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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

As Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan celebrates his re-election, the rest of the region and the world are waiting to see how his victory will effect his country. This Monday, April 25, the World Affairs Council will host Ambassador John Campbell, author of Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink, for an exploration of Nigeria’s post-colonial history and an explanation of the events and conditions that have carried this complex, dynamic and troubled giant to the edge. Can Nigerians push back against corruption and use the nation’s oil wealth to stoke economic investment and growth, or will Nigeria continue to be a place of a wealthy minority and impoverished majority?

Register for the program here and read more about Jonathan’s win in today’s New York Times.

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After the controversial 2008 presidential election in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe began a brutal terror campaign against his people which would later become known simply as, “The Fear.” Having entered the country in secret, journalist, author and native Zimbabwean Peter Godwin watched as Mugabe insisted on a runoff election and then launched a campaign against the opposition known as “Operation Let Us Finish Them Off.” Godwin chronicled the election aftermath in his new book, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, which he will discuss at the Council on April 28 at 6 PM.

Register for the program here. Listen to an interview with Godwin on NPR’s Fresh Air here.

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As the war in Afghanistan approaches its tenth year, women and girls worry that the peace they want will come at the price of the few freedoms they have gained since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001. From school closures to increased threats against working women, the rights women want seem to be slipping away. Read more about the difficult situations women are facing in Afghanistan in this article from the New York Times.

This month the Council will present two programs about strong women who are working to empower women. On August 11, the Asia Foundation will co-sponsor a program with Samar Minallah, the Asia Foundation Chang Lin Tien Visiting Fellow at the Global Fund for Women and the founder of Ethnomedia. Minallah is an anthropologist, writer, human rights activist and one of Pakistan’s few documentary filmmakers. She will share excerpts from her documentaries and discuss using video as an advocacy tool for women’s rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Asha Hagi, the co-founder and chairperson of Save Somali Women and Children, will speak on August 27 in a co-sponsored program at the Commonwealth Club. Hagi will describe the innovative creation of a women’s network, The Sixth Clan, to facilitate full participation in national politics and the peace process.

To register for either program, please visit the Council’s online calendar.

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As policy-makers, scientists, and persons living with HIV/AIDS convene this week at the International AIDS Conference, some are taking a closer look at AIDS policy in the United States. Since 2004, when President George W. Bush created the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program (PEPFAR), the US has spent $19 billion to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa. These funds have provided 2.5 million Africans with anti-retroviral treatment and have contributed to the decline in new infections. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in Tuesday’s New York Times opinion section, argues that President Obama is not living up to his campaign pledge to increase PEPFAR’s budget, nor is he doing well by other disease prevention programs. Read his full opinion here.

Learn more about the Obama administration’s AIDS prevention and treatment efforts on Wednesday, July 28 when the Council hosts Ambassador Eric Goosby, US Global AIDS Coordinator. Register for the program here.

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On Tuesday, June 15 the Council hosted the Rt. Rev. William Swing, president and founder of the United Religions Initiative and former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California. He spoke about URI’s recent partnership with Somalia, where it is working to bring Somalis together to form a more cohesive nation. Although the country is often thought of as a lawless land with pirates, Swing believes that, “There are far more people in Somalia who just want to raise their families, be responsible citizens and be free from the chaos.” That’s why, according to Swing, “they’re seeking to accomplish it in semi-autonomous regions rather than in the black hole of tone-deaf power at the nation’s center.” That’s why so many Somalis are jumping at the chance to be part of the URI and similar groups.

To learn more about the United Religions Initiative’s actions in Somalia and the 74 other projects they have around the world, visit their website here. You can listen to the entire program with the Rt. Rev. Swing on our online audio archive.

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American policy on fighting AIDS in Africa is having a dramatic impact on survival rates and is rapidly changing the way Africans are thinking about the disease. Learn more about the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) on Wednesday, April 14 when the Council hosts the US Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Eric Goosby.

Last night 60 Minutes aired a story about the positive outcomes of PEPFAR in Uganda. Watch it here.

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Sitting on a ramshackle assortment of wooden benches under the shade of a mango tree, we listen to the story of the widow Mary Gargar. An elderly and weathered Liberian woman with a look of determination just short of defiance, Mrs. Gargar tells us of how she purchased land from a man falsely representing himself as its rightful owner. Now that the war is over, a reverend who the government confirms is the rightful owner has returned and wants to build. While she holds a deed for the land in her name, and depends on its crops for survival, he too needs the land for his livelihood. How are they to resolve the dispute and meet their competing needs?

Land disputes are a recurring theme in the developing world and are at the root of much violent conflict. For the majority of the world’s poor, poverty is predominantly a rural issue. More than three quarters of those who live on just one or two dollars each day still live in the countryside. Living further from commercial centers, schools and health facilities and outside the range of many government and social services, the rural poor lack access to the inputs and infrastructure necessary for development. Residence in rural areas exacerbates poverty on nearly every level.

In Liberia, nearly 60 percent of the population is rural. Fourteen years of civil war devastated the physical infrastructure and destroyed what little access to systems and services that Liberia’s rural poor once enjoyed. Slowly, however, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government is working with partners to rebuild, increasing access to the inputs critical for development.

What role can philanthropists play in creating the conditions necessary for wide-spread economic growth in rural areas? While the challenges facing the rural poor are daunting, there are three key areas where strategic giving by private philanthropists can make a difference: agriculture, legal systems and education.

In Liberia’s post-war period, agriculture has accounted for over half of GDP. To ensure that agriculture continues to grow, philanthropists must direct targeted support to rural areas. Projects that improve access to agricultural inputs, including high-yield rice and other new technologies, and those that strengthen agricultural institutions and build supply chains from rural to urban areas should be a priority. Aside from direct agricultural skills training and education, donors can design financial services targeted to small-scale farmers that will enable them to invest and plan for the future with confidence. In a place like Liberia, where the war destroyed the country’s livestock population, the introduction of something as simple as donations or loans to purchase and insure livestock would have a dramatic impact on the capacity for rural development.

But to invest in and develop agriculture on a piece of land, one must first be sure that he or she is the rightful owner, as we learned with the story of Mrs. Gargar. Land and property rights are central to poverty alleviation efforts—to stability, food security, income-generation and status within one’s community. However, legal systems for registering and protecting these property rights face a number of hurdles, particularly in poor, post-conflict settings. As part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), the Liberian government commits to promoting effective land administration and management. Toward this goal, the government has established a commission and works with several key NGO partners, including the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Carter Center. The NRC works with the government to collect deeds and land records, increase the number of trained land surveyors and put a national system in place for land registration. Through outreach, the NRC spreads information about property rights and facilitates community resolution of land disputes, such as Mrs. Gargar’s. In addition, they put an essential new tool in surveyors’ (and land owners’) hands: global positioning systems. The process followed for making a determination includes the community and is viewed as fair—and the results are uncontested.

Complementing this work, organizations like the Carter Center support small programs in underserved rural areas to educate people about new laws and the legal means for resolving disputes. In a country where illiteracy rates are high, and access to information limited, the Carter Center sends traveling troops of local actors into the villages to perform entertaining and educational skits, followed by Q&A sessions with the villagers. On Saturday, I and 20 philanthropists, who are members of the Global Philanthropy Forum, took a UN helicopter to visit Liberia’s most isolated and rural region, the South East, to participate in one of these village gatherings and the robust Q&A session that followed the play.

We also viewed the re-opening of Tubman University in Harper city, the first and only institution of higher education in the region, which had been closed down during the war. It is nearly impossible to emphasize the importance of education to lifting the rural poor from poverty. Despite the government’s Free and Compulsory Primary Education Initiative, unofficial fees still prevent many children in Liberia from attending school. Over 70 percent of schools were destroyed or damaged during the war, and those that still operate do so with few supplies and poorly trained teachers with poor attendance records due to inconsistent pay. But, by efforts such as underwriting teacher salaries, providing books and supplies, funding the construction of new schools and providing the safe transportation of students to schools, philanthropists can have an enormously positive impact on rural education, and thus economic development.

On the final day of our trip, we visited a safe-house and rehabilitation center for vulnerable girls run by Touching Humanity In Need of Kindness (THINK). Many of the girls in the program were fighters during the war, or were trafficked to Monrovia under false promises of education in the capital city. Families willingly send their children to Monrovia, believing that they will receive an education and a chance for a better life. Too often, however, these children are forced into near slave-labor conditions as market sellers, house cleaners or prostitutes. The stories of these young women, although now on a positive path, represent an ugly nexus between rural and urban poverty. The rural poor are trafficked to the city because of the desperation of the urban poor. If affordable education in rural areas is provided and reliable means for families to make a living through agricultural development and property right protection are strengthened, women may be spared from making these dangerous decisions about how to educate their children.

This all sounds like a tall order, and many of these goals require the investments of governments, but each can be advanced substantially by small grants, especially to organizations like THINK, NRC and the Carter Center, each of which is having powerful impact on the lives of many who have suffered too much—including the strong willed Mrs. Gargar.

– Jane Wales

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