The year that has just begun does not seem to be rosy for the African continent. At the beginning of 2022, Africa suffered from the pandemic and its effects on the economy. 2023 opens with many nations facing another crisis: unsustainable debt.
The crisis has been underway for years, long-term loans have more than doubled reaching 636 billion dollars in the decade 2011-2021, a figure that exceeds the gross domestic product of more than 40 African countries taken together. The pandemic has worsened the economic situation and the war in Ukraine has pushed many countries to the brink, cutting off access to finance, depleting foreign exchange reserves and sending national budgets into a tailspin.
Living on the razor’s edge
Debt is the biggest problem they will face even though the ratings agency, Fitch, expects average debt in sub-Saharan Africa to improve and be below 65% in 2023, after reaching 72% in 2020, helped from the economic recovery after the pandemic, rising commodity prices and efforts to reduce budget deficits, but this level compares with an average of 57% in 2019, before the pandemic, and with less than 30% between 2007 and 2013.
According to the analysis of the public debt of sub-Saharan African countries, almost half of the countries (42%) have a debt-to-GDP ratio above 70%, while the average debt-to-income ratio will continue to be above 300%, double the value of 2013. This would prove the deterioration of the economic bases of these countries and their evolution prospects.
The risks these countries will face are related to high inflation, difficult financial conditions, the general indebtedness of the economies caused by the pandemic and now also by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Fitch also forecasts that average inflation in the region will fall from about 8% in 2022 to 5.5% this year and that GDP growth will be around 4%, close to the average of 3.8% in the five years up to 2019, but well below the growth recorded up to 2014. In some countries, however, inflation is well above the regional average. Add to this that there are eight sub-Saharan African countries with government debt payments, in 2023, accounting for a quarter of foreign reserves.
On the political front, many countries will be called to vote during 2023. The results of these elections could increase the discontent of the populations already strongly suffering from the increase in the prices of basic necessities.
Election time can be very volatile in Africa and the 2023-24 cycle will be no different, with a high risk of political protests, mass demonstrations and strikes in a number of countries. Upcoming elections in countries such as Algeria, Madagascar, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe could prove hotbeds of disruptive civil unrest in 2023. Worsening socioeconomic conditions in some of these countries, driven by subdued wage growth, rising costs of living and food security concerns, could also prove problematic for incumbent or new government administrations.
While African policy makers can’t influence the global headwinds, they can take steps to build resilience. Rising prices of commodities in a continent endowed with everything from diamonds, iron ore, bauxite, cobalt, copper to platinum offer a chance to create stabilization or sovereign wealth funds to insulate against future shocks. The key to building savings is to have proper governance, by some estimates Africa has 20 such funds already, but not all have delivered.
Recent research says that China and the West should work together to find solutions for African debt distress. The report says that although China’s lending to Africa did not cause the current debt in the continent, it must cooperate with the international community and African nations, to support Africa’s investment needs, after a year of recession for most economies on the continent.
The G7, led by the incoming Japanese presidency for 2023, could develop and build support for a new plan to be eventually embedded at the G20 level on debt relief and investments in Africa. The plan could include a broad-based dialogue led by the G7, African nations, and China on:
Africa’s medium- to long-term external financing needs;
a high-level political understanding between the West and China on the mutual benefit of strengthened cooperation to address African debt distress;
and a detailed action agenda, led by the G7 and G20 Finance Tracks, to address obstacles for debt treatments.
A way out of this situation could be strong reforms to find long-term solutions that can meet African economies’ financial needs and avoid a similar scenario in the future.
In sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of the population has access to electricity and this number has dropped by 4% since 2019 due to many brownouts, blackouts, and load-shedding. Even in the industrial powerhouses of South Africa and Nigeria in sub-Saharan Africa,electrical networks regularly fail to sustain the region's current generation capacity, making it impossible to fulfill demand. The situation is similar in the north of the continent, where Egypt, one of the largest economies of the continent, suffers the same destiny. A study conducted under the Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa, shows a financial deficit of between $17 billion and $25 billion, with the abovementioned economies counting for around 33% of this gap.
Moreover, despite having the least culpability for the issue, Africa is already more severely affected by climate change than most other regions of the globe. Africa has the lowest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita of any continent, contributingless than 4% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, while having about one-fifth of the world's population.The adverse consequences of climate change, such as water stress, decreased food production and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, are already being felt disproportionately by African populations.
The Paris Agreement targets of keeping average temperature increases well below 2ºC and trying to not surpass 1.5ºC by 2050 with respect to pre-industrial levels set a roadmap to follow to fight climate change. This was to be achieved through National Determined Contributions (NDCs), that is, every signatory country would pledge to set a roadmap for cutting emissions, theoretically, following science-based targets. Despite being a move in the right direction, it does not come as a surprise that African economies yet to blossom are reluctant to curb their emissions at the same pace as developed countries.
This proposal would expand VCM which has not yet exploded as a result of an untapped demand and a disorganized supply. However, these markets have been plagued with critics due to the lack of monitoring, and some of them apply to ETA’s proposal as well. The most notable issue is the lack of additionality that these projects may have. This means that the installation of renewables would occur given the plunging cost of wind and solar power, regardless of the credit's existence. Secondly, unless proper monitoring is enforced, companies may end up earning credits for building climate resilience, i.e. building walls for rising sea levels, a well-intended action which, however, deviates from the principle of one credit equivalent to one tonne of carbon sequestered.
All in all, African investment needs are immense, particularly in the area of infrastructure, making it imperative to seek cooperation between the public and private sectors. Furthermore, attending these needs requires from developed countries to understand the African context. Years of failed aid should have taught us that much. In this sense, even though it has some flaws that should be corrected before its implementation, ETA may be determinant to guarantee the proper transition of the African continent towards renewables without compromising the continent’s growth. Successive COP rounds have failed to address this issue, and dealing with global climate change through the achievement of national decarbonization targets seems to be a battle that will be fought by governments on domestic ground. ETA’s proposal may make the giant non-state polluters step in, and in doing so, unlock millions of private capital in the right direction. In the hypothetical case where environmental integrity is compromised as a result of some credits being earned by fostering climate resilience, this still would allow the African population to combat climate change consequences which they are mainly not responsible for, and in turn, allowing some compensation for centuries of injustices.
While mobile payment already represented a technological success a decade ago, its use exploded in the post-pandemic world. This generalization should be a matter of great concern, as mobile banking is one of the most efficient tools used to finance criminal and terrorist activities on a global level. Indeed, technology facilitates the financing of illegal organizations which benefits from their rapidity, mainly anonymous nature, and the lack of legislation.
The African continent is particularly affected by the insecurity of mobile banking platforms. This article tends to raise awareness upon how the disrespect of legal norms by mobile operators and the lack of vigilance of the concerned states provoke dangerous opportunities for illegal organizations. This alarming situation must be considered to adopt strong and efficient policy methods and look after their actual enforcement.
Security menace posed by mobile payment in Africa
Mobile Payment and Cyber Criminality
One of the major services rendered by mobile operator in Sub Saharan Africa is mobile payment. First, the cheap rate for transfers, in some cases receipt is not issued or required, and the sender does not need to have a phone, which creates anonymity of the individual. Then, the sale of Sim cards at a low price (100xaf-300xaf in Cameroon), and sometimes identified with the sale agent’s credentials is a menace to population.
Cybercriminals exploit Sim cards registered with credentials of airtime vendors to perpetrate crimes. Some create accounts with identity cards obtained from the streets. Often at times, interns and even workers (inside threats) in these mobile operating companies provide information of profile individuals to be victimized by cybercriminals.
Cryptocurrency and bitcoin have become more secured channel used by cybercriminals. When someone is scammed in Europe, they require payment via cryptocurrency or bitcoin. When it is done, the transaction is channeled to a mobile money number before being withdrawn.
With the advent of mobile payment, money launderers no longer use banks, because of traceability of funds via bank to bank. They now transfer money to different persons in Europe via mobile money, and when they need money, it is sent back to them. For instance, in some Sub-Saharan African countries, money launderer will send 300000xaf-500000xaf to five different persons at a nearby agent without requiring a receipt or without being identified. After which, they can order a close person to do the same with other contacts either to an individual in Africa or Europe. When they need money to carry out a task, the person sends, and is considered legit.
Terrorist financing is a major threat in the global war on terror. With the evolution of technology, which is being exploited for national security and by terrorist, mobile payment creates another avenue for terrorist groups to be easily sponsored. An authority intending to sponsor terrorist activities, will not use his phone to effectuate a transfer, it will rather go to a nearby agent give the money to be transferred, send an SMS (done), and mission will be carried out. More so, through cryptocurrency and bitcoin, terrorist can exploit some mobile payment agents to effectuate their cash-out. Money paid via crypto, is converted and paid through mobile payment, for mission to be carried out.
Victimisation of Clients
Phishing and Smishing are two methods used by cybercriminals to swindle funds from clients with mobile money accounts. They either send a message, requiring an individual to change their password due to a breach on system of operating company, or send message requiring a client to valid with their mobile money pin and ‘game over’. Clients are increasingly losing their funds to these schemes and some even commit mistakes when transferring money. There is need for mobile companies engaged in mobile payment to review some of their policies in relation to services offered.
Policing methods to be adopted by African states and operating companies
Mobile operating companies have helped change the landscape of information and communication technology. Though, several innovations are available, cybercriminals, money launderers and staff (insider threat) equally exploit these services to make money and commit crimes. There is need for these companies to review the pattern for mobile money transaction above a certain amount, though corruption will still enter the ‘game’. Moreover, these companies must sort a system to identify Sim cards before sending to the market. In relation to client service, mobile companies must sort out a recovery method when a mobile payment is done to a wrong number. They could charge a certain amount (250xaf-300xaf) for recovery of funds of the individual.
Law Enforcement and State
Policy and regulation of telecommunication industry relay on the state. The increasing victimization of clients and terrorist financing through this method of payment, requires states to double their efforts in the fight against transnational crimes. States must ensure that mobile operators which offer such services must have written contracts with clients. They must ensure that mobile payment is in accordance with regulations of states and region. Law enforcement officers should work alongside mobile operators to track and apprehend cybercriminals and those engage in money laundering through mobile payment. Innovation should not be a menace to national security, neither should be threat the life of citizens.
Russia and Ukraine are not only the world’s biggest producers of wheat, they have also been the cheapest exporters on the market. This made them very attractive to low-income countries. Over 40% of wheat consumed in Africa usually comes from Ukraine and Russia. The war interrupted global markets and trade flows to Africa, increasing even more food prices in the region. Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea have been widely blocked for exports since the conflict began. Kyiv and its allies blame Moscow for blocking the ports. Even countries that import little from the two countries are indirectly impacted by higher world prices for key commodities.
Before the war in Ukraine, African countries were already struggling with the increase of food prices due to extreme climate and weather events and also after two year of Covid-19 pandemic,. Since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, global food prices have reached new heights. Five weeks into the Ukraine war, disruptions are more severe and food prices are even surpassing the levels of the 2008 global financial crisis. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index, affirmed that international wheat prices rose for a fourth consecutive month in 2022. The March index is the highest it has been since the measure was created in the 1990s. In 2020 alone, Africa imported $4 billion and $2.9 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia and Ukraine. With this war in Ukraine, about 20 million people in the Sahel and West Africa do not have access to sufficient food.
In Egypt, wheat is the main food item, and the Egyptian government imports about 50 to 60percent of its cereal from Russia and Ukraine, despite the government’s efforts to diversify imports following the 2008 global food crisis. Egypt had to borrow three billion dollars from the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (Itfc), an Islamic finance instrument based in Saudi Arabia. Countries like Tunisia imported 50% of their grain needs exclusively from Russia and Ukraine. For the moment, Tunisia claims to have stocks, but to avoid food riots, as happened in the Arab Spring, basic products are subsidized and controlled by the government. Algeria, the second largest African wheat consumer after Egypt has also imposed moderate prices.
Additionally, according to the UN, Russia is the highest exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and the second-highest exporter of phosphorus and potassium fertilizer globally. Several African countries rely on importing these Russian fertilizers, including Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Kenya. But following severe economic sanctions against Russia, its ability to sell fertilizer globally has taken down, precipitating a major shortage. In Kenya, farmers are scaling back on farming because of the exorbitant fertilizer prices that would certainly affect their profits. Others plan to avoid fertilizing their farms, especially olive and orange groves farmers. This will lower production and, of course, the quality. The pressure and prices will likely increase further as the war continues, raising food security concerns, with citizens beginning to feel the impact.
Alarm from aid agencies
Aid agencies have also felt the impact of rising prices. The World Food Program (WFP) used to buy more than half of its grain from Ukraine and Russia. The organization now spends an additional $71 million a month to reach the same number of people it did before the conflict. That money could be used to provide daily food rations to four million people for a month. The activities of the WFP in West and Central Africa have started to suffer too. The aid agency supports national school feeding programmes that run independently. But some governments are now asking the WFP for help, because they can no longer afford some food products. The WFP also distributes cash for people in the region to buy food, but with soaring prices this is not an effective solution.
A recent FAO-WFP report issued today calls for urgent humanitarian action in 20 ‘hunger hotspots’ where acute hunger is expected to worsen during summer 2022. The effects of the war in Ukraine are expected to be particularly severe where economic instability and high prices combine with drops in food production due to climate events such as recurrent droughts or flooding.
“We are deeply concerned about the combined impacts of overlapping crises jeopardizing people’s ability to produce and access foods, pushing millions more into extreme levels of acute food insecurity,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “We are in a race against time to help farmers in the most affected countries, including by rapidly increasing potential food production and boosting their resilience in the face of challenges.”
Qu Dongyu called on Mediterranean countries to work together to avoid the risks to food security aggravated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. “We must keep our world food trade system open and ensure that agri-food exports are not limited or taxed”, he said a few days ago during a summit on the food crisis in the Mediterranean area. He then illustrated the main steps on which this cooperation should focus on: greater investments in the countries most affected by the current increase in food prices; reduction of food losses and waste; better and more efficient use of natural resources; and finally, great attention to technological and social innovations that can significantly reduce the losses of the agricultural market.
What are the consequences?
Some analysts argue the Kremlin is hoping that a possible food crisis will put political pressure on the West by provoking new refugee flows towards Europe from food-insecure countries in the Middle East and Africa.
“The situation is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to move to different communities and to live with host families who are already living in difficult conditions themselves. There is not enough food, let alone food that is nutritious enough for children. We must help them urgently because their health, their future and even their lives are at risk,” said Philippe Adapoe, Save the Children's director for West and Central Africa. The war is starting to push families to the brink of survival and increasing also the risk of violence against women. Hibo Aden, women's rights officer at ActionAid Somaliland, said the situation has become so desperate for some families that girls are forced to marry in exchange for food and water.
The presence of unstable conditions and civil wars further aggravate the scenario. Many people in African countries will have problems accessing better hygiene, health, or school conditions, given that the family's spending power will be dedicated to the purchase of food at higher prices. Furthermore, phenomena of internal conflict are beginning to be seen, with countries such as Nigeria, South Africa or Ethiopia, which have chosen to restrict some food exports, blocking supply chains and trade, thus creating other problems.
In conclusion, the forecasts for the future are somewhat catastrophic. In these conditions, hunger will increase at high rates and will be more and more deadly. If the international community does not act in support of rural communities affected by hunger, the degree of devastation will be dangerous.
For its third event of "The View from" Series, Ilas Touazi from University of Sétif 2 and Michele Tallarini, ITSS Verona, Africa Team, discuss US-China competition in Africa, touching upon regional dynamics, trade, BRI, questions of debt, and Chinese military presence in the continent.
China’s influence in Africa is becoming increasingly deep. 2021 saw a bilateral trade between Beijing and the African continent of 254 billion dollars, with a 35% growth compared to the previous year. Given these findings, China is Africa’s largest trading partner for the twelfth consecutive year.
Over the last decade, Beijing has replaced “classical” colonial powers thanks to a new paradigm which privileges trading, infrastructural investments and non-interference in the home affairs of the countries with whom it cooperates. This success can be attributed not only to the fact that China has not been a colonial power, but also to a precise strategy pursued by its government, which is based on specific principles. One of the most important of these is financial support: from 2007 to 2020 Chinese development banks provided more funding than all other foreign financial institutions put together. The second point is the aforementioned neutrality in Africa’s countries home affairs, with no political interference, in contrast to the classical Western multilateral approach. This does not mean that Beijing does not show its soft power, but it prefers a strictly economic type of support, with no assistance, for instance, in the development of new democratic institutions or interventions in African political crises. Another important point is the “raw material for infrastructures” policy, which allows China to pay for African goods (mainly natural resources) by building new strategic onsite facilities (bridges, roads, railways etc.).
Given this strategic approach, African governments see China as a reliable partner and the main interlocutor for their economic development. The recent opposition of several African countries on the condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine at the UN General Assembly (17 abstained, following China and India, 8 were absent and 1 vote against), underlines the strong political connection which links the Beijing government and Africa, pushing African leaders to pursue Chinese interests in the international arena. This connection is bilateral but not equal: China, as a global superpower, extends its political influence by leveraging African countries’ debts. In particular, failure on their part to return money granted to them by China for the construction of strategic infrastructure may lead to repossession of that infrastructure by Beijing. Main examples are the Djiboutian port of Doraleh or the Mombasa port, used as collateral for the building of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway.
Chinese military presence in Africa: is this the beginning of a new framework?
As well as stronger financial and political intervention, in the last few years Beijing has intensified its military presence and cooperation. This engagement runs through the UN peacekeeping missions, which see a high presence of Chinese soldiers. This engagement aims to give China the chance to improve the expertise of its soldiers in operational contexts and to establish its presence in the continent.
At the moment, Beijing has a military base in Djibouti operated by the Chinese People's Army Navy (PLAN). The African country is an important hub for the control of worldwide trade: located in the Horn of Africa at the intersection of important shipping routes such as Bab-el-Mandeb and the Aden Gulf, which is the entry point for the Suez Canal, where 30% of global maritime trade takes place. Because of its strategic importance, the country hosts several military bases, notably the US, France, Italy, Spain and Saudi Arabia. The Chinese base hosts 2000 soldiers.
Endorsed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Djibouti base was inaugurated in 2017 and tasked with peacekeeping operations (PKO) and convoy duty. Regardless of the official purpose of the base, its size and the onsite facilities set out its possible role as a starting point for future military expansion in the African continent, with the creation of new bases in other countries. U.S. Gen. Stepen Townsend referred to it, in an interview with The Associated Press: “They have arms and munitions for sure. They have armoured combat vehicles. We think they will soon be basing helicopters there to potentially include attack helicopters.” Moreover, the above-mentioned multipurpose port of Doraleh, built by China and located near the base has been strategically important for it. Again, Chinese military expansion would appear to go hand in hand with the spread of its commerce and investments, following the routes of the “Maritime Silk Road” and taking advantage of facilities built and controlled for cooperation purposes.
It is plausible that Beijing will reproduce the “Djibouti base model” in other African countries, following the same steps and dynamics. In this regard, the recent agreement between Chinese and Tanzanian governments for the extension of the Bagamoyo port (75 km north of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) could be the first stage of further military expansion. The seaport could give Beijing the chance to reinforce its presence in the region and act as a centre for ship repair. Moreover, a new base in the Indian Ocean could help resolve Chinese dependence on the Malacca Strait.
Between money and weapons: the end of Chinese soft power?
As we’ve seen, recent Chinese expansion in Africa seems to lead to an increasingly strong military presence in the continent. This new framework set up by Beijing, which combines investments, the building of new infrastructure, huge lending and limited political interference in African countries’ home affairs could be the forerunner for further military expansion. In the near future it is possible that China will decide to increase its presence in areas interested by The Belt and Road Initiative, in order to protect its own business through a greater control of the territory.
At the same time, the setting up of new military bases in key locations, especially on Indian Ocean coasts, will allow China to improve the strategic capabilities of its naval forces. It is hard to say if it is the beginning of a stronger approach: as seen, one of the main principles which drives Chinese interventions in Africa is the non-interference in the home affairs of local governments. Moreover, from the African countries point of view, Chinese interest, and new investments onsite, could represent a chance to develop their own economies, modernise their infrastructures and build new strategic facilities. Maybe this framework will not be overturned, but it is clear that Beijing aspires to a deeper and more active presence, underlining the importance of Africa in its global strategy.
Progettomondo is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1966 to promote sustainable development, human rights, and a new form of justice and conscious migration in Latin America and Africa. In Italy and Europe, the NGO promotes global education and the encounter between different cultures. Marianna Mormile is the country director for the Sahel Region and in this podcast, she discusses the role of Italy’s ONGs in the Sahel region, and the situation in this conflict area.
Interviewing Team: Michele Tallarini and Alessandra Gramolini
English Translation of the Interview:
MICHELE: Good day everyone, and welcome back to the ITSS Verona Youtube Channel. We are Alessandra and Michele from the Africa Team. Today we will talk about the situation in the Sahel. For this episode, we are delighted to host Marianna Mormile from Progettomondo, an NGO from Verona which operates in Africa and Latin America. Marianna works as country director for the Sahel, and she lives in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. We would like to start by expressing our gratitude to our guest for accepting our invitation and for sharing her high-level experience and knowledge with us.
MARIANNA: Thanks Alessandra and Michele for this opportunity. Sharing your opinion and experience is always important and often there is no time to do so, so thanks again for the opportunity.
MICHELE: Thank you again. We would like to start with a first general question: what is your point of view as an Italian who lives and works in Burkina Faso regarding the situation in this region? What are, in your opinion, the main problems affecting this area which is one of the most complicated in the world?
MARIANNA: I have a vision of the area's problems through the projects that we implement with Progettomondo, and through direct contact with communities, state actors, and other non-governmental organizations. As regards our interventions, I can tell you that certainly the news arriving in Italy are few but they allow us to give timely information on what are in a certain way stable situations of the presence of terrorist armed groups that organize attacks on populations and local authorities; hence a situation that is quite difficult from a security point of view.
At the beginning, it was an issue of claims and attacks against the central power and therefore with attacks focused more on law enforcement agencies and state actors, such as mayors or other institutional objectives. In this context, the religious component seems to be more of a vehicle than a real justification. In fact, there are villages that are intimidated and subject to certain rules for women and men, forcing the population otherwise to abandon the area, but this seems more like a strategy to recover resources and therefore forage, pushing these flows of displaced persons.
There is therefore certainly a humanitarian crisis, both in Burkina and in Niger (which are the two countries that Progettomondo follows), albeit in a different way due to the different backgrounds of the two countries. At the moment Burkina is at the peak of its crisis, with a high presence of displaced people and the risk of an imminent food crisis. In fact, last year it did not rain and therefore we are waiting for the consequences that will come. International organizations are trying to understand how to frame the interventions in order to respond to this food crisis that is expected very soon. So in conclusion, the main issues are those relating to safety, which sees no improvement, and a food crisis that goes on for periods but which is configured as constant and which could have a peak this year.
ALE: Thank you very much, Marianna. Going back to what you said about Burkina Faso, which is currently reaching the highest level of crisis, do you think the recent coup d’etat will be a turning point on the political agenda as regards the fight against terrorism?
MARIANNA: It must be said that the communiqué of the coup leaders, who are now in power, and who are trying to establish a transitional government, contained a point concerning the fight against terrorism. It says there would be improvements and a specific interest in making Burkina out of this problem of security and instability. To date, however, there is no real improvement, even if it is necessary to specify that the coup happened only 2 months ago.
The situation has not changed to date despite the coup leaders coming from the military world, and in theory they should have the right skills in the security field or in any case have a particular focus on this issue. In the press release, there is also a specific point concerning greater attention to the families of fallen soldiers: this certainly denotes an attitude of greater attention. However, even if the problem has been formally addressed, no real and concrete improvements are seen. In truth, this is not a result that can only be achieved by operating in Burkina and only by operating from a military point of view: it would in fact be necessary to do a wide-ranging work that includes several factors.
MICHELE: You talked about a moment of great crisis for Burkina and how these problems must be addressed in a global way and from different points of view. In this sense, what is the role of the Italian NGOs operating in the Sahel and in particular in Burkina and Niger? And are there any substantial differences in approach in the intervention strategies of the agencies of the various countries?
MARIANNA: It must be emphasized that the intervention in the Sahel is constantly changing. NGOs like us are trying to have a continuous analysis not only of the needs of the territory but also of the strategies to respond to these needs trying to enhance their expertise, and to form gradually. This is because there are various emergencies affecting the communities we work with and it is, therefore, necessary to continually re-calibrate interventions to respond to new needs. For this reason, I would point out, as a common strategy of NGOs, the continuous analysis of the needs of the territories: for example in one of our projects in the north of Burkina, on the border with Mali, we have recently completely redesigned the intervention strategy as regards nutrition and health. Indeed, in few years the situation has changed a lot and therefore the project, as it was originally conceived, risked no longer being operational in all areas.
There is therefore a desire to integrate a humanitarian component more and more: Italian NGOs, and in particular Progettomondo, are helping the populations of some areas to stabilize, thus making the support offered effective and continuous. We see that in Burkina, and recently also in some areas of Niger, the need to find a balance between the two interventions is becoming crucial. Therefore the donors are pushing us in more multi-sectoral interventions, but in reality, it is necessary that we also work on the ground, completing each other and trying to have more elements in such a way as to operate on different levels.
There is certainly a commitment from Italian NGOs to be able to continue to make their contribution in regions in which the situation is changing rapidly. In Niger, Italian cooperation has historically supported the agricultural sector; in Burkina, in addition to the agricultural sector, there is a strong aid in the healthcare sector, with interventions, for example, against malnutrition. Here there are also NGOs from other countries: some have had the most humanitarian fiber even in unsuspected times, due to purely periodic food crises. It must be said that Progettomondo and other Italian NGOs have a more proximity approach, working directly on the field, with direct assistance to the communities. This approach also helps to connect and to support the technical services and the local authorities, thus intervening both in the community and at the institutional level. Another type of approach can be the “substitution,”, mainly for emergencies, in which we intervene to replace the State, but always only until it organizes itself to be able to overcome these difficulties.
ALE: Following this last sentence, according to your experience and your work in the NGO and seeing the work of other NGOs, can international cooperation be able to help make these countries independent of foreign influence?
MARIANNA: Answering this question is very difficult. I can only say that we, as Progettomondo, do not work in geopolitics so we do not have an institutional position, we work following the principle of neutrality, not favoring any kind of deployment but only for the overall improvement of the situation in these territories. We do not enter the political sphere, it must be said that in our work we have to deal with other States' choices in foreign policy. For example, Sahel is a region in which there are constant migratory flows, and in the 2015 Valletta summit, it was made explicit the principle of externalization of borders, i.e. blocking migratory flows at borders really far away from those of the European Union.
Having said that, surely in the Sahel we can recognize France, China, Russia, and Turkey among the countries that have the most influence. Burkina was a former French colony, and therefore they are closely linked to France, which does not renounce to emphasize this link on every occasion. There is also an open debate on the ECOWAS situation and the new currency: the CFA franc is directly correlated to France. Now the idea is to replace it with the ECO, but we do not know yet how things are going to change in reality. Perhaps in Mali after the CEDEAO sanctions, there will be the possibility to replace the CFA franc with the ECO, but in reality, it is still very complicated. So I don't know what kind of answer to give in this regard, certainly in some countries of this region foreign influence is very rooted and very often it is not contested, in some cases, it is even accepted.
ALE: You have been very kind, Michele and I would like to thank you again for your time and for sharing your perspective on the field. It was a pleasure for us to have you as a guest of our video podcast series. Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for all other ITSS initiatives here on youtube and on our official website. Have a nice day
Barbara Tomassini [Barbara Tommassini is a Biomedical Engineer, CTO at BIOVERSE srl, currently volunteering in the Civil Service program in Tanzania.
Interviewing Team: Alessandra Gramolini, Rebecca Pedemonte, and Michele Tallarini.
What is the health situation in Tanzania? What impact did COVID-19 have? Tanzania is making major progress in the health sector leading to a continued increase in life expectancy for Tanzanians at birth. Despite this, there are still several issues such as the lack of adequate infrastructures and human resources. The impact of HIV/AIDS represents one of the most dramatic realities. The management of COVID-19 in Tanzania has gone hand in hand with politics. After a long period of official denial that coronavirus exists in Tanzania, the government has completely changed course in early 2021, after the death of the previous president. The country, however, is still facing major challenges to obtain vaccines and to overcome hesitancy amongst the population, which has only got more confused by these several changes. Now the situation is quite stable: there are no restrictive measures even if the epidemic is still going on, but, at the same time, hospitals are not overcrowded. In similar contexts, the situation and the decisions to be taken are even more delicate, and it’s necessary to find a balance between the containment of the epidemic and the maintenance of a stable social situation.
What are the opportunities for the development and application of new biomedical technologies in Tanzania? Why did you choose to bring your project to Tanzania?
In Tanzania, there are a lot of needs but few resources and infrastructures available in the country. The healthcare sector is full of opportunities for the development and application of new biomedical technologies, but we should always keep in mind the specific contexts and needs, to design more appropriate and useful technologies.
Indeed, the biggest mistake made so far with these countries has been to give them technologies that are unsuitable for the context, not economically sustainable, without staff training and spare parts available locally.
The new medical device I’m developing together with a colleague of mine (we are both biomedical engineers), is about the treatment of severely burned patients (TBSA> 20%) up to 5 years of age, and it is specifically designed for low-middle income countries. We chose to bring our project to Tanzania for epidemiological and personal reasons: every year 11 million severe burns occur from open flames and boiling liquids alone. 95% of the victims occur in low-middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and 70% are children less than 5 years of age. Furthermore, the idea was born during a past trip in Tanzania, during a visit to a rural hospital.
In your opinion/based on your experience on the field,what is the role of Italian ONGs in Tanzania? Since Tanzania is a peaceful and not high-priority country, Italian NGOs in the country play a role in supporting government institutions for the creation of developed systems adaptable to local contexts for improving the existing ones. This support takes place, supporting the activities and training the local staff, to achieve long-term sustainability and local autonomy, with no need of foreign help anymore.
How do you think Italy-Tanzania cooperation in the healthcare system will develop in the future? Which are the most important fields that need external support to be developed? I think healthcare system in Tanzania in the coming years will need external support in the area of Emergency management, with in-depth analysis of national and international guidelines, for improving the knowledges of local staff and training it, as well as the management and purchase of appropriate medical devices in terms of accessibility, availability of spare parts, ease of use and training of personnel on use and maintenance. There should be a strong cooperation between NGOs themselves and manufacturing companies, to have more appropriate and effective devices.
Between the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, the debate on cultural decolonization processes resumed. This is an expression by which we mean the return, to the countries of origin, of works of art and objects stolen in times of conquest or colonialism. With increasing insistence, there has been talk of ways, laws and times for returning works preserved in Europe to their countries of origin.
The protection of African cultural heritage
Almost 90% of Africa's heritage is outside the continent, in particular, 80-90% of it can be found in European museums. African countries have had to face the problem of the removal of cultural properties from the continent to other parts of the world over many decades and perhaps centuries. The end of colonization has witnessed the repatriation of cultural objects from the colonial powers to the colonized countries. Examples include return of objects by Belgium to Democratic Republic of Congo, by the Netherlands to Indonesia, and by Australia and New Zealand to Papua New Guinea. The process involved in the restitution of cultural properties is usually difficult and long. Negotiation for the return of the Makonde Mask to Tanzania, for example, lasted 20 years. While other stolen memorials were returned to Kenya from the United States after 22 years. After almost 70 and 30 years Rome returned the Obelisk of Aksum to Ethiopia, and the Monument to the Lion of Judah.
Africa’s cultural heritage has attracted and will continue to attract great interest from all over the world. Each Member State needs to have a national strategy that needs to be integrated as well in new opportunities for international cooperation.
Changing mindsets throughout Europe
In recent years it is possible to find a strong global debate about the rightful place of cultural objects. One after another Western countries began to announce the return of cultural property to the countries of origin. Just a few months ago there was the return to Ethiopia of ten important artifacts from the Battle of Maqdala, looted by British troops during the punitive expedition in 1868. Governments themselves are starting to take actions regarding the matter of long-ago acquired artifacts, many of which are now held in public museums. Nanette Snoep, anthropologist and curator from the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, said, “museums and politicians have become aware of the fact that it is really necessary to decolonize museums, and decolonizing also means restitution.”
Last summer, the British Scheherazade Foundation got the Maqdala artifacts back and handed them over to the Ethiopian ambassador to the UK. The list of artifacts includes a handwritten Ethiopian religious text, crosses, and an imperial shield. They represent only a small part of the many precious Ethiopian objects that the English army stole after the Battle of Maqdala in 1868. The ambassador Teferi Melesse, during the restitution ceremony declared that Maqdala was still an open wound for them. The Maqdala objects, treasures, or artifacts represent a possibility for the Ethiopians to mourn and process what they lost. Also in a statement, Alula Pankhurst, a member of Ethiopia’s National Heritage Restitution Committee, calls the objects’ restitution the “single most significant heritage restitution in Ethiopia’s history.”
In April this year Germany reached a deal to return to Nigeria Benin Bronzes next year. These ancient works of art were looted in the 19th century and are currently on display in German museums. The developments in recent months are themselves the cumulative result of many years of difficult discussions and negotiations. The first formal request for the return of artifacts looted during the 1897 raid was made in 1936 by the Oba of Benin. The Benin Court and the Nigerian government then sought to secure the return of the Benin antiquities on various occasions since Nigeria's independence in 1960. In 2010 a multilateral international collaborative working group, known as the Benin Dialogue Group, was formed. The members are representatives of Western museums together with delegates of the Nigerian Government, the Royal Court of Benin, and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Its objectives are cooperation between museums that possess Nigerian cultural heritage in Western countries and the return of illegally obtained works of art, including the Benin Bronzes.
The engagement of these entities have been really important in the context of recent events.
In 2019, during a meeting of the group, the members decided to plan the establishment of a new museum to house the Bronzes. After this the Legacy Restoration Trust was founded to develop the new museum, the Edo Museum of West African Art. It has the goal to highlight, rediscover and protect the history and the cultural heritage of West African culture. So for now the German government and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments have signed a memorandum of understanding for the restitution of the artifacts of the royal palace of Benin. The agreement provides for the signing of a contract to be signed by the end of the year. It will transfer ownership of the Benin bronzes from German museums to Nigeria in the second quarter of 2022.
In 2017, French President Macron, during a visit to the Ki-Zerbo University of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), declared his commitment to make possible, within five years, the conditions for the temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage in France. This led to the report by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy who, on the official request of the president, on 23 November 2018 presented a long report on the French government's decision to return the works claimed by the Benin authorities. To make refunds possible, the French Parliament approved a law on 24 December 2020 that allows for derogations from the principle of inalienability of objects that are part of state collections. Underlying this commitment is the idea that Africans should have access to their heritage in Africa. The 26 objects from the royal treasures of the Danhomé kingdom and taken by the French during the Benin colonization war of 1890-1894 were on display at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris for a week, from 26 to 31 October. They have now been officially returned from France to Benin. The return of the works to Benin represents an important precedent that could soon lead to the conclusion of new returns from other European countries and beyond.
Restitution step by step
The hope is that this trend will continue in order to focus more on this form of decolonization, and this regardless of the requests for restitution by the countries of origin. It is not just a question of returning artifacts, but rather of recognizing the fact that countries, regions and communities of origin have the right to manage and preserve these artifacts. For all the parties involved it is a question of working in favor of a new shape and a new orientation of the museum, which is more permeable to external interest groups and which takes on wider social functions. To achieve this, close collaboration, exchange and knowledge transfer in both directions are required.
The “International system & World order - Africa” interviews Funmi Onolisakin from the King’s College in London. She is Vice President (Global Engagement) and Professor of Security, Leadership and Development at King’s. She is a founding member of the African Leadership Centre, She also worked in the Office of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. Funmi Onolisakin talks about the role of the African youth, the influences of the foreign countries, and the decisions that African politics should make in order to improve their future.
Interviewing Team: Michele Tallarini and Alessandra Gramolini.