International Policy


That is according to David Lane speaking at the Pittsburg G-20 . He reasons that Africa has over 1 billion producers and consumers of services of goods. He calls for G20 to make Africa part of the solution to ending poverty in Africa and further more that the next G20 meeting should be held in Africa.

I must say that I agree with him on all accounts.

Yes  he is right in the first instance that Africa has an awful lot of consumers and suppliers.  Africa is also the producer of some of the high end/value products in the world such as diamonds, gold, petrol, coffee, cocoa etc but these products are merely extracted and taken to consumers elsewhere, and when returned the African’s almost always can’t afford them, and those that can often have to travel millions of millions to be able to consume these products. Does any of this make sense to you?

The next point – the next G20 meeting should be held  in Africa and the campaign has started and if you agree please add your name here

 

Africa is almost always part of the agenda at these summits with leaders of the richest countries in world pledging more help for the continent, however these meetings are never held in Africa, unlike  the COMMONWEALTH HEAD OF STATES

 
I can imagine that a lot of money is spent at these meetings, imagine therefore what such a meeting would do for the economy of a small central African country, like Rwanda, Burundi or Uganda, unless of course the organisers of such a meeting opted to fly in everything that would be used, including food service staff etc. But even then, there would inevitably be a trickle down of sorts.

 The economic benefits aside, if you have a matter to resolve with someone isn’t it best that you go to them and do this face to face. Some of the points that come out these meetings regarding Africa are , MAKE AFRICA LEADERS MORE ACCOUNTABLE, END CORRUPTION, IMPROVE GOVERNANCE,  and so on and so forth, but  if the leaders of Africa only ever here this on TV and radio, wouldn’t they be forgiven for thinking it has nothing to do with them,  a sort of hearsay, Afterall would you take anyone seriously who talked about you behind your back? The natural reaction is one of IF YOU HAVE  SOMETHING TO SAY TO ME,,,,,,

Obama and Clinton have led the way to going to the leaders of Africa and given them some tough love and I do hope that the G20 will follow in their footsteps. They are currently discussing how to lift the world out of the recession but surely the recession is worse amongst the bottom billion of Africa.

 Can the G20 ever see Africa as a key economic player and not a basket case that needs hand out? Is this indeed the solution to Africa’s  ending poverty? Can a whole continent be lifted  out of poverty by AID? Of course not treating Africa as  an economic partner,  a consumer and supplier of goods would go along way to resolving te poverty. food shortages etc experienced by its people.

 

If you have a view either way, I would like to hear from you as usual

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If you have followed my blog the over the past  week, you are now at the end of my journey through East Africa.

Leaving Africa I headed back to the UK where I live with a renewed sense of I MUST DO MORE TO HELP GET THESE WOMEN HANDICRAFTS AND TEXTILES TO MARKET!

I had seen women in dire circumstances but doing whatever they could to help themselves out of poverty, without feeling sorry for themselves whatever neither did they ask for handouts of money. One by one they asked that we  share our skills with them so that they could improve their products and be able to compete in world markets, they asked for  fair access to world markets and skills to enable them to serve the sick in their communities!

I also felt that although money was important to kick start programmes it was not necessarily the only factor in efforts to end poverty for reasons of exclusion and practices such as those of Vulture Funds amongst other things. In my minds eye the answer lay in Trade as this is a more sustainable route out of poverty and yet Africa lags behind other continents in trade terms and international trade is very low.

It is largely agreed that the economies of countries cannot grow or be sustained on the basis of international loans or grants. This is certainly true for African women too. The governments/economies lending or giving the money do not have an infinite amount from which to lend/give indefinitely. As well as being unsustainable it is undignified.

Consideration should be given to the kind of trade that adds value at source wherever possible to enable governments to generate income through increased tax revenue. The process of value addition must encompass investments in human resources to ensure that women in particular have the right skills to lift their families out of poverty. There are more details about this on www.raisetrade.com

I hope that my recent blogs have given you the reader an insight of what life if like for folk on the ground and that it ahs demonstrated that resolving poverty in Africa is not simply about the money. I would be interested in others’ view points as well as experiences on issues relating to poverty in Africa

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

Flotea

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

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

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

In the last two posts, I wrote about some of the reasons why money isn’t the only missing link in the fight against poverty as well as   RAISE TRADE a new form of trading that brings various stakehaolder together with the view to promoting the notion of VALUE ADD. Over the next few days I will  explore the money issue further and I will present you with conversations that I had with people I work with in Africa.  

I begin with the question  IF IT REALLY ISN’T ABOUT THE MONEY  WHAT ELSE IS THERE?  I answered this question in part in the previous post I will therefore draw from my first conversation to explore it further.

You may recall Tony Blair’s 2005 Commission for Africa, (Blair’s Commission) one of the decisions that came out the commission was the establishment of the Investment Climate Facility for Africa or ICF. The ICF is charged with helping African countries to create a more attractive business environment and realise its potential as a global trading partner. It works to remove real and perceived obstacles to domestic and foreign investment by assisting Africans to prepare and promote the continent as an investment destination (source ICF 2003)

The ICF is based in Africa and in August 2008 I called in on the Chief Executive Omari Issa in Dar es Salaam Tanzania to find out more about their work.

 

I began by asking him about the money. I have heard it said that money is the number one priority and as such a lot of emphasis has been placed on making it easier for people in African and women for that matter to access finance/loans for business

 

Omari: I would argue that money is only part of the equation as we have discovered here at the Investment Climate Facility for Africa

That is interesting would you run me through the issues as you understand them?

Omari: Money is not the only constraint preventing folk from starting and running businesses and whilst access to finance is important it is not the primary factor If we consider the group of women you work with at Ethnic supplies,

1. Education, awareness and skills are the number one priorities that must be addressed to ensure economic success for small to medium business and these are mostly owned by women

2. When we break these down you will appreciate their importance. If you take an example of example one of your producers in Madagascar in order for them to generate an income from their baskets certain conditions must be in place

3. She needs to know where the market is and how she can access that market

4. Secondly she needs to develop her product to such a level as to be acceptable by that market,

5. then she needs to put together a business plan to demonstrates a bankable business

Would you care to elaborate on the last point please?

Omari: Well the banks here have a lot of money that they would like to lend people, I know as I used to work for such institutions. However the banks need reassurance that the person to whom they are lending the money will be able to repay it and the only way they can know is through a business plan. Women also need to demonstrate that they can handle balance sheets and this is a question of skills. An important factor is the environment in which businesses are run and that is where ICF comes in

How so?

 Omari: The environment in which to run a business is important as is money. The environment covers issues such as Customs and Exercise, access to Legal systems that expedites commercial disputes, property ownership, political stability, speedy Company registration even issues such as power outage

Why is power outage such an issue?

Omari: Imagine a Woman who owns a hairdressing saloon but can’t afford a generator if there was a power outage on a Saturday which is ideally her busiest day of the week for her how much business would she lose? Most of the large corporations have access to generators and are therefore not necessarily affected by power outages and as it happens this was the case when I went to a barbers last Saturday  (22.8.08) instead of going elsewhere I was happy to have my hair cut the traditional way with scissors otherwise the barber would have lost my business

 

 How does easy and fast business registration help?

 

Omari: It is important that the setting up of and running of businesses is streamlined, barriers to importing and exporting of goods is made easier by clear and easy to understand customs and exercise regulation? The efficient Customs and Exercise practice and speedy business registration are necessary but are these need to matched up with skilled people on the ground If you can step back and consider a woman who has to travel at least 6 to 8 hours to register a business, by the time she arrives to the Company House office chance are that they will have closed for the day upon her arrival or as is currently the case in most African countries she has to see several people in order to complete the registration process. If that process were to take 8 months how much money would she have lost in bus fares?

 

He did have a point and I know and work with such a woman, a Masaai woman named Julia a widow who was expelled from her village but has 12 Aids orphans to raise and does so by making and selling beads.

 

Thinking about women in particular are there key issues that prevent them from achieving economic independence?

Omari: women work harder than men and are willing to work together. In fact women’s co-operatives are more successful than men’s. By addressing the issues discussed here it becomes easier to run successful enterprises especially smaller ones owned by women.

It is all very well working to improve the investment Climate in Africa, but what about people like Julia. How does she benefit? She only speaks Swahili and has to rely on people who can speak English and live in the city to access buyers of handicrafts such as Ethnic Supplies. For instance she missed out on an order earlier in the year because the head of the co-o-op she belongs to failed to get to her.

 

Omari: that is where good management come in and this come from good education skills and awareness

 

As I left Omari, I felt that we had had a good conversation and I had a clearer understanding of what ICF is trying to achieve. But it seemed to me that whilst the folk at ICF are doing their best to improve the business environment it will be sometime before this is felt at the bottom of the African society, I wondered too  how soon the benefits of this system could be felt by women like Julia.

I also reflected on two conversations I had had with two female African High Commissioners in London. One of them is a strong advocate for Micro finance. I told her that I thought Micro finance was a good idea however that women that are lent this money need access to a much wider market to enable them to repay the loans. In addition that I was aware in some rural areas especially, these women had become victims of loan sharks. She was of the opinion that a much wider market isn’t necessary as people can do business locally and succeed.

The conversation I had with the second High Commissioner concerned Micro loans given by an organisation called HABITAT FOR HUMANITY. The basis of their work is decent shelter for all and they are very active in this particular High Commissioner’s country. Typically money will be give for the purchase of a piece of land on which the recipient can build a basic two room house. She was of the view that whilst people need decent places to live without jobs they will never be in a position to repay such loans. Do you see a chicken and egg situation in the two conversations?

In the next post I will write about  the person I met after I left Omari. She unknowingly validated everything Omari told me.

If you have a view about any of the issues raised here or simply want to join the conversation, please do so!

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

Vulture Funds

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.

Exclusion

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

The basis of my work at Ethnic Supplies is enabling women if Africa to lift themselves out of poverty. This work bring me in contact with heart wrenching situations especially women that have been abandoned by their husbands and been left holding the babies so to say.

Besi, Milka and Flo

Besi, Milka and Flo

On my last visit to Kabale SW Uganda I was introduced to the basket weavers in this picture. Besi’s  story was especially sad. She has nine children and her husband had just abandoned her for a younger woman. With no formal employment or land of her own, the situation was desperate until she found Edirisa a local NGO and through them she was able to access buyers such Ethnic Supplies.

Milka and Flo on the other hand, have husbands at home who have no formal employment, and earn money as casual labourers, but this money is never available for the family to use and is instead spent on beer. I asked the ladies how they use the money the earn from selling baskets and they told me that mostly on the children’s education and health care.

African women have a great deal of responsibility for the family and I strongly believe that they hold the key to economic development.

Earlier today I came across this article from Voice of America  that highlights America’s commitment to the education of African girls  through USAID and quotes Hillary Clinton’s article in a South African paper in which she too agrees that  empowering women is the key to global progress and prosperity

This is serious stuff folk, and I often wonder where I would be if my father like Besi’s husband had decided to abandon us, after all at the time of my birth girls were not afforded an education as they were expected to get married as early as 13 years of ages.  Organisations such as the Commonwealth Council work very hard to ensure that girls in the common wealth have access to a decent education and you may recall my post about their work earlier this year. If you missed it here it is

One thing that puzzles me however, is that most African men I have come across on my journey with Ethnic Supplies agree that women need to be helped to become financially independent as they are the core of family and community life, but why isn’t this message getting through to some of the men, like Bessie’s husband?

Do we need to re focus our efforts and resources on the men instead?

Why is Mrs Clinton really in Africa?

Is the US African Growth Opportunity ACt helping African women?

Tune in as we explore reason behind her visit

http://www.voxafrica.com/modx/en/ShootTheMessenger/agoa-whose-growth-and-whose-opportunities

If you have got this  far please share your thoughts

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