“The truth is, with the rise of China, we do not have to take any deal Europe throws at us that comes packaged with permanent poverty, incompetent volunteers and the occasional Nato bomb.” – Kenyan author and journalist, Binyavanga Wainaina.
Wainaina’s statement refers to the growing relationship of trade and investment between the emerging superpower, and the world’s second largest continent. The author’s comments also express a faith in the idea that Chinese investment is the answer to Africa’s development. We know that trade and investment are some of the key requirements for overcoming poverty, and some will welcome this as an improvement from years of foreign aid hand-outs. However, is Wainaina’s sense of security with the Chinese truly justified?
Last month, Niall Ferguson released a documentary series exploring China’s ascendency to economic superpower. The series also asked what China’s growing global presence could mean for the rest of the world (Episode 3). In today’s blog, using Niall’s documentary, we ask whether China’s expansion into Africa will help or hinder development across the continent.
Ferguson shows how 40 years ago, China had a smaller economy than Britain’s - now it is on course to overtake the USA as the largest economy in the world. To sustain this unparalleled growth rate, China’s economy needs to continue growing at a rate of 7% a year.
Ferguson’s documentary starts by focussing on Zambia’s experience of Chinese expansion. Copper mining in Zambia is big business for the Chinese, as they need this key resource to supply factories in production. One of the factories in Luanshya, (the Copperbelt province) generates between 2000 - 3000 tonnes of copper a year. Almost all copper produced in this factory is said to be shipped back for use in China. As we’ve blogged about before, China has played a significant role in developing petroleum industries in oil rich parts of Africa - to serve energy demands back home.
So what about the Zambians? What do they get in return? We are shown what, at first, appears to be a mutually beneficial relationship between the Chinese and the Zambians. China receives highly sought after resources such as oil, copper, and other minerals and the Zambians receive employment and infrastructure. China commonly funds construction of infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports and dams – mainly to facilitate the transportation of extracted resources across the vast continent. The Chinese have also been known to present gifts to the countries they are working within. In the series Ferguson visits a new hospital and a colossal football stadium in development. But what do these gifts actually represent? Are they really just a sign of friendship and partnership between the two nations? Or are they a way to win over those concerned their nation is being surreptitiously robbed of its resources? Although the construction of vital infrastructure serves a positive purpose for many impoverished communities, it can also be argued that it acts as an extension of foreign aid. It could serve to create another tie of dependence – “Africa relies on China for development”. This is frustrating at a time when the continent should be looking towards African led development.
These developments do result in some employment for Zambians, but Ferguson looks at the terms of employment under the Chinese. He visits a brand new hospital in Tanzania. Here we are introduced to the Chinese manager of the project, who describes that he has only had 3 days off in the 10 months he has been living in the country. When asked about the quality of Chinese labour vs African labour, the manager clearly favours the Chinese, ridiculing the comparative laziness of the African workers. Furthermore, there appears to be a significant influx of Chinese workers, despite there being many locals who are willing and able to work. So the promise of employment for local communities is not always realized.
In 2012, workers in one Chinese owned Zambian mine rioted over pay and working conditions. In one scene we meet the local Trade Union leader, and we get to hear the grievances of the miners she is representing. All voiced similar concerns regarding pay and treatment by the mine owners. So does working under the Chinese in Africa mean working for longer hours and little pay?
China’s presence in Africa appears to be a long term one. Although the benefit of Foreign Direct Investment in lifting people out of poverty is clear, we should not embrace blindly the idea that China or any major investor is the cure for poverty. Ferguson’s documentary shows the need to strengthen African industries; to shake off dependency and create long lasting change and development that comes from within the continent.
Today, the 25th of April, is World Malaria Day. It also happens to be the first ever World Immunization Week this week. Together, both events serve to raise awareness of major global health issues. But this year, more than any other, both events are calling for action to sustain the momentum of progress that has already been made. The theme for this year’s World Malaria Day is “Sustain Gains, Save Lives” – a clear call to strengthen financial and political commitment in times of increasing economic austerity and calls to slash aid budgets.
The success of global efforts to vaccinate children against polio over the course of two decades has surpassed expectation, to the point where this debilitating disease is now on the verge of complete eradication. In today’s blog we will be asking: ‘how do we replicate the successes seen against polio and smallpox – the only human disease to ever be fully eradicated - with malaria?’ One answer lies in continued funding of vital treatment strategies, as well greater support for research and development.
In the last decade, malaria deaths across Africa have been cut by a third. In other countries where access to malaria control techniques has improved, malaria deaths have fallen by more than 20%. Through the work of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, these malaria control strategies, such as distribution of mosquito nets and insect repellent, have made significant gains possible. The Global Fund is the largest international financing organization working towards the prevention and treatment of malaria. Since it was founded in 2002, it is thought to have saved an incredible 8 million lives. However, the organization has been hit by a funding crisis, which threatens to jeopardize the investment needed to bring an end to malaria.
In seeing mortality rates for malaria decline, public pressure to further reduce the impact of the disease has declined and resulted in complacency and neglect. However, we know that, now more than ever, sustained funding and public backing is required. In recent years, drug resistant forms of malaria have been emerging, posing a real threat to the fight against this disease. Drug resistance is almost unavoidable when treating diseases like this, but it emphasises the real need, not only for continuing support of the work of the Global Fund, but also for constant research and development to overcome resistant strains of the parasite.
The research that has been directed towards malaria means that for the first time we are close to developing a life-saving vaccine to protect against the disease. This could enable us to eliminate malaria from many of the worst-affected countries and contain it further in others. The vaccine is currently in Phase III clinical trials, which means it is in the last stages of development and is close to being fully approved. It is thought that a vaccine may only be three years away from final approval. As demonstrated by the reduction in polio cases, immunization has proven to be the most successful and cost-effective preventative health strategy. According to the World Health Organization, vaccination programs alone avert 2 – 3 million deaths annually. However, advances like those needed to develop a malaria vaccine and overcome drug resistance can only be achieved with sufficient, long-term funding of medical research.
Through combining improved malaria control strategies, effective preventive treatment medicines and potential vaccines, the world may be on the path toward eventual malaria eradication. For this to be realised, however, key donor countries - such as the US, UK and Australia – need to continue their support of the life-saving work of the Global Fund, while also increasing their investment in medical research . We can’t run the risk of becoming complacent. We mustn’t stop at smallpox and polio - we need to ensure that malaria meets the same fate – confined to the pages of history books, not claiming the lives of thousands across the world each year.
Long ago it was said that ‘one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.’ That was true then. It did not know because it did not care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles and less for the fate of those who were underneath…
In fighting extreme poverty, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of just how recently the conditions that we're seeking to combat existing in our own countries. That's why today, we're excited to review 'How the Other Lives,' an 1890 classic about slum life in New York, which offers lots of lessons and points of reflection for us today, four generations on.
Jacob A. Riis’ How the Other Half Lives (1890) is a factual, first-hand account of poverty in 19th century New York. Through his revolutionary use of flash photography, Riis takes us on a visual tour through slum life in Lower East Side Manhattan. Riis was writing during a time of immense social upheaval, when the city was experiencing a large influx of immigrants from Europe and many other parts of the world. This was creating a rapidly growing population which the city needed to accommodate. This was done through large scale tenements which would often house hundreds of people at a time in mostly squalid conditions.
He brought the plight of the New York working classes to the largely ignorant middle and upper classes, who often viewed their poverty as deserved or chosen. His use of hard facts, statistics and photographic evidence help guide us through the many overcrowded tenements, filthy streets, and exploitative sweatshops of the city. He was considered a great social reformer who was concerned with bringing about real change to attitudes and policy.
It is the conditions of the overcrowded tenements that serve as Riis’ central focus as, at the time, the tenements harboured three-fourths of the city’s population. Accompanied by visuals, he guides us through what the rooms look like at different rates and across different parts of the city: “The twenty-five cent lodging house keeps up the pretence of a bed-room, though the head-high partition enclosing a space just large enough to hold a cot and a chair and allow the man room to pull off his clothes…The ten-cent level the locker for the sleeper’s clothes disappears. There is no longer need of it. The tramp limit is reached, and there is nothing to lock up…” The unlicensed lodging houses of the city could even offer a small space on the floor for five cents or a squatting space in the hallway for three.
With the increase in demand brought about by the swelling population, the tenement apartments began to be portioned into several smaller rooms, often with no access to light or ventilation. In the pursuit of profit and with no regard to health, landlords would fill these rooms well over capacity with poor lodgers. “There are numerous examples of tenement-houses in which are lodged several hundred people that have a pro rata allotment of ground area scarcely equivalent to two square yards upon the city lot…” It was thought that the tenement houses in East Side Manhattan were once the most densely populated district in the world, not excluding China, as they were “packed at the rate of 290,000 to the square mile.” Riis saw how the poor had no voice to protest against the degradation of their condition, because the tenements were the only option open to them other than a life on the streets.
In such high density living the spread of diseases such as Cholera, Typhus fever, and Smallpox were inevitable. Riis reveals how the mortality rate of the city went up from 1 in 41.83 in 1815, to 1 in 27.33 in 1855 as a result of diseases associated with slum living. The Bureau of Vital Statistics commented that solely due to “suffocation in the foul air of an unventilated apartment…there are annually cut off from the population by disease and death enough humans to people a city, and enough human labour to sustain it.” The stifling air in the warmest of months was the cause of many cases of suffocation and ill health, particularly amongst young children.
The effect of slum living for children of the city is perhaps the most touching in all of Riis’ account. He uses facts and statistics to expose the scores of children dying before their 5th birthday. He also highlights how child mortality rates dramatically decline in cases where the same number of people are living together, but basic sanitary conditions are upheld. He uses examples like this through his account to remind us of the crucial relationship between sanitation and health.
With many children falling victim to vices such as alcohol and petty crime, young lives were often wasted outside of school and education. The use of child labour in the many sweatshops of the city is also brought to light. Sweatshops were created in tenements, so that the same law which applied to workers in the factories could be evaded. People would work long hours without any breaks for a wage that barely covered rent let alone food expenses. Families in these situations would be living on the very fringes of survival and close to starvation. Emigrating to America from Denmark in 1870, Riis struggled to find steady work for much of his early life in the new land. Without food or opportunity, he experienced first-hand the life of poverty documented in this account.
Although it has been described as more of a factual account than an emotive one, what Riis accomplished was to give a face to the under-represented issue of urban poverty in New York. His account uses real case studies from those experiencing the worst of the conditions. As the intimate portraits peppered through his account show, he documented everything from the clothing to the sombre expressions of those living in poverty. It is what makes this account of 19th century slum living so unique and compelling.
How the Other Half Lives also documents the changes and organizations brought about in 19th century New York to create changes in legislation. For example the birth of the Board of Health, and the Tenement House Act of 1867 and The Society for Improvement of the Condition of the Poor. Riis proposed real tangible routes to overcoming the overpopulation and tenement housing crisis. Many of his proposals were to be adopted in the years to come. The attention his work received led to reforms in laws, the tearing down of New York's worst tenements and sweatshops, reformation of the city's schools and the construction of new safer tenements. This work represents the importance of awareness - Riis not only shows how we each have a moral obligation to recognise the plight of the poor, but that real lasting change is achievable.
*All images from Jacob A. Riis’ How the Other Half Lives (1890)
For many, Easter is a time of reflection, and so we wanted to share a reflection on progress that the world is making towards the Millennium Development Goals from the UK's Department for International Development.
September 2011 saw the UN General Assembly host MDG Countdown 2011: Celebrating successes and innovations. UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and USAID Administrator Raj Shah came together to celebrate the significant progress being made towards achieving the goals.
The clip released from the event charts the successes made across all 8 MDGs since they were first proposed at the Millennium Summit 11 years ago - with some of the most significant successes including: 1.8 billion people gaining access to safe drinking water and over 11 African countries showing a 50% drop in the number of malaria cases. The video reminds us that change on an immense scale has been achieved, but that in the run up to 2015 the momentum must not be slowed. We must continue to strive towards change; to achieve those remaining targets and to continue to save lives.
Africa is a region abundant in natural resources and rich in vast oil reserves. In recent years a number of African economies have seen an accelerated GDP growth rate. In many cases the petroleum industry has played a pivotal role in this growth. Some would see the widespread presence of oil as route to unlocking growth and securing development in the region. However, a number of oil rich countries have become victims to the “resource curse”, a term reserved for those countries which have a wealth in minerals, fuels and resources but “tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources.”
To what extent and at what cost, human and environmental, will oil shape the future of Africa? How will this dwindling resource cope with rapid extraction and trade at a time when global energy demands are ever increasing? And why is the wealth from overseas trade in oil not passing down to the citizens of developing countries? These are some of the questions we will be asking in today’s blog.
Earlier this year, President Jonathan’s administration announced plans to remove fuel subsidies as part of the 2012 budget; a controversial act that was met with fierce opposition across Nigeria. As the price of petrol for Nigerians rose sharply, threats of strikes and civil protests erupted, serving as a reminder of our ever-increasing dependency on fuel.
Today Nigeria is the third biggest economy in Africa, largely due to the share of crude oil in its exports. In 2000, oil and gas exports accounted for 98% of earnings in Nigeria. Nigerian GDP at purchasing power parity more than doubled between 2005 and 2010. However, the country’s human capital and its overall living standards are still lagging far behind. Wealth generated by oil revenues has not passed down to the citizens of Nigeria, as 45% of the population still live below the poverty line. How do we make sense of this paradox?
For many years Nigeria’s oil industry has been plagued by corruption and mismanagement. The World Bank has estimated that as a result of corruption, 80% of energy revenues in the country only benefit 1% of the population. Moreover, the agricultural industry, which accounts for 26.8% of GDP and two-thirds of employment, has seen a decline in productivity due to years of neglect. The country was once a lead exporter in cocoa, rubber, and palm oil - now production of all three over the past 25 years has declined sharply. Nigeria is country that has immense potential to be a key exporter of food and livestock, yet it now relies on imports of food to support its rapidly growing population.
Nigeria is a country whose relationship with oil over the decades has been volatile. The oil rich Niger Delta region has become the site of an intense and controversial struggle between the state and the indigenous population. Local indigenous people have become incensed by foreign oil corporation reaping the rewards of this resource, when they themselves have seen little if any improvement in their standard of living. In fact, the effects of oil extraction for the environment and the Niger Delta communities have been devastating. According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000. This has led to serious ecological damage in the fragile region. In the last decade, a militant group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has emerged. This group have launched many attacks on oil workers and pipelines, attempting to shut down production in the region.
Another example of an oil rich country affected by the ‘resource curse’ is Sudan. The recent partition of what was once Africa’s largest country, created a new republic - South Sudan. Most of the region’s oil wealth is located in the south, but the agreement surrounding the division of this sought-after resource has been highly contentious. It is feared the dispute over division of oil wealth could eventually be a cause for renewed conflict between the states.
Before the country's divide, Sudan produced around 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The International Monetary Fund estimates that South Sudan’s independence will cost Sudan more than $7.7 billion in lost revenues over the next four years. Being a newly independent state, South Sudan’s economy is currently weak and underdeveloped. It relies heavily on its oil and agricultural sectors. As with Nigeria, the decline in productivity within the Sudan’s agricultural sector can be traced back to when the country first started exporting oil. A lack of food security due to a weak agricultural sector spells disaster for a region susceptible to drought and famine. The country also relies on the import of livestock and food to feed its population despite having largely fertile and arable lands. The resource curse strikes again.
China has recently expressed interests in both Sudan and Nigeria. In 2010, it was announced that China was to construct an $8 billion oil refinery in Lagos, Nigeria. China will also build two other refineries, in Bayelsa and Kogi. It is also in China’s interests to develop Sudan’s weak oil infrastructure as the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is the biggest investor in the country through its 40% stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum. China has purchased 70% of Sudan’s crude oil exports, and has also funded developments in the region such as the $2 billion hydroelectric Merowe dam.
Demand for oil in China and many other OECD nations is expected to continue growing over the coming decades. This increases competition and puts more pressure on countries like Sudan and Nigeria to continue developing their oil sector instead of investing funds and research into renewable sources of energy.
Our expanding global population’s energy demands mean that we are living in a time of voracious crude oil consumption. Although Africa’s oil boom has spelt joy for oil corporations, the rewards will be costly and short-lived. The global dependence on a naturally limited resource is clearly unsustainable. Instead of exploiting this resource at the cost of social and environmental damage, developing African nations will benefit far more from directing attention back into renewable energy, and developing their manufacturing and agricultural industries.