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USAID programs in RwandaUSAID has worked in Rwanda since 1964, when Rwanda gained independence. It strives to improve the economic capability, social climate and environmental well-being of the world’s most vulnerable and poor people, and is creating an environment of self-reliance in the recipient nation and nurturing a climate in which a wealth of benefits are enjoyed. USAID programs in Rwanda focus on food provision in commodities and assist in health care and sanitation provisions, later expanding to look at economic policy more systematically while supporting maternal health and private enterprise development.

Poverty in Rwanda

Since the turn of the century, poverty has been declining promisingly in Rwanda, especially when looking at Rwanda’s domestic poverty line. The country experienced an 18.5% decrease in the number of people living in poverty between 2005 and 2016. Median consumption and inequity also all moved favorably in all regions, with increased possession of household assets such as mobile phones, irrigation and electricity all of which facilitate the further ascension from poverty.

However, between 2022 and 2024, the World Bank forecasted only a 2 percentage point drop in those living in poverty, due to the decreasing magnitude of the effect between GDP per capita increase and poverty decrease.

The population is vulnerable to malaria, with an incidence of 76 out of every 1,000 at risk in 2022. Malaria epidemics tend to strain a country’s resources, hindering poverty alleviation.

Also, Rwanda’s public sector has been running consistent fiscal deficits with an increase in public debt over the last few years, this has led to a very high debt-to-GDP ratio (56.7% in 2019), making poverty alleviation spending for Rwanda more risky and sparing.

Household Economic Security and Innovation

USAID has issued the largest development investment grant for a decade, through its Development Innovation Ventures program, in a continued effort to assist in the alleviation of extreme poverty, through USAID programs in Rwanda. The nonprofit organization Village Enterprise, which seeks to scale its operations in poverty alleviation in Rwanda, will utilize this $6.5 million grant, and will implement it via its programs on the ground, targeting people at the individual level and also state level. This is an extremely useful source of funding for the organization to roll out its “Poverty Graduation” model. This will allow individual households to innovate and be entrepreneurial, helping themselves out of poverty.

For more than 30,000 impoverished households, Village Enterprise is now ready to provide training and skills within the realm of business and finance, through a year-long mentored program. This, in the hope of encouraging entrepreneurship, will allow households set up a diverse range of businesses, including retail sales of clothing and also more technical services such as bike repairs. Government staff and parasocial workers will mentor the individuals and this flourishes from another avenue of the utility of this grant.

Village Enterprise will train government personnel to be capable mentors who teach household entrepreneurs how to be successful, as well as monitor the capability and efficacy of government programs.  Over time, this could enable Rwanda to self-sustain its development and achieve its goal to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030, as part of its NSSG.

Health Care Support

In terms of health initiatives, USAID programs in Rwanda work with local governments within the country, to improve the function of their health services. This means that they can more adequately access finance and manage their agencies, whilst USAID facilitates the supply of drugs to treat illnesses and also aids in the monitoring of potential future diseases. More specifically, the USAID program in malaria reduction has led to the provision of mosquito nets, and insecticide spray has led to a decrease in malaria incidence by as much as 70% in some rural villages.

More recently, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, community health workers were able to transfer their knowledge in identifying and isolating malaria cases in Rwanda, through more sophisticated monitoring and tracking practices. Materially Rwanda has received 32% of its total vaccine supply from the U.S. Disease and mortality relief plays a large role in poverty reduction, as greater access to health care allows for greater economic participation, stops a loss of talented human capital due to death, and facilitates a decline in birth rates, stopping overpopulation and overstrain on state resources.

Educational Initiatives

USAID programs are present in every public school in Rwanda. The organization launched its new LEARN project in 2020. This built upon the previous USAID programs in Rwanda, furthering educational objectives by increasing focus on alleviating the gender disparities women face in education and creating a program that includes vulnerable and disabled people so that the program is as effective for them as for others. Rwanda has experienced great success in education with 2,742,551 children in primary school in 2022, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa.

The core of the mission is to be able to “improve the literacy outcomes for all Rwandan children by the end of Grade 3,” according to USAID. The LEARN project is working to alleviate poverty amongst women and girls by changing some of the cultural and social stigmas associated with women and education, for example, by creating inclusive teaching environments, to mitigate the issue of teacher behaviour negatively influencing female participation, and facilitating the uptake of more teaching roles by women through mentoring programs.

USAID programs continue to be successful, with non-readers in Rwanda standing at 20% in 2022, a 27% drop from 2018. This is especially positive when viewed in the context of post-COVID-19 activity, which yielded a worldwide reading loss.

The Future

Future grants will support proven solutions to reduce poverty and promote self-reliance. The World Bank recognizes the importance of encouraging domestic savings in Rwanda’s development. This includes creating business opportunities and learning how to manage them. Alongside aid, there appears to be a need for infrastructural improvements and a strong welfare system for health, education and social services. These measures can potentially foster a culture of savings and investment, reducing poverty in Rwanda in the long term.

– Tevin Muendo
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG 15 in Rwanda Are Increasing Community and Wildlife Welfare Rwanda is in the process of healing the deep scars that genocide, a lacking international response and associated conflict has left in their wake. As a country, it is making significant strides toward higher levels of equity and poverty reduction. To tackle these major issues, emphasis has been placed on addressing the drivers of suffering, namely the protection of natural resources, support of industry and food security. Updates on SDG 15 in Rwanda, which encourages the protection, restoration and management of the species and habitats in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, have been key to contributing to Rwandan welfare

What Are the SDG 15 Activities Taking Place in Rwanda?

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UNHSP) have partnered with several on-the-ground partners like the Rwanda Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, African Development Bank and Rwanda Environment Management Authority to implement initiatives that support SDG 15 across the country.

Several of these initiatives began in 2018 and ended this year, making it an ideal time to reflect on the updates on SDG 15 in Rwanda. These activities have supported scientific studies and enhanced natural resource sustainability and community resilience. They have also undertaken ecosystem restoration and reduced poverty. 

The National Strategy for Transformation (NST) is a program that will run from 20172024, working toward the first targets in the country’s Vision 2050 plan. It focuses on poverty alleviation through economic and social transformation and transformation of governance. Activities like the multi-sectoral Green Growth and Climate Resilient Strategy (GGCRS) prioritize welfare by focusing on the environment. This translates to direct, tangible benefits. Rwanda’s GDP per capita has grown to $1,030 USD, a national GDP growth of 6.2%

Rwanda’s government has pledged two million hectares of forest restoration by 2030. It has already reached its target of covering 30% of the country with forests. This is a key step for the welfare of Rwandan communities since forest resources are widely used. In fact, more than 94% of Rwandans rely on wood as a main source of energy. Many also generate income through the country’s forests. Freshwater ecosystems are being systematically managed, and nationwide campaigns encourage people to use and manage freshwater resources more sustainably.

The Protection of Natural Resources and All Life on Rwandan Land

Natural resource health is a defining factor of welfare across the world. The ability to generate income, access the mental health benefits of nature and directly benefit from resource use are all fundamental reasons to properly manage and care for the natural environment. 

Rwanda is home to roughly 40% of all species of African mammals—more than a thousand species of birds, hundreds of reptiles and amphibians and nearly 6,000 species of plants. Some of these, like the charismatic mountain gorilla, are only found in two other countries: the DRC and Uganda. The survival of these plants and animals also depends on the welfare of Rwanda’s terrestrial habitats. 

From chimpanzees to leopards and forests to savannahs, the updates on SDG 15 in Rwanda have protected many species and habitats against several compounding pressures that currently threaten their existence and health. In one case, the mountain gorilla has made a promising conservation come-back. The population has grown from only a few hundred individuals in 2010 to more than a thousand today. This has directly impacted the communities in Rwanda. Community-based tourism programs depend on the health of mountain gorilla populations and other captivating species. These programs further improve the welfare of local communities by funding development projects and supporting the development of sustainable incomes.

How SDG 15 Supports Rwandan Industry and Food Security 

The industries that SDG 15 supports—namely agriculture, forestry and fisheries—account for 29% of Rwanda’s total GDP, which reached record profit levels in 2019. About 47% of Rwanda’s land is suitable for agriculture, and 66.5% of the population works in agriculture. This makes it a popular choice for income generation. 

Roughly 3.9 million Rwandan farmers and their families depend on the health and proper management of land for their survival. These individuals and communities consistently confront issues addressed by SDG 15, including habitat degradation, land stakeholdership issues and soil erosion. 

As of 2022, 82% of Rwanda’s population is recorded as living rurally. An enormous 80% of these individuals also participate in subsistence farming. These farmers and their families are wholly dependent on the health of the country’s land. By maintaining and protecting land, the government of Rwanda can address the needs of its farmers and agricultural sector. It can also support the food security of its subsistence communities and simultaneously improve individual poverty levels.

Looking Forward

Through the management of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, the Rwandan government ensures the survival of its major economies and the well-being of its citizens. The health and utility of Rwandan land are so integral to the future of the country that agriculture, linked to the generation of wealth, has been named a pillar in Rwanda’s national development strategy: Vision 2050

Future work on the SDGs in Rwanda will likely have profound effects on both wildlife and community welfare. As a land-locked country, the well-being and management of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems are imperative to ensuring the survival and resilience of all life.

– Mirali Shukla
Photo: Pixabay

Despite the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of the end of the pandemic’s emergency phase, the economic and social consequences of COVID-19 continue to affect the world. According to the World Bank, the pandemic pushed an additional 97 million people into poverty in 2020, leaving governments struggling to recover from its widespread devastation. For example, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Rwanda has been particularly severe.

The Disruptive Impact of COVID

When the pandemic hit, Rwanda experienced a sharp decline in GDP, with a 39.1% drop during a six-week lockdown. Simultaneously, the national poverty rate increased by 10.9%. As a result, around 1.3 million people out of a population of approximately 13.4 million temporarily fell into poverty due to the effects of COVID-19. The pandemic disrupted the U.N’s Vision 2020 objectives in poverty reduction strategies, which had shown promising results in the past.

Previously, Rwanda had experienced an economic boom, including a real economic growth of 9.4% in 2019. It had also benefited from large foreign investment in industries such as hospitality and travel.

Rwanda, similar to many other countries, faced significant economic challenges due to the pandemic. A study conducted by Private Enterprise Development in Low-Income Countries revealed that 80% of businesses were closed from March to April 2020. By January 2021, the average business had laid off 25% of its workforce. 

The pandemic also affected education in Rwanda, with approximately 3.5 million students being unable to attend school as usual. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Rwanda has been especially harsh on women, who are often only able to secure employment in seasonal jobs.

The Government’s Response

The Rwandan government responded swiftly to the crisis, implementing various measures in March 2020, including a lockdown, border closure, curfew and social distancing requirements. In March 2021, an Economic Recovery Plan was introduced, featuring an Economic Recovery Fund worth $100 million to support severely affected businesses. The plan specifically targeted the once-thriving travel sector, providing financial assistance to 138 hotels. Additionally, the government allocated funds to educational institutions and factories, aiming to facilitate the return to school and work.

Recovery and Investment Abroad

Rwanda has attracted foreign investors and regained economic confidence. For instance, it received $200 million from the Asian Infrastructure Bank and raised $650 million through a Eurobond. These investments stimulated the Economic Recovery Fund, allowing the country to diversify its economy and foster innovation. The World Bank reported a 1.2% reduction in poverty by the end of 2020 as a result of these initiatives. And the government’s rapid response also ensured continued access to education, health care and nutrition.

NGO Findings

Innovations for Poverty Action surveyed Rwandan people as part of its Research for Effective COVID-19 Responses, which informed government policy in responding to the pandemic. Collecting information on health, food security, finance resilience, education and employment, it recommended policies in line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing an opportunity to boost Rwanda’s economy with these in mind. In the case of addressing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty, local charitable organizations continue to make efforts. The Dufatanye Organisation, for example, has fundraised for food support for those living with type 1 diabetes during the pandemic due to poverty’s impact on access to medication. Other organizations like the Centre Marembo Organization have also tried to address the impact of COVID-19 on the homeless by fundraising and mobilizing communities.

Moving Forward

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped global perspectives on community, economics and society, once again highlighting the issue of poverty. Despite the disruptive impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Rwanda, the government’s swift response has set the country on a path to strong economic recovery in 2021. Industrial production, exports and agricultural output have shown significant increases, leading to more employment opportunities and helping people escape poverty caused by the pandemic.

In conclusion, while the pandemic’s effects on poverty have been substantial, Rwanda’s proactive measures and collaborative efforts have laid the foundation for recovery and progress.

Rosie Lyons

Photo: Wikimedia

 Mental Health in Rwanda Rwanda is a small country in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda has struggled to become a stable country economically and politically since it became independent in 1962. As a developing country, Rwanda is still trying to develop its healthcare system. With years of conflict and instability, people especially struggle with mental health in Rwanda.

5 Facts About Mental Health in Rwanda

  1. The Rwandan Genocide plays a significant role. Roughly 25% of Rwandan citizens struggle with PTSD and one in six people suffer from depression. The reason why so many Rwandans have mental health conditions can be explained by one key event in Rwandan history. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. The mass genocide caused severe trauma to survivors who still suffer from mental health issues 26 years after the event.
  2. Rwanda has very few resources. According to the World Health Organization, Rwanda has only two mental health hospitals, zero child psychiatrists, and only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. With a large amount of the population plagued by mental health issues, Rwanda needs more resources to help the mentally ill.
  3. Suicide rates have greatly decreased in Rwanda. In 2016, the suicide rate in Rwanda was 11 deaths per 100,000 people. This is a great improvement compared to the 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2000. An increase in mental health resources contributes to the lowering of the suicide rate in Rwanda.
  4. Increased mental health funding is essential. The average mental health expenditure per person in Rwanda is 84.08 Rwandan francs. Most citizens of Rwanda do not have the financial resources to afford mental healthcare. The government currently uses 10% of its healthcare budget on mental health services. Considering how large the mental health crisis is, the government should increase its expenditure to address the crisis. Since citizens cannot afford to pay for mental health resources, the government will need to help provide more free or affordable resources.
  5. The Rwandan Government is updating policies to address mental health. In 2018, Rwanda’s updated strategic plan for its health sector set new targets for expanding mental health care services. Its purpose is to help increase access to mental health resources by decentralizing mental health and integrating it into primary care. Also, this plan calls for a decrease in the cost of mental healthcare and an increase in the quality of care. The plan hopes to accomplish strategic goals by 2024. If successful, this plan may be used as a method to help other countries establish a quality mental health plan.

The Road Ahead for Rwanda

Considering Rwanda’s violent history, it is no surprise that the population struggles with mental health. Over the years, progress has been made with regard to mental health in Rwanda. However, many more resources are needed to help address the mental health crisis in Rwanda. With Rwanda’s updated strategic plan to address the issue and an increase in expenditure, the well-being of Rwandan’s will be positively impacted.

Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

Impact Investing in RwandaImpact investing is a growing industry with huge potential for combatting poverty around the world. The practice consists of firms and individuals directing capital to businesses and enterprises that have the capacity to generate social or environmental benefits. Traditional businesses tend to avoid such investments due to the high level of risk, low liquidity and general difficulty to exit if returns are not satisfactory. Most impact investing is done by particularly adventurous capitalists as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that aim to create social change. Impact investing in Rwanda, in particular, has yielded positive results.

AgDevCo

AgDevCo is an example of a social impact investing firm that aims to invest with the intention of reducing poverty and increasing opportunity in developing regions. Based in the United Kingdom, AgDevCo was incorporated in 2009 and has engaged in numerous projects since.

The firm’s specific area of investment is in African agriculture, where it believes that impactful investments have the potential to be a significant force in reducing poverty. The firm is currently investing in eight different African countries. Its portfolio includes $135 million worth of funds in 50 different companies. These investments have engaged more than 526,000 customers and have created or sustained more than 15,000 different jobs.

Uzima Chicken Limited

One of its investment projects is a partnership with the East African poultry company, Uzima Chicken Limited. Uzima Chicken produces and distributes the Sasso breed of chickens. Sasso chickens are resistant to disease and can feed through scavenging. These beneficial traits make Sasso chickens particularly useful in the struggle to reduce poverty in East Africa.

In 2017, AgDevCo invested $3 million to support Uzima’s establishment in Rwanda. As a result of the investment, Uzima gained funds necessary for rapid operational growth as a domestic producer of poultry. This is in line with the government of Rwanda’s strategy to achieve poultry self-sufficiency in two to three years. Uzima has also been able to expand into Uganda, where its business is rapidly scaling upwards.

The Uzima Business Model

The Uzima model of business involves the employment of company agents who raise the chicks for six to eight weeks before selling them to low-income households in rural areas. Such a model provides benefits to farmers, who can increase income through the sale of the more valuable Sasso chickens, as well as the agents.

Agents typically make a 25% profit from selling chickens. A survey of Uzima agents found that, on average, 27% of household income came from selling Sasso chickens. By providing a reliable source of extra income for employed agents, Uzima helps to alleviate the burdens of poverty for these people. As of 2017, the efforts had created 150 new jobs, 40% of which are held by women. Rwandan women have benefitted significantly from Uzima’s employment with 64% of women agents reporting that the income they earned from selling Sasso chickens led to a positive change in the decision-making power they had in their households.

Impact Investments for Poverty Reduction

Uzima’s Sasso chickens grow faster, live longer, produce more eggs and have higher market prices. They are disease-resistant and thrive in local, rural conditions. Out of all the customers buying these chickens, 54% live below the $2.50 poverty line. AgDevCo investment gave Uzima the capital necessary for operational expansion, and as a result, a greater quantity of impoverished people in East Africa could buy superior chickens and increase income. Uzima’s business also has clear potential for women’s empowerment, making it a great tool in the effort to reduce poverty and inequality in the region.

The impact investments made by firms like AgDevCo have clearly measurable impacts in impoverished regions, particularly noting the success of impact investing in Rwanda. This makes impact investment firms an important part of the global effort to reduce all poverty.

Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

Sugira MuryangoAround the world, the effects of poverty negatively impact childhood development in more than 200 million children. Child development outcomes play a key part in a country’s advancement and the state of the economy. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “Children living in compounded adversity face increased risks of poor child development outcomes and emotional and behavioral problems that can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and violence.” However, in 2016, the implementation of an innovative home-visiting intervention program in Rwanda called Sugira Muryango is fighting to break these cycles.

Violence and Intergenerational Poverty

In past studies, social programs aimed toward child development have been more focused on mothers of the households. However, the developers of Sugira Muryango (researchers at Boston College’s School of Social Work and the nonprofit FXB Rwanda) chose to implement this program to focus more on the father’s role within the household and child’s life.

Rwanda is a key place to evaluate this program due to the persistent household violence and gender roles within Rwandan society. Traditionally, Rwandan society has held few expectations for fathers within the household. However, a positive male figure plays an important role in a child’s developmental outcomes.

The data of some surveys taken in Rwanda by Promundo and the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre on masculinity and gender-based violence convey shocking truths. The surveys reported that 73% of men and 82% of women agreed with the statement, “a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home” and 44% of men and 54% of women agreed that “a woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together.” Lastly, 45% of men saw their dads beat their moms in childhood and 38% of those men became violent toward their own partners in adulthood. Men who witnessed violence at home as children were more likely to perpetuate it, indicating that children emulate behavior, both positive and negative.

Methods Used in the Sugira Muryango Program

As a response to this violence, Sugira Muryango was implemented as a home-visiting intervention program that targets the poorest households with young children (aged between 6 months and 26 months) in Rwanda. The program offers coaching to caregivers of the household in order to teach parents, specifically fathers, positive caregiving practices, nutrition skills, hygiene skills and basic involvement.

The program uses methods of home visits and caregiving coaching in order to improve family relations. The family-based model aims to encourage responsive and positive interactions as well as discourage violence and harsh punishment. In providing this coaching through these methods, it is possible to improve not only parent-child relations but also child development outcomes. With these improved outcomes, Rwanda should see improvements as the children reach adulthood and in breaking the cyclical poverty which should then improve Rwanda’s general development as a country. 

The Impacts of the Program in Rwanda

Not only did the results of the program aid in the decrease of violence within Rwandan homes but it also helped improve mental health rates among Rwandan fathers. Furthermore, reports indicate changes in parents’ behaviors towards the child, including responsive care and play, dietary diversity, care-seeking for child health problems and reduced family violence.

Potential Global Impacts

The Sugira Muryango program is playing an important role in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty within Rwanda. Although the lasting effects of this program need to be studied as the children grow, the immediate effects have aided in reducing violence and improving family relationships. If integrated into other low to middle-income communities and countries, the overall effects should be promising in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty on a global scale.

– Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in RwandaRwanda, an East African country, has a population of about 12.3 million. Around 45% of the country’s population, roughly 5.4 million, are under the age of 18. The rate of poverty has decreased from 59% to 40% since 2000. Additionally, the rate of extreme poverty was reduced to 16% from 40%. While the country achieved its Millennium Development Goals, child poverty in Rwanda continues to be a significant issue faced by the population. Therefore, Rwanda aims to end child poverty with one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets focusing on reducing the number of impoverished children by half by 2030.

The Effects of Child Poverty in Rwanda

The rate of impoverished Rwandan children ages 0 to 17 is 39%. Children disproportionately undergo the struggles of poverty and it significantly impacts their well-being since they lack basic needs. Impoverished families in Rwanda, especially in rural areas, experience high rates of mortality among children under the age of 5. About 50 children out of 1,000 births in the country do not live past the age of 5 years old..

Impoverished children also struggle greatly with malnutrition. As a result, many children face low birth weight and infections. Malnutrition creates lasting effects on children, specifically in terms of cognitive development and physical growth. Furthermore, Rwandan children struggle with the impact of poor sanitation. A clean and safe source of water within 500 meters of a house is only accessible to 47% of Rwandan households. Additionally, 64% of households own a latrine. Lack of access to quality sanitation and water sources contributes to 38% of Rwandan children being stunted.

Child Poverty in Rural and Urban Areas

In terms of deprivation of sanitation, water, housing, education and health due to poverty, there is a gap between children living in rural areas and children residing in urban areas. Moreover, 83.5% of the rural population in Rwanda consists of children. In urban areas, 38% of children ages 0 to 23 months undergo multiple deprivations as opposed to 61% of children in rural areas. Additionally, in urban areas, 22% of children ages 15 to 17 are considered “multidimensionally poor” with a deprivation rate of 16% among children ages 5 to 14. On the other hand, in rural areas, the deprivation rate of children ages 5 to 14 is 32% and 50% of children ages 15 to 17 are “multidimensionally poor”.

Government Solutions

The Rwandan Government has worked toward further developing its Vision Umurenge Social Protection (VUP) program by including child-sensitive social protection. In 2011, the government passed Law N.54 to protect children’s rights but there is inequality in the law’s implementation, which prevents children from receiving its full benefits.

While Rwanda has witnessed a recent decrease in child poverty, through a Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA), UNICEF provides recommendations to further efforts to eradicate poverty among children. UNICEF suggests increasing the support provided by the Rwandan Government’s social protection program, VUP, to give children greater access to social services and to decrease the number of deprivations due to poverty. Furthermore, UNICEF recommends that the social protection program considers overlapping deprivations when providing services. UNICEF also emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the most vulnerable groups of children, especially those living in rural areas and children ages 0 to 23 months.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

urban overpopulationAfrica’s urbanization has been rapidly increasing. For example, sub-Saharan Africa is regarded as the world’s fastest urbanizing region. This increase in urbanization is related to the increase in people migrating into urban areas. However, urbanization often leads to overpopulation. Here is how urban overpopulation impacts sub-Saharan Africa and what African countries are doing to solve it through infrastructure development.

Rural-Urban Migration

African cities have fast-growing population growth. The UN reports that urban population growth has evolved “from about 27% in 1950 to 40% in 2015 and is projected to reach 60% by 2050.” This pressure has led to the over-exploitation of infrastructural resources like roads and markets. Many rural areas in Africa are remote, and they have fewer job opportunities. Accordingly, many people move from these regions to urban areas where they can find jobs easily. This problem causes a migration influx that leads to urban overpopulation in many African cities. Because urban areas also have advanced, easily accessible social services and facilities, people who may need or want better medical care or educational services have to move to urban areas. This kind of migration leads to increased population growth and urban overpopulation.

Urban Overpopulation

Increased population automatically increases urban areas’ population density, or the measurement of population per unit area. Overpopulation occurs when urban areas contain more people than the optimal proportion of population to land. When urban areas become overcrowded, people start building slums, the roads become very busy with high traffic, public markets and malls consistently become overcrowded and the competition for resources increases. This leads to increased pollution and the destruction of much infrastructure.

Urban Planning

African governments have started investing in solutions to accommodate this growing urban population through infrastructure. One way in which they are doing so is through urban planning. Many African nations have begun to provide urban planning education facilities and resources. This solution started preparing people who were equipped to design and plan for the overpopulated cities in Africa. For example, Nigeria established the Town Planners Registration Council. This council is in charge of determining who is capable of being the town’s planner and setting the basic requirements for people who want to enter the profession of urban planning. In 2013, Kigali City in Rwanda established the city’s master plan. This plan represented a vision the country had for organizing settlement in the city. The Building Permit Management Information System reports that this master plan is a “comprehensive long term plan intended to guide growth and development of Kigali City.”

Building Infrastructure

Most African countries have a complex topography. Some cities are hilly or close to forested areas. These natural features become a big challenge to companies seeking to build roads and skyscrapers in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. Despite these challenges, African nations are investing in building new infrastructure to support urban areas. GlobeNewswire reports that in 2019, all projects in Africa invested in building new and upgrading “54,110 km for roads, 55,345 km for railway and 599 km for bridges” in total. To include the environment in these developing cities, some countries introduced green belts in urban regions. For example, Kenya and Rwanda have started reserving some areas in cities for planting trees.

Africa’s population is growing fast. However, countries are investing in sectors that will manage to accommodate this urban population. Infrastructure has been one of the sectors that have helped cities plan for the population and the cities’ activities.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

Some developing countries are using a forgotten testing method called pool testing to control COVID-19 spread. This method requires fewer tests, costs less and provides a quicker turnaround time than the traditional method of testing each person individually. This article will explain three main points about this form of testing:

How Pool Testing Works

The basic principle behind pool testing is as follows: between five and 50 samples are collected from different individuals. These samples are then all mixed together and tested as one big pool. If the pool results are negative, it can be safely assumed that none of the individuals are COVID positive. If the pool results are positive, each individual’s sample must be tested separately to determine which sample contained the positive test.

In regions expected to have generally low rates of positive tests, this method saves an enormous amount of materials, as well as reduces cost for individuals and government agencies. A recent paper that details the optimal algorithms behind the testing hypothesizes that this method could reduce costs by a factor of “ten to a hundred or more.” The paper also recorded data from real-world settings. They took 1,280 real samples from Rwanda, and found only 1 positive test. It only took 64 total tests rather than the 1,280 it otherwise would have taken.

Pool testing was originally developed in the 1940s to test US army drafts for syphilis, by Robert Dorfman. Developing countries such as Rwanda and Ghana have been the first to implement this strategy in response to COVID-19. This form of testing is most effective, though, in regions with an expected low density of positive tests. In an area where lots of positive tests are expected, such as New York City, a large pool would more often come back positive, requiring more tests. This would mitigate much of the benefits that this form of testing provides.

Rwanda and Ghana’s Success With Pool Testing

Rwanda has responded quickly and effectively to COVID-19, partially due to recent experiences with other outbreaks, but also in part because of pool testing. The country is home to 12.3 million people, but has only reported five deaths. Similarly, Ghana has seen impressive results. As of July 22, the country, with 30 million people, has only had 153 deaths.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the former epicenter of the pandemic, was able to conduct over 6.5 million tests in only nine days due to the utilization of pool testing.

Applications for developing countries in the future

As was mentioned earlier, pool testing is far more effective in areas with a lower density of positive cases. Most of Africa, home to lots of poor and developing countries, has yet to see the cases spike as they have in Western Europe and the United States. Since pandemics have the potential to cause far more damage to economically fragile countries, implementation of pool testing as early as possible would be incredibly beneficial for developing countries. Since costs are a particularly pressing issue for poor countries, pool testing’s reduction in costs would help immensely. Beyond mere financials, the logistical problem of the raw number of tests is aided through pool testing.

Novel solutions to the COVID-19 crisis exist. Strategies such as preemptive pool testing in developing countries could save millions of dollars and, more importantly, thousands upon thousands of lives. Developing countries should implement pool testing whenever possible, and continue to search for unique solutions to help minimize the negative impacts of COVID-19.

Evan Kuo
Photo: Department of Defense

Education is an essential tool to guide the next generation and prepare them for success. In South Africa and Rwanda, education is vital, and a good portion of government spending goes toward education. In 2013, South Africa invested 19.7% of its national budgets toward education, while Rwanda invested 11%. Both South Africa and Rwanda recognize that education impacts the success of their citizens. A mode of education that can transform the way children learn is through theater. The International Theatre Project aspires to teach children in South Africa and Rwanda the building blocks of theater to ignite their confidence. Teaching theater in Africa can produce a new generation of leaders who are passionate about their heritage.

What is the International Theatre Project?

 The International Theatre Project began as a test to see how new programs would impact students. In 2005, two professionals experienced in theater arts, Stephen DiMenna and Marianna Houston, decided to conduct their project in Tanzania with 21 pupils. DiMenna and Houston had the students write a play in English and perform the piece for their community. The play reflected the students’ aspirations for the future. Producing the piece had a profound impact on the students. The 21 pupils who worked on the project tended to score higher on English exams than their peers. Seeing the positive impact of theater on young students, DiMenna and Houston returned the following year, thereby founding the International Theatre Project.

Since then, the International Theatre Project has held programs in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Rwanda, South Africa and India. The students who participate in the programs often lack opportunities in education, and poverty presents even more barriers. According to the International Theatre company, 90% of their students continue their education into college, 80% of students have job opportunities after graduating high school, 100% score higher on their English exams and 100% are inspired to educate others in their communities. The company’s most recent accomplishment is having students perform their original piece in Cape Town, South Africa. A former ITP alumnus, Calvin from Tanzania, states how his experience with ITP, “…gave me the confidence to be more than I think I can be. I can deliver and I never knew that before.”

Programs Offered by ITP

Since its founding, the International Theatre Company has developed several unique programs. For instance, Rising Voices is a program specifically for teaching theater in Africa. Students in this program have the opportunity to write and perform their own pieces. If a student has been with the program for more than four years, they can participate in Leading Acts, where they become mentors for other students. The International Theatre Project also has two opportunities based in New York. Open Doors is a program where recent immigrants can develop the skills necessary to adjust to a new way of life. Alternatively, the Stefan Nowicki Camp Treetops Scholarship Program provides two ITP students from South Africa or Rwanda to participate in a seven-week summer camp held in upstate New York. All four of these programs create ways for children to learn theater as well as develop their leadership skills.

Why Theater Education is Beneficial

Theater emphasizes freedom of expression, and through that expression, one can benefit immensely.  According to a psychological study written by Sydney Walker, there are many advantages students gain by participating in theater. For one, students improve their self-esteem through participation and self-expression. When interacting with others in the theater, students can connect on a deeper level and create an outlet for their emotions. Theatre also allows students to identify conflicts and create resolutions.

Teaching theater in Africa presents students with a new way to learn and participate in their communities. Furthermore, it allows students to create relationships with one another and communicate their own emotions. Organizations like the International Theatre Project create ways for theater to be shared and taught to anyone, regardless of their circumstances.

Brooke Young
Photo: Unsplash