Future imperfect

Africa News – African cities have become the world’s next property investment frontier in the post-2008 economic climate. International architects and property developers are scrambling to sell fantastical visions of new satellite cities, or in some cases entire city makeovers, to short-sighted governments.

The designs for some of Africa’s largest cities, dubbed “world-class cities”, “smart cities” and “eco cities”, are accompanied by artistic renderings suggesting visions of Dubai, Singapore or Shanghai. For instance, the plans by US-based Oz Architecture for Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, ignore the city’s large informal urban population. A proposed new satellite city near Nairobi, Kenya, designed by New York-based SHoP Architects, promises a modernised and sanitised living environment for the middle classes. These smaller, mostly independent urban areas are far removed from the squalor and congestion of existing cities. Hope City, just east of Accra, Ghana’s capital, designed by Italian architect Paulo Brescia, is no different. African beehives inspired its large, linked buildings that contain all the facilities needed for residents and workers, thus eliminating the need to venture outdoors.

Other cities are expanding by filling in land to create new urban extensions. Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of Africa’s largest and poorest cities. Here in 2009 developers began filling the Congo River to support up-market retail and residential buildings, a process which destroyed the livelihoods of many small farmers along the river’s banks.

In Nigeria, the Lagos state government and South Energyx, a private engineering and construction firm, are creating “Eko Atlantic”, a 10-square-kilometre artificial island off the coast of Lagos, the country’s economic capital, where some 250,000 people can live and work away from the city’s congestion and pollution. When the project began in 2012, the Nigerian government demolished the floating shacks of the Makoko neighbourhood and left many residents of this fishing community homeless.

Do these new developments represent the “modernisation” of African cities? Should we be concerned about them? Yes, mostly because these urban plans ignore the realities of African cities and in many cases would directly worsen current conditions. Full city “make-overs”, such as the plan for Kigali, are leading to the removal of slum dwellers from central urban districts where income-generating opportunities and public services are concentrated.

Most of Africa’s urban population is desperately poor. Some 61% of sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population live in slums and 61% survive on the informal economy, according to a 2010 report by UN-Habitat, the United Nations agency for human settlements. With a 3.9% average annual urban growth rate, a further 150m people could reside in Africa’s urban areas, especially in secondary cities, by 2020, according to 2012 figures from the UN’s population division. Unless state resources and energies are focused on meeting the basic needs of the urban poor (sanitation, clean water, shelter, public transport) and on city plans that are inclusive and supportive, Africa will be facing an urban crisis of huge proportions.

Satellite city and urban infill projects will inevitably divert state funding for new infrastructure away from basic needs provision. A long history of satellite city planning in other parts of the world shows the difficulty in creating new self-sufficient urban areas: they rely on large and ongoing government subsidies and worsen traffic congestion by generating large movements back to the “mother” city for work and higher-order public services.

The market in African cities for the high-end, luxury apartment and office blocks portrayed in these fantasy plans is very limited. Companies like Deloitte point to a rapidly-growing urban middle class, currently defined as those spending only $2-$20 a day, as cited in a 2011 African Development Bank report.

A good example of this supply and demand mismatch is the new satellite Kilamba City, a Chinese-built “ghost town” outside Luanda, Angola. New apartments here cost between $120,000 and $200,000, unaffordable even for senior civil servants, according to architect and planner Allan Cain in a study published in 2014 in the journal Environment and Urbanization. Kilamba City, completed in 2012, stood empty for a year. Eventually, the state was obliged to lower apartment costs through major subsidies, which used up the bulk of the national housing budget, according to Mr Cain’s study.

The “smart” and “eco” labels, often attached to these fantasy cities, are also suspect. While the principles underlying them may be supportable, these terms are often misused in the interests of urban boosterism.

Truly smart cities require much more than information technology and infrastructure. Social capital, the networks and shared values that encourage social co-operation and which are needed for innovation, is equally important. These urban plans often do not specify how they will be achieved. Sustainability principles are important in any new urban development, but the fantasy plans with their glass-box towers, swathes of landscaped lawn and freeways suggest the opposite.

These labels are also often used to justify urban projects that avoid consultation and participation with city residents. For example, the development of Konza Techno City, a new satellite city 60km south-east of Nairobi in Kenya, has stalled as local landowners dispute consultation and compensation processes. Eko Atlantic has also moved ahead without public participation, according to several reports.

The implementation of these fantasy plans depends on local and national government support. African governments should be demanding ideas that are appropriate to the problems and issues which cities face, designs that would improve the lives of a majority of a city’s residents and are not skewed to the imagined desires of a very small urban elite.

The direct impact of most of the utopian plans will be to further segregate cities into areas for the wealthy and highly skilled and areas for the poor and unemployed. They aim to allow the urban middle classes and foreign and local investors to escape the “crime and grime” of African cities. While this desire is understandable, it is dangerous and short-sighted because it creates the illusion of progress while leaving more pressing problems unaddressed.

The International Criminal Court on an African Safari?

oldpensetAfrican Race Hunting, the Race Card and Racing After African Thugs?

Hailemariam Desalegn, the titular prime minister of Ethiopia, says the International Criminal Court (ICC) is on African safari. In May 2013,according to the BBC, Desalegn said, “African leaders were concerned that out of those indicted by the ICC, 99% are Africans. This shows something is flawed within the system of the ICC and we object to that. The process has degenerated into some kind of race hunting.” Last week a spokesman for the ruling regime in Ethiopia chimed in. “We never appreciated what the ICC has been doing, particularly when it comes African leaders, and its belittling and it’s disparaging the African leadership.”

Earlier this month, Hailemariam reportedly sent a letter to “the ICC copying the UN Security Council (UNSC) formally demanding that the charges against both president Uhuru Kenyatta and his vice president William Ruto be dropped.” African leaders are going ballistic and threatening a mass withdrawal from The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (the treaty that established the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression). They have scheduled an extraordinary summit in Addis Ababa on October 13, 2013 for that purpose. The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Gambian international lawyer Fatou Bensouda, has stated repeatedly that most ICC cases are opened in cooperation with African countries. She has rejected the idea that the ICC is engaged in selective prosecution of Africans.

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On Tanzania, Obama is getting it wrong –

imageIn September President Kikwete of Tanzania was among ten African leaders to attend a meeting in New York organised by President Obama for heads of state and civil society organisations committed to promoting good governance. The meeting also called for the scrapping of regulations which hinder the performance of civil society in improving transparency, accountability and ‘good governance’.

In his opening speech Obama showered Kikwete with praise – referring to him as “a true brother and a friend” for his efforts promoting transparency and good governance in Tanzania – this being one of the few countries in the world to have signed a charter on government that strives towards transparency and good governance.

These comments reiterate those bestowed on Kikwete during Obama’s visit to Tanzania in July 2013, where he met with business leaders to discuss investment, trade and economic growth. Obama again commended Kikwete for his ‘good and transparent governance’, noting that civil society groups and journalists were doing their part to advance democracy and prosperity in the country.

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MPG’s toolkit on diversity in political parties used across the political spectrum – Migration Policy Group

imageOn 11 October, the Party of European Socialists (PES) adopted the declaration “Striving for a fair representation of people with an ethnic or a migrant background“ to promote European diversity. The declaration has been adopted on the basis of the report ”Involvement of people with a migrant or an ethnic background within PES Parties’ structures” presented to the PES presidency by Emine Bozkurt MEP. Ahead of the European elections in 2014, the declaration contains statements such as:

We commit to undertake concrete measures in order for our Parties to be more inclusive and representative of the population, such as adapting our structures, rules and methods, recruiting members from a more diverse background, empowering candidates from all backgrounds or engaging effectively with communities.

We will strive to ensure a fair representation of people with an ethnic and migrant background on our lists for the upcoming European elections and reaffirm our pledge to have a parliamentary Group that is a more accurate reflection of the society.

Bozkurt’s report draws extensively on MPG’s toolkit on Becoming a Party of choice and uses MPG’s benchmarking tool to help parties opening to diversity and equality, from voters and candidates to staff and suppliers. The benchmarks looks at at the following questions, for instance:

Are equality data used to map the party’s electorate?
Are candidates with a migrant background allocated as many winnable constituencies or winnable seats as other candidates?
To what extent does the composition of party leadership and executive structure reflects society’s diversity?
A new project, DivPol, was launched earlier this year and will use MPG’s tool with political parties across the political spectrum in seven European countries.

The PES declaration follows the use last year by the Centre for European Studies – the European People’s Party think-tank – of MPG’s benchmarking tool for its policy brief on Migrating Towards Participation: Immigrants and Their Descendants in the Political Process, in which the think-tank stressed that “strategically, contributing to the political integration of immigrants would help distinguish the European centre-right from populist and extremist political alternatives. Following their anti-immigrant rhetoric would only alienate the traditional centre-right electorate and cost the mainstream centre-right some credibility”.

This shows that the need to better reflect society’s diversity is becoming a mainstream concern for political parties across the political spectrum.

Mo Ibrahim Prize 2013: and the winner is…Afro-realism

ibrahim1190.jpgAfrican economies are generally growing – we know that and it can be well-documented through trusted economic data. But is African governance also rising? That’s the question that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation seeks to answer every year through its Index of African Governance.

And the answer is yes. The big number this year’s report showcases is that 94 percent of the continent’s people live in countries that have experienced overall governance improvement since 2000. So, it’s pretty clear that the general trend is up.

However, this is a complex index based on large quantities of data, so from it we can determine several different indicators (not all of which are increasing). Broadly, these are classified (by the Index) within 4 categories:

Safety and Rule of law
Participation and Human Rights
Sustainable Economic Opportunity
Human Development
Mo Ibrahim calls the Governance Index “a mirror we put in front of Africa today”. But it’s a mirror that provides us with a reflection that is somewhat ambiguous. Whilst 52 countries improved their ‘Human Development’ in 2012, 32 countries saw their ‘Safety and Rule of Law’ decline (for a more detailed breakdown of what these terms mean please see the report.)

It’s also true that whilst a number of established success stories – Mauritius, Botswana and Ghana, to name 3 – are forging ahead, the gap between these countries and the laggards at the bottom of the index (Somalia, DRC and Eritrea) is growing. It’s also quite predictable that the majority of countries lying at the bottom of the table suffer from chronic political instability (DRC, Somalia, Guinea Bissau etc.) Jump-starting these countries’ path towards development remains a major global challenge.

Illustrating this point, the biggest individual improvers are those post-conflict countries which are now experiencing a ‘peace dividend’ (Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone) and in the case of Rwanda, an effective technocratic administration following it.

When questioned whether the general improvement in governance was ‘structural’ or merely a product of a sustained, Chinese-fuelled, commodities boom, Ibrahim was keen to assert that it is due to positive changes within Africa. This has, in part, been enabled by the ending of the Cold War which meant “you [Western countries] took your fingers out of our affairs”. However, the connection between the mainly externally driven economic growth and improvements in governance merits more serious examination.

Whilst the Governance Index is growing into an essential resource for those tracking continental changes, the more media-friendly ‘Prize for Achievement in African Leadership’ (worth $5 million per year for a decade after retirement) has stalled somewhat. It’s not that it’s necessarily a bad idea, but rather that the Foundation isn’t particularly good at explaining what it’s for. This is particularly the case in the years when it is not awarded – 2012 and 2013 being alike in this regard.

Also, most years it’s pretty evident that no one is seriously in-the-running. 2011’s award to Cape Verde’s Pedro Pires was something of a surprise, but mainly because the mainstream press doesn’t really regard Africa’s island countries as being part of the continent (and their small size does mean that their character is quite different from, for example, a Nigeria or Ethiopia).

Whilst the Prize Committee itself should not be criticised for its non-award – afterall, there were slim pickings available. For the Prize to maintain its high-profile position in the calendar of annual awards it either needs to be awarded every year or not bother calling a press conference for the Prize Committee to restate their well-known position on a non-award.

They could also be reasonably asked to comment on who some of the contenders were. Something that Mo Ibrahim himself was keen to declare was ‘inappropriate’ following an only slightly provocative question along these lines from a member of the press.

Mo Ibrahim’s overall message is that things are improving in Africa, but in a slow and complex fashion. Rather than ‘Afropositive’ or pessimism, he calls for an Afro-realism, which means ‘be patient and study the numbers’. This may not be the sexiest headline, but it does do justice to the fine quantitative work that makes the Index on Governance possible.

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Somalia Conference – Commissioner Piebalgs announced €650 million pledge from the EC

imageSomalia Conference – Commissioner Piebalgs announced €650 million pledge from the EC

BRUSSELS, Kingdom of Belgium, September 16, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Statement by Commissioner Piebalgs:
“Today’s high level conference on Somalia marks a milestone in EU-Somalia relations, bringing together the international community and Somalia to endorse the Somali Compact, pledge support to enable its implementation and, above all, commit to this new political process.
As the biggest donor to Somalia, as well as a long-term friend and partner, the EU has provided some €521 million between 2008 and 2013 and already achieved considerable results –getting 40,000 children into school, providing safe water for half a million people and helping 70,000 people to produce livestock, to name but a few. So today, we are very proud to announce the new EU approach to the way we work in Somalia. The Somali Compact, which will guide our cooperation in Somalia in the coming three years, will align our support behind Somali priorities and enable us to better coordinate the development work currently undertaken in Somalia, working together with the Somali government, parliament, regions and civil society.
I also warmly welcome Somalia to the Cotonou Agreement. Somalia’s accession to the agreement marks a new chapter in EU-Somalia relations and epitomises the progress that Somalia has already made over the past year. This accession will bring vital new opportunities for the country and its people.
Last but not least, I am pleased to announce that the European Commission has today pledged €650 million to support Somalia and its people. After more than two decades, the Somali people urgently need to see progress in the provision of basic services. They deserve decent healthcare, clean water, a good education, and real hopes for a better future, like anyone else. But partnership must be at the core of our efforts. We can only succeed in our aims if we work together. I hope that today’s conference will be a significant step towards achieving that.”

The African Film Festival of Cordoba, 10 years breaking stereotypes of the African continent / Over 60 films from 24 different countries will be screened in the capital from the 11th to the 19th of Oc

ibrahim1189.jpg

Moment media Ethics “Dona nobis pacem https://africanewonline.wordpress.com/

The African Film Festival of Cordoba, 10 years breaking stereotypes of the African continent / Over 60 films from 24 different countries will be screened in the capital from the 11th to the 19th of Oc

12.September.2013 · CÓRDOBA, Spain, September 12, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The African Film Festival of Cordoba-FCAT returns to the city from the 11th to the 19th of October, celebrating its 10th anniversary since its inception in 1993. Following a long history of curating emblematic titles, awarded worldwide, this edition enjoys the anniversary to introduce various surprises and to melt themes, titles and spaces for a better understanding of the neighbouring continent through its film cultures.

The African Film Festival of Cordoba-FCAT has been challenging the widespread stereotypical images of the continent for a decade now, placing itself as the only festival in Spain showcasing these cinemas. In order to better represent the multicultural reality of these countries, the programme includes over 60 films made in 24 different countries, not just by Africans in the continent but also, in the diaspora, as well as those made by Europeans that are approaching African narratives.

After eight years in Tarifa (Cadiz), the festival – organised by the NGO Al Tarab, and sponsored by the City Council of Cordoba- moved to this Caliphal city, whose streets reveal an Arab heritage that emerged as the best space to welcome also film titles from the Middle East. In this 10th edition, Cordoba cements its place as the city hosting this unique platform in Spain showcasing African and Middle Eastern cinemas. During these nine days, Cordoba will be able to walk on Africa and the Arab world, rekindling indeed a heritage that is particularly notorious in Andalusia.

Once again, following the success of the carefully selected venues last year, Cordoba-FCAT will be repeating the opening and closing ceremony at the majestic Teatro Góngora, used throughout the festival period as a screening venue along with the Filmoteca de Andalucía, Rey Heredia Veintidós or Casa Árabe. However, these will not be the only spaces tasting these narratives. There will be activities for professionals, for citizen participation, under a variety of shapes, and an exhibition enjoying precisely the similarities of the Spanish and African cultures.

The Cordoba-FCAT is a festival devoted to discovering films that have never been shown before, in order to address a wide range of audiences that love the seventh art. But also, it is a festival that attempts to educate the gaze and thus encourage a critical analysis of these cinemas. This is why after having included a short African film course in previous editions, directed by Federico Olivieri, this year, enjoying the celebration of the 10th anniversary, there will be instead a film review workshop, conducted by leading academic, researchers and experienced professionals in the field. This course, absolutely free of charge and directed by the renowned Alfonso Crespo, will be carried out from the 14th to the 18th of October, offering an opportunity to a professional guidance for this field. Applications close on the 27th of September.

Matching with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the African Film Festival of Cordoba-FCAT, the theme of the retrospective, a category of the festival that aims to overcome the lack of visibility of these cinemas, is love. It is indeed an acute choice, as it overlaps with the ten years of a collective that decided to put together their love for African cinemas under the shape of a film festival, a unique initiative in Spain that is taking over the responsibility and challenge of bringing world cinemas to the country.

Moment media Ethics “Dona nobis pacem https://africanewonline.wordpress.com/

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