The Economist once labeled Africa “The Hopeless Continent.” The magazine determined that the widespread effects of disease, poverty, conflict and corruption rendered the continent economically unfavorable. That was in 2000, the same year that President Clinton signed into law the African Growth and Opportunity Act (“AGOA”). Today, the continent—and particularly sub-Saharan Africa—is home to several of the world’s fastest growing economies. In 2011, The Economist revised its moniker, referring to Africa as the “The Rising Continent.”

Many economists view AGOA as an integral element of growth in sub-Saharan Africa. The primary objective of AGOA is to expand the volume and variety of trade and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. According to government sources, AGOA’s trade provisions are responsible for 350,000 direct and 1 million indirect jobs in Africa as well as 100,000 jobs in the United States. Since the program’s inception, exports from AGOA nations to the U.S. have risen more than 300 percent.

AGOA is scheduled to expire in 2015, but President Obama has initiated an early campaign to extend the trade agreement. While praising the success of the program the President explained that, “The economies of sub-Saharan Africa are among the world’s fastest-growing, and this economic expansion, partly a result of our long-standing investment in Africa, provides an opportunity to lift millions out of poverty and foster long-term stability.”

Though oil and gas exports comprise more than 90 percent of African exports under the program, leaders hope to expand investment in other industries such as textile and apparel exports. Economists have stressed the importance of diversifying exports in trying to achieve long-term development and sustainable growth.

This month, leaders from the United States and participating African nations will meet in Ethiopia for the AGOA Forum. The theme of the event is Sustainable Transformation Through Trade and Technology. African representatives are hoping for a long-term extension of the trade agreement. Jas Bedi, chairman of the African Cotton and Textile Industries Federation, explained it simply, “You can’t do a $200 million deal if you don’t know what’s going to happen in three year’s time.”

Renewal of AGOA is crucial if the United States hopes to keep pace with China, which has recently overtaken the United States as sub-Saharan Africa’s largest trading partner. A recent report from the Brookings Institute criticizes the American business community for failing to capitalize on the continent’s emerging markets. As the region continues to grow, the United States hopes to accelerate trade and investment with its African partners. The renewal of AGOA will certainly be a good start.

– Daniel Bonasso

Sources: Financial Times, AGOA, Brookings Institute
Photo: It News Africa

Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights, a capacity building organization, has recently launched LandWise, a free online searchable database and tool. LandWise provides important information and practical applications that may be used for capacity building and technological assistance for strengthening women’s land rights across the globe.

In many places across the world, women’s land tenure is not recognized or is consistently undermined. Without rights to their land, women lack the ability to use, control, and transfer this asset. In some areas, men may have sole control of land that is owned by their wife. The absence of legal land ownership by women is recognized as a constraint for overcoming rural poverty. Without legal ownership of this valuable asset, women are placed in a precarious position where they may lose their family’s only form of income.

There are many facets to women’s rights to land that must be addressed. The country’s legal codes, cultural norms, and administration all play a part in this problem, since these factors can often be very complex and difficult to determine. Landesa’s LandWise seeks to organize this information in an easily searchable database that practitioners may access. While LandWise is not intended to take the place of field work, it will help with the initial research, since the legal codes that govern land rights are often difficult to uncover. The issue of land rights is often bound up with family and marriage law as well as property law. LandWise organizes these laws in an easily searchable database.

Sometimes, rural women are unaware of the rights they have under law. In these cases, practitioners can use the research gathered to engage women in clinics or information sessions. In areas where women’s land rights are not legally codified practitioners may use advocacy to engage civil society and government officials and promote policy recommendations.

LandWise also provides Practice Guides. The Practice Guides help practitioners use the information provided on the database. The Guides include checklists that help analyze the issues that may affect women and men differently in regards to property rights. In addition to the legal codes provided on LandWise, users also receive information regarding how the law is in fact carried out and cultural norms that may affect its implementation.

LandWise is overseen by a full-time librarian. Practitioners in the field are encouraged to submit information that they may come across to LandWise in order to help expand its database.

Callie D. Coleman

Sources: IFAD, LandWise, Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights
Photo: Landesa

Project Concern International (PCI) is an organization which seeks to to prevent disease, improve community health, and promote sustainable development worldwide. PCI was founded in 1961 by Dr. James Turpin after saving the lives of two children suffering from pneumonia while working in a Tijuana clinic. This experience inspired the young doctor to go on and forever change the lives of millions. PCI envisions a world in which resources are abundant and shared, communities are capable of providing for the basic health and well-being of its members, and children and families can achieve lives of hope, good health and self-sufficiency. PCI conducts its work through field offices in host countries where directors can live in the area and get an intimate understanding of local needs.

Working in 16 countries, PCI hopes to reach at least 5 million people per year with its services. Overtime, PCI has expanded its reach through increased funding: from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to government grants to the Starbucks foundation, PCI has a well rounded list of supporters. PCI’s ultimate goals include addressing the root causes of poverty and poor health; working with the community to leverage their assets, capabilities and goals to create community-inclusive solutions; implementing holistic solutions; cultivating long-standing relationships with community leaders, investors, and stakeholders to catalyze the impact of aid spent; and developing tools which measure the long-term success of such programs. PCI addresses poverty through programs focused on women’s empowerment & poverty, children’s health, disease prevention, food & water programs, and disaster relief & recovery. Between 2013-2016, PCI hopes to reach over 10 million people worldwide and become a leader in building community capacity, resilience and self-sufficiency.

In addition to its programs worldwide, PCI also has a series of initiatives to further promote its goals. These intiatives include: Women Empowered, Legacy, Who Cares? and SHE.

  • Women Empowered: Established in May of this year, Women Empowered is an initiative in support of women’s equality, human rights and success. PCI believes that women are the solution to poverty, poor health and vulnerability and that through WE, women can attain social and economic empowerment. WE programs are currently being implemented in Guatemala, Bolivia, Botswana, and Malawi. One such success story comes from Maweta in Zambia. After raising six children of her own, Maweta returned to parenthood to raise her grandchildren after their parents died from AIDS. Without a steady source of income, Maweta struggled to provide for her grandchildren. After attending a community orientation hosted by PCI, Maweta began mobilizing women in her community to form a self-help group. Nine months later, Maweta has learned how to read and write, perform basic accounting and save $60 by selling mangoes to her community. Maweta has since received a loan to start a small business. Maweta buys food in bulk, repackages it into smaller quantities and sells these to her village. Since starting the business, Maweta has been able to provide for her grandchildren’s basic needs and education.
  • Legacy: PCI’s Legacy Programs focus on maternal/child health and nutrition, as well as economic empowerment. As the name suggests, ‘Legacy’ for PCI means consistent and compassionate commitment to the communities involved. These programs include: Well Baby clinics, Ventanilla de Salud (VDS), Casa Materna, and the Street and Working Children Program. Ventanilla de Salud (VDS) targets at risk immigrant populations near the border, by providing basic health and community services, while these families are waiting for service at the Mexican consulate. VDS has reached more than 41,000 people with health education information and nearly 20,000 with HIV/AIDS prevention messages. However, the VDS program suffers from a lack of funding and has been scaled back by more than 25 percent.
  • Who Cares?: An online campaign which celebrates, recognizes and encourages those who are giving back to the greater good. Who Cares? provides volunteers with the opportunity to network, share stories, or just get motivated about a cause. Who Cares targets the youth and young adults because they believe that the ability of today’s youth to mobilize others is huge, yet largely untapped. In addition, Who Cares provides tools to help the youth mobilize others and make their efforts pay off.
  • SHE: SHE, which is short for Strong, Health and Empowered, is a group of ambassadors who dedicate their time to PCI’s projects across the globe. These ambassadors work within the community to promote women’s empowerment and find innovative solutions to ensure that women lead strong, healthy lives.

To learn more about PCI’s work, explore for more info.

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: PCI Global, The San Diego Foundation, Washington Global Health Alliance, Coronado Eagle

Although there are many international aid organizations, few exist that focuses all their resources on one specific region of the world. AmericasRelief Team is one of the exceptions. This organization is devoted to providing immediate, as well as sustainable, humanitarian and educational aid for people in the Americas experiencing some form of disaster.

The group works to provide such assistance by creating a three-part process: disaster preparedness, disaster response and aid and humanitarian assistance. However, like any effective international organization, AmericasRelief Team does not work alone. It partners with other international groups, local groups, nonprofits, emergency centers, corporate donors, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other independent experts to ensure that it is able to help as many people as possible.

AmericasRelief Team has many success stories to solidify its position as a key source of aid to the Americas during disasters. In 2005, the AmericasRelief Teams provided vital assistance to the Florida State Government after Tropical Storm Jeanne devastated the Caribbean region. More recently, in 2010, the group organized the distribution and utilized of 20 million pounds in humanitarian aid money and worked with the United Nations to quickly respond to the earthquake in Haiti.

In addition to monetary aid, the AmericasRelief Team provides clothing, household items and transportation for victims of disasters. Also, the group works with local news and media teams to spread information about the disaster and ways to avoid further complications. Overall, the group is one of the first responders to disasters in the Americas and one of the most effective organizations to provide vital services to those affected by any tragedies.

Mary Penn

Sources: AmericasRelief Team, InterAction

The issue of energy independence in Africa is one being talked about all over the world, from rural farms and villages there to the halls of the US Capitol where the Electrify Africa Act is preparing to take center stage in foreign policy discussions.  With all the outside press and attention that this is garnering for the people of Africa, it’s easy to forget that residents there have the most say in what will determine their energy future.  Africans have already been making tremendous headway into obtaining energy, largely relying on the private sector.  What’s perhaps most intriguing is not that Africans are able to become energy self-sufficient, but how they’re securing that future; the electric revolution is being subsidized and funded through installment plans.

African nations are already inundated with mobile phones; people largely communicate via SMS text and rely on their devices for the internet, if available.  This information is especially telling when considering that the continent lacks traditional, wired infrastructure and that many people use their phones to move their money.  Kenya’s M-Pesa payment platform sees an average fund exchange of $20-million per day and East Africa alone presently accounts for 80% of all mobile money transactions.  The burgeoning industry is just one of many tied to mobile phone use and has spurred massive economic growth.

Angaza is a large multinational firm catering to many people in emergent nations and offering energy and connectivity solutions.  In Africa, they’ve masterfully taken the moving parts that are the proliferation of cell phone technology and mobile banking and conjoined them to the massive effort to become continentally electrified.  In essence, they’ve taken the cell phone and energy markets from infancy to adolescence in a well played and short amount of time.  Using mobile banking, they’re able to sell solar power generation apparatus using a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) method, popular with savvy consumers who lack large capital but have access to cell phones.

The PAYG method has been successful for several reasons, mainly through using existing channels.  Angaza contends that, “Accepting energy pre-payments through mobile money avoids the servicing costs of traditional loans, simplifies payment tracking for our partners, and streamlines the payment process for our end-customers. Data transfer over the cellular voice channel leverages the customer’s own phone to convey payment information to their PAYG-enabled solar device via the cellular network. This low-cost implementation of PAYG finally makes energy affordable to the massive off-grid market in the developing world.”  Customers with little to no access to traditional brick and mortar banking find this extremely useful.  Angaza’s strategy is a profitable one when considering that, “In East Africa, a typical family spends heavily on lighting and cell phone charging—often 30% or more of their annual income…”

Angaza has made self-sufficient energy production affordable by connecting markets and promoting simple payment plans.   The informal infrastructure, if you will, that is facilitating these developments is more limber and adaptable than a traditional, wired one.  Using a PAYG system is economically sound and benefits consumers who can now afford to add energy to their lives.  By relying on the market and private industry, the opportunity for self sufficiency and mobility in a growing global economy is now a reality for many Africans that has redefined conventional notions of infrastructure.

David Smith

Sources: CNN, Angaza, Fast Coexist
Photo: MSH

In the vaguest sense of the word, Merriam-Webster will tell you that general poverty is “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” This is just about as much as anyone with a context clue for the word poverty could define it as. But what is it really? What does it mean to live in poverty? There are different types and levels, in a sense, of poverty. Each country tends to have different cut off points that determine whether they are truly impoverished or not. But it is generally accepted that those living in such a way that it is difficult to make ends meet, are impoverished. So what are the different levels?

There are several million people living at or nearby the poverty line just in the United States, but even our poverty line is higher than that of the world’s poorest countries. A person living alone and unmarried is allotted just over $11,000 or less to meet the poverty requirements set by the government. And while survival in our country would be absolutely difficult on this meager income, many people are living on even less. In fact, there are 2.4 billion people living at the poverty line of $2 a day, this comes to less than $3,000 income in an entire year. That is two dollars every day to feed themselves and their families. All that money to have a place to live and water to drink and clothes to wear. Defining poverty means looking at the fact that people are going without the full education or access to good jobs that they so desperately need to pull themselves out of this way of life. People living this way often have to choose one necessity over another in order to make sure that at least some of the needs are met and taking any government assistance when possible, like food stamps and welfare. And it gets even worse than that.

What about extreme poverty? This is recognized as living on less that $1.25 a day as defined by the World bank in 2008 and there are over 1 billion people living in this state. This level is decided by a lack of clean water, housing, food, health care and education. Some of the countries most beset by this issue include Africa, Afghanistan, and Haiti. Most things that other people take for granted, those living in extreme poverty must go without. People living in extreme poverty suffer much higher rates of infant and maternal mortality. 22,000 children around the world die every day in the poorest countries due to unchecked illness and succumbing to malnourishment. In fact 1 billion out of 2.2 billion children in the world are living in poverty conditions such as these. At this point every aspect of survival becomes a struggle. It is not simply a matter of going without health care to ensure that there is enough food in the house. It is instead going without reasonable amounts of anything at all and living a day by day existence.

What about social poverty, or social exclusion? Poverty is not only defined in a monetary fashion. Income poverty is the most commonly looked at, but there is such a thing as social poverty. This is defined as lacking cultural inclusion due to the inability to conform to society’s ideal norms due to a lack of education, skills, money, health care, child care, and a certain type of living condition. This multidimensional measurement of poverty brings all these into consideration to define itself as the inability to participate in the community socially whether on that national, local, or even familial level. While it is much more difficult to measure than what is called absolute poverty, it is still considered to be an important aspect of poverty by many in the world. It is thought that a quality of life should also be applied to standards of living.

All in all, while poverty is defined much in the same way that any word is, it is a constantly adjusting thing as it is an active part of life itself. It fluctuates regularly and changes to meet the times. Hopefully, with the right amount of work and education, it will also become a part of our past as opposed an all too realistic part of our present.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Families USA, Global Issues, UNESCO, One Day’s Wages
Photo: Photo Brazil

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been plagued by a humanitarian crisis since the ouster of former President Francois Bozize by the rebel group Seleka. Since the former government was deposed in March of this year, CAR has fallen into a downward spiral of political instability. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia has indicated that elections will be held after an 18-month transition period during which he will remain in power. Yet only 4 months after the rebel takeover, CAR is already seeing the dire effects of its deteriorating security situation, particularly in the withdrawal of most aid organizations from the country.

Several UN agencies and multiple NGOs have pulled out of the Seleka-ruled CAR due to “lack of security.” Among them are UN agencies and organizations that had provided the aid which much of the population depended on for survival. According to data from 2011, 62% of the population of CAR was in poverty, and only half of its rural population had access to an “improved water source.” In such a state of poverty, and with such a shaky political standing, CAR is facing a grave crisis.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international organization also known as Doctors Without Borders, released a report in July explaining the grim reality faced by the citizens of CAR. Malaria cases, for example, have shot up since the Seleka takeover, with 33 percent more cases now than this time last year. Malnutrition and preventable disease have also become considerably more pronounced in recent months. MSF urges international agencies and organizations, from the United Nations to the European Union and African Union, to support CAR with funding and aid.

This week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement calling on the UN Security Council to take steps towards bringing stability to CAR. The country, he says, is suffering “a total breakdown of law and order.” The Security Council has not released a statement yet.

Lina Saud

Sources: The World Bank, BBC, Medecins Sans Frontieres
Photo: New York Times

Various Bedouin tribes have turned the Sinai Triangular Peninsula into a nightmare for Africa with their torture and human trafficking. The tribes profit through their kidnapping regime and ransom strategies, making millions of dollars in the process.

This kidnapping racket has existed for many years. Bedouin tribes snatch refugees during their flight from their home countries or while they are in refugee camps. Have left their homes to build a better life, the kidnapped victims largely originate from Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan, often on their way to Europe or Israel. There have been reports of bribed border-patrolmen who enable the kidnappings. The victims are next transported to Sinai, where they are tortured and held for ransom. Oftentimes, they are sold multiple times, passed from trader to trader with new ransoms each time. The ransom fees reach up to $50,000, an impossible amount for most African refugee families.

While held in the camps, sickening acts of torture take place. Various forms of physical torture, sexual torture, and starvation are among the most common. One means of transport involves placing the victims in metal shipping containers without ventilation or toilets. The Physicians for Human Rights director, Shahar Shoham, has reported over 1,300 individual incidents of torture in Sinai alone. However, Shoham reports the majority of torture cases go undocumented. Known torture methods include upside-down hanging, electric shocks, and pouring liquid plastic on them, sometimes while on the phone with their families in an attempt to scare their relatives into providing the ransom money.

According to the New York Times, abductors have captured over 7,000 refugees, with 4,000 of their victims dying durring imprisonment. Even if captives manage to escape or be released due to a paid ransom, their situation remains bleak. They are left to wander around the Israeli border and attempt to make the dangerous border-crossing. They must also avoid Israeli and Egyptian police, or risk being arrested or deported back to the countries they originally fled.

Even with all this information available, little is being done to address the problem. In fact, the problem is reported to be worsening. Friendly Bedouin tribes offer assistance to escaped torture camp victims, but do not have the political clout necessary to make any real change. Opponents of the torture camps fear a massive bloodshed if any attempts are made to stop the kidnapping heists. The Egyptian government has essentially turned a blind eye on this deadly region as well, leaving these victims on their own to fight for their rights.

– Allison Meade

Sources: CBN, Canada Free Press
Photo: Blogspot

Small-scale initiatives in Nairobi, Kenya are fostering community development throughout the country. Residents of the Hazina and Kisii neighborhoods of the Mukuru slums in Kenya have created the Haki Community Conversation, a local cooperative designed to help the Mukuru community. The Haki Community Conversation meets regularly to address issues to improve innovation and ingenuity within the community.

Community conversations have been utilized in many different countries and contexts, with the goal always the same: to foster discussion and solutions about the issues that plague the community. In the Mukuru slums of Nairobi, Kenya, the Haki Community Conversation has solved several problems. When it was first created, many people in the community did not have access to toilets. The group used a small grant and member dues to hire community members to build latrines, creating both jobs and sanitation in one single project. The Haki Community Conversation has also lobbied local schools to allow poorer students to pay cheaper rates to attend, and it has also provided pregnant women with free medical care during their pregnancy.

Nairobi is not the only place in Kenya where community conversations are having a positive impact, and simple logistical community problems are not the only issues which these gatherings address. Mary Sadera, a resident of Ol Posimuru, a rural area of Kenya’s Rift Valley, has experienced firsthand how community conversations can impact the social values and customs of a region.

In 2011, Landesa, an NGO that works to secure land rights for the poorest in the world, began a program in Ol Posimuru to raise awareness about the rights afforded to women by the new constitution enacted in 2010. Landesa worked with tribal elders in Ol Posimuru by conducting a series of community conversations about women’s rights. These involved the whole community and took the form of debates, workshops, and discussions.

The community intensely debated the new rights for women, but eventually decided that granting these rights was the right thing to do, especially once it was shown that families where the husband treated his wife as an equal partner functioned far better. According to an article in The Guardian, “Tribal elders told Landesa that they had been working in a vacuum. Community conversations gave them the space and the skills they needed to talk about and reflect on the content of the constitution and on women’s rights.”

The impact of these community based initiatives cannot be ignored. Development is often pictured as big waves of change, but in reality new policy must be implemented at the community level in order to be effective and fit the needs of the area. Community conversations are a simple and cheap way to get local communities actively involved and contributing their own innovation and ingenuity to their development.

Martin Drake

Sources: Take Part, The Guardian
Photo: Concern USA

Health reporter Harman Boparai recently travelled to India where he once practiced as a physician to learn more about child health in the country. In the pediatric ward at Panna District Hospital, Bopari reported that the children, who suffered from different illnesses and came from different villages, were all extremely undernourished. Nutrition has increasingly been recognized as a basic but crucial contributor for social and economic development.

According to the World Health Organization, 165 million children under 5 years of age suffered from stunted growth in 2011.This means that one in four of the world’s children did not get the right nutrients or food to grow. Of the total number of malnourished children in the world, one in every three lives in India. Adequate nutrition is essential in early childhood to ensure healthy growth, a strong immune system, proper organ formation and function, and neurological and cognitive development.

Economic growth and development also require well-nourished populations who have the capablity to learn new skills, think critically, and contribute to their communities. Boparai later traveled to New Delhi where he talked with individuals working on the issues. At Save the Children India, Shireen Miller, the nonprofit’s director for advocacy, explained that the implementation of government food security programs was essential to the survival of children in the country. “Malnutrition is a critical factor in child survival,” she said. “When we say that a child dies of illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia, it is because of the fact that they’re malnourished which has reduced their ability to withstand that illness.”

According to UNICEF, in India, around 46 percent of all children under 3 are too small for their age, and 47 percent are underweight. The severity of the issue of malnutrition varies across states, with Kerala among the lowest rates at 27 percent, and Madhya Pradesh at the highest rate of 55 percent. To reverse the current trend, the Government of India started a program under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which works to provide poor Indian children with the nutrients needed to grow and end malnutrition in India. The program not only provides immunization and supplementary nutrition, but also educates pregnant women and mothers of young children on health and nutrition.

ICDS in India is the world’s largest integrated early childhood program, with over 40,000 offices nationwide. The program today covers over 4.8 million expectant and nursing mothers and over 23 million children under the age of six. Of these children, approximately half participate in early learning activities. Across the developing world, 66 million children go to primary school hungry. This lack of nutrition means these children are less likely to perform at their full potential in school. The World Food Programme estimates that $3.2 billion is needed annually to reach all 66 million hungry school-aged children, or less than 0.2 percent of the world’s military spending.

Ali Warlich

Sources: Global Post, WHO, UNICEF, Global Issues