This year like every other year, the world marks yet another World Refugee day and yet again we will have an increase in statistics on the number of people who would have fled their home countries all around the world either as a result of war or natural disasters. What I have come to appreciate over the years of my interaction with people who have had to leave their homes in very difficult circumstances unwillingly is that they always strive to rise above their circumstances. While they may be referred to as the stateless or refugees, most of those whom I have encountered are resilient and refuse to let their circumstances define them.
Gone are the days that refugees are only the poor of the poorest but as conflicts become more vicious we see even the well off being displaced, a reminder that when war destroys a nation it never spares anyone and all become vulnerable and exposed to harsh uncontrollable situations. Though conflict and displacement exacerbates levels of poverty and sense of hopelessness, my admiration is on how those displaced defy the odds to rebuild their lives with determination making the best of what they have got to restore their dignity and pride as human beings. The truth of the matter is no one wants to be a refugee we all want to have some place where we belong. So to see this group of our society picking up their lives albeit in some difficult and desperate times lights up my heart that all is not lost yet and there is hope for humanity.
It is inconsiderate of political leaders who refuse to reason to subject their constituents, who elevated them to leadership to unbearable ways of life just because they are too hungry for power or they are too blind to realise the kind of injustice they bring upon those who elevated them to power. There is an African saying UBUNTU that says I am because you are. It is time all leaders exercised some UBUNTU by remembering that they are who they are because of the people. And when differences arise within their ranks they need to stop and reconsider proper mechanisms of resolving their differences in a democratically and peaceful manner instead of calling upon those who support them to pick up arms.
Nonetheless it is commendable of all host communities who open up their arms to welcome brethren in need of a safe haven without prejudice or expecting anything in return, even when resources are scarce. Most of those who have fled their homes have been able to rebuild their lives to some level of normalcy because of the generosity they have received otherwise it would have been devastating if they did not have anywhere to run to.
As we mark this year’s World Refugee day, it is my hope that leaders and their governments will be held accountable to exercise sobriety and caution when dealing with matters of national importance. That they will rise above self-preservation and selfishness to put their fellow countrymen first before the greed that blinds justice and sense of equality. It is my hope that, someday the war torn countries will gain as sense of peace for all to be able to return to their homes and have a place to call home again.
Inequality is growing in the agenda, what doubtless is a great thing. More of the analysis focus on income or assets and are related to the capacity of the people to access goods and services.
Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor, has delivered a wonderful speech at Ted Talks about how inequality could have a biggest impact in people dignity when we move from a “Market Economy” to a “Market Society”.
It is so common to think the context evolves very quickly that too frequently we forget that such evolution has deep implications in our work. Let me tell you a little story about how we were and how we are now….
What it was like?
Up to a few years ago lines of demarcation in the development world were clear.
NGOs were the good people; they worked in difficult places; they worked with the poor; they helped governments in crises; they had dedicated staff who made sacrifices to achieve their missions. Everyone; donors, governments (aid recipients and donors); common person on the street (in poor and rich countries) appreciated NGOs. And just for the record, still my mummy does, maybe she does not get completely what I try to do but she still tells her friends, my son is a good man, he helps others!
Also NGOs were the humanists who were alone in their space, maybe together with the missionaries. Other actors, governments, private sector and multilaterals had their own spaces and the overlap was limited. We had the mandate and the legitimacy, we were the ones expected to fight poverty. To some extent we had the monopoly of the aid. The UN was there, but they were always something different to us.
The Development paradigm was driven by western, mainly European, thought. Almost as if the developed nations had the responsibility to deliver the poor nations from their miseries. Like a White Man’s Burden in fact. The goals & approaches were clear – once the poor countries have health services, education, infrastructure and free enterprise; they could all aspire to become like developed countries. The paradigm was mirroring Sweden or Finland, if they achieved it, why others are not going to do it? In fact part of the paradigm was “we live better than our parents and we expect our children to live better than us”
What has it changed to?
NGOs are no longer the blue-eyed entities, which can do no wrong. Their space is being constantly challenged. By donors asking for evidence of results, given the financial crunch, asking for “value for money”, pressing to count, even what is not countable. By governments in the developing (&in some cases developed) world where NGOs are raising uncomfortable questions about citizens rights, transparency and accountability. Civil society space is shrinking everywhere – Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar), Africa (Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan), LAC (Nicaragua, Honduras) and even in Spain or France. By the common person on the street who thinks every time more, what are you doing with my money, I’ve been giving it for years and still you need more! But as said still my mummy and her friends consider us the good guys!
At the same time and suddenly we are not the only players in the development world. Monopoly is over. The private sector has moved in and is moving in a big way. It is true that they are at the service end and not the transformative change end but their presence is sufficient to change thinking. They are more competitive and efficient in service delivery and management. As a result, NGO space is further shrinking in terms of what they can do. It’s not only a matter of what we do, but mainly on what is our value added. What can we do that others can’t or can’t do better, if something.
The financial crises in Europe and North America has brought the entire idea of the western development model into question. Children born after 1970 are no longer likely to be more successful and wealthier as compared to those born in the 1950-60 decade. Inequality is actually deepening in the Western World and nowhere is the issue more prominent than the USA and the UK. Moving into the vacuum are the BRICS countries with their own model of change; which poor countries are now looking towards. We have no longer “the paradigm”! In the pace to development, things are messy and volatile, plenty of innovation and some people taking advantage of the chaos, but not anymore a straight avenue.
What does it mean?
The world that we started working in has changed significantly. The world of today has little resemblance to that world. We need to change. In fact we are already late. We can no longer hope to hang on to the older models of change but must look to new options. When in XVIII century the train was gaining traction, there was not point for the carriages owners to add a couple of horses to their carriages, the change was much deeper than that!
Service delivery will eventually end and may be survive only in extreme humanitarian crises situations.
Brokerage, leverage beyond our narrow reach and focus on governance may be the mantras of the future.
This will mean a change in mind-set, the people we have, the partners we work with and in fact how we define ‘work’
Are we ready? Let’s hope so, but let’s work for it.
The recent jubilee celebrations marking 50 years of African unity set the stage for us to reflect on the successes and challenges the continent has faced, and present Africa with an opportunity to formulate a workable plan with a vision of bringing to an end inequality, conflict as well as boost economic growth in Africa for the next 50 years. Africa has enormous potential that is yet to be fully utilized yet for Africa to fulfill its dreams the continent must be unified and progress as one.
The celebrations come at a time when unity of citizens in member states seems unattainable, and many people are not clear on the AU’s mandate and what it means for their individual countries. There is a serious disconnect between the AU and its citizens – many see the AU as an elite club of heads of states protecting their own interests, rather than an institution that represents interests of all Africans. The AU has seemingly failed to forge the strong, unified continent envisioned by the “founding fathers”. Contrary to what the regional economic block such as ECOWAS, COMESA, SADC, EAC and IGAD have managed to do. Facilitation of low-level inter-regional trade and economic integration, which is working well, though in some ways could be a contributing factor that has led to the fragmentation of the continent. Therefore the AU to succeed in unifying the continent it must forge stronger ties with these economic regional bodies.
For a more unified continent and realization of genuine development can only be achieved by bringing African citizens to the table for meaningful collaboration and engagement – devoid of unwarranted suspicion particularly when it comes to difference of ideologies and opinions. The AU therefore needs to create avenues where the African people can freely express their opinions, and share their ideas, visions and priorities for progress, particularly ideas that will build a prosperous, self-sufficient continent. Shaping Africa’s future need not be left to a few individuals but rather it should be an all-inclusive process, for it is the citizens who work hard everyday building this continent shape the future.
The largest percentage of the African population is the youth and women. They too must be allowed to participate in steering Africa’s agenda through provision of adequate representation in all sectors. AU member states must demonstrate their commit by ratifying as well as implementing the AU protocols that promote the rights of youth and women. In addition, their voices must be heard as well as be supported on matters related to African leadership and development, rather than being relegated to the periphery of decision-making. The AU through its member states must recognize citizens’ contributions towards development and growth, and their crucial role in holding leaders and governments accountable.
While Africa has taken great strides since the post-colonial period, a lot is yet to be done if we are to keep moving forward. It is therefore critical for us to examine the shortfalls and search for workable, lasting solutions that improve the lives of people in this continent. Famine, conflict and poverty can be a thing of the past rather than being part of everyday life for millions of Africans. We can fulfill the dreams of Africa, but only if we work as one. Consequently the AU must find innovative ways to reawaken the passions of Pan Africanism and rekindle the ideals that played a critical role at the onset of the OAU back in 1963. People disillusioned by the current AU leadership have to be inspired to dream again along with working together towards a better Africa, just like how Nyerere, Nkrumah and all others who stirred the spirit of Pan Africanism dedicating themselves to the general progress of African continent inspired the citizens of Africa and beyond. Together, Africa can formulate and implement favorable policies for the benefit of all. Otherwise the rebirth and unification of this continent will remain a distant dream for many generations to come.
Recently I was invited to a Ted X Barcelona Change Talk, where I proposed a major disruption in the way aid is managed. In brief I proposed that we move away from food aid and substitute food with cash. Especially in places where the markets are functioning. For obvious reasons this cannot be done in most refugee camps where there are no markets in place. The main arguments for this shift being
It restores dignity and decision making to the poor;
It is easier to manage from the logistics point;
It does not disrupt markets locally.
It enables people to decide what they want to spend on. There is no reason to believe that the poor cannot make good economic decisions.
The talk has attracted a flurry of inputs and questions. This post is to try and address some of those. Interestingly the queries have been more on the mechanics of how to do it rather than questioning whether it should be done.
1. Is there any chance of short term economic distortion in the local economy?
There is, no doubt, some danger of localised temporary inflation. This will happen when there is money in the hands of the people and no supplies in the market. The trick is to work in advance with the suppliers and ensure that there are adequate stocks. If this is done, there is little possibility of distortion. The reason is that the amounts introduced are very small. In the areas where we work in the Horn and East of Africa, the population density is not too high. In fact we expect that the infusion of cash will actually boost the economy by increasing circulation and preventing small businesses from going under. Plus the cash will also help meet other needs – social (marriages) and long term (education, health care).
2. What sort of coverage do you hope to achieve? Some families? All families?
The coverage, normally, is very focussed and targeted to the most vulnerable families. Vulnerability is determined by the situation in the area in which you are doing cash transfers. It could be women / child headed households, aged, disabled, refugees etc.
In some cases, the best way to make this work is blanket coverage. This is not as outrageous as it may sound. For instance, in the area that was mentioned in the Ted Talk, Turkana in Kenya, 95% of the people live on less than a dollar (PPP) a day. Sifting through the whole population to identify the ‘non-eligible’ 5% would cost more than just including them. This is what the Hunger Safety Net Programme is doing too.
3. What amounts are we looking at? Are they dependent on family size?
There are many mechanisms and this depends on the reason for the aid. Important to know that one size will not fit all situations. Some families may get one time support to last over a temporary emergency, some may get amounts for a few months to help them tide over a lean season (say during planting season up to harvest for farmers) and for the chronically poor (in a safety net context) it could be longer term. Whatever the case, one is looking at small amounts, around 75-100US$ per tranche. Important to remember that this amount is to supplement what the HH is earning and not meant to enable them to survive on this amount. Over time, one expects that this amount will go down. This needs to be studied.
4. Is there any possibility of leakages?
There are always possibilities of leakages, even in food transfers. The mechanism to address this is by having strong monitoring checks and balances in place. Ensuring that people know what they are expected to get, that there are accountability and complaints mechanisms where they can register complaints if they do not get it, proactive monitoring by independent teams by visits or phones. It is realistically impossible to eliminate all leakages, one can definitely reduce them significantly.
5. Would there be absolutely no conditionality?
There are different ways of doing this. One is with no conditionality at all – the family decides how and where to spend. Other is to do it with a conditionality related to a desired outcome. A classic and successful example of this is the PROGRESA (rechristened Oportunidades) cash transfer programme in Mexico which made it conditional for the recipient to send the children to school and get them immunised. This has enabled huge strides in education and health in Mexico. However, what it is not supposed to be is dictate what the family uses the money for; as mentioned earlier it is not a dignified way of doing it.
6. How would you monitor impact?
The issue is indeed tricky. It would be important to remember that the cash aid is only contributing to the overall welfare & development of the people. There are a number of factors that impact development. The monitoring & evaluation system will be a combination of qualitative and quantitative and will look at improvement in resilience. Since the metrics for resilience depends on the situation, it will have to be tweaked for each location. Normally one would pick up a representative sample of households and follow them over a period of time to see impact. It would actually be interesting to compare and contrast this approach with another similar area which is engaged in food aid. That way one would be able to get evidence of the appropriateness, or lack thereof, of this approach.