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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

As African leaders give excuses, peers reach for the skies, By Tee Ngugi

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Many Africans might have missed an event that should have been at the centre of the news. On August 23, 2023, India landed a spacecraft on the moon, making history as the fourth country to do so.

India is in exalted company. The other countries in that rarefied club are Russia, the US and China. India did not just land a spacecraft on the moon, it landed the craft near the south pole of the moon — the only country to achieve such a feat.

The reporting on this in the African press missed the significance of India’s achievement. Most media reported it as if it was another routine space mission by another power. First, any landing on the moon or any missions into space by any country are not routine.

They demonstrate the most advanced science and technology and their economic might. They showcase meticulous organisation, steely political will to achieve national ambitions, and an extraordinary sense of patriotism among citizens to make their country great.

Read: India becomes first nation to land spacecraft near Moon’s south pole

There is another reason why this news should have dominated our airwaves and discourse. India was colonised for more years than most African countries. India, like African countries, is multiethnic and multireligious. India, like Africa, has suffered from social strife. India, like many African countries, has gone to war with neighbouring countries. India, just like us, has to deal with disabling outdated traditional customs and beliefs.

And yet it did not use any of these characteristics as an excuse not to reach, quite literally, for the skies.

Further, India suffers from Monsoons and volcanic activity from which, for the most part, we are spared. It has a huge population, which many African countries do not. Yet it did not use these as excuses not to compete with, and sometimes beat, the best.

Perhaps we let this event pass without much commentary because we felt ashamed. Ghana became independent in 1957, 10 years after India.

Decades later, India had expanded its railway network to become the largest in the world. Ghana just expanded the railway left by the British the other day. As Ghana’s economy collapsed, India’s rose steadily. As Ghana’s education system stagnated, India advanced in science and technology, enabling it to explode a nuclear device in 1974, 27 years after Independence.

As Ghana’s heath system collapsed, India advanced theirs. Today, India has very advanced medical science and health system. Our leaders, after collapsing our health systems, seek treatment in India. India has expanded its GDP to become the fifth largest in the world. Ghana’s GDP is $80 billion, below that of Luxembourg, a tiny country of less than a million people.

Ghana is, of course, representative of the African post-independence experience of mismanagement, thievery and collapse. Will India’s example wean us from our “Pathological Excuse Syndrome” (PES)? Unlikely.

The Kenya Kwanza regime has churned out more excuses in one year than all previous regimes combined.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.

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Strictly Personal

What a beautiful summit! Now to vague promises by rich North, Joachim Buwembo

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In an average lifetime, an African is expected to get involved in and attend many weddings (and funerals). First, you attend those of your elders, which leaves you hoping that yours too will not only come one day but that it will also be more glamorous.

Then there were those weddings (and funerals) of your contemporaries for which you have to pay the ‘African tax’, partly out of fear and hope that when your turn comes, people will contribute generously since you will have been known to be a generous contributor yourself.

Finally, you have to attend weddings of the younger generations, including virtual ones like the ones that were held during the Covid-19 lockdown, or those being staged in different countries where the wedding couples live.

In my idealistic opinion, one shortcoming of many wedding formats and texts is the vague and often immeasurable nature of the promises made.

Fine, the specifics and details could darken the joyful, colourful ceremony and even bog it down, but in a separate, written and signed agreement, things should be spelt out. This would probably even make divorce proceedings less messy.

How for instance is love measured? What does providing for and protecting include? And comfort? At least “until death do us part” is fair for it specifies an event and so no one can compel a surviving spouse to be buried with a dead partner (and you know how many relatives would love to do that and then take over the house and other valuables). But one can argue their way out of the other wedding promises.

The climax of wedding injustices comes from the preachers who urge the partners to always forgive the other party for whatever crimes they commit. If courts operated in the same spirit, all murderers and robbers would walk free to continue murdering and robbing more victims while counting on systemic forgiveness.

The text of the declaration at the end of the big Nairobi climate summit for Africa brought to mind a glittering wedding, whose success is measured first on its having been held at all, the number of guests, the size of the cake and the courses of the meal. Africans should hope that future climate summits are not measured the way a bride measures a wedding (including how less beautiful her lady friends looked), but in tangible, countable outcomes.

At the Nairobi climate summit, we Africans demanded specifics from the rich countries with which we are justifiably angry. We were accurate on what they owe and should pay in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Then we also made our ‘commitments’ but were careful enough to remain non-committal. We promised policy formulations, the right investments and job creation.

Somehow, we did not say how many jobs and by when. This was a climate summit, for God’s sake, and the heads of state who have armies of researchers at their disposal should have specified, or at least estimated, the number of jobs to be created in the provision and application of clean energy.

Was there any commitment to investing in the conversion of the continent’s ‘abundant rare’ earth minerals into mobility batteries that reduce pollution rather than “exporting jobs” to already rich countries for a pittance? Was there a commitment to how many megawatts of hydroelectric power will be committed to the electrification of railways by which year?

We remained silent on acres or square kilometres in reforestation. We mentioned the carbon sinks of the Congo and the savannah but did not specify how we shall protect them. In short, we did not put any figures or timelines on our ‘commitments’.

The Africa Climate Summit was thus like a wedding which the bride sees as an achievement in itself, that she has been taken down the aisle (even if the guy turns out to be a wife beater and drunkard).

For Kenya, again staging the inaugural summit in itself was a success, for beating the other potential brides on the continent – Morocco, South Africa, Egypt and lately Rwanda – from a tourism promotion point of view.

All the same, we rejoice for the very good effort by Kenya and do hope that subsequent such summits will have explicit deliverables and timelines on which the Africans can hold their leaders to account.

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