Progress in Benin
Despite a low unemployment rate of one percent and a GDP growth rate that increased from two percent to over five percent from 2015 to 2017, progress in Benin has been slow and it is still a poor country in West Africa. With more than a third of the over 11 million population living below the poverty line, it is difficult for Beninese to live without a feeling of unease. Three major reasons Benin has a rising poverty rate is because of over-reliance in Niger’s economy, the largest exporter, reluctance for Benin to modernize its own economy and climatic shocks, particularly massive floods.

Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project

The agriculture sector employs over 70 percent of Beninese. In an effort to boost the economy, the Republic of Benin is investing in improvements in the agriculture sector. The Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project began on March 22, 2011, with a budget of $61 million and ends on February 28, 2021. Its purpose is to repair major damage caused during Benin’s 2010 flood and improve productivity in certain export-oriented value chains, such as aquaculture, maize, rice, cashew and pineapple.

One component of this project is improving technology and restoration of productivity. The devastating flood in 2010 destroyed over 316,000 acres of cropland and 50,000 homes. The project began after the major flood and takes into account the need for drainage systems to stifle rising waters during floods. Small-scale irrigation infrastructure repair and improvement are issues that the project faces and hopes to correct in the timeframe. Climate-smart production systems are another investment that the country is developing to prevent widespread destruction to cropland when a natural disaster threatens to destroy homes and crops. The project is also set to create new jobs by investing in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), especially for youth and women.

Improving the Business Environment

Although flooding caused several Beninese people to lose their homes and cropland, there is one impediment that halts economic development: corruption. President Talon became the President of Benin in 2016 and stated in his inaugural address that he would “make the fight against corruption an ongoing and everyday struggle.” A 29 percent electricity access is another issue that prevents developmental progress in Benin, but since 2016 blackouts have reduced and electricity generation has improved significantly.

Economic Diversification

The last major impasse that prevents development in Benin is over-reliance in Nigeria, Benin’s major exporter. Current IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, announced a call for economic diversification in Benin. Lagarde believes diversifying is one way to reduce the high poverty level of 36 percent. Due to the country’s economic reliance on the agricultural sector and economic conditions in Nigeria, it is difficult to grow if a recession, such as the 2017 recession in Nigeria, occurs. In her speech at the Chamber of Commerce in Cotonou, Benin, Lagarde discussed how Benin could strengthen land tenure, increase food security in rural areas and invest more in education and health, and improve transparency in the government so that outside investors would find investing in Benin appealing.

Rate of Progress in Benin

There is room for growth, though the poverty-stricken nation has had success in certain areas, such as the average life expectancy that rose from 50 years in 2000 to 62 in 2018. With the creation of the Agricultural Productivity and Diversification Project, improvements in agriculture and infrastructure are already underway. The estimated rate of urbanization is fairly high at 3.89 percent from 2015 to 2020. At this rate of progress in Benin and under the leadership of President Talon, the country will continue its headway in development so that the percentage of Beninese in poverty will gradually drop in the coming years.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Cabo VerdeThe Republic of Cabo Verde is a country comprised of 10 islands off the coast of West Africa. In 2012, the government planned to drastically increase its desalination system in order to improve water capacity and consumption and to meet the demands of the country’s rising tourism industry. Since this plan to improve water sanitation and availability of this country’s precious resource, water quality in Cabo Verde has improved in 2017, through government cooperation and local partnership.

Though Santiago, one of Cabo Verde’s islands, already had a desalination plant implemented, the government suggested at least eight more plants be installed in order to satisfy the resident and growing tourist populations. At the time of the government’s 2012 plan to invest in major water quality improvement, reports showed that with the island’s 500,000 citizens and high volume of tourists, sources of water were already limited. Cabo Verde is a dry country and doesn’t receive much rain, so the country’s ministry of environment made it a goal to build a desalination plant for every island, as part of the National Directive Plan for Water.

The ministry hoped that over the next five years, 400 million euros, paired with a $66.2 million grant from the U.S. foreign aid agency, plus additional funding from the EU and the U.N., would significantly contribute to the country’s goal to have 50 percent of its energy supplied by renewable sources by the year 2020.

In March 2017, just five years since the start of the desalination and sanitation system implementation, Cabo Verde’s driest islands are seeing major victories, and some of the country’s most vulnerable populations are seeing the biggest difference. Santa Maria, a high-traffic tourist and travel location in Sal on Cape Verde, saw the inauguration of a 2010 Wastewater Treatment Plant. With the help of new management and a working operating system that connects to local sewage networks, the plant is now fully functioning.

The new system for delivering clean, available and affordable water will make lives on Cabo Verde a little easier. Most poor families can’t afford to access water through the island’s utility networks, and some are miles apart, making clean water retrieval hard on locals. Poor women spend the most time collecting water for each household, but some more rural areas of the country have very little access — a mere 16 percent of the country ever sees this water.

Because of improved water quality in Cabo Verde, residents are feeling confident about running their households, thanks to government funding and water treatment plants throughout the country. Some locals say having sanitary and accessible water is most important in keeping their families healthy.

Cabo Verde’s tourism economy is also expected to improve with efforts to keep sanitized water flowing. As the industry provides jobs for more than one-third of the population, it is vital that the Cabo Verde government keep water sanitation at its highest priority, so that cleaner beaches bring tourists back again and again.

The government plans to designate a water improvement sector fund specifically for the water treatment facilities, upon its success. With further plans like this, water quality in Cabo Verde will continue to show signs of improvement.

Olivia Cyr

Photo: Flickr

Last month, the African nation of The Gambia swore in its first-ever democratically elected president, Adama Barrow. The incumbent president took power after a month-long constitutional crisis in which former president Yahya Jammeh rejected election results and refused to leave his seat.

Initially, Jammeh accepted the 2016 election results until Dec. 10, when he declared his rejection of Barrow and refusal to cede power in The Gambia. The announcement incited political uproar within The Gambia. The uproar was so intense that Barrow, fearing for his safety, fled to Senegal.

Barrow was eventually sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, and returned to The Gambia with a number of West African troops. On the same day Barrow was sworn in, military forces from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana attempted to restore power in The Gambia through military intervention.

The power shift was celebrated in the Gambian capital of Banjul where the conflict had generated fear for the security of many citizens’ lives amongst the turmoil.

Jammeh, who ruled the nation for over 22 years, was exiled to Equatorial Guinea after he finally stepped down in late January.

This shift of power in The Gambia may symbolize the strengthening infrastructure of politics within the African continent. Other nations’ decisions to rally behind the election results and defend Barrow’s ascent to power in The Gambia is recognition of a standard for good governance.

While the events in The Gambia do not signify themselves a wholehearted embracement of democracy, they certainly set a precedent for alliance and administration across the continent.

With rulers like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe or Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, both who have held power in their respective nations for over a decade, it is clear that there has been a continual problem with leaders who refuse to step down following the results of democratic elections.

There is still a long way to go as it seems the Economic Community of West African States enforces election results selectively. However, the shift of power in The Gambia signifies a positive development in the political dichotomy prevalent on the African continent.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr

New Ebola Vaccine Gives Hope
In 2014, West Africa saw the largest Ebola outbreak in history; more than 11,000 people died, and the disease infected more than 27,000 people. Ebola has a very high mortality rate; it kills up to 70 percent of its victims. An immense amount of fear surrounds this disease. In 2014, four cases of Ebola were reported in the United States, including two who contracted the disease on U.S. soil. The rampant global spread of the disease caught the medical community off guard, but it was not the first time they had searched for a solution.

Unfortunately, the Ebola vaccine research from 1974-2014 did not yield promising results, and the treatments for the disease were difficult and labor-intensive. Medical teams would enter an infected area, would separate the sick from those that had not been infected and they would burn the bodies of those that perished from the disease. The protective gear to prevent the medical staff from infection is difficult to wield and can be risky. The need for a vaccine was critical.

As the disease ravaged West Africa in 2014, researchers began working on a vaccine. Clinical trials for two vaccines began in 2014, but there were ethical concerns. The trials had to be expedited because of the aggressive nature of the disease and how many people were infected. The funding for Ebola treatments remained flat from 2004, and the challenges were immense.

In July 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement saying that a vaccine developed and tested by Merck, Sharp & Dohme “is highly effective against Ebola.” The rapid work created a turning point in the fight against Ebola.

The Ebola vaccine uses an interesting methodology to stop the spread of the virus because the virus is so virulent, and it spreads so quickly. The vaccine is designed with a “ring” method meaning that every person that has come into contact with an Ebola patient is vaccinated. This stops the virus from spreading further.

The promise of the vaccine was validated in December 2016, as The Lancet reported final results from a Guinea trial that showed that the new Ebola vaccine shows 100 percent effectiveness. While it was not able to stop the last outbreak, an emergency stockpile of 300,000 doses has been developed in hopes of stopping the next outbreak. Merck must now apply to the WHO for full approval, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will likely be tapped for licensing.

The vaccine may not be effective against all strains of Ebola, but it shows great promise to prevent a catastrophic outbreak like the one in 2014, and it gives hope to the nations that have been devastated by the disease.

Jennifer Graham

Photo: Flickr

Ebola Outbreak
Following the mismanagement of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, international health organizations pledge to reform crisis response.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 24 outbreaks since the endemic disease was first identified over 40 years ago.

The 2014 outbreak in West Africa was the third spread of the 20th century. The effects ravaged the ill-prepared communities of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Over 28,000 cases were reported, nearing a death total of over 11,000.

The West African region had not encountered an Ebola outbreak before 2014. Inexperience, along with inadequate local health facilities and distrust among the local community aided in the severity of the outbreak in Ghana.

The international community’s response also contributed to the haphazard spread throughout the region and eventually the world.

A panel of 19 global health and hygiene experts attributed the 11,300 West African deaths as an “egregious failure” of the WHO and a clear indication of the necessity to implement serious healthcare response reform.

The director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), Ashish Jha, cited the WHO’s intentionally delayed response as negligible, stating that, “People at WHO were aware that there was an Ebola outbreak that was getting out of control by spring, and yet it took until August to declare a public health emergency.”

The WHO acknowledged the need for healthcare reform during the April 16, 2015 press release — citing the importance of increased capacity, communication, coordination, sensitivity and community/culture in future crisis response efforts. The WHO, however, was not the only international body cited for response failure.

The Heritage Foundation found the United States government crisis response efforts as internally lackluster and externally reactionary.

In order to prevent an outbreak of this magnitude, the WHO has committed to implement comprehensive health care response reforms. The corrections include: expanding staff members; creating a Global Health Emergency Workforce; establishing a contingency fund and increasing community engagement.

The mismanagement during the Ebola outbreak highlights the need for action beyond the healthcare response reform. Foreign assistance before and after a health crisis is the most effective way to avoid international health crises.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr

Ebola CrisisSince 2013, the Ebola crisis has devastated countries across the world, from the highly contagious West Africa to the United States. Not long after the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease a “public health emergency of international concern,” on August 8, 2014.

However, in a statement made earlier this year, the WHO declared that the “likelihood of international spread is low.” As of January 6, 2016, the number of Ebola outbreaks since 2013 totaled 28,637. In addition, there have been eight cases of Ebola between February and March.

According to the New York Times, on April 6, officials from the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department announced the reallocation of its $510 million Ebola budget towards combatting the Zika virus.

The government, however, is far from declaring the Ebola outbreak over and the two deadly viruses are non-competing. Of note, the Obama Administration’s 2014 Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) was a response to crippled infrastructure in countries impacted by health crises.

In promotion of the WHO’s International Health Regulations and other global health security frameworks, “the GHSA serves to stimulate investment in the needed capacity – infrastructure, equipment, and above all skilled personnel – and empowers countries, international organizations and civil society to work together to achieve focused goals.”

This entails a U.S. commitment to the eradication of the ebola crisis, mitigation of recurring outbreaks and partnerships with affected countries for infrastructure enhancement.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine compares the diagnoses and treatment techniques of the Ebola and Zika viruses.

In explaining the improved sharing mechanisms and response techniques, Dr. Charlotte Huang writes, “Many lessons learned from the response to the recent Ebola outbreak have helped in the response to the ZIKV outbreak. Most important, there is general agreement on the need for international collaboration on regulatory issues, research, and data sharing.”

Nahid Bhadelia, an infection disease physician at Boston Medical Center has also noted the importance of “[having] continued vigilance in West Africa,” due to likely flare ups and the potential transmission by the 17,000 Ebola survivors who still might have the virus.

Nora Harless

Photo: Flickr

Tigui CamaraTigui Camara, a former model, is one of the youngest mining executives in Africa and the only woman in Guinea with her own mining company. Given that mining in West Africa is predominately run by middle-aged men, the magnitude of Camara’s success is remarkable.

Camara’s career began on the runway when she was only 14 years old — and soon after escalated into the business world. While living in Morocco, Camara was able to graduate high school early and earn a college degree in business management. Several years later, Camara moved to the U.S. and was hired by a modeling agency in New York.

During her time in the modeling field, Camara made friends with jewelers who had companies in Africa and was inspired to take action. Camara remembers thinking, “If he could do it, I could do it. He is not even from Africa or Guinea, but he has been successful at doing this. Being a native, why can’t I also be successful?”

Camara began saving in order to open her own mining company and she is now the Chairman and CEO of Camara Gold and Mining Network and the CEO of Tigui Mining Group. Her companies acquire and develop mining assets with a focus on gold, diamond and associated minerals.

However, Camara faced setbacks when she hired a business partner who was embezzling the company’s funds for the first year. She also set up her business during a time of political turmoil in Guinea. The country had just undergone a political revolt and 2009 was marked by violent protests and civil unrest.

To make matters worse, Guinea was hit by the Ebola crisis, which began in December 2013 and continued for around two years. It shut down the economy and businesses were hit hard. As a result, Camara stopped all activity until it was safe to return to work.

Finally in recent months, Camara has been able to stabilize the business with proper funding and investors. She claims, “While infrastructure and electricity shortages have created a challenging business environment in the mineral-rich nation, the government is taking steps to improve its industries and encourage foreign investment.”

This provides the U.S. a unique opportunity to purchase gold, diamond and other mineral materials from a deserving business leader. Tigui Camara had to overcome many obstacles in order to get where she is today. Her background in the fashion industry hindered her ability to succeed as an entrepreneur at first but now she has a well-established name and is respected in the mining industry in West Africa.

Megan Hadley

Sources: How We Made it in Africa, Tigui Mining Group, Black Enterprise

Sisu Global Health has developed a device that recycles blood without using electricity for hospitals in developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “75 countries report collecting fewer than 10 donations per 1,000 population.” The vast majority of these countries are located in Africa.

Not only is blood itself in short supply (and expensive), clean and effective ways to obtain and transmit it are also lacking.

Of the donations low-income countries receive, only 16% are monitored through external quality assessment schemes, says the WHO. This leads to the continued spread of diseases, such as HIV.

In addition, unnecessary and unsafe transfusions run rampant in low-income clinics, creating even more problems.

Fortunately, a hospital in West Africa came up with a blood-collecting technique that would become the inspiration for a revolution in blood technology.

When Carolyn Yarina and Gillian Henker visited the hospital, they saw doctors use a cup to collect and reuse blood from internal bleeding, reports The Baltimore Sun.

Using this idea as a foundation, they created Sisu Global Health, a medical device company for emerging markets.

Their breakthrough technology, called the Hemafuse, is a manual autotransfusion device used to retransfuse a patient’s own blood during an internal hemorrhage, according to their website.

The Hemafuse does not need electricity to run, which makes it the perfect solution for clinics in developing countries.

With such a revolutionary, environmentally-friendly product, Sisu has already attracted attention from big-time investors.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the company has obtained a $100,000 investment from AOL Co-Founder Steve Case, after entering his “Rise of the Rest” startup competition.

Yarina and Henker have stumbled onto an immensely valuable idea here, one that will help ensure blood safety and sustainable blood flow in countries that have a desperate need for plasma.

– Ashley Tressel

Sources: Baltimore Sun, WHO, SISU Global Health, Rise of Rest

Chocolate Labor
Chocolate is produced from the cacao bean, often referred to as cocoa, which is primarily grown in Western Africa. More than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from the countries of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa, where children are often employed in harsh, unsafe conditions to meet the demands of the market. Such labor takes place in order to increase production while keeping prices competitive.

According to the Food Empowerment Project, the farms of Western Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle. Cocoa is grown primarily as an export crop and accounts for 60 percent of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue.

Cocoa farmers, however, earn less than $2 a day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, farmers look for cheap sources of labor to keep their prices competitive.

These low wages perpetuate child trafficking and dangerous conditions for working children. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, children laboring on cocoa farms are exposed to chemicals, long working hours, and the denial of a formal education.

Children are also reportedly forced to use chainsaws and machetes, and they sometimes must drag more than 100 pounds worth of cocoa pods through the forest. If the children do not work fast enough they may be beaten.

The problem is getting worse. Between 2009 and 2014, Child Labor in cocoa production increased by 46 percent. Most of the children in West Africa begin working on the cocoa farms between the age of 12 and 16, although children as young as five have been found working.

An estimated 1.8 million children are being forced to labor on cocoa farms in Western Africa. In Ghana, 10 percent of the children do not attend school, while the number is as high as 40 percent in Cote d’Ivoire.

Despite its prevalence, in Cote d’Ivoire child labor is actually illegal. Offenders could receive one to five years of jail time and up to $2,200 in fines. These laws, however, are rarely enforced.

The country has invested about $40 million to implement projects such as the building and rebuilding of schools and a tracking system to keep at-risk children accounted for and safe. However, without the enforcement of the law many children are not protected by these measures.

Advocates have called on the $60 billion chocolate industry to help alleviate the problem of child labor by paying cocoa farmers a livable wage and consumers to avoid purchasing chocolate that is sourced from Western Africa.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: Food Is Power, Labor Rights, Anti-Slavery
Photo: global solution

West Africa has the highest levels of energy poverty in the world. The shortage of electricity has been a big barrier to the economic development and people’s wellbeing in Africa.

Tony Elumelu, a Nigerian-born business leader and philanthropist, makes the call for ending energy poverty in Africa and takes action to alleviate it.

Ranking 26th on the Forbes Lists of Africa’s 50 Richest in 2014, Tony Elumelu is one of Africa’s most revered business leaders. As the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (Transcorp), Elumelu fortune’s is estimated at $1 billion.

Approaching the latter period of his business career, Elumelu makes more effort on philanthropy. After retiring from UBA in July 2010, he founded the Tony Elumelu Foundation, intending to foster Africa’s economy by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector.

At the same time, Tony Elumelu has also been a significant member of many non-profit organizations, such as World Economic Forum’s Regional Agenda Council on Africa, the Nigeria Leadership Initiative and the Infant Jesus Academy in Delta State, Nigeria.

On 30 June 2015, Elumelu participated in African Energy Leaders Group (AELG) Summit. It was launched by Côte d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan with top-level political and business leaders, intended to make concrete plans for sustainable energy access in Africa.

According to Ivorian Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, in order to expedite the implementation of sustainable projects, the West African sub-group of the AELG intends to gather public and private sectors to mobilize finance. As a co-founder of AELG, Elumelu pledged to donate $150,000 over the next three years for its secretarial work.

Elumelu previously contributed to the fight against energy poverty before the Summit. In 2013, Tony Elumelu pledged to contribute $2.5 billion in President Barack Obama’s Power Africa Initiative to support Africa’s power sector.

During the same year, Transcorp, where Elumelu served as Chairman, acquired the 600 MW Ughelli plant in Delta State. It is one of Nigeria’s largest gas-powered generating plants and will generate 1,000 MW by the end of 2015.

The discussion between Transcorp and General Electric has been ongoing, and Transcorp is likely to add another 1,000 MW soon after they reach the first quota.

“Providing access to electricity for schools, hospitals, businesses and industries is the single most impactful intervention that can be made to transform the continent,” said Elumelu during the Summit. “It has tremendous implications for job creation, health, food security, education, technological advancement and overall economic development.”

Shengyu Wang

Sources: Forbes, Sustainable Energy for All
Photo: Forbes