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ideas have consequences

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Wednesday, 01 December 2010 15:33

Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories

Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories

The science writer Matt Ridley made his reputation with books like "The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature" and "Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters." His latest book, "The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves" is much broader, as its title suggests. Its subject is the history of humanity, focusing on why our species has succeeded and how we should think about the future.

Although I strongly disagree with what Mr. Ridley says in these pages about some of the critical issues facing the world today, his wider narrative is based on two ideas that are very important and powerful.

The first is that the key to rising prosperity over the course of human history has been the exchange of goods. This may not seem like a very original point, but Mr. Ridley takes the concept much further than previous writers. He argues that our success as a species, as opposed to earlier hominids, resulted from innate characteristics that allowed us to trade. Not long after Homo sapiens emerged, we were using rare objects, like obsidian blades, far away from the source materials needed to produce them. This suggests that large numbers of commercial links were established even at the hunter-gatherer stage of our development.

Mr. Ridley gives many examples of how exchange allowed groups to thrive, by enabling them, for example, to acquire fish hooks or sewing needles. He also points out that even the most primitive human groups today are open to exchange. I've always thought this openness was surprising, considering the risks involved, but Mr. Ridley convincingly describes its adaptive value.

Exchange has improved the human condition through the movement not only of goods but also of ideas. Unsurprisingly, given his background in genetics, Mr. Ridley compares this intermingling of ideas with the intermingling of genes in reproduction. In both cases, he sees the process as leading, ultimately, to the selection and development of the best offspring.

The second key idea in the book is, of course, "rational optimism." As Mr. Ridley shows, there have been constant predictions of a bleak future throughout human history, but they haven't come true. Our lives have improved dramatically—in terms of lifespan, nutrition, literacy, wealth and other measures—and he believes that the trend will continue. Too often this overwhelming success has been ignored in favor of dire predictions about threats like overpopulation or cancer, and Mr. Ridley deserves credit for confronting this pessimistic outlook.

Having shown that many past fears were ultimately unjustified, Mr. Ridley finally turns his "rational optimism" to two current problems whose seriousness, in his view, is greatly overblown: development in Africa and climate change. Here, in discussing complex matters where his expertise is not very deep, he gets into trouble.

Mr. Ridley spends 14 pages saying that everything will be just fine in Africa without our worrying about negative possibilities. This is unfortunate and misguided. Is his optimism justified because things always just happen to work out? Or do good results depend partly on our caring and taking action to prevent and solve problems? These are important questions, and he doesn't answer them.

In discussing Africa, Mr. Ridley relies on critics who say, essentially, "Aid doesn't work, hasn't worked and won't work." He cites studies, for instance, that show a lack of short-term economic benefit from aid, but he ignores the fact that health improvements, driven by aid, have been a major factor in slowing population growth, which has proven, in turn, to be critical to long-term economic growth. I may be biased toward aid because I spend my money on it and meet with lots of people who are alive because of it, but even if that were not the case, I would not be persuaded by such incomplete analysis.

Development in Africa is difficult to achieve, but I am optimistic that it will accelerate. Science will come up with vaccines for AIDS and malaria, and the "top-down" approach to aid criticized by Mr. Ridley (and by the economist William Easterly) will fund the delivery of these life-saving drugs. What Mr. Ridley fails to see is that worrying about the worst case—being pessimistic, to a degree—can actually help to drive a solution.

Mr. Ridley dismisses concern about climate change as another instance of unfounded pessimism. His discussion in this chapter is provocative, but he fails to prove that we shouldn't invest in reducing greenhouse gases. I asked Ken Caldeira, a scientist who studies global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, to look over this part of the book. He pointed out that Mr. Ridley celebrates declining air-pollution emissions in the U.S. but does not acknowledge that this has come about because of government regulations based on publicly funded science, which Mr. Ridley opposes. As Mr. Caldeira rightly observes, "It is a wonder of development that our economy can grow as air pollution diminishes." What is true of the U.S. case, I'd suggest, can be true of the world as a whole as we deal with the challenges posed by climate change.

"The Rational Optimist" would be a great book if Mr. Ridley had wrapped things up before these hokey policy discussions and his venting against those he considers to be pessimists. I agree with him that some people are overly concerned with potential problems, and I hadn't realized that this pessimism was so common in rich countries over the last several centuries. As John Stuart Mill said in 1828, in a quote from the book that I especially enjoyed: "I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage."

The most obvious instance of excessive pessimism in Mill's era was the "Communist Manifesto." In one of history's great ironies, Karl Marx used the profits from the German textile mills of Friedrich Engels's father to support the writing and distribution of a political philosophy based on pessimism about capitalism.

Pessimism is often wrong because people assume a world where there is no change or innovation. They simply extrapolate from what is going on today, failing to recognize the new developments and insights that might alter current trends. For too long, for instance, population forecasts have ignored the possibility that population growth would ease as the world became better off, because people who are wealthier and healthier do not feel the need to have so many children. (For more on this issue, see the excellent presentations on the "Gapminder" website of the development expert Hans Rosling.)

A lot of the rhetoric about sustainability implicitly assumes that we will exhaust our natural resources, as though there will never be any substitution of one commodity for another in the future. But there has always been such substitution. The late economist Julian Simon made a famous wager with the biologist Paul Ehrlich, author of "The Population Bomb." In response to Mr. Ehrlich's prediction that population growth would lead to resource scarcity and mass starvation, Simon bet him that the cost of a basket of commodities, including copper, chromium and nickel, would actually decrease between 1980 and 1990. Mr. Simon won the bet because he believed that, despite increased demand, increased supply would win out. And in fact, to take one example, fiber optics soon took the place of copper wire in many communications technologies.

There are other potential problems in the future that Mr. Ridley could have addressed but did not. Some would put super-intelligent computers on that list. My own list would include large-scale bioterrorism or a pandemic. (Mr. Ridley briefly dismisses the pandemic threat, citing last year's false alarm over the H1N1 virus.) But bioterrorism and pandemics are the only threats I can foresee that could kill over a billion people. (Natural catastrophes might seem like good candidates for concern, but I've been persuaded by Vaclav Smil, in "Global Catastrophes and Trends," that the odds are very low of a large meteor strike or a massive volcanic eruption at Yellowstone.)

Even though we can't compute the odds for threats like bioterrorism or a pandemic, it's important to have the right people worrying about them and taking steps to minimize their likelihood and potential impact. On these issues, I am not impressed right now with the work being done by the U.S. and other governments.

The key question that Mr. Ridley fails to address is: What's wrong with worrying about and guarding against threats that might become real, large problems? Parents worry a great deal about their children's safety. Some of that worry leads to constructive steps to keep children safe, and some is just negative emotion that doesn't help anyone. If we all agree to join Mr. Ridley as rational optimists, does that mean that we should stop worrying about trends that might cause problems and not take action to anticipate them?

Mr. Ridley devotes his attention to just two present-day problems, development in Africa and climate change, and seems to conclude, "Don't worry, be happy." My prescription would be, "Worry about fewer things while understanding the lessons of the past, including lessons about the importance of innovation." This might qualify me as a rational optimist, depending on how stringent the criteria are. But there can be no doubt that excessive pessimism may cause problems with how society plans for the future. Mr. Ridley's book should trigger in-depth discussions on this important subject.

Like many other authors who write about innovation, Mr. Ridley suggests that all innovation comes from new companies, with no contribution from established companies. As you might expect, I disagree with this view. He also seems to think that innovation involves simply coming up with a new idea, when in fact the execution of the idea is critical. He quotes the early venture capitalist Georges Doriot as saying that as soon as a company succeeds, it stops innovating. A great counterexample is Intel, which developed over 99% of its breakthroughs after its first success.

Mr. Ridley describes the economy of the future as "post-corporatist and post-capitalist," a silly throwaway phrase. He never explains what will replace all the companies that figure out how to make microchips or fertilizer or engines or drugs. Of course, many companies will come and go—that is a key element of capitalism—but corporations will continue to drive most innovation. It is a dangerous and widespread problem to underestimate the ongoing innovation that takes place within mature corporations.

In his quest to highlight exchange as the key mechanism in the success of our species, Mr. Ridley underplays the role of other institutions, including education, government, patents and science, all of which, especially since the 19th century, have played a central role in the improvements that humanity has experienced. Too often, when Mr. Ridley finds an example that minimizes the contributions of these institutions, he seems to think that he has validated the idea that exchange deserves all of the credit.

I am always amazed by scientific possibilities. Electricity, steel, microprocessors, vaccines and other products are possible only because of our efforts to understand the world and how it works. The scientists and tinkerers who investigate these mechanisms are engaged in a profound process of discovery. Without their curiosity and creativity, no amount of exchange would have produced the world in which we now live.

—Bill Gates is co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and serves as chairman of Microsoft.



Published in Archive

Better Governance Can Turn on  Tap for Cleaner, Safer Water

African Development Bank

NEWS Press

November 23, 2010

Poor governance in the water sector prevents millions of Africans from getting clean, safe drinking water and adequate, reliable sanitation, ten years into the 21st century, says a new report by the African Development Bank (AfDB). This situation prevails despite numerous and rigorous technical, financial, economic and institutional assessments in support of investment s in water and sanitation projects in Africa.

The 'Water Sector Governance in Africa' report, to be launched during the 3rd African Water Week in Addis Ababa on 23 November 2010, takes early steps to investigate whether poor governance has been a major contributory factor to the lack of sustainability in the African water sector.

The report identifies numerous but common governance risks, and shows that these are easily identifiable and preventable. It also finds that substantial gains would be made if government assessments became standard procedure and if governance criteria were introduced in donor project approval procedures.

The report notes: "While local and national institutions have the most visible role to play in governing the water sector, it is the sector's underlying policies, legislation and regulations that provide the foundation for overall governance".

Tom Roberts, who coordinated the study, explains further: "Some of the key roles that sector institutions and organizations need to fulfill in developing and carrying out the underlying legislation, policies and regulations include strategic policy-making and planning for water and related sectors; conflict resolution and arbitration, and the regulation and monitoring of water users and service providers. The report addresses each of these roles and the various related approaches and principles individually".

Lead Image 350 millions Africans lack access to water. pic:NEXT

Bobby J. Pitman, AfDB Vice-President for Infrastructure, Private Sector and Regional Integration, adds: "Contemporary literature on water sector financing understandably focuses on the mechanisms and challenges associated with funding tangible water supply and sanitation services. Our new study, however, draws attention to the importance of financing overarching water management and governance functions, from strategy, planning and policy-making and engagement with sector shareholders to water resource development, allocation and management".

The report led to the development of indicators and targets to add to efforts at improving governance in Africa's water sector. Volume 1 of the report on "Theory and Practice" introduces the findings' indicators and targets while Volume 2 presents concrete "Assessment Guidelines" for conducting water sector governance assessments for African programs and projects.



Sunday, 21 November 2010 16:27

Currency war: the stakes for Africa

Africa's economic outlook could suffer if foreign investment pushes up the value of its currencies and cripples exports

As a result of chronically deficient demand in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial and economic crises, global imbalances are on the rise again, as is the risk of protectionism. The US thinks China is undervaluing its currency to support its industry. The situation could lead to an "international currency war". What does this herald for African countries?

If history is any guide, we might look into previous currency conflicts to gauge the future. In the 1930s, currency wars led to competitive devaluations, protectionism, high inflation, economic collapse, the rise of Hitler in Germany, and eventually the second world war.

Africans were drafted in their thousands to fight alongside the allied forces against the axis armies. Many of them died. Africa's consolation prize came with the political awakening, the fight for freedom, and the independence that followed.

Postwar international euphoria did not last long before another currency conflict struck. In 1971, President Richard Nixon levied a 10% import surcharge and ended dollar convertibility into gold. This is how the debt-economy was born, further compounded and universalised by the Big Bang, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act, China's embrace of the "one state, two systems" model – totalitarian politics and economic liberalism – and globalisation.

Cheap money flooded the world, leaving out African countries, which – except for white-ruled South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) – were locked out of capital market borrowings. Again, their consolation came when, devoid of toxic assets, they escaped almost unscathed the current twin woes of financial turmoil and economic downturn.

Quantitative easing (QE) adopted by the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – printing hundreds of billions of dollars of electronic money – is the current weapon of choice in an escalating global currency war. Since the official interest rates set up by these central banks are close to zero, QE is flooding emerging market economies as investors search for higher yields. As a result, the exchange rates of their currencies are rising.

This invokes the 1985 Plaza agreement, whereby the US pressurised Japan into an appreciation of the yen. Japan never recovered from the huge monetary expansion that followed. China is unlikely to follow in Japan's footsteps. With its huge population, immense foreign exchange reserves and capital control, Beijing still has considerable scope to thwart speculative capital inflows and expand domestic demand to ward off western currency bullying.

Africa is being caught in the crossfire of this currency clash. In South Africa, the continent's biggest economy, capital inflows induced a rally in the rand, which last month rose to its highest level against the dollar in almost three years, undermining key export-led industries.

The CFA franc, which is freely convertible into hard currency at a grossly overvalued parity pegged to the euro, is still more vulnerable. The franc zone, which gives France control of 65% of the African member-countries' foreign-exchange reserves deducted directly from their oil, gold, cocoa, coffee and other commodities' exports earnings, will be a first choice for hot money inflows.

A foreign exchange cover of 110%, combined with soaring interest rates, low inflation and free capital movement, fuels capital flight to the benefit of France and French private companies. Moreover, the franc zone is particularly attractive to speculative capital inflows. Speculators transfer huge amounts of money to high-interest local accounts, collect their tax-free gains every three months, and take the no-risk plunge over and over again.

The brewing currency war is all the more unwelcome in Africa when one considers that the continent is enjoying a particularly good economic outlook. According to McKinsey & Company, Africa was the third-largest contributor to world economic growth in 2009, after China and India. It also credits the continent with delivering the highest rate of return on foreign investment.

Several factors have contributed to this upturn. Rapid urbanisation – 40% of Africans live in cities – has created a dynamic informal sector. This cash-based economy is a major contributor to the continent's productive capacity. It employs over 90% of the workforce, is home to three-quarters of retailers, and plays a leading role in increasing regional trade. By 2015, Africa will be the only continent where the working age percentage of the population will still be growing. The number of households with earnings over $5,000 – a threshold for consumption spending – will rise from 85m to 128m in the next decade.

Increased demand from emerging countries such as Brazil, India and China has pushed up commodity prices and increased export revenues. The scramble for large-scale purchases and leases of hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland in the region has made the headlines across the world. There is no doubt that the opacity and the dubious conditions surrounding some of these deals are cause for concern. However, the fact remains that investment to harness Africa's huge agricultural potential is one answer to rising global food prices, "food riots", and climate change-induced food security concerns.

Economic reforms implemented throughout the 1970s and 1980s have improved the macroeconomic environment. Annual foreign direct investment flow in Africa rose from $9bn in 2000 to $62bn in 2008.

These are the bright development prospects that the currency sabre-rattling could jeopardise. However, Africa might find consolation in the fact that when the world's major economies are in trouble, wary investors find solace in "refuge values" like gold, silver, oil, base metals and other commodities in which Africa abounds.

Sanou Mbaye is a London-based Senegalese development consultant and a former senior official at the African Development Bank. He is the author of L'Afrique au secours de l'Afrique (Africa to the rescue of Africa).




In Africa, you are born a farmer; you don't become one

Young people who will be future policymakers and leaders should see agriculture as a business opportunity and not simply a means of survival. It is widely accepted that agricultural growth and increases in farm productivity are prerequisites to broad-based sustained economic growth and development. Yet, when it comes to Africa, this connection is just beginning to be made by the development community as well as many African governments. Smallholder agriculture and the back breaking work of millions of African farmers have been taken for granted – viewed as an accepted way of life that they embrace. Support comes mostly in the form of charity, not investment.

In Africa, you are born a farmer; you don't become one. At least, that's been the perception. But young people who will be the future policymakers and business leaders of tomorrow need to view agriculture as more than something that is done solely out of necessity and associated with the stigma of poverty and lack of education. We must make them see that Africa's farming sector is ripe with business opportunities.

The story of Lovemore Chopi illustrates what's possible when the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of Africa's young men and women is tapped. At a recent meeting of those in receipt of grants from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), held in Kampala, this 31-year old, soft-spoken seed seller in Malawi spoke about his dream to build a seed empire.

After a slow start selling vegetable seeds on the sidewalks of Blantyre, Chopi decided it was time to go for the dream. He enrolled in an Agra-supported training course on business and marketing for agro-dealers. The rest is history.

Riding the wave of increased demand for improved seed sparked by Malawi's landmark input subsidy programme, Chopi registered his rural agro-dealer shop as a government distributor and used the opportunity to market his small vegetable seed packets to compliment farmers' maize seed purchases. The increased revenue has transformed the young Malawian from an eager hustler worried about sales to a small-sized agro-input entrepreneur working with seed producers to meet rapidly growing demand for high-quality seed. Chopi isn't your average seed seller. He represents a new vision of a dynamic, hopeful generation of Africans that hold our collective future in their hands.

African agriculture is starting to develop as a dynamic, profitable sector. African governments and international donors have increased their commitments to agriculture. African companies are investing in the production of quality seeds and fertilisers, development of food processing businesses, provision of market information systems and financial products to serve farmers and agricultural enterprises.

And most importantly, smallholder farmers are investing in their own farms and organising around their common interests.In Muranga, Kenya, banana farmers have come together to set up the Sabasaba Agribusiness Centre with the help of a partnership between Agra and TechnoServe. The idea is to create a dynamic business platform for farmers to purchase improved varieties, and to bulk their bananas and other produce for sale at standard rates by weight instead of 'eyeball' estimates. The business platform also connects farmers to urban traders and financing through commercial banks. Instead of worrying about banana harvests rotting on the shelves, these farmers now see bananas as a cash crop like coffee or tea.

With the right support, African entrepreneurs are helping to change the face of the agriculture – helping farmers and themselves succeed. The march towards achieving an African green revolution is about scaling up thousands of small successes occurring across the continent to create sustained transformation. It is also about making farming attractive to young people with ambition and drive. They are the generation for whom we need to make change sustainable.

Let us act boldly to improve smallholder farmers' access to opportunities that will change the lives of millions and tell the world a new and different story of Africa's new agricultural entrepreneurs.

• Namanga Ngongi is the president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra)


Africans do not accept status quo

Prominent African intellectuals have stepped up their opposition to a controversial science prize sponsored by Equatorial Guinea's president.

Nobel laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Wole Soyinka, Graça Machel of Mozambique and Nigerian author Chinua Achebe joined 123 other Africans, including citizens of Equatorial Guinea, in voicing their objections to the prize in a letter addressed to UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), under whose name the award is to be given.

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences is the subject of make-or-break discussions at UNESCO's executive board meeting in Paris this month (October 5−21).

The group objects to the US$3 million endowment being funded by, and named after, a dictator with a dubious human rights record. The prize was voted for unanimously by UNESCO's executive board in 2008, but a decision was taken in June this year to delay the first awards after human rights groups stepped up their opposition last year.

"The continued existence of this prize is inimical to UNESCO's mission and an affront to Africans everywhere who work for the betterment of our countries," said the letter, which was issued yesterday.

"Not all Africans believe that a dictator should be able to purchase legitimacy through a prize created in Paris.

"UNESCO's executive board has a responsibility to protect the organization's integrity, which this prize places in jeopardy."

At the same time a group of writers and intellectuals from Latin America, including 2010 Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, has called for the prize to be abandoned. Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony.

And the United States has put forward a resolution to the 58-nation executive board (8 October) calling for the withdrawal of the prize "in view of the strong global reaction" to the prize and its "negative impact on the credibility, prestige and basic values of UNESCO".

Similar words were used by French diplomats at the board's meeting this week, indicating European support for the US resolution.

But there is widespread support for the prize by African and Arab delegations to UNESCO. They say such moves, including the US resolution, will only delay the prize further, rather than lead to its withdrawal.

Yesterday (11 October) the Africa Group within UNESCO circulated a letter to all delegations reconfirming its support for the prize. It is widely believed that Western countries opposing the prize would be outnumbered by African and other nations favouring it.

Equatorial Guinea has called on UNESCO to stop delaying the prize. The country's minister of foreign affairs Pastor Micha Ondo Bile told a UN General Assembly meeting in New York last month that UNESCO was obliged to proceed.

Bile described the situation as "unprecedented and therefore disturbing" because the prize had the potential to lessen the suffering of people worldwide, and particularly in Africa, adding that some NGOs were being racist.


Thursday, 07 October 2010 18:17

AFRICA: Then, Now and Forever

Philip Emeagwali on  Nigeria’s 50th anniversary

Excerpt from Nigeria’s 50th anniversary lecture at the Embassy of Nigeria, Paris. Lecture.

Walk with me in memory to one of the greatest celebrations, the end of the colonial era in Africa. The day: October 1, 1960. The place: British West Africa. The setting: a crowded stadium in the Atlantic coastal town of Sapele. School children are waving green and white flags in honor of the birth of modern Nigeria, no longer part of the British Empire.

I was six years old and was in that stadium. I do not remember what was said because the concept of colonialism was abstract to me. But I vividly remember an incident that made me cry all that day. I was waving my flag in excitement when a faceless bully snatched it away and disappeared into the crowd.

In far-away Lagos, the Union Jack was lowered. Nigeria's Head of State, the Queen of England, was dethroned and Nnamdi Azikiwe became Nigeria's first black leader.  Fifty years earlier, the Union Jack had cast its shadow across every global time zone, giving rise to the saying, "The sun never sets on the British Empire.” We had showed our pride in being part of the empire by celebrating Empire Day on May 24th, Queen Victoria's birthday, with parades and sporting competitions. Later, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day.

As a country, Nigeria has existed for 96 years, but it has only been independent for 50 years, for just over half that time. We must critically examine the 46 years of colonial rule over Nigeria and the scramble for Africa that began with the Berlin Conference of 1884, if we are to get insights into how to chart our nation's course for the next 50 years.

The Sankofa is a mythical bird of the Akan people of West Africa. If flies forward while looking backward, with an egg in its mouth to symbolize the future. In order to understand its history, to reclaim its past, and to enable its people to move forward into the 21st century, Africa must look back, back to the Berlin Conference of 1884 and back to the Atlantic slave trade that spanned four continents and four centuries. This will allow us to understand how we came to be 54 nations instead of one.

Like the Sankofa bird, Africa must look to its past to predict its future. It must know how it evolved in order to understand how it can be recreated. Its people should know where their journey began in order to understand which direction to take to find their future.

The Berlin Conference is when Africa was divided into roughly 50 colonies, and 1884 was when the modern map of Africa was created. The Berlin Conference was the beginning of modern Africa. In 1884, Africa was the agenda, but no African was at the table.

This year, in 2010, 17 African nations are celebrating their 50th anniversary of sovereignty and post-colonial rule. Nigeria's journey, like that of the other independent African nations, began at the Berlin Conference 126 years ago with no African in attendance. If colonial Africa could be created in Berlin, then a future Africa could be created in Beijing. Nations creating technological knowledge are reinventing the future and recreating Africa.

I believe that, by the end of this century, one in two Africans will live outside Africa. I was asked: "Why did you live in exile

from Africa for 37 years?" Put differently, "Why don't you deliver Nigeria's 50th anniversary lecture in Abuja, instead of in Paris?" I have never visited Abuja. But I am not at home in Washington, D.C., either.

I had an asymmetrical relationship with Africa and America, as well as with science and technology. I worked entirely outside the gates of science and as an outcast, with outsider status. I was honored, but will forever remain an outsider in America. I was honored for retelling the 330-year-old story of the Second Law of Motion: from the storyboard, to the blackboard, to the motherboard, by reprogramming 65,000 subcomputers to compute as a supercomputer, and to communicate as an internet. I became my own ancestor in physics, my contemporary in mathematics, and descendant in internet science.

I experienced the usual in an unusual way. I was an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances. I decided to march forward, to come home to myself, not to someone else's home. I stayed in exile in America, feeling at home in my alienation from the white community. My 37 years of solitude allowed me to gather myself and to find my power.

Philip Emeagwali has been called “a father of the Internet” by CNN and TIME, and extolled as a “Digital Giant” by BBC and as “one of the great minds of the Information Age” by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.


Monday, 04 October 2010 03:20

What Africa Needs from the West

Africa must take the lead

At Glenglades in Scotland 2005, the G8 nations under the leadership of former Prime minister of Britain, Mr. Blair proposed to increase foreign aid to African countries to the tune of $50 billions in the next decades. The G8 nations pledged to effectuate debt remission for most highly indebted nations in the developing nations. Fourteen nations in African benefitted from the program after completing austere structural programs and having graduated to completion points approved by their creditors and International Monetary Fund (IMF). But many African countries were left behind because they cannot meet the difficult requirements and structural modalities for the program.

The G8 nations at that point mapped out modalities for the proposed foreign aid, and Tony Blair formed an organization of eminent personalities including Bono, President Obasanjo, Geldof, Kofi Annan with Bill Gates as the chairman - to monitor G8 nations in their pursuit of redeeming the pledge.

The G8 has not absolutely fulfilled her pledge to Africa. But the level of Africa’s ills cannot ordinarily be wished away by mere increase in aid support. Aid is not an engine of development, rather its impact is short term and sometimes it can be a barrier to economic development because of the attached strings. Africa needs to trade and industrialize her economy for effective participation on international stage.

First and foremost, the procedural disbursement of aid from government to government does encourage corruption. Financial aid disbursement must be modified to go directly to the poor citizens and wealth creating enterprise and small businesses. As for debt remission, Africa received $540 billion loans between 1970-2002, she paid back $550 billion (i.e. principal with interest inclusive) and she still owned $295 billion as at the end of 2002.

AFRIPOL to this end is canvassing and looking forward to having a situation where the entire Africa‘s foreign debt will be written off unconditionally in order to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving global poverty by 2015. There is no gainsaying that Africa has not paid enough dues even with all the litany of problems confronting the continent.

Beyond aid and debt remission, the West should ask, what does Africa really need from us?

Empowerment to foster Freedom and Liberty:

Africans must live in the system of government that encourages freedom and justice. The respect for fundamental human rights must be instituted and adhered to; an environment that provides self-help, self-improvement and self-innovation must be encouraged. Only freedom can make these things possible and make free enterprise a reality, so that free people can create wealth and advance human dignity.

The West must encourage and support governance that accommodates checks and balances in Africa. This will in turn provide accountability and respect for the populace. What Africa needs mostly include, elimination of dictators and socialist regimes, establishment of virile/free political platform and economy, rule of law and respect for individual rights. All these things do border on fundamental issues which foreign aid alone cannot redress. Until these issues are properly put right, the story of the optimum utilization of these billions of dollars from foreign aid will always remain a mirage.

Anti-corruption legislation:

The responsibility of fighting corruption is too complex and gigantic to be left for one party. Both Africa and West must partake in the fight against corruption. The West must enact banking laws that will fish out bankers that accept laundered money and tainted wealth from corrupt African leaders and bureaucrats. Ill-gotten wealth must be returned to Africa without much ado, while the culprits must be exposed and prosecuted.

The West must work together with African governments on the war against corruption and bribery. Corporations and Transnational companies operating in Africa must not induce politicians and bureaucrats by bribes in their quest for contracts.

“African Union estimates that the continent loses as much as $148 billion a year to corruption. This money is rarely invested in Africa but finds its way into the international banking system and often into western banks. The proceeds of corrupt practices in Africa, (which the African experts group recommended in 2002 should be classified as a ‘crime against humanity’ because of its impact on ordinary people), are often laundered and made respectable by some of the most well known banks in the City of London or the discreet personal bankers of Geneva and Zurich."

Elimination of wars and Promotion of Peace and conflict resolutions:

The West can work with African union in finding solutions to the cessation of conflicts and wars. Wars (especially internal strife) are ubiquitous in the continent. Some African governments and warmongers commit their resources to executing endless wars. The West must frown upon the sell of arms to these parties by checkmating their native’s arms industries.

Fair and Balance Trade:

The West must encourage fair and equitable trade with Africa. The giving of aid must not be the only means to defeat poverty and alleviate quality of life in Africa. The promotion of trade can be possible when concessions are made to infant industries in Africa. The West can improve technological developments by investing in areas of science and technology that can sharpen the technical-know-how in the continent. The West must stand for fair trade at the World trade organization by conscientiously removing agricultural subsidies given to their own agricultural sectors that adversely affect the traffic of commodities from Africa. Only trade can be the panacea to poverty in Africa, this will by and large booster a higher GDP and a decent standard of living.

Africa must embark on the area of trade specialization where she has the greatest comparative advantage. It seems that agriculture is the best possible for Africa. The Western World must take the initiative of reducing trade tariffs and removal of agricultural subsidies. By this, developing nations and poor countries especially in Africa can participate and compete favorably with the West. In practice, free trade must be made to work for every nation. World trade Organization must implement trade policies that are doable, workable and all-inclusive. Foreign aid is good and dandy, though on the contrary, history has always proven that aid has slightly or insignificantly improvement  on recipient nations nor ameliorate the well-beings of the fabric of the needy class at the long run. Foreign aid can be given via reduction in prices of medicine, pharmaceutical equipment and of essential commodities needed for survival in the less technological nations. We cannot downplay the role of foreign aid when fully utilized, when it goes to the required projects that ought to impact the needy positively. But Africa core need is beyond these immediate measures.

August 28, 2009



Published in Archive
Friday, 13 August 2010 20:39

Prostate Cancer


Urgent Need to Curb Prostate Cancer Epidemic among Black Men

Even though tremendous progress has been made over the years in the healthcare sector, across the globe, many countries today continue to lag behind when it comes to early detection and treatment of life threatening diseases such as cancer. A good case in point is the rising number of Prostate Cancer cases and the resulting deaths among Black Men in West Africa, Caribbean, United States and United Kingdom.

Micrograph of prostatic adenocarcinoma, conven...

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What is even more alarming is that African American men have a 60% greater chance of developing cancer of the prostate gland as compared to their white counterparts. More than 14 million Nigerian men die of prostate cancer in the age group of 45-50 and above. This high Morbidity & Mortality rate is definitely a cause for great concern, considering the fact that, if detected early, Prostate Cancer can be successfully cured. Often times, the cancer is detected at a much later stage, making it impossible for curative care and treatment to be effective.

This is why, it is imperative for men of African descent to be aware of the risks they face and the importance of getting themselves screened regularly for cancer of the prostate, by the time they reach the age of 45.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 million, new cancer cases may be diagnosed each year in Africa by 2020 and many of these may be Prostate cancer cases.


Cases, Prevalence, & Mortality of Prostate Cancer

Western Africa


(1 Year)

(5 Years)







Burkina Faso





Cape Verde





Cote d'Ivoire





The Gambia




















































Sierra Leone










Region Total








Some of the main reasons why such cases have been steadily growing in Africa

Excessive poverty

Insufficient resources

Lack of basic infrastructure & amenities

Lack of information, and proper prostate cancer awareness

Lack of effective screening & treatment programs

Social, and cultural isolation

Over the years, several scientists and doctors have devoted themselves to researching the causes for such high risk of prostate cancer among African American men. Doctors have been studying the family & medical history of several African American families to check the prevalence of prostate cancer from generation to generation. The research and tests have revealed many facts, based on which various theories have been developed such as -

Crucial differences can be seen in the prostate of African American men

A higher level of androgen receptor proteins is present in the prostates of men with African descent

A genetic mutation has been identified that raises the chances of cancer of the prostate.  It is hoped that united efforts to spread awareness, arrange effective screening and provide cure, across countries will help to save many African Americans from the danger of Prostate Cancer. For more information see

CDC Features - Prostate Cancer (

G. Stanley Okoye, M.D., Ph.D. , Chief Medical Correspondent, Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center (Afripol) and St. Jude Medical Missions ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).



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During the course of a normal day, people face varieties of different risks.  Some risks are known and others are faced with a degree of uncertainty. One of the risks or potential hazards that most people encounter perhaps every moment in a day is their exposure to a variety of chemicals. In most cases people make an informed decision to avoid the substances that are known to be harmful.  Problems arise when the public is perhaps unwittingly exposed to a substance where the acute or cumulative affects of exposure may be dangerous.

In the United States, a change occurred in 1962 that many consider the start of the environmental movement. Rachel Carlson, a former marine biologist with the US Wildlife Fisheries, wrote a book called "Silent Spring" This one book was the start of or the catalyst for the modern environmental movement. This book aroused public consciousness and influenced subsequent environmental legislation for years to come including the ban on DDT in the United States and many other countries (Lewis, 1985).

What is DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane)

DDT ((Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is the first of the chlorinated organic insecticide, was originally discovered in 1873. In 1939 that chemist Paul Muller discovered the effectiveness of DDT as an insecticide and was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology in 1948(ASTDR, 2002).

Worldwide use of DDT in the late 1940’s increased tremendously because of its effectiveness against the mosquito and lice; thereby eradicating diseases like malaria and typhus. It was relatively inexpensive and had a low toxicity to mammals compared with other insecticides.  The World Health Organization estimates approximately 25 million lives were saved because of the use of DDT. By the 1950’s it was widely used throughout the United States, especially in the mosquito prone areas of the south. Today, some areas with prime real estate and multi-million dollar homes were once endemic with malaria and only made habitable through the application of DDT (WHO, 2005). 

The Controversy


In the early 1960’s, it was discovered that DDT was toxic to fish. Residues were found to remain in the food chain for long periods of time due to its bioaccumulation in the liver and adipose tissue of animals. This led to a 1969 research study that demonstrated an increased incidence of liver tumors and leukemia in laboratory mice (ASTDR, 2002).

Degradation of the substance was also found to be very slow with residual amounts found in soil samples up to 15 years after application. Wildlife researchers (Ames, 1966) linked the exposure to DDT to the habitat decline of the osprey and peregrine falcon due to increased fragility and thickness of their eggs. By 1972, responding to the public outcry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to phase out the use of DDT.

The problem with these studies is that they have never been duplicated. A hallmark and perhaps the most important tenet of the scientific method is not only must a hypothesis be testable, but that it must be reproducible. In "DDT: Epidemiological Evidence" researchers demonstrated that cancer correlations between DDT and population levels were not reproducible. Samples taken from areas where high concentrations of DDT were ubiquitous and where trace amounts were found in human blood, urine and feces, there was no corresponding increase in cancer rates in the population. It concludes that the insecticide did not have a significant impact on human cancer patterns and therefore is unlikely to be an important carcinogen for man at previous exposure levels, (Higginson, 1985). Similarly in "Pesticides and breast cancer risk: a review of DDT, DDE, and Dieldrin", while acknowledging that DDT and its metabolites are persistent organic pollutants, the offer could find no demonstrable evidence that DDT was implicated in an increased risk of breast cancer (Snedaker, 2001). Subsequent analysis of five US studies carried did not provide evidence to support a role of DDE (a byproduct of DDT) with increased cancer risks (Laden, Collman, Iwamoto, et al, 2001).

Endemic Malaria and the African Dilemma

The African countries have a unique moral and economic dilemma that is faced by few other nations. Will current and future governmental leaders use DDT to combat the malaria endemic?

The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control reports that between 1.5-2.5 million people die of malaria or malaria attributed illnesses, annually. Nearly 90% of these deaths occur in tropical Africa with 18% of all deaths occurring in children under the age of 5 (WHO, 2005). There simply is no other disease, in any part of the world that can generate these types of statistics.

Complicating the decision are the economic variables. In a global economy, if governments revert back to the use of DDT, there is a risk that exported products could be banned. Economic figures indicate that countries in Europe imported greater than 10 billion dollars in agricultural products (UN, 2009). Domestically, treating victims continues to strain the budgets of most African governments. Governments often rely on aid from groups such as USAID, the World Health Organization and other Non Governmental Organizations. Most of these agencies are opposed to using DDT for malaria prevention. Without this funding to support DDT spraying, these nations cannot afford it and are forced to adopt less cost effective measures.

Some governments have continued to use it in the face of malaria related deaths. In South Africa's DDT spraying program, malaria rates were cut by 80 percent in 18 months with no demonstrated harmful environmental effects.  Other successes in Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar and Swaziland were attainable with malaria rates cut by more than 75 percent within two years.

Is DDT the panacea or the magic bullet that will forever remove the scourge of malaria from the world? Probably not, but it remains an overlooked and underutilized tool in an arsenal that has been depleted by regulations forced by incomplete evidence or the emotional reaction of some environmentalists.


Ames, P. (1966). DDT Residues in the eggs of the Osprey in the Northeastern United States and their relation to nesting success. Journal of Applied Ecology, 3, 87-97

ASTDR (2002) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: DDT, DDE and DDD in Division of Toxicology FAQ

Higgionson, J. (1985). DDT: Epidemiological Evidence. IARC: International Agency for Research on Cancer, 65, 107-117

Laden, F., Collman, G., & Iwamoto, K. (2001). 1,1-Dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene and Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Breast Cancer: Combined Analysis of Five U.S. Studies. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 93(10), 768-775

Snedeker, S. (2001). Pesticides and breast cancer risk: a review of DDT, DDE, and dieldrin. Enivironmental Health Perspectives, 3, 35-47.

The US Environmental Protection Agency. (1985). History: The Birth of the EPA. In J. Clark (Ed.), EPA Journal, Washington, DC

Thurow, R. (2001) In Malaria War, South Africa turns to pesticide long banned in the West in Wall Street Journal

Turusov, V, Rakitsky, V, & Tomatis, L. (2002). Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT): ubiquity, persistence, and risks. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(2), 125-128.

United Nations. (2009). United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database. In UN Commtrade. New York, New York.

World Health Organization, (2005) The WHO Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard and Guidelines to Classification.



Published in Dennis Alvarez

Africa is confronted with lack of internal security which becomes a deterrent force in the economic advancement of the continent. Capital flight and low foreign investment are the precipitates and ramification of the insecurity.

Beyond the fundamental security motivation of the exercise: "For the U.S., however, AFRICOM will be more than a military exercise. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it will feature a unique interagency mix (NPR), combining intelligence, diplomatic, health and aid experts. That suggests to many a more robust effort to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa, to encourage democratic and market economic reforms, as well as to prevent states from collapsing and providing fertile ground for terrorists. Finally, Africa stands to play an increasingly important role as a supplier of oil to America (National Interest Online) over the next few decades, with some projecting that West Africa's exports to the United States will outstrip the Middle East's by 2015. "

Africa inability to advance economically like the rest of other continents is due to several fundamental reasons; among them is paucity of security infrastructures and apparatus. Africom can play a vital role in contributing to the stabilization of maritime life in Africa. The ships and cargoes transporting commodities and passengers must be able to conduct their businesses in a worry free environment.

The sum total of the African countries and African Union contingency plans for securing the territorial integrity of the continent is minimal and is not meeting up the requisite infrastructure needed to safe guard the continent. In the 21st century world there cannot be advancement in the economic development without adequate security that allow and guarantee passage of goods and services. Africa is beset with instability and ubiquitous intra and inters mêlée that makes free market, trade and capitalism unattractive.

At the horn of Africa, the Somali pirates operating in the Indian Ocean are not making it easy for passage of ships and cargoes including passengers who have services and expertise to render to Africa. The Africa Union does not have any strategy to safeguard waters of Africa, nor does any African country have the resources and technical know-how to undertake such a complex and gigantic project. The waters of West African coast including Gulf of Guinea, must be secured from armed militia and terrorists who are bent on obstructing oil production in the upstream oil drilling and exploration.

Africom can be a force for good because it can supply the security infrastructures, manpower and technology needed to secure Africa from the danger of pirates and criminals that are making it difficult for normal conduct of maritime business. The resource and money that African countries have devoted and allocated for securing maritime peace can be used for other project in the continent. The point is that Africa will not relinquish her responsibility to Africom but work in concert with Africom in keeping Africa safe from criminal intruder, warmongers and terrorists.

When Africa does experience uncivil eruptions and disturbances that produce exothermic havoc including pogroms, massacre and holocaust in Rwanda, and the on going Sudan problem, Africa lacks the logistic capability to transport manpower to the danger point. Africom can be of great aide in such situation and can be become a combatant force to arrest ugly situations and developments that have the potential to escalate to a monstrous dimension that can demolish massive life and property like in Rwanda massacre.

When Africa achieved a quantifiable peace the flow of investment and capital becomes more attractive to both domestic and foreign investors which can halt capital flight. Africom can be a constructive partner in this endeavor without jeopardizing African territorial integrity.

The psychology of trust

It is said, "Once bitten, twice shy." Africans cannot be blame for being skeptical about the latest development because of her antecedent history with outsiders. Slavery and colonialism legacy still permeates the continent's reaction and psychology to new ideas and developments including the presence of Africom. But Africa cannot dwell in the past, for the time has come for Africa to seize new opportunity and take reasonable risk in order to further her interest and facilitate stability in her geopolitical landscape. Africa can be able to forge strategic alliance with America and Africom. All things being equal, America has done a lot of good things in Africa. United States is an exceptional nation in that she has no colonial ambition and can be a catalyst partner for economic development in Africa. The emergence of President Obama, an African America is exemplary of the goodwill to Africa which can encourage confidence building for Africans.

Freedom and prosperity

America has to work succinctly to assiduously allay their fears and show to Africans the benefits of Africom. This must be done with goodwill and civility while respecting African territorial integrity.

Peace and tranquility are good for business for all the parties concerned which can be achieved through dialogue and understanding. To this end, American diplomats in Africa have to embark on thorough enlightenment campaign. Africa needs stability and quantifiable peace for economic progress and Africom can contribute to the endeavor.

Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center (Afripol) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa.










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