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.

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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.

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

Felicity Kendal: On World Africa Day Isn’t it Time We Start to See Africa Differently?

This is a reblog from Huffington Post UK. Felicity Kendal is a British film, theatre and television actress.
In a taxi somewhere on the streets of West London the cab driver turned to me and said “What continent has got six of the fastest growing economies in the world?”

“Well it’s Asia isn’t it!” I replied firmly.

And there an awkward silence ensued…

Ok, so this wasn’t a real conversation but a line from a new short film I’ve made with an online campaign from Comic Relief called See Africa Differently. And yes, the correct answer is Africa! Whilst the driver was an actor and the dialogue was scripted, the cab and the statistic are 100% real.

If I’ve learnt one thing as an actress over the years it’s that there is more than one way to tell a story and this is no truer than when talking about Africa. So often in the media we’re faced with a continent ravaged by war and famine, but this is just one narrative among the many untold stories.

This is why I have become involved with this brilliant campaign, See Africa Differently, which aims to tell the good news from the continent which is so often ignored in the news agenda.

There’s an African proverb that says “When the music changes, so does the dance.” See Africa Differently has a new take on the continent and I think it reflects the changes we’re seeing across Africa.

So what have I learnt? Well, I’ve always known the arts have been at the heart of African culture but did you know that every year the Nigerian film industry produces more movies than Hollywood? I should probably take a trip to Lagos!

Women are also making themselves heard across the continent; 16 African countries have a higher proportion of female MPs than the UK!

This new film hopes to illustrate that Africa is a lion on the move, it’s diversity and richness in all things from music to fashion and film and business doesn’t leave much room to doubt why it is home to six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world.

You can find the campaign on http://www.seeafricadifferently.com follow them on twitter @see_africa and you really ought to like them on Facebook at facebook.com/seeafricadifferently

I really enjoyed making this film and its time we all opened our eyes to Africa!

 

Jeffrey Sachs: Global health within our grasp, if we don’t give up

This is a reblog, courtesy of CNN International

Jeffrey D. Sachs

There is a hidden revolution at work that can transform the lives of a billion of the poorest people on the planet.

The dream of health for all, even the poorest of the poor, can become a reality because of recent breakthroughs in technology and health systems. Scientific results that our Millennium Villages Project team published this week in The Lancet, coupled with broader trends around the world, should be a wake-up call: We can end the deaths of millions of young children and mothers each year by building on recent innovations.

In 2006, the Millennium Villages Project and impoverished communities around Africa jointly embarked upon the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and disease. The idea was to use low-cost, cutting-edge technologies to overcome ancient scourges like malaria and mothers dying in childbirth. Today, there is no deep mystery about what to do to stop these deaths, since the diagnostic tests, medicines and procedures are known. The challenge is to scale up these life-saving approaches.

In three short years, starting from conditions of massive death tolls and a lack of health services, the Millennium Villages were able to reduce the deaths of children under 5-years-old by around 22%, roughly three times the rate of improvement of the countries at large. The progress is continuing as low-cost health services expand. The lessons extend far beyond this specific project.

Poor children die of three main categories of disease: infections, nutritional deficiencies and conditions around childbirth. The technologies and procedures to fight all these causes of death are improving dramatically. Therein lies a great hope.

Consider malaria, one of the biggest killers of children in Africa. A dozen years ago, all seemed lost: The standard medicine had lost its efficacy as the parasite became resistant; insecticide-treated bed nets were little used because they had to be regularly retreated with the insecticide, a practical burden that poor villages could not manage; and diagnosis required that the mother and sick child trek to a distant clinic in the desperate hope the clinic had a functioning laboratory.

Now all this has changed. A new generation of low-cost and highly effective medicines has been deployed. The nets now last five years without the need for retreatment. A trained village-based worker, as part of an expanded health system, can make the diagnosis at the household using a simple rapid test, without the need for a life-and-death journey to a distant clinic. The Millennium Villages have slashed malaria deaths, but much more to the point, malaria deaths are falling sharply across Africa, down by around one-third from their peak roughly a decade ago.

A child receives an oral polio vaccine in Ivory Coast. Improved vaccines are helping save children’s lives globally.

The advances are widespread. New vaccines can fight diarrheal and respiratory diseases that have traditionally killed vast numbers of children. Thanks to vaccines, deaths from measles have plummeted, and polio is on the verge of eradication. New medical procedures can end the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to newborn. Technologies to support higher farm production and low-cost nutritional supplements can bolster inadequate diets.

Perhaps most important, information can flow through even the remotest of villages, thanks to the massive increase in mobile telephones across regions that just a few years ago had no phones at all. The spread of mobile phones may mark the fastest global uptake of a technology in history. From a few million mobile phone subscribers worldwide in 1990, the number has climbed to more than 6 billion today, with more than 250 million subscribers in Africa.

Mobile connectivity and the spread of wireless broadband are greatly strengthening rural health systems. In all of the Millennium Villages, and in more and more villages around the continent, lay community workers are bringing health services from the clinics right to the community. Mobile phones are critical in supporting these outreach workers, enabling them to call the doctors and nurses for advice, summon an ambulance or connect to a computerized expert system via text messaging.

The big picture is thrilling. Globally, deaths of young children are falling. In 1990, the worldwide deaths of children under 5 totaled around 12.5 million. By 2010, the deaths were down to around 7.6 million. The proportionate progress in the Millennium Villages has been even faster. Yet this technology-based revolution in human well-being is at the risk of stalling.

The improvements required international help to support the expansion of services in the poorest regions. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and Malaria and the U.S. PEPFAR initiative to fight AIDS exemplify the new kinds of support introduced during the past decade.

Total funding for primary health care in the poorest countries has risen by roughly $15 billion per year from the low levels of aid a dozen years back. That’s a good sum, but modest in the scheme of things, amounting to around $15 per person per year from the high-income countries, with a combined population of 1 billion. It’s about half the support needed to complete the job.

Alarmingly, the funding has come to a standstill and has even started to decline. The United States and Europe claim they can’t afford to do more because of budget crises, but the needed sums could be filled many times over just by ending the loopholes that allow the richest companies to park their profits in Caribbean tax havens.

If children continue to die by the millions, it will be the result of misguided priorities, not true budget limits. Instead of making excuses for lives lost, let us celebrate the remarkable progress we are making and commit ourselves to finishing this historic and worthy task.

No Comment: “I’m so Happy”

Reuters: Five themes to watch in Africa this year

Following are five big themes or events likely to make waves in emerging and frontier sub-Saharan Africa during 2012:

Nigerian Economic Reforms

– Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan opened 2012 with a bold statement of intent, scrapping popular but hugely wasteful fuel subsidies as the first step in a long-awaited push to reform the economy of Africa’s most populous nation.

The unexpectedly harsh move, which at a stroke doubled the price of fuel in the continent’s biggest crude exporter, drew condemnation from unions and opposition politicians and sparked protests in the commercial capital, Lagos.

Whether those demonstrations snowball into a significant challenge to Jonathan’s authority will be crucial in determining the future of his wider reform push — most notably a shake-up of the woefully inept power sector.

The subsidies’ removal has the backing of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and central bank governor Lamido Sanusi, who viewed them as a drain on the public purse that merely encouraged waste and shoved billions of dollars of government cash to a cartel of wealthy fuel importers.

However, it is far from certain that Nigeria’s 150 million people will swallow the increases, especially since many will remember military ruler Sani Abacha, who attempted the same in the 1990s but was forced into an embarrassing climb-down in the face of massive popular opposition.

An imminent showdown is brewing, with unions threatening a national strike next week, including a shut-down of large parts of the oil industry. The outcome is likely to have lasting repercussions.

Kenyan Elections

– Although it is unclear when they will be held, looming presidential and parliamentary elections in Kenya are likely to form the backdrop of all that happens in east Africa’s biggest economy given the carnage that followed voting in late 2007.

Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia and South Sudan will also be watching closely for fear of a repeat of the ethnic clashes that killed 1,300 people and shut down regional trade routes for weeks.

A new constitution drawn up since then to try to prevent a repeat stipulates that the election should be held on Aug. 14 2012, but cabinet is pushing for a December date, citing logistical hurdles.

As well as acting as a brake on investment, political pressure for pacy economic growth may spill over into monetary policy – as analysts suspected it did a year ago when the central bank failed to take action against accelerating inflation.

Easing inflation and firming currencies

– Galloping inflation, most notably in east Africa, was one of the big themes of 2011, especially when policymakers dithered in the face of rising prices and currencies started to weaken sharply.

But that cycle appears to be over, pointing to more stable currencies across the region and easing interest rates as the year progresses.

The central bank in Uganda, the regional economy where prices rose first and fastest 12 months ago, called the top of the cycle this week, saying inflation was on its way down after peaking in October at an 18-year high of 30 percent.

Kenyan inflation slowed in December for the first time since October 2010, suggesting it too may have turned the corner – especially given the shilling’s 20 percent appreciation against the dollar since October 2011.

Of other African currencies, South Africa’s rand is likely to remain largely at the mercy of the euro zone’s stranglehold over global investor sentiment, while Nigeria’s naira is likely to hold around its current levels if oil prices and production stay on a broadly even keel.

South African Economic Policy

– There are no public elections in Africa’s biggest economy this year, but politics are set to dominate the headlines as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) counts down to a December conference that will anoint its next party leader.

The most likely outcome is for President Jacob Zuma to be re-elected head of the former liberation movement, paving the way for a second term in Pretoria in 2014.

However, the previous such ANC meeting, in the northern city of Polokwane in 2007, was a disorderly affair that ended with a successful party coup led by the unions against then-President Thabo Mbeki.

With growth half what it was five years ago, any opposition to Zuma at the December meeting is likely to coalesce around his handling of the economy.

Mining could well become a political football following sustained calls from the ANC Youth League for nationalisation of the sector, although broader investment and industrial policy and the central bank’s anti-inflation mandate could also get sucked in due to unemployment stuck at 25 percent.

Last year’s 19 percent drop in the value of the rand has muted the cries of unions demanding intervention to weaken the currency, although a retracement this year could reignite the debate over the currency’s free float.

Private Equity

– Annual regional growth of 5 percent or more over the last decade has made sub-Saharan Africa an attractive hunting ground for equity investors, although a lack of liquidity and listed firms outside South Africa has hampered stock market investment.

With its longer time frames and highly specific nature, private equity faces no such constraints, and the signs are 2012 could be a big year for the industry on the poorest continent, where growth is forecast at a brisk 6 percent.

U.S. firm Carlyle Group is set to open offices in Johannesburg and Lagos and is expected to announce the closing of its first Africa fund, while London-based Helios is likely to deploy capital after closing a $900 million Africa fund in June.

In addition, other avenues of financing for African governments and companies are being squeezed as rich country budget problems crimp development aid and nervous international banks continue to keep a tight rein on credit, especially to ‘risky’ projects – as nearly everything in Africa is defined.

Most private equity interest is likely to be in the consumer goods, telecommunications and financial services sectors, all of which benefit directly from Africa’s strong economic and population growth.