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Inclusion instead of discrimination

21. Dezember 2022 - 17:59
Around the world, persons with disabilities are discriminated against, though they could be empowered to fully participate in society

Discrimination of people with handicaps is common around the world. However, their lives tend to be particularly tough in developing countries and emerging markets, where infrastructure is often poor and social protection systems are weak. When governments lack funding, people with disabilities rarely get the kind of empowering support they deserve.

Traditional mindsets matter too. In many developing countries and emerging markets, too many people still believe that impairments result from curses. Fortunately, attitudes change over time. In Togo, a man with a disability has won a seat in parliamentary elections. Samir Abi, who works for Visons Solidaires, a civil-society organisation, wrote about him on our platform, emphasising the great relevance of inclusive schools.

Limited state capacities, however, normally mean very little government support for the needy. Karim Okanla, a media scholar from Benin, assessed matters in his country, where persons with impaired eyesight do not get targeted support and often live on the fringes of society. He found inspiring the example of a Catholic priest, who is serving the blind and is blind himself.

When a crisis rocks a country, persons with disabilities tend to suffer in particular. That was the case in the Covid-19 pandemic, for example. Ika Ningtyas, a journalist, elaborated for D+C/E+Z how persons with disabilities struggled to get reliable health information in Indonesia. In particular, she pointed out that digitised information was hardly available. On the other hand, civil-society organisations such as the Institute for Inclusion and Advocacy of Persons with Disabilities inspire hope in her country.

The vicious cycle of poverty and disability

There normally are rather few job opportunities for people with disabilities, so many are at great risk of poverty. No or little income, in turn, means limited access to healthcare, which further increases risks of physical or mental impairment.

Rainer Brockhaus of CBM (Christoffel-Blindenmission / Christian Blind Mission) discussed this vicious cycle in his D+C/E+Z contribution. According to him, development projects and humanitarian aid must pay more attention to persons with disabilities. He is in favour of a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, every development programme must take this particular target group into account. On the other hand, special measures are needed to improve opportunities for the persons concerned and to prevent them from falling even further behind.

The human right to take part in society

Including people with disabilities in society is not merely an ethical duty, but also a legal obligation. In a second article, Rainer Brockhaus listed relevant international agreements, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. Two important slogans of the latter are "leave no one behind" and "reach the furthest behind first". For the international community to live up to these promises, much must yet happen.

In 2007, Bangladesh was one of the first countries to sign the CRPD. In far too many places, its infrastructure is nonetheless still not appropriate for people with special needs. Things are similar in many other countries. Sharlin Akther of the Bangladesh Business & Disability Network reported for us from Dhaka. According to her, discrimination typically begins in childhood. On the upside, government agencies and civil-society organisations are striving to improve things.

Physical and mental disabilities have various causes. War and violent strife are among them. Whether a body has been wounded, is easy to see, but mental trauma is often less obvious. It can result from various kinds of violence, and is often denied for a long time. Vilma Duque, a psychologist, told my colleague Sabine Balk about how psychosocial work is making a difference in Guatemala.

Should you want to read more about trauma, check out the most recent issue of our Digital Monthly. The topic of the focus section is collective trauma. If you like, download the PDF here.

Better inclusion of persons with disabilities

Sports can contribute to better inclusion. Friedhelm Julius Beucher, who chairs the National Paralympic Committee Germany, shared his experience with me in an interview, elaborating how his association is cooperating with partners in developing countries and emerging markets. Among other things, he told me why he found the Olympic Winter games in Beijing disappointing.

My colleague Sabine Balk summed up important insights in a comment. She pointed out two things:

- Society as a whole stays poorer when people with disabilities are excluded from gainful employment. Inclusion at the work-place level, by contrast, means more income and more tax revenues.

- There is a gender dimension because women do most of the care work internationally. When mothers, sisters and daughters spend a lot of time to ensure the wellbeing of relatives with disabilities, their own opportunities to earn money and take part in social life are reduced. They too become marginalised.

Her comment served as editorial in our Digital Monthly 2022/09.

Jörg Döbereiner is a member of D+C/E+Z‘s editorial team.


Kategorien: english

How to improve the G20 Common Framework for Debt Treatment

21. Dezember 2022 - 15:19
For all countries to become able to rise to the challenges of the current polycrisis, debt-restructuring is needed

Responding to the pandemic shock in 2020, the G20 (group of 20 largest economies) implemented the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) in support of low-income countries. From May 2020 to December 2021, the 73 eligible countries neither paid interest nor repaid their debt. In total, the suspended payments amounted to $ 12.9 billion.

The DSSI was quite helpful, but it did not solve longer-term problems. In 2022, the world’s poorest countries had to afford $ 35 billion in debt-service payments, according to the World Bank. They owed the money to multilateral, governmental and private institutions. More than 40 % was owed to China, now the world’s largest bilateral creditor.

The Common Framework for Debt Treatment

In view of mounting problems, the G20 launched the Common Framework for Debt Treatment (CF) to reach beyond the DSSI. It is the only multilateral mechanism for forgiving and restructuring sovereign debt. An international mechanism to deal systematically with sovereign insolvency would be better, and Germany’s Federal Government deserves praise for endorsing the idea.

So far, however, the CF is what we have. It has not achieved much. Only three countries – Chad, Ethiopia and Zambia – have applied for debt treatment under the CF, and none has accomplished debt restructuring.

More must obviously happen. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 60 % of low-income countries were deemed to be at risk of – or already in – debt distress at the start of 2022. That was twice the level of 2015. Rising interest rates, moreover, are further reducing governments’ fiscal space (see André de Mello e Souza on

The implication is that the governments concerned cannot respond assertively to the polycrisis that humankind must rise to. Failure to act fast, however, means more difficult and more expensive action will become necessary in the future. The CF is not the problem-solving mechanism the international community needs today – it mostly remains a vague promise.

The way forward

It would make sense to enlarge the scope of the CF. Many middle-income countries are struggling with debt problems too. They must not suffer protracted liquidity problems or even insolvency.

So far, moreover, both DSSI and the CF only deal with governmental bilateral claims. This is insufficient as loans from private-sector creditors matter very much. Private financiers must be involved in debt restructuring. Otherwise, burdens will not be shared fairly and the temptation to “free ride” will stay strong, with relevant players trying to benefit from joint action without contributing to it.

Clear guidelines are also needed for the CF’s cooperation with international financial institutions. It would be useful, for example, if the IMF declared that its emergency lending to  governments in arrears regarding private and bilateral loans will continue even when those governments ask for restructuring and start good-faith negotiations with the CF and other creditors.

Involving the private sector

In such a setting, moreover, the G20 could recommend generalised debt-service suspension while restructuring negotiations are going on. That would apply to private-sector loans too and thus serve as incentive for broad-based participation in the process.

A strong point of the CF is that it unites members of the Paris Club with other creditors, especially China. The Paris Club is an organisation in which established donor governments coordinate their response to sovereign debt problems. So far, Brazil is its only emerging-market member. It would be good if all G20 members that are engaged in lending to foreign governments joined the Paris Club.

The CF could then become a mechanism for involving and coordinating the entire range of creditors in the restructuring processes, including private-sector financiers in particular. Unfortunately, the CF still lacks a mechanism to stimulate their participation.

This lack is counter-productive, since all creditors, and not only CF members, deserve equal treatment. The CF also lacks proper methods for comparing various creditors’ claims and obligations.

Comparability and transparency

Assessing comparability is a challenging task. The range of creditors that lend to sovereign governments is very broad. It includes governmental, semi-governmental and private lenders. They operate according to different laws and use a broad variety of instruments. There is a great variety of contractual agreements. Moreover, some credits are granted at market rates while others are concessional.

Compounding the problems, not all contracts are disclosed to the public. Efficient sovereign debt-restructuring has to surmount a complex chain of hurdles to ensure the burden is shared equitably.

The current scenario is not transparent, however, which makes coordination of creditors very difficult. Holdouts have plenty of opportunities for obstruction, and free riding is hard to prevent.

More debt transparency is therefore needed. Debtors as well as creditors should have the obligation to disclose all relevant information to a trustworthy international agency, which might be hosted by an international institution like the IMF. The information would include all loans and cover amounts, terms, guarantees, assurances et cetera.

Improved transparency would support sound practices in public debt management. Making the information available to the public in general would have even stronger beneficial impact on governance, fiscal discipline and adequate risk management.

The better the CF manages to provide transparency, the more lending policies will improve in the long run. In the short run, transparency is needed to restructure debts in an equitable manner.

What the G7 should do

The G7 (Group of leading high-income countries) should provide leadership. It can facilitate equitable burden sharing and discourage non-cooperative attitudes. In particular, G7 members’ national legislation could evolve in a coordinated manner that makes free-riding more difficult and reduces opportunities to obstruct multilateral debt restructuring.

A good example was the Debt Relief Act 2010, which the United Kingdom adopted in 2010. It forced British-based private creditors to take part in the multilateral arrangements to provide debt relief to HIPCs (heavily indebted poor countries).

Another example was how the US and the UK made it illegal to file claims during Iraq’s debt restructuring. They used the UN Security Council Resolution 1483 of 2003 as the blueprint.

It has, moreover, proven useful to insist on the inclusion of collective action clauses (CACs) in loan contracts. Binding commitments of this kind prevent creditors from opting out of restructuring talks.

IFI leadership would be welcome too

Leadership from international financial institutions (IFIs) would be welcome too. The World Bank, for instance, could create a guarantee facility which would boost creditors’ faith in restructured debt.

The IMF has an especially important role to play. It should update its system for Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) and align it to climate targets as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in general. Moreover, its programmes should assure creditors of the viability of economic policies. The point is that debt relief must not trigger the next round of excessive borrowing.

A clever proposal was made by Anna Gelpern, Sean Hagan and Adnan Mazarei (2020). They want the G20 to establish a Sovereign Debt Coordination Group, which would consist of representatives from the official and private creditor community. Even without legal authority, the authors argued, this group could convene creditors, collect and disseminate information and facilitate negotiations.

Lessons of the past

In the past, several debt-relief initiatives have been successfully executed. They relied on joint criteria for many parties. Typically, these initiatives were improvised ad hoc, but they set precedents and helped to build institutions such as the Paris Club.

History shows, however, that these successful initiatives were often preceded by half-hearted and unsuccessful ones. Far too often, debt problems were only considered to be issues of liquidity rather than solvency. In our era of multiple crises, we cannot afford to lose time.

Gelpern, A., Hagan, S., and Mazarei, A., 2020: Debt standstills can help vulnerable governments manage the COVID-19 crisis. Washington, Peterson Institute for International Economics.


José Siaba Serrate is an economist at the University of Buenos Aires and at the University of the Centre for Macroeconomic Study (UCEMA), a private university in Buenos Aires. He is also a member of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI).



Kategorien: english

Why central banks must pay attention to ecological risks

21. Dezember 2022 - 14:47
Climate change and nature loss can undermine both macroeconomic and financial stability

The impacts of global heating and nature loss can subvert both macroeconomic stability (stable output growth and stable prices) and financial stability (the effective and reliable functioning of the financial sector). While high-income countries have contributed most to causing the global environmental crisis, its consequences are particularly painful in emerging markets and developing countries. Accordingly, central banks and financial regulators (CBFRs) in low and middle-income countries are now facing the challenge of addressing related risks and impacts.

Many CBFRs, moreover, want to support national mitigation and adaptation efforts. They have thus started to explore how to nudge the financial sector towards more sustainable investments.

Five reasons

There are at least five reasons why CBFRs should be concerned with climate change, the loss of eco-systems and the related dwindling of biodiversity:

  • The impacts affect CBFRs’ core mandate of safeguarding macroeconomic and financial stability. It is now widely recognised that the impacts of the global ecological crisis create financial risks that need to be mitigated. Moreover, it is increasingly well-documented that they can threaten macroeconomic and price stability. CBFRs must therefore understand these issues and deal with them appropriately.
  • Central banks must consider the impact of climate- and nature-related risks on their own balance sheet. Central banks do not only use interest rates to control inflation, they also manage money supply by buying and selling financial assets. Their investment policies and collateral frameworks should thus take account of ecological risks, so they avoid purchasing hazardous assets. That approach will not only protect their own portfolio, but also provide useful incentives for the financial sector and the real economy. The reason is that an asset is more valuable and more attractive if financial institutions can use it in operations with the central bank.
  • As all organisations must, CBFRs have to consider the potential impact of their own actions on the environment. This is particularly relevant in places where CBFRs are expected to support governments’ environmental policies.
  • CBFRs contribute to shaping markets. For example, their prudential policies define what commercial banks must take into account when granting loans, issuing bonds or reporting to shareholders. CBFRs can oblige them to disclose climate and nature-related risks as well as account for potential impacts in their lending and investments. The inclusion of environmental dimensions in such requirements can help to make the financial system support the transition to environmental sustainability.
  • CBFRs should lead by example. Therefore, they must themselves adhere to all standards they want others to observe.

Of course, government action remains crucially important. Government policies matter most, and CBFRs must support them. To what extent they can deliver, depends on their institutional mandates and the specific country context. However, CBFRs certainly have a role of their own in “greening” both the financial system and the real economy.

Emerging consensus

An international consensus has emerged that CBFRs need to consider the environment in the design of monetary policy and financial supervision. Doing so is part of their general mandate of safeguarding macroeconomic and financial stability (see Hans Dembowski on This is acknowledged by the 121 CBFRs that belong to the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS).

The tasks of mitigating ecological risks and scaling up sustainable finance are closely interrelated. The latter task supports the former. To address ecological risks, prices must be set appropriately, which has implications for the allocation of credit. Lending to environmentally harmful activities must be reduced, while  more lending to sustainable economic activities will help to reduce long-term physical risks. Indeed, CBFRs can make economies more resilient by supporting the financial sector’s alignment with climate and nature.

The toolbox at the disposal of CBFRs is potentially large. As a starting point, it includes standards, taxonomies and metrics that are used for disclosure rules and compliance obligations. By defining these well, CBFRs help the financial sector to identify, assess and tackle crucial environmental risks and impacts – and as a result, more capital will be invested in sustainable ways.

Moreover, CBFRs can promote the development of new green market segments. For example, they can create a regulatory environment that supports the issuance of – and trade in – bonds that meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria (on the difficulties of adopting international standards see Kathrin Berensmann on

Important new stress tests 

CBFRs have also started to conduct climate and nature stress tests. These tests are meant to assess the vulnerability of financial institutions and the financial system in general. If a financial institution is found to be vulnerable to environmental shocks, it can be required:

  • to enhance its environmental risk management practices,
  • to assess and disclose such risks and/or
  • to hold additional capital.

Such obligations make high-risk activities less attractive in financial terms. If, moreover, a commercial bank is systemically important, such rules can be tightened. For example, that institution can be required to build additional capital buffers. Rules designed to ensure the viability of a single bank are called “microprudential” and those that go further to safeguard the entire system are called “macroprudential”.

Central banks’ monetary policy should take environmental issues into account too. As argued above, central banks can exclude asset classes that harm sustainability from their collateral frameworks. Another option is to accept problematic assets at a below-market rate. Such central bank policies send strong signals, especially as commercial banks prefer assets that the central bank is willing to accept in principle. Furthermore, central banks can introduce special refinancing lines that make it easier for commercial banks to grant loans to low-carbon or otherwise sustainable projects.

It bears repetition that CBFRs should do what they preach. By disclosing climate or nature-related risks in own portfolios they will set good examples. That is also true when they adopt responsible investment principles for portfolio management.

Moreover, CBFRs can support the broader sustainability agenda through sustainable finance roadmaps or by providing advice to their government. They can also support related capacity building efforts in the financial sector, raising awareness of how environmental risks can harm macroeconomic and financial stability.

Particular urgency in developing countries

All CBFRs must ultimately rise to the multi-layered challenges of environmental, macroeconomic and financial stability. While the need to act is universal, the sense of urgency is strongest in developing countries and emerging markets.

  • They are more exposed to the detrimental impacts of the global environmental crisis.
  • Their investment needs are larger, while their financial systems are less developed.

Unsurprisingly, CBFRs in poorer world regions were among the first seeking to address environmental risks. Leaders include Bangladesh, Brazil, China and Lebanon.

That fits the pattern of CBFRs there typically playing a broader role in supporting government policies and development priorities. They have often taken a “developmental” stance. Accordingly, many of them are now tackling the financial and macroeconomic implications of the global environmental crisis in a pragmatic, hands-on way.

Many CBFRs in the global south have creatively adopted eco-friendly instruments and policies that may seem unorthodox to their counterparts in high-income countries. With the worsening global environment crisis causing stronger impacts, more CBFSs are likely to gear  their policies and instruments to sustainability. Going forward, CBFRs will have to more systematically assess the effectiveness, efficiency, and equity of adopted measures. Doing so is part of their duty to safeguard macroeconomic and financial stability. It also serves to ensure that clearly defined policy goals are met while unwanted distortions are avoided.

Ulrich Volz is a professor of economics and directs the Centre for Sustainable Finance at SOAS, University of London.




Kategorien: english

Global problems require global solutions

20. Dezember 2022 - 10:00
Why multilateral policymaking must improve and who can make it happen

Humankind must rise to daunting global challenges – including global heating, world hunger and disease control, to name only three. More generally speaking, the United Nations’ entire 2030 agenda of sustainable development goals depends on multilateral policy-making. Safeguarding peace may actually be the most important. Without it, international cooperation cannot succeed.

Nonetheless, populist forces have been agitating against the institutions of global governance in recent years, arguing that they thwart national sovereignty. Such propaganda, however, often serves the interests of the superrich. It does not help the angry people it tends to appeal to. Plutocrats, who benefit from tax havens and like to pit government against government, are keen on protecting their special interests. It means resisting global cooperation to protect the environment, reduce inequality and raise taxes. I spelled out why the term plutocrat populism makes sense in a comment.

To resist such forces, a better understanding of global governance is necessary.

Risk of global recession

Economies around the world are exposed to detrimental impacts of international crises. Multilateral cooperation is needed to mitigate the impacts and manage the crises. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and multilateral banks have a crucial role to play. As the Argentinian economist José Siaba Serrate elaborates, their effectiveness ultimately depends on superpowers cooperating responsibly.

In this difficult scenario, the G20 summit in Bali in November proved more encouraging than many expected. The good news was that the world’s leading national policymakers do not deny the host of problems our species is facing. According to the Indonesian economist Iwan J. Azis, the summit declaration adds up to many small steps in the right direction, though it does not offer a grand plan to solve all problems.

The G20, of course, is hamstrung by the fact that its members are adversaries and even enemies. Global cooperation requires peace, which cannot be said too often, especially after Russia invaded Ukraine, compounding many global problems.

Questions of peace

The most important global public good is arguably peace. The UN was established after World War II to ensure humankind would live in peace. It has neither been a complete failure, though the Ukraine war is the latest proof that it has not been a spectacular success either. Too often, it has proved unable to fully live up to its mandate. Anna-Katharina Hornidge of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) shared her insights with me in an interview.

In past decades, war between sovereign nations has become rare, while civil wars have rocked many countries. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that internal strife only affects the country where it erupts. The escalating security crisis in Western Africa is an example of how fragile statehood transcends borders – and why it deserves global attention. In an interview, Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS Africa), which has its head office in South Africa, told me about international and global ramifications of Islamist insurgencies in West Africa.

The UN is useful, but not useful enough

The typical pattern of the UN is that it does useful work, but more needs to happen. That is not only true in regard to safeguarding peace. As my colleague Jörg Döbereiner of D+C/E+Z argues, the UN climate summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh in November fits the picture too.

It will not come as a surprise that the UN Environment Programme is not entirely up to task either. David Mfitumkiza, a Ugandan climate scholar, discussed its shortcomings and how to improve matters on our platform.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is another example. It played a crucial role in containing the Covid-19 pandemic, but could have done more, had it had more authority and resources. Anton Sundberg and Andreas Wulf of medico international, a Frankfurt-based non-governmental organisation, point out why the WHO deserves to get more money and more say.

Why there is so little trust in western governments

High-income countries have a pattern of calling for better global governance when it suits them. They would be more convincing if they systematically acted in pursuit of the international common good. If they can afford to do so, however they all too often prioritise national interests. André de Mello e Souza explains how high-interest rates in the USA are causing stress in developing countries and emerging markets.

That many governments are uncomfortable with western leadership has become particularly evident in the context of the Ukraine War. That is why many of them have shied away from condemning Russia’s aggression in the UN context. Kai Ambos, a German law professor, argues that western governments are paying a price for not consistently adhering to international law themselves.

To improve things, high-income countries must regain credibility by living up to their promises. Unfortunately, the history of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is also one of expectations they raised but did not make come true. Together with my co-author, Alphonce Shiundu, a Kenyan journalist, I spelled out why the WTO’s Doha Development Round resulted in disappointment.

Opposition to the west does not add up to a coherent agenda

The governments of developing countries and emerging markets thus have ample reason to feel frustrated. It is true that western governments often either dominate multilateral decision making or block it. In an attempt to counter former colonial powers, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have teamed up and formed the BRICS. However, they lack a coherent agenda, according to Praveen Jha of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

At the same time, Chinese efforts to build alliances must not be underestimated. Berthold M. Kuhn and Dimitrios L. Margellos of Berlin’s Free University spell out how Beijing has increased its clout internationally. They admonish western leaders to pay attention.

The plain truth is that policymakers must consider the global public good. It would help if the media encouraged them to do so. In my eyes, our professional community often fails to live up to that obligation. It we focused more on global public goods and made a stronger effort to avoid the conventional narratives we are used in national affairs, policymakers might feel more pressure to do so too. I made the case in a comment on our website.

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

Kategorien: english

How to end world hunger

20. Dezember 2022 - 9:27
Overview: This is what needs to happen to ensure global food security and achieve SDG2

In past decades, the international community has always produced enough food to feed everyone. Nonetheless, more than 10 % of the world population do not get what they need, and the scenario has been getting worse in recent years. Covid-19 lockdowns, Russia’s attack on Ukraine and financial speculation are contributing to this trend, and so is the climate crisis, as extreme weather is all too often wiping out harvests. Long-standing issues, moreover, include that rural infrastructure is weak and smallholder farms are largely neglected by policymakers. While there still is enough food for everyone in theory, masses of people simply cannot afford to buy what they need.

The Global Hunger Index

The downward trend is evident in the Global Hunger Index. It is compiled every year by Welthungerhilfe and Concern International, two international NGOs based in Germany and Ireland respectively. This year’s issue was launched in mid-October. Mathias Mogge, the director-general of Welthungerhilfe, warns that large-scale agriculture as is practiced in high-income nations is often environmentally unsustainable. On the other hand, smallholder farmers’ productivity must rise. Masses of them are very poor. He shared core insights with me in an interview for D+C/E+Z.

The full truth is that world hunger does not result from insufficient global supply. Apart from war-torn areas, were the distribution of goods is often impossible, the big problem is unaffordability. Too many poor people simply cannot buy the agricultural products they desperately need. Even in prosperous nations, an increasing number of people depend on food banks.

Food security improves with social safety nets, and speculation can prove harmful

As Svenja Schulze, Germany’s federal minister for economic cooperation and development, argues, stronger social-protection systems would make a difference. In view of the multiple crises we are facing, such systems should be established and expanded fast. Among other things, her essay spells out how rural development in particular can benefit.

As a general rule, markets are better at distributing goods than governments. However, speculation with commodities sometimes exacerbate shocks. Francisco Mari of the Protestant non-governmental organisation Bread for the World elaborated how this played out in the current emergency, worsening need in many places.

It cannot be overemphasised that women and girl are more likely to suffer food insecurity than their male relatives. This is profoundly unjust, not least because women often do most of the farm work. Radio journalist Mireille Kanyange tackled the matter on our pages, using the example of Burundi.

How agricultural innovation depends on age-old rural traditions

Traditional farming is more important than most people assume. Smallholder communities in remote areas of developing countries and emerging markets are safeguarding genetic and other vital resources which global food security depends on, not least because the breeders of high-yielding varieties use them. Without these resources, the international community will not stay able to, at least in principle, produce enough grains, vegetables and fruit. World hunger would then no longer be mostly an issue of dysfunctional distribution, but one of too little supply.

As an officer of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Parviz Koohafkan specialised in agricultural heritage systems for decades. In 2002, he launched its GIAHS programme. The acronym stands for “globally important agricultural heritage systems”.  His D+C/E+Z contribution explains why the programme matters.

Rural communities’ traditional knowledge is essential, but so is innovation. To better link the two, agricultural research must pay more attention to the specific needs of smallholder farmers and the environmental contexts they work in. The implication is that more attention must be paid to people living in rural regions of developing countries. Hildegard Lingnau of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR), which coordinates hundreds of agencies internationally, shared her views in an interview with my colleague Jörg Döbereiner.

Why genetically modified crops matter less than some pretend

Many people, however, still believe that innovation is predominantly a high-tech issue. That is a fallacy. Our Ugandan correspondent Ronald Ssegujja Ssekandi reported why his country’s lack of a GMO law is not a big problem in terms of food security. 

Poverty and need affect not only low income countries, but are often quite severe even in rising economic powers. Indeed, food security has been deteriorating in India. Around the world, moreover, many people consume too much fat, sugar and salt. Healthier diets would make sense. Our correspondent Roli Mahajan discussed the matter and also spelled out how eco-friendly innovations based on rural traditions can make a difference in India.                      

World hunger exacerbated by climate impacts

To achieve SDG2, the end of hunger, action to mitigate the climate crisis is urgent. Last year, the example of Pakistan’s floods shows how extreme weather compounds pre-existing problems. At one point, a third of the country was under water, and 44 % of the people suffered food insecurity. Imran Mukhtar, an Islamabad-based journalist, assessed a very difficut situation.

Spectacular disasters make international headlines. By contrast, smaller calamities, that affect fewer people, are often not taken note of by the international public. Their fate matters too. Ugandan flooding, for example, negatively affected about 90 000 persons in 2022, as Ronals Ssegujja Ssekandi wrote. 

The conclusions of the contributions listed on this page are summarised in the edito I wrote for the November issue of our Digital Monthly, which included a focus section on how to end hunger.

It bears repetition. If the international community musters the political will, SDG2 is achievable.


Hans Dembowski is the editor in chief of D+C Development and cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.

Kategorien: english

A future for the Pantanal

19. Dezember 2022 - 19:18
Traditional communities protect biodiversity of world’s largest inland wetland in Brazil

You come from a traditional Pantanal community and have studied the region as a scientist. How do people live in this natural environment?

Most live in traditional communities and refer to themselves collectively as “Pantaneiros”. Many of them – including myself – are a mixture of black and indigenous. Their lifestyle is inextricably linked to the cycles of flood and drought in the region. How exactly communities live depends on where in the Pantanal they are located. Some are fishers, some rely on family farming, others on gathering nuts or fruit.

Are these communities self-sufficient?

They were more independent a few years ago. The fact that climate change and other factors are changing water-supply cycles in the Pantanal is a problem. Those who traditionally rely on smallholder family farms are largely self-sufficient, however. The cultivation is typically very diverse: people tend gardens with vegetable patches, and they plant corn, manioc and other varieties for their daily use. Usually they don’t cultivate the same parcel of land every year, but instead change locations. Doing so is sustainable because it allows the soil to recover and at the same time there is no need to clear new areas. (On the role of traditional smallholder farms in global nutrition, see Parviz Koohafkan on

What role do large soy plantations, of which there are more and more in the region, play?

They are mostly monocultures, which is bad for biodiversity. These larger farms also threaten smallholders’ way of life: first, because they can produce much more cheaply. Second, because they buy up large amounts of land for their plantations. Especially in the last decade, regions very close to the Pantanal were also being cleared for agricultural land. Such deforestation leads directly to the loss of biodiversity. The soy plantations use large amounts of pesticides, moreover. In a community near the small city of Poconé, we have already detected them in the soil. Pesticides impact human health. They affect food security as well: with poison in the soil, hardly anything besides soybeans will grow.

What challenges are traditional communities facing?

There are many. One of the biggest challenges is a lack of recognition and visibility. That is true in all of Brazil and in particular in the Pantanal. The National Council of Traditional Peoples and Communities does allow people some say. Nevertheless, it is still very difficult for these communities to receive political recognition. In addition, more and more companies are spreading throughout the Pantanal. Alongside intensive farming, more and more hydropower plants are being built.

What impact does that have on traditional communities?

None of these projects takes them into consideration. That is why we are fighting for their participation in decision making in this region. According to Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), traditional communities have the right to be heard in all matters that could impact them and their way of life or their land. Many traditional communities depend on fishing, for example. Building hydropower plants affects the water level in the rivers and therefore the opportunity to fish. Artificial intervention in the water level makes it impossible for communities to predict when it is a good time to fish or plant and when the floods will come. At the beginning of 2022, for instance, the town of Porto de Limão was suddenly flooded because a hydropower plant released its impounded water. Although flooding is normal in the Pantanal, it usually happens predictably during the rainy season. The residents were not prepared for this flood. It ruined all the crops they had sown. The public authorities were not very interested, however.

Apart from direct aid, why is it also important, on a broader level, to protect the traditional way of life of the Pantaneiros?

Doing so means protecting biodiversity and therefore our shared home, the Pantanal. The various communities here understand the Pantanal better than anyone else. They know that their way of life depends on an intact ecosystem, so they preserve it. They are the guardians of this region. That is nothing new: the Pantanal exists today in its current form only because, in past centuries, people have worked here and navigated the rivers on which they lived their lives – always considering the tides. Therefore when we talk about preserving this ecosystem today, that primarily means preserving the lifestyles of the people here and strengthening them so that they can also take care of the Pantanal in the future.

To outsiders it can seem as if women took on leadership positions especially frequently in the communities of the Pantanal. Is that true?

Yes, the majority of the communities are led by women, and many are matriarchally organised. My grandmother used to be the leader of the community I come from. Nowadays it is my aunt. Many women here take care of their families as well as their communities and the region as a whole. My mother taught me to play an active role. “Go and do,” she often said to me – and she also taught me that my voice was just as important as anyone else’s.

How do you advocate for people in the Pantanal?

I speak to the communities, gather their concerns and bring them to the attention of policymakers, so instruments can be developed that will in turn benefit the communities.

What is your motivation to do so?

Doubtless I’m motivated by the fact that my roots are in the Pantanal. Aside from that, I know that we have to value this ecosystem and its people so that it can continue to exist. My work in the whole process is nothing more than a drop in the Rio Paraguai, one of the large rivers in the Pantanal. Our achievements are only possible because many people are working together.

What are some of your past successes?

One success was that the local traditional communities were incorporated into the 2008 law on the Pantanal. That guaranteed many of our rights.

Have you also experienced setbacks?

Yes, especially under the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who recently lost re-election. Many programmes that supported people here were suspended, for example a programme for rural housing. It was supposed to help people find suitable places to live. We were in the process of gathering data for it when it was suspended. Many programmes that dealt with food security, which were helping people continue to live here, were cancelled as well. Moreover, there used to be programmes that distributed seeds or promoted organic farming. All of them have been put on hold. Furthermore, subsidies to promote local value chains have been reduced. The government used to support the gathering of baru nuts, a local variety, and the extraction of oil from the babassu palm. Particularly the programmes that supported smallholders have been done away with.

Are you hoping that the newly elected government under Lula da Silva will have more consideration for traditional communities in the region?

Yes, I’m hoping that we can reverse some of the setbacks. I hope that minorities will be more on the new government’s radar and that it will advocate for them and their ways of life. (On the Brazil elections see André de Mello e Souza on

Cláudia Regina Sala de Pinho is a biologist and environmental scientist who comes from a traditional Pantaneiro community. Until recently she coordinated the National Council of Traditional People and Communities in Brazil.

Kategorien: english

New trauma looms if traumatising past is not dealt with

19. Dezember 2022 - 19:01
Societies must acknowledge pain, assess causes and achieve a minimum level of reconciliation after dictatorship or war

Memorial’s mission was to inform people about the history of totalitarian rule. In the eyes of President Vladimir Putin, telling the truth about the horrors of Stalinism was basically nothing but western propaganda. In his paranoid world view, Russia is a glorious nation with only one problem: permanent rejection by the west.

His nationalism does not worry about the nation’s welfare. Young men are used as cannon fodder, but are not allowed to express their views as free citizens. Russian leaders since Peter the Great 300 years ago, have thought along similar lines. They equated themselves with the state, tried to expand their power and ignored the suffering of their subjects, denying them any say in public affairs. Fear of suppressive government permeates Russian culture because the nation has not systematically grappled with the impacts of traumatic despotism.

Individual lives do not matter to him, the authority of the Kremlin does. That is why he is killing so many Ukrainian civilians and sacrificing so many Russian soldiers. He does not want anyone to acknowledge the deadly famine (“Holodomor”) Stalin caused in Ukraine 80 years ago, but is committing genocidal war crimes himself. He insists Ukraine is – and must always be – Russian.

Past suffering all too often leads to new suffering

When collective trauma lingers on, new trauma is likely to follow. In 2022, the Ukraine war was the worst example. Sadly, historical wounds keep festering in many places. That will not change until societies acknowledge the pain, assess the causes and achieve a minimum level of reconciliation. Where things are hushed up, conspiracy theories abound, with identity politics emphasising the suffering of one’s own community and scapegoating other communities.

Things tend to be particularly difficult in formerly colonised countries. After victory, the leaders who fought hard for independence were prone to considering the young nation their personal fiefdom. The typical pattern is that they avoided accountability and used repressive means. They only freed their nation from colonial rule, but not the authoritarian attitudes it fostered.

International cooperation is the way forward

In the current polycrisis, resentful identity politics is harmful. To safeguard and provide public goods – such as peace, environmental health, food security, stable financial architecture, pandemic preparedness, to name only five  – we need international cooperation. Governments that mistake their undisputed power at home for the common good, cannot be expected to contribute much to the global common good. Moreover, no one who prevents a full reckoning with the historical truth deserves trust.

In most cases, destructive impacts of historical trauma only affect the nation concerned. In the worst cases, they amount to an attack on humankind as a whole. The Nazi response to the perceived humiliations of Germany in World War I, for example, was to start the even worse World War II.

In Putin’s war of aggression, military action is so far limited to Ukraine and, to some extent, Russia itself. The impacts are global nonetheless. Global energy markets are in disarray, which is an important reason for the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in November not delivering stronger results. When governments must focus on short-term fuel provision, they find it hard  to commit to the mid-term switch to renewables on which our common future depends.


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

Kategorien: english

Iran’s protests resonate around the world

19. Dezember 2022 - 18:52
Women everywhere must be free to go where they like and dress as they please

Women are at the forefront of the protests in Iran. Some even speak of “a new revolution”. The rebellion against the fundamentalist Shia regime has generated global reactions. People across the world are expressing solidary – as well as concern for victims of repression.

In Pakistan, for instance, women were among the first to speak up when the protests started in September after Mahsa Amini, a young woman, had died in police custody. She was arrested for not wearing her hijab as demanded by Iran’s fundamentalist law. In Pakistan, female lawyers, legislators, civil-society activists and scholars were appalled. Some of us accuse Iran of smearing the name of Islam. Others oppose the violation of women’s rights. The violence perpetrated by Tehran’s totalitarian regime is troubling, and Pakistani women are now praying for the safety of Iran’s people.

In Pakistan, most people are Sunnis, while the Shia constitute the majority in Iran. However, the outpour of concern in Pakistan is unanimous, involving followers of every version of the Islamic faith. We are impressed by the strength and courage of Iranians and disgusted by brutal repression. According to media reports, some 500 persons had been killed in Iran by mid-December. The government has even executed two young men after ridiculously short court trials.

Restricting basic rights in the name of religion, culture and tradition

Iran’s Mahsa Amini protests concern several different issues. One is the freedom of expression and press. Another is the freedom of assembly. Yet another is the basic right of women to bodily autonomy and mobility. Rhetoric guised in religion, culture and tradition is used in many places to enforce restrictive, patriarchal notions. Typically, they force women to dress in a particular way and limit their access to public spaces.

Things are especially harsh where these supposed “values” are codified into law, as is the case in Iran. Pakistani women who are old enough to remember the rule of military dictator Zia ul Haq from 1977 to 1988 know what it is like when an authoritarian government disrespects civil rights and abuses human rights. Zia used his orthodox Sunni ideology to hound dissidents. Today, things are particularly bad in Afghanistan, with girls and young women being denied access to education.

For obvious reasons, the protest movement in Iran matters particularly to women in predominantly Muslim countries. At the same time, many of us are uncomfortable with expressions of support emanating from western countries which have a pattern of looking down on women who wear hijab. In France, the government legally restricts its use. We want freedom – and it means that we decide where we want to go and what we want to wear.

Muslim women, moreover, are tired of being pitied as victims of repressive traditions. We know that things are not perfect in the west either. We took note of the #MeToo movement. We know that courts in various western countries often err away from convicting perpetrators of sexual violence if a judge feels that the victim was dressed “provocatively”. It is obvious, moreover, that conservative Christians in the USA and other western countries are keen on restricting abortion rights. In the USA, the most radical legislators now even want to limit access to contraceptives.

In early December, there were reports that the Iranian regime abolished the Gasht-e-Ershad (the morality police). Most likely, this was only a token concession without serious impact. The government later insisted that wearing hijab would stay a legal obligation. Photos from Iran, however, show that women increasingly opt for not wearing it. At considerable personal risk, they are insisting on their freedom.

The Mahsa Amini protests are a wake-up call not just for the state of Iran, but for governments across the world. It is high time that the world leaders move away from curbing individual agency based on gendered biases. Every woman everywhere is entitled to her fundamental rights.

Marva Khan is an assistant professor of law at LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences) and co-founder of the Pakistani Feminist Judgments Project.



Kategorien: english

International response to climate crisis must speed up

13. Dezember 2022 - 16:16
Extreme weather is causing increasing damages, and it is possible to reduce

The worst weather-related disaster hit Pakistan in the summer. About a third of the country was flooded due to unusually heavy monsoon rains. As our correspondent in Islamabad pointed out, Pakistan suffered the impacts of the human-made climate crisis, to which its people have hardly contributed. Pakistani policymakers, as Imran Mukhtar wrote, had irresponsibly failed to prepare the nation for the impacts in the course of at least a decade.

African suffering

The media pay attention to things that happen suddenly, not slow-moving developments. Therefore, many people around the world are unaware of the Horn of Africa suffering devastating drought for the third year in a row. Humanitarian relief is needed, and experience shows that it should not only be linked to longer-term development, but peacebuilding efforts as well. Our contributor Christoph Schneider-Yattara who works for the Protestant agency Bread for the World, spoke of a “sustainable development nexus”.

As climate impacts worsen, more and more international support is needed. Burundi is one of the 20 countries that are most exposed to global heating. As a result, tens of thousands have been internally displaced in the past two years. The most important reason was flooding. State agencies and international organisations are making efforts, both to provide humanitarian assistance and to prevent further damage. On our platform, Mireille Kanyange shared her insights from Bujumbura.

All too often, smaller-scale disasters are not taken note of by international media. However, extreme weather conditions continue to haunt many parts of the world, causing local-level devastation. Agriculture is often affected. Our correspondent Ronald Ssegujja Ssekandi reported from Uganda.

Multilateral policymaking remains insufficient

Humankind has been aware of climate change for decades. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed 30 years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Nonetheless, we still do not have a grip on the problems. My colleague Jörg Döbereiner assessed the results of this year’s climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

In Rio in 1992, the consensus was to focus on mitigating climate change. The idea was that adapting to the phenomenon would be too expensive, require funds that would better be used to phase out fossil fuels. As action was inadequate, the international community had to put adaptation on the global agenda some 15 years later. We now know that adaptation efforts have been insufficient too, so it has become necessary to set up a fund for losses and damages.

The good news is that competent action actually makes a difference.

How insurance schemes and governmental social protection can help

Around the world, there are good examples of what needs to be done. Insurance policies can help, and promising progress has been made in the Caribbean archipelago, which is severely exposed to hurricanes. Marjorie Pons Piñeyro from the Dominican Republic assessed the situation for us.

More generally speaking, far too many people are not insured against climate risks, and that is especially so in low income countries. For things to change, the business environment must improve. A team of co-authors from the Munich RE foundation – Renate Bleich, Dirk Reinhard and Christian Barthelt – elaborated things on our platform.

Social protection systems help to shield vulnerable people from climate risks and reduce social disparities. The great challenge is that they tend not to exist where they are needed most. Stefan Beierl of GIZ discussed the implications in D+C/E+Z.

Physical infrastructure matters too, of course

To limit the impacts of global warming, infrastructure must improve in many places. The Ganges Delta is a region that has always been exposed to extreme weather events, and Bangladesh has made remarkable progress towards becoming climate resilient. Cyclones today claim far fewer lives than those of the past did – when the country’s population was actually smaller. Md Bodrud-Doza from the Dhaka-Based International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCD) elaborated on what makes the difference.

Adaptation measures, of course, must not worsen other environmental problems. In particular, ecosystems must not be harmed. Nature-based solutions are therefore best. David Mfitumukiza of Uganda’s Makerere University told my colleague Jörg Döbereiner and me about African experiences in an interview.

German development agencies such as KfW Development Bank are keenly aware of global heating and the erosion of biodiversity being mutually reinforcing. This vicious circle must be broken, argues Svenja Schulze, Germany’s federal minister of economic cooperation and development.

On her behalf, these international development agencies are paying increasing attention to environmental issues. At the same time, it has become evident that domestic action is needed at home too. The food disaster in Germany’s Ahr Valley in the summer of 2021 would have been less devastating had the authorities learned lessons from previous events in Germany and other countries. In regard to civil protection, Germany can take a page from other countries, as Wolf R. Dombrowsky of Steinbeis University Berlin argued on our platform.

Moving beyond denial

The USA too is increasingly hit by weather-related disasters. Wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes and floods are becoming more frequent, more dangerous and more costly. Nonetheless, conservative forces still deny the climate crisis. Katie Cashman, a Minnesota-based environmental activist believes it would be good to stop speaking of “natural” disasters when it is human-made climate change that is causing serious damages.

When Katie wrote her comment, US President Joe Biden’s climate agenda was still stuck in the Senate. The good news is that he has managed to make Congress pass ambitious climate legislation which should achieve at least 80 % of what he had proposed. That is enough to keep alive, but more must certainly happen.

IPCC, UNEP and other multilateral bodies sound the alarm

We have seen that lagging behind what is needed to be done proves costly. The big question is: Will policymakers heed the warnings? There is no lack of scientists sounding the alarm.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the 1.5 degree-Celsius limit will almost certainly be breached, at least temporarily. Our Indian colleague Roli Mahajan summarised its most recent global report on adaptation to global heating.

Other multilateral documents point in the same direction. Extreme weather is causing disasters. Mahwish Gul, who is based in Nairobi, read several publications of the UN Environment Programme on the matter.

We must not forget that the climate crisis is exacerbating other environmental problems. The core message of the second Global Land Outlook was that humanity must take urgent action to restore and protect land. Desertification and global heating are mutually reinforcing phenomena. Our Nigerian author Chimezie Anajama wrote about the Global Land Outlook, which was published by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

So far, the editorial I wrote for the May issue of our Digital Monthly – the focus section dealt with extreme weather – has aged well. There really are no more excuses for not acting fast.

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

Kategorien: english

Why media literacy matters in Zimbabwe

13. Dezember 2022 - 15:37
Civil-society organisation is teaching local people in Matabeleland to make effective use of digital communication

To assess the reliability of information, it is essential to check and verify sources of information. When an author only quotes one source and does not include other views, a story is less trustworthy. Whether it is coherent and logically consistent matters too. Comparing the content of individual messages and articles with other information is useful too. In doubt, it makes sense to consult knowledgeable people. When dealing with photographs, one should check whether identifiable landmarks are correct and whether other pictures show the same scene in a very different perspective.

Users of social-media platforms and new portals, moreover, must know that something is not simply true because it goes viral and is reiterated in many places. As a matter of fact, disinformation is often spread in a sensationalist and catchy way. It differs from unintentional misinformation in the sense of being designed to mislead as many people as possible. Media literacy means that a person knows these things.

Unfortunately, school education pays little attention to media literacy even in countries with high incomes, as the excited debate on fake news has shown in recent years. In low and middle income countries, things tend to be worse – and that is particularly true where governments have authoritarian attitudes. In Zimbabwe, the party that orchestrated genocidal violence four decades ago is still in power (see main story).

The CITE trains individual persons at the local level to assess messages diligently before reaching a conclusion or forwarding them. The young generation matters in particular. On the one hand, they are avid users of digital technology, on the other, they have little knowledge of what happened in Matabeleland four decades ago. At the same time, it is important to detect current disinformation that keeps being used strategically.

Telling one’s own stories

The project also makes an effort to teach them how to tell their own stories on digital platforms. Young people deserve to learn how to use their mobile phones and social-­media platforms effectively. The CITE courses thus include the production of text, images and videos.

The starting point for the media-literacy workshops is to make people in Matabeleland aware of how disinformation became a weapon in the Gukurahundi genocide. That includes providing information from reliable sources, which are indeed available on the internet.

Another important topic is digital security. There is a general tendency to use predictable passwords such as birth dates of the names of loved ones. Many people use the same password for every account they have online. Far too many share their passwords freely. They need to learn that unsafe passwords put them at risk of being attacked and losing stored information as well as money.

Zenzele Ndebele heads the independent Centre for Innovation & Technology (CITE) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This contribution is based on a presentation of his and his team’s at the 2022 annual FOME conference in Hamburg. It was hosted by the Interlink Academy on behalf of German organisations that support independent media in developing countries. FOME stands for “Forum Medien und Entwickung“ (Forum Media and Development).

Bhekizulu Tshuma is a journalist and media scholar at the Bulawayo-based National University of Science and Technology.

Kategorien: english

Gukurahundi: ZANU’s genocidal campaign against ZAPU

13. Dezember 2022 - 15:07
Zimbabwe’s ruling party still uses aggressive identity politics to stay in power

The country’s independence was won by the combined efforts of two liberation movements. One was the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), the other was the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which is now the ruling political party.

Both ZAPU and ZANU had military wings. They fought on different fronts, but their shared goal was to free the people from white minority rule.

The sense of unity did not last. ZANU won the first post-independence elections and soon started a disinformation campaign against the erstwhile partner during the struggle. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, who served as president from 1987 to 2017, accused ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo of destabilising the country. Mugabe claimed Nkomo, bitter after losing the elections, was mobilising dissidents. ZANU demonised ZAPU and accused its leaders of wanting to “topple a democratically elected government.” Mugabe publicly declared that the “dissident party and its dissident father” deserved total destruction.

Gukurahundi atrocities

ZAPU had been strong in Matabeleland, the southern part of the country, where the predominant language is Ndebele. The region’s people, whether ZAPU supporters or not, were hoping to celebrate independence in 1980. Instead, they soon suffered a great betrayal. ZANU leaders now claimed to be the young nation’s only true patriots, though they basically represented the Shona speakers they had organised in the independence struggle. A brutal genocide followed. It is called Gukurahundi.

Politically uninvolved citizens were killed. Women and children were slaughtered, accused of being the wives and children of dissidents. Pregnant women were brutally murdered “for carrying children of dissidents”. Ndebele speaking men too were killed for either being dissidents or supporting dissidents. More than 20,000 people, mostly Ndebele speakers, died due to the ZANU government’s efforts to exterminate ZAPU and Nkomo.

In Matabeleland, black majority rule thus turned out to be the tyranny of an electoral majority. ZAPU supporters had expected “independence” and “freedom” to apply to all Zimbabweans universally. That was what they had fought for. What they got instead was genocidal bloodshed.

Deadly disinformation

The violence was facilitated by the disinformation campaign that smeared Nkomo and his party. The campaign created fear and suspicions, deeply dividing Zimbabwe’s two most important ethnic groups.

ZANU is actually still using identity politics to rally its base. Stoking tensions helps it to stay in power, distracting from poverty and corruption, which are undermining the common good. To this day, mistrust shapes the relations of Shona speaking people with their Ndebele speaking compatriots.

It fits the pattern that the government systematically neglected Matabeleland after the genocidal campaign. It hardly invested in the regional infrastructure and other dimensions of development. Spending on schools, hospitals, electric-power provision, housing et cetera lagged behind what happened in predominantly Shona-speaking areas.

Matabeleland also has rather few media outlets. Political discourse is thus largely shaped by the media houses based in Harare, the capital, not Bulawayo, the major urban centre of Matabeleland.

Media literacy makes a difference

The rise of the internet, however, gives marginalised people opportunities to take charge of their information needs in a more independent manner. It is against this background, that the non-governmental Centre for Innovation & Technology (CITE) has launched the project “Media and Information Literacy in Matabeleland” in 2021 (see box).

In the course of four years, it aims to empower people to detect misinformation, which is unwittingly inaccurate and false, and disinformation, which is not only fake, but spread with the intention of misleading people. It is also designed to empower local communities to use digital technology for sharing their world view with others. More generally speaking, the internet is a space where Zimbabweans can resist authoritarian disinformation.

The CITE project can thus prove transformative in a double sense. It helps local people collect reliable information but also empowers them to counter disinformation with more accurate messaging.

Zenzele Ndebele heads the independent Centre for Innovation & Technology (CITE) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This contribution is based on a presentation of his and his team’s at the 2022 annual FOME conference in Hamburg. It was hosted by the Interlink Academy on behalf of German organisations that support independent media in developing countries. FOME stands for “Forum Medien und Entwickung“ (Forum Media and Development).

Bhekizulu Tshuma is a journalist and media scholar at the Bulawayo-based National University of Science and Technology.

Kategorien: english

No water in hospitals

13. Dezember 2022 - 12:41
Hospital patients suffer from lack of water in Malawi

Several factors account for Malawi’s acute water shortages. “One of the reasons is that our rivers and streams have dried up due to many droughts. Even some of the boreholes do not function,” says Janet Shaibu, chairperson of Chindamba borehole committee in Machinga district, one of the hardest hit areas.

Besides climate change, increasing human activity due to population growth has put a lot of stress on the environment. Deforestation is very common. Many locals depend on charcoal for fuel. This is made by burning trees to form a black flammable substance.

Water shortages in hospitals are also caused by inadequate water infrastructure. Many health facilities rely on ground drilled water boreholes. However, boreholes often break down within two years of their installation, in part because the water table is getting lower.

Eneles Ndaipa recalls her experience with the community’s water supply. She says that when she bore her first child 15 years ago, she was asked to bring a bucket of water to the hospital because Chikwewo health centre, located in Zomba district in southern Malawi, had no running water. “When I was due for delivery my mother and I left our home with a bucket of water which we drew from a nearby water well,” she says.

WaterAid, an international non-government organisation with funding from the Scottish government, has made things better now. When Ndaipa went to deliver her third child, she found that the health centre had installed water storage tanks. A water well has been drilled nearby. Water pumps, pipes and tanks have been installed to supply the hospital and workers’ homes. “It is fine now. We have water and the taps are not drying at all,” says Ndaipa.

But in other hospitals, water is scarce. In Malawi 24 % of the country’s public health facilities are running without water, according to WaterAid. Patients and their attendants are often asked to bring in buckets of water for use.

Mercy Masoo, WaterAid country director, warns: “This is a crisis. We have an outbreak of cholera which is not usual this time of the year. But all this points to one thing; people don’t have access to clean water in their homes.” WaterAid tries to improve the situation and is providing piped water to health facilities, but there is still a lot to do.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.


Kategorien: english

Why even the most atrocious evil can have a banal basis

9. Dezember 2022 - 14:34
60 years ago, Hannah Arendt’s book “Eichmann in Jerusalem” caused a controversy

Hannah Arendt was a German born Jewish intellectual who had to flee Nazi Germany. As a reporter for the American magazine The New Yorker, she covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann had organised the transportation of over 2 million European Jews to various death camps – Auschwitz and Treblinka, for example. Around 1950, he had managed to flee to Argentina. Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Agency, kidnaped him and took him to Israel to put him on trial.

Arendt’s New Yorker articles were later compiled in a book. It was highly controversial when it appeared in 1963. Indeed, Arendt was even accused of anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred. The subtitle of the book – the banality of evil – was often misunderstood, and she later regretted having chosen it. Today, the book is considered a classic essay on important aspects of totalitarian rule.

In her eyes, Eichmann was a criminal who deserved the death penalty. However, he was banal in the sense of obeying orders, fulfilling his duties and trying to move forward in his career. Doing so was evil, because he was serving a genocidal regime, enabling it to commit mass murder. Her reporting shows quite clearly that Eichmann was not consumed by racist hatred himself. Nor did he actually kill or even wound anyone directly. However, he never asked himself what consequences his action had nor questioned whether the regime he was serving was legitimate. He insisted that he only ever fulfilled duties and that any guilt had to be borne by his superiors, not him. Arendt considered him “banal” in the sense of being a petty bureaucrat.

Misunderstood subtitle

Nonetheless, some read her subtitle in the sense of Nazi evil having been trivial. That was clearly not the case she was making. The Israeli prosecution, however, was casting Eichmann in the role of a bloodthirsty monster and mastermind of the genocide. Arendt insisted that this was a false interpretation of his personality – and that he never had the official authority to enforce such a horrendous continent-wide scheme.

She admitted that Eichmann was guilty of bragging about his role, and that he did so among Nazi refugees in Argentina, was why he was ultimately discovered in hiding. She insisted, however, that the evidence showed that he was nothing more than a diligent and efficient underling who wanted to do his job well but did not care about the implications. 

Disagreeing with Israel’s prime minister

Many found her assessment disturbing. The public wanted to see Nazi criminals as sociopaths and psychopaths, not ordinary careerists. David Ben Gurion, then Israel’s prime minister, moreover, wanted to use Eichmann’s case to illustrate how Jews had always suffered discrimination and were constantly at risk of persecution. He was interested in portraying Eichmann as an anti-Semitic hate monster.

Arendt, a former Zionist herself, found anti-Semitism unacceptable. She nonetheless rejected the way Ben Gurion wanted Eichmann to be seen. To her, his approach meant to ignore what made the Nazi genocide unique. It was particularly atrocious, to her, because it was implemented by low-level officers in cool-blooded, sober-minded, bureaucratic operations. Eichmann was a prominent example of a civil servant who behaved as though he was implementing a standard government policy, unconcerned by the horrendous suffering it caused.

According to Arendt, the trial in Jerusalem had the markings of a show trial. She argued that Israel would never have kidnapped Eichmann if it had not been very sure of the result. If the outcome of case is obvious before it is even heard, however, the focus is clearly not on discovering what exactly the culprit did and what evidence is available. To Arendt, the unprecedented “banality” of mass murder mattered more than a show trial that emphasised anti-Semitism and thus served to legitimise Israel.

Criminal trials are about perpetrators’ guilt, not victims’ suffering

Eichmann had actually not formally broken German law. He insisted that he was therefore not a criminal. Arendt disagreed. Her point was that Nazi law violated fundamental principles of humanity. Moreover, even the Nazis had not punished people who refused to take part in genocidal action. Eichmann’s crime, in her eyes, was to serve a criminal regime with ambition but without questions.

When top Nazis were tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nuremberg after World War II, the international court decided that their guilt did not depend on whether or not they had broken German law. What mattered was that their actions caused serious harm. Considering it normal would make it impossible to enforce any kind of peaceful international order. Arendt appreciated that approach. In her eyes, it applied to Eichmann too.

Arendt was adamant that a criminal trial was not about the suffering of victims, but the guilt of perpetrators. Her point was that murder – and even more genocide – did not only affect victims, but disturbed peace in society and, indeed, between nations. Guilt had to be addressed, she argued, to restore peace and mutual trust. That is an important part of coming to terms with a traumatic past. Recompensation of victims matters too, of course, but Arendt saw it as a separate issue.

Arendt’s book also caused controversy by not brushing under the carpet the role of the so called “Judenräte” (Jewish councils) in the genocide. These councils consisted of local Jewish elders who were supposed to manage their community. To a very large extent, they cooperated with the Nazis, and many of them were allowed to escape the holocaust as the reward. Arendt spelled out clearly that their systematic sharing of persons’ details with the Nazi administration allowed the regime to identify Jews easily. Without such, the genocide would have been harder to organise. Eichmann’s transport logistics, for example, relied on such information.

An uncomfortable truth

For many Jews, that was an uncomfortable truth. Accordingly, Arendt was fast and insultingly accused of anti-Semitism. Indeed, she fully appreciated the performance of the judges in Jerusalem and endorsed the death penalty for Eichmann. The judges, she wrote, paid close attention to the accused and were not swayed by the prosecution’s focus on anti-Semitism.

The full horror of Nazi murders was their industrial precision and scale, according to Arendt. It was only possible because people like Eichmann lacked the ability to consider the moral dimension of the orders they obeyed – and thus their own action. In this sense Eichmann was indeed ordinary, trivial or banal. His work, of course, was not ordinary but atrocious. That he was not driven by a strong anti-Semitic ideology made him even more frightful. Insights of this kind is why the book is still considered important today. Reporting from the trial in Jerusalem, Arendt actually dissected an important characteristic of modern totalitarianism.

People doing evil may only be doing so because they are banally irresponsible. Under a different government, Eichmann might have been harmless. What made him evil was that he unquestioningly obeyed orders, not that deep inside he desired to kill and harm others. He was guilty because he failed to consider the suffering he made happen. This point is important for understanding not only Nazi atrocities, but crimes committed under totalitarian rule in general. Eichmann in Jerusalem and other books she wrote became classics. This author deserves attention at time when authoritarian leaders are gaining clout in many places (see Aline Burni and Niels Keijzer on

Arendt, H., 2006: Eichmann in Jerusalem – The banality of evil. London, Penguin (Original edition published in 1963 by Viking Press in the USA).

Suparna Banerjee is a Frankfurt-based political scientist.

Kategorien: english

Wickremesinghe is protecting the Rajapaksa clan in Sri Lanka

9. Dezember 2022 - 12:56
In Colombo, the current head of state and his disgraced predecessor have become awkward allies

Protests had forced Gotabaya to resign and flee abroad – but his successor has helped him return to Sri Lanka to a comfortable life.

Since becoming head of state, Wickremesinghe has clamped down on protests. Moreover, he is protecting Gotabaya’s family. Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda is another former president and prime minister, and several other siblings have held high government offices. It was during the presidencies of Mahinda and Gotabaya that the nation’s sovereign debt multiplied, leading to the current economic turmoil (see main story).

Wickremesinghe belongs to the United National Party, but the parliamentary majority that made him president included the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is dominated by the Rajapaksas. In the eyes of Arjuna Parakrama of the University of Peradeniya, the new president is now protecting his predecessors’ clan in three ways:

  • guarding them and their allies from the wrath of the people,
  • shielding them from legal prosecution for corruption and other crimes and
  • preventing new elections so the SLPP majority in parliament can keep power for another two and a half years before its term expires.

The professor says that new elections now would certainly wipe away the SLPP.

Wickremesinghe would be likely to lose as well. He has served as prime minister several times, and has also run for president. Many considered him a spent force after his party won only a single seat in the parliamentary election of 2020.

Wickremesinghe has even facilitated Gotabaya’s return from exile, setting him up at a luxury mansion in a fancy neighbourhood in Colombo, the capital city. That privilege is usually granted to heads of state after completing their term.

Arjuna Ranawana is a Sri Lankan journalist.

Kategorien: english

Sri Lanka’s reform agenda is intimidating

9. Dezember 2022 - 12:30
To get IMF support, Sri Lanka must achieve the restructuring of existing loans

Sri Lanka’s sovereign debt became overwhelming in 2022. The total amount was estimated at a little over $ 50 billion with $ 6.9 billion worth of payments due in 2022, according to the central bank.

Sri Lanka’s current crisis was in the making for decades. The government had been borrowing money for a long time, mostly for infrastructure projects. Observers considered some of them to be vanity projects of the Rajapaksa family.

After taking office in late 2019, Gotabaya accelerated the crisis by taking several disastrous decisions. He cut tax tariffs for private-sector companies and wealthy individuals. He also abolished some compulsory taxation on private-sector employees. Accordingly, government revenues decreased. When the exchange of the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR) decreased, he forced the central bank to peg it to the US dollar at a below-market rate.

When forex-reserves dwindled, he imposed an import ban on fertiliser. That step compounded problems in agriculture because many farms depended on chemical inputs and could not convert to organic methods on short notice. The production of foreign-exchange earning commodities such as tea and rubber were affected negatively. In a country normally self-sufficient in rice, food shortages became crippling. Medicine and fuel became scarce too, as the prices of those imported goods rose fast.

As Sri Lanka became unable to service its foreign debt, the economy deteriorated fast. In July youth-led protests swept Gotabaya away. Ranil Wickremesinghe took over as president, appointed by the national parliament (see my comment on

The tip of the iceberg

Since Gotabaya left, some aspects of life have improved for ordinary Sri Lankans. The long lines at fuel pumps are gone. Instead, there are mandated fuel quotas. Power cuts which used to last up to eight hours a day have been reduced to around two hours. These are the results of relief measures made possible by emergency aid, provided mostly by India.

Shortages of medicines and food remain however. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other relief agencies have warned of severe malnutrition becoming worse. About 6 million Sri Lankans (30 % of the population) are deemed to suffer food insecurity, according to the WFP.

In a report released in October, the World Bank stated that the poverty rate in Sri Lanka doubled in 2022. It went up from 13.1 % to 25.6 %. The document pointed out that “the poverty rate in urban areas has tripled from five to 15 % between 2021 and 2022.” It also stated that 80 % of the poor still live in rural areas, and that half of the people in plantation areas are now below the poverty line.

The World Bank also predicted that the industry sector would likely decline by 11 % in 2022. The respective figure for services was minus eight percent. Together, that would mean the loss of over 500,000 jobs, the World Bank warned. Employees were expected to see the value of their incomes reduced by 15 %.

Remittances from migrant relatives normally account for 7.2 % of household incomes in the country. They also declined in 2022. Moreover, public services such as education and health are increasingly becoming difficult to access. The lack of fuel matters, but protests and related security measures are obstacles too.

What is visible in terms of need, is just the tip of the iceberg, says Dhananath Fernando of the think tank Advocata. Other observers agree. While daily life has improved to some extent, what lies beneath remains a serious challenge.

The difficult road ahead

Governance is indeed dysfunctional. For example, Sri Lanka is ranked 102 of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index this year.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a civil-society organisation, sees a “crying need for a change in the paradigm of governance”. In a recent essay, he bemoaned a culture of populism and impunity with no transparency and little accountability. Points he raised included:

  • Too many people rely on subsidies from the cradle to grave, while masses hardly get any government support at all.
  • Politicians have patterns of always promising more public-sector jobs and higher pay for civil servants before elections.
  • The country cannot afford to run loss-making state-owned enterprises.
  • Taxation must increase, not decline.
  • The military devours too many resources.

Saravanamuttu pointed out that “13 years after the war, we have over 250,000 members of the armed forces”, with the military budget eclipsing total expenditure on education and health.

The decades-long war with Tamil insurgents in northern and eastern Sri Lanka ended in 2009. At the time, Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was the president, and Gotabaya served as his Defence Secretary. Having won the war, Mahinda benefited from a triumphant populist sense of Sinhalese nationalism, was re-elected and stayed in office until 2015. He took loans from China at commercial rates for several large-scale projects – an international airport, a convention centre and a cricket stadium.

All of them are making losses, and so are state-owned enterprises like Sri Lankan Airlines. Overhauls are necessary, and related reforms need political determination. Most of the top positions were earlier held by political cronies.

Potential IMF support

A staff-level agreement between Sri Lankan officials and IMF has been concluded. It states that the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility will support the fragile economy with $ 2.9 billion for four years. However, the multilateral agency has set a condition. Before getting the money, Sri Lanka must get debt relief from creditors as well as additional financing from other multilateral partners. The IMF also wants to see Sri Lanka “making a good faith effort to reach a collaborative agreement with private creditors.”

According to the Fund, objectives of the new IMF programme include:

  • restoring macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability,
  • safeguarding financial stability,
  • protecting vulnerable communities,
  • addressing corruption and
  • unlocking Sri Lanka’s growth potential.

Already reeling under shortages, loss of work and earnings, the massive changes that are likely to come through the reform process means Sri Lankans, particularly the poor, are looking at a very difficult road ahead indeed.

The reform agenda is intimidating. Getting creditors to restructure debts will be difficult too. Observers say that Wickremesinghe so far has been paying more attention to other things, in particular suppressing protests and protecting the Rajapaksa clan (see box). Fernando from the Advocata think thank says: “We haven’t taken any steps towards getting reforms done”. This was the state of affairs when this essay was finalised in early December.

Arjuna Ranawana is a Sri Lankan journalist.

Kategorien: english

Copper price determines economic fate

8. Dezember 2022 - 15:23
Zambia's economic development is characterised by ups and downs

However, due to infrastructure shortcomings, the country relies heavily on a single industry: copper mining. It accounts for around 12 % of gross domestic product (GDP). Fluctuations in the world-market price of copper quickly affect the entire economy. In the past, falling prices frequently plunged the country into crisis.

Zambia has struggled for decades with high levels of national debt moreover. This problem is connected to copper exports. When the copper price collapsed in the 1970s, the country suffered an economic shock. To finance public spending and revitalise the economy, it borrowed from western banks. As a result, the national debt soared from $800 million to $ 3.2 billion.

When the United States raised interest rates in the late 1970s, Zambia found itself in a financial crisis. The dollar exchange rate rose, so servicing debt became much more expensive in the local currency (see André de Mello e Souza on

Back then, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Zambia an emergency loan, but made the financial aid conditional upon structural adjustment programmes. The measures required included freezing public sector salaries, liberalising trade and privatising state-owned companies.

Nevertheless, the national debt continued to grow. As the price of copper fell further, austerity proved a drag on growth, while liberalisation failed to bring the anticipated broad-based upswing. By the end of 2004, Zambia’s external debt had risen to $ 7.4 billion.

In 2005, however, the situation improved thanks to the multilateral Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). Debts totalling $ 6.6 billion were cancelled. Meanwhile, commodity prices rallied on the world market. Zambia enjoyed a number of good years with annual growth rates of seven to nine percent. In 2012, the government started borrowing heavily again to build infrastructure. China was now the biggest creditor.

But from 2015 onwards, growth fell back to an average of three to four percent. It then collapsed altogether in the coronavirus year 2020, with the economy contracting by 2.8 %. In 2021, however, Zambia experienced a moderate economic recovery with 4.6 % growth (see main story).

Peter Mulenga is lecturer in economics at Copperbelt University in Kitwe, Zambia.

Chibvalo Zombe is also lecturer in economics at Copperbelt University.

Charles Chinanda is a recent graduate of economics at Copperbelt University.

Kategorien: english

New money helps bail out bankrupt state

8. Dezember 2022 - 14:42
Zambia has often relied on IMF aid in recent decades

Even before the advent of Covid-19, Zambia was at high risk of overindebtedness (see Kathrin Berensmann on The mainstay of its economy is the production of copper, the world-market price of which is quite volatile. It had been falling in the years preceding the pandemic. Another important economic sector is agriculture, which has also suffered in recent years due to droughts.

Since 2006, Zambia has been struggling with a growing mountain of public debt. As a result, debt- servicing costs increased exponentially (Saungweme and Odhiambo, 2018). In 2019, the IMF conducted a debt sustainability analysis, which revealed that the debt burden was increasingly suffocating the economy and pushing Zambia towards national bankruptcy. The main cause was high budget deficits due to infrastructure spending, as experts from the World Bank subsidiary IDA (International Development Association) argued in 2019.

According to the IMF definition, debt sustainability means that a sovereign government is able to meet its current and future debt payment commitments without going into default or having to request additional financial assistance. In 2020, Zambia no longer met this criterion. It stopped servicing external debt in November. The country was found to have accumulated $ 17.3 billion in external debt. About a third of it was owed to Chinese lenders. The total debt amounted to around 120 % of gross domestic product (GDP).

The government of President Edgar Lungu hoped in 2020 that help would be forthcoming from the IMF. But its relations with the Fund were strained. In 2016, it had applied for a $ 1.6 billion aid package, which the IMF had never approved. Lungu was considered to be tainted by corruption and  lack of commitment to economic reform.

Multilateral complexity

The IMF has more confidence in the new President Hakainde Hichilema’s readiness to implement reforms. After the change of government in 2021, he concluded an agreement with the IMF. The Fund would grant a loan of around $1.3 billion to restore the country’s macroeconomic stability, but it would be conditional upon tough austerity measures and clear accountability.

The deal hinged on innovative debt restructuring, which has yet to be agreed and will involve all of Zambia’s creditors. That includes Chinese institutions. So far, China was normally generous in terms of postponing payment obligations, but very restrictive in terms of forgiving debt. According to the Common Framework for Debt Treatment, which the G20 adopted in 2020, an Official Creditor Committee for Zambia was established, and accordingly the IMF approved the $ 1,3 billion loan in the summer.

The Committee is chaired by France and China. The negotiations to set it up were difficult, and so are the talks regarding debt restructuring, with China demanding “clarifications” from the Zambian government and the IMF. An agreement is expected by the end of 2022 or soon after. It could serve as  a template for similar negotiations regarding other over-indebted countries.

The IMF has more confidence in the new President Hakainde Hichilema’s readiness to implement reforms. After the change of government in 2021, he concluded an agreement with the IMF. The deal hinged on innovative debt restructuring, which has yet to be agreed and will involve all of Zambia’s creditors. That includes Chinese institutions. So far, China was normally generous in terms of postponing payment obligations, but very restrictive in terms of forgiving debt. According to the Common Framework for Debt Treatment, which the G20 adopted in 2020, an Official Creditor Committee for Zambia was established, and accordingly the IMF approved the $ 1,3 billion loan in the summer. The Committee is chaired by France and China. The negotiations to set it up were difficult, and so are the talks regarding debt restructuring. A result is expected by the end of 2022. It could prove a template for similar negotiations regarding other over-indebted countries in the future.

The loan should enable Zambia to transform its budget deficit – currently running at six percent of GDP – into a surplus of 3.2 % by 2025. That will require massive cuts in public spending. Accordingly, the government has thus rolled back subsidies on fuel and food. Petrol and diesel prices have risen more than 50 % since it did so.

To generate sustainable tax revenues, the government is also seeking reforms in the 2023-2025 budget. It wants to create a predictable environment for the mining industry, including stable copper prices and better electricity supply. That will strengthen the economy and thus boost macroeconomic stability.

Uncertain future

Whether the reforms will succeed is uncertain. History shows that IMF programmes sometimes result in an upswing, but sometimes fail. It depends on a country’s economic situation. It also matters whether it is a low- or middle-income country.

Graham Bird and Dane Rowlands warned in an empirical analysis in 2016 that IMF conditions often proved harmful for low-income countries. According to the two researchers, budget cuts reduce aggregate domestic demand by too much and thus keep people in poverty.

Regardless of such criticism, the IMF programme is essential for the survival and revival of Zambia’s economy. Without the additional money, the Zambian government would have had no options at all. In such an emergency, the IMF is an important source of financing because commercial lenders hardly give new loans to insolvent borrowers – and if they do, they demand even tougher conditions.

This year, Zambia is on a good path. Growth rates of three to four percent are anticipated in 2022 and 2023. Thanks to the IMF loan, the government has a chance to achieve macroeconomic stability. At present, the country has a strong trade surplus and a stable exchange rate. However, experience shows that the situation can easily be reversed if the price of copper falls. Moreover, the fast appreciating US Dollar is making foreign loans more expensive, which affects all developing countries and emerging markets (see André de Mello e Souza on

Whether Zambia is on a sustainable course for the long term remains to be seen. Sooner or later it may well need IMF assistance again.

Saungweme, T., Odhiambo, N. M., 2018. An analysis of public debt servicing in Zambia: trends, reforms and challenges. Croatian International Relations Review, Vol. 24 No. 81.

Peter Mulenga is lecturer in economics at Copperbelt University in Kitwe, Zambia.

Chibvalo Zombe is also lecturer in economics at Copperbelt University.

Charles Chinanda is a recent graduate of economics at Copperbelt University.

Kategorien: english

The role of the IMF in the global debt crisis

7. Dezember 2022 - 16:03
How the IMF is delaying the debt crisis with its practice – a reform of debt policy is needed

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, and David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, are among the loudest voices calling for fast debt relief for critically indebted countries. But instead of encouraging countries that are at risk of debt distress to restructure their debt, the IMF has a pattern of avoiding this advice to individual cases. Country reports only mention debt restructuring rather hesitantly as a possible option. The IMF is similarly reluctant to make restructuring a precondition for granting new loans.

In more than 100 analyses that it conducted from November 2020 to January 2022, the IMF only cited debt relief as a possible option for five of 44 countries at high risk of over-indebtedness. The five countries are Angola, the Seychelles, Malawi, Chad and Suriname. Suriname was actually already in default, and debt restructuring negotiations were underway for Chad. In all other cases, the IMF either did not consider restructuring or did not mention it as a way to improve debt sustainability. This stance is problematic given that the IMF's recommendations serve as guidelines for governments.

Problems of the IMF's own making

This is even more relevant when the IMF serves as lender of last resort in a time of crisis. According to its own statutes, it may only lend to countries whose ability to repay the IMF is highly probable. If the IMF decides that this is not the case, it must make any new loan dependent on the country’s creditors reducing the burden by cancelling at least some of the debt.

This rule makes sense because a debtor state could otherwise use IMF money to postpone an inevitable debt restructuring, using the new loan to continue servicing the old ones. If a country is not just temporarily short of cash, but actually overindebted, however, it is most unlikely to get back on its feet again without debt relief.

If debts are paid with IMF loans, but restructuring later becomes unavoidable nonetheless, we must assume that some creditors will have pulled out of the country, shying away from any contribution to solve the crisis. By implication, multilateral lenders like the IMF would have to shoulder a larger burden and future debt restructuring would become even more difficult. The reason is that loans from multilateral lenders like the IMF are considered non-restructurable.

In the 1980s, debt was shifted from private to public multilateral lenders that way. As a result, many countries’ debt problems dragged on for a long time. When debt relief was finally granted, not all creditors contributed equally. A similar trend is evident in recent years

Record lending in the crisis

In 2022, the IMF lent money at record levels for the third year in a row. However, it also considers over half of low-income countries to be overindebted (see Kathrin Berensmann on The institution is clearly not adhering to its own guidelines. It has issued loans even in cases where it identified a high risk of overindebtedness, without demanding restructuring first.

While the IMF is very reluctant to recommend restructuring, it does not hesitate to demand rather stringent adjustment measures in debtor countries. Fiscal consolidation is the Fund’s standard recommendation to reduce the debt ratio. Thus budgetary cuts are now planned in 94 low- and middle-income countries for 2023, according to a report by public service experts.

This trend has been evident since the mid-2010s. It was only briefly interrupted in 2020 because of Covid-19. It is true that this is not in all cases due to IMF conditionalities. Nonetheless, the IMF is co-responsible for budget cuts being seen as unavoidable in many countries due to its annual surveys and recommendations.  

The most common consolidation measure in the global south is to reduce welfare spending. That is being planned in 88 countries. Social services will henceforth only be available to those who are supposedly truly needy, and a large share of low-income households will be excluded.

In order to increase revenues, governments typically do not rely on progressive taxes on income, corporate profits or wealth. Instead, they focus on consumption taxes which place the greatest burden on those with the lowest incomes. The costs of the debt crisis are thus passed on to the people. Internal IMF analyses show that measures of this kind often make the economic situation deteriorate further.


Downsizing relief

When debt restructuring negotiations do indeed begin, creditors rely on IMF calculations on the necessary debt relief envelope. In the past, the Fund has repeatedly minimised that need, for instance by making particularly optimistic forecasts about future economic growth. That happened in the case in Greece after 2010, for example.

Even today, such scenarios seem likely. Consider for example the cases of Sri Lanka and Zambia. In first, the IMF appreciates the necessity of restructuring, and in the second, related negotiations are underway. In both cases, however, the IMF based its calculations on budget surpluses that exceed those of neighbouring countries. With regard to Zambia, moreover, the IMF only recommended easing debt-service requirements, but did not propose cutting the debt level. The irony is that internal IMF studies show that restructuring tends to be more effective in restoring debt sustainability when they reduce the capital that must be paid back.

Influence on other creditors in restructurings

The current debt crisis is also marked by individual creditors – and groups of creditors – showing little interest in debt restructuring. The IMF could make a difference however.

First of all, multilateral development banks and the IMF should stop insisting that their claims cannot be restructured under any circumstances. In at least 38 low-income countries, multilateral obligations make up over 50 per cent of outstanding external debt. As long as the World Bank, the IMF and similar bodies refuse in principle to renegotiate their own claims, it is understandable that other creditors will also remain unwilling to make concessions.

Second, the IMF can exert pressure on uncooperative creditors through its lending policy. The Lending into Arrears Policy allows the IMF to make financing available to highly indebted countries even when they are in arrears to private or public creditors. Proactive use of this policy, like IMF Director Georgieva proposed in December 2021, could encourage creditors to agree to the necessary debt relief measures.

Reforming IMF practice

For a timely and fair solution to the current debt crisis, current IMF practice must change.

  • First of all, in the case of critically indebted countries, the institution should mention debt restructuring and debt relief as standard options in the annual country reports.
  • Second, when the debt burden of an applicant country is critical even though it is still servicing loans, restructuring must become a precondition of the IMF issuing a new loan.
  • Third, the conditions of debt relief must be based on realistic forecasts of a country’s future economic development.
  • Fourth, adjustment measures must not reduce benefits to vulnerable groups.
  • Finally, the IMF should use its resources to boost the willingness of other creditors to agree to debt relief. For that purpose, it must question the exempt status of its own claims in restructuring negotiations.

No sensible and detailed criticism of the IMF should lose sight of the fact that faulty IMF policies result from a structural inequality. On top of the reforms proposed here, it is thus necessary to reduce the IMF's scope of duties and distribute them among various institutions in the UN system, as Jürgen Kaiser proposed in 2018 on

Kristina Rehbein is a political coordinator at

Malina Stutz is a political consultant at

Kategorien: english

How Gambia’s truth commission made an impact

6. Dezember 2022 - 16:51
Gambia’s TRRC avoided shortcomings that marked previous truth commissions in other countries

Previous commissions, for example, had often excluded entire population groups from the proceedings. The pattern was that commissions secluded themselves. To some extent, they did not consider public involvement necessary or useful. In other cases, they lacked the means for facilitating more public participation.

In Gambia, the TRRC wanted the people to be involved. Every interested individual was supposed to see, hear and learn exactly what happened in the past. Victims could publicly name and shame their tormentors, and perpetrators could publicly confess their roles in the crimes. The goal was to minimise the scope anyone would have in future to deny that human-rights violations ever occurred.

In most previous cases, the members of truth commissions had done most of the work themselves, with some technical support from a secretariat and perhaps a few professionals. Commissioners were typically overwhelmed by their workload, which included investigations, hearing witnesses, documenting results et cetera. That often made them less effective than they might have been.

Two-pronged approach

Aware of these challenges, Gambia’s TRRC was built on the twin principles of inclusivity and transparency. Inclusivity meant that specialised units of the secretariat were involved in victim support and outreach activities. In what was called the “Never Again” campaign, they engaged communities across the country. The point of the campaign was to engage the Gambian people in a conversation on what happened, how it happened, why it happened and how best to prevent its recurrence. During that time, many victims’ organisations sprung up. They became involved in the TRRC hearings, outreach activities and, crucially, advocacy for justice for victims. These organisations are still active. In terms of transparency, the commission ensured that its events – public hearings and site visits – were not only broadcast live on TV and radio, but also streamed on social-media platforms. Anyone interested could follow and know exactly what was going on.

The results are encouraging (see main essay). Accordingly, many experts now consider the Gambian TRRC an example of best practice.

Baba G. Jallow is the former executive secretary of the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).

Kategorien: english

Learning lessons of the past in Gambia

6. Dezember 2022 - 16:43
Why a truth commission must not only assess the facts, but also engage the public in a lasting manner

Gambia’s National Assembly enacted the bill to establish the TRRC on 25 November 2017. The Commission started public hearings in January 2019 and submitted its final report with recommendations to President Adama Barrow in November 2021. It was a small, but nonetheless momentous ceremony at State House.

One month later, and in line with the demands of the TRRC Act, the government published the report on 24 December. In May 2022, it released its response in a white paper. For victims, their families and many other people in Gambia and beyond, it contained good news. The government accepted all but two of the commission’s 275 ­recommendations.

The two proposals it rejected concerned personal issues of an officer of the intelligence agency and ten judges from other West African countries. They were of minor relevance. That was similarly true a few months later, when the government decided against the amnesty of an army officer, who, according to the TRRC, had shown remorse and proved cooperative. That was also true of a further rejection some months later.

The most popular recommendations were to prosecute culprits for crimes against humanity. That obviously applies to Yahya Jammeh, the country’s former dictator who is now living in Equatorial Guinea. It also applies to his closest associates. Three members of his death squad, which was called “the Junglers”, are currently facing criminal charges in the USA, Switzerland and Germany under the principle of universal jurisdiction, according to which a court must not have jurisdiction over the place where crimes against humanity were perpetrated to start legal proceedings against perpetrators. It is therefore widely expected that even if Gambia does not move to prosecute Jammeh, universal jurisdiction will catch up with him someday and he will face prosecution in another country.

Important constitutional and cultural reforms

The prospect of taking a former head of state to court excites the public. Other recommendations, however, are no less important. The transformative mission of a truth commission depends on constitutional and cultural reforms that empower citizens and make government institutions accountable. Citizens must become able to speak up and thwart any attempts to violate fundamental rights.

The TRRC thus recommended reforms to prevent office holders from abusing their power and violating human rights. Other recommendations concern civic education, reconciliation and social cohesion, as well as reparations to victims.

The TRRC was established in fulfilment of an election campaign promise made by Barrow when he ran as a coalition candidate against the ousted dictator in 2016. The nation had suffered 22 years of brutal dictatorship. There had been many cases of torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances – and there were many related rumours. Many Gambians wanted to know the truth, so Barrow’s promise to create a truth-seeking mechanism was appealing. People also appreciated that he acted fast after taking office as president.

Typical objections

Nonetheless, it was not all smooth sailing. A small but critical mass of Gambians raised concerns. Some argued that the crimes of the former regime were well known, so perpetrators should simply be arrested and charged before a court of law. Some accused the government of using the truth commission as a smokescreen behind which they wanted to dodge more urgent responsibilities. Yet others insisted that since there had been no armed conflict in the country, the truth commission was a money-making venture for those involved and would not achieve anything. The TRRC was accused of being a witch-hunting exercise, and some refused to participate, insisting that Yahya Jammeh did not commit any crimes.

Objections of this kind are typically expressed whenever a truth commission is established. They serve the obvious purpose of shielding the perpetrators. Nonetheless, they must be taken seriously.

More generally speaking, the history of truth commissions in many countries warrants some scepticism regarding effectiveness. From Latin America to Asia and Africa, truth commissions have come and gone, guzzling millions of dollars in public funds, but ultimately leaving little positive impact on the societies concerned.

There are exceptions, of course, but by and large, the governments did not respond to the commissions’ work sufficiently. All too often, truth commissions operated well, but government authorities later ignored, downplayed or even refused to publish their final reports and recommendations. Where governments lose interest in transitional justice, they jeopardise the transition itself.

How to transform a culture in a short time

In Gambia, this risk was considered from the start. The people who ran the TRRC wanted to ensure it would become a transformative effort. The idea was to change the country’s civic culture in a way to make dictatorship, political impunity and gross ­human-rights violations inconceivable in the future. However, the TRRC only had a short mandate for achieving its goals.

The historical context of the country indicates that certain socio-cultural factors enabled Jammeh’s dictatorship. The despot obviously relied on his secret police, the National Intelligence Agency and his death squad. However, the silence and seeming acceptance of the brutality resulted from the country’s civic culture, especially the wide-spread belief that the government is a God-ordained institution. To most Gambians, opposing the king-like Jammeh thus felt like opposing God.

A truth commission cannot tease such issues out if it only focuses on individual cases of brutal repression. The TRRC therefore challenged the medieval notion of an all-powerful, infallible monarch and emphasised principles of a modern nation state with separate branches of government and inalienable rights of all citizens.

It also did what it could to involve the public, making sure to avoid shortcomings of previous commissions in other countries (see box). The strategy worked out well. Gambian society has changed in a profound way. Police brutality and power abuses have not ended, unfortunately, but they now regularly trigger protests. A culture of civic defiance has taken root, especially in urban areas, where traditional attitudes are not as strong as in the hinterland.

Baba G. Jallow is the former executive secretary of the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).

Kategorien: english