A giant Chinese shoe manufacturer is lacing up for the long run. Will others follow in its footsteps?
Treading a new path
By Elissa Jobson
At 6.45am the first bus halts outside the main gates of the Eastern Industry Zone. The doors clang open. Bleary-eyed young men and women begin to emerge and brace against the chill morning air.
A second, then a third and fourth bus arrives from the nearby dormitories, disgorging more and more workers dressed in the turquoise polo shirts that employees are required to wear on the shop floor at Huajian, one of China’s largest footwear manufacturers. Each member of staff pauses briefly at the factory door and presses an identity tag against the electronic sensor that records their clocking-in time.
Minutes later small groups of employees begin to assemble inside and outside the main buildings. Lines are formed, calisthenic drills executed and chants recited before workers march briskly to their stations and begin their duties.
hese scenes, played out in thousands of factories across China each day, seem more than a little incongruous here in Dukem, about 40km south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. But they could become an increasingly familiar sight if, as the Ethiopian government hopes, Chinese companies move more light manufacturing operations to this booming east African country.
“With the fast growth of its economy, Ethiopia will become a promising land full of trade and investment opportunities,” wrote Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the first Africa-China Commodities, Technology and Service Expo, held in Addis Ababa in December 2013. “More Chinese enterprises will be attracted to Ethiopia with technology and investment, which will achieve win-win cooperation.”
Chinese manufacturers, facing rising costs at home, are well aware of Ethiopia’s advantages: cheap labour and land leases; low-cost and reliable electricity in Addis Ababa, where most manufacturing is sited (with more to come soon as a series of hydroelectric dams turns the country into an exporter of electricity); easy access to cotton, leather, and other agricultural products; and proximity to key markets in Europe and America.
This explains why Addis Ababa was chosen as the location for this fair, the first of its kind to be held on the continent to showcase Chinese companies and generate business. “We selected Ethiopia as the destination of this expo because we think Ethiopia is a place many Chinese industries would like to relocate to,” said Gao Hucheng, China’s minister of commerce. Huajian, which produces shoes for Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Naturalizer, and other Western brands at its Dukem factory, is keen to take full advantage of the opportunities Ethiopia affords.
“We are not coming all the way here just to reduce by 10%-20% our costs,” insists Helen Hai, former vice-president of Huajian Group, who is now advising the Ethiopian government on how to attract Chinese investors. “Huajian’s aim here is in ten years’ time to have a new cluster of shoemaking. We want to build a whole supply chain,” she adds.
The company’s vision is bold. Huajian began producing shoes in Ethiopia in January 2012 and the company now employs 2,500 people in the country, 90% of whom are local. Huajian currently exports more than $1m worth of shoes from Ethiopia to Europe and the US each month.
But within a decade, Huajian hopes Ethiopia will become a global footwear industry hub, providing jobs to more than 100,000 local workers, 30,000 of whom will be directly employed by Huajian.
Together with the China-Africa Development Fund, a private-equity facility, Huajian has committed to invest $2 billion over the next ten years to create a “shoe city” that will provide accommodation for as many as 200,000 people, as well as factory space for other footwear, handbags, accessories and components producers. Ms Hai is convinced Ethiopia will become “the future manufacturing floor of the world”.
She believes it should follow China’s path and begin with labour-intensive industries such as footwear and garment production. “The labour cost in shoemaking in China is about 22% of the overall cost portfolio,” she explains. “In China today the cost of each labourer is $500 [a month]. In Ethiopia it is only $50. So the question comes down to the efficiency.”
If one Ethiopian worker can produce the same number of shoes as one Chinese worker then labour costs could be reduced from 22% to 2.7% of the new total cost. People argue that African efficiency is low, Ms Hai says, but she maintains that with one year’s training Ethiopian workers could achieve “70% of the efficiency” of workers in China.
The profit motive for relocation to Ethiopia is clear. But other factors—excise breaks, tax holidays and cheap land rental offered to investors in certain preferred sectors—make Ethiopia attractive too, Ms Hai claims.
For example, Ethiopia is eligible for schemes like the US’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the EU’s Everything but Arms (EBA) treaty, which allows exporters from many African countries duty- and quotafree access to America and Europe.
What is in it for Ethiopia? While the Chinese are taking advantage of Ethiopia’s cheap labour, “they bring technology, know-how and training”, Ms Hai says. “This will help the country create jobs and bring exports. That is truly the root of industrialisation.”
Grand plans like Huajian’s, however, are few and far between. Annual levels of Chinese investment in Ethiopia are low, totalling about $200m in 2013, according to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Addis Ababa. This marks a substantial increase from virtually nothing in 2004 and $58.5m in 2010.
But just $50m of the current investments are in manufacturing, mainly in small and medium enterprises producing steel, cement, glass, PVC, paper, furniture, mattresses, blankets, shoes and other products. Instead, Chinese economic activity in Ethiopia tends to be focused on major infrastructure programmes—roads, railways, telecommunications and electricity transmission—which the Ethiopian government pays for with financial backing from Chinese institutions.
“This is substantial activity, at least in terms of the value of these projects,” explains Jan Mikkelsen, IMF resident representative in Ethiopia. Last December’s ChinaAfrica Expo reflected this pattern with few of the more than 130 Chinese companies exhibiting looking to open factories in Ethiopia or elsewhere on the continent.
Instead, many, like China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), with their large, prominent stand, were hoping to secure lucrative government contracts.
“Ethiopia is a very big potential market,” says Jin Chunsheng, CMEC vice president. “There is the five year [Growth and] Transformation Plan and we expect to see a lot of power and infrastructure business which is related to the work of our company.” CMEC is currently negotiating to build fertiliser plants with Metals and Engineering Corporation, a major state-owned Ethiopian enterprise, Mr Jin adds.
Although manufacturing in Ethiopia is beginning to rise, it accounted for only 12% of GDP in 2012-13, compared to 43% for agriculture and 45% for services, according to government figures. The sector’s annual growth, however, was 18.5%, as opposed to 7.1% and 9.9% respectively for agriculture and services. Yangfan Motors, a subsidiary of Chinese automobile manufacturer Lifan, was one of a small number of exhibitors currently operating in Ethiopia.
The company opened a car assembly plant in Addis Ababa in 2009. “We chose Ethiopia because it is secure and stable,” says Liu Jiang, Yangfan’s general manager. “Furthermore the two governments [Ethiopia’s and China’s] have a good relationship and we think that this is a very important point too.” Unlike many Western countries, China has a policy of non-interference in domestic affairs, which has been appealing to African countries.
Ethiopia’s adherence to China’s developmental state model shows that the two countries share a strong affinity. Not surprisingly, business has been difficult for Yangfan. More than 83% of Ethiopia’s population live off subsistence farming in rural areas, according to the World Bank, and 90% of all car sales are used models.
The company currently manufactures around 3,000 vehicles annually but only manages to sell one-third to the local market. Lifan had hoped to use its Ethiopian base as a regional hub, but so far has been unable to distribute abroad because Ethiopia is a landlocked country with high taxes and transport costs, Mr Liu says. “To transport one container from China to Ethiopia is almost triple the cost of sending a container from China to Brazil,” Mr Liu adds.
A container from Shanghai, China, travels 12,400km to the port of Djibouti, at a cost of about $4,000, and is then transported overland 865km to Addis Ababa, for another $4,000, Ms Hai says. A 2012 World Bank study on Chinese foreign direct investment showed that investors cited customs and trade regulations and tax administration as major constraints on their business.
An underdeveloped financial sector and a dysfunctional foreign exchange market are other business impediments, Mr Mikkelsen says. In the bank’s 2014 “Doing Business” report, Ethiopia slipped down one place to 125th and dropped from 162nd to 166th in terms of ease of starting a business. Companies seeking short-term profits may not take the risk or feel that the inconveniences are worth staying the distance, says Lars Moller, lead economist at the World Bank’s Addis Ababa office.
Yangfan, however, is committed to the long haul, Mr Liu says. Later this year, the company will move to a bigger factory in the same industrial complex as Huajian. Government environmental policies will begin to favour newer, less-polluting vehicles and the ongoing road and railway construction will significantly reduce transportation costs, he adds. “In 2014 we are planning to bring two new models, one of which is especially designed for the Ethiopian market.”
Ethiopia clearly has a long way to go on its path to an industrial economy that offers jobs to its people and sensible opportunities to foreign and regional investors. Much shoe leather will be worn out before that destination is reached. Ventures such as Huajian’s and Yangfan’s offer tentative hope.
Elissa Jobson is a freelance journalist based in Ethiopia. She is the Addis Ababa correspondent for The Africa Report and Business Day and also writes for the Guardian. Ms Jobson was previously the editor of Global: The International Briefing
Why manufacturing is key to creating jobs and building diversified economies
Can the continent make it?
By Ronak Gopaldas
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana produce 53% of the world’s cocoa. But the supermarket shelves in Abidjan and Accra, their respective capitals, are stacked with chocolates imported from Switzerland and the UK, countries that do not farm cocoa. This scenario is repeated throughout the continent in different contexts.
For example Nigeria, the world’s sixth-largest producer of crude oil, exports more than 80% of its oil but cannot refine enough for local consumption. In 2013 it spent about $6 billion subsidising fuel imports, estimated Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala late last year. In such apparently baffling scenarios lies one of Africa’s greatest challenges— and opportunities.
The continent possesses 12% of the world’s oil reserves, 40% of its gold and between 80% and 90% of its chromium and platinum, according to a 2013 report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It is also home to 60% of the world’s underutilised arable land and has vast timber resources. Yet together, African countries account for just 1% of global manufacturing, according to the report.
This dismal state of affairs creates a cycle of perpetual dependency, leaving African countries reliant on the export of raw products and exposed to exogenous shocks, such as falling European demand. Without strong industries in Africa to add value to raw materials, foreign buyers can dictate and manipulate the prices of these materials to the great disadvantage of Africa’s economies and people. “Industrialisation cannot be considered a luxury, but a necessity for the continent’s development,” said South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma shortly after she became chair of the African Union in 2013. This economic transformation can happen by addressing certain priority areas across the continent.
First, African governments, individually and collectively, must develop supportive policy and investment guidelines. Clearly-defined rules and regulations in the legal and tax domains, contract transparency, sound communication, predictable policy environments, and currency and macroeconomic stability are essential to attract long-term investors.
Moreover, incentives—such as tax rebates to multinational companies that provide skills training alongside their commercial investments—will help local economies grow and diversify. In addition, each industrial policy should be tailored to maximise a country’s comparative sector-specific advantages.
Mauritius, one of Africa’s most prosperous and stable countries, provides important lessons for other African countries. In 1961 this Indian Ocean island nation was reliant on a single crop, sugar, which was subject to weather and price fluctuations. Few job opportunities and yawning income inequality divided the nation.
This led to conflict between the Creole and Indian communities, which clashed often at election time, when the rising fortunes of the latter became most apparent. Then from 1979 on the Mauritian government took practical steps to invest in its people. Realising that it was not blessed with a diversity of natural resources, it prioritised education. Schooling became the critical factor in raising skills and smoothing the lingering religious, ethnic and political fractures remaining since independence from Britain in 1968.
Strong governance, a sound legal system, low levels of bureaucracy and regulation, and investor-friendly policies reinforced the country’s institutions. Under a series of coalition governments, the nation moved from agriculture to manufacturing. It implemented trade policies that boosted exports. When outside shocks hit—such as loss of trade preferences in 2005, and overwhelming competition from Chinese textiles in the last 15 years—it was able to adapt with business-friendly policies. From being a mono-economy reliant on sugar, the island nation is now diversified through tourism, textiles, financial services and high-end technology, averaging growth rates in excess of 5% per year for three decades.
Its per capita income also rose from $1,920 to $6,496 between 1976 and 2012, according to the World Bank. While much responsibility lies with African governments, the continent’s private sectors must play their part in improving co-ordination between farmers, growers, processors and exporters to increase competitiveness in the value chain and ensure the price, quality and standards that world markets demand.
Tony Elumelu, chairman of Nigerian-based investment company Heirs Holdings, and Carlos Lopes, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, advocate what they call “Africapitalism”, a private sector-led partnership focused on the continent’s development. “Private-sector business leaders must also do more to tackle poverty and drive social progress by ensuring that long-term value addition—as well as short-term gain—is built into their business model,” they wrote in a joint article for CNN in November 2013. Next, African countries must pursue beneficial economic strategies with their neighbours.
Regional integration would help reduce the regulatory burden facing African industries by harmonising policies and restraining unfavourable domestic programmes. It would boost inter- and intra-African trade and accelerate industrialisation. The right recipe for regional integration requires countries to concentrate on commodities in which they have a competitive advantage. For example, Benin and Egypt could concentrate on cotton, Togo on cocoa, Zambia on sugar—each country trading in bigger regional markets.
Agriculture, which employs over 65% of the continent’s population, according to the World Bank, could become a springboard towards industrialisation. It can provide raw materials for other industries, as well as promote what economists call backward integration, in which a company connects with a supplier further back in the process, such as a food manufacturer merging with a farm.
This is already under way in Nigeria. The diversified BUA Group “will process 10m tonnes of cane to produce 1m tonnes of refined sugar annually”, according to Chimaobi Madukwe, the company’s chief operating officer. Sustained investment and improvements in infrastructure are also needed throughout the continent. Countries everywhere, not just in Africa, cannot establish competitive industrial sectors and promote stronger trade ties if saddled with substandard, damaged or non-existent infrastructure.
“Developing industries require sustained electricity supply, smooth transportation and other very basic infrastructure facilities, which at present are still not enough to ensure operations,” said Xue Xiaoming, vice-chairman of the Nigerian Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Africa’s poor roads, railways and other transport networks, faulty communications, and unreliable and insufficient energy result in high production and transaction costs.
It takes 28 days to move a 40-foot container from the port of Shanghai, China to Mombasa, Kenya at a cost of $600, while it takes 40 days for the same container to reach Bujumbura, Burundi, from Mombasa at a cost of $8,000, explained Rosemary Mburu, a consultant at the Institute of Trade Development in Nairobi. “This represents double the time at 13 times the cost,” she said. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) should be developed to stimulate massive investments in infrastructure, which could have a multiplier effect on economic growth. Finally, without education the continent cannot succeed in its drive towards industrialisation. PPPs should be pursued in this arena too, because governments often lack the skills and finances to carry out technical training.
Private sector companies would benefit from a skilled and competent workforce. The country would benefit from a stronger economy blessed with less unemployment and higher incomes. Historically, countries have succeeded by focusing on education in science and technology and promoting research. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s South Korea —like Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong—reformed its education system and made elementary and high school compulsory.
From an adult literacy rate of less than 30% in the late 1930s, South Korea now boasts a literacy rate of nearly 100% and has one of the highest levels of education anywhere in the world, according to UNESCO, the UN’s education agency. Its highly skilled population has helped South Korea to become one of the world’s foremost exporters of high-tech goods. Africa, the world’s youngest continent, is currently undergoing a powerful demographic transition. Its working-age population, which is currently 54% of the continent’s total, will climb to 62% by 2050.
In contrast, Europe’s 15-64 year-olds will shrink from 63% in 2010 to 58%. During this time, Africa’s labour force will surpass China’s and will potentially play a huge role in global consumption and production. Unlike other regions, Africa will neither face a shortage in domestic labour nor worry about the economic burden of an increasingly ageing population for most of the 21st century.
This “demographic dividend” can be cashed in to stimulate industrial production. An influx of new workers from rural areas into the cities, if harnessed correctly and complemented with the appropriate educational and institutional structures and reforms, could lead to a major productivity boom.
This would then increase savings and investment rates, spike per capita GDP, and prompt skills transfers. Reduced dependency levels would then free up resources for economic development and investment.
Without effective policies, however, African countries risk high youth unemployment, which may spark rising crime rates, riots and political instability. Rather than stimulating a virtuous cycle of growth, the continent could remain trapped in a vicious circle of violence and poverty. The continent’s youth represent a huge potential comparative advantage and a chance to enjoy sustained catch-up growth. Or they could remain shackled in joblessness and become a major liability. Africa is ripe for industrialisation.
A strong and positive growth trajectory, rapid urbanisation, stable and improving economic and political environments have opened a window of opportunity for Africa to achieve economic transformation.
Ronak Gopaldas works as a sovereign risk analyst at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg. He has written for Business Day, Business Report, Forbes Africa, Africa Asset Management and other publications.
SDG 7: affordable and clean energy
Africa is making progress with efforts to provide people with electricity, but much more needs to be done to advance the use of cleaner cooking
The Kariba Dam on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe supplies 1,626 megawatts of electricity to parts of both countries. Photo: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA / AFP
By Joe Walsh
As a whole, Africa has struggled to make serious progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, affordable and clean energy. Of the continent’s 55 countries 39 have made less than 50% progress towards their 2030 target from their 2010 baseline, according to the 2018 Africa SDG Index, with the report calling it a big challenge that needs to be prioritised. The remaining countries had not achieved the affordable and clean energy target, but it remains possible if significant action is taken. Not one country had achieved the goal as yet, though the North African countries were significantly closer. One indicator of just how crucial access to energy is seen for the continent, the African Development Bank (AfDB) made energy its top development priority in 2016. The bank argued that the continent should strive to achieve universal access for all by 2025 – five years in advance of the 2030 deadline. To help achieve its ambitious deadline, the bank says it is revisiting the size and scope of the loans it provides. “Following that prioritisation, we have quite significantly expanded, not only the volume of lending but also the scope of areas that we try and provide solutions for, particularly new decentralised energy solutions,” Daniel Schroth, principal energy specialist in the energy, environment and climate change department at AfDB, told Africa in Fact. Certainly, the continent is starting to make progress as regards electricity provision. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa access to electricity has overtaken population growth for the first time.
In 2016, the number of people without access to electricity in the region fell for the first time by 28.5 million, according to the 2018 Energy Progress Report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Bank, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Yet there is still some way to go. Across the continent, only 43% of the population has access to electricity, leaving approximately 566.8 million people with none. There is, however, near total coverage in the North Africa region. Kenya and Ethiopia are countries that have made strong progress towards achieving electricity access, expanding access to their populations by more than five percentage points per annum from 2014-16. Tanzania’s energy access grew from 19% to 33% over the same period. Schroth puts this down to the political will of those countries, which have prioritised access to electricity and followed through with plans to make it happen. This includes governments putting in place appropriate enabling environments for the private sector. However, access to electricity and the introduction of policies to address it are very uneven across the continent. Central Africa, for example, has seen very little progress, as it is starting from a low base and has very little infrastructure already in place. With solar prices falling due to demand in the West and rising supply in China, there is great potential for diversified grids across Africa to help address SDG 7. This is particularly the case in rural communities that have never enjoyed the benefits of national grid infrastructure. Basically, diversified grids eliminate the need to depend on an extensive, centralised national grid. New companies are emerging, bringing with them new ways of paying for electricity.
For example, US-based start-up Zola Electric installs solar systems in homes across several African countries on a payment model that allows customers to pay on a monthly basis. By eliminating the upfront cost of solar, Zola Electric has been able to provide a clean, affordable, more widely useful and therefore popular alternative fuel source to kerosene, a widely used source of light in Africa. The company is getting lights on in more than 50,000 new homes each month in Tanzania, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria. Other start-ups backed by US venture capital – companies like M-Kopa, d.light, Solar Now, Andela Fenix and Black Star among them – are operating on a similar model (in addition, Black Star constructs mini-grids). The start-ups are also attracting considerable investor attention from western venture capitalists, with Andela raising $100 million from Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management earlier this year, for example. This development is seeing the private sector moving to address infrastructure provision that was traditionally believed to be a responsibility of government. Electrifying rural Africa may not need to be as costly as building centralised national grid infrastructures. These new technologies and finance models available didn’t exist when the countries of the West developed their own public utilities, says John Tcakic, head of energy information and analytics at clean energy financing organisation Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP). Africa, in effect, will benefit from these more diversified power options. “There’s the potential to leapfrog the West as Africa did with the telecoms system and skipped the expensive landline infrastructure step,” he told Africa in Fact.
However, increasing access to clean energy and improving the renewable energy mix are only two of the four sub-goals of SDG 7. The SDG also envisages doubling the rate of energy efficiency and advancing the use of cleaner cooking fuels. Significantly less progress has been made in addressing these two items, particularly with regard to cleaner cooking fuels, Schroth notes. Between 2014 and 2016, population growth outstripped the number of people gaining access to clean cooking technologies by four to one, according to the 2018 Energy Progress report. In Chad, Mauritania and Madagascar access to clean cooking is actually falling. And Tanzania’s rate of access to clean cooking fuels has remained steady at 2% of the population, despite the country’s progress on clean energy access, perhaps highlighting how this aspect of SDG 7 is less of a political priority there. The challenges of addressing the need for clean cooking has also not attracted ambitious start-ups, as is the case with electricity provision. While some initiatives are underway, clean cooking has simply not been getting the political attention that it deserves, says Schroth. “The AfDB has now started looking at those issues, but the private sector companies to finance them aren’t there.” Energy efficiency is another area that does not appear to attract the same political attention as in other parts of the world, where the cost savings element of energy efficiency has galvanised efforts, according to Schroth. “Energy efficiency is an opportunity that has not been fully seized,” he adds. But despite the challenges, there is progress towards meeting SDG 7 on the continent. The Africa 2018 SDG report notes that seven countries are on target to meet the 2030 access to electricity goal, while a further five are already there.
A further 11 are making moderate progress on this indicator, just not enough to reach the target, while only three are moving in the wrong direction for energy access. “We need to do more… to meet all SDG 7 targets. I am particularly concerned by the dramatic lack of access to reliable, modern and sustainable energy… in sub-Saharan Africa, a region where we need to really concentrate our efforts,” says Dr Fatih Birol, executive director at the IEA, highlighting the need for action and the organisation’s desire to realise that. This is matched by the AfDB’s decision to elevate energy to its top priority.
SDG 6: clean water and sanitation
More than 900 million Africans lack water-flushed toilets, hand-washing facilities, clean drinking water and related services
A family fetches water from a well in a rural community in Lungobe, Zambia. Access to water is limited in many rural and isolated areas in southern Africa. Photo: iStock.com
By Marcel Gascón Barberá
Giving everyone access to clean water and sanitation might well be the least engaging of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) set by the UN in 2015 to address a series of pressing global challenges. Though they are clearly important, complaints of a “lack of clean water and sanitation” rarely make it into the headlines. Moreover, unlike natural catastrophes, terrorist attacks or economic crashes, a lack of water and sanitation doesn’t occur at a specific point in time, nor is it often the result of a single act of negligence or inattention by a single actor. Rather, it is most often the result of persistent inaction on the part of governments, which is itself influenced by political, cultural and socio-economic realities within those societies. To all this we can add the influence of social taboos. People who have to deal with a lack of water and sanitation tend not to want to let others know that they have to defecate in the open, and that they lack facilities to wash afterwards. People are more likely to demand jobs, paved roads, health care and education than they are to protest about a lack of adequate sanitation infrastructure. The subject of water and sanitation is often marginal to the public conversation, which puts it conveniently at the bottom of most governments’ priority lists.
Yet the lack of clean water and sanitation is a major reason why life is harder in Africa than anywhere else. According to UN statistics, as much as 72% of Africa’s population did not have access to basic sanitation as of 2015. That means that more than 900 million Africans lack water-flushed toilets, hand washing facilities, clean drinking water and related services. Putting these numbers together within this broader context reveals the huge disparity between the magnitude of the problem and the amount of focused attention and action it receives. Things are particularly appalling in remote rural areas. The development of sanitation infrastructure requires complex and costly operations that only governments appear to be able to take on. “Sanitation or its converse, open defecation, is a negative externality,” wrote Shanta Devarajan, Senior Director for Development Economics at the World Bank, in a 2014 article (in economics, a negative externality is an activity that imposes a negative effect on an unrelated third party, according to a 2010 article by HR Varian). “People who defecate in the open not only harm their own children, but other people’s children,” according to Devarajan. “Their incentive to invest in sanitation is less than the costs.” He added that in rural India, the reduction in the incidence of diarrhoea from others’ adopting sanitation was about half of the effect of your own household’s adopting it.
But authorities often have neither the capability nor the political will to expand the state presence to outlying areas. Moreover, the lack of meaningful connection between governments and populations across the continent often makes it futile to lobby politicians to address these deficits. As Richard Jurgens and Luz Helena Hanauer wrote in Africa in Fact 49, for example, the continent’s leaders have successfully relied on the social fragmentation in their countries that is a result of the “diverse populations that were artificially yoked together by colonial projects” to render their constituencies powerless when it comes to demands for good governance and service delivery. To achieve this, and absolve themselves of any responsibility, the authors argue, many African rulers also resort to the “tactic” of blaming “imperial and colonialist” forces for their own shortcomings as lawmakers. The erosion of any accountability means that these shortcomings will be reflected, in particular, in politicians’ lack of incentives to provide sanitation infrastructure. The solution, experts are increasingly accepting, lies in realistic, creative actions that are clear about the limitations imposed by circumstance and which involve affected communities. Founded in 2010 by sanitation activist Kamal Kar, the community-led Total Sanitation Foundation has been one of the world’s leading advocates of this approach.
“Our vision is to unleash the hidden potential and capabilities of local communities to solve their own problems and take charge of their lives,” reads the NGO’s self-description. Basically, this means that communities are encouraged to stop relying on government intervention and to mobilise whatever resources they have to tackle the problem. It is only by doing so that they can start minimising the many negative health and wellbeing effects of not having adequate access to water and sanitation services, the NGO urges. Moreover, by taking the initiative themselves, the communities also push the authorities to pay attention and take action. “Often it has been seen that the ministers are foreigners in their own countries,” says Kar in an interview posted on his foundation’s website. “[The ministers] have no idea as to what is going on in their own country. They get totally surprised to hear the tremendous success of their local communities in achieving an ODF [open defecation free] status without any external help and support,” he adds. “We have noted that the moment you start triggering the institutional actors, the awareness and the sense of responsibility increases tremendously.” Born in Bangladesh and a specialist in livestock production, agriculture and natural resources, Kar pioneered the so-called “community-led total sanitation approach” (CLTS) approach in his country in 1999.
Its methodology “is based on a no-subsidy policy and rooted in a model of community empowerment and mobilisation” to end open defecation in underdeveloped communities. Since its successful execution in Bangladesh, the CLTS model has been adopted by the UN agencies for clean water and sanitation. Working with the UN, Kar has applied his approach “to more than 69 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America”. One such project has been put into practice with successful results in Madagascar, a cash-strapped island with one of Africa’s lowest indexes when it comes to access to sanitation. Working on the ground with local NGOs, the UN’s Global Sanitation Fund has succeeded in eradicating open defecation in more than 16,000 villages. Having identified a community in need of proper sanitation, a group of doctors travels to the village and calls a meeting with the residents. A visitor takes the floor and asks for one of those present to draw a map of the village on the ground. When the map is completed, the residents are asked to use pieces of cardboard to indicate the locations of the village houses, wells and latrines. The next step is to count the number of latrines and compare this number to the number of people in the village. The conclusion is invariably that there are too few latrines for the number of people. At that point, the speaker interrogates the public about their defecation habits. This might be done in direct and even vulgar language. Repeated use of the word “shit”, for example, challenges participants to be open. The residents might start off regarding the meeting with shame or embarrassment, but the mood changes as the speaker in the centre continues to tease them about their lack of openness about an important issue.
The ashamed or disapproving expressions on the faces of participants soon turn to wry smiles. The initial discomfort dissolves in some laughter, and that opens the way to more honest discussion. The meeting then moves to one of the open defecation spots. There, the person leading the meeting touches a stick to some faeces, which he dips into a glass of water. Would anyone want to drink this water? The audience’s response is usually amused and bewildered: of course not. Further discussion follows, during which villagers are informed that contamination of this kind is a source of diarrhoea and other health threats. Following this, they are encouraged to work out the most basic solutions, which they often arrive at themselves: fly-proof latrines and artisanal hand-washing facilities. Villagers with natural leadership skills then commit to forming teams to build latrines, and work begins immediately. A hole is excavated in the ground and a brick outhouse with a wooden seat and a roof is constructed above it. Their promise to “stop eating shit” – as the visitors bluntly put it – becomes a matter of pride and self-esteem. When researchers return to evaluate progress, they usually find healthier, cleaner communities. Moreover, villagers are keen to spread the message to nearby villages. Weeks after the doctors’ visit, the results are evident in those communities that have honoured their commitments.
Faeces has disappeared from the margins of the village. The village surroundings don’t smell as bad as they did and residents are proud to show the functioning latrines they have built. Access to clean water and sanitation is more extended in Africa’s cities. However, urban areas face increasing demographic pressures. Massive migrations from rural areas are multiplying the number of informal settlements in virtually all African cities. These new, makeshift urban developments also often lack the most basic sanitation infrastructure, while their higher population density makes things worse than in the rural areas. Moreover, the transmission of associated diseases, typhoid, malaria, diarrhoea and cholera, which are among the leading causes of death on the continent, is faster in crowded environments. Nigeria, for example, has the largest population of any country in Africa, and that has doubled in size since the 1990s. Its population is nearing 200 million, and that is likely to double by 2050. More than 50% of Nigerians live in cities, while only 15% lived in urban environments in 1960, according to the UN’s Population Division. Lagos, the country’s largest city, now has an estimated population of more than 20 million people. A World Bank report shows that two out of three people in the city lived in slums in 2015. One of those slums is Makoko, a succession of shacks built on wooden stilts on the Lagos Lagoon. Once a quiet fisherman’s village known as the “Nigerian Venice”, Makoko has become the world’s biggest slum on water, where more than 150,000 people are exposed daily to a lack of clean water.
There are no sanitation facilities and the sewage ends up in the lagoon, below the slum’s houses. Residents live in a fetid atmosphere and often die of the diseases mentioned above. “For every one urban dweller reached with sanitation in Nigeria since 2000, two people were added to the number living without [it],” says a 2016 Water Aid report. According to the same NGO, some 67% of urban dwellers (or almost 60 million people) in Nigeria live “without improved sanitation”. Between 2000 and 2015, all global regions saw a drop in the number of people practising open defecation, except for Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2017 UN study. The major influencing factor? High population growth. Even with more than a decade before the target date of 2030, it is likely that high population growth alone will prevent sub-Saharan Africa from meeting its target of universal access to clean water and sanitation.
SDG 5: gender equality
Higher levels of political representation for women in Africa have not necessarily advanced gender equality, with this disparity most acutely experienced at the grassroots level
The Under Secretary-General of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN WOMEN) Phumzile Mhlambo-Ngcuka, who is from South Africa. Photo: RODGER BOSCH / AFP
By Helen Grange
Gender equality is arguably one of the most elusive of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most African countries have embraced progressive legislation addressing gender disparity, but the reality is that women remain disenfranchised on a wide scale, with some countries actually regressing in respect of women’s empowerment. Research findings exemplify this vexing situation. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index assessed 149 countries according to their levels of women’s economic participation, education, health and political empowerment, and found that as a region, sub-Saharan Africa’s gender gap had widened in 2018 after six years of progress. Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Chad were among the 10 worst- performing countries. Although Zimbabwe (ranked 47th) closed the gap on wages, Mozambique (49th) had fewer women in senior and managerial positions. South Africa was ahead in many gender categories, but its position on wage equality declined to 117 from 114 the previous year, the Global Gender Gap index shows. Similarly, the 2018 SADC Gender Protocol 2018 Barometer, which is produced annually by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance – comprising women’s rights networks in all the 15 SADC countries as well as cross-cutting theme NGOs – shows that women’s representation in economic decision-making has increased by a single percentage point, or from 19% to 20%, over the past decade. According to the report, maternal mortality across most of the Southern African Development Community remains unacceptably high, and is declining too slowly to meet the SDG target of 70 per 100, 000 by 2030. The only exceptions are Mauritius and Seychelles.
“Teenage pregnancy, violence in schools, child labour and inadequate physical infrastructure continue to impact learning, enrolment, performance and completion rates among girls,” Lucia Makamure, a gender and public policy expert from Zimbabwe, told Africa in Fact. She adds that the available evidence shows that member countries in the region have failed to create enabling environments for all children. “For every step forwards for gender equality, there seem to be two steps backwards.” The vision of SDG 5 is that by 2030 men and women should be treated equally in social and economic contexts, as well as in other parts of society – and, in particular, that they should not face discrimination on the basis of their gender. But if current inequities between genders persist, analysts agree this goal will remain unattained for many decades to come. One of the most notable gender inequities in Africa is women’s lack of access to land ownership. Only 13% of women, compared to 40% of men, have sole ownership of all or part of the land they own, according to a 2018 Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems, a joint report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the African Union. In Cameroon, for example, women undertake more than 75% of agricultural work but own less than 10% of the land. UNICEF identifies comparable disparities in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hindered access to education is another root cause of gender inequality on the continent. The latest Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS) figures reveal that Africa is home to more than half of the global total of out-of-school children of primary school age. Girls are 56% more likely to never have enrolled in school than boys at 42%. Educational equity has not been achieved even in Zimbabwe, which is known for its high literacy rate. “The majority of women have limited access to education, and yet access to education and training has a major impact on women’s potential to access and benefit from income-generating opportunities, which improve their overall wellbeing,” Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Community, SMME Development told media in Harare on International Women’s Day on 8 March this year. Low levels of female education are also a key factor in the slow pace of Africa’s fertility transition to lower birth rates because education delays entry into marriage and increases the chances of employment. “Evidence from 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa shows that increasing women’s education across different socio-economic groups is very effective in reducing overall fertility levels,” write professors Sabu Padmadas and Nyovani Madise in an article published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development in April this year.
They add that while it is the economically privileged who attain higher education and have fewer children, the effects of more educational provision gradually trickle down to the less privileged through a diffusion of ideas such as smaller family size and social development. However, against the backdrop of struggle to make significant strides toward the UN’s 2030 SDG 5 goals, some good examples show that efforts continue to push the gender agenda forward. Tunisia recently approved legislation giving women equal inheritance rights, despite resistance from religious and conservative quarters. In Ethiopia, under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, some 50% of parliamentarians are now women; he has also appointed a woman, Sahle-Work Zewde, as president. Yet, at the same time, the sometimes glaring disparities in achieving equality for women are reflected in the fact that significant gender disparity still exists in Ethiopia’s higher education sector. Malawi has adopted a programme that aims to encourage and enable women to engage in agriculture. Botswana now has a special economic empowerment programme for women that aims to assist them in increasing their resources as agricultural producers. In Kenya, technological innovations such as M-Pesa and the Kenya Women’s Finance Trust’s mobile banking solutions have unlocked opportunities for millions of women in the country’s rural areas, who are vigorously responding to these liberating technologies.
Overall, the statistics show that South Africa is the most gender-equal of all Africa’s 55 countries, followed by Rwanda, Namibia, Mauritius and Malawi. However, these scores are misleading if read without a deeper analysis, cautions Professor Deirdre Byrne of the Institute for Gender Studies at the University of South Africa. Indices for human development group education with health, but these need to be disaggregated, she argues. “So it is possible, as in Tunisia, for women to be given special attention in childbirth – thus decreasing the rate of maternal mortality – but not to be as well educated as men,” she told Africa in Fact. Moreover, she adds, higher levels of political representation don’t necessarily advance gender equality at the grassroots level. “The South African parliament has the highest number of women members in Africa. This makes it more likely that these MPs will fight for the concerns of women, but this is not guaranteed.
”Activists at the grassroots level experience this disparity between policy and reality most acutely. In largely isiXhosa township communities in Cape Town, the role of caring for children or other family members still falls mainly or exclusively on the women, which often forces them to leave education early, says Sian Morris, the Cape Town based programme manager for Global Vision International, a social enterprise that runs high-impact volunteer and international education programmes. “Nationally, some 18% of females leave education early to due to family commitments as compared to 0.4% of males,” she told Africa in Fact. Ultimately, the greatest obstacle to gender equality in Africa is patriarchy – which means “the rule of the fathers” – posits Byrne. “Patriarchy is responsible for many damaging assumptions about gender,” she says. Among these assumptions are widespread ideas such as “women are stupid”, “men are emotionally unskilled” and “a woman’s place is in the kitchen and/or looking after the children”. “These assumptions form the foundation for many behaviours that keep women in positions of oppression and subordination, and can only be rooted out through education,” Byrne concludes.