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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Doing Business but Suffering in Silence

According to the World Health Organisation, gender-based violence is a major public health and human rights problem throughout the world. Though the assault is carried on in the privacy of the home, the violation is widely seen as a "private" family affair, and for some - a normal part of life.

In Kenya, an estimated 49% of married women were physically abused by their husbands (Borwankar et. al, 2008). Though violence against women mainly occurs in the form of physical and sexual assault; it takes many forms including emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and economic abuse.

Economic abuse includes the controlling of finances; not allowing one's partner to venture into enterprise; taking a partner's money without her permission; denying access to, or knowledge of finances as well as using a partner's finances or credit for personal gain.

Socialisation of the girl child

Women entrepreneurs fall victim in part to economic abuse due to familial socialization from the time of birth. From a tender age, socialization which is the process of inheriting norms, customs and ideologies differentiates girls from boys. As boys grow up, they learn to be the head of their future homes as well as being the main (if not only) breadwinners. Girls in turn are socialized to be the home makers and caregivers.

In some settings, a girl’s day starts early. She wakes up to go fetch water and ensure breakfast is ready before she sets off to school. Her brother on the other hand has the luxury of sleeping in. Between the two, the chances of attaining higher grades are in favour of the boy. Then there is the practice of early marriage that dooms young women to lives where they never have the opportunity to actualise their aspirations.

Though education is one way in which women can emancipate themselves from the grip of the culture of male domination, the education system has only served to perpetuate the proposition that women should be more “arts” oriented than their science oriented brothers. Women are under-represented in tertiary institutions where they would have had the opportunity and facilities to hone their entrepreneurial skills. This in turn adversely affects their business growth potential.

McDowell and Pringle (1992) have argued that women are not only constantly defined in relation to men, but are defined as dependent and subordinate to them as well. This has been manifested in the low numbers of women entrepreneurs in “manly” sectors such as manufacturing. Women tend to operate micro service oriented enterprises with low possibilities for growth. The International Finance Corporation in Kenya has found that despite their potential, women-owned businesses which predominate in trade and service sectors, are smaller and less likely to grow.

And, all their early experiences and nurtured perceptions result in some established women entrepreneurs being disempowered when it comes to making independent decisions about how to spend their business profits as well as the direction for their businesses’ growth. Moreover, though many women empowerment programes focus on entrepreneurship development as a means to empower women, they neglect to design and implement ways to address gender based violence towards so-called “empowered” women.

WHO Controls The Purse Strings?

Then there is the issue of who actually “wears the trousers”, or has control of the household or business budget. Though single-motherhood and female headed households are becoming more common, these homes tend to be poorer than male headed homes.  According to the International Fund for Agriculture & Developmet (IFAD), the reasons are that female headed households tend to have a higher dependency ratio in spite of their smaller average size, and also have less access to resources.

An unfortunate trend has also been recognized where there is the self-perpetuating cycle of these women heads of household also causing their daughters to assume the same roles of unpaid house-help and caregivers, whilst their sons are urged to study so they can in future pull the family out of poverty.

Thus the question for development experts is: what is the use of trying to improve women’s livelihoods while such male dominating norms and perceptions continue to thrive?

Ending the silence

Through the emergence of micro-finance pioneered by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, financial institutions and policy makers have come to acknowledge the challenges women entrepreneurs face, not least in accessing loans. However once credit is given, who is to say that the beneficiary can keep to the loan agreement if her partner insists on having if not a share then all of the money?

Lack of access to education and opportunity, and low status are correlated to violence against women. Long term socialisation and inaction has meant that many women do not seek help or report abuse when it occurs. Cultural norms, lack of awareness, community pressure and widespread insensitivity of officials have also contributed to the fact that the majority of women who are abused suffer in silence.

Though the educational system needs to take into consideration the inequalities of the girl child when they enroll in school, it is ultimately most vital that there is a committed move to strengthen policy and legal frameworks to recognize economic abuse and outlaw all forms of gender based violence.

Monday, 7 December 2009

African Leaders are saboteurs of development

By Lord Aikins Adusei


It is a waste of time to argue that there is anything remarkable or worth emulating about the brand of leadership that is seen in Africa. Throughout Africa not a single country has been able to deliver its people from poverty, malnutrition and diseases. Almost all countries in Africa South of the Sahara are facing deep poverty and that includes resource rich counties like Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Senegal, Gabon, Cameroon, Ghana, and even South Africa.

Everywhere in the world whenever the word Africa is mentioned four words come to mind: poverty, hunger, wars and diseases. Apart from Botswana where the leaders have relatively been able to use their resources to advance the development of their people, the rest of Africa is nothing but misery. Misery in sense that the average African is hardly able to live one-third of the comfort that a citizen of the global north (US, Canada and Europe) is able to enjoy in his/her lifetime. Apart from the corrupt politicians, dictators and their cronies who live in luxury, the rest of the population have to survive the harsh realities of the African economy on less than two dollars a day.

Why is black Africa so different? Any time the question of poverty is raised black African leaders are quick to point to colonialism and slavery. But it is a fact that the era in which everything is blamed on colonialism and slavery is past and gone. India, South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong were all colonised yet they have been able to shake themselves of what Dambisa Moyo terms the 'four apocalypse of hunger, disease, war and poverty'.

A visit to rural parts of Ghana shows that very little has changed economically since independence more than 50 years ago. In spite of the availability of tractors and other advanced farming technologies that can be employed to increase productivity, farmers in Ghana still cultivate and harvest their crops with cutlasses and hoes, tools their forefathers used before they were colonised. 

The situation in Niger, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Togo, Benin is not different from that of Ghana. The extreme poverty and deprivation in countries in the Horn of Africa region and Ethiopia in particular continue to baffle economists and development thinkers after so much aid money has been poured into that region to no avail as politicians divert aid money into their own private bank accounts.

Any major study about why Africa is so different from the rest of the world points to the kind of leadership that exists in Africa. The leaders in Africa love power and will do anything to get it: rigging elections, organizing thugs to cause mayhem and violence, refusing to step down when their term of office end. The likes are Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Mamadou Tandja of Niger and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who employed violence and intimidation against members of opposition parties after loosing elections.

The leaders love to be worshiped and served as kings even though they claim to be servants of the people. They love to live in fine palaces, drive in convoys, attend state functions, deliver long speeches yet do not raise a finger to fight poverty and deprivation that are so common in their countries. 

African politicians and traditional leaders and those in control of economic and political affairs are always interested in titles and the financial rewards that go with their office not the responsibilities attached to the office. Ghana's current President is a Law Professor but he seems to have no clue on how to move his country forward. He is surrounded by others with academic titles similar to his but the ministries, departments and the sectors they head have not changed since they took office earlier this year.

Malawi's president holds a doctorate degree but his country is no different from that of Togo, DRC or Gabon which are all being governed poorly by children of former dictators and thieves who took decades to mismanage their countries' economies and resources. Nigeria's current president has been titled "the first graduate president of Nigeria" but Nigeria with all its oil revenue and human resource is still deep in poverty, sometimes not even finding enough petrol to feed her economy despite being the biggest oil producer in Africa.

This contrasts the president of Brazil, Lula Da Silva who used to be a shoe shine boy and street vendor but is increasingly turning his country into an economic power house, thereby steering his country into economic independence and freedom . Where did Yar' Dua leave his thinking cap when he became president or what did he graduated from? I want to know because I still wonder why they are not applying what they learnt in school to free their countries from the international disgrace and weakness that have come to be associated with the continent. A poor Cuban seeking to leave her communist country said she "would be prepared to go anywhere except Africa". When asked why she said "how can I jump out of a frying pan into fire?". Meaning she cannot leave a bad situation in Cuba and get into a worse one in Africa.

In a conversation with a female Professor in Stockholm, Sweden about the poverty situation in Africa she asked angrily "well the leadership in Gabon claim to have used the huge oil revenue for infrastructure investment but is that the reality on the ground?" She continued, "Democratic Republic of Congo is a mess, Angola, Congo and Equatorial Guinea are an eyesore and as for Nigeria well I reserve my comment".

The monumental failures on the part of African leaders have given birth to the phrase 'Africa South of the Sahara' and the leaders seem to be happy with that phrase. Black African leaders have accepted the phrase with all the negative connotations it carries without reacting to challenge it. The phrase in its proper sense refers to a part of Africa which does not count in global politics; a toddler in everything important in the world, a backward part of the continent that continues to stand still while the rest of humanity is moving forward both technologically and scientifically. Africa whose people live in darkness despite 365 days of sunshine and availability of solar technology to convert the sunshine into solar energy.

It means Africa which is so poor in an economic, social and political sense  - despite being rich in natural resources and hard working people: an Africa which is so poorly governed, whose leaders are corrupt and lack the capacity to plan and to initiate any programme of development on their own without being told to do so or helped by outsiders.

Africa where infrastructure decay is a norm, where rural life is nothing but a condemnation to abject poverty, hopelessness, misery and frustration. 

Africa where ethnicity and tribalism are exploited by corrupt dictators and opportunists bringing a wave of negative tendencies of cronyism, nepotism, corruption and conflicts in its trail. 

Africa where politicians are happy to exploit the ignorance and illiteracy that have enslaved and prevented its people from taking their rightful place in the world community of continents.

Africa that has not learned anything from its colonial experience and whose leaders continue to dance to the tune of Western and Chinese rhythm to their own peril; Africa which can be and is being recolonised by China and its rival competitors in Europe and North America through their multinational corporations. (Have you heard of Africom)? 

Africa whose leaders can be bought by multinational corporations with some few thousand dollars and allow multinational corporations to plunder their resources without any accountability.

Africa which is both economically and politically fragmented, having no common foreign policy, and no economic, immigration and agricultural policies and whose leaders see no wisdom in unity and are without a mouth in world affairs.

Africa which is so militarily weak and technologically paralysed to defend itself against external forces, their ideologies, philosophies and cultural pollution.

Africa whose leadership are morally bankrupt to criticise one another. 

Africa whose leaders have great ideas about how to rig and win elections, kill journalists, stifle press freedom, freedom of speech and association but have not the slightest idea as to how to fight chronic poverty. 

Africa whose leaders prefer to steal from their countries and bank their loot in foreign countries instead of using the money to build roads, hospitals, railway tracks, irrigation facilities, schools, electricity, housing and other social and economic infrastructures for the development and benefit of their own people. 

Africa where natural resources are a curse rather than a blessing.

Africa where an illiterate soldier with a gun in hand can easily become a president of a country tomorrow. Examples are Yahyah Jammeh of Gambia, Moussa Camara of Guinea, Gaddafi of Libya, Joseph Kabila of DRC, Mamadou Tandja of Niger, Museveni of Uganda, Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz of Mauritania, Al Bashir of Sudan,Francois Bozize of Central African Republic, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Valentine Strasser of Sierra Leone, Sergeant Doe of Liberia, and Kolingba and Jean-Bedel Bokasa of Central African Republic.
Egypt a purely desert country and a member of 'Africa north of the Sahara' recently sent food aid to Uganda, a country rich in minerals, soil, natural lakes, rivers but whose leaders see no wisdom in employing irrigation technology that could be used to increase food production to reduce hunger.

Africa which continues to beg for and depend on foreign aid despite sitting on huge natural wealth an act that defies any economic wisdom. Africa which continues to depend heavily on natural resource exploitation as the main economic activity without diversification despite the dangers of such economic approach to development.

Africa where women are treated as second class citizens, denied political representation and are coerced and used as sex objects and commodities by those in power. 

Africa where child bearing is a matter of life and death, where pregnant mothers die of preventable causes of deaths; where so many children die before they reach the age of five; where child labour and child poverty are the norm, and where both rural and urban children grow without proper education, healthcare, food, shelter, clothing and without future or hope.

Africa where economic hardship put people on death roll and cut short young bright lives. Africa where there is no mortgage, safety net for the poor and the aged and where owning a house or a car can be as daunting as climbing Everest. That is the true meaning of 'Africa South of the Sahara' which the leaders have accepted without a fight.

Most of these leaders make an annual pilgrimage to London, Washington, Tokyo, Berlin, Beijing and see the infrastructures and the living standards of the people in these countries yet nothing pricks them to help their countries to do the same. When they are sick they are quick to take the next available plane to America, Europe or north Africa for treatment but forget to build the same hospitals and other institutions and infrastructures for the good of their countries. After blaming their monumental failures on colonialism and slavery they have now found a new scape goat: climate change and with it they can continue with their decades of inaction without having to lose anything.

Yoweri Museveni seems to be okay living in his palace enjoying almost three decades of his loot of Ugandan resources with his family and cronies. Obiang Nguema and his circle of friends live in their mansions surrounded by bodyguards yet the only 600, 000 people in his oil rich country live in 18th century conditions and likewise Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville and Dos Santos of Angola.

The black African leader will accept bribes from companies and interest groups to stop implementing policies, programmes and projects that could help alleviate poverty in his country. The failure of Omar Bongo of Gabon to make his country the Switzerland of Africa can largely be linked to the hundreds of millions of dollars he received as bribes from Elf which allowed the company to loot Gabon's oil proceeds.

It is sad despite being the continent's biggest oil exporter Nigeria does not have a well developed petro-chemical industry and has to import most of her oil products abroad. How come Cameroon is so poor when the country exports oil every day? How come Equatorial Guinea is so poor when it is the third biggest oil exporting nation in Africa?

How come Angola is mired in deep poverty when oil revenues bring the country billions of dollars annually? How come Nigerians live in 18th century environment when oil proceeds flow into the country every day? The answer is the leaders. They are corrupt, power hungry, arrogant, ignorant, illiterate and visionless buffoons, who can neither think out of the box or understand what it means to be president, prime minister, senator, MP, councillor, Assemblyman, or a chief and who prey on the ignorance and powerlessness of their people to stay in power while amassing wealth at the expense of their countries. Chief among them is Yahyah Jammeh a murderer, blood sucker, sometimes a president, sometimes HIV/AIDS healer who makes a mockery of himself and the seat of the presidency in The Gambia and who like the rest of his colleagues in Guinea, Guinea Bissau, CAR, Ethiopia, Burkina Fasso, Niger, Mauritania and Ivory Coast cannot devise plans to steer their countries out of economic predicament.

They are what Ghanaians call 'Konongo kaya' which literally means saboteurs who will not raise a finger to do anything to help their countries and yet will not allow others to do it. Saboteurs whose continuous stay in power is the cause of Africa's woes and underdevelopment. If you happen to be in economic or business class and economic or development regions is discussed you will be surprised to know how Africa is bypassed several times even though it is strategically located at the centre of the globe. The discussion moves from North America to Europe to South East Asia then back to Latin America and to the Middle East without the mention of Africa. All these the leaders do not seem to worry about it. They are not bothered because they no know they are the cause, the saboteurs and enimies of Africa's development.

Black African leaders must put on their thinking caps. It is very disheartening to see women, and children die of starvation in many parts of Africa. At least we know these leaders don't care but at least they should give the people the chance they need to initiate their own development. I hope that some of the advice I have offered will be adhered to by the leaders so that Africa can also take her rightful position in the world community of nations.

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