In an article last week in the Ghanaian Chronicle, two parliamentarians called upon the media to educate the public on parliament’s role and procedures. This plea sounded very familiar after hearing similar statements from Ghanaian politicians interviewed last summer as part of the AudienceScapes project. Several of the policymakers complained that part of the challenge of communicating about development issues with the public is how little people understand the structure or responsibilities of the various government agencies working on key policy issues like health, education, agriculture, or trade. As one Ghanaian policymaker lamented, very few people know about key elements of the policy process including the decision-making process, budgeting, and actual government activities.
I was passing through Accra recently and while walking through the lobby of the hotel was stopped by a poster for a regional conference on Freedom of Information and at the same time ran into several colleagues and old friends. It was an interesting exercise to be very aware of an issue and personalities but be on the outside looking. The conference was well attended, drawn by the start power of former US president Jimmy Carter, his center and high level activist and political figures from Africa. The Carter Center which has been at the forefront of this work is able to draw attention to and raise the profile of the issue in West Africa.
But what did it all mean to local people? When I asked Ghanaians working or staying at the hotel about the conference, there was very high recognition but mostly it was linked to former President Carter. But the issue drew little recognition or excitement. Ghana did announce that after years of languishing on the books an FOI bill would be introduced into Parliament. But to the people outside of the conference this would have little impact on their daily lives. Their worries were much more about food, shelter, safety, schooling and the actions of the government in power on their lives.
Development Marketplace 2009 finalist MacDuff Phiri of Ghana (photo at right) didn’t collect a winner’s crystal globe at the Nov. 13 awards ceremony in Washington. But he didn't return home empty-handed. Phiri, whose project would make crop insurance affordable for struggling small farmers in Ghana’s drought-stricken Upper West Region, said in an email to one of his new friends from the "100 ideas to save the planet" competition: “My presence and just being able to network with all the other participants and great people like yourself was a great achievement in itself.”
There are 73 other finalists who didn't win either. What do they especially remember, even treasure, from their week at the competition? What's next for their projects, which were among the 6 percent that survived all the way to the finals? We'll be putting questions like those to them over the next days, and share their answers here.
How do you provide vital information and literacy training to people with limited access to either -- especially if they are located in rural parts of Africa? Cliff Schmidt, the founder of Literacy Bridge, recently stopped by the World Bank to discuss his work in northern Ghana to help investigate answers to this question. Most groups seeking to harness the power of information and communication technologies in developing countries in support of such objectives pilot test their 'solutions' where it is easiest to do so -- often in (reasonably) well-off urban or suburban settings (often buidling off prior experience using such technologies in OECD countries). Literacy Bridge is notable in that it prioritizes helping people with the greatest challenges, rather than focusing on the easiest to reach.
The 'Talking Book' is a low-cost audio device device with recording capabilities -- imagine a rubbery MP3 player about the size of a grapefuit -- rather ingeniously engineered (and re-engineered) to meet specific needs and usage scenarios in very poor communities in Africa. It is designed for use in local languages, using locally produced content, as tool to promote literacy among primary school children (to cite just one goal and target group). One way to think of the device, Cliff said, is as a 'small portable computer without a display'. While the project is still in its pilot stages, it is notable for its express interest in investigating solutions that are low cost and scalable from the beginning, and in rigorously monitoring and evaluating the impact of its interventions.
The author, Kwasi Owusu Gyeabour, won third place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. He answered the question “How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.
“There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.” -James Baldwin (1924 - 1987) Nobody Knows My Name, "Faulkner and Desegregation”
It is a privilege to be called on to share ideas on issues of our time, issues that can be solved through youthful action. In my essay, “Greening the Ghanaian Youth” I proposed several ideas that would help tackle climate change. Here is a sample of the ones I consider most practical.
Youth action at the community level is the most potent force in our fight against rapid climate change. So I proposed the establishment of a Green Sector Mutual Fund. This community-based fund will invest in firms that operate in the green/environmental sector. Now I consider this feasible because I have friends who have established mutual funds such as the University of Ghana Campus Mutual Fund which have turned out successful. The success of a fund mostly depends on factors such as advertising and the prestige and market reach of the fund managers. Most asset management firms these days would jump at the opportunity to manage something ethical just to create a sense of social responsibility and goodwill.
"... we must first recognize a fundamental truth that you have given life to in Ghana: development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans. ... In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples' lives. ... Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions."
President of the United States
in a speech to the Ghanaian Parliament in Accra, Ghana, on July 11, 2009
Experts on youth and employment from Ghana, Kenya, Mali, and Colombia met on Saturday as the Spring Meetings got underway to discuss the growing problem of youth unemployment in Africa. The high-level panel, chaired by Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank vice president for the Africa Region, agreed that there are no easy solutions to the problem.
“Youth in urban areas are looking for jobs alongside thousands of others from the same schools, while rural youth are flooding into the cities looking for work,” said Sanoussi Toure, the Minister of Finance of Mali. “This is a tragedy. Our policies favor investment in education and training, but this investment has not led to job creation.”
Key points that came out of the meeting included:
- There are no easy solutions to the problem of youth unemployment.
- Youth employment has to be part of the growth strategy of every African country.
- Employment policies need to favor investment in education and training.
The panel also included Mauricio Cárdenas, former Colombian Minister of Transport and Economic Planning. Cárdenas talked about the outcomes of two youth programs Colombia put in place during his country's economic crisis in the late 1990s, when external shocks drove unemployment from 10 to 20 percent, and youth unemployment to 30 percent.
It is clear that youth unemployment in Africa needs to be addressed from many entry points, Ezekwesili said in her concluding remarks.
“The profile of unemployed youth has to enter the way we think, just as gender has. Youth need to be effectively targeted in everything we do, so that they will have a stake in the future,” Ezekwesili said.
As you must know, Ghana has just had a remarkable transfer of power from one party to another in spite of how close the contest was. A new president has been sworn in and the country is looking to the future as a stable democracy. From the perspective of this blog, two things have been striking.
First, the global news media have been all over the story. All the leading journals of opinion have published stories and opinion pieces saluting Ghana's achievement. It is also interesting how often the stories have been framed as one hopeful sign of progress coming out of Africa. You can feel the collective sigh of relief . And the reason that is interesting is that there is still a debate out there regarding the extent to which liberal constitutional democracy is a universal form of rule, not dependent on specific cultures. Ghana is saying Africans too can build a democratic political culture as well as anybody.
My attention has been tickled by the news that at the recent High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana, donors apparently agreed to launch an initiative known as the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Under the initiative, according to the DFID press release on the subject, donors have agreed to give:
- Full and detailed information on all aid in each country affected
- Details and costs of individual projects and their aims
- Reliable information on future aid to improve planning by recipient governments.
I hope the initiative will be seriously implemented. But it will not be easy. And the main reason it will not be easy is that the instinct of the technocracy that dominates every aspect of international development is to be non-transparent.