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IRIN - Angola





 



Afghanistan redux, mind your language, and Angola’s First Family

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 12:53:59 +0000

President Joao Lourenco – can he escape “the family”? It’s no surprise, Angola’s next president is going to be Joao Lourenco. The big question is can the party loyalist and former general usher in any real change in Africa’s third largest economy after his electoral victory? Angola has a per capita GDP of $6,800. But, run as a “crony petro-state”, its social indicators are appalling and economy in free-fall. Lourenco has promised to crack down on corruption. Although not known for personally having sticky fingers, he is part of the system. He is the hand-picked successor to José Eduardo dos Santos who has ruled for close to four decades and will remain head of the ruling MPLA party. Dos Santos’s billionaire daughter Isabel heads Sonangol, the state oil company, and his son José Filomeno runs the country’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund. Lourenco is generally depicted as the candidate for continuity. Yet he will need resources to build his power base, and so the transition may have real impact on the dos Santos family's business interests. The Financial Times suggests the showdown could come with Isabel, whose job “puts her in control of much state revenue”. And the family could fight back. Rebecca Engebretsen writes in African Arguments that President Filipe Nyusi was elected in Mozambique also on an anti-corruption platform, but has since been troubled by leaks connecting him to prominent fraud cases during his time as a minister. What is clear is that change is unlikely to come overnight in Angola. Cameroon’s deepening language divide On a recent visit to Yaoundé, an IRIN journalist was rash enough, over lunch in a modest eatery, to raise Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis with the head of an NGO that works with the country’s youth. When the man suggested the main problem lay not between the restive Anglophone minority and French-speaking majority, but between the Anglophones and President Paul Biya, a women at a neighboring table, who turned out to work in Biya’s office, kicked up an almighty fuss and seemed set to have the man arrested. So sensitive is this 10-month-old crisis which has paralysed education, led to strikes in two English-speaking parts of the country, and seen dozens of activists and even bishops detained pending trial in military courts, that it cannot be discussed in public. Yet it continues to fester. At least six schools were set on fire over the past week, reportedly for failing to stick to a declared education strike. Earlier in the year, markets and government buildings were targeted. The government blames emerging separatist groups. Dialogue is moribund. According the International Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue, “ahead of presidential elections next year, the resurgence of the Anglophone problem could bring instability.” The report added that small secessionist groups that emerged this year are taking advantage of the situation to radicalise the population with support from part of the Anglophone diaspora. While the risk of partition of the country is low, the risk of a resurgence of the problem in the form of armed violence is high, as some groups are now advocating that approach.” A man. A plan. Afghanistan "It was 2 or 3 in the morning. I was woken up by gunfire. It was so loud. There were people screaming. My children were scared. My youngest was only a few months old. We all ran down to the basement. It was the safest place in the house. It was terrifying." So begins Doctor Marzia Salam Yaftali in this BBC Outlook feature linked to US President Donald Trump's announcement that American troops will remain in Afghanistan for the long haul. Doctor Yaftali is describing the situation the last time the Taliban tried to retake their northern former stronghold of Kunduz. It was 2015 and she was the gynaecologist in the city's last public hospital. Those weeks under siege were an extreme time, but the danger of a repeat and more is still real. Two years on the Taliban have made more gains in other parts of the country and half the cou[...]



Under the radar: Angola plays down yellow fever crisis

Fri, 25 Mar 2016 07:50:41 +0000

Angola is facing a public health emergency. Its under-funded hospitals, inadequate at the best of times, have been overwhelmed by a series of disease outbreaks, and the government has been forced to turn to private business and well-wishers for help.   No one knows the true mortality figures – a product of both Angola’s poor data-keeping and the government’s preference to bury bad news. But there have been media reports of 50 people (or 25 children) dying daily from malaria, yellow fever, dengue and typhoid.   “Angola is going through a very serious economic crisis as it’s heavily reliant on oil,” said Vibeke Skauerud, from Norwegian Church Aid. “Revenues have fallen by more than half. Hospitals are running out of basic supplies. That, coupled with bad governance, has led to the deep crisis that we now see.”   An outbreak of mosquito-transmitted yellow fever has killed 168 people since it emerged in Luanda’s poor neighbourhood of Viana in December – with suspected cases now reported in 16 out of 18 provinces.    Health officials launched a vaccination programme in Luanda in February, but the World Health Organization says the campaign has been hit by a number of constraints. “These included availability of vaccines, inadequate number of vaccination teams and limited funds to cover operational activities," a WHO briefing said.    The immunisation campaign has so far reached six out of a targeted 12 municipalities in Luanda.    Not under control   Cases seem to be accelerating across the provinces, with reports of yellow fever reaching the northern border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, WHO said.   The UN agency has declared the outbreak a “grade two emergency” on its three-point scale. Other grade two emergencies include the conflict in northeastern Nigeria, Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu last year, and floods in Myanmar, Mozambique and Malawi that displaced tens of thousands of people.   “Of particular concern is the cross-border and international spread risk of the disease, which has already been documented, with cases recently rumoured to have been exported to China, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” WHO said in a 21 March bulletin.   At the end of February, the UN Resident Coordinator Pier Paolo Balladelli and the heads of UN agencies called a meeting with the Angolan Industrial Association to appeal for private sector donations and logistical help with the yellow fever crisis.   Angola expert Paula Roque of Oxford University said she had heard of Angolan doctors based in South Africa sending medical supplies back home to help ease the shortages in a country that is Africa’s second largest oil exporter, and until recently was a rising economic star on the continent.     “Civil servants haven’t been paid their salaries. Inflation has tripled food prices. Angola is going through a real financial crisis,” she told IRIN.   Oil accounts for 95 percent of government revenue. “Of course the oil price crash could be considered one of the reasons [for the crisis], but the huge corruption across the health sector is another one, and maybe the most important one,” said Alves da Rocha of the Centre for Studies and Scientific Investigation at the Catholic University of Angola.   A searing indictment of the health system and government spending priorities – titled The Morgue – was published on 24 March by rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais. It catalogues in scary detail how health workers lack even some of the most basic items, like gloves and masks. Not the best backdrop for an emerging crisis that has so far flown largely under the international radar.    oa/ag   Nurses being trained at a college in Lubango, Angola News Water and Sanitation Health Politics and Economics Under the radar: Angola plays down yellow fever crisis Obi Anyadike IRIN NAIROBI Africa Angola [...]



Southern Africa’s food crisis in numbers

Thu, 28 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Southern Africa is facing the threat of extensive crop failures this year as a result of record low rainfall in a region in which 29 million people already don't have reliable access to enough affordable and nutritious food.  “With little or no rain falling in many areas and the window for the planting of cereals closing fast or already closed in some countries, the outlook is alarming,” the World Food Programme has warned. “The region is ill prepared for a shock of this magnitude, particularly since the last growing season was also affected by drought. This means depleted regional stocks, high food prices, and substantially increased numbers of food insecure people,” the UN agency said. Southern Africa is feeling the impact of an intense El Niño that began last year. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, continued below-average rainfall and high temperatures are likely to persist in 2016, with the food crisis lasting into 2017. The following are the worst-affected countries: South Africa The biggest victim of the drought. It’s the region’s main maize producer, but last year output fell 30 percent below the bumper 2014 season and it may have to import around 6 million tonnes. Planting of the 2016 cereal crop began later than normal due to delayed rains. Small-scale farmers have been hammered by the drought, with emergencies declared in five out of nine provinces, as well as areas of two other provinces. There have been reports of farmers committing suicide. Malawi The 2014/15 cereal harvest was 24 percent down on the five-year average. Currently, 2.8 million people are "food insecure" (they lack access to food that's sufficient to lead healthy and active lives) out of a population of 16 million as a result of flooding and drought last year. Average maize prices were at a record high in December 2015. The government’s $146-million Food Insecurity Response Plan is so far 48 percent funded. Zimbabwe The 2014/15 cereal harvest was 42 percent down on the five-year average. An estimated 1.5 million people are food insecure, with 600,000 in "crisis" - meaning they are forced to skip meals, there are high rates of malnutrition, or have sold their livestock to make ends meet. A new vulnerability assessment is under way and the figures are likely to be even worse. Zimbabwe’s $132-million drought response plan is 44 percent funded. Angola   A drought that scorched Namibia spread into Angola’s three southern provinces – Cunene, Huila, and Cuando Cubango. Whereas Namibia is on top of its crisis, Angola, even though it is Africa’s second largest oil producer, is not. In Cunene, 800,000 people – 72 percent of the population – have been hit by crop losses and livestock deaths, with child malnutrition rates beyond the emergency threshold of 15 percent. “The situation is worsened by insufficient resources, including human, logistical, critical nutritional and medical supplies, and funding,” according to UN sources. Nationwide 1.25 million are at risk.  Mozambique El Niño's climate impact splits the country in two – in the north there has been flooding, in the south drought. More than 176,000 people are in crisis in the provinces of Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala, and Niassa, until at least the next harvest. A further 575,455 people are food insecure, especially in Zambézia, Maputo, and Niassa provinces. Around 50,300 people are receiving food assistance in Gaza and Sofala. Zambia Zambia has been an exporter of maize to the region, but last year’s production was 21 percent down on 2014. Zambia’s ample stocks enabled it to still export to neighbouring and needy Zimbabwe, but close to 800,000 Zambians are also at risk of food and livelihoods insecurity.   Photo: Data: SADC, WFP And worse may be to come   Lesotho Some 650,000 people – one third of the population – do not have enough food.  Some projections indicate the numbers affected could surpass 725,000. Water rationing is under way in several districts, i[...]



Oil crash exposes Angola’s era of excess

Tue, 26 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

There’s never a good time for a drought, but this is a particularly bad period for Angola as it struggles to cope with shrinking revenues as a result of the global oil price crash. In the southern province of Cunene, 800,000 people – more than 70 percent of the population – are threatened with food shortages due to last year’s poor harvest. The drought has also affected the neigbouring provinces of Cuando Cubango and Huila, where the rural poor do not have enough in their granaries to tide them over to the next harvest in June. “We can confirm that the level of acute malnutrition across Angola warrants a high impact emergency response,” the development agency World Vision said in a statement to IRIN. “We gather that supplies of essential medicines are disrupted. We have observed stock outs of therapeutic foods, reduced outpatient services, and increased admissions to in-patient nutrition centres that are ill equipped to provide the required level of service,” the agency warned. Oil-dependent Angola introduced spending cuts of around 50 percent last year as revenues fell, undermining its ability to cope with the current crisis. In 2014, oil prices were around $100 per barrel. Currently, they are at a low of about $31 per barrel, the local currency the kwanza has been devalued, and nationwide a total of more than 1.25 million Angolans are struggling with crop losses and livestock deaths.  Although the Angolan government has provided some emergency food rations for the south, the effort is “inadequate to meet the high level of need”. As a result, World Vision has requested funding from the European Union’s humanitarian arm, ECHO, to “support the affected communities, especially vulnerable children”. It’s a far cry from the free-spending oil boom years when Angola - Africa's second largest oil exporter - tried to make up for more than a quarter century of civil war with a splurge in infrastructural projects and dizzying plans to become an economic and military powerhouse in southern Africa. According to Angola specialist Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, it was a lost opportunity of “monumental proportions”. State funds were “squandered in pointless projects or hoarded by the few, and most Angolans were left with nothing”. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs last year, de Oliveira noted: “As those citizens awake from their dreams of petro-prosperity to leaner times, the key question is where their dissatisfaction will lead, especially now that the state’s resources to buy off rising constituencies are dwindling.” The government has been quick to crack down on dissent, de Oliveira added. Silver lining? But Allan Cain, director of the Luanda-based NGO Development Workshop, says he sees this period as one of opportunity. “In the past, Angola had sufficient funds to be inefficient, but the country can no longer afford to be inefficient and must find ways of recovering the costs of these services,” he told IRIN. “There are demands from the public for basic services. Aspirations are strong, particularly from the youth graduating from the new universities. There are 21 to 25 of them, compared to just two at the end of the war.” Spending cuts are forcing reforms to Angola’s system of subsidies – from fuel to water services – resulting in sharp rises in the cost of living, as well as a back-log in the refuse collection programme in the capital, Luanda. Civil servants are only receiving their pay intermittently. But Cain points out that it’s mainly the middle classes that have benefitted from the subsidies. The gridlocked streets of Luanda are a testament to the cheap fuel in the tanks of the cars the poor cannot afford.  Neither are the residents of the shanties connected to pipe-borne water. They are forced to buy theirs instead from more expensive private tankers. “The fall in the oil price is stimulating the government to move ahead on a number of reforms that were already p[...]



An unwanted guest: El Niño and Africa in 2016

Wed, 23 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

El Niño is the largely unwanted Christmas gift – a warming of the tropical Pacific causing drought and floods that will peak at the end of this month, but will impact weather systems around the globe into 2016. This year’s El Niño has been steadily gaining strength since March. It’s likely to be one of the most extreme events of this nature yet seen, with the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, warning that “millions will be impacted”. El Niño’s links with drought in southern Africa and the Horn, and with heavy rains in East Africa, are well-established. Across the rest of the continent the climate connection is less clear. Other factors come into play, such as temperatures in the North Atlantic for West Africa’s weather, according to Richard Choularton, the World Food Programme’s chief of climate resilience for food. What makes El Niño particularly bad news in 2016 is that it will be a second tough year in a row for farmers and pastoralists in Southern Africa and the Horn – and to a lesser extent East Africa. Eighty percent of their populations are dependent on agriculture. Their ability to cope with adversity has been stretched. Now they will be facing potentially an even sterner test.   So what does that really mean for these vulnerable regions in the coming year? With the perils of weather forecasting acknowledged, here’s a snapshot. Southern Africa: More than 30 million people are already “food insecure” – lacking access to enough food to lead healthy lives as result of a poor harvest earlier this year. South Africa’s maize production has traditionally been the hedge against regional shortfalls. But this year drought was declared in five provinces and output dropped by 30 percent. The fear is that the region will experience another El Niño-induced poor harvest, “possibly a disastrous one”, according to OCHA. Emergency maize stocks are depleted, and maize prices are climbing. Governments hard hit by the global fall in commodity prices, on which their economies depend, will need to find the money to buy maize on the international market. South Africa alone is expecting to import 750,000 tonnes to meet its needs. Despite Southern Africa being a largely middle-income region, its rural populations historically have some of the world’s worst poverty indicators. Even in economic powerhouse South Africa, almost a quarter of all children under five are stunted. That level of deprivation limits people’s ability to bounce back after a shock.  See: Southern Africa’s food crisis – from bad to worse The worst-affected countries in 2016 will be Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. “Everyone is preparing for drought,” said Choularton. WFP, for example, is putting money and programmes in place in Zimbabwe, in anticipation of worse trouble to come, part of its new FoodSECuRE policy approach. Further north, in the Horn and East Africa, which have more complicated climate and agricultural systems, the El Niño picture is less clear. The Horn: Poor rains have hit parts of Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan and Somalia – but international media coverage has tended to focus on Ethiopia. In part that’s because a lazy connection gets drawn with the 1984 famine, but also because the numbers in need are so large.  See: How bad is the drought in Ethiopia? With the failure of both the Belg rains and the usually reliable Kiremt summer rains, “the worst drought in Ethiopia for 50 years is happening right now,” Save the Children said in a statement. The hardest-hit regions are in the north and east of the country. The UN believes 15 million people will face food shortages in 2016, with the next harvest not expected until June. Ethiopia has a population of close to 100 million.  See: Ready or not – drought tests Ethiopia Nearly eight million people are already under the national welfare Productive Safety Net Programme*. The go[...]



Southern Africa's food crisis - from bad to worse

Fri, 04 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Close to 29 million people in southern Africa are already facing food shortages as a result of this season’s poor harvest, but worse could be on the way. “Serious concerns are mounting that Southern Africa will this coming season face another poor harvest, possibly a disastrous one,” the UN’s aid coordinating agency, OCHA, warned in a recent report.  A drought-inducing El Niño – perhaps the strongest ever recorded – is already underway. Floods are expected to hit the region early next year, and there is a 65 percent chance of a cyclone slamming into the island of Madagascar. This year, Southern Africa’s cereal harvest fell by almost a quarter, down to 34 million tonnes. Major food shortages are affecting Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Madagascar. In Lesotho and Namibia, whose populations are tiny, 30 percent of  rural people are classified as “food insecure,” which essentially means they lack access to food that’s sufficient to lead healthy, active lives. After the previous year’s good harvest, “The crisis has been to an extent mitigated by the region’s grain reserves, but they are now largely exhausted,” OCHA humanitarian officer Yolanda Cowan told IRIN. Their own stockpiles finished, many poor households are already having to buy their staple foods, so the current abnormally high maize prices – up between 15 and 40 percent – is causing real hardship.  Less cash in rural areas means markets start to close. “Once traders realize the crop is lost they will pack up and go,” taking with them the lines of credit they extend to poor farmers, said Daniel Sinnathamby, regional humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam. Governments will have to respond this coming year by importing commercial food from outside the region, but are facing tightening budgets. Many have economies dependent on commodity exports, and have felt the pinch of the global downturn in prices. Most countries in the region boast well integrated middle-income economies, and so in theory should not need humanitarian assistance year after year. Yet “Southern Africa suffers from chronic vulnerability. Very small events can send large numbers of people into humanitarian crisis,” said Sinnathamby. Wealth inequality is reflected in appalling rates of malnutrition-related child stunting. In Malawi and Zambia, stunting is above 47 percent – among the highest in the world. Even in economic powerhouse South Africa more than one in five children show stunting. Despite the key role agriculture plays in people’s livelihoods, government investment has been limited.  Farm plots are typically small, barely generating subsistence incomes. Farmers are dependent on rain-fed crops rather than irrigation; extension and development services are generally weak; and even in years of good rainfall, millions of people continue to require emergency aid. Resilience Southern Africa is expected to be hit hard by global warming, with extreme rainfall variability forecast. But the innovation and adaptation needed to contend with a changing climate is only slowly emerging. “I suspect governments across the region have not made the necessary infrastructural investments,” said World Food Programme spokesman David Orr. “There needs to be greater investment in all sorts of agricultural schemes, from water harvesting to conservation farming.” Building resilience – the ability of communities to cope with adversity - is increasingly seen as a key strategy. “What we have learnt is just responding to the immediate crisis is not effective,” said Maxwell Sibhensana, World Vision technical director. “Every time there is a crisis we are just alleviating the impacts. There is not enough investment in recovery, and bringing people back into robust livelihoods,” said Sinnathamby. There is a “regional resilience framework” prepared by humanitarian and development agencies, which emphasizes the need for c[...]



Killing us softly

Fri, 27 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

A recent public outcry in China, sparked by a damning documentary about air pollution, was based on well-founded fear: Of the 100 million people who viewed the film on the first day of its online release, 172,000 are likely to die each year from air pollution-related diseases, according to regional trends.*  Worldwide, pollution kills twice as many people each year as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,** but aid policy has consistently neglected it as a health risk, donors and experts say.  Air pollution alone killed seven million people in 2012, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures released last year, most of them in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the Asia Pacific region.***  In a self-critical report released late last month the World Bank acknowledged that it had treated air pollution as an afterthought, resulting in a dearth of analysis of the problem and spending on solutions.  “We now need to step up our game and adopt a more comprehensive approach to fixing air quality,” the authors wrote in Clean Air and Healthy Lungs. “If left unaddressed, these problems are expected to grow worse over time, as the world continues to urbanise at an unprecedented and challenging speed.” A second report released last month by several organisations – including the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an international consortium of UN organisations, governments, development banks, NGOs and academics – also called for more funding towards reducing pollution.  “Rich countries, multilateral agencies and organisations have forgotten the crippling impacts of pollution and fail to make it a priority in their foreign assistance,” the authors wrote.  Housebound in China  A dense haze obstructs visibility more often than not across China’s northern Hua Bei plain and two of its major river deltas. Less than one percent of the 500 largest cities in China meet WHO’s air quality guidelines. Anger over air pollution is a hot topic among China’s increasingly outspoken citizenry.   “Half of the days in 2014, I had to confine my daughter to my home like a prisoner because the air quality in Beijing was so poor,” China’s well-known journalist Chai Jing said in Under the Dome, the independent documentary she released last month, which investigated the causes of China’s air pollution. The film was shared on the Chinese social media portal Weibo more than 580,000 times before officials ordered websites to delete it.  Beyond the silo Traditionally left to environmental experts to tackle, the fight against pollution is increasingly recognised as requiring attention from health and development specialists too.  “Air pollution is the top environmental health risk and among the top modifiable health risks in the world,” said Professor Michael Brauer, a public health expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada and a member of the scientific advisory panel for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a consortium of governments and the UN Environment Programme. “Air pollution has been under-funded and its health impacts under-appreciated.” Pollution – especially outdoor or “ambient” air pollution – is also a major drag on economic performance and limits the opportunities of the poor, according to Ilmi Granoff, an environmental policy expert at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank. It causes premature death, illness, lost earnings and medical costs – all of which take their toll on both individual and national productivity. “Donors need to get out of the siloed thinking of pollution as an environmental problem distinct from economic development and poverty reduction,” Granoff said.  Pollution cleanup is indeed underfunded, he added, but pollution prevention is even more poorly prioritised: “It’s underfunded in much of the developed world, in a[...]



Coaxing the dragon: Why China should join the great aid debate

Tue, 17 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000

How much attention is being paid to China's growing role in the global humanitarian space? Not enough perhaps, but the wariness cuts both ways. James Wan, fellow at the Wits University China-Africa Reporting Project in South Africa, argues it's time for China to get its hands dirty in the great aid debate.   There appears to be an elephant in the room. Or rather a dragon. Amid the countless meetings, summits and conferences being held around the world to determine the post-2015 development agenda and the future of humanitarian aid, no one is talking much about the growing role of China. Despite accounting for one-fifth of the world's population, Beijing has been little more than a wallflower at the global party. Considering its size, its evolving position in the global aid landscape, and the fact that it single-handedly lifted half a billion people out of poverty between 1990 and 2005, China has not had a significant enough role in the discussions. There have been a handful of conferences and papers from China but, as academic Kenneth King has noted, these have often been initiated by Northern partners not Beijing. Meanwhile, China doesn’t appear interested in joining the #ReShapeAid debate.  It seems happy to observe but wary of getting its hands dirty; and Chinese researchers do not seem nearly as engrossed in the post-2015 agenda as their Western counterparts. The caution cuts both ways. In the West, China's international aid is often portrayed as inherently suspect, particularly when it comes to Africa. It stands accused of neo-colonialism for its huge resource deals, of being a "rogue donor" for tying aid to Chinese goods and contractors, and of propping up African dictators with its lack of conditions, and transparency and absence of concern about fundamental human rights. From East to West Some of these criticisms are well-founded. Some are based on exaggerations and misunderstandings. But amid the calls for China to follow the West's examples of best practice, the point is often missed that there is plenty the West could learn from China too. For example, China has been sending dedicated medical teams to Africa since the 1960s and was one of the first countries to send hundreds of medical workers in response to the current Ebola crisis. It has trained tens of thousands of Africans in all things from agricultural science to economics, and it has built countless miles of roads, pipelines and railways on the continent. Unlike the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were drafted by a handful of UN staffers in a basement, their successors, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, are meant to take into account a wide diversity of views and perspectives. But for all the rhetoric about universality and inclusivity, the post-2015 agenda has been criticised by civil society groups for privileging a narrow band of voices with discussions largely driven by the Global North.  A stronger Chinese voice would, by definition, help correct this specific imbalance. But more significantly, China's whole approach to aid offers an alternative to the prescriptive Western impulse. In contrast to a sometimes blunt, one-size-fits-all, donor-recipient strategy advocated by many international donors, China typically emphasises a relationship of partnership. It calls for policy experimentation and flexibility rather than pursuing rigid goals and strategies and emphasises country ownership whereby recipient governments assess their own needs and priorities. A fresh approach While China's aid to Africa is viewed suspiciously by some in Western capitals, many African leaders praise Beijing’s approach. Rwanda's Paul Kagame, for example, has criticised Western aid, contrasting it with the way in which "the Chinese bring Africa what it needs", while many others, such as Uganda's former agricultural minister Victoria Se[...]



Three words of advice for WHO Africa's new chief

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

The World Health Organization says the number of new Ebola cases per week rose twice this month for the first time since December. This rise in incidence of new cases - if proven to be a trend - will be just one of the challenges facing WHO’s new regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, as she attempts to overcome the multitude of criticism launched against WHO in recent months for its failure to act earlier and more competently during West Africa’s ongoing Ebola outbreak. “This is a critical moment for the WHO,” said Michael Merson, director of Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “It’s a real crossroads as to whether or not they’ll be able to reform and become an effective and efficient organization, particularly at the regional level.” Moeti, who officially took office 1 February, has vowed to make fighting Ebola WHO’s “highest priority,” while supporting countries to develop strategies to build up their health care systems, and reduce maternal and child mortality, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases. Many international observers say they have high hopes for Moeti, a medical doctor who has more than 35 years of experience working in the national and global public health sector. But she has a tough road ahead – particularly as the number of Ebola cases continues to rise, nearly a year after the outbreak was first declared. Here’s some advice from a few experts as Moeti begins her five-year term: 1. Think Local Having competent and qualified staff on the ground, whose skills and expertise are matched to the needs of the country, is key to effectively implementing WHO policies and recommendations. “Everyone tends to discuss WHO at the global level and the regional level, but I don’t think this is where the problem lies,” said Fatou Francesca Mbow, an independent health consultant in West Africa. “It really lies in what the WHO is meant to be doing at country level. It is of no use to have very technical people sitting in Washington [D.C.] or Geneva, and then, where things are actually happening, [they become] politicians.” Mbow said that despite a wealth of technical documents being produced at headquarters, very often the staff from the field offices are appointed based on political motives. Country and field-level office meetings are often dominated by talk that, while politically correct, says “nothing of real meaning”. Staff reform at the local level will require both investing in employee development, including recruiting new and existing talent to the field offices, as well as making posts in “hardship” countries more attractive to the most qualified experts. “What often happens is that when people in-country are seen as being quite effective, they tend to get headhunted by the headquarters of the institutions that represent them,” said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in international politics at Queen Mary University of London. “So we see a type of brain-drain among people working in these sectors.” She said that improving salaries and offering more benefits, as well as taking into account what these people have to offer, could go a long way in incentivising them to stay at their field-level posts. “Good documents are interesting,” Mbow said. “But unless you have people at country level who understand them, who participate in writing them, who are able to implement them, who are passionate and committed to doing so, they’re just going to be reports.” 2. Strengthen health systems There were many factors that contributed to the unprecedented spread of the Ebola outbreak, but inherently weak local health systems in the three most-affected countries meant that local clinics did not have the capacity, resources or expertise to handle even the smallest of caseloads. WHO must now work with [...]



Who celebrity advocates are really targeting. And it’s not you.

Fri, 13 Feb 2015 00:00:00 +0000

This week was a fanfare for celebrity humanitarians: Forest Whitaker appealed for peace in South Sudan alongside UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos; Angelina Jolie opened an academic centre on sexual violence in conflict with British Member of Parliament William Hague; and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham launched an initiative for children.  In recent years, aid agencies have increasingly used celebrity advocates to raise awareness and money for their causes. There’s just one snag:  It doesn’t actually work. At least not as much or in the ways we think.  According to research by Dan Brockington, a professor at the University of Manchester, public responses to celebrity activism are surprisingly muted. His work is the first quantitative research on the subject.  “Using celebrities for broader outreach, for reaching mass publics and attracting media attention is absolutely not the silver bullet it appears to be,” he told IRIN on the sidelines of a 6-8 February conference at the University of Sussex, where he presented research recently published in the book Celebrity Advocacy and International Development.   Photo: A. McConnell/UNHCR Refugee Rockstar: UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie meets displaced Iraqis   In a survey he conducted with 2,000 British people, 95 percent of respondents recognized five or more of 12 charities listed to them, including the British Red Cross, Save the Children UK and Oxfam UK. But two-thirds of the respondents did not know a single “high-profile” advocate of any of the NGOs (In this case, music executive Simon Cowell and singers Victoria Beckham and Elton John respectively, among many others).  The realpolitik might not be that pleasant. But you'll achieve your goals.  Focus groups and interviews with more than 100 “celebrity liaison officers” and other media staff at NGOs further reinforced his findings.  What’s more, Brockington says, those who pay attention to celebrities do not necessarily know which causes they support.  “People who follow celebrities often do so because they are not political,” he said during the interview. “They are fun, light. You want to live their lives…[People] don’t engage with [celebrities] for the more worthy things.”   Celebrity stardom flat-lining  Despite the rise in the use of celebrity advocates (which, by the way, dates back to at least Victorian times), the mention of charities in broadsheet and tabloid articles about celebrities only increased ever so slightly between 1985 and 2010, according to a separate study by Brockington. “There has also been a decline in the proportion of newspaper articles mentioning development and humanitarian NGOs at all,” the study found.  The perception that celebrities engage the public in the first place may itself be overstated.  After a steady rise in coverage of celebrities in the British press over two decades, the percentage of articles mentioning the word celebrity (only a fraction of total articles about celebrities) stopped increasing around 2006 and is now hovering at about four percent of all articles studied, the research found, validating the findings of earlier studies on the same subject (The study looked at The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun).  The magazine industry’s own statistics show a tapering off of readership in recent years after steady growth.                 Photo: Northern & Shell Media Group Statistics from Northern & Shell Media Group show a steady rise in celebrity magazine readership until about 2006 Celebrities can be successful in engaging the public – Miley Cyrus made waves last year when she sent a homeless man to pick up her MTV Video Music Awards; Bob [...]