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As the UNMDGs expire, Togo measures its poverty

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The National Institute of Statistics and Economic and Demographic Studies (INSEED), Togo’s national poverty statistics tracking organization, recently released their findings for poverty levels in the country for 2015.

Between 25 August and 30 September of 2015, INSEED surveyed 2,400 households to measure the living conditions of the Togolese. The conclusion of the 2015 survey is significant for a variety of reasons, but none more important than the expiration of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (UNMDGs). The UNMDGs were the world’s first data-driven goals meant to end global poverty by 2015 or 2020, depending upon the goal. Drawing upon the eight vastly general UNMDGs, INSEED used broad poverty indicators to measure the status of their citizens: access to basic social services; food safety; education and literacy; subjective poverty and monetary poverty. INSEED’s Technical Director Akoly Gentry said that survey results indicated that economic growth had occurred in Togo, although more than half of the Togolese continue to live in poverty and are subjected to the health, education and employment challenges that stem from continued poverty. The overall conclusion was that, between 2011 and 2015, economic development had reached the poorest of the poor in some way.

Conducting the Survey: Why Now?

With the expiration of the majority of the UNMDGs came the birth of the UN’s latest broad development goals, called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Where there were once 8 MDGs, there are now 17 SDGs, and in order to give a strong baseline for Togo’s SDG targets, the survey was necessary.

59% of the Togolese are 25 years old or under: continued economic development is imperative for a generation that never knew the harsh reign of colonialism and have grown up in a world where they are well aware of the wealth of the outside world. In surveying the levels of poverty of a diverse set of households around the country, INSEED was able to gather a comprehensive set of data with which to inform their development plans.

Access to Basic Social Services

Many households in the developing world do not have access to what are considered basic necessities in the western world, including electricity and improved drinking water. The proportion of households now using electricity as their main mode of lighting is 48.3%, up 9.1 percentage points since 2011. As the use of electricity has increased, the use of other/traditional modes of lighting has decreased. The use of oil lamps, the cause of many house fires and childhood burns, declined from 23.5% in 2011 to 3.1% in 2015. This alone is a massive achievement for Togo.

In countries where tap water is not fit for consumption or available at all, citizens must rely upon bottled or bagged water. In 2011, 55.9% of Togolese were utilizing drinking water, a figure that has improved to 61.8% in 2015. The availability of improved drinking water is a major component of development: clean water promotes good health and hygiene, prevents waterborne illnesses such as cholera and giardia, and prevents unnecessary deaths.

Food Safety

In the developed world, bananas and oranges are available 365 days a year, regardless of the growing season. For the billions of people living in the developed world, access to calories is not guaranteed due to famines. Famines are, of course, not a natural disaster: they occur when food management, transportation and storage systems fail. In 2011, nearly half of the population had difficulty finding food. The survey revealed that now, in 2015, one-third (33.1%) of the population has difficulty accessing adequate nutrition. These are institutional failures endemic in impoverished countries. Whether it is the physical unavailability of food or the inability of an individual to find enough capital to obtain food, one third of Togo’s population is not considered food secure. In an era where obesity threatens to overshadow cardiac disease as a leading cause of death in the western world, this is unacceptable.

Health Indicators

Health is closely linked to food and clean water access. Be it illness from contaminated water, uncooked or unclean meat or pesticide covered vegetables, these two are inextricably linked. 23.9%, or nearly one quarter, of Togolese surveyed reporting being ill within the past four weeks, up from 20.6% at the last survey. Illness was not clearly defined, and thus is an entirely subjective indicator. According to the CIA World Factbook, Togo’s risk of disease is “very high”: malaria, dengue and yellow fever are a threat particularly during rainy seasons when mosquitoes thrive; typhoid and hepatitis A as well as meningococcal meningitis are also listed as high risk diseases. The physician density is 0.05 physicians per 1,000 people–since the average size of a Togolese household is not listed, this statistic cannot be extrapolated to the survey group. It is safe to say that, at best, there may have been one doctor available to the entire group.

Education and Literacy

66.2% of the population over the age of 15 is literate according to INSEED’s survey results–according to the CIA World Factbook, 78.3% of males over 15 and just 55% of women over 15 are literate, showing gross education discrepancies between genders. Overall enrollment rates in primary and secondary schools (which does not measure attendance) improved from 81.8% to 84.8% and 41.0% to 49.2%, respectively.

Employment, Subjective Poverty and Monetary Poverty

The reported unemployment rate declined from 6.5% to 3.4% while the underemployment rate, or the percentage of people who are employed (usually through the selling of their crops at market) but who consider their employment situation insufficient for any number of reasons, rose from 22.8% to 24.9%.

The percentage of households who consider themselves to be poor in comparison to those around them fell from 81.4% to 61.7%. This does not necessarily mean that nearly 20% of the population became less poor, but that they perceive themselves as more equal to their peers.

The incidence of poverty as measured by international organizations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and UN, fell from 58.7% to 55.1% in 2015. The GINI inequality co-efficient, meaning the proportion of people who own wealth in the country, was reported as 38 (although this is not recorded by the World Bank)–a score of 0 means a country has perfect equality, and a score of 100 means the country has perfect inequality (one person would own all of the wealth). By comparison, the United States has a GINI co-efficient of 41.1. Thus, the lower a score, the more equal the society.

The incidence of poverty increased from 28.5% to 34.8% in the Greater Lome region, as well as in some rural areas.

To Go Forward

Poverty is difficult to measure. Standards were created by the very countries that are partially to blame for the stunted development of enormous swaths of the world. The existing modes of development, where a country is given a loan full of conditionality (that often cut social programs), accompanied with crippling loan repayment rates, clearly does not work.

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Rwanda tops the UN Human Development Index

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Politics


The Human Development Index, or HDI, celebrates its 25th anniversary since its induction into economic thought with its report published last month by the United Nations. And notably, this year’s report included a section that evaluated the progress economies have made since 1990- reporting that Rwanda has made the most progress out of all countries in the last 25 years.

This fact is all the more impressive given that its level of development fell during the genocide of 1994. Rwandans can now expect to live almost 32 years longer than in 1990, and spend twice as long at school.

China, the frequently lauded growth powerhouse of the world, comes in at number two.

Kagame’s Rwanda

Rwanda’s ability to move from the recovery of genocide towards a service-dominated economy in one generation highlights the impact proper governance can achieve in lower income economies. Rwanda has one of the lowest corruption rates in the region, and is currently still led by Paul Kagame, the man who led the Rwandan Patriotic Front when the armed wing of the party ended the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Currently, Kagame’s presidency is attracting local and international debate as the Parliament recently passed a nation-wide referendum concerning limits on Presidential terms. With the new constitutional amendment and overwhelming popularity Kagame holds, it seems that the President is set to lead the country through at least 7 more years of economic development.

Despite his popularity and demonstrated effectiveness as President, the referendum has attracted global criticism from other world powers. Both the U.S. State Department and the European Union have condemned the results of the referendum, calling Kagame to step down and “foster a new generation of leaders in Rwanda.”

The international community largely fears another life-long leader in central Africa, a region that has witnessed many saviors-turned-tyrants in the post-colonial era. Many neighboring nations are still ruled by dictators such as Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, or Cameroon’s Paul Biya, men who have held power over these territories for decades.

However, Kagame has expressed disinterest towards becoming a life-long president. At 58 years old, he said, “I don’t think that what we need is an eternal leader.” The results of the referendum coincide with other leaders in the region seeking constitutional term extensions as well (in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo), and foreign critics’ fears may be largely attributed to what precedent Rwanda’s referendum may set in the region. In neighboring Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term sparked violent protests resulting in over 100 deaths since the announcement.

How does one measure progress?

Most markers of economic progression deal with money: such as gross domestic product or national debt. The HDI paradigm acknowledges something we all know: it’s not all about money. The health of an economy is also expressed in the welfare of its people and how able they are to contribute to this economy.

The index takes into account measures for household income, life expectancy and education into a single development score, which gives a holistic sense of how an economy is doing on a human basis. The report’s philosophy on progress is explained in its introduction, “development is about enlarging people’s choices—focusing broadly on the richness of human lives rather than narrowly on the richness of economies.”

And for once, it’s mostly good news: the fastest progress was seen among low human development countries. Progress on the HDI has been considerable at the country level. For example, Ethiopia increased its HDI value by more than half; Rwanda by nearly half; five countries, including Angola and Zambia, by more than a third; and 23 countries, including Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nepal, by more than a fifth.

The five fastest developing countries in the world are Rwanda, China, Iran, Singapore, and Mozambique.

Rwanda’s reforms serve the bottom 50%

Rwanda’s success can be attributed to conscious economic reform geared towards strengthening the ability of the bottom 50% to engage with business and finance. Last year’s reforms boast an astounding reduction in the number of days required to transfer property from 370 to a mere 32, and jumping from a score of 2 to 19 out of 20 on an index that rates the ease and efficiency of obtaining credit according to a World Bank report published in 2015.

In Africa, Asia and Latin America over 30% of surveyed firms reported access to credit as a major constraint to growth. Rwanda’s new credit guarantee scheme enabled the country to become a major exporter of specialty coffee in one year alone. By creating a financial system inclusive to lower-income households, policy makers have allowed for structural transformation and the creation of work among the bottom 50%.

Rwanda sets the bar for highly developed countries

And Rwanda’s structural transformations that allow for creation does not limit itself to expressions of finance. Their Gender Development Index score is almost perfect at 0.957 out of a maximum score of 1. Rwanda, despite being #163 on the HDI Index, in terms of gender equality scores higher than even highly developed countries such as the Republic of Korea, Greece, and the Netherlands.

Even Switzerland, considered as one of the most developed and egalitarian countries in the world, comes in at only 0.950 in comparison to Rwanda’s 0.957. Rwanda is one of only two countries in the world with a female majority in the national parliament.

And put in perspective, Rwanda’s ability to surpass China is more incredible than it seems. As one of the smallest countries in Africa’s mainland, the country is mired by a lack of natural resources. The growth witnessed over the last 25 years is mostly attributed to a surge in the service industry.

Rather that fear the impacts Kagame’s track record may set in Africa, the foreign community would be amiss to ignore the major successes and beneficial precedents he has set as well, demonstrated in the hard numbers published by the UN’s HDI report in December 2015.

In the same month, an overwhelming 98% of Rwandan voters lifted constitutional bans that would allow Kagame to preside over another 3 mandates, meaning that Kagame could be president until 2034. “What is happening is people’s choice,” said Kagame, adding that Rwandans are a people that “have their future in their own hands. Ask people why they want me.” Given the progress highlighted by the UN Report, the answer seems pretty clear.

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Room to Breathe: Balancing Climate Change with Development

Comments (0) Africa, Environment, Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

seyni nafo

By Sheldon Mayer, Managing Editor

In preparation for the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) to be held in Paris in early December, the African Group representative, Seyni Nafo, is readying the hard line he will take with the need to balance Africa’s development and to reduce the horrific impacts of climate change upon the continent.

Mr. Nafo, of Mali, will be representing the 54-country continent in UN negotiations in the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a multilateral treaty signed  in 1992. The 34-year-old Nafo has said that “it’s a positive agenda. It will bring concrete initiatives, not just statements but ambitious initiatives,” an issue that is always of concern in UN treaties due the unenforceable nature of most documents.

Seyni Nafo: There and Back Again

A position of influence is not new to Nafo, the son of an international banker who held lofty positions, including with the African Development Bank. Even with four siblings including a twin, Nafo’s voice was always heard. As Nafo and his family dutifully followed his father, Nafo rubbed shoulders with the elite, particularly during his time at Lycée Saint-Martin-de-France in Pontoise. Run by the Congregation of the Oratory, Nafo said that the Lycée Saint Martin was “not necessarily a school of excellence, but a school of bourgeois or aristocrats,” which built his character and formed the foundation for the strong leader he is today.

Representing nearly 1 billion people in Africa’s struggle to maintain development in the face of carbon emission reductions takes a certain kind of leader: according to Alix Mazounie of the Climate Action Network, Nafo has the necessary “x-factor.” “[Nafo] has a real ability to negotiate with developed countries, and encourage them to do more for Africa…he prefers realistic commitments rather than aberrant figures,” both of which are integral qualities when dealing with the at times glacial UN body.

Before he arrived at the peak of African climate negotiations, Nafo spent a great deal of time abroad. After completing his studies, he worked as a trader in Chicago and learned the ropes of high-powered finance in the world’s carbon emission leader. After returning to Mali 27 years ago, Nafo’s view on climate change sharply focused—“we have no choice,” he said, but to turn to renewables.

A Breath of Fresh Air

While he continues to work as a trader in the African market, he is acutely conscious of the vast differences in his current (albeit officially unknown) income and his potential income were he a hedge fund manager in the United States. The fact that he knows the opportunities available to him and yet remains in his current position as Africa’s climate change forerunner shows his true character. By using his knowledge of international markets, he has embraced the challenges of representing a continent that has relatively little sway in terms of negotiating climate deals but that bears the brunt of the negative effects of climate change.

Nafo’s comments are usually population-centric, and mean to bring attention to Africa’s particularly difficult position. During a 2012 conference, Nafo issued a firm response to US climate envoy Todd Stern, saying that “Africa is at the forefront of climate impacts; science shows that temperatures [have risen] approximately 150% more than the global average…that means the destruction of crops on a huge scale…crops [that] belong to subsistence farmers and the result is devastation and famine. This is not a game with numbers; it’s a question of people’s lives.” 

Keeping Development Alive In Hostile Climate

Nafo knows that sacrificing development in order to reduceAfrica’s relatively low emissions would have would have catastrophic implications. He is a strong proponent of clean energy because it provides an opportunity to maintain development while lowering emissions. “Not only Africa is the region that has the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions and which is the most vulnerable,” says Nafo, “but it is also the region with the greatest potential for renewable energy and the one with the lowest rate of current energy access.” For Nafo, clean energy is the safest, fastest and surest way to develop the continent. While his commitment to clean energy is not purely a commitment to bluer waters and cleaner skies, it shows a deep understanding of Africa’s bargaining power.

A Fair Shot

For Africa, reducing the impacts of climate change is anything but a game. The summit provides an ideal platform to push their development plans as climate-friendly: Africa has borne the brunt of climate change’s negative impacts despite contributing only 3% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to Nafo. The African continent has been crippled by drought and famine, plagued by seemingly endless civil war, and is now at the mercy of the world’s largest emission offenders.

Africa has not had the same pattern of development as the majority of the world: crippled by Western imperialism and colonialism, as well as today’s mismanagement of assets, internal struggles and external pressures, Africa needs a chance to develop before its industry can be curtailed. A continent with nearly 1/7th of the world’s population and only 3% of its global emissions should not be held responsible for change. It is irresponsible of global leaders to suggest that Africa limit itself in the same way as China or the United States. A realistic (meaning enforceable) plan should be developed that promotes sustainable energy sources without decimating Africa’s burgeoning industrial sector.

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