Tag Archive: development


AMDG

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The Night Commuters in Gulu – escaping the evil of Joseph Kony & The LRA

It was very depressing to hear that the UK had voted to leave the EU …  it is one of those moments where you always remember ‘where I was when ‘ E.g Princess Diana dying….  So when we voted Brexit I am in Northern Uganda, in Gulu, where there is a great new Jesuit school which has already become famous countrywide for its excellent academic results. This is very impressive considering that just ten years ago Gulu was being terrorised by Joseph Kony and the LRA. Kids weren’t going to school – they were being forced into becoming child soldiers.  A beautiful part of the world, that is deeply traumatised, a generation of child soldiers who had the innocence of childhood ripped away from them. Many of the youngsters were called  ‘night commuters’ who would move into the city before sunfall so as to avoid the violent raids of the LRA.  It is a salutary reminder of what can happen when politics fails, and society descends into chaos.  The level of debate was at times wanting in the Brexit campaigning, but at least it was democratic – even if it was a very poor attempt of direct democracy , when representative democracy would have been more appropriate.  However the ability to hold such a referendum, with such a level of engagement we should not take for granted and shows a robust politics which is much more fragile here in East Africa, even if it has made great progress.

 

oppositionThe excellent weekly newspaper ‘The East African’ ran a disturbing report on the state of Opposition in East Africa in its latest weekly edition (June 18-24 2016). Published in Kenya, it also covers the news in the Great Lakes region (Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda). Under the headline Who would be an opposition politician in East Africa today? It highlights the plight of Kizza Besigwe (Uganda), Zitto Kabwe (Tanzania), Raila Odinga (Kenya) and Frank Habineza (Rwanda) all leaders of opposition parties in countries that have purportedly signed up to encouraging political pluralism. Many people in the UK have been bemoaning the lack of quality debate in the recent referendum, but no-one can doubt it was an act of direct democracy (even if it possibly would have been wiser to have been left to representation democracy as Frank Turner SJ points out in an excellent piece).

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Certainly here in East Africa there seems to be various crackdowns on ways of expressing opposition. We had just arrived in Arusha last Tuesday when we heard that someone called Emilly Isaac was handed down a three year sentence for a comment made on Facebook about the supporters of President Magafuli. His comment was mild to say the least, but he still had to pay a $3ooo fine or six months in jail. Magafuli is still wildy popular due to his anti-corruption stance, but some of the sheen is coming off with alarming evidence of a lack of thick skin. Kenya is presided over by Uhuru Kenyatta whose legacy has been seriously marred by the terrible violence that marked the elections of 2007 which claimed 1300 lives. In 2014 Kenyatta made history by becoming the first sitting head of state to come before the International Criminal Court to answer for ‘crimes against humanity’. The charges were withdrawn later that year, but the prosecution claimed that this was due to the Kenyan Governments noncompliance claiming they had evidence of witness intimidation and bribery. The conclusion was unsatisfactory to say the least with Kenyatta claiming to be vindicated, but really the ICC was shown to have an alarming lack of teeth. Finally in Uganda, President Musevini has just won a dubious election, decried by many independent observers as as being rigged, with undue pressure put on the opposition, his main rival Basingye is in prison.

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downloadThere is now an excellent way of monitoring governance in Africa – provided by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Ibrahim is a Sudanese/British Billionaire, telecommunications magnate – the founder of Cel Tel , set up the foundation when he sold the company in 2005. It awards scholarships and offers a prize for achievement in African Leadership. The Prize at $5m and $200k a year for life it is the biggest in the world, comfortably outstripping the Nobels $1.3m, and is an annual prize but not always awarded if the high standards are not met. Perhaps even more impressive is the Index that has provided an annual assessment on each countries governance. It assesses progress for each country on Safety and the Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. The East African Countries discussed here have never made it in the top ten of the 52 countries measured, with Tanzania 17th, Uganda 18th and Kenya 21st in 2013. What is brilliant about it is that you can spot trends in various areas of governance such as corruption, violence, participation, gender, infrastructure, education, health etc.

AMDG

 

I chose Africa because itÕs the continent with the lowest cell-phone penetration but the fastest sales growth. By yearend, Africa will have 261 million cellular subscriptions, more than 10 times the number in 2001. The penetration rate is approaching 28%, according to market watcher Informa Telecoms & Media in London. Everyone knows AfricaÕs legion of problems: overpopulation, tribal conflict, AIDS, malaria, dreadful infrastructure, corruption--and much more. Yet growth for the continent as a whole may well hit a 25-year high of 7% this year. Could cell phones help Africa to finally emerge from poverty? The nearly unanimous answer from interviews with several dozen low-income Kenyans and Ugandans was: yes. Time and again, people eagerly told me stories of how ownership of a cell phone had helped them earn more money or eased the burden of existence in places where even short trips can be a time-consuming ordeal. Here are some of the people I met and the stories they told:

Having arrived in Dodoma and having not made the journey in about four years, it was great this year to be able to track my route using Google Maps. From Nairobi to Arusha and then Arusha to Dodoma are two long coach journeys, about eight hours each. We pass through some of the most interesting places on earth – very near the cradle of humanity – The Olduvai Gorge, where the oldest hominid skulls have been discovered, dating back 1.8 million years. Having Google Maps and Wikipedia to hand during the coach journey made it a fascinating journey. Mobile technology has certainly transformed the lives of many people in Africa, with phones more widely distributed than computers, and more people having mobiles than bank accounts. With the advent of the smart phone – even at the most basic level of capability, it is clear that having a phone now means more than just making phone calls or texting. I often point out to the students they carry around more processing power in their pocket than the Apollo Spacecraft.

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atelier-mobile-bankingIn reading up about how the mobile or cell phone has super-charged development I was very interested to find out that a Manchester based academic, Richard Heeks, Director of the Center for Development Informatics in Manchester, has done a lot of research on this and has identified some ways in which mobile technology is changing the lives off even the poorest communities. Firstly he identifies its ability to connect the excluded. It has already been noted how Kenyas M-Pesa is changing the way people save money , spend money and move money around. Circumventing the rather laborious process of setting up a bank account by transferring credit via phones – now it is easy to see the fruits of saving money, investing money, rather than the precarious way of living from hand to mouth etc. In India, A Little World, has invented a way of using a finger print scanner and mobile phone to set up bank accounts, they now how over 3 million users. Employees can now even cycle out to the most remote villages and set up ‘shop’ under a tree – allowing the most basic saving and investments in things such as fertilizer etc. Farmers can check competing prices in various local markets before making the decision of where to sell their goods… in fact an app developed here in Uganda, Farmers Friend, has been invented with that very purpose in mind. I have a fond memory of a cotton farmer in Rural India, sitting on his cart and bullock whilst pointing out to me his dual sim card phone, so he could have a business line and a private line. At once four hundred years behind UK farming technology, and more advanced mobile technology ( I hadn’t come across dual-sim phones in Britain then).

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downloadAnother thing that phones allow that the middle man can be cut out or at least be kept tabs on. Their are innovative ways all over the world sprouting up to report and log instances of local corruption, the Bhoomi project in Karnataka, India is a great example of this, stopping corrupt officials from demanding a bribe before they offer land registration certificates (which farmers need to get a loan). Thirdly crowdsourcing – I love the app I heard about in Nairobi, Ushahidi,  testimony in Swahili, which was developed after the terrible violence in the Kenyan elections of 2008. Text messages allowed them to map report about violence, and now it used to map natural disasters, or in Ghana mpedigree uses it to map where drugs are running out.

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One of the things I love about East Africa is how resourceful everyone is, they don’t expect to rely on hand outs, so there is this incredible network of tiny businesses, and the mobile phone has unlocked this great entrepreneurship.

The UN in Africa

AMDG

Last week I spent a very interesting few hours visiting UNON, the United Nations Office in Nairobi.  I was checking it out akaribunis a place to bring students on a visit next year as part of their induction in East Africa. Globally the UN now has four permanent bases, New York where the general assembly of its constituent 193 member states takes place every (the Holy See has permanent
observer status). There are two more offices in Europe, in Geneva, Vienna and most recently one has opened up in Nairobi in 1996.  Many have argued that it was long overdue to give the UN a sure footing in the continent of Africa, where its original and overriding purpose is to promote peaceis often under threat.   Its environment  programme (UN and habitat programme (are headquartered in Naorobi, but many of its other programmes / funds / commisions also have offices there.

Many  feel the UN is in crisis  – some world argue, given its impossible remit, a state of permanent crisis, its faces the challenge to be semper reforandum – always reforming.   The core dream and vision of the UN is worth fighting for. Riddled with politics, often rendering it ineffective ( Russia & China’s unscrupulous use of the veto in the security council for example) … it is still the only supranational political body that can be called on in a crisis, and often the only one with the clout to get warring parties around the table.  The extraordinary meeting of the Security council in Narobi bringing together the Sudanese on November 2004 is a recent example.secretary-general_ban_ki-moon_right_meets_with_sudanese_foreign_minister_ibrahim_ghandour_oct_2_2015_-_un_evan_schneider-e7ab4

Currently the UN has a succession crisis as they look for a new secretary  general. The recent leadership of the South Koran, Ban Ki Moon has been disappointing, seen as being too protocol bound, lacking the dyanimism and diplomatic genius of his predecessor Kofi Annan.  So there is a sense of urgency to select a leader, in what appears to be the most transparent process yet.   The PC option is to have a women from Eastern Europe, with two Bulgarian canditates spoken of.  But one of the things that has discredited the UN so often is being sucked into the quagmire of ideology and development politics, part of the reform must be shedding the Political Correctness for a more meritocratic way of operating. The farcical appearance of the Vatican before the Comittee for the  Rights of the Child (CRC) was widely criticised for being an axe-grinding exercise, not sticking to its remit.  It seemed to have written the report before hearing an evidence, and like the end of the film Spotlight it conflated what had happened 20 years ago with the present, with no acknowledgement of the serious distance the church has gone in protecting children – for excellent analysis of this read here.

All of the good and bad of the UN are visible in its office at Nairobi, we need to engage creatively with it, accepting and building on the good and recognising and letting go of the bad, if we want to make the world a better place.

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