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Twitter could become a plutocrat’s toy

13. Mai 2022 - 11:38
The implications of an important social-media platform depending on a billionaire’s whims

In the global south, Twitter is not as popular as other social-media platforms such as WhatsApp, Telegram, TikTok or Facebook. It is nonetheless an important global forum that shapes public debate and influences people.

Many internet users will not personally notice Twitter’s relevance to political discourse, since it has a comparatively small user base. What matters is that specific groups heavily rely on Twitter, including journalists, public intellectuals and policymakers. What makes Twitter valuable is the networks of people who belong to these elite circles.

Rewarding celebrity

Prominent persons have the greatest reach on Twitter, as personalities from politics, the media, pop culture et cetera have the most followers. Bots – software that automatically shares and retweets specific messages – are known to boost propaganda in manipulative ways. However, an average person would probably be unable to attract a large number of followers even with the support of an army of bots.

Musk has more than 90 million followers on Twitter. He is known for jokes, sarcasm and leaking proprietary business information, which earned him the attention of the Security and Exchange Commission, the stock-market regulator in the USA. To him, “freedom” seems to mean doing what he wants without a government agency getting in his way, an attitude we often see among oligarchic populists (see Hans Dembowski on

Musk rules?

Depending on how Musk might change Twitter’s rules, the platform may either strengthen democratic deliberation or authoritarian populism in the future. Crucial issues will be who is allowed to use Twitter and what kind of messaging is permitted. Musk claims to be a “free-speech absolutist”. For all practical purposes, that will probably mean that anyone with a loud voice will be free to state whatever they want – including disinformation, hate speech and lies. When this manuscript was finalised in mid-May, the prospective Twitter owner had tellingly just said he does not want former US president Donald Trump to stay barred from the platform.

In the global south, Twitter will most likely keep amplifying powerful members of the elite. Debates that start on Twitter often find their way onto other social-media platforms as well as into mainstream media. India’s reactionary Hindu supremacists typically rely on WhatsApp to amplify messages, whereas Russian and Ukrainian actors are using Telegram channels for the propaganda campaigns as part of the ongoing war.

Would a new Twitter leadership make matters worse? It is unlikely that the platform will become an unusable hub of mis-and disinformation. Though Musk denies he has an economic interest in Twitter, he would not have become a billionaire without caring for money. To generate revenues, he has proposed charging Twitter users “a small fee”. That might make the platform even more elitist.

Should Musk try to turn Twitter into a commercial platform like Instagram or Facebook, the constant flow of advertising would probably make serious voices from civil society, politics and journalism abandon it. Twitter’s current role would be compromised. In the USA, pro-democracy Twitter users have begun to leave the platform. Such a trend might well prove harmful to both Twitter and democracy.

Complex algorithm

Musk has also said he wants the Twitter algorithm, which determines what people see on their timelines, to be transparent. Transparency would reduce the scope for manipulation. However, the algorithm is quite complex, so only few people would actually understand it.

What is more publicly relevant is who Musk hopes will support his $ 44 billion acquisition. Relevant allies include an investment fund controlled by the reactionary Royal House of Qatar, a superrich Saudi Prince and software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle.

Twitter is an important platform of international debate. Now it seems at risk of becoming a billionaire’s toy. We should consider that a warning.

Charles Martin-Shields is a senior researcher at the German Development Institute in Bonn.

Kategorien: english

In Benin, the blind struggle to fend for themselves

12. Mai 2022 - 16:06
Benin’s visually impaired people deserve support from government, NGOs and religious charities

To understand the plight of blind people in Benin, one must only walk along the main street of the overcrowded Zongo neighbourhood in Cotonou around midday on Fridays, when Muslims stream to the mosque for weekly prayers. Large numbers of blind people follow in their wake, begging for alms. Some of the blind are so desperate that they swarm around the few individuals who seem inclined to help.

In fact, to be visually impaired in Benin is to be nearly helpless. In the absence of systematic support from government, affected individuals depend on others for nearly everything: food, shelter, medicine and help with daily tasks such as eating, dressing, showering and getting to a rest­room.

The neglect and prejudice start early in life. “Many parents believe that a handicapped child is a burden,” says Alexis Boton, director of the centre for social promotion of blind people in Parakou, about 400 kilometres north of Cotonou. “Often, they are not keen on helping their own offspring.’’

Preventable misery

Much of the misery could be prevented through early detection and treatment of incipient blindness. According to a 2018 study co-authored by Salimatou Monteiro of the Benin-based University of Parakou, over 40 % of visually impaired patients surveyed had become blind due to preventable or avoidable causes.

“The prevalence of avoidable causes of blindness is high,” the scholars state. “Efforts still need to be made to improve the prevention and diagnosis of avoidable ophthalmic disorders that may lead to blindness, through better access to and high quality of eye care.” Their study was published in the Journal of Clinical Research and Ophthalmology.

The main causes of visual impairment in Benin are age-related cataracts and glaucoma. Other causes include refractive errors and disorders of the macula, an important area in the centre of the retina.

The severity of the handicap varies by age, income and geography. Some people living in remote villages near rivers fall victim to river blindness. This tropical disease is transmitted by biting blackflies that breed in fast-flowing water. If this infection is detected early enough, the victims can recover after treatment. Unfortunately, many seek help only after it is too late to prevent blindness.

Other contributors to blindness in Benin are related to income. They include a poor diet, deficient hygiene, untreated high blood pressure and untreated diabetes. Many people lack access to medical care. Such factors accelerate the spread of “diseases of the poor” – illnesses and conditions that affect patients who do not get proper medicine and need better living conditions (see Sheila Mysorekar’s 2016 essay on This situation is hardly confined to Benin, but basically the same in many African countries (see Maxwell Suuk on

Despite limited budgets, though, government agencies can and should do more to support Benin’s visually impaired people, says Father André Kpadonou. He is a blind catholic priest based in Zagnanado, 165 kilometres from Cotonou. He lost his eyesight after becoming a priest, but never abandoned his mission to support vulnerable people. According to him, non-state actors should get involved too.

Tangible results

Father Kpadonou regularly publishes articles and books, trying to sensitise government, NGOs and society at large to the plight of blind people. He learned to use Braille and digital tools and misses no opportunity to communicate. “I may be blind,” he says, “but my mouth and my ears work perfectly.”

He challenges the government to provide specific helpful measures, even though budgets are limited. For example, he wants the government to provide decent housing for blind people, so they must not live on sidewalks.

He also insists that white walking sticks should be issued to blind people, to help them to get around and to be recognised by others as visually impaired. Moreover, he calls for holding reckless car and moped drivers to account if they injure blind pedestrians. In the absence of designated street crossings, many visually impaired people get knocked over by vehicles while trying to cross a street.

Father Kpadonou wants NGOs and faith-based charities to do their part by providing skills training and helping blind people find jobs. Two faith-based organisations stand out as examples of the right way to proceed, he says: the Siloé Center in the village of Djanglanmè and the Father Paul Rival Center in Adjohoun in southern Benin. They provide food, hygiene measures and skills training free of charge.

That kind of work shows tangible results. A religious order saved one young girl who was born blind and cast out of her family. It gave her shelter, food and an education. She grew up to become a nun in the “Soeurs Servantes de la Lumière du Christ” (Sisters Servants of the Light of Christ).

Ultimately, though, faith-based charities can help only the lucky few. To improve the lives of the large numbers of blind and visually impaired people in Benin, formal help is needed from government and many more NGOs. With systematic medical screening and proper health care, as well as job training and support for daily needs, the country’s visually impaired people could live far better lives than they do today.

Monteiro, S., et al., 2018: Causes of avoidable blindness in Parakou. Journal of Clinical Research and Ophthalmology.

Karim Okanla is a media scholar and freelance author based in Benin.

Kategorien: english

“A food crisis is looming”

5. Mai 2022 - 11:45
Floods and drought threaten maize yields in Malawi

In 2018, the country produced 3.4 million tons of maize; 3.3 million tons in 2019, 3.8 million tons in 2020 and 4.4 million tonnes in 2021. High yields in previous years were attributed to abundant rainfall and a successful government programme, according to the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) that distributes agricultural inputs.

Malawi’s president, Lazarus Chakwera, has acknowledged that the country will not produce high maize yields like it did last year. Production estimates for 2022 are at 3.9 million tonnes, a reduction of about 11.3 %. He blames this on tropical cyclone Ana which formed in the Indian Ocean on 21 January and made landfall in Malawi on 24 January, causing heavy rains and flooding.

The storm affected around 20 districts in the southern and central regions of the country, especially in Phalombe, Chiradzulu, Mulanje and Chikwawa districts. An estimated over 190,000 households were affected, alongside crops, livestock and other property being washed away by flooding rivers. The country has also experienced drought spells that have affected the northern region and parts of the central region.

Amidst the disturbances of extreme weather condition, farmers are raising alarm and calling for governmental intervention. “A food crisis is looming,” says Richard Chibwana, an agribusiness specialist and farmer. He says that the crisis comes at a time when people are suffering with rising market prices for food, especially maize.

“I hope the president understands that this year there will be less maize for farmers because drought is taking its toll. Crops are drying, not because they have matured, but due to severe heat and no rains,” says Chibwana. The president, however, assures Malawians that nobody will die of hunger. He says that the government will purchase maize in readiness for the looming food crisis.

Additionally, the Malawian government is banking on its Affordable Inputs Programme to continue supporting farmers countrywide. Under the programme the government offers seeds and fertiliser at a subsidised price. The AIP has however been inefficient and not delivered on its objectives. It has been characterised by poor management. Farmers in Malawi have complained that they could not find the fertilisers and seeds at AIP designated depots. There are also claims that fertilisers on sale were tampered with and mixed with sand and ash. As result of this, the targeted 4.2 million farm families under the programme have not been adequately served.

While presenting the National Budget in February this year, Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe admitted that the AIP had not been properly managed. He however promised to address the management challenges.

He says that the government has allocated 20 billion Malawi kwacha (MK – $ 25 million) for maize purchases which will help to cushion the food shortage. The agricultural sector has been allocated about MK 447.66 billion ($ 554 million) of the MK 1.8 trillion ($ 2.2 billion) current budget.


Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.

Kategorien: english

Toxic substances in the life cycle of clothing

5. Mai 2022 - 10:57
Many workers in textile and garments manufacturing are exposed to health risks they do not understand

The textile and fashion industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. It is known for the intensive use of pesticides, water, energy and toxic chemicals. Poisonous emissions contaminate water, soil and air. The impact on our planet is enormous and results from the entire life cycle of textile products. Relevant issues include raw-material supply, production, delivery, retailing and disposal. Indeed, textile waste problems abound – especially in poorer world regions.

Clothing consumption has increased in recent years. That has not only led to more production, but also to a dramatic increase in textile waste worldwide. According to Value Village, a global reuse chain, almost twelve million metric tons of clothing and textiles accumulate in landfills each year, of which 95 % could be reused or recycled. Many countries do not have the required capacities, however, so poor inappropriate waste management results in the emission of pollutants from the burning of textile waste or toxic substances leaking from disintegrating garbage in landfills. Textile-waste problems are most acute in disadvantaged regions, as used clothing exported from high-income countries to low-income countries accumulates in the developing world.

On the other hand, up to 90 % of clothing is produced in developing countries, where labour and safety standards are often not respected or even do not exist at all. Environmental legislation tends to be similarly dysfunctional. Social problems are well known, and they persist even though many companies claim to adhere to high standards. Most of the workers are women who did not get a good education and fear losing their jobs. Some of the many serious grievances are:

  • low wages,
  • long working hours,
  • unpaid over-time work,
  • no paid leave,
  • exploitation of children,
  • lack of career opportunities and
  • sexual harassment at work.
Gender-specific health risks

Moreover, occupational safety typically does not get adequate attention in the textile and garment sector. Health hazards in the sector affect both men and women, but some are gender-specific, including breast cancer, spontaneously aborted pregnancies and hypertensive disorders during pregnancy.

Adding to the problems, the women often do not associate their health issues with toxic chemical exposure. They do not even know what chemicals they are exposed to and why they could cause them harm. More often than not, employers leave their staff in the dark, and many do not run in-house health services that might be of help when needed.

Indeed, up to 40,000 synthetic chemicals are applied in the entire supply chain, starting with raw-material production. Some are carcinogenic, mutagenic and endocrine-disrupting. Hardly a stage in textile and garments production does not rely on chemicals. The sheer multitude makes safe and environmentally sound management a huge challenge (for chemicals in general, see Hans-Christian Stolzenberg on

For every kilogramme of fabric, an estimated 580 grammes of various substances is used on average. Dyeing alone usually involves more than 1600 different chemicals, including toxic ones such as formaldehyde, phthalates and perfluorinated substances. They are used because they make materials resistant to stains, oil and water. Other chemicals provide clothing with other features, such as wrinkle-resistance.

Some of them are dangerous – for example carbon disulphide. It is used to spin cellulose into viscose fibres, although it causes significant health risks. It can lead to coronary heart disease, psychophysiological and central nervous system effects or retinal angiopathy, for instance. Studies have shown that women who are chronically exposed to carbon disulphide may suffer menstrual irregularities, early menopause and other conditions linked to hormonal disruption.

Lethal history

In his book “Fake Silk” (2016), Paul Blanc of the University of California, assessed a “lethal history” and noted that multinational corporations are aware of the dangers. Nonetheless, huge profits prevailed over common sense and safety requirements. Blanc wrote that viscose fabric continued to be “greenwashed” as an eco-friendly product, even though it cannot be produced without using toxic substances. To ensure the health of workers in the viscose industry, rigorous environmental and social standards must be developed.

Another material common in the textile industry is polyester. It is made from plastic that contains various toxic additives which give the material the desired properties. It is the most used fibre worldwide and makes up about 60 % of clothing composition. There are different types, and the most common one is PET (polyethylene terephthalate). It is used in clothing and packages.

Various toxic chemicals are used in the production of polyester. For example, antimony trioxide, a catalyst in producing polyester fibres, is a carcinogen. It potentially harms the health of workers who are exposed to it in the production process. However, antimony pollution can affect other persons as well. For example, waste water from textile factories regularly contains this substance and contaminates ground water as well as local sources. Even consumers are at risk to some extent. Research has shown that polyester textile samples designed for contact with human skin release antimony antimony (for chemicals-related consumer risks, see my previous essay on

Another serious problem with polyester and many other plastic-derived fibres is the release of microplastics. Microplastics have been found in drinking water, beer and various foods, including salt, honey and sugar. One source of pollution is the discharge from washing machines. Oceans, glaciers and even arctic ice are polluted with microplastics (see Sabine Balk on

Make the industry sustainable

Making the textiles and garment industry sustainable is a huge challenge. The industry must minimise and ultimately eliminate toxic substances – both from the supply chain and its products. Human health and environmental safety matter more than profits. Responsible manufacturers pay special attention to these issues.

There actually are economic incentives for doing so too. One example is the Blue Angel label. The requirements for using it are based on EU and German chemicals legislation, which stringently restricts the use of heavy metals and prohibits the application of entire groups of toxic substances, such as chloroalkanes and perfluorinated chemicals or alkylphenol ethoxylates. Moreover, it rules out the use of nanomaterial in the production of leather and leather materials.

Another incentive is the IVN Leather Standard. It was introduced by the Berlin-based International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN – Internationaler Verband der Naturtextilwirtschaft). To get certification, a manufacturer must meet requirements throughout the production processes. The Standard contains a detailed list of banned substances such as endocrine disruptors, heavy metals and biocides. It also bans substances which are considered worrisome but have not yet been banned in the context of REACH, the EU legislation regarding the “registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals” (see Katja Dombrowski on

Of course, workers and consumers must be protected better around the world, and not only in Europe. No doubt, the textile and garments industry needs strict environmental standards everywhere. Occupational health and safety must be ensured at all levels – from raw-material supply to waste management.

Insufficient flow of information

The insufficient flow of information along the supply chain compounds the problems. Brands know what companies they source their goods from, but often have only a vague idea of who figures at what stage in the entire supply chains.

“Sustainable textiles” means that the whole process, from fibre production (including the growing of the cotton) to the ready-made process, must be done in environmentally sound and socially equitable circumstances. One implication is that up-to-date technology must be used.

Clearly, the textile industry has many reasons to focus on sustainability, including environmental protection, social justice, economic stability and related processes such as textile waste recycling. Chemical hazards deserve more attention than they have attracted so far.

Blanc, P., 2016: Fake silk – The lethal history of viscose rayon. Yale University Press.

Olga Speranskaya is one of two co-directors of the international non-governmental organisation Health and Environment Justice Support (HEJSupport). Its offices are in Dachau, Moscow and Ottawa.

Kategorien: english

Stemming the tide of plastic waste

5. Mai 2022 - 10:21
With the decision to conclude new global treaties, UN members are rising to a daunting environmental challenge

Far too little of the plastic which is discarded every day is recycled. This waste may take more than a century to decompose. Plastic thus contributes to the global environmental crisis which is destroying habitats and wildlife. A considerable share of the pollution is toxic. Moreover, tiny particles contaminate the human food chain.

The waste problems have been escalating for decades. Approximately 7 billion of the 9.2 billion tons of plastic produced from 1950 to 2017 became waste, according to UNEP (UN Environment Programme). About 300 million tons of additional garbage are generated every year, and UNEP reckons that only nine percent is recycled.

It is therefore good news that the annual assembly of UNEP decided to conclude within two years what is set to become the most significant multilateral deal on an ecological issue since the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015. An intergovernmental committee must now draft and ratify the treaty.

The treaty will not ban plastics, but is supposed to consider the full life cycle of these commodities, starting from the production processes to the re-use of items, the recycling of waste and finally the disposal of what can no longer be used. Single-use plastics, commonly used for consumer-good packaging, are to be phased out. In the future, moreover, plastics should always be made with an eye to easy and effective recycling. The current practice is to design special varieties of plastics for many different specific purposes. More standardised products would facilitate more recycling.

The ultimate goal is to create a circular economy. According to UNEP estimates, a shift to such a system could reduce:

  • the volume of plastics entering oceans by over 80 % by 2040,
  • virgin plastic production by 55 % and
  • plastics-related greenhouse-gas emissions.
African dumping grounds

Plastic waste severely affects low-income countries. While they hardly produce plastic and do not use it much, they feel the impacts of pollution. The reason is that high-income countries export a huge share of their waste. After China stopped imports in 2017, African nations in particular have become dumping grounds.

According to Angelo Louw of Greenpeace Africa, plastic pollution is “a matter of life and death”. For example, floodings often result from heavy rains overcharging clogged drainage systems, and plastic waste contributes considerably to the problem. Another issue is the poisonous smoke that plastic fires emit. Moreover, toxic substances leak from disintegrating plastic.

For good reason, the recent UNEP resolution spells out that the treaty must take into account waste pickers. They are generally condemned to poverty, toiling in the informal sector of developing countries. They are doing important work, but have mostly been overlooked when governments and corporations tackled waste management.

Microplastics is another critical area that the treaty seeks to address. Microplastics are tiny bits or threads of plastic broken down overtime, often too small to be seen. Nowadays, these microplastics can be found in the oceans, in glacier ice, in soils and even in the food that people eat (see Sabine Balk on

Action is actually long overdue. Indeed, target 12.4 of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) is to achieve, by 2020, “the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.” If adopted according to the current plan, the new treaty will thus come four years late – and it will only tackle one important part of the chemicals challenge (see Hans-Christian Stolzenberg on Paints, colours, coatings, agrochemicals et cetera matter too.

“As young people, we need a safe and clean environment for us and the next generation,” Patricia Kombo, a Kenyan climate activist, told the UNEP assembly. In other words, all aspects of SDG target 12.4 must stay on the agenda.

Rabson Kondowe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.

Kategorien: english

Technology start-ups on the rise

4. Mai 2022 - 15:19
An area in Dar es Salaam is becoming a hotspot for technology start-ups and businesses

Locally referred to as “Silicon Dar,” the area is a four-kilometre stretch along Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road (New Bagamoyo Road). The area helps tech-based start-ups to access market for their products and services and meet potential investors.

In Tanzania, technology and ICT (information and communications technology) remain largely underdeveloped despite public and private sector efforts to boost them. Hassan Mshinda, a former Director General of Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology pitched the idea of establishing a technology park in the country. He believed that technology entrepreneurship would help unemployed young Tanzanians find jobs. He however failed in his ambitious plan.

Years down the road, a technology ecosystem has emerged organically in Dar es Salaam. “Silicon Dar” is a hub for academia, private and public sector investments in science, technology, and innovation. The College of ICT of University of Dar es Salaam has established an academic sector block along the street. Similarly, all major Telcom companies operating in Tanzania; Tigo, Vodacom, TTCL, Zanzibar Telecom (Zantel), Halotel and Airtel Tanzania are situated here.

Technology hubs and business incubators such as Buni Hub, Data Lab, DTBI and Sahara Ventures are also found in “Silicon Dar.” Banking institutions, which offer much needed financing to SMEs (small and mid-sized enterprises) and start-ups have also started setting up shop.

Adam Mbyallu, the chief strategist at Sahara Ventures says that the rise of an innovation technology district has long been in the pipeline. “Just in 2011 there were two innovation hubs and one business incubator but as of now there are over a dozen innovation hubs along the stretch of the same road.

Habib Mrisho, the chief executive officer of e-Afya, a mobile platform that promotes access to sexual reproductive health information for visually impaired Tanzanians says: “So far there have been over ten beneficiaries of Silicon Dar. This concept needs to be supported, it has benefitted many young people who could not get employment in the formal job market, it is a viable alternative to the unemployment challenge among young people.”

The Silicon Dar area also hosts public offices for state firms such as the Commission for Science and Technology Tanzania (COSTECH). COSTECH director-general, Amos Nungu sees Silicon Dar as a potential smart city in Tanzania. He pledges the support of his Commission to help the area continue growing into a start-up ecosystem for the country.

Despite the moniker (Silicon Dar), the area is nowhere near the standard of Silicon Valley in the US. However, rising unemployment among young graduates is pushing young people towards entrepreneurship and innovation, which could be the spark to grow start-up ecosystems like Silicon Dar.

Kilasa Mtambalike is freelance journalist, media and PR consultant in Dar es Salaam.

Kategorien: english

Democracy versus despotism – a global issue

4. Mai 2022 - 15:11
Global repercussions of the war in Ukraine

The truth is that this conflict is not only raging in Ukraine. Western democracies, after all, are being challenged by authoritarian populists, whereas many Russians do not agree with their government and some of them still dare to express their opposition.

Russia’s regime is fast becoming totalitarian. For two decades, President Vladimir Putin has continuously been making life harder for opposition parties and more recently begun severely restricting civil-society space (see me on However, there always was some scope for expressing dissent. Now, by contrast, Putin has begun to outlaw the expression of thoughts that do not coincide with his own. His rule is thus no longer merely autocratic, but totalitarian. Democratic resistance must thus become clandestine.

Matters are far more transparent in western countries, and it is easy to see that democracy is not in a good shape. In France, more than 40 % of voters opted for Marine Le Pen, a right wing extremist, in the recent presidential elections. In the USA, Donald Trump won an even larger share in the presidential elections in 2020 and even after the insurgency of 6 January 2021, many Republican policymakers still pretend, without offering any evidence, that Joe Biden somehow “stole” the election. It adds to the worries that Republicans are changing voting laws at the level of individual states that make it harder for minorities and young people to vote, which makes Democratic majority less likely.  Indeed, in US politics, the minority often wins (see Katie Cashman and me on  

There are obvious problems in other EU countries too. Yes, the Polish government has become an eager supporter of Ukraine, but it is clearly more driven by fear of Russia than by democratic principles. In regard to the rule of law, freedom of expression, citizens’ fundamental rights and related issues, it has aggressively deviated from the EU. Things are similar in Hungary, and the Hungarian government has a pattern of still being soft on Russia.

Indian ambivalence

Biden and other western leaders clearly want to isolate Russia internationally and mobilise other governments to support Ukraine. They are eager to engage Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, hoping to somehow draw him into their camp. However, his autocratic leanings are well known, and though he shies away from explicitly endorsing anti-Muslim violence, his central government and the state government that are run by his party do very little to rein in brutal action by the supporters. Moreover, they stoke anti-Muslim sentiments in election campaigns.

So far, Modi is not taking sides. In relevant UN votes, India abstained. The background is complex. India has a long history of importing Russian weaponry and depending on Russian commodities. Since independence in 1947, the country has kept the distance to the western countries, many of which are former colonial powers. It certainly plays a role, however, that Modi himself is not interested in human rights and probably likes the idea of unilaterally changing borders by use of military means in Kashmir, should an opportunity arise.

Disappointment in developing countries

Indeed, many governments of developing countries have not endorsed the west in the current scenario. Colonial history is only part of the reason. It also matters that western governments have all too often not lived up to promises (see Imme Scholz on

Western leaders, I think, should keep pointing out that Putin has a long history of supporting populist forces in the west, from the Brexit campaign in Britain to Donald Trump in the USA and Marine Le Pen in France. It will also make sense to make people aware of the fact that all of them have a pattern of attacking democratically legitimate government action. Like Putin, they claim to restore the greatness of their nation, but do not offer solutions to everyday problems and in many ways serve the interests of the superrich elite. There is indeed such a thing as plutocrat populism, and it is dangerous (see me on

If western leaders want democracy to prevail, it makes sense to support the democratically legitimate government of Ukraine, a sovereign nation. That is not enough however. To be credible, they must fight antidemocratic forces and kleptocracy at home. And they must challenge partners and would-be partners like Modi who do not consistently live up to democratic principles either.

Rule of law

Fareed Zakaria of the Washington Post recently argued that Biden should use a different distinction, according to which the big struggle is one between the rule of law and lawlessness. He has a point, and he was right to add an important implication, which is that the USA should join the International Criminal Court. Staying outside means to undermine the rule of law at the international level. There would also have to be a reassessment of the Iraq war, which George W. Bush, a previous US president, started without securing a UN mandate, neglecting the US Security Council’s rightful monopoly on deciding these matters.

As I argued previously (see my comment on, Russia’s attack on Ukraine was – and is – an attack on humanity as a whole. Armed warfare is taking place in Ukraine, but the economic impacts via food and energy prices affect every nation. Moreover, the war is distracting attention from urgent global challenges, especially climate change. Isolating Russia must thus be the top priority.

The Russian regime clearly does not care about international law or the multilateral order at all. It does not even pretend it does. Unfortunately, however, the west does not have a consistent pattern of adhering to multilateral agreements and principles. Western nations tend to opt for multilateral solutions when it suits them and stick to their narrowly defined national interest when they can. This kind of ambivalence has weakened international institutions. Had the west been a convincing advocate for - and facilitator of - global public goods, isolating Russia in the international arena would now be much easier. To weaken Putin, western policymakers should get their act together fast. They must not only defend democracy in Ukraine, but at home and in allied countries too.

Hand Dembowski is the editor in chief iof D+C/E+Z.

Kategorien: english

Marketing digital microinsurance

3. Mai 2022 - 15:21
Increased use of mobile phones and mobile payment systems opens up unexpected possibilities for insuring disadvantaged people

What an insurance policy can do needs to be spelled out in clear and simple language. Trust must be built. During the Covid-19 pandemic, personal contact has been restricted. As a result, many microfinance organisations have experienced difficulties in collecting payments and issuing new loans.

On the other hand, the pandemic is driving digitalisation. The sharp increase in the use of mobile phones and mobile payment systems has opened up unexpected options. According to the international association of mobile operators GSMA, there are now more than a billion registered mobile money accounts. The global south has a large share of them.

On average, 300 million of those accounts are active at least once a month. Use of such systems makes it easy, for example, to process insurance-related payments of premiums and claims. Moreover, smart insurers use mobile technologies to collect data or provide policyholders with information such as weather reports, prices or disaster warnings.

Two examples of how insurance providers can enter the mass market with established tools are a WhatsApp-enabled microinsurance scheme in ­India and mobile wallets combined with insurance in Kenya. Digitalisation is also a significant driver behind the popularity of health insurance (see main text). Telemedicine programmes have proven to be attractive, especially during the pandemic, and have improved access to health services.

The downside of digitalisation is that those who do not have access to digital solutions – often women in emerging economies – may be left behind. A combination of digital and offline solutions should always be considered to facilitate access to insurance (on the opportunities and risks of digitalisation see Sabine Balk at

Dirk Reinhard is Vice Chairman of the Munich Re Foundation.

Kategorien: english

Inclusive insurance for everyone

3. Mai 2022 - 14:37
In times of climate crisis and pandemic, low-income groups worldwide need better access to affordable insurance

After two years of pandemic, the global economy is recovering, but only slowly and unsteadily. The World Bank estimates that as many as 120 million additional people will suffer extreme poverty because of coronavirus. At the same time, the climate crisis threatens billions of people in the global south whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. Only a small share of the world population has access to adequate insurance protection against major risks such as disease or crop loss (see Markus Kaltenborn and Laura Kreft at on the proposal of a Global Social Protection Fund).

Insurance for the lowest income groups used to be called “microinsurance”. Now, it more commonly refers to as “inclusive insurance”. The term means affordable insurance that is accessible to all, especially people with earnings slightly above the poverty line. Without protection, their risks of falling below it again are very high.

Inclusive insurance includes individual contracts (microinsurance), regional or state insurance systems (health or agricultural insurance, for example) and international systems (such as ARC – African Risk Capacity, see Chinedu Moghalu’s 2017 contribution on The greater the number of people insured and the wider their regional distribution, the more feasible it becomes to spread risks. Private insurances are based on the premiums customers’ pay. Premiums are calculated using a formula that takes account of:

  • the possible volume of claims,
  • the probability of occurrence,
  • insurance company’s operating costs and
  • a profit margin.

However, not everyone can afford such a premium, so public subsidies often come into play. The spectrum of inclusive insurance thus ranges from purely private schemes to PPPs (public private partnerships) and governmental social-protection systems (see Markus Loewe on

Inclusive insurance developed in waves. At the turn of the millennium, life insurance played a major role. It was often liked to loans taken from microfinance institutions (MFIs). Later, mobile phone companies started distributing insurance policies, often in attempts to boost customer loyalty. In the wake of digitalisation, inclusive insurance is now increasingly integrated in online platforms such as Indonesia-based Gojek.

Only a minority are insured

In the countries of the global south, there is still scope for improving access to inclusive insurance. This is confirmed by the Microinsurance Network’s “Landscape of Microinsurance 2021” study, which found that inclusive insurance reached only six percent to 14 % of the target population in 30 different countries (Merry 2021). Health insurance was the most widespread form of cover, followed by accident, life and credit insurance.

Market development

A growing number of governments around the world understand the importance of insurance for sustainable economic development. As the Access to Insurance Initiative reports, 40 countries now have regulations promoting both the supply of insurance and the demand for it, including inclusive insurance.

A key challenge is to get insurance providers interested in low-income target groups. Corporate managers need to realise that the lower end of the market offers the most growth opportunities, while the top end tends to be saturated.

There is a big challenge on the demand side too. It is that people with low incomes spend money only on things that are absolutely necessary, and they are not keen on investing in protection against something that may never happen and that they do not even want to think about.

In the case of agricultural insurance, the chances of reaching a large number of people improve if insurance:

  • is supported by the respective government and
  • includes additional services.

The Indian agricultural insurance scheme PMFBY, for instance, insures millions of farmers. The state supports the programme by subsidising premiums. Examples from the Caribbean also show that a society’s resilience is strengthened generally when diverse instruments of risk management are combined. The private and public sectors should cooperate closely.

National Financial Inclusion Strategies are most promising. They involve different stakeholders and help to develop insurance markets in a strategic way. At the same time, regulators need to stay on top of technological developments in order to maintain a healthy balance between consumer protection and an innovation-friendly environment.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has weakened global financial inclusion. On the upside, it opens up opportunities for digitalisation (see box) and more PPPs. Notable initiatives include:

  • the InsuResilience Global Partnership,
  • the Insurance Development Forum, and
  • the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Insurance and Risk Finance Facility launched in 2021.

The InsuResilience Global Partnership aims to extend climate insurance cover to 500 million more people by 2025 – and the UNDP project supports it in this.

The insurance industry has an important role to play in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So far, its relevance has been underestimated. By making risk management affordable, it boosts societies’ resilience. Insurance should therefore be high on the international development agenda. For the benefit especially of vulnerable groups, its full potential must be tapped.

InsuResilience Global Partnership Vision 2025:

Merry, A., 2021 (published by Microinsurance Network): The Landscape of Microinsurance.

Munich Re Foundation – Inclusive Insurance:

Dirk Reinhard is Vice Chairman of the Munich Re Foundation.

Kategorien: english

Financing health systems for informal workers

3. Mai 2022 - 13:03
Many informal workers cannot afford to pay cost-covering contributions, so cross-subsidisation is often needed

The implication is that many people cannot afford to see a doctor or go to hospital. In emergencies, they have to take on unsustainable debt. Masses do not get the vitally important treatment they need (see Hans Dembowski on Universal health protection coverage would change matters. It can be financed by tax revenues – or by members’ contributions. For the latter approach, subsidies or cross-subsidies will be necessary in most cases.

State-funded schemes

There are various kinds of national health systems. Some rely on the national budget, some use members’ contributions (also called “payroll taxes” in some countries – see main essay), and some include private components. The mix varies from nation to nation. Ideally, a good system must provide universal coverage, ensuring that everyone, regardless of income or wealth, has access to health examination and treatment.

However, such schemes often have considerable shortcomings. Many medical services, for example, are only available in cities and are thus inaccessible to masses of rural people. In addition, waiting times tend to be long, hygiene poor and care of low quality. Health staff is often not held accountable. Hardly any patient dares to insist on their rights. Accordingly, those who can, will buy health care from private providers. In some cases, public institutions offer good health services, but only to those who pay bribes.

Membership cards

An argument for contributory schemes is that members are more likely to claim the services they are entitled to. After all, they have a membership card – even if they pay only token contributions or none at all themselves. Membership must indeed often be subsidised. The Indian experience shows that membership cards make a difference.

Many people, especially in the informal sector, cannot afford to pay the contributions that would actually cover their health costs. Without subsidisation or cross-subsidisation, public health-coverage schemes can only protect a relatively small number of households with above-average incomes in most countries.

Thailand’s state-run health insurance, for example, covers all informal workers, but it is heavily subsidised. In Vietnam, the public health-protection scheme for informal workers is cross-subsidised from the formal-sector scheme. Subsidies are similarly essential in Mongolia and India. Only countries, where average people can make more significant financial contributions, have been able to extend coverage to large parts of the informal sector with only moderate subsidisation. Tunisia is an example.

Governments need a strong commitment to reform if they want to extend health coverage to people in the informal sector. Opposition to such measures tends to be intense. Where low-income groups are set to get coverage, long standing beneficiaries normally fear they will lose out. Moreover, finance ministries and foreign donor institutions typically raise budgetary concerns.

Markus Loewe is senior researcher at the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik – DIE) in Bonn.

Kategorien: english

Social protection for everyone

3. Mai 2022 - 12:18
Informal workers deserve to be shielded from shocks such as sickness and unemployment

Covid-19 has set humankind back years in its attempt to eradicate extreme poverty and reduce inequality. Even before the pandemic, it was unlikely that these goals would be achieved by the end of this decade, as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For it yet to happen, global growth must now accelerate very sharply, and all national governments must invest massively in redistributive social-protection programmes.

A substantial share of the world population still lives below the poverty line. This share has recently increased again. An even larger share of people, however, are transitory poor who live slightly above the poverty line at times, but repeatedly fall below it because of shocks such as illness, accident or unemployment. These shocks cause the collapse of incomes and/or high and unexpected expenses.

To cope with such shocks, people affected cut back on consumption, sell land or machinery, send children to earn money and/or accept unhealthy jobs themselves. Either way, there are serious impacts on their ability to earn money in the future. Even those who manage to lift themselves out of extreme poverty are thus permanently in danger of slipping back into it.
Protection against everyday risks

Protection against everyday risks

Social-protection systems prevent hardships of this kind (see Markus Kaltenborn und Laua Kreft on They provide financial support to people hit by shocks, shielding them against extreme poverty, even if they are no longer able to work or face large health-care bills. Social-protection programmes can be run by the state, commercial companies or self-help groups. Governmental programmes however benefit from the fact that they can make membership compulsory, facilitating redistribution from richer to poorer members. Public schemes are often financed with contributions. Typically, governments charge a fixed rate of a persons’ income for this purpose. In the USA these compulsory contributions are aptly called “payroll taxes”.

To a considerable extent, those who earn much thus help to finance the health protection of those with low incomes. However, public social-protection schemes can also be financed fully or partly from the general government budget. In contrast to commercial insurances, they can thus also protect households with very low incomes who would not be able to pay any contributions.

Nonetheless, masses of people in low- and middle-income countries still lack adequate social protection. Almost all countries have public social-protection schemes that are financed by members’ contributions (payroll taxes), but these schemes are mostly tailored to the needs and incomes of people in formal employment. Informal workers, who have no employment contract or are self-employed, are not registered anywhere, so no one pays their contributions (payroll taxes). Their incomes tend to be too low and too volatile for paying regular contributions themselves.

In middle-income countries, informal workers account for 30 % to 60 % of the labour force; while in low-income countries, the share can be as high as 90 %. Hence, more than half of the world population is not protected against the effects of unemployment. In sub-Saharan Africa, the respective rate is a staggering 95 % (see World Social Protection Report 2020-22). Some countries have made attempts to extend the government-funded coverage of health protection schemes to informal sector workers (see box).

At the same time, almost all countries also run social assistance and employment programmes. They are financed by the government budget and intended to support low-income households. Due to budget constraints, however, these programmes tend to benefit only a small number of people. In most countries, unfortunately, the percentage of beneficiaries is almost as high among the better-off as it is among the poorest. The main reason is that governments lack reliable data on households’ income and wealth. As a result, getting public support in situations of need is all too often like winning a lottery.

SDGs at risk

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be achieved unless informal workers get better access to social protection. In most countries, this will require universal, state-funded programmes, in particular:

  • public health systems or social health insurance schemes with heavily subsidised contributions,
  • basic social-pension programmes for people above 65 and those who are unable to work,
  • universal child benefits and
  • public works schemes (cash-for-work programmes).

Since 2012, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been recommending a “Basic Social Protection Floor”, which comprises these four elements. Countries that still have not introduced such a floor, should do so fast – and supporting such efforts should be high on the agenda of the international donor community.

ILO, 2021: World Social Protection Report 2020-2022.

Markus Loewe is senior researcher at the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik – DIE) in Bonn.

Kategorien: english

Nairobi-based business lobby issues pre-election manifesto

29. April 2022 - 14:42
What the Kenya Association of Manufacturers wants the next government to do

The lobby organisation wants the future government to prioritise the creation of new quality jobs, reduce regulation, boost exports and attract investors. It also calls for a tax policy that serves these goals. The KAM argues that fixing these things will solve most of Kenya’s economic problems. It is no coincidence, of course, that a report prepared on behalf of Kenya’s current government and the World Bank addressed the same challenges that the KAM is highlighting (see main story).

Mucai Kunyiha, the KAM chairperson, says that there is plenty of evidence to show that manufacturing has the ability to “grow incomes, reduce poverty and change the trajectory of nations”. Phyllis Wakiaga, the KAM chief executive adds: “The manifesto shall guide our engagements with aspiring political leaders, with a focus on economic policy challenges and the need to create a competitive manufacturing sector in Kenya.”

Alphonce Shiundu is a journalist and fact checker based in Nairobi.

Kategorien: english

The key to Kenya’s industrial growth

29. April 2022 - 14:24
Kenya’s textile and apparel sector is struggling with various bottlenecks

Kenya’s garment industry is expected to drive the country’s manufacturing over the next decade. That is one message of a recent report published by Standard Chartered Bank. The authors argue that investors from Asia and the Middle East are driving growth in Kenya’s garment industry. In particular, they focus on export processing zones (EPZs), which the government has set up.

Kenya’s garment exports amounted to $ 420 million in 2020 even though the Covid-19 pandemic compounded supply-chain problems. The industry is currently employing 50,000 people in Kenya. The industry is labour-intensive and employs many women. In developmental terms, growth in this sector is very valuable because it can contribute to many families’ livelihoods.

According to Abel Kamau of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), the potential is great. He reckons that “a fully developed value chain” in the garment industry might employ up to 10 % of the country’s population, given that both cotton farming and apparels manufacturing are very labour intensive. Kamau is in charge of textile industries at the KAM.

International competition is tough however. The Standard Chartered report states that China is not only the world’s “largest producer and exporter of both raw textiles and garments,” but also “investing in modern manufacturing machinery, technology and ‘greener’ products.” Clearly, the Chinese want to maintain their competitive edge. For Kenya to catch up, business leaders and policymakers must pay attention.

Infrastructure matters

Improving physical infrastructures is a core challenge. Kenyan manufacturers need more reliable electricity, better roads, continuous water supply et cetera. According to the national government, “road transport costs are four times the globally competitive rate”. That is a serious hurdle, constraining shipping times and limiting companies’ international competitiveness. It also means that supply-chains are unreliable. On the upside, things tend to be worse in most other African countries.

Financial services matter too. The different players of the apparel industry lack easy access to credit, according to Standard Chartered. High interest rates and complex regulations are cited as major problems. In particular, there is multiple taxation by different authorities at the county and national level.

In regard to skilled labour, the picture is mixed. In cooperation with the World Bank, Kenya’s government examined the textile    and apparel sector. Their joint report states that the country has a skilled and educated workforce, but more needs to be done to develop its potential. One recommendation is more on-the-job training. The experts warn that it would be more expensive to run skills audits and design targeted programmes on that basis. They point out that wages in Kenya are high by African standards and that non-commodity industries must meet high quality requirements. In this setting, they appreciate Kenyan efforts to boost productivity by improving skills at managerial, technical and factory-floor levels.

Yet another concern is the supply and quality of cotton produced in Kenya. The industry must choose between buying cotton from local farmers and processing it to the quality needed for production, or importing fabrics of consistently better quality at higher costs. Corruption at ports and lax customs enforcement permit the infiltration of counterfeits as well as poor quality fabric.

To some extent, the international trade in secondhand clothes is a problem too. Discarded garments from high-income countries are imported to African markets, where they are sold to end consumers (see Thomas Fischer on In particular people with low incomes buy these items, limiting the sales of domestic producers. However, the Institute of Economic Affairs in Kenya has studied the matter and found out that used imported clothing and locally-­made clothing serve different customers and “do not necessarily compete with each other”.

What Kenya can do

For the industry to gain greater market shares abroad, business leaders and policymakers must rise to the challenges listed above. It can be done, argues KAM expert Kamau: “Kenya can borrow best practices from Bangladesh, a rising giant exporter of textiles and apparels.” (For employers’ perspective, see M.A. Jabbar on and for workers’ perspective, Nazma Akter on In Kamau’s eyes, it is promising that Kenya “has been able to attract a substantial number of world buyers”.

The industry consensus is that Kenya has to be strategic. The first step is to attract more investors. Reasons to set up garments-manufacturing facilities in Kenya include the comparatively competent labour force and Nairobi’s role as an East African transport hub. Cargo flights are available, for example, and facilitate marketing logistics. By African standards, moreover, Kenyan rail and road links are excellent too. Transport from and to the port of Mombasa is comparatively easy.

Another positive aspect is that new investments can rely on energy-efficient technology. Lower energy costs are an important competitive advantage. A strong performance on this front, moreover, will help manufacturers get ecological certifications, enabling them to charge higher prices. In view of the climate crisis, the number of consumers who care about environmental issues is growing in global markets.

Useful trade agreements

Trade agreements are helpful too. Kenya belongs to the seven-country East African Community with a population of over 280 million people and the 21-member Common Market for East and Southern Africa with a market of about 600 million people. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area is expected to make it even easier to market Kenyan-make goods to consumers across the continent.

In February, moreover, Kenya and the EU agreed to negotiating an interim economic partnership agreement. According to the European Commission, it will give duty-free quota-free access to the EU market for all Kenyan exports, while Kenya must commit to the partial and gradual opening of its market.

As the Standard Chartered report noted, moreover, Kenyan exports benefit from duty-free access to the American market according to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). This regulation will continue until 2025. It has contributed to facilitating industrial development in African countries.

Kenya’s government sees opportunities in specialisation and diversification, moreover. It wants to develop “Kenya’s image as Africa’s hub for innovation and green production”. The guiding idea is that companies should produce high-quality goods in order to benefit from the higher prices charged for small batches and eco-friendly ware.

To help firms improve quality, more­over, the government strategy includes public-sector procurement in Kenya. In other words, police uniforms and medical gowns for public health institutions will most likely be sourced domestically. School uniforms might matter too. “Analysis at the household level shows the majority of households buy new clothes when required such as school or workplace uniforms,” the Kenyan Institute of Economic Affairs has noted.

Alphonce Shiundu is a journalist and fact checker based in Nairobi.

Kategorien: english

Ugandan government sees inflation as external shock

27. April 2022 - 12:09
Rising commodity prices are making daily life harder in Uganda

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the price of cooking oil increased by 21 % between December 2021 and February 2022, and the annual rise was 77.6 %. In February, a laundry-soap bar cost 20 % more than in December and almost 50 % more than one year earlier. The petrol price surged by 15.3 % in three months and by 34 % in 12 months.

Matia Kasaija, Uganda’s minister of finance, says the trend is driven by forces beyond the country’s borders. First, Covid-19 restrictions across the world disrupted supply chains, leading to higher transport costs and shortages of much-used commodities. Then Russia’s attack on Ukraine added to the problems. Both countries normally provide great volumes of staple foods to the world market (see Claudia Isabel Rittel on, and Russia is an important exporter of fossil fuels.

According to the finance ministry, Uganda’s annual headline inflation rate was 3.7 % in March, which is moderate compared with other countries. Kenya recorded five percent, and the USA even 8.5 % in March. Inflation is indeed a global phenomenon.

“The main causes of the recent increase in commodity prices are external and thus beyond the ability of policymakers in any country to deal with directly,” Kasaija said. He sees no reason to panic and expects the temporary situation to subside “sooner or later”.

Staying neutral on Russia and Ukraine

Like many African countries, Uganda has so far maintained a neutral stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In the UN General Assembly, it abstained in all recent votes regarding Russia – both in regard to the resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the removal of Russia from the Human Rights Council. The background is that many Africans feel uncomfortable about siding with “the west” (see Imme Scholz on It is a wide-spread impression that G7 nations all too often do not live up to their promises and never accounted for a brutal colonial history.

To some extent, Russia is benefiting from such sentiments even though it has clearly broken international law and its war is causing hardship. Indeed, Russian propaganda wants Africans to believe that the EU and the USA have exacerbated inflationary pressures by imposing economic sanctions.

The daily lives of many Ugandans are becoming harder because of inflation. Small businesses are feeling the pinch. Nanyonga Shamim, who owns a grocery store in Kampala, says that she had to increase the prices of tomatoes and onions because of higher transport costs. The onions are imported from Kenya where fuel prices have risen too. At the same time, she has seen demand for her goods fall because many customers can no longer afford them.

Issa Bogere, who operates a commercial motorcycle taxi (boda boda) says that he now must charge his clients more for rides because petrol prices have been rising since 2021. He reports that “many previous customers are choosing to walk instead of taking an expensive boda-boda ride”. He would like the government to do something to stop inflation.

Gloomy outlook

Amidst common public dissatisfaction, however, the Ugandan government has consistently stated it does not want to adopt subsidies, price controls or tax cuts to address exogenous shocks. Things may yet get worse, however. The International Monetary Fund warns that growth is slowing down and that higher interest rates in prosperous nations are set to make it harder for developing countries to service debts. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Nigerian finance minister who now heads the World Trade Organization (WTO), has warned that shortages caused by the Ukraine war may trigger food riots. It matters, moreover, that poverty and inequality have generally become worse in the pandemic (see my previous comment on

The full truth is that African governments must cope with sudden problems they did not cause. And that compounds long-term challenges like global heating, which they did not bring about either (see David Mfitumukiza on

Ronald Ssegujja Ssekandi is a Ugandan author and edits D+C/E+Z’s Nowadays column.

Kategorien: english

Can debt relief help countries achieve climate goals?

26. April 2022 - 16:07
Debt swaps can help countries achieve climate goals, but they are not a panacea

In the course of the coronavirus pandemic, critically indebted countries have to take additional loans. Experts now call for fast and comprehensive debt relief. Not all of them work for civil-society organisations. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund basically agree.

At the same time, the climate crisis requires responses. Debt swaps therefore look attractive. A debtor and creditor agree that outstanding loans will be forgiven if the freed-up money is used for climate action. Since the early 1992, debt swaps with social or ecological dimensions have figured in international development affaires.

The so-called German Debt Swap Facility is an instrument the Federal Government can use. The Facility makes it possible to waive up to an annual € 150 million in repayments provided that recipient countries commit to appropriate policies. In recent years, the German government has not even come close to exhausting these funds. It therefore could considerably increase climate financing for countries in the global south.

Limited impact of debt swaps

However, the impact of debt swaps is limited. To judge by past experience, debt swaps are generally too small, too slow and their fiscal balance too unclear for resolving a debt crisis or mobilising meaningful sums for climate protection. If a debtor country is still able to service its debts on time, only creditors with an explicit development mandate can be expected to agree to debt swaps moreover. These creditors are mostly state agencies of western countries. However, they only hold a relatively small share of low- and middle-income countries’ debts. Swapping those debts would thus only mobilise relatively modest funding for climate mitigation or adaptation. If, on the other hand, a sovereign state is unable to service its debts and facing default, it needs debt relief, not a swap.

It would often make sense to combine swaps with debt relief, and both debtor countries and international experts have spoken out in favour of this approach.

A relevant part of a country’s debts would thus be forgiven, and another part would be swapped for climate commitments.

Environmental conditions for debt relief

Other suggestions focus on setting another kind of conditions for debt relief. In contrast to classic debt swaps, the idea is not to invest freed-up money in climate action immediately, but to make debtor countries adopt responsible climate policies in the long run. In exchange for debt relief, for example, debtor countries might thus commit to ending the extraction of fossil fuels and building renewables infrastructure long term.

Given the enormous climate challenges humanity is facing, this approach looks plausible at first glance. However, it is important to stem neo-colonialist tendencies. Debtor countries should not be forced to expand renewables only so that western nations can satisfy their hunger for energy. Moreover, hydropower dams or similar large-scale projects must not have detrimental impacts on local communities.

When and if conditions for debt relief are defined, the impacts on vulnerable people must be taken into account. The circumstances they live in must improve, and no deterioration is acceptable.

Mandatory participation

Coordination among donors is a particular challenge, both in regard to debt swaps and debt relief. When a private person or a private company default, laws ensure that there are procedures for restructuring outstanding debts. There are no such mechanisms for sovereign defaults however.

In its coalition agreement, Germany’s new Federal Government has committed to supporting the creation of an international insolvency procedure for sovereign states (see Kathrin Berensmann on It should take advantage of its G7 presidency this year to initiate relevant reforms. That could really make a difference. After all, climate-induced disasters are increasing and they often undermine a nation’s ability to service its debts.

Related literature

Kaiser, J., 2022: Gestern Schulden, heute Entwicklungsfinanzierung. Sind Schuldenumwandlungen ein Weg aus der Krise? (In German only) In:, Misereor (Hrsg): Schuldenreport 2022.

Kaiser, J., 2020: Wenn der Klimawandel zur Schuldenfalle wird. Mit Schuldenerlass Schäden und Verluste bewältigen. (In German only) In:, Misereor (Hrsg): Schuldenreport 2020.

Volz, U., et al., 2020: Debt relief for a green and inclusive recovery. A proposal.

Malina Stutz is a political consultant at

Kategorien: english

The relentless global decay of democracy

26. April 2022 - 15:42
A two-decade trend of autocratisation is eroding democratic principles worldwide. Providers of development cooperation should take notice

Even before the Ukraine war, recent years have been challenging in terms of international cooperation and democracy promotion. The Covid-19 pandemic halted or even reversed progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The health emergency was the top priority for policymakers and international development agencies. At the same time, a 20-year period of democratic backsliding continued, and in some regions was even accelerated by the pandemic.

Long-standing conflicts worsened in Libya and Yemen. Others flared up again in Ethiopia and Azerbaijan. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are back in power after western withdrawal. Military coups took place in Guinea, Chad, Mali and most recently Burkina Faso (see Vladimir Antwi-Danso on

Moreover, authoritarian populists have been gaining strength in western countries, and while Donald Trump was not re-elected in the USA, his legacy is worrisome. Republicans are doing what they can to make voting harder for minorities, the big lie about President Joe Biden having stolen the election keeps spreading and the masterminds of the insurrection in the Capitol on 6 January 2021 still enjoy impunity. Minority rule looks increasingly likely in the USA (see Katie Cashman and Hans Dembowski on In addition, the two EU members Hungary and Poland are seriously affected by democratic backsliding.

Autocrats and aspiring autocrats across the globe are dismantling democratic mechanisms, freedoms and institutions. This trend poses fundamental questions about what role, if any, development cooperation can play (Niels Keijzer and Christin Hackenesch assessed this issue in 2015 on Western countries’ international-development policies are geared to democracy promotion. Relevant questions are thus: At what point does autocratic rule make cooperation inappropriate and what should policymakers do differently?

Autocratisation typically begins with steps to restrict and control the media, curb academic freedom and reduce the space of civil society. With the aim of polarising people, autocratic forces treat legitimate opponents with disrespect and suggest they are enemies. Once in office, aspiring autocrats use the government machinery to spread further misinformation and delegitimise the opposition. They then typically move on to undermine formal institutions, including the judiciary and election systems.

When democratic backsliding is evident in a partner country, western governments basically have three options. They can try to:

  • agree and insist on conditionalities,
  • find work-around solutions or
  • discontinue cooperation.

As the sanctions imposed on Russia since the start of the Ukraine war show, these issues do not only concern development cooperation. Since western governments have been gearing their international-development policies to democracy promotion for three decades, this field of policymaking is affected in particular. Development cooperation can – and should – play a major role in protecting democracy, and established approaches should be constantly reconsidered.


In many cases, development cooperation has been made contingent on democratic measures. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to insist on conditionalities. Imposing sanctions requires a strong political will, consistent application of rule and close attention to the political dynamics in a partner country. This is a challenging agenda even in cases when the conditions of cooperation are specifically spelled out in formal agreements with a partner government.

Sanctions can work as a short-term response to a military coup and reinforce demands for returning to civilian rule and holding elections. However, setting conditions is less effective as a response to a broader trend towards autocratic rule. A big risk is that an international institution does not apply its conditions consistently or stringently enough. Sanctions then become empty threats. Much depends on the willingness of donor governments to pursue a common policy in a sustained and coordinated fashion.

Once democratic backsliding sets in, simply continuing “business as usual” will not help. Indeed, ongoing programmes may actually strengthen autocrats. On the other hand, development cooperation can make a difference if it boosts institutions and political interests with a minimum degree of democratic legitimacy.

Bypassing the national government

Where autocratisation has progressed beyond a certain level, bypassing the national government becomes an option. The idea is to reduce government-to-government cooperation and instead reach out directly to subnational agencies and/or civil-society organisations.

The effectiveness of this approach depends on the national government’s level of control and the degree of repression. It is unlikely to work in contexts where the state is “everywhere” or where civil-society organisations are not permitted to accept external funding. More generally speaking, the effectiveness of work-around solutions depends on the space civil society still enjoys. Of course, partner organisations’ commitment to democratic values matters too. Democratic governments should also take into account that work-around solutions can be expensive. Moreover, there is a risk of resources being “captured” by autocratic forces.

To some extent, engaging in region-wide cooperation may be an option too. For example, reduced involvement in Mali could go along with stronger engagement in ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), the regional organisation to which the country belongs. Two important advantages of this approach are that it makes it comparatively easy to re-engage (1) and make use of experiences gained in neighbouring countries (2).


However, once despotism is fully in force, cooperation must be reconsidered. If it bolsters an autocratic government, it becomes part of the problem. In such contexts, a final decision to disengage is warranted, and only fundamental support to the country’s people should still continue, notably through humanitarian aid. Support for long-term development should only resume once the political context improves.

It is important to recognise the limitations of development cooperation. It can support and facilitate a developing country’s own change processes, but it cannot fundamentally change the political dynamics.

On the other hand, the trends towards autocratisation makes it even more important to support democracy. Donors can do so if they find appropriate entry points. They must reassess the impact their programmes have on democracy in partner countries, and change course when and as conditions require.

Liberal democracies such as Germany continue to provide long-term support for introducing and strengthening democratic institutions in countries concerned. Germany has long relied on a “civilian power” approach, cooperating with autocratic regimes in the hope that development will lead to a diversification of mutually interdependent institutions, which will eventually lead to democratisation. While such efforts do not directly drive autocratisation, they might nonetheless support the trend. No doubt, policymakers must pay attention to stopping such programmes before they become inappropriate.

Adding to the problems, non-democratic regimes – especially the Chinese government – are increasingly reaching out to developing countries. Beijing is assertively promoting a different development paradigm, according to which a strong government is essential, but democracy and human rights are not. Both however are essential for achieving sustainability for humankind (see Imme Scholz on

Finally, western governments must consider their own dented legitimacy. One reason is that military interventions, which were supposed to support democratisation, have failed spectacularly. The most obvious cases are Afghanistan (see Paul D. Miller on and Mali. The other is that democratic backsliding affects the US and the EU too.

In Warsaw in March, Biden prominently spoke of a conflict between democracy and authoritarianism. He had a point, but he failed to address that authoritarian forces are frightfully strong both in the country he was visiting and the country he represents. He should have acknowledged that the conflict is raging within nations and not simply between them.

Democratic governments must certainly promote democracy abroad. That applies to foreign relations in general, not only development cooperation. EU policymakers would do well to coordinate their responses to autocracy and democratic backsliding. Germany’s Federal Government should help to get such a process started.

Aline Burni is political scientist and researcher in international cooperation at the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik, DIE).

Niels Keijzer is a senior researcher at DIE.

Kategorien: english

Clothing must get more value again

26. April 2022 - 14:46
Textile production is an ethically, morally and ecologically complex issue – the industry needs social and sustainability standards

When the multi-storey production facility Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh in 2013, more than 1100 people died – and masses of people in countries with high incomes became aware of the plight of workers who slave away in very harsh circumstances in developing countries (see Nazma Akter on

Civil-society organisations are campaigning for labour rights as well as environmental sustainability in garments production. Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is involved in related campaigning too. Action is indeed needed urgently. The ecological concerns include excessive resource use, increasing volumes of clothing waste and the massive application of chemicals – including on cotton fields and the production of synthetic fibers. The high plastic content makes textile waste very difficult to manage.

Consumer attitudes have become destructively fast-paced. The fashion industry’s low-price segment is now launching 12 to 16 collections per year. A new T-shirt may sometimes cost less than a loaf of bread. This kind of merchandise is really not appreciated much. What we call “fast fashion”, is actually throw-away fashion. The phenomenon is particularly evident in high-income countries, but cheap imports from China are flooding sub-Saharan markets too.

In the past, the garments people bought were more expensive, but also lasted longer. From 2000 to 2015, the number of clothing items sold around the world doubled from an annual 50 billion or so to more than 100 billion. Experts expect the volume to double again by 2030. This is sheer madness.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult for consumers to tell goods that were produced in an ethically correct and environmentally safe manner from those that were not. Even the price is not an indicator of what happened in the supply chain. Only certification of standards set by various non-industry organisations guarantees compliance with some basic requirements. Unfortunately, this is only a niche markets. In 2019, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development launched its Green Button initiative to mark sustainably manufactured items. In the eyes of critics, however, its criteria are not stringent enough. For example, grievances in spinning mills or cotton fields are not taken into account.

Many people see the women who work in garments production merely as exploited victims. Things are more complex however. Masses of young women want to earn money in the hope of becoming more independent, but also in order to support their families. Those who work in Bangladesh’s garment factories do not belong to their countries most marginalised poor, but rather to the lower middle classes. It also matters that, wherever industrialisation began, it generally did so in this sector – and that is one reason why several African governments aspire to copy Bangladesh’s model (see Michaela Fink and Reimer Gronemeyer on

The issues are complex in social, ethical and environmental terms. This industry deserves a lot of attention. It must become sustainable – both in regard to labour relations as well as the ecology.

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

Kategorien: english

Nobody gains from cheap clothing

26. April 2022 - 14:11
Expert explains why exporting used clothing from Germany to Africa is not unethical

You are an association of around 100 mostly commercial companies making money by selling old clothes. You set up used-clothes containers and rely on people donating garments for free. What is the basic business model?
The companies’ revenues result entirely from the sale of top-quality used clothes – so-called cream clothing. To be economically viable, they must be able to sell about 60 % of the clothing they collect and sort. Everything else costs our members money, because every step of the sorting process is manual and time-consuming. Old clothes that cannot be sold need to be properly disposed of, which also costs money. The same is true of non-garment textiles, which often end up in containers too. Only pure cotton can be recycled currently. It can be sued to make cleaning rags. Everything else ends up in garbage incinerators as a secondary fuel. Most of the residual non-recyclables are cheap synthetic fibres and blended fabrics.

How much clothing is disposed of in Germany annually?
In 2013, it was around a million tons; in 2018 1.3 million. The trend is rising. But since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we have had no reliable data. Our statistics are based on the sales of retail shops. In the past two years, nothing was normal.

Most of the secondhand clothes are sold to developing countries. The exports to Africa draw criticism. It is argued that the used clothing from the west is destroying local textile industries. How do you respond to that claim?
Well, charities like the Red Cross or Caritas sell used clothing for exports to developing countries too. In Germany, the volume of secondhand clothes is larger than the demand of needy people who live here. We sell most of our goods to wholesalers in Poland and the Netherlands, from where they are shipped to the target markets in Africa and Latin America. As for the argument that used-clothing exports are destroying local textile industries, let me say two things. There is no such industry in many countries and, if there is, its traditional products are not what many consumers want. They are keen on affordable and fashionable clothing from Europe.

A number of years ago, countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania tried to ban the import of used clothing. Except in Rwanda, that attempt failed. Why?
One reason is that the secondhand markets in Africa were established decades ago and many livelihoods there depend on the trade. Moreover, people want the clothing. The real problem is not secondhand garments from Europe, but the cheap synthetic clothes from Asia, which are flooding African markets. Garments made in China have become increasingly important, and that is a big problem. Fashion is now so fast that manufacturers launch 12 to 16 collections a year. The clothing is very poor quality. After being washed a couple of times, the items either lose shape or are simply ruined. Typically, it is impossible to resell or recycle them. That said, current demand for clothing could no longer be met with cotton alone.

What would you like to see happen in that respect?
There is an increasing awareness of the downsides of fast fashion. It is my hope that more consumers will buy fewer clothes, but of better quality, so manufacturers will respond by returning to manufacturing longer-lasting goods. It may seem ironic, but less consumption would not harm our business. Cheap garments are no good to us. If more high-quality clothing were bought, more of it would be dumped into our containers. Only high-quality used clothes can be sold on the secondhand market – and the sales ensure that people can use our containers to make their used clothing available to others.

Thomas Fischer is consultant for recycling management at the Textile Recycling Association of the German National Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Waste Disposal (bvse).

Kategorien: english

Pakistan’s new prime minister faces huge challenges

19. April 2022 - 15:36
With swift and decisive action, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ended a constitutional crisis

Twelve minutes after midnight on Sunday 10 April 2022, Imran Khan lost his office as prime minister. He lost a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) tried to prevent this democratic procedure, but the Supreme Court ensured the constitutional order prevailed. Khan became the first prime minister of Pakistan to be ousted this way.

Khan’s tenure as prime minister was marred in controversy. The former cricket star was accused of vengeful politics against opposition members and their families as well as corruption, including because of undisclosed foreign funding. Moreover, he had a pattern of attacking independent state institutions, including the judiciary and the election commission. He had risen to power as an outsider in the election of 2018 because people were frustrated with the long-established major parties (see Afshan Subohi’s comment of 2018 on

In recent months, however, a coalition of opposition parties cooperated to oust Khan and it became clear that they had enough votes in the National Assembly. Khan started agitating in public and claimed he had proof that the USA was trying to topple his government. However, the National Security Council, which includes cabinet members as well as military leaders, did not confirm any such evidence.

Unconstitutional manoeuvering

The PTI relied on parliamentary machinations too. The vote of no confidence was scheduled for Sunday 2 April, but the deputy speaker of the National Assembly unconstitutionally took it off the agenda and ended the procedure. Shortly after, Khan announced the dissolution of the National Assembly in a pre-recorded telecast.

In normal circumstances, a prime minister has this power, and the president must confirm the decision within 48 hours. However, the vote-of-no-confidence procedures had already begun. According to Pakistan’s constitution, that means that the head of government loses this particular power. Nonetheless, President Arif Alvi accepted the dissolution within a few hours. Things had obviously been pre-planned.

On its own motion, the Supreme Court took notice, and several parties filed petitions the same day. After a five-day hearing, the Supreme Court decided on Thursday 7 April that cancelling the vote of no confidence was unconstitutional. In a unanimous judgment, the Court restored the National Assembly and insisted that the vote of no confidence had to take place before Sunday 10 April.

The National Assembly convened on 9 April at 10 am, but PTI legislators once again acted obstructively. Apparently, Khan had instructed his party members to delay things. They held hours-long speeches, while opposition members demanded that voting begin.

The Supreme Court stepped in again. Around 11 pm, journalists reported it would start hearing a contempt-of-court case against the National Assembly’s speaker if the vote was not conducted as ordered. Next, the speaker, a PTI member, resigned and asked an opposition politician to take over. The vote of no confidence began three minutes after midnight, and eight minutes later, Khan was no longer prime minister.

Lingering political crisis

The Supreme Courts deserves praise for insisting on democratic checks and balances and reinforcing the rule of law (see my essay on rape-victims’ access to the judiciary on It resolved the constitutional crisis, but the political crisis lingers on. The National Assembly has elected Shehbaz Sharif as the new prime minister. The strength of the coalition of 11 parties remains to be seen.

Khan has lost his parliamentary majority, but has rallied masses of elite supporters in the cities.  Indeed, Sharif belongs to the kind of political dynasty that Khan always agitated against. Sharif’s elder brother, Nawaz, served as prime minister three times, but was never able to complete his term.

The situation is indeed very difficult. Pakistan’s debt burden is huge. The Ukraine war is compounding inflation, with food and fuel prices rising fast. The crisis in neighbouring Afghanistan (see Conrad Schetter and Katja Mielke on has considerable impacts on Pakistan. On the upside, Shebaz Sharif, as a former chief minister of Punjab, is generally considered to be a competent administrator.

Marva Khan is an assistant professor of law at LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences).


Kategorien: english

“We are growing dynamically”

14. April 2022 - 12:01
Automation will have multiple implications, positive and negative – for example people will have better training so their opportunities improve

How did Coronavirus affect your business and have you recovered from it yet?
The COVID-19 pandemic was as difficult for us as it was for the rest of the world. The initial months of lockdown hit us hard. However, our resilience shone through as we were able to successfully continue with our expansions in different operations. We were also able to receive support from the government of Bangladesh which provided a stimulus package to organisations across the country in response to the pandemic. Despite Bangladesh’s total exports falling by more than 18 % in the fiscal year 2019-20, DBL Group was able to increase exports by more than six percent. In 2020-21, the trend was even better, with our exports increasing by almost 55 %. Our revenue achieved an all-time high in 2020-21. Not only have we been able to survive, but we are growing dynamically.

How has textile production changed in Bangladesh in the past decades?
There were significant changes in the past (for deeper inside in the Bangladeshi textile industry see Sabine Balk on The big priority in the first half was health and safety. Next came commitments to various social and environmental sustainability initiatives. Our industry depends on buyers. To stay in business, companies must live up to the sustainability pledges international brands make to final consumers. On the social side, decent work in the supply chain has become more important. It includes fair wages, skills development and even community engagement. On the environmental side, focus areas include reducing carbon emissions and improving waste management. Responsible consumership is attracting increasing attention, and we have seen the demand for recycled products increase significantly in the past two years.

Is automation increasing?
Well, we are using some automation in our own supply chain. For example, the machines of DBL Group’s spinning mill have programmable logic control, which automatically adjusts the revolutions per minute. In our fabric-dyeing plant, automatic temperature-adjustment controls are embedded in the machinery. We also use laser technologies in our washing plant. These technologies optimise both energy and water usage. More generally speaking, the sweater and heavy knit industry has been fully automated in Bangladesh.

How much manual work is still needed – and how much will be needed in the future?
The processing of raw materials – spinning, dyeing and printing – does not require very much human intervention, but apparel manufacturing is very labour intensive. Cutting, sewing, finishing and packaging are mostly done by hand. There has been some automation in these areas, but change has not been as significant as in other countries so far. There certainly is scope for further automation in manufacturing. Industry 4.0 means moving on from handwork to automation. Furthermore, there will be less wastage in manufacturing as rejection rates are being lowered.

Does that mean you will need fewer workers?
Perhaps we might need fewer workers in the future, but new opportunities are arising too. We will need additional skilled workers who can handle the advanced machines. Upskilling is necessary, both to avoid mass unemployment and to ensure a smooth transition. Industry-based training centres are running related courses, and we are engaging with them. Initiatives of this kind help workers to adapt to future technologies and reduce unemployment. Moreover, many women who took part in our company’s female leadership programme now work as supervisors, so their job opportunities have improved. One of them left to join a non-governmental organisation that is providing skills training and making other efforts to boost women’s employment opportunities.

What implications will automation have for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
There will be multiple implications. On the social side, better training will result in people having advanced skills so their opportunities improve – not just in the textile industry, but other industries as well. This will address SDG4: Quality Education. On the environment side, production processes will be more efficient, optimising resource use and reducing wastage, which is directly linked to SDG 12: Responsible Consumption & Production (see my interview on However, there may be a negative impact of unemployment during the transition towards further automation. So SDG1 – No Poverty – may see a setback.

How is international competition changing?
China is still the largest exporter of apparels, and some countries are making fast progress. Vietnam is now neck-and-neck with Bangladesh. Producers there are good at technological adaptation.

Are you involved in African production lines?
Well, we did indeed invest in Ethiopia, in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray Region. However, the operation had to be suspended in the current conflict.

How do you assess the situation for your industry in next decades?
The potential for improvement is great. Prudent investments are required, especially in regard to automation. Skills development is essential, and related investment will not just benefit manufacturers, so it should be done in collaboration with multiple stakeholders. The World Economic Forum has suggested that upskilling should happen in a collaborative approach that involves brands, agencies and technology providers apart from manufacturers.

M. A. Jabbar is managing director of DBL Group.

Kategorien: english