Information and stories about Africa.

Eye Care for Ebola SurvivorsWhile Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in just Western Africa in 2014-2015, the thousands who survived are now at risk of developing vision loss face issues caused by the infection. These survivors commonly face vision problems, ranging from uveitis (a form of eye inflammation) to optic neuropathy to panuveitis (inflammation of all the layers of the uveal tract).

One study found that nearly 40 percent of the people observed developed an ocular disease. The most common symptoms were blurry vision and photophobia — sensitivity to light — observed in 76 and 68 percent of patients, respectively. Tearing, pain, floaters and redness in the eyes were also prevalent. Many of those examined also had glaucoma and retinal detachment.

The Congo’s Reaction to the Latest Ebola Outbreak

Learning from previous outbreaks, the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently set up a clinic in Beni to provide eye care for Ebola survivors. This is the first time that follow-up eye treatment has been offered so soon after patients have been released from care. A similar clinic has also been established in Butembo, another heavily affected area.

Survivors of Ebola have helped establish this clinic, providing aid and community outreach in this time of need. Emory University and the University of North Carolina have also donated ophthalmologists to help the effort get on its feet. Organizations, such as the WHO, are also working with the Ministry of Health to keep the clinics thriving.

So far, 250 people have been seen and examined. From their initial tests, complications like uveitis were low compared to previous outbreaks. Plans are also in place to train 10 Congolese ophthalmologists on Ebola-related issues in order to expand treatment options for patients. Over the following months, more clinics will be established to accommodate more than 300 patients who are on the waiting list.

The Need for Screening

While it remains unclear as to why Ebola affects people’s vision, it is clear that there is some correlation. Some studies show that Ebola may lead to uveitis because a higher viral load enables Ebola to enter the eye and establish viral persistence, which later leads to uveitis.

Doctors are finding that eye care for Ebola survivors relies heavily on early screening. One study showed that patients who were promptly screened for an initial assessment for the disease were easier to treat and at less risk for reduced vision. While more research is needed to determine the links between Ebola and visions loss, the establishment of clinics in disease-prone areas is a step in the right direction.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Sub-Saharan AfricaIn accordance with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Australia will spend $121 million in 2018-2019 in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to poverty-stricken areas including sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The amount of assistance includes investment priorities in areas such as health, building resilience, education, infrastructure and trade. Australia sees economic benefits in investing in SSA, such as future potential trade with Africa. Through the help of many nongovernment organizations, Australia seeks to eradicate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Agricultural Productivity

Two major areas of investment in SSA include agricultural productivity and food security. There is a spillover effect from achieving these two goals; as health improves from improving farming productivity, income increases as well. Due to a higher income, those in extreme poverty would be able to afford education, better food, clean drinking water and sanitation.

The livelihood of Africans would increase and that is one reason Australia has its focus on agribusiness. From 2009, Australia has awarded at least $31 million to small- and medium-sized agribusiness companies, the technology and renewable energy sector and the financial service sector. The $31 million is part of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, which is promoting resilient rural communities, helping eradicate poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and creating jobs through the private sector.

Humanitarian Assistance

Australia’s humanitarian program in Africa focuses on economic downfalls, natural disasters and conflict, all of which contribute to food scarcity and poverty. Australia’s goal is to alleviate suffering from these shocks, save lives and bring stability and dignity to those affected. In the last few years, Australia focused on the crises in South Sudan and Somalia. In line with the Foreign Policy White Paper, its focus is on working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in supporting refugees.

Australia Awards

Australia’s method of improving Sub-Saharan Africa’s livelihood is through the Australia Awards Scholarship Program. Wealth generation and job creation are two areas that have developed from recipients of this award. Courses teaching hydroponic farming, macroeconomic development and professional development give awardees the knowledge and skills needed to drive economic growth and sustainable development. Awardees also learn leadership, negotiation, project management, public speaking and other soft skills.

One such awardee, Edmore Masendeke from Zimbabwe, works as an economist at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. In 2018, Masendeke began an accessible housing project for people with disabilities. He helped the bank start a loan facility for Zimbabweans with disabilities. He is only one awardee that has accomplished positive change in underrepresented individuals.

Success

  • Over 12 million Africans have better healthcare, improved access to food security and better water and sanitation thanks to the collective work of 27 nongovernmental organizations funded by the Australian NGO Cooperation Program in 2017-18.
  • Through its humanitarian effort, Australia helped over 1 million vulnerable women, men and children in 12 countries by giving life-saving assistance.
  • Australia increased crop production by improving agricultural productivity that resulted in advanced farming techniques and better food security.
  • There were 479 Australia Awards Scholarship awardees in 2018.

Future

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated that its strategic direction aligns with the Foreign Policy White Paper. Its main focus areas in the future include the following: agricultural productivity, humanitarian assistance, leadership and human capacity development and gender equality and women’s empowerment. Australia will continue to support the initiative to eradicate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and collaborate with nongovernment organizations, the United Nations and its subsidiaries to improve agriculture, food security, water and sanitation and hygiene programs in order to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

five beauty brandsIn today’s world, it can be difficult to decide which beauty product is just right when there are so many to choose from. Factors like cost, brand or online reviews are usually valued as the most important. In an effort to stand out and make a difference, beauty companies around the world are now donating proceeds from profits to charities and foundations of their choice. Next time the urge hits to splurge on a new moisturizer or lipstick, why not splurge for a cause? Here are five beauty brands giving back to keep on the radar in 2019.

Five Beauty Brands Giving Back

  1. INDIGO & IRIS: Based in New Zealand, Indigo & Iris is the brainchild of two best friends committed to all-things-beauty and preventing avoidable blindness. Indigo & Iris donates 50 percent of its profit directly to the Fred Hollows Foundation, which aims to address and end avoidable blindness in impoverished populations around the world. In developing countries, the absence of healthcare for eye-related diseases leads to 4 in 5 people going blind when the problem could be medically treated. Indigo & Iris’s breakout product is their mascara, Levitate, which is vegan, cruelty-free and receives high marks from online beauty and style publications such as Allure and PopSugar.
  2. SCHMIDT’S NATURALS: Looking for a fresh scent? It may be time for a new deodorant or soap. Schmidt’s Naturals is a sustainable, Portland-based manufacturer that crafts their formulas with soothing plants and minerals that are free of chemicals or harsh additives. The newest collection, Lily of the Valley, showcases a body wash and deodorant that were concocted with Jane Goodall’s favorite aromas in mind. And if having a Jane Goodall inspired body wash isn’t cool enough, 5 percent of all profits from these products go directly toward global environmental conservation efforts and the protection of wild animals through the Jane Goodall Institute.
  3. MDNA SKIN: Pop and humanitarian icon, Madonna’s nonprofit, Raising Malawi, is instrumental in providing free access to education and health for nearly 10,000 children as of 2018. Madonna’s skincare brand, MDNA Skin, donates a portion of the proceeds from her Reinvention Cream to the initiatives of Raising Malawi, which include the construction of brand new schools in the Kasungu province of Malawi. MDNA skin features a wide selection, including a chrome clay mask, a refreshing rose mist and a facial rollerball to ease away any and all kinks from the day. Lay back and relax knowing that a portion of the revenue from some of these products helps to create educational and economic opportunities for the current and future generations of Malawi.
  4. MARULA BEAUTY: As the brand’s name would suggest, Marula Beauty specializes in skin and hair care products infused with marula oil. Marula oil is especially beneficial for skin as the oil contains antioxidant and hydration properties that reduce fine lines, enhance overall complexion and act as antimicrobials. What makes this beauty brand unique is their dedication to working directly with women in African villages where there are Marula trees. Marula Beauty offers employment and fair wages to these women as they tend to and harvest the Marula trees until the oil is ready to be extracted. In this way, Marula Beauty honors the connection African communities hold to their land while offering compensation in exchange for the Marula trees’ potential, definitely earning Marula Beauty a spot on this list of five beauty brands giving back.
  5. NU SKIN: Nu Skin is a globally established company that develops and distributes skincare and dietary supplements as well as other health-related products. Whether it be the search for a rejuvenating beauty mask or lavender essential oil, Nu Skin has an array of selections and a diverse price range. The nonprofit behind the company, the Nu Skin Force For Good Foundation, utilizes a large amount of revenue from Nu Skin to fund grant projects including the School of Agriculture for Family Independence in Malawi. The school trains attendees in subjects such as sustainable agriculture, animal husbandry and forest conservation while sending their children to primary school for free. The foundation has also established the Greater China Children’s Heart Fund in response to the fact that two out of three children in China with pediatric congenital heart disease are unable to receive treatment due to cost. Money allocated for the grant goes toward covering medical and surgical expenses entirely.

Buying makeup or skincare online can often feel like a one-sided experience. Investing in the products offered by these five beauty brands giving back ensures that there is someone on the other side also profiting. And as Audrey Hepburn famously said, “I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls.”

Jade Sheinwald

Photo: Flickr

Desertification in sub-Saharan AfricaThe Sahara desert is already the largest desert in the world, stretching 3,320,000 square miles across the northern part of the continent. However, due to the effects of desertification in Africa, the Sahara desert continues to grow and consume fertile lands around it.

Made up of sand sheets and dunes, the Sahara desert spans 11 different countries, including Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Libya. The region of Sahel forms a transitional zone between the arid desert lands in the north and the more humid savannas in the south. This area is facing the greatest risk from desertification as the Sahara desert pushes outward into the Sahel region.

What is Desertification?

Desertification is defined as the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by climatic variations and human activities. Simply put, desertification is the process by which fertile lands become deserts, typically because of drought, deforestation or inappropriate agriculture. Desertification affects up to 30 percent of land worldwide, and 1.5 billion people around the world depend on land at risk from desertification for their main source of food or income. Seventy-four percent of these people already live in poverty.

Desertification in sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, desertification may force up to 50 million people to flee their homes by 2020. Since 1923, the Sahara Desert has expanded by 10 percent, especially affecting people living in the Sahel region. Dryland covers 65 percent of the African continent, and 70 to 80 percent of people in Ethiopia and Kenya are threatened by desertification. However, The Great Green Wall, established in 2007, is helping to end desertification in Africa.

Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement to grow a wall of trees, 8,000 km long, across the continent of Africa. Once finished, it will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times larger than the Great Barrier Reef. Stretching across the Sahel region, which is the region most affected by desertification, the Great Green Wall initiative hopes to change the lives of millions of people.

Since 2007, the Great Green Wall has had countless success stories. In Ethiopia, 15 million hectares of land were restored from their desert-like state. In Senegal, the organization planted 11.4 million trees. In Niger, farmers were able to grow an extra 500,000 tons of grain to feed 2.5 million people, all because of 5 million hectares of land restored by the Great Green Wall.

With $8 billion pledged, the Great Green Wall is increasing food security, resilience to climate change and job availability while decreasing drought, famine and migration. By 2030, its goal is to restore 100 million hectares of land and create a minimum of 350,000 jobs for rural workers.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is one organization supporting The Great Green Wall.  They have launched a public awareness campaign called ‘Growing a World Wonder,’ and implemented the FLEUVE project, which strengthens local communities in their effort to help the Great Green Wall initiative.

With help from supporters and local communities, the Great Green Wall is working to combat desertification in sub-Saharan Africa and restore land, jobs and food for millions of people in the sub-Saharan region.

– Natalie Dell
Photo: Flickr

Rising Life Expectancy in AfricaBetween the years of 1770 and 1925, Africa’s life expectancy stayed the same while life expectancies were rising in the rest of the world. Since 1925, however, Africa has also has seen a steady rise in its life expectancy. While the average life expectancy stayed at 26.4 years of age for over a century, it has since risen by over 30 years, with an average life expectancy of 60 years of age in 2015. In the 21st century alone, life expectancy at birth has risen by 42 percent, according to the World Bank.

Declining Infant Mortality Rate and Antiretrovirals

Several factors can explain the rising life expectancy in Africa. One main element driving this is the fall in the infant mortality rate and rise in child survival. Fewer infants have died shortly after their births and more children to live past their fifth birthdays due to increased health care and more efficient and healthy, delivery processes. Additionally, a wide variety of generic drugs have become more accessible and more affordable for low-income families in Africa.

Another factor, also regarding health and wellness, that has contributed to the rising life expectancy in Africa is the increased accessibility to antiretrovirals for treating HIV. During the 1990s, life expectancy in Africa significantly declined as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Since then, continuous research and funding have been funneled into providing efficient treatments and drugs for HIV/AIDS, ideally at an inexpensive rate. As of 2017, 66 percent of adults and 59 percent of children in Africa who are living with HIV are on antiretroviral treatment and the increase of this treatment directly correlates to the increase in life expectancy.

Rising Incomes

The rising income per capita could also be a factor to explain the rising life expectancy in Africa. According to the World Bank, the GDP per capita in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000 was less than $600; as of 2017, that number has more than doubled and stands at more than $1,500. Of course, food supply in a given country plays a huge role in the projected life expectancy and with more income, there comes greater food security. As mentioned, higher income can lead to greater health services and increased access to housing and clean water also factors into increased life expectancy.

While the continent of Africa has increased its life expectancy rate since 1925, there are some impending factors that could pose a threat to its successes. Africans between the ages of 50 and 69 are at risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and obesity. These risk factors could lead to increased deaths related to diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

Since the start of the 21st century, Africa has seen a significant rise in income, allowing the government to spend more on health care and providing vaccines to people who need them. Overall governance in Africa has appeared to have improved over the past couple of decades, according to William Jackson, a senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics. He argues that the rising life expectancy in Africa over the past century, but more specifically the past 20 years, is a huge achievement for the continent, despite potential setbacks in years to come.

– Charlotte Kriftcher
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in the Horn of AfricaAn estimated 37 million people are in need of emergency food assistance in the Horn of Africa. Of these people, 1.2 million are children under 5. These individuals are severely malnourished due to drought and conflict in the area. Millions of people are being affected by malnutrition in the Horn of Africa. Children in particular are threatened by a combination of poverty, insecurity, malnutrition and disease.

Due to the drought sweeping across the region:

  • 16.3 million people are in need of humanitarian services of which half are children
  • 14.8 million people are in need of water
  • 660,000 children are in need of severe acute malnutrition treatment
  • 2.55 million people were food insecure as of March 2018

People in the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have also been heavily affected by the worst flooding in the area in 30 years. In Kenya, floods have affected 800,000 people and displaced 244,400 people. These conditions have also resulted in crop failure and loss of livestock, turning conditions from poor to dire.

Immediate Help to the Horn of Africa

Beginning in 2014, UNICEF has treated 135,000 children for severe acute malnutrition in Somalia. They have vaccinated nearly 2 million children against polio. In Ethiopia, 2.7 million children, mothers and pregnant women have been screened for malnutrition. UNICEF has started supplementary feeding programs to further combat the malnutrition in the Horn of Africa. In Kenya, they have expanded their assistance to the flood of refugees coming in from South Sudan.

Organizations like Oxfam are on the ground in these areas, working with locals to get to those most in need. They are providing emergency food distributions and working with people to produce their own food and incomes. They are combating malnutrition in the Horn of Africa by providing emergency water and sanitation to stop the spread of diseases like cholera and diarrhea.

Continued Help in the Region

UNICEF’s efforts have continued to focus on preventing and treating severe acute malnutrition. They seek to expand access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Their people are increasing the number of children that they are vaccinating so that they can better respond to childhood illnesses and prevent them. Their focus is also on the people’s access to assets and safety nets that are responsive to seasonal factors and other shocks.

While there are many organizations that are coming to the aid of the people in the Horn of Africa, they still need more support if they are going to overcome the political and environmental issues that are making their lives unliveable.

– Michela Rahaim
Photo: Flickr

African Welfare Programs 
Basic welfare programs were introduced in select African states toward the end of the colonial age. Rather than aiding the poorest citizens, the earliest programs were social security schemes designed to assist affluent wage-earners, predominantly white, in their retirement. The majority, who made meagre wages or subsisted through barter exchange, did not qualify for benefits. African welfare programs remain underdeveloped and their qualifying criteria often exclude the neediest citizens. But increasingly, African leaders are seeing welfare programs both as an effective way to reduce poverty and as a tool for leveraging political advantage.

Welfare Programs in Tanzania

In 2013, Tanzania launched the Productive Social Safety Net (PSSN) to assist its poorest citizens through small monthly “cash transfers.” The program has rapidly expanded coverage from 2 percent of the population in its first year to more than 10 percent in 2018. With this program, every recipient receives an unconditional sum that translates to about $5. Beneficiaries can qualify for additional funds by enrolling their children in schools and ensuring they attend regular health check-ups. A “cash-for-work” scheme enables members of a beneficiary’s household to earn around $1 per day for contributing labor to public works projects.

PSSN is geared toward Tanzania’s poorest. Funds are directed toward communities in the lowest-income bracket, but each community elects the households it deems most in need. The governing agency then conducts its own checks to ensure the elected beneficiaries are eligible. A 2016 report led by the World Bank found that 48 percent of PSSN beneficiary households land in the lowest decile for consumer spending. At around $13, average monthly cash transfer values represent about one-fifth of total monthly expenditure for PSSN households.

Welfare Program in Kenya 

Kenya began making together a wide-ranging welfare system during the height of the aids crisis. With support from UNICEF, the Kenyan government piloted a cash transfers program targeting households with orphans and vulnerable children in 2004. It was found that most beneficiaries used their transfers to buy basic necessities like food and school supplies, quelling fears the funds would be squandered. As of 2015, approximately 250,000 Kenyan households received transfers at a flat rate of around $21.

Since 2003, the Kenyan government has funded elementary education for all school-aged children. Reports show that this has not only been highly effective in increasing school enrolment and extending the duration of children’s’ education but has also boosted Kenyan test scores to the top level across the continent. However, there are some bad sides to this program as well. Although tuition is paid for, there are still costs that need to be picked up by parents or guardians, such as mandatory uniforms, which can act as barriers for the poorest families. Another critique launched against Kenya public schools is that they are underrepresented in slums and poorer villages, drawing the charge that the policy could be better aligned to help Kenya’s poorest children.

The Future of African Welfare Programs

Many other African states are moving alongside Kenya and Tanzania in establishing what can be called African welfare programs and systems. In 2013, Senegal launched a cash transfers program that now assists around 20 percent of the nation’s poorest households. The Ghanaian and Zambian governments have both taken recent steps to raise revenue for child benefits. Wealthier nations like South Africa and Botswana are building on their existing welfare systems as well.

African welfare programs are emerging far earlier than those in European, Asian or Latin American nations when considered these programs in terms of Gross National Income (GNI). So far, all indications suggest they are helping lift the poorest from dire poverty and are boosting the economy through buoyed consumer spending. Welfare is not going to eliminate poverty on its own, but it may speed along its decline and improve lives as it does so.

– Jamie Wiggan

Photo: Unsplash

How Farm Africa is Helping in the Fight Against Poverty
Farm Africa is a nonprofit organization that is reducing poverty in Eastern Africa by helping farmers “grow more, sell more, and sell for more”. The organization focuses on three aspects: agriculture, environment and business.

Agriculture

Agriculture in Eastern Africa accounts for 70 percent of the population’s income. Farm Africa is enabling farmers to maximize the use of their land by sharing its expertise in growing the most appropriate crops for the region in regards to climate and soil composition, as well as the most profitable crops. They also help to provide the necessary tools in order to achieve a successful harvest year after year.

Environment

In an interview with Aid For Africa, Bridget Carle, a graduate student working in South Africa, said, “Agricultural researchers have found that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can affect crop production…But now we are learning that higher levels of CO2 are likely to reduce levels of essential nutrients like zinc, iron and Vitamin A, as well as the protein content of crops.” Farm Africa is aware of the changing environment and uses its knowledge to encourage African farmers to use sustainable farming practices. The organization also helps farmers develop holistic approaches to their farming, taking special care to not overuse resources.

In Ethiopia, Farm Africa is currently working with citizens to employ sustainable practices to preserve their forests and increase their economy. One such example is teaching community members to produce honey, weave baskets and make bamboo furniture in order to generate income rather than chopping down trees so they can sell timber.

Business

Forbes Africa wrote an article showing how investing in irrigation has seen positive outcomes for Ethiopia’s economy. This article includes a section about how Farm Africa, the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture and local extension officers have come together in a joint effort to “help women and young people adopt small-scale irrigation…[as]part of an initiative to increase their incomes and improve their nutrition.” This project came close to reaching 6,400 women and landless people.

There are three parts to Farm Africa’s approach to business; business development, finance and trade. The organization helps Africa’s rural entrepreneurs expand their businesses and give them the tools to be successful over the long term. Farm Africa encourages the growth of co-operatives so that farmers may sell their products in bulk.

Farm Africa has 170 employees across four countries in Eastern Africa: Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. The organization works on the ground with farmers, helping them develop sustainable farming practices and yield higher quality crops year after year. They are teaching community members to be environmentally conscious as they give them different business tools to help them grow their businesses and thrive in larger markets. By focusing on agriculture, the environment and business, Farm Africa is helping to reduce poverty in Eastern Africa.

– CJ Sternfels
Photo: Flickr

opportunity in African slums
Kenya is known as a contrasting country where there is a large gap between the economic and social classes. About half of the 44 million people who live in the African country live well below the poverty line. This makes necessities like clean water and health care seem like luxuries.

With limited opportunity in African slums, many fall ill from lack of sanitation and clean water, as well as food shortages. Others are unable to attend school and are either pushed into violence or become victims of it.

Kennedy Odede – A Ray of Hope

Kennedy Odede was born in Kibera, Kenya, one of the largest slums in Africa. Here, Odede and many of his friends and neighbors were subjected to violence, severe gender inequality and a constant feeling of hopelessness stemming from a lack of opportunity. Despite his extreme impoverished conditions, Odede remained hopeful for not only a better future for himself and his birthplace of Kibera but for all the slums of Africa.

As he continued his education and eventually migrated to the U.S., Odede became inspired by visionaries of change, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Like these influential men, Odede wanted to better the world for the vulnerable population.

In Kenya in 2004, Odede bought a soccer ball for 20 cents and taught people in his area the sport. Upon bringing people together to play, the Kenyan native was able to create open discussions about the pressing issues within the community of Kibera. Those included issues such as food security and gender-based violence. They started discussing ways to create opportunity in African slums.

Shining Hope for Communities

After meeting his wife, Jessica Posner, Odede’s initiatives branched out into a grassroots organization called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO).  It was founded in 2009. This nonprofit organization devised a plan to integrate programs for girls’ education and community forums to raise awareness about gender-based violence. SHOFCO’s mission statement pays homage to the mindset of Odede’s visionary inspirations. It reads “Empower communities to transform urban poverty to urban promise.”

SHOFCO set up an aerial network of pipes that brought access to clean water. It was an effort to help decrease Kenya’s alarming child mortality rate. SHOFCO has also set up several health clinics, including 6 in Odede’s home neighborhood of Kibera, where over 165,000 patients were served in 2017. Clinical services were desperately needed in Kibera with HIV and other diseases being endemically prominent.

According to SHOFCO’s annual report, in 2017 the organization helped provide free education and health services to nearly 220,000 people across Kenyan slums. Thus, along with health reform in Africa, the organization continues its initiatives to better education and transform the lives of people.

Educational Programs to Create Better Opportunity in African Slums

The Los Angeles based couple’s organization continued to transform urban poverty and create better opportunity in African slums through their educational programs. SHOFCO’s School-2-School program partners with schools across the United States to support efforts and raise awareness for SHOFCO’s free schooling for girls in Kenya.

This partnership has helped 45 percent of Kenyan girls enrolled in the free schooling program achieve A’s in Kenya’s primary education certification exam. Schools enrolled in the program received a B+ average on the same exam. Both Odede and his wife believe that providing young girls with education is important to fighting poverty as it creates female leaders and speaks for the need to fight for women’s rights.

SHOFCO now runs two schools, one in Kibera the other in Mathare. The schools teach 519 girls from pre-kindergarten up to eighth grade. Aside from traditional academic subjects, students focus on leadership skills and learn about Kenya’s government. This was Odede’s idea to make people realize the need to create more opportunities in African slums.

SHOFCO’s annual budget of $7 million is currently made up of donations and grants from both the U.S. and Kenya. Odede and his wife hope this budget will go well beyond $10 million by 2021. That would allow the organization to create more schools and also continue its efforts in addressing Kenya’s health and water security issues. SHOFCO’s model for lifting urban slums like Kibera out of poverty serves as a guide to how industrialized countries can help create opportunity in African slums.

– Haley Newlin
Photo: Flickr

Human rights violations
Across the globe, human rights violations are committed by official law enforcement personnel far too often. In Africa and other parts of the developing world, such violations often occur in the context of extreme poverty. Although there has been some progress in protecting human rights, there is still much work to be done. A recently created website, WhoWasInCommand.com, seeks to help victims locate their perpetrators in order to bring about justice.

Restricting the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Amnesty International reports that in Africa in 2017 and 2018, “intolerance of peaceful dissent and an entrenched disregard for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly” had become all too commonplace. This includes arresting as well as beating and sometimes even killing, peaceful protestors. They also note that “these trends occurred within a context of slow and intermittent success in reducing poverty.”

Within the past two years, Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Sudan and Togo all undertook measures that restricted or banned peaceful protests. All of these countries have poverty rates more than 30 percent, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo having the highest rate at 63 percent.

The restriction of peaceful protests does not always violate human rights, but law enforcement personnel sometimes resort to extreme measures to crack down on protesters. In Togo, a crackdown by security forces, which involved beatings and the firing of tear gas and ammunition at protestors, resulted in the deaths of 10 individuals, including three children.

Identifying the Perpetrator

Of course, protestors are not the only individuals suffering from human rights violations committed by law enforcement. Such violations can occur while an individual is being detained in jail, in their home or on the street. One of the largest barriers of bringing perpetrators to justice, however, is the inability to identify them. In fact, many victims of human rights abuses do not know the names of those who violated their rights, making it nearly impossible to develop a legal case. Even when perpetrators are identified, sometimes they are moved around to prevent prosecution.

In 2016, a 12-year-old was detained, tortured and left almost paralyzed by security force officers in Nigeria. His lawyer, Chino Edmund Obiagwu, who is also the director of the Legal Defense and Assistance Project in Nigeria, would have been unable to cite the officers because he could not have access information on their names if it had not been for the work of provided by the WhoWasInCommand.

Holding Officials Accountable for Their Actions

In response to difficulties in identifying law enforcement personnel who violate human rights, Tony Wilson, the director of Security Force Monitor, a project of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, started the website WhoWasInCommand in June 2017. The site publishes data on law enforcement, including names, ranks, commanders, location, history of service and previous allegations held against them.

Security Force Monitor was created to support researchers, investigative journalists and litigators that work specifically on human rights violations. Those behind the project believe that it is important to hold security force officials accountable for their actions, but also recognize that, as data on these groups is generally decentralized, difficult to locate and sometimes costly, individual lawyers or victims often do not have the resources to access it. The Security Force Monitor team analyzes thousands of public records to provide relevant information on WhoWasInCommand about law enforcement officials.

The Increasing Popularity of the Website

Initially, WhoWasInCommand only included research on Mexico, Nigeria and Egypt, but as of October 2018, six new countries have been added, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and Uganda, making the site the largest public database on security forces in the world. Countries are chosen based on the existence of longstanding concerns about human rights abuses by law enforcement as well as the consistent inability of lawyers and journalists to identify perpetrators in those areas.

In addition to the assistance the Security Force Monitor is providing, there have been some successes in cracking down on human rights violations through legislation. Nigeria passed an Anti-Torture Bill in December 2017, Burkina Faso’s has committed to increasing human rights protections in their draft Constitution, the Gambia pledged to abolish the death penalty and Kenya decided not to close a refugee camp that houses over a quarter of a million Somali refugees who could not return home without the risk of violence and abuse. While progress is slow, small victories such as these are not inconsequential, but are, in fact, an essential step in ensuring human rights across the globe.

As WhoWasInCommand continues to grow, hopefully, there will be a notable increase in successful prosecutions of law enforcement personnel who commit human rights violations. A researcher at Amnesty International, Aster van Kregten, expressed hope that nations may eventually begin freely contributing information about security forces, making a site like WhoWasInCommand unnecessary. Governments also need to continue to pass laws that ensure the protection of human rights for all individuals.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr