Challenging the statistics quo

SDG overview: the statistics

Citizens across the continent should demand more and better data to stimulate a healthy debate about the role of ‘good numbers’ in political accountability.

Actors in New York, September 2015, stage a tug-of-war between the rich and the poor to depict the world’s struggle against inequality. Photo: DON EMMERT / AFP

In June 2011, Shanta Devarajan, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Development Economics (DEC), published an article, Africa’s Statistical Tragedy. The piece detailed how the continent was suffering from faulty statistics, which informed wrong policy decisions. The author noted that the main problem with African statistics was the weak capacity of the continent’s countries in collecting, managing and disseminating data. National statistical bodies around the continent were inadequately funded and their responsibilities were often unclear. Moreover, statistical research in many African countries was “fundamentally political”, he argued, citing the case of poverty estimates. When statistical studies of this kind were conducted during an election year, for instance, they were likely to be kept under wraps. This problem is one reason why development partners such as the United Nations have in the recent past questioned whether African countries are capable of monitoring the progress of their policy commitments. In particular, questions have been posed on how Africa can monitor its progress in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include some 169 targets and 229 statistical indicators. Devarajan pointed out that many African countries on the continent had found it difficult to do the same for the Millennium Development Goals, which included 60 monitoring indicators. Devarajan called on African countries to make their data open, accessible and transparent, and to put in place standards whereby statistical activities are filtered through clearly articulated national sustainable development strategies. But the Director General of Rwanda’s statistics bureau, Yusuf Murangwa, observes that milestones in achieving better statistics are being reached, and are increasingly used to inform development.

This is related to growing interest in an evidence-based policy approach, coupled with ideas associated with the “management by results” paradigm. The Paris Declaration in 2005, which provides for a series of specific implementation measures and establishes a monitoring system to ensure that donors and recipients hold each other accountable for their commitments, and the Busan Declaration in 2011, which highlights a set of common principles for all development actors that are key to making development cooperation effective, have also motivated international agencies to put reliable statistical measurement at the heart of their monitoring and evaluation of development support. The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) has recently set out to improve its statistical methodologies, with the technical assistance of the World Bank, thereby providing sound guidance on strategies to tame poverty, Murangwa told Africa in Fact. He added that other African countries would need “consistent, regular and reliable statistics” to monitor and evaluate their SDGs performance, as well as contributing to measuring the progress of democracy and governance around the continent. Rwanda set out to clean up its statistical capacity after the World Bank detected inconsistencies between two measures of inflation in the 2010/11 and 2013/14 fiscal years, at a time when the country was coming up with plans to reduce poverty. Specifically, it turned out that the consumer price index (CPI) and the NISR price index – the so-called cost of living indicator – were not in harmony. Governments, and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, must allocate their development resources on the basis of reliable data, says Morten Jerven, an economic historian and professor in development studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

He argues that reliable statistics – including such basic elements to every economy as estimates of economic growth rates and per-capita income – are crucial to government operations in developing countries. His book Poor Numbers, which details how the world is misled by African development statistics, argues that developing countries have not been using statistics effectively to implement and monitor SDGs. “The paucity of accurate statistics is not merely a technical problem,” Jerven told Africa In Fact, “it is having a massive impact on the welfare of citizens.” African statistics “substantially misstate the actual state of affairs,” he added, with the result that inadequate resources are misapplied and development policy does not deliver the benefits expected. The problem is not so much a matter of sheer incapacity, Jerven argues. Rather, it involves the massaging of statistics by authorities, and therefore “misrepresentation of facts”. Yet without accurate statistics, African countries will be unable to evaluate and attain their transformational targets, the SDGs included. As an example he cites the recent rebasing of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, which resulted in supposedly higher GDP numbers for these countries. This might have had a feel-good effect, but it was otherwise of no significance to citizens. “The revised GDP numbers raise a lot of new questions,” he says. “What about the poverty statistics? If GDP is higher, how come poverty head counts are still higher than they were before?” Citizens should demand more and better data, says Jerven, to stimulate a healthy debate around Africa about the role of “good numbers” in political accountability. “Journalists and media should also engage African academics, African think tanks and African non-governmental organisations to facilitate a rich and diverse debate on the role of statistics and data in development.”

But the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a UN think tank that mobilises global scientific and technological expertise to stimulate practical solutions for sustainable development, says it can be burdensome for African countries to monitor SDGs. The body has estimated that tracking the SDGs would cost African countries about one billion dollars a year for the period running from 2015 to 2030. Half of this cost could be shouldered by development partners, but the remaining cost “greatly exceeds” the financial capacities of many African states, as well as the sums already allocated to respective national statistical offices from international aid, SDSN noted in a 2015 report on SDG monitoring and statistical capacity development. However, African countries could cover the budgetary load by using innovative approaches to data collection. This is especially the case with the emergence of big data and open data, which SDSN says should be integrated into official statistical production methods over time, reducing costs and fostering efficiencies. Other innovations would include using satellite imagery and mobile devices to track population movements. The latter approach, for instance, could be used to support the treatment of malaria. It is worth noting that open data is improving the availability of statistical numbers for development and, more specifically, for monitoring SDGs. According to the Open Data Institute, a United Kingdom based non-profit company, open data is helping countries across the globe in combating development challenges, both as a tool for measuring progress and in finding solutions. Open data can help in effectively targeting aid money, as well as in tracking development progress and preventing corruption, according to the organisation.

Open data has been used to support smarter city planning in Rio de Janeiro, streamline emergency responses in the Philippines, map the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and help parents to assess school performance in Tanzania. We live in an era when states’ de facto quasi-monopoly on statistical production is being challenged, says Dr Julius Kones, a statistics lecturer at the University of Nairobi. Public and private entities can, and must, work together to produce reliable indicators covering progress relating to the implementation of the SDGs. As an example of the devolution of statistics and how this can inform development in African countries, police officers in Burkina Faso are using geo-localised data on mobile phones to monitor road accidents, says Professor Emmanuel Bonnet of the Institute of Research for Development based in Marseille, France. This approach can also be used in other fields such as health care to monitor epidemics, or in governance to monitor political violence or natural disasters, he notes. Africa’s national statistical offices play an important role in the collection, coordination, reporting and validation of statistics relating to the SDGs, says Francis Atwoli, Secretary-General of Kenya’s Central Organisation of Trade Unions. Reliable, timely, consistent and comparable data represented the “spinal cord” of all efforts to measure and monitor progress towards sustainable development in Africa. As part of monitoring the continent’s progress towards implementing the SDGs, national statistical offices must provide international agencies such as the International Labour Organization with accurate data, which relies on the correct identification of appropriate data sources and methodologies, Atwoli added.

The national statistical offices of some countries in Africa have begun developing SDG reporting platforms. In Kenya, for instance, the reporting platforms include data submission portals that allow different providers to submit data that contributes to the indicator data bases, as well as dissemination portals that allow users to access tables, documents and publications. In Tanzania, the National Bureau of Statistics has started an ambitious plan, which seeks to domesticate SDG agendas. Among the prominent sectors where the domestication is being felt is health, where the statistics body has managed to rally the participation of local government authorities (LGAs) and stakeholders to define how national health targets can be aligned to SDGs. It has also lobbied for increased and innovative financing to support the agenda, targeting an increase in health sector spending in the national budget by 3%, increasing enrolment in the country’s health training institutions by 5,000 and improving recruitment, deployment and retention of health personnel, particularly in maternal and child health. Morris Aron, a Nairobi-based statistician and economist, says that African countries have begun to appreciate the role that verifiable and consistent numbers play in deepening their understanding of development. More accurate statistics are now providing evidence for the monitoring, follow-up and review of the SDGs and their related targets, as well as helping to inform countries’ development agendas, he argues. Improved data is already helping Kenya’s capacity to address its housing shortage, says Charles Hinga, the country’s housing and urban development principal secretary. “With reliable data, we have managed to map out areas that need urgent attention in terms of housing,” Hinga told Africa In Fact.

To support this, the Kenyan parliament has ratified a housing levy, which will come into effect in May 2019. The levy will see employees contributing 1.5% of their monthly salary to the new housing scheme, with employers paying the same amount, though the total monthly contribution of both sums together is capped at Ksh5,000 ($50). Kenyans have criticised the plan, saying that the funds will end up being stolen. Hinga says the aim is to ensure access to safe and affordable housing by upgrading slum settlements, as well as to free up congested urban spaces, thus making the country’s cities “safe and sustainable”. Some critics have questioned the data used in informing the housing project, with some bringing law suits against the government in relation to it. On 16 April this year, following a case filed by the Consumers Federation of Kenya and the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, the labour court issued orders temporarily stopping the government from implementing the 1% levy for the housing fund. In their application the two organisations claimed it was “unreasonable to compel citizens who will not secure a house to contribute towards house ownership by another person without corresponding benefits”. But Hinga says that the housing and urban development department is “working closely” with the Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) to improve housing statistics. The KNBS Director-General, Zachary Mwangi, says it is working to “increase substantially the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographical location, among other characteristics relevant in national contexts, by 2020.

”In March 2017, the Cape Town Global Action Plan on Sustainable Development Data, which proposes solid actions that will support countries in meeting the challenges of providing statistics for SDGs, was adopted by the UN Statistical Commission. Says Hinga, “The plan guides national statistics offices in providing data on global SDG indicators, to prop up the review and follow-up of progress towards SDGs.” In 2017, the UN Economic Commission for Europe developed a document known as the Road Map to support national statistical offices in contributing to the realisation of SDGs. It establishes mechanisms for international collaboration, assesses data gaps, develops national indicators and provides data on global SDG indicators, statistical capacity building and communication. Mwangi says national statistical offices have a key role to play in realising the SDG dream in African countries – measuring progress in relation to the SDGs. “Agenda 2030 says that the annual progress report on the SDGs prepared by the UN Secretary- General in partnership with the international statistical system will be based on global indicators and data produced by national statistical systems,” he says. Monitoring progress in relation to the SDGs and their respective associated targets will need close collaboration between statisticians and policymakers, Mwangi insists. To this end, statisticians need to be involved from the beginning in preparing national action plans and the selection of national indicators. In most East African countries the selection of national and sub-national objectives and measures is currently the responsibility of policymakers, with the support of statisticians. On the other hand, according to Mwangi, the selection of indicators and the determination of methodologies and data sources are the responsibility of statisticians in consultation with policymakers.

At the fifth International Conference on Big Data for official statistics held in Kigali, Rwanda between April 29 and May 3 this year, it was heard that big data could help in monitoring and appraising Africa’s development. Prominently featured in the conference was the fact that African countries could employ new data sources and new technologies to monitor SDGs. By embracing big data and modern technology, Jonathon W Ross of Geoscience Australia, the government’s technical adviser on geoscience, and custodian of the geographic and geological data and knowledge of the nation, said African countries would be able to tell how the planet was changing in terms of its land, atmosphere, cities, towns and villages. “Such an innovation has been used in Uganda, where early warning for crop failure has been used to enhance livelihoods and food security,” said Ross. To foster this two-way collaboration, national governments will need to designate a specific body to handle the SDG measurement system, he argues. This would help to improve information exchange, discussions about the implementation of accepted methodologies, and consistency in the work of all stakeholders. National coordinating bodies of this kind would also foster discussions between government agencies and international organisations on issues relating to data collection and analysis of SDG indicators, keep stakeholders abreast of statistical activities in the field of data collection and analysis, and boost coordination and joint advocacy activities around data collection with a specific focus on the SDGs.

Edmund Oduor is an economist and a statistician with more than 15 years’ experience in data analysis. He runs an independent research firm in Nairobi, Kenya, that consults on trade, regional integration and infrastructure.

A long way to go

SDG 16: Peace, justice and inclusive societies

Despite some improvements, sexual minority rights in Africa are still treated with minimal respect

Members of the South African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community chant slogans as they take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade, as part of the three-day Durban Pride Festival, on June 30, 2018 in Durban. Photo: RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP

By Geoffrey Ogwaro

We are now into the fourth year of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by UN member states, headed fast towards 2030, the year in which they should have achieved the stipulated goals. The SDGs came into effect on January 1, 2016, and they are particularly relevant for sexual and gender minority (or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – LGBT) rights, particularly with reference to SDG 16. Through SDG 16, UN member states have committed themselves to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels,” according to the UN SDG founding document, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG 16 is particularly important because it mentions the key word “inclusivity” twice – in reference to inclusive societies and to inclusive, effective and accountable institutions. Clearly, this goal applies also with respect to LGBT human rights in Africa. SDG 16’s subgoals include, among others, efforts to: reduce violence and deaths by a significant level; advance the rule of law and ensure equal access to justice for all; build functioning and accountable institutions; and promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws. Each of these is relevant to the discussion around LGBT violence, access to justice and LGBT human rights in general. These goals could not have been more relevant given the history of LGBT rights in Africa. In the second half of the first SDG decade, some African countries have deliberately and consciously decriminalised same-sex sexual acts – Mozambique in 2015, Seychelles in 2016 and Angola in 2019.

Another milestone within the same period was a resolution adopted on 20 May, 2014 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (HCHPR), which spoke directly to the issue of violence against people who are LGBT in member states. Resolution 275, which affords “protection against violence and other human rights violations against persons on the basis of their real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity” was adopted by all member states that have also ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The African Commission expressed alarm that “acts of violence, discrimination and other human rights violations” continued to be committed against LGBT individuals in many parts of Africa. It noted that these violations included “corrective” rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail. The resolution also expressed concern over the incidences of violence and human rights violations by state and non-state actors against human rights defenders who work on issues of LGBT rights in Africa. It further expressed concern over the fact that law enforcement agencies rarely diligently investigated and prosecuted perpetrators who violated the human rights of LGBT individuals. The resolution concludes by calling on state parties to create an enabling environment for LGBT human rights defenders to work free of stigma, reprisals or criminal prosecution. It urges states to commit to ending violence by state and non-state actors and to enacting and diligently enforcing appropriate laws prohibiting and punitively dealing with violence against LGBT people.

And it requires states to ensure the proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators and establishing judicial processes responsive to the special needs of victims. The above expressions of concern regarding violence and killings perpetrated against LGBT people in Africa, and the commensurate commitments of the SDG 16 goals, should not be seen in a vacuum but within a statistical context. There have been numerous media reports of violence against LGBT people on the continent. Between 2007 and 2013, more than 100 LGBT people were arbitrarily arrested and detained, sentenced based on laws that prohibit same sex sexual acts, killed, raped or assaulted by both state actors and non-state actors across a number of African countries. These even included South Africa, which has comparatively progressive laws protecting the right to equality for LGBT people. According to a 2016 study of levels of discrimination among LGBT people in South Africa by OUT, a non-profit organisation based in Pretoria that provides direct health services to the LGBT community, some 55% of those surveyed reported the fear of experiencing discrimination in everyday life, while some 56% overall reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity while at school. The figures were even higher in some instances. Some 79% of respondents in the province of KwaZulu-Natal reported discrimination at school, while 70% of respondents in the Eastern Cape reported such discrimination. In many instances, judicial and law enforcement institutions were not perceived as a source of protection, with many respondents perceiving judicial and law enforcement bodies as discriminatory with regard to LGBT cases.

According to the 2016 study, some 88% of the LGBT people surveyed said they had never reported incidents to the police. The reasons given ranged from non-action by the police to the police themselves being perpetrators. Violations against LGBT people continue on a yearly basis across the continent. However, formalised statistics on these violations are still relatively rare. While we do not have a complete evidence base in relation to LGBT violations across the continent, we increasingly have large LGBT-related data at a regional level. For example, in terms of violence in schools we have a 2016 global report by UNESCO on homophobia and transphobia in schools across five countries in southern Africa. According to the report, “students and teachers in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland reveal extremely high levels of violence in schools”, including gender-based violence and bullying. In the South African context, we have demographically representative national survey data on attitudes towards LGBT people, including reported levels of violence or intention to commit violence against LGBT people. We have similar emerging data in relation to violence experienced by LGBT people when attempting to access health care across the continent. In short, the evidence base is growing. African states need to take their commitment to SDG 16 and Resolution 275 seriously as we move towards reducing violence and other human rights violations against LGBT people on the continent. Both the SDGs and Resolution 275 represent essential commitments by the UN and the African Commission to respect and defend the rights of “ the last and least of society” – LGBT people. Additionally, African states are called to the challenge. How inclusive are they willing to be in their commitment towards eradicating violence and ensuring access to justice for all?

Geoffrey Ogwaro is the manager of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Unit at the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria and a doctoral student researching access to justice for LGBT people in the equality courts of South Africa. He is also co-founder of the West Nile Rainbow Initiative, a registered community-based LGBT rights organisation working in the West Nile region of Uganda.

A country in transition

SDG 16: Peace, justice and inclusive societies

Liberian civil society is working to build peace, justice and inclusivity

Nobel peace laureate Leymah Gbowee, head of Liberia’s Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), stands in front of a sign calling for peaceful elections in the country’s capital Monrovia ahead of voting in October 2017. Photo: ZOOM DOSSO / AFP

By Lesley Connolly

In 2015, as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era came to a conclusion, world leaders gathered at the UN to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and composed 17 global goals to be achieved by 2030. The agenda builds on the MDGs with one new addition – Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 – which aims to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. The goal includes 10 targets, including a reduction in all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere, the promotion of the rule of law at national and international levels to ensure equal access to justice, ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms according to national legislation and international agreements. As part of their reporting on the 2030 Agenda, countries are expected to voluntarily review implementation of specific goals each year and present outcomes at the High-level Political Forum, which is held each year in New York. In July 2019, at the fourth High Level Political Forum, 51 member states will review SDG 16 for the first time. The event will build up to the SDG summit in September this year, at which leaders will conduct the first four-yearly review of all 17 SDGs and decide on commitments to be delivered upon in the next review cycle. While the inclusion of SDG 16 demonstrates important progress in understanding international peace and the growing nature of conflict, violence and suffering globally, progress measurement is proving a major challenge.

However, without an effective show on the progress on SDG 16 there is a risk of a narrowing focus around the issues of the rule of law and justice, rather than focusing on the wide range of factors involved in achieving peaceful societies. It will be vital to demonstrate progress and results, mobilise actions to accelerate implementation, build the movement for peaceful, just and inclusive societies, and consolidate links to all 17 SDGs in the buildup to July 2019, at the forum itself and the subsequent SDG summit. This article will show how SDG 16 is being implemented in a country context by focusing on the work done by Liberian civil society organisations to build a peaceful, just and inclusive society, and thus make progress towards the implementation of SDG 16. Liberia is currently a country in transition. On 22 January, 2018, President George Weah was sworn in as Liberia’s new president, replacing then President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This was the “first handover of presidential power following an inclusive and competitive election since Liberia’s establishment as a republic in 1847”, according to a 2016 special report by the UN Secretary-General on the organisation’s mission in Liberia. While the new government is working to implement a newly completed national development plan, civil society in Liberia is working to sustain the peaceful gains of the past and, directly or indirectly, to achieve the SDG 16 targets. These initiatives include innovative practices aimed at meeting the targets.In a post-conflict context, Liberian civil society has created a number of peacebuilding mechanisms that have contributed to stability in the country, upholding the peace and preventing the outbreak of violence (SDG 16.1).

In the build-up to the 2017 elections, the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) Liberia, active in Liberia since 1998, established the Election Situation Room as part of the Liberia Elections Early Warning and Response Group, supported by the UN and the government of Liberia. This platform is part of the WARN system managed by WANEP and operational throughout the West Africa region, which monitors the socio-political situation and feeds information quickly to Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other policymakers for response. Using this system, community members can safely and anonymously identify and report on conflict indicators. During the 2017 presidential elections it helped to quickly defuse tense situations by sending community leaders to mediate among parties or to dispel rumours as they arose. It was a vital tool in defusing tensions following petitions to the Liberian Supreme Court over the voters roll in November 2017, bringing together the UN, regional organisations, international partners and civil society organisations to jointly monitor election dynamics and issue early warning reports. This platform can be moved quickly around the country as needs be. Human development indicators in Liberia remain low, with 95% of the country lacking access to clean water and only 20% having access to electricity, according to the World Bank. Close to 65% of Liberia’s population is under the age of 25. Unemployment is widespread, and just over 50% of the population lives in poverty. Living conditions in the capital, Monrovia, are considerably better than in the rural areas. Young people face hurdles, including an overall literacy rate of 54.47%, with many more males (64.66%) illiterate than females (43.97%). President Weah ran on a campaign of increasing employment rapidly; a promise he has not yet met. Frustrations are growing daily, especially among younger people.

Camps for Peace Liberia (CFP-Liberia) was established in 2005 with the goal of strengthening the capacity of key members of the youth community, addressing issues of inequality, and filling gaps the government is unable to address. CFPLiberia focuses on the promotion of a culture of non-violence, reconciliation, the promotion of education, and creating awareness of accountable governance and social transformation. The organisation worked closely with ECOWAS in the run-up to the recent election to advance awareness around the election and promote nonviolent tactics, helping to prevent violence (SDG 16.1), sharing information (SDG 16.10), representing itself as an accountable and transparent institution (SDG 16.6) and operating open decision-making processes (SDG 16.7). As part of that effort, CFPLiberia identified young people in the community as “peace ambassadors” who monitored communities in the run-up and around the elections and liaised with the early warning centres established by ECOWAS, and reported any potentially risky activities. The organisation’s example meets a direct need in society and at the same time engages much of society in a constructive manner. It is a model of peace-building and conflict prevention, which should be further strengthened and supported by national, regional and international authorities, with civil society also participating in key policy and decision-making. Given Liberia’s conflict-affected past, access to justice is a central issue for many citizens. The country never had a formal process of transitional or criminal justice. Civil society organisations have been working to support access to justice and the implementation of rule-of-law initiatives (SDG 16.3), especially for women in the countryside (SDG 16.B). Currently, women, youth and rural populations still face significant hurdles in pursuing livelihoods with freedom from want or fear.

Women and girls face substantial rates of sexual and gender-based violence and national legislation has lagged: domestic violence legislation was only passed in August 2017 (Sirleaf’s last executive order was to prohibit female genital mutilation). Seeking to increase understanding of, and access to, justice and rule of law actors in rural counties, the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) created the Peace Huts – an informal network comprising an estimated 23,000 individual members based in 13 of Liberia’s 15 counties. The Peace Huts aim to address women’s inequalities by providing safe spaces where women can express themselves on reconciliation and peacebuilding, as well as gain support for their economic empowerment. With a presence across the country, the Peace Huts offer access and empowerment to marginalised communities that the UN cannot reach. This initiative was inspired by the Palava Hut process, a traditional conflict resolution method, and addresses needs not done so by the government. It directly supports SDG 16.3 in providing support to access to justice and the rule of law through the country. Weah’s electoral campaign promised that corruption would be addressed, that the private sector would be engaged, that government would create jobs, especially for young people, and that government would improve transparency and respect for rights and democracy, according to a 2018 article by Stephen D. Kollie in African Arguments. But, at the time of writing, it’s been a year since he took office, and concern is growing about the lack of delivery. As a means of monitoring corruption, NAYMOTE-Partners for Democratic Development, a civil society organisation, has created a platform called the Presidential Meter Project, which tracks the rate of implementation of Weah’s campaign promises.

It released its first annual report in January 2019, timed to coincide with the president’s annual message to the nation, outlining areas of progress or of lack of implementation and delivery over the past year. The project aims to provide citizens with information on the status of the government’s activities, thereby encouraging civil engagement and action to hold government accountable to the promises it makes. Initiatives such as this play an important role in fostering government accountability and transparency, while providing information to citizens. This role is especially important in the context of new leadership because it demonstrates that a robust civil society network can call out abuse – an important feature of a peaceful, just and inclusive society. In implementing SDG 16, much of the focus is on efforts at a national level to incorporate the targets and indicators into national development plans and monitoring frameworks. However, civil society is making significant efforts to strengthen institutions, reduce corruption, build transparent governance processes, and provide social services and justice, as has been shown by the Liberian case study. All of these initiatives contribute to building and sustaining peace, preventing the outbreak of violence and thus working towards implementation of SDG 16. To successfully report on SDG 16, national actors need to find ways to connect with a wide variety of stakeholders, notably civil society, to examine all streams of work in a society working towards SDG 16. While the implementation of the SDGs is a country-owned and nationally led process, international actors can offer support in gathering information and connecting this to the indicators within SDG 16.

Organisations such as the Tap Network have developed tool kits, providing guidance on how civil society can engage with their governments and other local, regional or international stakeholders to support the planning, implementation, follow-up and accountability of Goal 16. The 16 + Forum, which includes G7+ countries, Australia, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Denmark, Georgia, Guatemala, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, and has the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) as its secretariat, offers a forum for various stakeholders, though primarily governments and civil society, to showcase solutions and opportunities. The Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies is a coordinating platform for UN member states, the private sector, civil society and international entities to work together to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies. It helps governments gather the data needed to report on SDG 16 by supporting processes which bring together government, civil society and the private sector in different countries to share data and monitoring processes, enabling the evidence-based and joint action needed for transformative change. It is well known that the policy language is complex, and an element of translation is needed to ensure policies are understood at local and national levels – and that local and national initiatives are translated into this language. Policy institutions like the International Peace Institute, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation work to translate policy into practice and vice versa.

Effective policy translation is central to connecting initiatives on the ground with SDG 16’s policy-based indicators. The policy language gap and the lack of data to show progress are two of the most severe challenges in reporting progress on SDG 16. As mentioned, the High Level Political Forum will meet in July this year and initiate the next four-year reporting cycle in relation to the 2030 Agenda. All of us who work towards peace, justice and accountable, effective institutions need to continue to contribute our best support efforts to show progress on SDG 16.

Lesley Connolly is a senior policy analyst at the International Peace Institute. Her work focuses on peacebuilding, prevention and sustaining peace. Within this, she works to bridge the “local global” gap by testing policy frameworks in different country contexts and sharing evidence from the ground of what works to build and sustain peace. Lesley holds a MA in International Relations and International Law from New York University.

 

The plastics menace

SDG 14: life below water

More than a dozen African countries have either adopted or proposed a ban on polythene bags

A sea turtle tries to eat a plastic bag. Photo: iStock.com

By Zipporah Musau

Oceans are home to the most spectacular life. Beneath the blue waters and beyond the beautiful beaches are millions of colourful creatures and vegetation that make our seas and oceans ever so rich in variety. More than three billion people around the globe depend on this marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods – hence the importance of careful management of the water bodies for a sustainable future. SDG 14, life below water, calls for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources, which cover three quarters of the earth’s surface and contain 97% of the our planet’s water. SDG 14 aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, especially from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution. But one of the biggest threats to our oceans and seas is plastic pollution; according to the United Nations there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items such as bags and bottles. Renowned American oceanographer Sylvia Earle has studied the sea extensively for more than 60 years. She has logged more than 7,000 hours in the deepest oceans, researching and filming marine life since her first dive at the age of 16, and in the 1980s was the first woman chief scientist of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earle now faces a challenge greater than the round-the-world oceanographic cruise she undertook in 1964 or the 1970 experiment for which she and her all-female crew spent two weeks in an underwater capsule on a coral reef. She is rallying the world to save the seas, which now face the deadliest of threats to their existence – as do the millions of global citizens whose survival depends on them.

From her “bully pulpit”, Earle warns that sea life is being destroyed from every direction, by a combination of overfishing, rising temperatures and plastic waste. She notes that since the 1950s, the world has lost 50% of its global coral reefs and 90% of its big fish. The oceans are choking on plastic junk, millions of tonnes of water bottles, soft-drink bottles, drinking straws and single-use plastic bags. Worse still, what we see floating on the surface accounts for only 5% of all the plastic litter that has been dumped into the sea. According to Ocean Conservancy, a US environmental non-profit organisation, the other 95% is beneath the surface, where it strangles underwater creatures and wrecks aquatic ecosystems. “Oceans are now clogged with plastics, especially discarded fishing gear and single-use plastics,” Earle told Africa in Fact. Today, the world produces 20 times more plastics than it did 40 years ago. That means that more than eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans each year, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries, tourism and marine ecosystems. Less than 14% of all plastic is recyclable and, according to a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is high time someone came up with an innovation or technology to deal with the remaining 86%, which could create $80bn-$120bn in revenue. The plastic waste that finds its way into earth’s oceans and seas will remain there for hundreds of years because plastic does not rot. In fact, plastic is so durable that the US Environmental Protection Agency says, “Every bit of plastic ever made still exists”. And once it gets into the water, plastic waste leaches chemicals, many of them toxic.

“Up to 80% of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic, according to UN Environment, the UN agency mandated to protect the environment, and because of its low density, plastic litter is easily transported over long distances from source areas, with ocean undercurrents scattering it to every corner of the globe. According to the US-based Centre for Biological Diversity, there are “15–51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans – from the equator to the poles, from the Arctic ice sheets to the sea floor”. Emerging research suggests that not one square mile of ocean surface anywhere on earth is free of plastic pollution. Making matters worse, the cosmetics industry adds tiny plastic “micro beads” to hundreds of toiletries, such as body and facial scrubs and even toothpaste. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration and drainage systems to end up in the sea, where fish and seabirds ingest them. UN Environment warns that about 99% of all seabirds will have ingested plastic by 2050 if nothing is done to reverse the trend. Africa has not been spared the plastic menace. Even though most of the plastic trash in Africa comes from outside the continent, African cities and coastal towns are grappling with their own mountains of garbage – mostly plastic that ends up in the ocean. Earle cites the islands in the northwest Indian Ocean as the most affected by plastic marine litter in Africa. Plastics in the ocean kill or harm more than 300,000 marine animals every year, she says. Some creatures get entangled in the plastic debris, while others, such as seabirds, turtles, fish, oysters and mussels, ingest the plastics, which clog their digestive systems, killing them. Fish and birds also mistake smaller plastic particles for food and feed on them in enormous quantities. “When the young birds eventually die, you can literally see small balls of plastic next to their skeletons after the body decomposes,” Earle laments.

The plastic menace has become so dire that in February 2017 the UN launched the Clean Seas campaign at the World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia. This was a global effort to convince governments to pass plastic-reduction policies and for industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign its products. The UN is also urging consumers to change their plastic disposal habits before irreversible damage is done. “It is past time that we tackled the plastic problem that blights our oceans,” UN Environment said in a statement at the Clean Seas launch. “ Plastic pollution is surfing onto beaches, settling on the ocean floor, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.” The campaign announced ambitious measures taken by countries and businesses to ban or tax single-use plastic bags, eliminate micro plastics from personal care products and otherwise dramatically reduce the use of disposable plastic. So far, more than a dozen African countries, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda, have either adopted or proposed bans on polythene bags. Two years ago, in August 2017, Kenya banned the manufacture and import of all plastic bags (See also Charles Kimani’s article on page 96). Prior to the ban, supermarkets alone handed out some 100 million plastic bags every year. More recently, Tanzania’s ban on the importation, export, manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags came into effect on June 1. According to UN Environment, the waste plastic items not only kill birds, fish and other animals that mistake them for food but they also damage agricultural land, pollute tourist sites and provide an ideal breeding ground for the mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever.

“Are our oceans dead? I would say they are not dead yet, but they are in deep trouble,” says Earle. “Plastic marine litter knows no boundaries and can wash up on any shore, including those of uninhabited islands. It is a global problem requiring global action.” Earle believes governments should pass laws that discourage the use of single-use plastic such as the bags, cups, bottles and microplastics that are used in millions of items every year. Government or regulatory incentives for citizens who make choices that limit their use of plastics, by using cloth or sisal bags for shopping, for example, are needed. Big corporations have joined the global effort to turn the tide of marine litter. Dell, a technology company, has announced that it has started using recycled plastic fished out of the sea for its product packaging. More announcements and pledges by countries and organisations were made at The Ocean Conference held at the UN headquarters in New York in June 2017, which brought together governments, UN agencies, financial institutions, NGOs, civil society, academia, scientists, the private sector and other actors to assess challenges and opportunities relating to, as well as actions taken towards the implementation of, SDG 14: life below water. At the individual level, choosing reusable shopping bags, cups, straws and water bottles, and saying no to personal care products that contain microplastics and plastic packaging can go a long way towards curbing the plastic menace. When it comes to plastics, no action is too small to make a difference.

Zipporah Musau is the editor-in-chief of African Renewal magazine, a production of the Africa Renewal information programme of the Africa Section of the United Nations Department of Public Information. She was previously an information officer at UN women, and an editor at Nation Media Group in Kenya.

Taking action from the ground up

SDG 13: climate change

Climate change is forcing African small-scale farmers to find innovative ways of diversifying their crops and managing livestock

Small-scale farmer Albert Waweru shares his experience with Climate Smart Agriculture delegates at his farm just outside Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: CHARLES MKOKA

By Charles Mkoka

Malawi’s green and undulating Nyika plateau has year-round waters flowing into rivers used by downstream communities, most of them dependent on farming. Interestingly, women in the region are now breaking down traditional rural gender barriers with smart initiatives that are contributing to building longer-term agricultural resilience. The community of Ntchenachena lies at the bottom of the Nyika plateau in Rumphi, the northern region of Malawi. In recent years, the rainfall pattern in the area has changed and farmers have had to resort to planting drought-tolerant crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes to cope. Maria Botha, 55, is a retired school teacher and resident of Ntchenachena, and a member of the Njati Women Group. “In the late 1980s the rains were abundant,” Botha told Africa in Fact. “But in the 1990s the situation changed, with shorter rainfall periods. This greatly affected agriculture productivity, leading to the reduction of beans and maize productivity.” Vera Msiska, a mother of four children from nearby Mziliwande Village, agrees that the region has seen changes in rainfall. “Rains are unpredictable now, they sometimes start earlier and then disappear, or vice versa,” says Msiska. She adds that the changing rainfall patterns have seen the district’s maize crops afflicted by fall army worm, with other pests attacking cassava tubers underground. The community has resorted to sweet potatoes to replace the popular staple food because they are more drought tolerant. The changes in rainfall patterns in the region are almost certainly due to climate change, which is having a negative impact on societies, economies and environments around the globe. Africa is particularly exposed and vulnerable, with the challenges often large and the governments’ capacity to deal with the effects of climate change low. Smallholder agriculture is the mainstay of most African economies and it is the sector most vulnerable to climate change.

The African agricultural sector is dominated by women farmers, who account for over 80% of the continent’s food production, according to a 2018 Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa report. Moreover, women and youth are disproportionately impacted by the adverse effects of climate change because climate change negatively impacts on a number of dimensions of society, including food security, water, energy and health, rendering these sectors of society particularly vulnerable to knock-on effects, according to an October 2018 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Recognising that the gender dimension of climate change has an impact on African agriculture, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), with financial support from the Norwegian government, has introduced a five-year Gender Climate Change and Agriculture Support Programme (GCCASP) to train African female smallholder farmers, youth and other vulnerable groups in the use of climate-smart agricultural practices. Despite the difficult conditions in which they work, women not only contribute some 80% of the food consumed in African households, they also use these resources to support their families, which brings social cohesion in African communities, says Estherine Fotabong, director of programme coordination and implementation at AUDA-NEPAD. In Malawi, AUDA-NEPAD is working with the Civil Society Network on Climate Change (CISONECC) and the ministry of gender, children and women affairs to enable women farmers with climate-smart practices. “Women should be at the centre of designing and implementing interventions aimed at building community resilience to the impact of climate change,” Julius Ng’oma, CISONECC’s national coordinator told Africa in Fact.

The negative effects of climate change are not only hitting rural communities. Urban residents are also increasingly affected by food shortages, Nairobi’s city council Governor, Evans Kidero, told participants at a Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) forum in October 2016, organised by AUDA-NEPAD. But, he said, Nairobi’s people were compensating by resorting to their own agriculture, and urban farming was now contributing significantly to the country’s overall agriculture productivity. The Nairobi council was now emphasising the need to support urban farming as a key aspect of developing greater resilience to the effects of climate change, he told the gathering. Albert Waweru, a former assistant commissioner of police who went into small-scale farming after retiring, told delegates during a field visit to his farm outside Nairobi that he had started small, with one calf worth $350, but that the farm now had 30 dairy cows, providing more milk than he could sell. Waweru said he had tried “green” farming techniques such as zero grazing, a system whereby cattle were housed at the farm where they were fed and watered instead of left on communal grazing land, which was in short supply. “To rely on rainfall alone is no longer practical,” Waweru told Africa in Fact. To address this problem, he dug underground water tanks from concrete to prevent seepage, which collected every drop of water available. This was assisted by the design of his house, which conducted rainwater to the tanks. “The plan makes use of all the space available,” he said. “I store water in these underground reservoirs, under my animal pens.” In addition, Waweru advocates the “lead and follow” approach – a form of agricultural advisory service that sees selected farmers trained in climate-smart interventions, and who are expected to pass on their training to their communities.

The approach is well-suited to situations where there is a lack of agricultural extension staff. “Lead and follow” can play a key role in assisting communities to adjust to the effects of climate change. Moreover, the use of locally made manure is helping to improve yields in infertile soils, especially as organic fertilisers are extremely expensive for the average farmer. The experience of climate-related shocks, such as drought or floods, pushes farmers into different diversification strategies, Nicholas Sitko, a programme coordinator at the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) told Africa in Fact. Sitko, the co-author of a recent study of farming communities in Malawi, Niger and Zambia, published in the journal World Development in May, says farming communities are diversifying their crops and income sources as adaptive strategies. The impact of diversification on household income varies between countries and depending on their diversification strategies, Sitko said. However, across Africa, the impact both crop and income diversification had on the welfare of a household was generally higher for the poorest people – while actually decreasing, and, in some cases, turning negative, for better-off households. His co-authored study argues for policies aimed at taking African culture into account when looking at the socio-economic specificities of farming communities. A “one-size-fits-all” approach would never work, he insists. Sitko said policymakers aiming to address the objectives of SDG 13 should make use of appropriate empirical studies. “Evidence-based policies have a greater likelihood of achieving their objectives, which also makes good political sense,” he told Africa in Fact. Diversification strategies have the potential to have a greater impact on rural poverty because they offer people opportunities to benefit from labour and land, their main assets, said Mweene Kambombi, a researcher at the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute.

Enabling the rural poor to diversify required multi-sectoral policies, strategies and programmes that addressed their economic and social vulnerabilities, she told Africa in Fact. Addressing the challenges of climate change for rural households also required that coordinating policies in different sectors be “correctly sequenced”, she said. And to be effective, coordinated policymaking and implementation needed to ensure those most affected were included in policymaking, she added. This was in line with the approach to SDG 13, which received considerable African input. Indeed, Africans have contributed significantly to the formulation of the SDGs. The African Commission’s High- Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which ran from 2012 to 2013, was co-chaired by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, then president of Liberia, and included several other prominent politicians from the continent. In May 2013, a high-level committee of heads of state and government produced the Common African Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was subsequently adopted by African Union (AU) countries in January 2014. According to the 2016 ODI report, several leaders from the region were also closely involved in the formulation of various SDGs at the international level. The SDGs, therefore, reflect the African context and African priorities, and have the potential to serve as a foundation for long-term sustainable solutions across the continent, especially if coherence and alignment is maintained with the vision outlined in Agenda 2063, the AU’s 50-year vision and action plan. Meanwhile, rural women farmers in northern Malawi are focused on enhancing crop productivity in response to changing climatic conditions, Neviasi Harawa, from Kambwiya village in Ntchenachena told Africa in Fact. “Other than the usual crops, we have decided to grow drought tolerant crops and fast-maturing varieties, which can survive even when the rains are insufficient,” she said.

Charles Mkoka is an environmental journalist based in Malawi. He also describes himself as an advocate for the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Losing the war on waste

SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production

African governments show little interest in coming up with sustainable waste management strategies

Waste material clogs up Durban harbour in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province after widespread downpours. Photo: Supplied

By Charles Kimani

Waste generation rates are rising across the world. Data from the World Bank shows that at least two billion tonnes of solid waste, translating to 0.7 kg per person a day, was produced in major cities in 2016. With rapid population growth, coupled with meteoric urbanisation, yearly waste generation is forecast to rise by 70% from 2016 levels to 3.4 billion tonnes in 2050. Developing countries are likely to be hit hard by this new development, particularly the urban poor who face the severe impact of unsustainably managed waste. A UN Economic Commission for Africa report, 2018 Africa Sustainable Development Report: Towards a Transformed and Resilient Continent, observes that in low-income countries, most of which are in Africa, more than 90% of waste is disposed of at unchecked dumpsites. Poorly managed waste sites have become a breeding ground for disease and contributing to global climate change through toxic gas generation. They also promote urban violence as is intermittently seen at Nairobi’s 46-hectare Dandora dumpsite, the largest in East Africa. Since 2000, the dumpsite has been controlled by 12 groups of street children, who refer to themselves as Majeshi (armies). Fights are common between the different Majeshi, and sometimes end only when someone is killed. The dead are then buried in the garbage. According to the police in Nairobi, the Dandora gangs use weapons, including guns, to protect their “sections” of the site. “These [waste sites] create serious health, safety, and environmental consequences,” Professor Geoffrey Wahungu, director general of Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), told Africa in Fact. In Dandora, people staying near the garbage site suffer from lung-related diseases, as well as diarrhoea and cholera.”

Properly managed waste is an essential foundation for sustainable and liveable cities, Wahungu argues. But in most African countries effective waste management is expensive, estimated at between 20% and 50% of total municipal budgets, according to an April 2019 World Bank brief, Understanding Poverty: Solid Waste Management. The situation is compounded by a lack of comprehensive legislation to back waste management. In Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, for instance, numerous private waste collection companies are in operation, each with a specified route and specific time for waste collection. But the practice is often marred by inconsistencies due to human-resource shortages, an insufficient number of collection trucks and delayed or non-payment to service providers, among other issues. Similar scenarios play out in Nairobi, Johannesburg, Kampala, Lagos, Dar es Salaam and other African cities. Such budgetary constraints have compelled financial institutions like the World Bank to step in and support African waste management. In Liberia, for instance, $10.5 million has been committed to improving waste collection and to constructing a new landfill and transfer stations. A similar initiative has been launched in Burkina Faso, where the World Bank has supported the solid waste sector with more than $67 million in loans since 2005. The capital city, Ougadougou, now collects an average of 78% of the waste generated in the city, as compared to the 46% average for sub- Saharan Africa. But even with the challenges, some African countries are encouraging industries, businesses and consumers to recycle and reduce waste as they strive to move towards a more sustainable pattern of consumption by 2030. In 2017, Kenya announced the world’s toughest ban on plastic bags. That same year, in March, Tunisia also banned the use of plastic bags, leading environmentalists to celebrate the resultant lower pollution levels.

Almost two years since the embargo, Kenya’s waterways are clearer, the food chain is less contaminated with plastic and there are fewer “flying toilets” (plastic bags used for defecation in the slums that are then thrown onto roofs), according to NEMA. A Private waste management company based in Nairobi is also encouraging waste recycling. TakaTaka Solutions says it fetches waste from businesses and households and recycles 95% of what it collects. Company CEO Daniel Paffenholz claims this is one of the highest recycling rates in the world. Fishermen on the coast and on Lake Victoria are seeing fewer bags entangled in their nets due to the ban on plastics, notes NEMA, and Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are now considering following Kenya’s example. Taking the growing pace of technological developments into consideration, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a grouping of 16 southern African states, has drafted guidelines on e-waste disposal. The guidelines identify the sources of e-waste and prescribe procedures for e-waste handling. Yet some African countries – Ghana, Morocco, Algeria, Botswana and Swaziland among them – continue to produce more waste every year, despite efforts to make the continent habitable, according to the UN’s Africa Review Report on Waste Management published in October 2016. In Gambia, another offender in this regard, government waste disposal efforts have been supplanted by private initiatives, described by some as “vigilantes”. There, the most common form of waste management is burning, which is in itself hazardous. Proper waste disposal facilities are scarce in the West African country. Urban authorities in Africa are facing solid waste challenges, with the amount of waste generated exceeding their collection and disposal capacity, both technical and financial, says Erias Lukwago, Lord Mayor of Kampala.

“Uganda is facing rapid urbanisation, at 5.1% per year. This has led to overcrowding and the fast growth of slums and informal settlements with poor waste management practices,” Lukwago told Africa In Fact. He says Kampala’s waste management has been severely hampered by a complex land tenure system, with many tenants not having the right to the land they occupy. This, he says, provides little or no incentive to manage waste domestically. The Kampala Capital City Authority’s capacity to deal with waste has been “overwhelmed”, Lukwago acknowledges. Of the 1,400 tonnes of waste generated a day, only 400 tonnes are collected, a collection efficiency of only 29%. This means almost 71% of the solid waste generated daily is not properly collected and disposed of and is instead indiscriminately disposed of by members of the public. The struggles African countries experience with waste management contrast starkly with approaches to waste management in developed countries. Germany, for example, takes waste management seriously. Waste management there is an economic sector in itself that employs more than 270,000 people and involves more than 11,000 companies with an annual turnover of around $80 billion, according to a March 2018 report by the country’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Unlike in Africa, waste management in Germany is regulated at national, regional and local levels. The country’s Circular Economy Act of 2012 includes a legal definition of waste and a polluter-pays principle, a five-tier waste hierarchy, and the principle of shared public and private responsibility for waste management. Moreover, the country has taken an innovative approach to waste prevention. Waste disposal as it relates to the use of raw materials and the manufacture of products is carefully defined by extraction, production and consumption phases.

Crucially, consumers and producers are also required to be informed about waste management measures, such as focusing on durable, lean, repairable products, purchasing services rather than goods and using items rather than owning them. The message, in essence, is every citizen can and should do his/her bit to protect the environment. Each year in November, Germany stages a series of events marking the European Week for Waste Reduction, highlighting what can be achieved through individual commitment. Germany’s consumption of plastic bags has been reduced from around 72 bags per person a year to around 38. Besides prevention, the country’s five-tier waste management system also involves measures that prepare waste for reuse, as well as recycling, recovery and disposal. Germany’s strategy has been particularly successful with regard to electronic waste. According to 2017 German Environment Agency data, some 710,250 tonnes of electrical waste was recovered in 2011. Of this, some 84.7% was recycled. In 2013, 727,998 tonnes were recovered, with 84.4% of it recycled, while in 2015, 721,872 tonnes of e-waste was recovered, with 79.3% of it recycled. According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recycling statistics, Germany recycles or composts an average of 68% of its waste. South Korea, a heavily industrialised economy, has seen similar successes with regard to waste management, anchored by strong political consensus and public demand for a cleaner environment. The Asian country has become a successful model of waste management, despite starting with the biggest rate of per capita garbage production in the world at 2.3 kg/person in 2017. Referred to as Jongnyangje – a term referring to the effective collection of garbage wastes and reuse of natural resources – the country’s highly organised waste management system is now the second-biggest recycler of municipal solid waste in the world.

Besides waste recycling, South Korea has invested 2% of its gross domestic product in a “green growth” programme. The programme includes two streams: a National Strategy for Green Growth, which runs from 2009 to 2050, and a five-year plan, which ran from 2009 to 2013. In the long run, the National Strategy for Green Growth aims to promote eco-friendly new growth drivers, enhance people’s quality of life and contribute to international efforts to fight climate change. A presidential commission on green growth was established in 2009 and a Framework Act on Low Carbon Green Growth was enacted in 2010. The five-year plan outlined government actions for the implementation of the strategy, and detailed tasks for ministries and local governing entities, as well as specific budgets. Over time, the South Korean government says, it aims to become a leading exporter in the area of green research and technology. The investment, coupled with public incentives and enforcement measures, has seen South Korea achieve a 59% recycling and composting rate. Such a focused approach will be a tall order for most African countries. There appears to be an almost total lack of political will around the continent to come up with sustainable strategies of waste management. Most governments leave waste management mainly to NGOs or organisations in the private sector, many of which face resource constraints of their own. These constraints are exacerbated by the fact that many African countries are experiencing economic growth, increased population growth and rapid urbanisation. Such challenges could be more effectively addressed if African countries worked together to come up with common waste management practices. They will certainly need to partner with environmental experts if they want to address the negative impact of waste on the continent.

Charles Kimani is a graduate of political science from the University of Nairobi with more than 10 years’ experience. He has also pursued development economics for his Masters at the same institution. Charles has covered parliamentary proceedings and politics in Kenya, as well as International Criminal Court proceedings in The Hague, Netherlands.