Food security: groups seek empowerment for small scale farmers

Small scale farmers comprise 90% of farmers in Nigeria. However, their constant marginalisation hampers their ability to actively participate in any development process in Nigeria. They have no means to verbalise their interests on policies and development issues. In addition, the tendency for donors to pressure governments to demonstrate participatory approaches to African development means that the terrain for sustainable development through small scale farmer participation has already been laid. The question is why are these stakeholders still being ignored? The need to capacitate small scale farmers with knowledge and resources will benefit the development paradigm in Nigeria. Instead of being mere beneficiaries in a system of exclusion, small scale farmers could bring innovative ways of dealing with food insecurity issues. Read more here.
The Nigerian Compass

Women’s forum to focus on food security

The role of women in development has always been neglected. One could repeatedly bring in the traditional explanation of patriarchy as the determining factor in negating the role of women or the capacity issue, whereby women, apparently, do not understand the dynamics of poverty. But this conventional wisdom is challenged by the reality that it is mostly women who are running poverty-stricken households, using their ingenuity, flexibility and commitment to feed their families. Policy makers can learn a lot from the intellect of women. To facilitate this, FEMCOM is holding a consultative forum on food security and women in business for Eastern and Southern Africa. The forum is aimed at strengthening partnerships, defining areas of collaboration and harmonising programmes for women’s networks among farmers, agro-dealers, agents and producers at regional and national levels. The forum seeks to influence policy making in the field of food security. Read more here.
KBC News

A visit to iLEDA Schools for democracy in Malawi

iLEDA Volunteer Amy Eaglestone from the Netherlands visits Idasa’s iLEDA School for citizen leadership for democracy in Malawi. She travelled to the southern African country with iLEDA School head Noxolo Mgudlwa and trainers Auburn Daniels and Lesley Adams. She discovers several development challenges and argues for citizen leadership training.

By Amy Eaglestone
It was raining when my colleagues and I landed on the only flight that day into Lilongwe International Airport in Malawi. It wasn’t the tropical rain that buckets down to offer a short respite from the African heat and humidity, but that European drizzle, that does nothing but make your clothes and hair damp and uncomfortable. So as we ran across the tarmac to the shuttle bus, I mentioned to my colleague that this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting in the heart of Africa.
But to a westerner like me, Malawi met my expectations. The women wear colorful traditional African dresses, they carry heavy buckets of water and other necessities on their heads, food is sold from small stalls or just off the ground along the main roads, the red soil stains everything, coca-cola in little glass bottles is so sweet it makes your teeth stick together, you need a 4×4 to get from one town to the next and the best place in town to eat is the café behind the petrol station. But above all it is where natural beauty, cultural diversity and extreme poverty go hand in hand.

Football as an agent of change

World cup fever is all over South Africa – and the world – at the moment.  When it all comes to an end, what will be left? A group of people and organisations are working hard to ensure that some of the excitement of 2010 is transformed into a sustainable commitment to social development. Idasa is in partnership to make an impact at grassroots level, forming local communities for young people, celebrating diversity and learning about football, computer literacy and lifeskills.

See more about what’s actually happening in this project here –

The programme presently operates in 11 disadvantaged areas, one in each South African province and one site in both Zimbabwe and Mozambique. These pilot sites include: Phuthaditjhaba, Upington, Evaton North, Somerset West, Mogwase, Umzimkhulu, Mutare, Manica, Somerset East, Siyabuswa and Jane Furse.

Through the involvement of thousands of South Africans, rich, poor, black or white in the Youth Zone Network, this project shows that shared humanity, mutual learning and care can indeed deliver the diversity and hope of a rainbow nation.

See the full article here.

This is a collaborative initiative involving FSSA, the 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa Organising Committee (LOC), the Embassy of the Netherlands and Idasa.

History of Haiti’s debt relief

– By Nancy Dubosse –

A lot has been written about Haiti’s unserviceable debt, given its poverty.  I would like to turn the spotlight onto the reasons why debt relief has been given.

When the G7 announced that it would be cancelling outstanding bilateral debt and urging the international financial institutions to do the same, the reason given was pretty flimsy.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is quoted as saying: “It must be right that a nation buried in rubble must not also be buried in debt”.

It has been buried in endemic poverty, rife with violence and corruption for two centuries!  The earthquake wasn’t even the tipping point.

Haiti’s predicament has been replicated the world over: loans given to despots and dictators in exchange for developed countries’ exploitation of resources and/or manipulation of regional politics.

Haiti’s debt should be cancelled, not because it is too poor and to repay it, but because the debt is ILLEGITIMATE.

Haiti’s first “debt” was an indemnity imposed by France (in 1838) as compensation for loss of its most profitable colony and also in exchange for its recognition of Haiti as an independent country. The amount was originally for 150 million francs, which was reduced to 60 million, payable over 30 years in gold.  It was paid off.  Conservative estimates place it at a current value of Euro22 billion.  This debt is ILLEGITIMATE.

During the US occupation (1915-1929), Haiti was forced to take a loan of $40 million in 1922, supposedly to finance development efforts in the country.  There are a number of propositions as to why the United States invaded the sovereign country.  Two of the most plausible are that 1) the Panama Canal had just opened, the path to what is the Winward Passage, of where Haiti lies at the entry way; and 2) the First World War had been declared the year prior and an unstable country, situated so close to the US, was simply not an option; as the possibility was high that it would become a staging point for the Germans.  Whatever the reason, the debt is ILLEGITIMATE.

Everyone has heard mention of Papa Doc and Baby Doc.  The Duvalier father and son regime lasted 29 years.  Though the presidency of Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier could have be argued as legitimate, in the sense that elections took place, the one of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) was clearly dictatorial, with no elections having been held.    Of the loans made to Haiti, $238 million was loaned while Baby Doc was in power.  The ILLEGITIMACY of the debt is glaring, and responsible financial lending dictates that they should never have been approved.  According to Duhaime (2002), partly in recognition of this, in 1994, the bilateral creditors, who allowed these loans, annulled part of the debt totalling USD$156 million; specifically, $68 million by France, $84 million by the United States, and $2 million by Canada.

Between 1973 and 1980 (Baby Doc), Haiti’s external debt increased from $53 million to $366 million.  A portion of that was credited from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).  During its membership in the IADB, Haiti has been the recipient of 67 loans, amounting to $1.3 billion and 330 grants, totalling $92.7 million.  A significant portion of that was loaned during the Duvalier era (1957-1986), approximately $250 million.

The period after Baby Doc, 1986 and 1991 was one of political instability, as the country was mainly led by the military.  The Inter-American Bank also made several loans to the junta, totalling approximately $115 million.

In 2007, the IADB agreed to extend total debt relief to Haiti, dating from only 1997, provided it completes the HIPC programme.  What about the principal and debt service accruing from the ILLEGITIMATE loans?

Why was so much foreign money poured into the Duvalier dictatorship? Two plausible reasons account for this. The first reason was geopolitical. Haiti is just across the Windward Channel from Cuba. After the 1959 Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, it was feared that Haiti might be next.  When the US wanted to block Cuba’s entry into the Organization of American States in 1962, Haiti cast a decisive vote that President Kennedy needed in order to keep Cuba out, and Duvalier got more aid.

The other reason for the inflow of loans to Haiti was economic. During the 1970s, unstable oil prices caused a financial shock the world over. In addition, President Nixon removed the dollar from the gold standard, causing extreme fluctuations in its value and spurring intense buying and selling of currency itself. Wealthy investors desperately needed another place to spend their liquid assets, so they poured money into international financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Duhaime estimates that the Duvalier family took $900 million in multinational and bilateral loans for their personal uses. Note that the Duvalier regime ended on February 7, 1986. While in 1970, Haiti’s debt was $40 million, by 1987, the first full fiscal year after the Duvaliers left, it was $844 million, 60% of the amount owed in 2004. The debt service alone Haiti owed from 1987 to 2005 was $779.04 million (Schuller, 2006).  In 2004-05, debt service amounted to 22% of government expenditures, of which 40% to service loans made to the Duvalier regime (McGuigan, 2006).

The concept of illegitimate debt entails the following:
 The Versailles Treaty bans the transfer of the debt of colonies can not be transferred to newly independent countries.
 Leaders, who do not represent their populations through some sort of electoral mechanism, can not borrow on their behalf.
 Any loans taken out for war, torture, and crimes against humanity are illegitimate, as provided for by the Vienna Convention.
 Any loan given for policies that run contrary to the UN Charter of Economic Social and Cultural Rights is illegitimate.
 States have the obligation to fulfil human rights and any state using such resources to service debt is in violation of this.

Illegitimate debt is not a new concept nor is the campaign for international arbitration on the issue.  Three organisations working on this are The Committee for Annulation for Third World Debt (CADTM), the European Forum and Network for Debt and Development (EURODAD), and the African Forum and Network for Debt and Development (AFRODAD).  There are inherent power imbalances between creditor and debtor nations.  The establishment of a Fair and Transparent Arbitration (FTA) mechanism under the United Nations, would enable issues to be resolved in a way that preserves the integrity of countries and ensures creditors share the responsibility for the failure of their bad development policy advice and the rise of the debt crises.  EURODAD has done a lot of work on responsible lending.  The FTA mechanism would deal with cases of illegitimate debts individually as well as the repatriation of stolen wealth.

The fact that Haitian debt service payments and the debt stock itself has been cancelled by a number of parties does not remove the need to identify certain loans as illegitimate; if only to set the standard by which nations interact with each other financially and in keeping with human rights principles.

Here is a bit of irony.  In 2005, after Aristide’s resignation, the interim President, Alexandre Boniface, announced that Haiti would forgive France’s debt.

Eskom – we need a public conversation

By Richard Calland and Gary Pienaar

Picking holes in the governance of electricity supply, and energy policy more generally, is like shooting fish in a barrel. Whether it is the development and sequencing of key policy documents, the absence of proper stakeholder consultation, leadership failure, or the lack of clarity about intragovernmental roles and responsibilities, there are more hooks on which to hang a public debate than in a cloakroom — as a new analysis of electricity governance reveals.

Putting aside for the moment the unseemly recent tussle over the leadership of the state-owned entity, Eskom, the immediate issue is pricing. The National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) could face a difficult choice in coming weeks — whether it should proceed with its scheduled consideration of Eskom’s second m ultiy ear p rice d etermination (MYPD2) tariff-increase application.

Eskom’s initial application asked for a 45% electricity price increase in each of the three years covered by the MYPD2. Subsequent pressure from all quarters led to Eskom announcing yesterday that it would submit a revised request for 35%.

After MYPD1 lapsed, and without an agreed funding model for Eskom, Nersa has, in the past few years, approved interim electricity tariff increases.

Eskom’s current application accepts that a funding model for the electricity utility is a fundamental prerequisite to its ability to plan efficiently to undertake infrastructure maintenance, build new generation capacity, develop clean energy supplies, or purchase imported electricity or from independent power producers. It remains unclear, however, whether this process has been concluded and, if so, what it looks like.

Equally fundamental, and required by the Energy Act of 2008, is a clear and comprehensive national integrated resource plan (IRP) that sets out a 20-year plan for the country’s energy future. This plan is intended to determine Eskom’s priorities and choices, including the selection of the appropriate technologies to meet energy demand.

Though some in the government see the IRP more as a vision-like document — offering thoughts on the general energy mix that would be desirable, for example — than a precise roadmap, it is in the nature of such a longer-term plan that it will entail immediate choices with long-term consequences.

Yet it is precisely such a choice that Eskom’s MYPD2 application asks us to make now — without this plan. Crucially, before finalising the plan, the act requires the energy minister to engage in a public consultation process. So far, she has not done so. On the contrary, a draft plan reportedly prepared by Eskom and submitted to the government last month, remains a secret.

Eskom’s application recognises three important things about the reasonableness or otherwise of its tariff increase request. First, is the existence and adequacy of the funding model. Second, what it terms a “country debate and country choices” on SA’s future energy security.

But, third, the main driver of its desired price increase is its plan to build primarily coal-fired power stations. However, the costs of this coal-driven “new build” plan are premised on a pre-emption of the broad, open “country debate” that the application accepts is necessary. The product of that debate, a legitimate and lawful IRP, does not exist.

To the extent that any decision by Nersa on the MYPD2 fails to allow this debate to take place, it may be open to a legal challenge as not following a lawful process intended to give life to the constitutional right to just and reasonable administrative action contained in section 33 of the Bill of Rights.

Additionally, the piecemeal nature of the information placed by Eskom in the public domain could render meaningless the right to informed public consultation.

Analysts are saying Eskom’s application is also premised on assumptions of questionable accuracy and plausibility, backed by little explanation, which is raising concerns in the Treasury. For example, recovering the costs of proposed new infrastructure is contingent on Eskom’s projected increasing levels of electricity sales at these new high prices.

Nersa’s “Issues Paper” inviting public comment questions whether Eskom’s plan reflects an appropriate use of resources raised through the tariff increase.

Thus, Eskom’s demand projections apparently fail to take adequate account of the cheapest and quickest way to ensure SA has adequate electricity to avoid rolling blackouts, and to allow economic growth and advance equitable access: incentives for existing consumers to improve energy efficiency and to reduce their demand for grid electricity.

One way to reduce electricity use, and create jobs, is to implement the government’s stated plan to install a million solar water heaters. This option seems not to be given much consideration in Eskom’s application.

Moreover, while Eskom’s application proposes increasing the f ree b asic e lectricity allowance to 70KwH/m, it fails to come to grips with how to ensure that those that have the least resources but the greatest needs can afford electricity, while those who use the most and profit the most, pay the most.

The implications are that South Africans are being asked to approve a plan that requires very significant price increases, but which is not based on a comprehensive and cohesive set of least-cost or environmentally responsible choices, and with no proper consideration of price-differentials.

Eskom declines to disclose significant portions of its reasoning on the questionable basis that it is “commercially” confidential. But clear authority exists requiring public disclosure of substantial summaries that protect legitimate confidentiality, while making public participation and comment a meaningful — and legally compliant — exercise.

So, for example, we don’t know what Eskom has agreed to pay companies that supply coal to its power stations. The contracts are secret. How, then should one assess whether Eskom’s requested tariff increase is based a fair price paid to its suppliers and a fair price to be paid by electricity users?

With so many gaps in the information publicly available, meaningful public participation in Nersa’s consideration of Eskom’s application is almost impossible, so that the process may be of questionable legality.

If the contents of Eskom’s MYPD2 application are anything to go by, the IRP has the potential to predetermine our future in significant ways. These two documents/processes signal important decisions that will have long-term consequences.

Much like the arms deal, but significantly more expensive, they have the potential to lock South Africans into paying dearly for Eskom’s apparently oversimplified plan that seems inadequate to meet the country’s energy needs, and its national and global environmental responsibilities. Unless we get the governance right — and quickly — we will all be paying for hasty, poorly constructed decisions for decades to come.

What we need now, as a matter of urgency, is a multi-stakeholder process — as former Eskom chairman Bobby Godsell suggested recently — to enable us to have a “joined up” national conversation about energy policy and sustainable development.

– Calland is director of Idasa’s Economic Governance Programme, which convenes the multi-stakeholder Electricity Governance Initiative of SA (EGI-SA), and associate professor in public law at UCT. Pienaar is senior researcher: public ethics and governance. The EGI-SA’s report on electricity governance will be published in next month.

First published in Business Day

The winners eat and the losers don’t …

– By Stefan Gilbert –

About an hour after the plane was scheduled to depart, we were told that the flight to Sierra Leone would be delayed by six hours. This, I was told, would make for an interesting night. The trick with Sierra Leone is that you must cross the peninsula to get to the capital, Freetown. This must be done by boat, and a night crossing doesn’t rate highly on the “what you should do when you visit Sierra Leone” list. So, at about two o’clock in the morning, I found myself with 8 other travellers walking on a partly submerged pier to climb in to the waiting boat. But this was the easy part. Arriving at the airport in Sierra Leone one is met by a thronging hoard of people who want to help you in one way or another. Luckily, I had asked around prior to arrival and had learned that Pelican Water Taxis were the most reliable. Finding them, however, was like swimming in a mass of human bodies, all competing for space in pool of high humidity and 30 degree heat.

If I had to pick one word to describe travel in Africa it is “patience”. Never be in a rush; never be unfriendly; NEVER lose your cool; always be respectful and always have a smile and a joke at hand. In all cases, it is a sin to “expect” your plane to be on time or for your luggage to arrive with you. Thus “hope” is the most appropriate form of expectation, and “gratitude” is the most appropriate way of reacting if your suitcase does appear on the conveyer belt. When it does not, as has happened to me now twice on this journey of 9 weeks, more patience and perseverance are called for. Suggesting to anyone who will listen that you are not a tourist, and subtle hints that you have important documents in your luggage that may or may not be of interest to an MP or Minister, can’t hurt. It also seems to help if you make it abundantly clear that you will not stop harassing whoever is available to be harassed until the luggage finally does arrive.

Of course, some countries are better then others. Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa of course, fare much better then countries like Nigeria, Senegal, the DRC, and Sierra Leone (which is the most chaotic I have yet to witness). I am not entirely sure if this has some more profound meaning, however. Politics is often a game of appearances, language, and symbols. A new and imposing Parliament building may have significant symbolic value, but the interior may be defined by elevators that don’t work and fire extinguishers that have instructions in Chinese. Similarly, the language of democracy and good intentions can often be heard from the mouths of Presidents and politicians. The saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, if hummed and put to music, could in some countries qualify as the national anthem. In short, intentions are not enough at this point, words are meaningless unless there is action, by which I don’t mean action next week or tomorrow; I mean today.

That the people I meet in Africa are often characterised by their generosity and hospitality is a testament to their humanity and enduring optimism. That said, cynicism in Africa is rife. Faith that governments will listen to and provide its people with what they need is low. Expectations are unmet and hopes are often compromised by inescapable realities. Food for my kids in exchange for a vote tomorrow, is a choice I have never and hope I never have to make. That poverty undermines the functioning of democracy is an understatement worthy of the Noble Prize for Understatements. But, the problems that undermine democracy in many of the countries I visit are not simple, they are not specific, they are not few: they are legion. There are so many factors that play into politics in Africa that it can make the head spin. In some countries, like the DRC, the most pertinent and disempowering questions is: “Where the hell do we begin?” There are no innocents in the political arena. There are no neutral parties. It is a contest for power, wealth, and influence with rules understood as describing and defining a zero-sum game. There are the winners, and there are the losers. The winners eat and the losers don’t.

But while the politicians, banks, big businesses (many of which are now South African), donors and even civil society compete for space around the trough of wealth and power, the people remain the perennial losers. While the façade of governments have changed, and checklists can be completed, political will seems only to be seeking the entrenchment of the status quo. While some countries leave some room for hope, many offer only foreboding political vistas. Nevertheless, I am continually amazed by the dedication of our colleagues on the continent, who continue with their work in the face of staggering resistance. That the time for excuses and recriminations is over is a common theme with those I meet, and we must move beyond the rhetoric of finding someone to blame. They remind me of the idea that courage is not the absence of fear, it is being afraid and doing it anyway.

Hence, the work that we do at Idasa is important. I do not think we can overestimate how serious the problems are, or how desperately this continent needs our skills, dedication, and ideals. So, tomorrow it will be another meeting, another trip in another taxi in another endless traffic jam in torturous humidity and heat. And Friday it will be another boat ride, another plane, and another conveyor belt full of suitcases, with me waiting and hoping, wondering whether Santa has judged me naughty or nice.

Stefan works with Idasa’s Political Governance Programme.  He is currently visiting partners in support of the African Charter on Democracy – see more here.

Is the democracy we have actually democratic?

By Mvuyisi April

Many countries profess to be democratic with democratically elected governments while the majority of their citizens live in poverty and underdevelopment. Are voters are conscious of what their votes mean, and whether they really understand the power that lies in their hands as they cast those ballots? Can they feel the democracy they are voting for during each election?

Democracy enjoys high levels of support amongst Africans but how much of this does actually translate to popular governance? How many of the millions of citizens on the continent influence what their governments do? Is there enough will and space between the elected leaders and their constituencies to engage on the issues that affect the daily lives of citizens? Is the democracy we have actually democratic?

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Helping Africa Save Itself

By Witney W. Schneidman
originally published in Newsweek, June 2009

Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born economist, lays out a brash argument in her book, DEAD AID: that the more than $1 trillion in foreign assistance given to Africa over the past 50 years is the root cause of the continent’s enduring poverty, widespread corruption, civil wars, and isolation from the global economy. Following this logic to its conclusion, Moyo argues that the best way donors could help Africa today would be to phone officials there and tell them all aid will be cut off within five years. Given recent calls by Bono, the economist Jeffrey Sachs, and others to increase aid, Moyo’s thesis is controversial, to put it mildly. And it’s also misleading in several key ways. But it’s worth taking seriously, for it’s already caused a huge sensation in the donor community and among Africans frustrated by the slow pace of development—and eager for ways to speed the process.
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Poverty Causes Crime

A recent survey released by TNS Research Surveys indicates that South Africans believe that poverty is the root cause of crime.  Read the full article below, and share your opinions here …

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