Yesterday I read a great blog post by Alexis Okeowo of the New Yorker: “The Ten Biggest Positive Africa Stories of 2011.” With drought and conflict affecting many of Africa’s fifty-plus countries, no one can say this has been an easy year. But “with all the gloom and doom,” writes Okeowo, “it’s easy to forget the strides the continent’s residents make every day in business, art, technology, and politics.” From the independence of South Sudan to Liberian women winning the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s refreshing to hear about some of Africa’s triumphs instead of its tragedies.
Inspired Okeowo’s blog, here are three more positive stories from Africa in 2011—worth a mention even if they’re not necessarily the kind that make headlines.
Ethiopian farmers embracing change. Hit hard by drought, 1,981 Ethiopian farmers in Tigray who bought weather insurance through an innovative program received a payout this November—the first in the project’s history. Launched by Oxfam America and a host of partners, the risk management initiative now has more than 13,000 participants and is set to expand into three new countries.
And in southern Ethiopia, where drought is making it difficult for herding families to earn a living from their livestock, some took a risk and tried a new approach: irrigated farming. As noted in the video below, true change takes time. But families now tapping the Dawa River for water are working hard to transform their lives for the long term:
No place in Africa is quite like Ethiopia. Photo by Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam America.
Our colleague Anna Kramer is on her first trip to Africa, and just drove from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to the southern border with Kenya, near Moyale where she and Coco McCabe are working on a video about climate change. It’s a long trip but a great way to see a beautiful country.
She left us a phone message we can share with you here:
Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, so the fact that the conflict in DR Congo is in the news seems fitting. It’s been 60 years since we set out to ensure that civilians would be protected from violence. If you want to know why the Geneva Conventions are still relevant today, think about life in the Congo—especially for women and girls.
Since writing about President Obama’s speech in Ghana I have continued to see many fascinating comments about it rolling around the internet. The AfricaFocus web site has organized several reactions from Africa that are critical and very revealing. If you want some perspective on how Africans perceive their own challenges, and how they are reacting to the speech, check it out. Particularly notable are comments about how the US has failed to acknowledge its role in supporting dictators, influencing political transitions, and supporting conflicts during the Cold War. Firoz Manji of Pambazuka News noted this in a clever, alternative version of Obama’s speech called “Obama in Ghana: The speech he might have made.”
Trade came up in an editorial in Public Agenda in Accra, Ghana, which pointed out that “if the developed countries would open just three percent of their markets to African countries, these countries would earn more income from exports trade than the total foreign aid doled out to them in any given year. Mr. Obama shied away from the controversial issue of US farm subsidies which is killing small scale farmers, especially cotton farmers in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.” Oxfam has been pointing this fact out for years, so it was good to see that the idea about trade and subsidies are still relevant, especially to Africans who have so much to gain from trade.
So what are your reactions to Obama’s speech? And if you could rewrite it as Manji did, what would you say?
Pounding fufu (boiled cassava, a staple food) in a small village in central Ghana. Most of the people in this area grow cocoa and make a decent living, but in other parts of the country a large percentage of the population live on less than $1 a day. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America.
Families in the Honduran community of Copan used to survive on two or three small meals a day, but with support from Oxfam and a local partner organization, they now grow a wide variety of nutritious vegetables. Photo: Gilvan Barreto / Oxfam
Gawain Kripke is Oxfam America’s policy director focusing on hunger and food issues. At the G8 summit he’s lobbying government officials and talking to journalists to keep the pressure for action.
Newsflash: G8 and other countries commit to $20 billion over three years for agriculture development. This is $5 billion more than expected and came from “arm twisting” in the last few hours.
We still don’t have details, but this probably means more money – new money – for agriculture development.
This is a victory for President Obama who said, in his press conference today, “There’s no reason Africa can’t feed itself. They have lots of arable land.”
Although this is still a fraction of the annual additional $25 billion to $40 billion needed, it’s a down payment on the goal of ending hunger.
I remember my first encounter with bribery. It took me a little while to register that that’s what was actually happening—a $25 payout for a set of travel papers that would have been mine for a lot less if I had been willing to wait for days for someone—somewhere—to process the request. But by that time, I would have long-missed the flight to my destination. I had to get there and the bureaucrats in charge of the papers probably knew it.
So I forked over the money, as did a friend with whom I was travelling. Our handlers knew the drill well. Before we could even begin to worry about this unexpected outlay, one of them handed us a piece of paper that said “justification for expenses without receipt.” It was stamped with a government seal and the amount recorded at the bottom. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve been looking at the photos we got from Senegal-based photographer Rebecca Blackwell from a trip in March in Mali to visit several Saving for Change groups in the southern part of the country near Bougouni. I want to share a few of Rebecca’s portraits and some quotes from the women we met, just because I have been thinking about them lately. I detected a common theme in each village and group: dignity. The women described how saving and borrowing money from their group helped them manage their affairs independently. You can see pride in their faces, and hear it in their words.
Soumba Doumbia. Photo by Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam America
Soumba Doumbia, mid 30s, three children, sells cloth and clothing to earn extra money.
“Before we established our group, we had no hope. If we had problems and needed money, we had to go to a nearby town and borrow it. We would ask people here for help, but they did not always say yes. Now we can find money for our problems from the group.”
When I first read Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments about AIDS and condoms – “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” he told reporters aboard a plane heading to Cameroon. “On the contrary, it increases the problem” – I flipped out.
I remember muttering to my husband on the train ride into work that it’s one thing for the pope to believe that sort of thing because of his religious beliefs; it’s another for him to actually undermine the work of NGOs like Oxfam around the world, which are encouraging prevention efforts.
Itumeleng Modimola is a caregiver, community worker, HIV/AIDS counselor, fund raiser, and mentor for families affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Photo by: Brett Eloff / Oxfam America.
Oxfam America is a member of Oxfam, an international confederation of 17 organizations networked together in 94 countries, as part of a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty.
Oxfam America is a 501(c)(3) organization. Gifts are tax-deductible to the full extent allowable under the law.