Poverty in Africa

Today is 15 October 2009 and Blog Action Day 09 is here! Blog Action day sees bloggers around the world write blogs on an issue that affects humanity and this year the theme is CLIMATE CHANGE

I thought I would add a twist to it by looking at climate change and poverty as I strongly believe that these two go hand in hand in the parts of the world where my work is based.

On the whole the people I work with in East Africa are in rural areas and live off the land. This means that they rely on the land for food and financial security. In a typical village with a woodland and river streams, the trees and land will provide building materials for shelter, fuel and the river will provide water and fish. The trees are cut down both for fuel but also to make charcoal that is sold on mostly to city and town dwellers. They also rely on the land to provide recreation and entertainment!

How I hear you ask, well for a start they grow all the ingredients for fruit juice and alcohol, and again trees and animal hides are used in the making of music instruments. There are no cinemas, theatres, Supermarkets, there is no electricity and they cannot turn a tap on for water. This is their lot!

The other type community I work with are slum dwellers. These are mostly folk that have left the sort of life I have described above to try their luck in the city! They live in the most appalling environment you can imagine and I would argue that the folk in rural setting have a much better quality of life than the slum dwellers. Their environment is littered with plastic bags, stagnant water that attracts malaria causing mosquitoes, they may have electricity but this is unreliable and expensive and therefore the most popular fuel here is charcoal and paraffin. They often cook in the same room they sleep in.

The activities of both these communities are bound to have an impact on climate change through land degradation and activists have started to take action to get folk in these communities to change their ways.

On my last visit to Uganda in May this year I met a coffee  grower whose family have grown coffee for 50 years! His entire crop is being threatened by a virus called coffee wilt, the same virus affects banana trees. This is a real threat to his livelihood. Coffee trees need shelter from the harsh African sun and this shelter  is provided by the banana trees. The same land is used to grow vegetables such as beans, carrots and potatoes in a system called inter cropping.  This means that the household has food security and income from coffee.

One morning old man Hassan had a visit from a government official who requested that he gives up part of his land to plant pine trees in order to help the environment. The pine trees would be provided for free and there maybe a cash incentive too! Old Man Hassan said NO and I asked him why?

I have two daughters due to go to university and that has been possible because of coffee and they are about to cost me more in fees and maintenance for  pre=”for “>whislt at university over the next 4 years. How will afford to keep them at University if I cut down the coffee trees and plant Pine instead? furthermore, how will we as a family feed ourselves if we give over the land to Pine growing?

I could see his reasoning, there is no welfare state to take care of his basic needs, he has  no hope of accessing AID to help him directly with his priorities as he sees them, should he care about planting more trees for the sake of the environment?

I have recently written about the effects of plastic bags on poverty in the developing world and you can read about that here.

Plastic bags are also the route cause of sewer blockages and this is leads to stagnant water in city slums that attract mosquitoes. Our reaction here in the developed world has been to send mosquito nets. In this CNN report Ozwald Boateng and his colleague Hassan Kimbugwe ask why not get rid of the sewers that provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes?

Mbuya slum, Kampala Uganda

These slum dwellers have found ways of earning an income and cleaning up the environment at the same time. A project in Burkinafaso sees women collecting plastics bags from their streets and making handbags out of them, whilst the women in Uganda make beads out of paper . These projects are very exciting from the point of view that they provide income for the women but also provide a means of recycling both paper and plastic in countries where recycling is not part of the fabric.

They are some tough questions that remain, one that springs to mind

Can we realistically protect the environment and lift folk out of poverty at the same time?

Route N2 Madagascar

We here in the west are demanding more recyclable materials such as Sisal and as we can’t grow them the developing world is growing them for us. But did you know that this may involve cutting down forests or woodlands?

laundry Antisarabe Madagascar

As usual if you have a view or thoughts on any of the issues raised here please share them

The debate to save the environment continues all over the world, folk. An item that many of us have used for years and perhaps continue to use without due regard is the plastic bag.

The dangers of plastic bags on ocean life are well document but some folk may not be aware of how plastic bags contribute to poverty in Africa and other developing countries.

How, I hear you ask? Well imagine this, in developed countries when we think about assets, to most of us it’s the homes we own, valuable jewellery etc in some developing countries especially in rural areas, their assets are goats, cows, sheep and other live stock. These are what people trade to send children to school, buy anti malaria tablets etc.

Most African countries do not have the means to recycle plastic bags; in addition some folk are not yet aware of the dangers of carelessly discarding plastic bags.

Imagine therefore if you will a situation where a family wakes up and their prized goat is dead because it swallowed a plastic bag that was carelessly disposed of! I have seen this with my own eyes and the despair in people’s eyes when they realised what had happened

Some African governments such as the Ugandan government have realised the effect of plastic bags on the environment and outlawed them in 2007 and incredibly whilst in some circles this was welcomed there was outrage in others.

Some amongst you may donate clothing to send out to Africa, like plastic bags there are no facilities to recycle nylon and other artificial fabrics; these too end up on agricultural land causing untold damage. Please therefore bear this mind, next time you donate an item of clothing to be sent out to Africa.

There is one thing that doesn’t make sense even to me, African women weave the most amazing baskets, which are environmentally friendly, and are free unlike the plastic bags, why then do folk out there chose to use plastic bags instead?

Over the past two weeks I have written about my travels in East Africa last year and what poverty in Africa is really like and shared the views of folk I work with on the ground. In the last thread I wrote about the folk in Ruhanga  and the search for clean water

Leaving Ruhanga behind I headed to Kampala the capital city of Uganda and I reflected on a statistic, I had read in that days’ paper

it said “the gap between the rich and the poor has widened in Uganda and life expectancy has dropped to 43 due to HIV and AIDS

If that is the case where is the country headed I wondered and being 43 myself (at the time) that means I am considered very old here whilst the UK where I live  I potentially have another 30 or 40 years of life ahead of me!

Once in Kampala I called in on the Mbuya Charity who are based in the slums of Kampala and support women affected by HIV and AIDS.

Mbuya is a suburb of Kampala and on the face of it is pretty affluent, it is home to some in the expat community, local celebrities as well the rich of Uganda. But dig deep and you come across appalling slums especially with an area referred to as zone 6.

The Chair person of Mbuya charity Jolly Wako lives in zone 7 this too has pockets of slums especially where Jolly lives incredibly her house borders a trendy bar is separated by a fence ironically called Zone 7, this bar belongs to a local celebrity and his brothers.

Jolly’s husband died in a motor accident and she has had to bring up their children single handily and against all odds  2 have made it to University and she expects the third to follow suit.

I came across this charity through an online registry calling itself Uganda Women’s network. As it was not possible for me to visit in person a company representative went to check them out and reassured me that this is a group that we could work with

I am therefore here to meet the group for the very first time and learn about their work, hopes and fears, successes and challenges. When arrive Jolly is at home alone and explains that this being a Wednesday it is a day for outreach work and as such most of the women are out in the field.

Jolly in Blue with a straw mat weaver

Jolly in Blue with a straw mat weaver

I ask what is involved in the outreach work.

Jolly: most of the 120 women are HIV positive and are on medication as well as receiving counselling. The out reach workers ensure that the women take their medication correctly,  are well fed as well as encouraging slum dwellers to go for HIV tests.

The group aims are to encourage peer support especially as regards to income generating activities. Jolly informs me that they have no support from anyone.

I ask her what sort of support/help the group is looking for?

Jolly: our biggest challenge is lack of counselling skills! Most of the women we work with need a trained counsellor to help them come to terms with their diagnosis. We do our best but we are hardly qualified for the task at hand. It would be great if we could access such training so that we can do the much needed work.

We are grateful to our friends who are helping us access external markets with our handcrafts and beads. Are aware that as soon as people realised that we were making beads suing old calendars and magazines they started selling them to us?
No I wasn’t aware I was surprised but realised too how naïve I was. Of course old calendars and magazines are raw materials for Jolly and her group who require them in their business in order to produce beads for sale and quite rightly those that have this raw material would sale it to them as this is income for them too. This got me thinking about all the magazines and old calendars that are thrown away in the UK perhaps a subject for another article

Before I left Jolly, I put in a call to a contact of mine at the Saatchi and Saatchi branch of Kampala who agreed to give Jolly and her group the free paper they need for the beads.

He was surprised when I told him where I was calling from the owner of the trendy bar next door is his best friend but he had no knowledge of the poverty beyond the perimeter wall!

housing poverty Mbuya zone 6 Uganda

housing poverty Mbuya zone 6 Uganda

The contrast between the homes of the poor and the rich here is astounding. The rich people’s homes are set in large grounds with perimeter walls along with large dogs to keep the undesirables out. over the fence are rusty tin houses with no running water or inside toilets, the people in these slums share a  communal latrine, (the two door shed in the above picture)  children run around with shoes on their feet these are the very people that clean and scrub the homes of the rich they  are grateful to have such work as it brings in a much needed income and they are fed

better housing beyond the perimeter wall

better housing beyond the perimeter wall

It is hard not to be overwhelmed by some of the things I see during the course of my work, but my visit to this Ugandan Charity pulled a few heart strings. As an individual there is very little I can do to change these women’s circumstnaces. What they asking for is simply someone to shae skills with them  is that too much?

If you would like to help Jolly and the Mbuya charity please get in touch. If you have views or thoughts you would like to share regarding any of the issues raised here, it will be a pleasure to here from you

Last week I wrote about my visit to Dar es Salaam  Tanzania and conversations I had with Omari from the Investment Facility for Africa, as well as Ethnic Supplies textile producersFlotea and Elihaika. In this post I will present the points of view from folk in Uganda

I was in a contemplative mood as I left Tanzania for Uganda and tried to take in the conversations I had, had with Omari, Flotea and Elihaika. They all appeared to agree that change is necessary in order for circumstances of the desperately poor in Tanzania and indeed elsewhere in Africa to change to change.

What was interesting to note was that all three are doing there bit to end poverty be it from a different angle/approach but more so that this change or ending poverty was not necessarily about money, instead that the environment in which business is transacted needs to change, skill shortages, property rights for women need to be addressed and that access to international trade is vital in the fight against poverty.

In Uganda I headed to our project in Ruhanga in SW Uganda, where the community is in dire need of access to clean water. Currently the women and children walk for up to three hours just to access clean water. The water they have access to is disease causing, the children and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. After the women collect the water they return to the bottom of the valley to collect firewood to boil the water on an open fire to rid it of disease causing germs.

This routine leaves no time for any thing else and time for income generating activities is certainly reduced. What tends to happen is that the women often fore go the boiling of the water step because of exhaustion and consequently this leads to illness which means they can’t go out to work! Catch 22! This water is especially dangerous for the young, elderly and those with compromised immune systems and ultimately ahs implications for healthcare budgets.

It may not be easy to associate the lack of clean water to poverty but there is a real and clear link, water is an essential part of life and therefore like us folk here cannot do without. What compounds the situation in this village in particular, 9 out of 10 households have no access to electricity, this means that most chores have to be completed during day light. This means that women for instance cannot do their embroidery or basket weaving in the evening which are some of the income generating activities that they are able to participate in.

One man in this village is doing his very best to change the fortunes of his village. He was given some land by his father and he decided to put this land to some good use. As the village is on the main road to Rwanda and DR Congo he decided that he would make all these people passing through his village stop and spend some money in his village. He embarked on a project that has become known as Uganda Lodge http://www.ugandalodge.com/ . He soon run out money to make his dream a reality but as luck would have it he bumped into an English woman Ann McCarthy who was on holiday in Uganda, Ann was so taken in by this part of Uganda that 5 years on she has made this project a way of life.

Ann came across me, when she read an article about my work in the same part of Uganda and we have since registered a charity LET THEM HELP THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY so that we can raise some money to bring clean water to the people of Ruhanga. We have not achieved this yet, and if you are able to help us please get in touch.

What has been achieved, so far, is that this village was virtually unknown to the outside world, but today thanks to Ann’s efforts, Ruhanga is a place for people in the west to visit and share their skills with the local community, these visitors have been able to help out in local schools, work on the construction site and as a result there is a space for village people to learn about computers as well as sewing machines for women to use.

There is a nursery school that has enabled children from the village to start school before age 7 as was the case before. the challenge now is to get more people from the west to come in and experience life in atypical African village, but also learn about what can be achieved through joint efforts that are not necessarily about charity but rather HELPING PEOPLE HELP THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY

Will you take up the challenge? We would love  to hear from you and I can guarantee that this would be the most fulfilling holiday you will ever take!

In the post  head to Kampala the capital of Uganda where I visited a slum right in the middle the richest part of the city.

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

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.


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

Well it seems like a distant world but what fun I had at this year’s BBC Gardener’s World Live. It was our first visit .

It was a wonderful opportunity to show case the women’s work to wider market. the products were well received and you can see from the photos at some point we had such a lage que of people waiting to browse.

The handcrafted straw hats from Madagascar were are a hit and so were the Ugandan baskets
It was interesting that men, women and children all loved them, the women in the age brackt of 23-35 especially loved them apparently because the baskets were a better alternative to carrying a bottle of wine in a plastic bag when going around to a friend’s for dinner!

The comments that I got about the products over the course of the week was “unusual, well made and beautiful”


If you haven’t put your summer wardrobe together and are looking for unique and handmade summer accessories please visit our website www.ethnicsupplies.co.uk/shop

Ugandan baskets

Ugandan baskets

a fellow exhibitor who fell in love with thsoe hats

a fellow exhibitor who fell in love with thsoe hats

Japanesse delegation on our stand

Japanesse delegation on our stand

visitor to BBC GWL tries on our our hats

visitor to BBC GWL tries on our our hats


Que to get onto our stand at the BBC GWL

Yesterday afternoon Nigel and I went up to London to attend a fundraiser BBQ at the Nigerian High Commissioner’s residence in Kensington.

The BBQ was in aid of the Commonwealth Countries Countries League education fund (CCLF).

The aim of this fund is to enable girls in deprived commonwealth countries continue their secondary school education. The fund is unique in that the money is paid directly to the school to guarantee the girls’ places but also to ensure that the girls’ families/guardians do not divert it to other things.

One of the ways that the fund raises money is through their annual fair and I was introduced to the folk at the education fund by the Ugandan High Commission in London in 2007 and since then I try to get to their events whenever I can. This year’s fair is in the Kensington Town Hall in London on 17 October 2009.

But yesterday’s event was different. We got the opportunity to meet a former recipient and her story was so moving that there was hardly a dry pair of eyes in the audience.

Her Name is Ladi and she is from Nigeria

Ladi’s father had 3 wives and between them bore 13 children and he died unexpectedly living 13 children of primary school age. Ladi’s mother was the first wife therefore all the children from the other two wives were dumped on her door step.

She had no income of her own  so she did what she could to find the money to feed the children and any little money went on the education for the boys as the girls were expected to get married as soon as possible

Fortunately for Ladi primary school education is free in Nigeria so she was in school until age 13 and was expected to get married at this age because her mother could not afford to pay the fees for  her secondary school education.

As luck would have it Ladi came across CCLF and they agreed to fund her secondary school education and on completion she went on to university. She found a job and paid her way through University.

Ladi majored in Banking and is currently doing a Master’s degree at a London University and is herself sponsoring 20 girls through secondary education.

She said “I am grateful to you good folk for your generosity and you will never know what that means for girls like me”

I turned around and looked at Nigel and everyone around us and we all had tears in our eyes.

Nigel said to me imagine that!

Indeed, on the way up to Kensington we had a conversation about education and recalled a conversation in which my father had said to Nigel to “I paid good money for Ida’s education and I hope you never forget that”

We found it hilarious at the time but my father was serious, education was very important to him especially the education of girls and here we were years later faced with a young girl who had  almost missed out on a decent education by virtue of the family/country she was born in.

The mood was very somber on the way home as we went considered Ladi’s words. We compared the situation of girls in the developing world to that of children in western world that fail to appreciate how lucky they are to have access to free education as a right.

For my part I suddenly felt so emotional and my father’s words hit me like a ton of bricks, and today being father’s day I miss him dearly and feel awful that he is not here for me to thank him for my education!

I hope that Ladi’s story will inspire you to help girls like her

There is always a first time for everything and this year it is our first time at the BBC Gardener’s World Live at the NEC in Birmingham.

It has been a long journey getting here and when I started Ethnic Supplies I never imagined a day when I would be exihibiting at such a prestigious exhibition.

We are in Hall 19 and our stand number is C137. We have had a good start and our Wild Silk Scarves have generated a lot of interest

That aside this week is World Trade Week (8-12 June 2009) and Africa needs trade now more than ever before. Why? Trade is the only sure chance that Africa has at getting itself out of poverty.

However this trade must be equitable and wherever possible value must be added at source. This creates jobs within African and enables African governments to collect  more tax revenue.

Our female producers for instance work with whatever materials they can find in their environment and sometimes recyle materials into usable things and the msot exciting in this category are the paper beads from Uganda. Imagine if you will a woman being able to send her children to school, pay for health care, improve her housing conditions as a result selling those beads or baskets made from raffia, that ladies and gentlemen is the difference between AID and trade.

Will the world take Africa as a serious Trade partner?

In trying to address this issue a good start would be to understand that meaning assigned to the word Ethics.

The meaning I assign to the word Ethics is derived from the African ideology/philosophy of Ubuntu which is about how people relate to one another, look out for one another and a general acceptance that everybody matters. Iam becuase you are!

That being the case, the ethical thing to do whilst designing development programmes is to make them inclusive from the word go!

This means that you take time to understand the people in the community you intend to work, understand their culture, the importance they assign to things and people in their lives, environment etc

You must establish what their priorities are and if they don’t tie in what you have in mind be prepared to change/adapt yours, after all you would not sell Aspirin to some that wasn’t in pain or had no use for it

What if anything have to community done to address these priorities?

What challenges face these communities, in otherwords if whatever you are offering is a priority for the community, why hasn’t it been addressed

It is important to be open and sincere with the people.

Be prepared to learn from them after all you are their beat and they know it better than you do.

IMHO development programmes are not that different from projects elsewhere in the world and the basic reasons they fail is due to poor design and by this I mean the people/end users were left out of the planning stage.

We have several examples of this in Europe, Public Housing design, the Elephant and Castle, the Millenium Dom etc

The Ethical thing to do therefore is to have due regard for communities and not seek ” to do things” to them because we believe this is what they need!

Remember unless they have said so programmes will not be sustainable due to lack of ownership which comes from being included!

Your views please

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