digital identification and the fight against global poverty
As the world continues to populate and technology becomes more widely available, the need for digital identification has become vital in the fight against global poverty. Currently, the World Bank has calculated that nearly one billion people worldwide do not have any formal identification, half of whom are in Africa. Thus, many people are without access to a range of essential services like banking, healthcare and general education.

In response, the World Bank Group began an initiative in 2014 to directly tackle this issue. The Identification for Development (ID4D) organization comprises experts, investors and technologies working to bring every person into the digital world.

What is Digital Identification?

Simply put, digital identification is a process in which an individual’s identity is confirmed through digital channels. A digital ID can range from a government-issued ID to a PIN to biometric data. Digital identification provides multiple important opportunities, such as opening bank accounts, establishing credentials for jobs and gaining access to education. Though these forms of identification seem common, many people struggle daily to prove their identity through these methods.

To understand the importance of identity management, one must understand the value and advantages it brings. In low-income countries, over 45% of women and 30% of men have no ID at all. In addition to the gender gap, a World Bank Group survey cited that the most impoverished 20% are the most likely to lack an ID. This places a veil over these communities, making them virtually “invisible.” It bars them from the opportunities and services that they most need to break out of the cycle of poverty.

However, digital identification can and is changing this. Identification for Development (ID4D) is doing pivotal work in building digital bridges, keeping transparency and empowering communities.

How ID4D Works

The ID4D initiative works in conjunction with 10 World Bank Group sectors that work toward digital expansion, economic inclusion, social safeguards and more for those in need of these services. The program primarily focuses on educating communities on the need and benefit of digital identification. Additionally, the group works alongside governments to implement effective and inclusive digital identification systems. The process of building up communities takes time and research. ID4D, therefore, performs assessments and creates a dialogue to understand the communities it serves.

Who ID4D Serves

Identification for Development serves the global community. For instance, the World Group Bank has supported the Moroccon government by designing and implementing a digital ID system. This project reformed the Moroccan social safety net system into a secure and functional digital society and economy.

Likewise, in West Africa, ID4D is in the beginning stages of implementing a new national ID system. This system will allow for easier access to mutual recognition and authentication processes throughout the area. A part of this project involves setting legal standards, industry standards and overall help promote and establish reliable ID systems between borders.

The Benefits of Digital Identification

There are numerous benefits to bringing underdeveloped regions into the digital atmosphere. First and foremost being the generation and broadening of new markets and customer indexes. Giving untapped markets the ability to tap into the digital realm financially gives poor communities a way to build savings, establish a digital trail, build credit and pay for what they need in micro-payments. Furthermore, digital identification helps to prevent fraud in various aspects. For example, with the help of digital identification, Nigeria and other countries have successfully used biometric records to reduce federal beneficiaries.

Not only does digital identification help communities at large, but it paves the way for women to provide for their families. Women account for around 70% of the world’s working population but receive only 10% of the income. As a result, women cannot afford to help raise their families out of poverty. Therefore, increasing women’s ability to verify their identities allows them to claim their income without issue, creating a highly effective method to combat global poverty.

– Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Kuli KuliKuli Kuli is a company that sells products made from the moringa tree, a superfood that is high in vitamins, antioxidants, plant proteins, anti-inflammatory properties and has twice the nutrient value of kale. The company’s products consist of energy bars, tea shots and a variety of powders and smoothie mixes.

Kuli Kuli: Identifying a Need

Lisa Curtis developed a heart for those living in extreme poverty while serving briefly as a regional youth coordinator for the United Nations. This led her to volunteer for the Peace Corps in 2010 at age 22, which sent her to work at a community clinic in rural Nigeria. While there, she was introduced to a locally-grown energy source, moringa, and was impressed by both its healing properties and nutritional punch. She quickly saw how a moringa market could address not only the malnutrition issues of the people and villages she worked with but also provide business opportunities for local farmers.

Empowering Women Farmers

Moringa has restorative powers for the human body but it turns out that it also has potential for sustainable economic growth. Kuli Kuli addresses these needs simultaneously by working with small but high-quality farmers and establishing supply chains to foster economic growth and nutritional security in West Africa. Notably, most of the farmers that the company works with are women. In 2020, the company sourced moringa from over 2,400 farmers across 13 countries, with the largest group being African women. The company generated $5.2 million for these farmers and helped to plant and preserve over 24,600,000 moringa trees.

Not only does the company help these farms to scale up their businesses but it also provides training to increase the quality of their products and local use of the plant. Moringa is invaluable for farmers. It requires little water, provides restorative properties for the soil and overall is fairly easy to grow, especially in rural regions where the soil is untainted by industrial areas. The company founder’s ambitious vision seeks to eliminate gender inequality, income inequality, global malnutrition and extreme poverty.

Creating a New Market in Moringa

Since its launch in 2014, Kuli Kuli has dominated the market on moringa products. Though moringa grows naturally in parts of Asia, Africa and South America, the company was the first to introduce the superfood to the United States’ wellness market. By 2020, the company was selling products in 11,000 stores nationwide. According to Curtis, the company has averaged 100% growth every year. Some years do even better, as demonstrated by 2017’s Series A financing, which tripled its retail business, and 2019’s $5 million Series B financing deal with Griffith Foods and Kellogg. With this most recent investment, Kuli Kuli plans to expand into moringa ingredient products. Certainly, Griffith Foods’ 30-country chain is quite a catch for the young wellness startup.

Kuli Kuli’s success demonstrates the power of developing new markets in developing countries that expand into developed ones. Not only is the company empowering rural farmers and fighting malnutrition and extreme poverty in developing countries but moringa products are fast climbing the list of top green wellness supplements in the United States. By noticing this virtually untapped international market and being quick to capitalize on it, the company found itself supplying more than half of the U.S. retail moringa market by 2020, a mere six years after its startup.

– Andria Pressel
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Ghana
People have explored the topic of gender rights for many decades as women’s conventional role in modern society drastically changed. This evolution changed how genders interacted with one another and challenged the conventional norms of patriarchy that went unchecked for centuries. Women’s rights in Ghana is important socially and economically. Although ahead of its neighboring counterparts economically, politically and developmentally, there is still a wide gender gap that needs bridging.

Beginning of Women’s Independence

Ghana is a West African country located on the Gulf of Guinea and enjoys a tropical climate. Ghana gained independence from British colonial rule in 1957. There is no denying the role of Ghanaian women’s benefaction to the outcome of this freedom, as it segued into the establishment of the National Council of Ghana Women in 1960. The council’s intent was to empower and benefit women’s rights in Ghana by developing vocational training centers and daycare facilities.

Efforts to propel women to the forefront of the country’s progression were lacking. The numbers show how far behind women were in comparison to their male counterparts. Ghana is “in the bottom 25% worldwide for women in parliament, healthy life expectancy, enrolment in tertiary education, literacy rate, and women in the professional and technical workforce.”

Enrollment in Tertiary Education

Tertiary education illustrated the gender gap in Ghana best. Looking at the reasons separating women from pursuing higher learning exposes the patriarchal ideology woven into society. In general, keeping girls in education raises a country’s GDP. According to a report by Water.org, increasing accessibility for children in Ghana “on a global scale, for every year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 15-25%.”

Impact of Literacy Rates

The impact of literacy is as severe as reducing a country’s GDP. However, with such devastating numbers related to the gender gap in Ghana, the sinking literacy rates had to be addressed. Women in Ghana do not necessarily obtain the ability to read and write from receiving a formal education due to the consequences of the quick development of schools in low-income countries such as Ghana. There is a current disruption in educating students due to the exponential growth within education systems, which impacts the school’s full potential. However, the literacy rate for women in Ghana has made significant progress over the years. According to the World Bank’s data report in 2018, the literacy rate for females aged 15 or older is 74.47%. While the literacy rate for females aged 15 to 24 years old is 92.2%, increasing young girls’ independence.

Women’s Employment and Labor Force

Currently, 46.5% of the labor force in Ghana is female. However, these women participate in domestic labor, such as in the agricultural field, without any pay, which limits their independence. Despite the rights Ghanaian women have gained since the 1960s, the country has recognized that economic growth does not necessarily reduce gender-based employment and wage gaps.

Contrary to the women who receive no pay, women who earn a subsistence wage through agriculture are at risk of significant health issues due to the physically demanding nature. Ghana is a traditional-based society explaining gender-based roles. However, one nongovernmental organization defending women’s rights in Ghana is Womankind. The organization emerged in 1991 with the goal of ending violence against all women in Ghana. This can help increase their social rights and political power within the government. Over 600 women in Ghana received recognition for their professional training experience to construct their own political decisions within the last five years. The secondary school leadership roles consist of 30 young girls who studied management within the organization. As a result, this increases the chances of independence and rights for women in Ghana.

Developing Women’s Rights in Ghana

Women and men are legally equal in Ghana, and women’s rights in Ghana have made significant progress. However, multiple aspects of traditional society affect gender equality, impacting their rights as women. With educational empowerment and recognizing that economic growth does not necessarily mean women are receiving the same job opportunities as men, gender equality will be more promising in Ghana.

Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

west african super grain
Fonio is a millet with small grains native to West Africa. It is a staple of many dishes in the Sahel region of Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Mali. Also, it has been compared to quinoa and teff by several food scientists. The grain, which has a nutty flavor, can be roasted, pounded or boiled to make bread, couscous and porridge. Also, its swift maturity cycle of two months and its health benefits (gluten-free and fiber-rich) has skyrocketed the popularity of this West African super grain across the Atlantic to Western grocery shelves.

The rise of fonio will benefit the farmers in the Sahel struggling with food security and poverty. A semi-arid region, the 10 Sahel countries experience only 12–20 inches of rainfall per year, making it difficult to sustain agricultural prosperity. Additionally, the GDP in this area ranges between $900 to less than $3,000 per capita — with oil and minerals being the main sources of income. Importantly, due to these nations’ fragile, political environments, business relations tend to suffer. Financial experts are looking at crops like fonio already native to the region so citizens in these countries can help grow the economy. In this same vein, activities like farming will help. Here are some ways the West African super grain will bring prosperity to the region. 

Fonio: Loyal to the Homeland

For thousands of years, fonio has flourished in the arid soil of the Sahel region, just south of the Sahara Desert. Land that is not arable is beneficial for it, as the plant grows in poor soil with little to no need for fertilizers. Its long roots assist in providing topsoil and supplying the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Farmers in the Sahel are familiar with its low-maintenance and use the crop’s ability to self-fertilize to grow other crops in conjunction. It is rotated with other crops to keep the desert land as fertile as possible. Since fonio favors dry, arid soil, the Sahel is one of the few regions in the world where mass production is possible. As the West African super grain continues to grow in popularity, its environmental selectiveness will be an advantage for Sahel farmers in monopolizing production and generating wealth in the region.

Fonio in the Culinary World

Pierre Thiam, an acclaimed Senegalese chef, restaurateur, author and culinary ambassador, founded Yolélé Foods to bring formerly unknown West African staples to the Western palate. In particularly, fonio. Earlier this year, Yolélé released a series of pre-seasoned fonio pilafs intended to be ready within minutes of opening. While the company focuses in the Brooklyn area, it imports fonio directly from the Sahel. To help farmers increase productivity, the company partnered with SOS Sahel, a nonprofit focused on improving conditions in the region. Additionally, Yolélé built the first industrial-scale mill in Dakar, the capital of Senegal (where Thiam is from). With the increased demand for the crop, hopes are high that farmers in the region will have a steady source of income for their labors.

Win-Win

If the popularity of the West African super grain is any indication, fonio could reach quinoa’s status in the culinary world. In Western homes, it is quickly becoming a key ingredient for those with celiac disease, as well as in gluten-free households. While citizens of these nations incorporate the grain into their salads, bread and cakes — farmers in the Sahel are working to ensure their way of life is not endangered by poverty and hunger.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr

Leblouh in MauritaniaThe Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a West African nation with a population of more than 4 million people. The country is a “deeply patriarchal society” in which women and girls are taught that they are inferior to men and must please men in order to have a fulfilling life. One manifestation of this culture is the standard of beauty for women, which emphasizes obesity as a sign of wealth, status and desirability. The importance of achieving this beauty standard has resulted in the practice of leblouh, or the force-feeding of girls as young as five until they become obese. The practice of leblouh in Mauritania has serious health effects, but women are fighting against it. Here are five facts about leblouh in Mauritania.

5 Facts About Leblouh in Mauritania

  1. Force-feeding is a relatively common phenomenon: Nearly one out of five women in Mauritania have been force-fed. Leblouh is much more prevalent in rural areas, where traditions and customs are practiced more strictly. A 2007 study found that 75% of rural women had experienced leblouh in Mauritania. At the same time, less than 10% of women and girls in cities and urban areas had experienced force-feeding.
  2. Leblouh has severe consequences on the health and safety of women. During two months at a feeding camp, girls must consume up to 16,000 calories of meat, milk, grains and oils per day. Refusal to eat often results in physical repercussions. Of women in these camps, 60% reported physical punishments like beating. More than a quarter had their fingers broken as punishment. However, the health effects of obesity are a punishment on their own. Overweight women risk conditions like cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea. They also often face harmful psychological effects as well as a short life expectancy. Additionally, obesity puts women at risk for complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
  3. The Mauritanian government is working to combat obesity. It started a media campaign encouraging weight loss and healthier living habits in 2003. Doctors and experts throughout the country supported the campaign, which emphasized the health effects of obesity. However, the lack of media access in rural areas made it hard to communicate these messages to rural communities, where leblouh is more common. Only one-quarter of Mauritanian women watch TV. Additionally, just 27% of women listen to the radio on a weekly basis, and 11% read newspapers. This made it difficult for the government’s campaign to reach its intended audience.
  4. Women-only gyms have opened to encourage weight loss and healthier living habits among Mauritanian women. The first women-only gym opened in the capital city of Nouakchott. As of 2011, it had 300 members. Women joined the gym for various reasons, including doctors’ orders, self-image and the infiltration of Western culture and its emphasis on thinness.
  5. Women-led NGOs have been founded to fight against the practice of leblouh and advocate for women’s empowerment throughout Mauritania. One such organization is Espoire. The leader of Espoire is Fatma Sidi Mohamed, who experienced force-feeding as a child. The organization aims to provide women with more opportunities to earn an income. Mohamed believes that if women can earn their own incomes, they will be less likely to pull their daughters out of school in order to “fatten them up for early marriage.” Espoire teaches women to read, provides classes on health and grants microcredit to women in Nouakchott. This all has the end goal of encouraging women to join the workforce and live healthier lives.

As these five facts about leblouh in Mauritania demonstrate, force-feeding is a widespread and serious issue. The cultural emphasis on obesity poses severe threats to women’s health and social wellbeing. However, this culture seems to be changing in favor of healthier lifestyles, especially in cities.

Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Chocolate Production and Child Labor
When a person craves a quick snack or pick-me-up and runs to the store to grab their favorite chocolate bar, they may not wonder where the chocolate came from in the first place. However, much of cocoa production takes place in West African in places like the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The result of this cocoa harvest is sweet, but the process is quite bitter. Currently, 2 million children in these countries labor to produce chocolate. Over the last few years, measures have removed children from this labor. However, the problematic relationship between chocolate production and child labor has increased from 30% to 41%.

The Conditions of the Children

Children often work on small cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, and mostly as victims of human trafficking. They work day in and day out using machetes and harmful pesticides to harvest cocoa pods. The children are very young and overworked with hunger. Most of them have not even gone to school for many years.

Raising Awareness

The world’s chocolate companies are aware of the atrocities of chocolate production and child labor that are part of their products’ creation. Many have pledged to eradicate child labor in the industry, but have consistently fallen short. In an article in the Washington Post, Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel addressed this issue. They outlined the continuous failure of many large companies to remove child labor from their chocolate supply chain. As a result of these companies’ negligence, the odds are substantial that a chocolate bar in the United States is the product of child labor. Some of the biggest chocolate brands, such as Nestle or Hershey, cannot even claim that child labor is not involved in their chocolate production.

Addressing the Issue

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) is combatting child labor in the chocolate production process. It has been creating plans and programs to break the cycle. Its research and data show that the Ivory Coast and Ghana produce 60% of the world’s chocolate, with a steadily increasing demand for chocolate worldwide. This will likely exacerbate child labor issues instead of stopping them. As the leading funders of child labor combatting programs, ILAB has raised $29 million to fight child labor in chocolate production in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

ILAB formed the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG). It brought together the governments of the Ivory Coast and Ghana and representatives from the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry together. They had essential conversations that are integral in eradicating child labor in the chocolate industry.

The CLCCG works toward eradicating child labor. It has also been integral in raising awareness about this issue and creating resources to combat it. However, it cannot do it all by itself. Governments, stakeholders and large chocolate companies must commit themselves to removing children from harmful environments for the sake of cocoa production.

Looking Ahead

Chocolate production and child labor have gone hand in hand for decades. However, through the efforts of government organizations, the cocoa production process could become as sweet as its end product.

Kalicia Bateman
Photo: Unsplash

Last Mile HealthLiberia borders Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Atlantic Ocean. The West-African nation was established as a settlement by freed American slaves in 1820. Despite gaining independence in 1847, the country suffered from years of instability brought on by the military coup of 1980. Civil war broke out in Liberia in 1986 and endured until late 2003. With 14 years of civil war devastating both the population and the economy, Liberia, now home to nearly five million immigrant and indigenous peoples, has shifted its focus towards recovery. Many efforts acknowledge the inadequacies of healthcare in Liberia, one of them being Last Mile Health.

Founded by Liberian civil war survivors and American healthcare workers in 2007, Last Mile Health is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding healthcare in Liberia by creating a stronger, more resilient public health infrastructure within both urban and remote regions of the country. To date, Last Mile Health is responsible for a plethora of noteworthy improvements in healthcare and health outcomes in Liberia.

Healthcare in the Past

Between 1986 and 2003, 80% of healthcare clinics across Liberia closed their doors as a result of looting, destruction and the exodus of healthcare workers. Only 168 physicians remained in Liberia, predominantly in the capital city of Monrovia. Medical training systems stood on the verge of collapse. Today, nearly 1.2 million people throughout Liberia live more than an hour’s walk from the nearest healthcare facility.

Lack of access to quality healthcare in Liberia has resulted in poor health outcomes for Liberians. Alongside suffering from one of the world’s worst maternal and under-5 mortality rates, malaria, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS and other preventable and treatable illnesses are amongst the leading causes of death and disease in Liberia. A mere 39% of children under two in Liberia have received their recommended vaccinations.

Bringing Care to Patients

Last Mile Health builds community-based primary health systems within Liberia to bring healthcare to the poorest and hardest-to-reach regions. In 2012, Last Mile Health piloted a community health worker program in the Konobo District of Liberia that resulted in an unprecedented 100% coverage of the district by healthcare personnel. This pilot program has since been replicated, extending primary healthcare in Liberia to 1.2 million people.

Training Healthcare Workers

In 2017, Last Mile Health launched the Community Health Academy to strengthen the clinical skills of community health workers in Liberia. The Community Health Academy provides training to health care leaders to help them build resilient and effective public health infrastructure. As of 2019, more than 16,000 healthcare personnel from around the world have enrolled in the academy’s courses.

Improving Health Outcomes

In 2010, Last Mile Health launched Liberia’s first rural, public HIV/AIDS treatment program. The program exists in over 19 of Liberia’s public clinics.

By increasing access to and quality of healthcare in Liberia, Last Mile Health has increased the number of children receiving malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea treatment by over 40%, resulting in a significant reduction in under-5 mortality rates and improvement in child health outcomes. Maternal health outcomes have improved as more women can access skilled birth attendants and facilities for delivery and maternal care.

Increasing Average Life Expectancy

The average life expectancy for Liberians continues to increase each year as healthcare in Liberia rebuilds and recovers. By linking community healthcare workers with nurses, doctors and midwives at community clinics and equipping workers with the knowledge and skills that they need, Last Mile Health continues to fulfill its mission of bringing life-saving care to people in even the most remote areas of the country.

Last Mile Health promises a future in which no patient is out of reach from quality healthcare in Liberia. In the years to come, the nonprofit organization intends to expand its reach within Liberia and across Africa.

– Alana Castle
Photo: Flickr

Ebola outbreakThe Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has ravaged countries in sub-Saharan Africa since its identification in 1976. Overall, there have been 34 outbreaks of Ebola in Western Africa, 11 of which have occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The largest Ebola outbreak, considered a global pandemic, lasted from 2014 to 2016. It mostly affected countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. At the time, a total of 11,310 deaths were reported due to the disease.

The fatality rate for Ebola has ranged between 25% and 90%, depending on the severity of the outbreak and on the healthcare infrastructure of affected countries. The more modern and accessible these systems were, the more efficient the surveillance and treatment options. The second-largest outbreak of Ebola began in the Kivu region of the DRC on Aug. 1, 2018, and was only declared over as recently as June of 2020.

Containment in the DRC

Comparing the 2014 Ebola outbreak with the one that occurred in 2018 reveals a relative improvement. From 2014 to 2016, there were 28,616 EVD cases that resulted in 11,310 deaths. On the other hand, from 2018 to 2020, there were only 3,481 cases and 2,299 deaths reported.

DRC’s commendable public health response to the 2018 Ebola outbreak led to this outcome. Pre-existing infrastructural inadequacies and a lack of trust in health care officials have been the major challenges faced during Ebola occurrences. Though many of these problems continue, the better use of surveillance, contact tracing, prevention strategies and safe burial practices have greatly shaped how the most recent outbreak developed. Additionally, the global health community has made strides in vaccine development and treatment programs, making the defeat and containment of this epidemic possible.

Safe and Dignified Burials

Because the virus is transmitted through direct contact with an infected individual (living or deceased), traditional burial practices that require family members to wash the body pose a significant risk to communities during Ebola outbreaks.

In 2014, rural populations of Sierra Leone experienced surges in reported Ebola cases as a direct result of community members’ attending funerals and touching infected corpses. Since then, the CDC, the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the WHO have provided guidelines for safe protocols when handling potentially infected corpses. These protocols involve trained personnel and extensive personal protective equipment (PPE). During the recent contained Ebola outbreak, 88% of funerals utilized safe and dignified burial practices.

Vaccination Efforts

As a result of the most recent epidemic, 16,000 local responders and 1,500 WHO health workers collaborated to provide effective vaccines to 303,000 people. Individuals were considered eligible for vaccination if they had previous contact with an infected individual or were a frontline worker in an affected or at-risk area. Treatment centers, field laboratories and an Ebola national care program were also set up to care for patients, providing weekly test samples and follow-up with survivors.

EVD versus COVID-19

The world has seen other deadly viruses before COVID-19. SARS, Ebola and even the annual flu are some examples. COVID-19 stands out because it is easily spreadable and the rate of asymptomatic transmission is high. Asymptomatic transmission occurs when individuals don’t know they are infected and, as a result, spread the virus without knowing. Even though Ebola is highly contagious toward the end of the infection period, infected individuals show intense symptoms, so it is not easy for the virus to fly under the radar as COVID-19 tends to do.

Moreover, while health responses against Ebola are significant in fighting the spread of the virus, the vaccine and treatments are the real superheroes in protecting large populations and infected patients from the virus. As the world witnessed in the 2014 outbreak, Ebola left a devastating death toll in its wake without a vaccine. There are currently no viable vaccine or treatment options for the coronavirus, although development is currently in progress.

Moving Forward

Because preparedness plays a large role in within-country health responses, it is hopeful that future Ebola outbreaks will be contained. The health responses, vaccination programs and treatment options utilized by the DRC are applicable to other countries as well. Aid from WHO and other health agencies will lessen the threat of Ebola in Western Africa and the world.

– Nye Day
Photo: Flickr

Fighting extremism in West AfricaWhile mainly known for causing violence and havoc in the Middle East, Islamic extremists have been expanding their presence in the West African and Sahel regions for years. Most of these groups are affiliated with either the Islamic State (such as Boko Haram) or Al Qaeda (such as Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimi). These groups have carried out unspeakable atrocities in the West African region: kidnapping schoolgirls, recruiting child soldiers, targeting civilian markets and villages, committing massacres against herders and killing American special forces operators. As a result of these actions, nearly one million people in Burkina Faso have been internally displaced, along with 240,000 in Mali and a near half-million from Nigeria.

Poverty Brings Extremists to West Africa

West Africa is an attractive target for jihadist groups because of its extreme poverty levels, lack of government law enforcement and scarcity of basic services. In West Africa, 30% of the population lives on around $1.90 a day; in Nigeria, 60% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Government services such as electricity and education are also lacking; 70% of impoverished girls in Niger never attended primary school.

In exchange for recruits, jihadist groups are providing services such as medical aid, protection and access to water. It is widely known that poverty creates conditions advantageous to radical groups. For instance, Boko Haram has pushed into the Lake Chad region, which suffers from particularly poor governance. They use the area as a base to conduct offensive operations against the surrounding villages. The same strategy has helped many radical groups gain traction in West Africa. Knowing this illuminates how to fight extremism in West Africa.

The Path Forward

One path toward fighting extremism in West Africa is providing basic services to the local population. Many governments’ military forces have had a reputation for human rights abuses. They are now trying to win over local populations by providing vital services. This helps governments gain legitimacy in the minds of the people, while it helps them combat terrorism.

Another solution is an initiative known as African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), which aims to create a single market in the African Union. Such an agreement would create a large free trade zone that would increase the prosperity of many countries in the African Union. This will address some of the socioeconomic conditions that create weak states. These conditions often make regions vulnerable to radical groups, so AfCTA can also help fight extremism in West Africa. The United States, particularly Congress and the White House, has largely supported this initiative.

Fighting extremism in West Africa will require multi-level analysis and solutions. Focusing on military-oriented solutions may seem tempting, but these are only short-term quick fixes. Instead, new organizations and initiatives must address the root causes of extremism. Increasing governmental support and bringing prosperity to the people of West Africa is the surest way to prevent jihadist groups from gaining greater influence in the region.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Ghana, a small country located in West Africa, has dealt with tremendous economic struggles since the 1990s. Positive strides are being made to alleviate the economic crisis and improve the situation today, specifically for people experiencing poverty in Ghana. For example, in recent years, Ghana has achieved astronomical progress toward alleviating the economic burdens on its citizens. In the last two decades, Ghana has lowered its poverty rate by more than 30%. Its GDP increased 8% by 2006, the highest it has ever been. Significant changes were made to facilitate this progress in Ghana. First, the nation diversified its economy to create more products and services in different sectors. This led to increased consumerism and employment amongst the residents, which allowed Ghana’s economy to flourish.

Ghana Still Faces Poverty Challenges

Although many improvements were made to foster a steady economy in Ghana, many of its citizens still face significant challenges. Similar to the United States, when Ghana adopted a consumerist culture it consequently increased the wealth disparity within many regions. This affected the Upper West and the Upper East Regions, where the poverty rate has either increased or remained static.

The disparities among poverty rates in Ghana are a direct effect of geographical locations and climate. The lack of infrastructure, such as roads, in the Northern Region of Ghana, makes it difficult to transport goods and products. Despite these disparities, many families in both the Upper West and Upper East Regions have found creative means of accumulating extra income, such as the production of Shea butter. Some businesses, like Star Shea, provide loans for women as a means of starting production and accommodating transportation costs. 

In fact, many women believe these loans were advantageous in pursuing more educational opportunities. For example, Mrs. Atorneygene, a local resident in Ghana, utilized the proceeds from her Shea butter production to provide educational tools for her granddaughter. Changes being made on a local level, such as the production of Shea butter,  have proved to be beneficial in providing opportunities to marginalized regions.

Big Changes for Ghana

Changes on a national scale have also been instrumental in Ghana’s progress toward poverty reduction. According to the United Nations, Ghana plans to enact a Development Fund for its northern regions, especially areas with limitations in technology and other resources. In contrast to past politicians, John Nabila, former President of the National House of Chiefs, reinstated $1 billion toward the Development Fund. The government plans on prioritizing funds toward infrastructure and communications in order to unify Ghana and limit the economic disparities between these regions.

In addition, external organizations, such as The Hunger Project, are working toward alleviating poverty in Ghana. Since 1995, The Hunger Project has aided over 300,000 people by focusing on improving infrastructure, education reform and sanitation. The project focuses on building community centers, or “epicenters”, in order to collectively unify communities within Ghana and provide resources, such as electricity and clean water. As of now, over 40 epicenters receive clean water and sanitation, and almost all of them have health committees and clinics.

Even with the problems that Ghana has faced in the past, the nation has reached tremendous milestones and has made effective improvements within the last decade. With the help of the government, The Hunger Project and people in the community, Ghana has been able to make positive changes relating to its economy and wealth disparities. Now, a precedent has been set by Ghana regarding the instrumental changes needed to alleviate poverty.

– Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr