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Peace requires strategy

27. September 2022 - 13:52
Researchers advise Germany's Federal Government to draft coherent strategies crisis and conflict countries

In 2017, Germany’s Federal Government adopted ambitious guidelines on “Preventing crisis, resolving conflicts, building peace”. The idea was that all efforts concerning crisis and conflict countries should take a whole-of-government approach. Four principles were explicitly endorsed: namely to

  1. respect, protect and safeguard human rights,   
  2. act in a context-specific, inclusive and long-term perspective
  3. identify risks, make coherent efforts and fulfil demands of diligence, and
  4. prioritise prevention and politics.

A recent study has assessed to what extent these principles have shaped Germany’s engagement in Mali and Niger. It also looked into how German policies are being perceived by local-civil society actors. The study was commissioned by the Advisory Board to the Federal Government for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding. The Board has 20 members who are professionals in international cooperation, social sciences, foundations and civil society.

The study clearly shows that the Federal Government is only insufficiently pursuing the goals defined in its own guidelines. There are several tools and mechanisms for coordinating different ministries. It is a problem, however, that they do not cover all ministries running efforts in Mali and Niger. Also, the ministries concerned neither share a vision of how lasting peace can be achieved nor an understanding of what Germany’s role should be in making it happen.

French policies have failed

Contrary to the guidelines, the Federal Government so far has failed to draft an overarching country-specific policy for either Mali or Niger. It has thus not defined what Germany’s contribution to establishing peace should be. This strategic gap is striking, especially given Germany's massively expanded engagement in both countries since 2012. It now includes, among other things, the largest military deployment abroad, training programmes for the police, humanitarian relief as well as development cooperation. Lacking a strategy of its own, Germany largely depends on France – but French policies have failed in both political and military terms in the entire Sahel region (see Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni on www.dandc.eu).

Moreover, Germany’s Federal Government would do well to pay more attention to its guidelines when it comes to the implementation of measures. For example, there is no systematic strategy for conflict prevention in Mali and Niger. Contrary to the guidelines, moreover, there is no focus on human rights. Local civil society complains about this, as impunity and the lack of a legitimate judiciary are considered a key cause of violent conflicts. Germany's long-term commitment to development, however, is expressly praised.

On this basis, we advise the ministries concerned to draft joint and coherent strategies for crisis and conflict countries. These strategies should spell out how lasting peace can be promoted in the respective country contexts. Moreover, we propose investing more in conflict prevention and giving German embassies a stronger role in strategic matters.

In Mali, the German government should lend more support to national and local structures for conflict resolution. For Niger, we recommend the German government to promote an institutionalised dialogue with civil society. This is indispensable, especially against the background of the currently discussed expansion of German (security) engagement in Niger. Otherwise, German efforts may become disconnected from society as they did in Mali.

 

Link

Policy Coherence for Peace in German Government’s action – Lessons from Mali and Niger

(Full study available in German, English and French versions will be published soon)

 

Antonia Witt heads the research group "African Intervention Politics" at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF) and co-author of the study mentioned in the manuscript. witt@HSFK.de

Simone Schnabel is the second co-author and a doctoral researcher at PRIF. Baba Dakono and Abdoul Karim Saidou have contributed to the study as well. schnabel@HSFK.de

Kategorien: english

Fighting Coronavirus with a computer game

27. September 2022 - 13:16
Ghanaian computer game developer Eyram Tawia on Covid-19 impacts on his business

Where are you working right now?

I am at my office in Accra. I work quite often at the office because we have very good conditions here. I have fast internet, a generator, all the stuff we need. But apart from me, almost nobody is here. All my staff works from home. Everybody is invited to come and work at the office, but it is not mandatory. If you are able to do your work remotely and deliver, then I am fine with wherever you work. But I do not want to hear that the power was off, or that there was no internet. If you cannot work properly from home, you have to come to the office.

Is this a new workflow or was it like this before the Covid pandemic?

No, before Corona everybody worked at the office though we worked remotely with our Kenyan teams. But a lot has changed. From one day to another, we were forced to work from home. So we set up the whole team in a virtual environment and we use collaborative and communication tools like Miroboard, Skype, Discord and Slack. Now all the work and communication goes on remotely and we have a perfect work environment. Actually, we even work more efficiently than before the pandemic. We had not been able to monitor people and it was harder to supervise them onsite in some cases. Now that is all possible. I do not know why we did not work like this earlier, it is perfect for us. I used to say, God made Covid happen for the gaming industry! For our industry, it is important that everybody knows how to operate a computer.  This happened due to Covid. Even my grandmother and my aunties now know about computers and Zoom. For the first time, I played online games with my mother in the village.

But was it all positive for you? Were there no setbacks in your business?

Oh, yes – there were. In the beginning of Corona, the first six to seven months it was really tough. We generate 90% of our revenue from funding of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). We develop games for clients – serious games like health education (as I told you in a previous interview for www.dandc.eu). When Covid-19 started, all of our clients stopped their funding. They needed time to restructure. So that hit us hard. We had to let a lot of our employees go, we went through hard times of not having any revenue. So we had to beat ourselves up, finding new businesses. But our clients started to come back and our business normalised again. We were even asked to set up an educational game for Covid behaviour. It is a trivia game in the form of “Who wants to be a millionaire” that we launched on our trivia game platform The Hottseat. Players have to answer questions on Covid. Now, we are fully back at the same level as in pre-Corona times and we are growing. We have a core team of 15 to 20 workers for all the projects, full-timers are around 10. The rest are freelancer and interns who join us.

Did you get any Corona support from your government?

No, not at all. There were recovery programmes and the government said, that they allocated some funding for entrepreneurs. I didn't apply due to how complicated it was to get these funds. My wife, who runs a weaving factory for traditional kente cloth and employs 17 weavers, applied twice. She never got an answer.

What else changed in your company due to the pandemic?

We were not sure whether we should keep our office, because we have a lot of empty space including a big hall, that we did not use anymore. But it is still important to have a physical place for personal meetings. And we found a great new purpose for our hall. We are actually converting it into a training facility where we coach trainees in game development. That is starting to kick off. We have even completed our first training with women in animation. We got a small grant from an organisation called ScaleUp Africa with MasterCard Foundation. They wanted us to train women, because women lack job opportunities and there are very few women in game development and in the tech industry in general.

That sounds promising. Last time we spoke, you expressed your regret that there is not enough training for game developing and computer science in Africa. Is this a first step to change matters?

Yes, it is definitely. The course was going quite well. Our approach is that we want to add value to existing skills. For example, if you like to draw pictures, we try to teach you how to create a comic for a video game. If you like to programme computers, we show you how to do the coding for games. There are many different steps in the process of creating a game.

How did it work out with your female trainees?

We had 30 women who applied. 20 of them were active throughout the course and 15 graduated with certificate. Teaching women is the same as men; there is no difference. If a lady is interested in programming she is good in that, if she is interested in art, she does that. We plan to work together with three of the 15 graduates. That is perfect for us. The idea is that we eat from our own farm. The next course will start in October. So now we are setting up a team of instructors. I did the first course myself, but I do not have the time for it anymore.

Will it be a training for women only again?

I think it will be mixed. But I am tempted to make a next course again only with women. But there are so many more men interested than women. Let me tell you an example: When we advertised for the first course, we asked for women to apply – and yet, we had 90 % male registration. I think one of the reason is, that gaming started with masculine representation. Women often cannot identify with the characters. In most games, women are sexist projections of men. We are trying not to stereotype our characters. We have women of all different shapes in our game universe. But it will take some time to change matters. And positive affirmation may help. So we think about a scholarship for women.

Besides promoting women, what are your goals?

We want to train as many people as possible in video gaming. And we want to contribute to the challenge in Africa to create jobs for the youth. We want to expand the skills of young people and we try to get partners who can absorb the work force. We are also trying to establish a lot of different opportunities for gamers in Africa. We are joining together under a canopy named “Pan-African gaming group” which currently is made of 10 game studios across Africa with the same vision to transform the African gaming industry. We also want to connect entrepreneurs. We have just started the Gamer`s Association Ghana officially with around 250 participants in our WhatsApp group.

The main business of Leti Arts are educational games for NGOs. But you are also working on your own computer games like Africa’s Legends, where African superheroes are the main characters. What other games are you planning?

In the last months, we created a lot of new games, one game is called Puzzle Scout, that is going to be out soon. You are collecting writings across Africa, connect them to chapters and in the end of the game you have built a book. As with our Africa’s Legends we want to raise awareness for our history. We are teaching about Ghana, how the British invaded it and how it became independent. Everything we create has a connection with our initial idea to teach history. For that, we are partnering with one of the big museums in Africa, the Pan African Heritage Museum in Accra which is scheduled to be open in 2023. They will be responsible for the historic content. We also have a new game with one of our superheroes, it´s called Karmzah Run and we are upgrading our African Legends. But still, we are looking for a major investor who will fund a few of that projects.

Eyram Tawia is CEO and co-founder of Leti Arts.

info@letiarts.com

Kategorien: english

Pandemic lessons

26. September 2022 - 17:44
Climate mitigation has positive health impacts internationally

Members of our species tend to not pay much attention to gloomy predictions, even if those predictions are based on science. The common pattern is that we simply hope the worst will not come to pass. Indeed, we tend to underestimate impacts of global heating too, in spite of the science. The climate crisis requires similarly stringent action as the pandemic did, but so far, precious few governments dare to act with the needed determination.

The full truth is that climate change and Covid-19 are interrelated phenomena in several ways. Global heating is making zoonotic diseases more likely (see me on www.dandc.eu). As local climates are changing, animal species are shifting their habitats to cooler places, bringing along germs and viruses. When those pathogens infect local species, mutations may be the result – with potentially devastating impacts on the health of both animals and humans.

On the other hand, there was reason to hope that limited mobility during the pandemic would make people reconsider travelling habits, with traffic-induced emissions declining long-term. Three years after the pandemic started, we now see that this was an illusion. Yes, energy use and carbon emissions did drop briefly during lockdowns. There was, however, no dent in the long-term trend.

Missed opportunities

It is even more sobering that billions of euros worth of stimulus programs were hardly used for the environmental transformation humanity needs. Policymakers could have done more to promote renewable energy, sustainable transport and energy efficiency. According to Global Recovery Observatory, only three percent of the stimulus measures had a positive impact on natural resources, while 17 % contributed to their depletion. In regard to carbon emissions, the negative and positive impacts were about equal. Important opportunities to make our economies more sustainable were thus missed.

Another undeniable insert is that countries with strong infrastructure coped better with the new disease than those with poor infrastructure. In this context, infrastructure includes health care facilities, educational institutions and various social services.

In most countries, people now think the corona crisis is over. Broad-based vaccination campaigns have led to fewer infections and – what is even more important – fewer severe coronavirus cases as well as fewer deaths. Some political leaders, prominently including US President Joe Biden, have declared the pandemic to be over. We must hope that is true, given that, at least in theory, further mutations may yet cause dreadful suffering.

Heed these lessons

What the pandemic has certainly taught us, however, is that we must be prepared and that determined action is feasible. At the same time, global coordination was far from perfect. The international community must heed these lessons and apply them to climate change. The global common good is far more important than nationalist aspirations. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated many problems, it actually amounts to a war on humankind as a whole (see Hans Dembowski on www.dandc.eu).

Sabine Balk is a member of the editorial team of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

Kategorien: english

Crisis as an opportunity

26. September 2022 - 16:35
Crises like the Covid-19 pandemic offer opportunities for eco-friendly stimulus programmes

After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the German Environment Agency (UBA) conducted a meta-analysis encompassing around 130 studies and position papers on economic stimulus programmes designed to promote sustainable development. That analysis showed that there is a broad consensus on the need for such programmes and their benefits within the scientific community and at international organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Studies confirm that green programmes can be very effective drivers of economic recovery, sometimes even more effective than conventional measures. For example, investment in renewable energy pays off more in macroeconomic terms than state support for fossil fuels. Investment in nature conservation, too, can have a very high multiplier effect, meaning that it generates high impacts on demand and employment. Money spent on unsustainable land use, on the other hand, tends to have a negative impact on an economy.

Criteria for green measures

There is widespread agreement in the scientific community on the criteria that green stimulus measures should meet. It is important that they:

Some economic areas are particularly suitable for sustainable recovery programmes. They include non-fossil energy production, energy-efficient building renovation, sustainable mobility and measures for the ecological transformation of industry. The last area mentioned encompasses, for example, the development of a hydrogen-based economy and the promotion of technologies to increase energy and material efficiency. Climate adaptation measures and nature-based solutions such as reforestation are also often rated very highly.

Which particular measures can be feasibly implemented depends partly on country-specific circumstances, such as economic structure and administrative, technical and financial capacities, and partly on the availability of projects that are already planned and can be swiftly implemented.

Evaluations of existing green recovery programmes show significant differences. In industrialised countries the range of support areas is very broad, whereas in emerging economies and developing countries the focus is often solely on the development of renewable energy – especially solar energy – and preservation of the natural capital stock, for example economically important ecosystem services such as forests or marine sanctuaries.

Just a flash in the pan

Studies on green economic recovery programmes launched during the 2008/2009 financial and economic crisis show that they might only have a momentary effect. For example, although global greenhouse gas emissions declined slightly in 2009, they rose sharply again in 2010. The main reasons for the upturn were low energy prices and high government spending on fossil fuel-based activities.

Therefore, it is necessary to check all economic stimulus measures for environmentally harmful and climate-damaging effects and to embed green recovery programmes in structural reforms. This includes dismantling environmentally harmful subsidies and implementing carbon pricing. In addition, regulatory barriers need to be removed and green investment targets set.

It is also important to promote green financial instruments, build green infrastructures such as charging points for electric vehicles, expand public transport networks and power grids, and launch training programmes so that the social and ecological transformation is not hampered by a shortage of skilled workers.

Policy-making is lagging behind

More than two years after the onset of the corona crisis, questions need to be addressed about the extent to which policy-makers heeded the recommendations of the scientific community and the scale on which green economic recovery programmes were implemented. The answer is sobering: from a global perspective, green recovery measures played a minor role to combat the corona crisis.

The Global Recovery Observatory – a platform created by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), IMF and GIZ to promote knowledge exchange and green fiscal policy – tracks countries’ COVID-19 recovery spending. It estimates that total spending worldwide on measures to address the crisis amounted to around US$ 18 trillion (as of August 2022), most of which went on short-term rescue efforts. Only a little over US$ 3 trillion was longer-term recovery spending and less than a third of that was used to fund green programmes.

Even so, compared to the 2008/2009 financial crisis the importance of green economic recovery measures has increased significantly. Evidence of this can be seen, among other places, in many EU countries, partly as a result of the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility earmarking considerable financial resources for green measures.

Green recovery spending has been confined to relatively few countries, most of them in the industrialised world. This is largely due to the fact that the financial resources of developing and emerging economies are much more limited. In 2020, per capita spending on recovery programmes in industrial countries was 17 times higher than in developing and emerging economies. This shows how important debt relief and targeted financial support by the industrialised world is. They empower developing and emerging nations, too, to implement green programmes.

Moreover, green programmes’ positive impacts on the environment are often counteracted by negative impacts from other stimulus measures. The IMF found that in the Group of 20 leading economic nations (G20), 1.4% of corona spending in 2020 had a positive climate impact, while 1.7% was harmful to the climate. Analyses by the Global Recovery Observatory conclude that only 3% of expenditures on economic recovery have a positive effect on the natural capital stock but 17% of spending has a negative impact. With regard to the goal of air pollution control, the positive and negative impacts are more or less equal. These are shocking findings and underline the importance of applying environmental and sustainability checks to all stimulus measures.

Whether the world as a whole will emerge from the crisis greener as a result of the corona programmes that have been implemented is impossible to say at this stage. It is too early to make a final judgement because programmes are still ongoing and quantitative impact studies are hardly available.

Because of the war in Ukraine, the world is now once again in an economic crisis. And the measures taken in response to that crisis will again be decisive. If the sharp rise in fossil fuel prices is used as an opportunity to promote energy efficiency, green energy and post-fossil production technologies, the crisis could become a catalyst for sustainable development. Developing countries and emerging economies urgently need support in this regard because the constraints on their financial capacities have been even intensified by the current surge in energy and food prices and the economic crisis.

If, on the other hand, the response to sharply rising fossil fuel prices and gas supply shortages is to subsidise fossil fuels even more and to develop new sources of fossil fuels, the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement will hardly be achievable any more.

 

References

Umweltbundesamt (German Environment Agency), 2020: The Green New Consensus. Study shows broad consensus on green recovery programmes and structural reforms.

Green Fiscal Policy Network (UNEP, IMF, GIZ) and University of Oxford: Global Recovery Observatory.

IMF Working Paper, 2021: Monitoring the Climate Impact of Fiscal Policy – Lessons from tracking the COVID-19 response.

Andreas Burger heads the section for Economic and Social Environmental Issues, Sustainable Consumption at the German Environment Agency in Dessau-Roßlau.

andreas.burger@uba.de

 

Kategorien: english

The future of the planet is on the line

24. September 2022 - 10:30
Sustainable development includes progess for people, climate protection and biodiversity, insists German minister

According to your ministry, biodiversity loss is the second global crisis the world faces after climate change. Based on this, the future of humanity also critically depends on global biodiversity. Why?

Without fertile soil, air to breathe, clean drinking water and natural resources, we can’t survive, and all these things are only possible with intact ecosystems. They feed us, protect us from natural disasters and protect us from the many effects of the climate crisis. At the same time, biodiversity is suffering massively from the consequences of climate change. The climate is changing too quickly – species and ecosystems don’t follow suit. This is a vicious cycle – one we urgently need to break. Development for all people, climate change mitigation and the preservation of biodiversity must be carried out in harmony. This is a challenge that I have already dealt with as Federal Minister for the Environment and on which I can now continue to work in concrete terms as Minister for Development. Our work determines the future of the planet.

Every day, up to 150 animal and plant species disappear from the earth. Why is this relevant to people’s lives?

Species are dying at a pace not seen in human history. The animal and plant species affected are irrevocably lost. However, each species has an important function in an ecosystem, and with each species lost, the likelihood of the system collapsing increases. The consequences are dramatic. We are already seeing the harbingers: the hunger crisis, conflicts over scarce water, increasing heat.

The effects are putting a strain on all of us, but particularly on poor countries and vulnerable population groups – especially indigenous peoples and local communities. Their natural livelihoods are being lost and conflicts over resources are increasing. This is particularly unfair, as vulnerable population groups have contributed least to the causes of biodiversity loss.

Today, international attention is primarily focused on the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus crisis. How can more willingness to act and awareness of problems for climate change mitigation and the preservation of biodiversity be re-established worldwide?

I see it differently: Climate change mitigation receives a good deal of attention – in this Federal Government, but also in the population. Everyone is experiencing it. Climate change does not take a break, even in times of war. We just experienced a summer in Europe hotter than ever before. We are working decisively towards a liveable future for our and future generations. Climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation were top issues at the G7 meeting at Elmau Castle. At all levels, we are currently working on a successful global climate change conference in Sharm El Sheikh in November and a new global framework for biodiversity conservation, which will be decided at the UN nature summit in Montreal in December.

There are always conflicts between conservation and the fight against climate change, for example in the energy transition when building wind turbines. How can the two be combined in partner countries?

Of course, there are conflicting objectives. The partner countries deal with the same issues we do in that respect. A good balance between protection and sustainable use is necessary. The solutions are also similar, for example, checking environmental compatibility, determining environmentally friendly locations. And another vitally important factor is that these processes must involve all relevant stakeholders, especially those who are most impacted but have contributed the least: the indigenous and local populations in our partner countries. That is a question of justice. Sustainable agriculture is another important factor. And with nature-based solutions, forests, oceans and mangroves can be preserved as natural carbon sinks while simultaneously enhancing human and nature’s ability to adjust to a changing climate. Naturally, conservation areas are also extremely important for the preservation of ecosystems. For example, with the Legacy Landscapes Fund, a global natural heritage fund, we recently established an important instrument to enable selected outstanding conservation areas to receive long-term “permanent financing” and planning security that is unaffected by crises.

At the moment, global warming is continuing to progress and we continue to lose biodiversity. How optimistic are you that it is possible to successfully reverse this trend?

We have already been able to achieve a lot over the past several years. The global deforestation rate fell by a third between 2010 and 2020 in comparison with the previous decade. Protected areas already account for over 16% of land area and 8% of the oceans. Without these and other measures, two to four times as many birds, amphibians, insects and mammals would probably have died out. Our efforts are having an impact on a small scale, and we need to build on that. We still have a chance to preserve biodiversity and protect the planet from reaching the tipping point. Biodiversity and climate change mitigation are not a luxury, they are essential for survival – for us and for all generations to come.

Link

Development Finance Forum 2022

Svenja Schulze is Germany's Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. www.bmz.de/en

She was interviewed by Michael Ruffert of KfW Development Bank.  

 

Kategorien: english

Why Chile needs another constitutional assembly

22. September 2022 - 12:04
For the time being, the left wing-vision for Chile has not come true

It was supposed to be brilliant, but Chile‘s people did not approve the new constitution in the referendum of 4 September. Its proponents had hoped it would become the crowning glory of a reform process that had started three years ago. The new constitution was supposed to be socially more equitable, more modern and more environment friendly.

The reform process started with a wave of protests against poverty and inequality in 2019. In a referendum in 2020, 80% of voters opted for drafting a new constitution (at the time, , Javier A. Cisterna Figueroa assessed matters on www.dandc.eu). The current constitution dates back to 1980 and is a legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship, emphasising its authoritarian attitudes and free-market orthodoxy.

In May 2021, a constitutional assembly (Convención) was elected. In December. Gabriel Boric, a young leftist, won the presidential election. He took office in March as the successor of conservative leader Sebastián Piñera (siehe comment by Javier A. Cisterna Figueroa on www.dandc.eu). This summer, the convention published its draft constitution. It contained explicit rights to healthcare, shelter, education, elderly care, internet access as well as clean air and water. It foresaw specific rights for indigenous peoples and included protections for animals and ecosystems.

The voters did not appreciate it. For several reasons, over 60% voted “no”.

Many controversial issues

First of all, the draft text was very long and excessively detailed. It included 388 articles covering a host of issues, including, for example, healthy nutrition, gender parity in public institutions and an individual’s sexual orientation. Some of these points were quite contentious.

Opponents of the draft took advantage of related controversies in their “rechazo” (rejection) campaign. Web-based disinformation helped them spread fears. The state would nationalise people’s private properties, it was falsely argued, and a communist dictatorship was said to be preprogrammed.

On the other hand, many voters indeed disagreed with specific points of the draft constitution. There is no consensus on whether there should be a right to abortion , for example. Some institutional changes, including the abolition of the Senate, were controversial as well.

A crisis of trust

It equally mattered that the Convención itself was not beyond criticism. Polls showed that, in many people’s eyes, its legitimacy was dented due to various scandals. Right-wing agitation further contributed to undermining public trust.

Ultimately, the referendum was thus about party politics. The opposition campaigned to reject the proposal, whereas the government endorsed it. Instead of focusing on long-term principles, debate increasingly revolve around day-to-day politics.

A constitution, however, differs from a political party’s platform. In as few words and clauses as possible, it should define  basic  values and spell out how a nation will govern itself, how laws will be passed and how the law courts will operate. What the Convención proposed, by contrast, rather resembled the demands spelled out in a left-wing party’s election manifesto.

The constitutional process will go on. The Senate has already approved a roadmap. It starts with the election of a new constitutional assembly, which will have the opportunity to do a better job, focusing less on detailed regulations concerning a multitude of issues and paying more attention to all citizens feeling represented. The advice of an expert board is expected to enhance the credibility of decisions, moreover. A crucial point is that the opposition must not be able to systematically cast doubt on the entire process once more.

Eva-Maria Verfürth is a freelance author. She founded and edits the online magazine Tea after Twelve. eva.verfuerth@gmail.com

 

Kategorien: english

Pakistan is paying price for neglect of climate adaptation

16. September 2022 - 16:24
Not having contributed much to climate change, Pakistanis suffer impacts

Rain-induced floods have devastated homes, roads and crops. Education, health and electricity infrastructure is failing in most parts of Pakistan. The country’s already fragile economy is on the verge of collapse. 

The unexpected torrential rains started in the middle of June. They have affected over 33 million people. Hundreds lost their lives, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes. They had to flee to relief camps and other safe places as cities, towns and villages were inundated.

Food prices have skyrocketed in view of lost harvests, so many people’s food security has become precarious. In early September, about one third of the country was under water, so the next sowing season may also be affected. Experts reckon, moreover, that over 900,000 farm animals were lost.

International support

The cash-strapped Pakistani government has only limited resources. International aid agencies have geared up their efforts to save the people from starvation, extreme weather and waterborne diseases. Visiting the country, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world to help as a matter of “justice”. Pakistan estimates the cost of flood damages at $ 30 billion.

Pakistani officials and experts point out that the country is feeling the impacts of climate change, a human-made phenomenon its people have hardly contributed to. Pakistan’s share of annual global greenhouse-gas emissions is not quite one percent though it accounts for almost three percent of the world population. By comparison, Germany is home to one percent of the world population, but emits two percent of climate-relevant gases.

The floods can indeed be called a “climate catastrophe”. First, there was an unprecedented heat wave, followed by unusually strong monsoon rains. Parched earth does not allow water to percolate. Moreover, the high rate of glacier melting meant that more water than normal was running in the rivers.

In political and economic terms, Pakistan was ill prepared for this kind of disaster. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted, and the new government relies on a multi-party coalition with many internal frictions (see Marva Khan on www.dandc.eu). In late August, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to release $ 1.1 billion in funding for the country to help it revive its economy.

Pakistani policymakers are demanding reparations, given that the nation can be considered an innocent victim of harm brought about by others. Pakistan’s responsibility in terms of mitigating climate change is indeed tiny, but our authorities have paid far too little attention to adaption. Poor governance, lack of planning and the lack of adaption strategies have compounded this year’s disaster.

It adds to the problems that municipal authorities are weak in Pakistan and rules often remain unenforced. The floodwaters have destroyed many houses that were built illegally close to riverbeds. To a large extent, poverty makes people encroach and settle on unsuitable land. The mud huts that poor people rely on were washed away fast. In many places, however, brick structures, including houses, hotels and restaurants, stood in the wrong places and could not withstand the force of the floods either.

Lessons not learned

Similar damages occurred in 2010 when large parts of Pakistan were also submerged. The lessons were obviously not learned. Provincial governments and local authorities did not ensure implementation of relevant laws to stop such illegal construction activities. This time, there was even more water and it caused even more harm.

Successive national and provincial governments have failed to prepare the country. Policymakers have paid very little attention to the climate crisis. The nation urgently needs good adaptation policies and implementation must follow fast. Otherwise, future events are likely to prove even more devastating that the current floods. Our nation is not to blame for global heating, but  unless we prepare better, we will not be able to cope with it.

Imran Mukhtar is an Islamabad-based journalist.
imranmukhtar@live.com

Kategorien: english

How Biden’s promise of America being back might come true

15. September 2022 - 13:47
White House stance on both climate and democracy are of great global relevance

Yes, Biden fast re-joined the Paris agreement on climate change, but his own climate agenda was not passed by Congress for many months. Moreover, the president shied away from clearly disowning his predecessor and his supporters in spite of their obviously anti-democratic behaviour. Authoritarian tendencies, after all, were evident not only, but especially in regard to the insurrection of 6 January 2021. A policymaker who speaks out against authoritarian tendencies abroad but stays silent about similar developments at home lacks full credibility.

The past few weeks, things have changed for the better. Congress has passed an ambitious climate agenda, which should, by the end of the decade, cut the USA’s greenhouse-gas emissions to 60 % of the level witnessed in 2005. Biden had aspired to achieve 50 %, which would have been better, but his diplomats will not arrive empty-handed at the climate summit in Egypt in November.

Moreover, Biden has started to ambiguously spell out that Trump and the Republicans who endorse him are a threat to democracy. Opinion polls show that Biden’s party is likely to expand its narrow Senate majority and may even maintain its majority in the House of Representatives. Should both happen, Democrats would be in a position to expand climate action as well as pass legislation to make elections safer and fairer.

These things are of great global and developmental relevance. The climate crisis is escalating, and US action is indispensable. Around the world, extreme-weather disasters are increasing (see our focus section in D+C/E+Z Digital Monthly 2022/06). The USA is affected too.

Negotiations at the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh this year will prove difficult for several reasons. The Ukraine war is resulting in enormous climate-relevant emissions, which the international public so far has largely neglected. In the short term, moreover, interest in fossil fuels has increased. Inflation is affecting many nations, partly as a consequence of the war and partly due to supply-chain disruptions in the Covid-19 pandemic. Disputes regarding what funding high-income nations owe less fortunate ones will be high on the agenda, and it does not help that the former have not been keeping their promises so far. On the upside, the war has also boosted policymakers’ long-term interest in renewables, while the number of those who deny climate change is growing smaller in view of the indisputable damage.

The climate negotiations will be tough. The outlook would be very bleak if it were clear from the start that hardly anything can be expected from the USA.

Biden’s invigorated stance towards democracy at home is helpful too. It will prove even more so if his party fares well in the midterm elections in November. Unfortunately, democracies are driven by short-term thinking and very few democracies have been responding appropriately to the mounting environmental challenges since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. However, despotic leaders tend to perform even worse. They focus entirely on the survival of their regime and, provided they can rely on strong means of repression, need not worry much about the common good. Russia, for example, has never been a leader in regard to climate issues. Because of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, initiatives to protect vital, but endangered boreal forests close to the Arctic have stalled. China, which has played a constructive role in the past, is increasingly emphasising narrow-minded nationalism.

Both in regard to climate protection and democracy promotion, Biden has begun to deliver. More must happen. If others are to ratchet up their environmental policies, the USA will be expected to do so too. The US legal system, moreover, must hold Trump accountable. Otherwise, the expectation of impunity will increase in many countries where right-wing populists are a force to be reckoned with.

Hans Dembowski is editor in chief of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

Kategorien: english

Economic recovery in Ghana

14. September 2022 - 12:52
Businesses in Ghana slowly recover from Corona slump, but rising inflation creates new problems

The survey provides critical information to help the government and other actors to monitor the effects of the pandemic on livelihoods. Like everywhere in the world, hotels and restaurants were some of the most affected businesses by the pandemic.

Approximately 36 % of businesses were forced to close, with 16 % remaining closed even after the lifting of lockdowns. Moreover, the survey found out that 46 % of enterprises reduced pay for about a quarter of their workforce (770,124 workers) while four percent (41,952 workers) were laid off.

The statistical body’s findings mirror UNICEF’s data that estimates almost 22 million Ghanaians suffering a drop in family income because of the pandemic. Despite the grim picture, the third wave data shows an improvement in the situation from data during earlier waves of Covid-19. Almost all (97.5 %) of the businesses were open in wave three again.

There is an improvement in employment too. Fortunately, only a few employees lost their jobs. One percent of the workforce reported being laid off in the third wave, down from four percent during the first wave. 3.2 % of the workers reported cuts in their work hours as compared to 14.8 % in the first wave. Only 4.1 % of workers reported wage cuts as compared to 16.5 % previously. People on unpaid leave also reduced from 7.2 % to 0.8 %.

According to the survey, government’s support had a positive impact on businesses. In 2021, a programme with 1.2 billion Ghanaian cedis (about € 125 million) was introduced to help medium and small enterprises affected by the coronavirus pandemic. However, Russia’s current attack on Ukraine is causing new challenges. The resulting inflation is affecting the prices of basic goods such as food and fuel (petrol and diesel). Ghana is suffering from inflation and citizens are feeling it through daily hardship. The country has one of the lowest minimum wages in West Africa at 13.53 cedis (€ 1.35) per day.

Tax advisor and management consultant, Kofi Benteh Afful, explains: “Local goods do not produce inflation; what we are experiencing now is imported inflation, which impacts almost everything we buy.” In his eyes, rising costs will not end soon, and individuals with low incomes will suffer the consequences mostly.

Dasmani Laary is a journalist in Ghana.
laarygna@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Bengali doctor says pandemic proved validity of SDG agenda

13. September 2022 - 16:13
Covid-19 caused hardship in Bangladesh, but proved less devastating than initially feared

In the summer of 2021, international media ran many stories about the devastating Covid-19 wave in India. Was Bangladesh affected in the same way?
Well, our country was hit by the pandemic, but we were not overwhelmed in the sense of dead bodies drifting in our rivers, as was apparently the case in India. In Bangladesh, charitable organisations ensured that the deceased were buried properly. When the pandemic started in 2020, we certainly felt overwhelmed, but that was largely mental. We were not sure how we would cope. Looking back, I would say that we had serious difficulties, but did not suffer a disaster.

What pandemic impacts do the poor communities feel?
The pandemic affected all communities, including the middle classes and lower-middle classes. Everyone was at risk of infection, many people did fall ill, some had to be hospitalised and some even died. However, the economic impacts hit poor people stronger. For example, all domestic helpers lost their jobs. Their employers told them to stay at home instead of coming to work because they did not want to have an outside person in their households in order to contain infection risks. Markets stayed closed, small business stopped working and transport services were drastically reduced. Even garments production stalled briefly (see Nazma Akter on www.dandc.eu). As a result, many people with low and moderate incomes temporarily lost their livelihoods, and that caused considerable pain.

Did it lead to hunger?
Many families certainly only had two meals per day instead of the three meals they are used to, but Bangladesh did not see a serious hunger crisis. In times of need, community members support one another in our country. Civil-society organisations, including ourselves, delivered food to vulnerable people, and the government adopted selective support policies for the poorest communities. Civil society, the private sector and state agencies cooperated well. That said, more people than is normally the case probably did not get sufficient amounts of vitamins and proteins. Things have been going back to normal however.

Bangladesh used to be one of the world’s poorest countries, but after three decades of fast economic growth, it is now a lower-middle income country. Would the impacts of Covid-19 have been worse if the pandemic had started in 1990 rather than in 2020?
Yes, definitely. On the other hand, our country keeps developing, so we would prove even more resilient should a similar disease emerge in 2030. Many social indicators have improved, including average incomes, literacy and life expectancy. Compared with other South Asian countries, our data regarding child and maternal mortality are very good too (as I spelled out in D+C/E+Z five years ago). The country’s birth rate has been close to the replacement rate for quite some time, so our population is not growing anymore (see Najma Rizvi on www.dandc.eu).  Our infrastructure has improved, and that includes health care. All this adds up to Bangladeshis’ average health status being better today than it was 30 years ago. Therefore, we are obviously in a better position to cope with any new health challenge.

In many countries, health systems were overwhelmed. For example, there were so many Covid-19 patients in intensive care, that there were no beds left for other patients. Important operations had to be postponed. Moreover, some patients shied away from going to clinics because they feared they might be infected there.
We obviously had those problems in Bangladesh too. Indeed, many private-sector health facilities closed for some time to avoid infection risks. Coronavirus is a global phenomenon, and it definitely caused hardship here. My point is that things did not turn out as bad as we initially feared. Among other things, we found that mobile telephones were very useful, with many people asking for – and getting – medical advice without going to health centres. In Bangladesh, almost everyone has a mobile phone today. Increased literacy rates helped too, because many people today access information on the internet. Generally speaking, the development achieved in the past decades has proved useful in this health crisis.

How do you assess long Covid?
That is hard to say. Much research still needs to be done internationally, and we hope to benefit from such information. I have had three Covid infections myself, and I now experience a kind of mild cramp that I did not have before.

Are those cramps a consequence of coronavirus?
I do not know. Eventually, clinical research will provide information. As a matter of fact, many people may be experiencing similar or other symptoms, but they do not inform us. In a developing country like Bangladesh, people will tolerate symptoms that do not really disable them without going to the doctor. Some poor people do not try to access medical care at all, given that they lack money to pay for services. To get a full picture of all Covid-related symptoms, we will need international studies.

How did the vaccination campaign go?
Well, we basically used two vaccines. The one developed by Oxford University and a Chinese one. We made good progress, but would have achieved more in shorter time if we had been allowed to manufacture a vaccine in Bangladesh. We have the industrial capacity. Oxford University prominently cooperated with AstraZeneca, the pharma multinational, but it also made an agreement with an Indian company. In return for the production license, the company promised to distribute the vaccine to developing countries in a cost-covering non-profit approach. But India stopped exporting that vaccine when its death toll started to rise fast last year. Luckily, we could rely on the Chinese vaccine at that point. Bangladeshi facilities could have produced either vaccine, and that would have reduced costs. That did not happen.

The innovative mRNA vaccines of Pfizer/­BioNTech and Moderna are considered to be more effective, but they also require better infrastructure, especially in regard to cold chains. Would it have made sense to manufacture them in your country?
Yes, of course. In our urban areas, we have the capacity to keep medical supplies cold, though I’ll admit it can be quite difficult in rural areas. One lesson for Bangladesh certainly is that we must keep improving the capacities of our pharma sector. So far, only one vaccine is under research in our country. We need more research and must become able to create innovative pharmaceuticals ourselves. We can – and will – get there.

Looking back, what kind of international support does Bangladesh need in a global pandemic?

  • First of all, we need information. Unless we know what is going on in other countries, we cannot prepare for what may happen here. Honest and comprehensive information is essential. Without it, we cannot adopt evidence-based policies.
  • Technology transfer matters too, though our pharma industries have become so strong that in many cases the license to use intellectual property rights will do.
  • There is no denying that we also need funding.
  • Finally, international supply chains must be kept viable to the extent possible. Our people suffer when imports and exports become restricted.

Is there any general lesson policymakers should learn from the pandemic?
I think that Covid-19 showed us once again that we need a holistic understanding of development. Economic growth in itself is not enough. It must be used to improve infrastructure, including in the health and education sectors. Better infrastructure makes communities more resilient, and it will ultimately reinforce economic growth. These things are interrelated. In this sense, the pandemic actually proved that the Sustainable Development Goals add up to a convincing agenda.

Manzur Kadir Ahmed is a medical doctor and the chief executive of Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK), a non-governmental organisation focused on health care.
Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK):
https://gonoshasthayakendra.com/

Kategorien: english

School closures in pandemic showed multidimensional poverty

13. September 2022 - 15:52
UNICEF reckons that one third of the world’s schoolchildren did not get formal lessons because of Covid-19

Poverty is typically defined in financial terms. The World Bank defines those living on less than the purchasing power of $ 1.90 per day as extremely poor, while the poverty line for a lower-middle income is $ 3.20 per day. Such monetary notions of poverty are based on estimates of the cost of goods and services required to meet the basic subsistence needs.

But not all goods and services can be obtained through markets, as the World Bank acknowledges. Some require large public investments and government spending. That includes physical and social infrastructures such as the power grid, the sewerage system, schools and health care. Deficiencies in fields like this compound deprivation. A depressing global pattern is that children tend to fare worse than adults, and female persons suffer more than their male counterparts. It also matters that poverty affects different age groups in different ways. Children, for example, are not supposed to be earning a living on their own, and measures of families’ purchasing power only offer a partial assessment at best. Poverty is therefore best understood as a multidimensional phenomenon, which goes beyond income and consumption. Other aspects are critical for well-being too.

SDGs tackle a host of poverty-related issues

The first UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG1) is therefore to end poverty “in all its forms everywhere”. Accordingly, the SDG agenda tackles a multitude of related issues, from good health (SDG3) and quality education (SDG4) to labour conditions (SDG8), infrastructure (SDG9) or environmental hazards (SDG11).

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), some 1.3 billion people in 101 countries suffered multidimensional poverty in 2019. Half of them were below the age of 18, and 85 % of these young persons lived either in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

Multidimensional poverty tends to affect more people than poverty measured in strictly financial terms. According to the UNDP’s 2019 index for multidimensional poverty, for example, 39 % of Pakistanis suffered this kind of poverty, while only 34 % had a purchasing power below $ 3.20 per head and day. It fits the picture according to a study conducted by UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, in Pakistan about half of all kids below the age of 18 suffered at least one severe deprivation. For example, they lacked access to school, health care or safe drinking water. Many of them belonged to families that were not financially poor. The study found deprivation to be worst in regard to informational needs.

Increasing child poverty

Since 2019, moreover, UNICEF has reported a 10 % increase of global child poverty. The number of children living in multidimensional poverty is said to have soared to approximately 1.2 billion in 2020.

Things were especially bad in regard to education. As schools closed down, at least one third of the world’s schoolchildren were denied any kind of formal lessons. The main reason was that they lacked digital equipment. Rural areas were affected in particular. Low connectivity and unfavourable student-teacher ratios obviously compounded the problems.

There were gender angles moreover. In male-dominated societies, sons tended to get priority access to mobile devices, while daughters were denied the safe public spaces that schools offer and their development benefits from in normal times (Ipsita Basu has discussed the Indian scenario on www.dandc.eu). According to UNICEF, only up to seven percent of students could use the internet in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Governments adopted stopgap measures. For example, they opted for TV or radio lessons where digital technology was only insufficiently available. While personal interaction is possible in digitised classrooms, students following broadcasts have no such opportunity. That compounded the problem that poor parents are typically not in a good position to support their offspring’s learning. In Pakistan, a TV channel called Tele-School offered an-hour-a-day educational programming for every level of education. BBC contributor Mehreen Zahra-Malik called the minority who benefited from digital platforms the “lucky ones”.

Digital poverty

The pandemic has thus highlighted the digital divide that exists both within and between nations. UNICEF found a clear association between a country’s gross national income per capita and the percentage of students with access to digital classrooms. The notion of “digital poverty”, which predates Covid-19, has thus been reinforced. The Digital Poverty Alliance, a non-governmental initiative launched in Britain in 2021, defines it as “the inability to interact with the online world fully, when, where and how an individual needs to”. The Alliance insists that digital exclusion exacerbates existing inequalities in society and lead to new inequalities.

Once again, there is a considerable gender divide. Both access to digital devices and digital literacy tend to be less developed among women and girls, after all (for the example of Pakistan, see Sundus Saleemi on www.dandc.eu).

A crucial lesson of the Covid-19 crisis is thus that every kind of digital divide deserves public attention. The SDG motto is to leave no one behind – and that includes everyone who is still deprived of the opportunities that modern information and communication technology offers. Developing countries must build appropriate digital infrastructure and promote digital literacy. That is a message policymakers must heed at national levels, and international agencies should support related efforts.

Mahwish Gul is a consultant from Pakistan who specialises in development management. She lives in Nairobi.
mahwish.gul@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Covid-19 impacts worldwide

8. September 2022 - 14:18
D+C/E+Z contributors from very different countries share their personal experiences on the Corona pandemic Brazil: Much harm, few benefits

For most of the poor and peripheral population in Brazil, the pandemic so far was simply cruel. Many people became unemployed and lost all perspectives in life. Too many people died. President Jair Bolsonaro made things worse by playing down the risk of the virus. Brazil did not have enough vaccine early on, for example, because he refused to buy it. To me it looked like we had no one to fight for us. I felt emotionally exhausted. However, the pandemic has also brought benefits. I was privileged enough to switch to remote work, so I saved time and was less exposed to risks of violence in Rio de Janeiro. The crisis definitely has made me – and many other Brazilians – think about how we are wasting time with stressful commuting, in jobs that do not value us and with problems that actually have a solution.

Thuany Rodrigues is a journalist based in Rio de Janeiro.
thuanyrodriigues@gmail.com

Malawi: Burying the dead

When the reported Covid-19 cases started to rise in Malawi, the government took very strict measures, including closing of offices, shops and national borders as well as social distancing. One consequence that I found particularly hard to take was the way people who had died of Covid-19 were buried. They did not receive a dignified funeral. Even relatives were not allowed to attend the burial, let alone friends and well-wishers, as it is common cultural practice. This struck me when I was attending a funeral of a former workmate, who had died of kidney failure. When I went to the burial site in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, I was shocked to see the grave of another friend I had worked with. I had talked to this person only a month before he succumbed to Covid-19. Now his name is on a grave, and I did not get to bid him farewell at a proper funeral.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.
raphael.mweninguwe@hotmail.com

Germany: Fast, courageous action is possible

Corona was traumatic for us Germans who were used to prosperity and freedom. Suddenly we were no longer allowed to meet even our closest families. That was unheard of and I went as all of us into a state of shock. On top of that we feared for our lives due to the virus. For my children, the situation was particularly bad. Despite this severe impairment of our lives, I am humbled and grateful to live in Germany. We were among the first in the world to get the life-saving vaccines and medicines and we have access to high quality medical care. I can even see a positive side to the pandemic: It has shown that quick, unorthodox action is possible. Millions of people have switched to working from home from one day to the next. This has saved a lot of carbon emissions. I think the world should keep this up after Corona: as little unnecessary travel as possible and very decisive action on the climate crisis.  

Sabine Balk is a member of the editorial team of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

 

Kategorien: english

Covid-19 impacts worldwide

8. September 2022 - 13:30
D+C/E+Z contributors from very different countries share their personal experiences on the Corona pandemic Burundi: Shaking hands

Before the pandemic, people in Burundi used to greet each other with a handshake – both on the coast in Bujumbura, the country’s largest city, and in the interior. However, due to the risk of infection, people are now dealing with this habit in different ways. For example, during my work as a journalist, I met 60-year-old Marguerite from Muramvya province. She finds it difficult not to shake hands with other older women. Even during the Christian service, she shakes hands with others now and then, although this is officially forbidden. Others are more afraid, however, like 50-year-old Agrippina from Bujumbura. She never shakes hands with people on the street. Just in case that happens, she always carries an infectious agent in her handbag – a behaviour that I have observed in many city dwellers.

Mireille Kanyange is a journalist who works for Radio Isanganiro in Burundi.
mika.kanyange@gmail.com

Pakistan: Remote work and class divide

When Pakistan went into lockdown because of Covid-19, many offices and educational institutions initiated work-from-home policies. This added to the disparity between social classes in the country. While much of the urban elite continued with their education and work using digital infrastructure, a substantial part of the population was left behind. A majority of Pakistanis do not have internet access at all, and many of those who do struggled when they were forced to work outside their familiar workplace. I am a law professor at an elite university, so my students tend to be privileged. However, when they had to vacate their dorm rooms, many of them no longer had access to technical devices and stable internet connections. Some lacked a separate space at home where they could sit and attend online lectures. This affected their learning experience, so I had to provide support, including sharing of recorded lectures. Moreover, many female students were tasked with domestic chores and often missed classes for this reason.

Marva Khan is an assistant professor of law at LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences).
marva.khan@lums.edu.pk

Kategorien: english

White South Africans generally accept majority rule today

7. September 2022 - 17:05
South Africa’s white minority has lost its political dominance, but is still privileged in terms of wealth and opportunity

After nearly thirty years of democracy, the South Africa economy is in deep trouble. Economic growth has been minimal since the global financial crisis of 2008/09, while the population has continued to increase. The living standards of most citizens are stagnating or declining. About one third of the working-age population is unemployed. Poverty and inequality remain huge challenges. Black South Africans are languishing at the bottom of every significant indicator relating to wealth, income, opportunity et cetera.

In these dire circumstances, the white minority, by contrast, has mostly continued to enjoy a high standard of living. It is an easy target for those who want to blame scapegoats for the economy’s woes, as some black left-wingers indeed do.

Given South Africa’s history, this is unsurprising. Prior to 1994, South Africa was subject to domination by the white minority in political and economic terms. Repression was brutal (see Jakkie Cilliers A on www.dandc.eu). Black South Africans and anti-Apartheid forces generally dismissed all but a small minority of white South Africans as racist and reactionary. Most historians would agree that this assessment was quite accurate.

Controversial term “race”

“Race” is a politically most controversial. It has no scientific base in genetics. Any generalisation across any however defined “racial group” is inherently dangerous. As a matter of fact, the response of white South Africans to majority rule has not been homogenous.

In political terms, things have indeed changed dramatically. Black South Africans now dominate the three branches of government. The white minority of 4.8 million people (eight percent of the population) has had to adapt. How they have sought to do so is the topic of my recent book “Whites and democracy in South Africa”. Drawing on focus-group research and a growing body of academic literature, it shows that the minority community has displayed a remarkable diversity in political attitudes and behaviour.

On the one hand, most are quite pessimistic about the South African political and economic trajectory. They remain resentful about policies such as “Black economic empowerment”, which is designed to improve the opportunities of black-owned businesses, or “employment equity”, which reserves positions for black people (affirmative action).

On the other hand, most white people are pragmatic about their situation. They tend to recognise that they are far better off and enjoy more opportunities than masses of black South Africans. Some continue to contemplate emigration, notably because of fears about their physical security. Most, however, are determined to make the best of things and stay in South Africa. Many are indeed passionate about the country they consider their home.

Four different modes of adaptation

Broadly speaking, it is possible to identify four modes of white adaptation to democracy. There is a virtually unanimous recognition that there is no going back to Apartheid. Even better, three of the four groups basically understand that Apartheid was morally wrong.

  • The first group consists of what I call the “armed opposers”. The good news is that far-right militias have been firmly repressed. During and after the democratic transition of the early 1990s, organisations such as the Afrikaner Weerstandsbewing of Eugene Terreblanche had tried to create havoc and spark an anti-black uprising among whites. Afrikaaners are the white community of Dutch descent. Fragments of militant white groups still exist, but the intelligence services are monitoring them closely and they do not pose a serious threat to democracy. The far-right has moved to the internet, where it pushes claims of white farmers and others facing a prospective genocide. Such claims are obviously absurd in the eyes of the vast majority of South Africans, including most members of the white minority. Even though the internet campaigns are endorsed by right-wing supremacists internationally, including some US Republicans, they lack traction in the “rainbow nation”, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously called the post-Apartheid country.
  • The “passive resisters” are the second group. They recognise that they have no option but to accept the arrival of democracy. Nevertheless, they remain uncomfortable with the unfulfilled vision of equality that democracy implies. Some of these people consider leaving the country. The more common reaction has been “internal migration” into enclaves. Gated communities for white people keep emerging and growing in small towns and suburban areas. Moreover, Afrikaaners have a tendency of withdrawing into cultural spaces defined by their language, their Calvinist Protestantism and their thriving literature and film industry. In Afrikaaner-majority spaces, segregation persists.
  • The third group are the “inclusive proponents”. They are white people who wholeheartedly embrace democracy. They include people with British, Dutch and ­other ethnic European backgrounds. Important constituents include families who opposed apartheid. Some directly supported the liberation movement, while others did so indirectly as trade-union activists or human-rights defenders. Today, this group includes many professionals – academically trained doctors, lawyers, clergy members, journalists et cetera. Many are known to criticise the ruling party ANC for its failure to fulfil the promises of making life better for all. This group includes young whites for whom diversity at school and university has been the norm. Many of them feel anguish as they struggle to reconcile their rejection of Apartheid with their love for parents and grandparents who benefited from it. Their experience is similar to what young Germans felt after World War II who contributed to entrenching democratic principles in the young Federal Republic.
  • The fourth group are the “active proponents”, who take a rather different approach. They are determined to protect and pursue their specific interests with the tools democracy makes available. They ­accept majority rule, but are keen on fighting corruption and what they perceive as anti-white hate speech. Many of them are Afrikaaners. They focus on re-engaging their community in public life and rely on organisations such as Solidarity, which has developed out of the white Mineworkers Union. A prominent offshoot is Afriforum, an agency that specialises in using the courts to defend white interests. It is allied to right-wing populists including the AfD in Germany and the Trump-influenced Republicans in the USA and denies that Apartheid amounted to a crime against humanity.
Political parties

None of these modes of behaviour are discrete. They overlap and feed into each other. Nonetheless, they translate into distinct voting patterns. South Africans of all races vote according to their social and economic interests, so whites tend to vote for parties that defend established interests. Historically, they descend from parties that dominated the whites-only politics in the Apartheid era.

Most whites who vote, now vote for the Democratic Alliance (DA), which traces its descent from the liberal Progressive Party of Helen Suzman and Helen Zille, who both prominently opposed Apartheid. However, the DA has absorbed remnants of the formerly ruling National Party. On the other hand, the Freedom Front Plus, which is a revival of the far-right Conservative Party, is benefiting from discontent with the economy and the dysfunction of the ANC, the former liberation movement that became the dominant party in 1994.

It is no surprise that whites vote along more conservative lines than their black counterparts. Two aspects of their voting behaviour must be emphasised:

  • Whites vote in proportionately greater numbers than their black counterparts, because they see how they can use constitutional means in defence of their material interests.
  • Nonetheless, they share with black South Africans a declining enthusiasm for voting because of their dwindling faith in the country’s politicians.

The overall conclusion is that South Africa is in serious trouble, though not primarily due to “race”-driven identity politics. What the country urgently needs is a more dynamic and more inclusive economy (see Jakkie Cilliers on www.dandc.eu). After all, the dissatisfaction, which is evident on all sides, results from wide-spread poverty and a general lack of opportunities.

Reference
Southall, R., 2022: Whites and democracy in South Africa, Woodbridge, Suffolk, James Currey.

Roger Southall is emeritus professor in sociology of the University of the Witwatersrand.
roger.southall@wits.ac.za

Kategorien: english

Covid-19 impacts worldwide

7. September 2022 - 12:47
D+C/E+Z contributors from very different countries share their personal experiences on the Corona pandemic Zambia: Running out of medicine

Zambia’s first cases of Covid-19 occurred in March 2020. Since then, life in the country has been disrupted. The health sector was affected in particular. Medical facilities ran out of essential drugs such as cough syrups, painkillers and vitamin C supplement drugs. The demand was unusually high and beyond health providers’ expectations. This shortage has negatively affected many peoples’ daily lives. For instance, my five-year-old child had been due to undergo a routine surgery at our local hospital at the time Covid-19 broke out. However, he could not proceed, because the hospital lacked necessary drugs and surgical tools. Luckily, the surgery has been performed in the meantime. The government’s failure to plan ahead and procure enough drugs and health equipment is certainly one of the key lessons of Covid-19 in Zambia. The country needs to better prepare for future health emergencies.

Derrick Silimina is a freelance journalist based in Lusaka, Zambia.
derricksilimina@gmail.com

Nigeria: Travel restrictions and job loss

As a journalist, I used to travel a lot before the pandemic. Once per year, for example, I used to attend the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. When Covid-19 hit, however, journalists in Nigeria couldn’t even attend assignments on the local level as traveling within the country was restricted. Consequently, it has become difficult to generate stories. Some of my colleagues lost their jobs and now work as freelancers without earning much income. I also know of a former leader in the tourism union who became unemployed. He used to work in a hotel and now has to move back to his farm. Many workers in Nigeria were eased out with a promise that they would be recalled once the situation would improve. Yet, they never got a second chance as the country is still in economic crisis. One positive aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic is that Nigerians are now more conscious of their health.

Bimbola Oyesola is a Lagos-based journalist.
oritokeoyee@gmail.com

Nepal: Mourning society

Nepal is a grieving nation. All of us have lost someone near and dear to us during the first, second or third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, including family members, friends and coworkers. My maternal aunt caught the virus and did not receive intensive care on time. She died. I survived two infections and feared for my small kid while staying at home in isolation. At present, there is a lot of talk about the “new normal” or about digitisation. However, we did not talk much about what we have been through. Moreover, it hurts to know that much suffering could have been avoided if Nepal had a better health-care system. During the second wave, too many people died because they lacked oxygen. Some of them might still be alive if more hospital beds had been available, especially in intensive-care units. However, the government failed to respond promptly and take necessary measures.

Rukamanee Maharjan is an assistant professor of law at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.
rukumaharjan@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

Demise of Brazil’s democracy would speed up climate crisis

7. September 2022 - 11:44
If President Bolsonaro stays in office, he will further undermine Brazil’s institutions of democratic governance

President Jair Bolsonaro never made any effort to hide his authoritarian leanings. As a member of Congress, he told a local TV network that, should he ever be elected president, he would lead a coup the next day. As head of state, he has catered to the interests of the military and police. He likes to speak of “his” army, and pretends he enjoys its support whenever he challenges the constitution and the courts.

Bolsonaro has also mobilised radical groups against Supreme Court justices and political opponents. Election polls indicate about one third of voters support him. The radical core is much smaller, but very noisy. The president has done what he could to make access to guns easier, and the number of Brazilians with fire arms has skyrocketed since 2019. He has a habit of copying former US President Donald Trump. The insurrection in the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 is a dark omen. Should Bolsonaro lose the election, he is likely to attempt a coup. He will certainly instigate violence.

Eroding checks and balances

Bolsonaro has done his best to dismantle Brazil’s system of checks and balances, undermining the independence of institutions designed to oversee the executive branch of government. According to political scientists, the greatest threat to democracy today is not generals who want to grab power, but elected leaders who gradually but constantly keep undermining institutions. It is no coincidence that the book “How democracies die” by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt has become a bestseller in Brazil.

Bolsonaro has been casting doubt over Brazil’s electronic voting system. There actually has never been any evidence of fraud. The system is transparent and scrutinised by the public. A well-funded and targeted disinformation campaign on social and conventional media is nonetheless boosting Bolsonaro’s fraudulent claims.

If Bolsonaro wins re-election, he will probably keep removing institutional barriers to dictatorial rule. That is the pattern that is evident in other countries such as Turkey, Hungary or India, where populist authoritarians have been confirmed in office. It is more likely, however, that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president who is now running against Bolsonaro, will win. Bolsonaro will not concede defeat easily. The implication is that Brazil will probably see a scenario similar to what happened in Washington on 6 January 2021.

Implications for the global climate

A demise of democracy brought about by Bolsonaro would have international and even global implications. Indeed, the future of humankind is at stake, since Brazil is the world’s most biodiverse country and its forests are crucial for controlling global warming. Bolsonaro has relentlessly worked on defunding, incapacitating and blocking environmental agencies. Deforestation has accelerated under him. Scientists warn that the Amazon is close to the tipping point, beyond which the rainforest loses the capacity to recover and most likely will become a savannah or even a desert.

With more than 210 million people, moreover, Brazil is the world’s fifth most populous democracy. Its end would set a dangerous precedent for South America, where it accounts for roughly half of the population, the economy and the territory. A Bolsonaro dictatorship would represent a victory for extreme right populism worldwide.

Protecting democracy in Brazil requires acknowledging that it is in danger. The international community should pay attention. Fortunately, Bolsonaro cannot count on the support of any of the world’s superpowers. Not even fellow BRICS members China and Russia seem interested in worsening global instability by promoting him (on the internal coherence of the BRICS see Praveen Jha on www.dandc.eu).

What western governments should do

Nonetheless, an explicit message from the democratic western governments would be helpful. They should state in very clear terms that Brazil’s constitution must be respected and that attempts to subvert the rules of democracy are unacceptable. The US embassy in Brasília did well to point out that the Brazilian electoral system is an international model. It is also crucial to dissuade Brazil’s military leadership from any temptations to support a coup. That Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defence, visited Brazil in July, certainly served that purpose.

In response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, western governments have introduced massive and unprecedented economic sanctions. They could state that they will use that arsenal to defend Brazil’s democracy. To a large extent, Bolsonaro relies on reactionary agribusiness. The EU should state clearly that Brazil’s commodity exports will not be allowed into its market unless they adhere to environmental standards and do not contribute to deforestation. Those conditions should also apply to agreements with the Mercosur group, the South American trade organisation to which Brazil belongs.

Pre-emptive measures by foreign powers can help to deter Bolsonaro and his supporters. They increase the cost of establishing authoritarian rule – and they may even help to assure a peaceful transition of power in Brazil, which is, after all, the most important feature of a democracy.

André de Mello e Souza is an economist at Ipea (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada), a federal think tank in Brazil.
andre.demelloesouza@alumni.stanford.edu
Twitter: @A_MelloeSouza

Kategorien: english

Having an alternative makes a political order more dynamic

6. September 2022 - 15:56
Part two of Gershberg/Illing review

It is simply not enough to say that democracy is about freedom of speech and the opportunities free speech offers for having an impact on governance. The great German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, for example, basically defined democracy as always having an alternative government in waiting. In a formal democratic setting, after all, there is a government and a legitimate opposition, with the latter, in principle, being ready to assume administrative responsibility at any time. The result is that democracy is more dynamic and adaptive than autocratic rule, which glorifies the government and delegitimises any opposition.

By contrast, Gershberg and Illing simply deny that institutions matter. They thus not only forego any opportunity to make institutions resilient. They fail to acknowledge what makes democracy, the form of governance they explicitly prefer, so dynamic. It is more than just the freedom to express grievances. The permanent availability of a viable alternative is essential. The institutional setting matters.

Institutions matter very much

Donald Trump’s rise to the White House in the elections of 2016 was simply driven by angry Internet rhetoric. It was also facilitated by the institution of Electoral College which granted him power even though his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had won close of 3 million more votes than he had. This institution denied the majority its will.

It is worth adding that the democratically unbalanced Senate allowed Trump to appoint three Supreme Court justices, tilting the majority on the bench towards the worldview of the minority of voters who elected Republican senators (see Katie Cashman and myself on www.dandc.eu). These are institutional shortcomings and cannot simply be explained with unmonitored and uncivilised open media discourse.

Gershberg and Illing argue that Brexit was a truly democratic event, because voters opted for it. They admit that the term was not well defined, so debate on its true meaning only really started after the decision to leave the EU was taken. Would it not have been wiser to define the term first and hold the referendum afterwards? That would have been institutionally feasible – and that kind of debate would have made some Brexit paradoxes obvious (regarding Northern Ireland, see Ciarán Ó Maoláin). Instead, populist rhetoric turned the issue into a question of patriot feelings.

The international community is facing huge problems. We need global solutions for global problems. We know that authoritarian governments are unlikely to deliver, though democratically legitimate governments have fallen short too.

Too little concern for climate issues

According to the book’s index, climate change is mentioned only on three pages. I’ve checked all three pages diligently, and the topic does not even feature on the third. Global heating, however, is a core challenge, including in regard to democratic governance. Unfortunately, democracy is not good at tackling long-term issues. Policymakers think in legislative terms, so what will happen after the next election, is systematically of minor concern. I am convinced that many of the problems we are currently struggling with result from people knowing that, because of the climate crisis, things cannot go on as they have been in recent decades. Some are in full denial and thus appreciate systematically applied false information. Others are increasingly aware of democratic governments failing. In my eyes, the true paradox of democracy is that it promises solutions for everything but fails to do much about anything that is not of immediate urgency.

Gershberg and Illing entirely shy away from this topic, even though the imminent self-destruction of our species defines our era more than any other phenomenon, even digitalisation. Instead of dealing with this serious issue our species is facing, Gershberg and Illing waste many pages rambling on about what they call “ethnonationalist” leaders in various countries and how they use various kinds of media. They are a bit sloppy, for instance when they fail to point out that populist authoritarians hardly ever gain office with the support of a majority of voters. They typically benefit from election systems that create winners with fewer than 50 % of the vote. By comparison, it is unimportant that they mention the “Arab spring of 2010”, which was actually in full swing as a pan-Arab movement in early 2011.

Misunderstanding Modi

They are wrong to call India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi an “ethnonationalist”. He is actually a Hindu supremacist. India’s huge Muslim minority is not ethnically different. The authors are wrong, moreover, to simply state that Modi is offering the Hindu majority something that it finds appealing. Hinduism is a caste-based religion which does not lend itself easily to a sense of faith-based solidarity.

The big achievement of the Hindu supremacists has been to create a sense of Hindu nationalism which is historically unprecedented. Most of their leaders belong to the high castes. It is fundamentally astonishing that they are now appreciated by members of lower castes. They were not in the past, though they did occasionally manage to start anti-Muslim pogroms. In Modi-supporting circles, the traditional elites are still in very much in charge, but their claim to be speaking for “the people” now resonates in ways it did not do in the past. In their eyes, anyone who opposes them is “anti-national” (see Arfa Khanum Sherwani on www.dandc.eu).

Things are not much different in the USA, by the way. Trump is a billionaire, not a man of the people. He is supported by Harvard- and Yale-educated senators who love to agitate against “elites” as though they themselves did not belong to them.

Oligarchic populism

There is such a thing as oligarchic populism, but Gershberg and Illing do not take account of it. It serves the interests of the superrich while claiming to represent ordinary people (see a previous blogpost of mine). It thrives on prejudice, but is not good at designing policies. It is no coincidence, of course, that those who benefit from fossil fuels have a tendency to support oligarchic populism – including Russian President Vladimir Putin or Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Gershberg in Illing, however, stick to the misleading narrative of Trump basically mobilising “the people” against “the elite”. Their book would be much better if they had assessed to what extent this misleading narrative results from specific aspects of innovative Internet media and to what extent it results from conventional media endorsing it. Given that they endorse it themselves, we obviously cannot expect such an assessment from them.

The full truth is that a distorted notion of balance in conventional media has helped Trump. US journalists are trained to give equal space and weight to both major political parties. Too few media houses have changed that stance as a response to only one of the two big parties still wholeheartedly endorsing democracy. Anti-democratic lies are thus presented as similarly legitimate as truthful warnings against authoritarian tendencies. President Joe Biden has recently begun calling Trump supporters “semi-fascist”, and some traditional newspapers ridiculously insist he take a more “bi-partisan” stance. Such writing in conventional media makes semi-fascism look legitimate.

The international community needs good rules for Internet communication. This book does not help to bring those rules about.

Reference
Gershberg, Z. and S. Illing, 2022: The paradox of democracy – Free speech, open media and perilous persuasion. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.

Hans Dembowski is the editor in chief of D+C/E+Z.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

Kategorien: english

There is no democratic equality online

6. September 2022 - 15:37
Freedom of speech and the internet

Normally, I do not review books that I consider to be failures. In this case, however, I want to point out crucial fallacies because both topics – the essence of democracy and the impact of digital media – are of vital relevance. I’ll start by summarising the authors’ core thesis and then elaborate on what they get wrong about Internet media in this blog post. In the next, I’ll discuss why their idea of democracy is incomplete.

Gershberg and Illing argue that democracy is always fragile because it is defined by the freedom of speech. This freedom allows people to criticise governments and demand change. That is healthy, as they point out, because it allows grievances to be tackled in peaceful and constructive ways. The downside, however, is that the freedom of speech can also be turned against democracy itself, with authoritarian actors undermining not only elected leaders, but the political system itself. Populist demagogues, according to the authors, are doing exactly that.

The presumed death of “liberal democracy”

On this basis, they argue that liberal democracy has died. They define liberal democracy as an order in which powerful media and strong institutions reinforce the existing order by ensuring that public discourse does not become erosive. In their eyes, newspapers and broadcasting stations no longer dominate public discourse the way they did the second half of the 20th century and the Internet has introduced an era of truly free speech. Editorial offices no longer serve as gatekeepers. Everybody is free to express themselves online, and conventional ideas of civility no longer apply. Indeed, the two authors even argue that democracy has become more democratic because masses of people are now venting frustration, anger and even hatred online without restraint. Whether statements are true or not matters less than whether they resonate, according to them.

Gershberg and Illing state that any political order ultimately depends on the underlying political culture. It is true that democratic institutions depend on public expectations, so they are indeed only as strong as people’s faith in them is. In this fundamental sense, the authors’ theorem of democracy being permanently at risk is correct. What Gershberg and Illing miss is that institutions can and should shape public discourse too. Moreover, not every message that is legally permitted is legitimate. The two authors fail to consider how disruptive information can – and indeed should – be challenged systematically.

Institutional failure

The core reason that so much populist propaganda is spreading online internationally is that the US Congress has exempted Internet platforms from liability for the content they make available. US law matters internationally because many of the most important Internet companies are based in the States and we have no international regulation. Conventional media houses can be held accountable for disinformation they spread, but that does not apply to social media platforms. Legislation thus could – and should – limit the tide of fake news propaganda.

Germany experienced two totalitarian dictatorships in the 20th century, first Nazism and later, in the eastern part of the country, communism. We have learned that democracy must be able to defend itself. As a result, a legislative reform in Germany has obliged social media companies to take down within 24 hours any hate-speech post that they are made aware of. This is binding law and no longer an issue of corporate self-regulation.

Much more could be done institutionally. Given that we know that free speech can threaten democracy, readers should always be able to find out who is responsible for any kind of published information. On social media platforms, we often do not know. Accounts may be fake after all, and the platform itself is not liable.

Inequality on social media platforms

The notion, moreover, that the Internet has facilitated truly open media is wrong. No, not everyone is equal in the digital public sphere. Gershberg and Illing basically claim that everyone can post what they like and that Internet corporations basically only give people what they want. They do not discuss the role that algorithms play, even though algorithms downplay some topics and promote others. If you invest in Facebook advertising, for example, the Facebook algorithm will ensure that your posts get more attention. Not everyone has the money to do so, but some can spend heavily.

The full truth is that Internet users pick from the choice that the algorithms present on their screens, but they hardly become aware of what is not shown. If you follow us on Facebook, you can check for yourself by comparing what D+C/E+Z content appears on your timeline with what we post on our profile page and what we publish on our website. One thing you will notice is that the Facebook algorithm does not appreciate D+C/E+Z headlines that appear even mildly controversial.

The algorithms are secret. As users, we do not fully understand their biases, though we do know that they serve corporate interests (see Ndongo Samba Sylla and myself on www.dandc.eu). The algorithms are designed to maximise profits by attracting users’ attention. So even while supposedly controversial topics on our website are downplayed, we also know that YouTube and Facebook have a tendency to drive a person’s radicalisation by offering gradually more extreme content with an eye to keep users hooked.

Bot farms spreading disinformation

It is also common knowledge that Russian bot farms make divisive messages go viral in western democracies. To what extent does such automated programming in a foreign nation amount to free speech that western democracies must accept? The book offers no answer.

It also ignores that disinformation tends to be particularly bad in languages other than English. The half-hearted self-regulation social-media platforms use so far hardly apply to posts in Spanish, Swahili, Amharic, Hindi, Tagalog, et cetera. Moreover, democracy subverting strategies are sometimes tested and pioneered in developing countries and emerging markets (for the example of the Philippines, see Alan C. Robles on www.dandc.eu). At the same time, Internet corporations are obviously keen on staying in business in Latin America, Africa and Asia, so they are doing their best not to offend autocratic leaders there. Algorithms have a pattern of accelerating anti-minority agitation in many countries, while slowing down criticism of the government.

Gershberg and Illing do not tackle these issues at all. Accordingly, they do not discuss how they could be tackled by institutional means. Instead, they muse about how radical rhetoric can essentially undermine the democratic order that allows it to spread. In my next post, I’ll explain what they misunderstand about democracy.

Reference
Gershberg, Z. and S. Illing, 2022: The paradox of democracy – Free speech, open media and perilous persuasion. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press

Hans Dembowski is the editor in chief of D+C/E+Z.
euz.editor@dandc.eu

Kategorien: english

Undocumented job is best opportunity many Pakistanis get

6. September 2022 - 15:06
In Pakistan, the informal sector accounts for 75 % to the workforce and one third of GDP

A large informal sector has several important downsides. Persons involved in what is also called the “shadow” or “grey” economy, typically do not benefit from governmental social-protection systems such as pension schemes or health insurance (see Markus Loewe on www.dandc.eu). The businesses concerned, moreover, do not pay taxes and thus do not help to boost governments’ fiscal power. Additionally, non-application of labour rights and environment regulations to informal activities can cause considerable harm.

As is true in many Asian and African countries, Pakistan has a large informal sector. The World Bank estimates that the informal sector contributes a little more than one-third to the country’s gross domestic product. According to the Asian Development Bank, more than 90 % of the businesses with 50 employees or fewer are operating informally.

According to Pakistan’s official Labour Force Survey of 2020/21, the informal sector employs almost 75 % of the working-age population. A significant share is busy on farms, which is typical of economies depending on agriculture. One implication is that informal work is slightly more prevalent in rural areas, but it still accounts for almost 69 % in urban areas. Some kinds of particularly unpleasant work – such as the sorting and recycling of garbage – are mostly done informally as well (see Imran Mukhtar on www.dandc.eu).

Youth bulge

Many factors have contributed to the growth of the informal sector over the years. The most important is that formally registered businesses and government agencies have not been able to absorb the rapidly growing workforce, which is a direct consequence of the “youth bulge”. Pakistan has a comparatively high birth rate. In 2017/18 it was an average 3.6 children per women (see Mahwish Gul on www.dandc.eu), and almost two-thirds of its 220 million people are between the ages 15 and 33.

Ease of entry and exit of workers in informal businesses make such ventures lucrative. Around 40 % live below the poverty line, and 75 % of these people are women. People are often forced to earn money in informal occupations while hoping to find a more rewarding formal-sector job. Pakistan is currently struggling with a serious economic downturn and high inflation, so many people are increasingly desperate and willing to accept tough labour conditions.

Moreover, many women work in informal occupations. This is a global pattern (see Sundus Saleemi on www.dandc.eu), and it is reinforced in Pakistan because many women appreciate the opportunity to pursue income-generating activities at home. Such work is invisible to the public. Conservative households can make it difficult to leave the home, but families often depend on female members contributing to the household income. On the other hand, some women do play visible roles, including as leaders of informal businesses.

In some cases, moreover, people actually prefer to keep things informal. The state administration is known for red tape and tedious procedures, so it is sometimes easier to simply avoid dealing with cumbersome legal processes.

Microfinance matters

As a general rule, informal businesses are small and labour-intensive. Profits and wages tend to be meagre (see Iwan J. Azis on www.dandc.eu). A major issue is that informal entrepreneurs struggle to access credit. In Pakistan, however, things have improved to some extent due to efforts made by microfinance institutions (MFIs). Some of them are run by civil-society organisations and faith-based initiatives, others by federal and other government agencies.

A prominent microfinance success story is the Akhuwat Foundation, established by Dr Amjad Saqib. It has distributed the equivalent of approximately $ 900 million and boasts a repayment rate of almost 100 %.

MFIs have been making access to financial services easier. Some even offer interest-free loans. Financing, moreover, often goes along with technical support, capacity building and benefits for marginalised communities. Many support programmes are systematically designed to benefit women and prioritise this target group accordingly.

Bypassing protective laws

Many serious problems nonetheless haunt the informal sector. An important reason is that protective laws are not only bypassed, but often unknown to people involved. Wages are not paid regularly, for example. Occupational safety is poor, so accidents happen. There is no sick or maternity leave, and workers do not get vacations. Child labour persists in some places. Things become especially murky when subcontractors are involved.

Government institutions are aware of these issues. Some legislative efforts have been made, for example in the province of Sindh. The Sindh Home-Based Workers Act of 2018 was designed to safeguard the rights of informal workers. It has established:

  • a fund for home-based workers,
  • an arbitration committee and
  • a system for tracking orders.

The law offers protection against the non-payment of wages. However, it only applies to one province which is home to around one-quarter of Pakistanis. Moreover, there is little awareness of the law even in Sindh, so enforcement continues to be an issue.

Exploitation can indeed be brutal in the informal sector, but it would be a mistake to believe that only the business owners are to blame. Many of them live precarious lives themselves. Low productivity means their profits stay low too. They get verbal and undocumented orders, so they do not have much certainty of being paid reliably and on time themselves. They have no way to enforce agreements they have made with clients either.

Pandemic pain

When the Covid-19 pandemic started, the fragility of informal businesses made them highly susceptible. Sudden lockdowns meant that many activities had to be suspended immediately. Even when the raw materials could still be processed at home, access to inputs became difficult. According to Asia Foundation, a San Francisco-based institution, the profits of Pakistan’s informal businesses dropped by almost two-thirds from March 2020 to March 2021. Accordingly, 60 % of the informal workforce was laid off temporarily. Moreover, a quarter of the businesses cut wages to sustain operations. Women were affected in particular.

The pandemic forced many enterprises to revisit and revamp their business models. Not all relevant leaders are literate, but many started to use social-media platform like Facebook and Instagram for gaining access to larger markets. The platforms also helped businesses connect with one an­other, making it easier to source inputs, for example, or to cooperate on fulfilling specific orders. While the pandemic caused much pain, some of the surviving businesses have become stronger.

At the same time, cyber-crime has increased incrementally since the first lockdown. The Digital Rights Foundation, a Pakistani digital-rights organisation, reckons that 70 % of these offences were against women, who are more vulnerable for many reasons, including being on average more poorly educated than men (see Sundus Saleemi on www.dandc.eu).

Cyber-crime made life harder for struggling informal businesswomen, many of whom also had to cope with other gender-related pandemic issues. As was true around the world, the levels of domestic violence increased, for example, and kids, who no longer went to school, needed more attention.

Marva Khan is assistant professor of law at LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences) and co-founder of the Pakistani Feminist Judgments Project.
marva.khan@lums.edu.pk

Kategorien: english

Innovative farming in a refugee camp

31. August 2022 - 11:14
A soilless cultivation technique allows refugees in a camp to grow fruit and vegetables on a small space

Refugees often have no access to land to engage in farming and yet it could be a source of food and extra income. It is for this reason that the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in 2021 launched a hydroponics farming project in the Tongora camp. Hydroponics is a soilless cultivation technique ideal for smaller spaces. It is often used in dry areas and by urban farmers. It uses up to 90 percent less water and 75 percent less space than traditional farming.

Hydroponics is climate smart too. Greenhouses in Tongora camp are powered by solar energy. Two types of hydroponics systems are used: the deep-water culture (DWC) and the drip system (Dutch bucket system) which uses a reservoir filled with water and nutrient solution. The plants are submerged in a net pot for the roots to have a constant supply of water and nutrients. Additionally, there is a pump that supplies oxygen bubbles into the reservoir.

The drip system uses buckets filled with sawdust from pine trees where the roots of plants are submerged. A pump continuously moves the water throughout the channel to improve oxygenation and nutrient uptake and the leftover solution flows back into the reservoir for reuse.

Using the hydroponics, up to 70 refugees in the Tongora camp are farming fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce in an area the size of a football field. These plants grow twice faster than those grown using traditional farming methods.

“We come daily in the morning to monitor but we rarely do anything as this farming method requires less labour and it uses less water,” says 39-year-old Silvie Musau, one of the farmers in the camp. She arrived in 2019 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where she was receiving death threats. TRC is in Chipinge, a town 475 kilometres from the capital Harare. It is home to about 15,000 refugees fleeing conflict and war in countries such as Mozambique, the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

For their livelihood, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners such as the WFP offer food stamps and monthly cash transfers to the refugees and their families. However, this is not enough to cater for all their needs. Moreover, more and more refugees keep coming each day.

Musau and other farmers in the camp can now earn an extra income after selling their vegetables to top retailers in Chipinge town and flea markets in the camp. Musau uses her extra income to buy essentials such as clothes for her eight children. Additionally, the refugees consume some of their produce. “Once every week we are also allowed to get some vegetables for our families,” says Musau.

Paul Zakariya of Zimbabwe Farmers Union thinks hydroponics is important in climate change mitigation. “In response to climate and climate variability changes, it is important to explore possible options for adoption and mitigation,” he says. Lands Ministry permanent secretary John Bhasera says hydroponics is one of those technologies that should be adopted by the government on a national scale.

Farai Shawn Matiashe is a journalist in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
matiashefarai@gmail.com

Kategorien: english

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