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World Bank’s reality check on Nigeria, and other stories by Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi

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Two unrelated developmental issues jolted me into reality a little over a week ago, March 22, to be precise. One of the events had a continental flavour to it, and the other touched on Nigeria’s deepening paradox of rich country, poor people.

Both issues had been of particular interest to me, as I had, over the years, developed a keen eye for subjects relating to changing patterns in Human Development Index (HDI).

It had been a long season of trying to catch some rest after months of poring through loads of documents in pursuit of venture opportunities. But it was also a tough call to completely resist the urge of rummaging the economic space in search of fresh developments.

So, here I was, on March 22, making the most of a new World Bank report titled, ‘A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigeria Poverty Assessment 2022,’ which had just been released. The bank said that its findings had been the product of a two-year engagement on relevant data and analytics relating to poverty and inequality generated by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

According to the report, as many as 4 in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line. It added that just 17 percent of Nigerian workers held the wage jobs best able to lift people out of poverty.

Indeed, the NBS in 2020 had reported that 40% or 83 million Nigerians lived in poverty while projecting that that the number of poor people would increase to 90 million, or 45% of the population, in 2022.

Now, the huge shame is that Nigeria has proved analysts right by maintaining its position as the poverty capital of the world, with 93.9 million of Africa’s most populous country currently living below the poverty line.

Every patriotic Nigerian must be genuinely concerned at this unenviable badge that has continued to portray our country as a bad example in leadership. Not even a promise by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years has brought some succour.

In fact, the picture is looking even more gloomy with Nigeria’s unemployment rate said to have risen to 35 percent in 2021, according to a report by credit rating agencies. Earlier in 2019, the estimated youth unemployment rate in Nigeria was put at almost 17.69 percent, just about half of the total population of the unemployed.

The bulging figures are not helped by latest data which have partly linked unemployment in Nigeria to the growing phenomenon of school graduates with no matching job opportunities.

The paradox of our existence is that while Nigeria remains celebrated for its natural endowments and human capital, a reality check has shown that inept leadership and corruption are the major reasons why poverty is at such a high rate in the country.

A journey in time clearly shows that our country’s bad run with poor leadership has its foundation in the enthronement of mediocrity, and primordial sentiments above excellence.

The anomaly has seen rational economic decisions supplanted for unrewarding political initiatives that yield little good to the larger society.

A radical departure from this dysfunctional system has become a national emergency or the country would hasten its steps towards a failed state. One way to avoid this pitfall is to build a culture of excellence, as exemplified in the global successes recorded by Nigerian youths who have seized the fintech space by storm.

In the other news, Dakar, Senegal, also took centre-stage as the world gathered to mark the 9th World Water Forum. Reports had noted that it was the first time the forum, the largest international water-related event, would be held in sub-Saharan Africa.

Organizers said the meeting would seek to identify, promote and implement concrete responses and actions for water and sanitation in an integrated way. The event which is in its 29th year has as its 2022 theme, ‘Groundwater, making the invisible visible.’

But this appears to be where the cheery news stops. A source of concern is the troubling stats which put the number of people living without access to safe water at 2.2 billion globally. Sadly, available records suggest that half of the people who drink water from unsafe sources live in Africa.

Indeed, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 24% of the population have access to safe drinking water, and 28% have basic sanitation facilities that are not shared with other households. Any surprise then that open defecation and life expectancy remain embarrassing issues in most parts of Africa?

Beyond the fanfare in Dakar, African leaders must, therefore, take responsibility and be deliberate in their quest to reinvent their societies for sustainable development.

Let it be said that unless the sad tale of Africa’s underdevelopment is systematically reversed, its cohort of visionless leaders would have to brace for upheavals that may set their economies back into the dark ages.

 

Strictly Personal

Water Management: Morocco’s greatest threat or opportunity? By Jasper Hamann

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Morocco has its work cut out for itself when it comes to water management. While the country is rich in innovative agricultural thinking and houses high-tech institutes and is one of the world’s largest fertilizer producers, many of the country’s farmers continue to depend primarily on rainfall to supply water for agricultural production.

Morocco’s future outlook could be dire if it does not heed warnings about the ever-escalating climate crisis. As the world continues to output massive amounts of carbon and methane, droughts and extreme weather are increasingly becoming a part of daily life.

An Evolving Crisis

The last few years have aptly shown the destructive nature of the climate crisis, as Morocco has faced its worst drought in nearly half a century. While droughts were already common in the North African country, occurring on average every three years, the current trend shows that things are only going to get worse.

The UN’s sustainable development division has pointed to Morocco’s water scarcity as the  “main constraint on expansion” for its vital agricultural sector. While Morocco can have little impact on the evolution of the global climate crisis, local academics, businesses, and government are attempting to step up, and help the country prepare for what is to come.

Government Response

As one of Morocco’s top officials on this dossier, Minister of Equipment and Water Nizar Baraka in May pointed out that Morocco is set to lose 30% of its current water resources by 2050. Baraka has called for the need for the country to invest in water efficiency, and emphasized the need for “hydro-diplomacy,” to establish solid international agreements to prevent future water resources from dwindling water supplies.

Meanwhile, the government is mustering its financial resources to aim to protect Morocco’s water supply, while making satellite data available to better manage the country’s outdated irrigation networks.

In January, the cabinet allocated $260 million for its 2021-2022 water emergency plan, yet such amounts can only provide minor temporary solutions. The country’s Court of Auditors recognized this fact in a report in March, calling for massive structural funding to update irrigation, limit water waste, and protect domestic water resources.

 

 

Funding Solutions

But billions are needed to increase, not just protect, Morocco’s water supply. Minister Baraka recognizes this and has pointed to Morocco’s expansive coastline as a possible asset where futuristic desalination plants would help convert seawater into potable water resources.

Whether desalination will be a viable option for all of Morocco remains to be seen, as experts say this prospect depends on the cost to construct the plants, creating the (sustainable) energy needed to run them, and finding solutions for its waste product, brine.

As is common with Moroccan public projects, the country is not thinking small. Instead, it is constructing the world’s largest desalination plant in Casablanca, the success of which is likely to determine whether Morocco will repeat this strategy elsewhere.

Thought leaders

“Managing water is like managing your bank account,” Dr. Abdelghani Chehbouni, Professor at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), recently told MWN.

The professor is part of several key innovators and thought-leaders working to address Morocco’s growing water crisis. Solutions vary from simple low-tech changes, such as moving towards drip irrigation in Moroccan agriculture, to the ultra-high-tech ideas coming from the country’s foremost knowledge institutes.

UM6P, the country’s top research institute in this area, is building on the potential of AI machine learning, drones, and other innovative technology through its dedicated research institute, the International Water Research Institute (IWRI).

Similarly, the country’s largest company, fertilizer and phosphate giant OCP Group is counting on technology to provide solutions to the growing problem facing Morocco and the rest of the world.

Private Sector

For its own operations, OCP has introduced one of the most far-reaching water conservation initiatives of any large corporation worldwide, aiming to exclusively use non-conventional water sources within a decade while already recycling much of its own water needs. “We’ll use zero fresh water by 2028,” the company has vowed.

OCP’s ambitions go far beyond its own operations, however, as the fertilizer company is investing heavily in domestic and continental initiatives to combat water stress while contributing to major international fora on the topic.

At the 2022 International Water Association’s Forum for Industrial Water Users this past Friday, OCP presented their most recent effort, an e-book to promote sustainable water use for industry.

In many ways, OCP Group’s operations present a microcosm of African water issues. Phosphate mining, transportation, and fertilizer production are water-intensive processes that mirror the growing need for water resources in Africa’s growing industrial sector and agriculture.

OCP’s approach however presents a sense of hope, as it is already applying some of the methods that governments across Africa are likely to depend on in the future.

Future African and Moroccan solutions can already be found in OCP’s current strategy of far-reaching water conservation, intensive use of desalination, and water treatment while generating much of the energy for these processes in a sustainable manner.

As Morocco, Africa, and the rest of the world scramble for solutions to growing water scarcity, Morocco’s efforts are increasingly tailored toward turning a threat into an opportunity and presenting an optimistic technology-driven vision for a sustainable future in an evolving global climate context.

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Strictly Personal

EAC presidents retire young, keep them busy and tap their knowledge by Charles Onyango-Obbo

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On Tuesday, former Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta handed power to his former deputy, William Ruto, at a colourful ceremony in Nairobi. Uhuru fell out with his deputy in 2018 and didn’t back him in the August 9 elections that Ruto won, allying with former prime minister and rival Raila Odinga instead.

Kenyatta was nevertheless gracious, showing up and doing his duty with a smile, and sitting expressionless through some awkward moments as new Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, standing a few feet from him, shredded his record.

And off he went.

It was easy to miss one little significance of his exit.

At 60 years of age, Kenyatta was the youngest president to step down in Kenya. Both Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki retired just as their walking sticks beckoned.

Relative youthful retirement is a growing East African Community trend. Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila set the record in 2019 when he left the presidential palace at 49, remarkable considering that he in power for 18 years.

Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, who died in June 2020, a few weeks before he was to step down following elections, was also younger than Uhuru, at 56 years.

In Somalia, a likely future EAC member, former president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also known as Farmaajo), was sent packing at the age of 60, following elections in May after he was defeated by former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Previously, the youngest regular retirement in the EAC — that is, the big man is not chased by mutinous soldiers, rebels emerged from the bush, or angry street protestors — was by Julius Nyerere in Tanzania in 1985 at 64. Hard to believe for a man who left such a huge footprint on his country, Africa, and the world.

The World Health Organisation said in a recent report that life expectancy in Africa had increased by an average 10 years between 2000 and 2019.

The median age of death in Africa in 2000 was 46. By 2019 it was 56. WHO noted that while 56 was lower than the global life expectancy of 64, the 10-year increase was far higher than the overall global increase of five years.

This means by retiring today, well-fed and sufficiently medicated leaders who were on a trajectory to live much longer than the masses, anyway, could be around longer than the previous class.

If we count the leaders who stepped down and weren’t hounded off State House, Nyerere died in 1999 at 79. Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki died in April last year at 90. His predecessor, Moi, died in February 2020 at 95. There is something in Kenya’s soil. Their average age is 88. We add at least 10 years to that; then, the recent retirees will live at least 98.

If they don’t fall into depression, their planes don’t fall out of the sky, or their successors don’t hang them in a tragic turn of events, this means Kenyatta will be around until 2060. Kabila will be roaming DR Congo until 2074.

That’s a long time away. Considering that more youthful future leaders will join them, there is a need for a grand East African scheme to harvest their knowledge of statecraft and keep them meaningfully occupied. Any ideas?

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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