areas to walk hundreds of kilometres to ancestral villages.

The upshot was the biggest mass migration since partition in 1947 and a humanitarian crisis on top of the existing health one.

“The whole thing is completely medieval,” said Manish Tewari, an MP for  the Congress party and a former minister for Information and Broadcasting. “You have millions of poor, marginalised, displaced on the march and the government has left them to their own fate.”

The entire shock of quarantine has been compounded by the knock on effects of shutdowns in rich countries in East Asia and Europe.

In Cambodia, one of several South East Asian economies that had repurposed as the workshop of the globalised clothing trade, at least 91 garment factories employing 61,500 workers have already suspended work due to quarantine restrictions and a collapse in global demand, a spokesman for the labour ministry said on Wednesday.

The shuttered factories account for almost a sixth of Cambodia’s $7 billion garment and footwear industry, which supplies such global brands as H&M, Adidas, PUMA and Levi Strauss and is the country’s largest employer, with about 850,000 workers. Trade unions across the region have called on multinational brands to honour contracts.

And just as national governments are left with few good options, nor is there any no obvious way for international institutions to respond.

Migrants and refugees carry bags with food as they walk past piles of garbage at a makeshift camp next to the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos CREDIT: AFP

The UNHCR and the ICRC have both launched emergency appeals for funding for trouble spots, though with rich donor nations struggling to contain their own epidemics and the global economy headed for recession, the pool of funding available for aid is likely to contract dramatically.

Meanwhile, international financial institutions are looking at emergency funding for both middle income and low income countries, but they will also ultimately rely on the generosity of major shareholders.

One possible option would be debt relief. Daniel Munevar, a former UN economist with the European Network on Debt and Development, a Brussels-based NGO, estimates 45 of the world’s poorest countries will require at least US$ 93.8 billion in assistance from the World Bank or IMF to face the crisis until the end of 2020.

Without a suspension of external debt payments, US$ 21.8 billion of that would be diverted away from COVID-19 response efforts towards creditors, he said.

Doing nothing, however, is not an option.

“If you think you can lock down 1.2 billion people, think they do not exist, and that it is not going to come back and haunt you, then I have a story to tell you about Syria,” said Mr Munevar.

Reporting by Will Brown, Joe Wallen in Delhi, Ben Farmer in Islamabad, James Rothwell in Jerusalem, and Nicola Smith in Taipei

Women’s stories of breaking the mould as Muslim preachers in Kenya

An Imam addresses a Kenyan Muslim Youth Alliance meeting flanked by community leaders.
(Photo by Neil Thomas/Corbis via Getty Images)

By Hassan Juma Ndzovu, Moi University

Ramadan is a period during which Muslims across the world are deeply immersed in worship and are particularly attuned to exhortations by religious scholars.

In Kenya, Islamic public sermonising has traditionally been the domain of male clerics. However, according to my recent study, there is an emerging clique of female preachers engaging in this form of public participation through Muslim radio stations.

What explains this development? First, due to media liberalisation in the 1990s, numerous local FM radio stations were allowed to operate. These include those inclined to religious content. Second, this process of democratisation promoted a pluralism that embraced female articulations of religious doctrines and texts.

Whether espoused in a Salafi-Wahabi or Sufi framework, the emerging group of female preachers is using their advanced religious knowledge to deliver sermons through the radio stations.

My study sought to examine this phenomenon, given that radio religious sermons are easily accessible to people lacking strong literacy and religious training. This has the potential of being the most attractive religious commodity to consume.

The study also explored the controversial status of the female voice as a medium of transmitting religious knowledge to the Muslim public. Here, I was interested in interrogating the role of the female voice as a means of expression and debates over authoritative public speech. The data led me to conclude that in spite of the limitations imposed by some conservative Islamic religious scholars, new forms of female religious authorities represent a significant development among Kenyan Muslims.

Though the Kenyan Muslim communities are generally biased towards women, there is increased public presence of women in radio programmes as a religious authority. This has raised their social reputation in society.

Why women have been excluded

Female Islamic authority in Kenya is restricted by the traditional gender customs also evident in other Muslim societies. Notwithstanding their level of Islamic knowledge, the general instructional role of women is restricted to the traditional Qur’anic school to teach to read and memorise the Qur’an. This explains why, historically, Muslim women were denied opportunities to pursue higher Islamic learning beyond the “essential” basics.

Even reputable early Muslim scholars in Kenya, like Sheikh Al-Amin Ali Mazrui and Sheikh Sayyid Ali Badawi did not make efforts to recruit and encourage women to advance their knowledge in Islamic education. What could have attributed to this scenario?

Historically, the male members of the society have occupied all the institutions of Islamic authority. These range from caliph, scholar, mufti, kadhi, Sufi Sheikh and mosque preacher. The male religious scholars regarded women to be unfit to qualify for these public positions because of their supposed ability to distract the attention of the males in their company.

These conservative restrictions led Azara Mudira, a leading female scholar who sought to feminise Islamic education in Kenya, to establish an advanced Islamic theological school for Muslim women in Kenya in 1987. Established in Nairobi, its mission is

to challenge the exclusionary male-centered tradition of advanced education in Islamic studies and

to create an alternative space for authoritative intervention by Muslim women Islamic scholars in the religious realm.

A few female preachers in Kenya have made their mark. One illustrious contemporary example is that of Nafisa Khitamy Badawi, who emerged as one of the highly respected female religious authorities in Kenya (and maybe the East African region).

Despite their advanced education, Muslim women are not mandated to speak in public. They must also not engage in a public disputation of religious matters. However, this notion is being put into question with the appearance of female preachers who offer lectures – mawaidha in Kiswahili – to the Muslim public in coastal Kenya.

Women’s voices

Regardless of their exceptional position as female preachers, these women are confronted with the challenge of justifying their activities. They have to convince the male religious scholars that they are knowledgeable. They also have to plead the case that – in spite of being women – their voice is deep and less feminine. And not soft and seductive.

This is because female preachers are confronted with the prevailing belief that classifies their voices as nakedness (aura). One of the female preachers argued that,

“For me being at the radio station is similar to being behind a curtain, a strategy that Aisha used to conceal herself while addressing her male students.”

According to Islamic history, Aisha – the wife of Prophet Muhammad – was very knowledgeable on Islamic matters. Several companions of Prophet Muhammad went to her to seek religious knowledge, but behind a curtain. In equating a radio station to a curtain, the female preachers emphasized that it is

“possible to interact with the public without people [read men] seeing me.”

Female preachers in coastal Kenya are compelled to talk with a “manly” voice in order for them to be accepted and provided with a platform to articulate issues concerning their faith. As a result, the female preachers can only exist with the consent of the male religious authorities in the Muslim communities.

But female preachers are reluctant to challenge the existing behavioural norms. This out of fear of losing the preaching platforms availed to them at the Muslim radio stations. Their adherence to the “acceptable” religious and social norms guarantees their participation in the Muslim public sphere.

Hassan Juma Ndzovu, Senior Lecturer of Religious Studies, Moi University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Millions hang by a thread’: extreme global hunger compounded by Covid-19

The warning from the World Food Programme (WFP) that 265 million people could be pushed into acute food insecurity by Covid-19, almost doubling last year’s total, is based on a complex combination of factors.

WFP’s latest warning underlines the increasing concern among experts in the field that for many the biggest impact will not be the disease, but the hunger hanging off its coat tails.

While the majority of people suffering acute food insecurity in 2019 lived in countries affected by conflict (77 million), climate change (34 million) and economic crises (24 million people), the coronavirus has massively complicated existing crises and threatens to worsen others.

WFP sounded the alarm in concert with a report from the Global Network Against Food Crises – an international alliance working to address the root causes of extreme hunger – that disclosed that as 2019 ended, 135 million people across 55 countries and territories experienced the highest levels of acute food insecurity and malnutrition documented by the network since the first edition of the report in 2017.


The report identified a number of factors that could worsen food security in many of the 55 countries, classifying those dependent on food imports and oil exports (the price of oil collapsed to below zero this week) as particularly vulnerable, as well as those dependent and on tourism and remittances for income.

“Rising unemployment and under-employment and decreasing purchasing power will have serious consequences for poor and vulnerable populations in countries already dealing with crises such as conflict and/or ongoing economic and political turmoil,” the report said.‘Race against time’ to prevent famines during coronavirus crisisRead more

“Displaced people living in camps and displaced/host populations in urban settings as well as the elderly, young children, pregnant and lactating women, and the disabled are particularly vulnerable to the far-reaching impacts of this

In Yemen, as Mark Lowcock, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator, told the Guardian earlier this week, UN agencies were already feeding 13 million people, amid a funding crisis that is threatening to many people before the impact of coronavirus is even taken into consideration.

As WFP’s chief economist Arif Husain warned, “Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like Covid-19 – to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe.”

The new warning reinforces concern sounded by Lola Castro, regional director of WFP for southern Africa, last month. She said the interruption of food programmes for millions of people in the 12 countries that they cover, which have experienced three years of poor harvests because of drought, would have a “critical impact”.

As Castro and other experts have made clear, what is occurring as coronavirus begins to bear down on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries is a perfect storm that has seen coronavirus act as an accelerant on a host of well established problems from poverty, the impact of the climate crisis, pre-existing conflict and pre-existing health crises in places with high incidence of diseases like Aids and HIV and malaria.

Perhaps most pressing, beyond the immediate threat of the disease, is the economic impact in countries less able to deal with the shock, particularly for workers on daily subsistence wages.

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Talking about the situation in southern Africa in an interview with the Guardian last month, Castro described the specific challenges in detail.

“The lean season has been very, very hard for the last three years with almost no rain and poor harvests which have left 45 million people food insecure with 8.1 million supported by the WFP.”UN agencies issue urgent coronavirus appeal after $2bn request falls well shortRead more

Already, as Castro points out, new restrictions on travel, border crossing and the threat of the disease has disrupted ongoing operations even as more people have been pushed towards poverty by lockdowns affecting their ability to work.

“We are already the region of the world that is the most affected by HIV-Aids. We are having to totally change our distribution models: to reduce concentrations of people at distribution points; to make sure we have hand washing facilities and that people have PPE.

“Then we have to defeat borders, airlines closing, ports becoming affected, shipping and transport … we are fighting a humungous number of factors today.”

Other issues have been less visible, but are no less critical, not least any impact on southern Africa’s infrastructure for food supplies which depends on a few keys ports including Durban in South Africa and Beira in Mozambique.

And as Andrew Shepherd of the UK’s Overseas Development Institute explains, the economic impact of coronavirus on the poorest will be felt most sharply.

“Any food price inflation that is a result of coronavirus will be worst for those who are poorest, especially those who depend on daily wages. One of the impacts of the border closures that we’ve seen is that lots of poor people living along borders subsist on cross-border trading.”

We face coronavirus discrimination – Africans in China

Ade* was given until midnight to vacate his apartment.

Five months earlier, the Nigerian student had moved to Guangzhou, southern China, to study computing at Guangdong university. He had just paid his university fees for the new semester when his landlord informed him that he needed to leave.

He scrambled to pack his belongings. The police were waiting for him and his roommates outside.

‘In hiding’

When he attempted to drop off his bags at a friend’s warehouse, he was prevented from entering. He spent several nights sleeping on the streets.

“Look how they are treating us, how they forced us out of our houses and forced us to self-quarantine,” he told the BBC from a hotel in the city.

“They told me that the [test] result is out and I am negative. Still they don’t want me to go out.”

Notice in McDonald's restaurant saying "We've been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant".
Image captionMcDonald’s in China apologised after a branch in Guangzhou barred black people from entering

African community leaders in Guangzhou believe the vast majority of the city’s African population have been forced into quarantine or are sleeping on the streets.

“Some are in hiding,” said one community leader over an encrypted social media app.

Every African national tested

In early April, online rumours began to circulate that parts of the city where Africans live and trade were under lockdown after two Nigerians who had tested positive for the virus escaped. Chinese media reported that a Nigerian patient had attacked a Chinese nurse.

The health commission began widespread testing of African nationals.

The local authority says it has tested every African national in the city for the coronavirus. It found that 111 of the more than 4,500 Africans in Guangzhou tested positive.

“They just came with their ambulance and medical team and took us. All they said was that it was Chinese law and an order from the government,” said Hao*, a businessman from Ivory Coast.

Closed African restaurant is seen in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, 13 April 2020.
Image captionBusinesses in Guangzhou, including in the area popular with Africans, have been shut because of coronavirus fears

Guangzhou has become a hub for Africans in China.

Towards the end of the century’s first decade, hundreds of thousands were thought to live in the city. Many of them entering the country on short-term visas to buy goods from nearby factories and send them back to the continent.

By some estimates there were more than 200,000 dwelling in the city. Some settled for the long term. Many overstayed their visas.

‘Africans friendly with locals’

In recent years, the numbers have dwindled. Businessmen have complained of unfair visa restrictions and unfair treatment. In 2018, small hotels in Xiao Bei Lu, a popular area for African traders, temporarily turned away Africans from several nations, they told the BBC.

“Most of the Africans living there are nice and friendly with the locals, and they are doing business as normal for the past years,” said one Guangzhou resident who did not want to be named.

“If there is a problem, it may be that some Africans are overstaying and doing some illegal things.

“The conflict over the virus test, I think it is something of a misunderstanding. It is not about racial discrimination. That’s not the style of the Guangzhou people,” he said.

“People are not hostile to Africans in their mind, unless some Africans are doing things against the local rules,” he added.

The Chinese government dismissed claims of racism, insisting China and Africa are friends, partners and brothers and that it has zero tolerance to racism.

But many of those the BBC spoke to say they have been singled out because of their race.

“Ninety-eight per cent of Africans are in quarantine,” said one community leader who did not want to be named.

Wuhan lockdown continues – for some

Africans across China say they are facing increased scrutiny. On the deserted campus of Wuhan University African faces outnumber Chinese.

“We are the ones that are left behind,” says Michael Addaney a Ghanaian graduate student studying in the Chinese city where coronavirus was first detected.

For more than two months he has waged a social media campaign demanding his government bring his countrymen and women home.

Passengers wave from a car as it passes a toll station
Image captionThings started to get back to normal as the lockdown in Wuhan ended on 8 April

At the height of the outbreak, an estimated 5,000 African students were stranded in Wuhan and neighbouring cities, after most sub-Saharan nations failed to evacuate their citizens.

“We feel like sacrificial lambs for no reason. The plan was to keep the people safe by sacrificing us,” asked one student who did not want to be named.

“What was the point as our countries didn’t put measures in place to protect the people from the virus?”

When Wuhan officially ended its lockdown on 8 April, normality began to creep back into the city.

More than a week on, African students on campuses remain unable to leave the grounds of the university. They have no information of when their own lockdown will be lifted.

A woman passes by billboard in part of the town where most of the African people lives and works in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, 13 April 2020.
Image captionPart of Guangzhou has become known as Little Africa, because of the large number of Africans who live and work there

Back in Guangzhou, a student from Sierra Leone said she believed Africans were being singled out.

“All of this is happening because there has been a rise in foreign imported cases, [but] the majority are from Chinese nationals,” she said.

“Only a small percentage is made up of Africans.”

She received a letter from her university stating that all Africans needed to be tested. Despite being tested twice she remains in quarantine.

‘Others not treated like this’

“With all this happening, the Chinese have exhibited racism and discrimination against black people here in Guangzhou.

“I know people from my church who are white and non-Africans who are not going through what we are going through – quarantine and multiple testing,” she said.

“Quarantine hotels are like forced detention for blacks.”

A Nigerian businessman under quarantine said that “it was the police that removed me from my apartment and put me on the streets”.

“I don’t have any problem with my landlord. He didn’t even know I had been evicted. My children slept on the streets for many days.”

On social media, hundreds of Africans in Guangzhou have organised groups supplying each other with regular updates. They send photos of numerous hotels and hospitals where businessmen, residents and students are being held across the city.

Some post test results showing that they are negative. Others post medical and hotel bills that they say they cannot afford to pay. Videos of Africans sleeping on the streets have gone viral.

The Guangdong government has publicised a hotline for “foreigners who experience discrimination”. But for those in quarantine, suspicions remain high. Videos continue to circulate online of Africans being moved between hotels by ambulance.

Xiao Bei Lu is known as “China’s little Africa” but social media videos show that its streets, at one time packed with African traders, are now deserted.

The names of the interviewees have been changed.

Controversy over $500m loan that allows Tanzania to take pregnant girls out of their classroom

Tanzania has pledged to improve access to education for pregnant girls after receiving a controversial $500m (£402m) World Bank loan, but has stopped short of readmitting them to mainstream classrooms.

The World Bank has been accused of undermining human rights and has faced criticism from local and international civil society groups over the Tanzania secondary education quality improvement programme loan. Campaigners say approval should not have been given without first securing a commitment from the government to reverse its discrimination towards pregnant girls and end compulsory pregnancy tests.


public notice released earlier this week by Tanzania’s education minister, JoyceNdalichako, said: “The target [of the loan] is to reach more than 6.5 million secondary school students across the country, without discrimination and shall include girls who drop out of school for various reasons, including pregnancy.

“The government is committed to ensure that they continue with their education as prescribed in the project.”

Of the 60,000 students who drop out of secondary school every year in Tanzania, 5,500 leave due to pregnancy according to World Bank data.

Tanzania’s ban on pregnant schoolgirls dates back to the 60s. Amid renewed criticism, it was reaffirmed in a 2017 speech by Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, who stated that “as long as I am president … no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school. We cannot allow this immoral behaviour to permeate our primary and secondary schools.”

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Sierra Leone lifted a similar ban last week.

Human rights lawyer Judy Gitau, regional coordinator at Equality Now, welcomed Ndalichako’s declaration and said she was “cautiously optimistic” about “the first time the government of Tanzania has publicly announced in an official state document that it will include pregnant girls in secondary school education”

But Elín Martinez, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the Tanzanian government’s positionremained unchanged. She referred to a recent tweet in Swahili from Tanzania’s chief government spokesperson that indicated the government has set up parallel systems for pregnant girls.

“Tanzania will continue to arbitrarily deny pregnant girls the right to study in formal public primary and secondary schools – and they will only have an option of studying in a parallel system, which will now be built using the World Bank’s loan,” said Martínez, adding that the “alternative education pathways” only offer a condensed version of the curriculum, and at a cost.


The World Bank has “undermined its own commitment to non-discrimination and to improving the lives of ‘marginalised groups,’” she said.

Gitau condemmed the parallel system and called for the “reintegration of all pregnant girls to mainstream education”.

In a factsheet about the programme released last week, the World Bank said the Tanzanian government “has reaffirmed that pregnant girls who enrol in AEP [alternative education pathways] can sit for national secondary school examinations. Once they pass, they will be eligible to enrol in the next cycle of the public school system, similar to children who undertook their education in public or private schools.”

It also stated that the government has “agreed to assess the prevalence of pregnancy testing and develop an approach to address this practice” and that the World Bank will “advocate a halt to all involuntary pregnancy testing in schools in Tanzania”.

The World Bank and the Tanzanian ministry of education were unavailable for comment.

They ordered her to be a suicide bomber, but she had another idea

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The six young women set down their bombs and stood around the well, staring into the dark void.

As captives of Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terror groups on earth, the women had been dispatched for the grimmest of missions: go blow up a mosque and everyone inside.

The women wanted to get rid of their bombs without killing anyone, including themselves. One of them, Balaraba Mohammed, then a 19-year-old who had been blindfolded and kidnapped by Boko Haram a few months earlier, came up with a plan: They removed their headscarves and tied them into a long rope. Ms. Mohammed attached the bombs and gingerly lowered them into the well, praying it was filled with water.

“We ran for our lives,” Ms. Mohammed said.

In the decade-long war with Boko Haram that has coursed through northeast Nigeria and spread to three neighboring countries, more than 500 women have been deployed as suicide bombers or apprehended before they carried out their deadly missions — a number that terrorism experts say exceeds any other conflict in history.

The militant group Boko Haram originated in Maiduguri, the largest city of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, and has been waging war on the region for the last decade. 

But most women who broke away from Boko Haram keep their abductions secret, knowing they would be stigmatized as terrorist sympathizers even though they were held against their wills and defied the militants. They walk the streets of Maiduguri in the shadow of billboards celebrating the heroism of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot for standing up to the Taliban.

The women are often forgotten, not unlike the more than 100 schoolgirls kidnapped from the village of Chibok who remain missing — nearly six years after their abduction caused such global alarm.

Dozens of women interviewed by The New York Times have said that Boko Haram gave them a terrible choice: “marry” the group’s fighters or be deployed as bombers. Captives have said some women chose instead to blow up only themselves.

Young women at a camp for people from the Nigerian town of Gubio, who have been uprooted after Boko Haram attacks. Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Ms. Mohammed said she arrived at the Boko Haram camp in a daze in 2012. Boko Haram had murdered her husband in front of her after he criticized the group. Days later they came back for Ms. Mohammed, throwing her baby to the ground and abducting her. She thought her daughter was dead.


New female captives would arrive every time fighters left the camp. Some of them were raped and forced to take birth control pills, she said. Some of them were used to test suicide vests.

At the camp, Ms. Mohammed said she listened as two women began discussing ways to kill themselves so they would no longer have to suffer there.

A militant overheard them and became angry.

“What is so difficult about killing yourselves?” he asked.

He shot them both to death.

“I was so scared,” Ms. Mohammed recalled.

She considered suicide, but she thought of her ailing grandmother who needed her as caretaker. To get out of being married off to a fighter, she said she feigned sickness. To get out of weapons training, she faked mental illness.

When fighters gave her a bomb, she said, “I felt as if I was dead.” She knew she would have to go, or be shot too.

Which is how she found herself with five others at the edge of that well.

Balaraba Mohammed, left, helped her grandmother wash herself in preparation for prayer. Her grandmother was ill, and has since died.

The bombs didn’t detonate and the young women, scared and unsure what to do, ran back to the Boko Haram camp, Ms. Mohammed said. They swore on a Quran to their captors they had accomplished their mission, and that they ran so fast to escape that they lost their hijabs on the way.

Cheers went up, and the fighters convened a feast to celebrate the women they thought had become killers.

The six women, two of them barely teenagers, had outsmarted Islamist extremists.

But the women’s relief was short-lived.

Ms. Mohammed still bears scars from burns on her face, arms and legs.

Fighters soon decided they were ruthless enough to be ready for weapons training, she said, handing them guns and lining up other captives for live target practice.

One of the girls who had thrown her bomb into the well was so distraught that she ran into the hail of bullets in the firing squad, killing herself, Ms. Mohammed said.

For women trying to escape Boko Haram’s clutches, all the options are bad. Those trying to surrender to the authorities are sometimes killed by nervous soldiers, according to UNICEF. Members of a civilian vigilante force said they had shot one woman last year who approached their outpost on the edge of Maiduguri, and her bomb exploded.


One teenager, whose name was withheld for security reasons, was 16 when she said she was drugged and strapped with a suicide belt and sent out with two other women who also carried bombs to blow up soldiers at a checkpoint. One of the women had an infant strapped to her back. The three decided they would turn themselves in.

As the group approached the checkpoint to surrender, one of the women stopped behind a tree to urinate, the teenager said. When the woman squatted, her bomb accidentally detonated. Soldiers heard the blast and ran toward the group. Terrified, the woman with the infant ran off, untying the baby, who dropped to the ground. The baby girl sat on the ground crying, and the teenager thought of her own baby, who had died of starvation a month earlier in the Boko Haram camp where they were held hostage.

A teenager holding the hand of the three-year old girl she rescued. “To her, I am her real mother,” the teenager said. “This is what God sent to me.”Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

The teenager, her bomb still attached, said she picked up the child and soothed her until soldiers removed her explosives. She still cares for the girl, now age 3, and plans to never tell her that she is adopted.

“To her, I am her real mother,” she said. “This is what God sent to me.”

A woman who was kidnapped by Boko Haram and recruited as a bomber at an abandoned building at a camp for displaced people in Konduga, in northeastern Nigeria. She did not want to be identified because even those who fled Boko Haram often are stigmatized as terrorist sympathizers.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

After the trick at the well, fighters sent Ms. Mohammed and the other women on a second suicide mission, replacing the girl who had died by running into the firing squad with a new captive. She said their target was to be a market in Banki, a once-bustling town. One of the fighters planned to escort the women. But the new captive assured the militants she was from Banki and knew her way through the countryside.


Again, the women collected their bombs and used their hijabs to lower them into the well. They sprinted back to the fighters’ camp expecting the same joyous reception.

But fighters were shocked to see them arrive so soon.

Just then, the radio crackled with news: a bombing had been reported in Banki — but in a small village outside the main town, not in the market. The fighters turned on the new captive, thinking she had led the women to the wrong place.

They shot her to death.

Ms. Mohammed in a classroom at the College of Health and Technology where she was studying to become a nurse.

Days went by and fighters came and went, engaging in fierce battles that claimed some of their lives. They wanted revenge. They prepared Ms. Mohammed and other women for a major operation, to blow up the Monday Market, the biggest in northeast Nigeria.

They loaded some 20 cars, motorbikes and stolen military trucks with bombers and fighters and drove to the market. Ms. Mohammed said she was sick, and too weak to even get out of the car. She sat inside as bombs exploded and the vehicle sped away.

Ms. Mohammed, left, with Hadiza Musa, a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force that saved her after she was captured by Boko Haram.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Ms. Mohammed was driven back to the camp and remained ill for several days, locked in a tin shack with other captives as they listened to fighters preparing for vigilante forces to invade the camp.

“I was saying in my heart that ‘Oh God, even if I would die, let my relatives find my corpse,’” she said.

She heard gunshots and a loud noise. She lost consciousness.

Hadiza Musa, who had joined the local vigilante force to avenge the Boko Haram capture of her sister, arrived to find a horrific scene: the entire camp was on fire and there was carnage everywhere. In an attempt to distract the vigilantes, Ms. Musa said, it appeared that Boko Haram had blown up their own camp and their captives, and fled.


Ms. Musa said she sifted through the dead and came across Ms. Mohammed, who was unconscious with burns covering her body and blood pouring from what looked like a bullet wound to her leg. Ms. Musa cried as she helped ferry Ms. Mohammed to a hospital.

Ms. Musa stayed by Ms. Mohammed, caring for her until she was conscious. She tracked down her grandmother and told Ms. Mohammed the first good news she had heard in months: her baby, Hairat, was alive.

Boko Haram is still plaguing Maiduguri, where their movement began. Last month, militants attacked vehicles lined up at a checkpoint outside the city, killing at least 30 people, some who burned to death while sleeping in their cars, local officials said.

When President Muhammadu Buhari arrived in Maiduguri to console mourners, he was jeered. The Nigerian military has struggled to gain the upper hand against fighters now armed with drones, machinery and weapons they have stolen from raiding military encampments and convoys.

Recently, the numbers of suicide bombings have declined as Boko Haram and its factions have focused on targeting military forces. Yet the incidents persist. In January in nearby Chad, a woman bomber killed nine people, and in Maiduguri, two female bombers blew up a market, killing two people.

In all, more than 540 women and girls have been deployed or arrested as bombers since June 2014, according to an estimate by Elizabeth Pearson, a lecturer at Cyber Threats Research Center and at Swansea University in Wales who reviewed years of media and United Nations reports.

Ms. Mohammed tries to ignore the comments of neighbors who are suspicious that she might be loyal to Boko Haram. Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Ms. Musa and Ms. Mohammed now consider themselves sisters. Ms. Mohammed still bears scars from burns to her face, arms and legs. In Maiduguri where she lives with Hairat, who is now in first grade, some neighbors who know she was abducted are suspicious and think she might be loyal to Boko Haram.

“The best thing is for you to be killed,” a neighbor told Ms. Mohammed.

She tries to ignore those kinds of comments. After all, she knows none of the ordeal was her fault. She pays for Hairat’s schooling by knitting caps and selling soft drinks from a rented mini-refrigerator. She makes regular trips to the morgue to search for her brother’s body; he disappeared after he dropped out of college to join the vigilantes to avenge Ms. Mohammed’s capture.


Ms. Mohammed has started training to become a nurse. She wants to give back. But she couldn’t afford fees for recent exams after an uncle kicked her out of his house, still suspicious of her time with militants.

Until she can save up money for the exam, she keeps a first aid kit with her, in case she comes across anyone needing help.

Dionne Searcey is a politics reporter at The New York Times where she recently worked as the West Africa bureau chief and is author of the forthcoming book, “In Pursuit of Disobedient Women.” @dionnesearcey • Facebook

Masked men, murder and mass displacement: how terror came to Burkina Faso

By Michael Safi in Kaya and Ouagadougou

The road south towards Kaya is no longer safe, but thousands take it every day. They come on foot, piled on to scooters or next to donkeys straining at their carts. They testify to atrocities by masked men that are never claimed and whose motives remain unexplained. Women and children are everywhere. The men are looking for work, in hiding, or dead.

A landlocked nation of 19 million people in the heart of west Africa, Burkina Faso was celebrated only a few years ago as a stable, vibrant young democracy. Now it is being eaten away at its eastern and northern fringes.

Armed groups, including some aligned with al-Qaida and Islamic State, are waging a campaign of indiscriminate killing that has driven soldiers, teachers, health workers and other symbols of the state from vast swathes of the country’s borders.


“We are at a point now where the very existence of the country is at stake,” says Zéphirin Diabré, the leader of the opposition party Union for Progress and Reform.

“Officially, there is no location that has fallen to the terrorists,” says Jacob Yarabatioula, a sociologist at the University of Ouagadougou researching the violence. “But in reality, there are places at the extreme borders with Mali where you have no signs of the administration. No police, no gendarmerie, no defence forces, no schools. Those places are in a sense controlled by the terrorists.”

In the past year, attacks on civilians have surged, triggering a tenfold increase in displaced people, whose numbers rival those of Syrians from Idlib and Myanmar’s Rohingya. According to official records, nearly 800,000 Burkinabè people had fled their homes as of 29 February. But not all are being registered, and aid groups say the real number is far greater.

“If you look at the speed of arrivals and the lack of access for aid agencies and authorities to vast areas, there is no way the official figures are consistent,” says Tom Peyre-Costa from the Norwegian Refugee Council. “It’s highly probable that the figures are much, much higher.”

Burkina Faso is experiencing a fast-evolving displacement crisis. Photograph: Norwegian Refugee Council

Kaya, about a two-hour drive from the capital, Ouagadougou, is overwhelmed by the new arrivals. Outside one government office, more than 100 women gather in the red dirt jostling for bags of maize. “My family are sleeping on the ground over there,” says Aissetta Diaten, 56, pointing to a patch beneath a tree.

The deadliest attacks – 35 people killed in a village in December, a church attack in February that left 24 dead, 43 villagers murdered last weekend – are usually publicised. But with more than 100 incidents recorded in February alone, according to one estimate, most of the violence experienced by the women lining up for food has gone unrecorded.


“They kidnapped my son three months ago,” says one, who asks to be identified as Mamdata. “The men in the village ran before us, and we left later. I don’t even know where my husband is.”

The fog extends to the perpetrators: the gunmen rarely identify themselves or claim their attacks later. Most are thought to be jihadists, including some affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), who have spilled over or returned from neighbouring Mali, where they have been among the myriad actors involved in an eight-year insurgency.

Several victims of attacks in different areas say the gunmen who arrived in their villages – always masked, sometimes wearing ammunition belts across their bodies – herded people into a local mosque to deliver coarse sermons about veiling women or cuffing pants above the ankle.

“They said they were fighting for Islam and that everyone should follow Islam,” Shamim Suleyman, in his 80s, recalls of the men who arrived in his village near the northern town of Tongomayel. “And we said, ‘Look, we’re here in the mosque. We pray, we’re Muslims’. But if someone is carrying a gun and telling you these things, you can’t argue.”

After gunmen shot Aruna, 27, during an attack on the village of Rofènéga in January, one of them asked if he could recite the shahadah, the Islamic profession of faith. “I could, I did,” he says, unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the scar tissue below his shoulder. “They took my phone and said I could leave.”

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Just how connected these groups are to Isis or al-Qaida’s leadership is unclear. Some might brand themselves as affiliates, receiving bomb-making help or funds, “but on the ground, west African groups do what they want and take advice as it makes sense”, says Judd Devermont, the director of the Africa Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.


Both the US military and local analysts have noted that groups aligned to Isis and al-Qaida appear to have launched joint attacks in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in the Sahel – even though the two terrorist organisations are bitter rivals in the Middle East.

What is playing out in Burkina Faso and other pockets of the Sahel is more complex than a jihadist insurgency, analysts in the capital say. “At first it looked like terrorism,” Yarabatioula says. “But when we scratched the surface we noticed there were criminals involved too.”

 Aruna shows the wound he sustained when he was shot by terrorists. Photograph: Michael Safi/The Guardian

As the state presence has diminished, especially in remote areas, local militias, highway robbers and smuggling gangs have proliferated. Some work with the jihadis and others fight them. When attacks occur, it is not always clear if they are motivated by an extremist interpretation of Islam, a local dispute or to win turf.

“This is really a fight for a corridor,” says Yarabatioula. “These groups want to free a corridor to be able to smuggle drugs, cigarettes, and so on, going from Togo to Niger to Mali. And they are trying to create another corridor from western Burkina to the Ivory Coast.”


“All these different groups are interested in the state going away,” says Mahamadou Sawadogo, a security researcher. “If there is no state, it’s good for all of them. That’s the link between them.”

The success of the armed groups is not just down to an under-resourced Burkinabè army – now being supported by French troops. They are also expertly playing on discontent in rural areas, especially among the ethnic minority Fulani group, who often complain of discrimination and neglect by the central government.

Many remote communities seethe at their lack of access to state resources, or when mines are granted to multinational companies and traditional hunting ranges are sold off as private estates, says Sawadogo.

“The terrorist groups come and say, we will give you all that the state takes from you. They take control of the hunting ranges and tell people: take it, it’s for you. They take control of the local mines and tell them: use it, it’s yours. So why wouldn’t they succeed?”

In contrast, the army’s efforts to beat back the militants have been marred by accusations of widespread human right abuses. “We’ve documented that 60 people were executed without trial last year,” says Aly Sanou, the secretary general of the Burkinabè Movement for Human and People’s Rights, a watchdog group based in Ouagadougou.

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“The population are not collaborating with the security forces, because in order to collaborate you need to trust them. Those from the Fulani ethnic group feel stigmatised, and this has allowed the terrorist groups to widen their recruitment base by recruiting more Fulanis.”

The number of people registered as displaced is expected to exceed 900,000 by next month, with no end in sight. Aid agencies say at least $300m (£244m) in funding will be required to feed and shelter the fleeing population. Reaching those left behind in areas where government control has faltered is currently impossible, says Peyre-Costa. Nobody knows who to ask for safe passage.

“In most humanitarian crises, we can negotiate access to be able to reach everyone in need,” he says. “But in the case of Burkina Faso, we don’t know who’s actually in control.”

Additional reporting by Oumar Zombre

Five ways academics can manage COVID-19 shutdowns

What lecturers and students can do in the absence of the bricks-and-mortar lecturing experience. Getty Images

By Willie Chinyamurindi, University of Fort Hare

The COVID-19 pandemic has begun affecting a range of African countries where infection rates have been rising, though not at the rates being experienced in the US and Western Europe.

Governments have been taking drastic steps to stop the spread of infection. One has been the decision to close schools and universities. This has been true in a number of African countries where schools, colleges and universities have suspended classes and even graduation ceremonies.

For most, this is a devastating interruption of the academic year as the bricks-and-mortar lecturing experience is shut down. But there are steps that can be taken to ensure that teaching and learning continues.


In the past decade my colleagues and I have carried out research in Africa exploring as a broad theme the relationship between technology and human capital development. The aim has been to contribute to developing digital citizens.

The research we have done shows how technology can be used as an enabler to development. It also shows what stands in the way. At the core of this, as we have found, are motives and how they shape and guide the technology we adopt and use. Understanding these motives allows us to make sense of usage patterns and the technology that we adopt.

For example, we were able to show that technology, through social media, can create solutions. A precursor to this was exploring motives that drive such behaviour. One such motive is the desire for convenience and ease of use.

In a follow-up study we later found
the role of mobile devices, not just among young people but also the elderly, as key in the transmission of information.

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Our work also identified a technology-savvy young generation that was adapting new tools to their lived experiences. Their attitudes were very different to that of the older generation. But this generation gap could work in favour of young people trying to complete their studies while universities are shut down.

Based on my research, as well as my own experience, I have come up with five ways in which academics can salvage some of what they need to teach. All involve the use of technology.

What can be done

Put recordings of classes online. I am due to start teaching a second-year Human Resources Management module with 130 students. In this module, I was due to teach two contact sessions adding up to six hours. I was also due to meet students for consultation.

Instead, I’m turning to different ways of delivering the work. A number of free online platforms exist that can be useful to host learning content in audio and video format. These include YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitch and Audiomack.


Some of these platforms also allow for recorded learning content to be downloaded online onto a device and then played later by a user at no cost. This can fit well, especially if data costs are very high.

I find Youtube and SoundCloud helpful because they offer the convenience of presenting a class either in video or sound format. Students can select which they prefer.

However, caution is needed. Putting content online doesn’t add up to effective teaching. Some issues specific to the student and their environment need to considered.

In a study we carried out in South Africa’s corporate sector, we found issues such as gender, attitude towards technology and even the ease of use of the technology affected how the technology was adopted. These findings were also confirmed in a follow-up study we conducted using a student sample within a university context.

This points to the need to consider issues specific to the individual and their environment when content is put on line.

Conferences. I was scheduled to present a paper this month at an international conference on technical and vocational education. But the event has been postponed.


Academic conferences offer opportunities for networking and collaboration with leading scholars locally and internationally. An alternative is web-conferencing. This allows multiple users in different locations to meet in real time over the internet or intranet. This has also led the growing use of web seminars or webinars.

I have found web-conferences useful and often cheaper than physical attendance. The drawbacks here are the need for a reliable internet connection and missing out on the collaborations that often happen between conference attendances during tea, lunch and dinner.

Use of Skype and WhatsApp Audio and Video for meetings. I’m constantly in touch with my students, offering direction on their research projects and helping others complete theirs through these platforms. I also use them for meetings with colleagues and external stakeholders.

We use these tools because of ease and convenience. For example, in one study we found that this was why students used them extensively to hunt for jobs.

Skype and WhatsApp are easily available and are already popular. The issues we flagged in our research around ease, convenience and performance expectancy make Skype and WhatsApp favourable. Again, there is the need for a reliable internet connection.


Off campus library access. A number of universities offer access to leading electronic resources, journals and databases through off-campus access. Due to issues of licensing in accessing these resources, this privilege is usually for registered students and staff members. I’m increasingly recommending this alternative to fellow staff and students.

From the comfort of my home, I can access the physical library through the use of technology without being in public contact. Such features, as shown in our research, are key in forming online learning communities.

Keep informed, watch out for misinformation. Information has become more and more critical. At the same time it’s important to watch out for misinformation. A common source of misinformation could be posts usually shared through social media that are not verified.


In a study we carried out on social media usage within a higher education setting, we found that social media was mostly used for problem solving and communication purposes. This shows that social media is a crucial information portal. This heightens the role of information not just among academics but society in general.

But caution needs to be exercised. Equal to personal hygiene is cyber-hygiene. In our quest for information, we should watch out for misinformation and avoid spreading unverified information.

What gets in the way

My work has also highlighted the barriers to putting these ideas into practice. These include inadequate infrastructure and hardware as well as the fact that a number of communities and universities on the continent remain under-resourced. And as we have found in research conducted on the use of technology in the work place, technology can present its own set of problems, such as contributing to job-overload.

Nevertheless, there are opportunities for both academics and students to further develop their skills. This requires seeing technology not as an old foe but as a new ally.

Willie Chinyamurindi, Associate Professor, University of Fort Hare

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beaten, raped and forced to work: exposing the scandal of Nigeria’s house girls

One day, when my daughter was eight, I asked her to help me unload the dishwasher. She moaned, dragged her feet and pleaded for Haribo in exchange for this simple task. I asked her if she knew how lucky she was and told her that, in many homes in Nigeria, girls as young as her were forced to do chores all day, every day. They were not allowed to go to school, or eat at the table, or watch TV. She was amazed. Looking into her face, the horror of what was considered so normal during my childhood really hit me. It was child slavery – and it continues today. It was for these forgotten girls, trapped in domestic slavery, that I wrote my debut novel, The Girl With the Louding Voice.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the number of working children under the age of 14 in Nigeria is estimated to be as high as 15 million, but due to the nature of the problem it is almost impossible to land on an accurate number. A large proportion of these children are young girls, who work as “house girls”: domestic servants who are often underage and forced against their will into this kind of work. Many of them never see their “wages”, as they are paid directly to agents or family members.


I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I lived in a smart, middle-class neighbourhood, in a house that sat in the middle of a row of terraced houses. Our neighbourhood wanted for nothing. Nearby, there was a well-equipped primary and secondary school, a church with stained-glass windows and stunning green surrounds, a supermarket that sold the best vanilla ice-cream I have ever tasted, paved driveways filled with good cars, a local beach where you could buy the best grilled meat. Pretty much all of the families who lived around us employed domestic servants, who in some cases were girls as young as eight.

I remember two girls in particular. Mariam, a maid to our neighbour, and Edna, who worked for another neighbour. It was easy to spot a house girl. Many of them had unkempt hair and were dressed in tattered, dirty clothes. They would stand behind a family of well-dressed, well-fed, well-spoken children, their heads bent, silent.

Heart-breaking … the trailer for the documentary House Girls.

Mariam arrived in our neighbourhood one summer when I was 13. She was 11 and small, with a shaved head. When she laughed, which was often, the house would seem to vibrate with her laughter. I had no sister, so I found a sister in Mariam. But Mariam was not like me. While I played and spent the summer visiting amusement parks and hanging out with friends in their palatial homes, she worked every day. I watched as a girl younger than me tirelessly cooked, cleaned and, even though she was not employed by my family, washed my clothes and tended to me. I attended an all-girls boarding school in Lagos, but Mariam did not go to school. She spoke in Yoruba and broken English. She was intelligent and brilliant, and we would play together until the woman who employed her (her “madam”) would return.


Edna was older than Mariam, maybe 19 or 20. Whenever they could, Edna and Mariam would hang out together, stealing moments during a shared chore or on a trip to the local supermarket. When I returned to school at the end of that summer, I remember watching as Mariam stood behind her madam, with tears running down her face.

It was the last time I ever saw her. When I came back about six weeks later, Mariam had disappeared. Edna was dead.

There were so many rumours about what had happened to them. We heard that Edna had lost her life trying to get rid of a pregnancy. We also heard, many years later, that maybe Edna did not die; maybe she ran away. We also heard that maybe she killed herself. No one knew where Mariam went. It was said that her uncle turned up one day and took her away to work for another family. But there were also whispers that she ran away after Edna died. We heard so many things, but nobody really knows – and like so many of the underage house girls living and working in Nigeria, Mariam and Edna simply disappeared without a trace. I lost a friend that year, and ever since I have found myself wondering what happened to her, and to Edna.

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In Nigeria, many of these house girls have no power, no voice of their own. In their silence, many of them suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse. There have been numerous reports of house girls being routinely raped, starved, beaten and disfigured by the families that employ them. I was haunted by an article about a 13-year-old girl who had been scalded with boiling water by her madam. Not only were her injuries horrific, but in the news story this young girl’s face was blurred out. This was presumably for privacy reasons, but it felt to me almost like a deliberate act to disconnect her from the world, as if to say: here is a nobody, just another statistic to report. This is what fuelled my desire to start writing my novel, the protagonist of which is a 14-year-old house girl called Adunni. I needed to see this girl’s face. I wanted the world to understand the lives of girls like her, and like Mariam and Edna.

Domestic slavery is big business. A 2017 report by the ILO estimates that slavery generates annual profits of $150bn (£117bn) worldwide, with $18bn of this coming out of Africa. The employers of these girls argue that they are fuelling the economy, providing a job, feeding a child. Some defend themselves by saying these girls are better off working in homes, rather than on the street.


In 2004, the Nigerian government created Naptip, an anti-trafficking agency set up to tackle trafficking of people across the border. Despite this, and despite the increasing outcry by those Nigerians who are documenting this abuse and sharing on social media, the issue persists. There is a lack of clarity around the minimum age requirement for hiring domestic workers and, as a practice that is deeply ingrained in Nigerian culture, it is often difficult to challenge. In an environment that is steeped in patriarchy, where most of the burden of housework and, in more recent times, financial responsibility falls on the woman, this precipitates the need for the services of a domestic worker.

Modern-day slavery is not just a Nigerian problem; it is a global one. In London, a city I have lived and worked in for close to two decades, there was a tenfold increase in the number of victims of modern-day slavery between 2013 and 2018. As many as 136,000 people may be living in slavery in the UK, with the Modern Slavery Helpline receiving more than 7,000 calls in a year. In 2018, an estimated 40 million people were trapped in slavery globally. Approximately 70% of these are female; children account for about 25% of this number. There is a clear and desperate need to tackle these global issues.


In 2019, a Nigerian television production company, Salt & Truth, released a heart-breaking trailer for an upcoming documentary called House Girls, which highlights the experiences and abuse of house girls in some Nigerian homes. The clip was watched and shared by millions, pushing the conversation to an even wider audience and provoking discussion. This is one thing that gives me hope: the rage of the people who watched the clip, and their recognition that, in Nigeria, this is an issue that needs urgent review and resolution. It is too late for Mariam and Edna, but there are some encouraging signs that the mood in Nigeria is changing, and that girls like them may one day have a voice.

The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré is published by Sceptre (£12.99). To order a copy for £10.91 with free UK P&P for orders over £15, go to guardianbookshop.com

COVER PHOTO: Abi Daré witnessed first-hand the plight of two house girls while growing up in Lagos. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Tracing the origins of Darfur’s strife and suffering

Sudanese protesting against the conflict in Darfur.
Marwan Ali/EPA-EFE

By Tsega Etefa, Colgate University

The government of Sudan recently decided to hand over the former president, Omar al-Bashir, to the International Criminal Court to face charges. The reasons lie partly in the history of the Darfur conflict.

Al-Bashir, who was deposed by popular uprising in April 2019, has been accused of war crimes and genocide in the conflict that led to the death of over 300,000 people and displacement of over 2 million.

Darfur is located in the western part of Sudan. It has attracted world attention since non-Arab rebel groups attacked government installations in February 2003. The reasons the rebels, who were mainly from the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit communities, took up arms were said to be marginalisation, chronic neglect by government and the absence of any democratic ways of addressing their concerns.


During the colonial era – the region was run by Britain and Egypt between 1899 and 1956 – the British neglected Darfur because the region had neither economic nor strategic value. Instead, London focused on the Nile Valley region, which thus received better education, economic and social services.

After independence in 1956, Sudanese political and economic power was concentrated in the hands of the riverine Arabs who’d had access to education during the colonial era. Darfur lagged behind in economic progress, education and health services.

The situation got worse after 1983, when a devastating drought led to famine in 1985 and 1986. The severe drought also pushed many Chadian Arabs into Darfur’s Jabal Marra area, the historical homeland of the Fur people and the greenest place across the Sahel region. The migrants were supported by al-Bashir, who had taken power in a coup in 1989. And Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi recruited Arabs in Darfur to fight Chad’s government, which was dominated by non-Arabs.

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The al-Bashir administration openly sided with the Arabs of Darfur. Government support to the Arab militias strengthened in the early 1990s after the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s incursion into Darfur. The government suspected the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit of supporting the South Sudan rebels.

Conflict in the area escalated, fuelled by the mismanagement of resources, corruption and excessive intervention by al-Bashir’s administration in domestic policies. These worsened poverty, inequality and unemployment in the region.

By 2003 there was a full-blown war in Darfur between the rebels and the army. Contributing factors included the failure to heed villagers’ warnings of imminent militia attacks, a slow response by the local and central government and a lack of basic infrastructure. On top of this, government was reallocating land to the Arabs, including recent arrivals from Chad, without proper local involvement.

The al-Bashir administration unleashed the notorious Janjaweed militia, consisting of North Darfur Arabs, on the region. In the 1990s they had been known for looting and destroying Fur villages, together with the army. People close to the Chad border fled and many others were displaced elsewhere in Darfur, where they still live today.


From peace to war

Both Arabs and non-Arabs had lived in Darfur for centuries and had considerable peaceful interaction. They had all been marginalised at one point or another by Khartoum even before the colonial period. Since 1956 independence all Darfurians had grievances against the government. But the al-Bashir administration’s divide and rule policy and relying on Janjaweed forces for its counter insurgency strategy brought unparalleled disaster to Darfur.

The strategy made the destruction “deniable”, attributing it to “ancient tribal animosities”.

The effects of the war were devastating. According to the 2004 UN report numerous Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit villages were destroyed. UN staff who visited Darfur in 2004 reported that many Fur villages had been destroyed while those in which Arabs lived remained intact.


Andrew Natsios, the head of the US Agency for International Development in Sudan, stated in 2004 that the Arab militia had:

looted perhaps as many as 3 million, maybe over 4 million, sheep, goats, camels, from the African farmers who have small herds.

That number has grown since then, representing a loss worth hundreds of millions of dollars to non-Arab Darfurians.

Evidence shows that there was a strong working relationship between the local police and the Janjaweed. There’s also evidence gathered by the UN that many of the local law enforcement agencies were from Arab communities because the non-Arab officers had

left the location due to intimidation from their Arab colleagues and the Jenjaweed fighters in town.

Civilian officials still in charge of towns also cooperated with the army, police and militia.

The fighting created an atmosphere of hatred between civilian neighbours and damaged the area’s long-established culture of tolerance.

The intervention of forces of the African Union and United Nations played an important role mainly in protecting displaced people. Fighting subsided after 2006 but in 2014 the Rapid Support Force (Janjaweed) renewed its attacks on non–Arab villages.

The current situation

After the fall of the al-Bashir administration in April 2019, a ceasefire was agreed. Negotiations began between the Darfur rebels and government headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.


But according to the joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission at least 24 people were killed in December 2019 when Arab militia attacked the Krinding Camp, forcing people to flee to the mountains or to nearby towns. There were also reports of similar attacks in other camps of Darfur by Arab militias.

The announcement that al-Bashir will be handed over to the International Criminal Court is a significant step in the right direction. But the peace negotiation process has a long way to go.

Tsega Etefa, Associate Professor of History, Colgate University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why, after one year, protests continue to rock Algeria

Algerian protesters wave the national flag during a demonstration in the capital Algiers.
Photo by Ryad Kramdi/AFP via Getty Images

By Yahia H. Zoubir, Kedge Business School

There have been weekly peaceful protests in Algeria for the past year. Early last year protests demanding political transformation, led to the removal by the military of veteran leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Elections were held, and a new president – Abdelmadjid Tebboune – was voted in. But the protests continue. Zoubir Yahia explains why.

What are the grievances that led to the start of the protests last year?

The protests were ignited by a combination of things.

Under Abdelaziz Bouteflika – who served as President of Algeria for 20 years, from 1999 to his forced resignation in 2019 – the country suffered from corruption, nepotism and many of its resources were dilapidated.

Despite this, Bouteflika’s party pushed him to run for a fifth term, even though he was aged 82 at the time and in extremely poor health. His cronies were keen to keep power and preserve the privileges they’d acquired.

But the general public wasn’t blind to what was happening. The president had suffered a stroke in 2013 and the very few times he appeared in public, he looked very frail. When it was announced that he would be running for a fifth term in February 2019, he wasn’t even able to register his candidacy in person.


Algerians felt he was no longer fit to rule, were fed up with the political status quo, were humiliated and felt pity for the ageing leader as it seemed like he was pushed into this fifth term. They poured onto the streets to demand he not serve another term and be removed from office. As a result, on 2 April 2019, the military removed Bouteflika from office.

Why are the protests still happening?

The Hirak, as the leaderless movement in Algeria is known, continues because grievances haven’t been addressed. Although there are many different people – of all ages and gender – that take part in the weekly marches, the massive movement is dominated by young people.

In Algeria, 70% of the population is below the age of 30. Many of these young people feel like they don’t have a future in the country because of a lack of work – more than one in four Algerians under the age of 30 are unemployed.

Algeria is a rich country. It has huge natural gas reserves and is the sixth-largest gas exporter in the world. It also globally ranks 16th in proven oil reserves and third in shale gas reserves. But this wealth is controlled by the regime and the oligarchs, who benefit from government contracts. For instance, the state-owned national oil company – Sonatrach – owns roughly 80% of total hydrocarbon production and generates more than 90% of the country’s foreign earnings.

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In 2014, Algeria had currency reserves of $179 billion. But oil prices have been falling and the country’s oil and petroleum production has also been in decline due to a lack of investment. The reserves have now shrunk to about $79.8billion. Bouteflika’s government failed to use the wealth generated from these resources to diversify the economy. This would have created jobs for the country’s young people.

In December 2019, Algeria’s Former Prime Minister – Abdelmadjid Tebboune – was elected as the country’s new president. But this was a contentious election denounced by the protesters.

Though Bouteflika had stepped down, the political class that served his regime is still in power. Tebboune is a close ally of Bouteflika’s, having served as a minister and prime minister in his regime. His government is made up mostly of ministers that served under Bouteflika.


The same authoritatian-style system, that relies on the military and intelligence services – and was instituted at independence in 1962 – is also still in place. Algeria does have a parliament, but this is a façade for the regime to claim that the country has a democratic system.

In addition to this, civil liberties – such as the freedom of expression, right of assembly, and freedom of the press – are still curtailed, and opposition leaders are being suppressed.

The protesters have made clear that they no longer accept cosmetic changes, but the regime doesn’t appear to be moving towards genuine democratisation despite the rhetoric.

For instance, Tebboune’s government tabled an intiative to revise the constitution and fight corruption. But it fails to resolve the main issue: the same deputies who approved Bouteflika’s tailor-made constitution – which allowed him to remain in power by removing the two-term limit – are still making decisions in parliament and will thus be called in to approve it.

Algerians now seem determined to continue protesting unless there are more fundamental political changes.


What needs to happen for the situation to improve?

It probably won’t improve until authorities undertake genuine changes. But because there are too many entrenched political and business interests against change, I think that only continued pressure from the hirak and a crumbling economy will work.

There needs to be a total transformation. A new constitution approved by the people should be brought in, corrupt rulers must be removed from office (and stand trial), parliament must be dissolved and true reformers should be brought on board to effect actual change.

These reforms include serious economic reforms that support the country’s young people and a new constitution that makes it difficult for any future presidents to over stay their time in office.

In addition to this, electoral laws must be revised and take into account authentic democratic principles such as free and fair elections, genuinely independent political parties, political participation, and freedom of expression.


Until these core reforms happen, the crisis will endure. Algerians will continue fighting for a new republic.

Yahia H. Zoubir, Visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and Senior Professor of International Studies and Director of Research in Geopolitics, Kedge Business School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ethiopia’s Ambo: the city cutting long hair and internet

Under Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed, the city of Ambo has turned from being a symbol of freedom into a symbol of repression, as the security forces try to curb the growth of ethnically inspired rebel and opposition groups that threaten his “coming together” vision.

Ambo, which has a large student population because of its university, was at the centre of mass protests that saw Mr Abiy rise to power in April 2018 with a promise to end decades of authoritarian rule in a nation with more than 100 million people belonging to at least 80 ethnic groups.

Most of Ambo’s residents are Oromos – and the protests were largely driven by anger that despite being Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, they were marginalised from political and economic power, with no Oromo ever serving as prime minister.

Acknowledging Ambo’s role in bringing about change during a visit to the city within days of becoming the first Oromo to hold the prime minister’s post, Mr Abiy said: “Ambo is where we are going to build the statue of our liberty, our New York.”

At a fund-raising event in February 2019, the prime minister sold his watch for 5m birr (about $155,000, £120,000) to kick-start development in the city.

It was a further indication of the huge political significance he attached to Ambo, traditionally regarded as a stronghold of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a former rebel group which laid down arms following peace talks with Mr Abiy.

People fill the road after the rally of Ethiopia's new Prime Minister in Ambo, about 120km west of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on April 11, 2018
Image captionStudents were at the forefront of demands for change

But a year later, there are few signs of development in Ambo, which is about 100km (60 miles) west of the capital Addis Ababa. Instead, residents are once again complaining of a return of police brutality, with young men being randomly beaten up or detained as they go about their daily lives.

‘I was lucky’

I witnessed some of this during a visit to Ambo.

In one instance about six policemen forced two young men to kneel in front of pedestrians, before kicking them and hitting them with sticks.

In another instance, two young men were forcibly taken to a police station. Their elbows were tied behind their backs. One of them pleaded, in vain, with the officers to untie him.

No-one dared to intervene for fear that the police would assault them too.

The policemen were from the regional force – and their numbers were swelled last Sunday when hundreds more graduated, raising fears that the crackdown will intensify ahead of the general election slated for August. That is the first time that Mr Abiy will face the voters since the ruling coalition chose him as prime minister to order to quell the nationwide protests.

I also saw policemen walking around Ambo with scissors, giving haircuts on the spot to young men whom they perceive to have long hair or afros.

They considered my hair to be an afro but I was lucky – they let me off with a warning to chop it off myself, which I did not do as I was going to leave Ambo in two days’ time.

‘I was unable to access the internet’

Police just assume that men with such looks are troublemakers and supporters of rebel leader Kumsa Diriba, who they see as a major threat to western Oromia’s stability and Mr Abiy’s vision of forcing a new sense of national unity, known as “coming together” .

Kumsaa Diriba
Image captionRebel commander Kumsa Diriba refuses to make peace with the government

Having spurned Mr Abiy’s peace overtures in 2018, Mr Kumsa, who is also known as Jaal Maro, is continuing to push for the “liberation” of Oromia from his forest hideout in the remote west.

He split from the OLF, the biggest Oromo rebel group, after it decided to turn into a political party, taking with him an unspecified number of fighters under his command.

The government suspects that Mr Kumsa’s rebels have infiltrated Ambo, and were responsible for the bomb blast at a pro-Abiy rally held last month to show that the prime minister still commands significant support in the city.

The rebels, via their supporters and anonymous accounts, have also been slowly gaining a profile on social media in an attempt to raise discontent against the government, especially through the circulation of the names of victims of alleged brutality by the security forces.

The government’s attempt to keep a lid on dissent has led to frequent internet shutdowns in much of western Oromia since January, and in some areas people cannot even make or receive phone calls. This is despite the fact that Mr Abiy has promised to liberalise the telecom sector and end the monopoly of state-owned Ethio Telecom.

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In an interview with BBC Afaan Oromoo, the deputy chief of staff of Ethiopia’s Defence Force, Gen Berhanu Jula, hinted that the shutdowns were linked to military operations to dismantle camps under Mr Kumsa’s control, while a senior official of Mr Abiy’s newly formed Prosperity Party (PP), Taye Dendea, denied that innocent people were victims of the security force operation.

“The government has no reason to target civilians, we care about our people more than anyone else,” Mr Taye told BBC Afaan Oromoo.

In Ambo, I was unable to access the internet over my mobile phone throughout my three-week stay. On the two occasions I went to an internet cafe, it had poor broadband connection and I had to wait for a long time before I could check my emails and social media accounts.

Residents suspect that apart from government concerns about the rebels, the shutdowns are intended to limit political campaigning and starve young people of news ahead of the general election.

Residents point out that Jawar Mohammed – who is probably the most prominent and controversial Ethiopian social media activist – is now also making life difficult for the prime minister.

Jawar Mohammed (C), a member of the Oromo ethnic group who has been a public critic of Abiy, addresses supporters that had gathered outside his home in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa after he accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him October 24, 2019
Image captionSocial media activist Jawar Mohammed has joined an opposition party

When exiled in the US, Mr Jawar used Facebook effectively to get Oromos on to the streets to rise against the former government.

Having returned to Ethiopia after Mr Abiy took power, he briefly became a supporter of the prime minister but is now a fierce opponent.

Nobel laureate booed

Mr Jawar put out a video on Facebook soon after Mr Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October, accusing the government of trying to remove his guards from his home in Addis Ababa as part of a ploy to orchestrate an attack on him.


Despite government denials of any such plan, Mr Jawar’s supporters staged protests against Mr Abiy in parts of Oromia – in one instance, burning copies of the prime minister’s newly published book, which outlines his “coming together” vision.

When Mr Abiy subsequently visited Ambo for a meeting with selected guests in a hotel, pro-Jawar youths staged a protest and booed the prime minister, who had been awarded the Nobel prize for his “decisive initiative” to end the border conflict with Eritrea, and for the “important reforms” he had initiated in Ethiopia with a pledge to “strengthen democracy”.

Mr Jawar has joined the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), which has formed an alliance with the OLF and the Oromo National Party (ONP) to contest the election on what is expected to be a strong ethno-nationalist ticket.

In Oromia, it is likely to pose the biggest electoral challenge to Mr Abiy’s PP, which was launched in December after a merger of eight of the nine regional parties which make up Ethiopia’s ruling coalition.

Mr Abiy hopes that the PP will foster national unity and keep ethnic nationalism in check.

Chart showing the ethnic make-up of Ethiopia

But he has taken a huge risk as the mass protests that propelled him to power were not just about political freedom – but also about the right of each group to express their ethnic identities more freely and to have greater autonomy for their regions.

So, as far as ethno-nationalists in Ambo and elsewhere in Oromia are concerned, Mr Abiy has sold out.

Worrying for the Nobel laureate, Defence Minister Lemma Megersa, a fellow Oromo with political clout, also expressed doubts about the PP’s formation in November, though party officials say he and Mr Abiy have been ironing out their differences since then.


“The merger is not right and timely, as we are in transition, we are on borrowed time. Dissolving the regional party to which the public entrusted their demands is betraying them,” Mr Lemma said at the time.

For Mr Abiy’s supporters, he offers the best hope of getting Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups to work together, and avoid the country’s disintegration.

They are confident that he will demonstrate his popularity by leading the PP to victory in the election, though its legitimacy is bound to be questioned if the crackdown in Ambo continues.

All about drug testing in Nigeria

The government must harness analytical technologies developed by pharmaceutical scientists in Nigeria – Sebastian Condrea/GettyImages

By Sunday Olakunle Idowu, University of Ibadan

Poor quality medicine is one of the obstacles to improving health in developing countries. One in 10 medicines may not meet acceptable standards, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The problem is prevalent on the African continent. The WHO received 1500 reports of poor quality and falsified medicines between 2013 and 2017: 42% came from Africa. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that 116 000 additional deaths could be caused every year by substandard and falsified antimalarial medicine in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nigeria’s experience over the past 10 years shows that cost-effective solutions to the problem of sub-standard drugs can be developed on the continent. But unless the government, academia, and the private sector collaborate, these solutions can end up not being used.

The problem

I was a postgraduate student of pharmaceutical chemistry in Nigeria in the early 1990s. I saw how difficult it was for local manufacturers and universities to maintain the analytical instruments needed to ensure drug quality. Most of the equipment was imported and expensive, and budgets were small.


Problems like this give counterfeiters and clandestine manufacturers a chance to push poor quality medicines into circulation.

This can be a setback for the treatment of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria. It also contributes to the global problem of antibiotic resistance. Proper quality is important for patient safety as well as the effectiveness of medicine.

Several countries and regions have pharmacopoeias to guide drug quality standards. Most African countries don’t have pharmacopoeias. Developed countries fill the gap.

For example, the United States Pharmacopoeia, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, has introduced a quality initiative in several countries, Nigeria among them. The aim is to share scientific expertise and provide technical support. But these standards call for expensive technology. In most cases this has to be imported from Western countries.

There have been initiatives in Nigeria to develop local technology. But in my experience these initiatives fail to get traction.

The learning journey

A group of researchers at the pharmaceutical chemistry department of the University of Ibadan has looked into this issue. We came up with a method for testing drugs using low-cost technology in 1998.


It started with the realisation that most modern drugs are aromatic in their chemical structure. They are also capable of absorbing ultraviolet light. The main drawback was that most drugs are colourless and are not directly measurable on digital colorimeters. These were much cheaper to maintain than Ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometers that are driven by monochromators. This was solved by chromophoric labelling – chemistry that imparts colour to a molecule.

The result was a reagent and assay technology that fused low cost with high tech and versatility of applications. For example, it can be used to test the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac. Another example is a test for the blood pressure medication propranolol.

Painfully, the technology was not adopted widely. This was mainly because there was no interface between the university and industry. Industry was not aware of the technology. What’s more frustrating is that the analytical reagent we developed has been used in other academic laboratories around the world.

A major lesson from our experience is that deliberate collaboration between industry, academia and government is the only way to maximise expertise and intellectual property of the Nigerian academy.


There are a myriad of examples of low-cost and agile technologies being used globally. For example, the WHO has designed tests and kits for use outside laboratories, such as in airports and at land borders. Also, the Global Pharma Health Fund in Germany has developed a “mobile laboratory”. This fits into a suitcase. It has been used, for example, to detect fake quinine tablets in circulation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and fake penicillin in Cameroon. This low-cost toolkit has showed promising results.

The Nigerian regulator, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, also uses the minilabs. It also uses Truscan, a hand-held instrument to analyse the quality of drugs in circulation. Mobile laboratories reduce the risk of poor-quality drugs reaching patients.

Longer term solution

A more lasting solution for resource-poor economies would be to strengthen the ability of local manufacturers to make medicines of acceptable and consistent quality. Many manufacturers aren’t aware that there are low-cost – yet reliable – alternatives to expensive chemical analysis instrumentation.

Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry is a case in point. An array of alternative assay methods has been documented in the analytical literature for clinically useful drugs. What’s missing is a deliberate commitment and policy to develop Nigerian drug manufacturing. Nigeria’s Ministry of Health should be leading this. For their part, academia and industry need to be working more closely together.


The goal of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control is to increase local manufacturing of drugs from 30% to 60%. The administration is promoting a policy called five plus five-year validity. This aims to encourage systematic migration to local production in Nigeria.

Collaboration between the administration, the pharmaceutical industry and academia could facilitate local manufacturers’ efforts. They could do this by harnessing the inexpensive and reliable analytical technologies developed by pharmaceutical scientists in Nigeria.

Sunday Olakunle Idowu, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry (Pharmaceutical Profiling & Informatics), University of Ibadan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mike Ikenwa via Unsplash

Poor diet pose ‘immediate threat’ to all children – UN

Every child in the world is at risk from ecological degradation, climate change, migration and “predatory” marketing practices that push heavily processed food, warns a joint report by the UN, the World Health Organization and the Lancet medical journal.

Mike Ikenwa via Unsplash

Ranking 180 countries, child and adolescent health experts from around the world said that children in Norway, South Korea, and the Netherlands had the best chances to “survive and thrive”.

Children in the Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali had the worst chances, it found.

“While some of the poorest countries have among the lowest carbon dioxide emissions, many are exposed to the harshest impacts of a rapidly changing climate,” said Minister Awa Coll-Seck from Senegal, Co-Chair of the Commission.


The report also found that childhood obesity had increased 11-fold over four decades. Adverts for alcohol and e-cigarettes, as well as fast food and sugary drinks, are increasingly reaching children, it adds.

“The big message is that no single country is protecting children’s health today and for their future,” Anthony Costello, professor of International Child Health and Director of the Institute for Global Health at University College London, told AFP.

Voodoo wrestling is empowering women in the congo – Bloomgist TV

Catch Fétiche — loosely translated, “voodoo wrestling” — is a uniquely Congolese fighting style: a combination of traditional African wrestling moves, old religious practices, and one man’s obsession with Hulk Hogan.

  • Credit: Vice News
  • Bloomgist TV Original
The pain of being out of work is hard to bear for many South Africans. Nic Bothma/EPA

South Africans describe the pain of unemployment

The pain of being out of work is hard to bear for many South Africans.
Nic Bothma/EPA

By Melinda Du Toit, University of Johannesburg

Unemployment has both individual and social consequences that require public policy interventions. For the individual, unemployment can cause psychological distress, which can lead to a decline in life satisfaction. It can also lead to mood disorders and substance abuse. Unemployment can affect one’s social status ascription as well, which manifests through stigmatisation, labelling, unfair judgement, and marginalisation.

Both these consequences can be mitigated through public policy interventions such as social support for the unemployed, but the design of such interventions can be limited by the lack of a detailed understanding of the consequences of being unemployed. Most of the studies on unemployment experiences have been done in developed countries, with relatively few in Africa.

We sought to study the experiences of unemployed individuals in two South African townships. The aim of the study was to provide preliminary data for use in developing an intervention programme for the unemployed in Orange Farm and Boipatong, 45 km and 60 km, respectively, outside the economic hub of Johannesburg.


Both communities are characterised by high levels of poverty and unemployment, the remnants of the spatial inequality of the country’s racial past. Our research was guided by the quest to record the experiences of unemployed South Africans who live in a poor neighbourhood. South Africa has a very high unemployment rate of 29.1%. The national average belies the deepness of unemployment in certain parts of the country. In some communities, it is as high as 60%.

Since 2014, I have been working on community projects in Orange Farm and Boipatong in collaboration with community leaders. Our participants have typically been unemployed for six months or more. We used pseudonyms for the participants, who were aged between 20 and 64 years at the time of the study. The chosen pseudonyms brought a smile to their faces, providing a lot of light-hearted conversations at the beginning of the interviews. They chose pseudonyms that included Ms Rihanna, Ms Sunshine, Mr Star, and Mr Zionist.

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The moment they shared their experiences about their daily living as unemployed individuals, however, the feeling of despair was almost tangible. They described unemployment using negative descriptions such as “a huge garbage heap filled with bad things”, “life is over”, “danger and death”, “a man-made grave”, and “a monster”. One young participant explained that unemployment brought “a black heart full of sorrow and pain; the heart is broken, angry, sore and sad”. The words “pain” and/or “sad” were used by eight of the 12 participants.

The study had its limitations. It was exploratory and conducted in two communities, so we could gain an initial understanding of the experiences of the unemployed. Much of the context, including the respondents’ families and the perception of the broader society, was raised during the interviews. We also did not do follow-up interviews to explore more deeply issues such as the impact of negative self-stereotyping on the expectations of finding a job.

What stood out

We analysed the data looking at the questions that described the experience of being unemployed. A few aspects stood out.

  • Unemployment was an extremely negative experience for all the participants. It was associated with stress, depression, and anxiety. Feelings of anger came out very strongly. Participants’ anger was mainly directed at the government. They pinned their unemployment on government’s failure to reform the economy to address the unfairness of South Africa’s past racial policies. They described nepotism, favouritism, and other forms of corruption by government officials as contributing to unemployment. Seeing their families, especially their children, suffering and not getting any assistance, either from businesses, government, or non-governmental organisations, angered the participants. They described their communities as filthy, painful, sad places that had been forgotten. They also had dilapidated infrastructure. The townships offered no job opportunities. They were far removed from the country’s economic hubs, making it that much more difficult for the unemployed to find work.
  • Most of the participants regarded their township environment and their immediate neighbourhoods as unsupportive, adding to their negative experiences of being unemployed. They reported experiences of stigmatisation and shame because they believed that society perceived them as not honestly trying their best to find work. This finding is well supported by the literature. The participants explained how they were judged harshly by their community members, who described them as “lazy and do not want to work”. Community members were also prejudiced: “When something is stolen, they look at us who are unemployed and believe we steal and cheat.” Participants suffered negative social labelling:

The others still call me a boy, because I cannot provide for my family.


Greater understanding

As these findings show, a lack of social support by the community and public social welfare agencies make the experiences of the unemployed worse. Public policy interventions are required to help connect unemployed people to job networks. There is also a role for public policy to help them deal with the stigma and all the other negative stereotypes associated with unemployment. Psychologists and social scientists can assist people to cope with unemployment as well as improve their psychological wellness, but designing such interventions requires a greater understanding of the experiences of the unemployed.

Melinda Du Toit, Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How we will end female genital mutilation

From the Gambia to Kenya, FGM has been fought most successfully at grassroots level. The world must pay heed.

I underwent female genital mutilation at the age of seven, while on holiday in Djibouti. When I returned to school in the UK my teacher told me that this happened to “girls like me”.

Thankfully, this type of reaction is no longer common, and this country is much better equipped to protect girls at risk. FGM is now seen as a global issue, which we know has affected more than 200 million women and girls around the world.

But a further 68 million girls are estimated to be at risk over the next 10 years, and ending FGM is a huge challenge. Funding – particularly to frontline activists – is almost non-existent. Yet this is where change starts; efforts to end FGM are led from the grassroots, usually by survivors.


The groundbreaking activism of Jaha Dukureh, the Nobel peace prize nominee and founder of Safe Hands for Girls, has regenerated the African movement to end FGM. In 2015, she almost single-handedly got the country to unite in pressing the Gambian government to ban the practice.

In recent years, Safe Hands for Girls has partnered with the Gambian education ministry to launch a vibrant, nationwide pink bus tourthat has reached thousands of students, firing up their passion to end FGM in this generation.

The campaign was heavily supported on social media and the positive message of changing Gambian society gained traction very quickly. The ministry contacted every school in advance, asking them to encourage young people to participate fully. This meant that activists were able to lead assemblies, speak to entire classes, and spend a lot of time in each school talking with girls, boys and their teachers.

Prevalence statistics due to be released later this year are expected to show a decrease in FGM in the Gambia, where cutting of infants and very young girls is so common that any change is likely to become apparent more quickly than it would elsewhere.

Jaha Dukureh has spearheaded efforts to end FGM in the Gambia. Photograph: Mae Ryan/The Guardian

Kenya, meanwhile, where the practice was banned in 2011, has led the way globally in terms of reducing FGM prevalence.


Led by Dr Josephine Kulea, Samburu Girls Foundation uses education to protect girls from FGM and promote their human rights. More than a thousand young women have been rescued and given a place to stay in the organisation’s rescue centre. The institution also does outreach to Somali, Maasai, Samburu and Pokot communities by speaking in Swahili in an effort to unite these diverse cultural groups against FGM and child marriage.

This work aside, Samburu Girls Foundation helps to bring cases against policymakers who do not implement the 2011 FGM ban, which is not applied in certain regions. The Samburu region, where more than 80% of women and girls are cut, is one of several where prevalence remains high.

The foundation has also helped to defend the case of medical professional Dr Tatu Kamau, which is currently being heard at the Kenyan high court. Kamau is trying to have FGM legalised for adult women, which could have severe consequences not only in Kenya but around the world.

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The UN has set a 2030 deadline to end FGM. I co-founded the Five Foundation, a global partnership to end FGM, with this in mind – and to fill a gap in the movement.

The Five Foundation partners with large charities such as ActionAid, Plan International and Women for Women International, as well as with dozens of grassroots groups like Samburu Girls Foundation and Safe Hands for Girls. We must all work together as much as we can.

But we are also calling on foundations and governments to change the way we fund efforts to end FGM. This means finally trusting and supporting frontline activists like Dukureh and Kulea, who are the most credible and effective agents of change – but who have been left out of the equation for far too long.

Ethiopia is in deep trouble

Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed must do more to keep the country stable.
Hakon Mosvold Larsen/EPA-EFE

By Mulugeta G Berhe (PhD), Tufts University

Ethiopia has seen dramatic transformation and change over the past century. Two of the biggest changes were the victory in 1991 of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front which has remained the dominant party ever since and, more recently, the accession to power of Ahmed Abiy as Prime Minister.

I have been intimately involved in Ethiopia’s politics since the early years of the formation of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in 1975. I served as a member of the leadership of the ruling coalition for the first eight years it was in power. I have also written extensively on its successes and weaknesses. This includes a recently published book, Laying the Past to Rest: The EPRDF and the Challenges of Ethiopian State-Building.


In the book I trace the history of the coalition, and review its performance in power up until 2012. I discuss how the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front fell short in its state building project by failing to make an effective transition from leading a war to leading a government.

The coalition nevertheless made some remarkable achievements. The most notable was the fact that millions of Ethiopians were lifted out of poverty. But the most recent change in Ethiopia’s leadership portends, in my view, a dangerous period for the country.

Over the last 29 years Ethiopian politics has moved from a centralised political system under Meles Zenawi into a what I call ‘rivalrous oligopoly’ towards the end of Hailemariam Desalegn’s period. Unity of purpose of the coalition members was lost as each competed for dominance.

Under Ahmed Abiy it has moved further into open market competition where most coalition members have ceased to exist as organised units. Their leaders are divided into groups fighting against each other for dominance.

The conclusion I draw is that, despite the economic liberalisation Abiy’s regime has started, Ethiopia is far from running a meaningful reform agenda. More worryingly, I believe it is fast moving towards becoming a failed state.

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The history

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front was created as a nationalist armed rebellion against the military regime that ruled Ethiopia for 17 years. In the process of its armed struggle it created successful alliances with other Ethiopian opposition forces. This led to the creation of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition, which expanded the rebellion to the rest of Ethiopia. This coalition finally took power in May 1991 after a protracted 17-year war.

After taking power, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front-anchored EPRDF set about restoring democratic rights and installing a democratic system of governance. It set about building a federation made up of a number of states based on national identity.

The coalition achieved some remarkable successes. For example, the objectives of ensuring economic growth and reducing poverty were largely successful. Over a period of 15 years, from 2000 to 2016, the World Bank listed Ethiopia as the fastest growing economy in the sub-Saharan region. In addition, life expectancy was lifted from 47 years in 1991 to 65 years in 2018.


The country also enjoyed its longest peace time in history – over 25 years.

But the coalition did less well in achieving democracy and embedding a democratic form of governance. Over time the organisation moved away from its revolutionary and progressive political objectives. Instead it became an instrument for the rent-seeking objectives of its leaders and members.

In their bid to stay in power, the former revolutionaries took to trying to ride waves of populism. On top of this, loyalty to leaders of the coalition – and not competency – became the key criteria for filling the ranks of the party and the state. And the party became fused to the state. It lost its autonomous identity and impeded the building of independent institutions crucial for democracy.

This meant that the benefits of economic growth weren’t universally shared. Trade-offs were made between maintaining hot-house growth levels and dealing with welfare and equity. But the establishment failed to optimally manage these trade-offs. It also failed to meet, or manage, the expectations of Ethiopia’s educated young people.


There were many drivers behind the coalition’s limitations.

Firstly, there was the incomplete transformation of its wartime leadership style and organisational culture. This included holding onto inheritances from the armed struggle. These included a binary categorisation of enemy versus friend, a strong emphasis on secrecy over transparency and a highly centralised approach to leadership.


Secondly, the tendency to stick firmly to ideologies undermined the need to create partnerships with political elites in opposition. On top of this, its comfort to live as a dominant party meant that it didn’t create an enabling environment for a pluralist democracy.

These were the seeds for the later chaos. In addition, problems in the coalition were exacerbated and accelerated by the loss of its long-serving chairperson, Meles Zenawi. As prime minister from 1995 until his death in 2012 he ran the country from the centre with formidable political skills.

His successor Hailemariam Desalegne had neither the vision nor the skill to maintain the status quo. The country drifted, eventually forcing Hailemariam to resign. He was replaced by Abiy.

A new battleground

There are signs that Abiy’s reign is in difficulty. This isn’t surprising as he came to power through contest and competition rather than the long-held tradition of consensus-based decision making.

He then took a number of steps that have alienated key players in the coalition. For example, he opted to try and create a new constituency by funnelling an anti-establishment agenda. He’s also trying to move the coalition towards a unified party.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front disagrees fundamentally with this. Resentment towards him is deepening.


The country is entering a dangerous phase. Violence has broken out in a number of regions and many are under an unofficial state of emergency. The central government has shown that it’s incapable of maintaining law and order. This has resulted in an unprecedented number of internally displaced people.

In addition, most universities are incapable of running their yearly academic programmes. Over 35,000 students have left their schools as a result of instability.

If the slide is not arrested, the complete collapse of the state seems imminent.

There are steps Abiy could consider. These include releasing all political prisoners, freezing new government policies except budgeting decisions, and creating a joint consultative body made up of representatives of all political groups to work on ensuring upcoming elections are run smoothly.

I would also argue that the current administration should stop talking about reform and liberalisation. In the current climate this is tantamount to scavenging a nation.


Mulugeta G Berhe (PhD), Senior Fellow, World Peace Foundation, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fighting criminal groups in the Niger Delta is key to defeating piracy

Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

By Dirk Siebels, University of Greenwich

Different reports have recently highlighted security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea. One was published by the International Maritime Bureau, another by the French Navy’s Mica centre and another by the US Maritime Administration.

These reports come against a backdrop of pirate attacks against merchant ships in West Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea between Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon. They have also led to attention-grabbing headlines about a “piracy surge” or even “waves of terror”.

In 2019, kidnappings of seafarers in the Gulf of Guinea reached an unprecedented number. Attacks against merchant ships were recorded off Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The area is often described as “the world’s most dangerous seas”.

Piracy is a significant threat for shipping companies operating in the region. Industry organisations have pointed out that urgent action is required and that seafarers should not be “exposed to such appalling dangers”.

The human cost is significant and hostages aren’t the only victims. Representatives from seafarers’ unions have pointed out that their members are at considerable risk for just doing their jobs, and even crews on ships that are merely transiting are on edge.

Based on a thorough analysis of attack patterns and overall maritime activities in the region, I am convinced that it will be impossible for navies and other security agencies to improve maritime security as long as root causes are not addressed. Many security incidents at sea, and notably kidnappings of seafarers, are merely an extension of land-based issues.


At the heart of the problem are activities by criminal groups based in the Niger Delta where kidnappings on land have long been a security challenge. Unless the massive security problems in the Delta are resolved, no significant headway will be made at sea.

The numbers

Beyond attention-grabbing headlines there’s no consensus on figures. Not even the reports mentioned above include the same numbers. That matters because shipping companies make commercial decisions based on official statistics, and budgets for security agencies are allocated depending on the scope and scale of the problem.

For example, the International Maritime Bureau reported that 121 seafarers were taken as hostages during attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in 2019. This represented more than 90% of global kidnappings at sea recorded by the centre.

At the same time, the organisation only reported 64 attacks in the Gulf of Guinea last year. This was a decrease of 19% compared with 2018.

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The US Maritime Administration highlighted a similar trend in a recent advisory even though the overall numbers are much higher. It reported that there were 129 attacks in 2019 after 145 attacks in 2018, representing an 11% drop.

The French Navy’s Mica centre, on the other hand, reported a 20% increase in attacks against ships across the Gulf of Guinea between 2018 and 2019 (from 90 to 111 incidents).

Overall, numbers differ due to reporting standards and categorisations aren’t comparable. Similar events are often classified in different ways. For example, the IMB recorded four hijacked ships in 2019, the US Maritime Administration noted six, and the MICA centre classified 26 incidents as hijackings.

Annual statistics are further complicated by increased awareness. Incidents that would not have been reported a few years ago are now included in publicly available data, even though they may be linked to other criminal activities at sea.


During my own research, I have come across many cases where such activities were linked to incidents broadly described as “pirate attacks”, without a detailed analysis of individual circumstances.

Such differences underline that annual statistics are not necessarily a valuable tool for understanding issues in the Gulf of Guinea. Rather, security agencies have to gain a broad understanding of all maritime security challenges. Based on such knowledge, a transparent analysis of incidents is possible, providing the necessary background for commercial decisions or law enforcement operations.

Extension of a land problem

Attacks at sea are generally conducted by criminal groups based in the Niger Delta. Throughout the region, there is an ample supply of foot soldiers and camps in remote locations where hostages can be held during negotiations, the prerequisites for a lucrative business model.

Violent attacks affected various countries in 2019. These are almost exclusively linked to Nigerian perpetrators.

Highlighting the direct link with Nigeria is important. On the one hand, neighbouring countries are unable to solve the problem unless security on land in the Niger Delta improves. On the other hand, spikes in attacks are possible at any time. For operators of merchant ships, the threat level can change within weeks, depending on factors such as weather, changes in traffic patterns or naval operations as well as the general situation on land in certain areas in the Niger Delta.


Furthermore, insecurity at sea is an overarching problem for regional governments. Pirate attacks may be particularly visible. But other concerns, such as fuel smuggling, illegal fishing or unregulated shipments of pharmaceuticals like Tramadol, are usually more pressing for government agencies.


The West and Central African region has made significant progress in fighting all types of illicit activities at sea. Various types of maritime security issues are mentioned in the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, adopted in 2013 and aimed at improving maritime security in West and Central Africa.

However, human and financial resources are scarce and maritime security is generally regarded as less important than land-based security challenges which directly affect domestic populations.

But insecurity at sea has a significant economic impact by hurting activities related to the maritime environment. Maritime business plans therefore must include security-related expenditures for navies, coastguards and other government agencies. These are needed to maximise the potential of the maritime environment. This, in turn, would show that better maritime security has direct benefits for economic growth and development.

Dirk Siebels, PhD (Maritime Security), University of Greenwich

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Africa’s richest woman ‘ripped off Angola’

Leaked documents reveal how Africa’s richest woman made her fortune through exploiting her own country, and corruption.

Isabel dos Santos got access to lucrative deals involving land, oil, diamonds and telecoms when her father was president of Angola, a southern African country rich in natural resources.

The documents show how she and her husband were allowed to buy valuable state assets in a series of suspicious deals.

Ms Dos Santos says the allegations against her are entirely false and that there is a politically motivated witch-hunt by the Angolan government.

The former president’s daughter has made the UK her home and owns expensive properties in central London.

She is already under criminal investigation by the authorities in Angola for corruption and her assets in the country have been frozen.


Now BBC Panorama has been given access to more than 700,000 leaked documents about the billionaire’s business empire.

Most were obtained by the Platform to Protect Whistle-blowers in Africa and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

They’ve been investigated by 37 media organisations including the Guardian and Portugal’s Expresso newspaper.

Thirty per cent of Angolans live in poverty on less than $2 a day

Andrew Feinstein, the head of Corruption Watch, says the documents show how Ms Dos Santos exploited her country at the expense of ordinary Angolans.

“Every time she appears on the cover of some glossy magazine somewhere in the world, every time that she hosts one of her glamorous parties in the south of France, she is doing so by trampling on the aspirations of the citizens of Angola.”

The ICIJ have called the documents the Luanda Leaks.


The oil connection

One of the most suspicious deals was run from London through a UK subsidiary of the Angolan state oil company Sonangol.

Ms Dos Santos had been put in charge of the struggling Sonangol in 2016, thanks to a presidential decree from her father Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who kept a tight grip on his country for the 38 years he was in power.

But when he retired as president in September 2017 her position was soon under threat, even though his hand-picked successor came from the same party. Ms Dos Santos was sacked two months later.

Many Angolans have been surprised at the way that President João Lourenço has gone after the business interests of his predecessor’s family.

The leaked documents show that as she left Sonangol, Ms Dos Santos approved $58m of suspicious payments to a consultancy company in Dubai called Matter Business Solutions.

She says she has no financial interest in Matter, but the leaked documents reveal it was run by her business manager and owned by a friend.

Panorama understands that Matter sent more than 50 invoices to Sonangol in London on the day that she was fired.

Ms Dos Santos appears to have approved payments to her friend’s company after she was sacked.

Although some consultancy work had been carried out by Matter, there’s very little detail on the invoices to justify such large bills.


One asks for €472,196 for unspecified expenses – another asks for $928,517 for unspecified legal services.

Two of the invoices – each for €676,339.97 – are for exactly the same work on the same date and Ms Dos Santos signed them both off anyway.

These are some of the invoices Isabel dos Santos signed off in her last week at Sonangol

Lawyers for Matter Business Solutions say it was brought in to help restructure the oil industry in Angola, and that the invoices were for work that had already been carried out by other consultancy companies it had hired.

“Regarding the invoices related with expenses, it is common for consultancy companies to add expenses to invoices as a general item. This is often due to those expenses involving large amounts of paperwork… Matter can produce documentary evidence to confirm all expenses incurred.”


Ms Dos Santos’s lawyers said her actions with regard to the Matter payments were entirely lawful and that she had not authorised payments after she had been dismissed from Sonangol.

They said: “All invoices paid were in relation to services contracted and agreed between the two parties, under a contract that was approved with the full knowledge and approval of the Sonangol Board of Directors.”

The ICIJ and Panorama have also uncovered new details about the business deals that made Ms Dos Santos rich.

Much of her fortune is based on her ownership of a stake in the Portuguese energy company Galp, which one of her companies bought from Sonangol in 2006.

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The documents show it only had to pay 15% of the price upfront and that the remaining €63m ($70m) was turned into a low-interest loan from Sonangol.

Under the generous terms of the loan, her debt to the Angolan people didn’t have to be repaid for 11 years.

Her stake in Galp is now worth more than €750m.

Ms Dos Santos’s company did offer to repay the Sonangol loan in 2017.

The repayment offer should have been rejected because it didn’t include almost €9m of interest owing.

Bank orders signed by Isabel dos Santos transferred almost $58m out of the Angolan state oil company

But Ms Dos Santos was in charge of Sonangol at the time and she accepted the money as full payment of her own debt.

She was fired six days later and the payment was returned by the new Sonangol management.

Ms Dos Santos says she initiated the purchase of the stake in Galp, and that Sonangol made money from the deal as well.

“There’s absolutely no wrongdoing in any of those transactions. This investment is the investment that in history has generated the most benefit for the national oil company and all the contracts that were drafted are perfectly legal contracts, there are no wrongdoings.”

Her lawyers say the repayment offer in 2017 covered what Sonangol had indicated was owed.


The diamond connection

It’s a similar story in the diamond industry.

Ms Dos Santos’s husband, Sindika Dokolo, signed a one-sided agreement in 2012 with Angolan state diamond company Sodiam.

They were supposed to be 50-50 partners in a deal to buy a stake in the Swiss luxury jeweller De Grisogono.

But it was funded by the state company. The documents show that 18 months after the deal, Sodiam had put $79m into the partnership, while Mr Dokolo had only invested $4m. Sodiam also awarded him a €5m success fee for brokering the deal, so he didn’t have to use any of his own money.

Isabel dos Santos and her husband Sindika Dokolo can often be seen at film premieres and festivals with the world’s stars

The diamond deal gets even worse for the Angolan people.

The documents reveal how Sodiam borrowed all the cash from a private bank in which Ms Dos Santos is the biggest shareholder.

Sodiam has to pay 9% interest and the loan was guaranteed by a presidential decree from her father, so Ms Dos Santos’s bank cannot lose out.

Bravo da Rosa, the new chief executive of Sodiam, told Panorama that the Angolan people hadn’t got a single dollar back from the deal: “In the end, when we have finished paying back this loan, Sodiam will have lost more than $200m.”


The former president also gave Ms Dos Santos’s husband the right to buy some of Angola’s raw diamonds.

Who is Isabel dos Santos?

  • Eldest daughter of ex-President Jose Eduardo dos Santos
  • Married to Congolese art collector and businessman Sindika Dokolo
  • Educated in UK, where she currently lives
  • Reported to be Africa’s richest woman, with a fortune of some $2bn
  • Has stakes in oil and mobile phone companies and banks, mostly in Angola and Portugal

Source: Forbes magazine and others

The Angolan government says the diamonds were sold at a knockdown price and sources have told Panorama that almost $1bn may have been lost.

Ms Dos Santos told the BBC she couldn’t comment because she was not a shareholder of De Grisogono.

But the leaked documents show that she is described as a shareholder of De Grisogono by her own financial advisers.

Mr Dokolo did put in some money later. His lawyers say he invested $115m and that the takeover of De Grisogono was his idea. They say his company paid above the market rate for the raw diamonds.


The land connection

The leaked documents also reveal how Ms Dos Santos bought land from the state in September 2017. Once again she only had to pay a small up-front fee.

Her company bought a square kilometre of prime beachfront land in the capital Luanda with the help of presidential decrees signed by her father.

Angolan state oil company Sonangol has a subsidiary in London where suspicious deals took place

The contract says the land was worth $96m, but the documents show her company paid only 5% of that after agreeing to invest the rest in the development.

Panorama traced some of the ordinary Angolans who were evicted to make way for the Futungo development.

They’ve been moved from the Luandan seafront to an isolated housing development 30 miles (50km) from the capital.

Teresa Vissapa lost her business to Ms Dos Santos’ development and is now struggling to bring up her seven children.

She said: “I only ask God to make her think a little more about our situation. Maybe she doesn’t even know it, but we are suffering.”

Ms Dos Santos declined to comment on the Futungo development.


But it was not the only land deal involving Ms Dos Santos that displaced the local population.

About 500 families were evicted from another stretch of the Luandan seafront after Isabel dos Santos got involved in another major redevelopment project.

The families are now living in desperate conditions next to an open sewer. Some of their shacks are flooded with sewage whenever the tide rises.

Ms Dos Santos says there weren’t any evictions linked to her project and that her companies were never paid because the development was cancelled.

The telecoms connection

The billionaire has also made big profits from the telecoms industry in Angola.

She acquired a 25% stake in the country’s biggest mobile phone provider, Unitel. It was granted a telecoms licence by her father in 1999 and she bought her stake the following year from a high ranking government official.

Unitel has already paid her $1bn in dividends and her stake is worth another $1bn. But that’s not the only way she got cash from the private company.

She arranged for Unitel to lend €350m to a new company she set up, called Unitel International Holdings.

The leaked documents show Isabel dos Santos signed off on loans from Unitel as both the borrower and the lender

The company name was misleading because it wasn’t connected to Unitel and Ms Dos Santos was the owner.

The documents show Ms Dos Santos signed off on the loans as both lender and borrower, which is a blatant conflict of interest.

Ms Dos Santos denied that the loans were corrupt. She said: “This loan had both directors’ approval and shareholders’ approval, and it’s a loan that will generate, and has generated, benefit for Unitel.”

Her lawyers say the loans protected Unitel from currency fluctuations.


Most of the companies involved in the dodgy deals were overseen by accountants working for the financial services company, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC). It’s made millions providing auditing, consultancy and tax advice to her companies.

But PWC has terminated its relationship with the billionaire and her family, after Panorama questioned the way the company had assisted Ms Dos Santos in the deals that had made her rich.

PWC says it is holding an inquiry into the “very serious and concerning allegations”.

Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, criticised PWC for giving the corruption a “veneer of respectability”

Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, told Panorama that PWC had given legitimacy to Ms Dos Santos and her companies.

“PWC, if not facilitating the corruption, are providing a veneer of respectability that makes what’s happening acceptable or more acceptable than it might otherwise be.

“So if I was at PWC I’d be conducting a pretty thorough audit of what decisions were made, and in hindsight actually: ‘Did we make the wrong decision to accept this business and should we have reported what we had been presented with?'”

PWC says it strives to maintain the highest professional standards and has set expectations for consistent ethical behaviour across its global network.


“In response to the very serious and concerning allegations that have been raised, we immediately initiated an investigation and are working to thoroughly evaluate the facts and conclude our inquiry.

“We will not hesitate to take appropriate actions to ensure that we always stand for the very highest standards of behaviour, wherever we operate in the world.”

SOURCE: This story was first writen and published by The BBC with the headline: Isabel dos Santos: Africa’s richest woman ‘ripped off Angola’

Africans are getting healthier and wealthier

IN MANY ways the story of Africa in the 21st century is one of success. Great strides have been made tackling diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

A baby born in Africa today is less likely to die young, and more likely to go to school than one born in 2000. Life expectancy at birth increased by nearly ten years, to 60, between 2000 and 2015. But many Africans also feel less secure than they did a decade ago. Civil wars and social unrest have proliferated, according to an index of how Africa’s leaders are performing.

The Ibrahim Index of Governance, produced by the foundation of Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British telecoms-billionaire-turned-philanthropist, has been trying to quantify how well countries are run since 2007.

It is an ambitious effort involving 100 indicators of such things as political participation, respect for human rights and sound economic management. The latest data, released on November 20th, show a worrying divergence. Of the 26 indicators related to health, welfare and education, 21 have improved over the past decade. But 18 out of the 26 measures of safety, stability and the rule of law have deteriorated.


Civil wars in several countries, such as Libya, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, drag down the numbers. At the other end of the spectrum, improvements in health, education and social services were led by Rwanda, Ethiopia and Togo. In 28 countries development indicators improved, while security indicators deteriorated.

Overall, instability on the continent has increased. But optimists will note that the trend has slowed in the past five years. Meanwhile, most of Africa’s children are healthier and better educated than ever. That is undoubtedly cause for cheer.

How music helps us understand displaced communities in Uganda

Studies dealing with displacement have shown that music is among the vehicles the displaced adopt to communicate their grievances.

By Dominic D.B. Makwa

For the Ugandan survivors of a landslide who are relocated to a faraway camp, for example, music becomes the most effective mode of communication. That’s because music can play a dual role: it entertains while at the same time passing on specific messages to listeners. And due to its ability to use metaphors, music communicates on different levels to different people. One song can be interpreted differently by more than one person.

Because of these unique qualities, my research found, it is easier to communicate through music to deliver important and sensitive messages that cannot be comfortably conveyed through daily speech.

The Nametsi landslide

Bududa is a district in Bugisu, located along the slopes of Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda. It has had a history of landslides which have negatively affected the life of its inhabitants.

Landslides involve soil mixed with boulders moving down steep slopes and burying people’s farms, animals and houses in the process. Although landslides leave behind survivors, many people are buried under the rubble.

The Nametsi landslide put Bududa in the headlines. It occurred on 1 March 2010 and is the most severe landslide recorded in Uganda’s history. It destroyed entire villages – hitting Nametsi, Namasheti and Kubehwo in the Bukalasi sub county. The landslide officially killed about 100 people but left a further 300 people unaccounted for and over 1,000 survivors homeless. Because there was no place to resettle survivors in Bududa, the Ugandan government relocated them to Panyadoli Camp in Southwestern Uganda, adjacent to the Kiryandongo Refugee Camp, the latter created for international refugees.

Workers search for bodies at the scene of a landslide in Bududa district in 2012. The eastern Ugandan region is regularly devastated by these natural disasters. EPA-EFE/RONALD KABUUBI

Life in Panyadoli Camp

Panyadoli is located in Kiryandongo District, far from Bududa, with almost 400km between them. Despite the odd hill, the place is generally flat. The sparse population explains the abundant bushes, which harbour snakes and other animals. In this place, there are almost no streams where people can fetch water. When the landslide survivors arrived, the only source of water was one borehole to serve a community of over 300 people. Other social amenities including schools, health facilities and markets were far from adequate.

Apart from cultivating the two-and-a-half acre piece of land the government allocated them, few economic opportunities were available to the landslide survivors. They could not sell coffee or engage in other businesses as they had in Bududa. To compound it all, most landslide survivors could confidently speak only one language – Lugisu. Lugisu is the language of the Bagisu, who are the majority in Bududa. Communication as they interacted with host communities in healthcare centres, schools and markets was a huge challenge.

As most of the landslide survivors had lived in their villages all of their lives without ever relocating, I wanted to find out how they were coping with life in their new home. What facilities were at their disposal? How different are they from what they had in Bududa? In cases where they were not happy with the government’s intervention, how do they communicate their grievances?

A typical scene at a resettlement camp in Uganda, where jerry cans queue up at the only water source in the camp. Dorah Ntunga/Oxfam/FLICKR

The story of a song

Different forms of communication were used by Bududa landslide survivors to articulate their experiences in Panyadoli Camp. Having meetings with different stakeholders was one of the means of communication. However, because of the ability to disguise the message through entertainment, music became the main vehicle for communication.

Music was adopted because these survivors did not feel comfortable to complain directly about land, the social amenities provided and how contracts for constructing their houses were awarded. Another tricky issue was theft, where they thought the police knew the people who were stealing things in the camp but were just covering up. The landslide survivors noted that whenever they tried to complain about these issues, authorities looked at them as ungrateful people who could not appreciate anything, though they’d had nothing when they were relocated to this camp.

When women from the Bududa Women Association performed the song Obu Bulamu Bweesi Khuli Nabwo (This Is The Life We Have), their aim was to dramatise these issues that were negatively affecting them.

Through this song, women talked about the nature of the shelters they were staying in. They talked about weak tarpaulins they had received from the Office of the Prime Minister and how these exposed them to rain.

The author recorded the women of the camp performing This Is The Life We Have.

They also used this song to talk about corruption in the camp. A case in point was when they argued that the seeds they had received for planting were not supplied by the Office of the Prime Minister as had been claimed. The seeds had in fact been given by the church.

The song communicated about poor health services, waterlogged fields, the shortage of food and their inability to speak English and Kiswahili, the ‘languages of the camp’.

And it addresses the thefts in the camp. The lyrics point to the police guarding the camp as the root cause of this problem. The song was also a call for transparency around the awarding of contracts for the construction of houses for the landslide survivors.

The power of metaphor

This song used metaphors to embed its messages. For example by singing, ‘Water has finished our food’, these women were indirectly saying that the plots of land given to them were waterlogged and therefore could not yield much food. Similarly, by singing, ‘Up there, they (children) were going to school’, they were referring to Bududa as a place with schools where their children used to get education.

A village woman mourns as she sits at the scene of a landslide in Budada, Uganda. EPA/RONALD KABUUBI

Songs of this nature could be sung before any audience. However, I also realised that such music was mainly performed before ‘visitors’ from Bududa. As other scholars have argued, displaced people never stop associating with those they left behind. Anybody who visits them is looked at as a possible mediator, someone who can present their grievances to relevant authorities. By singing this song in my presence, the landslide survivors looked at me as someone who could readily pass on their message to government and other authorities that could help them.

This research is significant in the contemporary period especially as relocation of people across the world has become rampant due to political instability and natural disasters. As governments and the United Nations grapple with resettling people, they need to pay attention to alternative means that displaced people use to communicate their concerns. Such communication channels can be harnessed to understand exactly what such people want in order to avoid tension which may cause more unrest.

How politics and poverty affect electricity provision in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s economic challenges are numerous, but one of the most pressing is electricity scarcity. Around 40% of the country’s population has access to electricity.

Untapped energy sources: hydro-power potential is concentrated along the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. Shutterstock

The country has access to vast and diverse possible energy resources. These include about 12 billion metric tonnes of coal, hydro power potential concentrated along the Zambezi River and untapped solar power potential.

This is not peculiar to Zimbabwe. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, only 16%  of the population has access to electricity. Yet the country could meet much of the entire region’s demand for electricity through the hydro power generation and diversification of renewable energy sources in the country.

I conducted research to establish what the panacea could be for electricity scarcity in Zimbabwe. My conclusion was that the vaunted argument of increasing generation capacity is inadequate. This is because the technological interventions don’t address the distribution concerns.


My study shows that the supply view is only a partial response to the problem. Access to electricity is in fact dependent on socio-economic and political factors. As I argue in my study, the real problems getting in the way of access to electricity are social, political and economic.

These structural factors reproduce electricity social scarcity, which in turn perpetuates social injustice. This is because electricity is essential for development.

What this shows is that policy choices and affordability need to be addressed if the electricity shortage is to be resolved.

Energy mix

Currently, Zimbabwe produces 1,100 megawatts of electricity against a national demand of 1,500 megawatts. It generates power from water and coal, and also imports electricity.

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The major source of hydro power for Zimbabwe is the Kariba Dam, which has an estimated capacity of 1,050 megawatts.

Coal-fired power stations produce about 70% of the country’s energy. But the Hwange Coal Power Station is affected by inadequate financial resources for infrastructure and equipment maintenance, leading to supply disruptions.

To make up for the shortfall, Zimbabwe relies on imports from South Africa’s electricity public utility, Eskom, and from Mozambique.

Even if renewable energy were to be added into the energy mix, the supply mix could increase the cost of production, which would then be passed on to the end users.

Factors that drive disparity


There is an urban advantage in Zimbabwe’s energy profile, as is the case across much of Africa. The overwhelming bulk of the region’s electricity grid is concentrated in urban areas, while the vast majority of the population living without electricity is in the rural and peri-urban areas.

According to the Zimbabwe national energy policy report of 2012, 83% of urban households have access to electricity compared with 13% in rural areas. Rural communities meet 94% of their cooking energy requirements from traditional fuels, mainly fuelwood. Wood is the main cooking fuel for 20% of urban households.

No newer reliable data are available, but these trends are likely to have got worse rather than better in the past seven years.

Coal, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas are used by less than 1% of urban households. The electrification rate in the rural areas is approximately 10%. Connection to the electricity grid is highly unequal.

Households’ poverty status adds to the disparity in access. A 2017 Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey found that extreme poverty was much higher in rural areas. Over 40% of the rural population was extremely poorcompared to 4.4% in urban areas.

Poor people have borne the brunt of hyperinflation, which has affected the price of fuel. For example, the price of cooking gas has increased more than six-fold since the start of 2019.

At the same time the electricity tariff has soared by 320%, placing it beyond the reach of many, particularly the poor.



Most analyses consider increased availability of electricity to be linked to technological development. But this school of thought doesn’t acknowledge the structural nature of electricity scarcity.

As my research shows, failure to address this will simply lead to energy poverty being perpetuated.

My study reveals that affordability is a major barrier to electricity access. The affordability factor needs to be considered in its entirety because it is made up of a number of factors. These include electricity rates, income levels, the cost of living and various socio-economic indicators.

Availability doesn’t mean accessibility. Due to the market trends, electricity provision is skewed towards high income groups while the poor use cheaper, inefficient and unclean alternatives such as charcoal and fuelwood.

What needs to be done?

It is imperative to take poor communities into consideration when trying to address Zimbabwe’s power shortages. If this doesn’t happen, the country risks doubling its efforts to increase generation capacity, but leaving behind vulnerable groups.

Zimbabwe can look to South Africa for guidance. Though South Africa has electricity shortages, it cushions the poor against high energy costs. Indigent households get 50kWh of free electricity per month. Where electricity is not available, the country’s Free Basic Alternative Energy policy provides alternative energy such as subsidised paraffin, liquefied petroleum gas, coal and bio-ethanol gel. Customers who use less energy also benefit from a lower tariff.


Zimbabwe’s poor cannot survive the vagaries of the market on their own. The country needs to reduce inequality through an integrated electrification agenda that leaves no one behind.

West Africa is under serious threat by terrorists

France’s president and his counterparts from the Sahel region are due to meet to discuss military operations against Islamist militants in West Africa. We look at the figures behind the conflict, which is slipping out of control.

France summit: Sahel crisis in danger of slipping out of control

Attacks on army positions and civilians across the region are occurring with increasing regularity, despite the presence of thousands of troops from both the countries affected and France. Last year saw the highest annual death toll due to armed conflict in the region since 2012.

Last week, 89 soldiers from Niger were killed in the latest attack to see dozens of deaths among regional armed forces. France has also suffered significant casualties, losing 13 soldiers in a helicopter crash in Mali in November.

The Sahel region, a semi-arid stretch of land just south of the Sahara Desert, has been a frontline in the war against Islamist militancy for almost a decade.

However, it is increasingly clear that the problem facing Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania (known as the G5 Sahel) is not just the presence of armed groups, and that more than military action is urgently needed to address a worsening humanitarian crisis, climate change and development challenges.

The overarching worry is that the crisis could spread further across West Africa.

1. A fast deteriorating crisis

The security crisis in the region started in 2012 when an alliance of separatist and Islamist militants took over northern Mali, triggering a French military intervention to oust them as they advanced towards the capital, Bamako.

A peace deal was signed in 2015 but was never completely implemented and new armed groups have since emerged and expanded to central Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Casualties from attacks in those countries are believed to have increased fivefold since 2016, with over 4,000 deaths reported last year alone.

2. The most deadly places

A stretch of land covering the border areas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is at the centre of the insurgency and counter-terrorism operations.

Armed groups, including some linked to al-Qaeda and others the Islamic State group, have expanding their presence and capabilities.

The reasons behind their expansion are multiple:

  • Porous borders and little state presence in some areas
  • They have set up lucrative money-raising activities, such as imposing taxes, and trafficking drugs, weapons and people, which help fund their activities
  • Soldiers fighting the militants appear to be under-trained and poorly equipped, despite the regional and international support they receive

In addition to the joint G5 Sahel countries, which have an estimated 5,000-strong force battling the militants, the French have had 4,500 soldiers deployed in the Sahel since 2013.

The UN also has over 12,000 peacekeepers in Mali, while the US has two drone bases in Niger, providing intelligence and training support throughout the region.

Amid the rising insecurity, so-called self-defence groups have been formed. In Mali and Burkina Faso, these militias are believed to be behind a number of massacres.

3. Not just jihadists behind the violence

Most attacks on civilians remain unclaimed but the main armed Islamist militant groups in the Sahel are:

  • Al-Qaeda affiliated Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin – JNIM
  • Islamic State Group in the Greater Sahara – ISGS
  • Ansarul Islam
  • Katiba Macina
  • Other armed groups with ethnic or political affiliations have also emerged

Ethnic tensions and economic rivalries have become mixed up with the Islamist insurgency, with accusations that members of the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group are linked to Islamists, which their representatives deny.

In addition, expanding deserts and climate change have magnified long-standing conflicts between mainly Fulani herders and pastoralists.

All this has led to the creation of ethnic militias on both sides, which have also been responsible for a horrific cycle of tit-for-tat mass killings.

Some security forces have been accused by human rights groups of unlawful killings during counter-terrorism operations.

Last week, a coalition of NGOs said that the “military response in the Sahel is part of the problem”.

Action Against Hunger, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Oxfam estimated that the army operation in Mali had forced more than 80,000 people to flee their homes – about 40% of all those displaced in the country.

4. Humanitarian crisis

As the population in the region is set to double over the next 20 years, the violence is exacerbating development challenges.

Growing enough food for everyone will become increasingly difficult and this is not being helped by the numbers of people who have been forced to flee their homes.

In Burkina Faso, the number of people internally displaced has risen from 40,000 at the end of 2018 to more than 500,000 at the end of 2019 – that is more that 2% of the population. In Mali, the number has practically doubled.

The violence is also storing up problems for future generations as some of the Islamist groups deliberately target schools and teachers, leaving hundreds of thousands of children without access to education.

They then become even more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, forced labour or recruitment into armed groups.

This story was first published by BBC, and much of the data in this article was sourced from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)

The role of religious counselling in Ghana

In the past when most Ghanaians lived in rural areas, most would typically consult an elder, a respected member of the family, or someone of good social standing in their community when they faced problems in their life.

Today, more people are living in cities. It is estimated that as of 2016, 54.68% of Ghana’s population lived in urban areas. When city-dwellers do not have family members to talk to in times of difficulty, or do not wish to talk about their problems with close family members, they may turn to a source of support that is available in their church or mosque.

Ghanaian religious counsellors play a major role in helping people negotiate everyday problems. Most churches and mosques have volunteers as religious counsellors. In addition to providing guidance on religious matters, they provide support and advice to those who need help in dealing with personal problems.

These volunteers, including elders, lay ministers, clerics and other worshippers, may not have formal education in counselling. But they use their personal experiences and understanding to help others in distress. A population census done in 2010 showed that 18 million Christians and 4.4 million Muslims across Ghana could have access to lay counsellors within their religious organisations.

In our study, we asked religious counsellors in four cities in Ghana about the kind of problems people approached them about. Our aim was to try to determine the overlap – if any – between services sought at places like psychiatric hospitals, professional psychological services and prayer camps, and those provided by religious counsellors.


Our study suggests that religious counsellors provide a very important service in the country.

What we found

We interviewed 81 Christian and 19 Muslim counsellors in four cities in Ghana. Seventy-five of the participants were men and 25 were women. The oldest person was 80 years old and the youngest was 24.

Most of the people we interviewed were members of congregations who chose to serve as counsellors as their way of supporting their religious communities. In addition, some of the people we interviewed were priests, reverend ministers, pastors, deacons, or Islamic clerics who provided counselling services as part of their responsibilities.

We found that most of the problems people take to religious counsellors are about marriage. For those approaching marriage, concerns include differences in education, finances or age of the prospective partners. Other premarital issues are related to choice of spouse and parental consent.

This suggests that religious counsellors may be occupying an area of interpersonal concerns not addressed in psychiatric and prayer camp settings. However, some of what they do overlaps somewhat with the goals of psychological services.

Problems at home

Over 72% of those we interviewed saw people who had concerns about their marriage. Married people sought help with conflicts between spouses. For example, some of the conflicts were about how to divide household chores. A few of the help-seekers who were in Muslim marriages reported problems related to a husband’s decision to take an additional wife, or conflicts between the wives. Married people also brought problems relating to distrusting their spouse over finances, and disputes about property acquired in the marriage.

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Some married people also came for counselling to seek help for sexual issues. Some reported problems about a spouse being impotent. Others sought help when they felt that they could not meet some of the sexual demands of a spouse. Others suspected or had become aware that their partner was having sexual relations outside the marriage. A few people also went to see religious counsellors when they experienced domestic violence in the marriage.


Over a third of the religious counsellors we interviewed had provided help on parenthood. Infertility and parenting responsibilities were among the issues raised. Conflicts between parents and children; relationship with stepchildren; and concern about children’s friends were also presented to the counsellors.

Only a few of the religious counsellors we interviewed reported that people sought their help for dealing with mental health problems. Some said they’d been asked for help on issues related to substance abuse such as smoking marijuana.

Education was another area where people looked for support. For example, some people needed help in deciding which courses to take at senior high school, or which career path to follow.

An avenue to help

Religious counsellors form one of several avenues where people seek help for problems that they encounter in life. They are a distinct, accessible, largely volunteer resource used to navigate marriage and parenting difficulties. A few provide help for educational and career issues. Most of the religious counsellors we interviewed did not report seeing people with severe mental health issues. Most of the problems they saw were not life-threatening, in our view.

Nevertheless, religious counsellors offer an important avenue for people to seek help in Ghana.

Student success requires more than hard work

It is that time of year again when South Africans celebrate National Senior Certificate results, ushering a generation of youth out of the school system and into the world. Of the 788,717 who successfully completed these exams, 186,058 achieved passes that potentially open the doors of university study.

Entering university from a middle-class family is easier. Shutterstock

As we read about the results, we take delight in the success stories, like the student from a poorer background scoring multiple distinctions despite having no properly qualified maths or science teacher. Or the rural student who earned a university entrance despite walking long distances to school each day. These achievements should be celebrated, as they are truly exceptional.

But the problem with these stories, uplifting as they may be, is that they often carry a subtext.

“If he can do it, why can’t the rest of them?”

The presumption that hard work alone leads to success – and that laziness leads to failure – follows the student into the university. Here, despite a wealth of careful research that proclaims otherwise, most people believe that success emerges from the intelligence and work ethic of the individual.

In a recent journal article, we have argued that academics often ignore the research on student failure that shows it emerges from a number of factors. Many of these factors are beyond the attributes inherent in the student. Instead, most hold on to the simplistic common sense assumption that success comes to those who deserve it. Academics who hold this view are prone to assume that students are successful because of what an individual student does or does not do.


But the reality is a far more complex interplay of individual attributes with social structures which unfairly affect some more than others.

The lure of meritocratic explanations

There is a widely held view that education is a meritocracy, where success is determined by the merit of the individual. The term was coined in British sociologist Michael Young’s 1958 book The Rise of the Meritocracy. In it, he described a dystopian society stratified by educational level and intelligence. The term has been appropriated to suggest that those who do well at university do so on the basis of personal effort and acumen rather than as a result of their privileged background.

University academics have access to research looking at the complex mechanisms of higher education. Despite this, many are likely to believe that the university is a meritocracy. Believing that students succeed or fail on their own merits sits more comfortably than scrutinising the role universities play in reinforcing divisions in society.

In every country around the world, higher education success most strongly correlates to social class. Parental education levels, wealth, social influence and status are the strongest indicator of university success. But class does not work in isolation from other forces.

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Social class intersects in varying ways with race, gender, language, and so on. In some countries, for example, race is used as a means of dividing society and assigning social class. In many countries, gender too plays a role in who gets access to the powerful knowledge offered by the academy. All of these factors and more have a role to play. But it is social class that most consistently tracks higher education success across geographical contexts.

If you did well at university, chances are that you worked hard and you’re bright. But those two characteristics probably account for a much smaller part of your success than most of us would care to admit.

What class privilege looks like

Entering university from a middle-class family doesn’t only confer financial, health, educational, emotional and nutritional benefits. It also provides less visible privileges. A middle-class student probably had role models like relatives who went to university, possibly even the same university, who could explain the university system. It’s likely that they took part in everyday conversations about professional identities, and they could probably draw on social networks to assist them in adapting to university life and then entering the workplace.


The late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that underprivileged students fail not because they are less intelligent than middle-class students but because the curriculum is biased towards what middle-class students are already accustomed to. It is this that reinforces the relationship between social class and success in higher education around the world.

Many of the privileges that middle-class students enjoy are so arcane as to be invisible, even to themselves. These students often bring with them a sense that their role at university is to engage not just with facts but with the disciplinary rules for how knowledge gets made. Typically they are willing to challenge what is presented to them and to seek flaws in the evidence provided in the texts they encounter. They also have a stronger confidence in their right to be there and to participate fully. These, and many other ways, aid middle-class students to enter the academy primed for success.

What needs to happen?

Academics who are committed to social justice often have to grapple with the fact that the university does not reward students on the basis of merit so much as on privilege. This calls for teaching in ways that constantly seek to make the expectations of the classroom transparent and the disciplinary norms and values explicit.

Teachers need to make these practices clear to students and, in the process, harness students’ agency to craft their own place in the world and their own contribution to knowledge. Regular feedback on student work, for example, allows students to begin to see what counts as knowledge in the particular discipline.

It is also important to expose academic practices to scrutiny. Increasingly the academy is being challenged to consider forms of knowledge long omitted by the colonial order.


The university promises society that it will produce both powerful knowledge and competent graduates adept at using such knowledge to tackle societal and environmental problems. But not all university practices are inherently powerful and much powerful knowledge remains outside its walls.

If some students enter the university with easier access to the practices needed for success, nobody can pretend that institutions are a meritocracy rewarding attributes inherent in the individual. Understanding the complex relationship between social class and educational success requires that educators reconsider almost all aspects of their teaching.

The Consequences of Sudan on US terrorism blacklist

If Washington wants to be on the right side of history, it must open the way for Sudan to receive economic support.

A child looks on as the Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok visits a camp for displaced people in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images

Over the past year, the Sudanese people have staged a near miraculous revolution, overthrowing the 30-year dictatorship of President Omar al-Bashir.

Following mediation led by the African Union and Ethiopia, a transitional government consisting of civilians and military generals is headed by Abdalla Hamdok, a veteran economist untainted by the decades of corruption and misrule. It is the best compromise: the army, and especially the paramilitary Rapid Support Force, are simply too powerful to be removed from politics in one fell swoop.


At the UN general assembly in September, and last week in Washington DC, Hamdok made a series of good-faith policy pledges to return Sudan to the club of respectable nations.

Hamdok is charged with the gargantuan task of steering Sudan out of crisis and into a period of economic stability and growth. But what brought the first demonstrators on to the streets a year ago was rampant inflation and the collapse of the wage-earning economy: ordinary people simply couldn’t afford to buy bread or fuel. That hasn’t changed. The economy remains on the slide towards hyperinflation and the people towards possible famine.

Wealthy Gulf states – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – bailed out Sudan with $3.5bn (£2.65bn) worth of cash and commodities earlier this year. That was never enough, given the magnitude of the crisis, and it is running out.


What Sudan needs is for its debt to be rescheduled and sanctions against it lifted. That will require action by the US to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism (SST). Among other restrictions, inclusion on the list prohibits economic assistance, including loans from the World Bank and other international financial institutions.

International sanctions on Sudan began shortly after the last democratic revolution in 1985, when the International Monetary Fund suspended the country for non-payment of arrears on its debts. Intended to compel fiscal responsibility, that economic shackle condemned the democratic government to failure. So began a catalogue of foreign sanctions, mostly a story of mishap and failure.

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In 1993, the US designated Sudan as an SST. Four years later, it imposed comprehensive economic, trade, and financial sanctions. In 2007, in response to the Darfur atrocities, Washington imposed further measures including individually targeted asset freezes. The measures hurt the regime, but also the people.

The economic and trade sanctions were eased in 2017-18, in a rare example of policy continuity between the Obama and Trump administrations. But the biggest measure remains in place: the SST listing. That basically prohibits anyone from doing business with Sudan without a special licence from the US Treasury; the alternative is prosecution.

And while legitimate business stays shackled, illicit business continues to thrive. Sudanese people call it the “deep state” – at best crony capitalists profiteering from oil and gold sales, and from the security agencies’ lockdown of the financial and telecom sectors, and at worst mafia cartels. Along with their soldiers on the streets, this financial muscle is the power base of the generals.Advertisement


The military oligarchs’ power will start eroding when exposed to the fair winds of free competition – when sanctions are lifted.

The state department candidly admits that all its main objectives have been met: Sudan isn’t a state sponsor of terror and, indeed, has been cooperating with the US for years; it let South Sudan secede peacefully, and has been assisting in trying to resolve its neighbour’s civil war; and it is committed to democratic reform, and peace with the remaining provincial rebels in Darfur and Southern Kordofan.

But the US has not yet properly recognised the once-in-a-generation achievement of the Sudanese people. Last week, Washington made the symbolic gesture of sending an ambassador to Khartoum and followed up with promises of incremental progress towards normalising relations. But removing the SST listing has been made dependent on Hamdok enacting a series of reforms, which is like sending a boxer into the ring with one hand tied behind his back, telling him: “If you can knock out the other guy, then we will untie your hand.”

If Sudan’s economy slides into complete meltdown and the civilian administration fails, the rug pulled from under Hamdok’s feet will have “Made in the US” written all over it.


If the US administration – and Congress, which must approve the lifting of sanctions – wants to be on the right side of history in Sudan, it must respond expeditiously to the Sudanese people’s plea.

• El-Ghassim Wane is a former African Union and UN official with responsibilities for peace and security. Abdul Mohammed is chief of staff of the African Union high-level implementation panel for Sudan and South Sudan, speaking in a personal capacity; Alex de Waal is executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University

Sierra Leone ordered to revoke ban on pregnant schoolgirls

Regional court ruling hailed as ‘landmark moment for thousands of girls’ who will no longer be forced to miss lessons and exams.

Women look on during a summer hearing on Sierra Leone’s ban on pregnant schoolgirls, which was revoked at a court hearing in Nigeria. Photograph: Purposeful but Chernor

Pregnant schoolgirls in Sierra Leone will no longer be banned from attending class or sitting exams, after a regional court ordered the immediate overturn of a “discriminatory” policy that has denied tens of thousands the right to finish their education.

In a ruling handed down in Nigeria on Thursday, a top regional court found that a 2015 directive barring pregnant girls from attending school amounted to discrimination and a violation of human rights.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) court ordered Sierra Leone to establish nationwide programmes to help pregnant girls return to school.


“This victory belongs to the girls in Sierra Leone who have been degraded and dehumanised because of their status since 2014,” said Hannah Yambasu, executive director of Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (Waves), one of a number of organisations that filed the case against Sierra Leone in May 2018.

“Now our government in Sierra Leone has no option but to comply with their obligations as declared by the court.”

Teen pregnancy is a huge issue in Sierra Leone, where 30% of girls fall pregnant and 40% are married by the age of 18. The west African country’s deadly 2014 Ebola outbreak left thousands of girls vulnerable and forced to fend for themselves, resulting in a spike in pregnancies – many of which were the result of sexual assault.

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When schools reopened after the virus was contained, the government banned girls who had fallen pregnant from attending class, in order to protect “innocent girls”.

Although parallel schools for pregnant girls had been established by the government, Ecowas ruled that they amounted to another form of discrimination as attendees were only taught four subjects for three days a week. The court ordered their immediate abolition.

“The [parallel] schools were sub-optimal and completely limiting for the girls,” said Judy Gitau, Africa regional coordinator at Equality Now, one of the other organisations that took Sierra Leone to court.


“We know they felt worthless [having been banned from normal education] and to have a regional court make a declaration that the government of Sierra Leone breached its obligations to provide [basic human rights] to the girls makes them feel valued again. This ruling has given them a new lease on life.”

Former pupil Patience, who was 17 when she fell pregnant and found herself banned from attending school, welcomed the court’s decision.

“I am very happy because I did not have the opportunity to stay in school myself,” she told the Guardian.

“If I had been able to stay in education, I would be in my last year at uni now, or maybe I would have graduated already. I would have liked to have studied nursing. Instead, my name was taken off the school register and I was offered vocational training. Yet my daughter’s father was never banned from school, and he was able to continue to do everything he wanted to do.”

Sexual violence is highly prevalent in Sierra Leone, where 8,505 rape cases – among them 2,579 involving minors – were reported to police in 2018. Yet activists believe this number is likely to be far higher, as stigma and shame prevent many survivors from coming forward.

In its ruling, Ecowas ordered the government to integrate sexual education classes into the nationwide curriculum to combat teen pregnancies and promote awareness around contraceptives.

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Human rights lawyer Sabrina Mahtani, who wrote the 2015 Amnesty International report on the ban, said the ruling presented an opportunity for Sierra Leone’s government to prove itself.

“President [Julius Maada] Bio was elected on a platform of ‘new direction’. He and his dynamic new education minister, David Sengeh, have an opportunity now to reverse a ban instigated by the former government and to recognise the bravery of girls in Sierra Leone by overturning this ban and respecting the right to education and non-discrimination of all girls who are the future of the country.”

Activist Chernor Bah, who co-founded the feminist movement-building hub Purposeful, said the ruling proved that Sierra Leone was “moving in the right direction”, but warned that groundwork was still necessary to establish girls as “equals” in the nation’s male-dominated culture.


“Girls now have a right to go to school and they cannot be turned away, that’s the most exciting news for us,” said Bah.

“But this does not address the underlying issue that we still live in a highly patriarchal society where girls’ bodies are demanded, trampled upon and violated in exchange for basically everything they need in life: food, water, transport and education. We must change the underlying reality of the overall powerlessness of girls in Sierra Leone, and we will continue to fight for that.”

Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s west and central Africa acting deputy director of campaigns, said the ruling provided a “glimmer of hope” for girls in Sierra Leone and beyond.

“Today’s ruling is a landmark moment for the thousands of girls who have been excluded from school, and whose right to access education without discrimination has been violated for the past four years because of this inherently discriminatory ban,” said Colomer.


“This delivers a clear message to other African governments who have similar bans, such as Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea, or may be contemplating them, that they should follow this groundbreaking ruling and take steps to allow pregnant girls access to education in line with their own human rights obligations.”

Polio outbreaks in Africa caused by vaccine mutation

New cases of highly infectious disease that should be ‘consigned to the history books’ reported in Nigeria, the DRC, CAR and Angola.

New cases of polio linked to the oral vaccine have been reported in four African countries and more children are now being paralysed by vaccine-derived viruses than those infected by viruses in the wild, according to global health numbers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners identified nine new cases caused by the vaccine in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Angola last week. Along with seven other African countries with outbreaks, cases have also been reported in Asia. In Afghanistan and Pakistan polio remains endemic, and in Pakistan officials have been accused of covering up vaccine-related cases.

$2.6bn was recently pledged to renew efforts to eradicate polio. Photograph: Jonathan Gibbons/AP

Polio, a highly infectious disease that spreads through contaminated water or food, usually affects children under five, with around one in 200 infections resulting in paralysis. Of those paralysed 5–10% die due to crippled breathing muscles.

The WHO reports that as long as a single child remains infected, all children are at risk of contracting the disease. More than 95% of the population needs to be immunised for polio to fully be eradicated.

In developing countries the oral vaccine is used due to its low cost and accessibility, needing only two drops per dose. In western countries, a more expensive, injectable version of the vaccine – which contains an inactivated virus incapable of causing the disease – is used as a preventative.

The onset has been caused by a type 2 virus contained in the vaccine. Type 2 is a wild virus that was eliminated years ago, but in rare cases the live virus in oral polio vaccines can mutate into a form capable of igniting new outbreaks of the disease.


Just last week donors pledged $2.6 bn (£2bn) to combat polio as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which formed in 1988 with the goal of eradicating the disease by 2000. According to the WHO, wild poliovirus cases have fallen by more than 99% since 1988, from 350,000 in more than 125 endemic countries to 33 reported cases in 2018. But despite this progress, numerous deadlines have been missed since the 1988 pledge.

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report released earlier this month by the Independent Monitoring Board, which independently assesses the GPEI’s work and progress toward polio eradication, claimed that the vaccine-derived virus was causing an uncontrolled outbreak in west Africa. The report found “the strategy is already failing badly on the goal of reducing, and ultimately eliminating, vaccine-derived polioviruses” and argued that new strategies are needed to tackle the polio epidemic.Advertisement


Dr Pascal Mkanda, head of the WHO’s Polio Eradication Programme, said the latest outbreak was directly linked to low vaccination rates. The rise in vaccine-derived polio cases is caused by a mutated form of the disease found in faecal matter that targets children who have not been vaccinated, he said.

“What we must do is extend the coverage of immunisation so that polio can no longer continue to survive,” said Mkanda.

Pakistani health authorities started a vaccination campaign after new cases were reported in November. Photograph: Fareed Khan/AP

Dr Edward Parker at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said efforts to develop more stable polio vaccines by scientists were progressing.

“If they prove to be safe and effective in regions still affected by polio, these vaccines could be a key breakthrough in finally consigning this disease to the history books.”

Having dreadlocks means danger in Nigeria

A grown man wearing his hair in dreadlocks is bound to attract attention in Nigeria. And it’s not always positive attention. Many Nigerians, regardless of their education and status, view dreadlocked men as dangerous. The hairstyle sometimes even gets a violent reaction.

This bias is deeply rooted in traditional religious beliefs and myths, especially those of the Yoruba and Igbo people.

My book on the symbolism of dreadlocks in Yorubaland tries to explain what knotted hair means to Yoruba people, and where these ideas come from. Numbering around 40 million, Yoruba people predominantly occupy southwestern Nigeria. In West Africa, they are found in Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. In the diaspora, they are significantly present in the US, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti and the Caribbean.

An affront to society’s orderliness

A popular phrase used by Yoruba people to describe dreadlocks is “a crazy person’s hair”. The language also has an idiom that shows how people feel about madness. A person will ask, “kini ogun were?” (what is the cure for madness?) and get the response, “egba ni ogun were” (whip is the cure for madness).


Mentally disturbed people often wear dreadlocks due to neglect. Because they are unpredictable, they are avoided as they roam the streets, and sometimes beaten. Their knotted hair show disharmony with the community; being unkempt and unruly, they are viewed as an affront to societal norm of orderliness.

Adult men with dreadlocks are viewed similarly. They are perceived as volatile and dangerous. Their untamed hair connotes wildness. Therefore, they are associated with the wilderness; uncultivated and unruly. In traditional Yoruba and Igbo worldview, unkempt hair is akin to the forest – mysterious, dark, and to be avoided.

There are exceptions: musicians and athletes who wear these hairstyles are “tolerated” as they are presumed to be assuming a persona that matches their brand. Essentially, theirs is a temporary fashion statement. And because they are famous and successful, they are protected from attacks on the streets.


Dark and frightening by tradition

The Yoruba thought system has it that some children are raised in the forest by gnomes and other mysterious beings. They come back into the community with supernatural powers, strange mannerisms, and sometimes knotted hair. Since they traverse the physical and spiritual worlds, it is believed that they can discern the destiny of others and can negatively influence them.

These knotted-haired people are avoided, more so when their dreadlocks are greying because “normal” adult Igbo and Yoruba males shave their heads completely, or they cut their hair very short. Deviating hairstyles are viewed suspiciously.

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Unlike adult males, children born with knotted hair are revered and welcomed as a gift of the gods and not a product of the wild. Such children are called “dada” among the Yoruba in western Nigeria and the Hausa in the north. In south eastern Nigeria, the Igbo call them “ezenwa” or “elena”.

In Yoruba mythology, Dada is the son of Yemoja, the goddess of the sea, wealth, procreation, and increase. Dada is said to be one of the deified Yoruba kings. His younger brother is believed to be Shango, the god of thunder, who wears cornrows.

Children-dada are presumed to be spiritual beings and descendants of the gods by virtue of their dreadlocks. As such, their hair is not to be groomed and can only be touched by their mothers. They are the bringers of wealth, which is symbolised in both Yoruba and Igbo cultures by cowrie shells. They are celebrated. Feasts are held in their honour.


Their time on earth is special. It is marked by special rites that define different phases of life. In nearly all cases, their hair is shaved before puberty in order to integrate them into the community. The shaving ritual takes place at a river, where the shaved head is washed. The cut hair is then stored in a pot containing medicinal ingredients and water from the river. The concoction is believed to have healing properties and needed when they fall ill.

After the hair-shaving ceremony, the dada wears “tamed” hair in conformity with societal expectations. The child is still recognised as special and mysterious but is now integrated into society. The visible sign of their spirituality is no longer present. Any grownup, therefore, who still wears their dreadlocks is deemed to have been possessed by evil forces, or chose to do so malevolently; in either case, dangerous.

Challenges to the culture

Despite their negative associations, dreadlocks increased in Nigeria’s religious and popular cultures in the 1960s. Itinerant priests of the Celestial Church of Christ appear in white gowns and knotted hair. The famous musician and talented artist from Osogbo, Twin Seven Seven, performed on stage and television with his dreadlocks and white attire. He was the sole survivor of seven (considered a mysterious number in Yoruba tradition) sets of twins.

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Yorubaland has the highest rate of twins in the world. Twins are considered spiritual beings, so they are also revered and celebrated. Being a twin, having knotted hair, and only wearing white clothes (like the gods or ghosts), further mystified Twin Seven-Seven in popular imagination and fanciful stories about him spread. For example, it was said that he was raised in the forest by spiritual beings, hence his creative imagination and hairstyle.

In the 1970s and 80s, other Nigerian musicians like Majek Fashek were inspired by the fame of Jamaican reggae artists to begin styling their hair the same way. From the 1990s, Nigerian footballers joined in by wearing cornrows and dreadlocks.

Barring these exceptions, adults with unkempt hair are judged deviant beings who have become conduits for evil. Since it is difficult to differentiate between adults wearing dreadlocks as fashion statement from those with “evil dreadlocks”, people either flee from them or attack them out of fear and self preservation.

Peacekeeper with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

Can DR Congo survive in 2022 without peacekeepers ?

An independent United Nations (UN) strategic review has recommended that the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) complete a phased withdrawal by 2022. Mats Berdal gives his insights into why this is happening and what the implications could be.

Peacekeeper with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti
Peacekeeper with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

Why is the peacekeeping operation coming to an end?

The UN Organisation Mission in the DRC started off as a small observer force in 1999. It was deployed by the UN Security Council to monitor the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement signed in August 1999. At the time the hope was that this would mark the end of the Second Congo War. It did not. The war was also known as Africa’s World War because, at one stage, it pitted the government of President Laurent Kabila and allied troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia against the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, fronting for forces supported by the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. The war officially ended in 2003.

War and profound insecurity in the eastern part of DRC continued to be the norm after 1999, at a horrific cost to civilian populations. By one estimate, more than 5 million people had died as a result of war and violence by 2008.


Continuing instability and violence led to a deepening of the UN’s involvement. The initial observer force grew in size. It’s now the UN’s largest field operation with an overall strength of about 20 000, including civilian staff.

Over time, it also came to assume a much more ambitious mandate. Changing its name to the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC in 2010, the principal mandate of the mission became two-fold: the protection of civilians and the strengthening of state institutions in the DRC.

The Security Council first called for the withdrawal of the mission – or rather a transfer of responsibilities to the government and the UN country team – in 2015. Since then, every mandate renewal (every nine months) has involved calls for plans to be developed for its withdrawal. In March this year, the Security Council ordered an independent review of how exactly a phased, progressive and comprehensive exit strategy could happen. This was presented to the Council in October.

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The argument in favour of a progressive withdrawal has long been that the Congolese government, after years of UN involvement and three presidential elections, must now assume full “national ownership” of the peace and stabilisation process.

But this isn’t the only reason. At US$1.1 billion per year, the mission is an expensive peacekeeping operation, and member states have been anxious to cut costs.

After 20 years on the ground, what did the UN mission achieve?

The UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission’s record of achievement in the DRC is mixed.


The independent strategic review noted “significant peace gains” and that after 20 years of UN peacekeeping some two thirds of the country was “stable”. Presidential elections were also finally held in December 2018. After 18 years as president, Joseph Kabila stepped down and Félix Tshisekedi was voted in as President. This could mean a new political direction that would allow the country to move forward.

But, while a measure of stability has been brought to parts of country, intercommunal violence and internal displacement are widespread in Eastern DRC, connected in part to the struggle over control of natural resources. The number of armed groups in North and South Kivu is now well over 100.

Human rights violations perpetrated by the Congolese Army also continue to be a major problem. This reflects a larger failure, after numerous unsuccessful attempts, on the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC’s watch, to undertake meaningful reforms of the security sector.

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The mission’s programmes in support of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed groups and the reform of rule of law institutions have fared little better. Critically, the drivers of conflict – specifically those related to issues of land tenure and the management of mining and natural resources – remain unaddressed.

Finally, although the recent presidential elections were relatively smooth, Tshisekedi’s position is weak. Loyalists of Kabila’s are firmly ensconced in networks and positions of power, notably within the security sector.

What could the implications of a withdrawal be?

This all depends on the manner in which the withdrawal is organised and implemented. If it is rushed and doesn’t include a clear political strategy and regional diplomatic engagement, it will result in further instability and a recurring protection crises.


The independent strategic review, now before the Security Council, recognises many of the challenges ahead. But it appears overly sanguine about what can be achieved within a three-year period. Given the profound weakness of the Congolese State, especially the failure to reform the security sector, this timetable is likely to become an operational straitjacket and a potential source of instability.

While the political pressure with regard to timelines is understandable, transitions must be based on meeting realistic targets, not on calendar dates. Particular account must be taken of the indisputable risks to civilians of a precipitate withdrawal. This will likely increase insecurity and violence, especially in Eastern Congo.


Above all, the UN must intensify, rather than scale down, efforts to engage with the politics of post-election DRC. It should help the government build legitimate political institutions while harnessing regional, donor and diplomatic support for the consolidation of peace. All of this is likely to take more than three years.

Even if the UN peacekeeping presence is substantially reduced by 2022, it will be vital for the UN and the international community to remain engaged, in some form, in helping consolidate peace after the formal closing down of the mission.

South Africa’s new sex education curriculum is seen by some as infringing on the rights of parents. EFE-EPA/Jon Hrusa

Sex education and the role of the state in South Africa

Passions are running high in South Africa about a proposed new curriculum for education about sexuality in schools. Aimed at children in grades 4 to 12, it’s intended for roll out in public schools in 2020.

South Africa’s new sex education curriculum is seen by some as infringing on the rights of parents. EFE-EPA/Jon Hrusa
South Africa’s new sex education curriculum is seen by some as infringing on the rights of parents. EFE-EPA/Jon Hrusa

Concerns raised by parents, schools and civil society organisations include that elements of the curriculum are not appropriate for the age of the children who will be targeted – mostly 10-year olds – and that it undermines the authority of parents.

Another concern is that key stakeholders, including parents, schools and teachers were not consulted. Anger about this is reflected by the fact that a parent-based Facebook group #LeaveOurKidsAlone gained over 100 000 members in less than four weeks.

The political question that the new curriculum has raised is: does it show that the government has over-reached its powers? Has it overstepped the mark in the delicate relationship between the state and society? And what does this say about the divide between what is public and what is private?


The Department of Basic Education has retracted the option for parents to have their children excluded from the lessons. This, and the fact that parents were not widely consulted, contravenes the White Paper on Education and Training  which stated:

Parents or guardians have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and have the right to be consulted by state authorities with respect to the form that education should take and to take part in its governance. Parents have the inalienable right to choose the form of education which is best for their children, particularly in the early years of schooling, whether provided by the State or not, subject to reasonable safeguards which may be required by law. The parents’ right to choose includes choice of the language, cultural or religious foundation of the child’s education, with due respect to the rights of others and the rights of choice of the growing child.

In addition, the new curriculum is not in keeping with the spirit of section 15 of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution, which protects individual rights, such as the freedom of opinion, religion and expression.


It is indicative of a prescriptive state in terms of shifting the imparting of norms and values in a sensitive area such as sexuality from parents in the family context, to the state through public schools. This is a move towards a more moralistic and intrusive state.

Theories of the state

The state is either limited in power, a neutral umpire in society that doesn’t favour any particular group, individual, family, religion or ideology. Or it is overarching and prescriptive in terms of beliefs, norms and values.

In the classical liberal understanding of the role of the state, the authority given to those in power through elections is limited by a constitution; checks and balances, either horizontal (such as an independent judiciary) or vertical (such as organised civil society and an independent media); and the recognition of sphere sovereignty.

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The idea of sphere sovereignty implies an institutionally pluralistic society, where power and authority are divided among various “spheres”. Thus, the state, the family, religious institutions, civil society have their own jurisdiction. And, as long as they don’t do any harm, other spheres of authority should not intrude on them. It recognises that societies are pluralistic.

These countervailing distributions of power protect the liberties of citizens and guard against the centralising impulse of the state from infringing on them. Philosophical pluralists, ranging from John Stuart Mill to the contemporary Hannah Arendt, contrast this recognition of diversity with the monist  nature of totalitarian states, which penetrate all aspects of society.

The other form of state-society relations is one in which a state actively intrudes into the personal or private realm and becomes prescriptive, especially around beliefs, norms and values. Such a state becomes more than a neutral arbiter and rather dictates how people should live and conduct their lives.

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On a scale, less extreme forms of this would be a nanny state, with its extensive social responsibilities, as some would classify the welfare state of the UK. But the scale moves towards totalitarianism, as evident in North Korea.

The common feature is that the distinction between the public and the private becomes blurred, and the state prescribes moral values, behaviour and meddles in every aspect of human life.

Historical examples include the Holy Roman Empire, which conflated church and state, imposing one religion on all. There are also the communist systems of the Soviet Union and its satellite states; and the fascist states such as Nazi Germany and Italy under the dictator Benito Mussolini. In both, only civil society organisations and religion approved by the state were allowed.

As Mussolini argued in the Doctrine of Fascism:

The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.

South Africa’s state

South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, has long historical and ideological ties with communism. It continues to understand itself as the vanguard of society.


Marxist ideology advocates that a prescriptive state is necessary for correcting social inequalities. Coupled with this is the growing interest in Critical Theory. This takes the Marxist ideas of a prescriptive state further, into the realm of culture, and thus norms and values.

Unlike other theories, which seek to understand or explain society, Critical Theory actively seeks to change it.

Reclaiming parents’ rights

The push-back against the curriculum by parents, teachers, schools, religious bodies and civil society alike, is a clarion call to the state to stay out of their homes.

Parents are reclaiming their sphere of jurisdiction, in particular the right to teach and raise children in accordance with their norms and values. Will the South African government respect this?

Africa is undermining global effort on malnourishment

Every year the World Food Day is observed across the globe on October 16  with the aim of eliminating malnutrition and hunger. At this year’s World Food Day ceremony themed Our actions are our future. Healthy diets for a #ZeroHunger world which took place in Rome Italy, speakers called for bolder and faster action across sectors to make healthy and sustainable diets available and affordable for all.

The task of eliminating hunger and malnutrition as set out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as well as in the African Union 2025 Malabo Commitments, is actually a race against time towards delivering on the targets.

For decades, the world has been making progress in the fight against hunger. Sadly, the number of undernourished people is on the rise again. More than 820 million people, or roughly one in nine people, globally including Africa are going hungry.  In the fight against hunger, Africa is the world’s last frontier currently, one in three Africans—422 million people—live below the global poverty line this represents more than 70 percent of the world’s poorest people.


Thankfully, there is some hope for Africa. According to projections from the World Data Lab, Africa has now reached a milestone in the fight against poverty. For the first time since the start of SDG, more Africans are now escaping extreme poverty than are falling (or being born) below the poverty line. Although the pace of this net poverty reduction is currently very small at only 367 people per day, it is expected to increase to over 3,000 people per day by the end of this year.

Food security in our times isn’t only a matter of quantity, it’s also a question of quality. Unhealthy diets have now become a leading risk factor for disease and death worldwide. This shows that there is an urgent need to make healthy and sustainable diets affordable and accessible to everyone, according to a report by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

A report on the Brookings Institution revealed that the most significant challenges for reducing poverty in Africa are found in just two countries: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The population of both countries represents one-quarter of total poverty in Africa today and they are expected to represent almost half of Africa’s poor by 2030.

Currently, in Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Mauritius, and Seychelles already have poverty rates of below 3 percent. Mauritania and Gambia are projected to join this group by 2030. The poverty rates of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire and Djibouti are expected to reach below five percent. With a slight acceleration of growth, these economies could also make extreme poverty history by 2030.

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Globally, including Africa, Malnutrition affects one in three people and can take the forms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, stunting, wasting, overweight and obesity. And an unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for deaths from non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Health problems linked to obesity are costing national health budgets up to $2 trillion per year.  

According to FAO, this is because we have dramatically changed our diets and eating patterns as a result of globalization, urbanization and income growth. A lot of people have moved from seasonal, mainly plant-based and fibre-rich dishes to high-calorie diets, which are high in refined starches, sugar, fats, salt, processed foods and often marked by excessive consumption of meat.


People spend less time preparing meals at home, and consumers, especially in urban areas, increasingly rely on supermarkets, fast food outlets, street food vendors and takeaway restaurants. In much of the world, guaranteeing availability and access to healthy diets remains an enormous challenge. This can be true of people with limited financial resources, including smallholder agricultural producers and families in crisis situations caused by conflict, natural disasters and the impact of climate change. Some people, due to where they live, don’t even have the option to purchase fresh and nutritious foods. 

What can countries do?

There are many ways in which governments can help to reduce hunger, improve nutrition and transform food systems by addressing the root causes of malnutrition in all its forms. The governments should increase the availability and affordability of diverse and nutritious foods for healthy diets by setting, enforcing and regularly updating national dietary guidelines and nutrition standards.

They can design and implement nutrition-sensitive policies and programmes in line with national guidelines. Strengthen legal frameworks and strategic capacities to support this. They need to work across sectors to improve food and agricultural policies, including those which support school food and nutrition programmes, food assistance to vulnerable families and individuals, public food procurement standards and regulations on food marketing, labelling and advertising. They should also  Monitor and reinforce the need for agrobiodiversity. Do this not only for dietary health but, also, to protect biodiversity and natural resources, improve productivity and income, and increase the resilience of farmers to challenges such as climate change.

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What can the private sector do? 

Private sector businesses have enormous influence over food systems and people’s access to affordable, healthy diets. As a food manufacturer, retailer or other food-related business, you have numerous opportunities to improve the quality of food and drink products, the information available to consumers and the ways in which products are marketed.

In most Sub-Saharan countries, for instance, inadequate food packaging for fresh and processed foods undermines the competitiveness of local producers. It also contributes to food loss and waste along the food supply chain. 

The private sector needs to phase out advertising, promotion of, and discounts on, foods that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt, especially when targeted at children and adolescents. They need to provide consumers with adequate and easy-to-understand product and nutrition information and avoid nutrient claims (such as “high/low fat” or “enriched”) that are used mainly to boost the competitiveness of a product and which may, instead, mislead consumers about its overall nutritional quality. They should also make it a priority to improve nutrition and food safety along the food chain. 

Contribution of farmers

According to FAO,  Men and women in agriculture, fisheries and forestry are our primary sources for nutritious foods. They also play vital roles in managing natural resources. If you are a farmer or other food producer, you can influence the sustainability and variety of food supplies.


Farmers need to plant a wider variety of nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. Where possible, turn to local, smallscale fishery production as a source of income and affordable, vitamin-rich foods for local communities. Fish provides protein, vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (which are generally not found in staple crops). They can also reduce food loss and waste from harvest to distribution by taking advantage of processing and storage methods to conserve products, where possible.

What can we all do? 

As consumers and members of households, we can make personal decisions to improve family nutrition by increasing our intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains. By consuming fewer foods and drinks which are high in refined sugars, saturated fats and/or salt. We also need to learn or revisit lessons about local, seasonal foods, their nutritional values and how to cook and preserve them. 

Achieving Zero Hunger is not only about feeding the hungry. It’s also about nourishing people with healthy diets that include a sufficient variety of safe and nutritious foods while maintaining the health of the planet on which we all depend. Every year, World Food Day calls on us all to take action across all sectors to achieve Zero Hunger.

Rural healthcare services are best supported by midlevel workers.

Africa’s unsung health heroes need more support

Midlevel health workers can play an important role in addressing shortages of health professionals and improving access to care. This is especially true in low and middle-income countries. These workers fill a niche between community health workers, the most basic of workers in the health system, and highly trained professionals.

By Ian Couper
Rural healthcare services are best supported by midlevel workers.
Rural healthcare services are best supported by midlevel workers. Shutterstock

They include clinical officers, health officers, medical assistants, técnicos de medicina (medical technicians) and técnicos de cirugia (surgical technicians, and clinical associates. Nurse practitioners or primary healthcare nurses, who take on tasks such as making diagnoses, initiating treatment or performing anaesthesia, are also considered midlevel health workers.

Midlevel health workers were introduced in Africa in the mid-20th century to address doctor shortages during the colonial and post-colonial periods. These training programmes were based on the medical model of education at that time.


The United States started training midlevel medical workers in the 1960s to deal with the shortage of physicians in primary health care. Similar programmes have now been established in Europe, Australia and Canada.

In sub-Saharan Africa, midlevel health workers exist in 25 out of 47 countries. They have a valuable role to play, but aren’t always given the credit they deserve – or sufficiently trained and supported, as our review of the training and curricula for midlevel health workers in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda found.

Our review showed that the training programmes were similar across the four countries. Midlevel health workers wanted their training to be more aligned to the challenges they faced everyday. They further wanted to be better equipped to deal with emerging diseases.

Benefits of midlevel health workers

Most countries find it difficult to persuade highly trained health workers to stay in rural areas because of poor living conditions. Midlevel health workers are more likely to be retained in such communities.


Training courses for midlevel health workers are shorter than those for more advanced professionals. This means they can be deployed more quickly than highly trained doctors. They are also less dependent on expensive technology to make diagnoses and decide on treatment. This is because they are trained to follow standard guidelines in their practice, in resource-limited settings, and to refer more difficult problems on to doctors. But some African countries don’t include midlevel health workers in health workforce planning. Where they are available, their funding and training is often limited.

Midlevel health workers carry out diagnostic and treatment functions traditionally thought of as the responsibility of doctors. This allows doctors to focus on more complex cases.

Midlevel health workers continue to play a key role in African countries. But their training programmes have failed to keep up with the times.


There have been several calls to review and update these programmes to ensure that these workers have the competencies necessary to make a significant impact in addressing twenty-first century needs. These include HIV and AIDS, chronic illnesses, and other problems of lifestyle, accidents and trauma.

The research

Clinical officers provide a wide range of primary and community hospital level services in Uganda and Kenya, where they are long established midlevel health workers. The first training started in Kenya in 1928.

In Nigeria, community health officers and community health extension workers are responsible for most primary care service delivery. In South Africa, the training of clinical associates started in 2008 with a focus on working with doctors in district hospitals. Their numbers are still small because of a lack of funding and leadership from the national health department.

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We found that the training programmes across the four countries had much in common. They all focused on basic diagnosis and medical treatment.

Older programmes tended to be more didactic in their approach and were often lacking in resources. There were concerns about skills gaps and the quality of training, but most midlevel health workers that we interviewed felt their basic training was adequate for the work they do.

Midlevel health workers and their managers indicated that training methods needed updating to include additional skills relating to the common diseases they encounter. These diseases varied across countries and included health problems of mothers and children, and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. These workers also wanted their training to include more problem-solving approaches and practical procedures that could be life-saving.

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In Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda midlevel health workers have been working for a long time. They’re seen as essential frontline workers in health services, and not just a stop-gap. But there are significant deficiencies in training programme content and educational methodologies in these countries, such as didactic teaching methods, out-of-date trainers and supervisors, poor training facilities, lack of hands-on clinical practice during training, and lack of alignment to health care priorities.

In South Africa, clinical associates appear to have benefited from their more recent origin. Their training programmes are aligned to current thinking in medical education, such as early contact with patients, service-based and team learning, integrated approaches, evidence based reasoning, quality improvement and reflection on practice.

Way forward

Midlevel health worker training programmes in Africa offer an important avenue for scaling up human resources. Such programmes can produce clinicians who are able to provide diagnostic and therapeutic services with lower entry qualification requirements and shorter training periods than doctors. This makes them more cost-effective.


Increasing midlevel health workers’ contribution to health care requires significant new investments in their training, including trainers and facilities.

The World Health Organisation has called for the transformation and scaling up of health professionals’ education through greater alignment between training institutions and health systems. This includes adapting curricula to evolving healthcare needs. This means that education systems must continuously review and adapt programmes to ensure they meet the needs of the populations their graduates serve.