East African FederationA proposed federation between Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda seeks to establish a single currency, political unity, modern infrastructure, improved trade relations and ensured peace. In the 1960s, when many of the above countries won their independence, a political federation was first proposed. Today, all six countries are members of the East African Community (EAC), which started in 1999 as a less ambitious form of unity. The East African Federation remains mostly an idea; however, leaders in all six countries are now working together to see the idea come to fruition.

Where it Stands

The countries began drafting a unified constitution in 2018, which would render each member’s individual constitution subordinate to that of the East African Federation. They have set the deadline for its completion to 2021. The EAC has already neared completion of a monetary union, likely being something akin to the European Union’s euro. The euro has allowed for the free movement of capital, stimulating trade activity between member states. Additionally, all six countries are planning to hold a referendum with their own citizens in order to gauge support.

Ambitions

The countries’ leaders say that a federation will lead to economic development and greater African sovereignty. The advantages of the East African Federation include linkages of infrastructure, which will allow four of the landlocked members to have access to the trading ports of Kenya and Tanzania. Further, the East African Federation, due to its enormity, will have more influence in international diplomacy, and its governmental institutions will become more robust through information sharing.

Limitations

When integration efforts were attempted in the past, they became derailed by individual national interests and existing tensions. While the East African Federation attempts to overcome these tensions, some doubt its ability to do so. Critics point to trade disputes between Rwanda and Uganda and military rivalries between Tanzania and Rwanda as prominent examples for why unity will remain unaccomplished.

The Promise

East Africa’s economy is the fastest-growing on the continent; GDP increased by 5.7 percent in 2018 and is forecasted to hit 5.9 percent in 2019. According to the World Bank’s most recent data, the average poverty rate for the 6 countries is 49.6 percent. Kenya has the lowest rate with 36.8 percent, and Burundi has the highest with 71.8 percent. The East African Federation promises to improve cooperation methods and increase economic potential, yielding greater growth, quicker development and lasting stability for the region.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

Secondhand Clothing
Prior to 1980, the domestic clothing and textile industry within the East African Community (EAC) was booming and employed thousands of people. Certain liberalization policies caused the industry to fail, creating a reliance on imported products. Used clothing imports reached $151 billion in East Africa during 2015. Secondhand clothing offers a cheap and quality source of garments for the people within the EAC.

Imports of used clothing are estimated at around 540 million pieces per year versus the 20 million pieces of clothing created domestically each year in East Africa.  Primarily, the United States and Europe, places where people discard large sums of used clothing, sent these imports. These areas donate 70 percent of donated garments to Africa. The EAC initiated the start of a secondhand clothing import ban in 2016 with the goal of accomplishing a complete ban by 2019. The hope is to create a self-sustaining and reliable textile industry that provides jobs for many people.

Taxation in the EAC

The plan was to expand local textile industries prior to the ban, however certain countries within the EAC, such as Rwanda, have already begun raising taxes on imported secondhand clothing. Taxes went from $0.2 to $2.5 from 2016 to 2017, at a 12 percent increase. People who oppose the ban fear that this will disproportionately affect people with lower incomes, rather than support positive industrialization. The opposition also fears that seeing the ban to completion will violate portions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) where many African countries agreed to lift barriers restricting trade and investment with the United States.

However, the East African Community seems concerned with positive domestic growth and industrialization with the hopes of sustaining its economy. Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda plan to continue to raise taxes on clothing imports, while Kenya has said it cannot economically support the 2019 ban deadline because it is unable to meet domestic demands with local markets.

Creating a Textile Industry

Supporters of the ban have recognized that wearers of secondhand clothing might have a risk of obtaining skin candidiasis, scabies, ringworm, body lice and other health risks. To avoid added health risks and to maximize use of domestic commodities, the East African Business Council (EABC) has expressed the need to use the large production of cotton in the EAC domestically to create textiles, rather than exporting it for low costs. The countries within East Africa continue to work towards an improved domestic clothing and textile industry by creating facilities and advancing technology available towards textile production. Tanzania’s Minister of State, Jenista Mhagama, announced a training program in 2016 that would encourage and assist young people to become tailors.

Despite push back from European countries and the United States, the EAC continues its push towards growing its domestic textile industry and implementing the secondhand clothing import ban. As the EAC fulfills the ban, the impact of this on its economy will become clear.

– Claire Bryan
Photo: Flickr

FoodTechAfrica
Twenty four million people have been affected by the disastrous patterns of droughts in East Africa. These droughts have led to diminished crop yields and have created serious food insecurity in addition to decreased water sources. However, FoodTechAfrica (FTA), a Dutch organization comprised of many agro-food companies, has proposed a plan to feed people throughout East Africa by establishing sustainable fisheries throughout the region.

Growing Populations and Growing Hunger

As populations in East Africa continue to rise, the threat of food insecurity looms even greater. In their current condition, East African countries are simply unable to meet the demand for food, making food extremely expensive and its availability uncertain.

Widespread food insecurity has significant health consequences. Throughout East Africa, 800,000 children suffer from complications resulting from malnutrition. In Ethiopia, 4.3 million people without access to food and water require medical assistance. An estimated six million people in South Sudan are in need of food and water.

While the food crisis in East Africa is serious, it is getting better. Since 1990, protein-energy malnutrition has decreased by 35.7 percent in Kenya and nearly 70 percent in Ethiopia.

Aquaculture

FoodTechAfrica’s goal is to increase food security in East Africa using aquaculture, a form of food production very common in the Netherlands. Aquaculture is essentially fish farming, which can be conducted on small, household scales or at industrial levels, with minimal harm to the environment. Fish are a protein and nutrient-rich resource that can be produced sustainably, feeding millions of hungry people and appeasing malnutrition.

Unlike livestock farming, aquaculture requires little land to produce large yields. Farming fish rather than fishing from seas and rivers allows for the nutritional benefits of fish without the environmental damage of over-fishing. FTA’s aquaculture methods involve recirculation throughout fish pens, which conserves precious water.

Food and Jobs

FoodTechAfrica has set its sights not only on providing food throughout East Africa, but also jobs. The Kamuthanga Fish Farm, created by FTA, is the largest aquaculture operation in Kenya. This facility alone provides 58 skilled positions to local workers and is training even more. FTA has ensured that at least 25 of these jobs belong to women. Kamuthanga is capable of producing up to 1000 tonnes (1,000,000 kilograms) of fish per year, which is enough to feed approximately 140,000 people.

As FTA establishes more fisheries in more countries, more food and jobs are created. While the plan is simple, its execution will help assuage the complex issue of hunger in East Africa.

– Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

Poverty_AidThe 2015-2016 El Niño was only the third ‘Super’ El Niño in recorded history. Experts fear this event’s impacts may have been further worsened by global warming. Those impacts have fallen disproportionately on some of the most impoverished areas of the world, and aid is needed to address the El Niño environmental poverty crisis now affecting millions of people.

El Niño, an array of global changes in climate patterns due to the warming of surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific, is not an uncommon event. Typically it is expected every three to seven years. However, the 2015-2016 El Niño produced record-level climate events, unprecedented even in an El Niño year.

In the 2015 northern Pacific hurricane season 25 level four and five hurricanes developed. The previous annual record was only 18. Meanwhile, Eastern Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. Globally, 2015 temperatures were at a record high resulting in El Niño and global warming pushing climate patterns in the same direction.

El Niño has had a dire impact on the global poor, with many of the hardest hit areas having insufficient infrastructure to confront the damage. Oxfam notes that the current El Niño cycle has placed 60 million people in danger of hunger.

While the climate changes associated with El Niño are fading as it comes to an end, the livelihood-related damage it has caused continues to wreak havoc on the security of impoverished communities.

In areas like Eastern Africa, the failure of crops and the death of cattle will require substantial recovery efforts. As wells go dry, it is not uncommon for drought-displaced families to spend months on end sleeping on the floor of relief centers.

The El Niño environmental poverty crisis reaches across the globe.  Environmental poverty as a result of drought has put 1.5 million Guatemalans in need of food assistance. 3.5 million people are struggling for food in Haiti, where El Niño amplified the preexisting conditions of a 2014 drought. 15 percent of the population in Honduras and three million in Papua New Guinea are at risk for the same reason.

With these figures representing a mere fraction of the countries and communities suffering due to El Niño, the need for support is expansive. Thankfully, significant action is being taken by the international community and significant aid is being mobilized.

The European Union has contributed 125 milllion euros to areas affected by El Niño, dispersing the aid throughout Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean. This record-breaking contribution from the EU towards the El Niño crises will fund emergency actions.

USAID has relied on early tracking of El Niño-related crises to make their relief actions as effective as possible. They are using in place mechanisms designed to push emergency funds into relevant development programs, while also adjusting existing development programs to accelerate recovery. USAID is focusing their humanitarian aid on the most affected areas, addressing, and often mitigating disaster.

Finally, technological aid has also been a source of relief. Partnerships like UNICEF and the Ethiopian government have allowed satellite technology to be implemented to better locate well-sites and map drought-affected areas.

The combination of technological, financial, and humanitarian aid has been instrumental in addressing the environmental poverty spurred by the 2015-2016 Super El Niño. While these environmental conditions have been disproportionately destructive to the poor, these mechanisms continue to work to mitigate the effects of the El Niño environmental poverty crisis.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: Flickr

food_insecurity_in_Ethiopia
Over the next five months, the El Niño weather system is expected to continue dropping torrential rains in East Africa and causing severe droughts in Ethiopia, which is facing conditions not seen in three decades.

According to the USAID, the number of people facing food insecurity in Ethiopia will likely increase from 2.9 million to over 8 million by the beginning of 2016. But officials say they are ready and confident that systems are in place to mitigate the worst effects of this annual meteorological phenomenon.

“Improved early warning, the establishment of the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as well as serious engagement from the government of Ethiopia means that we are not likely to see the kind of famine conditions witnessed in Ethiopia in earlier decades,” said USAID Director of Food for Peace, Dina Esposito.

Her remarks accompanied the announcement that USAID will commit an additional $97 million to bolster PSNP for at-risk communities in the region.

The Productive Safety Net Program was launched in 2005 by the government of Ethiopia with support from the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide immediate relief from low crop yield and create agricultural sustainability moving forward.

PSNP provides regular food and income transfers to food insecure households over six-month periods during dry seasons, and it obligates aid recipients to participate in training programs on sustainable farming, land rehabilitation and water management.Food_Insecurity_in_Ethiopia

Katana Kusiya, a participant of PSNP in 2009, said that the aid was enough to feed her family of 11 for one month. In exchange, she received training on building wells and capturing rainwater efficiently. This training will hopefully result in communities like Katana’s relying less on sustenance farming and moving toward productive farming.

By investing in the safety net, development partners are hopeful that rural communities will develop an ability to resist the shock of unfavorable weather patterns, like El Niño, and become less food insecure in the long term. In its first three years, the program reached 7.5 million people and delivered 78,000 tons of food.

This newest commitment by USAID will include 154,000 tons of direct food assistance and a $58 million donation to the Catholic Relief Services for the transfer of an additional 105,700 tons of food.

The organizations are acting quickly to provide these transfers in order to ensure that 3.5 million vulnerable households, including refugees from neighboring Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan receive aid in a timely manner.

For UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, El Niño also presents an opportunity to re-engage the conversation about linkages between climate change and food insecurity in countries like Ethiopia during the upcoming climate conference in France.

Severe weather patterns regularly devastate agricultural productivity in developing countries, leading to famine and loss of life. “[El Niño’s] intensity and potential destructiveness should be a wake-up call as world leaders gather in Paris,” he said.

In the meantime, USAID is working quickly to provide the government of Ethiopia with all the support it needs to prevent loss of life this season. $600 million in aid, they estimate, will be required to effectively deal with the emergency.

Ron Minard

Sources: AllAfrica, BBC, IB Times, WFP
Photo: UN Multimedia, Wikipedia

D-Light Solar Energy
An estimated 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity globally. In the 21st century, access to electricity is almost as important as food and water; it is undoubtedly a lifeline for the economic and financial health of any nation.

Inaccessibility to electricity hinders economic growth, as well as impacts the standard of life in regions without electricity, crippling the human capital as well.

The link between access to electricity and poverty has long been established. Modern technology is, more often than not, dependent on electricity.

From successful farming and production of sufficient food to education resources and creation of industry, electricity is the prerequisite for numerous facets of life. The United Nation’s Millennium Goals also identify the importance of electricity in eradicating global poverty.

Despite the significance of electricity in today’s world, many developing countries struggle to find solutions to the problem of accessibility of electricity. To address the problems of electricity shortage, we have to ask what the reason for this shortage is.

The primary cause of unavailability of electricity in most regions is the lack of technology to produce electricity or the lack of resources used for the production, such as coal, gas and water dams.

Solar energy is currently being touted as the cure-all to the energy woes of the world. Solar energy is a renewable source of energy and is also ecologically sustainable.

Although it is by no means the most energy-efficient in terms of the ratio of available energy to harvested energy, solar power is abundant in developing countries and can be harnessed for generating electricity.

Recently, development and provision of solar-powered devices to low-income countries has gained momentum. Programs like Solar Electric Light Fund and Solar Sisters work to empower the populations living in extreme poverty through the provision of electricity and related resources.

d.light is also one such initiative. Its goal is to provide electricity to people in developing countries. According to its estimates based on its customers’ feedback, d.light has helped more than 50 million people worldwide with its program.

d.light was initially developed as the brainchild of Sam Goldman, who saw the dangers of kerosene usage for lamps in East Africa. He partnered with Ned Tozun to find d.light in 2006, which operates principally in East Africa and India.

d.light manufactures solar lamps and solar chargers, which are compact, mobile, safe and incur no recurring costs. Its products are also designed to be efficient, yet inexpensive and long-lasting. d.light’s solar lamp, S2 — at $8 apiece — has the distinction of being the world’s most affordable, high-quality solar light.

The impact of these solar lights is not only financial but environmentally significant as well. Approximately 4 million tons of carbon dioxide production usage have been offset to date.

The solar lamps have cumulatively saved $275 million for families who previously spent 10 to 15 percent of their earnings on kerosene. The program has also created job opportunities by creating a local market for importing and selling d.light’s products.

d.light has sold more than 10 million solar lamps to date. Its goal is to reach 100 million people by 2020. With a dedication to providing affordable, efficient and safe electricity to millions of people in developing countries, d.light is set to realize its objectives and improve millions of lives.

Atifah Safi

Sources: D.light, Acumen, World Energy Outlook, Global Envision
Photo: Pixabay

peace corps
The United States Peace Corps has suspended activity in Kenya, pulling out over 50 volunteers across the country. This is the second time in the last decade Peace Corps volunteers have been evacuated from Kenya for safety reasons.

Tensions are high in the East African state, where a spike in grenade and gunfire assaults over the last couple years, including a mall attack leaving 67 dead last fall, has raised serious concerns by Peace Corps officials on behalf of their volunteers. After a recent security assessment failed to meet the organization’s standards, they felt it necessary to put efforts on hold for an undetermined amount of time until conditions improve.

The Peace Corps press director, Shira Kramer, told Devex that “volunteers’ safety and security are the Peace Corps’ top priorities” and they will reassess the situation “at an appropriate future date to determine if and when volunteers can return.”

The U.S. State Department heightened security measures earlier this year and removed various personnel as well, transferred a regional U.S. Agency for International Development office out of the country, and stationed armed Marines outside and on top of the embassy building.

The Associated Press spoke with three Peace Corps volunteers pulled out of Kenya who attested to the increased emphasis on security by the U.S. government organization. Eventually conditions reached a point where, despite any precautionary efforts, the safety of aid workers could not be guaranteed.

“Some volunteers weren’t very pleased with the level of security they provided, but I’m not sure what they were expecting. We don’t have security guards to protect us, and it’s Kenya, so sometimes bad things happen regardless of any preventative measures,” said volunteer Nick Shcuetz.

“They taught us to be smart about our surroundings and to trust the hairs on the back of our necks to sense whether it was a safe situation or not. And some things like bombings or grenade attacks, you just can’t prepare for other than leaving the country,” he added.

The U.S. was in quiet talks for a while about suspending Peace Corps activity in Kenya. The tipping point was, perhaps, the fatal gunshot to a German tourist on a Kenyan beach just days before the official announcement to withdraw. The Peace Corps volunteers pulled out of Kenya thought the decision was reasonable as well.

The Peace Corps’ ability was able to accurately assess the state of security in Kenya and evacuate its members at what seems like the appropriate point in time. The decision is reinforced by the testimonies of the field workers removed from their stations who, for the most part, felt safe up until just before their removal.

The volunteers and officials recognize that the situation is not victimless, however. The Peace Corps assisted in education, health and community and economic development including HIV/AIDS treatment and counseling for numerous Kenyans. Those who depended on the organization’s services will suffer most until conditions stabilize and any developmental progress boosted by the U.S. will stagnate in the meantime as well.

“Kenya is spearheading the growth and trends of so many sectors in East Africa,” said volunteer Travis Axe. “It is a shame to see such a wonderful program be cut from a country that has so much potential.”

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Daily Mail, Devex, The Star
Photo: Daily Mail

gina_din_kariuki_kenya
While women in Kenya take care of the majority of the agricultural and produce market work, they only earn a fraction of the income their male counterparts do. As an outcome of wage discrimination for women, 40 percent of households in Kenya that are run solely by women are in poverty.

Women’s reliance on men has greatly increased within the past few years, due to state and resource conflicts during wartime. For instance, even though Kenya suffers droughts throughout the year, women are afraid to travel to collect water for their families due to gender-based violence. As a result, young girls cannot gain an adequate education due to the deficiency of proper hygiene and clean water within the school, resulting in low literacy rates. In addition, pregnant adult females who do not have access to clean water are more likely to acquire a water-borne disease, harming both the mother and unborn child.

Women in Kenya are not only restricted in the private realm, but also face restrictions in the public realm. For example, women cannot gain any property or land regardless of their social rank. In fact, after their husband’s death, several widows lost their homes and families because of these harsh gender-based rules. If a woman tries to acquire any property or land for her family, she will be exiled from the household, or even worse, from the community.

Kenyan cultural practices also influence the threat of HIV and AIDS that plague the country. Further, in addition to the medical threats of this disease, it also lowers  women’s self-esteem. Forced sex and inheritance of a widow by male relatives is part of Kenyan culture, yet 1 in 5 adults have HIV, a rate even higher for women.

Besides the negative effects of some cultural practices, women also have a higher rate of experiencing gender inequality, discrimination, gender-based violence and rape. In particular, practices such as gang rapes or forced sexual mutilations continue to be a major issue in communities across the country. Unfortunately, even when these women file rape complaints, police often do not prosecute their perpetrators. Thus, there is no support for victims and survivors of violence.

While there have been reforms to the Kenyan constitution within the past year, such as more rights for female business owners to help grow the economy, they constantly fight to keep their business afloat to support their families. The laws may vary, yet the traditional codes are nevertheless in effect within some communities and villages.

Kenya needs to improve its legal assistance and medical care for women, while ensuring all women receive the highest degree of protection and representation. In addition, girls must have better access to education to improve literacy rates. Even though women voters make up the bulk of the voting population in Kenya, they continue to be seriously underrepresented in politics, making it difficult to achieve these tangible goals. Overall, if women are more included in Kenya’s economy, the country can progress from severe poverty. By bringing women and young girls out of poverty and providing basic political and socio-economic rights, the country can and will grow for the better.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: The Water Project, Foundation for Sustainable Development
Photo: Buzz Kenya

kenya-business
Thus far, Kenya’s economy depends largely on tourism, specifically safari tours. Travelers often spend the night in Nairobi, the region’s gateway to business, before their safari adventure. Kenya also benefits from pineapple production–a top five producer worldwide–through exporting both canned pineapple and juice concentrates. But there is much more to the booming country than tourism and agriculture. So what else is special about this east African nation?

Kenya is Young and Friendly

Youths serve as optimists for the future and in Nairobi, they keep the economy going. More than 60% of the population is less than 25 years old. Kenyans tend to be warm-hearted and welcoming to foreigners. While the national language in Swahili, many Kenyans speak English at a high level and are willing to converse with tourists about Kenyan culture.

While Kenya is sophisticated compared to its East African neighbors, the country still suffers from unemployment and poor infrastructure. Many of Kenya’s young cannot get jobs due to a lack of skills and opportunities.

The Diaspora Returns

Waiting an hour and a half for a pizza in Nairobi? Rotesh Doshi would rather not. After studying at the London School of Economics, he pursued work opportunities abroad. When he had the chance to bring United States-based franchise, Naked Pizza, to Nairobi, he took it and ran with it.

Although it is his hometown, Doshi found many challenges to setting up a business in Nairobi, including poor infrastructure, government bureaucracy and a short supply of skilled human labor. “You often ask yourself ‘is it worth it’ when a lot more things go wrong than right,” Doshi said. “But there is nothing else that I would rather be doing right now, especially being part of that growth story in my own country.”

Promising Entertainment Industry

Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar win for her supporting performance in 12 Years a Slave gives Kenya’s entertainment industry a ray of hope. With 40% of Kenya’s workforce unemployed, and 70% of those being less than 35 years old, successes like Nyong’o’s show young people that they can, in fact, make it in the entertainment sector, which can then boost the economy.

The government hopes to do this through establishing a film school and promoting the entertainment industry as a legitimate avenue for job creation. Kenya looks to Nigeria for inspiration. Nigeria’s film industry, referred to as “Nollywood,” produces about 50 films per week–many more than Hollywood and second only to India’s Bollywood.

Attracting New Businesses

Food processing giant Del Monte set up a Kenyan branch called Cirio Del Monte Kenya to take advantage of the region’s high-yielding pineapple production. In the technology sector, Korean electronics manufacturer Samsung announced plans for a new assembly plant in Nairobi, positioning the city as the East African center of operation.

With businesses like Proctor & Gamble, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and IBM opening regional hubs in Nairobi comes the opportunity for more employment for the country’s youth. Foreign businesses that are setting up their African headquarters in centrally located Nairobi also benefit local businesses, like Kenya Airways.

– Haley Sklut 

Sources: BBC, How We Made It In Africa, All Africa, US Embassy, Career Nation
Photo: Sida

Television_In_Africa
It’s interesting to take a look at how television shows are being watched across the world. In America, there are very specific types of TV shows that viewers have grown accustomed to. Can this be said for other parts of the world? Below are the top five TV shows in Africa. Can you see any similarities?

1. Big Brother Africa

This is a reality TV game show that is much like the Big Brother reality show featured in the US. Randomly selected people from fourteen different African countries are chosen to live together under one roof complete with video surveillance. Millions of viewers watch how the contestants behave in the house and vote to evict housemates every week. The last housemate to be evicted wins a cash prize.

2. Mashariki Mix

Filmed in the East African Region, this TV series focuses on lifestyle living, showing viewers the best places to eat, shop, and, play. The TV show also goes behind the scenes at events, interviewing music artists and culinary icons.

3. Studio 53 Extra

Studio 53 Extra provides the latest fashion news and entertainment gossip in Africa. The show stars co-hosts Eku Edewor and Marcy Dolapo Oni, who update viewers on fashion do’s and don’ts, what to watch, and who to look out for on the big screen.

4. Tinsel

A dramatic soap opera featuring a cast from Nigeria, Tinsel follows the lives of a group of adults highlighting romance, betrayal, and passion along the way. This drama has been sure to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, hooked on the lives of the Tinsel characters.

5. iNkaba

iNkaba is TV series broadcasted in South Africa that explores the region’s social heritage. Depicting the lives of the rich and powerful, the middle class, and the struggling poor, the TV show informs viewers on the often ugly and brutal system of social class, and the factors that bind people to them.

– Chante Owens

Sources: Zen Magazine, Pana Television
Photo: Washington Post