What happened to the wisdom leaders used to have?

As a parent, I can imagine the disconcerting moment of my life if I ever have to look in to the eyes of my hungry child with nothing to help then quench their dire hunger.

There have been reports on international media of over 17 million people from Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan at a stake of a hunger crisis. All the images show children who look like they have starved for days, longing to be full of food and hope.

South Sudan declared famine in the country in late February, a situation that was termed by many as a ‘man-made’ tragedy. Why? Well it’s the youngest country, but its citizens have suffered a devastating civil war that broke out in 2013, till 2016 when it got the second highest score on the Fragile States Index. A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. As if it’s not enough that people are dying because of the war or being displaced and children becoming orphans, they also get to die due to starvation. All this is because leaders are clinging on to one more day or year in power while the opposition believes they have the right to fight their way to the presidency.  As the war goes on, farmers can’t till their land or even plant any seeds, meaning food security is threatened.

As for Somalia, it’s not any different from South Sudan’s story of hunger being caused by a long spell of conflict, over 10 years of civil war. For Somalis, the memory of the 2011 famine, which left a quarter of a million people dead, is still fresh and dreadful recall that has forced many to leave their homes and villages to look for food.

May be we look at Kenya, where people in more than half of its 42 counties face starvation due the cycle of famine related deaths brought about by ongoing drought that has seen an estimated 1.3 million Kenyans acutely food insecure and in need of assistance. This drought could be blamed on poor rains in 2016 but what about corruption and income inequalities. In January this year, Transparency International’s corruption index placed Kenya 145th out of 176 countries, ranking it one of the most corrupt countries in Africa and on the globe. The levels of inequality escalate the level of corruption, as the wealthy have both greater motivation and more opportunity to engage in corruption, whereas the poor are more vulnerable to extortion and less able to monitor and hold the rich and powerful accountable. The finances meant for seeking environmental solutions or ending extreme poverty or improving health care provisions are swindled mercilessly. Corruption affects the targeting of social programs to the truly needy; the syphoning of funds from poverty alleviation programs by well-connected individuals, diminishes the impact of social programs on income distribution and poverty.  The prolonged drought that has reached the level of claiming lives might be blamed on no rains but we should know that our leaders have looked on as people die of starvation, yet their bellies are so full, with left overs to fill up their trash cans.

For Ethiopia, the cause of its recurrent famine has also been blamed on lack of accountable government. Although the late Prime minister Meles Zenawi had a vision for every Ethiopian to have enough to eat, at least three times a day and also have the luxury of choosing what they eat, his vision could have gone with him (May his soul RIP). In Ethiopia, it has been noted that there is no incentive for the government to work hard to avert famine. Come one, at least the incentive can be the people that put you in power.

Well, let me take you back a little to the ancient biblical studies where the love of the shepherd for his sheep was best seen when times of special need call forth unusual acts of care for members of the flock. One of the principal duties at all seasons of the year was for the shepherd to plan food for his flock, this entailed trekking long journeys if the shepherds predicted a drought in the area, just to ensure their cattle are safe. On the contrast, today we have leaders who have time, only to think about their bellies, their power struggles, and their desires. May be you might say that our leaders can’t look out for all citizens, since the population is proliferating at a worrying level, where were they before the population started skyrocketing? What are they doing about the corruption that is eating up our economies like a cancer?

Anyways, the worrying issue about the responses to drought or famine or crisis, is that they are too little and too late, because it takes several months for emergency aid to reach people on the ground.

Starvation is not like losing an election or a bad report of inflation or even a poor international ranking, it’s a dent on the future. Let us save the generations by fighting starvation. Picture Credit BBC




Poor public service delivery slowing development in Africa

The consequences of corruption in Africa are evident in the poor standards of living and slow rate of development. Rwanda has come a long way in terms of development since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that led to the loss of more than one million lives and dilapidated public institutions and structures. A lot has been achieved so far to rebuild the nation. However, more needs to be done to position Rwanda as a center of excellence on various fronts in Africa in line with the vision of the country.

The public service sector is a key driver for growth in any country. Substantial public funds and foreign investments are channeled through public institutions and some development programs are implemented in collaboration with these institutions highlighting the pivotal role of the sector. For Rwanda to achieve sustainable development it is paramount that corruption is stemmed out of public institutions.

While corruption leads to poor service delivery for citizens, the converse is also true. Poor public service delivery leads to frustration among the service beneficiaries many a times leaving them with little choice but to engage in corrupt practices to access services that they are in the first place entitled to. Corruption in the public sector has led many African states to experience stagnated growth.

Africa is not poor but poorly managed. The main reason Africa has lagged behind in development is not because of a lack of resources but rather mismanagement of resources. Many African states have rich natural resources in terms of minerals deposits such as gold and oil which should by now have contributed to advanced development. Mismanagement of resources leading to corruption is the greatest cause for underdevelopment. Developed countries with little or no natural resources have been able to overtake Africa in development simply because they have managed their resources and even managed our own resources to benefit themselves.

It is high time that Africa awakened to the fact that corruption can never be effectively dealt with if states do not invest in proper management systems and processes for effective public service delivery. Frustrations due to poor service delivery drives corruption when citizens do not get what they are entitled to.

A common frustration that many face with the public sector is delayed payments by public institutions for services rendered or goods sold. There are no systems in place to hold public institutions accountable for delayed payments. This has created a loop hole in the sector where public servants manipulate citizens to bribe them in order for their payments to be processed faster. In this case frustrated citizens are coerced to bribe so that they can beat the system that has refused to change to foster development. In the end, the service provider has not got the full worth of his work and has encouraged corruption within the sector so the next service provider will also be forced to part with his or her earnings. This cycle continues and has been repeating itself for many years. Such loop holes have fostered a culture of corruption that has infiltrated many areas in the public sector.

Public servants have also exploited the public tendering process where management systems are weak. Citizens and public servants in institutions collude to obtain inside information on how to win tenders. Such widespread corruption hurts the integrity of public institutions limiting their effectiveness in contributing towards development.

Certainly both citizens and governments are to blame for corruption. On the one hand governments for failing to put in place proper systems that do not frustrate citizens forcing them to engage in corruption and on the other hand citizens for not speaking up and demanding for action for these systems to be put in place.

Fighting corruption requires the joint effort of both citizens and the government whereby each effectively performs their duties.

By Dr. Joseph Nkurunziza

Poverty, corruption and climate change must be addressed to harness the fourth industrial revolution

By Joseph Nkurunziza

We are inevitably on the brink of a technological revolution; the fourth industrial revolution. This is an important and powerful global shift that recognizes the need to realign business processes as well as government policies to technological advances in order to effectively meet goals. Technology is exponentially influencing our lives on a daily basis and in future it is not expected to relent but will in fact alter some of the more sophisticated human tasks such as driving a car by offering self-driven vehicles. It is also expected to make positive impacts on important sectors such as health, infrastructure and environment to improve service delivery.

The fourth industrial revolution is an opportune time for African states to catch up with their European, American and Asian counterparts. Technological advances based on digital networks have somehow leveled the playing field for Africans to be able to develop important solutions tailored to the African context. At the just ended World Economic Forum, delegates emphasized the need to adopt the revolution to transform economies and improve the lives of citizens in Africa. Indeed the revolution if well adopted, I believe stands the chance to achieve better standards of living for Africans while providing employment to the growing youthful population – many of whom are educated but lack employment opportunities.

While previous industrial revolutions largely by passed the African continent because African states were unable to effectively harness their potential, Africa should this time around prepare adequately to make the most of the fourth industrial revolution. There is hence a need to ask ourselves one fundamental question: what will it take to sustainably adopt the fourth industrial revolution to improve lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Africa?

To answer this, we must recognize that the revolution will not function in a vacuum. There are many factors that will influence the uptake of the latest digital technologies in Africa. Poverty, governance issues including corruption and climate change are paramount to address if Africa is going to make the most out of the revolution.

Poverty is a barrier for African economies to effectively harness the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution. Poverty and its corollaries – hunger, diseases and lack of proper education – have a negative impact on the ability of people to exploit available opportunities. It presents people with difficult day to day choices where having enough food to put on the table is the foremost priority. A large population of Africans is living below the poverty line and they happen to be the ones who can benefit most from advances in technology.

A unique trait of the revolution is the ability of people to not just use technology but create it to solve problems and improve quality of lives. Governments hence need to invest heavily in poverty alleviation programmes and institute policies that will give the poor an opportunity to take advantage of technological advances. As people are lifted out of poverty and empowered to use technology to solve problems, the ripple effect will be enormous on the economy. We will have more people solving age-old problems, creating wealth and ultimately contributing to poverty reduction.

Corruption is a cancer that has characterized many African governments for far too long and contributed to limited development. It is also one of the reasons why the continent did not benefit fully from previous industrial revolutions. Good governance is vital in addressing the issue of corruption. It calls for the participation of citizens in ensuring that leaders are accountable and governments as well as the civil society have role in educating citizens on the benefits of an inclusive government. Whatever advances can be achieved through technology need to be protected  from regressing through corruption.

Climate change although a relatively novel issue in the development world, is having widespread effects that cannot be ignored even when we are debating matters of technology. The African continent contributes least to climate change compared to developed countries but stands to suffer most from its effects. As weather patterns become more erratic due to climate change, Africa’s poor population whose mainstay is agriculture is drawn farther into poverty. Poverty, as previously explained will limit adoption of the fourth industrial revolution.

Poverty, corruption and climate change need to be addressed to enable Africans to harness the immense benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. It is an uphill task but unless we recognize the importance of addressing these issues and investing in appropriate measures and systems, we risk – yet again – being by passed by the revolution.

Joseph@neveragainrwanda.org  Twitter: @ryarasa