#MDGS- Time to stop talking and get some work done

The Millennium Development Goals or MDGs   are set of goals agreed by world leaders way back in 2000 as basis of measuring work around eradicating poverty by 2015.  The 8  goals are listed as follows

  • Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
  • Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
  • Goal 5: Improve maternal health
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

We are 5 years away and as I write world leaders are heading to New York for  a Summit to review the MDGs (20-22 September) and our own Nick Clegg is amongst them. This should an interesting meeting for the UK whilst it has pledged 0.7% of its GDP to AID to the developing nations and ring fenced its International Development budget others are feeling so generous.

These folk will be preoccupied with the fact that we are only 5 years away from the deadline and it is very clear that some countries especially in Sub-Saharan Africa stand no chance of meeting/achieving these goals.

WHY  IS THIS AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ENSURE THAT THE GOALS ARE MET?

I think the reasons why are complex and I suspect it is not simply about unwillingness on anyone’s part to make this work. So my take on the matter goes as follows

In the years since the goals were agreed the world has suffered the biggest recession in decades and this has without a doubt hit the BOTTOM BILLION the hardest.

School building construction Ruhanga SW Uganda

By July last year it was reported that France and Italy had failed to honour their pledge of AID to  the developing world. I have no evidence that this was due to the recession but I would not be surprised if it was. As the  Airline safety procedure says “put on your own mask before assisting someone else” Would it be reasonable to expect France and Italy to send money to foreign lands without first meeting the needs of their own citizens?

War on Terror

On September 11 2001 America became a victim of the worst terrorist attack in history and we are still feeling the effects of this today. As well as the human cost they were financial costs until today. Only a few months ago the terrorists raised the stakes by  attacking and killing at least 76 people in Kampala whilst they were watching the World cup finals. These terrorist attacks in my mind derail progress. I had a conversation with someone the other day who told me that they would not invest in Uganda as following those attacks on July 7th Uganda is now considered an unsafe investment destination. But not only that resources that could have been spent on addressing the goals are now diverted to the security of the country or fighting Al-shabab to be exact


Remittances: Each day millions of people migrate in search of better economic prospects and when they do find paid most will send (remit) a percentage of their income to those left behind. According to the World bank this amounted to $305 billion in 2008 but was forecast to reduce to $290 billion in 2009. A lay man’s explanation the diaspora (folk who remit the money) faced unemployment or reduced pay and in fact for some the situation got so bad that they returned to their home countries as they could not afford to sustain themselves and the folk back home under the economic downturn.

The reduction in remittances is catastrophic as this money goes directly into folks pockets and gives them spending power and economies in the developing world rely heavily on this money that is reportedly higher than any amount of AID and Private sector investment (source World bank). This money pays for school fees, health care and in some cases enables folk to start small enterprises. You will note that all these are directly linked to first 6 Goals.

Another reason why the MDGs  will not be met is laid right at the door step of African leaders. Africa is not poor  in as far as resources are concerned but why are resources termed as a curse? The fight for control of resources has led to years of civil wars and unrest in several Sub-Sahara countries such as CHAD. African leaders have a responsibility to ensure that resources are used for the benefit of all citizens and if this were to happen countries like Democratic Republic of Congo would not be a hell on earth for Women and children.

TIME TO STOP TALKING

Unless we stop talking and get down to some hard work such Summits as the one being convened by Ban Ki-Moon risk becoming talking shops. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE CAMERAS ARE SWITCHED OFF?

I know the Commission for Africa has called for more Aid to Africa, but I think that is not necessarily the answer. Aid does have a role to play in emergencies and structural development but is limited in scope and we need to recognize that.

If we can send troops to get rid of the Talibans lets make African leaders more accountable!

African countries need to make trade with each other easier, they are more consumers in Africa than they are in Europe for instance, therefore the focus on trade must include trading with each other and not simply access to Western markets. As the new report from the Commission for Africa points out- African leaders should make the investment climate conducive to investment and this is not necesarrily for investors in the west alone.

WE AFRICANS MUST RECOGNIZE TOO THAT IT IS OUR  RESPONSIBILITY  THAT THE GOALS ARE MET AND NOT WAIT FOR SOME EXTERNAL FORCES TO DO IT FOR US.

Finally the West should recognize Africa as potential economic partner and not simply a place from which to fetch resources!

so there you have it folk. If you have a view kindly share it here

It really isn't about the money

In the last two posts, I wrote about some of the reasons why money isn’t the only missing link in the fight against poverty as well as   RAISE TRADE a new form of trading that brings various stakehaolder together with the view to promoting the notion of VALUE ADD. Over the next few days I will  explore the money issue further and I will present you with conversations that I had with people I work with in Africa.  

I begin with the question  IF IT REALLY ISN’T ABOUT THE MONEY  WHAT ELSE IS THERE?  I answered this question in part in the previous post I will therefore draw from my first conversation to explore it further.

You may recall Tony Blair’s 2005 Commission for Africa, (Blair’s Commission) one of the decisions that came out the commission was the establishment of the Investment Climate Facility for Africa or ICF. The ICF is charged with helping African countries to create a more attractive business environment and realise its potential as a global trading partner. It works to remove real and perceived obstacles to domestic and foreign investment by assisting Africans to prepare and promote the continent as an investment destination (source ICF 2003)

The ICF is based in Africa and in August 2008 I called in on the Chief Executive Omari Issa in Dar es Salaam Tanzania to find out more about their work.

 

I began by asking him about the money. I have heard it said that money is the number one priority and as such a lot of emphasis has been placed on making it easier for people in African and women for that matter to access finance/loans for business

 

Omari: I would argue that money is only part of the equation as we have discovered here at the Investment Climate Facility for Africa

That is interesting would you run me through the issues as you understand them?

Omari: Money is not the only constraint preventing folk from starting and running businesses and whilst access to finance is important it is not the primary factor If we consider the group of women you work with at Ethnic supplies,

1. Education, awareness and skills are the number one priorities that must be addressed to ensure economic success for small to medium business and these are mostly owned by women

2. When we break these down you will appreciate their importance. If you take an example of example one of your producers in Madagascar in order for them to generate an income from their baskets certain conditions must be in place

3. She needs to know where the market is and how she can access that market

4. Secondly she needs to develop her product to such a level as to be acceptable by that market,

5. then she needs to put together a business plan to demonstrates a bankable business

Would you care to elaborate on the last point please?

Omari: Well the banks here have a lot of money that they would like to lend people, I know as I used to work for such institutions. However the banks need reassurance that the person to whom they are lending the money will be able to repay it and the only way they can know is through a business plan. Women also need to demonstrate that they can handle balance sheets and this is a question of skills. An important factor is the environment in which businesses are run and that is where ICF comes in

How so?

 Omari: The environment in which to run a business is important as is money. The environment covers issues such as Customs and Exercise, access to Legal systems that expedites commercial disputes, property ownership, political stability, speedy Company registration even issues such as power outage

Why is power outage such an issue?

Omari: Imagine a Woman who owns a hairdressing saloon but can’t afford a generator if there was a power outage on a Saturday which is ideally her busiest day of the week for her how much business would she lose? Most of the large corporations have access to generators and are therefore not necessarily affected by power outages and as it happens this was the case when I went to a barbers last Saturday  (22.8.08) instead of going elsewhere I was happy to have my hair cut the traditional way with scissors otherwise the barber would have lost my business

 

 How does easy and fast business registration help?

 

Omari: It is important that the setting up of and running of businesses is streamlined, barriers to importing and exporting of goods is made easier by clear and easy to understand customs and exercise regulation? The efficient Customs and Exercise practice and speedy business registration are necessary but are these need to matched up with skilled people on the ground If you can step back and consider a woman who has to travel at least 6 to 8 hours to register a business, by the time she arrives to the Company House office chance are that they will have closed for the day upon her arrival or as is currently the case in most African countries she has to see several people in order to complete the registration process. If that process were to take 8 months how much money would she have lost in bus fares?

 

He did have a point and I know and work with such a woman, a Masaai woman named Julia a widow who was expelled from her village but has 12 Aids orphans to raise and does so by making and selling beads.

 

Thinking about women in particular are there key issues that prevent them from achieving economic independence?

Omari: women work harder than men and are willing to work together. In fact women’s co-operatives are more successful than men’s. By addressing the issues discussed here it becomes easier to run successful enterprises especially smaller ones owned by women.

It is all very well working to improve the investment Climate in Africa, but what about people like Julia. How does she benefit? She only speaks Swahili and has to rely on people who can speak English and live in the city to access buyers of handicrafts such as Ethnic Supplies. For instance she missed out on an order earlier in the year because the head of the co-o-op she belongs to failed to get to her.

 

Omari: that is where good management come in and this come from good education skills and awareness

 

As I left Omari, I felt that we had had a good conversation and I had a clearer understanding of what ICF is trying to achieve. But it seemed to me that whilst the folk at ICF are doing their best to improve the business environment it will be sometime before this is felt at the bottom of the African society, I wondered too  how soon the benefits of this system could be felt by women like Julia.

I also reflected on two conversations I had had with two female African High Commissioners in London. One of them is a strong advocate for Micro finance. I told her that I thought Micro finance was a good idea however that women that are lent this money need access to a much wider market to enable them to repay the loans. In addition that I was aware in some rural areas especially, these women had become victims of loan sharks. She was of the opinion that a much wider market isn’t necessary as people can do business locally and succeed.

The conversation I had with the second High Commissioner concerned Micro loans given by an organisation called HABITAT FOR HUMANITY. The basis of their work is decent shelter for all and they are very active in this particular High Commissioner’s country. Typically money will be give for the purchase of a piece of land on which the recipient can build a basic two room house. She was of the view that whilst people need decent places to live without jobs they will never be in a position to repay such loans. Do you see a chicken and egg situation in the two conversations?

In the next post I will write about  the person I met after I left Omari. She unknowingly validated everything Omari told me.

If you have a view about any of the issues raised here or simply want to join the conversation, please do so!