Information and stories about Africa.

Healthcare in LiberiaThe 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 4,800 people in Liberia and infected thousands of others. However, these data points only scratch the surface of Ebola’s effect on healthcare in Liberia. Ebola’s devastation affected the provision of healthcare services in West Africa and caused an additional 10,600 deaths due to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. In countries such as Liberia, more medical training and equipment means healthcare in Liberia has strengthened since the Ebola outbreak. Ebola exposed the weaknesses in the healthcare system of Liberia and showed the Liberian government and international aid organizations particular areas needing improvement and reform.

The World Bank’s Involvement

After recognizing the struggles of Liberia’s healthcare system during the Ebola epidemic, the World Bank devised specific ways to assist Liberia. For example, in May 2020, the World Bank approved the Institutional Foundations to Improve Service for Health Project for Liberia (IFISH). The four-component program focuses specifically on improving health services and outcomes for women, children and adolescents. The six-year program costs $84 million, of which $54 million of funding comes from the United States. Roughly 50% of the budget will be dedicated to health facilities and construction in Liberia. The program also attempts to lay the groundwork for future Liberian healthcare officials. The program includes training health workers and financing certain undergraduate and postgraduate faculties.

The Yale Capstone Project

For multiple years, the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs has worked alongside the Yale Global Health Institute to create a project-based global health course for Yale seniors. The program allows students to explore the intersection of public health and policy. The students of this program have contributed to recovery efforts in Liberia. The program has assisted in establishing proof to encourage partners and policymakers to undertake significant changes in Liberia’s main medical school. The 2015 class conducted case studies on Rwanda and Ethiopia to generate targeted policy solutions in Liberia. Overall, the partnership was deemed a “win-win” for Liberia and the students involved.

CDC Field Epidemiology Training Program

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been actively aiding healthcare in Liberia since 2007. However, it did not expand its Liberian focus until the Ebola outbreak. Accompanied by more traditional CDC programs such as malaria intervention and the provision of vaccines, Liberia receives assistance through the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP). The three-tiered educational initiative aims to equip Liberian healthcare workers with the knowledge and tools to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks. At the close of 2016, Liberia had 115 FETP-trained staff. The FETP graduates will go on to provide field support in response to disease outbreaks across Liberia. With graduates from all 15 counties and 92 health districts in Liberia, fellows of FETP work to contain outbreaks and prevent them from turning into local or global epidemics.

Room for Improvement

Healthcare in Liberia is improving due to Liberia’s coordinated recovery efforts with multiple organizations. Nevertheless, Liberia still battles with increasing civilian access to healthcare and the funding of critical health institutions. For example, two-thirds of rural families need to travel for more than an hour to access a health center. These extended travel times can significantly impact the healthcare outcomes of Liberians. Moreover, hospitals are struggling to survive because funding from donors has slowed since the Ebola outbreak. In Liberia’s health system, primary healthcare facilities are largely underfunded.

While these struggles persist, they should not overshadow the significant improvements made since the Ebola outbreak. With aid, commitment and effort, healthcare in Liberia can improve further.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

Bamboo in MalawiIn Malawi, 90% of Malawians do not have access to electricity or other forms of energy. Lack of access to energy sources forces Malawians to rely on firewood. As deforestation has become widespread, rural Malawians needed a new and improved source of fuel. The bamboo initiative implemented by Afribam, USAID and the Peace Corps provides a solution. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source to help millions get access to energy.

Bamboo as an Alternative

Bamboo in Malawi is a beneficial and valuable fuel source. Malawians use bamboo, a wood-like plant, for many activities such as cooking, building furniture and housing materials. Malawians, especially in rural areas, rely on bamboo because of deforestation, making it difficult for rural Malawians to access firewood. Locals must travel a great distance to reach forests that are still intact. Additionally, buying firewood can be costly.

Deforestation: Causes and Effects

Lack of access to electricity leads to overconsumption of firewood. Because of the reliance on firewood, deforestation is widespread throughout Malawi. Forests take years to replenish, meaning the consumption of wood is greater than the rate at which trees can grow back. Furthermore, the lack of access to electricity leads to an overconsumption of firewood, which leads to deforestation. Deforestation creates negative effects throughout Malawi. The effects of deforestation in Malawi include:

  • Increased soil erosion
  • Excess flooding
  • More droughts than normal
  • Decreased crop productivity
  • Lack of fuel access for rural Malawians
  • Malawians are forced to travel further to obtain firewood

Deforestation can cause many complications. It is important to ease the consumption of fuelwood and allow Malawi’s forests to regenerate to prevent harmful effects. Bamboo in Malawi provides an alternative fuel source that can counter the effects of deforestation and help alleviate poverty.

The Power of Collaboration

To solve fuel problems in Malawi, USAID’s Feed the Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity program began a collaboration in February 2019 with AfriBam and the Peace Corps Volunteers to implement bamboo as a fuel alternative. AfriBam is a Malawian company that specializes in bamboo and bamboo-related technology in Africa.

Together, USAID, AfriBam and the Peace Corps distributed Dendrocalamus asper, a non-invasive species of bamboo, throughout Malawi to counteract the effects of deforestation and provide Malawians with adequate fuel. The reason Dendrocalamus asper is special is that this type of bamboo only takes five to seven years to mature, and it can be harvested after just three years. This means that the bamboo will be able to replenish itself well enough to provide an ongoing fuel supply, eliminating the fear of overconsumption. Throughout 2019, the collaboration reached 1,750 rural Malawian households and distributed more than 180,000 bamboo seedlings.

The Peace Corps revealed that its goal is for Malawians to use the bamboo, in the short term, as a source of cooking fuel, which will ease the pressure on forests so that the forests can recover. USAID believes that this species of bamboo will be more successful than some other fuel projects implemented in Malawi. Previously, rural Malawians received cookstoves that used firewood as fuel, but because of deforestation, the implementation of cookstoves was not successful. USAID is confident that by 2025 the species of bamboo will account for 20% of fuelwood for all of Malawi.

Looking Forward

The new species of bamboo in Malawi will bring a unique type of fuel to rural Malawians. This development is advantageous because deforestation of firewood led to several unforeseen complications. With the help of AfriBam, USAID and the Peace Corp Volunteers’ collaboration, bamboo will help poverty reduction in Malawi by providing Malawians with a reliable fuel source.

– Bailey Lamb
Photo: Flickr

New Deal for Africa There is a growing international appeal for “A New Deal for Africa and by Africa” in the wake of slow pandemic recovery and a growing debt crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a Paris-based summit on May 18, 2021, calling for a new way forward for Africa. Joined by African and European leaders, the summit aimed to address the worsening debt crisis across the African continent.

A Call for International Camaraderie

Highlighting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as a key issue, Macron urged leaders to foster a sense of international camaraderie. Macron argued that for there to be a steady return to normal, there must be a collective effort to repair the global economy. Additionally, he advocated that countries adopt a new perspective recognizing the interconnectivity of regional economies. In short, Macron stressed that the health and stability of Africa will determine the health and stability of the world.

As the pace of recovery becomes glaringly disproportionate between nations of varying economic status, Macron stressed that it would not only be unethical to leave Africa behind, it would also be to the detriment of the greater international community. Macron explicitly called for a waiving of patents on COVID-19 vaccines to speed up Africa’s recovery.

Africa’s Debt Crisis

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that Africa’s debt crisis, now nearing $300 billion, will increasingly burden the continent. This crisis will continually arrest economic development in Africa and African nations will fall further behind other nations.

The pandemic has greatly exacerbated this issue. Slow vaccine distribution and lack of pandemic relief packages have led many African nations to fall further behind in development. If the situation continues, experts warn that up to 39 million Africans could fall into poverty before the year ends. Macron highlighted how an increase in poverty rates among Africans will ultimately threaten both international market growth opportunities and international security.

In 2021, the IMF recognized the sub-Saharan region of Africa to be the slowest growing on the planet in terms of GDP. The IMF voiced concern that the pandemic has undone years of economic construction and development for the region. The organization, comprised of 190 countries, fears that the pandemic’s effects will harm poverty reduction efforts for years to come.

A New Deal for Africa

After defining the severity of Africa’s debt crisis, the summit moved on toward establishing solutions. World leaders at the summit agreed a two-pronged approach toward economic recovery was necessary.

Firstly, the summit agreed that the slow vaccine rollout must be addressed. To do this, patents forbidding African manufacturers from concocting their own supplies of effective vaccines must be lifted. The patents had forced African nations to purchase their doses from the patent holders, such as Pfizer, only deepening the debt crisis. Macron states that he hoped to have 40% of all Africans vaccinated by the end of 2021. Secondly, members of the summit agreed to allocate more than $30 billion worth of relief from the IMF to nations in Africa.

In some areas of Africa, vaccine supply is so low that the World Health Organization recommended prioritizing the first dose only in order to partially vaccinate as many people as possible. As of early May 2021, six nations in Africa still had not received any doses and eight other African nations had already exhausted their supply.

Macron advocated for $100 billion to be allocated to the “New Deal for Africa” and wants wealthier nations to donate their IMF relief to Africa. Some members of the summit pushed for even more. For instance, the prime minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, stressed the need for a total restructuring of the debt system in Africa. The summit paved the way for further discussions to help support Africa.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Ethiopian Civil War in Tigray Causes Famine
Ethiopia has been in political turmoil for decades. The citizens have been facing the brunt of the sacrifice as the Ethiopian Civil War has caused a famine crisis. In response to political suppression by a militia group known as the Derg, rebel military officials created a guerrilla warfare army dubbed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Starting in 1991, the TPLF began to overpower the federal military government. Moreover, it began dominating its ruling alliance with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This caused Ethiopia to transform into a one-party country. On April 2, 2018, the newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the creation of The Prosperity Party. The party proposed to end ethnic separatism by including other Ethiopian regions in politics.

On November 4, 2020, TPLF attached the Ethiopian National Defense Force Base. Two weeks after the bombing, the fighting between government forces and fugitive factions of TPLF quickly escalated. Tensions between TPLF and Abiy Ahmed have been going on since 2019 because of Ahmed’s actions toward disbanding the country’s ethnically ruled federal system and postponing the 2020 election because of COVID-19 lockdowns. As the fighting continues, ethnic tensions are rising as Ethiopians flee to neighboring countries to live in refugee camps with little to no access to food.

Ethnic Tensions

Ethiopians housed in refugee camps have acquired a distaste for Abiy’s political reign. They have reported that the federal army is just as brutal as TPLF. The Prime Minister proclaimed that Federal officers have not killed a single Ethiopian, but Bahti Adal has a different report. The current Tigrayan refugee revealed to Vice that military forces are persecuting all Tigrayians as a possible threat.

In March 2021, Ethiopian general Yohannes Gebremeskel Tesfamariam confirmed major civilian casualties during warfare, and how the situation in Tigray is resulting in a “dirty war,” where most victims are defenseless civilians. Refugees are wary of leaving their home regions in Tigray, fearing that ethnic cleansing will result from the ongoing massacres.

The Ethiopian Civil War Has Caused a Famine Crisis

More than 63,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled Tigray to Sudan, which has opened its borders to escapees. Since May 13, 2021, the Medical Corps have reached 670 people in the Tunaydbah camps, assisted rapid medical and counseling assessments in major towns around Tigray borders and mainly focused on helping 4.5 million people in Tigray who are facing food insecurity. Militants are fighting people by cutting down the food supply.

Organizations Provide Assistance

On May 6, 2021, the U.N. issued $65 million in aid to Ethiopia. U.N. ambassadors stress using the money to help women and girls who armed militias have brutalized and abused. In addition, USAID has provided Ethiopia with $152 million for military purposes, trying to address humanitarian needs and investigate cases of ethnic cleansing within the country. While government forces are scrambling to find funding, help from Ethiopians in the diaspora is strong.

The Eri Yakl Foundation is a nonprofit organization working on the ground in Sudan to help refugees and distribute emergency grants and support. Dr. Habteab Fesesha began the organization in April 2020. Fesesha is an Eritrean-American physician who created this organization to help Eritrean refugees in Libya, Ethiopia and Sudan with COVID-19. The organization provides education, PPE, sanitation products and clinical health training. When the fighting broke out in November 2020, the foundation quickly concentrated its efforts on the Sudan border.

Fesesha now has two goals. The first is to minimize COVID-19 outbreaks. The second is to provide primary care with a team of medics working at the Tenedba camp in Mafaza, Sudan. Since February 2021, the Eri Yaikl Foundation has received $300,000 from Direct Relief. It has also paired up with the United Peace Organization.

Even though people like Fesesha have commitments to their own tribe, people from each cultural faction of Ethiopia are fighting for survival. The Ethiopian Civil War has caused a famine crisis and it is more important than ever that organizations like the U.N., USAID and the Eri Yakl Foundation continue to provide aid to curb this crisis.

– Matthew Martinez
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Africa
COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa account for only 2% of vaccinations the world administers. Meanwhile, other countries are close to vaccinating the majority of their populations. This is a glaring example of the dangerous vaccine inequity burdening developing countries. The United Nations Security Council recently called for accelerated availability of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. A statement that all 15 members endorsed emphasized the need for “equitable access” to quality, affordable COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. With wealthy nations buying a disproportionately large amount of the world’s vaccine supply, it is imperative that developing African countries receive the proper aid and resources to implement proper vaccination programs across the continent. That is where China comes in.

China’s Efforts

China has thus far set the precedent in the global response towards increasing COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa, pledging to provide vaccines to over 40 African countries. China has described its actions as purely altruistic. To back this up, China has either been donating or selling the vaccines at favorable prices. Foreign Ministry official Wu Peng told reporters that “We believe that it is, of course, necessary to ensure that the Chinese people get vaccinated as soon as possible, but for other countries in need, we also try our best to provide vaccine help.” So far, the Chinese efforts to counter vaccine inequity have been quite successful. China has already committed half a billion doses of vaccines to African countries. By engaging in “vaccine diplomacy,” China has been able to expand its influence in Africa through tactful, yet charitable actions.

However, Wu makes the important distinction that “Aid alone cannot solve Africa’s vaccine issues. We must support local manufacturing of vaccines in Africa, even though this is difficult due to (low) levels of industrialization.” While difficult, initiating the local manufacturing of vaccines will have monumentally positive effects in curbing the disease. Starting in June 2021, Egypt will be able to start locally producing China’s Sinovac vaccine. Sinovac has not only provided Egypt with advanced technical guidance in producing the vaccine, but also the rights to manufacture and pack the vaccine domestically. China hopes to replicate this in other African countries.

US-China Rivalry

Boasting claims of being able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses by the end of 2021, China will likely continue to lead the way in vaccinating a large portion of the world’s population. In light of China’s generous distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, many have criticized the U.S. for hoarding vaccines. In response to this, President Joe Biden has now pledged to donate an additional 20 million vaccine doses. Certainly, the continued proliferation of aid from wealthy nations will help to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. Developed nations cannot hoard vaccines or vaccine technology and expect the pandemic to end. The pandemic will not end until the current state of vaccine inequity disappears.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Emergency Maternal Transport in Developing Countries
In 2017, across the globe, 810 women died each day from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Women face 15 times the risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications compared with women in developed countries. In this region, over half of the women do not have access to emergency obstetric care during labor, citing financial concerns or issues with accessing emergency maternal transport to hospitals. Vodafone and Transaid are organizations working to mitigate the barriers pregnant women encounter in accessing emergency maternal transport in Africa.

During an obstetric emergency, every second a pregnant woman experiences a delay in skilled care, the higher the risks of stillbirth, neonatal or maternal death. Many cases of maternal mortality are due to severe bleeding after childbirth, postpartum infection and blood pressure disorders. All of these are preventable and treatable with timely and skilled care. Urgent emergency maternal transport to adequate health facilities can be the difference between life and death.

Accessing Emergency Maternal Transport in Africa

Demography and Health Survey data from more than 40 countries revealed that while 50% of women cite finances as the primary obstacle for seeking obstetric care and 37% reported transportation challenges. In addition, 37% cited distance to be their main barrier. Access to mobilized vehicles in developing countries is incredibly rare. For example, only one vehicle is available for every 3,000 people. For comparison, in the U.S., there is one vehicle per 1.19 persons.

A study in rural Ghana found that 65% of women use public transport, 29% walk, 4% use personal cars and 1.6% ride by motorbike. However, much of this transportation is inaccessible because of high costs. The distance to an adequate healthcare facility is highly determinant of maternal outcomes, especially in rural areas of developing countries. A study in Southern Tanzania by Lancet Global Health found that “living more than 35 km away from a health care facility has a much higher likelihood of maternal mortality compared with those only living at a distance of only 5 km.”

Even when vehicles are available and distance is not a barrier, insufficient and dangerous road systems inhibit transport to hospitals. In developing countries, poor road networks make access to skilled healthcare challenging, especially for remote, rural areas. With road conditions unsuitable for many vehicles, women have few viable options.

Effective Interventions: Transaid

Organizations involved in transportation interventions often include direct provision of transportation or monetary schemes. This eliminates the financial burden on families seeking emergency maternal healthcare. Dependent on each community, organizations tailor the intervention to best support the residents.

Transaid, in partnership with the National Union of Road Transport Workers, has implemented emergency maternal transport interventions in Nigeria for more than a decade. Transaid’s project “focuses on training and encouraging local taxi drivers to transport pregnant women to health centers.” Drivers are incentivized to volunteer because they receive permission to park in front of the loading queue. This can “potentially save many hours of waiting for passengers.” Transaid has also had a huge impact through its More Mamaz campaign in rural Zambia. The More Mamaz campaign has trained 236 drivers and safely transferred more than 3,500 women to health facilities. The percentage of women delivering at health facilities rose from 64% to 89% from 2014 to 2017.

Vodafone

Vodafone, a mobile technology company, working in conjunction with Touch Foundation, created the m-mama program, a mobile technology program that connects women in rural Tanzania to local taxi drivers acting as “taxi ambulances.” The 24/7 dispatch center is called in an obstetric emergency and the dispatcher skillfully assesses the patient’s condition and connects them to a network of more than 100 taxi drivers responding to emergency calls. Upon arrival at the health center, drivers receive their pay instantly via Vodafone’s mobile money transfer system. Additionally, the service has also trained over 250 community health workers in the Sengemera and Shinyanga states of Tanzania. Vodafone’s successes have led to a partnership with the Lesotho Ministry of Health in South Africa to expand this program.

The Impact of Emergency Maternal Transport in Africa

The results of interventions have been promising. When South Africa issued 18 dedicated vehicles for maternity care, there was a “sustained reduction in mortality.” Similarly, in the Gambia, a “freely available ambulance service in connection with women’s obstetric needs correlated with substantially reduced pregnancy-related mortality.”

In an effort to provide safe, timely and reliable emergency maternal transport to specialized obstetric care, organizations have shown great innovation in how they train, incentivize and mobilize communities to improve outcomes for pregnant mothers.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Malaria in NigeriaAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.” In 2019, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria exposure. Despite being preventable and curable, there were still a staggering 229 million global cases and 409,000 malaria-related deaths. With a population of around 201 million people at the time, Nigeria accounted for 23% of those deaths. Children under 5 are especially vulnerable and constituted 67% of all malaria deaths in 2019. Though malaria is present in various tropical areas around the world, Africa accounts for 94% of malaria cases and deaths, with Nigeria maintaining the highest percentage of both.

GBCHealth

GBCHealth is a partnership of companies and organizations that invest resources into improving global health. The nonprofit encourages its network to use its power and resources to progress the health of society and achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in innovative ways.

One of the organization’s initiatives to eliminate malaria is the implementation of the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA). CAMA serves as a platform for African corporations to share successful approaches, create new alliances, gain visibility and advocate for malaria control and prevention across Africa. The initiative also acts as a networking forum for businesses to engage and develop relations with key government and civil society stakeholders whose focus is combating malaria. GBCHealth stated that “CAMA companies both lead and support innovative malaria prevention, control and treatment activities and collectively deploy millions of dollars to programs that serve the needs of malaria-affected people and communities.”

Status of Malaria

Despite the improvements in malaria control over the past decade, long-term success in reaching the WHO Global Technical Strategy goals for Malaria 2016-2030 is still far off. The 2020 World Malaria Report stressed that countries in Africa continue to struggle to make significant or consistent gains in the fight against malaria. In 2006, Marathon Oil launched CAMA in Nigeria with members such as Chevron, Access Bank, ExxonMobil, The Aliko Dangote Foundation and Vestergaard. The alliance works with global partners, including The Roll Back Malaria Partnership and The Global Fund, to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Together, these organizations are making strides in the fight against malaria.

CAMA Strategic Plan

CAMA’s 2021-2023 Strategic Plan aims to improve awareness and scale up prevention efforts through private sector initiatives. The End Malaria Project, a major initiative under the new strategic plan, will increase private sector resources in Nigeria and then expand to other high-burden countries, rescuing 50,000 lives in Africa. The project will further the government’s efforts in achieving a malaria-free Nigeria by 2023 and channel private sector resources and capabilities into reducing the incidence and prevalence of malaria in the most endemic communities in Nigeria.

Although malaria has presented a significant challenge to Nigeria, the country is benefiting from the work of GBCHealth. Through its efforts, Nigeria is well on its way to becoming free of malaria.

– Nelia Blackman
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso is a small country located in West Africa and is one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Accordingly, it also has one of the weakest healthcare systems in place for women and children. Approximately 10% of all children born in Burkina Faso die before the age of 5 and more than 300 women out of 100,000 live births die during pregnancy or labor. Burkina Faso is also among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Female Genital Mutilation in Burkina Faso

According to UNICEF, in 2010 it was found that 76% of Burkinese women have undergone female genital mutilation. However, the prevalence of FGM in Burkina Faso has significantly declined during the past two decades. In 1999, 83.6% of women had undergone cutting. This rate dropped to 76.1% in 2010. The decline has much to do with the country’s ban on female genital mutilation, passed in 1996 and further criminalized in 2018 with additional prison sentences and fines.

Since the ban, a declining trend in the prevalence of FGM has taken place among women of lower age groups. Older generations are now less likely to pass down the practice. Additionally, a change in sentiment has coincided with the decrease in prevalence. Only 9% of people in Burkina Faso believe that female genital mutilation should be continued, with support for the practice coming mostly from rural communities.

Government Intervention

Burkina Faso’s government also recognizes that a law is not enough to completely eradicate female genital mutilation. Strong cultural and religious beliefs have kept female circumcision rituals active. The legislation does not have much sway over a firmly established tradition. To fully combat the problem, the Burkinabé Government established the National Committee for the Fight against Female Genital Mutilation(CNLPE) in 1990. Since then, the committee has successfully led a nationwide campaign against female genital mutilation. The CNLPE has fought to end the practice in several ways.

How the CNLPE Fights Female Genital Mutilation

  • A national hotline was created for Burkinese citizens to anonymously report instances of female genital mutilation.
  • Police and magistrates patrol villages to investigate potential cases of female genital mutilation and offer counsel.
  • Educational campaigns on FGM in Burkina Faso reached more than 300 remote villages.
  • Awareness of the issue has been publicized in nearly every form of media. Media is used to disseminate information on female genital mutilation in local languages across the country.
  • Information on the practice has become a part of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools.

Looking Ahead

Burkina Faso has become one of the most committed countries in the fight to eliminate female genital mutilation. Banning the practice in 1996, combined with various efforts from the CNLPE, resulted in a decrease in FGM nationally. Although the issue has gained support, some rural villages have started performing genital mutilation on girls at younger ages. This is done, “so that they are either less willing to talk about what has happened to them or to seek help.” Though there is more work to be done, Burkina Faso is moving in the right direction in ending FGM for good.

– Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

6 members of The African Continental Free Trade Area have a panel discussionThe New Year has brought a host of new possibilities, and in particular, for Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement went into effect on January 1, 2021. The expectations are high for the continent.

AfCFTA is the largest free trade conglomerate in the world; 55 countries signed on to AfCFTA, consisting of 1.3 billion people and a gross domestic product of $3.4 trillion. Moreover, expectations have determined that 30 million Africans will be able to improve their income, leaving poverty behind. The move could remake Africa as a new power for trade, both internally and externally. However, the agreement is contingent on some key workings to reach the full potential of AfCFTA’s reach.

China and AfCFTA

The contingencies are large and focus on infrastructure, policy and eliminating tariff and non-tariff obstacles to improve and enhance continental trade. Some of these contingencies require funding beyond continental borders.

China, the burgeoning world power, is making its presence known in Africa, folding the continent into its monolithic project, The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The initiative would give incentives for Chinese investors to support infrastructure, trade and industrialization in Africa.

The BRI pivots on the ancient “Silk Road,” which were the trade routes that flowed in and out of China to the West and beyond. The Han Dynasty established the road in the year 220 B.C.E. It was over 4,000 miles long, connecting the Middle East to Central Asia and eventually, Europe.

The updated Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road combine to make the BRI. The initiative invests in railways, highways, energy pipelines and benefits from streamlined border crossings. Folding in over a billion African workers and consumers is tantamount to its success. Through the initiative, China and AfCFTA have a great interest in working with each other.

Infrastructure

Africa is receiving funding for infrastructure already. In fact, China is the top investor in the African infrastructure of any foreign country. This is a much-needed economic boost for the continent.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s chief for energy and infrastructure, Dr. Robert Lising, placed a price estimate on what would allow AfCFTA work. He pointed to estimates the African Development Bank put forth amounting to $130-$170 billion per year.

He stated that “This is a huge amount of money so China’s involvement is definitely welcome… In addition, we all know that there is available capital and equipment linked to China’s involvement in Africa’s infrastructural development.” He also pointed out that China’s competitive involvement would lower prices, benefitting Africa. Additionally, he mentioned that while Western involvement is welcome as well, Western forces often come with conditions, whereas China does not.

He said that “If you want to reap the full benefits of the AfCFTA, you need regional infrastructure development… If you want to close the gap in infrastructure development in Africa, you need to bring in all the partners including China through the BRI.” He reminded others that Chinese involvement in African infrastructure is not a new thing, happening for the last five decades. Citing the completion of Nairobi to Mombasa rail lines and the Addis Ababa to Djibouti line to support his claim.

A Partnership of Need

A round table discussion that the Center for China & Globalization organized and held in December 2019 further supports Dr. Lising’s thoughts. Isabel Domingos, ambassador from Sao Tome and Principe at the conference lays out a plan for mutual benefit. She stated that “China has needs and Africa also has needs; China has potentialities and Africa also has potentialities. We have the African Continental Free Trade Area that can be one place to promote both sides, and find a place to deepen the cooperation between China and Africa.”

While there remain anxieties over the confluence of Chinese involvement in AfCFTA, the consensus is clear; the involvement of foreign capital in AfCFTA is crucial. China stands to gain from its involvement and has the capital available that the African continent needs.

China and AfCFTA are a strong match. As Africa continues on its current trends of globalization, China can heed the call. The entire world will watch the results as a blueprint for international involvement.

– Christopher Millard
Photo: Flickr

Desert Locust Control ActDue to a recent outbreak of desert locusts in East Africa, the 117th Congress has written and introduced the H.R 1079 – Desert Locust Control Act on February 15th, 2021. In general terms, this act would “develop a comprehensive, strategic plan to control locust outbreaks in the East African region and address future outbreaks in order to avert mass-scale food insecurity and potential political destabilization.”

The Act Explained

In more specific terms, the Desert Locust Control Act would create an interagency working group that comprises several representatives from varying federal departments and agencies carrying out the act’s requirements. These duties would include monitoring the effectiveness of regional efforts to mitigate the outbreak and finding opportunities for additional support. Furthermore, the act asks to ensure the delivery of necessary assets to control the outbreak and provide humanitarian assistance to those affected. Lastly, the act would improve coordination among the involved government agencies, relieve the impact of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and work to prevent future desert locusts as well as other potentially harmful outbreaks.

What Desert Locusts Cause

This act has become necessary for a variety of reasons. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that as of December 2020, there were 42 million people suffering from food insecurity in East Africa. This number will increase if the locust outbreak is not handled. It becomes especially disheartening when considering the highly destructive nature of the desert locust. A small swarm can eat enough food for 35,000 people in one day, while a larger swarm can devour enough to leave 81 million people starving. It’s important to note the urgency of the situation as well. By June of this year, the number of desert locusts could increase by 400 times, due to there currently being favorable weather conditions for their breeding and each locust generation increasing by 20 times on average.

Problems Amplifying the Crisis

Another concerning factor of this recent outbreak is the economic damage to these countries, with locust-related losses being estimated at $8.5 billion for livestock production and asset damages. Furthermore, COVID-19 regulations have already created unfavorable conditions for agricultural production by disrupting supply chains, transportation and access to services and labor. These conditions have consequently increased the chances for a potential food security crisis in the past months. The desert locust outbreak only compounds these issues and creates a crisis within a crisis, making a worse situation out of an already dire issue. Unfortunately, the desert locust will also place vulnerable citizens, including women and children, into further vulnerability, when accounting for the fact of the eventual increase in crime due to food shortages. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), has estimated that 5,000 households, especially those run by women, will need humanitarian assistance by August of 2021.

The immediacy of this outbreak, the drastic results and the economic and political difficulties present, have made it necessary for the U.S. and other foreign countries to involve themselves and provide assistance. As evidenced, the Desert Locust Control Act will be crucial for the well-being of several impacted African countries as the second wave is almost 20 times larger than the first one. Due to this, African communities will need foreign aid in order to safely and effectively nullify this issue.

– Juan Vargas
Photo: Flickr