October 24, 2009
October 16, 2009
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When I was at University one of the core modules for my area of study Housing Management and development was DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THE LAW. Domestic violence was considered in the context of property rights but for the purpose of this article I would like to look at the impact of domestic abuse on the economy.
A tall order perhaps but bear with me whilst I illustrate my point.
The fact about domestic abuse is that it ebbs away at the confidence and self esteem of the person at the receiving end of it. It makes them question their self worth making ineffective in all areas of their lives.
Imagine if you will a woman who is responsible for ensuring that the family is fed, clothed and has to work the land to grow the food to feed the family but is beaten by her spouse on a daily basis!
In some cases she is indeed the sole bread-winner in the family as the man’s income is spent on alcohol! What sort of life would children growing up in such a household have to look forward too!
It is widely accepted well as least in the case of African countries that the economic development of these countries rests with women. That being the case what would happen if women are ordinarily unable to participate in economic generating activities due to domestic abuse?
Does society owe such women the duty of care to secure the economic development of a county? What form should that care take?
I am happy to note that in Nigeria steps are being taken to address the issue of domestic abuse. The idea is to provide some for of safe house for women and children fleeing domestic abuse. You can read the rest of the story here
The question is most African countries are so conservative, how will such a facility go down in society? Will women have the courage to seek support and refuge in such a facility?
What will their peers make of it?
My first job as a Social Housing practitioner saw me in charge of just such a facility here in the UK and it gave women new hope and a chance to rebuild their lives and those of their children.
I am therefore hopefully that this type of facility becomes common practice in African countries too.
As usual your points of view are welcome
September 30, 2009
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Roman Polanski was recently arrested in Switzerland over a crime committed in the USA way back in 1978. The world of film has vowed to stand by him and many have signed a petition to have him released.
What has caught my attention in all this was a radio interview I heard the other day in which the views of ordinary Swiss and US folk were solicited.
Those in USA were of the view that regardless of what time has elapsed the Swiss authorities were right to arrest Polanski whilst those in Switzerland were of the view that, it was wrong to arrest Polanski especially given the time taht has elapsed and he should released immediately.
A comment from a Swiss woman stood out for me in particular she said,
Switzerland tolerates terrible crimes all the time why are the authorities so fussed about an incident that is over 30 years old?
An interesting if not curious statement to make, and what sprung to mind was all the money that the corrupt african leaders have reportedly hidden in secret Swiss accounts over the years, whilst their country folk die of hunger!
Is this what the Swiss woman was referring to? I don’t know for sure but I certainly wondered.
So is it right that Swiss banks should if it is true allow African leaders to steal from their countries and hide their loot in the Swiss bank vaults? If Africans asked the Swiss authorities to return this loot would they?
Should Switzerland be focusing on this instead of a crime committed in 1978 in which the victim has since dropped the charges?
My answer is of course not, abuse of any sort should not be tolerated regardless of the amount of time that has elapsed.
However the Swiss authorities need to be more consistent in their approach as opposed to being selective as to which crimes they will prosecute
September 4, 2009
This week I have been looking at the notion of money and poverty in Africa. The question I get asked often and one I would like to try and answer in this thread is How do things work on the ground?.
I will approach it from the point of view of the women I work with and draw from my visit to Tanzania and Uganda in 2008.
Having left Omari I was collected from my hotel by Flotea one of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers. She was two hours late and I was unhappy about this until I heard her reasons.
Flotea is an amazing woman who left school at a very young age with no qualification to speak of this meant that she was excluded from formal employment and the only skills she had were embroidery skills. she started out by making table linen and curtains for her own home, when her neighbours saw the quality of her work they asked if she could make home furnishings for them too and soon word had got out and she had a list of customers. She soon outgrew the space in her two room house, and had to extend it, as well as widening her range to include African tote bags Flotea’s idea has grown beyond her imagination and today she employees 30 women from the slums of Dar es Salaam. She shares what skills she has with women less fortunate than she is through workshops on textile production and design
After the initial pleasantries I asked her about her morning and it transpired that she wanted to expand her business so that she can take on more staff. In order to do so she wanted to move to larger premises built from scratch and for two years she had been trying to buy a piece of land for the new premises without much luck.
She had therefore decided to hand over the whole matter to a Solicitor and that meeting had over run and therefore she couldn’t get to me on time. I was truly shocked by what Flotea had just told me which seemed to validate part of what Omari had told me earlier that morning.
I could see clearly why it was important to have commercial systems streamlined and made more efficient to enable businesses to function more effectively. How on earth do you expand a business when acquiring a piece of land for the new premises is a two year process and that is before the construction process begins? I told Flotea about my meeting with Omari and the general points we had covered especially the MONEY!
Flotea looked me in the eye and said “I pity any African who believes that some external person/outsider will come and resolve our problems, because I tell you what they will be waiting for a long time”
This is a strong statement and it raised another question in my mind. African women like Flotea are not expecting handouts and expect to work hard in order to get ahead all things being equal, so why do we in the West have this notion of giving more money?
As we continue the conversation about my morning Flotea is not very keen to be drawn on the issues of what happens to the AID money. She insists that the politicians have the answers to this question. She felt that institutions do not appear to have any interest in the small man on the street therefore she just minds her own business!
Flotea argued that the government merely plays lip service to women’s issues and that in fact unless women work together to share skills and resources they are unlikely to succeed. She told me that there are large numbers of women in Tanzania involved in textile production however there is no institution where these women can go and learn about textile and design. They instead rely on skills sharing where those who know teach those that do not. In her mind this is the one thing that would change life for most women especially the slum dwellers.
Other challenges included
- Lack of IT and communication skills
- Access to markets the lack of information means they don’t always know what market demands are
I spent the rest of the afternoon and the best part of the evening with Flotea and her team and I taught them how to use email and PICASA Google’s photographs programme. this would enable them to share photos of their products with folk all over the world. Flotea appreciated this and as I left her she told me this is what we need people to come in and share what they know with us!
So there you have it folk, for women like Flotea, it really isn’t about the money! In the enxt post I will introduce another of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers whose view is somewaht different from that of Flotea. In the mean time if you have a view either way on any of the issues raised here please share it
September 2, 2009
Yesterday, I introduced the notion that ending poverty in Africa was not simply about giving more money. I asked the question why governments were not promoting more sustainable models.
A model that I am especially interested in is called RAISE TRADE, and the idea behind this concept is the move away from exporting of raw materials from developing nations and adding value else where. The founder of this model Neil Kelsall is the brains behind a very successful Malagasy chocolate based on the RAISE TRADE model. This model departs from the models that enable cooperatives in Africa to simply own shares of companies as the well as the Fairtrade models, and enables value to be added at source which increases income for the producer as well as the government through tax revenues which is not possible if value is added elsewhere.
How might this work in practice?
Take OTTIMO CAFFE, a specialist coffee roaster from North London looking to source his coffee in a more ethical way, a Uganda based coffee cooperative looking to add value to their coffees before the coffee is exported, so they can earn a higher price for their produce, a government looking to earn more tax revenue from its cash crop , an investor looking to invest in a socially responsible venture, that will bring him good returns at the same time and finally a retailer who must source his products more ethically because his customers demand it!
Everyone of these people have some expertise to bring to the table and the overall goal here is to produce a fully processed coffee that can be exported to the western world at the Cooperative headquarter in Uganda. This is indeed that live case that I am involved in and I have been responsible for bringing all the parties together. I must add that it is early days yet as we work the details out but all the parties are in agreement that this is the way forward in the fight against poverty.
If this model is that fantastic I hear you say, why isn’t it being adopted on a much wider scale? Well that is the question I would like an answer too. But one thing is certain, this is doable and Neil has proved that. Is it therefore a case of committment on the aprt of decision makers, Businesses, Retailers or investors? Who is responsible for making this practice wide spread?
The fashion industry has in many ways lead the way in the VALUE ADD movement, they have however let themselves down by unfair practices especially the working conditions of the producers, we have all heard about PRIMARK being associated to the so called sweat shops.
Do you have a view on any of the issues raised here? Please share it, in the meantime take a look at Neil’s presentation below.
In the next blog, I will bring to life a conversation I had with the CEO of the Investment Facility of Africa and you will learn why poverty in Africa is simply not about money
September 1, 2009
Yes I know, a strange statement to make and over the next few days I will epxlain myself and hopefully it will make sense.
An awful lot of money has been poured into Africa by way of loans and grants but some African countries remain desperately poor and the debates as to why this is continue. For the purpose of this blog and the ones that will follow over the enxt few days, I have drawn on my experience as an African woman and by virtue of my work with African women involved in textile and handicraft production to explore some of the reasons why ending poverty is not simply about the money. The views I put forward are mine as well as those of the women I work with and others I come across during the of course of my work.
What is it about the money?
We have all heard the saying “money isn’t everything”, Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar took this one step further when he said “money isn’t everything but it is up there with oxygen”. This is certainly very true of the many desperately poor and hunger stricken Africans. By the end of the series, I hope to have demonstrated that money is only part of the equation
The one thing that most folk agree on is that AID in the form of money has failed because it doesn’t necessarily get to those that need it, it creates dependency and several reasons have been put forward as to why this is. There two reasons that really stand out in my mind’s eye one is VULTURE FUNDS the other is EXCLUSION
These funds work on the basis of buying up third world debt, knowing very well that the third world country is so poor and is unlikely to pay and when this become evident the “vultures” pounce.What is shocking about this is that these vultures are not breaking the law well not here in the UK anyway. There is however an irony in this because the third world country is unlikely to pay and the only way that country can pay is by dipping into the AID that is allocated to it for health, education, or food. Furthermore, AID is made available through our Tax system and as such we the Tax payers are putting money into these vultures’ pockets. So as you can see there are really circumstances when the money simply doesn’t get to the destined country let alone folk on the ground.
The desperately poor in Africa are amongst the most excluded people in the world. As such these folk do not know their rights or how to fight for them. The exclusion is wide spread and takes many forms, social, political, economic, health, education etc and when any part of a population or an individual is excluded in all those areas it becomes near impossible to eradicate poverty, disease, etc. It is also means that these folk are unable to take those in power to task on matters of accountability when it comes to AID.
The question one asks is whether it is best to give these people money or to empower them/address their exclusion. If giving more money isn’t necessarily the answer to ending poverty what is, and why aren’t govenments looking at different ways/models of ending poverty? Models that seek to bring about accountability, responsibility, sustainability and above all dignified ways out of poverty
I will explore the issue about money from the point of view of people on the ground in the next blog
August 27, 2009
BBC 2 is currently running a series of documentaries that are looking at the FUTURE OF FOOD fronted by former Fair Trade patron George Alagiah both here in the UK and the rest of the world generally.
The first episode looked at the issue food security and water in particular and showed the lengths to which a Punjab based wheat farmer goes too to access water to irrigate the wheat that is headed to the west and the level of debt this has left him with whilst elsewhere in Punjab some have committed suicide as they could not cope with the level of debt they were in nor could they see a way out.
This week’s episode has left me (us) with some dilemmas. With European waters over fished and dwindling supplies, we are heading further a field to look for fish and one of the countries at the receiving end of our quest for fish is Senegal a relatively poor African country. Fish is a vital part of the diet of the coast villages in Senegal but with the arrival of European fishing boats, these locals don’t stand a chance and one fisherman said "he simply wishes they would go away". The consequences of the Europeans fishing Senegalese waters has meant that fish in Senegal has become so expensive that most local people can’t afford it!
The story moves on to a farm in Kenya that grown green beans for UK supermarkets. I was having dinner whilst watching this part and on my plate was grilled Salmon, mangetout, grilled courgettes and tomatoes and I must admit to struggling to finish it.
The Kenyan story is very sad indeed. A country that grows and exports a lot of food to the UK but has to rely on UN FOOD AID to feed its people! Perfectly good beans being rejected because they have a bit of soil on them or are the wrong shape!
The programme touched on the issue of Bio fuel. Yes we need to protect the environment and one way is to check our fuel consumption and the sources of fuel. But is it fair to take away farming land form rural people that use it for growing food and turn it into a field for bio fuel crops that neither people nor animals can eat?
What about feeding cattle on cereals/grains in order to fatten them whilst some people can’t access this cereal for food? I sincerely don’t know what the answers to these questions are, but all I know is that we need to address these issues one way or another.
As George said we have some tough choices to make especially here in Europe. Our food choice is currently threatening the food and water security of some of the poorest people in the world. It would appear too that we face unknown future in as far as our own food security is concerned unless we rethink how we farm and eat.
Is the way forward to "GROW" our own? Is the ethical thing to do to farm our own fish instead ot taking fish from those that need it the most? What about our shopping habits? Are supermarkets simply giving in to our demands of super perfect Kenyan green beans?
Have you got a view on any of the issues raised here? Please share it! I would urge to to watch George’s programmes on BBC 2 or iplayer