Having spent some of my formative years on the African continent, I can attest to the fact that the frequency of power blackouts desensitized citizenry to the point that power outages were neither a cause of despair nor excitement but just another mundane facet of everyday life. Power outages remain common phenomena throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa owing to various reasons such as low capacity output, over-reliance on volatile sources of energy, outdated machinery, mismatched pricing, energy theft, low collection rates, among other reasons. Over 30 countries in the continent have suffered power shortages in recent years, with detrimental economic effects including lost revenues, typically ranging between 1 and 4 percent of GDP.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to harnessing technology for economic development is addressing the digital divide. How can we do so? This is a big question and to answer it comprehensively by looking at all the work on this area is beyond the scope of this blog. However let’s look at a few obvious ways of overcoming the digital divide:
(1) Development projects that focus on, and are relevant to the poor. The Monitoring of Integrated Farm Household Analysis Project (IFHAP) was conducted every five years from 1996 to 2007 in the thirty-three (33) major rice- producing provinces in the Philippines. The study noted the potential of mobile phones as key tool for information dissemination in agriculture as they are widely owned. In 2007, 90% of the farm households surveyed owned at least one mobile phone. I agree with the authors of this study that while policy, infrastructure, and digital divide do indeed aid in assessing readiness; a social dimension is also present, which we ignore at our own peril.
So say 87% of the respondents in a survey used by Dupas and Robinson in an interesting forthcoming paper on what happens when you help people get set up with bank accounts in Kenya. And, as we will see, this problem seems to be particularly acute for women.
No one said it’s easy to run a randomized experiment!
Imagine you are a poor child from Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, and have a dream to become a soccer star. Some young players come close to this dream when the International School (ISK) in Nairobi hosts its annual “Nairobi Mini World Cup”.
The Mini World Cup started after ISK’s Principal of the Elementary School, Patricia Salleh Matta, introduced a Saturday sports program three years ago and opened the school not just to its own students but to many communities around the school.
My 11-year-old son Marco and I have a passion for soccer (we call it football). In order to advance the game at ISK, where he goes, I got involved in coaching and eventually became the school’s “Soccer Commissioner.” As such, my main task is to organize soccer tournaments. The highlight of our year is the annual "Nairobi Mini World Cup," which has become a fixture for many schools and soccer clubs in the city.
I was recently in a fascinating conversation with Yenny Wahid, peace advocate and former special adviser on political communication to two Indonesian Presidents. We were attending the closing dinner of BMW Foundation’s 10th Europe-Asia Young Leaders Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia a few days ago. Over an eclectic spread of local and foreign delicacies, we had a wide ranging discussion on what Southeast Asian countries can learn from each other in areas such as governance and anti-corruption, interreligious dialogue, and the role of political communication in engaging citizens and cultivating informed public opinion on issues of public consequence. We also talked about the broader challenges of cultivating social and political norms in sustaining support for public policies that tend to be contentious and controversial.
Does improved human capital empower girls? An interesting paper by Willa Friedman, Michael Kremer, Ted Miguel, and Rebecca Thornton give us some insight into the answers.
“Tuberculosis was a silent killer a few years ago,” says Rogers, a community health worker at the Kangemi Health Center, which assists people living with TB to receive effective treatment in a sprawling settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Community health workers like Rogers are a vital link between patients and medical providers and are well respected and trusted. They educate, enlighten, and empower patients and people in the wider community. They work with the local area chiefs in mobilizing communities in the fight against TB. Rogers proudly notes that he actively identifies TB cases, provides home-based care, and traces people defaulting on treatment, all critical elements in managing TB at the community level.
Detection and management of TB are critical in Africa, where roughly a quarter million TB deaths were reported in 2010. The continent accounts for about one-quarter of the global TB burden and is facing challenges in meeting the Millennium Development Goal of reducing 1990 TB mortality rates by half by 2015. However, there is also reason for hope on TB control in Africa, as seen in communities like Kangemi. In Kenya, with support from government and partners, including the World Bank (Health Sector Support Project, Total War Against HIV/AIDS Project, East Africa Public Health Laboratory Networking Project), activities are underway to strengthen the availability of drugs, channel funds directly to lower level health centers , and improve access to the latest diagnostic tools for detecting TB. “The state-of-the-art diagnostics will go a long way to turn the tide on this pandemic,” notes Lucy Chesire, Executive Director of the TB Action Group in Nairobi. “Patients will no longer wait months to get results.”
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An hour down a dirt road stands the most beautiful natural treasure in Kenya’s Western Province—the Kakamega Forest. The forest is a fraction of its former size, and it grows smaller every day because of the insatiable demand for firewood.
Imagine things are looking up for you. You are running your own business transporting and selling charcoal to retailers in the area, your husband has a steady job, and together you own real estate which you rent out. Then, your husband dies – your in-laws and your husband’s kinsmen take all of the assets and are entitled to do so under law. You are left with nothing to rebuild your life and provide for your child. This is what happened to Anna in Kenya. Her story is not uncommon. Women’s rights groups in Kenya have been pushing for change and finally, with the institution of a new Constitution in August of 2010, their rights will be protected. This Constitution, the main purpose of which was to limit the powers of the executive, has risen from the ashes of ethnic violence following elections in 2007 in which over 1,100 people are believed to have been killed.
In terms of broad legal principles relating to women’s rights, Kenya’s new Constitution has two reforms. The first, is that customary law, still recognized in Kenya alongside codified law and common law, is no longer exempt from constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination based on gender. As a result, discriminatory inheritance practices such as those that disinherited Anna will come under increased legal scrutiny. The second, is that in addition to gender being a prohibited ground for discrimination, protections were strengthened with a clause mandating equality based on gender, and a clause providing that parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during marriage and at the dissolution of marriage. In addition, Kenya has instituted specific provisions, so that Kenyan women can now pass citizenship to their spouses and children on equal footing with Kenyan men. The latter, a huge achievement as it empowers the other half of the population with the same right, is something many countries still continue to prohibit wives and mothers to do.