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Global responsibility

2. April 2020 - 16:26
Coronavirus: health systems must serve all people, regardless of their income

Germany’s Federal Government has launched a € 122 billion rescue package to ease the burden on the self-employed, small businesses and mini-companies in the Corona crisis. Basic income support has also been promised. This is unique and unprecedented action.

Another intervention made fewer headlines. Almost at the same time as the debate was going on in the Bundestag, the UN announced it would provide $ 2 billion for a “global humanitarian response”. The  idea is to fight Covid-19 across South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. That is less emergency funding than earmarked for Lower Saxony, a West German state.  

In view of the Covid-19 emergency, people are focusing on national perspectives. Europeans, however, must not lose sight of our responsibility for globalisation and its impacts. The pandemic is causing a global economic crisis which will deepen inequalities, reveal gaps in national health services and intensify other social and environmental problems. The poorer world regions must not be left to themselves.  

Depressingly, the international community did not heed the lessons of the West African Ebola outbreak 2014 to 2016. We should have. We would then be in a very different position today. Important lessons include that health systems need to be under public control (see Andreas Wulf in Focus section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/03). Everybody, regardless of income, must have access. Otherwise, epidemics spread fast.

During the West African Ebola outbreak, some 20,000 people were infected. Almost half of them died. The virus found perfect conditions for spreading in the three countries concerned. The health systems of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone still are among the world’s weakest. Due to the epidemic, general health care deteriorated. The number of malaria deaths doubled, maternal mortality went up again and new cases of measles infection increased.

For a long time, the world looked on and did nothing. The quarantine policy that followed was so radical that exports of the three countries slowed down dramatically. People continued to suffer the consequences long after the epidemic was over (see Shecku Mansaray in Focus section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/03).

At first, communities at the grassroot level and their leaders were not involved in the Ebola response. Accordingly, health workers in white protective clothing met massive mistrust. Life-saving information campaigns only became effective once all relevant social forces were systematically involved. In the Ebola crisis, the people of West Africa physically experienced both the absence of their respective nation states and the failure of the international community. The societies concerned lacked the health and education infrastructure they desperately needed. Thousands paid the price with their lives. To some extent, natural resources, including bauxite, coltan, cobalt and many more, were still exported to the global north, but that did not result in any funding for building infrastructure for social services.  

A vaccine against Ebola was developed and proved helpful. Once the virus was contained, however, attention shifted away from how important good health systems with universal access are. Today, Sierra Leone, a country with at least 7 million people, still has fewer doctors than Frankfurt’s University Hospital. Frankfurt has about 700,000 inhabitants and several other hospitals plus many clinics and general practitioners.

The next outbreak of Ebola, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018, got hardly any international attention. It was not perceived to be a global threat.

For years, the World Bank has been urging countries in the global south to seek private finance to tackle health issues and create emergency programmes based on credit. The problem is that profit-driven health care cannot create the conditions nations need to rise to current and future challenges. The truth is that privatisation has led to devastating underfunding of health care around the globe.

Humanity needs a better approach. Immediate debt relief is needed for the poorest countries. Moreover, international funding mechanism must make good health care feasible around the world. Otherwise, even the most obvious lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic will be forgotten fast once it is over – and the world would sleep-walk into the next disaster.

Anne Jung is a health expert with the aid and human rights organisation medico international.

Kategorien: english

African responses

31. März 2020 - 10:51
Sub-Saharan health-care systems tend to be weak, so preventive action is needed in view of Covid-19

This time the virus did not come from the bush. The starting point of the coronavirus pandemic that is currently spreading in Africa was the airports.

By the end of January 2020, some of the 5,000 African students enrolled in universities in Wuhan, China, had already returned to the continent and were isolated as a precautionary measure due to flu-like symptoms. Two weeks later, Egypt confirmed the first Covid-19 case.

By the end of March 2020, 46 out of 55 countries on the continent were affected. On 30 March, the front-runner was South Africa with 1187 cases, followed by the North African countries with respectively more or less 500 cases. It is no longer only travelers and returnees from Asia, Europe and North America who are spreading the virus. Many others are infected as well. 

It can be assumed that the infection rates will continue to rise for some time. At the moment, the numbers are developing dynamically, but also very differently from country to country. Despite the rapidly increasing availability of diagnostic tools, many infections probably still go unnoticed. Tests are not available in the major cities, and not even in sufficient numbers there.

Jack Ma, the Chinese internet billionaire, donated one million test sets to the African Union (AU), and Ethiopian Airlines delivered them to affected countries. More testing will lead to more diagnosed cases. It is, however, not always clear whether published figures correspond to reality or are glossed over by governments. 

Compared with other world regions, Africa is poorly equipped to treat the disease. Only a few countries, including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa operate functioning isolation wards and, in normal times, have sufficient facilities for intensive care. That is true of North Africa too. In most African countries, however, health-care systems are always overburdened. These countries are in no way prepared for a mass outbreak of Covid-19 with rapidly increasing patient numbers.


Only two doctors per 10,000 inhabitants

About two thirds of African countries have less than two doctors per 10,000 inhabitants. For comparison: Italy, which is currently completely overloaded, has 41 per 10,000. Italy has about three hospital beds per 1,000 people. Most African countries have less than one.

Hoping for substantial foreign aid through medical teams in the short term is probably a risky assumption. It is true that a medical corps was established at European level under the impression of the Ebola epidemic that hit West and Central Africa in 2014. France, Italy and Germany, among others, agreed to send medical teams to developing countries affected by medical emergencies.  However, it is precisely these three countries that are currently hardest hit and need most of their capacities to cope with their own coronavirus crisis. It should be noted, moreover, that foreign helpers initially represent an infection that should be controlled by two-week quarantines.

Africa must slow the spread of the disease if it cannot be completely stopped. Initially, responses to the pandemic aimed to prevent the virus from entering the country. Experience shows that it is essential to fast restrict infected persons’ mobility and physical contact with others. It makes sense to close shopping malls, centres of entertainment and other places where people tend to gather.

Almost all African countries initially closed their airports to commercial intercontinental flights. More than a third also closed their terrestrial borders. Those who arrived before the closure were usually told to go into self-quarantine at home or were isolated by the government in rented hotels. Government members cancelled their trips abroad. Governments closed also schools and universities. In late March, curfews were still rare, and so was the declaration of national emergencies.

Some countries, for instance Burkina Faso, have banned large gatherings of people. The country’s trade unions postponed protest marches. 

Faith leaders have taken action too. The Archbishop of Lagos has banned the use of holy water and recommends disinfectants instead. The High Islamic Council of Algeria has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s closure of holy sites and cancelled pilgrimages to Mecca. After consulting their oracle, the Fâ, the priests of Vodun in Benin, recommend that trips to the hinterland should be avoided if possible. 

Rwanda, innovative as usual, has installed mobile washbasins at bus stations and is telling passengers to wash their hands before boarding. Taxi drivers in Togo have been asked to equip themselves and their passengers with protective masks, which are hard to get however. They have also been admonished to keep passengers at a sufficient distance – on the back seat for example. The lists of regulations and guidelines are as varied as the countries of the continent. So far, there is no coordinated approach at continental or regional level.

Overall, however, African governments have responded fast. The continent has experience with Ebola, Lassa fever and HIV/AIDS, so people are in principle prepared to accept temporary limitations. Many people understand that handshakes and hugs should now be avoided. At the same time, there is a huge gap between the pithy decisions at the top and their implementation by inadequately equipped and insufficiently prepared agencies.

Limited scope for social distancing

Moreover, some rules are hard to follow. In far too many places, access to water and sanitation are limited. People depend on crowded minibuses. Motorcycle taxis sometimes carry up to four passengers. Informal workers – more than 90 % of the labour force in most countries – need their daily wages and cannot afford to stay at home because of mild flu symptoms. People on low incomes are unable to stock up on supplies. They must buy daily essentials in crowded markets. Citizens without health insurance only visit health facilities when they have serious health problems.

What impact the pandemic will have on Africa is impossible to say. On the upside, Africa has many young people and only a small share of aged people, who are especially affected by Covid-19. On the downside, other parameters of co-mortality are worrying. They include the prevalence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, which affects 2.5 million Africans each year and kills half a million.

The economic damage this global crisis will cause in Africa will be of a magnitude that can only be described in broad terms at present. The currently introduced measures to contain Covid-19 alone are estimated to amount to around $ 10 billion. Export revenues will drop, as commodity demand is reduced. Not only oil suppliers such as Nigeria, Angola and Algeria will experience falling foreign exchange earnings. Countries that export mineral and agricultural raw materials will be hit too, though gold and diamonds will prove exceptions. The AU estimates that average growth in Africa will halve to 1.8 % in 2020. That would be less than the population growth.

Sectors that have a major impact on the income and employment of poorer population groups will also suffer. Tourism has collapsed, and so has the trade in cut flowers and tropical fruits. Border closures reduce intra-regional trade. Transfer payments from migrants on whom entire families depend will fall significantly.

The United Nations has so far only called for humanitarian aid for Africa in order to increase the resistance of those affected. Relief efforts, including the provision of sanitation, diagnostic laboratories or mobile shelters for quarantine patients, should start as soon as possible. Because even if it is possible to “flatten the curve in Africa” and contain the pandemic, other illnesses must be treated once restrictions are lifted.

Measures to strengthen the economies of Africa should be envisaged. The debt of African countries, has risen sharply in recent years. To an unprecedented extent, private leaders are involved. Export and tax revenues will decline. Not one African nation has the resources to launch the kind of massive economic relief and stimulus programmes that EU members or the USA have recently adopted. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are sending the right signals, but their scope for granting rather than lending money to countries in need is quite limited. The G20, following their digitised conference on 26 March, should launch a massive aid programme for Africa. A good start would be $ 100 billion dollars. That would be a mere 0.45 % of the 2.2 trillion the US Congress has approved for saving the US economy. So far, the G20 has only pledged $ 5 billion to stimulate the world economy.

Hans-Joachim Preuss heads the office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation (FES) in Benin. The FES is close to Germany’s Social Democratic Party.

Kategorien: english

Scientific mindset versus covidiots

30. März 2020 - 13:22
Religious obscurantism is making it harder to prevent Covid-19

The deadly Covid-19 has spawned a new word for a new category of people: covidiot. Several leaders – political as well as religious – are fighting to enter its ranks.

  • Kailash Vijayvargiya, the general secretary of the ruling Bharatya Janata Party (BJP), averred that Covid-19 could not harm a country that has “33 crore (3.3 million) gods and goddesses”.
  • While organising an All Pakistan Sunni conference in Lahore on March 21, Muhammad Ashraf Asif Jalali, a Pakistan cleric, confidently asserted that “no one can get sick except as per the will of God” and should anyone get infected at the conference, the Pakistan government should “hang” him.
  • Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne encouraged members of his Tampa, Florida-based megachurch congregation to shake hands (a few Sunday's back), proclaiming that his church would remain open because the Lord would keep Christians safe there.

Many others represent the face of obscurantism that is hurting the global fight against the pandemic. Fundamentalist forces have a vice-like grip on the hearts and minds of large swathes of the global population. Indians, for instance, have been under a communications assault insisting that the consumption of cow urine would provide a bulwark against the disease.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, declared the institutions of science and technology to be the “temples of modern India”. Since his time, a scientific mind-set has developed, and a far greater share of the people get a school education. Ever more people understand that Nehru’s temples are more reliable saviours than those of all religious denominations.

Nonetheless, retrograde beliefs are still alive, even among the educated elite. When today’s prime minister, Narendra Modi of the BJP, asked Indians to applaud doctors from their windows and balconies by clanging utensils, much of the country chose to convert it into a festival, moving out in large processions, ringing bells, beating gongs and making noise with all sorts of utensils. Those gatherings added to the nightmares of the medical profession.

On March 24, Modi announced a three-week national lockdown. However, his government did little to ensure that about 139 million migrant workers and their families, who make up 10 % of the population, could return home. Many have got stranded without jobs, shelter or food. Bus and railway stations are teeming with people trying to get home while others have started a long trek, walking home with no food or water. While state governments are trying their best and the civic community is helping, the problem is still serious. The police are helpful at times, but sometimes they harass the poor.

The situation in India's densely populated slums is critical too. Social distancing is hardly an option. Not every slum has running water moreover.

While the government obviously did not think through the lock-down, it is significant that Modi made a firm statement in favour of social distancing though there were some people in his Hindu-supremacist party who were planning religious festivities. At the same time, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan still opposes a nation-wide lockdown, though subnational authorities have become active. Pakistan has the highest figure of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Asia. Clerics oppose the limiting of mosque gatherings, and the government failed to adequately test and quarantine thousands of pilgrims returning from Iran.

Preventing the disease is even more important in South Asia than in richer world regions because health systems are much weaker. Italy has 3.2 hospital beds per 1000 inhabitants; India has 0.5. The situation is similar in neighbouring countries. So far, there is only minimal testing and an acute shortage of protective wear.

It is too early to say whether the Indian prime minister’s lockdown message to the nation – “Step outside in the next 21 days, and you set this country back 21 years” – came too late. Faced with the pandemic, however, Modi is finally turning to science. Nepal and Bangladesh have lockdowns too, Sri Lanka has a curfew. Will these measures be effective given various administrative shortcomings?

Aditi Roy Ghatak is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata.

Kategorien: english

Global action urgently needed

27. März 2020 - 14:40
an incomplete selection of important statements concerning global response to Covid-19

Last week, I wrote a blog post in which I argued that Covid-19 required a global response, both in regard to health and economic challenges. In the meantime, more competent people have been weighing in spelling out similar messages. Here is an incomplete compilation of some important statements.

Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia's prime minister, explains in today's Financial Times why developing countries like his will be especially hard-hit: “Ethiopia has made steady progress in the provision of health services over the past two decades. But nothing has prepared us for threats posed by Covid-19. Access to basic health services remains the exception rather than the norm. Even taking such common-sense precautions as washing hands is often an unaffordable luxury to the half of the population who lack access to clean water. Even seemingly costless social distancing is hard to implement. Our lifestyle is deeply communal, with extended families traditionally sharing the burdens and bounties of life together, eating meals from the same plate. Our traditional and rain-dependent agriculture is dictated by the fixed timeframes of weather cycles in which planting, weeding and harvesting must happen. The slightest disruption to that chain, even for a brief period, can spell disaster, further jeopardising already tenuous food supply and food security.”

He warns that the disease must not be allowed to spread in Africa, and not only for the sake of Africans, but for the sake of the entire world community. If Covid-19 spins out of control in one world region, it will spread from there again even if it is contained in more prosperous places, where success would only prove momentary. The Ethiopian leader wants the World Health Organization, the G 20 and other international institutions to act fast and responsibly.

As the world economy is dropping into a deep economic slump, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have issued an unusual call for debt relief. They express particular concern for low–income countries which are eligible to loans from IDA (International Development Association):“With immediate effect – and consistent with national laws of the creditor countries – the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund call on all official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from IDA countries that request forbearance. This will help with IDA countries’ immediate liquidity needs to tackle challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak and allow time for an assessment of the crisis impact and financing needs for each country. We invite G20 leaders to task the WBG and the IMF to make these assessments, including identifying the countries with unsustainable debt situations, and to prepare a proposal for comprehensive action by official bilateral creditors to address both the financing and debt relief needs of IDA countries.”

The stance the World Bank and the IMF are taking fits in well with what African governments and non-governmental organisations want. Both international financial institutions have announced huge lending programmes, especially for boosting health care. The big question, of course, is whether developing countries can afford to borrow at all, which is why debt relief is so important.

The global community is experiencing an unprecedented crisis, and conventional policy approaches need to be reconsidered. That is especially true in regard to government spending. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist, points out that economies cannot simply be stimulated as would normally be the case in a financial crisis: “What we’re seeing in those surging unemployment claims isn’t a conventional recession; it’s more like a medically induced coma, done for the patient’s own good – which is why Trump’s desire to get people back to work is lethally misguided. But people need to eat even while they can’t work. So two cheers for the $ 2 trillion legislation the Senate just passed. People keep calling it a ’stimulus’ bill, but that’s not what it really is. Instead, it’s mainly disaster relief: checks to families, enhanced unemployment benefits, aid to hospitals and hard-pressed states, and loans to help small businesses survive.”

Krugman's column implicitly supports the idea of international debt relief. The point is that not only prosperous nations need financial firepower. Neither financially week individuals nor financially week nations must be overburdened with debt. Therefore, new loans from governments and multilateral bodies make less sense than grants. This is not the time to worry about irresponsible indebtedness. Covid-19 requires decisive action, and that action has negative impacts on economies. Not taking such action is  irresponsible. The implication is that nobody is guilty of recklessly causing economic slowdown. We are facing a collective crisis, and international solidarity is needed to escape from it.

It is a good sign that G 20 held a digitised meeting this week, but the results were disappointing. The promise of boosting the world economy with $ 5 billion spending looks minuscule when compared with the multi-billion programmes the USA and Germany have adopted at the nation-state level. G 7 coordination has been even more disappointing. Its foreign ministers could not agree on a joint declaration because Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, insisted on calling the novel coronavirus the “Wuhan virus” . No, it does not help to blame China for this crisis. As the WHO has correctly pointed out, this is a global crisis that requires global action. Blame shifting does not help.

Kategorien: english

Fouling the air

27. März 2020 - 11:06
Malawi is imposing a new tax on vehicles, saying the revenues will help to fight climate change

The annual tax, introduced last November, ranges from 4000 to 15,500 Kwacha (€ 4.80 to € 18.5) depending on engine size. It is payable upon renewal of vehicles’ certificates of fitness.

Binton Kutsaira, minister of energy, natural resources and mining, says the tax is part of Malawi’s efforts to meet its obligations under climate agreements. He says it will generate funds for projects to fight the effects of climate change, such as tree-planting programmes. In a controversial move, the government has exempted its own fleet of vehicles from the tax.

Some environmentalists are not convinced of the new measure: “This tax will not reduce carbon emissions,” says Bright Sibale, managing director at the Centre for Development Management, a consultancy in Lilongwe. He notes that the government already discourages driving by taxing fuel at the pump.

Mainly, the new tax on vehicles will lower people’s disposable incomes, he adds. “Therefore more people will depend on charcoal for heating and will cut down trees. The result will be an increase in deforestation, which will lead to more carbon emissions.”

Environmentalists also say that government energy policies tend to undermine efforts to clear the air. For example, the government is considering funding a 300 megawatt coal powered electricity plant at Kam’mwamba in the southern part of the country.

“Many countries are moving away from coal but we are still considering the use of coal to produce energy. This does not fit well with the spirit of the new tax,” says Godfrey Banda, a retired civil servant.

In addition, the parastatal Electricity Generation Company Malawi operates diesel-powered generators to provide electricity in the event of power cuts. The generators emit a lot of carbon, environmentalists say.

Ironically, in view of the investments in power generation, only about 12 % of Malawians have electricity in their homes. The rest rely mainly on charcoal and wood for energy. Although cutting wood is illegal in most forest reserves, the practice continues as a matter of necessity.

Some Malawians worry that revenues generated from the new vehicle tax will not be used for climate projects at all. The sceptics hint that the funds will either end up in the government’s general coffers or disappear mysteriously. Energy Minister Kutsaira denies the charge.

Malawians, already hard-hit economically, will be watching.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.


Kategorien: english

Demographic transition

26. März 2020 - 15:14
The countries of the global North are the forerunners of a population development that is now widespread in other world regions

Death rates always fall before fertility rates do. Therefore, populations initially increase fast. Later, fertility rates begin to fall – provided that prosperity increases, education improves and people have more individual options in their lives. Population growth slows down accordingly, until it stops altogether. Because of the low fertility rate and a high life expectancy, the societies concerned become older and older.

The frontrunners of the demographic transition are the prosperous nations of the global North. They are now in the final phase of this transformation. Their current birth rates tend to be far below the so-called replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, at which a population size is stable in the long run without needing immigrants. In some countries, populations have actually begun to shrink.

In some developing countries and emerging markets fertility rates have fallen below replacement level too. They include Brazil, Chile, Malaysia and Nepal. About half of the world population now lives in countries in which women bear fewer than 2.1 children on average in their lifetime.

DSW data report 2019:

Kategorien: english

More and more, older and older

26. März 2020 - 14:50
Both ageing societies with declining populations and growing, youthful ones face serious challenges

In 2018, for the first time in human history, the worldwide number of people over the age of 64 exceeded the number of children under the age of five. According to UN estimates, the number of people of retirement age will double once more in the next 30 years. The older age groups would then also outnumber people between 15 and 24. In any case, the world population will definitely keep getting older.

This information will hardly surprise people in Italy, Portugal or Germany. In these countries, the median age, which divides the population into two equal groups, is above 45. Those are the peak figures in Europe, the demographically oldest world region. Japan, however, is the oldest country – with the median age of 48.

The fact that people are getting older and older is causing problems, especially in places where the ratio of elderly people to people of working age is increasing. The latter group must generate the funds needed to care for the pensioners. The question of how social and pension systems can best adapt to an ageing population is a hot topic in the global North. Finding sustainable solutions is becoming ever more urgent. The ageing of the baby-boom generation means that difficult times lie ahead for the countries concerned.

The ageing of society does not only have impacts on the global North, however. It increasingly affects newly industrialising and developing countries. Since life expectancies have risen in Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East in recent decades, the share of people over 64 there is expected to double by 2050. National governments face the challenge of expanding their health-care systems and social services so they will have the capacities to meet the needs of a growing number of older people.

Population ageing is the result of a development path that is called the “demographic transition” (see box). At the end of this process, populations start to shrink. By 2050, 55 countries will experience a population decline of at least one percent. Many of them are in Europe. In absolute terms, however, China is expected to see the greatest loss. According to UN estimates, this demographic giant with a current population of 1.4 billion – more than the entire African continent – will have about 37 million fewer residents by the middle of the century. The consequences of China’s one-child-per-family policy are forcing it to rise to new challenges (see article by Felix Lee in Focus section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/04).

Generally speaking, the world population will grow more slowly in the future than it did in the past. Since the mid-1960s, the global population growth rate has been halved. It used to be two percent, but has dropped to one percent. However, today significantly more people of reproductive age live on earth than six decades ago. Therefore, the world population is currently still growing by about an annual 80 million. By 2050 it is expected to grow to a total of 9.7 billion people – an increase of around 2 billion in just three decades. Growth will certainly be concentrated primarily in South and Central Asia as well as in Africa. Over half of the global population growth in the next 30 years will occur in sub-Saharan Africa, which will add 1 billion people during this period.

Dealing with the transition

A growing population doesn’t pose a problem as long as the increasing number of people can be well cared for. That precisely is the challenge in sub-Saharan Africa: many countries in this world region do not even have enough food, sanitary facilities, hospitals and schools today. Moreover, there is an almost universal shortage of jobs, so people lack attractive prospects and cannot enjoy adequate standards of living (see article by Samir Abi in Focus section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/04).

The main reason for Africa’s rapid population growth is that fertility rates continue to be high across the continent. Death rates have fallen sharply, but the decline of fertility rates is significantly slower than it was in other world regions. Over the course of their lives, women in Africa currently give birth to 4.5 children on average, almost twice as many as in any other part of the world.

The average figures mask the fact that the things differ very much from country to country. In some countries the demographic transition has advanced considerably. That is true of Mauritius and the Seychelles, two comparatively well-developed island countries, or Morocco and Tunisia in North ­Africa. In these places, the fertility rate has dropped below 2.5 children per woman.

Other countries are currently experiencing a rapid decline in fertility rates because of prudent policies. Ghana, for example, managed to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers by investing in agriculture, and that has had a positive impact on children’s health. Combined with large investments in education, such policy interventions changed people’s attitudes about the ideal family size. Women now have 3.9 children on average. The same trend is evident in Ethiopia, where the total fertility rate fell from over seven children per woman in the 1990s to slightly more than four children today. The reasons include better health care, easier access to contraception, improved education and more employment opportunities for women.

These examples show that there are some positive trends in Africa. Other countries can learn from success, accelerating their own demographic transition by following the trailblazers’ policy examples.

Lower fertility rates would boost prosperity in sub-Saharan Africa. Caring for small children requires huge efforts from families as well as spending on schools and other public services. In the medium term, a decline in fertility rates would change the age structure which could benefit African economies. After all, as the number of children being born continues to fall, subsequent cohorts become smaller, and the population bulge shifts to people of working age. This means that many people can be productive while the number of children and older people, who need to be taken care of, is small. Provided there are enough jobs available, this window of opportunity can be transformed into an economic upswing, a so-called “demographic dividend” (see Box Samir Abi in Focus section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/04 ).

If things go well in the future, the demographic development could therefore give African countries a competitive advantage over the global North’s ageing societies, where the number of people of working age is declining. For that to happen, however, governments in sub-Saharan Africa would have to make sure that fertility rates drop. They need to implement measures in relevant areas such as health care, education and employment. Where the number of children stays high, there will be no demographic dividend.

By contrast, the countries of the global North must deal with both population ageing and shrinking. They need to find ways to keep their economies and welfare systems running at the same time. Migration would help to cushion both trends. So far, however, the advanced nations are displaying discomfort with accepting immigrants. The demographic transformation may very soon force them to admit that they actually need immigrants – with increasing urgency.

Alisa Kaps is a researcher at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development and is primarily concerned with the demographic challenges of sub-Saharan Africa.

Kategorien: english

Interrelated challenges

26. März 2020 - 11:14
African policymakers must consider several cross-cutting trends

For example, climate change will have a strong impact. Africa is on the equator and comparatively hot already, Songwe says. On the upside, innovative renewable-energy infrastructure looks promising.

Digitalisation offers opportunities that African countries must grasp, Songwe argues. In Nairobi, for example, the number of young people providing internet-based services to foreign customers is growing fast, though it is still small in absolute terms. At the same time, the economist sees digital development bypassing not only Africa, but even Europe to a considerable extent. The reason is that the leading corporations are based in the USA and China

Songwe wants African governments to do a better job of raising taxes and building infrastructure. As economies grow, they cannot keep relying on official development assistance (ODA). On the other hand, she praises their decision to create the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), which should facilitate trade between African countries and allow new supply chains to emerge. She sees the CFTA as a new kind of multilateralism that is challenging the old variety.

Songwe warns that African countries are at risk of missing the opportunity to grasp a dividend from demographic change. In her eyes, South Africa and Nigeria have already failed to do so (see main story). On the other hand, the economist appreciates that 92 % of African girls are now in school and that gender equity has been achieved among university students.

Things are different in the workforce however. For example, only seven percent of financial-sector employees are female, Songwe points out. Experts agree that unemployment and under-employment affect young women even worse than young men, reinforcing stereotypes of motherhood and homemaking – potentially slowing down the decline of fertility rates (see Samir Abi in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/04, Focus section).

Kategorien: english

Masses of young people, too few jobs

26. März 2020 - 10:13
How governance matters for creating full employment in Africa

The figures are stark. Tilman Altenburg of the Bonn-based German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) reckons that some 350 million Africans are toiling away in grim informal employment with no social protection and meagre incomes (see Hans Dembowski in the Monitor section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/11) Compounding the problems, an additional 13 million young people crowd onto African labour markets every year. Altenburg concludes that an annual 25 million new decent jobs are needed.

A demographic dividend of the kind that East and Southeast Asia’s emerging markets enjoyed in past decades would be good. As Altenburg elaborates, industrialisation there was facilitated by the mass availability of young workers who did not have to fend for many dependent family members, whether children or grandparents (see box Samir Abi in D+C/E+Z e-Paper, Focus section). The work in light manufacturing was certainly tough, but even though the wages were low, the incomes were unprecedented. Exports expanded fast and nations began to prosper.

The big question is whether such dynamism can be triggered in Africa. At a DIE-conference in Bonn in February, Altenburg pointed out that several mega trends must be considered. They can prove both helpful and harmful. Demographic change is one. African birth rates are falling slowly, but they are still comparatively high. Other important mega trends include urbanisation and changing patterns of world trade.

Experts currently see no single driver of economic growth that might prove as effective as the advent of light manufacturing in past decades in Asia. They agree that the scenario is bewilderingly complex (see box below for insights from the UN Economic Commission for Africa).

Some scholars hope that Chinese manufacturers will shift production to low-wage countries as wages rise in the People’s Republic. However, the expectation of millions of jobs being created in Africa is probably exaggerated. That is what studies published by the DIE and the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) respectively suggest. The researchers argue:

  • that Chinese companies tend to prefer to invest in Asian countries,
  • that rationalisation and digitalisation mean they actually need fewer workers and
  • that those Chinese companies that have strong foreign shareholders are the most likely to invest abroad, which implies that western investors are still particularly important for foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa.

Lindsay Whitfield of Roskilde University in Denmark has studied international supply chains. She warns that it has become difficult to promote light manufacturing simply by setting up special economic zones. In spite of huge efforts, Ethiopia struggled to gain a foothold in global supply chains, Whitfield reports, because low wages are not enough to attract investors. Rather, it is essential to involve global retail brands early on. The reason is that international competition is fierce. Supply chains are now very sophisticated and tightly managed. In Whitfield’s eyes, Ethiopia is now seeing results of its light-manufacturing strategy, but the approach will not work in many countries.

Feeding urban populations

Another hope is that urbanisation drives inclusive development, with the demand of surging middle classes increasing fast. Growing cities need to be fed after all. Ousmane Badiane of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) sees a huge potential for creating gainful employment in the modernisation of rural-urban supply chains. Farm produce should be processed regionally, and the goods could then be distributed efficiently to retail customers (see essay he co-authored with Shenggen Fan in the Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/12). High-tech applications would prove useful moreover (see interview with Peter Njonjo in Focus section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2019/11).

There is certainly scope for urban demand to drive rural change, but Abebe Shimeles of the multilateral African Development Bank (AfDB) warns that things cannot be taken for granted. He says the continent’s new urban middle classes still tend to be “vulnerable or fleeting”. While many families plunge back into poverty, others newly rise to lower middle-class status. Inequality remains great, the scholar says.

Education can make a difference, Shimeles points out, but while individual returns tend to be high, social returns do not. Higher productivity should propel entire economies, but the economist does not see education making that happen. Neither skills training nor colleges have made a decisive difference yet.

Given that the private sector, on its own, is unlikely to generate employment as needed, Joachim von Braun of Bonn University proposes public works schemes. He insists that nations must provide work to their people. At the same time, there is a great need to build infrastructure. Public work schemes would thus serve a double purpose.

There is no obvious recipe for reaping in a demographic dividend. Policy choices will matter very much. Governments, for example, must identify which sector has competitive advantages and might therefore deserve targeted support. Unfortunately, there is reason to doubt that African leaders will be up to the task.

Stefan Dercon of Oxford University warns that neopatrimonialism still marks many states: policymakers use government resources to forge alliances with powerful interest groups, and those alliances then entrench the privileges of their members. According to Dercon, too few African countries have what it takes to define something like a “national growth bargain”. Nonetheless, he believes that some may succeed – including Kenya and Ethiopia in East Africa and Ghana and Senegal in West Africa. To do so, they need the kind of policy consensus that proved beneficial in Asian tiger nations. The preconditions, he says, are:

  • peace and political stability,
  • an affective state and
  • leaders and elites committed to growth.

Carlos Lopes of the African Union acknowledges that the complexity of the challenges exceeds the capacities of many governments concerned. At the same time, he expresses the hope that policy debate will improve leadership.

Lopes also points out, moreover, that Africa’s population peak may actually come sooner than currently expected. In his eyes, the reduction of both maternal and child mortality are promising. The societal ageing of nations on other continents, moreover, could make Africa’s youthfulness, which now looks like a time bomb, actually become something like a global public good.

Hans Dembowski is editor in chief of D+C/E+Z.

Kategorien: english

Humanity or barbarism

25. März 2020 - 15:56
Its EU refugee policy raises doubts that the EU takes human rights as seriously as it preaches to others

Syria is witnessing a dreadful new phase of bloodshed in the strife that set in in 2011. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been bombing the city and region of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold. It is close to the Turkish border, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan supports the rebels. He feels let down by the EU and NATO, but he actually failed to coordinate his Syria policy with them. For a while, he teamed up with Assad-supporting Russia. In regard to Idlib, however, he is now on the side of those Russia is attacking.

To put pressure on the EU, Erdogan made refugees in his country believe they could move on to Europe. That was only true in the sense of Turkey allowing them to leave. The context is complicated. According to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, Turkey has taken in some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country on earth and many more than all EU nations combined. The EU struck a deal with him, pledging monetary support in exchange for Turkey not letting refugees move on to Europe. Whether Turkey deserves more money, is amongst other details a matter of debate.

EU leaders fear that migration to the EU will further boost anti-democratic and racist populism. For this reason, the EU applauds Greece’s harsh stance. The border scenario is violent and cruel. Witnesses report of defenceless men, women and children being tear-gased and even shot at by Greek security forces. By mid-March, at least one person had been killed. The Coast Guard was firing warning shots and did not let migrants in rubber boats land on Greek islands. Due to the rampant coronavirus, the EU borders have been completely shut since 17 March.

When this e-Paper was being finalised in late March, some 10,000 to 20,000 people were stuck in the no-man’s land between Greece and Turkey. They lacked shelter and provisions. It is scary to consider what impact Covid-19 may have on them. Matters looked similarly desperate in Greece’s overcrowded refugee camps. Doctors without Borders, the international non-governmental organisation, demanded that the camps be dissolved immediately in view of the virus threat as things would otherwise spin out of control.

To stay credible, the EU must live up to the principles it endorses and uses to judge others. One of those principles is the human right of asylum. The EU is therefore guilty of a scandalous dereliction of duty. People who cannot live in safety in their home country are being locked out at the Greek border. In Africa, Asia, but also in Europe itself, citizens wonder to what extent the EU really takes human rights seriously.

In public discourse, European policymakers are caving in to right-wing populists. This approach is irresponsible and destructive. Research shows that migration cannot really be stopped. When people leave their homes to escape bombs or natural disasters or because they no longer find any prospects, nothing will stop them in the long run. Fences and violent action can only be effective for a rather limited time. The use of force along Greek’s border is a breach of humanitarian principles.

European leaders have a point when they say they refuse to be blackmailed by Erdogan. The sad truth, however, is that they are helping him politically in Turkey by turning refugees away. The more the EU’s credibility is eroded, the less convincing Erdogan’s domestic opponents, who insist on democratic norms, appear in the eyes of their compatriots.

Sabine Balk is member of the editorial team of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.

Kategorien: english

Lay the foundations

25. März 2020 - 14:16
Global trends must be managed in ways to ensure that 11 billion people can live good lives on Earth

At this stage,  Covid-19 looks frightening, but even if it killed millions, that number would still be relatively small. To put things in perspective: World War II killed an estimated 60 to 80 million people. In recent years, the world population has grown by such a number anually.

Societies change, and social norms vary, but the patterns of how family sizes evolve are clear all over the world. Nations are ageing as life expectancies rise and women bear fewer children. These trends are actually rather stable, so  predictions with unusual reliability are possible if one knows:

  • how many women there are,
  • what age cohorts they belong to,
  • how many children they will have on average, and
  • at what age they tend to have their babies.

Population growth is slowing down – and that is good news. Otherwise, environmental sustainability would certainly remain illusive. Moreover, declining birth rates result from girls getting better educations and women having more choices. It helps that parents know their babies are likely to survive.

In many countries, the share of the elderly is increasing fast. They no longer have the large extended families that took care of the aged in more traditional times. Social protection systems are needed. That is not only so in the affluent West, but also concerns Asian countries, in particular China. This is not just a question of money. Retirement homes, frail-care facilities, hospitals and other social support systems need to be staffed.

Today, the health-care systems of prosperous but ageing nations are poaching skilled migrants from poorer and demographically younger countries. But what will happen when the adverse impacts of ageing start affecting those countries? To some extent, technology and robots may help. But people need personal interaction too. A large and probably growing proportion of working-age people will have to provide social services professionally.

If things are left to market competition, only the prosperous few will enjoy decent lives in old age. If no one is to be left behind, state-run schemes must ensure that everyone has at least a minimum pension and public services are available. Getting things right requires political will, intelligent policies and effective implementation.

It helps when a country takes advantage of the specific window of opportunity that demographic change offers early on. Emerging markets in East and South East Asia benefited massively from “demographic dividends”. Industrialisation took off when large cohorts of young people were available as workers because they had neither many young children nor sickly grandparents to take care of. Greater prosperity is a precondition for stronger social-protection schemes. The big challenge for low and lower-middle-income countries is to ensure they grasp a demographic dividend.

Global cooperation will help to get a grip on the matter. It is also needed to put a check on Covid-19 and to stop global warming. Global trends can and must be managed in a way to ensure that 11 billion people can live good lives on the planet we share.

Hans Dembowski is the editor in chief of D+C Development and Cooperation / E+Z Entwicklung und Zusammenarbeit.

Kategorien: english

Reclaiming a legacy

25. März 2020 - 9:52
Brazil aims to preserve the historical legacy of Quilombos, communities of escaped slaves

These settlements, known as Quilombos, are nearly extinct today. Almost all their residents have long since died, and most of those residents’ descendants have moved away. But Brazilian authorities now are trying to preserve some of these communities and tell their story – both as a sombre reminder of the evils of slavery and as a new cultural attraction for tourists.

Quilombos were essentially communities of active resistance formed by escaped African slaves, who were first brought to Brazil in the mid-1500s. Quilombos were established over the centuries until slavery was abolished in 1888. At least 10 such settlements were created. Most were small, but some of the more populous ones tried to cooperate with each other to protect their freedom.

Most Quilombos were established in the remote hinterland, but not all of them: Two were located in Armação de Búzios, approximately 175 km east of today’s Rio de Janeiro and a docking point for slave ships from Africa. Many of the slaves were taken onward to the locations north of Armação de Búzios, such as Rasa and Baía Formosa.

One of the few remaining live descendants of members of the Quilombo in Rasa is Dona Cecília Carivaldina de Oliveira, age 104. Although slavery was abolished before she was born, Dona Cecília lived many years in the Rasa Quilombo and heard eyewitness accounts of battles for land. She is still active in preserving the Quilombo culture, retelling the stories and recalling preparations for the annual carnival celebration and religious festivals.

Tourism officials and foundations are taking note of the cultural legacy of the Quilombos, working with local groups to create an ecological/ethnic route that highlights the region’s history.

A Quilombo preservation project in Baía Formosa focuses on reviving African traditions, allowing visitors to dig deeper into the culture of Afro-Brazilian slaves. “The idea is to take the tourists there and say: Look, here we were born, and my parents and great-grandparents too, and we were expelled from that place and now we seek to return there because it is our right,” says Beth Fernandes, president of the Quilombola Association of Baía Formosa.

In Armação de Búzios, meanwhile, volunteers are aiding the construction of a new cultural space, which will include a replica of a Quilombo kitchen creating traditional African recipes. The Quilombo settlements in Armação de Búzios could attract more foreign tourists, who are already coming to the city in large numbers, according to a study by the Tourism Ministry.

While most tourists still come to Armação de Búzios mainly for its beaches, surfing, fine dining and nightlife, they should also give a thought to the people who made the city what it is today, says Rosilene Pereira, the city’s counsellor of culture.

“We only talk about the beaches and the money that circulates here, but then I ask you: what do we say about our people?’’, she says. “We cannot forget how much suffering our people went through so that all this is possible.”

Thuany Rodrigues is a journalist in Brazil.

Kategorien: english

Fear and freedom

24. März 2020 - 10:08
Liberal democracy is worth defending because it can prevent cruelty argues Princeton professor

The onslaught of authoritarian populism on liberal democracy is evident in many countries and has led to heated media debate in recent years. As a public intellectual, Jan-Werner Müller, a German scholar who teaches political science at Princeton University, has been one of the most important contributors. In a new academic publication, he takes a close look at what makes liberal democracy worth defending.

The terms “liberal” and “liberalism” have a long history in political theorising. They mean different things to different people. In the USA and Canada, for example, liberals endorse social-protection systems and generally belong to the centre-left. In Australia, by contrast, the Liberal Party is the established conservative force, which under its current leader, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, looks ever more populist. It expresses xenophobia and denies climate science, for example.

“Populism”, of course, is another term that is not defined precisely in public debate.

In a previous book (2016) with the title “What is populism?”, Müller did a great job of defining the term (see Focus section in D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/02). It basically means that a political leader or party claims to represent the people directly, discredits the legitimacy of all other political forces, and agitates against what it calls an exploitative elite as well as abusive minorities. Typically, populists cast themselves in the role of victims, and once they rise to power, they do what they can to do away with any restraining checks and balances. In D+C/E+Z, we use Müller’s definition when we speak of “populism”.

His new book focuses on the various meanings of “liberalism” and rejects several of them. Müller does not endorse market radicalism, for example, which imposes strict discipline on anyone who must work for a living, but basically allows financially potent forces to do what they please. It is wrong to argue that only state agencies limit freedom, private-sector corporations can do so too.

Preventing cruelty

Müller argues that a just social order must protect the vulnerable from powerful forces’ cruelty, and that only a liberal democracy can do so systematically. This idea was first spelled out by Judith Shklar (1928 – 1992). She was a secular Jew from Eastern Europe who escaped the Nazi Holocaust and later became a Harvard professor of philosophy. Adopting her theory, Müller writes that the starting point for designing a fair social order is to pay attention to the victims of cruelty. He wants fear of cruelty to guide policymakers in ways to make that fear obsolete.

Müller does not pretend that every liberal democracy always lives up to this ideal, but insists that they can do so, while other political systems are plainly not even designed to serve that purpose. Self-declared majoritarian victimhood, the driving ideology of populists, for example, is geared to authoritarian governance and the hounding of minorities.

The book has so far only appeared in German, and Müller says an English version will be prepared, but he cannot say when at this point. The German title “Furcht und Freiheit” means “Fear and Freedom”. The message is important, but this essay is not easy to read because the author delves deeply into the history of political philosophy. He elaborates, for example,

  • that France was once considered to set a liberal example (autocratic Napoleon introduced the Code Civil which did away with aristocrats’ privileges and defined business-facilitating individual rights),
  • that prosperous elites historically preferred liberal democracy to unqualified democracy (because a stringent constitution would constrain the masses’ political desires) and
  • that the liberal idea of equal opportunity only developed rather late and did not lead to consequential government-interventions in markets everywhere.

The vast panorama Müller paints of what has historically been considered to be “liberal” is fascinating. The book’s strong point is to ground the demand for liberal democracy in the overarching ethical imperative of preventing cruelty.

However, it does not offer diagnostics for what is currently happening around the world.

Climate change is only mentioned in passing, for example. Moreover, Müller does not deal with the oligarchic super elite that tends to promote populist nationalism. Its members include billionaires like the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch or the Mercers. These super rich people benefit from international opportunities, but resent regulation. It has been argued that this is precisely the reason they promote nationalism (see article in Monitor section of D+C/E+Z 2019/09).

The background is that regulation increasingly requires supranational cooperation and cannot be enforced by national governments acting on their own. In this context, the insistence on national sovereignty does not make governments more powerful. It reduces their scope for shaping the global order which, so far, has benefited oligarchs more than anyone else. Müller told D+C/E+Z that he is working on a new book that will tackle related questions – and it will first appear in English.


Müller, J.-W., 2019: Furcht und Freiheit – Für einen anderen Liberalismus. Berlin, Suhrkamp.
Müller, J.-W., 2016: What is populism? Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press (in German: Was ist Populismus? Berlin, Suhrkamp).

Kategorien: english

Rule-bound governance should matter

24. März 2020 - 9:09
As civil-society space is shrinking in India, ODA agencies should consider their stance

India has a long history of INGO engagement. Their work tends to focus on marginalised groups, including women, for example, as well as Dalits, Adivasis or Muslims. INGOs have been critically perceived by previous governments, but the Modi government is taking things further. In particular, it radically restricted their funding channels under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA). The offices of globally active civil-society organisations such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace have seen funding cancelled. Moreover, their offices were raided with the pretext of law enforcement.

According to the government, foreign NGO funding was reduced by about 60 % from 2014, when Modi became prime minister, to 2017. Some 4800 non-governmental organisations, most of them Indian ones, lost their license to operate in 2017 alone. Things will get tougher. The new Financial Bill 2020 requires NGOs to renew registrations every five years.

The current government is striving for Hindu supremacy (“Hindutva”). Its anti-minority affects Muslims most of all (see box by Arfa Khanum, Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/03) but other minorities as well. Christian organisations, for example, are facing harassment. Compassion International was accused of facilitating religious conversions and told to shut down.

The phenomenon of a shrinking space for civil society is currently evident in many countries, including, for example, Russia, Brazil or the Philippines. Inward-looking nationalists have a pattern of entrenching their power with aggressive identity politics, but not solving pressing problems of poverty or environmental destruction.

India’s government has created a narrative according to which anyone who opposes it is anti-national and even a potential security threat. Since December, it has been facing an unprecedentedly broad-based and non-violent social movement that wants to uphold India’s secular constitution, which forbids discrimination on religious and other grounds (see Arfa Khanum in Tribune section of D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2020/03). In response, Hindutva proponents have been using hate speech (“shoot the traitors”). The pogrom they launched in Delhi in late February claimed more than 50 lives (see blog post on our D+C/E+ Website).

India’s economy is in a downturn. The recent insolvency of Yes Bank, a major private-sector outfit, is compounding the problems. International financial-market turmoil will certainly not help. Many Indians, including Hindus who do not endorse the government’s ideology, fear that oppressive Hindutva action will make things worse.

India is a major recipient of official development assistance. Only a small share is channelled through INGOs. Financially more important providers include multilateral organisations such as the UN Development Programme or the World Bank and bilateral government agencies such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) or German Development Cooperation (GIZ). They are only involved in politically sensitive issues like human rights or the rule of law to a limited extent because they focus on things like infrastructure, energy and climate protection. However, it is well understood that good governance is essential for related projects to succeed, so rule-bound governance must matter to them too.

For several reasons, they cannot withdraw from a nation with 14 % of the world population fast or entirely. To a large extent, moreover, ODA programmes are geared to global public goods such as climate protection. On the other hand, multilateral and bilateral agencies’ infrastructure funding gives the Modi government scope for pursuing other agendas.

International media have become aware of how dangerous Modi is and INGOs are not giving up the fight for equality and human rights. For diplomatic reasons, multilateral and bilateral agencies cannot spell out criticism in public, but if they told India’s current leadership that they wanted to get more involved in governance issues, Modi and his cabinet might get the message.

Richa Arora is an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – SWP).

Kategorien: english

Two-pronged crisis

21. März 2020 - 14:12
Covid-19 requires global cooperation to protect human health and prevent economic depression

On their own, nation states will neither be able to contain the spread of the novel Corona virus conclusively nor to stimulate national economy sufficiently. I will briefly deal with one issue after another.

The Covid-19 pandemic is teaching people around the world a lesson that we are not accustomed to. Protecting ourselves is the same as protecting others. If, as individuals, we do our best not to get infected, we keep a distance from others. By keeping that distance, we are also protecting others should we be infected ourselves without knowing. We have a collective interest in slowing down and eventually containing the spread of the disease. We also share a collective interest in our health systems not becoming even more overburdened than they already are.

This is a global challenge. It is not enough to get a grip on the crisis in our own country. That will only be of limited help if the Covid-19 crisis escalates devastatingly in other countries. Sooner or later, that will mean that our own country will be affected again. Borders can be closed temporarily, but they are unlikely to be closed completely, and is impossible to prevent each and every illegal crossing. The worse a crisis gets, however, the more people will flee their home countries. Covid-19 is therefore a new global healthcare challenge, just as SARS or HIV-AIDS were in recent decades.

The implication is that the international community must share relevant resources equitably. All countries must become able to test and treat patients. Attempts to monopolise control over medical goods produced in one's own country will only lead to bottlenecks, since most countries depend on imports for some of those goods. Some of them basically have to import everything.

Italy, the worst affected countr in Europe, is experiencing serious bottlenecks. It is a prosperous country with a comparatively strong healthcare sector. I am quite sure that there will be bottlenecks more or less in every country. Allowing Covid-19 to wreak uncontrolled havoc in the poorer ones, however, will backfire brutally. It is now necessary to boost production of relevant pharmaceuticals and equipment equipment to the maximum extent and ensure that all countries have at least a minimum supply. Moreover, research regarding preventive vaccines and effective cures must be stepped up fast and coordinated internationally. New or at least provisional hospitals must be set up.

The need to ensure the international availability of medical goods means that humanity still depends on international trade. There are many other economic dimensions that require international attention. Financial markets are in turmoil; investor confidence has dropped sharply - and for good reason. As public life is being shut down, the economy is grinding to a halt too. The revenue streams of the vast majority of private-sector companies is affected negatively. That, in turn, has impacts on employment. In the USA, many more people have been signing up for unemployment benefits last week then in the week after the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers a dozen years ago. This economic crisis will probably be worse than the Great Recession which that event triggered.

And once again, the financial sector is reeling. It is foreseeable that masses of businesses will become insolvent. The less financial obligations are fulfilled, however, the more fragile the financial system becomes. Not only the real economy will be hard-hit, but banks and insurances will be so too. A dangerous, self-propelling downward spiral looks very difficult to avoid. If market dynamics are allowed to run their course, that vicious circle will surely lead to a devastating global depression.

Self-regulating markets can fail dramatically. That was the case 12 years ago due to irresponsible lending by major banks. This time, they are stalling because of a global health shock, and once more policymakers must intervene to prevent the worst. The good news is central banks and governments act fast began to take action. It is worrisome, however, that they - and especially the governments - have not done much to coordinate such action. All nations depend on the world market today. Moreover, low-income and lower middle-income countries have not been much affected by Covid-19. They will need financial firepower too, but their central banks and governments are in a much weaker position in those of most G-20 countries. Debt problems have been weighing heavily on many of them for some time. 

In 2008, the G20 replaced G7 as the main forum for policy coordination. This time, global coordination is even more important because more policy fields must be considered. To include the least developed countries, it would probably make sense to involve UN organizations in decision-making this time.

The depressing truth however, is that global coordination is more difficult this time. Several countries are now run by right-wing populists governments who claim to be putting their nations first. Let's hope they overcome that stance. In a crisis like the one we are facing now, protecting ourselves includes protecting everyone else.


Kategorien: english

Call for papers

20. März 2020 - 16:51
This year's PEGNet conference will deal with conflict and fragility in developing countries

The Poverty, Equity and Growth Network (PEGNet), which links academic institutions to development agencies, plans to hold its annual conference in Bonn. The conference will be co-organised by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and supported by the KfW Development Bank. in September in in cooperation with EPRC and GIZ.

Fragility and conflict are a significant challenge to development and constrain efforts to achieve poverty reduction and sustainable development. Conflicts have severely stunted economic growth in many low income countries and continue to be one of the leading causes of humanitarian crises. The PEGNet conference 2020 aims to address the causes and consequences of fragility and conflict in developing countries. The conference will include plenary discussions that seek to provide research and policy based answers to the questions:
• What are the causes of fragility and conflict within and between countries?
• How can policy and financing options for the forced displacement crisis be developed and implemented?
• How can non-state actors such as the private sector be involved in developing innovative financing solutions for fragility, conflict, and violence?
• How can state fragility be reduced and what measures should be undertaken to ensure rapid responses to protracted and recurring crises?
• How can strong partnerships for sustainable development and peace be built with humanitarian, security, diplomatic, and development actors?
Conference format

The PEGNet Conference 2020 will provide a platform for development scholars, practitioners and policy-makers to reflect on leading research on conflict, fragility as well as other topics in development economics that are related to the poverty-inequality nexus. Papers submitted through the call for papers will be presented in the parallel sessions. Moreover, there will be a best practice award, for which applications are also inveted.

For more information, please go to:

Kategorien: english

Demographic change as a driver of economic growth

20. März 2020 - 8:13
Will Africa really profit from a demographic dividend?

In such a setting, young workers can accumulate assets, and if the savings are productively invested in the country, the economy grows.

Several things must happen for a demographic dividend to materialise. It is not enough to have a comparatively small share of dependent people who need support. There must also be enough jobs for the large demographic group of 15- to 65-year-olds. Only then will increasing disposable incomes lead to higher savings.

Governments can benefit from such an economic boon and harness it for development. Higher productivity and higher incomes can then facilitate more elaborate care for the elderly. In the long term, though, the ageing of society means that a diminishing share of working people has to support a growing number of pensioners, so new problems arise. Whether African countries will benefit from demographic dividends remains to be seen.

Kategorien: english

Global challenge

19. März 2020 - 16:09
Africa needs 450 million new jobs to benefit from the demographic dividend

Africa is home to more than 800 million people under the age of 25. They account for 62 % of the total population. In Asia and Latin America, the same age group makes up just slightly more than 40 % of the population. In the industrialised countries of ­Europe and North America, the share is only around 25 %.

One of the reasons for Africa’s abundance of children is simple. Traditionally, offspring are regarded as a sign of prosperity as well as a gift of nature that must not be rejected for fear of invoking ancestral wrath. There is a gradual trend in the cities towards smaller families, but in rural areas especially, change is very slow.

Across Africa, women today have an average of four to five children. In some countries, such as Niger, the figure is as high as seven. The counterbalance is in the North African countries and South Africa, where two children per woman have become the norm. The main reasons are higher levels of female education, more women in employment and easier access to contraceptives.

Another reason for Africa’s large youth population is the fall in infant and child mortality, and better care during pregnancy, moreover, has resulted in less risky births. Improvements in health care, moreover, have generally increased life expectancy. So, compared with the first half of the 20th century, for instance, more children are being born in better health and they live longer.

Africa is growing

When the countries of Africa started to gain independence in the 1950s, the continent had a population of around 280 million. That was seven percent of the world population. In the next 60 years, the absolute number rose by more than a billion. Today, there are 1.3 billion people in Africa, accounting for 14 % of the world population. Their numbers are still rising. According to the 2019 revision of the UN World Population Prospects, the population of sub-Saharan Africa will increase by more than a billion people by the middle of this century and will continue to grow beyond the year 2100 in contrast to population figures in the other regions. They are forecast to peak before the end of the 21th century.

The question for African countries is what impact demographic change will have on their medium and long-term development. In the past two decades, vigorous economic growth averaged about five percent. That trend has led to the belief that economies will keep gaining strength through to 2030. The problem, however, is that, with population growth at 2.5 % a year since the end of the colonial era, the economic performance has been too modest to really shift African economies into a higher gear. At the same time, governments need the increased revenues that high growth makes possible in order to rise to the social challenges population growth presents.

More people, especially more young people, mean fast growing demand for education, good jobs and homes. Many countries cannot meet that demand on their own. Therefore, many African governments simply rely on the private sector meeting the majority of people’s needs. In both the health and education sectors, for example, extensive privatisation is common.

Every year, many young people enter the labour market, but fail to find a decent job. There simply is not enough public and private investment. Nonetheless, African governments continue to draw up development plans that count on the demographic dividend (see box) to propel their economies forward. Whether that dividend will materialise, however, is questionable.

At present, there are far too few decently paid jobs. Many young people only make precariously little money in the informal sector. To tackle rampant youth unemployment and underemployment, African governments would need to create 450 million jobs over the next 20 years. But because their economies still depend on commodity exports at prices beyond their control, even very good economic growth will not enable them to create more than 100 million jobs by 2050 according to the Africa Competiveness Report 2017.

Only one in four couples use contraception

Economists who believe in the demographic dividend also assume that population growth will change due to social progress, which includes better education of girls. However, the pace of that change is significantly slowed by cultural factors, and the strong influence of monotheistic religions that reject contraception. Advocates of a stricter family policy, with governments promoting birth control, call for a “contraceptive revolution”. They argue that it is high time for state agencies to intervene. In their view, governments could get three quarters of all African couples to use modern contraceptives. So far, only around a quarter do so.

Without major structural changes in the international economic system and the governance of African countries, Africa’s population growth does not bode well. Its impacts are also a matter of concern for the rest of the world – especially neighbouring Europe and the Middle East.

African youth are a time bomb for governments across the continent. Political and economic power tends to be concentrated in the hands of small minorities, and that drives many unemployed young people to rebel. The Arab Spring and the present protest movements in all parts of Africa must be read as signs of widespread instability. The continent must address this problem in the coming decades.

Protest movements are typically suppressed because those in power fear the loss of privileges. All too often, freedom of expression is restricted because political leaders do not want corruption and nepotism to become exposed. Western and Asian multinationals are facilitating corruption and nepotism. They are not creating enough employment, however. Corporate interests are fuelling fears of neo-colonisation among Africans. Some respond with armed insurrection and terrorism.

Another phenomenon deserves attention. It is the mass exodus of young people from Africa. The desire to find decent work turns them into migrants. Ageing populations in the west and demand for cheap labour in the east tempt more and more young Africans to risk their lives on perilous journeys. For these reasons, Africa’s demographic development is clearly of global, and not merely African relevance.


UN, 2019: World Population Prospects 2019 – Highlights:

African Development Bank, World Economic Forum and World Bank Group, 2017: The Africa Competiveness Report 2017.

Samir Abi works for Visions Solidaires, a non-governmental development organisation in Togo.

Kategorien: english

From the iron rice bowl to the filial piety law

19. März 2020 - 14:59
China’s one-child policy is having catastrophic consequences for millions of pensioners

Retiring at 55 is an option for women working in China’s public sector. Women factory workers can retire as young as 50, men at 60. That, at least, is the official rule, but it is also largely theoretical. The reality is far from being so rosy.

Over three-fourths of people over 60 lack the means to retire. If they benefit from a pension scheme at all, the benefits are far too small to actually live on. That is particularly true in rural areas, but things are harsh in cities too. Though urban workers have been entitled to receive state pensions at 50, 55 or 60 in recent years, they cannot count on those benefits for much longer. The retirement age will soon rise to 65 across the board. This is one example of the government’s attempts to grapple with a gigantic challenge: China is getting old before it has got rich.

Society is ageing fast, resulting in immense problems. In 2004, people over 60 made up 9 % of the population. In 2017, that share was 16 %. By 2015, the government expects it to rise to 40 %.

One reason is the increased life expectancy. It is currently 72 years on average and will likely rise thanks to improving medical care. But the main reason is China’s family policy: for over 35 years, the Chinese leadership enforced a one-child policy in order to stem population growth in the world’s most populous country. Even western demographics experts were long in favour of this approach, but it is becoming ever more evident that it is leading to disaster.

“Have one child and you’ll be happy.” This slogan was repeated in children’s songs and featured in TV commercials. The one-child policy was adopted in 1979. It went far beyond slogans. Whoever became pregnant a second time had to face draconian punishments. Millions of ­women underwent forced abortions, young men suffered forced sterilisations.  Second children who were born nonetheless had no claim to places in nurseries or schools.

The Communist leadership was certainly ruthless, but there was good reason for worries. China’s population had nearly doubled to about half a billion people from 1949 to 1979. The economy was still underdeveloped, and so was the country’s infrastructure. Population growth was thus a daunting challenge.

The radical policy delivered results fast. The birth rate dropped abruptly from an average of eight children in the 1960s to one child per woman. The Communist party boasted that its policy had prevented 400 million births.

Today, however, the negative impacts on the economy, society and social services are being felt. Since 2011, the number of working-age people has been falling sharply, while the number of pensioners who depend on support keeps growing. This development will continue. In 2030, the People’s Republic will have more pensioners than kids under the age of 15. By the middle of the century, every third Chinese person will be older than 60. Even today, the state pension scheme has a mere three financial contributors for every beneficiary.

Only in the past 10 years did China begin to establish a public pension system that people might actually live on. Until the 1970s, under Mao Zedong, the revolutionary leader, the population was split into two groups. The urban population lived according to the principle of the “iron rice bowl”. They were entitled to a job, an apartment and food vouchers. With a monthly salary equivalent of less than what € 50 buy today, their entire lives were regulated in great detail from nursery school to retirement.

Urban residents only made up a tenth of the people, however, as 90 % lived in rural areas. They were given parcels of land, and farmers were basically expected to feed themselves. They could sell any surplus to the cities, but most did subsistence farming. Old-age provisions thus strictly remained a family affair. The traditional attitude still made sense: the more children parents had, the better prepared they felt for old age.

Economic reforms began in the 1980s, but they did little to change the rural-urban divide. The leadership initially focused on generating high rates of economic growth. Many Chinese people moved from the country to the cities and coastal regions. They were happy to be able to earn money in the newly established industrial centres and achieve a modest degree of wealth. They sent the little that they could save of their monthly wages back to family members in the countryside. A comprehensive social security system was unthinkable.

However, the one-child policy disrupted the traditional method of rural old-age provisions. A young married couple now had four parents and up to eight grandparents to take care of. According to traditions, married women were supposed to support their husbands’ parents in old age, not their own. The implication was that parents who only had a daughter would have no one to care for them when old. Boys were thus more valuable, and many girls were aborted. The result was a significant surplus of men.

For many years, efforts to establish a pension system concentrated on urban people. Until the 1990s, however, a public pension scheme only served government employees, party members and staff of state-run industries. Private-sector corporations did not exist.

Things changed with the economic liberalisation of the 1980s. Millions of young men and women from the countryside moved to the cities seeking work in factories or service industries. They were considered migrant labourers, and the government provided no benefits to them for a long time. Officially, they were still farmers with land to cultivate.

The number of migrant labourers quickly grew to several hundred million, however. In the 1990s, their numbers amounted to over half of the total population.

The government has since changed its approach. It has created a pension system for private-sector employees. Employers and employees make matching contributions into a social fund, which insures employees against disability or unemployment and guarantees them a basic pension. To some extent, that system also relies on government subsidies.

What should work in theory, how­ever, does not do so in real life. The situation of migrant labourers remains particularly precarious. Their wages have risen dramatically in recent years, but most companies’ social funds still do not provide adequate pensions. Legal  requirements thus remain unfulfilled, and, as a result, factory workers often go on strike.

The situation of rural people is precarious too. The government has promised to adjust their circumstances to those of city dwellers. Its rural pension system is voluntary however, and in view of farmers’ meagre earnings, it adds up to no more than a drop in the bucket. Hu Xingdou, an economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, says: “Rural people have no choice but to work for as long as they can and to rely on their families in old age, just like they would have done in China in the Middle Ages.”

The government wants to alleviate the problem at least somewhat. Five years ago, it replaced its one-child policy with a two-child policy. It has also completely ended its efforts to control population growth. But this redirection of family policy has come far too late. “The demographic collapse can no longer be stopped,” says Hu. It has indeed been underway for a long time.

There have been numerous reports on Chinese social media about elderly people who have been found completely neglected in their homes or on the street. Their relatives did not take adequate care of them. In response, the government has passed a law regarding the “protection of elderly people’s rights and interests”. It stipulates that anyone over 60 has a right to regular contact with relatives. Seniors can not only sue their children or grandchildren to provide them with a living; those relatives are even required to visit them regularly. The law does not define exactly how often. However, government newspapers say “every two months”.

Felix Lee works for the German newspaper die tageszeitung (taz) and was its China correspondent until 2019.

Kategorien: english

Suddenly overwhelmed health sector

13. März 2020 - 17:50
Why Iran is struggling to come to girps with the new corona virus

Iran's health system was caught off guard. Reasons probably included the upcoming parliament elections and festivities for the Islamic Revolution’s anniversary. For a while, the government covered up the fact that Covid-19 had already entered the country.

On February 19th, Iran officially announced that two people were infected. Only a few hours later, both were said to have died. That would have added up to a mortality rate of 100 % and was a clear sign of many cases being either undiagnosed or hushed up. The outbreak was obviously out of control already.

Trust levels are low in Iran. Many people do not believe the statements of the autocratic regime. Accordingly, many do not follow the recommendations of health authorities either. Adding to the problems, the lack of reliable fact-based information creates a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

One rumour was that “drinking alcohol prevents Covid-19”. When this comment was written in mid-March, more than three dozen persons had died because they had consumed methanol, a toxic alcohol variety. It turned out that manipulated methanol was being sold on black markets, with demand being driven by Covid-19 fears.

At the same time, Covid-19 had killed more than 300 people and infected some 9000, as the London-based The Economist reported. A considerable number of government leaders and members of parliament are known to be infected. Their seemingly high infection rate is probably the consequence of a testing bias. Privileged persons have access to the diagnostic kits which are otherwise in short supply. Ordinary Iranians are only tested if they show severe signs of Covid-19. Patients with milder symptoms are likely to walk around, unwittingly infecting others. The situation is certainly worse than the official statistics indicate.

The new virus has reached both poor and rich. However, not only test kits are scarce, medical goods in general are hard to get. Treatment is therefore expensive – and often unaffordable to people who lack money.

Nonetheless, Iran's doctors and nurses are exhausted. Posts on social media platforms show overcrowded hospitals with patients resting on beds in hallways. They also show health workers on duty without the proper protective gloves and sanitary masks. According to official data, Covid-19 killed about 20 health-care professionals in less than 20 days after the first cases. The situation in the hospitals is set to get worse for some time. 

International aid, moreover, has been slowed down by the US sanctions. In strictly legal terms, the sanctions permit humanitarian products to be sold to Iran, but banks shy away from the risk of trading with the Islamic republic. Moreover, rich nations are increasingly blocking the export of goods that are relevant to their own Covid-19 response. 

Whether in rural or urban areas, economically disadvantaged people tend to share small homes with large families which often include grandparents and even great grandparents. Moreover, their communities tend to be densely populated. For Iran's poor, self-quarantine and social distancing are hardly an option.

It is too early to tell what toll the disease will take in Iran. On the upside, Iran's population is quite young so the mortality rate is expected to stay comparatively low. Covid-19 affects the elderly worst. However, the economy is fragile, and so is society in general.  

Iran is not a least-developed country. The health sector is actually considered to be quite strong, but it is constrained by economic sanctions and hampered by a general lack of trust. In this setting, Covid-19 looks overwhelming. It is scary to consider what may lie ahead. Nonetheless, the disease is likely to prove even more devastating in least-developed countries. That is especially true if a history of authoritarian rule following colonial despotism has undermined their people's faith in authorities.

Shora Azarnoush works for Deutsch Welle’s Farsi programme.


Kategorien: english