African Myths, Busted

We’re all guilty of some stereotypes about Africa – I’ve never been there and I can assure you I have my own, mostly based on literature and my academic interests in development studies. That’s not the problem, but we should ask ourselves why. This powerful video confronts them spectacularly and challenges many of the most common ones.

I’m surprised so many ridiculous myths about what Africans live, work and play like are so powerful, and so monochromatic.

For a continent the size of the US, China, India, Japan, Eastern Europe, UK and eight other European countries combined, the fact that there are still only a handful of images of its life and people is outrageous.

 

I hope you enjoy this thought-provoking video and its message. It’s high time we started a proper series of conversations about why we are painting an entire continent with one stereotype (and let’s not shy away from the racism inherent in all of these assumptions) and thinking nothing of it.

Tim Jackson on the Economics of Climate Change

I came across this incredible TED talk by Tim Jackson, the environmental economist, on how shifting the way we think about growth and prosperity could help us navigate the realities of climate change. It’s a brilliant summary of the moral and economic dilemmas facing the climate change debate and it’s also highly thought-provoking.

I am a huge admirer of Jackson’s work and if you enjoyed this talk, I recommend his fantastic book ‘Prosperity Without Growth‘ and his work with RESOLVE. You can read the book on an e-reader but there’s also a summary PDF here.

27 Myths about the Developing World

I found this article on Global Citizen and wanted to share it. There was a lot here that made me think, but many of these myths have been debunked by most academics and professionals in development. Aid effectiveness is still a hotly contested debate topic, certainly – but are we really still in the mindset that aid leads to overpopulation (myth 24)?

Have a look and tell me what you think. It surprised me to see there are still those who hold on to these views.

1.) There is an agreed upon way to decide what is a developing country

Flickr: Sudhamshu Hebbar

There is no agreed upon metric for deciding which countries are considered “developing”. The standard of living for a given country can be calculated a dozen different ways with different factors. There is even debate as to whether the term should still be used because it assumes a desire for Western style economic development.

2.) When people say “developing world” or “third world” they mean Africa.

Wikipedia Commons

Yes, there are many developing nations in Africa. And yes, most of the myths on this list apply to how people think of Africa. There are developing countries in North America, South America, Asia and Europe. And Africa isn’t a monolith of poverty. This myth feeds into a lot of misconceptions about Africa like…

3.) Africa is a country.

Flickr: US Army Africa

It’s not as though people don’t know that Africa is a continent not a country. The problem is that people make sweeping generalizations about Africa. Whereas most people in the Global North have a clear idea about the differences between Germany and Italy, African nations often get painted with the same brush. In fact there are 54 different African nations all with different cultures, ethnicities, and economic statuses.

4.) Poor countries are just short of natural resources.

Wikimedia: Alexandra Pugachevsky

This is one of the most damaging myths because it makes people believe that there isn’t much that can be done to help. But it’s simply not true. For example, about 400 billion dollars worth of resources leave the continent of Africa every year. There are a lot of reasons why developing nations can have a lot of poverty, but a lack of natural resources is rarely a big factor. This myth also leads people to conclude that…

5.) Developing nations don’t have their own cultures or histories (because they have always been poor).

Wikimedia: Cordanrad

This one will probably seem obvious but there is a misconception that developing nations have no culture or history because they’ve always been poor and cut off from the rest of the world. Aside from the racist assumptions about poverty in tribal civilizations, this myth ignores the rich and powerful cities, kingdoms and empires that have existed in areas that are now impoverished. Look into the Malian Empire or the Mughal Empire if you don’t believe me.

6.) The people in developing nations are all poor.

Flickr: Christophe

There are clearly poor people in developing nations. But there are also poor in developed countries. Worse, the belief that a developing nation is entirely populated by poor people erases the many success stories of the rising global middle class people. Only focusing on those in desperate poverty makes for ineffective policies and leads to false assumptions about how people live in other countries.

7.) All people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas.

Wikimedia Oxfam East Africa

Most of the world’s poor, about 75%, do live in rural areas and rely mostly on farming. However like most things on this list, facts become myths when people replace the word “most” with the word “all”. The 25% of the world’s poor that live in urban areas need different types of aid, and different kinds of policy change, than those in rural areas. They shouldn’t be ignored.

8.) Developed nations spend a lot of their budgets on international aid.

Wikimedia: Russavia

How much do you think the United States spends in international aid every year? It’s probably less than you think . When asked how much of the national budget was spent on foreign aid the average American responded with 25%. The actual amount is less than 1%. Even the most generous nation in the world, Norway, gives less than 3% a year. When asked how much the United States should spend on foreign aid, the average response was 10%.

9.) Relying on aid hurts developing nations.

Flickr: Bread for the World

The argument usually goes like this: “If developing nations rely on foreign aid, they will never develop their own economies.” However, it is important to remember that the aid that directly saves lives, such as medicine and food, is really an investment in the nation’s future. Without a strong and healthy population there is truly no hope for independence from aid.

10.) Volunteering in a developing nation is the best way to make a difference.

Wikimedia: Elitre

A common misconception, although a valiant one! However, volunteering in a developing country usually benefits the volunteer more than locals, unless you have specific, applicable skills like medicine or engineering. The volunteer will learn a lot but will likely have little impact on community development. The best aid is the kind that gives locals the ability to craft their own instituions that can continue on long after the trickle of aid money has come to an end. Traveling to teach English for a month is not near as impactful as funding the local schoolteachers who will live and work there for their entire careers.

11.) Pictures of starving people, or sad children, are a great way to motivate people to make a difference.

Wikimedia: Oxfam East Africa

There is a name for the type of imagery that is supposed to shock people in developed nations with the realities of extreme poverty: “poverty porn”. While there is a time and place to document suffering, it is important to make sure the person in the photograph is aware of what the picture will be used for, and that the image is presented with context. When photos of children with distended bellies are used as symbols instead of portraits of living people, they are erased as individuals. Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and presented with dignity: as a person with their own dreams, character, and motivations. Although these images undoubtably work at provoking sympathy, advocacy efforts need to be motivated by accurate information and these images don’t tell the whole story.

12.) People living in extreme poverty are poor because they made bad choices.

Wikimedia: Ton Rulkens

This rumor has been around as long as poverty has. The world’s poorest are often stigmatized as stupid, lazy, dirty, and violent. Structural inequality can be subtle and difficult to understand, but these types of assumptions poisons the efforts made to change the systems that keep people poor. Just because a person is successful, it shouldn’t give them the right to shirk responsibility to address structural inequality.

13.) There just isn’t enough food to feed everyone.

Wikimedia: Elitre

This is usually the conclusion people make when they hear that so many people all over the world go hungry. In fact, there is enough food to feed the planet one and a half times over. People who can comfortably afford food usually waste a staggering amount. Hunger is not a supply issue, it’s a distribution issue.

14.) Developing nations are all corrupt, and aid just supports that corruption.

Wikipedia Commons

First of all, let’s not pretend that developing nations are the only ones with corruption at the government level. When a mayor in the developed world is found to be corrupt, no one suggests that we cut off services to the city in question. It is important to ask ourselves if we are willing to sacrifice the lives of people who rely on aid until we are sure that every incident of corruption is removed. Of course institutions and governments should be transparent and accountable, but the cost of corruption usually only accounts for a small percentage of total aid.

15.) We should focus on poverty in our own countries before trying to help anyone else.

Flickr: Franco Folini

There is poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness in developed nations. No one is suggesting that these problems should be ignored. However, the fact remains that less than 1% of most developed nation’s budget goes to foreign aid whereas large portions of their budget address domestic health and infrastructure. The type of poverty in the developing world is objectively different from the type of poverty exerienced in developing countries.

16.) Future technologies will solve all of the problems of global poverty.

Wikimedia: Reynold Brown

Though it’s refreshing to see some optimistic myths about global poverty, the fact remains that relying on future innovations is not a viable plan and it does nothing for those living in poverty today. Which leads to me to another myth…

17.) Developing nations are technologically backwards.

Flickr: Tanalyn Dollar

There are places where there’s a lack of access to digital technology but it isn’t like developing nations are cut off from the tech boom. In fact, many times technology has spread faster in developing nations than developed ones. Cell phones are widely used and they have contributed to many innovations and has led income increases. Ignoring the use of technology in developing nations ignores how important it can be as a part of strategies for ending global poverty. This myth also ignores the innovations in digital technology that originate in the developing world.

18.) Developing nations are violent and unsafe.

Flickr: Ian Hasley

Wars are certainly one of the biggest causes of poverty and displacement, but not all developing nations are unsafe. Parts of highly developed nations can be less safe than parts of developing nations. The assumption that all parts of developing countries are torn by violenceprobably comes from movies and the kinds of news stories that come out of some developing nations.

19.) The decline of poverty is all due to international aid (especially celebrities contributing to charity) 

Wikipedia Commons

This myth ignores the strides made by the people within developing nations. The fact that the work Western nations are doing is the most visible doesn’t mean that Western people are doing the most. Aid is important to empower those living in poverty to lift themselves out of it. By giving them access to the basics: food, water, health, sanitation and education etc. Economies won’t boom just from aid, aid can give millions of people access to basic needs, allowing them to be entreprenurial and participate in the market.

20.) Any kind of aid is helpful to a developing nation.

Wikipedia Commons

There are some kinds of aid that can end up taking more resources from poorer communities than they contribute, especially when you consider the cost of shipping, storing, and distributing certain donated goods. For example, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami thousands of useless items like winter coats, high heeled shoes, and expired canned food were donated to effected nations. Though this was a generous act, donators didn’t research what was actually needed by the people effected.

21.)  If people in developing nations started acting like people in Western nations, they wouldn’t be so poor!

Wikimedia: Valter Campanato

There is a long tradition of people saying that poverty is a cultural problem. Though there can be facets of a culture that slow economic growth, such as human rights violations, women’s equality etc. But a culture that happens to have a greater incidence of wealth is not a better culture because it is political history that’s the biggest factor in determining who is poor. People believed that Irish culture was at fault for their poverty during the 19th century.

22.) Developing nations are dirty.

Wikimedia: Russavia

There is no nation that can be considered as a whole “dirty”, just as there is no nation in which all of the people are poor. In fact, developed nations produce far more trash and waste than developing nations. Calling developing nations dirty is disrespectful and trivializes the real issue of sanitation for those living in extreme poverty.

23.) People are poor because they are having too many kids they can’t afford.

DVID: Sgt. Ken Scar

This myth is a classic misunderstanding of cause and effect. Putting aside that “too many” usually means “more than I think these people should have”, studies show that people aren’t poor because they are having too many kids. Rather they can’t choose to have fewer kids because of poverty.  Without access to contraception or sex education to use it effectively, people in extreme poverty have limited choice in family planning.

24.) Aid just leads to people in developing nations having more kids, contributing to overpopulation

Flickr: Todd Huffman

This is simply untrue. There is a belief that since aid is increasingly effective at saving lives, i.e. children that would have otherwise died from preventable disease, aid will cause a population crisis. Some people believe that with the extra resources from aid those living in extreme poverty will decide to have more children. Studies have shown the exact opposite results. The combination of girls staying in school longer and families having access to family planning causes birthrates to go down. 40 years ago, women in Bangladesh had an average of 7 kids and expected a quarter to die; now women in Bangladesh have an average of 2 children and only 1 in 20 don’t make it to their 5th birthday.

25.) All developing nations are near the equator. 

Wikimedia: Taylor Weidman

Believing that most people living in poverty live in hot climates is probably related to the assumption that the developing world means Africa. However, poverty is also a real issue in incredibly cold climates like those found in Central Asia, where staying warm is a top concern. Bonus fun fact: there are climates in sub-Saharan Africa where it snows.

26.) If living in a developing nation can be so hard, people should just leave. 

Flickr: Vicki Francis/Department for International Development

Most people living in extreme poverty don’t have the money to move somewhere else. Often enough people do leave their nations to go where there are better opportunities. However those leaving are typically those with some education and/or wealth. This ends up being another important resource leaving developing nations.

27.) Nothing ever gets better and aid doesn’t make a difference.

Wikimedia: Joseph Jude

This myth is probably the one that is the most important to bust. Listing how many things have improved in the last 20 or so years would need a whole other list entirely. In fact, here’s one. The fact is plain: aid makes a huge difference, and has already saved millions and millions of lives, with your help, it can continue to do so.

Reblog: Eight Signs Life is Improving for Africa’s Children

It’s so rare these days to get a piece of good news about children’s economic development, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. I came across this article today, which has made my day.

Yes, there is still a lot of work left to do, but it’s good – and necessary! – every now and again to stop and remind ourselves of why the fight is worth it.

 

Children in many African countries have a better shot at a healthy life than ever before. We’re marking the International Day of the African Child on June 16 by taking stock of the encouraging if uneven progress Africa has made in the past two decades in improving the odds of survival for children.

There is still a long way to go. But the overall picture for Africa’s children includes bright spots, promising trends, and the prospect of a future when all children have an equal chance to live full and healthy lives.

1. Africa is making strides against the top killers of children.

Group of children standing next to a blue building.

A half-million fewer African children under age five died between 1990 and 2010 from diarrheal disease and lower respiratory infections such aspneumonia, two of the leading child killers. Premature death and disability from diarrheal diseases fell 34 percent in that period, and death and disability from lower respiratory infections dropped 22 percent, according to theInstitute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

2. A global effort to stamp out malaria is saving children’s lives.

Woman and toddler sitting on bed with bednet.

The scale-up of proven malaria interventions saved an estimated 3.3 million lives between 2000 and 2012—90 percent of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

3. Innovation is driving a sharp decline in child deaths.

Young woman holding an infant, with a child standing next to her, as a health worker fills a syringe with vaccine.

In sub-Saharan Africa, deaths of children under age five dropped 39 percent between 1990 and 2011, according to the United Nations. Even better news: Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in 2000, the rate of decline has accelerated in 90 percent of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to IHME. Globally, new vaccinesdrugsdiagnostics, and other health innovations led to 4.2 million fewer child deaths in 2013 compared to 1990, according to IHME.

4. More mothers are surviving pregnancy and childbirth.

Woman holding her baby and smiling broadly.

Maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa began a rapid decline following the adoption of the MDGs. Between 2005 and 2010, maternal mortality dropped by 11.4 percent, in part because of the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy for HIV and AIDS, according to IHME. The odds of survival for children rise sharply when their mothers can care and provide for them.

5. More children—especially girls—are going to school.

Two children standing next to a chalkboard, one pointing to the writing on the chalkboard with a stick.

The primary school enrollment rate for African girls jumped from 47 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2011, with the rate for boys rising from 58 percent to 79 percent in the same period, according to the UN. That’s an especially promising sign for Africa’s efforts to drive down child mortality because maternal education is a key driver of child survival.

6. More children are gaining access to clean water.

Young boy pumping water

Since 1990, more than 2.1 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water around the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the UN estimates that the proportion of people using improved water sources rose from 49 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2011.

7. Better nutrition is improving the odds of child survival.

Man feeding a spoonful of orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes to a baby sitting on her mother's lap.

Risk factors like suboptimal breastfeeding, vitamin deficiencies, and childhood underweight are on the decline in Africa, according to IHME, leaving children less vulnerable to illness and disease.

8. More children are getting lifesaving vaccines.

Toddler sitting on a woman's lap receiving a vaccination in the left arm.

Vaccination coverage has steadily improved in many African countries over the past two decades, according to UNICEF and WHO. Vaccines save an estimated 2 to 3 million young lives per year worldwide.

Governing Land for Men and Women

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have just released their latest report, titled ‘Governing Land for Men and Women’, which is a technical guide to support the achievements of responsible gender-equitable governance of land tenure.

The report aims to bridge the gaps in gender inequality in land tenure in the rural world. The hope is to focus on the importance of holding land to economic development, stressing the need for gender equality in this goal, to help eradicate hunger and poverty.

On 11 may 2012, the Committee on World Food Security endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (the Guidelines).

“States should consider the particular obstacles faced by women and girls with regard to tenure and associated tenure rights, and take measures to ensure that legal and policy frameworks provide adequate protection for women and that laws that recognize women’s tenure rights are implemented and enforced. … States should develop relevant policies, laws and procedures through participatory processes involving all affected parties, ensuring that both men and women are included from the outset.”

(Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, from paragraphs 5.4 and 5.5).

Check out the PDF here:  

Governing Land for Women and Men

Congo Mining Deal at heart of Corruption Allegations

A London business has acquired all the shares of a Congolese mining company, in the middle of a corruption scandal involving the industry’s investment in Africa and the Congolese government.

Miners work in a pit close to Mongbwalu, Congo’s de facto gold capital.

ENRC (Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation) signed a $550m deal to buy out 49.5% of Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler’s share of Camrose Resources.

In their official press statement, ENRC detailed the effect this acquisition would have on its other mining investments in Africa.

Camrose holds 70% interest in Metalkol, and 55% in Comide, both of which mine copper and approximately 64% of Africo, which develops base metal and gold assets throughout Africa.

The added socio-economic stigma of corrupt multinational investment in DRC added pressure on ENRC to review its professional relationship with Mr Gertler, who has been accused of “looting Congo at the expense of its people.”

(That brilliant sound-bite courtesy of Jean-Pierre Muteba, the head of an NGO coalition in Congo’s Katanga province, which oversees mining activity and its economic impact on the local community).

Child labour in coltan mines in DRC

ENRC acted after pressure from politicians, investors and campaigners to increase its transparency and demonstrate how local people benefit from its mining operations.

Eric Joyce, a Scottish MP, has accused ENRC of “wrecking its reputation and integrity by entering into ropy deals with, frankly, shady middlemen.”

Critics say Mr. Gertler has used his close personal relationship with government officials to secure preferential corporate treatment.

In an interview with Bloomberg Markets, due to come out next month, Mr. Gertler insists his efforts in the Congo should earn him a Nobel Prize. “They need people like us”, he says, “who come and put billions in the ground. Without this, the resources are worth nothing.”

A Congolese miner checks his load of mineral chips he got inside a deep cassiterite mine in the north Kivu region. Photo: AFP

To put this in a broader context, this deal comes a week after the IMF froze its loans to Congo – because the government would not release details about deals between state-owned mining firms and companies related to Mr. Gertler.

Antoinette Sayeh, Director of the Africa Department at the IMF says they are committed to improving the DRC’s political climate. But these efforts are hindered because of road-blocks like this, particularly “given the significance of natural resources in this economy and the huge impact that [they] can have.”

There is also pressure from the British government to reduce aid to the Congo if the government does not show that profits from its mining industry benefit its people.

With a per capita income of $280 per annum – significantly below the level that the country formerly known as Zaire achieved after independence from Belgium in 1960 – Congo’s mining industry is at the heart of its economy and has spent years embroiled in corruption and socioeconomic scandals.

A very young girl breaks up rock at an abandoned state-owned copper mine in the city of Kipushi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, May 10, 2012. (John Lehmann /The Globe and Mail)

This latest deal to muscle out business interests accused of further exacerbating extreme poverty and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses (Human Rights Watch frequently reports cases of rape and violence against children in and around mining towns in DRC) could be the step in the right direction that African businesses need to take to tackle some of its longest-standing problems with multinational companies and investments.