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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

Responding to Dire Needs in South Sudan Three Years after Independence

Three years after the Republic of South Sudan’s exhilarating independence on July 9, 2011, following decades of civil war, the people of this young nation are facing their most dire crisis yet.

 Since fighting erupted in the capital of Juba in December 2013, thousands of South Sudanese have been killed or traumatized and more than 1.5 million have been displaced. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently told the U.N. Security Council that by the end of 2014, half of South Sudan’s population of 12 million will be in flight, facing starvation or dead.

When I returned to South Sudan in May for the first time since the crisis began, the significance of this tragedy was clear. Tension and fear permeate the capital, Juba. Women and children no longer fill the streets as they used to, walking safely to school and marketplaces. Some parts of town are empty of residents, who now live in crowded sites in squalid conditions, afraid to go home after violence they witnessed months ago. The U.S. Government is working with heroic South Sudanese staff and international partners to respond to this heartbreaking crisis with urgency within South Sudan and in neighboring countries that are hosting South Sudanese refugees, increasing our food and other lifesaving assistance and adjusting our existing development programs to respond to the current crisis.

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Unity State use water lillies as a primary food source. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Unity State use water lillies as a primary food source. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

In the desperate and crowded conditions where tens of thousands of South Sudanese are now taking shelter, hygiene and sanitation are a major concern, as illnesses such as cholera could spark an epidemic. Since April, the U.N. World Health Organization has reported more than 2,900 cases of cholera, including 67 deaths in South Sudan, primarily in Juba and surrounding areas. Through radio and innovative means of reaching displaced populations, such as loudspeaker announcements delivered by quad bike in compounds where displaced people have taken shelter, we are reaching tens of thousands of South Sudanese with important information on topics such as hygiene and how to prevent cholera. Ninety-eight percent of residents sheltering at the U.N. Tongping protection site are familiar with the program, a survey by our partner Internews showed, and two-thirds said they had changed their behavior, in hygiene or other ways, as a result of information from the program.

In Mingkaman, Lakes State, which hosts South Sudan’s largest displaced population, I saw the importance of USAID support for an FM radio station that broadcasts information to tens of thousands of people, including programs on available medical services and clean water, and safety issues such as the danger of crocodiles in the nearby river where people bathe. This station and other USAID-supported radio stations have call-in shows that give citizens a platform to say what they have been through – an important outlet in a traumatized society.

 In response to a nationwide stockout of essential drugs including antibiotics and anti-malaria medication, and with funds contributed by the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom, we are delivering desperately needed basic medicines to cover the entire population of South Sudan for one year. In the midst of conflict and the rainy season, which makes many areas impassable by road, this is no easy feat. But through our ongoing advocacy efforts, we have secured government permission to deliver to the most conflict-affected states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, where needs are greatest and tensions between opposing forces highest.

 As tens of thousands of children have fled their homes due to violence, we launched a new program with UNICEF to provide education to 150,000 displaced children, so that they have safe spaces and materials to learn. This effort includes targeting 60,000 girls for education, as part of USAID’s Let Girls Learn initiative. A grateful educator told me during the event in Juba where we launched the program that South Sudan’s children have the right to learn, despite the challenging circumstances they face, and that our investment in these children would last even if buildings and roads were destroyed during the fighting. Education creates an important sense of normalcy in the lives of children affected by violence. It is critical that the next generation in South Sudan is literate and gains life skills through education, which can help avert the cycle of violence that has defined South Sudan’s tragic history.

 Davorah Nyariera escaped fierce fighting in Bentiu, South Sudan, empty-handed with her children and grandchildren. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

Davorah Nyariera escaped fierce fighting in Bentiu, South Sudan, empty-handed with her children and grandchildren. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

In a polarized conflict situation, it is also important to enable many citizens’ voices to be heard and many viewpoints expressed. So we are helping to strengthen civil society in South Sudan, including by providing support to enable civil society organizations to participate in South Sudan’s peace process. What I heard repeatedly from all of the citizens I talked to was that peace is possible—and that it is the one thing that everyone could agree on.

And perhaps most urgently, famine conditions threaten up to 1 million people in parts of South Sudan. In addition to lifesaving humanitarian assistance including food, nutrition and clean water, USAID funds the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which is providing crucial information on crops and food availability. This information, along with other sources of information about the growing humanitarian crisis, galvanized the international community to provide more than $618 million in needed humanitarian funds at a conference in Oslo in May – nearly half provided by the United States.

We are continuing to provide assistance in agriculture, focused in the relatively stable Equatoria states, where agricultural potential is greatest. Before conflict erupted, USAID assistance to farmers in the Equatoria states helped them achieve a tripling of crop yields – an achievement we can build on to strengthen food security in South Sudan.

While the people of South Sudan have in many ways not yet reaped the benefits of their independence, I came away from my latest visit reassured that the efforts of those responding to the crisis are saving lives, and that many more people in South Sudan are committed to peace and an inclusive future than those who are content to tear their nation apart. I was asked by a reporter on the day I was leaving South Sudan if the United States thought it could save South Sudan.  After hearing the stories of a diverse, proud, and resilient nation of people, I was able to respond that we could be part of the solution that the South Sudanese people are fashioning for themselves.

As we reflect on South Sudan’s third anniversary of nationhood, USAID remains more committed than ever to the people of South Sudan and we will continue to help them build the peaceful and secure future they deserve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Etim is Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, overseeing the Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs and the Office of East African Affairs. She most recently traveled to South Sudan in May.

 

Mobilizing ‘Makers’ for a Better World

Making, with a capital “M,” is a new term used to describe an ancient act: creating physical things. Far from old-fashioned, a perfect storm of cultural and technological advances is fueling a revolution in Making.

3D printers, modular electronics, and online libraries of open-source designs empower tinkerers and inventors to bring their ideas to life with groundbreaking speed and creativity. Thousands of community hackerspaces (and Fab Labs and maker spaces) are opening their doors to Makers all over the world. Crowdfunding and low-barrier manufacturing turbocharge the innovation pipeline from invention to market.

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / Marco Zennaro

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / © Marco Zennaro

Today, the President celebrates a “Nation of Makers” as a powerful force of innovation and entrepreneurship across the country. And beyond the impressive promise of revitalizing American hardware manufacturing, the Maker movement offers a truly unprecedented resource: global creation.

Great ideas can come from anywhere. How many times in human history must inspiration have struck those who lacked the means to create a prototype? How many of our great ideas have gone unrealized? By democratizing the means to create, the Maker movement is poised to unlock humanity’s power of invention.

Recognizing this potential, USAID is challenging Makers around the world to create sensor technologies that can improve the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. Our U.S. Global Development Lab has launched a “Sensors for Global Development” Fab Award in partnership with the World Bank, Intel Corporation, and the Fab Foundation.

Sensors for Development

Sensor technology is an integral part of the Maker movement. Sensors allow homemade robots to navigate through physical space. Wearable sensors like Shine give you feedback on your personal health habits. Birdi monitors the quality of the air in your home – it’ll send an alert to your phone when you should open the window. Information about our physical world is increasingly detected, analyzed, and returned to us as useful insights that can improve our lives. The development of this so-called “Internet of Things” is owed in large part to hackers and makers.

There is a vast hole, however, in the Internet of Things. Much of the developing world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, is a sensors desert. Here, ironically, the world’s most vulnerable people stand to gain the most from improved access to critical information on essential issues like agricultural productivity and the availability of clean drinking water.

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world.  Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world. Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

Useful information streaming in from sensors in near real-time also may permit adaptive decision-making to maximize the effectiveness of USAID programs around the world.  Much in the way that the ubiquity of cell-phones has already transformed the global development enterprise, the promise of sensor networks presents a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog traditional methods of gathering important information and empowering individuals.

The Sensors for Global Development Fab Award challenges the Maker movement to get involved. We’ve called for Makers to focus their efforts on creating robust, low-cost sensor technologies that promise to help improve the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable. By tapping into this pervasive cadre of solvers to take on society’s most fundamental challenges, we stand ready to bend the curve toward a more prosperous, resilient, and democratic global community.

Today, at the White House Maker Faire, we announced the six Fab Award finalists:

  • MoMo (mobile monitor) – a mobile device with a sensor that collects data to track infrastructure and improve accountability in the developing world. WellDone’s water MoMo identifies where village wells are broken and alerts repair teams to fix them.
  • Fresh Air in Benin – a network of air quality sensors being developed to monitor urban air pollution in Africa
  • GrowerBot – a smart sensor system for small-scale agriculture that monitors and tracks environmental conditions, providing customized guidance to help growers optimize their productivity.
  • Nano Plasmonics Biosensor – a nano-scale optical sensor for identifying organic molecules with a wide range of applications from medical diagnostics to detecting water contamination.
  • KdUINO – a low cost DIY sensor buoy system that empowers students and citizen scientists to monitor the environmental conditions of seas and rivers
  • Safecast – an open source vehicle-mounted sensor network system to empower citizens to collect and publish data, with a focus on mapping radiation levels

The finalists will compete for a $10,000 prize at the Fab10 Conference in July.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric King is an Innovation Specialist with the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Data & Analytics Team. Follow him @eric_m_king

Reuniting Families Separated during Conflict in South Sudan

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December.

Among those fleeing are thousands of children lost from their families — heaping tragedy upon tragedy. Some were sent to safety by parents who could not afford a journey to safety themselves. Others became separated from their parents during the recent violence that has ravaged their country and left them traumatized.

Tracing the families and reunifying these separated children is challenging due to the constant movement of people searching for safe havens in and out of the country. Unaccompanied children face being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces.

Since the onset of violence December 15, USAID through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has helped launch five programs dedicated to identifying and supporting boys and girls who have become separated from their families and reuniting them with surviving caregivers, when possible. One of the programs USAID is supporting established a group of community outreach workers working within the displaced community to identify lost children. Another is training and supporting social workers who are on the ground addressing the needs of children who become separated from their families. Working alongside the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, USAID has helped identify more than 3,000 unaccompanied, separated, and missing boys and girls–and have helped reunite more than 400 with their families so far.

Nyawal Ruach, a young mother from Bor, is just one of the people USAID has helped. Ruach lost track of her two sons amid the chaos of a big tank shooting. She was gathering clothing from their home so they could flee the violence when her two boys – who Ruach had tied together to ensure they would not get lost from each other – went missing. They had followed a group of people running to escape. Ruach was able to find her sons through a center USAID is helping support to trace families and rescue lost children.

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families or unaccompanied by an adult and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. Photo Credit: Phil Moore / AFP

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. / Phil Moore, AFP

USAID is also providing safe and nurturing spaces for displaced children to learn, play and engage in psychosocial support activities—helping South Sudanese children cope with the traumas of war while reducing their exposure to risks for exploitation and abuse.

The people of South Sudan face a steady stream of challenges as violence and insecurity continue to mount. And in a twist on tragedy, the outbreak of famine is becoming a real possibility for up to 1 million people over the coming months if there is not increased fast and sustained aid to the world’s newest country.

No child should be forced to uproot. In South Sudan, more than 380,000 children have already faced violence and displacement when they should be playing in the safety of their own communities. Helping these devastated families reunite may be one of the few bright spots in the midst of this horrible conflict.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eileen Simoes is the Response Manager for the South Sudan Response Management Team

‘Without Access we are Looking at Famine’ in South Sudan

Last week Nancy Lindborg, our assistant administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, wrote about her recent trip to South Sudan where she witnessed how rapidly escalating violence is sending shockwaves through the world’s newest nation.

The people of South Sudan face a spiral of conflict, displacement, and hunger that this fragile, young country can ill afford. More than one million people have been forced to leave their homes and the numbers keep growing. Almost 70,000 people are sheltering in crowded UN compounds around the country that sprung up overnight and were not built to house tens of thousands of civilians. Many of these people can literally see their homes over the compound walls but remain too terrified to return, fearing they will be targeted by government or opposition forces and killed.

Lindborg called on the international community to take urgent action.

With the rainy season already upon us, there is little time to move life-saving assistance to those most in need. Even in the best of times, South Sudan presents a complex logistical challenge. Now, we need to use all possible avenues for reaching people: rivers, roads, air, and moving across borders.

Yesterday she and Khalid Medani of McGill University spoke about the escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan on PBS Newshour. Lindborg voiced the U.S. Government’s extreme concern over the recent attacks on the U.N. compound in Bor and on civilians in Bentiu; and called on South Sudan’s leaders and all parties to the conflict to let international aid reach the country’s displaced, vulnerable and malnourished.

“If we are not able to reach the hard to reach areas through better access that is now being blocked by both sides, we are looking at famine.” Lindborg said.

Watch the full interview:

South Sudan on the Brink of Famine Demands Urgent Action

Camp Tanping in Bor, South Sudan, after March rain. 21,000 people are sheltered at the camp following the outbreak of violence

Camp Tanping in Bor, South Sudan, after March rain. 21,000 people are sheltered at the camp following the outbreak of violence

On the first of April, I walked with great sadness through the United Nations compound in Juba, capital of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, now in free fall after a hopeful beginning three years ago. The compound is sheltering more than 21,000 displaced people who fled to safety after a spasm of violence in mid-December killed untold thousands.

I talked with 23- year-old Mary who told me how she had hid with her husband—a civil servant in the new government—and their three children as they watched neighbors being killed on the street before running to the compound for safety. I spoke with Elizabeth, a tall young woman who had taught school before she came to the camp. Together we noticed a few toddlers playing perilously close to a large pool of standing, fetid water from the first rains, a harbinger of the flooding now here.

The people of South Sudan face a spiral of conflict, displacement, and hunger that this fragile, young country can ill afford. More than one million people have been forced to leave their homes and the numbers keep growing. Almost 70,000 people are sheltering in crowded UN compounds around the country that sprung up over night and were not built to house tens of thousands of civilians. Many of these people can literally see their homes over the compound walls but remain too terrified to return, fearing they will be targeted by government or opposition forces and killed.

More than 800,000 people are displaced and dispersed in hard to reach areas, and a quarter of a million more have fled South Sudan for refuge in neighboring countries. Because of the conflict, markets are disrupted, planting season is in danger of being missed, and massive displacement is a burden for host communities. The ability of more than a million people to cope is being greatly eroded. Without fast and sustained aid, there is looming potential for one million people to teeter into famine over the next year—and children under five are already falling quickly into severe malnutrition.

AA/DCHA Nancy Lindborg plays with children at a UN camp in South Sudan. Over 67,800 people are seeking refuge in UN camps in the country.

Nancy Lindborg plays with children at a UN camp in South Sudan. Over 67,800 people are seeking refuge in UN camps in the country.


Since the outbreak of violence in December, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team has been working with UN and NGO partners to direct a full-throttle U.S. response to enable food, water, sanitation, and health assistance to reach the most vulnerable. While in Juba, I announced an additional $83 million in humanitarian assistance to support these urgently needed relief efforts for South Sudanese displaced within South Sudan and for those who have fled to Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan, bringing U.S. humanitarian assistance to $411 million over the last two years.

With the rainy season already upon us, there is little time to move life-saving assistance to those most in need. Even in the best of times, South Sudan presents a complex logistical challenge. Now, we need to use all possible avenues for reaching people: rivers, roads, air, and moving across borders.

Instead, leadership of both the government and the opposition have thus far refused to stop fighting and are unable to reach agreement since the violence erupted in December. Aid workers and cargoes are routinely delayed at checkpoints and where borders are open, caravans of trucks carrying relief supplies are stopped by fighting. Permission to use the Nile, the most efficient way to reach many of the suffering South Sudanese, has been denied until recently, costing precious time to save lives.

The United States has long supported South Sudan’s journey to independence. We remain committed to the people of South Sudan, who fought hard for their vision of a peaceful future. Just this week, we joined leaders from the United Nations and the European Union to issue a Call for Action on South Sudan urging an immediate end to fighting and unfettered access for UN and humanitarian organizations to reach people in need across the country. The leadership on both sides of the conflict must do everything in their power to enable immediate and unconditional access for UN and humanitarian organizations to ensure that this urgently needed assistance reaches those in need across all areas of South Sudan. They must act now to lead their country toward peace.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on April 9, 2014

 

Experts and Practitioners Discuss Global Trends in Civil Society

2012 CSO Sustainability Index coverUSAID relies on local civil society organizations (CSOs) to play important roles in the development and humanitarian efforts that we support worldwide.  However, current trends of governments placing restrictions on CSOs are requiring donors to find new and better ways to support civil society in difficult circumstances.

Following the release of the latest USAID Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) reports for the Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Europe and Eurasia (E&E) regions, USAID organized and hosted a panel discussion entitled, “Closing Civil Society Space: Implications for Civil Society Sustainability,”  for practitioners, experts and CSO leaders to discuss the report findings.

Without exception, a free and active civil society remains vital to a nation-state’s health.   According to the findings of the CSOSI, however, civil society and CSOs in many countries around the world faces burdensome financial and legal restrictions carrying out their work.

In light of the growing trend of similar restrictive CSO/NGO laws appearing in countries around the world, the CSOSI tool “is more important than ever in helping us to understand the challenges and constraints CSOs face,” explained USAID’s E&E Bureau Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander who moderated the discussion.

Douglas Rutzen, the President and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) said that we are on the cusp of a “tipping point,” where civil society constraints become a social epidemic.  Referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Mr. Rutzen noted the importance of the “messenger” and that constraints are being adopted and transmitted by well-connected, influential countries, such as Russia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Venezuela. He then noted the “stickiness factor,” commenting that these governments have been adept at casting constraints in rhetorically appealing terms, such as sovereignty, counter-terrorism, and aid effectiveness.  Mr. Rutzen concluded on an optimistic note, stating that it is possible to reverse the tipping point.  Indeed, he referenced numerous examples where the tireless efforts of local civil society, supported by long-term USAID assistance, have had significant, positive impact on civic space around the world.

Claire Ehmann of USAID’s Bureau for Democracy Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, Center of Excellence on Democracy, Rights and Governance, provided an overview of the CSOSI methodology and highlighted global patterns in sustainability .  For example, financial viability continues to be the weakest area of CSO sustainability in both the Africa and E&E regions while advocacy is one of the strongest.

CSO leaders in Egypt, Ukraine and Ethiopia weighed in with the realities on the ground.  According to Egypt’s Mohamed Zaree of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, just getting CSOs registered remains practically impossible in his country.    Funding is also a significant problem in Egypt, where NGOs are prohibited from accepting foreign funding, on national security grounds.

In Ukraine, where CSO-led protests were occurring in real time, challenges lay in the relationship between citizens and the government.  In her presentation, Lyubov Palyvoda of the CCC Creative Center asserted that in comparison to CSOs’ strengths to advocate on behalf of citizens, service delivery lags far behind.

In Ethiopia, the trend is reversed, with the great majority of CSOs working in service delivery.  There, CSOs are burdened by the restrictions placed on the sourcing and utilization of funds.  Debebe Haillegebriel, an independent legal service professional with CSO experience, explained that stipulations in the CSO regulations further constrain organizations from effectively carrying out their work.

The Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), a financial supporter of the CSOSI in four countries, remains committed to improving the enabling environment and promoting the sustainability of CSOs globally.  In his presentation, the CEO of AKF USA, Dr. Mirza Jahani, elaborated upon the Foundation’s commitment to developing the financial viability of CSOs in participating countries.  Through ‘community philanthropy’, public institutions can recognize and develop material resources locally to engage and change their countries for the long term.  Building trust within CSOs and between citizens and the public sector is the second area of AKF’s work related to the CSOSI.   For that, AKF USA supports an accreditation process, starting in Kenya and Pakistan. In those cases technological innovation such as e-platforms can help promote community responsiveness and resource-building.

The Legends of East Africa Come to an Anthropologie Store near You

In late February, U.S. based retailer Anthropologie launched the “Legend and Song Collection” to celebrate the craft and artisans of East Africa. This new collection offers traditional African textiles and beading combined with the unmistakable Anthropologie style. Bright colors and intricate patterns adorn dresses, skirts, jewelry, and accessories for this limited time collection.

While sold only in U.S.  Anthropologie stores for the time being, the full collection was manufactured entirely in East Africa. With the help of our East Africa Trade Hub, the “legends and song” of Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda have made their way onto the shelves of Anthropologie.

Here at USAID, we work to boost trade with and within Africa, particularly in the East African region. Through President Obama’s Trade Africa initiative and our East Africa Trade hub, we work with public and private sector partners to implement information and communication technology solutions, trade facilitation tools, and devise regional strategies to improve the transparency and accessibility of markets.

In early 2013, we met with key decision makers at Anthropologie about sourcing options in East Africa and invited their teams to visit us here in Kenya. They had never explored the region for their stores, so we knew we had to find the right conditions in order for this idea to come to fruition. We set up customized exploratory visits to match Anthropologie’s design specifications and the styles and capacity of local East African companies. Our colleagues introduced the Anthropologie team to several designers, before they decided on six African companies: Sammy Handmade of EthiopiaMille CollinesGahaya Links and Indego Africa of Rwanda; and Doreen Mashika and URU Diamonds of Tanzania.

“With the Trade Hub’s guidance we were able to seamlessly access the market in this region. It is exciting for us as a company and we look forward to the future possibilities,” said Karen Wilkins, Director of Technical Design for Anthropologie/Urban Inc. Karen and her team of technical design specialists worked closely with the designers to make sure the specifications and designs were technically accurate.

Over the past four years through our Origin Africa campaign, the East Africa Trade Hub has provided technical support and guidance to the many small designers and manufacturers in the region. The campaign helps change perceptions about Africa by allowing international buyers to see just how integral design and creativity are to Africa’s future. Through the work of producers, designers, small businesses, exporters, buyers and retailers, Origin Africa supports African trade in textiles/apparel, cut flowers, footwear, specialty foods, home decor, and fashion accessories. Since 2009, the East Africa Trade Hub has directly facilitated over $160 million in exports under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

“Many of the companies in the Anthropologie collection have been beneficiaries of Trade Hub support for several years,” says Finn Holm-Olsen,  AGOA Trade Advisor for USAID’s East Africa Trade Hub.  “On a broader scale, our Origin Africa initiative has been at the forefront of changing perceptions about Africa.  So it is exciting to see, through this special collection, such a wide range of uniquely African products on offer to U.S. consumers.”

Anthropologie’s trust in and promotion of local African companies is a testament to the rising prominence of designers and manufacturers in East Africa. These designers now have the capacity and tools necessary to find success in the US market.

Visit the collection online. Products will be featured in select Anthropologie locations this spring.

Learning from Past Elections to Improve Current Elections

Rapid Assessment Review cover

Together, PPL and DCHA staff compiled a Rapid Assessment Review of Kenya’s 2013 elections.

International support for elections has emphasized various dimensions during the past several decades.   In an effort to promote free and genuine electoral processes, assistance has included technical support for election commissions, provision of electoral commodities, international and domestic election monitoring, political party capacity building and many other modes. The March 2013 Kenyan elections, whose anniversary we mark this month, brought to the fore a new approach: the international community’s multi-faceted support for an election process combined with a proactive violence prevention campaign. The fact that Kenyan institutions ultimately managed the process in a manner that minimized violence, in stark contrast to the horrific post-elections experience in 2007, and where all parties accepted the results despite a close result and Supreme Court appeal, makes this election worthy of study.

The USAID/Kenya mission, which dedicated considerable time and creative effort to supporting the Kenyan election process over several years, sought to memorialize its efforts in a manner that could be shared with other USAID missions facing similar circumstances.  Hence, the Mission requested that I and two DCHA colleagues conduct a Rapid Assessment Review (RAR) of USAID’s experience, beginning with the period immediately following the 2007 election violence and continuing through the post-election period in 2013.  We chose a RAR rather than a more immediate After Action Review and or the more rigorous evaluation performed in accordance with USAID’s 2011 Evaluation Policy, to quickly, but fully, capture important lessons about election support in dynamic, politically complex settings, where diverse interventions are required to achieve desired outcomes.

The RAR emphasizes that USAID was not the principal actor that contributed to the largely successful outcome. Most important, a wide range of Kenyans –election officials,  party activists and civil society organizers – were the individuals committed to the reform process initiated in response to the previous post-election violence.  USAID’s role in the Kenyan elections was embedded in a broader U.S. government effort, which featured the active involvement of several U.S. Ambassadors, a team from the Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and, in the lead-up to election day, a proactive inter-agency effort, both at post and in Washington.

Among the RAR’s 11 recommendations are the following:  “Promote elections that are peaceful and credible, and avoid operating as if these objectives are inherently in conflict” and “Start early – An election is a process, not an event.”   Having just returned from a visit to Nigeria, I know that these and other lessons included in the RAR will resonate with Nigerian officials as they prepare for February 2015 elections in a country with even more linguistic, ethnic and geographic divisions than Kenya, and which has also had experiences with poorly administered elections leading to increased tensions and violence.

USAID is not alone in seeking to learn from the Kenya experience.  In addition to the RAR, you can learn more about the Kenya elections process through the State Department’s “Final Evaluation on CSO ‘s Kenya Engagement,” the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’s ”OCHA Lessons Learned of the Kenya Election Process Humanitarian Preparedness Process and the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect’s “R2P in Practice: Ethnic Violence, Elections and Atrocity Prevention in Kenya.  And just last week, the U.S. Institute for Peace organized a symposium on “Kenya, One Year Later: Lessons Learned for Preventing Mass Violence.”

A “Whole” Lot of Success for Ghanaian Pineapples

If you live in the Southeast region of the United States, next time you walk into a Whole Foods Market and pick out the perfect pineapple, your purchase could support a Ghanaian-based small business.

Ghanaian pineapples on display at a Whole Foods Market. Credit: Michael Griffin, Sardis Enterprises

Ghanaian pineapples on display at a Whole Foods Market. Credit: Michael Griffin, Sardis Enterprises

Beginning in January, a number of Whole Foods Markets in the United States began stocking Ashanti pineapple grown on the central coast of Ghana. A unique partnership between Sardis Enterprises L.T.D, a Ghana-based small business; the African Diaspora Marketplace, a program of the United States Agency for International Development; and Western Union made the export of this delicious tropical fruit to Whole Foods Market possible.

Recognizing the opportunity, Sardis Enterprises is now pursuing a certification process to acquire a national account with Whole Foods Market and expand its distribution chain to the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Southeast and eventually all regions of the United States. The farmers and cooperatives that sell to Sardis differentiate themselves by using natural fertilizing methods and not using chemicals before, during, or after harvest. The company is currently certifying its suppliers’ farms and cooperatives as organic. “African Diaspora Marketplace gave us the support we needed to lay the groundwork for our company’s current growth trajectory and we are very excited for the opportunity to link Ghanaian farmers with Whole Foods’ network in the U.S.” said Michael Griffin, CEO of Sardis Enterprises.

But the success doesn’t end with Sardis. This partnership is just 1 of 17 awardees of the Second African Diaspora Marketplace, an initiative that encourages sustainable economic growth and employment by supporting U.S.-based African Diaspora and other entrepreneurs through grant funding and technical assistance. These entrepreneurs are individuals with demonstrable connections to or experience in Africa, and who have innovative and high-impact start-ups or established businesses on the continent. The African Diaspora Marketplace selects the most promising small and medium sized businesses across Africa and provides them with capital and managerial support to help grow.

The success of Sardis and other awardees demonstrates the value in supporting promising start-ups in Africa. The company has big plans for the future. They are building the Ashanti Pineapples brand and pursuing partnerships to develop their distribution channels in large export markets such as the US. “Our aim is to build a strong brand for the Ashanti line of produce and thereby help farmers in our cooperatives access valuable export opportunities that can help increase their income and have an overall positive impact on their livelihoods”, said Griffin.

Investing in Africa’s Future

Note: this article was adapted from a version originally published in “Ventures Africa.”

With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa maintains the youngest population in the world. The current trend indicates that this population will double by 2050, according to an African Economic Outlook report, which aggregates data from several multilateral organizations including the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Gaining professional skills helps the West African business community engage in more trade and encourages economic growth for the region. (Photo Credit West Africa Trade Hub)

Gaining professional skills helps the West African business community engage in more trade and encourages economic growth for the region. (Photo Credit West Africa Trade Hub)

Sub-Saharan Africa’s workforce is also becoming larger and better educated, indicating that there is an overwhelming potential for economic growth and development. But even with this progress, youth unemployment and underemployment still remains a major constraint.

Youth in Africa are full of innovative ideas that seek to address a variety of societal challenges. With upwards of 10 million young people entering into the job markets each year on the continent, vastly outnumbering the jobs available in both public and private sectors, many of these youth have turned to entrepreneurship. Yet the fact remains that without an established credit history, significant assets, or business experience required by traditional investment models, young entrepreneurs are constrained by access to affordable capital to start or expand a business.

Investing in young people requires a unique set of skills, and an appetite for a different kind of portfolio. Some youth may require long term patient capital with a long tenor, as well as mentoring and training to manage risk. Others may require seed funding, or funding to develop a new technology, which requires shorter term financing. With web-based enterprise on the rise, investment in youth has become as easy as a funds transfer or mobile payment, and runs the same risk as any impact or venture capital investment. While many investments can be captured within traditional investment classes (such as debt, equity, venture capital), it’s clear that young people in Africa and other emerging markets present a tremendous market opportunity.

The United States Government recognizes the need to invest in young people on the continent, and the Obama Administration has already undertaken a tremendous effort to invest in Africa’s future. The President’s Young African Leaders Initiative, more commonly known as YALI-, empowers and bolsters young African leaders through academic coursework, leadership training, mentoring, networking, and ongoing support.  Starting in June 2014, the YALI Washington Fellowship will bring 500 young Africans (between the ages of 25 to 35) to the United States to participate in a comprehensive six week “Institute” in one of three areas: public management, civic leadership, or business and entrepreneurship.

All of these sessions will culminate in a YALI Summit, to be hosted in July 2014 in Washington, DC. Not only will the Washington Fellows have the opportunity to interact with President Obama and senior staff, but they will be able to meet with private sector leaders, and interact with one another, allowing for a truly diverse mix of representatives from all countries, regions, and sectors.

Upon completion of the program in the United States, the investment in young leaders will continue upon their return to the continent, where USAID and the State Department in partnership with the private sector, host governments, and civil society, will offer growth opportunities in four key areas: networking, professional development, access to seed capital for entrepreneurs, and opportunities to give back to their communities. This will significantly increase opportunities for employment and accelerate professional development for leaders. The United States African Development Foundation is also supporting this program with a $5 million entrepreneurship grants program that will include competitively awarded grants for the Fellows with innovative business ideas.

For example, Fellows who have completed the business and entrepreneurship institutes will have built technical and leadership capacity in areas such as strategy, supply chain management, business ethics, social entreprenership, microfinance, management, and risk analysis. Though these skills are invaluable, paired with YALI’s provision of small grants, networks, coaching, and mentoring, the Fellows will be well equipped to build a viable enterprise.

The Washington Fellowship received thousands of applications for just 500 slots, demonstrating that young people are all too aware, and appreciate having an opportunity to substantively engage with senior leaders.

Though applications are closed for this year, its not too late to engage! The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs  will continue to interact with a growing email list of over 38,000 self-identified young African leaders interested in the United States, known as the Young African Leaders Network (YALN). YALN is open for registration, and will transmit updates on future opportunities available for young Africans to engage the U.S. Government.

For a truly sustainable impact, governments can’t go it alone. As investors across Africa seek to diversify their portfolios, they may increasingly look to young people for high growth opportunities. A commitment to Africa’s future can be best demonstrated by investing in its young people, who will continue to be engaged in shaping their own futures.

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