Ethiopia – Mobile Technology for Childbirth


Mobile app aims to improve the safety of childbirth across the country, particularly in rural areas.

A new mobile app, ‘Safe Delivery App‘, developed by Danish organisation the Maternity Foundation, is hoped to improve the safety of childbirth in the country by providing simplified instructions and films for emergency situations such as haemorrhaging, birth complications and infections, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).

In Ethiopia, where roughly nine out every ten births are at home without medical support, the app intends to provide life saving guidelines when things go wrong. The foundation aims to use the sharp rise in mobile phone users in Africa, which offers “abundant unexplored potential” to quickly reach otherwise hard to access areas, it said.

Maternity Foundation Program Manager for Ethiopia, Mesfin Wondafrash, said that “midwives may have skills and knowledge…but they may not apply the right procedures when complications arise”. Many midwives are ‘traditionally educated’ and may lack training in up-to date procedures, particularly in rural areas.

Described as an “emergency training tool”, the app is available in local languages and in English. Additionally it can be pre-installed on a mobile telephone so it works even without a network connection or Internet access.


DFID CC – Malawi

For the roughly 85% of babies who are born at home, if a complication arises, hospital is often the only option, which generally means lengthy travel; Mesfin added that issues such as bleeding can have dire consequences and often prove fatal.

A trial run was undertaken in the small town of Gimbie in the Oromo region, around 450km west of the capital Addis-Ababa, and proved to have promising results. Seventy-eight phones containing the app were distributed to midwives and Mesfin explained that “After a year, the capacity of the app users to manage bleeding rose from 20 to 60 percent, and for new born resuscitation, from 30 to 70 percent”.

The Maternity Foundation says the preliminary results “show a remarkable improvement in the skill and knowledge level of the health workers”. Chief of the Foundation, Anna Frellsen, said that “the advantage of the app over a medical book is that it is easy to understand, easy to access and easy to update”.

The app is also being tested in Ghana and will soon be deployed in Tanzania, Guinea and other African countries. The foundation’s stated goal is to equip 10,000 health workers by 2017; “If we achieve that, we will have ensured a safer birth for approximately one million women,” said Frellsen.

Estimates suggest that worldwide around 5 million babies and 289,000 mothers dies from complications related to childbirth worldwide each year, with the majority in developing countries.

Find out more the Africa Research Bulletin

Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.46, Issue.12, Pp.18239A–18241C

HEALTH: Ethiopia, Zambia
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.47, Issue.3, Pp.18346A–18347B

HEALTH: Africa
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.50, Issue.7, Pp.19796B–19797B

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Africa – GMO Debate Reignited


As a number of countries debate the use of GMO crops to address food security, others have stressed opposition to profit-driven agribusiness.

Recently, in August, Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto announced a move to lift a ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) imports by the end-of October, with a wide-ranging selection of Ministers supporting the move. GMO crops are now free to be field tested in the county with sites already set up at Kalro field stations.

Currently there are trials for a virus-resistant transgenic cassava at Alupe; a vitamin A-enhanced cassava at Alupe; biofortified sorghum at Kiboko and virus-resistant cassava at Mtwapa, explained the East African.

The Daily Nation reported that the decision to lift the ban has reignited the debate around GMO crops with farmers groups protesting across the country; one group, the Kenya Small-Scale Farmers has sought an order from the high court to reverse the decision. Some have even called for investigations into the funding for organisations involved in the sector.

Some scientists do see GMO crops as the answer to stark situations of food security across much of the ‘developing world’; the Kenya National Farmers Federation (Kenaff) stated that the country needed modern technology, of which GMOs are a part.

Kenaff CEO John Mutunga, said that such technology would need to be backed by sound scientific evidence, to dismiss claims that such crops cause adverse health impacts, and to remove the vested interested and donor-oriented policy that dominates the sector.


Cassava Seed (CC)

Tanzania is also planning trials for a GMO Maize variety for April 2016 in Makutupora area of Dodoma, conducted by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), a public-private partnership led by Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The government recently revised its GMO laws to allow confined trials of maize and cassava, reported the East African.

Similarly the Director-General of the Nigerian National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), Rufus Ebegba, has said that the safe application of modern biotechnology will trigger an agricultural revolution in Nigeria.

“Modern biotechnology has the huge potentials to enhance the agricultural sector, promote industrial growth, and the medical sector; and it can also be used for environmental sustainability; but our agency is not to promote modern biotechnology or its products but to ensure the safety because we are aware that this technology has that potential for adversity especially in the agricultural sector” he said, reported Leadership.

Only South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan have officially adopted GMO food on the African continent . However the recent and ongoing drought across much of Southern Africa – with five districts in South Africa declared disaster zones–  and the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon more widely across sub-Saharan Africa, has raised the urgent need for inclusive solutions to the problem of food security, particularly for the very poorest.


Sorghum Market Ethiopia (CC)

A 2013 report accused scientists of conducting research that favours seed companies; the study by Canadian Professor Matthew A Schnurr claimed that GMOs could jeopardise the livelihoods of local farmers by supplanting locally derived and often resilient seeds, for new supposedly high yielding varieties.

The research, entitled Biotechnology and bio-hegemony in Uganda: Unravelling the social relations underpinning the promotion of genetically modified crops into new African markets, was based on over 70 interviews in Uganda with research scientists, policy experts, lobbyists, and promotional organisations between 2009 and 2012.

In relation to GMO cotton, the report details that the crops are resistant to species of bollworm. However Schnurr claims that bollworm is of limited problem in Uganda, and the crops still continue to be affected by black arm disease and other pests. According to Schnurr the market is supply rather than demand driven, and BT Cotton finds a ‘solution to a non existent problem’, report the East African.

The report also throws doubts on the ability of farmers to pay for the new SureGrow 125, a cotton variety from the United States (US), with evidence from South Africa showing that farmers are paying 30-40% more for their seeds. The variety, which is suited to American climate and mechanised picking, may be unsuitable for the Ugandan context.

It is important that the aims of improving food security and livelihoods for the most vulnerable people do not get lost amidst the rhetoric of a profit-driven agricultural sector. GMOs are likely to be a useful resource in some contexts, but it is important to also remember the wide-variety of foodstuffs, non cash-crops, and farming activities undertaken as livelihood strategies across Africa, which have a tendency to be forgotten in the privileging of monoculture, cash-return GMO crops.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), on November 10th, launched its 2016 International Year of the Pulses, to “raise awareness about the protein power and health benefits of all kinds of dried beans and peas, boost their production and trade, and encourage new and smarter uses throughout the food chain”, reported the UN News Service.

“They have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries…yet, their nutritional value is not generally recognised and is frequently under-appreciated” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: Growth Slows, Food Insecurity Rises 
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.20979A–20980C

CEREALS: Southern Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.6, Pp.20896C–20897B

FOOD: FAO Report
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.2, Pp.20752A–20753A

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Tanzania – New Port to Boost Regional Status


New port initiative aims to place Tanzania as a transport hub, putting pressure on other regional facilities to compete.

The Tanzanian government has started work on a new US$10bn port and special economic zone (SEZ) in Bagamoyo, which aims to transform the area in to a transport logistics hub and act as a catalyst for international and regional trade.

The project is backed by China and Oman and when completed will dwarf the Kenyan port of Mombasa, putting pressure on the Kenyan government to expand their own facilities. With the new port, Tanzania hopes to be able to efficiently exploit new oil and gas finds.

The total project consists of 800 hectares of the Bagamoyo Port Project and around 1,700 hectares of the Portside Industrial Zone; developed under an agreement between the Tanzanian government – represented by the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) and the Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA) –  China Merchants Holdings International (CMHI) and the Oman State Government Reserve Fund (SGRF), explained a report by Tanzania Daily News.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, stated on October 16th that the construction work was aimed at “brining about an industrial revolution” in the country, reported the East African. The port itself will cater for ‘mega-ships’ with a container vessel size of 8000 twnety foot equivalent units (TEUs).

The project, which will include roads, railway and the SEZ, is expected to take 10 years to complete, but when finished it will have an annual capacity of around 20m containers, compared to 600,000 in Mombasa.

Tanzania is also targeting increased capacity of its main port at Dar es Salaam to 28m tonnes a year by 2020 from the 14.6m tonnes it handled in the financial year 2013/14.


Mombasa Port: (CC)

Tanzania Daily News explained that hours after the laying of the first foundation stone there was an announcement of the new Mapinga Satelitte City just 2km from the Bagamoyo site, and will include modern housing technology, amenities and recreational facilities.

Kenya is currently constructing a  $274m container terminal in Mombasa, in a bid to handle increasing volumes of trade, which is being driven by a construction boom, infrastructure development and an emerging middle class.

Kenya and Tanzania are caught in a head-to-head race to become the preferred regional transport hub amid massive expansion projects in sea ports, connecting railway and road networks.

“The sheer capacity of the Bagamoyo port should be a concern to Mombasa port managers because capacity is key in port efficiency which many traders look up to,” James Kinyua a cargo dealer in Nairobi said, reported the East African.

Tanzania, like Kenya, wants to capitalise on a long coastline and upgrade existing rickety railways and roads to serve growing landlocked economies in Africa. Recent oil discoveries in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have catalysed swathes of exploration in the region, but transport infrastructure still lags behind.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.9, Pp.21003A–21003C

Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.50, Issue.5, Pp.19994B–19995B

Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.49, Issue.7, 19633B–19634A

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Obituaries: Mathieu Kerekou & Ghamal El-Ghitani


Mathieu Kerekou (1933 – 2015)


The former President of Benin and one of the world’s longest serving political leaders, Mathieu Kerekou, died on October 14th at the age of 82.

He was credited with helping to usher in multi-party democracy in Africa, having had two spells as leader, the first as the head of a Marxist regime in 1972, but he conceded defeat to Nicephore Soglo in the 1991 election after accepting the idea of multi-party democracy. Kerekou returned to power in 1996 in a democratic election, and won a second and final five-year term in 2001.

Kerekou abandoned Marxist-Leninist politics as the official ideology in Benin in 1989, following global trends and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Born into the-then French colony Dahomey, Kerekou attended military school in Mali and Senegal, joined the French military and became the ‘aide-de-camp’ of Dahomey’s first President Hubert Maga. (BBC News Online 15/10; Daily Nation 15/10)


Gamal El-Ghitani (1945 – 2015)



El-Ghitani, a renowned Egyptian novelist and journalist, died on October 18th aged 70 at Al-Jala Military Hospital in Cairo after health complications that had rendered him in a coma for over three months. His books, which included the widely praised novel Zayni Barakat, have been translated into a number of languages, and he made great efforts to promote Arab literary culture, founding the literary magazine Gallery 68.

Originally trained to be a carpet designer, in 1969 he switched careers and became a journalist for the Egyptian newspaper Akhbar al-Yawm. In 1993, Ghitani founded and headed Akhbar Al-Adab (Literature News), one of Egypt’s literary newspapers. In 2015, he won the Nile Award for Literature, the highest literary honour granted by the Egyptian government.

Ghitani, a firm supporter of the army since the fall of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011, was one of Egypt’s most acclaimed writers. In a statement, the presidency said Egypt and the Arab world had lost “a senior cultural figure who had contributed to enriching the cultural life in Egypt with his unique style and contemporary vision”. (AhramOnline 18/10; the Independent 19/10)


Madagascar – Drought Raises Food Security Fears


Adverse weather patterns lead to crop failures and increased hardship for large swathes of the Malagasy agricultural and transhumant population.

According to a recent United Nations (UN) report, around 46% of the population in Madagascar, some 1.9 million people, are food insecure with almost half a million facing chronic food shortages. The Crop and Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM), an initiative from the Malagasy government, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), identified the highest levels of food insecurity in the southern regions of Androy, Anosy and Atsimo Andrefana.

The UN stated that a significant drop in agricultural production over the last three seasons, largely due to a shortage of rainfall, has negatively affected many people, who have often responded by selling off assets and withdrawing children from school to overcome food shortages.

A number of programmes intended to eliminate hunger, improve nutrition and to promote sustainable agriculture have recently been announced. The WFP said that they would be assisting 130,000 people with a ‘food/cash-for-assets‘ scheme which are designed to improve resilience and to prepare communities for the next harvest season; those that are unable to work will be distributed food, reported a WFP press release.

The FAO have announced a ‘drought-resistant seed’ as an emergency response mechanism to ensure the replanting of over 6000 hectares of land for 13,000 households in Androy and Anosy regions. The FAO added that it had eradicated a plague of locusts that had afflicted crops between 2013-14, with help from the Malagasy government,reported the UN News Service.


(Madagascar – Agricultural Map:

Earlier on October 21st the Malagasy government and the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) signed an agreement in Rome for finance to support the Project to Support Development (AD2M-II) in the Menabe and Melaky regions to the cost of around US$56.7 million, reported an IFAD press release.

AD2M-II aims to improve the incomes and the food security of smallholders by improving and developing irrigated agriculture and natural resource management approaches. Sana F.K. Jatta, IFAD Regional Director for the East and Southern Africa Division added that it “It will also address land tenure security and safeguarding the land rights of smallholders so that they can investment more in their land and increase their incomes”.

Much of Southern Madagascar has been afflicted by a drought, which has lasted for almost a year and led to the deaths of a number of people, while also destroying livelihoods of the agricultural population. The Mayor of Anjapaly, Bernard Tolia, said that “the death rate varies from two to 10 per day due to drought in our area”.

“It has been almost a year since we saw the last rain. People have to travel 15 kilometres, often on foot, to find drinking water. Livestock is suffering and die while cultivation is impossible due to drought,” Tolia added, cited by the Namibian.

The General-Director of Meteorology in Madagascar, Samueline Rarahiveloarimiza, blamed the drought on the El Niño weather phenomenon, stating that while the southern regions are experiencing little rain, other regions may be inundated with rainfall.

Countries identified by the UN, WFP and FAO as most at risk are Malawi, Madagascar and Zimbabwe, all already suffering extensive crop failures, and there are also concerns in Lesotho, and parts of Angola and Mozambique. Malawi is facing its worst food insecurity for a decade with 2.8m at risk coupled by widespread floods.

The WFP stated that solutions would have to involve ‘drought-resilient crops’ such as cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum and millet and supplementary irrigation in order to cope with prolonged dry spells. The WFP also said it would be monitoring the food price situation in the countries which is likely to cause further hardship if they were to rise, reported a WFP report.

At the beginning of October, the Malagasy government urged the UN to take steps towards a meaningful agreement at the upcoming UN Climate talks in Paris in December. Malagasy President Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana said that it was important to recognise that developing countries are not the main parties responsible for climate change, although they pay much of the price; he stated that Madagascar is systematically suffering from the consequences of climate change, destroying efforts towards social and economic progress, reported the UN News Service.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Cereals: Southern Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.6, Pp.20896C–20897B

Southern Africa: Devastating Floods
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.1, Pp.20704C–20706C

Madagascar: Locust Plague
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.50, Issue.6, Pp.20014C–20015A

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South Africa – ANC decide to leave the ICC


The government decides to withdraw from the ICC, with concerns this could set a continent-wide precedent.

According to a ministerial representative for the South African government, they are planning to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), amongst growing external pressure as authorities ignored a court order to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier in June.

Al-Bashir who is wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and genocide charges in Darfur, was allowed to leave South Africa after an African Union (AU) Summit, despite a ruling by a South African court to detain him. President Jacob Zuma, according to al-Jazeera, chose loyalty to a fellow AU member rather than his commitments to the ICC.

The decision prompted wide ranging international criticism; the Economist went as far to say that “Nelson Mandela’s legacy has been soiled”. Also internally human rights organisations, executive leaders and judicial members were involved in heated debates.


Omar al-Bashir (CC)

If South Africa leaves, it will be the first country to leave the ICC, amidst a current context of numerous accusations of an anti-African bias, from a number of leaders on the continent; particularly as the only people to be successfully tried at the court have been Africans.

When South Africa first joined the ICC in 1998, the apartheid era was just coming to an end, and they had hoped that the rest of the world would follow. Even today only 123 countries have ratified the Rome Statute, which aims to prosecute those responsible for the worst international crimes, with notable absentees including the United States (US), Russia and China.

A Deputy Minister in the South African Presidency, part of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) congress, said that the ICC has “lost its direction”, accusing powerful nations of trampling on human rights and pursuing “selfish interests”, reported UK-based the Guardian.

If the decision ends up a reality then it will embody some of the fundamental problems with international jurisprudence, particularly that the ICC is powerless to enforce its authority on its own member states.

The decision taken by South Africa is particularly poignant as it sends a signal from what is perceived by many to be one of the most advanced democracies on the continent, setting a precedent for other countries to follow suit. Earlier in 2013 a group of African states, angry at charges levelled against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, called for a continent-wide withdrawal from the ICC.



On the other hand, ICC supporters have claimed that such narratives are using ‘pan-Africanism’ as a cover from international scrutiny and human rights law, arguing that the ICC is in fact a hugely valuable tool for “rampant legal impunity”, reported al-Jazeera.

Others have noted that the apparently disproportionate targeting of Africans by the court is explained, in part, by statistical probability. Africa accounts for 34 of the court’s member states, as well as a large percentage of the violent conflicts that produces charges pursued by the court.

Ventures Africa comment that it is important to note that in the eight African countries of which the ICC has operated, the governments of Cote D’Ivoire, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Mali and Uganda have all requested that the ICC probe crimes on their soil. Only Libya and Sudan have had their cases referred by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

However the decision would still need to be ratified by both the upper and lower houses of parliament as much of the ICC regulation has been incorporated into domestic legal procedures, reported BBC News; although the ANC does have a large majority in parliament.

Minister for International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that the government is taking the idea seriously, adding that the matter is on the agenda for the next meeting of ICC members at The Hague in November.

In regards to alternatives, RFI report that there have been murmurs of a transfer of authority for such international cases, in Africa, to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, although current proposals have excluded charges brought against heads of state, as is currently in place with the ICC. Additionally the ongoing trial of Chadian ex President Hissène Habré, by a Senegalese court, has signalled wider financing issues, as the trial was delayed for many years due to a lack of funds.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

South Africa-Sudan-ICC
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.7, Pp.20695B

South Africa-Sudan-ICC: Arrest Row
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.6, Pp.20623B–20624C

Sudan: Damning HRW Report
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.2, Pp.20473C–20474C

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Africa – UN Sustainable Development Goals


UN sets ambitious new global targets, with specific reference to Africa, although issues of funding and wider socio-economic and political barriers remain.

On September 25th the United Nations (UN) officially adopted the new ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) originally launched in 2000. Many of the new SDGs have a specific relevance to the challenges being faced on the African continent; Global Goals website provides information on the goals and targets and the UN Economic Commission provides an African Regional Report.

The SDGs will set the global development agenda for the next fifteen years, comprising a total of 17 goals with 169 targets, the product of discussions started at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012 and approved at the Sustainable Development Conference (September 25-27th 2015), which saw more than 150 heads of state and representatives unanimously approve the ‘Transforming our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development“.


Global Goals website

There are a number of ambitious targets, including zero poverty, zero hunger and universal higher education before 2030. Christophe Bellmann of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) told Radio France Internationale“we now have 15 years to completely eradicate hunger, that’s of course much more ambitious. That also means it will require more investments, more resources to implement those goals.”

Another major element is climate change; “Africa has the weakest institutions and infrastructures in order to cope with the impact of climate change,” Sarah Hearn, a senior fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation explained. “What the goals do is set out a vision for mutual responsibilities for one another. But it’s true that the targets that are based on zero hunger [&] zero poverty, are going to be extremely difficult to achieve in the very poorest countries.”

According to New York-based Time, the new goals place a specific focus on the role of the private sector in fostering “sustainable and inclusive growth” to enhance job creation, food security, health care, and combat endemic poverty. According to the UN the cost of achieving the SDGs, over the next 15 years, will be close to US$170 trillion, more than the total global GDP in 2014 of $78 trillion. Time comment that this will require”collaboration with the international donor community, philanthropists, and local non-governmental organizations through shared purpose. It is only by working together that we can achieve the new goals and build a world that is worthy of us and our children”.



Other media has been more critical; the independent New Internationalist praised the SDGs in representing the multi-dimensional nature of poverty but also stated that they come “with no historical background of how we got here, and no political strategy for how we get out”,  missing crucial elements of global inequality such as transnational corporations, colonial history, trade imbalances and structural adjustment policies; “in short, power doesn’t exist in the SDGs”.

Similarly, the Financial Times (FT) noted that many of the MDGs were never realised. Economist Howard Friedman, in an analysis of the MDGs in 2013, concluded that little global progress had been made after 2000, with most of the work towards them occurring in the 1990s in processes unrelated to the UN; although he did point out the role of the MDGs in cementing “development beliefs and practices”.

Similarly FT quoted William Easterly, Professor of Economics at New York University, who commented that ““the MDGs communicated a very wrong idea about how development happens: technocratic, patronising and magically free of politics”. Additionally, amongst the backdrop of global slow economic growth and conflicting national interests, many governments have been slow to signal a desire to fund the new SDGs.

While the SDGs represent an important global precedent which will  contribute hugely towards alleviating global poverty, improving equality and combating climate change, it is important to recognise their limits, and the multitude of other global political, social and economic processes which are working towards the ideals, but also hindering them.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT: Third International Conference
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.7, Pp.20907A–20909C

AFRICA – UN: Landmark Deal
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.7, Pp.20477A–20477C

UNITED NATIONS: Millennium Development Goals Summit
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.47, Issue.9, Pp.18533A–18536A

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