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Op-Ed

What Brexit means for Africa6 minutes read

Dele Ogun

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Photo: FT

The politically prudish will tell you that the British left Africa in the late fifties and the sixties, beginning with the grant of independence to Ghana on 6thMarch 1957, when they rolled up their flags, packed up their belongings and boarded what was then the British Overseas Airways Corporation airplanes. Rabid anti-imperialists will say they never left and in one sense, at least, the latter group are right because one thing the British left behind in Africa is the English language. 

This item of left luggage, combined with the penetrating influence of modern social media, has produced a situation in which, across the length and breadth of Africa, people are following the Brexit crisis in Britain as if it was their own country’s independence in issue. This is not as misconceived as it might at first appear because, though few may have appreciated it, the fundamental issues underlying the principle, and process, of the British exit from the European Union are directly relevant to the future of all African countries, and not just the Anglophone ones.

That underlying principle is the desirability and practicalities of political union between ethnic groups who have historically coexisted within a geographical area and run their own affairs separately from one another. Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Italy  have always been “Europeans” in the sense of peoples living in the land area known as Europe,  in the same way as the 371 ethnic groups who have historically coexisted in the geographical space in the surrounds of the River Niger who are now popularly known as “Nigerians”.  The game changer in Europe was the Treaty of Rome which was signed by France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, on 25thMarch 1957, just weeks after Ghana left the British Empire. That treaty created the European Economic Community (EEC). It was stressed to the people of Europe that this was an economic union only to secure economies of scale of a more populous market and not political union which offers no economies from upscaling. 

There are important lessons in this detail for Africa when it is remembered that it was these same European countries that sat around the table in 1884 at the Berlin Conference and imposed political union on disparate ethnic groups across Africa who had previously coexisted as neighbours: Thus was fashioned the 54 countries that make up the member states of what was the Organisation for African Unity, now renamed the African Union in imitation of the European Union. The internal political crises created by these European-imposed political unions amongst the thousand-plus ethnic groups of Africa, thus compressed into 54 European-designed States, has historically been put down to what was said to be a singularly African predisposition to tribalism and an inability to put differences aside and unite. It is clear now from the European experience that the sauce of political union that had been served to the geese was viewed as potentially poisonous for the ganders. 

The other important difference between the European and the African experience of political union is that accession to the European one was voluntary. This comes across clearly from the history of Britain’s dalliance with the project. At first they elected to stay out of the union by not signing the Treaty of Rome. Then, in 1963, the Harold Macmillan Conservative Government decided to apply for membership, only for the application to be vetoed by President Charles de Gaulle of France. Undeterred, the British renewed their application for membership in 1967, under the Labour administration of Harold Wilson, only for de Gaulle to strike the application down again. It was at the third time of applying under the Conservative Government of Edward Heath (and with de Gaulle now safely out of the way from the French political stage), that the British were finally granted their wish in January 1972, and were admitted to membership with effect from 1 January 1973. 

However, no sooner had they been admitted than the campaign to leave began in earnest on a claim that the Heath government had deceived the people into voting for membership believing that it was only economic union that had been committed to. When the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 removed the word ‘economic’ from the title of the Treaty of Rome so that what had been the ‘European Economic Community’ became just the ‘European Community’. With this, the objective of political union became an open agenda in Europe and an open sore within the British Conservative party.

After the Conservative Party had endured decades of internal strife over the issue, in 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his party wanted to allow the British people to have their say on the matter. The referendum called for 23rdJune 2016 was the party’s manoeuvre to export the issue so as to ensure that the Labour Party would carry its own share of the poisoned chalice. 

The question that was put to the people was“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union”. This seemingly simple question produced the current political chaos, which Prime Minister Theresa May is trying desperately to manage, where, following a marginal victory for the Leave camp, the country is divided from top to bottom and the Leavers themselves are divided on the terms of exit even as the exit date of 30 March 2019 looms near.

The current crisis over the goal of political union in Europe which is tearing the peoples of Europe, and most especially the people of Britain, apart is a great irony for the peoples of Africa on whom the Europeans imposed political union more than 100 years ago. The British do at least have the consolation that their union was not imposed on them by outsiders and that they have the opportunity to negotiate their way out of the union they voluntarily signed up to. In contrast, ethnic groups in African States who have wanted to leave their imposed-unions have found that the gates have been firmly locked behind them: The only way out for those who, like the Leavers in Britain, have desired to be free to run their own affairs, as in the case of the Igbo people and their struggle for the independent state of Biafra, has been to attempt to fight their way out resulting in vicious and bloody conflicts.

Conclusion

The British decision to stand back from the European Union project at its onset in 1957 was influenced greatly by its then relationship with Africa. They believed, as they stood (alone amongst the nations of Europe) victorious at the end of the Second World War with their special relationship with America and their colonies intact, membership of a European union offered them nothing. Their decision now to leave the European Union is predicated on the continuance of the special relationship with America and with their former colonies in Africa now called the ‘Commonwealth’.  This is a momentous decision not just for the people of Britain and Europe but also for the peoples of Africa. For one thing Africans now understand that the desire of peoples to “take back control” of their affairs, pejoratively called “tribalism”, is not at all a uniquely African condition. Further, as a consequence of the English language that was left behind, a new generation of Africans are watching closely the solutions that the British and the Europeans are prescribing for themselves as they tackle the problems of political union which States in Africa have been left by the European architects to deal with. From hereon in, a different sauce for the geese and the ganders is unlikely to be acceptable.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own views and do not necessarily reflect News Central’s editorial stance.


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Flooding can happen anywhere

News Central

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Over the past few years, mother nature has changed its ways, because we changed ours. Homes and businesses have been affected by a combination of factors like increased rainfall and the resulting overflow from rivers, especially in coastal areas.

Even for those residents in flood-susceptible areas or riverine communities, marshy lowlands, the method and character of angry cloudburst during a flood, is problematic and fraught with imponderables that are difficult to predict.

At least 25,000 people have died annually since the 80s in Africa from flood with 11 million more affected.

Last year, floods in East Africa provoked massive flooding, landslides, and overflow of several dams across Rwanda, Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda. In recent times, Tanzania has spent over US$2 billion annually to manage flood. Landslides from flood took tolls in West Pokot, Kenya where 54 people died.

In Cunene Province of South Angola, Heavy rains submerged homes and damaged properties worth billions.

Mozambique lost assets and properties to 2013 floods estimated to cost over a tenth of its GDP to the tune of US$500m.

Nigeria experienced one of its worst floods in a century in 2012 – properties worth about US$10 billion were destroyed. Borno State in North-Eastern Nigeria had its worst flood in 7 years displacing over 20,000 people.

In 2019, flash floods happened in Tunisia and Algeria as well.

How ready is your community?

Homes may flood from prolonged rain over a long period of time. Internal issues like sewage leak, plumbing failure or extreme weather conditions, water-control structures like dams or levees may fall apart with devastating consequences.

Communities must pursue building approaches to withstand flood and erect structures above flood levels. In building homes and facilities, barriers should be created to prevent the ingress of floodwater into homes with high points using hard-wearing bricks or concrete or sandbags.

Encouraging tree planting across wetlands could create a wooded bulwark to break the speed of floods, check river overflow and arrest deforestation.

Farming or agrarian communities prone to flood may, with the assistance of local authorities, build flood storage reservoirs to hold back floodwater, collect excess rain and runoffs. Such reservoirs may be channelled to farms for irrigation purposes.

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Op-Ed

The role of Diaspora Nigerians in national economic development

In the USA, Nigerians are the most educated ethnic group with the highest percentage of Bachelors’ degree holders

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The role of Diaspora Nigerians in national economic development

Emigration or immigration is what happens from time to time. This is when a person decides to leave their country to live permanently in another country for reasons that are not far-fetched. Some could be for economic reasons, wanting a better life or simply running away from conflicts which can be outright war or religious.

It is a fact that millions of Nigerians emigrate to other parts of the world. These migrants and their descendants make up the Nigerian Diaspora. This population range between 5 million and 15 million according to figures from official quarters.

Nigerians can be found in the United Kingdom with Peckham referred to as little Lagos, the USA, Ireland, especially in Dublin, South Africa, India, Malaysia etc. It is even a serious joke that there’s hardly any place on the planet you cannot find a Nigerian and till now I see that as a problem.

These migrants, as observed, are at a high cost to the development of Nigeria, especially when it borders on professionals like doctors, scientists, lecturers which the country is in dire need of. Unfortunately, some of Nigeria’s brightest professionals constitute the class of people leaving the country on a daily basis for other countries that provide better facilities and services for their people.

In the USA, Nigerians are the most educated ethnic group with the highest percentage of Bachelors’ degree holders and have an average honourable income of $94,000 (2010 US census). We cannot also ignore the fact that Nigerians in the Diaspora also contribute largely to the economy with $12bn remitted by them in 2012 (World Bank), which is positive to our economy.

There is, therefore, a need to put in place structures and policies that will encourage some of those that have emigrated to return and use their acquired expertise to help in the development of the country.

But to have those in the Diaspora come back, especially the professionals, facilities must be provided in our hospitals, universities, government institutions and we must also apply meritocracy in appointments. Aside from that, there should be improvement in the remuneration of specialised functions while we beef up security nationwide.

The Nigerian in Diaspora Organisation is a body recognised by the Federal Government as an umbrella body of Nigerian citizens in the Diaspora with a vision to harness the skills and expertise of Nigerians with the view to providing them for the development of the country.

The Nigerian government has to take advantage of this body in making some appointments in government agencies and institutions. The appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Director of the World Bank, is one that easily comes to mind. Her impact as Minister of Finance and coordinating minister of the economy under the Jonathan administration cannot be underestimated. The structures she put in place to check “ghost” workers as well as the Treasury Single Account have, in no small measure, minimised corruption.

Also, the impact of Dr. Akin Adesina, a former agricultural economist at the Rockefeller Foundation, who became the Minister of Agriculture, was also positive, as he returned to use his expertise to develop the country.

Another well-known case is the success of Singapore linked to Lee Kuan Yew. Lee studied Law in Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, UK. In 1950, he was admitted to the English Bar but instead of practising there, he returned to Singapore and became the first Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990. He transformed Singapore from one of the poorest countries in the world in the 60’s to one of the most advanced today. He built a country based on the rule of law with an efficient government structure and continuously fights against corruption and insecurity.

Unfortunately, we cannot say this of Nigeria, reasons being the structures, policies, establishments are not in place to attract and facilitate integration.

We can identify Nigerians and award scholarships to them in specific institutions with the clause of returning home to help in the country development in various fields. However, the government on the other part must ensure adequate facilities are in place for their return.

The ease of doing business has significantly improved and there is a need to legalise the whistle-blower policy as part of our anti-corruption drive.

Competence and honesty must be introduced in making appointments to critical government positions. All these will ensure we appoint the best Nigerians both home and abroad, leading to good governance and increased investors’ confidence in our economy.

We have no other country but Nigeria; we have the human and abundant natural resources to make the country an economic power. But we must enthrone meritocracy and honesty as our way of life and shun ethnicity and religious animosity. The journey has just begun and we must all join hands in making this country great, again.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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Op-Ed

Period poverty: The fault in our blood

In Kenya alone, almost 50 per cent of school-going girls do not have access to sanitary products

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Period poverty: The fault in our blood
Photo credit: youthsdigest.com

A family of 8 has just been admitted in Mafalala health centre, Mozambique. They all woke up to what seemed like food poisoning. It was not merely food poisoning. It was the eldest daughter, who inadvertently introduced microbes and bacterial toxins into the food due to poor hygiene – poor hygiene from period poverty.

In a nutshell, ‘Period poverty’ refers to lacking access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, decent toilets, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management due to financial constraints.

While many may be lucky enough to probably take this for granted, one in ten girls miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary products. Some stay away because there aren’t safe, private toilets to use at school.

In Kenya alone, almost 50 per cent of school-going girls do not have access to sanitary products.

WHO states that, each year, 600 million people (1 out of 10 persons around the world) become ill after consuming contaminated food. Among all these people, 420,000 die, including 125,000 children under the age of 5.

Women and girls’ health may be put at risk, as they are forced to use dirty rags which can cause infection. Risks can be greater if the women or girl has undergone female genital mutilation.

READ: Somalia marks 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence

In Maradi, Zinder and other parts of Niger Republic, study carried out for menstruating women and girls between 15 and 45 show that they observe nutritional and religious restrictions.

With men and boys less concerned about the management of menstruation among women, there is low awareness on menstrual health management which is more prevalent among nomadic women (96%) compared to sedentary women (49%).

There are many other health risks linked with the current practices of many girls during their menstrual cycles, especially in the rural or poor neighbourhoods.

Most times, girls are unaware of the availability of sanitary pads. They often resort to using pieces of mattress, chicken feathers, dry leaves, and newspapers to meet their needs and to attend school during their periods. The outcome is mostly offensive, repulsive and discomforting to the girls yet fertile for disease-causing organisms.

Some girls would employ plastic bowls because conveniences are far-flung from their residences; some dig holes at home and sit on them intermittently for the period of their menstruation!

UNICEF’s investigation found 54% of Kenyan girls reported challenges with accessing menstrual hygiene products. The research also highlighted that one in ten adolescent girls admitted to having transactional sex for pads in Kenya’s Kibera slums.

READ: Victims accuse Solomon Folorunsho of Benin-based IDP camp of abuse

Period poverty: The fault in our blood
Photo credit: Daily Post

In villages where sanitary pads are not available and girls do not have transport – many times unable to afford a bus fare – these taboo issues become so repeated they get nearly normalised.

With most of these women constantly handling dishes or domestic necessities of the family, the likelihood of introducing disease-causing organisms to water, fruits, vegetables or food is high.

Before pads became commonplace, women historically placed in all sorts during menses. Tampons were prevalent at a point, but leaving a tampon in for too long could lead to infections and sometimes cause life-threatening toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

TSS is typically caused by an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Menstrual hygiene is so vital that it should be part of the primary school curriculum across Africa. Boys, too, should know about it.

A team of wonderful women called the Numwa Mothers Sewing group sew inexpensive sanitary pads for schools in Zimbabwe. Canada and Australia recently ended tampon tax. Sanitary products in India have become 100% tax-free, while Scotland now offers free sanitary products to low-income families.

For keeping more Tanzanian girls in school with her enlightenment and investment in Menstrual Hygiene, entrepreneur Lucy Odiwa won the World Bank’s first SDGs and Her competition in 2018.

READ: Morocco’s health minister urges doctors to prioritise patient care

Options available to the girl child are; frequently changed tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are usually sterilised and reusable. They will no longer have to miss days in the week every month, while classes are on.

Little girls who are yet to start earning livelihood do not have to pay for a natural process which they have little or no control over. We must do better by pushing for progressive policies to end period poverty in Africa. We can do better.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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