2020 Is the Decade of Action & It Has to Be a Sprint

Hosted by the governments of Kenya, Denmark and UNFPA, world leaders gather for the 3-day Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to advance sexual, reproductive health & rights for all. November 12, 2019. Photo Courtesy: Redhouse Public Relations

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 31 2019 – Happy New Year, Kenya. 2020 marks a decade of action towards the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Peace and development are inextricably linked, with each making the achievement of the other far more likely. This puts the conflict-prevention and development work of the UN at the heart of the agenda in East Africa, but in a multi-agency and programme environment, making meaningful progress is challenging.

Aware of this, the UN began a process of structural reforms led by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres who made reforms of the United Nations, a priority at the very beginning of his term in January 2017. The aim being to deliver better results through cooperation, collaboration and integration. 2019 was the year that the impact of these reforms became real and nowhere more than in the peace, conflict-prevention and development pillars of the UN’s work.

At the country level, that shift towards a nimble, 21st century UN challenges deeply entrenched practices and operations. In a country team with over 23 individual agencies, funds and programmes, the reform process can be complicated, even messy.

To the credit of the Kenya country team, we overcame the challenges of ceding long-held agency interests for the collective good and achieved some ground-breaking milestones in our partnership with governments, civic organizations and the private sector.

The most outstanding was our venturing out to confront challenges that transcend borders. East Africa faces major threats to peace and development across multiple fronts, and respective UN country teams have, in a remarkable show of teamwork, sought to harmonize their responses to these threats. Internecine border conflicts and the effects of climate change together make a formidable challenge that brought together UN teams from Kenya and Uganda, in a pact that seeks to bring sustainable development to the Karamoja triangle.

This pact follows from another successful regional collaboration project on the Kenya-Ethiopia border where communities accustomed to recurrent hostilities are now reaching out to each other to find solutions to common socio-economic challenges.

We believe that our regional surge towards prevention, peacemaking and diplomacy will have a particular impact on the youth, who suffer an enduring sense of being neglected and ignored. This narrative is a breeding ground for extremism and radicalization, so addressing such concerns was a key point of deliberation during last July’s African Regional High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism and the Prevention of Violent Extremism in Nairobi.

The same regional approach was behind the initiative by Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia to sign the Declaration and Action Plan to End Cross-border FGM in April 2019. This was the first time multiple countries had come together to tackle this pernicious cross-border crime.

But there remain many in the region still left behind by development, and we continue to stand up for them through our UN Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022. The framework’s gender equality and rights focus is unmistakable, because in too many communities, the simple fact of being born female shatters one’s chances of living in full human dignity.

Our focus on giving a leg-up to those left farthest behind has attracted a positive response from our partners in national and county governments. By staying in lockstep with national priorities on issues such as health, agriculture and housing, the common thread of messages from our partners is that we are staying effective and responsive to the ambitions of Kenyans.

As 2020 beckons, the decade of action starts and it has to be a sprint to deliver on the SDGs, the UN team in Kenya is rolling up its sleeves with greater urgency, ambition and innovation. We will enhance regional cooperation and private-public partnerships as we work with the Government towards lifting millions of the citizens of this region out of poverty and upholding their human rights.

We are re-imagining ways of delivering development in ways such as the co-creation of an SDG innovation lab between the Government of Kenya, the Centre for Effective Global Action at the University of California in Berkeley, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the UN. The SDG Lab will kick off with support for the delivery of Kenya’s Big Four agenda by harnessing, big data, technology and innovation to achieve scale and impact.

As a UN country team, we got off the blocks in 2019 in pursuit of UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed’s challenge to “flip the orthodoxy” for the repositioning of the UN. We have dared to go beyond the typical and will do whatever it takes to respond effectively to the challenges faced by Kenya’s people, now and in the future.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya.

A Tribute to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed (1936 – 2019)

By Nayema Nusrat
NEW YORK, Dec 23 2019 – “When I think about Bangladesh, I think about everybody. Not everybody is enjoying Rabindranath and the great literature and culture that Bangladesh has. But I think everybody has got the right to have this experience”, deeply felt by late Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC (Building Resources Across Communities), a unique, integrated development organization that many have hailed as the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world; who passed away December 20, 2019at the age of 83.

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. Credit: The Daily Star

Sir Fazle, who was knighted by the British Crown in 2009, grew BRAC into the world’s largest non-governmental organization. BRAC has provided the opportunity for nearly 150 million people worldwide to improve their lives, have enhanced food security and follow a pathway out of poverty. The scale and impact of BRAC’s work in Bangladesh and ten other countries is unprecedented.

He pioneered a new approach to development that has effectively and sustainably addressed the interconnectedness between hunger and poverty. In this regard, Sir Fazle broke new ground by melding scalable development models, scientific innovation, and local participation to confront the complex causes of poverty, hunger and powerlessness among the poor.

Sir Fazle was honored with scores of awards in his lifetime for his significant contributions in developing world; he was named as 2015 World Food Prize Laureate for his unparalleled achievements in building BRAC.

Among many of the other distinguished awards he received are, Spanish order of Civil Merit; Leo Tolstoy International Gold Medal; Lego Prize; Thomas Francis, Jr Medal in Global Public Health; Trust Women Hero Award; Inaugural WISE Prize for Education; Palli Karma Shahayak Foundation (PKSF) Lifetime Achievement in Social Development and Poverty Alleviation; David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award; GleitsmanFoundation International Activist Award; Olof Palme Prize; and Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta H Fore expressed his condolence, “All of us at UNICEF will miss his ideas and advice. We will never forget the example he set”.

Sir Fazle, founded numerous projects, including health, agriculture, and education with a vision to pull the poor out of poverty in every way. “Everything we did in Bangladesh we did with one focus: getting poor people out of poverty because we feel that poverty is dehumanising”, Sir Fazle had said to The Guardian.

For anyone growing up in Bangladesh, BRAC is a common name, almost every village kid you will meet inevitably goes to BRAC schools. BRAC’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Centre for Play programmes are designed to provide learning opportunities to children, especially in the early years. The play-based programmes are designed for refugee/displaced children who need help to recover from trauma. BRAC’s pre and primary schools have more than 12 million children graduated.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, noble prize laureate, Chairman of Yunus Center noted in his tribute to Sir Fazle that how his contributions have positively touched almost everyone growing up or living in Bangladesh – “It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that there is hardly anyone among the 170 million people of Bangladesh who do not benefit in some way from Abed’s programs or enjoy products and services provided by his organizations. If she is a poor person or a village woman, then she is in contact with Abed’s activities at every step of her life – In education, health, income generation, self-Awareness and many more”.

Sir Fazle believed in gender equality, women empowerment and their role in poverty alleviation; in 1978, BRAC established ‘Aarong’, one of the biggest ethical lifestyle retail chains in the country,primarily by engaging rural artisan women who producedhandcrafts aiming at pulling them out of poverty. Today, ‘Aarong’ supports approximately 65,000 artisans impacting lives of more than 325,000 people through ‘Ayesha Abed Foundation’ and 850 entrepreneurs with fair terms of trade; giving them access to BRAC’s holistic support including mental health care, hygiene awareness and subsidized latrines, micro credit, legal aid, day care and education for their children.

Melinda Gates, co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recalled Sir Fazle’s contribution in her message saying, “We were saddened to hear of his passing and will forever draw inspiration from his work, as will the rest of the world, which he left so much better than he found”.

The first ever Sexuality and Rights conference in Bangladesh was held by BRAC School of Public Health, in 2007. It created an inclusive space for both men and women in Bangladesh. There are so many women with successful careers locally and internationally, who would not be where they are today without BRAC School of Public Health.

Nobel Prize-awarded couple Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, in their message, said, “How often do we see people like Sir Fazle Hasan Abed? His absence has left a great sense of loss in all of us”.

BRAC has distributed USD 1.5 billion in micro loans as one of many of its projects to help the poorest people in Bangladesh graduate out of extreme poverty. In order to make micro finance sustainable for the poorest, BRAC built an effective business model around micro financing which included grants known as transfer of assets which could be a cow or half a dozen of goats, or any resources that would generate an income for them; a stipend system until they start earning income utilizing the resources, and one on one counselling sessions which taught them strategies on how to best use the loans and resources to maintain sustainable flow of income and build a habit of saving money.

Former World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said, “The scale and impact of what he has done, and yet the utter humility with which he has done everything, is a lesson for every single one of us.”

Another of many of his greatest initiatives was to combat the increasing child and infant mortality rate. During the 1980’s diarrheal diseases became one of the top reasons of the premature mortality of children under 5 years in Bangladesh. BRAC introduced home-made oral saline to the mothers through various campaigning, and started immunization program for infants in village, which were revolutionary steps decreasing the rate of child death. “We went to every household in Bangladesh teaching mothers how to make oral rehydration fluid at home to combat diarrheal deaths”, the pioneer recalled as stated by The Guardian.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Sir Fazle Abed’s passion and work in alleviating poverty and empowering the poor inspired many. “My thoughts are with him and his family and friends,” he added.

BRAC now has extended its operations in 14 more countries, touching the lives of many more helpless people globally.

“His nearly 50 years of visionary leadership at BRACtransformed millions of lives in Bangladesh and beyond and changed the way the world thinks about development. Driven by an unwavering belief in the inherent dignity of all people, he empowered those in extreme poverty to build better futures for themselves and their families”, said former US President Bill Clinton in remembrance of Sir Fazle.

There are just a handful of people who change the world and impact millions of lives, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was one of them who will continue to live on globally through his remarkable contributions. Dr. Yunus has articulated it perfectly, “Abed has left behind a confident Bangladesh. The story of his immense courage, self-confidence, and creativity will continue to inspire all generations to come. Abed will live as an icon of Bangladesh for posterity”.

ECOWAS endorses Adesina for second term as President of the African Development Bank

By External Source
Dec 23 2019 (IPS-Partners)

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has endorsed the candidacy of African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina for a second term at the helm of the institution.

The decision was announced at the end of the fifty-sixth ordinary session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, held on Saturday in Abuja, Nigeria.

“In recognition of the sterling performance of Dr. Akinwumi Adesina during his first term of office as President of the African Development Bank, the Authority endorses his candidacy for a second term as the President of the bank,” ECOWAS said in a communique issued after the meeting.

Adesina is the eighth elected President of the African Development Bank Group. He was elected to the five-year term on 28 May 2015 by the Bank’s Board of Governors at its Annual Meetings in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where the same electoral process will play out next year.

Adesina is a renowned development economist and the first Nigerian to serve as President of the Bank Group. He has served in a number of high-profile positions internationally, including with the Rockefeller Foundation, and was Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2011 to 2015, a career stint that was widely praised for his reforms in the agricultural sector. The former minister brought the same drive to the Bank, making agriculture one of the organization’s priority areas.

Speaking earlier at the opening ceremony, Adesina reminded the group of the African Development Bank’s investments in the region.

“You can always count on the African Development Bank – your Bank,” Adesina told delegates.

ECOWAS President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou commended the Bank’s involvement in West Africa and said it had provided “invaluable technical and financial interventions…in the implementation of numerous projects and programmes”.

The ECOWAS summit included a progress report on the region’s economic performance. It noted the role of the African Development Bank in the continent’s transformation and called for greater cooperation in order to fund projects in West Africa.

“The Authority takes note of the region’s improved economic performance, with ECOWAS real GDP growing by 3.3% in 2019 against 3.0% in 2018, in a context characterised by a decline in inflationary pressures and sound public finances,” the statement said.

“It urges the Member States to continue economic reforms and ensure a sound macroeconomic environment in Member States, with a view to accelerating the structural transformation of ECOWAS economies and facilitating the achievement of the monetary union by 2020.”

The Authority commended efforts made on currency and monetary policy convergence in ECOWAS and laid out plans to advance the movement. These efforts are a key part of the regional integration agenda championed by the African Development Bank, as exemplified by the African Continental Free Trade Area, which aims to become the world’s largest free trade zone.

 

Media contact:  Emeka Anuforo, Communication and External Relations Department, email: e.anuforo@afdb.org.

Looking back at 2019: Key moments

By External Source
Dec 23 2019 (IPS-Partners)

The year 2019 was a year of exciting firsts for the African Development Bank Group. The year was marked by innovation and several new milestones that brought us closer to the “Africa we want.”

The Bank pushed its High 5 strategy forward in tandem with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

We saw continuing progress in Africa’s structural transformation, due in large part to projects financed and supported by the African Development Bank. An increase in the Bank’s capital, completed at the end of October, demonstrated shareholders’ high level of confidence in the institution.

The second Africa Investment Forum, held in November in Johannesburg, attests to continuing investor interest in African infrastructure and development projects.

Looking back at 2019’s key moments:

 

January

On 17 January, the African Development Bank released its 2019 African Economic Outlook report. The theme: ‘Regional Integration for Africa’s Economic Prosperity’ provided short- and medium-term projections on critical socio-economic issues such as employment, and highlighted challenges encountered, and progress made.

Launch of the AEO : https://flic.kr/s/aHsmx6C92x

 

February

On 10 and 11 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Bank President Akinwumi Adesina and Lesotho’s King Letsie III co-chaired the official launch of the ‘African Leaders for Nutrition’ scorecard. The continental Nutrition Accountability Scorecard reinforces commitments by African governments to end malnutrition and promote healthy children. The event took place as part of the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union.

Also, the Bank held its second annual consultative meetings with Governors of the Bank to exchange views and ideas on accelerated engagement in the region. During consultations, the Governors called for a greater focus on women to close Africa’s gender gap, climate change, and development in fragile states.

ALN addis – African Leaders for Nutrition : https://flic.kr/s/aHskSL7HQE

 

March

The Bank hosted the third African Forum for Resilience at its headquarters in Abidjan, under the theme ‘Fragility, Migration, and Resilience.’ 300 participants including heads of government, international organizations, leaders of civil society, academics, and the business community, discussed several challenges resulting from migration: security, youth unemployment, gender issues, and the effects of climate change.

Forum for resilience : https://flic.kr/s/aHskPrCmMV

 

April

The Ivoirian minister for tourism, Siandou Fofana, in conjunction with the Bank, presented a government strategy, entitled ‘Sublime Côte d’Ivoire.’ The country’s stated objective is to become the continent’s fifth-leading tourism destination.

Delegations from the Congo, DRC, Chad, and the Central African Republic also met with the Bank to prepare the lenders roundtable. The goal was to mobilize $2.2 billion to finance two comprehensive projects in central Africa’s transport sector.

 

May

The Portuguese minister of foreign affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, led a high-level delegation to the African Development Bank headquarters and met with Senior Vice President Charles Boamah. A few days later, the president of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, received his mission roadmap as a champion of the African Leaders for Nutrition.

 

June

The Bank’s Annual Meetings returned to the continent after being held in Ahmedabad, India in 2017 and in Busan, South Korea in 2018. The highly successful and productive meetings took place in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, and brought together some 3,000 participants. The theme was strengthening regional integration in Africa.

Best of video : https://vimeo.com/343230079

 

July

The agreement to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which took effect at the end of May, began its operational phase. It opens the way for the most significant common market created in recent history. A year earlier, 49 African countries signed the agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, the last step in a vast economic project to integrate 55 African countries and create a common market with a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion.

 

August

Eleven new directors joined the Bank’s Board of Directors.

African heads of states and key business leaders from around the world attended TICAD 7 in Yokohama, Japan, under the theme ‘Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology and Innovation.’ The Japan-Africa summit provides an opportunity to explore investment opportunities and learn from Japan’s technological, industrial, economic, and development experiences.  TICAD is held every three years alternately in Japan and Africa since 2016.

African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina called on Japanese companies to be “bolder” about making investments in Africa.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron and the G7 heads of state provided $251 million in loan support to the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) initiative for women entrepreneurs in Africa.

 

September

The Bank’s president presented the transformational ‘Desert to Power’ initiative to heads of state at the G5 Sahel Summit in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The initiative’s goal is to produce 10GW of solar energy to bring 250 million people out of energy-deprived darkness.

Also, in September, the general secretaries of international financial institutions met for the first time in Africa, at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan.

At the UN General Assembly in New York, the African Development Bank and the United Nations held a first-of-its-kind meeting between both institutions to discuss the accelerated and collaborative delivery of the SDGs and the Bank’s High 5 development goals. Seven African presidents attended the meeting.

G5 Desert to power sahel picture : https://flic.kr/s/aHsmGYGnnm

 

October

During an extraordinary meeting of shareholders on 31 October in Abidjan, the Bank’s governors, representing shareholders from 80 countries, approved a historic capital increase of $115 billion. The institution’s capital more than doubled to $208 billion, which solidified the Bank’s leadership in financing development in Africa. The increase, the largest since the Bank’s creation in 1964, provided clear evidence of shareholders’ trust. Aside from significant opportunities to do more for Africa, the increase in capital will allow the Bank to maintain its AAA rating, with a stable outlook, from the top rating agencies.

GCC picture: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJ4McrV

 

November

Once again, Johannesburg hosted the Africa Investment Forum.

The Forum ended on a high note with 56 boardroom deals valued at $67.6 billion tabled – a 44% increase from last year. Of these, fifty-two deals worth $40.1 billion secured investor interest.

The Africa Investment Forum is championed by the Bank in partnership with Africa50, Afrexim Bank, the Trade Development Bank, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Islamic Development Bank, the Africa Finance Corporation, and the European Investment Bank.

Abidjan welcomed the third Conference on Land Policy in Africa, co-sponsored by the Bank.

Also, the Bank co-hosted delegations from around the world for the 1st Global Gender Summit held on the African continent, in Kigali, Rwanda. The gathering, attended by the presidents of Ethiopia – Sahle-Work Zewde, and Rwanda, Paul Kagame – moved the needle forward on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa and around the world.

Several agreements were signed as part of the Bank’s AFAWA initiative to facilitate project financing for women entrepreneurs in Africa.

On 5 November, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister of Singapore, was hosted at the Bank’s headquarters as the guest speaker at the third Kofi Annan Eminent Speakers Series.

AIF best of video: https://vimeo.com/373188656
Gender family picture: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmJDsy5D

 

December

Three key events closed out the year. First, the African Economic Conference held in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, where the future of African youth was the focus of discussions. The same week, Johannesburg hosted the fifteenth replenishment of the African Development Fund (ADF-15), during which donors announced $7.6 billion in financing for low-income African countries.

The United Nations World Climate Change Conference (COP25), held in Madrid from 2 to 14 December, was attended by a Bank delegation led by Anthony Nyong, Director for Climate Change and Green Growth. Nyong was nominated earlier this year as one of the ‘100 Most Influential People in Climate Policy 2019 by Apolitical, a peer-to-peer learning platform for governments.

African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina received the All Africa Business Leaders 2019 African of the Year award in recognition of his bold and innovative leadership in helping shape the development of Africa’s economies. The AABLA award recognizes remarkable leadership and salutes game changers of business on the continent.

All in all, it has been a fast-paced and productive year for the African Development Bank Group.

Our message as we move into 2020, remains loud and clear: The African Development Bank will continue to stand alongside regional member countries to accelerate sustainable development, economic growth, and social progress, and … to make a transformational difference.

AEC best of video: https://vimeo.com/377400840

Impeachment: An Ordinary Citizen’s View

By Haider A. Khan
DENVER, Colorado, Dec 20 2019 – When I decided to become a US citizen in 1990s, it was a deliberate decision to spend my life fighting for preserving and deepening democratic freedoms at a place where I have spent all my adult life. Having struggled against a brutal military dictatorship while I was a teenager, I knew that democracy is something you have to fight hard for. Therefore, when I became a citizen, for the swearing in event I took with me key documents of US democratic heritage. These included the constitution, the federalist papers and related documents from the 1780s. Since that ceremony I have tried to learn as much as I could about the crucial idea of democratic checks and balances among the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of our government. I have come to realize how prescient some of the revolutionaries from the 1770s and 1780s were in identifying the potential sources of tyranny and corruption of democracy. I have always looked at the impeachment provisions in this light.

Haider A. Khan

As we know, George Mason, the author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, over the course of the constitutional convention, realized the threat to democracy from the powerful executive branch of the new government he and his fellow revolutionaries were creating. Mason rightly concluded that the president of the republic could become a tyrant as oppressive as any absolute monarch. We also know that this line of thinking led to Mason’s intervention in the debates on September 8, 1787, when he asked why were treason and bribery the only grounds in the draft Constitution for impeaching the president? His fear was that treason would not include “attempts to subvert the Constitution.”And he was right.

It was his fellow revolutionary from Virginia, James Madison who helped Mason to develop a separate class of impeachable offenses. This was what by now should be familiar to us from the House Judiciary Committee hearings— “other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It was clear also from the seeming lack of understanding of the Republican house members why this phrase has been so contentious. It also underlined how the inclusion and interpretation can offer people fighting against tyranny of a dangerous executive power as the one at present some crucial assistance.

We have to thank the foresight and insight of three Virginians—Mason, Madison and delegate Edmund Randolph for this inclusion. These three men had very different positions on the Constitution; but their arguments in the debates in Philadelphia and at Virginia’s ratifying convention in Richmond produced crucial definitions of an impeachable offense. Ultimately, the delegates agreed that a president could and should be impeached for abuses of power that subvert the Constitution, the integrity of government, or the rule of law.

These three Virginians—Mason, Madison, and Randolph— all defended vigorously the rights of the legislative branch to carry on procedures of impeachment if the evidence pointed towards abuses of power that subvert the Constitution, the integrity of government, or the rule of law. Thus on July 20, they opposed the arguments of Charles Pinckney of South Carolina and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania who had moved to strike the impeachment clause. The argumens of Charles Pinckney of South Carolina and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania were remarkably similar to what many Republican members of the House said during the debate on Dec. 18, 2019. In 1787 Morris had argued: “[If the president] should be re-elected, that will be sufficient proof of his innocence,”. “[Impeachment] will render the Executive dependent on those who are to impeach.” Mason’s response was forthright :“Shall any man be above justice? Shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice? Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?”

Consistently, James Madison argued that the Constitution must provide “for defending the community against the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the Chief Magistrate.” “He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression.” Furthermore, Madison presciently warned. “He might betray his trust to foreign powers.” This has turned out to be the key issue in the recent impeachment investigations and hearings dividing the pro- and anti-impeachment house members. At the end, as we also know, the delegates voted, 8 states to 2, to make the executive removable by impeachment thus following up on the English parliamentary model of impeachment.

We may debate whether the Founders got the balance on impeachment just right or settled for a vague standard that is often too weak to stop abuse of power by the president. This is clearly an issue in the current situation. Johnson’s acquittal—in spite of Kennedy’s defense of it in his 1955 book— may have enabled him to disable progressive legislation during the reconstruction.

But when as an ordinary citizen I look back on these debates and further practices in the US history, the brighter side of our historic legacy stands out. There have always been sincere and serious fighters for institutionalizing checks and balances to guarantee freedom. But the application is a complex process. The current situation looks bleak because of the more than usual dose of lies, half truths and plain ignorance of our constitution by some of our law makers. However, the constitutional arguments offered defending the right of the ordinary citizens’ representatives to take the task of impeachment seriously shows that the spirit and wisdom of Mason, Madison and Randolph are still alive among the majority of the house members.

More Women in Tech Will Lead to Peaceful Gender Equal World

Tanzanian ICT entrepreneur, Rose Funja, shows off one of the drones she uses as a key tool in her data mapping business. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Quratulain Fatima
ISLABAMAD, Dec 20 2019 – It will take around 100 years for the world to reach gander parity according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 just published by World Economic Forum.

Evidence indicates that climate change and inequality are directly related. This link manifests itself in increased poverty and food insecurity through rising number of droughts and water related problems.

Water and ICT’s seemed like world apart from in 2017 when  I discovered first hand how technology can be used to facilitate water disputes in Pakistan. The community I work with had long standing water disputes.

Facilitators for dispute resolution at most times had no data on what worked and did not work in resolving conflicts in the area. Tech helped us to bring women and men to the table and learn from their stories to act as better dispute resolution facilitators.

That intervention led to the establishment of Women4PeaceTech, a platform that aims to decrease gender in equality and empower women through technology based trainings for economic empowerment while contributing towards sustainable peace.

While I was researching models for a women and tech platform , I came across very few such organizations or platforms available to women – especially in developing countries. This situation reflects the existing absence of women in the tech field.

When men and women have the same level of digital fluency — defined as the extent to which they embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected, and effective — women are better at using those digital skills to gain more education and to find work

According to the ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), ICT Facts and Figures 2017 , the proportion of women using the Internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men using the Internet worldwide. In least developed countries this drops to only 5% women compared to 7% of men.

Statistics show that the number of tech based jobs has increased but the number of women in tech has decreased since 1980. All over the world the number of women in tech is low, so much so women ratio is only one in five of global startup founders. Women lag behind in jobs in almost all ICT industries all over the world.

In developing countries like Pakistan where gender inequality is already pronounced, women in tech remain a very small percentage. Although the Pakistan government has put in place programs like ICT for Girls and women entrepreneurs their reach and access is still very limited to urban areas only.

Yet the potential impact of women in tech is great: Evidence from the International Peace Institute suggests that economically empowered women lead to more peaceful societies. In developing countries, where women mobility is somewhat restricted due to gender inequality issues, working in tech and online platforms can provide women a source of income from the safety of their homes.

Research conducted in 31 countries by Accenture found that when men and women have the same level of digital fluency — defined as the extent to which they embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected, and effective — women are better at using those digital skills to gain more education and to find work. Findings also suggest that digital fluency help women find and stay in their jobs, it also improves their chances to excel at education.

When women get the opportunities to change their perspectives and access to avenues through ICTs, their economic empowerment impact a whole set of factors even in informal settings. For example, in Rwanda, some 3,500 women farmers are now connected through mobile technology to information, markets and finance.

In India women are creating businesses with impact from their homes using digital platforms. Movements against harassment and violence have started from the internet and have empowered women to speak their truth impacting societal change.

However, to improve gender equality in tech and entrepreneurship, we need to plan and design for it. Men still continue to use digital technologies more frequently than women and are more proactive in learning new digital skills.

This can be partly attributed to how our education systems are designed that discourage women from STEM as well as to access to opportunities to learn digital skills for women. Women must be encouraged to improve their digital skill set. Training and online courses can be a very good avenue for learning new digital skills.

Programmes that are designed to attract startups must specifically target women inclusion in them. Tech initiatives should aim at creating more and more spaces for women where they can develop digital skills especially for economic empowerment, identify their own potential to lead and learn about available opportunities.

Especially in developing countries, governments should take lead in creating digital training platforms for women that not only reach urban women but also empower rural women. This should be complemented by gender inclusive ICT policies at the government level that ensure women and girls affordable access to digital technologies.

Women startups should be encouraged and financed for success on priority.  Women mentors in digital world must be made visible and accessible to women learning digital skills.

Local initiatives can play a very important role in digital training of women. Local campaigns to create awareness and interest of available digital literacy opportunities can go a long way in empowering women.

Despite its promise of vast opportunities , the tech world remains a male arena. If we want to create a peaceful and equal world for all then we need to open the arena to all.

Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is Cofounder Women4PeaceTech and a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow.

Follow her on Twitter, @moodee_q.

A tribute to a champion of the deprived

Dr. Rehman Sobhan with Sir Abed. Photo: Courtesy

By Rehman Sobhan
Dec 20 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(The Daily Star) – I can think of few people who have done more for the world’s deprived population than Fazle Hasan Abed. His contribution spans Bangladesh where BRAC, the organisation he founded in 1972, services close to 10 million of the country’s underprivileged households. Through Abed’s commitment to serve the world’s deprived, BRAC has now extended its reach across the globe. It has invested its experience in rehabilitating the tsunami victims in Sri Lanka and the war-ravaged population in Afghanistan where two of its officials, working in high risk areas, were held hostage by the Taliban. BRAC is now reaching out on a large scale to serve the underprivileged populations in various regions of Africa. It has been actively engaged in Pakistan, Philippines, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. BRAC has even extended its reach across the Atlantic to Haiti.

BRAC’s extraordinary engagement with the deprived has transformed it into the largest NGO in the world, with an annual budget which is approaching a billion dollars and a staff of over 111,000. BRAC’s singular contribution to the world of serving its deprived communities has been its ability to take its programmes to scale so that they graduate from micro-welfare projects to the transformation of entire communities. It is now more than an NGO. Its scale of operations would suggest that it is now a corporation for the deprived. Its organisational capacity as well as its market recognition are comparable to any of the top international NGOs such as Oxfam, and have been recognised as management case studies in the best business schools. BRAC is now in a position to underwrite over 80 percent of its budget through operating one of the world’s largest microfinance programmes. Its investments in a variety of socially-oriented commercial ventures, such as BRAC Bank, have further enhanced its internal income generating capacity, which has enabled it to expand its programmes to reach even larger numbers of the deprived.

The remarkable growth and reach of BRAC owes in large measure to the herculean endeavours of Fazle Hasan Abed, its founder. Abed has combined extraordinary entrepreneurial and management skills with a genuine passion for public service which began with a commitment to the dispossessed of his own country, but has now extended to the deprived across the world. Abed, who began his professional life as a highly paid executive of a multilateral institution, went through the life-changing experience of direct involvement, first in one of history’s most devastating natural calamities, and then through his response to the genocide inflicted on the Bangalis in 1971. Abed’s exposure to the human consequences of such acts of violence by man and nature persuaded him to invest the rest of his life in helping not just the victims of devastation but those whose entire life is engaged in coping with the uncertainties of nature and the injustices of society.

In responding to the challenge of deprivation, Abed has demonstrated a renaissance vision, which equipped him to recognise its holistic nature in Bangladesh. He constructed a multi-faceted agenda for change which incorporated credit, healthcare, education and skill development so as to empower the excluded to stand on their own feet. His approach of transforming the poor from victims into masters of their own fate encouraged him to build an organisation which could graduate from aid dependence to fiscal self-reliance through building up the market competitiveness of its income-generating programmes. The growth and transformation of BRAC has made it a role model for other NGOs not just in Bangladesh but across the world. These achievements have been recognised in a plethora of awards and prizes which have been showered on Abed and BRAC, and given Abed access to global political leaders, heads of international institutions and CEOs of the corporate world.

Abed has invested 45 years of his life in serving the deprived at home and abroad. His humility and understated projection of his remarkable achievements conceal a quiet determination to let his actions speak louder than his words. As he enters the eighth decade of his life, his commitment to public service remains undiminished. Within Bangladesh, he continues to broaden and deepen his engagement with the deprived. But Abed will not rest until he has brought about genuine change in the lives of the deprived not just at home but across the world. May he continue in his quest to serve the deprived as long as he has the strength and will to do so.

The writer is the Chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

A Leprosy-Free World Is Possible

By Crystal Orderson
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 20 2019 – From Dec 11-12 the plight of people with Leprosy took centre stage during the National Conference on Zero Leprosy Initiative 2030 and at the historic and the first-ever the Conference of Organizations of persons affected by Leprosy- in partnership with the Nippon Foundation.

Participants engaged and discussed issues impacting on the lives of people with leprosy.

In another first for the country, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the National Conference on Dec 11thand said that the discrimination against leprosy sufferers should end and committed her government to ensure a leprosy-free Bangladesh before 2030.

IPS had a team of three senior journalists, led by Crystal Orderson, Stella Paul and Rafiqul Islam at the conference filing daily multimedia reports on the discussions and talks on one of the world’s neglected diseases.

Plastic: The Largest Predator in Our Oceans

Plastics are increasingly polluting the seas and oceans and threatening marine ecosystems. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Janaya Wilkins
LONDON, Dec 20 2019 – Plastic pollution is currently the largest global threat to marine life. Each year, 10-20 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans, killing approximately 100,000 marine mammals and over a million seabirds.

Whilst the media has certainly helped raise awareness and inspire a change of attitude towards plastics, the amount of plastic in our oceans is still rising. As a result, vast numbers of sea species are now critically endangered, and the need for urgent action has never been stronger.

Marine Debris

So, where does all this plastic come from? Well, around 80% of all marine debris, derives from from land-based sources. This includes littering, illegal waste dumping, and the improper disposal of products such as wet wipes, sanitary products and cotton buds.

And although more parts of the world are now turning their attention towards the issue, the amount of rubbish entering the ocean is rising, with one truckload of plastic entering the ocean every single minute.

The remaining 20% of marine debris is the result of ocean based activity. This is mainly from the fishing industry, but also caused by boats that collect trash and dump it out at sea.

Dwindling Populations

Currently, there are more than 5 trillion plastic particles floating around the world’s oceans and this number is continuing to rise fast. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if we don’t act now.

But what exactly would this mean for marine life?

The WWF states as many as 700 marine species are currently threatened by plastics. But whilst large numbers die from choking on shards of plastic, the chemicals in plastic such as petroleum and bisphenol, are proving just as deadly.

Credit: UN Environment

Recent studies have revealed that 50% of the world’s coral reefs have already been destroyed, and another 40% could be lost over the next 30 years.

When plastic is ingested, these toxic chemicals are released and absorbed into the body tissue. Overtime, this can impact fertility and weaken the immune system. As a result, those feeding on plastic are breeding less and becoming increasingly vulnerable to diseases and infections, resulting in population decline.

This is particularly concerning for top marine predators such as dolphins, polar bears and whales, with studies revealing higher contamination levels among predators at the top of the food chain. Yet this isn’t caused by ingesting plastic directly.

Instead, pollutants are accumulating in their bodies through a process called trophic transfer. This is where toxins consumed by smaller creatures such as plankton and krill are stored into their body tissue. Over time, these toxins are passed up through the food chain. In most cases, these toxins come from microplastics.

The Rise of Microplastics

Microplastic are small plastic particles (less than 5mm) and it’s estimated there are between 15-51 trillion of these individual individual plastic pieces floating in our oceans.

In a recent UK study, scientists examined 50 stranded sea creatures including porpoises, dolphins, grey seals and a pygmy sperm whale, and microplastics were found in the gut of every single animal.

And it’s not just ocean creatures that are at risk. Microplastics have also been discovered in seafood, with research suggesting that each seafood consumer in Europe ingests an average of 11,000 plastic particles each year.

How Can We Beat It?

Plastic pollution is a man-made disaster, and it won’t go away by itself. To end plastic pollution, we must start by reducing our plastic consumption, particularly single-use plastics.

Much of the power lies with the large corporations and manufacturers, and they desperately need to realise their responsibility, and find other alternatives to plastic.

But you can still make an impact on a smaller scale, by reducing your own plastic consumption and encouraging others around you.

It won’t be easy, since almost everything we buy is packaged in plastic. In fact, UK supermarkets alone produce 800,000 tonnes of plastic every year. But start by making small changes wherever possible.

Look for zero waste products like shampoo bars and deoderant sticks, or products made from plastic alternatives such as bamboo toothbrushes and glass milk bottles. Participate in a beach clean every time you visit a body of water.

There are also plenty of great charities working to help combat plastic pollution. Plastic Oceans, Project Aware and Changing Tides Foundation are just a few examples but there are many more out there to choose from!

*SLO active are an exciting new social enterprise dedicated to cleaning up and protecting our ocean. They are cause-led, focusing on oceanwear and activism. For every piece bought, SLO active will donate to one of their ocean charity partners of your choice. They call it ‘Earth to Ocean’. Learn more at https://sloactive.com/.

Q&A: Initiative Starts Mental Health Sessions for Bangladeshi Garment Workers

Mental health concerns for Bangladeshi garment workers — especially females — has always been of concern, even before the collapse of Rana Plaza. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2019 – Nearly seven years ago, garment workers in Bangladesh were victims of one of the gravest man-made disasters in history — a factory collapse that left more than 1,100 workers dead, and rendered thousands with injuries — in many cases lifelong ones. 

For many of the workers from Rana Plaza, the trauma remains real even to this day.

Bangladesh relies heavily on its garment industry for its rising status in the global economy, with textile being its biggest export revenue. Yet its garment workers remain often poorly treated, and continue working in unsafe conditions for minimum pay. Many survivors of Rana Plaza are still reeling from the physical and mental health trauma they suffered in the incident and the aftermath. According to ActionAid, a locally-based NGO, a large number of workers say they can’t return to work owing to their physical and mental health conditions. 

But mental health concerns for Bangladeshi garment workers — especially females — has always been of concern, even before the collapse. 2017 research shows that female garment workers, often driven to the workforce owing to their financial status, have thoughts of suicide and suffer from “stress, anxiety, restlessness” because of their long hours at work while being away from their family, especially their children. 

A recent initiative might change that. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exports Association (BGMEA) recently launched the “first ever” mental health initiative in the country for the workers. The project recently held a session with workers of one factory, and will be piloted across 50 factories. It’s working with Moner Bondhu, a mental health service provider in Bangladesh. Tawhida Shiropa, founder and CEO of Moner Bondhu, shared her thoughts with IPS. 

Inter Press Service: What is Moner Bondhu’s role in this initiative? 

Tawhida Shiropa: Moner Bondhu is providing mental health group counselling to garment factory workers. Our counsellors conduct sessions at the factories to address the emotional well-being of the workers so that they can be more peaceful in their personal and professional lives. We work on mind healing, stress management, empathy, being respectful towards others, how to get relief from fatigue and be more productive at the workplace and also on how to be happy at work and in their family life. Our sessions include breathing exercises, stress relief exercises and mindfulness meditation.

What do you hope will be achieved through this initiative?

Through this initiative we aim to help the workers lead a happier and peaceful life so that they can achieve a better work-life balance, be more productive at work while playing a more involved role in their families. In this way they can contribute more to their and as a result the economy of the country will advance.

How do you believe mental health of RMG workers is related to their livelihood, if at all?

We believe mental health is related to everyone’s livelihood. By taking care of their mental health, workers will become more resilient to all the challenges of life. At work, they can be more mindful of their co-workers and together they can create a more harmonious work environment.   

What kind of response did you get from your first session?

Our first session was very lively and exciting for all participants. The event was a huge success. All the workers and the factory administration said that they felt very relaxed and calm after the session, especially after the exercises and meditation. They also said that they have never had a session like ours. Many of them came up to our counsellors to thank them personally. They also asked how to stay in touch with us and we share our contact details with them, so that they can access our help in future if they need to.

What’s ahead for the initiative? 

We see this initiative as a milestone for mental healthcare. Before now, there was no big scale initiative for mental healthcare of factory workers, so BGMEA’s concern for their workers is highly admirable as they are concerned for the overall well-being of the workers.