Tag Archives: Africa

The dark side of equality

That we are all equally human, we should all have equal rights of some sort, the argument goes; equal opportunity, equal outcomes, equal by some measure. Michaela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat provides a living, detailed, vibrant story of human beings conspiring to deny equal rights for all – embodied by Kenya’s corrupt politicians and the inherited system of political patronage at the heart of Kenya’s recent electoral violence. This story was the subject of Monday’s event hosted by the Cato Institute, featuring Wrong, with comments by the former Vice Chairman and Co-Founder of Transparency International, Frank Vogl.

The story provided harrowing testimony to human equality, by reminding us that people of all races are equally capable of extraordinary courage, and extraordinary crime.

“John Githongo sees a certain racism in the lower standards for governance that the international donor community holds for African governments, and I have come to agree with him,” Wrong said. Githongo is the main protagonist of It’s Our Turn to Eat, and had been permanent secretary for governance and ethics in the Office of the President of Kenya. Appointed by the newly and democratically elected President Mwai Kibaki in 2002, Githongo was effectively Kenya’s first anti-corruption czar. The book tells the story of the immediate resistance Githongo encountered as the new government simply took the old system of ethnic patronage inherited from British colonizers and turned it to favor their own ethnic group that had been locked out of power, first under the British and again under Kenya’s first two presidents, Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi.

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Land of the not-quite-free

Sometimes the worst form of violence doesn’t reveal itself until the bullets stop flying. Fatu Bonah had helped support her family for years on her husband’s fertile land. She was his second of four wives. There are two systems of marriage in Liberia; a civil marriage system administered through clergy who strictly recognize monogamy, and a customary system that allows men to take multiple wives. Under customary law, the additional wives become their husband’s legal property. Under the rule of dictator Charles Taylor, bullets flew often:

After watching the murder of her husband and his three other wives by Charles Taylor’s rebels, Fatu Bonah and her seven children fled into the dense forest to hide. “The rebels burned down our home and when I returned my in-laws had taken the land,” she says. “I went to the town chief, who tried to resolve it, but the family refused, saying they had already taken over the land.” (From the Inter Press Service News Agency)

In a land founded by freed slaves, and where the current president’s nickname is “The Iron Lady,” the women are accustomed to fighting for freedom, in all its forms. The same story reports that in 2003 the Association of the Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) successully advocated for reforms recognizing inheritance rights for all wives and their children in situations like Bonah’s. One estimate, cited in the article, counts one third of Liberia’s 3.5 million people as disinherited women and children.

Today, AFELL continues to support those millions by tracking the new law’s implementation, as it encounters resistance from patriarchal institutions that are entrenched, yet younger than their beneficiaries typically admit:

“What our work is now is to bring this law back to the people,” says Deweh Gray, AFELL’s determined president. “The challenges are great because people had this life for over a century and getting them to, especially the male folks, to accept this change, what they see as a radical change in their lives is a difficult thing. ”

By taking on these political, social, and cultural battles AFELL is building gender-neutral institutions for property as only locally based organizations can. Property rights institutions literally double their leavening effect upon entrepreneurs, when they do not exclude half the human race. Such institutions are key to keeping the bullets from flying as they once did, and sometimes still do.

Eradicating the poverty of property rights

If you can get yourself past the swine flu media frenzy, you might just find a few headlines about the marathon elections going on in the world’s largest democracy, India. The third of five stages ended on April 30, and like many elections in democracies of various developmental stages, the competing parties have completely ignored one of the most important issues facing the vast majority of voters – in this case, the lack of respect for property rights across India’s rural areas, home to 70 percent of its 1.1 billion people.

In this election, the issue of land acquisition for SEZs is a priority for the voters of the Raigad and Maval constituencies, where several are planned. However, most political parties have not made it a part of their manifesto and as a result the election atmosphere is low key.

About 22 villages in Raigad stand to lose 5,700 acres of land for an SEZ proposed by Reliance industries. Read the rest of the story from the BBC….

The government has offered to compensate the farmers at rates they estimate to be one-tenth of the market value, according to the story. Ironically the government is also already building a nearby dam to provide power and irrigation for the very farmers it now threatens to disenfranchise. The promise of the dam led over 80 percent of the farmers to oppose the new SEZ, in a rare public referendum last September that has since been disregarded by government officials.

The poor face this same problem all around the world, as most of them are rural entrepreneurs of some kind, with a variety of informal businesses that governments consistently disregard. All across sub-Saharan Africa, elected officials are taking advantage of growing biofuel markets and scarcity leading to higher food prices by striking land deals with foreign investors.

A rural entrepreneur in Africa

A rural entrepreneur in Africa

While the investment will bring jobs and productive capacity, these governments are granting property rights to foreigners without regard or compensation for rural entrepreneurs that have lived and worked the land for generations.

In Ghana, rural entrepreneurs are gaining presence as a political constituency. The Private Enterprise Foundation (PEF), a CIPE Partner, is an umbrella group of private sector organizations that has several programs designed to bring rural entrepreneurs into the political process. Anna Nadgrodkiewicz details PEF’s efforts in the latest Economic Reform Feature Service article, “Private Sector Associations as the Engine of Reforms in Ghana.” With a greater political voice for rural entrepreneurs, the people in poverty can lead the charge to eradicate poverty.

Article at a Glance:

  • With proper resources and training, farmer-based associations can become an effective voice for rural entrepreneurs.
  • Engaging the private sector in the legislative advisory process provides a vital opportunity for dialogue on reform issues with policymakers.
  • Private sector associations are important for improving Ghana’s business climate and making the broader business community a part of democratic decision-making.

Letting it be in Ghana

When we find ourselves in times of trouble, chocolate often gives relief. Even in recession, chocolate sells.

Steady as a rock, chocolate is Ghana’s main export, most of it grown by 1.6 million farmers on plots of land averaging three hectares, and its steadiness has infected the land.

In 2008, Africa’s relationship with democracy was challenged by violent electoral breakdowns in Kenya that resulted in at least a thousand deaths so far, and by the fiasco in Zimbabwe during which international observers agree President Robert Mugabe stole a run-off election. Ghana bucked this trend with steady faith in democracy through its recently concluded presidential elections, which included a national run-off and a re-vote in one district. It is the second time since Ghana’s establishing democracy in 1992 that an opposition candidate has peacefully succeeded. Ghana is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to have that happen.

To the surprise of some and the relief of many, the ruling party’s candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, let the results be, and conceded publicly.

Ghana’s new President John Atta Mills comes to office which much on his plate. Oil has recently been discovered offshore in Ghanaian waters, presenting an important opportunity for Ghana to become an example contrary to Nigeria’s disastrous oil-related violence. Rising drug trafficking presents an important early challenge to weed out corrupt politicians and bureaucrats benefiting from such clandestine activities.

But of course, it wouldn’t be a west African goverment without chocolate on its plate.

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Beyond Ghana’s Elections

Peaceful elections do, in fact, occur in Africa, and Ghana’s, on December 7, should be duly noted. The results of Ghana’s elections were announced on December 10. The country will face a run-off election on December 28 because neither of the two frontrunners reached the 50 percent threshold required to declare victory. Governing National Patriotic Party (NPP) candidate Nana Akufo-Addo won 49.13 percent of the votes and John Atta Mills from the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) won 47.92 percent of the vote.

These facts, however, do not fully capture Ghana’s historic movement to an increasingly stable democracy. While the elections are not yet over, it is important that we do not look at them as a singular event that has already passed on as the newsfeeds continue to focus on many of the tragic news coming from many parts of Africa. Let’s examine the positive and very newsworthy stories coming from Ghana’s elections:

  1. At the end of Ghana’s second round of presidential debates, the four major presidential candidates literally came together by holding hands and verbally pledging for peaceful elections. This pledge has been circulated on billboards throughout the country as a positive reminder of what can and will be. And the peace has held despite a close contest and despite Ghana’s recent discovery of offshore oil worth a possible $3 billion. 

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Ghana’s Historic Presidential Debates

With the post-election violence in Kenya an all too recent memory and as Zimbabwe continues to slip into a downward spiral after its most recent elections, Ghana’s December 7 elections could be a breath of fresh air for Africa. This is the first time in Ghanaian history that all major parties are taking part in televised presidential debates.

Today, Ghana’s four presidential candidates will sit before a record-setting television and radio audience for the second and final round before the elections. Today’s debate will address governance and social issues following the October 29 debate, which focused primarily on the economy and energy. Knowledge of the candidates’ platforms will help Ghanaians make an educated presidential choice not along ethnic lines, monetary handouts, or coercion, but based on policy.

The first round of debates on October 28th in Accra were an overwhelming success. They reached a record-breaking number of people – between 10 to 20 million with exact numbers difficult to determine. The debate was substantive, focused, and provided concrete policy positions. For example, on the economy and energy, My Joy Online reported:

In tandem with his party’s philosophy, Nana Akufo-Addo said the private sector was critical in dealing with the question of job creation….He said small and medium scale enterprises in the country should be supported because they are the main providers of jobs.

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Governments are like soccer

Even though Americans like to call their professional sports league champions “World Champions,” everyone else knows America hasn’t quite warmed up to the world’s most popular sport, soccer. Played in most if not every inhabited corner of the world, soccer is universal yet locally unique. Italian soccer is boring, while Brazilian soccer is exhilirating; yet both are traditionally the best in the world. Brazil holds a record five World Cups and Italy is second, with four.

Governments are like soccer – they are everywhere, but not everywhere the same. Political leaders in developing countries have not always taken on the challenge of good governance; and when they do, they’ve often tried to emulate political leaders in developed markets. The problem is: Brazil is not Italy and Italy is not Brazil.

Improving governments in developing markets isn’t about importing wholesale elements of established models into younger governments. That may happen, but only where local institutions are similar; usually that isn’t the case. Rather than emulating others, leaders in developing markets need to take a look at themselves to find and correct where government policy is out of tune with their own people’s values and institutions.

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