Category: Africa
Africa/Global: Tobacco Industry Targets Africa Markets
| October 9, 2017 | 7:44 pm | Africa | No comments

Africa/Global: Tobacco Industry Targets Africa Markets

AfricaFocus Bulletin October 9, 2017 (171009) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“British American Tobacco (BAT) and other multinational tobacco firms have threatened governments in at least eight countries in Africa demanding they axe or dilute the kind of protections that have saved millions of lives in the west, a Guardian investigation has found. … The giant tobacco firms hope to boost their markets in Africa, which has a fast-growing young and increasingly prosperous population.” – The Guardian

Tobacco is the iconic case of the conflict of public health and industry power. With its growth in the 20th century supercharged by advertising, it lost ground to a a broad public health campaign in the last decade of the twentieth century, particularly in the United States. It resisted that campaign with a powerful campaign to dispute scientific data on the health consequences of smoking.

Worldwide, the World Health Organization has led an effect to counter tobacco use, based on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted in 2003, to which 181 countries are parties ( But implementation is inconsistent, and the industry is particularly targeting new younger consumers in countries without strong measures to curb the use of tobacco. According to the WHO, “Tobacco use is the leading single preventable cause of death worldwide, killing over 7 million people each year.”

In Africa, the WHO-linked Center for Tobacco Control in Africa, based in Kampala, Uganda at the Makerere University School of Public Health, has taken the lead ( But the industry is fighing back, as documented in the lead article excerpted in this issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin. That excerpt is accompanied by a short press release from WHO on their annual tobacco control report, and an open letter in the British Medical Journal Tobacco Control Blog, denouncing the new smokescreen organization launched by Philip Morris International (misleadingly titled “Foundation for a Smoke-free World”, see for more details).

Another rising threat to health in Africa, parallel to that posed by tobacco, is the rapid expansion of fast food consumption, fueled both by multinational corporations and local rivals. See two recent articles:

“Obesity Was Rising as Ghana Embraced Fast Food. Then Came KFC,” New York Times, October 2, 2017

“Fast food is fueling an obesity epidemic in Africa,” Quartz Africa, October 4, 2017

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on health, visit

For those wishing to explore these topics in greater depth, AfricaFocus has also compiled this short list of relevant books.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. 2010

“Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have demonstrated what many of us have long suspected: that the “debate’ over the climate crisis–and many other environmental issues–was manufactured by the same people who brought you “safe’ cigarettes. Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America should read this book.” – Former Vice President Al GoreDavid Kessler, A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry. 2002. Carrick Mollenkamp et al., The People Vs. Big Tobacco: How the States Took on the Cigarette Giants. 1998. Mark Wolfson, The Fight Against Big Tobacco: The Movement, The State and the Public’s Health. 2001.

Books on the public health campaign against the tobacco companies in the 1990s. The short lesson is that the victories came from a convergence of actions by health advocates, public officials, and industry insiders who exposed lies by the companies.++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Threats, bullying, lawsuits: tobacco industry’s dirty war for the African market

by Sarah Boseley in Nairobi

The Guardian, July 12, 2017 – Direct URL:

British American Tobacco (BAT) and other multinational tobacco firms have threatened governments in at least eight countries in Africa demanding they axe or dilute the kind of protections that have saved millions of lives in the west, a Guardian investigation has found.

BAT, one of the world’s leading cigarette manufacturers, is fighting through the courts to try to block the Kenyan and Ugandan governments’ attempts to bring in regulations to limit the harm caused by smoking. The giant tobacco firms hope to boost their markets in Africa, which has a fast-growing young and increasingly prosperous population.

In one undisclosed court document in Kenya, seen by the Guardian, BAT’s lawyers demand the country’s high court “quash in its entirety” a package of anti-smoking regulations and rails against what it calls a “capricious” tax plan. The case is now before the supreme court after BAT Kenya lost in the high court and the appeal court. A ruling is expected as early as next month.

BAT in Uganda asserts in another document that the government’s Tobacco Control Act is “inconsistent with and in contravention of the constitution”.

The Guardian has also seen letters, including three by BAT, sent to the governments of Uganda, Namibia, Togo, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso revealing the intimidatory tactics that tobacco companies are using, accusing governments of breaching their own laws and international trade agreements and warning of damage to the economy.

BAT denies it is opposed to all tobacco regulation, but says it reserves the right to ask the courts to intervene where it believes regulations may not comply with the law.

Later this month, BAT is expected to become the world’s biggest listed tobacco firm as it completes its acquisition of the large US tobacco company Reynolds in a $49bn deal, and there are fears over the extent to which big tobacco can financially outmuscle health ministries in poorer nations. A vote on the deal by shareholders of both firms is due to take place next Wednesday, simultaneously in London at BAT and North Carolina at Reynolds.

Professor Peter Odhiambo, a former heart surgeon who is head of the government’s Tobacco Control Board in Kenya, told the Guardian: “BAT has done as much as they can to block us.”

Experts say Africa and southern Asia are urgent new battlegrounds in the global fight against smoking because of demographics and rising prosperity. Despite declining smoking and more controls in some richer countries, it still kills more than seven million people globally every year, according to the WHO, and there are fears the tactics of big tobacco will effectively succeed in “exporting the death and harm” to poorer nations.

There are an estimated 77 million smokers in Africa and those numbers are predicted to rise by nearly 40% from 2010 levels by 2030, which is the largest projected such increase in the world.

Cigarette ad targeting African women. Image      from article in Cincinnati Inquirer, March 4, 2003.    

In Kenya, BAT has succeeded in delaying regulations to restrict the promotion and sale of cigarettes for 15 years, fighting through every level of the legal system. In February it launched a case in the supreme court that has already halted the imposition of tobacco controls until probably after the country’s general election in August, which are being contested by parliamentarians who have been linked to payments by the multinational company.

In Uganda, BAT launched legal action against the government in November, arguing that the Tobacco Control Act, which became law in 2015, contravenes the constitution. It is fighting restrictions that are now commonplace in richer countries, including the expansion of health warnings on packets and point-of-sale displays, arguing that they unfairly restrict its trade.

The court actions are brought by BAT’s local affiliates, BAT Kenya and BAT Uganda, but approved at Globe House, the London headquarters of the multinational, which receives most of the profits from the African trade. In its 2016 annual report, BAT outlined the “risk” that “unreasonable litigation” would be brought in to control tobacco around the world. Its response was an “engagement and litigation strategy coordinated and aligned across the Group”.

‘Focus on emerging markets’

At its annual meeting in March, chairman Richard Burrows toasted a “vintage year” for BAT, as profits rose 4% to £5.2bn after investors took their cut – their dividend had increased by 10%. When asked about the legal actions in Africa, he said tobacco was an industry that “should be regulated … but we want to see that regulation is serving the correct interests of the health mission and human mission which should lie behind it”.

So, “from time to time it’s necessary for us to take legal action to challenge new regulation” which he said was led by “the local board”.

BAT says it is “simply not true that we oppose all tobacco regulation, particularly in developing countries”. Tobacco should be appropriately regulated as a product that has risks to health, it said, but “where there are different interpretations of whether regulations comply with the law, we think it is entirely reasonable to ask the courts to assist in resolving it”. It was opposed to only a handful of the issues in Kenya’s regulations, not the entirety, it said in a statement.

Although most countries in Africa have signed the World Health Organisation (WHO) treaty on tobacco control, none has yet fully implemented the smoking restrictions it endorses.

The WHO predicts that by 2025, smoking rates will go up in 17 of the 30 Africa-region countries from their 2010 level. In some countries a massive hike is expected – in Congo-Brazzaville, from 13.9% to nearly half the population (47.1%) and in Cameroon from 13.7% to 42.7%. In Sierra Leone it will be 41.2% (74% among men) and in Lesotho 36.9%.

In contrast, research showed last year that just 16.9% of adults smoke in the UK; and last month new figures showed UK heart disease deaths had fallen 20% since that country’s indoor smoking ban.

“The tobacco industry is now turning its focus toward emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa, seeking to exploit the continent’s patchwork tobacco control regulations and limited resources to combat industry marketing advances,” said Dr Emmanuela Gakidou and colleagues at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, publishing an analysis of smoking prevalence around the world in the Lancet in April.

Africa’s growing numbers of children and young people, and its increasing wealth, represent a huge future market for the tobacco industry. The companies deny targeting children and cannot sell packs smaller than 10, but a new study carried out in Nairobi by the Johns Hopkins school of public health in the US and the Kenya-based Consumer Information Network found vendors selling cigarettes along the routes children take to walk to primary schools.

Stalls sell single Dunhill, Embassy, Safari and other BAT cigarette sticks, costing around 4p (5 cents) each, alongside sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks. The vendors split the packets of 20 manufactured by BAT. “They are targeting children,” said Samuel Ochieng, chief executive of the Consumer Information Network. “They mix cigarettes with candies and sell along the school paths.”

BAT said that its products were for adult smokers only and that it would much prefer that stalls sold whole packets rather than single sticks, “given our investment in the brands and the fact there are clear health warnings on the packs.

“Across the world, we have very strict rules regarding not selling our products to retailers located near schools. BAT Kenya provides support to many of these independent vendors, including providing stalls painted in non-corporate colours, and providing youth smoking prevention and health warnings messages. We also educate vendors to ensure they do not sell tobacco products near schools.”

Links with politicians

The Kenya case, expected to be heard after the elections on 8 August, is seen as critical for the continent. If the government loses, other countries will have less appetite for the long and expensive fight against the wealthy tobacco industry.

BAT has around 70% of the Kenyan market; its Kenyan competitor, Mastermind, has joined in the legal action against the government.

Tih Ntiabang, regional coordinator for Africa of the Framework Convention Alliance – NGOs that support the WHO treaty – said the tobacco companies had become bolder. “In the past it used to be invisible interference, but today it is so shameful that it is so visible and they are openly opposing public health treaties like the case in Kenya at the moment … Today they boldly go to court to oppose public health policy. Every single government is highly interested in economic growth. They [the tobacco companies] know they have this economic power. The budget of tobacco companies like BAT could be as much as the whole budget of the Africa region.

“Our health systems are not really well organised. Our policy makers can’t see clearly what are the health costs of inaction on tobacco control because our health system is not very good. It puts the tobacco industry at an advantage on public health.”

The sale across the whole of Africa of single cigarette sticks was a serious problem because it enabled children to buy them. “They are extremely affordable. Young teenagers are able to purchase a cigarette. You don’t need £1 for a pack of 20,” he said.

BAT has a reputation in Africa as an employer offering steady and well-paid jobs, said Ntiabang, based in Cameroon. “When I was about 10, I was always dreaming I could work for BAT. They have always painted themselves as a responsible company – a dream company to work for. All the staff are well-off. The young people think ‘I want to work for BAT’. They promote a lot of events and make their name appear to young people. We grow up dreaming we can be one of them.”

[see more, including several country case studies in full article at]

WHO report finds dramatic increase in life-saving tobacco control policies in last decade

4.7 billion people – 63% of world’s population – are covered by polices such as strong graphic warnings, smoke-free public places, and other measures – Direct URL:

News Release, World Health Organization

19 July 2017 | Geneva | New York – The latest WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic published today finds that more countries have implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic pack warnings and advertising bans to no smoking areas. About 4.7 billion people – 63% of the world’s population – are covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure, which has quadrupled since 2007 when only 1 billion people and 15% of the world’s population were covered. Strategies to implement such policies have saved millions of people from early death.

However, the tobacco industry continues to hamper government efforts to fully implement life- and cost-saving interventions, according to the new WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2017.

“Governments around the world must waste no time in incorporating all the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control into their national tobacco control programmes and policies,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO DirectorGeneral. “They must also clamp down on the illicit tobacco trade, which is exacerbating the global tobacco epidemic and its related health and socioeconomic consequences.”

Dr Tedros adds: “Working together, countries can prevent millions of people from dying each year from preventable tobacco-related illness, and save billions of dollars a year in avoidable health care expenditures and productivity losses.”

Today, 4.7 billion people are protected by at least one “best practice” tobacco control measure from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), 3.6 billion more people than in 2007, according to the report. This progress has been possible because governments have intensified action to implement key measures of the WHO FCTC.

Strategies to support implementation of tobacco demand reduction measures in the WHO FCTC, like the “MPOWER” measures, have saved millions of people from early death, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars in the past decade. MPOWER was established in 2008 to promote government action on six tobacco control strategies in-line with the WHO FCTC to:

  • Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies.
  • Protect people from tobacco smoke.
  • Offer help to quit tobacco use.
  • Warn people about the dangers of tobacco.
  • Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
  • Raise taxes on tobacco.

“One in 10 deaths around the world is caused by tobacco, but we can change that through MPOWER tobacco control measures, which have proven highly effective,” says Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “The progress that’s been made worldwide – and documented throughout this report – shows that it is possible for countries to turn the tide. Bloomberg Philanthropies looks forward to working with Director-General Dr Tedros and continuing our work with WHO.”

The new report, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, focuses on monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies. It finds that one third of countries have comprehensive systems to monitor tobacco use. While this is up from one quarter of countries monitoring tobacco use at recommended levels in 2007, governments still need to do more to prioritize or finance this area of work.

Even countries with limited resources can monitor tobacco use and implement prevention policies. By generating data on youth and adults, countries can, in turn, promote health, save healthcare costs and generate revenues for government services, the report finds. It adds that systematic monitoring of tobacco industry interference in government policymaking protects public health by shedding light on tobacco industry tactics. These include exaggerating the economic importance of the tobacco industry, discrediting proven science, and using litigation to intimidate governments.

“Countries can better protect their citizens, including children, from the tobacco industry and its products when they use tobacco monitoring systems,” says Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

“Tobacco industry interference in government policy-making represents a deadly barrier to advancing health and development in many countries,” says Dr Bettcher. “But by monitoring and blocking such activities, we can save lives and sow the seeds for a sustainable future for all.”

Note for Editors:

Tobacco use is the leading single preventable cause of death worldwide, killing over 7 million people each year. Its economic costs are also enormous, totaling more than US$ 1.4 trillion in health care costs and lost productivity.

The WHO Report on the global tobacco epidemic will be launched on 19 July 2017 on the side-lines of the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York.

Controlling tobacco use is a key part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda includes targets to strengthen national implementation of the WHO FCTC and a one third reduction in premature deaths from NCDs, including heart and lung diseases, cancer and diabetes. Tobacco use is a leading common risk factor for NCDs, which kill 40 million people each year, equivalent to 70% of all deaths globally, including 15 million people aged between 30 and 69 years. Over 80% of these “premature” deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

A “Frank Statement” for the 21st Century?

British Medical Journal Tobacco Control Blog, 19 Sep, 2017 – Direct URL:

Ruth E. Malone, Simon Chapman, Prakash C. Gupta, Rima Nakkash, Tih Ntiabang, Eduardo Bianco, Yussuf Saloojee, Prakit Vathesatogkit, Laurent Huber, Chris Bostic, Pascal Diethelm, Cynthia Callard, Neil Collishaw, Anna B. Gilmore

The surprise announcement by the former head of the World Health Organization’s Tobacco Free Initiative, Derek Yach, that he would head a newly-established organization called the “Foundation for a Smoke-free World” to “accelerate the end of smoking” was met with gut-punched disappointment by those who have worked for decades to achieve that goal. Unmoved by a soft-focus video featuring Yach looking pensively off into the distance from a high-level balcony while smokers at ground level stubbed out Marlboros and discussed how hard it was to quit, leading tobacco control organizations were shocked to hear that the new organization was funded with a $1 billion, twelve-year commitment from tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI). PMI, which has been working for decades to rebrand itself as a “socially responsible” company while continuing to promote sales of its top-branded Marlboro cigarettes and oppose policies that would genuinely reduce their use, clearly believes this investment will further its “harm reduction” agenda, led by its new heat-not-burn product, IQOS. But don’t worry, the Foundation assures everyone that “PMI and the tobacco industry are precluded from having any influence over how the Foundation spends its funds or focuses its activities.”

Except that is what a broad range of industry front groups, sometimes headed by respected and even well-intentioned leaders, have been saying since the “Frank Statement” of 1954. The long and sordid history of the industry’s funding of “research,” a major part of the mission of this new foundation, is replete with exactly this sort of blithe reassurance, as Yach himself pointed out in an earlier time. In reality, nothing has changed. The “research” really isn’t the point anyway. The mere fact of having landed Yach is a major public relations coup for PMI that will be used to do more of what the industry always does: create doubt, contribute further to existing disputes within the global tobacco control movement, shore up its own competitive position, and go on pushing its cigarettes as long as it possibly can.

In the video, Yach invites “everyone” to join the “movement” this new organization is starting – implicitly dismissing the past 40 years of tobacco control activism and advocacy and 60 years of tobacco industry lies and duplicity. Leaders of active existing civil society coalitions like the Framework Convention Alliance and the Noncommunicable Disease Alliance were blindsided. Contrary to the video’s claim, there is no shortage of “fresh thinking” in the already-vibrant, already-existing global movement to end the tobacco epidemic. There are many great “endgame”- furthering ideas now being actively debated, studied, and tried out: the primary obstacle to implementing them is the tobacco industry.

PMI hasn’t stopped opposing the policies that would reduce tobacco use, has it? No: recently leaked documents show that PMI continues to actively oppose any policy that could genuinely reduce tobacco use. Countries around the world identify the tobacco industry as the single biggest barrier to progress in implementing such tobacco control policies. This “new” initiative is just more of the same lipstick on the industry pig, but in a way it’s far worse this time: by using a formerly high profile WHO leader as a spokesperson, PMI can also accelerate its longstanding ambition to splinter the tobacco control movement.

It’s also not true, as the video suggests, that tobacco control efforts have “plateaued.” Cigarette consumption is declining and since 2003, more than 180 countries have become parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), committing themselves to implement effective policy measures and building public support for ending the epidemic. PMI knows this, hence its ongoing, covert and overt efforts to stymie the FCTC. For example, at the last Conference of the Parties, the meetings where implementation of the treaty is discussed, tobacco farmers organized by PMI demonstrated outside the venue and PMI representatives met secretly with delegates to the meeting.

The company hasn’t announced it is going to stop promoting cigarettes to kids in Africa and Asia, has it? No: in fact, it’s developing “stronger” products for some markets, and continuing to aggressively promote Marlboro cigarettes to the young through campaigns like “Be Marlboro”. Despite decades of developing and then abandoning so-called “reduced harm” products, cigarettes remain PMI’s biggest moneymaker, dwarfing anything else. Only the profoundly naïve will believe that PMI is not solely promoting its self-interest in supporting this new “foundation”.

In fact, the announcement came the day after a huge win for tobacco control: the exclusion of tobacco companies (as well as makers of cluster bombs and some other unsavory actors) from membership in the United Nations Global Compact, due to their incompatibility with responsible business principles. Tobacco control leaders across the globe are convincing governments to protect health policymaking from tobacco industry influence, in line with Article 5.3 of the FCTC. PMI’s response is a new industry sponsored entity, eager to work with governments. From its inception, this organization will constitute a challenge for Article 5.3 implementation.

The timing of the announcement was interesting in another way: just the day before, a new global health initiative led by former US Centers for Disease Control head Tom Frieden was announced, with $225 million in funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While this initiative does not focus solely on tobacco, these funders know how much tobacco contributes to disease and death worldwide. They are also funders who have unequivocally taken positions supporting the strong policy measures that work.

What is required to end smoking isn’t helping the world’s leading cigarette manufacturer in its ongoing image makeover while it continues to try to derail the significant public health progress made to date. What is required is leaders who have the humility to work with the movement and policymakers with the backbones of steel needed to stand up to the industry to enact and implement strong tobacco control measures, including high taxes, smokefree laws, effective media campaigns to denormalize both smoking and tobacco companies, and marketing, packaging and retailing regulations to make these deadly products less ubiquitous. The global movement public health activists built over decades of toiling in the trenches must stand together and not allow PMI to buy more time by executing a 21st century version of the “Frank Statement.”

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Africa/Global: How Women Lose from Tax Injustice
| September 25, 2017 | 8:02 pm | Africa, struggle for the equality of women | No comments

AfricaFocus Bulletin September 25, 2017 (170925) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

A new report from the Association for Women in Development (AWID), authored by Dr. Attiya Waris in Nairobi, makes a powerful case that women lose disproportionately from illicit financial flows, which reduce the tax base and deprive states of the resources to invest in critical public goods, and that addressing this issue is key to efforts to combat gender inequality. The point should not be surprising, but too often the impact of tax evasion and tax avoidance is cloaked in jargon that makes it less visible than cases such as overt discrimination against women in employment and wages. In contrast, this report stands out for its clarity. AfricaFocus strongly recommends the full version, which is available on-line at

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains selected excerpts, as well as a short set of background notes prepared by AfricaFocus on the context of related debates in the United States.

Two other examples highlighting the impact of illicit financial flows through tax avoidance by multinational companies are reports by Action Aid (2010) on SAB Miller in Ghana ( and on Associated British Foods (2013) in Zambia

ActionAid also has a short (3.5 minute) animated video highlighting the impact of this in the Zambia case ( [Whether or not you have time to read the reports, you can watch and share this video!]

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on tax injustice, illicit financial flows, and related issues, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++


Illicit Financial Flows: Why We Should Claim These Resources for Gender, Economic and Social Justice

by Dr Attiya Waris

Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

July 28, 2017 – Direct URL:

Editor’s note: The conceptual distinction between a narrow and wider definition of illicit financial flows is often confusing. This paper begins with a very clear short explanation and justification for using the wider definition. For an earlier slightly longer discussion, prepared by AfricaFocus Bulletin in November 2015, see “Defining Illicit Financial Flows”


Concept and Scale of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs)

The concept of illicit financial flows (IFFs) is characterised by a lack of a unique consensual definition. Cobham, for example, explains the difference between a narrow and wider definition as follows:

“There are two main definitions of illicit financial flows (IFF). One equates ‘illicit’ with ‘illegal’, so that IFFs are movements of money or capital from one country to another that are illegally earned, transferred, and/or utilized. This would include individual and corporate tax evasion but not avoidance (which is legal), and other criminal activity like bribery or the trafficking of drugs or people.

The other relies on the dictionary definition of ‘illicit’ as ‘forbidden by law, rules or custom’ – encompassing the illegal but also including the socially unpalatable, such as the multinational corporate tax avoidance”.

Editor’s note: This Venn diagram shows the overlap between illegal and illegimate financial flows. Almost all illegal flows are also illegitimate, with exceptions such as family remittances which may bypass legal foreign currency laws.

For the purpose of this brief, we will use the broader definition that encompasses tax evasion, particularly by multinational corporations (MNCs). This is because the strong corporate lobby has largely shaped the very design of tax laws around the world. Exercising their economic and political influence on countries, they can define what type of tax avoidance is considered legal or illegal in different countries according to their profit interests.

Illicit financial flows can be broken down into three main types:

  1. Proceeds from corrupt dealings: For example, bribes by corporations to secure public contracts/permits or false declaration of corporate profits in order to evade tax payment, especially by extractive industries such as mining and oil exploration.
  2. Proceeds from criminal activities: A system of bank secrecy is necessary to conceal the origins of illegally obtained money (e.g. from human trafficking or sale of illegal arms), typically by means of transfers involving foreign banks or legitimate businesses – a process known as “money laundering”.
  3. Proceeds from commercial tax abuse: tax abuse includes both tax evasion and tax avoidance by corporations and wealthy elites by using, for example, anonymous shell companies in secrecy jurisdictions 4 that hide who the beneficial owners really are and/or obscure information from tax authorities. Another form of commercial tax abuse by MNC’s is to over quote imports or under quote exports, to hide the real value of products, and therefore profits – a process known as “trade mispricing”.

The exact amount of money being transferred through these systems is hard to calculate, because IFFs can only be traced through the international banking system. This does not account for money that simply moves from one place to another, within or across to states, without the aid of the banking system, for example, cash in exchange for political favors or ivory in exchange for small arms. While estimating just how much money is lost through IFFs can be a difficult task due to the inherent secrecy involved in their movement, there is consensus that they represent a tremendous problem.

The Financial Transparency Coalition (FTC) released an infographic ( summarizing the different existing estimates. For example, using data of trade misinvoicing, the Global Financial Integrity estimates, that as much as 7.8 trillion was lost by developing and emerging countries to IFFs from 2004 to 2013, and that this loss is getting bigger.

The landmark report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa (also known as the Mbeki report) estimates Africa to be losing more than $50 billion annually in IFFs. This reality is having severe consequences to the development of the continent. “Their economies do not benefit from the multiplier effects of the domestic use of such resources, whether for consumption or investment. Such lost opportunities impact negatively on growth and ultimately on job creation in Africa”, 6 states the report.

To illustrate the effects on development, the same report cites a study (O’Hare and others 2013) on the potential impact of IFFs on under- five child and infant mortality in the region. “Without IFFs, the Central African Republic would have been able to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 on child mortality in 45 years compared with the 218 years at current rates of progress. Other striking examples are Mauritania, 19 years rather than 198 years; Swaziland, 27 years rather than 155 years; and the Republic of Congo, 10 years rather than 120 years. Perhaps most striking is the finding that if IFFs had been arrested by the turn of the century, Africa would reach MDG 4 by 2016” . The sheer amount shows that these ‘lost’ resources could have assisted states nationally and regionally to achieve the unmet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Moving forward, this could play a crucial role in financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and mobilizing the maximum available resources to ensure the realization of human rights and social justice.

Efforts to quantify the gendered impact and implications of IFFs across the African continent are needed more than ever. The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) in partnership with Trust Africa, set out an important path in 2016 to strategically discuss with other organizations, how to effectively address this problem and propose political solutions supported by global processes to curb IFFs.

The Disproportionate Impact of IFFs on Gender Justice

Gender impacts of IFFs tend to be understood and studied at the national and even local level, with scarce literature that focuses on the global impact of IFFs as an obstacle to the realization of women’s rights and gender justice.

We take a look at some specific impacts here:

Impact on delivery of social services

An inadequate tax collection system has a direct impact on a country’s budget deficit. The result has commonly been a reduction in key areas such as education, health care, cares facilities, which has a direct impact on women and women-headed households that are more vulnerable to national budget constraints.

Despite external constraints, decisions on budget spending at the national level are highly political and gendered. The decision to choose between privileging certain areas like militarization and propaganda over social spending on people’s needs in the areas mentioned above, is part of maintaining the status quo of power by local and global elites. The lower the investment in education, the easier to control a population kept on survival mode.

The feminisation of poverty is a persistent phenomenon in which women are overrepresented amongst the most poor, with low-paid and poor-quality jobs. Because of unequal gendered power relations and entrenched cultural stereotypes that define women and girls identities and social roles, they predominantly do unpaid care work across the world. This situation has an impact on the advancement of women and girls’ human rights It perpetuates their impoverishment, acting as an obstacle to women and girls participation in the paid economy, political life and bodily and sexual autonomy. For these reasons, women tend to be more dependent on public social services, which have the capacity to shift the unpaid care burden that falls disproportionately on their shoulders. Failure to mobilize public resources therefore robs women and children of the much-needed public services, which reflects a lack of recognition of the role of the care economy in subsidizing the entire economy.

Unemployment and under investment in the economy

When monies are illicitly transferred out of developing countries, the loss of public resources impacts negatively the economic development of a country and ultimately job creation. Similarly, when profits are illicitly transferred out of developing countries, reinvestment and the concomitant economic expansion to create local jobs are not taking place in these countries.

Lack of public investment has consequently led to lack of employment creation and greater unemployment, hitting women particularly hard. According to 2016 ILO figures, in many regions in the world, in comparison to men, women are more likely to become and remain unemployed. They have fewer chances to participate in the labour force and – when they do – often have to accept lower quality jobs. Women are typically the first to lose their jobs and/or accept shorter hours and bad working conditions to keep jobs.

Regressive fiscal policies

IFFs often trigger regressive tax policies – countries facing budget deficit tend to cover that through increased consumption taxes rather than taxing the wealthy. Neoliberal assumptions that taxing the wealthy would result in the withdrawal of private investment in a given economy have permeated so deeply in economic policy decision-making, that putting profit over people has become an unquestionable reality worldwide, even as it remains fundamentally a political decision. Increasing consumption taxes is in many cases the less costly of options for governments (both economically and politically). After all, media corporations will not attack them as they would if they tax the wealthy and also because, unfortunately, in most cases there is not enough of a ‘counter-power’ / people power to stop them.

A great way to get middle and even working class people to support governments that will not invest in social welfare, is the argument that the impoverished don’t pay taxes and live off benefits that formalized workers sustain with their contributions. The invisibility of consumer taxes, and of who pays them the most in proportion to their income, is an effective tool for preserving the status quo. Countries that refuse to put into place mechanisms to efficiently tax those with greater wealth and income (both individuals and corporations) typically resort to indirect tax mechanisms – such as high rates of value added tax (VAT) – that collect taxes from consumer goods or services rather than from individuals or companies. These have a particularly negative effect on informal workers and people living in poverty – the majority of whom are women – as they spend a large part of their income on taxes for the essential goods and services they consume to sustain livelihoods, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and aid dependence.

Marta Luttgrodt, 48, sells SABMiller beer from her stall     in the shadow of the company’s Accra Brewery, Ghana.     Photograph: Jane Hahn/Jane Hahn/ActionAid    

A poignant example is the SAB Miller case in Ghana where Marta, who sells beer at her small stall in Accra, Ghana outside the SAB Miller factory, was paying more tax than the factory right next to her informal stand. This situation does little to encourage informal workers to register as formal workers, as this would further increase their tax burden. As a result, this perpetuates a situation in which informal workers are ineligible to receive social services like health and pension benefits; yet corporations and large businesses with huge profits are not pushed to contribute to building and sustaining the infrastructure for these same basic services.

Principles of Equality and non-discrimination

Tax policies can play a crucial role in reducing inequality and redistributing resources in order to level the playing field as much as possible.

The failure to prevent corruption and the fact that tax amnesties continue to be granted to large corporations, fuel the desire among common taxpayers to be part of those that outwit the state and its tax administration.

Equitable and progressive tax policies, based on human rights, have the potential to reduce inequalities and redistribute resources to achieve development goals and end impoverishment. Yet the wealthy few access legal and financial advice and services to better exploit tax loopholes, or open undeclared foreign bank accounts in low-tax jurisdictions.

Reliance on debt and development cooperation

Hidden wealth also increases inequality between developed and developing countries. For instance the African Tax Administration Forum estimates that up to one-third of Africa’s wealth is being held abroad. This wealth and its associated income are beyond the reach of African tax authorities. It deprives countries of resources that could be used to mitigate inequality, and further enrich donor countries, where it is stored. This income could address the over-dependence on overseas development assistance (ODA), and shift the balance of power between donor and recipient countries; and enable self-determined development priorities and outcomes, rather than those imposed by ODA conditionality, including trade conditions.

Threat to Women’s Peace and security

Lost resources through IFFs often cannot be used legitimately and end up fuelling criminal activity, including illegal arms trade, human trafficking – of which 49% of victims are women and 21% are girls 24 – and other activities undermining peace and human rights.

The data is patchy given the illegal nature of IFFs, but evidence gathered by many including Cobham, the Tax Justice Network and the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows out of Africa, noted that “IFF thrive on conflict and insecurity and also exacerbate both, undermining the financial and political prospects for effective states to deliver and support development progress.”

Considering the well-documented impact that war and conflict has on women and girls, the issue of IFFs is of outmost importance to tackle the financial enablers behind conflict and militarization.

Resourcing for women’s rights and gender justice

One of the biggest challenges facing the implementation of long agreed commitments on human rights, women’s rights and gender equality and related goals, like those contained in Agenda 2030, is ensuring that resources are sufficiently allocated.

States have an obligation to mobilize the maximum available resources for the realization of human rights. Progressive taxation plays a key role in mobilizing public resources and is a key tool for addressing economic inequality, including gender inequality. The hidden resources of illicit financial flows must be unlocked and returned to bolster domestic resourcing of development goals and gender equality.

Editor’s note: The following notes were prepared by AfricaFocus Bulletin as background for the visit of a delegation to the United States by representatives of African trade unions & civil society organizations, organized by the Solidarity Center and ITUC-Africa on September 20-30, 2017. The delegation, which is visiting Washington, DC and the San Francisco Bay Area, is meeting with activists and policymakers to exchange views on strategies to combat inequality, tax injustice, and illicit financial flows. The delegation includes Joel Odigie, Coordinator Human and Trade Union Rights, African Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa); Claudine Barigye, of the East African Trade Union Confederation; Luckystar Miyandazi, Policy Officer African Institutions Program, European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) and former Africa Coordinator for Africa for ActionAid’s tax justice program; and Gyekye Tanoh, head of the Political Economy Unit at Third World Network Africa.


The United States and the International Debate on Illicit Financial Flows

In Africa, the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows ( and the Stop the Bleeding Campaign to End Illicit Financial Flows from Africa ( have put this term and this issue on the agenda for African governments and civil society organizations around the continent.

In contrast, the term is not very familiar even among policy analysts in the United States, but the issues of tax justice, tax evasion, and tax avoidance are central to debate in both political circles and among social justice organizations. The focus is primarily on the domestic issue of how the rich do not pay their fair share. There is also an understanding that this has an international dimension, but there is little awareness of how the United States itself contributes to illicit financial flows. The challenge is to make these connections. This background note provides several resources useful for doing so.

Financial Secrecy Index, Tax Justice Network

The Financial Secrecy Index ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy and the scale of their offshore financial activities. A politically neutral ranking, it is a tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions, and illicit financial flows or capital flight.

An estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world. Secrecy jurisdictions – a term we often use as an alternative to the more widely used term tax havens – use secrecy to attract illicit and illegitimate or abusive financial flows. Illicit cross-border financial flows have been estimated at $1-1.6 trillion per year: dwarfing the US$135 billion or so in global foreign aid. Since the 1970s African countries alone have lost over $1 trillion in capital flight, while combined external debts are less than $200 billion. So Africa is a major net creditor to the world – but its assets are in the hands of a wealthy élite, protected by offshore secrecy; while the debts are shouldered by broad African populations.

Top 15 countries: 1. Switzerland, 2. Hong Kong, 3. USA, 4. Singapore, 5. Cayman Islands, 6. Luxembourg, 7. Lebanon, 8. Germany, 9. Bahrain, 10. United Arab Emirates (Dubai), 11. Macao, 12. Japan, 13. Panama, 14. Marshall Islands, 15. United Kingdom

Fact Sheet on Offshore Corporate Loopholes, Americans for Tax Fairness – direct URL:

“Many U.S. corporations use offshore tax havens and other accounting gimmicks to avoid paying as much as $90 billion a year in federal income taxes. A large loophole at the heart of U.S. tax law enables corporations to avoid paying taxes on foreign profits until they are brought home. Known as “deferral,” it provides a huge incentive to keep profits offshore as long as possible.

Deferral gives corporations enormous incentives to use accounting tricks to make it appear that profits earned here were generated in a tax haven. Profits are funneled through subsidiaries, often shell companies with few employees and little real business activity. Effectively, firms launder U.S. profits to avoid paying U.S. Taxes.”

Background notes on tax justice and illicit financial flows in U.S. political context

Prepared by AfricaFocus Bulletin for Solidarity Center Mini-Symposium, September 28, 2017 Africa & the U.S.: Illicit Financial Flows, Tax Justice, and Economic Inequality

The “tax reform” debate

“The big battle throughout the fall will be taxes. The Republicans are trying to decide whether to go for massive tax cuts–particularly for corporations, which are awash in cash, and the rich–or massive tax cuts plus an overhaul of the tax system that will permanently favor the wealthy and the corporations (and probably hurt the middle class).” – Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin, Facebook post, September 2, 2017

“It’s a Myth That Corporate Tax Cuts Mean More Jobs,” by Sarah Anderson The New York Times, August 30, 2017

“The arithmetic for us is simple,” AT&T’s chief executive, Randall Stephenson, said on CNBC in May. If Congress were to cut the 35 percent tax on corporate profits to 20 percent, he declared, “I know exactly what AT&T would do — we’d invest more” in the United States. Every $1 billion in tax savings would create 7,000 well-paying jobs, Mr. Stephenson went on to say. The correlation between lower corporate taxes and more jobs, he assured viewers, runs “very, very tight.”

As Congress prepares to take up tax legislation this fall, including an effort to reduce the corporate tax rate, this bold jobs claim merits examination. Notably, it comes from the chief executive of a company that’s already paying comparatively little in federal taxes.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, AT&T enjoyed an effective tax rate of just 8 percent between 2008 and 2015, despite recording a profit in the United States each year, by exploiting tax breaks and loopholes. (The company argues that it pays significant taxes, at a rate close to 34 percent in recent years, but that includes deferred taxes and state and local levies.) Despite the enormous savings AT&T has realized, the company has been downsizing. Although it hires thousands of people a year, the company, by our analysis at the Institute for Policy Studies, reduced its total work force by nearly 80,000 jobs between 2008 and 2016, accounting for acquisitions and spinoffs each involving more than 2,000 workers.

Institute for Policy Studies report: “Corporate Tax Cuts Boost CEO Pay, Not Jobs” – Direct URL: 3-minute video:

House Speaker Paul Ryan is proposing to cut the statutory federal corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. President Trump wants to slash the rate even further, to just 15 percent. Their core argument? Lowering the tax burden will lead to more and better jobs.

To investigate this claim, this report is the first to analyze the job creation records of the 92 publicly held U.S. corporations that reported a U.S. profit every year from 2008 through 2015 and paid less than 20 percent of these earnings in federal income tax. Did these reduced tax rates actually lead to greater employment within the 92 firms? The data we have compiled give a definitive — and sobering — answer.

The money-laundering debate and the Trump investigation

Dan Froomkin, “Trump’s World of Luxury Real Estate is Fueled by Money-Laundering” American Constitution Society Blog, August 31, 2017

Brief excerpt. Full article at:

The ultra-high-end real estate business, where Donald Trump made a lot of his money, is the easiest place for oligarchs and others to launder large amounts of illicit cash. And because several of the lawyers on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian connections with the Trump presidential campaign are specialists in money-laundering and other financial crimes, some observers are speculating that he may be looking into Trump’s past business dealings to see if any of those connections are relevant to the matter at hand.

The fact that money-launderers flock to luxury real estate is nothing new, and isn’t much of a mystery either. It’s the direct result of a major loophole in U.S. government rules that require banks to report cash deposits over $10,000 — but allow property owners to accept $10 million in cash for a condo without divulging who gave it to them.

For fraudsters, drug cartels, oligarchs and corrupt foreign government officials looking for a way to launder huge sums of illicit cash — and park it somewhere safe — high-end real estate is the investment of choice. “You can put a lot of money in one place at one time, without raising any eyebrows,” says Heather Lowe, legal counsel for the dirty-money watchdog group Global Financial Integrity. The Treasury Department explains it this way: “The real estate market can be an attractive vehicle for laundering illicit gains because of the manner in which it appreciates in value, ‘cleans’ large sums of money in a single transaction, and shields ill-gotten gains from market instability and exchange-rate fluctuations.”

A New York Times series in 2015 found that more than half of the $8 billion spent each year on New York residences that cost more than $5 million comes from shell corporations that mask the real owners’ identities, one possible sign of moneylaundering.

Global Witness, “Undercover in New York,” January 2016

“We went undercover and approached 13 New York law firms. We deliberately posed as someone designed to raise red flags for money laundering. We said we were advising an African minister who had accumulated millions of dollars, and we wanted to buy a Gulfstream Jet, a brownstone and a yacht. We said we needed to get the money into the U.S. without detection.

To be clear, the meetings with the lawyers were all preliminary. None of the law firms took our investigator on as a client, and no money was moved. Nonetheless, the results were shocking; all but one of the the lawyers had suggestions on how to move the funds. To see what some of them said, watch [this 3-minute video]:

Current Congressional Legislation related to Illicit Financial Flows and Tax Justice

Corporate Transparency Act of 2017 A bill to amend title 31, United States Code, to ensure that persons who form corporations or limited liability companies in the United States disclose the beneficial owners of those corporations or limited liability companies, in order to prevent wrongdoers from exploiting United States corporations and limited liability companies for criminal gain, to assist law enforcement in detecting, preventing, and punishing terrorism, money laundering, and other misconduct involving United States corporations and limited liability companies, and for other purposes.

  1. 1717: Sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), 1 cosponsor, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) H.R. 3089: Sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), 10 cosponsors (5R, 5D)

Related background on beneficial ownership

Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act A bill to end offshore corporate tax avoidance, and for other purposes.

Summary: This bill authorizes the Department of the Treasury to impose restrictions on foreign jurisdictions or financial institutions to counter money laundering and efforts to significantly impede U.S. tax enforcement. It amends the Internal Revenue Code to expand reporting requirements for certain foreign investments and accounts held by U.S. persons, and amends the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to: (1) require corporations to disclose certain financial information on a country-by-country basis, and (2) impose penalties for failing to disclose offshore holdings.

  1. 841: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), no cosponsors H.R. 1932: Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), 59 cosponsors, all Democrats

Related background on country-by-country reporting

Inclusive Prosperity Act of 2017 A bill to impose a tax on certain trading transactions to invest in our families and communities, improve our infrastructure and our environment, strengthen our financial security, expand opportunity and reduce market volatility.

  1. 805: Sen. Bernard Sanders (D-VT), no cosponsors H.R. 144: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), 23 cosponsors, all Democrats

Related background on financial transaction (“Robin Hood”) taxes

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Sierra Leone: Hard Lessons from Disaster
| August 29, 2017 | 8:22 pm | Africa | No comments

Sierra Leone: Hard Lessons from Disaster

AfricaFocus Bulletin August 29, 2017 (170829) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“The calamity that struck Sierra Leone on Aug. 14, when Sugarloaf, the conical mountain overlooking the capital, Freetown, collapsed in a mudslide that swept away buildings and killed at least 400 people, was shocking but not entirely surprisingly. It is important to be blunt: The tragedy was entirely man-made.” – Lansana Gberie

With deaths last estimated at just short of 500, with some 800 still missing, the death toll from the Sierra Leone mudslides far exceeds that from the Texas floods still ongoing, or from the Grenfell Tower fire in London in mid-June. Yet, in each case, many observers have pointed out that the disaster had been years in the making, predictable in advance, and largely man-made. The locations make the unequal level of international attention also predictable, but the hard lessons to be learned apply both in rich and poor countries.

For Houston and Freetown, the common element is an “extreme weather” event, becoming more and more frequent worldwide due to climate change. No one can predict which coastal city will be the next such case or the scale of the disaster. But that more such “unpredictable” disasters are coming is a near certainty. For Houston, Freetown, and London, another common element is the role of unregulated urban “development” in increasing risk and the scale of disasters. And the scale of casualties and damage also depends on the capability of disaster preparation efforts.

In addition, given that levels of outside response to a disaster depend in large part on media coverage, the disproportion is strikingly visible as Freetown struggles to recover depending on its own resources, routine responses from international agencies, and small although numerous contributions from the Sierra Leonean diaspora.

Among donors listed by the United Nations, the United States does not yet appear, although USAID has announced a $100,000 contribution and members of Congress have requested that USAID allocate an additional $20 million. In comparison, the UK has donated $5 million, China $1 million, South Africa $650,000, Togo $500,000, and Senegal $100,000.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two articles focusing on the hard lessons to be learned from the Freetown mudslides, as well as a short selection of additional links for more background.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Sierra Leone visit

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the environment and climate change, visit

See particularly, on the role of lost tax revenues in increasing Sierra Leone’s vulnerability to disasters, including Ebola.

Additional articles of related interest:

Umaru Fofana, “Reflections on Sierra Leone’s mudslide disaster,” BBC, August 19, 2017

Richard Munang, “What we need to learn from Freetown’s landslide tragedy: To avoid another deadly landslide in a coastal town, Africa needs to take collective action against climate change,” Al Jazeera, August 22, 2017

“Sierra Leone grapples with another big tragedy – but the world doesn’t seem to care,” Quartz Africa, August 25, 2017

“Africa: Freetown’s Mudslides and the Slippery Slope of Urban Risk in Africa” by Emmanuel Osuteye and Hayley Leck IRIN News, August 23, 2017

For detailed updates from international agencies, see

The most recent UN Situation Update (August 25) is at

Representative Karen Bass and other members of Congress call on U.S. Government to provide $20 million in emergency aid to Sierra Leone

“How Donald Trump and Elaine Chao Sold Off Flood-Control Policy to the Highest Bidders,” The Nation, August 28, 2017

Eric Holthaus, “Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like,” Politico, August 28, 2017


If you are donating for Houston, also donate for Freetown

There are more than a thousand pages for the Freetown mudslides (see, One that has been referred to AfricaFocus by African Communities Together is by the Union of Sierra Leone Organizations in New York ( ). The group has also organized fundraising events in New York.

One highly respected international agency working on the ground in Freetown is Doctors without Borders. See article & donate link at

For Texas flood donations, here is a link to local Texas relief groups

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Sierra Leone’s Disaster Was Caused by Neglect, Not Nature

By Lansana Gberie

The New York Times, Aug. 20, 2017

[Lansana Gberie is the author of “A Dirty War in West Africa: the RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone.”]

The calamity that struck Sierra Leone on Aug. 14, when Sugarloaf, the conical mountain overlooking the capital, Freetown, collapsed in a mudslide that swept away buildings and killed at least 400 people, was shocking but not entirely surprisingly. It is important to be blunt: The tragedy was entirely man-made.

This is a moment for grief, sympathy and emergency assistance to a country that has barely recovered from a devastating Ebola epidemic three years ago. But this must also be the time for Sierra Leone’s government for once to take drastic measures to make sure a similar disaster does not occur, which is all but certain to happen if nothing changes.

The Freetown mudslide was caused by a more deliberate human activity than is usually associated with climate change and similar natural catastrophes. Sugarloaf, which is still covered on the top, at about 3,000 feet, by lush vegetation, is part of an allocation of supposedly protected areas officially called the Western Area Forest Reserve. The mountain range overlooks Regent, Hamilton and Leicester — villages created by the British in the early 19th century for liberated slaves, as well as the Guma and Congo dams, which supply the capital with water (though no longer adequately, as a result of the deforestation).

Bodies of the victims are tranferred out of the site of the mudslides     in Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, on Aug. 18, 2017.(Xinhua/Chen Cheng)    

But a fleeting post-civil war boom in the 2000s had its most lasting effect in the area in the form of frantic housing construction that has led to the degradation of the so-called protected areas, most of which have been built over. The rain forest providing protective cover for the city below has been denuded by the buildings. This destruction started at the former colonial settlement that Sugarloaf overlooks on one side, Hill Station, which once hosted many charming bungalows. Hill Station was built in 1901 as a Europeans-only residence, some 700 feet above Freetown. Malaria was the reason for this segregation. Dr. Ronald Ross, whose research in Sierra Leone led to the conquest of that deadly pathogen, had recommended that houses for Europeans “should be built on elevated sites.”

When Sierra Leone gained independence from Britain in 1961, the new postcolonial elite inherited the coveted place and reserved it for top officials. However, when civil war — a great social leveler — interrupted in the 1990s, thousands of people displaced from the countryside flocked to Freetown. It became harder to control where people built homes or lived, and harder still when the British-led International Military Training and Advisory Team Sierra Leone constructed a sprawling barracks behind what looked like a medieval rampart at Hill Station. The area instantly became the preferred home for the country’s elite, attracted by the security that the British presence supposedly guaranteed. The Americans enhanced the area’s attraction enormously in 2006 when they opened an imposing embassy close by, built at the cost of more than $40 million. Caddell, the American company that did the construction, announces on its website that the embassy “has played an important part in the healing process” of the war-torn country. So it might have.

The once-exclusive area is now home to rich and poor alike, oppressor and oppressed: a mesh of shacks, occupied by the poor and dispossessed, alongside grotesque mansions and perennially unfinished brick houses, their owners mostly politicians out of favor, their expensive follies creating an odd impression of blight or ruin. Since some of the Sierra Leone’s most powerful political figures were culpable in the degradation, the dire warnings by the country’s environmentalists were guaranteed to go unheeded by the government.

In a widely circulated article in 2014, Sama Banya, Sierra Leone’s leading conservationist, called on President Ernest Bai Koroma to enforce the National Protected Area law, which his government enacted in 2012, by demolishing buildings constructed on protected land and planting trees to replace those that had been cut down. Mr. Banya warned that unless Mr. Koroma summoned the political will to act, there would be “predictable dire consequences.”

Two years ago, flooding in Freetown killed 10 people and destroyed several homes. The misnamed Environmental Protection Agency, which is often complicit in some of the most serious disturbances to Sierra Leone’s flora and fauna, responded by setting up ridiculous flowerpots on roads in Freetown that are often used by officials. Clearly, this sort of superficiality appeals to them.

This time, however, Mr. Koroma should do something decisive to leave a legacy other than an image of a helpless leader always appealing for and receiving foreign donations amid national calamities. He must act now to prevent another deadly flooding or mudslide by enforcing the National Protected Area law, which forbids construction in protected areas like those around Sugarloaf. This demands real action, including the demolition of those buildings and the relocation of the people occupying them. If he fails, more of Sierra Leone’s people are sure to die.

Liberia: Sierra Leone Mudslides – a Preventable Social Disaster or an Inevitable ‘Natural Disaster’?

By Phillip Garjay Innis

Liberian Observer, August 25, 2017

What lessons can African countries learn from Sierra Leone’s devastating mudslides? Was the disaster due to natural events or is there a social dimension? Is there anything such as a ‘natural disaster’? What can be done to reduce risks?

On August 14, 2017, torrential rainfall caused a hillside to collapse in Sierra Leone’s capital city. This torrential downpour triggered mudslides that killed hundreds of residents and destroyed properties. As of August 19, 2017, the death toll is placed at 467, with approximately 600 still missing.

Heavy rainfall is not a strange phenomenon in Sierra Leone. The country experiences heavy annual rainfall and is ranked 12th globally in annual precipitation by rainfall. Sierra Leone received over 2,500 mm of rain from 2013 to 2017, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Sierra Leone is therefore familiar with heavy rainfall. Torrential downpours are common in August and September. The country has also experienced disasters sparked by heavy rains in the past. In 2015, floods killed 10 people and left thousands homeless.

How could a torrential downpour lead to a disaster in a country accustomed to heavy rainfall?

‘Naturalness’ or a ‘Social Causation’ of the Disaster?

Since the news of the disaster, the widespread interpretations tend to focus on the ‘naturalness’ of the event, as exemplified in the phrase ‘natural disaster’. The natural hazards that triggered this disaster, the torrential rains, floods, and mudslides,are dominating our attention. Headlines like ‘Sierra Leone mudslides kill 461’ (Telegraph UK), ‘Sierra Leone death toll now up to 450 after mudslides’ (Daily Mail), and ‘Sierra Leone Braces for More Floods Amid Mass Burials’ (Bloomberg) all highlight the natural occurance that led to the disaster.

But is there anything natural about disasters?

As contentious as it may sound, many hold the view that there is no such thing as a ‘natural disaster’. Hazards, such as floods or mudslides or hurricanes or earthquakes, are natural phenomena. But disasters are not. Whether a natural event will lead to a disaster will depend on whether that natural event will interact with exposed and vulnerable people and assets. For example, floods in an uninhabited part of the Sapo National Forest in Liberia will produce no disaster while floods of the same magnitude and intensity in the slum community of West Point in Monrovia, Liberia may lead to a disaster.

The ‘natural’ causes of disasters cannot be detached from the ‘social’ aspects of disasters. Humans have always earned their livelihoods in locations that combine opportunities with hazards. For example, the slopes of a volcano are fertile for agriculture but there is a risk of a volcanic eruption. Floodplains or slopes of hills provide cheap land for housing but there is a risk of flooding or landslides. In many cases, the poor can only afford to live in unsafe slum settlements in and around the cities where they seek their livelihood as daily wage menial workers or petty traders.

The vulnerability of people to hazards in the congested cities of developing countries is a result of a mixture of factors including the prevalence of informal settlements, the presence of urban poverty, marginalization, increasing settlements in disaster-prone areas, lack of disaster preparedness and early warning, among others.

People who are constrained to live in adverse social and economic conditions in urban areas are prone to suffer from the impacts of hazards and extreme events. People are vulnerable not only because of the geophysical factors but also due to the way that assets, income, and access to other resources, including knowledge and information, are distributed between the different social groups.

But the understanding of vulnerability to disasters in African cities tends to be restricted mainly to the geophysical or natural triggers, with the socioeconomic and political factors largely ignored.

What are the probable causes of the August 14 disaster in Sierra Leone?

The impacts of the August 14 mudslides are still being assessed and there is no comprehensive evaluation yet regarding the ‘structural’ and ‘non-structural’ causes of this disaster.

But while heavy rainfall and the mudslide are natural hazards, many are indicating that environmental degradation and lack of appropriate infrastructure are to blame for the intensity of the mudslides.

Almost a million people live in and around the forested mountain regions in Freetown. The authorities were aware of the potential threats to people and assets on the slopes and there have been some efforts to reduce the risks. Deforestation of the hilltops and slopes of the mountainous regions had removed the essential service and protection that trees provided in anchoring soil on the ground. The Global Forest Watch states that Sierra Leone has lost nearly 800,000 hectares of forest cover in the past 10 years.

So, one can safely assume that environmental degradation is largely responsible for the devastating mudslides. But there are other equally crucial factors to consider.

One key contributing factor for the disaster was the lack of disaster preparedness and early warning. Lives could have been saved if there was an efficient disaster preparedness program and early warning mechanism in place. For example, several news outlets reported that the Sierra Leone’s meteorological department did not issue a warning to prompt evacuations from areas susceptible to disasters before and during the torrential rainfall from August 11 to August 14. No warning was issued even though Sierra Leone had received three times more rainfall than expected during the rainy season since July 1, 2017. No warning was issued despite the three consecutive days of the heavy downpour from August 11 to August 14. There was no planned evacuation from the affected area even though a clear risk was evident.

Disaster preparedness was the main reason why there were so few casualties in Cuba from the effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 while the lack of disaster preparedness was the major reason why the hurricane had a devastating effect on Haiti. Both countries were hit hard by the hurricane, but 470 deaths were reported in Haiti while Cuba did not record any death as a direct result of the hurricane.

Poor urban planning is also a factor. Freetown is plagued with a longstanding challenge of poor urban planning and development. Construction is poorly regulated, building codes are not enforced, and urban planning is practically non-existent. Lack of livelihood options is forcing people with precarious livelihoods to settle in unsafe areas. Accelerated development is leading to impervious surfaces that cannot retain water due to the paving of surfaces and clogging of waterways.

The prevalence of poverty in Sierra Leone is also a contributing factor for the hazard turning into a disaster. Poverty reduces resilience and tends to exacerbate the effects of disasters. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and the bulk of its citizens lack the capacity to engage in disaster risk reduction activities on their own. For example, wealthier people may have the capacity to construct disaster resilient buildings; the poor will not have such a capacity. The poor are more concerned with meeting the demands of their daily lives rather than focusing on disaster risk reduction activities. The lack of land tenure in informal settlements will also make it difficult for the poor to invest in building disaster resilient homes.

What can be done to Prevent Future Disasters?

African countries engaging in disaster risk reduction activities must consider both the ‘structural’ and ‘non-structural’ approaches to risk reduction. Structural approaches will include the engineering interventions such as the construction of and maintenance of hazard-resistant infrastructures while non-structural measures will include efforts such as early warning systems, evacuation programs or insurance schemes for affected individuals.

Firstly, there is a need for a legislative framework, especially for building/construction codes. A legislative framework will coalesce legal reform with key policy processes which will determine the priorities and mandates of responsible institutions and further explain the roles, rights, and responsibilities of stakeholders, including the national and municipal authorities, construction companies and building owners. An enabling legislation will also impose a fiduciary duty on institutions to implement the building regulations.

The International Strategy for Disaster Risk (ISDR) Resilient Cities campaign has highlighted building codes as a key component of disaster risk reduction for cities. For example, Ethiopia’s Building Code 1995 (EBCS-8) provides a strong legal framework for safe buildings, and the code contributes directly to the disaster risk reduction endeavors by guaranteeing that buildings are disaster-resilient. In Turkey, the Law on Land Development Planning and Control 1985 guarantees that geological studies must be conducted before construction permits are issued.

Secondly, more should be done to tackle illegal construction in overcrowded informal settlements. Construction in hazard-prone areas must also be banned. In Turkey, for example, areas with high seismic risks are excluded from development. Building in flood plains or deforested slopes must be curtailed due to their hazardous nature while reclamation of mangrove swamps around urban centers should be restricted because of the important water retention services these swamps will provide.

Thirdly, disaster preparedness and early warning signals must be improved. This will be crucial to coping with unexpected, sudden onset disasters such as the mudslides of August 14, 2017, in Freetown. An information dissemination infrastructure should be established to improve the knowledge of residents of urban areas and such information dissemination infrastructure should consider where residents can easily obtain information from, what actions they should take in the event of sudden onset hazards, and locations of safe zones in the event of a hazard event.

Cuba is an example of how thorough disaster preparedness can prevent casualties from disasters. The country has a mandatory hurricane drill every May in anticipation of the hurricane season. During the onset of Hurricane Matthews, the country broadcasted warnings about the advancing hurricane on television and radio. People were adequately informed about the evacuation and other safety procedures. While hundreds of homes were destroyed, no deaths were reported as a direct result of the hurricane due to the country’s level of preparedness.

Furthermore, the capacity of disaster risk reduction institutions must be enhanced. For example, the Sierra Leone’s meteorological department did not issue a warning ahead of torrential rainfall or any safety or evacuation procedures for the affected areas. Many institutions in African countries, including municipal authorities, are often under-funded and are unable to deal with the myriad of hazards.

The enforcement capacity of relevant authorities, especially for building codes must be enhanced. The reduced capacities of authorities to enforce building codes is engendering the situation where unscrupulous contractors can flout building standards or where poor and marginalized populations can settle and construct homes in unsafe areas. Enforcement is often lacking due to a combination of various factors such as a lack of resources on one extreme or a conscious dereliction of duty on the other extreme.

It is also important to initiate a disaster micro-insurance scheme for residents to enable them to easily have access to affordable life and health insurance in the event of disasters. The micro-finance should also cover the loss of assets since most of the poor households also use their homes for their economic activities. While disaster insurance is a good risk transfer method for increasing financial resilience to disasters, there is still an evident gap in understanding how disaster insurance works in the context of a developing country as it has only been applied in countries with established insurance markets.

It is also important that the public authorities become more involved with waste management and the maintenance of infrastructures such as drainages. Proper management of the drainage systems and improvement of the existing sanitary systems will prevent the spread of diseases during floods or mudslides. Burst septic tanks spill-over and garbage in drainages will contribute to pollution and the outbreak of diseases in the event of a disaster. The waste collection and disposal system should also be improved.


We can point to a plethora of causes for the devastating mudslides in Sierra Leone: chaotic development caused by the rapid unplanned urbanization of Freetown, deforestation of hilly areas, poor urban planning and development, lack of disaster preparedness, widespread poverty levels, among others.

To avert similar disaster from occurring in African cities, there is a need to look beyond the geophysical and structural/technical causes of disasters. It is important to also understand what forces socially-disadvantaged people to live in risky areas, as well as factors including rapid population growth, unplanned urbanization, unsustainable land use practices, land availability/unavailability, and land costs. It is also important to consider the capacity of governments to control urban development, prepare for future disasters, and address the glaring poverty levels that are making people more vulnerable to disasters.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

If this issue was forwarded to you by email, and you want to receive AfricaFocus Bulletin regularly, sign up here.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

USA/Africa: No Policy? Bad Policy? Or Both?
| August 23, 2017 | 8:47 pm | Africa | No comments

AfricaFocus Bulletin August 23, 2017 (170823) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“Africa is terra incognita for the Trump Administration: a continent it cares little–and understands even less–about. With no dyed-in-the-wool Trumpian Africa hands available, the administration appears ready to cede Africa policy making to career civil servants and a few mainstream Republican appointees.” – Matthew T. Page

The headline to Page’s article in Quartz Africa states that “Donald Trump could be getting his US-Africa policy right by simply not having one.” His view is actually more nuanced, in judging that no policy would likely be only “less bad” than explicitly “bad policy” that might result from greater White House interest in Africa.

There is no doubt, however, that analysts are left to speculate about how much personnel appointments might actually shape Africa decisions on the ground.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three well-informed articles analyzing the state of play in Africa-related personnel appointments under this administation, including this one by Matthew Page, until recently the U.S. intelligence community’s top expert on Nigeria (see his website, as well as commentaries by Richard Dowden of the Royal African Institute and Reed Kramer of

Twitter updates from Reed Kramer this morning (23 Aug 2017):

“Retired senior diplomat & ex U.S. ambassador to #Ethiopia Don Yamamoto to be acting Assistant Secretary for #Africa @StateDept. Starts Sep 5”

“Appointment of ‘acting’ Assistant Sec likely means no nominee for top #Africa post @StateDept soon. Senate opposition blocking Peter Pham.”

Although the notion of a unified “Africa” policy is largely a fiction under any administration, there is no doubt that the Trump administration is unusually bereft of authority and personnel at the State Department, which has the task of making sense of the policies of different departments and providing local knowledge to adapt policy to Africa-specific realities and changing circumstances.

In general, the incoherence of policy making under Trump, rapid staff turnover in his immediate entourage, lack of staffing in government agencies, and the ongoing investigations into his administration make even the immediate future of any foreign policy highly uncertain. It is also highly debatable whether continuity of policy guided by knowledgeable “adults” rather than zealots would actually produce “good policy.”

That said, the consequences for Africa of U.S. global policy on climate change, counter-terrorism, health, corruption and illicit financial flow, human rights norms, and development goals, to name only a few such areas, will inevitably have fallout effects for Africa. These effects will surely be as great as, or greater than, the impact of policy decisions on Africa-specific issues. And the policy directions on domestic issues across the U.S. Government will set the context for each agency’s international engagement in Africa as well as in multilateral institutions. Thus it is quite possible to have no policy on “Africa” and disastrously worse policies than the “less bad” (continuity) policies of previous administrations.

As readers are aware, AfricaFocus particularly features such issues on which global and U.S. policy has particularly negative effects on Africa. This AfricaFocus Bulletin accordingly includes below a partial list of issues and cabinet officials who are shaping U.S. policy, with brief references to AfricaFocus coverage and a few other additional links from current news sources.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the USA and Africa, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Better Off

Donald Trump could be getting his US-Africa policy right by simply not having one

Matthew T. Page

August 09, 2017 Quartz Africa

Last week, secretary of state Rex Tillerson made one of his rare press appearances to give a tour d’horizon of US foreign policy priorities. In his lengthy and candid remarks he touched on North Korea, China, Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela, among other issues–but made no mention of Africa.

This omission reflects the reality that Africa is terra incognita for the Trump Administration: a continent it cares little–and understands even less–about. With no dyed-in-the-wool Trumpian Africa hands available, the administration appears ready to cede Africa policy making to career civil servants and a few mainstream Republican appointees.

Guided by this team of low-key professionals, could president Trump’s Africa policy turn out to be more pragmatic than extreme? Could it steer clear of Trump’s trademark controversies and missteps? Many of the signs point to yes: with luck, bureaucratic effort, and Congressional top cover, US Africa policy under Trump might remain relatively fumble-free.

Adrift on Africa?

During Trump’s first six months in office, US-Africa policy has been adrift. At no time since before the creation of the State Department’s Africa Bureau in 1958–a time when most African nations were still European colonies–has Washington been so distracted and disengaged.

Trump poses with African leaders following family photo of the G7 Summit expanded session in May. L -R: Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, Guinea’s Alpha Conde, Donald Trump, AfDB’s Akinwumi Adesina,    Nigeria’s Yemi Osinbajo and Ethiopia’s PM Hailemariam Desalegn. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)   

Prospective budget and organizational cuts suggest Trump–unlike George W. Bush–does not see promoting good governance, human rights, and socioeconomic development as a strategic US interest. Trump’s senior officials reportedly do not take Africa-related issues seriously, urging subordinates to keep them off their plate. They have thus far shown little interest in engaging with African countries beyond making business deals and leveraging military ties.

Perhaps because of this ambivalence, ambassador John Campbell’s prediction last December that “career civil servants and diplomats, together with Congress, will play a big role in setting policy” has largely borne out. Key Republican senators derisively view secretary Tillerson’s proposal to make deep discretionary cuts to his department; Democrats call Tillerson’s plan “a devastating assault on American interests and values”.

Congressional pushback from Republican Africa stalwarts like Sen. Jeff Flake, and Rep. Ed Royce and Rep. Chris Smith will also intensify if Trump tries to undermine longstanding bipartisan programs, like the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Congress will also weigh in on Trump’s forthcoming Africa appointments.

Personnel Problems

At least one of these appointments–Trump’s new senior director for Africa Cyril Sartor–started work at the National Security Council last week. After a painful ten monthlong vacancy, Sartor–a dour but Africa-savvy CIA mandarin–stepped into the breach. Tasked with advising senior administration officials and coordinating interagency decision-making on Africa, Sartor is a veteran bureaucratic gladiator that will resist any effort to politicize his portfolio.

Beyond naming Sartor, the Trump administration has failed to fill out its Africa team. At the State Department, the job of assistant secretary of state for African Affairs remains unfilled. Career diplomat Peter Barlerin–a trained economist that has yet to serve as an ambassador–has been treading water as Acting Assistant Secretary for several months. As a result, the Bureau and its 45 embassies across Africa continue to operate much as they did before with little–if any–new country-specific guidance.

The likeliest candidate for assistant secretary is Vatican-diplomat-turned-Africawonk Dr. J. Peter Pham. A prolific writer with a hard-nosed Africa policy strategy ready to go, Pham lacks strong ties to his prospective boss. Secretary Tillerson reportedly has vacillated over naming Pham, despite his preeminence among the GOP’s miniscule cadre of Africanists.

At the Department of Defense (DOD), seasoned civil servant Amanda Dory stepped down as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Africa earlier this year. Dory’s unexpected departure thrust her newly-minted deputy Michelle Lenihan into an acting role. On the military side, Air Force Major General Curtis L. Williams recently became chairman of the joint chief’s in-house Africa advisor.

Over at the embattled US Agency for International Development (USAID)–still in danger of being dismantled by Trump–career professional Cheryl L. Anderson has been Acting Assistant Administrator for Africa. Newly confirmed USAID administrator Mark Green, a widely respected former ambassador to Tanzania, likely will pick her replacement soon.

Dabbling Donald?

As new appointees slowly come on board, US-Africa policy will regain some of its shape and direction. Less liberal and ambitious than under previous administrations, its focus on democracy, development, and human rights will diminish. Guided by apolitical professionals, it almost certainly will not reflect Trump’s bigoted, antihumanist world view.

But what if Trump tries to dabble in Africa policymaking? How would these policy professionals cope?

After all, Trump’s penchant for praising autocratic leaders could, for example, complicate efforts by US officials to nudge the continent’s strongmen leaders to relinquish power and hold credible elections. Trump’s ‘hashtag diplomacy’ could also spark an international incident.

If Trump and his top lieutenants continue to show as little interest in Africa as they do now, the chance of one of these scenarios playing out seems remote. If this dynamic changes, however, Washington’s beleaguered Africa policymakers will have just one option left: damage control.

Peter Pham: President Trump’s perfect pick for top Africa post?

By Richard Dowden

African Arguments, August 1, 2017

Richard Dowden is the director of the Royal African Society and the author of Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. – Direct URL:

If Pham becomes Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, it would likely mark a shift in the tone and priorities of US-Africa relations.

If Donald Trump has a to-do list and Africa is on it, it must come a long way down. It is seemingly impossible to find anyone on his team that has an interest in the continent. And the crucial position of Assistant Secretary of State for Africa remains empty, though perhaps not for much longer. Over six months into his administration, there are growing noises suggesting the US president may finally be ready to put forward a name for the government’s top Africa post.

J. Peter Pham’s name has already been doing the rounds as the most likely candidate. He is director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre and a prolific former academic with close links to the Republican Party.

A one-time Washington outsider who challenged the consensus on US-Africa relations, Pham has reportedly been trying to broaden his connections in departments whose staffs are more likely to lean Democrat than Republican. He is working hard to establish relationships with experts across the spectrum, trying to build a policy consensus.

Twitter exchange: Matthew Page, Reed Kramer      

Pham has written profusely on Africa and rejects the previous approach – espoused by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – that insisted democracy and human rights should be the cornerstone of US support. Instead, he argues that economic growth should take precedence, though he has recently emphasised security and good governance too. He urges US companies to grasp business opportunities on the continent.

New and un-realities

This approach may suit Trump well, though if appointed, Pham will be hard-pressed in trying to work out exactly what his boss’ Africa policy is. Previous US presidents have typically talked the talk regarding respect for human rights, democratic accountability and a free civil society when it comes to Africa. But Trump is from a different planet.

His policy-light “America First” agenda, his incontinent outbursts, and his wilful ignorance about the world make it difficult to understand what he might want from the continent. The content of his phone calls to half a dozen African presidents meanwhile have not been made public.

Access to oil seems to be one of Trump’s priorities, so Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria may be important. Though less so their democratic and human rights records.

This uncertainty will mean that Pham’s job, if he gets it, will not be easy. In fact, the language of the current administration is reminiscent of America’s mood in the 1980s. At that time, a senior unnamed US official told historian Niall Ferguson: “The judicious study of discernible reality is not the way the world really works any more. We’re an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality.”

This sounds close to Trump’s dismissal of reality as “Fake News” and his programme of creating new realities.

“Overly optimistic notions”

The US has a number of large-scale projects in Africa. Its power to enhance or undermine national economies and governments remains immense.

Militarily, the US military command known as Africom has bases across the continent and engages in the training of soldiers, especially in the Sahel where Islamist militant groups operate. Tackling this security threat was a priority in Trump’s campaign. It has also been identified by Pham as an area of possible bipartisan support in which the US can forge ahead.

Another crucial programme in Africa is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) through which the US has spent billions each year since 2003. Started under Bush Jr. and extended by Obama, the programme today supports around 11.5 million people with life-saving antiretroviral medicines. The US government recently agreed to maintain current levels of spending in 2018 despite the White House’s attempts to cut it back.

The US also sees Africa as a source of raw materials and a trading partner. The African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), first signed into law in 2000, provides a framework for this commerce and offers certain trade preferences for African countries. In 2016, US imports from sub-Saharan Africa under AGOA totalled $9.3 billion, 56% of which was petroleum products. In the opposite direction, Pham wants to create more demand for American products on the continent and believes that “advancing US economic interests in Africa will, and must be, driven primarily by the private sector”.

Pham says he wants Africa to take control of its destiny. But whether that means helping African states reach a mutually beneficial relationship with the US is not clear. He talks of “earned engagement” with the US, implying that African governments must first win America’s respect, or at least its favour.

He preaches stability and economic growth over democracy and human rights. And he insists that the US must correct its long-held and “overly optimistic notions of what African partners are capable of and willing to do”.

If Pham takes charge as many are expecting him to, it would likely mark a significant shift in the priorities and principles typically espoused by the US in dealing with Africa. The space for discussion and negotiation open to African governments would likely narrow even further. And under Pham, it seems policies would not be crafted alongside African leaders and their people, but unapologetically designed to fit the needs of Trump’s America. For the president, his appointment may make perfect sense.

Third Trump Try to Fill Senior Africa Policy Post

by Reed Kramer

AllAfrica, July 25, 2017

See also Reed Kramer, “White House Choices Shape Africa Policies” AllAfrica, April 1, 2017

After two abandoned attempts to fill the highest Africa position in the White House, the Trump team is considering a career intelligence officer.

No announcement has been made, but sources with access to the selection process say Cyril Sartor, deputy assistant director for Africa at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is the front runner to be senior director for Africa at the National Security Council (NSC).

On April 1, AllAfrica was the first to report the choice of Air Force veteran and former Pentagon Africa counter-terrorism director Rudolf Atallah for the NSC Africa job. Buzz Feed, which wrote about the Atallah selection 12 days later, reported on June 23 that the offer to Atallah had been “yanked” – after he had been introduced at an ‘all-hands’ NSC meeting and had been actively working on African issues for the administration.

No reason has been advanced for the reversal on Atallah, who was the second person named to direct Africa at NSC. The first, Robin Townley, was blocked from taking the job after his security clearance reportedly was rejected by the CIA.

Among the positions Sartor has held, according to a brief biography posted online by the Aspen Security Forum in July 2016, are serving as briefer for two National Security Advisors and as acting intelligence officer for Africa at the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which produces strategic forecasts for the U.S. government. The bio says he earned an MA in African History from Boston University in 1984.

Sartor is among the small group of African Americans at senior level in the intelligence community. No official government biography is available online.

The information posted by Aspen accompanied Sartor’s participation in a public panel on terrorism in Africa at the Aspen forum in July 2016, a relatively rare appearance by an intelligence analyst. “It feels a little weird for a CIA officer to be live streaming on YouTube,” Sartor joked, as he began his prepared remarks.

“Violent Islamic ideology is a foreign import to sub-Saharan Africa and as such it only thrives where it can co-opt local grievances,” Sartor said, citing complaints among nomadic Tuareg people in Mali and “clan frustrations” that spur the insurgency in Somalia.

The socioeconomic roots of popular grievances must be addressed, he told the Forum, adding, “I sincerely believe the international community can defeat terrorism in sub Saharan Africa with a robust mix of long-term development and security assistance.” He said defeating terrorism in Africa “will take a long time” – in part because insurgencies typically last “more than a dozen years” and also because the youth population across Africa is growing faster than anywhere else in the world.

Africa director at NSC is one of two high-level Africa jobs that remain unfilled more than five months into the Trump administration. No formal nomination has been put forward to head the Africa Bureau at the State Department, a front-line position tasked with managing U.S. diplomatic relations with the continent.

Africa experts who track policy developments believe a nomination for the senior Africa post at State could be nearing. The choice for Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian was announced on July 19 – only the third nomination to date for one of the 22 assistant secretary positions in the department.

After several names were discussed within the administration to be nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, well-connected sources say that J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, is being vetted and that his name could be one of the next submitted by the White House to the Senate for confirmation.

That these key posts remain empty is widely seen as part of the reason for the U.S. response to the ‘Compact for Africa’ put forward by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 Summit earlier this month. Riva Levinson, a Republican and a Washington DC-based government relations consultant with extensive African experience, writing in The Hill, labeled as “utterly tone-deaf” President Trump’s decision to leave the Summit during the session on ‘Partnership with Africa, Migration and Health’, the focus of which was “the well-being of Africa’s 1.6 billion people.” His daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump, took his place at the table with the Summit principals, primarily heads of state and of international organizations,

Grant T. Harris, who was senior director for African Affairs in the Obama White House, sees ‘de-prioritization’ of Africa by the Trump administration as creating an opening In Africa for other powers. “Chinese leaders must be salivating” – the country now takes in $50 billion a year or more from African investments, he wrote in The Hill. “North Korea has sold weapons to African countries, in violation of UN sanctions, to fund its weapons of mass destruction programs, and Russia is looking to Africa to hedge against U.S. sanctions,” he wrote.

Peter Pham, the presumed nominee to head the Africa Bureau at the State Department, is a prolific author of analytical essays and books whose work has focused on African security issues. He prepared a strategy paper published by the Council and submitted to the Trump transition team in December, which advocated – among other recommendations -reassigning four north African nations (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) to the Africa Bureau at the State Department, where they currently fall under the Bureau of of Near Eastern Affairs. This reorganization took place at the NSC soon after Trump assumed office.

In a blog he wrote in January, Pham gave this assessment of how the U.S. needs to respond to the proposed German ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa. “If the United States is to pursue a foreign policy of America First, then there is a lot of catching up to be done in bringing the public and private sectors together to forge a robust US approach to the new Africa, whose rising geopolitical importance and burgeoning economic dynamism ought to make it a strategic priority in the new administration.”

Setting the Context for Africa Policy

Climate Change (Scott Pruitt, E.P.A. Administrator) AfricaFocus coverage: Also of interest: and

Health (Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary AfricaFocus coverage: Also of interest:

Kleptocracy and Illicit Financial Flows (Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary) AfricaFocus coverage: Also of interest: and (on Mnuchin’s wife Louise Linton, of “white savior” and “Instagram” fame)

Security and Peacekeeping (James N. Mattis, Defense Secretary; H.R. McMaster, National Security Adviser; Mike Pompeo, C.I.A. Director; Nikki Haley, U.N. Ambassador) AfricaFocus coverage: Also of interest: and

Human Rights and Democracy(Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State; Nikki Haley, U.N. Ambassador) AfricaFocus coverage:

Economic Development (Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary; Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Trade Representative) AfricaFocus coverage:

Agriculture (Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture) AfricaFocus coverage:

Education (Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education) AfricaFocus coverage:

Migration (Jeff Sessions, Attorney General; Gen. John Kelly, Former Secretary for Homeland Security; Nikki Haley, UN Ambassador) AfricaFocus coverage: Also of interest:

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AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see


Africa: Bridge to Education, or to Nowhere?
| August 8, 2017 | 7:56 pm | Africa, Analysis | No comments

Africa: Bridge to Education, or to Nowhere?

AfricaFocus Bulletin August 8, 2017 (170808) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“When Liberia’s Minister of Education, George Werner, announced last spring that he was inviting foreign education companies and non-profits to run our public schools, our country came under the international spotlight, both in Western media and for education activists. … Quickly, Liberia was turned into a battlefield between those who see for-profit ‘charter’ schools as the solution to the problems that plague public education across the world, and those of us who point to underinvestment and poor management as the true culprits.” – Mary Mulbah, president, National Teachers’ Association of Liberia

In the United States, recent controversy over for-profit education has prominently intersected with national politics, with the spectacle of “Trump University” and the installation of billionaire privatization zealot Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in the Trump administration. Internationally, the U.S.-based for-profit company Bridge International Academies (BIA), operating in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, and India, has won praise from prominent international “philanthropists,” but has met with intense criticism and skepticism from educators.

Last week, 174 organizations from 50 different countries called on investors and donors “to fully discharge their legal due diligence obligations and cease support for BIA. We would welcome an opportunity to explore alternatives with donors and investors to identify more effective ways to invest sustainably in providing quality education for all children, including those living in poverty.”

This AfricaFocus contains excerpts from that statement, as well as several short background articles and links to resources on the controversy around BIA and Liberia in particular.

For the perspective of Bridge International Academies and its responses to criticism, see

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on education, culture, and the media, visit

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Liberia, visit

Additional references

“‘May’ Days in March: Bridge Asked to Account by UK Parliament,” by Susan L. Robertson, Unite for Quality Education blog, April 5, 2017,

Education International on Privatisation

Two recent books are interesting for background on this issue in the United States:


  • Samuel E. Adams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, has written a new book, “Education and the Commercial Mindset” ( that details how and why market forces have come to rise in public education and become important in corporate school reform. It is reviewed in “Why the movement to privatize public education is a very bad idea,” by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, July 14, 2016
  • Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America” ( has been the subject of intense controversy and of calls from right-wing critics for her to be fired from her post at Duke University. Its thesis is that the right-wing campaign against public education and other attacks on the role of government fueled by the Koch brothers have their roots in academic theories closed linked to opposition to desegregation of schools in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the rise of “white academies” around the South in that period.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Civil society call on investors to cease support to Bridge International Academies

August 1, 2017

[Excerpts only: full 20-page statement, with detailed documentation, available at]


In May 2015, 116 civil society organisations published a statement raising concerns about the costs, impact and quality of Bridge International Academies (BIA), and responding to misleading information about its approach. Since then, evidence from various sources, including the United Nations (UN), a United Kingdom (UK) parliamentary enquiry, independent research reports, and independent media reports, has confirmed these concerns and raised the alarm about the serious gap between the promises of BIA and the reality of their practice, and pointed to other serious challenges.

Key evidence:

  1. Independent research shows BIA’s fees and practices exclude the poor and marginalised;
  2. Documents from the Ministries of Education in Kenya and Uganda demonstrate that BIA has repeatedly failed to respect the rule of law, including minimum educational standards, over several years;
  3. Documents from BIA show poor labour conditions;
  4. Media reports cite concerns about freedom of expression and lack of transparency;
  5. The United Kingdom (UK) Parliament has raised serious questions about BIA’s relationships with governments, transparency, and sustainability, as well as the absence of valid evidence of BIA’s positive impact;
  6. UN and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights statements raise concerns about negative impacts on education quality, equity and social segregation and stratification.

We recognise that most investors in BIA have positive intentions in wanting to improve the education of children living in poverty. There is an urgent need for education reform – to improve access, equity, and quality for all – so that education can fulfil its potential to play a transformative role in personal, community, and national development. However, evidence demonstrates that investing in BIA is not an appropriate or effective means to meet these objectives.

Cartoon credit: Education International

In light of these findings, the 174 undersigned organisations from 50 different countries are calling on investors and donors to fully discharge their legal due diligence obligations and cease support for BIA. We would welcome an opportunity to explore alternatives with donors and investors to identify more effective ways to invest sustainably in providing quality education for all children, including those living in poverty.

What is Bridge International Academies?

BIA is a large-scale network of private pre-primary and primary schools claiming to deliver “quality affordable education to underserved families and children”. It operates over 500 schools in India, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Uganda, with ambitions to reach 10 million pupils by 2025. It has received investments from major international investors including the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the Omidyar Network, the United Kingdom, the United States, the World Bank, Pearson, and Bill Gates, for a total amount estimated to be over 100 million US dollars. It uses what it calls a “school in a box” model, employing a highly-standardised approach to education. At BIA, every school looks the same, the material used is the same in each classroom, and most importantly, the lessons are the same across all the academies of the same country. BIA uses a system of scripted lessons, and its teachers – who are mostly secondary school leavers without formal teaching qualifications – receive lesson plans on an e-tablet, which they have to follow word by word.

“UK urged to stop funding ‘ineffective and unsustainable’ Bridge schools

Civil society groups call on foreign donors not to fund Bridge International Academies, citing high fees, low pay and poor teaching methods”Rebecca Ratclifee and Afua Hirsch

The Guardian, August 3, 2017

A coalition of 174 civil society organisations has called on international donors, including the UK government, to drop support for a private school company operating in Africa.

Bridge International Academies (BIA) provides technology-driven education in more than 500 primary and nursery schools in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Liberia and India. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are among the high-profile philanthropists from whom the American startup has received funding.

In a statement, campaign groups said the firm charges prohibitively high fees and that teachers are poorly paid, receive little training, and are given inflexible, scripted lessons to read from tablets. The organisations also accused BIA of intimidating its critics, a claim the company has denied.

The statement, signed by organisations from 50 different countries including Global Justice Now and Amnesty International, cited research suggesting that the poorest students cannot afford to attend Bridge schools.

“BIA’s model is neither effective for the poorest children nor sustainable against the educational challenges found in developing countries,” said the campaigners, who alluded to “mounting institutional and independent evidence that raises serious concerns about BIA” and warned of “significant legal and ethical risks associated with investments” in the company.

In Kenya, sending three children to a Bridge school is estimated to represent almost a third of the monthly income of families living on $1.25 (94p) a day, according to a joint study by Kenya National Union of Teachers and Education International, a federation representing 32 million teachers and support staff. The researchers noted that teachers are required to work between 59 and 65 hours a week for a monthly salary of $100.

Uganda’s high court ordered the closure of 63 Bridge schools last year, ruling that they provided unsanitary learning conditions, used unqualified teachers and were not properly licensed. No schools have been closed and Bridge is in dialogue with the government.

In April, following an inquiry into UK aid spending on education, the chairman of the UK parliament’s international development committee questioned whether grant funding should have been provided to Bridge. “The evidence received during this inquiry raises serious questions about Bridge’s relationships with governments, transparency and sustainability,” Stephen Twigg wrote in a letter to the international development secretary, Priti Patel.

Bridge’s model, under which teachers are given electronic tablets containing lesson plans, is seen by some as an answer to improving access to education in low-income countries. In Liberia, BIA is the main partner in a government pilot scheme, Partnership Schools for Liberia (PSL), that involves state-funded private operators running state primary schools. Students at the schools are not charged fees.

The scheme was set up to address the country’s dire education outcomes. “For the sake of these kids, we had to do something,” said Liberia’s deputy minister for education, Romelle Horton. “Quality has to improve.”

One-third of the country’s 15- to 24-year-olds are illiterate and, in 2013, none of Liberia’s 25,000 school-leavers passed the university entrance exam.

Franklin C Jah, the vice-principal for instruction at Martha Tubman public school in Nimba county, one of the Liberian schools that has partnered with BIA, said standards have risen. “Last year, at this school, the students would just copy from the board,” he said. “The teachers would not even explain the notes. But now a computer tells us what to do.”

Initial government assessments suggest Bridge schools in Liberia are generally outperforming their state counterparts. The percentage of pupils scoring zero in reading comprehension in Bridge schools fell by 14% among year 1 pupils, while it increased 2% in government schools. However, pupil attendance was higher in government-run schools: 70%, compared with 60% in Bridge schools by the fourth school term.

But Mary Mulbah, president of the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia, has criticised the government for pushing ahead with plans to expand the scheme before receiving results from a larger study. “We don’t agree that student test scores alone should be used to decide whether to dismantle our public education system,” she wrote in a public letter.

Responding to the criticism from civil society groups, BIA said it provides highquality education to marginalised and remote communities across Africa. The company pointed out that it costs an average of just under $7 (£5) a month to send a child to Bridge, and that 10% of students are on scholarships. BIA added that teachers work about 54 hours a week and are given high-quality training before and during their careers, with salaries – between $95 and $116 a month in Kenya – higher than in other non-formal schools.

“Our pupils are outperforming their peers in national exams over consecutive years. Our model means that we’re able to attract new investment towards solving one of the world’s most pressing problems: hundreds of millions of children who are not learning,” the Bridge statement said.

“Public schools and Bridge schools can and do operate side by side to serve communities in countries where there are major shortages of nurseries and primary schools. We help governments quickly address the gap between how many schools they have and how many they need.”

The UK Department for International Development said: “We have supported over 11 million children in primary and lower-secondary education from 2011-15, including over 5.3 million girls.

“Many of the world’s poorest countries rely on privately run schools to provide an education where state provision is failing. Without privately-run schools, millions of children would be denied an education.

What’s bad for America’s children deemed good for others: Riposte to Nick Kristof

August 1, 2017

Fred van Leeuwen

[Fred van Leeuwen is General Secretary of Education International (, a global union federation consisting of 401 member organisations in 172 countries and territories that represents over 30 million education personnel.] – Direct URL:

Writing in The New York Times [] about the growth of privately run for-profit schools in Liberia, the paper’s columnist Nicholas Kristof praises the turnover of a significant number of public schools in Liberia to Bridge International Academies, a US-based for-profit education company. That same company that has been ordered to close its schools in Uganda and Kenya for its neglect and disregard of national educational standards.

Kristof claims that those who oppose the commercialization of education in Liberia and elsewhere, including Education International, are driven by ideological motives rather than the interests of children. This is incorrect. Around the world, the teaching profession is the most outspoken advocate of children’s right to quality schooling. That right is to be realized by governments. And where public authorities fail to make their public schools work, they need to be held accountable and pressured to do better rather than permitted to wheel in the marketeers to do the job they were elected to do in the first place.

Kristof believes that Americans are grown up enough to handle their own education system, but without a shred of evidence he offers that the “solution” for Liberia is to turn their schools over to a foreign, US based corporation.

Liberia experienced two civil wars, the first from 1989 to 1997 and the second from 1999 to 2003, followed by a transition to democracy and elections in 2005. The destruction of those wars left the population vulnerable to the Ebola virus in 2014 and 2015. That catastrophe inflicted serious damage on the economy and education.

Education is a public service that enables people to listen, sows the seeds of tolerance, heals wounds and develops critical thinking. It is a building process that contributes to development, good governance and decent societies.

On the other hand, education that limits such progress, restricts discussion, and focuses exclusively on a few narrow skills fails children and society. Bringing in private education operators, particularly in relative obscurity, is not an example of good governance. Handing over Liberia’s primary and pre-primary education system to a foreign for-profit company like Bridge is as bad for Liberian education as it is for the country’s democracy.

It is of deep concern that deals between the government of Liberia and the education privateers have been so opaque and that independent research and evaluation have been dismissed. Despite the promise that any significant expansion of the privatization project would depend on some rigorous evaluation six months into the trial, the Ministry of Education decided to double the number of schools in the project’s second year.

This earned the Minister a public rebuke from the government appointed evaluation team and the criticism of the international academic community. Suppressing independent research and evaluation and precipitous action are linked. Both have the effect of limiting governance by chilling or blocking informed, public discussion.

The current situation in Liberia is best summed up by Mary Mulbah, the President of the National Teachers’ Association of Liberia (NTAL), who wrote on Africa is a Country last week:

Ultimately the key question is this: why is our own government so incapable of managing this critical public service that it must give the keys to our children’s future over to foreign companies and charities who often seem to have little to no understanding of our country and culture?

As teachers, we have a profound interest in seeing a well-financed, responsibly managed, modern school system that grants all of our students the best chance to succeed in difficult circumstances. But we believe this is best achieved through robust public investment, better administrative management, and stronger accountability for teachers as well as the ministry officials that supervise them.

Noting “successive studies,” Kristof himself acknowledges that for-profit schools “hurt children” in the US. Yet, without missing a beat, he proclaims that they are good for Liberian children.

In the US, as in Liberia, support for the privatization of education systems is not based on objective information, evidence or informed debate. It is, rather, driven by ideology; by the dogma that private must be better than public. It is only recently that much of the American public has realized that they have been victims of exaggeration, empty promises and deception.

Liberians should not be guinea pigs in an experiment to transform the noble mission of public education into a market opportunity for foreign capital.

So, a plea to Nicholas Kristof: let’s not wish upon other people’s children that which we would not accept for our own.

* This text was first submitted to the New York Times as an oped response to Kristof. The newspaper informed Education International that it does not “run response pieces as op-eds.”

Why is Liberia’s Government rushing to sell its public schools to U.S. for-profits?

July 19, 2017 by Mary Mulbah – Direct URL:

When Liberia’s Minister of Education, George Werner, announced last spring that he was inviting foreign education companies and non-profits to run our public schools, our country came under the international spotlight, both in Western media and for education activists.

The Minister and the supporters of the government’s plan excitedly championed the notion that clever thinking and technology could turn around our troubled school system. However, the broader education community warned that the consequences of turning an impoverished country’s school system into an “experiment” would be grave, and could lead to lasting damage to Liberia’s ability to run its own public services and provide free education.

Quickly, Liberia was turned into a battlefield between those who see for-profit “charter” schools as the solution to the problems that plague public education across the world, and those of us who point to underinvestment and poor management as the true culprits.

At first, Minister Werner wanted to outsource all of our public schools to one company – US-based Bridge International Academies, which has come under sustained criticism in Kenya and Uganda for operating substandard schools and flouting government oversight.

Pushback against this plan – which violated our national anti-corruption laws – resulted in the government inviting other companies and providers to take place in what was described as a pilot, which was to be judged independently at the end of the first year.

In all, 93 schools were taken over by foreign providers, with Bridge remaining the largest beneficiary of the pilot, managing 25 of our schools.

Now, the first year has concluded. But instead of waiting for the results of the Randomized Control Trial presently being conducted by the Washington D.C.-based Center for Global Development, the Liberian government is pressing forward with another expansion.

In fall 2017, we are told, an additional 107 public schools will be incorporated into the pilot. Contrary to assurance by the minister that there would not be any significant scale-up in the absence of evidence, that represents more than doubling the so-called pilot.

As the national representative body of Liberia’s teachers, we don’t agree that student test scores alone should be used to decide whether to dismantle our public education system. But the fact that the Liberian government is planning to expand the pilot before it receives the results of a study it commissioned is a clear sign that it is not interested in thoughtfully weighing the consequences and impact of its radical plans.

In fact, while high-profile delegations of celebrity visitors and expensive symposiums have been used to trumpet the “successful” outsourcing of our schools, the story on the ground is much more concerning, and does not align with the rosy picture being painted by the Liberian government, Bridge, and other providers.

Investigative reporting has shown evidence that parents in some towns where outsourced schools are located are furious that their children were left without access to education due to limits on class sizes in pilot schools, which were hastily implemented without a plan to assist students who were left out.

Parents were also promised that extended school hours would be supported by the implementation of school lunch programs that have failed to materialize, leading to large numbers of dropouts in some schools.

These and other harmful impacts of the pilot are easy to find. One simply needs to go to the towns where the schools are located and speak with parents and teachers. Any objective observer will almost certainly discover that there are serious problems that must be addressed before an expansion is even considered.

But far from being serious about methodically and responsibly measuring the effects of the pilot, our Ministry of Education seems determined to increase its scope.

In recent weeks, our global federation, Education International, was informed by the Ministry that a team of American academic researchers hired to provide a critical analysis of the pilot would not be allowed access to any of the schools or the administrators who supervise them. This begs the question: what do they have to hide?

Simultaneously, senior leaders of our teachers’ union have been fired by the government for speaking out against the pilot, and teachers working for Bridge have been told there would be consequences if they spoke to their union representatives or journalists about their concerns. Our union has come under attack not just by the government, but also by those who see us as an impediment to the effort to bring our school system under outside management and control.

Ultimately the key question is this: why is our own government so incapable of managing this critical public service that it must give the keys to our children’s future over to foreign companies and charities who often seem to have little to no understanding of our country and culture?

As teachers, we have a profound interest in seeing a well-financed, responsibly managed, modern school system that grants all of our students the best chance to succeed in difficult circumstances. But we believe this is best achieved through robust public investment, better administrative management, and stronger accountability for teachers as well as the ministry officials that supervise them.

The government’s reluctance to honestly assess the effects of the first year of this radical initiative should give pause to anyone who thinks that it represents the best hope for Liberian children.

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AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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Africa: Visa Openness on the Agenda?
| July 31, 2017 | 7:00 pm | Africa | No comments

Africa: Visa Openness on the Agenda?

AfricaFocus Bulletin July 31, 2017 (170731) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“For now, however, crossing borders remains a painful experience for most Africans. … On average, Africans need a visa to travel to 54% of the continent’s countries; it’s easier for Americans to travel around Africa than it is for Africans themselves. So far, the AU has issued its single African passport only to heads of state and senior AU officials.” – The Economist

The African Union’s “Agenda 2063” laid out the far-reaching goal of free movement of persons in a continent “with seamless borders,” and set the more immediate target of 2018 for “the abolishment of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries.”

Even the more limited goal is far from being achieved by next year. But the second of a new series of reports from the African Development Bank and the African Union measuring progress on the goal is now out, and finding that there is some initial progress in easing national restrictions, with Ghana and Senegal taking the lead in opening up their borders to visitors from more African countries. And momentum is growing for other countries to recognize the economic advantages of such policy changes, and extend the range of more open policies now being pursued within regional organizations in West Africa and East Africa.

A new High Level Panel on Migration in Africa (HLPM) began work with its inaugural meeting in June, a protocol for free movement of persons is to be drafted for approval next year by the African Union, and civil society organizations in West Africa have launched a campaign ( A new website ( presents the reports with country scores allowing African citizens to check the ranking of countries, and details for each country.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the Visa Openness Report, including a graph of ratings of visa openness by country.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration and related issues, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Visa-free travel in Africa remains far off

14 June 2017 – Direct URL:

Note: This article first appeared in the Economist

By 2063, according to the African Union’s (AU) rather long-range prediction, Africa will be “a continent of seamless borders”. People, capital, goods and services will flow freely from South Africa to Tunisia and from Senegal to Somalia. Europe’s frontier-free Schengen area may be creaking under the strain of migration and terror, but another will arise, this one encompassing a continent of more than 1.2bn people. Last year, with that goal in mind, the AU boldly introduced a single African passport. The first recipients were two of the continent’s most powerful strongmen: Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, and Chad’s president, Idriss Déby.

For now, however, crossing borders remains a painful experience for most Africans. The World Bank estimates that intra-African trade is more expensive, all things considered, than trade in any other region. According to Anabel Gonzalez, senior director of a World Bank group on trade and competitiveness, one African supermarket chain reports that it spends $20,000 every week to get import permits for meat, milk and other goods in one country alone; every day one of its lorries is held up at a border costs it $500. On average, Africans need a visa to travel to 54% of the continent’s countries; it’s easier for Americans to travel around Africa than it is for Africans themselves. So far, the AU has issued its single African passport only to heads of state and senior AU officials.

But in the past year things have improved a little, according to a new report from the African Development Bank. Africans now need visas to travel to slightly fewer countries than they did in 2015, and 13 African countries now offer electronic visas, up from 9 the previous year. Ghana made the most progress: in 2016 the government announced that it would provide visas on arrival for citizens of every AU member state, while offering entirely visa-free travel to 17 African countries, including the 14 other members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The Seychelles is still the only country on the continent to offer visa-free access to all Africans. (An archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it is a haven for well-heeled tourists but hard to get to if you are poor.)

Elsewhere, progress has been patchy. Less than a quarter of African countries provide “liberal access”—meaning visa-free travel or at least visas on arrival—to all African citizens, and most of the continent’s richest countries tend to be more restrictive. War-torn central Africa remains the most closed region; east and west Africa have opened up the most.

Africa Visa Openness Report 2017

African Development Bank

[Excerpts only: full report available at]

“We are trying to drive a continental visa policy reform programme for all of Africa. We want to remove many of the challenges and procedures facing many people when they travel. We want to make sure there is reciprocity on visa issuance across countries and we want to promote talent mobility all across Africa.” – Akinwumi Adesina, President, African Development Bank Group

African Union’s Agenda 2063

Aspiration 2 – An Integrated Continent, Politically United Based on the Ideals of Pan Africanism and the Vision of Africa’s Renaissance

  1. We aspire that by 2063, Africa will: * Be a United Africa * Have world class, integrative infrastructure that criss-crosses the continent; * Have dynamic and mutually beneficial links with her Diaspora; and * Be a continent with seamless borders, and management of cross border resources through dialogue.
  2. Africa shall be a continent where the free movement of people, capital, goods and services will result in significant increases in trade and investments amongst African countries rising to unprecedented levels, and strengthen Africa’s place in global trade.

A Call to Action

  1. We hereby adopt Agenda 2063, as a collective vision and roadmap for the next fifty years and therefore commit to speed-up actions to:
  2. Introduce an African Passport, issued by Member states, capitalising on the global migration towards e-passports, and with the abolishment of visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018.


Foreword, African Union Commission

By the end of 2016, Africa had advanced moderately towards greater freedom of movement for its people. The goal of an integrated Africa as envisaged in Agenda 2063 is slowly getting into sharper focus. The collective African Union decision for Member States to grant a 30-day visa-on-arrival to all African passport holders is being implemented by leading reformers such as Ghana, who this year have joined Rwanda, Mauritius and Seychelles to implement this system. Meanwhile, other African countries have also announced their intention to do so.

Their experience follows in the footsteps of some Regional Economic Communities who have already established a system for free movement of people across their borders, such as ECOWAS and EAC. Countries who have demonstrated such leadership need to be acknowledged. Findings of this second Africa Visa Openness Index highlight the positive momentum for promoting African travel across the Continent.

The process of facilitating visa issuance has improved tangibly since 2015. Besides, the majority of African countries have either opened up further or stayed the same during that period. The top 20 most visa-open countries have higher scores compared to the previous year, and only very few countries remain which do not yet grant visas on arrival.

In July 2016, another milestone was realized with the successful launch of the African Union Passport. This was issued to Heads of State and Government as well as high-level representatives. We are proud to report the tremendous interest in the initiative from governments, businesses and Africans across the Continent. The African Union has future plans to support Member States in rolling out the African Union passport to all citizens, granting them visa-free access to explore the Continent for business, pleasure, leisure and tourism.

Challenges to freedom of movement across Africa undoubtedly still exist. Policy makers, business leaders, civil society and engaged citizens need to highlight where gaps still exist to enable appropriate reforms to be undertaken. African governments are revising their immigration regulations with a view to facilitate movement across the Continent in line with the relevant decision of the Assembly of Heads of State, so as to afford greater opportunities within Africa for our youth and to strengthen the culture of a united, integrated Africa, at peace with itself and with the world.

Thomas Kwesi Quartey Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission


Visa openness in Africa in 2016

Important progress was made on visa openness in 2016, with African countries on average becoming more open to each other. During the year, milestones for greater freedom of movement across the continent included the launch of the African passport in July, and greater reciprocity within Regional Economic Communities, promoting regional integration. The findings from the first edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index, launched in March 2016, energized the debate, highlighting the continent’s top performing countries and the priority visa openness solutions that countries could adopt as policy reforms. Over the year, four countries moved up into the top 20 most open countries in the Index, and over a third of countries put in place efforts to offer more liberal visa policies. At the same time, more countries announced specific measures to improve their visa regimes going forward.


2016 Findings: Countries moving up


While a number of countries still have a distance to travel to make greater progress on visa openness, countries from across West Africa, North Africa and Southern Africa moved up the Index rankings in 2016. In the top 20 most visa-open countries in Africa in 2016, there are four new countries.

“With effect from July this year, we will be allowing citizens of AU Member States to enter our country and obtain visas on arrival with the option to stay for up to thirty days and experience what our country has to offer. This measure, with time, should stimulate air travel, trade, investment and tourism.” President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, State of the Nation address, 25 February 2016

Continent-wide, Ghana has made the most progress in 2016 in opening up its borders for other African travellers, moving into sixth place in the Index, up sixteen places from 2015. The country offers 96% liberal access to all Africans. This is the case either through offering visa-free access to almost a third of all countries (including for the other 14 ECOWAS member states) or visas on arrival to almost two thirds of countries in Africa (from less than 10% in 2015).

Ghana’s policy decision follows a resolution adopted in early 2016 at the AU’s Executive Council on issuing visas on arrival for member states, with the possibility of a 30-day stay. This ties in with Ghana’s pledge to support the continent’s wider integration efforts and Agenda 2063, including through forging stronger links with its Francophone neighbours.

Economic drivers play an important part in Ghana’s new open visa policy in encouraging African visitors to the country, particularly in promoting the country’s travel, tourism, trade and investment sectors. Total travel and tourism contributed 7.8% to Ghana’s GDP in 2015 and is forecast to rise by 2.4% in 2016, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Ghana’s visa policy: African Union citizens are to be issued with visas on arrival, valid for 30 days, at Kotoka International Airport, with other ports of entry to follow. Visitors must have return air ticket/evidence of onward travel, evidence of sufficient funds, and proof of accommodation.


Senegal has moved into the top 20 most visa open countries in Africa, up 9 places from 2015 by offering visa-free access to 42 African countries alongside other ECOWAS member states. The country offers 78% liberal access to all Africans, more than double the figure from 2015. In order to match the ranking of Seychelles – the most visa-open country in the Index – Senegal would need to offer visa-free access to 12 more African countries.

Senegal’s visa policy decision to promote freedom of movement for Africans builds on the country’s efforts since 2015 to re-energize the tourism sector. This has included a set of measures to cut payments for visas to the country, and to lower prices by reducing informal taxes on air tickets by 50%, particularly passenger fees, insurance tax and stamp duty. In line with these initiatives, total travel and tourism contributed 12.4% to GDP in 2015 and was forecast to rise by 4.4% in 2016, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.


A Forward Look

Africans were able to travel more freely across the continent in 2016, as visa openness levels improved from 2015. The priority is to continue this positive trend and deliver on the AU’s decision for countries to issue visas on arrival for all Africans in line with Agenda 2063.

“This Index is going to expand the discussion about regional integration. It is time to check what leaders and governments are doing in terms of human mobility. You can see how much integration we need to make progress, taking into account the opportunities offered by a growing market that is going to grow to 2 billion by 2050.” – Carlos Lopez, Former Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

At the same time, African countries can make progress by facilitating visa procedures, cutting the time, documents and costs involved, as well as by making air travel cheaper and more accessible. Countries can also take advantage of technology developments and put in place electronic systems, which also promote regional security and cooperation. And, in a period of slow economic growth due to falling commodity prices, alongside a decline in international tourist arrivals in Africa, more open visa policies can help to re-energize the tourism industry, promote more African tourists and build the AU’s vision of Brand Africa.

Migration could break or make the future of the continent, according to a recent study by SEF, which includes a call to action for governments, business and civil society to promote freer movement of people that integrates economies and builds strong cultural and social ties. Going forward, greater visa openness in Africa can help to tackle global migration challenges, such as the Mediterranean crisis, while building a people-centered African integration that offers new travel, trade, leisure, study and job opportunities for all Africans.

High level panel on migration launched with Liberia’s Sirleaf as chair

Economic Commission on Africa – Direct URL:

Monrovia, Liberia, 6 June 2017 (ECA) – “Just last week, some forty young men and women died of thirst in the Sahara Desert, while trying to reach Europe. More than a thousand have perished in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of this year.” Those were the words of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her remarks during the launch of a High Level Panel on Migration (HLPM) in Africa, which took place on Tuesday in Monrovia.

Ms. Sirleaf noted that in many places in Europe today, “a mixture of migrants from diverse backgrounds have been living in the streets, under conditions that can best be described as inhumane.”

Established in April 2016 by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) under the direction of the joint African Union(AU) and ECA Conference of Ministers in Addis Ababa, HLPM is made up of 14 members with Ms. Sirleaf as chair. The panel aims to push migration issues to the top of policy agenda by engaging major stakeholders and partners.

Speaking during the launch, ECA’s Acting Executive Secretary, Abdalla Hamdok, stated that Africa is still missing out on the many benefits of migration because of tight border policies. He deplored the fact that Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries.

“Travel in Africa by Africans is curtailed by stringent visa requirements, excessive border controls and immigration restrictions”, said Hamdok, adding that the phenomenon “increases the costs and risks of migration and often comes into conflict between individual motivation to migrate and state restrictions on mobility.”

Mr. Hamdok also stated that although international media outlets tend to present images of large numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe as being mostly from Africa, intra-Africa migration still dominates migration flows on the continent.

“Data shows that less than three per cent of Africa’s population have migrated internationally and less than 12 per cent of the total migrant stock in Europe are from Africa.”

This view was also highlighted by Ms. Maureen Achieng, Representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to the AU, ECA and IGAD.

“Migration from Africa towards other regions is taking place in a much lower level than one might think,” said Ms. Achieng. “There are an estimated 7.5 million West African migrants in West Africa compared to 1.2 million in North America and Europe combined.”

The issue of excessive border controls was also deplored by Ms. Alma Negash, founder of Africa Diaspora Network and member of the HPLM. Ms. Negash cited Uganda’s acceptance of migrants as good example of what African countries should be doing.

“I salute the exemplary conduct of Uganda on migration. In the past few years, Uganda alone took 800 thousand South Sudanese migrations and refugees. Africa needs to accept and take care of its children.”

For his part, Knut Vollebaek – an HLPM member and former minister of foreign affairs of the kingdom of Norway – said the government of Norway “is very pleased” with the HLPM initiative. Mr. Vollebaek expressed hopes about the panel’s ability to achieve its goals.

“It is my hope that we the panelists under the wise leadership of President Sirleaf will mobilize political will among governments in Africa and abroad, regional and international organizations, civil society, business and other stakeholders in support of adopting the necessary policies to facilitate the orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people.”

Mr. Vollebaek added that, “I hope our work can champion the new development paradigm enshrined in agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063 for Africa.”

Over the next few months, the HLPM will consult with relevant constituencies at national, regional and global levels to come up with recommendations on how to build and sustain broad political consensus on an implementable international migration development agenda, taking into account the particular challenges of countries in conflict and post-conflict situations. The report will be submitted to the African Union Heads of State summit in July 2018.

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AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

Kenya: Pre-election Commentaries, 2
| July 26, 2017 | 8:32 pm | Africa | No comments

Kenya: Pre-election Commentaries, 2

AfricaFocus Bulletin July 24, 2017 (170724) (Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“As the election draws closer, Kenyans are reminded how sexist and patriarchal their society has remained. Choosing to run is a particularly difficult decision for a woman and her family. Campaigning is often marked by violence directed at women candidates. … The agitation for a greater political role for women led to progressive legal frameworks. But historical prejudices have ensured that a bill that would enshrine the law has twice failed to get the numbers in a male-dominated House.” – Beatrice Akala

While most commentary on the August 8 Kenyan general elections focus on the familiar themes of the presidential contenders and the potential for violence in a close and disputed outcome, as in 2007, the election will also be notable for what it reveals about the impact of political “devolution” and the still contested role of women in politics.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three short commentaries highlighting the continued obstacles facing the participation of Kenyan women in politics, as well as one focusing on the impact of “devolution” in expanding the levels of political contestation to six: “a member of the county assembly (MCA), a women’s representative, an MP, a senator, a governor, and a president.”

Another AfricaFocus sent out today (and available on the web contains two commentaries focused on the election more generally, and one highlighting the devastating East African drought, the inescapable background to the August 8 election despite the lack of international attention to this massive humanitarian crisis.

For detailed news coverage, AfricaFocus suggests a custom google search of Kenya-based web sites using the words “Kenya elections 2017” as well as two other news sites aggregating content from different sources: and

The Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is on-line, with increased computer capacity and availability to check registration and other details, at

And there is an extensive analysis of the demographics of the expanded voter roll for the current elections, from DataScience LTD, available at

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Kenya, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++]

Election season offers a reminder that Kenya remains deeply sexist

By Beatrice Akala, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Johannesburg

The Conversation, May 21, 2017

Kenyan folk stories celebrate women as strong, fierce heroines of the distant past. Women in some communities in western and central Kenya are said to have enjoyed considerable power directly or indirectly as chiefs, queens, queen mothers and advisors.

One of these communities even started off as being matrilineal. Women led and fought fearlessly to extend their territory. Although this community has since become patrilineal, its nine clans are still named after the daughters of its legendary descendants.

In more recent times, women endured the same hardships as their male counterparts in the political struggle to free the country from Britain’s colonial grip. They risked life and limb to ensure armed freedom fighters got food. They were also an important source of intelligence for the armed fighters as they came under less suspicion.

But, in the 50-odd years since independence, Kenya’s women have had a rough time of it in politics. The first post-independence parliament in 1963 did not have a single woman representative. Only nine had contested for a seat in the 158-member house.

It wasn’t until 1969 that the first woman was elected to parliament. In a chamber of 169 members, there were only two women – one elected and one nominated. At the end of 1992, 30 years after independence, the count was just two women in a chamber of 198.

Kenya’s progressive 2010 Constitution brought a sea of change in the last elections held in 2013. Not only were there seats reserved for women, but more candidates than ever threw their hats in the ring. The new parliament had a whopping 88 both elected and nominated. More encouraging was the number willing to contest House at 449.

But the change went only so far. None of the 19 women candidates seeking senate and gubernatorial positions were elected. Of the 1,450 elected to county assemblies there were 88 women (or 6%). In Parliament, the increase in numbers amounted to 19%. All were well below the constitutional minimum entitlement of at least a third.

Lazy, idlers and busy bodies

As the election draws closer, Kenyans are reminded how sexist and patriarchal their society has remained. Choosing to run is a particularly difficult decision for a woman and her family. Campaigning is often marked by violence directed at women candidates.

Women candidates in cross ethnic marriages are often easy targets. Some are taunted to go seek elective seats where they were born. The naming and shaming of the single, divorced and married as people who should be taking care of their husband is the order of the day in campaign rallies.

The agitation for a greater political role for women led to progressive legal frameworks. But historical prejudices have ensured that a bill that would enshrine the law has twice failed to get the numbers in a male-dominated House.

The Affirmative Action Bill is better known as the two thirds gender rule. Under an article of the constitution Parliament is required to pass laws to ensure that no gender holds more than two thirds of elective posts and public appointments.

Sadly, the 2013 Parliament has struggled to give to life the requirements of this rule. The failure further demonstrates the complexities of negotiating and upholding democratic principles, people’s wishes and constitutional imperatives.

Those against the implementation of the rule argue that women should not be handed free positions. They ought to go to the people and campaign for support. They have been branded as being lazy, idlers and busy bodies who don’t deserve to be in Parliament.

In addition, it has been argued that increasing women representation in parliament will hurt the economy due to the ballooning budget. One reads negativity and selfishness in the reasons being advanced. Those who hold leadership positions don’t want to let go.

Political parties can do more

Fundamentally excluding women from leadership means that the aspirations of half of the population are ignored. It should therefore be appreciated that if the playing ground was level, there would be no need to include the two thirds gender rule in the Constitution.

What will it take to bring the rule to life? Political parties can do more by making their leadership structures fair and inclusive. Their nominations should not be gender skewed and women who express interest should be given a fair chance to compete. And they could do more to shield women from acts of violence and thuggery.

Women are known to opt out of politics because of fear of violence because the impact on them goes beyond the physical harm. When they do, they lose their right to participate in politics as equal partners. And the country loses the opportunity to experience their aspirations, skills and the ability to lead and articulate the needs and voices of their people.

Having more women in leadership positions will also motivate young girls to strive for leadership positions when they grow up. The younger generation will grow confident that society is fair and doesn’t impose limitations on the basis of gender.

“I am a leader, but I was forced to quit”

Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2017

In a country where women are routinely denied the ability to own and control their own finances, running for political office in Kenya is tough. And money isn’t a guarantee a woman candidate will be able to win over a patriarchal society. At the start of a painful drought in Kenya last year, Rosemary (name changed to protect her privacy), a young community organizer, decided to run for Member of the County Assembly (MCA). Human Rights Watch spoke to her in Mombasa about the challenges she faced as a young, unmarried woman, and about the threats and resource constraints that forced her to end her campaign. Rosemary’s account is edited for clarity:

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission       

I am a leader. I was the head girl in primary school and I was the music captain. In secondary school, I was games captain. I was the chairlady in Christian union group. I am also bright – I was number one in class. Now, I help school dropouts, when girls get pregnant I help them keep their partners accountable. I also work with 90 young mothers and do advocacy to help girls protect themselves from underage pregnancy.

Our area is inland. We only have small trees and it’s very dry and dusty. People are living in poverty, farming and cutting trees for charcoal which makes it hotter.

Last year, we had a bad drought. People had no water. I have my own tap on my compound so I would fill jerry cans and give water to others. I would wait for a car heading to areas without water and then I would send it along with some water. It was a lot of work.

Eventually, I called the county government, asking them to provide water for the people. The County Commissioner wouldn’t speak to me. He asked: “Who are you?” and I said, “I am Rosemary, a community activist.” He wouldn’t talk to me. He said that the local MCA needed to call him and that I had no right to call him directly, then he hung up.

But I wouldn’t give up. I kept calling – borrowing other people’s phones – until eventually he gave up and sent us a tanker of water.

That was when I decided to run for office. I launched my manifesto in April 2016. The priorities in my manifesto were water, education, health and participation for all. People really liked the idea of participation. I promised that I would invite everyone to community meetings so that everyone would have a say. Over 1,500 people came to my first rally even though I had only planned on 200. We ran out of food. I paid for the rally myself.

You can’t campaign without money. Even a grassroots campaign is expensive.

At the end of meetings, I would say goodbye, and the people would ask, “How are you leaving us? “They mean that I should give them a “sitting allowance” – money for coming to the meeting. Without that, they say: “just go, your words are empty.”

Transport by boda boda (motorcycle taxi) is 1,000 KES (USD 10) for the day. Then for each meeting you have to leave 4,000 or 5,000 KES (USD 40 to 50) minimum. Even if I use 10,000 KES (USD 100) a week would use up my money fast. I began to wonder how I would manage my life after the election, especially if I didn’t win.

Money is especially a big problem for women candidates. We have no networks, no big business. There were three women in the race when we started – only one is still running – she is not campaigning because she has no money. She is just registered and hoping for miracle. One woman candidate was running against the incumbent in the primaries, but she could not get money to transport her supporters. She lost in the primaries because she couldn’t get enough of her supporters to the polling station. There was a bus all the candidates in the primary were supposed to share, but they would ask everyone who they were voting for before allowing them on the bus. If you said you were going to vote for her, they would kick you off the bus. If you said you were going to vote for the incumbent, they allowed you on and gave you 200 KES (USD 2).

Security is also a problem – for example as a woman I don’t want to walk around at night. I got threats on the phone and on my Facebook account. “OK, Rosemary, drop this thing or else you know who we are,” they said, and “watch out for your life.” They also threatened me because I am a single woman with a baby. One said: “Go and get married and then come and ask for votes.” I reported to the police but they did nothing. You have to pay them to investigate in my town.

One day, someone dug up the waterpipe to my house, cutting off our water. I thought to myself: I don’t have to lose my life because I love my community. I started to think I could still help the community without winning an election.

When my boyfriend realized I was serious about politics, he dumped me. That was a big blow for me, I lost him and my money, I was emotionally down. That is when I decided to quit.

Still, in 2022, whether I am married or not, I will run again. I am going to start a business and get money to run; friends will support me. I have everything to be a leader.

Kenyans see gains in gender equality, but support for women’s empowerment still uneven, Afrobarometer survey finds

Afrobarometer News release

Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi, Kenya

8 March 2017 – Direct URL: (press release) and (presentation)

[Excerpts. For full press release and presentation with figures, see links above]

A majority of Kenyans say the country has made progress toward gender equality, but below-average support among men and lagging political engagement among women point toward remaining challenges, according to new Afrobarometer findings released on International Women’s Day.

Popular perceptions that girls and women have a fair chance at education and jobs, that gender violence is never justifiable, and that women should be accorded a fair shot at being elected are in line with perceived progress toward gender equality, the new survey data show.

But much work remains to be done among men, who trail significantly on most of these indicators. Moreover, key pillars of women’s progress continue to require strengthening, including an equal chance to own and inherit land and women’s political engagement. The findings are being released on International Women’s Day, during a period of tense political competition pitting female candidates against their male counterparts in August general elections. The release also comes at a time when the country is beginning to assess the effects of its new gender empowerment laws, including equal rights for men and women to inherit land and other property.

Key findings

* A majority (56%) of Kenyans say that women’s equality has improved in recent years. The best-educated women and men are twice as likely as their uneducated compatriots to see progress on gender equality (Figure 1).

* About one in seven women (15%) say they personally suffered discrimination or harassment based on gender in the past year.

* More than three-fourths (78%) of Kenyans say wife-beating is “never” justifiable.

* More than six in 10 Kenyans (63%) do not agree that men should be given priority in hiring if jobs are scarce.

* Nine out of 10 Kenyans say that girls now have the same educational opportunities as boys, but perceptions of gender equality drop to seven out of 10 with regard to earning an income and less than six out of 10 with regard to the right to own or inherit land (Figure 2).

* While 57% say women currently have equal rights to own and inherit land, more (64%) say they should have those rights. Men are almost twice as likely as women to reject equal rights for women when it comes to owning and inheriting land (39% vs. 21%).

* About two-thirds of Kenyan women (63%) and men (68%) say the government has performed well in promoting opportunities and equality for women.

* Three-fourths (73%) of Kenyans say women should have the same chance as men of being elected to political office (Figure 3). But men (66%) are less likely than women (81%) to hold this view. Support for women’s political leadership has remained steady since 2011.

* Women are significantly less likely than men to discuss politics, to contact political leaders, to join others to raise an issue, and to attend community meetings.

* More than half (54%) of Kenyans say they fear political violence and intimidation “somewhat” or “a lot.” Women and men are equally likely to express this fear.


Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in Africa. Six rounds of surveys were conducted in up to 37 African countries between 1999 and 2016, and Round 7 surveys (2016/2017) are currently underway. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent’s choice with nationally representative samples.

The Afrobarometer team in Kenya, led by the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, interviewed 1,599 adult Kenyans in September-October 2016. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-3% at a 95% confidence level. Previous surveys have been conducted in Kenya in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2014.

Kenya’s 2017 elections will be like none before. Here’s why.

By Nanjala Nyabola

African Arguments, July 10, 2017 – Direct URL:

[Nanjala Nyabola is a Kenyan writer, humanitarian advocate and political analyst, currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. Follow her on twitter at @Nanjala1]

Devolution has demystified local power and emboldened voters to assert themselves, leading to shocks all the way up the political pyramid.

Kenya’s 2017 elections are set to be the country’s most interesting yet. The political landscape has shifted, and whatever else these elections turn out to be – violent, peaceful, confusing – they are going to a different kettle of fish to previous polls.

The most obvious reason for this is devolution. After the 2010 constitution was passed, Kenya restructured its political and legislative units, breaking 8 massive provinces into 47 counties made up of various wards. The national legislature was broken into two branches, establishing the roles of senator and governor. And the position of women’s representatives was created in each county to help achieve the new constitution’s gender quotas.

These changes also affected how elections work. In 2007, Kenyans voted at three levels: for a councillor, a member of parliament (MP), and a president. On 8 August 2017, the electorate will vote at six: a member of the county assembly (MCA), a women’s representative, an MP, a senator, a governor, and a president.

This was also the case in 2013, but since then, it has become much clearer how the different levels of government operate in relation to one another. This means that some positions have become far more attractive and therefore competitive. And this increased contestation at the local level has undermined some of the typical tropes of Kenyan politics such as tribalism and regionalism. Things have changed.

Kenya’s political pyramid

One can think of Kenya’s system of political operatives as operating in a pyramid formation. At the bottom are local elders. One step up are county assembly members, followed by members of parliament, senators, and county governors. Above them are the ethnic kingpins. These are powerful individuals that come together to at the highest level to form national political alliances or coalitions that then contest the elections. In the case of 2017, we have President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto on one side as the incumbents, with Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and others on the opposing side.

Typically, the role of local elders at the bottom rung has been to marshal voters to back the right kingpin at the top. Much of campaign spending goes towards cementing this local loyalty. Although politicians themselves sometimes hand out cash at rallies, the really important network has been low-level leaders giving out goodies in less intense environments. It’s the chief calling a village meeting and distributing bags of maize flour, or the women’s group leader dishing out t-shirts at the chama meeting.

In prior elections, knowing which way local leaders were leaning gave a good indication of how the overall vote in a specific region would go. For politicians, spending enough money on these low-level actors could usually guarantee a positive return at the ballot box.

Dismantling the pyramid

Not anymore it seems. Devolution has made local politics much more intimately connected with voters’ day-to-day lives. Power has become demystified, and this has inspired more people to challenge local leadership when it has been deemed to fail. A record 14,525 candidates are running for office in 2017, and low-level chiefs and elders can no longer guarantee voters’ support for a particular party through the traditional means.

In 2013, it was enough for a candidate who wanted to be elected to buy a nomination certificate from their party and then hand out money at a rally, safe in the knowledge that their “person on the ground” would distribute campaign goodies to people to secure their votes. But with a more discerning electorate who, through devolution, more closely see how local power works, or doesn’t, these tactics are no longer as effective.

This can also be seen in the way Kenyan voters have been rejecting the notion of “six-piece voting”. This was a strategy employed by national politicians in 2013 whereby they encouraged supporters to vote for the same party across all six levels of government. This was most beneficial to those candidates in the middle levels of the pyramid. Rather than establishing independent political identities, candidates for MCAs, MPs and senators could just provide money downwards to foster low-level loyalty for the party, while trading off the popularity of the national-level politicians above them.

When Odinga and Kenyatta have proposed six-piece voting in 2017, however, they have been heckled and booed at their own rallies. People don’t want to just vote blindly for the same party in all the boxes; they want more say in what happens at the various levels.

We saw these new dynamics play out in the party primaries this April. Despite significant attempts at mobilisation, voters rejected incumbent MCAs, MPs and even governors who they believe have failed to deliver. Several key allies of national politicians failed to win their party’s nomination.

Many of these figures are now running instead as independents, meaning that many ethnic groups have two or more powerful figures contesting key constituencies. This divides these ethnic kingdoms and presents a dilemma for political parties. On one hand, they need to appease loyalists by putting the force of the party behind each of their candidates; on the other, they need to court voters that support those popular independents that have left the party.

To date, leaders have responded to this conundrum by inviting some independent hopefuls to participate in party events, but this has led to public, and sometimes violent, clashes between supporters of the different candidates.

A new politics?

In 2017, voters are not just rejecting six-piece voting and exercising their judgements over local candidates beyond party loyalty. They are also being vocal and visible about it.

This is the first time in recent memory that we’re seeing national political figures appear uncertain before their own supporters during their own rallies. The sight of Kenyatta, a sitting president, being heckled – not once, but fairly consistently during the election period – is novel. That people at a Odinga rally would shout anything that wasn’t a synonym for ndio baba (“yes father”) is unprecedented.

Of course, more things have changed in Kenyan politics since 2013 than those examined here. But these changes, amongst others, have thrown a significant measure of unpredictability into the landscape. Political punditry in Kenya has always been fixated on the ethnic question, but this time around, it’s not going to be that simple. Ethnic loyalty is still important, but it is no longer absolute. Voters have changed, politicians are adapting, and everything is getting a lot more interesting.

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