Hi, Q-MHI Africa readers!
*Apologies for the late delivery of this week’s brief due to technical problems.
“I am going over to London, to learn how English carry dustbin.”
That’s a parody lyric from Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s 1983 song Perambulator. It’s a sharp reference to how government officials in some African countries spend time flying around the world at taxpayers’ expense supposedly learning basic skills they should already have. Fela was using waste management to hammer home a point about poor leadership and an over-reliance on importing old western ideas.
Several articles in the last few weeks reminded me of the song, but also captured how waste management is one of the biggest challenges facing the continent and its fast-growing cities—and also that it’s been a problem for a long time. Poor waste management worsens problems of generally low sanitation levels.
And with African cities predicted to urbanize at a rate of 3.65% annually, adding nearly 350 million new city-dwellers by 2030, this will only get worse. The challenge is these expanding cities don’t have the infrastructure in the first place to deal with the thousands of tons of waste created every day, much less for the millions of new residents and recently created neighborhoods and slums.
Ghana may be the world’s fastest-growing economy this year, but its biggest city, Accra is struggling to get on top of its waste management problem as our feature shows. The president is determined for Accra to be Africa’s cleanest city but the reality has a way to go to match the ambition. “Accra’s gutters are persistently clogged, despite pressure on government and promises in return. A common complaint through the city is that when people clean out the gutters, waste will sit in a pile nearby and eventually find its way back.”
Nairobi, a city of a similar population size to Accra, also has had a long battle with waste management, including major controversies like the incredible story of Phyllis Omido.Waste from the batteries piled up in a nearby room for up to two years at a time, according to the 2009 government inspection. The inspection report highlighted the serious health risks of the smelter.The smoke from the smelter chimney billowed freely, soot settling over nearby houses in a fine mist. The smell was horrible. “It was really pungent,” Omido says, like rotten eggs.
“Most people would tie a piece of cloth around their face just so that they don’t breathe in. And your eyes would sting—it would make your eyes really sting and water.
”Some locals used the containment wall of the smelter as the fourth wall of their mud houses. Their iron roofs began to corrode from the acid-laced air.Though there is no official tally of the deaths, Omido says 100 children from Owino Uhuru have died, in addition to dozens of smelter workers and a few of their wives.
Last year, Kenya banned plastic bags, in an attempt to cut one of the key sources of non-biodegradable waste.Punishment for carrying, manufacturing, or importing plastic bags ranges from about $19,000 to as much as $38,000 or a jail term of up to four years . Trash bin liners, as well as plastic bags for disposing medical waste and chemicals are exempt from the ban, as are plastic bags used for industrial packaging of products.
It was following in the wake of Rwanda which has long banned plastic bags and whose capital Kigali is often hailed as one of Africa’s cleanest cities.Another is that on the last Saturday of every month, people across the country commit time to projects aimed at improving the country’s public spaces, in a mandatory practice called Umuganda—loosely translated as “coming together to achieve a common purpose”. But there’s a hidden cost to Kigali’s spotless reputation, and the poorest and most vulnerable are those who pay it.
But Nairobi is a much larger and complex city than Kigali and has struggled to implement the plastic bag ban to date.Plastic materials offer a number of advantages over other conventional packaging materials. They are malleable, light, low cost and can be produced in a variety of shapes and sizes.Because of this, every year over 260 million tons of plastics are produced globally. Of this, nearly one trillion plastic bags are made and used. This makes them an important feature of the packaging sector.
But because plastic bags are resistant to biodegradation, they cause long-term pollution to various natural environments from oceans to soil. Of the 4,000 tons of single use plastic bags produced each month, about 2,000 tons end up in Kenya’s municipal waste streams. Half of these are lightweight bags with a thickness of less than 15 microns.Because of these issues, a variety of policy measures can be introduced to manage plastic waste. These include a ban on the production of certain plastics, levying taxes, mandatory recycling targets and adoption of anti-plastic bag campaigns.
And in Fela’s home city of Lagos, the state governor seems determined to rid the city of a decades-old waste problem. But that has got caught up in political controversy after a 10-year contract with a Dubai-based company as well as various disputes over whether it’s been effective or not so far given its high cost. It’s not quite a “Perambulator” scenario, yet, but it’s not far off and large parts of the city remain overwhelmed by tons of waste.
It shouldn’t need to be explained that poor waste management is linked to health problems and environmental damage but these factors also hamper the economies of developing countries. In 2012, the World Bank looked at 18 African countries, with a combined population of 554 million and estimated they lose around $5.5 billion every year due to poor sanitation. That was equivalent of annual economic losses between 1% to 2.5% of GDP. It’s undoubtedly a problem worth prioritizing.
— Yinka Adegoke, Q-MHI Africa editor
STORIES FROM THIS WEEK
The Kenyan environmentalist who took on the battery factory that poisoned her village. In the Owino Uhuru shanty town in Mombasa, lead poisoning emitted by a smelter killed laborers and made mothers and children sick in 2010. In this deep dive, Zoë Schlanger traces the story of how Phyllis Omido took on the plant to stop it from spreading dangerous lead-acid battery chemicals.The World Health Organization estimates lead poisoning kills roughly 143,000 people per year from long-term exposure, while other research has found it responsible for many times more than that; one analysis put it at 674,000 deaths per year. “Batteries are the biggest part of the pie,” according to Perry Gottesfeld, the president of Occupational Knowledge International, a research group that produces peer-reviewed reports on occupational exposure to hazardous materials and advocates for worker health.
Sudan’s big businesses wants Trump to help them attract foreign investment. For two decades, US sanctions crippled the Sudanese economy, increasing debt and inflation, and paralyzing the banking sector. But after Donald Trump lifted the embargo last October, Matthieu Favas explains how private businesses are now campaigning to attract foreign lenders.Khartoum Breast Cancer Center is a member of the US-Sudan Business Council (USSBC), a group comprising some of Sudan’s largest private businesses that played an instrumental role in inspiring others—including the government—to lobby the US for sanctions relief.
Bank of Khartoum, also part of the USSBC, managed to get its name off the sanctions list as early as 2011 (the government later mandated the same law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, to convince Washington it should end the broader embargo). KBCC got cleared in 2016, soon after Dr Fadl’s appeal to US lawmakers prompted a seven-strong Congress delegation—including Janice Schakowsky of Illinois and Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio—to visit the center.
The USSBC’s efforts are aiming at the right target. The example of Iran, where a lack of economic progress has recently fueled mass protests, suggests sanctions relief is not enough in itself for foreign investors to rush in. It doesn’t help that the sanctions imposed on Sudan were uniquely complex, as they were progressively reinforced to punish human rights violations and other offenses. Besides, Sudan remains saddled with high inflation and bulging debt. Getting a nice word from Washington may help. “For investors, there’s so much low-hanging fruit,” says Abdellatif. “But Sudan very much remains an exotic destination.”
African art sales still have a long way to go in the global market share. With the proliferation of fairs and the opening of new galleries, contemporary African art has garnered global attention for years now. Yet when it comes to trading, African artwork is still very much an emerging market, Lynsey Chutel finds.
Black Panther is now the highest grossing film ever in East, West and southern Africa. The hype surrounding the Marvel superhero film is paying off, with the announcement this week it was the highest grossing film of all time in sub-Saharan Africa.Black Panther has grossed 77,6 million rand (just under $6.5 million) in South Africa and its neighboring countries, and another 102.4 million Kenyan shillings (just over $1 million) in cinemas in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. In Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia the film has hauled in 642,5 million naira ($1.77 million),The numbers seem small when comparing Black Panther’s global ticket sales of more than a $1 billion and counting.
Marvel also revealed Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor will write a comic series based on the all-female bodyguards of the Wakanda king ,, a three-part comic seriesfocused on the Dora Milaje, including characters like Okoye (played by Danai Gurira in the Black Panther movie). The comic series will be written by Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor and will start in June.
Ghana’s trash problem is choking its fast-growing capital. Accra, a city of four million, generates about 3,000 metric tons of waste a day, costing its economy almost $300 million annually. Stacey Knott reports on the efforts of the government and non-profits to keep the city clean.
Africa’s growing hubs are solidifying the continent’s tech ecosystem. Google announced the first set of 12 startups that will participate in its mentorship Launchpad Accelerator Africa class, modeled after the global program in Silicon Valley. Among the startups selected are ThriveAgric, an agribusiness startup which allows middle-class Nigerians invest in agriculture, Pezesha, a Kenyan peer to peer micro-lending marketplace and Okadabooks, a Nigerian e-book app that allows authors publish books to an audience of over 100,000 active users. In total, six of the selected startups are Nigerian, two are Kenyan with one each from Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and South Africa.
The tech giant is the latest string of high profile companies and investors drawn to Africa as spaces designed to support tech startups increase.The increase in hubs was mostly boosted by the opening of locales incountries like Senegal, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, with the latter two doubling their number of centers. Zimbabwe, long starved of venture funding given its struggling economy, had 13 hubs as of March, while Uganda added three more tech incubators to the 12 recorded in 2016. Nigeria experienced the highest growth of all African nations, increasing its hubs to 55 in 2018 from 23 in 2016. Almost half of all the hubs were concentrated in just five countries.
CHART OF THE WEEK
African governments are withholding millions meant to improve digital access. Africa has one of the lowest levels of internet use in any region in the world. But as Abdi Latif Dahir reports, countries continue to fall short of improving internet access in rural and poor areas—even when they have the funds to promote connectivity.
OTHER THINGS WE LIKED
How Congo stared down executives and passed changes to its mining laws. When the DR Congo introduced laws increasing the royalty miners pay to export cobalt, executives threatened to pursue international arbitration or close mines altogether. In Reuters, Aaron Ross documents the intricate negotiations that led the multinationals to finally accept the new regulations.
But there was no mistaking the sense of defeat as executives from Glencore (GLEN.L), Randgold (RRS.L), Ivanhoe (IVN.TO) and other firms descended the red carpeted stairs after six hours to accept before the media a mining code that hikes taxes and removes exemptions for cobalt and other minerals.It was an extraordinary climb down for companies that had campaigned tooth-and-nail for six years for better terms, and the president signed the bill into law two days later.
South Africa’s campaign against ‘white genocide’ is spreading beyond its borders. Amid the debate over land expropriation, South Africa’s alt-right group, the Suidlanders, has been reaching out to other radical groups in the US and Europe. In the Mail & Guardian, Lloyd Gedye writes about how the plight of white South Africans is giving rise to conspiracy theories.
The group, who describe themselves as “an emergency plan initiative” to prepare a Protestant Christian South African minority for a coming violent revolution, has met various extremist alt-right groups and their influential media contacts in the United States to build up global opposition to the purported persecution of white people in South Africa.The Suidlanders believe a race war is inevitable and have spent years preparing for it. The group’s membership was first reported to have swelled after the murder of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader Eugène Terre’blanche. Then it was the death of former president Nelson Mandela that was meant to trigger the war.Although this never transpired, now it is the murder of white farmers that the Suidlanders have seized on as a signal of the seeds of a plan to exterminate white people.
*This brief was produced while listening to Yekermo Sew (A Man of Experience and Wisdom) by Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopia).