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.

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.

The view from Kariobangi

SDG 11: inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities

More citizen engagement will be needed to drive greater political transparency and accountability in implementing development projects

Soweto in Gauteng, South Africa. Photo: iStock

By Justus Wanzala

It is midday and in Nairobi’s low income settlement of Kariobangi the April sun is intense, courtesy of an unusually long dry spell. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Asulma Centre officials, who are keen to promote the use of solar energy for cooking and renewable and other innovative cooking appliances. The centre makes and promotes various solar appliances and improved wood and charcoal stoves. Today, omelette-making using a solar CooKit is being demonstrated. A solar CooKit is a cooker made of cardboard and silver foil shaped to reflect maximum sunlight onto a black cooking pot, converting sunlight into thermal energy. A heat resistant bag (most often plastic) surrounds the pot and acts as a greenhouse by allowing sunlight to enter the pot, while preventing heat from escaping. So alluring is the activity that it has attracted a crowd. In charge of the demo session is Samuel Odhiambo, a self-help project leader with Asulma. The centre was established in 2008 by the youth and children from poor households who had ended up on the streets and who were keen to empower themselves. Now, nine years later, the centre owns a cooking and lighting appliance shop, a workshop and an informal school for neighbourhood children whose parents cannot afford to send them to either public or private schools. Kariobangi is a notorious slum area. According to Odhiambo, the neighbourhood faces a wide range of poverty-related challenges. Among these is a lack of affordable clean energy for cooking. The majority of the people rely on paraffin and biomass – mainly wood and charcoal – for cooking, he says. Using these fuels emits carbon dioxide, and the indoor pollution contributes to a high incidence of respiratory infections in the settlement. Infections are particularly high among women and girls, because cooking is their traditional Making Africa’s cities sustainable is all the more urgent because the continent is rapidly urbanising. responsibility.

This social problem is one reason Asulma exists, Odhiambo adds, to offer remedial intervention. The centre’s work is supported by Solar Cooking KoZon, a Dutch organisation that promotes solar cooking and clean energy options, and Solar Cookers International, a US-based, non-profit advocacy group that promotes and provides education on solar cooking. In 2013, Asulma started a programme that aims to promote solar cooking technologies and other energy-saving, clean-cooking options. Odhiambo says on a sunny day, a solar CooKit generates heat of up to 110 degrees centigrade; an upgraded version, the SolarBox, can generate as much as 150 degrees centigrade. The solar CooKits are affordable, easy to carry around and easy to maintain. “Given the high altitude, water boils here at 94 degrees and oil at 250 degrees,” Odhiambo explains. To make allowance for variations in weather conditions, they can also be used with other fuel-saving technologies. The alternatives include hay baskets, which allow food to continue cooking after it has been removed from an oven. The insulated baskets, also known as “fireless cookers”, insulate the stored heat, which can cook food over a long period of time. However, the innovative cooking systems aren’t totally dependent on solar energy. “Here in Kenya, solar cooking cannot stand alone,” says Odhiambo. “That’s the reason we have opted for hay baskets or fireless cookers and other alternatives as well. Energy-saving stoves, which use charcoal, are economical and environmentally friendly.” The solar CooKit, which costs only $12, offers an additional advantage to the community: it can be used to purify water by boiling it. This is an important advantage in a community affected by municipal water supply systems that are contaminated by leaking waste pipes

The centre also makes briquettes to reduce its own reliance on wood products, contributing to reducing deforestation as well as generating a commercial product. Due to high levels of poverty in the area, the briquettes are sold on credit, with payment in instalments. Judith Ajok, 30, a resident with a five member family who uses the solar CooKit, says it emits no smoke and leaves cooked food rich in nutrients. It can also be left to do its work, which allows her to attend to other household tasks while cooking. Ajok also uses an energy-saving charcoal stove. Combined with the CooKit, this results in useful fuel cost savings for the household. More generally, Asulma’s work in the neighbourhood aims to support sustainable livelihoods for the Kariobangi community. This resonates with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11, which focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. But it could be argued that all the SDGs are important. Agreed to in 2015 by the global community in New York as part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, they are interwoven with each other, so that, ultimately, results achieved in one will also support efforts with regard to another. Making Africa’s cities sustainable is all the more urgent because the continent is rapidly urbanising. Currently, Africa’s urban population growth is 13%, according to a 2018 report by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). Kenya has made some progress towards attaining SDG 11, despite rapid urbanisation, says George Awalla, who is Kenya country director of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), an international charity organisation, and cochair of the Sustainable Development Goals Kenya Forum. Rapid urbanisation brings with it the challenges of poverty, he adds. “Between a third and half of Kenya’s urban population live in poverty, and the gap between rich and poor is rapidly widening,” he comments. Rapid urbanisation also brings with it systematic and entrenched inequality and discrimination affecting girls and women, as well as people with disabilities.

“Women experience systemic sexual exploitation and abuse, which leads to inter-generational poverty effects. People with disabilities are poorer than people without disabilities in nearly all socio-economic indicators,” Awalla told Africa in Fact. Disaster preparedness is another challenge facing African cities, according to Awalla. Disasters continue to erode African developmental gains, more so in urban settings. “It is estimated that 90% of the continent’s urban population is highly vulnerable to disaster-related mortality,” he says. Kenya still has much to do to attain SDG 11, Awalla says, though the effects of rapid urbanisation are now being partly alleviated by innovations such as the use of renewable energy. “Kenya has the highest electricity access rate in East Africa at 75%, both from grid and off-grid solutions, according to a recent Multi-Tier Framework Energy Access Survey report,” he told Africa in Fact. But like other commentators, he adds that “enhanced citizen engagement” will be needed to drive greater political transparency and accountability with regard to the implementation of development projects, including the development of sustainable and inclusive cities. Cheikh Mbow, executive director of NGO Realizing a Sustainable Global Future Through Science (START) concurs with Awalla about the role of renewable energy for urban sustainability. But he contends that “most cities in Africa” already promote an energy mix to address growing demand from households and manufacturing. “Africa is the land of renewable sources of energy through hydropower, biomass, solar and wind,” he says. Mbow adds that it is “rather surprising” that renewables are being promoted more in rural areas as solutions for basic needs, while urban industries, transport systems and high rise buildings tend to rely on a supply of conventional electricity.

Understandably, there is a feeling that attaining the environmental dimension of SDG 11 in Africa is a tale of so near and yet so far. Mbow avers that “a more systematic approach” to implementing SDG projects is needed. For example, renewable energy growth hinges on innovation, and investment in research and development is therefore crucial. “Success depends on new interventions, or tinkering [with existing ones] that are aligned with local ambitions,” he told Africa in Fact. Such projects need to be scaleable, so that they can be reproduced, because this fosters policy confluence. Sustainable buildings, renewable energy use, ICT use to improve health services and mass learning and awareness are good examples, he says. However, Mbow agrees with Awalla that some changes to addressing the problem of sustainable cities can be observed in African countries, though they might appear to be gradual. In key cities, new infrastructure in housing, transport, water supply, health and education is emerging. Examples include Konza Technology City in Nairobi, Kenya; the Bouregreg Valley Development, which combines commercial and real estate in Morocco; the Caculo Cabaça Hydroelectric Plant in Dondo, Angola; the Pointe-Noir Special Economic zone in Pointe-Noir, Republic of Congo; the Walvis Bay Port Container Terminal in Walvis Bay, Namibia; and The New Horizons Energy waste-to-energy plant in Cape Town, South Africa, among others. In Mbow’s view, these positive outcomes are contributing to the higher growth rates of some countries. For instance, the Ethiopian government is addressing congestion on the roads of its capital, Addis Ababa, with its urban light train project, which began service in 2015. In Rwanda, heavy investment in housing projects, especially in the capital Kigali, has seen a construction boom and improved access to decent housing for many in recent years.

Rapid urbanisation is a concern to many stakeholders. During the 1950s, some 85% of Africans lived in rural areas, but by 2050 only 56% of them will, says Naison Mutizwa- Mangiza, director of the regional office of UN-Habitat for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. However, he adds, African governments face financial constraints that hinder the effective provision of basic services, and this is exacerbated by rapid urbanisation. Indeed, African governments are struggling to provide the most basic services usually expected of government: sanitation, schools, hospitals, clean water and solid waste management in major urban centres. In terms of progress on the SDGs around Africa, a 2016 report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a United Kingdom think tank, indicated that few of Africa’s SDG targets were on track for 2030. According to the report, efforts to meet some SDGs were heading in the wrong direction, among them reducing slum populations (SDG 11), reducing waste (SDG 12) and combating climate change (SDG 13). Overall, according to the report, low-income countries (LICs) and lower middle-income countries (LMICs) in west and central Africa were on track to increase government revenue as a share of GDP by 20%. LICs and LMICs in East Africa were falling just short of the benchmark. Two LICs/LMICs in southern Africa, Lesotho and eSwatini, were projected to see declines in government revenue as a share of GDP. Countries in crisis or hosting refugees, such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, were identified as facing extra challenges in achieving sustainable cities and communities, according to a 2018 report by the ODI and the International Rescue Committee. “People in crisis often don’t have access to adequate safe and affordable housing and basic services and are more likely to live in informal and unsafe areas,” said the report.

UN-Habitat is working with national and local governments to develop sustainable energy and climate action plans, Mutizwa-Mangiza told Africa in Fact. The plans cover sustainable energy and climate change mitigation in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The project includes the provision of technical assistance on the design and implementation of housing projects in these countries. The organisation is also developing awareness and capacitybuilding tools around sustainable urban energy planning. For example, UN-Habitat has partnered with Nigeria’s federal government to conduct hands-on training in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, green entrepreneurship and enterprise development for 125 young people from the country’s 26 states. In 2011, UN-Habitat initiated a project to promote energy-efficient buildings in East Africa, working with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.The project targeted some 400,000 housing units and 100 large office buildings. However, it would appear that the target was ambitious. Reports indicate that the project, which ran between 2013 and 2016, completed energy audits for 1,086 housing units, though it was able to supply its Sustainable Buildings Designs for Tropical Climates manual as a learning resource to 10 universities in the region. The project also successfully led to Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Burundi incorporating sustainable building practices into national policy.

Non-state actors, including intergovernmental organisations and NGOs, will be crucial to efforts towards achieving the sub-goals of SDG 11, Mutizwa-Mangiza added. Asulma’s achievements in Kariobangi serve as an example. As a grassroots initiative driven by a powerful need to find solutions to problems experienced by African citizens in their own communities, it is showing that “ordinary citizens” have the creativity and ingenuity to develop solutions for themselves. But at the same time, it highlights some awkward realities about African governments. Mutizwa-Mangiza might be taking a somewhat diplomatic attitude when he attributes these merely to “financial constraints”. According to Asulma members, much could be achieved if national, provincial and city governments showed more political will in the development of  sound policies. More investment in sustainable energy projects in low-income settlements and rural areas was also necessary, they say. Odhiambo, the Asulma project leader, says that some of the materials used in the manufacture of the CooKit, such as the silver foil, are taxed, for example, making it difficult to keep the price low. Moreover, he adds, the community’s experience is that few government officials are involved in energy and housing and environmental issues, and those who are, are often too junior to have any influence. “This makes it difficult for social enterprises like ours to seek appropriate interventions that require government input,” he told Africa in Fact. That void, he added, has been filled by non-governmental organisations, whose mandates are often narrow and their capacities limited.

Justus Wanzala is a Kenyan journalist who writes on the environment, climate change, agriculture and practical technologies, as well as sustainable development and social issues. He has been working for over a decade in the areas of journalism and development. Currently, he works for the Kenya Broadacsting Corporation and also as a freelancer/contributor for various publications across the globe.