Interpress News Service

Can Bangladesh Become an Economic Powerhouse?

16 February 2017 - 11:36am

By Eresh Omar Jamal
Feb 16 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Bangladesh has the potential to become the world’s 23rd largest economy by 2050. In a report released earlier this month, PwC also predicted Bangladesh would be the 28th biggest economy by 2030 in terms of its Gross Domestic Product calculated at Purchasing Power Parity. This may not seem like a big deal given that Bangladesh already has the 31st largest economy in the world in terms of total GDP; however, thinking along that line may be misleading given the bigger picture.

Image: venturebeat

First of all, moving up eight places in the ranking will itself be quite an achievement given the urgency with which countries in the modern world are competing with each other on the economic front. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the projection shows Bangladesh’s economy growing from USD 628 billion in 2016 to USD 1,324 billion in 2030 and then to USD 3,064 billion in the year 2050.

This will put Bangladesh right behind Canada with a GDP of USD 3,100 billion in 2050 having increased the size of its economy nearly five-fold since 2016, whereas the Canadian economy, over the same period, would have only doubled its current size as would the world economy. This amazing potential for Bangladesh to rapidly increase the size of its economy has even been highlighted by PwC’s report which says, “We project Vietnam, India and Bangladesh to be three of the world’s fastest growing economies over this period [between 2016 and 2050]”.

With an average annual growth of about 5 percent, largely because of its “youthful and working age population”, Bangladesh does have the potential to make rapid progress. But as a report by the Centre for Development and Employment Research showed, 25 percent of the population in Bangladesh between the ages of 15 and 29 — numbering around 11 million — are currently inactive, i.e. they are neither in the education cycle nor involved with any economic activity. Moreover, and this to some may seem even more perplexing, “the prevalence of unemployment is greater among the higher educated section of the youth”.

Given that about 40 percent of Bangladesh’s population is comprised of the youth, this is indeed a grim reality. Simultaneously, it is also a classic example of the unfathomably high inefficiency that plagues every sector of our economy. What, after all, could be a better way of wasting, what one could argue, is the country’s most valuable and abundant resource, than to leave the youth out of the mainstream economy? And, that too, the most educated sections of it?

But in order to live up to its true potential, the country quickly needs to change this scenario around. Bringing the youth into the fold will not only help the economy by increasing overall productivity, but will also help lower various external costs which in itself will prove to be of great benefit.

Another point worthy of mention is that in order to realise its full economic potential, similar to other emerging markets, the Bangladesh government, according to PwC, would have to “implement structural reforms to improve” its “macroeconomic stability, infrastructure and institutions”. And this is where the biggest challenge lies.

The amount of corruption in every sector of our country has become so internalised, that reversing this will not be easy, albeit indispensable for growth. Corruption is not only holding development back through the misallocation of resources, delay in project implementation and completion, but is also wreaking havoc in our banking sector.

For example, although the industry’s average default loan is currently 10.34 percent, it is around 25 percent for the state-owned banks. Even the Governor of the Bangladesh Bank has recently had to admit that “It would be difficult to attain a higher economic growth if the rate of default loans remains high”. Though this exact sentiment has been repeated by experts for years now, what we have seen the government do ultimately is to let those responsible for the increase in dubious or bad loans get off the hook scot-free, leaving taxpayers holding the bill.

We have already seen during the 2008 global financial crisis what this can do. We have also seen the eventual outcome of ‘bailing’ banks out. And yet, it seems we have failed to take any lessons from it. Who is to say that a similar liquidity crisis cannot set us back by years if we continue down the same path? The truth is, no one can, as that is the guaranteed outcome down the path we are pursuing.

At the same time, corruption is also the biggest hindrance we face when it comes to developing our infrastructure. Clearly the infrastructure we have now is completely inadequate to support businesses and other economic activities on a large enough scale. However, even with massive investments coming in from abroad, the pace at which development is taking shape is still quite slow. In the interest of quickening them and to allow businesses to set up and function competitively, the government urgently needs to introduce many structural reforms and changes.

The fact of the matter is that Bangladesh has all the tools available at its disposal to rapidly move its economy ahead in the years to come. What it does need is to sort out some of the most basic problems which it has failed to address for decades despite the solutions to those problems being quite clear-cut. And the main reason for that has been a lack of political will. If, however, that political will is found, who is to say that Bangladesh cannot become an economic powerhouse, capable of providing a peaceful and decent life for all its citizens? Now, is that not an end worth pursuing?

The writer is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Corruption Kills

16 February 2017 - 11:27am

By Felino A. Palafox, JR.
Feb 16 2017 (Manila Times)

Preparing for earthquakes should go beyond first aid preparation. Most of the time schools, companies and government offices equip employees, workers, and students the basic knowledge of stop, drop, cover, hold, and then evacuate to open spaces, as protocols in the event of an earthquake. As an extra preparation, like in our offices at Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture, all of our employees are equipped with emergency kits that have a whistle, flashlight, bottle of water, compass, first aid kit, and multi-function portable tools. Identified members of the company are trained to do first aid, rappelling, and coordination for emergencies. But at the end of the day, these are things that we hope will not be necessary because preparation goes beyond first-aid reactionary measures.

FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

In the Building Code and in the Structural Code (written in the 1970s), the liability of an architect and an engineer is only 25 years, and buildings are required to withstand at least an intensity 7 to 8 earthquake. In essence, the building code suggests that the life span and accountability of the building and other structures are only 25 years.

But a question hangs over our heads: after 25 years who will be made accountable if proven that the design and the materials used for the structure was sub-standard? Even if it is in the interest of a client to reduce costs, are developers, contractors, and designers allowed to lower down specifications? The local government is mandated, through the city engineering office, to check and audit structures if certain areas are fit for occupancy; so, in the event of a building collapse, what is the accountability of government officials who signed the occupancy permits?

The earthquake in Surigao is an unfortunate one, but nature should not be used as an excuse for complacency. For the past hundred years, earthquakes have always been a consistent event. There are even departments created to study fault lines to aid zoning and development in certain areas. For the Philippines, as well as Japan and other countries that are in the Pacific Ring of Fire, earthquakes have been part of history. But if we look at Japan, casualty and collapse during earthquakes of high intensities yield relatively low casualties.

When an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, Anna Coren of CNN interviewed me on the possible impact of an earthquake with a similar magnitude should it happen in Metro Manila. I cited a study done by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2004 on “Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction,” also known as the MMEIRS study. It assessed and somehow quantified the impact and damage the earthquake will cause. With the West Valley fault ripe for movement, as the PHIVOLCS says, it will be important to look back to the MMEIRS report for guidance. It should also be updated using today’s data to see the extent of the possible consequences.

The first 72 hours
According to the MMEIRS study, around 170,000 residential houses will be heavily damaged or collapsed (13 percent of total buildings), 340,000 will be moderately damaged (26 percent of total buildings) and 10,000 alongside the Manila Bay will be affected by liquefaction in the first hour of impact by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

Eleven percent of mid-rise buildings (10 to 30 stories) and 2 percent of high-rise buildings (30 to 60 stories) will be severely damaged or collapsed. Twenty-seven percent of mid-rise and 12 percent of high-rise buildings will be moderately damaged.

Eight to 10 percent of hospitals, schools, fire stations, police stations and government offices will be heavily damaged or collapsed. Twenty to 25 percent will be moderately damaged. Death tolls in the first hour could reach around 34,000 people and another 20,000 could become casualties in the succeeding hours because of widespread fires and successive tremors that will occur.

In the event of a “Big One,” rescue activities will be limited. As it is, it takes two hours to travel five kilometers on an average day in Metro Manila but with buildings and electrical posts toppled down, thousands of homes on fire, no water supply and debris, among others, it would take longer for rescuers to reach devastated areas. This is also assuming that our government forces and volunteers are safe and pieces of equipment are intact and operational. According to international assessment, help will come after 72 hours but because of Metro Manila’s urban sprawl and poor urban design, I think we can expect that it will take more time.

Immediate action and long-term preparedness
Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group have sent 145 recommendations on disaster preparedness to the Office of the President—from Presidents Arroyo, Aquino, and Duterte. We recommended that we should immediately implement a strict structural audit of buildings that are earthquake- and fire-hazard. Structures weaken over time because of numerous vibrations caused by smaller intensity movements. Houses and buildings that are old as well as houses and buildings that have sub-standard designs should also be checked.

The government should most especially retrofit and repair our major bridges, government buildings, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. They also need to dedicate more open spaces for evacuation sites and these sites should have a quick response team that can set up a clinic, clean water station, food quarters, place of worship and mobile communication, among others.

There are about 44 signatories for government permits before a developer can build. This could be an obstacle course for corruption. Bureaucracy and red tape in securing building permits do not only pain the developer but are also hazardous to the end-users. Quality is sacrificed to offset the cost paid for corruption. Ultimately, corruption kills. It will take visionary leadership and a strong political will from the government to ensure public safety through good planning, good design, and good governance.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

Washington Rules Change, Again

16 February 2017 - 8:33am

South-south cooperation represents a progressive alternative to the Washington Consensus. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LAMPUR, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Over the last four decades, the Washington Consensus, promoting economic liberalization, globalization and privatization, reversed four decades of an earlier period of active state intervention to accelerate and stabilize more inclusive economic growth, associated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Maynard Keynes.

The Golden Age
The US Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to the Great Depression, which in turn engendered two important policy responses in 1933 with lasting consequences for generations to come: US President Roosevelt’s New Deal and the 1933 Glass-Steagal Act.

While massive spending following American entry into the Second World War was clearly decisive in ending the Depression and for the wartime boom, the New Deal clearly showed the way forward and suggested what could be achieved if more public money had been deployed consistently to revive economic growth.

Michal Kalecki and Keynes provided robust analytical justification for counter-cyclical fiscal and other policies to maintain aggregate demand, very much contravening earlier received wisdom. Post-war decolonization gave birth to the academic field of development economics from the 1950s, initially pioneered by Central Europeans striving not to be left behind by the earlier ascendance of Western Europe and then the United States of America after its Civil War.

For about a quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War, the post-war ‘Golden Age’ saw rapid post-war reconstruction in Western Europe. This was crucially supported by the generous Marshall Plan, arguably the first, largest and most successful development cooperation program, triggered by the beginning of the Cold War. Similar economic development policies and assistance were introduced in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, following the Korean War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

US Secretary of State General George Marshall understood that inclusive economic development would help ensure a cordon sanitaire against the Soviet-led camp. Thus, thanks to the Cold War, Western Europe and Northeast Asia recovered quickly, industrialized rapidly and achieved sustained, rapid growth with interventionist policies which would be widely condemned by today’s conventional wisdom. While national economic capacities and capabilities had to be nurtured to ensure sustainable development, Marshall also recognized that aid should be truly developmental, not piecemeal or palliative.

Washington Consensus

The ‘Washington Consensus’ – uniting the American government and the Bretton Woods institutions located in the US capital city – emerged from the early 1980s to prescribe neo-liberal economic policies for developing countries for the ‘counter-revolutions’ against development economics, Keynesian economics and progressive state interventions.

Macroeconomic policies became narrowly focused on balancing annual budgets and attaining predictably low inflation – instead of the earlier post-colonial emphasis on achieving and sustaining rapid growth and full employment without runaway inflation. A ‘neo-liberal’ wave of deregulation, privatization and economic globalization followed, supposedly to boost economic growth. Economic growth was expected to trickle down to reduce poverty, with broader sustainable development and inequality concerns consigned to the garbage bin.

But the Washington Consensus policies not only failed to sustain economic growth, largely due to the greater instability and volatility associated with financial liberalization, especially across borders. But premature trade liberalization also undermined existing production and export capacities and capabilities without enabling the development of new ones. For the poorest countries, the loss of tariff revenue also undermined government revenues, expenditure and hence, the capacity to provide badly needed infrastructure, social protection and support for developmental initiatives.

Globalization’s Contradictory Discontents
Instead, those developing countries which achieved rapid growth and structural transformation were typically those which defied conventional wisdom by adopting pragmatic ‘heterodox’ developmental economic policies appropriate to their respective circumstances. Meanwhile, financial and other economic crises of various types became more frequent and disruptive, undermining sustained growth.

In the meantime, the more liberal developed economies experienced spurts of rapid growth as well as greater volatility and instability while most developed economies became more vulnerable to institutional stasis as they abandoned Keynesian policies for neo-liberal policies demanded by markets and their champions.

With European social democrats turning their backs on Keynes in favour of neoliberal economics, and often barely distinguishable from the centre-right in this regard, dissent against economic liberalization and its discontents moved to the ‘extremes’. With the left often on the backfoot in most developed economies for more than a quarter century, it has been the right which has successfully mobilized against cultural ‘others’ often divided among themselves.

While the rhetoric of the national chauvinist ‘new right’ rejects globalization and multiculturalism, it also rejects international solidarity, cooperation and multilateralism. Its rejection of the neoliberal Washington Consensus does not imply opposition to contemporary imperialism, but rather threatens a return to old — and new — forms of domination, economic and otherwise.

More than ever, it will be crucial for developing countries to work together, not only to ensure that South-South and ‘triangular’ (with the North) cooperation represents a progressive alternative to the Washington Consensus and its national chauvinist successors. Such solidarity will determine how well the South — and the world as a whole — will fare during the coming eclipse.

Energy Access Builds Inclusive Economies and Resilient Communities

16 February 2017 - 6:34am

More girls in rural Bihar, India are going to school after mini-grid-powered household lights give mothers and children two extra hours of evening work and study time. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Jaipal Hembrum runs three one-man home enterprises – a bicycle repair shop, a tiny food stall and a tailoring unit in Kautuka, a remote village in eastern India. Sewing recycled clothes into mattresses late into the evening, the 38-year-old father of three girls says two light bulbs fed by a solar power system have changed his life.

Given the trajectory of development India is currently pursuing, energy access for its rural population could bring dramatic economic improvement. Yet 237 million people — a fifth of its 1.3 billion people, many of them in remote villages with few livelihood options — do not have any access to it.The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements while also meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

The Delhi-based research organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) stipulates that if even half of households deemed electrified through the national power grid are not receiving the guaranteed six hours uninterrupted supply, the number of people who are electricity-poor in India totals 650 million.

In this scenario, renewable energy-based mini-grids, particularly in remote villages, are considered the best option to manage local household and commercial energy demand efficiently by generating power at the source of consumption.

This is being proven true by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD) initiative in two of India’s poorest states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where 16 and 36 percent of households respectively are electrified. In India, 55 percent rural households have energy access, often of unreliable quality.

Started in 2014, the SPRD has in the last two years helped install over 93 mini-grids whose reliable power supply has given the means and confidence to 3,500 rural entrepreneurs to start or expand small businesses. The mini-grids also provide power to 31,000 people and 150 telecom towers, says Deepali Khanna, a director with the Rockefeller Foundation.

Over 2014 – 2017, the Rockefeller Foundation aims to make a difference to 1,000 energy-poor villages in India, benefitting around a million rural people. For this effort, the Foundation has committed 75 million dollars, partnering and funding Smart Power India (SPI) a new entity designed to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders who help scale-up the market for off-grid energy.

Jaipal Hembrum stitches old clothes mattresses in the evening by the light of a solar-powered bulb. The 50 dollars a day he earns is kept aside for schooling and marriages of his three daughters. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

What can mini-grids can do? Plenty

A recent evaluation of the mini-grids’ impact on communities they serve in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh already show a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits.

Entrepreneurship and new businesses have grown, with 70 percent existing micro-businesses reporting increased number of costumers after connecting to the mini-grids and 80 percent planned to expand.

Nine in 10 household users said their children’s daily study time has increased by two hours since they got the lights. Women said they had increased mobility after dark and theft cases had fallen. Use of kerosene and diesel has fallen dramatically — to virtually zero, according to Khanna.

Micro-businesses like cyber cafes, fuel stations, mobile and fan repair shops, banks, schools and hospitals are the fastest growing commercial customer section of mini-grids constructed under Smart Power India.

In Shivpura village of Uttar Pradesh, where TARA Urja, a small energy service company (ESCO), started providing reliable electricity from a 30-KW solar plant, Sandeep Jaiswal set up a water purification processor in 2015. In just over a month he was rushing 1,200 litres of water on his new mini-truck to 40 customers. TARA, also a social business incubator, has financially supported Jaiswal with 530 dollars, in return for a one-year contract to source electricity from TARA.

Smart Power India supports the development of rural micro-enterprises through loans, community engagement and partnerships with larger companies with rural value chains, for instance, city malls that source vegetables from rural farms.

India confronts a demographic youth ‘bulge’ with 64 percent in the working age group in 2020, requiring 10 million new jobs every year in the coming decade. Using green mini-grids to create rural livelihoods can also reduce urban migration.

Innovating a business model that propels construction of mini-grids

Mini-grids are a decentralized system providing a renewable energy-based electricity generator with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or more, with a target consumer group it supplies through a stand-alone distribution network.

The sustainability of private companies in the rural power supply sector depends on generating sufficient revenue long-term. To make it profitable for smaller-scale ESCOs to bring electricity to rural parts of the developing world, the Smart Power model ensures fast-growing sectors with significant energy needs such as telecom towers in rural areas, to provide steady revenue. In return, the ESCOs provide contractual guarantee of reliable power supply to the towers.

“There is an opportunity to catalyze the telecommunication and off-grid energy sectors. Currently cell phone towers in rural areas are often powered by expensive diesel generators and companies are looking for cheaper alternatives, thereby creating the possibility for a strong anchor,” says Ashvin Dayal, Managing Director, Asia, of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Telecom towers — by becoming the ‘anchor’ customers – help make ESCOs bankable. They then can expand supply into rural household lighting and local enterprises.

Government figures say 2 billion litres of diesel is annually consumed by the 350,000  existing telecom towers in India, including those in remote rural regions. The challenge India faces is how to meet its energy requirements without compromising environmental sustainability, while meeting its emission reduction commitment to the global climate deal.

Solar power cost per unit has fallen in India to 0.045 cents, which makes it increasingly feasible to shift to renewable powered mini-grids, saving substantial subsidies spent on fossil fuels. The government in 2016 decided to construct 10,000 mini-grids in the next five years of 500 megawatt (MW) capacity, but this is clearly not enough, say experts.

India has a potential for 748,990 MW of solar power. Fourteen states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, receive irradiance above the annual global average of 5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day.

Around the world, approximately 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable and affordable means of electricity without which, growing their incomes, improving food security and health, educating children, accessing key information services becomes a major challenge. Energy access is critical to achieving several UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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Corruption Brings Down an Empire: Odebrecht in Brazil

15 February 2017 - 7:29pm

The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

People in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the flood of news stories about the huge web of corruption woven by the country’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht, which is active in dozens of fields and countries.

The business empire built by three generations of the Odebrecht family is falling apart after three years of investigation by the Lava Jato (car wash) operation launched by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office in Brazil, which is investigating the corruption that diverted millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for major public works contracts from the state-run oil giant Petrobras.The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

Marcelo Odebrecht, who headed the company from 2008 to 2015, was arrested in June 2015 and was initially sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In October he and the company reached plea bargain deals to cooperate with the investigation. A total of 77 former and present Odebrecht executives provided over 900 sworn statements to Lava Jato prosecutors, causing a political earthquake in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Odebrecht allegedly spent 1.04 billion dollars in bribes to politicians and government officials in ten Latin American and two African countries, including Brazil, which accounted for 57.7 per cent of the total.

The United States is carrying out its own investigation, which could end in criminal convictions, since several Odebrecht subsidiaries, such as the petrochemical company Braskem, operate there, and their shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

That is also happening in the case of Petrobras, implicated in the corruption scandal and under investigation at the initiative of shareholders in the U.S.

The U.S. and Switzerland, where banks were allegedly used to funnel bribes or launder money, signed cooperation agreements with legal authorities in Brazil, as part of the ongoing offensive against corruption in Latin America’s giant.

The impacts are overwhelming. In Brazil, the revelations about Odebrecht are expected to provoke a tsunami in the political system. Two hundred parliamentarians and government officials may have received bribes, including senior members of the current administration and legislature.

The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

That estimate is based on more than 100 projects carried out or in progress in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, plus Angola and Mozambique in Africa.

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

The arrest warrant issued by a court in Peru against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who has been living in the United States, and allegations implicating current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, are just the tip of the iceberg.

What was revealed by Odebrecht executives and former executives, as well as former directors of different departments, such as external affairs, infrastructure, industrial engineering or logistics, has not yet been made public.

New figures involving alleged bribes are expected to come out over the next few months, added to those already disclosed in the United States, including 599 million dollars distributed in Brazil, 98 million in Venezuela, 92 million in the Dominican Republic, 59 million in Panama and 50 million in Angola.

In Peru the total revealed so far is “only” 29 million dollars since 2005. The sum is small, considering that for the Southern Peru pipeline – still under construction – alone, the projected investments amount to seven billion dollars. The Peruvian government has decided to terminate the contract with Odebrecht for the project.

Besides Odebrecht, the Inter-Oceanic Highway, which runs across southern Peru from the Brazilian border to Pacific Ocean ports, is being built by three other Brazilian construction firms – Camargo Correa, Andrade Gutierrez and Queiroz Galvão – which are also under investigation for suspicion of corruption.

During the presidency of Alan Garcia (2006-2011), Peru and Brazil signed an agreement for the construction of five large hydropower plants in Peru, which was cancelled by his successor, Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), who, however, is suspected of receiving three million dollars from Brazil for his election campaign.

Odebrecht, which has a concession to manage Chaglla, the third biggest hydroelectric plant in Peru, with a capacity of 462 MW, was to be the main construction company in charge of building the new plants.

The growing wave of local and industry scandals sheds light on the reach of Odrebrecht’s tentacles. Braskem is accused of distributing 250 million dollars in bribes to sustain its leadership position in the Americas in the production of thermoplastic resins, with 36 plants spread across Brazil, Mexico, the United States, as well as Germany.

The empire, born in 1944 as a simple construction company, started diversifying in the last half century into activities as diverse as the sugarcane business, the development of military technologies or oil services, logistics or shipbuilding companies.

In the early 1970s the group built the Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, sealing a connection that led to the current disaster which destroyed the reputation of the company that was so proud of its “Entrepreneurial Technology”, a set of ethical and operational business principles to which its fast expansion was attributed.

But Odebrecht’s success could actually be attributed to a strategic vision and a modus operandi that proved successful until the Lava Jato operation. Part of its methods included being “friends with the king”.

Angola is the best example. The current chairman of the company’s board of directors, Emilio Odebrecht, son of founder Norberto Odebrecht, meets every year with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, to discuss projects for the country.

Officially, what they do is assess the projects carried out by the company and define new goals.

The explanation given for the special treatment received by Odebrecht is that it has such a strong presence in vital infrastructure works in the country in areas such as reconstruction, energy, water, highways and urbanisation.

Odebrecht has great prestige in Angola, since it built the Capanda hydroelectric plant on the Kwanza River between 1984 and 2007, facing delays and risks due to the 1975-2002 civil war. Now it is building the biggest plant in Angola, Lauca, also on the Kwanza River, with a capacity to produce 2,067 MW.

The conglomerate is ubiquitous in the country, managing the Belas Mall – an upscale shopping centre in the south of Luanda, Angola’s capital – implementing the water plan to supply the capital, developing the first part of the industrial district in the outskirts of Luanda, building housing developments and playing a key role in saving the national sugarcane industry.

In Cuba it also led the strategic project of expanding the Mariel Port and managing a sugar plant, to help boost the recovery of this ailing sector of the Caribbean nation’s economy.

In other countries, such as Panama, Peru and Venezuela, the number of works and projects in the hands of the Brazilian conglomerate is impressive, in fields as diverse as urban transport, roads and bridges, ports, power plants, fossil fuels, and even agriculture.

But that cycle of expansion came to an end. Heavily indebted, with a plummeting turnover and no access to loans, not even from Brazilian development banks, and carrying the stigma of corruption, the conglomerate is trying to cooperate with justice authorities in the involved countries, seeking agreements to allow it to keep operating and eventually recover.

Now it remains to be discovered whether Odebrecht is “too big to go bankrupt,” as was said of some banks at the start of the global crisis that broke out in 2008.

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Fear of Education

15 February 2017 - 4:27pm

By Ravale Mohydin
Feb 15 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

There are two prevailing mindsets that could account for the staggered growth of female education in Pakistan: that which thinks of education as an asset, and the other which views it as a threat. The crux of the issue of slow-to-improve gender disparity in our education system is that Pakistanis appear to have both mindsets at the same time.

Ravale Mohydin

Less than a decade ago, a child’s gender significantly accounted for unequal opportunities in primary education, even more so in the case of secondary education in Pakistan. Today, surveys show more than eight out of 10 Pakistanis say that education is equally important for boys and girls; very few think that it is more important for boys than girls or the other way round.

Still, Pakistan, being a part of the global Education For All (EFA) movement, has not been able to achieve a key measurable education goal: eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education no later than 2015.

Female enrolment is up but there can still be socio-cultural hurdles.

This is so despite efforts made by government institutions to improve inclusivity in education, such as the Female Secondary School Stipend Programme initiated in Punjab in 2004, the Stipend Programme for Secondary School Females in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that was started in 2006, and the 2016 policy to end gender segregation in public schools in Balochistan to allow girls access to higher quality boys’ schools.

These examples were actions relevant to the National Education Policy, and the Education Sector Reforms. They are also aligned with commitments made by the government to EFA goals. A case cannot be made that there is no institutional and reform-based support for facilitating educational access for females.

Though there has been top-down support for equity in education, there is a lack of bottom-up support. This results in a non-holistic approach that has only partially delivered on its promises. This schism is not immediately apparent; one can only start to make sense of it by looking at the following fact: according to a 2015 Asian Development Bank report, female enrolment is up as the net enrolment ratio improved by 16pc in recent years. However, only a quarter of our labour force is female. Compared to the region and the world, Pakistan has a dismal gender gap when it comes to economic participation and opportunity for females.

Even though there may be less resistance to how many girls go to school, there is another kind of resistance related to what girls do after they get educated. This was apparent in the case of focus groups with over 200 parents and teachers of children enrolled in low-cost private schools in rural and urban north Punjab in late 2016. I was directly involved in these discussions as programme manager for the ongoing Learning and Achievement in Pakistan Schools, or LEAPS. The focus groups revealed that many parents viewed girls’ education as a form of protection and expected social and financial clout for their daughters as the natural consequence of educating them.

Surprisingly, most even expected higher returns when it came to investing in a daughter’s education as compared to a son’s education — both in social and financial terms. One got to hear comments such as ‘we should spend more on our daughters as we will get a higher return on our investment. She will go to college and study … she will pass exams. When we spend more on our son, we will spend more but he will fail’. And ‘an educated girl is better able to handle issues with her in-laws’. This is a new (and encouraging) concept.

Yet, these same determined and financially invested parents also agreed with the participating female teachers on girls discontinuing their work after getting married if they could not obtain permission from their in-laws to carry on. Perhaps, in their minds, socio-cultural norms take precedence over the financial and social freedom afforded by girls’ education.

The two mindsets accounting for the staggered growth of education for females are discernible at this point, with one propelling such education forward and the other being more concerned about all this getting out of hand. Pakistanis, it seems, are grappling with how to fuse the two to progress, and also with how to sidestep whatever is deemed inconvenient in socio-cultural terms.

Pakistan’s educated female labour force is slowly growing across socioeconomic groups, and it would be a missed economic opportunity if it is not accompanied by support in the form of socio-cultural acceptance. One can only hope that as we get more educated, the fear of education also becomes a remnant of the past.

The writer works at the Centre for Economic Research in Pakistan. The views expressed are her own.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

The High Price of the World Bank’s Blunder

15 February 2017 - 3:17pm

By Inam Ahmed
Feb 15 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It was the country’s largest infrastructure project – that is up to that point of time in 2011, costing USD 2.9 billion. It was also the World Bank’s largest loan to the tune of USD 1.2 billion. Asian Development Bank, JICA and Islamic Development Bank also joined hands to fund the project that would be so vital for Bangladesh’s development, especially for the 30 million people living in the disadvantaged south for whom the River Padma stood as a solid barrier towards national integration.

It was a dream about to come true.

And then a bolt from the blue. One fine morning, the World Bank brought the allegation that there had been a ‘corruption conspiracy’ in the bridge project. Suddenly, the bees were buzzing and stinging. The Bank went into hyper gear to take a stern stand against the ‘corruption conspiracy’, and its then country director Ellen Goldstein started shuttling between Dhaka and Washington, firming up the allegation.

Bangladesh reeled under the weight of the blow and the high profile activities that whirled on. But it remained firm in its stand – that there had not been corruption. Team after team from the World Bank came and met the government officials.

After prolonged discussions, the government took steps that the Bank sought to investigate the allegation. Then communication minister Syed Abul Hossain resigned, bridges division secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan was sent to jail and PM’s adviser Mashiur Rahman was sidelined, though he held his post. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) embarked on an investigation which yielded no corroboration of the allegations.

And yet, the World Bank dropped the ultimate bombshell in July 2012 when it finally scrapped the project because, in its words, it had “credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to a high-level corruption conspiracy among Bangladeshi government officials, SNC Lavalin executives and private individuals in connection with the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project”. It claimed to have gone “the extra mile” when it sent a high-level team to Dhaka to explain the Bank’s position and receive the government’s response.

“The response has been unsatisfactory. The World Bank cannot, should not, and will not turn a blind eye to evidence of corruption,” the Bank concluded while cancelling the project, sinking the hearts of 160 million people, putting this country along with its population to shame before the world.

And what was its evidence of corruption? Was it so compelling that the Bank could not refrain from taking such a harsh decision? Well, now that the Canadian court decision has come on the case, we know the worth of the evidence that the Bank also provided to the Canadian police. The evidence is worth nothing and that is why the Canadian court has thrown the case out.

But what about the price the country paid because of the Bank’s ‘solid evidence’? Its pride lost, albeit momentarily, to the world, cannot be measured. The insult suffered is immeasurable. Thanks to the country’s strong forex reserves and willingness of China to do business, the construction of the bridge is going ahead but at a much higher cost. What could have been accomplished for USD 2.9 billion has now reached USD 3.6 billion. The poor people of Bangladesh will have to pay the almost a billion dollar extra amount just because of the Bank’s ‘evidence’ that did not hold in any court.

Needless to say, another statement by the Bank similar to the one it issued to announce the cancellation of the loan was in order to clarify its position after the Canadian court verdict. An explanation of why those knee jerk reactions that yielded nothing but suffering for a nation was necessary. But it did not come.

It is incredulous that the World Bank, with its expertise on almost anything under the sun, failed to understand through its legal departments that the so-called evidence was all moth-eaten and flimsy. This one single incident will have dented the organisation’s standing in the eyes of the world.

Like it demanded a special inquiry team of the ACC to dig out the so-called ‘corruption’ in the bridge project, the Bank may now appoint its own special inquiry team to dig out what went wrong within and why.

The writer is Deputy Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Authorities Urged to Disclose Anti-Money Laundering Efforts

15 February 2017 - 12:34pm

By IPS World Desk
ROME / BERLIN, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Bank regulators need to publish much more information about whether banks are doing what’s required by law to stop money laundering, says a major international anti-corruption watchdog.

This would ensure that citizens and businesses can be confident corrupt individuals and organisations, criminals, or terrorists are not using the global banking system, Transparency International (TI) on Feb 15 2017 explained.

A new report from Transparency International shows that in countries hosting the world’s biggest banks, little data on anti-money laundering prevention and enforcement is published, or is if it is published, it is out-of-date.

“Mistrust of banks will continue unless people know they are working on their behalf and not for the corrupt. Corruption and money laundering undermine the basic rule of law, weaken democratic institutions and damage economies and societies,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

“It drives inequality and blocks efforts to stop poverty. We need to see that the people meant to stop corruption in the banking industry are doing their job,” he added.

Transparency International’s study, Top Secret: Countries keep financial crime fighting data to themselves, shows that data about authorities’ anti-money laundering efforts are only partially available across 12 countries, including Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

This includes data as basic as the number of times banks were sanctioned for money laundering failures in a given country — a number that is only public in four out of the 12 countries assessed: Australia, Cyprus, Italy and the US.

“There is no good reason to keep this data secret. Are they protecting us from the next financial crisis? We, the citizens, have the right to know if the financial sector is being permissive or complicit with illicit activity,” Ugaz noted.

According to Transparency International, in 2013 alone, developing countries lost an estimated 1.1 trillion dollars to illicit financial flows – the illegal movement of money from one country to another. Effective anti-money laundering measures, in both developed and developing countries, are essential to end these illicit flows.

“The public also needs evidence that action is being taken, not only to build trust in the institutions that hold our money, but also as a deterrent against crime by making sure bank examiners are effective.”

Policing the financial sector requires strong, consistent and effective anti-money laundering supervision by authorities, TI underlines, adding: “just like health and safety inspectors in restaurants, national financial supervisors have the power to visit and inspect banks (on-site monitoring), identify and record failings in their systems, and impose sanctions where necessary.”

“Citizens have a right to know the extent to which supervisors are applying this power in practice to uphold the law in the financial sector.”

By increasing media and citizen oversight, making more data about these activities public would help to make anti-money laundering systems more effective.

Transparency International recommends that countries publish anti-money laundering oversight and enforcement statistics on a yearly basis, in a single report or data file. The requirement to publish yearly anti-money laundering data should become a standard recommendation of international bodies, including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the G20.

Transparency on this important aspect of financial market enforcement is only a first, but vital, step on the long road to cleansing the global financial system of dirty money, TI concludes.

Worst Drought in Decades Drives Food Price Spike in East Africa

15 February 2017 - 10:55am

Farmers in the Horn of Africa need urgent support to recover from consecutive lost harvests and to keep their livestock healthy and productive. Photo: FAO/Simon Maina

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

The most severe drought in decades, which has struck parts of Ethiopia and is exacerbated by a particularly strong El Niño effect, has led to successive failed harvests and widespread livestock deaths in some areas, and humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations warns.

East Africa’s ongoing drought has sharply curbed harvests and driven up the prices of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels, posing a heavy burden to households and special risks for pastoralists in the region, the United Nations food and agricultural agency on Feb. 14 warned.

“Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for large numbers of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity,” said Mario Zappacosta, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, according to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA).

Poor livestock body conditions due to pasture and water shortages and forcible culls mean animals command lower prices, leaving pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs, FAO adds, while providing some examples:

Somalia’s maize and sorghum harvests are estimated to be 75 per cent down from their usual level. In Tanzania, maize prices in Arusha, Tanzania, have almost doubled since early 2016.

Drought is pushing up food prices in Uganda. Photo: FAO


In South Sudan, food prices are now two to four times above their levels of a year earlier, while in Kenya, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent.

Beans now cost 40 per cent more in Kenya than a year earlier, while in Uganda, the prices of beans and cassava flour are both about 25 per cent higher than a year ago in the capital city, Kampala.

Pastoral Areas Face Harsher Conditions

Drought-affected pastoral areas in the region face even harsher conditions, the UN specialised agency reports. In Somalia, goat prices have fallen up to 60 per cent compared to a year ago, while in pastoralist areas of Kenya the prices of goats declined by up to 30 per cent over the last 12 months.

Shortages of pasture and water caused livestock deaths and reduced body mass, prompting herders to sell animals while they can, as is also occurring in drought-wracked southern Ethiopia, FAO reports. This also pushes up the price of milk, which is, for instance, up 40 per cent on the year in Somalia’s Gedo region.

According to the Rome-based agency, Ethiopia is responding to a drought emergency, triggered by one of the strongest El Niño events on record.

Humanitarian needs have tripled since the beginning of 2015 as the drought continues to have devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists — causing successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths, it reports.

Food insecurity and malnutrition rates are alarming with some 10.2 million people in need of food assistance.

FAO also reports that one-quarter of all districts in Ethiopia are officially classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis — 435 000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and 1.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women are experiencing moderate acute malnutrition.

Livelihood Crisis

More than 80 per cent of people in Ethiopia rely on agriculture and livestock as their primary source of food and income, however, the frequency of droughts over the years has left many communities particularly vulnerable.

Significant production losses, by up to 50-90 percent in some areas, have severely diminished households’ food security and purchasing power, forcing many to sell their remaining agricultural assets and abandon their livelihoods.

Pastoralists in Ethiopia carry butchered meat home. Photo: FAO


Estimates in early 2016 by Ethiopia’s Bureau of Agriculture indicate that some 7.5 million farmers and herders need immediate agricultural support to produce staple crops like maize, sorghum, teff, wheat, and root crops, and livestock feed to keep their animals healthy and resume production.

Hundreds of thousands of livestock have already died and the animals that remain are becoming weaker and thinner due to poor grazing resources, feed shortages and limited water availability, leading to sharp declines in milk and meat production.

The FAO Ethiopia El Niño Response Plan aims to assist 1.8 million vulnerable pastoralists, agro pastoralists and smallholder farmers in 2016.

To achieve this, the UN food and agriculture will prioritize agricultural production support in order to reduce the food gap, livestock interventions to protect the livelihood assets of pastoralists and agro pastoralists, and activities to enhance the resilience of affected communities through coordinated response.

As part of the emergency response, FAO has been providing planting materials to help seed- and food-insecure households in the worst affected regions plant in the belg and meher seasons.

In an effort to preserve livestock, it has been distributing multi-nutrient blocks in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas to strengthen livestock and bolster the resilience of the cooperatives that produce them.

Survival animal feed is also being provided to help farmers produce fodder and improve access to water for livestock. Herds across the country have also benefited from vaccination and treatment campaigns to address their increasing vulnerability as a result of drought.

In Ethiopia’s Somali Region, FAO is enhancing the financial stability of drought-affected households through the purchase of weak sheep and goats for immediate, local slaughter – and providing the meat – rich in protein – to nutritionally vulnerable drought-affected families.

The intervention will help reduce stress on available feed, enable households to focus their resources on their remaining productive animals, and invest in productive assets.

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Sri Lanka Shines Light on Public Sector Governance

15 February 2017 - 10:23am

Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) Act could open new doors for the country’s media if journalists use it effectively. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s long-awaited and much-debated Right to Information (RTI) Act became law this month without much fanfare.

There was no big PR campaign on the part of the government to unveil it on Feb. 3, a day before the island’s 69th Independence celebrations. There was not even a public event, a rarity in this South Asian island, where politicians are prone not to let such opportunities pass by.

Maybe the lack of fanfare was due to a rare understanding of what RTI could do to Sri Lanka’s governing culture – like media minister Gayantha Karunathilake predicted several months ago, the act now places all elected and public officials ‘inside a glass box’ of public scrutiny.

And the requests have flooded in. Taking the lead has been actor turned politician and current deputy minister of social welfare, Rajan Ramanayake. He filed a slew of requests even before the ink dried on the new act.

“This is an act will reveal everything about politicians, without any discrimination on party affiliations,” Ramanayake said.

His RTI requests include details on the number of bar permits, sand mining permits, duty free shop permits, fuel station permits and land permits that have been offered to elected officials from parliamentarians to those at local government bodies. He said he was likely to receive the details by the third week of February.

He has also filed a request for details of all licenses given out by the government to operate TV stations and their conditions.

Most of the first batch of RTI requests have been linked to corruption within public sector, according to RTIWire, a national website that tracks the progress of the act.

“When we asked the public what information they would seek through RTI, almost a third of them referenced some form of corruption by public servants; for example, asset declarations, irregularities in tenders, salaries and perks for ministers,” RTIWire said in profiling the first ten days of the new act.

Citizens in the former conflict zone in the North and East have used the act to seek information on land acquisitions by government departments and on missing loved ones.

Media Minister Karunathilake is candid about the act’s possible ramifications on the government ,which has stepped into the second of a five-year term.

“This will open up the government structure completely for scrutiny. Usually governments will take this kind of decision at the toe end of their terms, but we have not. The act can minimize corruption.”

There has been criticism leveled at the government that the act was aimed at soothing international concerns on rights issues, especially those stemming from the administrations of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005 to 2015.

The minister denied that there was any connection between the act and the government’s efforts to regain preferential tariff deals for garment exports to the European Union.

“There is no connection at all,” he said. In the next two months the EU is expected to announce whether Sri Lanka will be allowed back in to GSP+ tariff fold that it lost in 2010 due to rights-related concerns.

Opposition parties, however, say that the government is not showing the same enthusiasm it displayed in getting the act finally functioning in making sure the act is implemented efficiently.

“If they are serious, they should begin awareness campaigns without delay,” Opposition MP from the People’s Liberation Front Nalinda Jayatissa said.

To be fair, the government has a Herculean task on its hands in getting RTI information officers into all government agencies, which according to some estimates at the Media Ministry could be in the range of 40,000.

The Ministry has been training officers in the last few months, and while several thousand have taken up posts, many more remain to be filled. The government has not done itself any favours by only allocating a mere Rs 25 m (175,000 dollars) in the current budget for RTI implementation.

Close to two weeks after the act became law, the government was yet to announce the relevant officers in departments, adding confusion and creating unnecessary delays for those submitting requests. B.K.S. Ravindra, the additional secretary at the Media Ministry, said that list would soon be made available online, but did not give a date.

During the first week of the act, there was also confusion about whether police came under the act and who was the relevant officer for each station. Ravindra said that police stations indeed came within the act and that the Assistant Superintendent of Police from each district would serve as the RTI officer.

But according to RTIWire, “the Police are still in the process of appointing Information Officers. This should be complete within the next few weeks. The police force is currently participating in trainings held by the Ministry of Mass Media on Right to Information.”

There is also a dearth of awareness in rural areas on the act and how to file requests, especially in rural areas. In Arananayake, a rural village about 130km from the capital Colombo, which suffered a devastating landslide last year, villagers still living in temporary shelters had absolutely no idea that they could gain information from using the act.

The bigger test for the government will be to make sure that the RTI act does not end up a damp squib.

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Togo to Lead the Fight against Rural Poverty

15 February 2017 - 9:04am

Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, new president of IFAD.

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, former Prime Minister of Togo, has been appointed as the sixth President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialised UN agency and international financial institution that invests in eradicating rural poverty in developing countries around the world.

“I have come from the rural world. I have first-hand knowledge of the harshness of this kind of life,” said Houngbo, who was appointed by IFAD’s member states at the organisation’s annual Governing Council meeting in Rome.

Houngbo takes up the helm at a time when changing government priorities and the more immediate needs of humanitarian crises – like natural disasters, conflict and refugees – threaten to divert funding away from long-term development.

With growing global demand for food, increased migration to cities and the impact of climate change, investments in agriculture and rural development will be essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of ending poverty and hunger.

“We have to keep our ambition and at the same time be realistic and pragmatic,” he said. “We have to demonstrate that every dollar invested will have the highest value for money.”

Houngbo has more than 30 years of experience in political affairs, international development, diplomacy and financial management.

Since 2013 he has served as Deputy Director General of the International Labour Organisation. Prior to that, he was Assistant Secretary General, Africa Regional Director and Chief of Staff at the United Nations Development Programme.

As someone who was born and raised in rural Togo, Houngbo believes that the inequality in today’s world should never be accepted, and that IFAD has a crucial role to play in bringing opportunities to the poor and excluded.

“The privilege of attaining high-quality education helped me develop a strong sense of responsibility towards improving the condition of those who have not had similar opportunities,” he wrote in answer to questions during the nomination process.

“I believe that through a dynamic leadership of IFAD, I can contribute to visible change in the hardship-laden lives of the world’s rural poor.”
Togo covers 57,000 square kilometres, making it one of the smallest countries in Africa. With a population of around 8 million inhabitants, Subsistence agriculture is the main economic activity in Togo; the majority of the population depends on it. Food and cash crop production employs the majority of the labour force and contributes about 42 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP).

Coffee and cocoa are traditionally the major cash crops for export, but cotton cultivation increased rapidly in the 1990s, with 173,000 metric tons produced in 1999.

After a disastrous harvest in 2001 (113,000 metric tons), production rebounded to 168,000 metric tons in 2002.
Despite insufficient rainfall in some areas, the Togolese Government has achieved its goal of self-sufficiency in food crops — maize, cassava, yams, sorghum, pearl millet, and groundnut.

Small and medium-sized farms produce most of the food crop; the average farm size is one to three hectares.
In the industrial sector, phosphates are Togo’s most important commodity, and the country has an estimated 60 million metric tons of phosphate reserves.

During the 1990s, Togo suffered through a socio-political crisis, an economic regression and a decrease in public and international aid. As a result, an estimated 62 per cent of the population currently lives below the poverty line.

The country’s challenge now is to create the conditions for economic growth – and the Government of Togo believes that the best way to achieve lasting growth is through increased production and productivity in the agriculture sector.

Houngbo was among eight candidates, including three women, vying for the organisation’s top leadership position. He succeeds Kanayo F. Nwanze, who was President for two terms beginning in April 2009. Houngbo will take office on 1 April 2017.

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience, though grants and long-term, law-interest credits.

Since 1978, this UN body — also known as the “bank of the poor” — has provided 18.5 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 464 million people.

The Algerian Emir Who Set a Protection of Prisoners Code in 1842

15 February 2017 - 8:17am

Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

By IPS World Desk
ROME / OXFORD, UK, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

As far back as the 1830s, Algerian Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy was known for having introduced, among others, rules concerning the humane treatment of prisoners, which developed in 1842 into his Code for the Protection of Prisoners.

“The Emir’s Code prohibited mistreatment of prisoners and the killing of unarmed enemy soldiers or prisoners. In the Emir’s jails, there were no ‘enemy combatants’ prevented from enjoying basic human rights,” explained Idriss Jazairy, the executive director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

“Henri Dunant, the great Swiss humanitarian activist is credited with having introduced the first code to protect war prisoners that led to the creation of the Red Cross. That was in 1863, some twenty years after the adoption of the Emir’s Code,” he added.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre made this statement during to an event held on Feb. 15 on the historical importance of the 19th century Algerian leader, Emir Abd el Qader, and the universality of Islamic values, at the renowned Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of Oxford University.

Jazairy also spoke about the Emir’s contribution to identify commonalities between Islam and Christianity in order to promote peace, social justice and inter-religious harmony between Muslims and Christians.

“He asserted in a letter of July 1862 to a French bishop, Mgr. Pavy, that the teachings of both of these faiths were the same and could be encapsulated in two principles: the worship of God and compassion towards His creatures. Our religions, he averred, only differ in the prescriptions provided as to how best to comply with these cardinal principles.

“This brings the Emir to the conclusion in his book ‘Reminder to the Thoughtful and Notice to the Oblivious’ that religions are complementary and all lead to tolerance,” Jazairy said.

During his presentation, he also referred to the example of the Emir’s action to save the Christian minority in Damascus, during civil strife in 1860 that was widely commended by world leaders at that time.

The Emir’s decision to provide protection to religious minorities reflect the Emir’s dedication to upholding what he called “the rights of humanity” an expression that preceded, and anticipated, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 85 years later.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre also expressed his concerns that the world press, by calling the authors of terrorist action “Jihadis”, unwittingly provide religious legitimacy for their heinous crimes and accredit the idea that Islam inspires terrorism.

He argued that this was tantamount to “Islamising crime rather than denouncing the criminalisation of Islam.”

“This provides terrorist groups with recruitment publicity while stimulating in credulous people’s minds, both in the Middle East and in the West, a conflation of Islam with terrorism,” the executive director of the Geneva Centre warned.

By this standard, the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy is very much alive today with city squares and streets across the world bearing his name and with even a city in the U.S. state of Iowa named after him, he explained.

Not a single year has elapsed in recent times without new books and innumerable articles being published about this towering international figure, said Jazairy.

“The Emir was honoured by no lesser world leaders of his time than Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Sultan Abdelmajid I and of course Napoleon III. Praised also was he by no lesser writers and poets than Rimbaud and Voltaire, Browning and Thackeray.”

The Emir is known to have fought the French invaders of Algeria for 17 years from 1830 to 1847. He waged 116 battles and confronted, at times defeating them, five princes of the French Royal Household, ten field-marshals and 150 generals, Jazairy reminded.

“Despite the fact that the French army outnumbered 10 to 1 the troops of the Emir, despite the former’s resort to weapons of mass destruction of the times, the almighty mobile cannon, the French conquest was slow, even laborious. Its vagaries called for the replacement of the Minister of War in France 16 times during this period.”

He noted that Algeria has a long history of resisting foreign invasion and occupation. Jugurtha, born in 160 BC, for instance, a courageous leader of Algeria, resisted the Roman invasion for seven years.

“Algeria’s liberation war (1954-1962) also lasted seven years. In December 1847, the fighting officially ended leading to what Algerians refer to as a treaty to end hostilities. The French called it, not ingenuously, a surrender.”

By this treaty the French committed inter alia to the transfer of the Emir, his family and followers to Alexandria or Acre. However, the treaty was shamefully violated by France, Jazairy noted.

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue is a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre works towards a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different narratives thereon of the Global North and of the Global South.

St Valentine’s Day: Celebrating Healthy Relationships; Challenging Violence

14 February 2017 - 7:57am

Bethan Cansfield, Head of Enough Campaign, (Oxfam International) & Lourdes Montero, Gender Justice Manager, Oxfam Bolivia

By Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

Today, many couples, in many countries will be celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day – or ‘El día de los enamorados’ (‘Day of Lovers’) in some Latin American countries. Whilst a chance to celebrate the spectrum of healthy loving relationships; it is also an important opportunity to highlight a crisis affecting women and girls in every corner of the world – 30% of women will experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a current or former partner or husband.

This figure of 30% does not take into account coercive control – a pattern of domination through intimidation, isolation, degradation and deprivation, including psychological and economic control. So whilst the figure of 30% is shockingly – we know it is just the tip of the iceberg.

No single factor alone causes partner violence, however evidence shows that one of the strongest factors that predicts this form of abuse is discriminatory shared beliefs (social norms) about what is normal and appropriate in relationships. These can include that a man has a right to assert power over a woman or that a man has a right to discipline women. Societies across the world promote masculine jealously and control as a desirable way to demonstrate love. Films, music, soap operas reinforce these ideas, as can parents and friends.

Unhealthy relationships often start early – with young men and women thinking behaviors such as teasing and name calling are normal parts of relationships. The Government of Australia has just released a powerful advert demonstrating how these early notions of relationships between boys and girls can lead to other more serious forms of violence. In one scene, a young boy slams a door on a young girl, causing her to fall over. “He just did it because he likes you,” the mother explains.

Other identities can intersect with gender to influence what is considered normal and appropriate within a relationship. For instance, in Latin American cultures, ‘concepts of machismo dictate that boys and men should be tough, sexually assertive, and dominating, whereas marianismo stresses that girls and women should be submissive and passive in their relationships with boys and men.’

To address this the Colectivo Rebeldía, Oxfam Bolivia and the Women’s Coordinator are today launching a new campaign ‘ACTÚA, detén la violencia’ to tackle violence in young people’s relationships.

Bolivia has the highest rates of physical violence against women in Latin America and the Carribean – 53.3% of Bolivian women have experienced physical or sexual partner violence and every three days a woman dies because of femicide.

Oxfam Bolivia’s research has found that nearly half of urban youth (men and women) promote sexist beliefs that normalize violence. This includes “the way you dress provokes rape”, “jealousy is part of love” or “if you really love, you forgive violence”. The study also found that 9 out of 10 youths know a friend is suffering from violence from her partner and that the majority state it is better not to intervene – 33% said that if their friend beats their partner, they do not get in because it’s their private life.

Despite this apparent indifference, 43% of young people consider that violence can decrease if the whole society gets involved, 54% believe that the fight against violence is a priority for the development of the country and 85% of young people would be willing to act to stop the violence.

In its first stage, the ACTÚA campaign aims to tackle the indifference of the friend of someone in a violent relationship or perpetrating violence in a relationship. It will develop circles of friends that socially sanction violent behaviors and develop support networks for young women facing violence. Using public and peer pressure, the campaign hopes to decrease violence in young relationships.

Whether in Bolivia or anywhere else in the world, we all need to take a stand against notions of harmful love and instead promote positive and healthy relationships with our family, friends and colleagues.

No to Palestinian Peace Envoy: US to UN

13 February 2017 - 8:11pm

The flags of UN observer states the Vatican and Palestine. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

The failed appointment of former Palestinian-Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the UN’s peace envoy to Libya has shown that divisions over Palestine still run deep at the world body.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ pick as his Special Representative in Libya, was quickly vetoed by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley on Friday 10 February.

Haley said on Friday that the United States was “disappointed” to see a letter indicating Fayyad would be appointed for the role.

By Monday Fayyad was no longer under consideration

In Dubai on Monday, Guterres described the turn of events as a “loss for the Libyan peace process,” describing Fayyad as “the right person for the right job at the right moment.”

Guterres also noted the importance of appointment given the ongoing instability in Libya.

“Let’s not forget that Libya is not only relevant in itself, Libya has been a factor of contamination to the peace and stability in a wide area, namely in Africa, in the Sahel, and to bring an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.”

However few if any conflicts have remained on the UN’s agenda as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indications that the Palestinian question – as it is referred to in UN Security Council meetings – may become a source of tension between the United Nations and the Trump – Republican administration began before Trump had taken office.

On December 22, the United States under then President Barack Obama allowed Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements to pass by abstaining – the resolution was supported by the 14 other Security Council members, including U.S. allies such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and France.

The resolution stated that “Israel’s establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity.”

In an apparent break from protocol for a President-elect, Donald Trump appeared to respond to the vote on December 23 with a Tweet stating: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”.

Haley later described the resolution as “a terrible mistake,” in her confirmation hearing for the role of U.S. Ambassador to the UN.

Following the vote Israel passed a law on 6 February retrospectively recognising Jewish Settelements built on confiscated Palestinian land in the occupied territories.

Kofi Annan, Chair of The Elders and former UN Secretary-General, described the law as “highly damaging” to “prospects for peace.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu should show leadership to overturn this law, paying heed to the objections of Israel’s Attorney General, broad segments of Israeli society, and members of his own Likud Party,” said Annan.

The United States has remained Israel’s closest ally both for strategic reasons as a partner in the Middle East and due to domestic support for Israel. This support comes in part from America’s Jewish population. While the current administration supports Israel, their support for Judaism is less clear, after the White House failed to refer to Jews or Judaism in its statement issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Meanwhile support for Israel also comes from groups such as Christians United for Israel who say on their website that they have over 3 million members. The group’s website homepage also includes a pop-up campaign calling to defund the United Nations.

The United States provides 22 percent of the UN budget, making it the largest single member state contributor.

There is yet to be any concrete indication from either Trump or Haley that the U.S. intends to reduce U.S. funding to the UN other than through a leaked draft Executive Order published by some media outlets.

However some Republican lawmakers have been more open in their opposition to the UN’s seeming sympathy towards Palestine, presenting a bill, which has not yet passed, to withhold U.S. funding to the UN until Resolution 2334 has been repealed.

Palestine has been a non-member observer state at the UN since 2012. In a symbolic gesture, the UN began flying the Palestinian flag in September 2015, alongside the Holy See – Vatican – which is also an observer state.

Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary General

13 February 2017 - 6:55pm

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

Dubai Ruler Warns Against Economic Isolation at Summit Meeting

13 February 2017 - 9:50am

By Razeena Raheem
ROME, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Speaking at the opening of the two-day World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said economic openness is a ground reality.

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

“We, as Arabs, should not lean towards economic isolation as the global market is open,” he told a gathering of nearly 4,000 global leaders and experts from 139 countries at the 5th annual World Government Summit.

“We should not lose hope that we can achieve Arab progress and development, despite challenges and problems surrounding us. The GCC’s (Gulf Cooperation Council) achievements over the past four years are equal to achievements made by the GCC over the past 40 years, he added.

He said success is not measured by the size of a population nor by the modernity of countries or oil resources, but by will and management.

“The GCC under the leadership of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, will have a major role and positive impact on the Arab level,” he added.

Referring to the rise of terrorism worldwide, he said: “We have those who kill others in the name of the Holy Quran, and they blow themselves up in the Arab, Europe and the US. But they have nothing to do with Islam, which is innocent and a religion of tolerance. Prior to Islam, tribes were fighting and invading each other. With the advent of Islam, a great civilisation was built, one that benefitted the entire world.”

Asked about the relationship with the United States and newly-elected President Donald Trump, Sheik Mohammad said: “Our relationship with the United States is a relationship between countries and governments, not with individuals. He went on to say that, “The UAE will continue to prioritize its interests to guide its foreign policy agenda.”

In his opening address, he also said the policy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is based on placing the interests of its people over any other considerations. The previous US administration committed a series of mistakes, such as the invasion of Iraq and supporting revolutions, he said.

“The UAE, like any other country, was subjected to plots, however this never prevented us from working hard and accomplishing achievements. I believe that there are conspiracies targeting countries, and this has existed for thousands of years. Each country works for their own interests, but this will not stop us,” Shaikh Mohammad added.

“Mankind creates civilisations, and the Arab people have the cultural fundamentals to rise again,” he added.

Among the keynote speakers on the opening day February 12 were the Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, who cautioned governments about the global ‘emotional turmoil’ saying, “If we want to go forward, we need a completely new system where the human-being is at the center, and societal advancement is the key.”

Speaking at a panel discussion, US economist and Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, said the success of a government must be defined by its ability to facilitate the happiness and well-being of its citizens, and should replace old paradigms that focus overwhelmingly on economic performance.

Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Senegal’s Minister of Health & Social Interaction, was presented with the “2017 World’s Best Minister Award”.

The award was based on four parameters of excellence – innovation, leadership, impact, and reputation. She was honoured for her contributions towards the eradication of Ebola, reduction of child mortality rates and the prevention of malaria in Senegal.

Ravaging Drought Deepens in Kenya

13 February 2017 - 6:41am

At least one million children in Kenya are in dire need of food aid due to drought. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Experts warn that Kenya is in the grip of the worst drought in recent history as government estimates show the number of people who are acutely food insecure has risen to 2.7 million, up from two million in January.

This has necessitated the government to declare the crisis a national disaster as large parts of the country continue to succumb to the ravaging drought.The drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

At least 11,000 livestock across the country are facing imminent death due to lack of water and pasture, this is according to the National Drought Management Authority.

The drought management authority issued further warnings to the effect that pastoral communities could lose up to 90 percent of their livestock by April.

But children are still the most affected, with official government reports showing that an estimated one million children in 23 of the country’s 47 counties are in dire need of food aid.

“The prevalence of acute malnutrition in Baringo, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya where the drought is most severe is estimated at 25 percent,” Mary Naliaka, a pediatrics nurse with the Ministry of Health, told IPS.

“This is alarming because at least 45 percent of deaths among children under five years of age is caused by nutrition related issues.”

Too hungry to play, hundreds of starving children in Tiaty Constituency of Baringo County instead sit by the fire, watching the pot boil, in the hope that it is only a matter of minutes before their next meal.

Unbeknownst to them, the food cooking inside the pot is no ordinary supper. It is actually a toxic combination of wild fruits and tubers mixed with dirty water, as surrounding rivers have all run dry.

Tiaty sits some 297 kilometers from the capital Nairobi and the ongoing dry spell is not a unique scenario.

Neighbouring Elgeyo Marakwet and Turkana County are among the counties spread across this East African nation where food security reports show that thousands are feeling the impact of desertification, climate change and rainfall shortage.

“In most of these counties, mothers are feeding their children wild fruits and tubers. They boil them for at least 12 hours, believing that this will remove the poison they carry,” Hilda Mukui, an agriculturalist and soil conservationist, told IPS.

Teresa Lokwee, a mother of eight children, all of them under the age of 12, who lives in Tiaty, explains that the boiling pot is a symbol of hope. “When our children see that there is something cooking, the hope that they will soon enjoy a meal keeps them going.”

Mukui, who was head of agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and worked in most of the affected counties for more than two decades, says that rainfall deficit, shortage of water and unusually high temperatures is the scenario that characterizes 23 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The situation is so dire that in Baringo County alone, 10 schools and 19 Early Childhood Development Schools are empty as children join other family members in search of water.

“Sometimes once you leave in the morning to search for water, you return home in the evening,” Lokwee told IPS.

In other affected counties, especially in Western Kenya, communities have resorted to eating insects such as termites which were previously taboo.

Though these unconventional eating habits are a respite for starving households, experts warn that this is a ticking time bomb since the country lacks an insect-inclusive legislation and key regulatory instruments.

In the Kenya Bureau of Standards, which assesses quality and safety of goods and services, insects are labeled as impure and to be avoided.

But if predictions by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come as the country watches the onset of what experts like Mukui call a crisis after the failure of both the long and short rains.

“We are now facing severe effects of desertification because we are cutting down more trees than we can plant,” she explains.

She added that Vision 2030 – the country’s development blueprint – calls for the planting of at least one billion trees before 2030 to combat the effects of climate change, but the campaign has been a non-starter.

Mukui told IPS it is no wonder that at least 10 million people are food insecure, with two million of them facing starvation.

The drought is region-wide. On Feb. 10, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the drought is putting 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in urgent need of aid.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which works in countries such as Kenya buckling under the weight of desertification, land degradation and severe drought, the number of people living on degraded agricultural land is on the rise.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, with at least 45 percent of government revenue being derived from this sector.

Mukui says it is consequently alarming that at least 10 million of the estimated 44 million Kenyans live in degraded agricultural areas, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of the country’s rural community.

Other statistics by UNCCD show that though arid and semi-arid lands constitute about 80 percent of the country’s total land mass and are home to at least 35 percent of the country’s population, areas that were once fertile for agriculture are slowly becoming dry and unproductive.

A survey by the Kenya Forest Service has revealed that not only is the country’s forest cover at seven percent, which is less than the ten percent global standard, an estimated 25 percent of the Mau Forest Complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – has been lost due to human activity.

Within this context, UNCCD is working with various stakeholders in Kenya to ensure that at least five million hectares of degraded land is restored. According to Executive Secretary Monique Barbut, there is a need to ensure that “in the next decade, the country is not losing more land than what it is restoring.”

“Land issues must become a central focus since land is a resource with the largest untapped opportunities,” she said.

Research has shown that the state of land impacts heavily on the effectiveness of policies to address poverty and hunger.

Restoring forest cover in Kenya is key. Since 1975, official government statistics show that the country has suffered 11 droughts – and the 12th is currently looming.

The cost implications that the country continues to suffer can no longer be ignored. UNCCD estimates that the annual cost of land degradation in Kenya is at least five percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And addressing land degradation can earn the country four dollars for every one dollar spent in land restoration efforts.

Barbut has, however, commended the country’s efforts to address desertification caused by both human activity and the adverse effects of climate change, particularly through practical and sustainable legislation.

Mukui says that UNCCD works through a country-specific National Action Programme which Kenya already has in place. “What we need is better coordination and concerted efforts among the many stakeholders involved, government, communities, donors and the civil society, just to name a few,” she said.

Efforts to enhance the country’s capacity to combat desertification by the UNCCD include providing financial and technical resources to promote management of local natural resources, improving food security and partnering with local communities to build sustainable land use plans.

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ICT Signals the Cradle of Radio’s Rebirth

13 February 2017 - 5:57am

A group of women in Africa listen to their favorite radio program. Photo courtesy UNESCO.

By Ann Therese Ndong Jatta and Haron Mwangi
NAIROBI, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Over the last few decades, radio has played an important role in the realm of development. It has enabled the distribution of information on new policies, technology, products, and ideas with the potential of stimulating growth and development, largely in rural Africa.

Radio acquired the capacity to reach a mass audience in the period following World War I and grew steadily to become a powerful medium of communication. In just a couple of decades, it would equal, and eventually overtake the newspaper in popularity. In the long term, radio also grew from being a mere source of war propaganda and entertainment to being a credible source of news for all sectors of society.

With the coming of the information age however, reference to radio with regards to communication has dropped drastically with few people today appreciating the impact the advent of radio had in the twentieth century. The World Wide Web a much bigger technological breakthrough dwarfs the historical positioning enjoyed by radio in the last century. Many have even argued that the internet has swallowed much of radio’s territory and will soon preside over its farewell party.

In the contrary, Kenya’s case depicts a fruitful collaboration between radio broadcasting and one of the fastest growing information and communication technology sectors in Africa.  The capacity for radio to disseminate programmes to audiences beyond its attributed frequencies has been enhanced.

Kenya continues to experience growth in the ICT sector and has a growing number of broadcasting stations. According to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) mobile penetration stands at  88 percent while its internet penetration is the highest in Africa at 68 percent.The increase in internet bandwidth capacity has bolstered the growth in internet connection and of mobile subscriptions.  There exists an upward trend with mobile handsets not only becoming the medium for communication but also for accessing other value added services like data and internet, entertainment, mobile money transfer as well as radio.

As Kenya joins the world in celebrating World Radio Day on 13th February 2017, stakeholders in the media industry have so far viewed ICT not as a threat but as an opportunity. An agent that will propel radio to the next level.
Considering that the combination of the mobile phones and the internet have the potential to disrupt the traditional role of radio, it is interesting to note that radio is still popular in Kenya. Out of 372 radio frequencies allocated by CAK, 233 are being utilized covering all major towns and rural audiences.

As Kenya joins the world in celebrating World Radio Day on 13th February 2017, stakeholders in the media industry have so far viewed ICT not as a threat but as an opportunity. An agent that will propel radio to the next level.

The Media Council of Kenya stands for a vibrant, dynamic and responsible media space and has thus continued to engage with radio stations on how ICT can be harnessed to achieve some of effectiveness in the context of sustainability.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) is currently running a program “Empowering Local Radios with ICT” which aims to bridge the gap between the poor – especially women and girls – and the community to debate on issues of public concern. The program not only trains community radio station staff on the use of ICT but also runs a series of capacity-building activities in local radio stations to improve station programming quality and help increase the geographical range of news coverage with a network of correspondents.

Many stations currently run popular and highly interactive social media platforms which complement their messages on the airwaves. A robust ICT regime has given way to citizen journalism and enhanced the participation of the audience in content generation.

Even as ICT reverses radio’s century-old sender-receiver rules, adapting to the new environment requires facilitation and close monitoring so that no one is left behind. Indicators seem to be pointing at future growth, urbanization and a large generation of tech-savvy youth is already driving up the internet’s contribution to Africa’s GDP. The current estimates show that by 2025 this contribution to GDP could grow to at least 5 to 6 per cent, matching that of leading economies such as those of Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. With radio tagging on ICT’s coat tail the boomerang effect is already underway.

Ann Therese Ndong Jatta is the UNESCO Representative and Regional Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

Dr. Haron Mwangi is the CEO, The Media Council of Kenya.

Radio: the Original Social Media

12 February 2017 - 10:56pm
Each year on February 13, World Radio Day, the UN brings attention to the humble wireless, which was invented back in 1895, more than 100 years before the World Wide Web was created in 1990.

Latin America in the Vanguard of Global Fight Against Hunger

11 February 2017 - 3:09pm

Children eat lunch at a school in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a community where most children live in poverty, but thanks to the synergy between family farming and school meals, they have managed to eliminate malnutrition among the student body. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Orlando Milesi and Mario Osava
SANTIAGO/RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 11 2017 (IPS)

A model for fighting against hunger and malnutrition with a global reach which has been successful within and outside the region has spread worldwide, first from Brazil and then from Latin America, notes a distinction given to the current Director-General of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), José Graziano da Silva.

Graziano was included in the 2016 ranking of “Global Latin Americans” with influence at a global level, drawn up by the international edition of the journal AméricaEconomía, along with Pope Francis from Argentina, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, microfinance pioneer María Otero, who was born in Bolivia, famous Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, Mexican-born journalist Jorge Ramos and Mexican poet José Cárdenas, among others.

“He has been one of the most steadfast advocates of food security, working on the whole issue of rural life, which is why we put him on the list,” the journal’s director of digital media, Lino Solís de Ovando, told IPS.

AméricaEconomía, an international journal that is published in Santiago and which also has eight national or subregional editions as well as a large digital platform, seeks with this “unprecedented ranking to provide a list of the 25 most influential men and women,” he said. Not all of them are “in the front row,” but they are all “people who truly generate global change” with their activities, he said.

Graziano, director-general of FAO since 2012, a post he will hold until 2019 after he was reelected for a second term in 2015, led the team that designed Brazil’s “Zero Hunger” programme, which gave rise to a new global model.

“The recognition of people is an acknowledgment of the ideas and the causes to which they devote their lives. In this case, it is a recognition of rural development and the fight against hunger in Latin America and worldwide,” Graziano said on Thursday Feb. 9, referring to his inclusion on the list of Latin Americans with the greatest global influence.

Named special minister of food security and the fight against hunger (2003-2006) during the first years of the presidency of leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), “Graziano played a decisive role in coming up with strategies to combat hunger, combining structural and emergency actions,” the executive director of ActionAid International, Adriano Campolina, told IPS.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva speaking at the fifth Celac Summit, in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Credit: FAO

“His efforts translated into loans to family farmers, improved school feeding and income transfer policies, among other initiatives,” Campolina said from the humanitarian organisation’s headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

According to Campolina, in his strategy Graziano “had the wisdom to identify in society effective and liberating ways to fight hunger,” translating them into public policies and “recognising that many solutions lay in the successful initiatives carried out by social movements and non-governmental organisations.”

Graziano was in charging of setting in motion “the most important programme in Lula’s administration, Zero Hunger, which had the full acceptance of all segments of Brazilian society, even the opposition to Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT),” said Frei Betto, who helped design and launch the programme, as special adviser to the president.

“Zero Hunger comprised more than 60 complementary and empowering programmes, including agrarian reform, unionisation, family agriculture, and rainwater harvesting others,” said the well-known Catholic writer, who is also an adviser to different social movements.

Its administration was in the hands of “civil society organised in Management Committees, which were created in more than 2,500 municipalities, half of Brazil, during Graziano’s term of office,” said Betto.

But in 2004 the government decided to focus its efforts on cash transfers, through Bolsa Familia, “which was compensatory in nature”. That led to Betto’s resignation, while Graziano became adviser to the president, until he was named FAO’s regional representative in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2006.

The replacement of Zero Hunger with Bolsa Familia, which provided direct subsidies, was due to pressure from municipal authorities who wanted to control the lists of beneficiaries for electoral purposes, said Betto.

“Fortunately, Graziano was recognised internationally, elected and re-elected as head of FAO, to take the initiative and experience of Zero Hunger to other countries,” he said.

“At FAO, Graziano had the political courage to recognise the key role played by small-scale family agriculture, women farmers, agroecology and sustainable agriculture in eradicating hunger,” said Campolina.

Recognising these tendencies, instead of prioritising large-scale agriculture and transnational corporations that abuse toxic agrochemicals, is “the paradigm shift that makes it possible to combat the structural causes of hunger,” he said.

“Graziano’s leadership strengthened the fight for access to land and sustainability and boosted family farmers, who produce 80 per cent of the world’s food,” said ActionAid’s executive director.

Economist Francisco Menezes, a former president of Brazil’s National Council of Food and Nutritional Security (2003-2007), stressed that “one of Graziano’s legacies is being able to get Brazil, Latin America and the world to give priority to the goal of food security.”

Graziano himself expressed hope at the fifth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), held in January, that “Latin America and the Caribbean could become the first developing region to fully eradicate hunger.”

For this to happen, Menezes said, governments must reinforce the implementation of the Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication Plan developed by Celac with FAO support, whose goal is to put an end to the problem in the region by 2025.

Solís de Ovando also underscored FAO’s focus, during Graziano’s administration, on the issue of obesity and overweight, which affect 360 million people in the region, according to a study released by the organisation in January.

In its “Global Latin Americans” 2016 ranking, AméricaEconomía also highlighted the efforts made by the head of FAO in South-South cooperation and the exchange of solutions and experiences between countries of the different regions of the Global South, with the goal of achieving food security and sustainable development.

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