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How the political economy of agriculture holds Africa back

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By FREDRICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI
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Earlier last week, I attended perhaps the largest gathering of people who work on and think about agriculture in Africa.

Organised by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) in collaboration with several partners, the meeting was in Rwanda’s clean and secure capital, Kigali. As one would expect at this sort of gathering, a wide range of topics was discussed. It sometimes wasn’t easy to decide which sessions to attend and which ones to miss.

A highlight of the event was the launch of the 2018 Africa Agriculture Status Report.

The report makes for interesting reading. It shows the progress, albeit limited, that the continent is making, thanks in part to major continental initiatives such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme and other ambitious plans by the African Union and numerous development partners providing much-needed financial and technical assistance.

However, some of the chapters do not make for happy reading. They raise some very uncomfortable questions for the people in charge, the political leaders especially.

It is over half a century since Africans started running their own affairs. Some may argue that this claim is mainly theoretical, but at least all African countries are independent.

A whopping 65 per cent of Africans, of whom the majority are poor, still depend on agriculture as their main, if not sole source of livelihood. In every country, agriculture is the backbone of the economy, a fact that politicians cite in almost every speech they make on economic matters.

Even then, agriculture in Africa is backward. The backwardness explains why the continent has been a net food importer since the 1980s.

While most of Asia transformed its agriculture long ago into an engine of economic growth, in Africa only a few countries have taken or begun to take coherent and consistent action towards achieving that goal. And now think of this: All this sloth and stagnation is despite Africa’s possession of abundant natural endowments.

Africa has more than half of the global total of uncultivated arable land. Its tropical and sub-tropical climates permit long and multiple farming seasons. Its labour force is mostly young and energetic, with large numbers unemployed or underemployed.

The backwardness of agriculture in Africa is visible in such indicators as productivity of both land and labour. Both remain low in comparison with other parts of the world. Yields are rising, but not quickly enough. In many countries, value-addition is more the stuff of politicians’ speechifying making than reality.

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Perhaps most sobering is the fact that the value of agricultural imports into Africa is higher than that of exports from it. What can explain all this? Many factors. History and politics are arguably most significant.

To understand the role of these two factors, one ought first of all to agree that the entire development or social transformation endeavour is patently political.

Leaders who seek deliberately to transform their countries are invariably driven by political imperatives.

A hungry majority is an angry majority

By way of a simple illustrative example, in countries that are led by minority groups whose ability to hold on to power depends on securing acceptance by potentially hostile majorities, governments tend to focus on the imperative of pursuing prosperity, not least because the wealthier and more contented their potential adversaries are, the less they will be minded to rise up against the status quo.

Where agriculture is the source of livelihood for most people, there is no better way to ensure peace and stability in the long run than to ensure that it prospers. There are various examples of this.

In Africa, however, leaders have often sought to take shortcuts to maintaining stability, via bribery of potential opponents, or simple repression.

Elsewhere, existential threats to sitting governments have not been potentially hostile ethnic majorities, but rival political groups fronting ideologies that contain the promise of prosperity for the hungry and angry poor.

There are examples in East Asia where investment in smallholder agriculture became a priority for governments that were facing the threat of overthrow by communist movements for which poor peasants were a potentially large pool from which to recruit insurgents.

It thus became imperative to tackle poverty. Agricultural development provided the quickest route to putting money on a more or less permanent basis in the pockets of the hungry and angry masses. And as peasants became more prosperous, their prosperity provided the grounds for a systematic pursuit of industrialisation in order to supply them with the industrial goods that, thanks to rising incomes, they could now afford.

In Africa, governments have for the most part been lucky to rule over quiescent peasants who make no demands because they are usually contented with the little they have, and have political and social elites that are easy to buy off, manipulate, or intimidate into silence.

This is not to argue that agriculture in Africa will not develop until conditions similar to those that have underlain agricultural transformation elsewhere emerge. Rather, the argument here is that African leaders who do not face political imperatives forcing them to pay close attention to agriculture cannot simply be talked or financed into it by experts or donors.

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: [email protected]

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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