Africa opinion

South Africans silent on xenophia
30 January 2015
During the week of 19th January foreign-owned business were attacked and looted in Soweto, South Africa, after a 14 year old boy was allegedly shot dead by a foreign national. The Gauteng MEC for Safety and Security declared that this was not an outbreak of xenophobia, but criminality.  Most South Africans believe that xenophobia flares up and dies down but this is not accurate - apart from 2009, there has been xenophobic violence every year. It is a pity that South Africans seem to have short memories – many South Africans were given refuge in neighbouring African countries during the worst years of apartheid. For the full story, click here

Maeve Shearlaw of the Guardian Africa network asks: Why did the world ignore Boko Haram's Baga attacks?

Monday 12 January 2015

While the world focused on Paris over 2000 Nigerians were reported to have been killed by Boko Haram militants in the town of Baga.  Global leaders joined the estimated 3.7 million people in the streets of Paris as the country mourned. Reporting in Nigeria is difficult and journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram. But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media was focused on Paris, there were those who questioned why events in Nigeria were virtually ignored. The question Maeve Shearlaw asks, is what makes one massacre more newsworthy than another? To read more, click here

Impunity of Despots in the Developing World
The recent failure of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to find a way to prosecute Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes against humanity has, according to Robert Rotberg, meant that citizens in the developing world subject to unjust and tyrannical despots have lost another major protection against misrule and violence perpetrated by leaders. For more

Sue Drummond Haley,

December 2014

     Sue Drummond Haley has worked for more than 30 years in the broad area of private sector development in Sub Saharan Africa. In 2012 she     led a team reviewing contract farming in Zimbabwe. She is currently Corporate Governance Specialist with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation       and is based in Nairobi.

In a number of countries in Sub Saharan Africa contract farming has become an increasingly prevalent mechanism through which large processing companies trade with smallholder (and other) farmers.  Contract farming has replaced – or operates in tandem with - the traditional approach to supporting smallholder agriculture where Government provided extension advice; wholesalers and retailers (both public and private) provided inputs; local financial institutions (often through group loans to farmers made by microfinance institutions) provided credit; local companies transported inputs to farmers and output to markets; and agri-processors added value and linked to regional and world markets.  This differentiated chain shared the risks and rewards of a functioning market system.

          Contract farming is agricultural production carried out according to a prior agreement in which the farmer commits to producing a given             product in a given manner and the buyer commits to purchasing it.

For a variety of reasons, differing from country to country, the failure of the traditional approach has led to the introduction and expansion of contract farming.  In the case of Zimbabwe, for example, where the provision of Government services has become increasingly irregular and where tight liquidity makes it difficult and expensive for farmers, traders and transporters to raise working capital, the only access smallholders often have to inputs and markets is through contract farming.  For agro-processors, often with significant investment in processing and storage facilities, low capacity utilization and greatly reduced volumes sourced from the commercial farming sector, supporting smallholders is a ready option to access locally produced raw materials.

          According to FAO (1997), “Agro-processing industry is a subset of manufacturing that processes raw materials and intermediate products           derived from the agricultural sector. Agro-processing thus means transforming products that originate from agriculture, forestry and f                fisheries.’ The agro-processing industry includes all operations from harvesting until the material reaches the end users in the form,                    packaging, quantity, quality and price required.

However, contract farming works better in some situations than others. While the overall macro-economic environment and the state of infrastructure play an important role, there are some key characteristics of successful contract farming.
-     At the business level the kind of crop, the relationship and contractual arrangements between farmer and processor, and the regulatory             environment for contract farming are all important factors.
-     Throughout the system increasing returns on investment at firm and farmer level through increased yield and lowering unit costs of doing            business are also critical.
-     Finally, it is important to be realistic about the financial viability and sustainability of contract farming.

In terms of the kind of crop best suited to contracting arrangements unspecialised, non-perishable, low margin commodities that are produced in large volumes (such as maize), are less suited than specialized, highly differentiated products that require traceability (such as tobacco and cotton and high end horticulture).

The relationship between smallholders and large companies is often fraught with difficulties which makes having clear, transparent contracts, with well understood and communicated terms, vital.  Contracts need to include pricing and payment terms, services offered, crop requirements (in terms of different grades/quality) and an indicative crop budget illustrating potential risks and returns.

Good contract management is also crucial. This includes careful selection of farmers in geographic areas that are agro-ecologically suited to the chosen crop and are within an economic distance to market; ensuring that there are marketing and management structures and processes in place that are designed to deal with multiple farmers; and making sure that staff have the necessary technical and managerial skills.

Of critical importance is building trust. Many contract farming schemes have foundered as contracts are unclear and poorly managed, leaving all parties feeling cheated.

Contract farming needs to have a specifically designed legal and regulatory framework as well as an effective, local, affordable mechanism to address contractual issues. Some countries have registration requirements for companies to undertake contract farming. These include the payment of multiple fees. Firms initially pay the majority of the fees, although some of the cost is passed on to farmers through lower prices. Sometimes in marginal areas these fees can be a disincentive to invest, which deprives potential farmers access to markets.

If contract farming is well managed, it maximises the returns to both farmers and companies. There are, however, some key factors which limit these returns. As already discussed, these include high fees paid to Government, which, without relevant services being provided in exchange, increase costs and reduce the margin for firms and farmers alike.

At the level of farming, yields are often low for a number of reasons. This happens when improved seed and fertilizer fails to arrive on time. As they lack access to other sources of inputs (or the finances to purchase them), farmers use the wrong fertilizer on their food crops, which marginally increases yield, but at the same time reduces the yield of the intended crop. Side selling of the crop to opportunistic traders who offer higher spot prices, reduces the offer price to farmers, as firms factor in these ‘leakages’.

     ‘Spot’ markets are when a sale occurs without relationship or a prior agreement. Contract farming has sale transactions that are based on             prior agreements. These agreements may include technical assistance, inputs on credit, and/or a guaranteed price for the crop.

At the level of firms, transaction costs are high as it is difficult to achieve economies of scale, which would reduce costs per unit of the crop output. This is often a reflection of the distance and geographic spread of smallholder farms. There are, however, ways to effectively shrink distance. For example, mobile technology can be used to alert groups of farmers to extension visits, to input deliveries and to output collection, and for making payments.  

Some of the services provided by firms such as extension could be delivered more cost effectively through local providers such as farmer organizations.  However, farmer organizations often lack the skills and market-focus necessary for them to be effective.  

Agricultural extension includes a wide range of communication and learning activities in such fields as agriculture, agricultural marketing, health and business studies.

In many countries where contract farming is significant it is supported through various ‘subsidies’, often in the form of donor funded interventions that seek to reduce the impact of the constraints outlined above.  Often deemed to be critical, especially in the start-up stage, the degree to which these interventions may distort the market - and mindsets – need to be factored in when assessing their long term impact and ability to systemically and sustainably change market systems.

Racism in South Africa’s universities among the ‘born free’ generation

12 December 2014
South Africa is celebrating 20 years of democracy and one year without Mandela. In considering the state of the nation, it is by reflecting on the lived experiences of South Africa’s ‘born free’ generation that South Africa is able to gain some insight into the achievements or otherwise of a still fragile democracy.  A serious cause for concern is the growing number of racist incidents occurring on South Africa’s university campuses. For more 

Just how bad are things at Eskom? asks Hilton Tarrant

The speed at which South Africa’s electricity grid came close to breaking point on Friday is an indication of just how thin Eskom’s reserve margin is – even at times running on a negative reserve margin. According to Tarrant, this is an emergency.  He writes: ‘What’s most revealing about the timelines through last week is how quickly Eskom went from a situation that was manageable (and that it had predicted) to an all-out emergency. One can only imagine the chaos between 11am and noon on Friday. How do you lose 2 000MW of generating capacity in an hour?’ Read the full article

South Africa’s growing power crisis threatening to break South Africa

7 December 2014
South African journalist, Stephen Grootes, analyses the impact of the deteriorating political situation, incompetence and the power crisis, is having on South Africa.  Who is to blame for the current crisis in the country? Read more

Have the jihadists have found a way to kill Africa as we know it?
An article in the Mail and Guardian Africa, by Charles Onyango-Obbo  which appeared on Monday, 08 December 2014, says yes.
From Kenya, Nigeria, Libya, Egypt, terrorists have left a deadly trail since October, and he writes that hard questions are now being asked on just how much trouble Africa is in. Read what Charles Onyango-Obbo says here


I am because you are: Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool talks of Mandela’s legacy
February 2014
In February this year, the Editor of Conflict Perspectives, interviewed the South African Ambassador to the United States, about Nelson Mandela’s contribution to the field of conflict resolution and peace building and how Mandela’s legacy has influenced leadership on the African continent. To read the interview by Hilda Dunkwu, click here

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu remembered Nelson Mandela soon after his death last year
On 9 December 2013, at a special tribute ceremony hosted at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu addressed media and talked about his memories of Mandela. For the full transcript, click here

Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda Remembering Mandela
To listen to former President Kaunda’s tribute at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, click here


posted 28 November 2014

Today, more than at any other point in human history, we are all connected—and mobile technology has become a cornerstone of the global economy, not only as an industry in its own right, but also as an enabler of opportunities in other sectors. On the most basic level, mobile technology and connectivity as transformed daily life across the globe – but it has been an enabler in many other facets of community, national and global life. This week Robert Rotberg, discusses how the mobile telephone is transforming Africa.

  • Robert I Rotberg is a Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center; Founding Director of Harvard Kennedy School's Program on Intrastate Conflict, and President Emeritus of the World Peace Foundation.

Nothing is so powerful a force for change and for good in sub-Saharan Africa as the embrace of mobile telephone technology and mobile telephones as a primary source of information and human interaction. At least two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa’s nearly 1 billion people use mobile telephones daily. About the same proportion of persons in sub-Saharan Africa have ready access to mobile telephone coverage – to a signal (even if 2G rather than 3 or 4G).

     …Once the potential of mobile telephony was appreciated it quickly became the medium of choice…

Originally the adoption of mobile telephones occurred because traditional landlines were few, expensive, and hard to access.  But once the potential of mobile telephony was appreciated, it quickly became the medium of choice for all communicators. It had the enormous advantage of needing few fixed installations; only cell towers were required instead of costly copper wires strung from pole to pole and exposed to the natural elements and to theft.

A second revolution was the bright decision by early mobile telephone entrepreneurs in Africa to discard traditional billing systems, replacing them with an insertable Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card capable of being purchased at shops across the continent.  With SIM cards available in almost any reasonable amount, even poor Africans were able to buy air time without large investments. The companies were able to avoid costly and worrying accounting systems. And so the new medium proliferated.

     …they began to gather information [about] markets...

Africans soon realized that texting was cheaper than talking. So they began first to gather information: How much was their wheat, maize, or tef worth in the nearest and in distant markets? They would not need to travel to those markets until prices were right, and they would know to which markets to go.

Subsequently, especially in pioneering Kenya, Africans began to use their mobile telephones to deposit and withdraw savings in special banking accounts. They pay bills. They borrowed money in the same manner. They donated to charity through their telephones. Now they pay taxes, too. They invest their savings, trade shares on stock exchanges, and transfer large sums locally and internationally to relatives.  Remittances in that manner avoid large fees.

      …what is equally transformative….is that text message capacity of mobile telephones has made it possible for governments ….be more interactive than before….
Since telephones have numerical keys it is easy to see how mobile telephones have become financial instruments as well as information accumulators. But what is equally transformative for sub-Saharan Africa, where the dissemination of ideas and knowledge has traditionally been laborious, is that the text message capacity of mobile telephones has made it possible for governments and officialdom generally to be much more interactive than ever before, producing a more enlightened and responsive citizenry.  Likewise, citizens have been able to complain, to exercise their civil rights, and – using mobile phone photographic capabilities -- to document their reports of official error.  For example, in urban KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), one angry petitioner finally persuaded the municipality to rectify sewage outflows that were inundating his house and small plot. The evidence was irrefutable and a hitherto unresponsive set of bureaucrats had to act.       

      …the existence of corruption can at least be made more visible….
In some countries, mobile telephone reporting by text message has alerted civil society organizations to bribe-taking in real time, rather than days later.  Mobile telephone photographs have also been available to document the extent of such peculation.  Incidents of bribery have also been reported to the authorities in such a manner that they could not be denied and action avoided.  This is not to suggest that corruption can be cured via mobile telephonic surveillance; rather, the existence of corruption can at least be made more visible and middle-class countervailing forces aroused.

       More and more the validity of election returns will be verified in this manner, with mobile telephones providing the medium….

A number of recent election results (Senegal, Ghana, Zimbabwe, among others) have been monitored for accuracy by “quick counts” transmitted to central aggregating stations in capital cities or externally, for fear of local interference.  More and more the validity of election returns will be verified in this manner, with mobile telephones providing the medium and enabling totals to be known in real time.  Doing so makes it harder for illicit regimes to rig votes or otherwise interfere with outcomes.

       Medical advice via text messaging….monitoring TB patients….verification of malarial diagnoses…ears of babies can be peered into….

There is a medical dimension to the embrace of mobile telephone technology.  Women in Ghana regularly receive lactation advice via text messages.  Tuberculosis patients are monitored and reminded to take their medicines via text messaging.  There are new ways of obtaining almost instantaneous verification of malarial diagnoses by smearing a slide and putting it under special attachments to mobile telephones, for transmission and reading. One ingenious researcher in Africa has demonstrated how an otoscope can be fitted to a mobile telephone so that the ears of babies can be peered into and the results read in a distant clinic.

     …Africans are able to benefit from a means of communication and mode of sharing that, before the invention of the mobile telephone, had largely passed the continent by…

 There is no end to the inventiveness of Africa and Africans. The mobile telephone is now sufficiently powerful and sufficiently inexpensive, and coverage across most sub-Saharan African countries sufficiently extensive, that Africans are able to benefit from a means of communication and a mode of sharing that, before the invention of the mobile telephone, had largely passed the continent by.  Every day mobile telephones are thus used even more creatively than the day before.  As “smart” phones become more available and less expensive, so this spread of technology will continue, almost superseding the need for heavy broadband widths. After all, computers are more efficient, but more cumbersome and more expensive to purchase.

      …what is accessible via the mobile telephone truly…makes the global village a meaningful concept.

For Africa, what is accessible via the mobile telephone truly, and for the first time, makes the global village a meaningful concept.  Africans understand each other, and the vagaries of the world, in ways that were not possible before the arrival of mobile telephones. It also gives Africans the means to do so much more on a daily basis than ever before.  Their household productivity has soared, as has their ability to demand more services from hitherto unresponsive governments or local bureaucracies.  They can also learn their rights.

       What Africans hold in their hands makes their lives better…

In Niger, the mobile telephone has also been employed to teach reading, and to drill  basic arithmetical skills.  Children therefore learn through the mobile telephone as well as adults. In these and in so many other ways, the mobile telephone has transformed the lives of Africans everywhere for the better.  But these transformative endeavors are only an earnest of what is to come through the full use by more and more Africans of the capacity for change presented by mobile telephones. What Africans hold in their hands makes their lives better, and more sustainable. 
Robert I. Rotberg 

South Africa’s constitutional democracy under assault
The events in the National Assembly of Thursday, 13 November 2014 suggest that South Africa is now beyond the brink of a constitutional crisis. What happened in parliament show that a cabal of Majority Party Members of Parliament is ignoring the Constitution and Rules of Parliament with potentially disturbing consequences for democracy in South Africa. For more, read here

ICT in Africa: the need for effective e-learning
The Impact Sourcing at Scale conference currently taking place in Sandton, South Africa, is bringing together stakeholders in the Business Process Outsourcing and Impact Sourcing sector to discuss opportunities, challenges and solutions to ICT in Africa. NEPAD recognises the importance of creating environments to mobilise partnerships to enable the power of new technologies of the ICT sector.
Read more

Cosatu and South African political realignment
South African politics is facing a major upheaval as COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) has expelled NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa). Analysts suggest that there will be major implications for ANC support and political realignment in South Africa. Read more

Burkina Faso’s revolution
On Friday 31 October, popular protests in Burkina Faso ousted President Blaise Campaore who had been serving as president since 1987 – this in spite of a constitution which allows for only two terms of office.  In fact, the President has been in office longer than most of his people have been alive – Burkina Faso’s median age is 17.  But since he fled to neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire, there has been a dangerous power vacuum in the country which is being currently controlled by the military – which itself has conflicting factions. While Burkina Faso is a tiny country, its position in Africa is of strategic importance to the West: it has become key to the new security strategies of France and the USA in the Sahel region to combat jihadi movements and support their other interests. A week later, Burkina Faso is at an impasse. The United Nations and the African Union are urging the military leaders to hand over power to civilians, with the UN threatening to impose sanctions if they fail to do so. The military has not come up with a plan for handing over to civilian rule…. To read more, click here

Education Africa!
Education in many countries in Africa is in crisis. Millennium Development Goals and Education for All targets are seldom met and are reset each year. What can be done to improve education in Africa? In an article, The Global Search for Education today, CM Rubin for the Huffington Post has invited Dr. Sara Ruto (Regional Manager of Uwezo, a literacy and numeracy initiative in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda), Aarnout Brombacher (Founding partner of the South African mathematics consultancy, Brombacher and Associates), Dylan Wray (Co-founder of Shikaya, which supports the development of teachers in South Africa), and Senator David Coltart (Minister of Education, Arts and Culture for Zimbabwe from 2009 to 2013) to share their perspectives and solutions for bringing about transformative change in education in Africa. Read more

Are rhinos abandoned by all but South Africa?
ADAM CRUISE, Daily Maverick
29 October 2014 

It looks like South Africa is going to break another record: 2014 is set to exceed 2013’s 1,004 rhino poached. But sadly, it’s not as though the nation is sitting back and doing nothing - far from it. And yet the scourge continues, thanks to a lone chink in the South African armour. 

From the groundswell of the nation’s citizens to the various multi-governmental agencies, South Africans are doing their level best to halt the rampage. Just last week in the Kruger Park, where most of the rhinos met their demise, 24 poachers were arrested and a number of others were shot in a joint operation with the SA Police and SANParks rangers. This brings the number of poachers apprehended in 2014 to over 120.

There is, however, a lone chink in the South African armour. Unfortunately, it’s a substantial chink - the penchant for the SA government to push for a legal trade is a misguided hope that it would torpedo the illegal trafficking of rhino horn. Such messages merely confuse consumers as to whether or not it’s morally right to buy the product. Read more 

South Africa: The erosion of trust and paralysis in crucial institutions


23 October 2014

For leadership to be respected there must be trust. Quite clearly across a wide spectrum of government, that trust has disappeared. It will take great efforts for it to be restored. But unless we have ethical leadership, especially in law enforcement, how can citizens be taught to respect the law?  In South Africa there are signs of widespread erosion of trust in decision-making in key institutions. Find out more 

South Africa

The global food system is broken; here's how to fix it

16 October 2014

“One in four people in South Africa do not have enough to eat, and half the population is at risk of hunger, despite the country producing more than enough food. According to a new report by Oxfam, low incomes, rising costs, a lack of access to productive resources and climate change are amongst the reasons causing 13 million people to go to bed hungry.” Oxfam SA.

The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the Rio Summit in 2012 called on leaders, business and civil society to step up efforts to end hunger and launched the Zero Hunger Challenge. Today is World Food Day – is it another promise made by global leaders that remains deferred? Read more 

Africa, terrorism and ebola: Better governance the only sustainable solution
The Nation (Kenya), by Mo Ibrahim
Monday, 13 October 2014

When I first started talking about the potential for investment and business opportunities in Africa some 20 years ago, I found myself an isolated voice. That turned out to be good for me — and the few others who saw, invested, and reaped wonderful rewards from that potential — but not so good for the continent.

A narrative that branded Africa as little more than an economic, political and social basket-case was not likely to provide the investment needed to drive development.

After a startling transformation, Africa is now seen as a rare source of optimism. The continent’s recent record of GDP growth looks set to continue.

At the recent US-Africa Leaders Summit, it was striking to see the very strong representation from the American private sector. The business forum co-hosted by Michael Bloomberg brought leaders such as Jeffrey Immelt and David Rubenstein together to discuss Africa’s investment potential. This was a powerful advertisement for doing business on the continent.

Boko Haram and Ebola: Lack of inclusive growth
However, just at the moment that the African narrative was finally shifting away from poverty, disease and corruption to one of dynamism and opportunity, the twin challenges of rising extremism — in particular Boko Haram — and the Ebola virus came to dominate the news headlines. These events seemed to contradict the “Africa Rising” narrative. Read all...

South Africa must not separate human rights from LGBTI rights

9 October 2014
For once, South Africa did the right thing when it comes to protecting LGBTI rights at the United Nations. It’s not enough, however – that battle is far from over, and South Africa has a crucial role to play. South Africa must be applauded for voting in favour of the Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) adopted by the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva last week. But while the resolution has been hailed as a significant step forward in the fight against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the battle is far from over. More 

Ebola: Fear, Paralysis, Solidarity, Justice

6 October 2014
No one had heard of the tiny village of Meliandou, Southern Guinea before; a place where time has stood still, untouched by the technology revolution; nestled in the forests which over generations sustained the hunter gatherers. Life was simple for a long time; it was a life many of us yearn for – away from the treadmill of life in the city. That lasted until that ecosystem changed dramatically. Read