Inter Press Service » Labour News and Views from the Global South Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:13:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Inequality (I): Half of World’s Wealth, in the Pockets of Just Eight Men Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:17:39 +0000 Baher Kamal Article I of a three-part series focuses on the alarmingly deepening inequality. Part II deals with the staggering impact of inequality on women, and Part III with the future and quality of jobs. ]]> Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 16 2017 (IPS)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a major new report by an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

“The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years. To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend 1 million dollars every day for 2738 years to spend 1 trillion dollars.”

****These Are the World’s 8 Richest People:

1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016.

The wealth of the world’s richest people was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2016.

The report details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

“New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought.”

Had this new data been available last year, the report adds, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.


On this, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”

Oxfam’s report shows “how our broken economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of who are women.” (See Part II of IPS series).

Tax Dodging

OXFAM’s report also tackles the critical issue of tax dodging.

Corporate tax dodging, it informs, costs poor countries at least 100 billion dollars every year.

“This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year.”

The report outlines how the super-rich use a network of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax and an army of wealth managers to secure returns on their investments that would not be available to ordinary savers.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the super-rich are not ‘self-made’. Oxfam analysis shows over half the world’s billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries, which are prone to corruption and cronyism.

It also demonstrates how big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them.

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

A Human Economy?

“Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces. If politicians stop obsessing with GDP [Gross Domestic Product], and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.”

Oxfam’s blueprint for a more human economy includes a series of measures that should be adopted by governments to end the extreme concentration of wealth to end poverty.

These include increasing taxes on both wealth and high incomes to ensure a more level playing field, and to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation; to work together to ensure workers are paid a decent wage; and to put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax.

These steps also include supporting companies that benefit their workers and society rather than just their shareholders.

As well, governments should ensure economies work for women, and must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work.

Does Anybody Care?

Here, a key question arises: national governments, the UN, the EU, and major civil society and human rights organisations, all know about the on-going, obscene inequality. How come that nothing effective has been done do far to prevent it or at least reduce it?

On this, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” comments to IPS that “tackling inequality properly will mean breaking with the economic model we have been following for thirty years.”

“It will also mean taking on and overcoming the powerful interests of the super-rich and corporations who are benefiting from the status quo. So it is not surprising that despite global outcry at the inequality crisis, very little has changed.”

Nevertheless, says Ratcliff, some governments are bucking the trend, and managing to reduce inequality, listening to the demands of the majority not the minority.

Asked for specific examples, Ratcliff says that some governments, like Namibia’s, have managed to decrease inequality by taxing the rich more and spending it on things such as free secondary education that help reduce the gap between rich and poor.

“These countries show that another world is possible, if we can reject this broken economic model and stop the undue influence of the rich.”

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Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hike Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

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Poor Darwin – Robots, Not Nature, Now Make the Selection Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:56:01 +0000 Baher Kamal TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

When British naturalist Charles Darwin published in 1859 his theory of evolution in his work On the Origin of Species, he most likely did not expect that robots, not nature, would someday be in charge of the selection process.

In his On the Origin of Species, (more completely: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life), Darwin introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.

Now the so-called ”fourth industrial revolution” comes to turn Darwin’s theory upside down, as the manufacturing process has been witnessing such a fast process of automation that machines will more and more replace human workers.

So fast that it is estimated that by the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots.

Moreover, the robotising trend is now being perfected in a way that machines are gradually able to solve problems posed by other machines.

Oxford University predicts that machines and robots will perform nearly half of US jobs within the next 20 years.

And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says in its report “Future of Work in figures” that some studies argue that 47 per cent of US employment is subject to substitution (39 per cent in Germany, 35 per cent in the UK). "By the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots"

“The assumptions of what tasks are replaceable are key, but the undisputed fact is that the occupational structure will change and the tasks required to carry out jobs will also change,” says the OECD while trying to inject some optimism: “Substitution may mean the destruction of certain jobs, but not the destruction of employment.”

This process of “substitution” could not come at a tougher time, as the so-called job market is already much too precarious.

Just an example: this organisation grouping nearly one fifth of all countries –those considered most developed—in a report titled “Employment and unemployment in figures,” says that there are now over 40 million unemployed in the OECD area — that’s around 8 million more than before the crisis, i.e., one million jobs lost yearly over the last 8 years.

Add to this, the fact that 1 in 3 jobs are considered precarious in the industrialised countries, and that workers now earn between 15 and 20 per cent less than in the year 2009.

These figures, however, are viewed in a positive light by the business sector as they imply a growing reduction of the costs of production.

What to Do With Humans Then?

Politicians, likely propelled by big business pundits, have just started to think now of how to face this challenge.

One of the trendiest formulae is now to give a basic income to citizens.

Such a basic income (also called unconditional basic income, citizen’s income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income or universal demo-grant) implies that all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

According to its defenders, this would be financed by the profits of publicly owned enterprises. But it will be a difficult exercise given that the private sector has been taking over the roles of the state, which has been gradually dismantled.

Many citizens’ first reaction to this formula would be –is– “… sounds great… getting money without even working is a dream!”

The realisation of such a dream poses, however, a number of questions and concerns.

For instance: where will governments find the resources needed for such basic incomes? From which national budget items will these amounts be deducted?

Will governments continue anyway to provide social services, such as public health care, education, unemployment subsidies, pension funds? Are such services sentenced to privatisation?

Will this mean the elimination of the 20 billion dollars that the OECD countries dedicate every year to the employment funds, which are aimed at promoting the creation of job opportunities?

And how can unemployed people contribute with their basic income to replenishing the retirement funds of the elderly, whose lives are already long and expected to get longer and longer?

Let alone infrastructure like public transport, roads and highways, subsidies to alternative sources of energy, and a long et cetera.

In other words, will such basic income without even working lead to the definite dismantlement of the already rapidly shrinking social welfare?

Most likely it will be so. After all, it would be about a step further in the very process of robotising the very lives of human beings.

This way, the citizens will be kept alive, will complain less about the evident failure of governments to create job opportunities, while doing what they are expected to do: that’s to consume what industries produce and, by the way, continue playing their role as voters (not electors, mind the difference).

The Rule of the Multimillionaires

This trend, which seems to be unavoidable, will likely receive a giant push pretty soon—as soon as the new United States administration, lead by Donald Trump, takes office in January 2017.

An administration, by the way, made of multi-millionaires who are highly unlikely to have the sensibility of average citizens and workers.

The effects on Europe will be immediate in view of the irresistible rise of the extreme right in countries like Germany, France and Italy — which will go through elections in 2017 – as well as the Netherlands, Austria, Hungry and even Greece, to mention a few.

Inequality, That Dangerous Gap

Add to all of the above the fact that growing unemployment will deepen the already considerable inequality.

Roberto Savio, Founder of IPS and of Other News, in a recent master lecture at the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, compiled the following shocking data: six years ago, 388 persons possessed the same wealth as 3.2 billion people; in 2014, their number was of just 80, and in 2015 only 62.

These figures, added to the fact that, according to the International Labour Organization, 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 just to keep pace with the growth of the working age population, will leave more millions behind, forcing massive displacements, especially from developing countries, as survival migrants.

“The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

This is how Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, a private company that “makes software for people who make things,” described the current, unstoppable process of automation.

Bass’ comment was quoted by Xavier Mesnard in an article titled “What happens when robots take our jobs?” which was published in the World Economic Forum.

Most probably Darwin would have never expected that the current artificial selection process –propelled by an irrepressible greed and subjected to the financial interests of big private corporations exercising full control without any regulation mechanism, amid short-sighted politics — would replace his great theory of evolution and natural selection.

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Bringing South Africa’s Small-Scale Miners Out of the Shadows Wed, 28 Dec 2016 11:21:31 +0000 Mark Olalde The Masakane village in Mpumalanga sits mere meters away from coal heaps feeding Duvha Power Station. The formal coal industry has failed to bring economic opportunities to local communities, so many residents turn to informal coal mining for an income. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

The Masakane village in Mpumalanga sits mere meters away from coal heaps feeding Duvha Power Station. The formal coal industry has failed to bring economic opportunities to local communities, so many residents turn to informal coal mining for an income. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde

In a country with unemployment rising above 25 percent, South Africans are increasingly looking for job creation in small-scale mining, an often-informal industry that provides a living for millions across the continent.

“How do you make formalisation not kill their businesses but rather improve their businesses?" --Sizwe Phakathi
Estimates for the number of small-scale miners in South Africa range from 8,000 to 30,000. Across the African continent, estimates put the number of such miners around 8 million. Roughly another 45 million are thought to depend on their income.

According to the United Nations’ African Mining Vision, almost 20 percent of Africa’s gold production and nearly all the gemstone production besides diamonds are mined by small-scale miners.

Sizwe Phakathi, now the head of safety and sustainable development at the Chamber of Mines, previously researched informal coal and clay mining in Blaauwbosch, KwaZulu-Natal with the Minerals and Energy for Development Alliance and the African Minerals Development Centre.

“We can’t classify it as ‘illegal mining.’ This has been happening for years, and people got to mining this area through customary practices,” he said.

Small-scale gold miners prepare to descend underground for a shift in an abandoned gold mine. South Africa’s mining industry shed 9,000 jobs last quarter alone, so activists search for ways to create new economic opportunities for small-scale mining. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Small-scale gold miners prepare to descend underground for a shift in an abandoned gold mine. South Africa’s mining industry shed 9,000 jobs last quarter alone, so activists search for ways to create new economic opportunities for small-scale mining. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

These miners are often unaware of the law and operate with permission from the local chief or municipality but without a valid mining permit. In the community Phakathi studied, 94 percent of the miners had never held a mining permit and many did not know of the relevant legislation.

“Many of these people that work there, many of them are breadwinners of their households, and they are heads of households,” Phakati said.

Pheaga Gad Kwata, director of the Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) small-scale mining division, believes that bringing these miners into compliance would allow them greater access to technical knowledge and markets.

“We’ve realized that it is one of the activities where you can probably get a job quickly,” Kwata said, adding that the DMR is busy with workshops to educate miners on the benefits of working within the law.

An artisanal miner in Johannesburg displays ore. Activists argue that formalizing small-scale mining could create jobs and allow for the implementation of health and safety regulations. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

An artisanal miner in Johannesburg displays ore. Activists argue that formalizing small-scale mining could create jobs and allow for the implementation of health and safety regulations. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

This type of cooperation could assist Jiyana Tshenge, who works with the Prieska Protocol, a program aimed at linking the small-scale miners of a semiprecious gemstone called tiger’s eye to a lapidary and onward to international markets. This streamlined approach is expected to significantly increase the wages of the miners by cutting out the middlemen operating in the informal economy.

A lack of this market access, though, has tabled the project for the moment.

“If we can establish that market and establish a proper plan, we will then go back and engage with the people of the community properly,” Tshenge said. “I think we can create a lot of jobs.”

According to Phakati, an immediate benefit of regulation would be the implementation of health and safety standards, something he found severely lacking in his research. In his case study, the vast majority of workers never used personal protective equipment such as hardhats, goggles or gloves. The local Mzamo High School also had to be relocated when mining encroached on the school and released harmful gases.

The Matariana informal settlement houses illegal gold miners on the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, about 50 miles west of Johannesburg. South Africa is home to more than 6,000 abandoned mines, many of which attract small-scale miners. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

The Matariana informal settlement houses illegal gold miners on the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, about 50 miles west of Johannesburg. South Africa is home to more than 6,000 abandoned mines, many of which attract small-scale miners. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

However, formalisation is slowed by the very poverty it is meant to alleviate. Small-scale miners have trouble paying for transport to the DMR’ offices, which are often far from their communities. The costs associated with procuring a permit – such as setting aside a financial provision for environmental rehabilitation and producing environmental impact assessments – also continue to present a barrier to entry.

“How do you make formalisation not kill their businesses but rather improve their businesses? Formalisation should be tailored to their needs,” Phakati said.

Pontsho Ledwaba of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry argues that legislative changes are necessary to smooth the formalisation process. Mining permits currently must be renewed every few years, which could make it difficult to guarantee a return for anyone lending money to these miners. The amount of land allocated in mining permits also weakens these operations’ financial sustainability.

“Five hectares is actually too small for some of the minerals. For granite, sandstone, it’s too small. In terms of investment, [small-scale miners] don’t get investment because two years, five years is a small time to break even and pay back,” Ledwaba said.

According to Ledwaba, the government needs to aim regulations toward historic mining sectors that already operate nearly legally.

“The bulk of them actually mine what we called industrial and construction minerals. These are your sands, your clay, your sandstone,” Ledwaba said. “Those are the ones government has tried to move to the legal space.”

Many of these sectors operate outside the law simply because the relevant legislation came into effect after mining began.

Besides the economic barriers to formalisation, experts agree that sweeping changes to small-scale mining cannot succeed without the participation of female miners.

Between 40-50 percent of Africa’s small-scale mining workforce is female, according to research from the international relations consulting firm German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation.

“Clearly one of the beneficiaries of formalising this is you should create employment for women,” Phakati said. “The formalisation and development of this sector need to target women.”

In rural South African provinces such as Limpopo, women have mined clay for generations. In other areas such as the North West, there are examples of mining permits held by women. Although mining is seen as a male-dominated industry, experts say small-scale mining can be a breeding ground for female entrepreneurship.

“I’ve come across a number of operations actually owned by women,” Ledwaba said. “[Formalisation] will definitely have a gendered impact.”

Mark Olalde’s work is financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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More of the Same: World Bank Doing Business Report Continues to Mislead Thu, 15 Dec 2016 14:36:10 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Eight of The World Bank's "Doing Business" report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including  Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

Eight of The World Bank's "Doing Business" report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017, subtitled ‘Equal Opportunity for All’, continues to mislead despite the many criticisms, including from within, levelled against the Bank’s most widely read publication, and Bank management promises of reform for many years.

Its Foreword claims, “Evidence from 175 economies reveals that economies with more stringent entry regulations often experience higher levels of income inequality as measured by the Gini index.” But what is the evidence base for its strong claims, e.g., that “economies with more business-friendly regulations tend to have lower levels of income inequality”?

Closer examination suggests that the “evidence” is actually quite weak, and heavily influenced by countries closer to the ‘frontier’, mainly developed countries, most of which have long introduced egalitarian redistributive reforms reflected in taxation, employment and social welfare measures, and where inequality remains lower than in many developing countries.

The report notes that relations between DB scores and inequality ‘differ by regulatory area’. But it only mentions two, for ‘starting a business’ and for ‘resolving insolvency’. For both, higher DB scores are associated with less inequality, but has nothing to say on other DB indicators.

Other studies — by the OECD, IMF, ADB and the United Nations — negatively correlate inequality and the tax/GDP ratio. Higher taxes enable governments to spend more on public health, education and social protection, and are associated with higher government social expenditure/GDP ratios and lower inequality. The DBR’s total tax rate indicator awards the highest scores to countries with the lowest tax rates and other contributions (such as for social security) required of businesses.

The DBR’s bias to deregulation is very clear. First, despite the weak empirical evidence and the fallacy of claiming causation from mere association, it makes a strong general claim that less regulation reduces inequality. Second, in its selective reporting, the DBR fails to report on many correlations not convenient for its purpose, namely advocacy of particular policies in line with its own ideology.

The World Bank had suspended the DBR’s labour indicator in 2009 after objections — by labour, governments and the ILO — to its deployment to pressure countries to weaken worker protections. But its push for labour market deregulation continues. For example, Tanzania’s score is cut in 2017 for introducing a workers’ compensation tariff to be paid by employers while Malta is penalized for increasing the maximum social security contribution to be paid by employers.

New Zealand beat Singapore to take first place in the latest DBR rankings following reforms reducing employers’ contributions to worker accident compensation. Nothing is said about how it has become a prime location for ‘money-laundering’ ‘shell’ companies.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Belarus, Serbia, Georgia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — eight of DB 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ –– have recorded poor and, in some cases, worsening workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. A DBR 2017 annex claims that labour market regulation can ‘reduce the risk of job loss and support equity and social cohesion’, but devotes far more space to promoting fixed term contracts with minimal benefits and severance pay requirements.

In support of its claim of adverse impacts of labour regulations, DBR 2017 cites three World Bank studies from several years ago. Incredibly, it does not mention the extensive review of empirical studies in the Bank’s more recent flagship World Development Report 2013: Jobs, which found that “most estimates of the impacts [of labour regulations] on employment levels tend to be insignificant or modest”.

DBR 2017 adds gender components to its three indicator sets — starting a business, registering property and enforcing contracts — concluding: “For the most part, the formal regulatory environment as measured by Doing Business does not differentiate procedures according to the gender of the business owner. The addition of gender components to three separate indicators has a small impact on each of them and therefore a small impact overall”.

Should anyone be surprised by the DBR’s conclusion? It ignores the fact that the policies promoted by the Bank especially adversely affect women workers who tend to be concentrated in the lowest paid, least unionized jobs, e.g., in garments and apparel production or electronics assembly. The DBR also discourages regulations improving working conditions, e.g., for equal pay and maternity benefits.

Despite its ostensible commitment to ‘equal opportunities for all’, the DBR cannot conceal its intent and bias, giving higher scores to countries that favour corporate profits over citizens’, especially workers’ interests, and national efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Sadly, many developing country governments still bend over backwards to impress the World Bank with reforms to improve their DBR rankings. This obsession with performing well in the Bank’s ‘beauty contest’ has taken a heavy toll on workers, farmers and the world’s poor — the majority of whom are women — who bear the burden of DBR-induced reforms, despite its proclaimed concerns for inequality, gender equity and ‘equal opportunities for all’.

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Why Achieving Sdg Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth Is Critical for Kenya Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:06:07 +0000 Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee Ms. Mary Kawar is the Director of the ILO Office based in Tanzania and covering Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.]]> UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

By Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 9 2016 (IPS)

In Kenya the Gini coefficient of inequality is at around 0.45%. Therefore, the economic growth statistics present an unequivocal picture of a highly unequal society, whose development strategy is largely leading to accumulation of wealth by a few and worsening the poverty of the majority.

Consider just two statistics behind the picture: according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, individuals in capital city Nairobi have about 15 times more access to secondary education than those living in Turkana, one of the poorest counties. Also, a household in Nairobi is 36 times more likely to have electricity for lighting compared with those in Tana River.

Without doubt, Kenya’s race towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an agenda whose most notable tang of inclusivity is underscored by the now well-known phrase of ‘leaving no one behind’, is going to need the resilience of its world-beating athletes.

The global SDGs agenda is a platform that aims to meet the greatest challenges of our times, with a dedicated focus on every person and the planet and a noble vision of eradicating poverty by 2030.

With an increasing youthful population, Africa stands at a special place in the Agenda, considering that much of the rest of the world population is ageing. Today’s youth will be key to any sustainable development strategies, thus the need to ensure that there are enough opportunities for them to participate in the global economy.

It is estimated that over 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030, just to keep pace with the growth of the global working age population. That’s around 40 million per year. In Kenya, a million youth enter the job market each year, but only one-fifth are absorbed.

Unfortunately, among those who are ‘employed’ are millions who are working but not earning. It has been reported that about 43% of the country’s youth are either unemployed or working yet living in poverty

It is this phenomenon that has given rise to the agitation for “Decent Work”, which means opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and which delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families.

A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress.

This is why SDG Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth is of critical importance for Kenya. There is a need to ensure inclusive equitable economic growth hand in hand with the creation of decent and sustainable jobs. For several years now Kenya has been experiencing exceptional economic growth rates, even above the sub Saharan Africa average. Yet, not enough jobs have been created to absorb the new entrants and informality remains rampant rendering job quality as low.

Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is found more commonly in higher income countries – and Kenya is no longer a low income country but a middle income one with an annual per capita income of almost $3,000 at purchasing power parity.

Educated unemployment is also more commonly found in countries where advances in education exceed those in the economy. Production techniques change slower than the aspirations of the fast increasing Kenyan middle class fuelled by rising incomes (recently 6 percent annually) and increases in education attainment at all levels.

In other words, Kenya is at a crossroads with economic and employment patterns similar to middle and higher income countries. Yet remaining on the agenda are the high income and regional disparities which need to be addressed.

This attention is clearly called for in the country’s Constitution. For instance, clause 201 states that the public finance system is to promote an equitable society in that revenue raised nationally shall be shared equally between national and county governments, and expenditures will be oriented towards addressing the needs of marginalised groups and regions.

One way of ensuring the attainment of Decent Work for all is through improved labour market governance. Pertinent agenda include the laws, policies and institutions which determine and influence the demand and supply of labour. Labour market governance goes hand in hand with fair working conditions as one of the essential requirements of decent work.

This includes decent wages, hours of work, rest and leave periods, adequate social security, freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, and an absence of discrimination, or child labour. While those in the formal economy may have access to this many in the informal still do not.

Kenya has the potential to be one of Africa’s great success stories for economic growth and the attainment of SDG 8 by 2030: it has a growing youthful population, a dynamic private sector, a dynamic and progressive new constitution and a pivotal role in Africa.

President Kenyatta in an address to Kenya’s youth said. “You are my partners in remaking Kenya – and my Government’s programmes reflect my faith in you,”

Addressing challenges of poverty, inequality, labour market governance, labour productivity to achieve rapid, inclusive sustained growth with decent jobs will not only transform lives of ordinary citizens, but make Kenya an economic powerhouse.

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Fiscal Austerity Has Been Blocking Economic Recovery Thu, 08 Dec 2016 15:19:31 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former United Nations assistant secretary-general for economic development, was awarded the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Inflation, public debt, and growing income inequality have hindered economic recovery in the Global South. Credit: IPS

Inflation, public debt, and growing income inequality have hindered economic recovery in the Global South. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

Instead of concerted and sustained efforts for a strong, sustained economic recovery to overcome protracted stagnation, the near policy consensus on fiscal austerity in the G7 and the G20 OECD countries, except for the US and Japan, has dragged down economic recovery in developing countries.

After seven years of lackluster economic performance and rising tensions over the Eurozone straightjacket on fiscal stimuli, there are signs of a growing willingness to reconsider earlier policies. While it is not yet clear whether this will lead to significant enough policy changes, this may well led to the long awaited turning point the world economy has sorely needed since the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

Quixotic windmills of the mind
Opponents of fiscal stimulus cynically claim that all such efforts are bound to fail, citing, as evidence, then US President George W Bush’s 2008 tax cuts. Others deny that the US Fed’s ‘quantitative easing’ efforts have been successful, emphasizing the weak basis of its apparently “strong” recovery compared to other G7 economies. While undoubtedly mitigating the impact of the crisis at the outset, Europe’s “automatic stabilizers” are now acknowledged not to have sustained recovery very much beyond 2009.

The first bogey has been public debt. Much has been made of high levels of sovereign debt on both sides of the Atlantic and in Japan although the fiscal challenge remains long-term, not immediate. While Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio among rich countries, this is not a serious problem as its yen-denominated debt is mainly domestically held.

The international community has, so far, failed to develop effective and equitable arrangements for restructuring sovereign debt, despite the clearly dysfunctional and problematic consequences of past international public debt crises. This prevents timely debt workouts, effectively impeding economic recovery.

High public debt has also been invoked in support of fiscal austerity in many developed countries. But, rather than helping, the rush to cutting expenditure is blocking, or even reversing earlier recovery efforts. With private sector demand still weak, austerity is slowing down, not accelerating, recovery.

Another distraction has been the exaggerated threat of inflation. Recent inflation in many countries was the result of higher commodity prices, especially fuel and food prices. In these circumstances, domestic deflationary policies only slowed growth and failed to stem imported inflation. This is now evident with the recent collapse of oil prices and its aftermath.

Formula for Stagnation
Unfortunately, the urgent task at hand — of coordinating and implementing efforts to raise and sustain growth and job creation — continues to be ignored. Meanwhile, cuts in social and welfare spending, demanded by the austerity fetish, are only making things worse, as employment and consumer demand fall further.

The pressure on employment and household budgets is likely to persist. Strident calls for structural reforms mainly target labour markets, rather than product markets. Growing worker insecurity, exacerbated by further labour market liberalization, is imagined to be the basis for a healthy economy. This belief not only undermines remaining social protection, but is also likely to diminish real incomes, aggregate demand, and, hence, recovery prospects.

It has already reduced growth and employment. And, while financial markets insist on deficit reduction, the recent decline in equity and bond prices — and the loss of confidence that this reflects — suggests that they also recognize the adverse implications of fiscal consolidation at a time of weak private demand.

Slower growth means less revenue and a faster downward spiral. Most major countries’ fiscal deficits nowadays reflect the collapse of tax revenues following the growth collapse, as well as very costly bank bailouts.

Policy U-Turn Needed
Current policy is justified as ‘pro-market’, i.e. effectively pro-cyclical choices, although counter-cyclical efforts, institutions and instruments are sorely needed instead. Global leadership today seems to be held hostage by financial interests and associated media, ideologues and oligarchs whose political influence enables them to secure more rents and pay lower taxes in what must truly be the most vicious of circles.

Many policymakers have insisted on immediate action, not only to close fiscal deficits, but also, trade imbalances and banks’ balance-sheet weaknesses. While these need to be addressed in the longer term, prioritizing them now has effectively stymied stronger, sustained recovery efforts.

Bad public policies can induce recessions. This happened in 1980-1981, when the US Federal Reserve raised real interest rates, ostensibly to kill inflation, but inducing a protracted global economic downturn. This contributed not only to sovereign-debt and fiscal crises, but also to protracted stagnation outside East Asia, including Latin America’s ‘lost decade’ and Africa’s ‘quarter-century retreat’.

Moreover, according to Piketty, in recent decades, profits have risen, not only at the expense of wages, but also with much more accruing to finance, insurance, and real estate compared to other sectors. The outrageous increases in financial executives’ remuneration in recent decades have exacerbated financial sector focus on the short term (recently termed ‘quarterly capitalism’), while worsening risk exposure in the longer term, thereby worsening systemic vulnerability.

Growing income inequality in most countries before and even after the financial crisis has only made matters worse, by reducing household savings and increasing credit for consumption and asset purchases, rather than augmenting investment in new economic capacity.

Indeed, the menace that now confronts us is not public debt or inflation, but a downward economic spiral that will be increasingly difficult to reverse. The international financial institutions were created after World War II to ensure not only international monetary and financial stability, but also the conditions for sustained growth, employment generation, post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development.

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The United Nations Volunteer: From Global To Local Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:04:17 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya ]]> George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where  he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for  UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

Today 05 December is International Volunteer Day, and every year we recognize the invaluable contributions of volunteers to peace and development.

Consider this. George Gachie has been serving as a national United Nations Volunteer (UNV) with UN-Habitat for over three years. He grew up in the Kibera Slums – a challenging environment, where young people have very few opportunities and early pregnancy, school dropout, organized gangs, crime, diseases and drug abuse are common. In order to make it out of this situation one had to be smart. But as George himself put it during a recent UNV Blue-Room Talks event in Nairobi, ‘I am happy because it is volunteerism that got me out of the situation’.

In an acknowledgement of the expected role of the youth in delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, volunteerism has now been recognized as a key driver in the development space. For Kenya, this is particularly apt given the large number of youth graduating every year but who find only limited employment opportunities.

Volunteerism is offering not only a chance to contribute to social development and a sense of self-worth, it also provides them with priceless lessons that sets them up for entering the job market and setting a foundation for their career.

The United Nations Volunteer programme has for many years delivered social services across a range of sectors. Today, the UNV Kenya programme remains one of largest UNV operations in the world, with 148 national and 47 International serving UN Volunteers. Kenya also contributes the largest number of UN Volunteers serving abroad, a testimony to the country’s commitment to humanitarian action and development.

Studies show that engaging in volunteerism from a young age helps people take their first steps towards long-term involvement in development. It is thus a perfect avenue to address the oft-repeated lament by corporate employers that the education system does not prepare students for the job market.

In that sense, volunteering is not just a way to get more numbers to ‘get the job done’, but a transformative opportunity for people from all walks of life, and a two-way exchange between the volunteer and the people they work with. By creating a sense of cohesion, reciprocity and solidarity within society, volunteering builds social capital, because it converts individual action into collective response directed towards a social end.

Volunteering also makes a significant economic contribution globally. It’s generally estimated that volunteers contribute an average of $400 billion to the global economy annually.

UNDP’s Administrator Ms Helen Clark has spoken about “ the tremendous impact UN Volunteers are making within the UN system. In implementing the SDGs, UNDP will continue to see volunteers as catalysts for change who amplify citizens’ voices and facilitate participation so that development can be truly people-centred”.

The impact of a volunteerism programme must be felt at the local level by building the capacity of people, including the marginalized, and should make the governance process more participatory and inclusive.

UNV has a strong track record of getting development results. In Kenya, UNV supported a neighborhood volunteer scheme to help ensure peaceful elections in 2013.

UN volunteers, including data analysts, planners, legal assistants and communication experts are deployed in 35 out of the 47 counties in the country, bringing critical capacity to the devolution process in Kenya.

In addition, 25 national and international UN Volunteers are engaged to support the humanitarian challenges on refugees in the country and well over 50 volunteers support operations of the United Nations Environment Program at its headquarters in Nairobi.

Having seen the contribution of volunteers, we can confidently vouch for community-based volunteering structures in all counties, to not only provide gainful occupation for Kenya’s youth, but to give them greater voice and participation in decision-making.

On the occasion of this year’s International Volunteer Day, the UN is committed to working with the Kenyan Government to integrate the concepts of volunteerism into development programming.

This can be done through various modalities, including facilitating volunteer schemes that target the contributions or integration of particular groups. Another area that holds great potential in advancing the course of volunteerism includes documentation of the various dimensions of volunteer involvement including its impacts on marginalized groups.

Volunteerism can be a powerful wind in our sails as we seek to achieve the SDGs and advance human development in Kenya.

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Unleashing Africa Full Potential Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:22:37 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.]]>

Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 2 2016 (IPS)

Africa, the cradle of mankind and home to the youngest population in the world, has a historic opportunity to realise its full potential, in sharing our potential prosperity, by enhancing economic growth, promoting and entrenching democratic ideals. That is why I am so passionate to be running for the coveted African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson.

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Amb. Amina Mohamed

It is time for the African Union to provide leadership. Africans of all walks of life are looking up to it. I also strongly believe our continent is at a turning point, a defining moment, when we must drive an agenda that realises a common vision of integration, cooperation, collaboration and committed leadership. It is Africa’s time; we cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity to put it at the centre stage of world politics and economics while improving the lot of our people and countries.

We already have a sound blueprint going forward as envisaged in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – TThe Africa We Want.

This blueprint has a clear roadmap for implementation. One of the critical areas is achieving synergy of member States through collaboration among the eight regional economic groupings and AU’s strategic partners.

Africa’s markets must communicate with each other to harness trade and investment. Infrastructure deficit stands as an impediment towards this objective. We must secure seamless connectivity through people-to-people interactions, ICT and knowledge transfer throughout the Continent. Hard infrastructure development should also be reinforced by more intra-Africa rail, road, air and water linkages.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once said: “Together, we the people of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states’. It is no longer tenable to keep talking of our great potential. It is time to make the African Continent; felt, heard and respected on the global scene. For this to happen, Africa must take greater responsibility of financing its development and programmes. Such has been the agreement by our Finance and Planning Ministers since March, 2015. Domestic resource mobilisation is the assured strategic complement to foreign investment and official development assistance. Focused leadership at the AUC will guarantee that this decision is fully implemented.

In order to increase the financial resources available internally, industrialisation and diversification remain pertinent. More specifically, we need to harness our blue economy and fast-track the mining industry.

Africa has to build the capacity of our youthful population. In 2015, African Youth aged 15 – 24 years accounted for 19 percent of the global youth poppulation and projected to increase by 42 percent by 2030. This is a demographic dividend to Africa’s prosperity. Women must also be fully enabled to play an inclusive role in all spheres of Africa’s development. Tapping into African talent will be the hallmark of my tenure. The collective success to Agenda 2063 lies in creating an indomitable human force to resolve Africa’s challenges.

Every African citizen deserves a life of dignity free from harm, in order to promote social justice and the realization of their potential. I am optimistic that together we can continue to create a Continent that not only embodies our pride and dignity, but also the hub for peace and stability.

Africa must also make its cultural diversity a cause for celebration. Cultural exchange across the continent through education, travel and symposia. This will renew our Pan-African ideals especially among younger Africans.

Our continent has made significant strides in expanding access to education and better health care. In order to shelter our population from extreme want, we ought to explore skills diversification and universal health coverage.

Investing in value-addition through agro-processing will increase Africa’s global market share and attain collective food security and comparative advantage.

Going forward, we must remain in partnership with the rest of the world. Global challenges such as climate change will only be resolved through cooperation. However, Africa remains most vulnerable from effects of global warming. As such, we need to; take serious mitigation and adaptation measures, utilise indigenous knowledge to generate local shared solutions and build resilient communities in addition to our continued demands for climate justice.

Thus, united by the vision of an independent Africa working for better lives of all her people, it is now time for the AUC to foster the realisation of Africa’s full potential through transformative leadership harnessed by the AUC Secretariat.

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Kenya’s Youth Unemployment Challenge Presents Opportunities Tue, 22 Nov 2016 16:29:54 +0000 Ambassador Ken Osinde and Siddharth Chatterjee Ambassador Ken Osinde is Chief of Staff, Office of the Deputy President of Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya.]]> Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and CEO of Safaricom, Bob Collymore at launch of the SDGs in Nairobi. Key role of private sector recognized. Credit: UNDP Kenya

Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and CEO of Safaricom, Bob Collymore at launch of the SDGs in Nairobi. Key role of private sector recognized. Credit: UNDP Kenya

By Ambassador Ken Osinde and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

Consider this paradox. Every year 1 million young people join the job market in Kenya, yet Kenya has the largest number of jobless youth in East Africa.

As the government puts in place measures for addressing the issue of high youth unemployment and poverty, The private sector needs to join forces to sustainably grow its business and markets. Businesses and the societies that they operate in are symbiotic and it is now an established maxim that business cannot succeed in societies that fail.

Tackling poverty is the main mission of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda signed last year by 193 global leaders. The agenda obliges nations to tackle the causes of poverty by meeting the people’s health, education and social needs, to reduce inequality and exclusion and at the same time avoid wrecking the ecosystems on which life depends.

The target population for the SDGs – includes those who live below the poverty line and who make up nearly half of the population. Innovative organisations, whether in the public or private sector, have for a while now woken up to the reality that this population is critical to their future growth and sustainability.

The SDGs dovetail well with the pursuit of innovation which is at the heart of business sustainability. Innovation will drive sustainable impact because it aims to create value and expand opportunity for people to live better lives. It enables business to remain at the cutting edge of market competition and in turn generate tax revenues that governments can use to improve public services.

That pursuit for universal prosperity will have to be driven by a major paradigm shift, where the divide between government and profit-driven enterprises are purposefully bridged. Collaboration between business and public sector offers enormous promise when their respective talent, drive, expertise and resources are harnessed through a win-win partnership.

According to a study by PWC in 2015 – Make it Your Business, Engaging with the SDGs – 92% of businesses are aware of the SDGs, 72% are planning to take action, 29% are setting goals aligned with them, and 13% of businesses have identified the tools that they need.

It is encouraging that companies like leading Kenyan telecommunications company Safaricom are among the 13% in Kenya, leading the way in identifying the tools required and implementing strategies for change that align their business strategy to the SDGs through shared value creation.

Safaricom’s True Value assessment shows that the company sustained over 182,000 direct and indirect jobs during the year and, if the wider effects on the economy are included, this number increases to over 845,000 jobs.

What if we have five companies as purpose-driven and successful as Safaricom in Kenya?

The impact would be enormous. Such businesses would create jobs, boost tax revenues, and provide products and services which all helps improving standards of living for the poor. By increasing incomes and by improving quality, affordability, convenience, and choice in the marketplace, they would enhance access to healthcare, nutrition, connectivity, energy, water and sanitation and financial security.

Investing in the achievement of the SDGs supports pillars of business success, including the existence of rules-based markets, transparent financial systems, and non-corrupt and well-governed institutions and inclusive economic growth to reduce the critical wealth disparity in the country.

In Kenya, nowhere do these disparities stand out more than in the number of unemployed youth. It is now widely acknowledged that this pool of youth represent a unique potential for a demographic dividend.

“This dividend will be a reality if public and private partnerships help youth break out of a cycle of inter-generational poverty through entrepreneurship opportunities in such high-value sectors as agribusiness.” says Ambassador Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Foreign Minister.

The majority of unemployed youth are afterall, in rural areas, and the focus should be on adding value to agricultural products, encouraging local-manufacturing, providing necessary infrastructure to stem urban migration and empowering women and youth to run small businesses.

Strengthening the education system to better deliver skills and competencies wanted by employers is another area to look at. Models such as the ones from Kuhustle or Andela are interesting to examine in our collective quest to quickly help wider scaleup and replication to more industries and sectors.

The youth in remote and poor underserved areas also represent incredibly important and rapidly growing potential markets as well as backward and forward supply chains through small business entrepreneurship if purchasing power and demand growth occurs with inclusive economic stimulation.

Properly empowered and prepared with skills to enter the job market, this population represents potential employees but also customers for businesses. This ultimately translates to reduction in household poverty levels.

President Uhuru Kenyatta remarked that, “While the private sector can and should contribute significantly to attaining the SDGs, governments will play an important role because they can address market failures”. As evidence, the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) framework established by the President has enabled thousands of youth to graduate into entrepreneurs.

The United Nations and the Government of Kenya also stand ready to catalyse multi-stakeholder ecosystems in support of this agenda. We have a window of opportunity to engage these stakeholders to support local planning and technical SDG processes, especially through the SDG Philanthropy Platform established in the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, the Social Investment Focused Agenda (SIFA) within the Deputy President’s office as well as Global Compact Kenya based at Kenya Association of Manufacturers.

Everyone has a role in the delivery of the SDGs and partnering with responsible, innovative businesses in that process raises our chances of becoming the first generation to end poverty. Here lies the opportunity for all of us to join hands on collective impact on our society and our planet to ensure that we “leave no one behind”.

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Rural Job Creation Holds the Key to Development and Food-Security Goals Fri, 18 Nov 2016 21:45:00 +0000 Nteranya Sanginga Nteranya Sanginga is the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.]]> Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

By Nteranya Sanginga
IBADAN, Nigeria, Nov 18 2016 (IPS)

Harvesting the benefits of core agricultural research, which often bears on improved crop varieties and plant diseases, increasingly depends on the social and economic conditions into which its seeds are sown.

It is a sign of the times that Kanayo F. Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development who started off as a cassava entomologist when ITTA posted him to Congo in the 1970s, was recently hailed for his efforts to create African billionaires.

That happened when youth from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s Agripreneur program gave Nwanze special lapel pins after his guest speech at our golden jubilee celebration kickoff.

Our institute, IITA, has evolved with the times. I trained in microbial ecology, yet while agronomy research –remains very important, it is initiatives like our Youth Agripreneur program that underscore how we are paying more and more attention to the need to boost youth employment, especially in Africa.

Creating decent employment opportunities, especially rural employment opportunities, is the critical challenge of our time in Africa. It is the lynchpin of any possible success in the noble goals of hunger and poverty eradication.

The most obvious reason for that is demographic: Africa’s population is set to roughly double to 2.5 billion by 2050. Many of them, perhaps the majority, have not been born. Income opportunities and healthy affordable food will be in unprecedented demand. Today’s youth play a huge role in making that possible.

While Africa’s cities are expected to grow, even that will depend on decent rural jobs being created. Agriculture is not only called upon to increase food output and productivity, but to create jobs and even bring in the best and brightest.

The prospects are, in theory, quite good. The world is increasingly turning to sustainable agriculture, and research shows that diversified farming systems are more challenging – experientially, cognitively and intellectually – which both cushions the drudgery and spurs innovation to reduce it.

Yet the challenge, as the population projections show, is formidable. Growing by around 300 million every decade means all sectors need a giant and focused developmental push. Perceiving agriculture as the rural sector from which one escapes will backfire.

That’s one of the reasons why entomologist-turned research administrator Dr Nwanze talks about the need to foster opportunities for youth.

The IITA Youth Agripreneur program has ambitious aims. It has expanded quickly around Nigeria and other African countries.

At the same time, IITA is partnering with IFAD and the African Development Bank for the Empowering Novel Agribusiness-Led Employment for Youth in African Agriculture Program, dubbed ENABLE. The goal is to create 8 million agribusiness jobs within five years for youth.

How can IITA’s research contribute?

Take our project on Sustainable Weed Management Technologies for Cassava Systems in Nigeria. As its name suggests, this is very much geared to primary agricultural work. But it is not simply about having more cassava but about having enough extra cassava, and having it consistently, to support the use of this African staple food in flour.

As such it fits into other IFAD projects aimed at boosting the cassava flour value chain in the region. Once the weeds have been sorted out, this initiative is designed to require large gains in food processing capacity.

IITA researchers have managed to bake bread using 40 percent cassava in wheat flour, so the potential for this initiative is very large. Notice that it immediately suggests a role for bakers, confectionary products and others. That means more jobs.

This relates back to Dr. Nwanze’s time as an IITA field researcher, as he was involved in a successful effort to combat and control the cassava mealy bug that saved the continent millions of dollars.

One of the big challenges for scientists today is to make research contribute to growth. Breakthroughs often lead to solutions of food-system problems and thus relieve hunger and food and nutrition insecurity. IITA showed that by developing two new maize hybrids that deliver higher levels of vitamin A and improve child nutrition.

But we can go further, steering these breakthroughs into veritable engines of growth.

To be sure, this requires improvements on many fronts, such as better freight transportation networks. But such investments pay themselves off when they serve a common goal. Africa’s need and duty is to make sure that agriculture is ready to deliver the goods for such a take-off.

All this by the way will not only boost Africa’s agricultural productivity, which is lagging, but will boost the productivity of research itself, leading to higher returns and, one hopes, attractive jobs with higher incomes and better facilities. That’s important for future microbial ecologists and cassava entomologists!

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Thriving Rural Communities Is a Recipe for Healthy Cities Thu, 17 Nov 2016 07:00:24 +0000 Josefina Stubbs and David Lewis Josefina Stubbs is candidate for President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She has served in IFAD as Associate Vice-President of Strategy and Knowledge from 2014 - 2016 and as Director of Latin America and the Caribbean from 2008 - 2014.

David Lewis is Professor of Social Policy and Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His research interests include international development policy and rural development.]]>
Karachi's slums interfere with planning. Credit: Muhammad Arshad/IPS

Karachi's slums interfere with planning. Credit: Muhammad Arshad/IPS

By Josefina Stubbs and David Lewis
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic and LONDON, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

As the dust has settled on Habitat III and the summit in Quito, Ecuador, we now have a clear vision and a concrete road map for how to transform our cities into inclusive, safer and more productive environments. The New Urban Agenda comes at a propitious time. Urbanization is growing at a fast pace, particularly in developing countries, where the urban population is expected to double by 2050. In South Asia alone, the urban population grew by 130 million between 2001 and 2011, according to recent World Bank study. Another 250 million are expected to join them by 2030.

A woman at a public water tank in a Bangalore slum. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A woman at a public water tank in a Bangalore slum. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

But to lead to lasting change and prosperity for all, investments in cities must come hand in hand with massive transformation of rural areas to bring them up to par, if not to make them more attractive than cities. The exponential growth of cities is by and large the result of a growing divide between urban and rural realities, where the endemic lack of basic services and jobs drive rural people away from their rural communities and into cities. In the rush to engage with the challenges of urbanization we cannot afford to lose sight of the rural.

Rural communities are no longer isolated from the rest of the world. Young people all have smartphones with an Internet connection. They know that there are places that offer better services, better jobs and a better life than the one they can hope for back home.

As young women and men leave rural areas in large numbers, they leave the very communities that they should be strengthening and shaping, abandoning their friends, families and culture. They migrate to larger cities in search of work and of a better future, but without formal education or skills, many are confined to the fringes of the society to which they aspire. The exodus of young people threatens the fabric of rural societies and exacerbates the problems the New Urban Agenda is designed to tackle: precarious and insalubrious housing, joblessness, insecurity and overpopulation.

Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital Kampala is believed to be home to a large portion of the country’s almost 12,000 Somali immigrants. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Kisenyi slum, in Uganda’s capital Kampala is believed to be home to a large portion of the country’s almost 12,000 Somali immigrants. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

People migrate when their choices at home are limited. By investing in people’s skills and knowledge, rural business development, technical assistance and by providing financial support, connectivity, quality roads, health services, electricity and connectivity, we can widen people’s options and reduce the pressure on urban areas. I have seen this happen in countries where the creation of a decentralized university network increased the number of highly educated youth in rural communities and contributed to transforming once abandoned rural centers into bustling rural towns. I have seen this happen in communities where small investments in business development and access to financial services allowed rural entrepreneurs to start viable business activities, generating income for their families, jobs for their neighbors and services for their community.

There is another reason why thriving rural areas are essential to the prosperity of urban centers. Smallholder farmers and fisher folk are the primary producers of food in most of the developing world. In Asia, Africa and in the Caribbean, they produce up to 90 per cent of the food people eat every day. As urban populations grow, there will be a need to step up the quantity and the quality of food produced by rural communities. Fresh produce will need to get to the markets faster and in better conditions, and farmers will have to be paid fairer prices for their products to be able to make investments to improve production, safeguard the environment, and build resilience to a changing climate.

Children in a slum in Peru.  Courtesy of La República/IPS

Children in a slum in Peru. Courtesy of La República/IPS

Rural and urban communities are highly dependent on each other for sustainable growth. We live in one, interconnected world where inequalities between people, regions and countries drive more and more people out of their communities and into cities in search of a better life. By improving the living conditions of poor rural people and giving them opportunities for growth, we can reduce the pressure on large metropolises and create more balanced, prosperous societies.

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Int’l Effort to Help Ethiopia Shoulder Its Refugee Burden Tue, 01 Nov 2016 10:11:18 +0000 James Jeffrey Young South Sudanese refugees studying in the library of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Addis Ababa. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Young South Sudanese refugees studying in the library of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Addis Ababa. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

A concerned-looking group of refugees gather around a young woman grimacing and holding her stomach, squatting with her back against a tree. But this is no refugee camp, rather the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) compound just off a busy main road leading to Sidist Kilo roundabout in the Ethiopian capital.

After a couple of minutes, the pain has subsided enough to let her talk. She says has been experiencing abdominal pains for a few weeks, though in answer to one particular question she manages a smile before replying she doesn’t think it’s a pregnancy. She says she arrived from Eritrea about seven months ago in an attempt to join her husband in Italy.“Refugees in Ethiopia is a business, that’s what needs to be addressed. But it’s not just here, it’s happening all over Africa.” -- Shikatende, a Congolese refugee in Addis Ababa

Ever since Ethiopia’s late long-term ruler Meles Zenawi established an open-door policy toward refugees, the country’s refugee population has swelled to more than 700,000, the largest in Africa. And due to ongoing crises in neighbouring countries such as South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, that number isn’t shrinking. In the first week of October about 31,000 people streamed over the border from South Sudan into Ethiopia’s western region.

Providing refuge, however, doesn’t extend to also providing employment rights. Ethiopia has plenty on its hands trying to satisfy its indigenous mushrooming young population that needs jobs. Hence the joint initiative by the UK, the European Union and the World Bank to address both dilemmas through the building of two industrial parks to generate about 100,000 jobs, at a cost of 500 million dollars, with Ethiopia required to grant employment rights to 30,000 refugees as part of the deal.

But after the announcement comes the thornier issue: putting it all into action.

“All the stakeholders of this project need to get their heads together and come up with a workable formula that would benefit both Ethiopians and the refugees,” says Kisut Gebreegziabher with the Ethiopia office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “There needs to be a clear policy of engaging the refugees in this project, including clarity about the level of their engagement.”

Yemeni-Ethiopian women stuck in Ethiopia due to fighting in Yemen. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Yemeni-Ethiopian women stuck in Ethiopia due to fighting in Yemen. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The initiative is part of a pilot programme also supporting Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Mali, and according to those involved, reflective of a new strategy for tackling the migrant crisis afflicting both Europe and Africa, based on a shift in developmental aid toward focusing on economic transformation in developing countries.

“We’re putting migrant-related issues at the heart of our support to countries,” Francisco Carreras, Head of Cooperation at the Delegation of the European Union to Ethiopia, says of the 250 million dollars coming from the EU. “Our investment is not going to solve the problem but it may have a domino effect by showing others that this can work.”

Hopeless days

“I’ve been idle for three years and my plan is to remain idle, that’s all I can do,” says 28-year-old Daniel, a qualified dentist who fled Eritrea for Ethiopia after his involvement with a locally produced publication drew the government’s wrath. Based on his qualifications he managed to find a potential healthcare job in Addis Ababa. “The employer said I was a good match but when he checked with the authorities they said I couldn’t be employed.”

Although Ethiopia’s authorities often turn a blind eye to refugees doing casual work, Ethiopia’s proclamation on refugees prohibits them from official employment.

“If Ethiopia feels for refugees, why doesn’t it change the law so they can work?” says Shikatende, a 35-year-old Congolese refugee who has been in Ethiopia for seven years. “It’s a free prison here. We are free to stay but with no hope or future.”

A change in the law will be required for the industrial park initiative, observers say, although any wholesale opening of Ethiopia’s job market to refugees is highly unlikely while Ethiopia’s 100 million population continues growing by 2.6 percent a year.

“That means creating millions of new jobs every year, the challenge for Ethiopia is huge,” Carreras says, adding that the giving of millions of euros to Ethiopia is far from altruism. “It’s in our own interests and a matter of survival for us: we can’t be surrounded by countries in difficulties and expect that building a wall or the sea alone will keep us sanitized from others’ problems.”

In the Jesuit Refugee Service compound in Addis Ababa, South Sudanese play their dominoes with much passion. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In the Jesuit Refugee Service compound in Addis Ababa, South Sudanese play their dominoes with much passion. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Now in its 20th year, the JRS compound resembles a microcosm of Africa’s—and the Middle East’s—troubles, hosting refugees from South Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen, Burundi and more. The organisation aims to assist 1,700 people in 2016, says Hanna Petros, the centre’s director, noting that Addis Ababa contains up to 20,000 refugees. “That’s registered ones—there are others who aren’t registered.”

Build it and they will come…or will they?

Despite his enthusiasm for the project, Carreras admits that success requires fending off myriad challenges.

“You’ve got to build the right sectors in the right places and ensure the right procurement—achieving all those ‘rights’ isn’t easy,” he says. And even if all that is pulled off, he adds, you’ve then got to attract the investors, after which you have to make sure it’s all sustainable: investors must obtain enough profit so they remain and don’t leave after a couple of years.

Those connected to the Ethiopian government appear confident that history is on Ethiopia’s side.

“Thirty years ago, large-scale labour left the U.S. and Europe and moved to China,” says Zemedeneh Negatu, an economic adviser to the Ethiopian government. “But monthly labour costs there now are around 450 to 600 dollars a month—Ethiopia is a fraction of that, added to which a lot of the raw materials are already coming from here.”

Hence Ethiopia’s embracing of industrial parks, which Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has placed at the forefront of economic strategy.

In addition to the two parks being funded by the joint initiative, another seven are in the process of being built at a rough cost of 250 million dollars each. One industrial park is already operating around Awassa, about 300km south of Addis Ababa, where it’s serving as a promising bellwether having attracted more investor interest than it could accommodate, Carreras says.

But all of a sudden Ethiopia’s reputation as a safe investment option—attracting tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment over the past decade—is looking increasingly tenuous.

Protests against the government that have been smouldering since November 2015 have taken on a more violent edge recently. At the beginning of October, more than two dozen foreign companies suffered millions of dollars in damage.

The timing clearly doesn’t help when it comes to luring foreign investors into industrial parks. By the middle of October foreign embassies in the capital were holding situation briefings with concerned investors to try and allay mounting concerns. And at least those foreign investors have options.

“The situation makes me nervous,” Daniel says. “Not only am I a foreigner but I’m from an enemy country. It could get bad. They can beat me or kill me, there’s no one to protect me.”

Wrong sort of human capital

“It was a bold and brave decision by Ethiopia to offer to take in foreigners when so many of its own have dire needs,” Carreras says, contrasting this stance with how Hungary recently voted against housing about 18,000 refugees.

But at the same time, there is a less salubrious side to the refugee situation in Ethiopia. Encountering groups of refugees in Addis Ababa, it’s not long before someone is sidling up to you, eyes furtively glancing around, wanting to talk about problems.

Many have harsh words for both UNHCR and Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), while giving an impression of rank corruption in certain areas.

Refugees talk of thousands of dollars changing hands so Ethiopians can pose as refugees for resettlement in Europe, scholarship funding meant for refugees being given to Ethiopians, and the numbers of refugees in Ethiopia being inflated to ensure foreign funding keeps coming in.

“The numbers are accurate and based on research by UNHCR,” says Zeynu Jernal, ARRA’s deputy director. “We gain no financial benefits from the Ethiopian operation and are in fact underfunded—last year the required 280-million-dollar budget was only 60 percent funded.”

Zeynu acknowledges that giving 30,000 refugees jobs still leaves many more without—hence other schemes being initiated: 20,000 refugee households being given land so they can farm, thereby benefiting a total of about 100,000; 13,000 long-term Somali refugees being integrated into the eastern city of Jijiga with resident and work permits; and higher education opportunities for refugees who pass the university entrance exams.

In official quarters there is praise for the industrial park initiative, with talk of how it fits into a “new and all-encompassing approach towards alleviating the plight of refugees staying in Ethiopia” through better and more work opportunities, and through improved local integration and assimilation. Some of the refugees in Addis Ababa who have been following news about the initiative online, however, seem less sure whether refugees will really benefit.

“Refugees in Ethiopia is a business, that’s what needs to be addressed,” Shikatende says. “But it’s not just here, it’s happening all over Africa.”

He adds that another problem is the muddling of three types of refugees: economic refugees seeking better work opportunities, so-called supporter refugees trying to join relatives who have already settled abroad, and “real” refugees who meet the terms laid out by the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention.

“If you want to solve the refugee problem you need to deal with the real cause of refugees which is African leaders—but you [foreign donors] are providing them with more money,’ Shikatende says.

When it comes to a timeline for completion of the two industrial parks, how refugees will be chosen for the earmarked jobs, the challenges that need to be overcome to make the project a success, both UNHCR and ARRA say it is too early to comment although meetings are ongoing to hash out the logistics.

“We are waiting for the plan,” says one refugee organisation worker.

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Longer, But Less Meaningful Lives? Tue, 01 Nov 2016 07:19:11 +0000 Johan Galtung The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

The last one hundred years life expectancy has increased by about 25 per cent-from near 80 to near 100-in some countries. But, instead of increasing playful childhood, education, work and retirement by 25 per cent, the age of retirement has moved much less than the age at death.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

That deprives masses of older people with experience and wisdom of productive work, of being useful, meeting others constructively; reducing them to being playful–bridge or golf as case may be–and just keeping alive.

Homo sapiens as homo ludens not homo faber.

Longer, but emptier lives.

A crime against humanity if there ever was any. However, with two clear remedies: continue working self-employed with pension as salary, or find meaning in dedication to something beyond oneself, some cause, volunteer work.

That should be planned well in advance before entering a “career” that peaks before, or at, retirement; the rest being downhill even steeply.

Life is expansion from a fertilized egg to a mature human being and contraction to ever narrower space around oneself till time is up.

Western history has many narratives about expansion from some little point to a full-blown empire and contraction to ever narrower spaces.

The two model each other with empire expansion giving meaning to life, and contraction, death of empires making life meaningless, with waves of massive suicide ending the Habsburg, Nazi, Apartheid empires.

Hitler, in 1940 the head of the largest European empire ever, in 1945 only of his bunker, may have been a suicide model. But it was deeper.

We are now living the accelerating history of the end of the US empire, in the wake of about 11 in Europe; and the general decline and fall of Western hegemony. Suicide waves on both sides of the Atlantic?

To the contrary, EU creates an EU Army HQ, USA elects a president known for belligerence, Brexit England revives symbols of an empire long since gone; finding meaning in war and domination. Far better would have been for all three to lift up the bottom living in misery.

But are we not at least living healthier lives, with lower mortality, and also with lower morbidity? The World Health Assembly of WHO in Geneva 23-28 May 2016 sheds some doubts on that.

The Director-General Dr Chan celebrates declines in infant and maternal mortality and in death from TBC and HIV.

But on the dark side are air pollution and climate change, drug-resistant pathogens, resurgence of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, chronic non-communicable disease, chemicals such as lead, pesticides, obesity, inappropriate marketing of unhealthy, sweetened food with gifts and free samples, and lack of access to affordable medicines and vaccines.

We sense profit before/above health, as evidenced by BRICS speakers mentioning TPP; and behind the waning US empire. Shall we die from all of the above, to save the West from transatlantic suicide waves?

From neither. There are good solutions, some medical-technical, some based on state power–laws, taxation, subsidies–some based on people defending themselves with information, boycotts, alternatives. And the USA may even join the world, leaving global hegemony behind.

However, “meaningful vs empty” goes deeper. Take the Internet; very much meaning can be derived from the screen. Or, is there a snag? Wendy HK Chun from “In the Depths of the Digital Age” (NYRB 23 Jun 2016):

“When you read on paper, you are more likely to follow the thread of a narrative or argument, whereas when you read on screen you are more likely to scan for keywords–and may end up with stronger feelings /like anger/ about them, not with the potentially different ideas”.

But cannot anger be as meaningful as ideas? Sure, but anger may produce more anger in a destructive polarization while ideas produce ideas in a constructive cooperation. More meaningful in the long run.

The review calls attention to software in “smart watches” telling the sate of health. Useful, but it reduces the wearer to an object rather than a subject, with “meaning” imposed, not proposed.

And among the leading diseases (Nºs 1 and 4) according to WHO, are increasing uni- and bi-polar depression, both meaning-killers.

Let me share experiences getting older, 86 on the day this is published. No doubt outer life, like work far from home, contracts, eg. to Skype. The circles grow smaller around the home. Work filling it with comfort, beauty and meaning is well spent. But inner life expands if not too much energy goes into health concerns.

I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s article in The Observer, “On Turning 90”: the disadvantages are obvious, but there is the overview, that long-time perspective from having lived long. Events, processes, the non-changes experienced accumulate. Their synergies come forth as wisdom.

“What did I learn from that” comes up frequently. Positive, inspiring answers may give more meaning than warnings. And younger people beware, we older know a little bit about love and all that.

When younger, I asked myself how I can, when older, live without such exciting activities; getting older how I could live with them. A life not disturbing endless mental and spiritual vitality opens for deep contemplation.

Togetherness with a spouse multiplies the richness: jointly enjoying nature, changing climates, wonderful people, delicious food, culture, in town or at home. Consciousness, a little work, much gratitude are needed. The happiest years of my life.

Childhood, adolescence, early adulthood pass review in thoughts and dreams; to be explored for positive messages, and for something that went wrong and can be remedied.

I dream summer and good weather, travel, some kind of mission, something going wrong and being fixed or in the process–in short, a life review. That enriches life by living two of them together, here-and-now and there-and-then. Fascinating.

And the bad things that happened?

They are there but go beyond, into here-and-now. Of course writing helps the processing and the search for new horizons. Also looking at a screen, without looking back in anger.

But maybe with a deeper understanding pointing forward to one more tomorrow, in that wonderful flow of expanding inner lives.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 October 2016: TMS: Longer, but Less Meaningful Lives?

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Q&A: Bangladesh’s ‘Higher Trajectory of Development’ Not Easy but Achievable Mon, 31 Oct 2016 21:16:25 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Credit: PKSF

Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. Credit: PKSF

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Oct 31 2016 (IPS)

Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people, has made significant progress in its efforts to accelerate economic growth, reduce poverty and promote social development, but it now faces certain challenges in consolidating these achievements and marching forward on the higher trajectory of development, says one of its leading economists.

The areas of challenge include inequality of various types (economic, social, rural-urban, gender), governance deficits, lack of effective focus on human dignity, rather sticky private investment, and ineffective coordination among agencies working on implementation of policies and plans."This is a life-cycle approach starting with conception of a child and finishing with old age and breathing of the last breath, intervening at all stages of life."

In an interview with IPS, Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Chairman of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, a public-sector apex development body working with over 200 Partner Organisations (POs) across Bangladesh, implementing programmes with focus on human development of the downtrodden, said the country has been able to reduce poverty by almost 20 percentage points over the last 10 years or so.

But, the economist says, it will be harder for Bangladesh to address the remaining part of poverty, particularly hardcore poverty. Hence, more focused and coordinated efforts are needed to achieve the goal of eradicating extreme poverty within a reasonable time period.

He stressed the importance of pursuing an inclusive approach to promoting human development and human dignity instead of focusing too much on GDP. Dr Kholiquzzaman also says more committed actions are needed to check corruption and wastage to further accelerate development.

Pointing out that microcredit is an ‘ineffective formula’, he says the PKSF has shifted its focus from microcredit to the human being, providing both financial and non-financial services, including education and healthcare, training, managing climate change effects, social capital formation, skill development training, assistance in accessing appropriate technologies, market information, and assistance in marketing of products.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: These days, Bangladesh is acclaimed for its success on the socio-economic front. What role is PKSF playing in the country’s poverty alleviation process?

A. In recent years, Bangladesh has been making major strides in it socio-economic progress, which is recognised internationally. The PKSF makes its contribution to the process, given its mandate and abilities. The PKSF, established in 1990 by the government of Bangladesh as a not-for-profit organisation, works through Partner Organisations (POs) which are carefully selected non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It has now over 200 POs.

It has its presence in all the upazilas (sub-districts) of the country, with the number of families served being over 10 million (45-50 million people). The PKSF provides support not only in terms of credit, but also provides necessary non-financial services. In its Memorandum of Association, microcredit is not even mentioned. Education, health services, livelihood improvement, and employment generation are listed as the purposes of the PKSF.

Credit is mentioned, but that need not only be microcredit. Actually, we interpret it as being appropriate credit. The upper limit is now 12,800 dollars and the minimum is an amount for an ultra-poor family that it can purposefully use. Moreover, credit is now provided as part of a package that also includes skill training, access to technologies, and marketing assistance.

Q:  Some 20-22 lakh (2 to 2.2 million) young people are now entering the country’s job market every year. What role the PKSF is playing in creating jobs?

A: Bangladesh has before it a huge demographic dividend to realise as a large part of its population is young. To realise these dividends means that the huge young population should be educated and trained and enabled to participate effectively in the socio-economic transformation processes. So, the PKSF focuses on skill training and employment generation for youths.

The PKSF implements programmes of total household development, which include education, health services, skill training, sports for children, youth development, and caring for old-age people. In fact, this is a life-cycle approach starting with conception of a child and finishing with old age and breathing of the last breath, intervening at all stages of life.

Q: What are the major challenges Bangladesh faces in eliminating poverty further? How can it move fast to close the urban-rural divide in development?

A: Bangladesh has reduced poverty very significantly, reducing it by about 20 percentage points over the last 10 years or so. It is now down to about 22 percent. Extreme poverty is now down to about 11.5 percent. In terms of numbers, still the poor account for over 36 million and extreme poor over 18 million. It may not be easy to eradicate the remaining part of extreme poverty as the circumstances of the people involved are highly constrained and different groups have different specific problems.

Among the extreme poor, there are certain groups which have been, by and large, bypassed by the significant socio-economic progress achieved: the dalit (so-called untouchables) and street cleaners, street children, female agricultural workers, hijras (transgender group), baggers, physically-challenged people, people living in haors and baors (wetlands), on riverbanks and in hills. These people have been left out; and it is not easy to address their problems as each group has different problems.

The government is evolving policies and programmes for these groups. The PKSF is also focusing on them, taking into account the needs of these various groups separately to address their specific problems.

Let me make a particular point here. Be it within the government or outside, there is a widespread concern about GDP growth in Bangladesh. In fact, this is very fashionable. International agencies such as the World Bank and ADB also join in. This conventional focus on GDP is not very useful from the point of view of inclusive development. Of course, growth of income is necessary. But, its distribution is crucial for inclusive and sustainable development. From this point of view, it is more useful to focus on the human being.

Q: Income inequality is now touted as a big challenge. How can Bangladesh address it?

A: The market economy has an inherent divisiveness as those who have money and access to technology and administration get more and more, depriving others of their legitimate shares, and accentuating disparity in the process. Disparity is measured in relation to income, consumption, and also wealth. In Bangladesh, income and consumption disparities are glaring; but these are not too bad here, considering that globally the richest one percent control half the world’s wealth and richest one percent of the population controls 40 percent of wealth in the USA.

We should focus, in particular, on people in rural Bangladesh. The rural economy is not only agricultural, but also non-agricultural sectors. And outside agriculture, there are lots of manufacturing and trading activities that are now emerging. If appropriate support is given to them, these will flourish.

Q: What needs to be done so women’s contributions are measured as economic activity and they feel that they are economic partners in the family and the community?

A: Women’s contributions to household economy and national economy come from their participation in formal and informal sectors, and performing household chores. Even those, who work outside home in formal or informal sectors, also take care of household chores. And women are also responsible for child rearing. The huge contribution made to the household economy in terms of not only housekeeping but also performing most of the post-harvest activities and often also agricultural field activities by women of farming families is not recognised as economic activity and, therefore, not valued in money terms.

This, I think, amounts to belittling women and their status. In fact, this is similar in the developing world in general. If women’s household level activities and their work in informal sectors are economically evaluated and added to national income, Bangladesh may already be a middle-income country.

Q: How do you look at discrimination against female workers in the RMG (readymade garment) sector?

A: As I said, they do double the work as they look after children, manage the kitchen, and perform other household chores and then work in offices, factories and other workplaces. Those women who work in RMG factories face many difficulties like unpleasant office and factory environments as, in many cases, there is no separate toilet and no separate common room for them.

When it comes to wages, there is discrimination as well. Even when they do the same work as their male counterparts, they are paid less. And at the decision-making level across the sectors, the number of women is still very small. Sexual harassment is another difficulty they face at workplaces. Media can play an important role in helping resolve the issues by highlighting them again and again.

Q: Has there been any international replication of the PKSF model?

A: Our current model is not properly replicated yet by any country. Earlier, the concept of an apex body for microfinance was replicated in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and some other countries to channel funds for microfinance. Now, some countries and organisations are showing interest in the new PKSF approach.

The OIC Secretary General, in one of his visits to Bangladesh, was briefed about the PKSF and its people-focused, multidimensional integrated approach to poverty eradication and sustainable development. He showed interest in our approach. Some African countries also want to replicate it. The PKSF also has collaborative activities with Vietnam and China.

Q: How do you asses IFAD’s poverty alleviation strategy in Bangladesh and PKSF’s partnership with it?

A: The PKSF is working with IFAD for enterprise development through value and supply chain interventions. The main focus of a project with IFAD that the PKSF is implementing is on agricultural commercialization. The outcomes are income generating and poverty alleviating ones. These interventions are boosting productivity and production as well as employment in such activities as milch cow fattening, quality shoe production in rural setting, improved method of prawn production, dragon fruit production, and crab hatchery.

It may be pointed out that the PKSF, being a government-established Foundation, cannot receive money directly from any source, including UN agencies such as IFAD. Projects like this one with IFAD comes to PKSF via the government of Bangladesh. Of course, the PKSF participates in the negotiations.

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Are Public Enterprises Necessarily Inefficient? Thu, 27 Oct 2016 14:22:57 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

From the 1980s, various studies purported to portray the public sector as a cesspool of abuse, inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. Books and articles with pejorative titles such as ‘vampire state’, ‘bureaucrats in business’ and so on thus provided the justification for privatization policies. Despite the caricature and exaggeration, there were always undoubted horror stories which could be cited as supposedly representative examples. But similarly, by way of contrast, other experiences show that SOEs can be run quite efficiently, even on commercial bases, confounding the dire predictions of the prophets of public sector doom.

SOE inefficiency

To be sure, unclear and contradictory objectives – e.g. to simultaneously maximize sales revenue, address disparities, generate employment, etc. – often meant ambiguous performance criteria, many open to abuse. Often, SOE failure on one criterion (e.g., cost efficiency) was justified on the grounds of fulfilling other objectives (e.g., employment generation). However, the ambiguity of objectives is not necessarily due to public or state ownership per se.

Problems of co-ordination among various government agencies and inter-departmental rivalries also played a role. Some consequences included ineffective monitoring, inadequate accountability, or alternatively, over-regulation. ‘Moral hazard’ has also been a problem as SOE management’s expected sustained financial support from the government, come what may attributed to weak fiscal discipline or ‘soft budget constraints’.

Often, SOE managements lacked adequate or relevant skills but were constrained from addressing them expeditiously. But privatization does not automatically solve the problem of lack of managerial skills. Similarly, privatization of SOEs which are natural monopolies (e.g. public utilities) will not solve problems of inefficiency due to the monopolistic or monopsonistic nature of the industry or market.

Can SOE inefficiency be improved?

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Such changes do not require privatization as a prerequisite, but can be achieved by greater decentralization or devolution of administrative authority.

Many SOEs enjoyed monopoly or monopsony powers de jure or de facto, often providing cover for inefficiencies and other abuses. Hence, competition and enterprise reorganization – rather than mere changes in ownership status – are more likely to induce greater enterprise efficiency. Instead of presuming that privatization is the only solution, reformers should consider the variety of modes of enterprise reform, privatization, marketization and other measures as options for improving the public sector.

With such an approach, privatization becomes one among several options available to the government for dealing with the undoubted malaise of many public sectors. After all, there may well be instances where privatization offers the superior option (e.g., the Hungarian privatization of retail shops), but this should be the policy conclusion after serious consideration of all options available rather than the default option it has become in recent decades.

Options need consideration

Remember that many SOEs were set up precisely because the private sector was believed to be unable or unwilling to provide certain services or goods. Such arguments may still be relevant in some cases, but no longer relevant in other cases, and perhaps, never even true or relevant in yet other cases.

Many SOEs have undoubtedly proven to be problematic, often inefficient. However, privatization has not proved to be the universal panacea for the myriad problems of the public sector it was touted to be.

In many instances, the problem with an SOE is not due to ownership per se, but rather to the absence of explicit, feasible or achievable objectives, or even to the existence of too many, often contradictory goals. In other cases, the absence of managerial and organizational systems (e.g., flexibility, autonomy) and cultures supportive of such goals and objectives may be the key problem.

Privatization may facilitate the achievement of such organizational goals or objectives with the changes it may bring about in train, but this does not necessarily mean that privatization per se is responsible for the improvements. In such cases, managerial and organizational reforms may well achieve the same objectives and goals, or even do better, at a reduced cost, and thus prove to be the superior option.

However, the superior option cannot be presumed a priori, but should instead be the outcome of careful consideration of the roots of an organization’s malaise.

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Wage and Fiscal Policies for Economic Recovery Wed, 05 Oct 2016 17:31:36 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram Anis Chowdhury is Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, and held various senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development.]]> Employers are finally creating more jobs and paying higher wages than seven years after the Great Recession started following the 2008 financial crisis. Credit: IPS

Employers are finally creating more jobs and paying higher wages than seven years after the Great Recession started following the 2008 financial crisis. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The new US census data released in late September show that 3.5 million people in the US climbed out of poverty, as the tepid economic recovery continues. Employers are finally creating more jobs and paying higher wages than seven years after the Great Recession started following the 2008 financial crisis.

This progress, while modest, debunks the claims of those who predicted a dire outcome following the increase in the legislated US minimum wage, especially without a robust recovery. The data show large employment and wage gains, particularly for the lower end of the jobs spectrum.

Raising the legal minimum-wage and other government programmes, such as social security, earned-income tax credit, and food stamps, have not only kept tens of millions from sinking into poverty. They also aided economic recovery by supporting household expenditure, and hence, aggregate demand, enabling a 1.2 percentage point decline in the poverty rate, the largest annual drop since 1999.

Every major demographic group benefited from the stronger economy and an expanding job market. Furthermore, wage increases were stronger at the bottom than in the middle. The poverty rate fell in 23 states, and stayed flat in the rest, not getting worse in any.

So, what is the lesson? Addressing poverty, inequality, and economic recession needs progressive counter-cyclical macroeconomic policies, with wage and social protection programmes.

Low growth trap
Meanwhile, the recent OECD Interim Economic Outlook worries that the world economy remains stuck in a low-growth trap, with poor growth expectations depressing trade, investment, productivity, and wages. It estimates that the “potential” growth rate per person for its 35 member countries has halved to one percent a year. It also warns that “exceptionally low and negative interest rates” are distorting financial markets – including share and housing price bubbles – and creating risks of future crises.

Hence, the OECD recommends switching the current policy stance from its sole dependence on expansionary monetary policy to fiscal stimulus. It also recognizes that fiscal stimuli always work better when countries act in concert, rather than in a ‘beggar thy neighbour’ fashion.

This has long been the message from the United Nations since the crisis began, especially after G20 countries prematurely switched to fiscal consolidation following the 2010 Toronto Summit. The UN also consistently argued that fiscal and structural measures are needed to boost demand and raise productive capacity.

Ensuring growth is likely to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio in the short term, by adding more to nominal GDP than to public debt. Thus, when fiscal measures raise output, a temporary debt-financed expansion need not increase debt ratios in the longer term.

UN tax and spending policy advice favours more growth by improving infrastructure spending, social protection, and progressive tax incidence. Better labour market programmes benefit both short-term demand, longer-term supply and inclusive growth.

Malaysia’s minimum wage policy
Khazanah Research Institute’s recent second State of Malaysian Households report, based on the 2014 Household Expenditure Survey by the Department of Statistics, suggests a significant increase in household income of the ‘bottom 40%’ from RM1761 in 2012 to RM2296 in 2014!

While partly attributable to higher commodity prices before the commodity price slump from late 2014, this impressive increase was probably also due to implementation of the 2012 minimum wage law from 2013.

The minimum wage law had long been sought by the labour movement and opposition political parties. Nevertheless, it continues to be opposed by some employers, especially in the plantation sector, and those of ‘neo-liberal’ economic persuasion as ‘populist’. Some of these critics claim, without supporting evidence, but by citing others of similar ideological persuasion, that such labour market distortions will result in greater unemployment and dissuade productivity growth.

In fact, the continued availability of immigrant workers prepared to work for lower wages has delayed the introduction of labour saving innovations which would increase labour productivity. Malaysia has to come to terms with its immigrant labour policy as it threatens economic progress and worker welfare.

By subjecting foreign workers to poor working conditions, Malaysians depress the welfare of all. By understating their numbers and contribution of 30-40 percent of the labour force, economic performance seems more impressive than is actually the case. This is especially so in the most dangerous, dirtiest and depressed jobs, weakening efforts to ensure ‘decent work’ for all.

Although Malaysia remains a very open economy, better working conditions will go a long way towards boosting aggregate demand. Lower income households are much more likely to spend most, if not all their additional income. In turn, their spending is more likely to be on goods and services produced within the national economy.

Thus, high commodity prices until 2014 and enforcement of the 2012 minimum wage law have helped economic recovery. But with the collapse of commodity prices and fiscal spending since, prospects for the economy are poorer.

An election budget may help improve public sentiment, but is unlikely to help address fundamental underlying problems, not least because so much will be syphoned off by political rentiers, ostensibly for campaign finance.

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Pensions for All Sat, 01 Oct 2016 18:31:22 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rob Vos Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development. Rob Vos is Director of Agricultural Development Economics at FAO and was Director of Development Policy Analysis at the UN Secretariat.]]> Seniors in conversation at Jongmyo Park, in downtown Seoul, Republic of Korea. UN Photo/Kibae Park

Seniors in conversation at Jongmyo Park, in downtown Seoul, Republic of Korea. UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rob Vos
KUALA LUMPUR and ROME, Oct 1 2016 (IPS)

October 1st is the International Day of Older Persons. Just another day? Perhaps, but it should remind us that the world’s population is ageing, brought about by the combined effects of declining mortality and fertility rates and longer longevity. By mid-century, one out of five people will be over 65 compared to over one in ten now.

This is dramatic enough. What is equally compelling is that eighty per cent of older persons in the world will be living in developing countries by then – within two generations.

This ageing of the world’s population is one of humanity’s major achievements. Yet, significant challenges are keeping in step with this historic and emerging trend. For example, can health systems adapt to growing and new demands for care? What about the sustainability of social protection schemes? How do we keep our pension systems viable? These are serious, but solvable challenges.


The challenges are greatest, of course, in developing countries, where the vast majority of older persons lack adequate income protection. In the absence of pension incomes or other social transfers for older persons, the risk of spending one’s older years in poverty rises sharply. Moreover, in most developing countries, poverty compels older persons to continue working as long as they are able to. But reduced capacities, limited job opportunities, low incomes and other factors often combine to reduce their earnings.

The situation is particularly acute in rural areas, and, in many contexts, affects older women more than older men. In some parts of the world, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa, the problem is compounded by added responsibilities for the care of grandchildren, e.g. due to migration, disease, disability or death.

Many older persons who take on these added responsibilities are already deprived of support from their adult children that they had expected for their old age. Their own resources are often already seriously depleted when they are called upon to support their grandchildren. While additional transfers from social networks and family members, particularly children, can provide additional security for older people, these are often unstable income sources.

Social attitudes to caring for older persons are also changing, even in developing countries. As families get smaller, their ability to meet the financial and care demands of ageing members is affected at a time when, paradoxically, family support assumes greater importance as assets decline and options narrow in old age. Formal pension systems will thus need to expand as families are unable or unwilling to provide income security.

In recent decades, pension reforms in developing countries have focused on private ownership or management, ostensibly to make the systems more financially viable. In fact, many such reforms have had mixed, if not dubious results.

All this has done little for those without access to any formal pension scheme. At face value, a universal pension system in poor countries may seem utopian. However, there is a growing consensus that pensions for all are, in fact affordable, even for the poorest nations.

Some developing countries have managed to introduce social pensions that provide minimal income security to all persons in old age. These schemes are typically tax-financed rather than based on contributions made while employed.

Thanks to these schemes, everybody who has reached a certain age can get a pension, or benefits are given to all who can show they have no other means to survive. In Bolivia, Botswana and Mauritius, for example, such pensions are granted to all who have reached 65 years of age. In Argentina, Namibia and South Africa, social pension benefits are targeted at the poor.

Is it reasonable to use general taxpayers’ money for such purposes? Such provisions keep older persons out of poverty, and thereby facilitate their fuller participation in society. Such social pension schemes significantly contribute to poverty reduction.

In Brazil, only 3.5 per cent of older persons receiving a social pension remain poor, unlike 51 per cent of those who do not. Similarly, the universal pension scheme in Mauritius has reduced poverty among older persons by more than 40 per cent.

Moreover, such pension benefits are often shared with household and family members. For example, in Namibia, more than 70 per cent of pension income is shared among household members and spent on food and education for grandchildren.

In Bolivia, higher caloric consumption, as well as lower school drop-out rates, were recently observed in rural households benefiting from the universal pension benefit. In Brazil, the rural pension has been linked to higher expenditure on seeds and tools to support agricultural production as well as improve household access to credit.

But can poor countries afford to provide all older persons with a minimum income? According to a United Nations study, in two-thirds of developing countries, the cost of a pension benefit of that amount would cost their societies less than one per cent of national income. And, even a benefit of double the global poverty line is quite manageable, even in 2050, when the numbers of older persons will have become much larger.

It may be less affordable, though, for some of the poorest countries, which have far fewer fiscal resources and face many competing demands. In such cases, there could also be a role for the donor community, which may already be supporting education and health budgets, to also contribute by providing adequate budget support to support broader development efforts, including improved coverage of social services and social protection.

With international solidarity, a pension for all is affordable. Therefore, priorities should be set to ensure that ageing is an achievement that can be cherished by all humanity.

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AfDB Injects USD 1 Billion to End Youth Unemployment in Africa Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:47:28 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr IITA Youth Agripreneurs learning how to work in the field. Credit: IITA

IITA Youth Agripreneurs learning how to work in the field. Credit: IITA

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

The African Development Bank (AfDB) together with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is embarking on the initiative “Jobs for Youth in Africa”, aimed to put an end to youth unemployment in the continent by creating 8 million agribusiness jobs within five years. The president of the AfDB, a former Nigerian minister of agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina visited the Agripreneurs training centre at IITA today, and reiterated his commitment to the initiative.

Under Adesina’s leadership the AfDB has extended support to African youth through the IITA Youth Agripreneurs program that will be scaling up the model of youth engagement in agribusiness. In recognition of his continuous support and commitment to the cause of African youth, IITA will be preserving Adesina’s legacy by naming after him the state-of-the-art youth training centre at IITA headquarters in Ibadan and in Abuja, Nigeria.

The training centres and facilities provided by the AfDB and the IITA will assist African youths to take on work in the agricultural sector. The initiative also seeks to encourage the many unemployed African youths to become involved in agriculture in order to make it a driving force for development in Africa. "There is no reason for Africa to spend USD 35 billion importing food when the continent could feed itself"

Nigeria is not the only African country with high youth unemployment. Youth unemployment in South Africa was estimated at 51.5 percent in 2014; Namibia 40.1 percent; and Algeria 28.4 percent. Three in every five young workers in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have the level of education required for them to compete in the job market.

The AfDB president set forth his five development priorities for the institution when he took office in September 2015. One of these priorities is the ‘Feed Africa’ initiative, an agricultural transformation strategy that aims to unlock Africa’s agricultural potential. The strategy also aims to boost job creation with the view of making the agriculture sector profitable and a starting point for industrialization. With the ‘Feed Africa’ strategy, Africa would be able to feed itself and reduce net food importation by 2025.

“There is no reason for Africa to spend USD 35 billion importing food when the continent could feed itself, said Adesina, adding Africa must become a global powerhouse in food and agriculture.” And indeed, it could. Africa disposes of some 400 million hectares of agricultural land, waiting to be cultivated. However, different laws, regulations, policies and institutions applying to each African country make it hard for local farmers to access seeds, modern technology and equipment, and to transport their goods in order to sell them on the market.

In order to make the agricultural sector in Africa profitable, it needs to be transformed. African countries need to increase trade amongst each other, maximising their production and getting the food to where it is needed, instead of buying it from outside the continent. Removing barriers to regional trade will benefit farmers, who will make more money from the rising demand, as well as consumers, who are able to buy food cheaper and have more job opportunities by engaging in the growing agriculture sector. In order to unlock Africa’s large agricultural potential, African governments need to take collective action and produce a set of common rules, standards and taxes. Lifting the barriers to food trade could not only increase Africa’s production, eventually becoming able to feed itself, but could also contribute to decrease the high youth unemployment and give millions of young women and men a future in which they are able to sustain themselves.

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The Lost Kids at Rome’s Termini Station: Child Migrants Exploited Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:42:21 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney2 Young migrants spend their days at Rome's Termini's station. Credit: Rose Delaney/IPS

Young migrants spend their days at Rome's Termini's station. Credit: Rose Delaney/IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

Rome ….. Termini station, 2:00 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Five young boys are standing next to the escalators, constantly shifting, dispersing, meeting up again. They are laughing, typing on their phones, chatting, smoking. They seem like average teenagers with fancy hairstyles and smart clothes. But every once in a while, they nervously glance over to the security personnel circling Termini station. Or carefully examine older men walking by.

Some of these kids are Egyptian, and landed in Italy by boat. “They let in minors”, Ahmed says. He came when he was 14 years old, on his own. His family remained in Egypt. Today he is 18 years old, and he is the oldest in the group.

A man with grey hair and a baseball cap appears, talks to Ahmed, and moves away. Ahmed whispers to another boy in the group, 17-year old Hasani whose dark hair and sparkling blue eyes make him the most attractive in the group. Later, when we approach him by asking for a cigarette, he assures us that he would not only offer us a cigarette, but buy us a whole pack of them, if only he had the money.

We watch Hasani going down the escalators, the man in the baseball cap follows at a 20 meter distance. They make their way through crowds of tourists, pass by coffee bars and shops, always maintaining the 20 meter distance, never looking back. They merge with the stream of people rushing down towards the metro station, then take a quick turn, and Hasani disappears into what at first glance resembles a maintenance room. The man in the baseball cap follows. It turns out to be a public toilet, hidden away in one of Termini’s many underground corridors, out of sight from the people waiting for their trains, and from the eyes of the security guards. “Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and
those who employ them”

Five minutes later, both of them reappear, open the door and hastily take off in different directions. Hasani goes back to join Ahmed next to the escalators. And they continue to chat, laugh, smoke, type on their phones, as if nothing had happened.

Migrant minors who enter Italy are supposed to be taken in by “Case Famiglie”, foster homes sponsored by the Italian government. There, they would receive meals and a place to sleep, education and integration programmes made available to them. The foster homes receive money from the state to provide the migrant minors with these basic services, and most importantly, to keep them safe.

Yet, many of them end up in conditions of forced labour. They work in warehouses, as porters in markets, at petrol stations – or they prostitute themselves at Termini station.

“Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and those who employ them”, Mariella Chiaramonte, chief of the police station in Tivoli, near Rome, said in an interview with The Guardian.

Upon their arrival in Italy, the children often find themselves indebted to the people who trafficked them here. Because they are being threatened that harm will be inflicted on their families back home if they do not repay the money for their trip, often they become vulnerable targets for sex work recruiters and drug dealers. For the migrant children, however, this type of clandestine work becomes a quick way to make larger amounts of money in order to repay their debt.

Ahmed and Hasani spend the entire day at the train station. As soon as he turned 18, Ahmed explains, he left the foster home. Now, he shares a small apartment with other migrants from Egypt. How can he afford to pay the rent? “I work at a car wash”, he says. But not convinced by his own words, he breaks into a bout of nervous laughter. He cannot look at us. They are only here to meet friends, he explains, to “hang out”.

There is a sudden downpour outside. Bangladeshi street hawkers appear at the station’s entrance, trying to sell umbrellas. As one of them approaches us, he tells us that we should not get involved with the Egyptian boys. “They steal from people waiting for their train and they sell drugs”, he says, and when asked if he knows what other business the boys have here, his expression turns cold. “We never mix with them. They are dangerous.”

The man in the baseball cap reappears, keeping his distance but staring at us while we talk with the boys. He does not seem to be a customer anymore. He appears to be supervising the boys, keeping them in line. He is nervous about them having established contact with people from the “outside”. We realize we have overstayed our welcome and it is time to leave.

Following the “Drug Dealing and Prostitution of Minors” report produced by Mediaset in March 2016, the authors who write on migrant issues spent time in Rome’s Termini station observing the lives of migrant children.

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