In many emerging democracies, youth are absent from the political stage and civil society. Last year’s “Arab Spring” proved a promising exception, demonstrating the power of youth to galvanize popular demand and help redefine their political landscape. Sub-Saharan populations, many being immediate neighbors of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, followed these dramatic events with fascination and some envy.
Yet few of my young colleagues and friends in sub-Saharan Africa were optimistic about a counterpoint “African Spring,” claiming their societies “weren’t ready” to rally widespread discontent toward a political tipping point. Historically speaking, my friends were not giving their nations sufficient credit—sub-Saharan Africa has considerable experience with opposition movements, from colonialism to apartheid.
“Our gamble was to upset an otherwise harmonious pairing: Congolese music effectively distracts and entertains the hapless masses, who naturally revel in their well-deserved escape from the despairing grind of a survival economy. In practical terms, how would we engineer this creative disruption, and prevent it from backfiring?”
But I took their resignation to mean that social fragmentation had secured the upper hand, providing proof that poverty and cynical governance are not just oppressive but bitterly divisive as well. Overcoming such deep social, generational, and political divisions—with their common denominator of skepticism and self-interest—requires sustained effort. Progress cannot simply be ignited like the proverbial box of tinder.
In DAI’s technical work, we are increasingly asked to incorporate a law and justice dimension into our programming, be it security sector reform or agribusiness. Here, “law and justice” refers to building accountability and transparency mechanisms into the public space between governors and the governed—basically, an upgrade to the supply and demand of accountability, the social contract underlying any modern state.
It was just a generation ago that many women in Afghanistan thrived in academia and the professional workplace. Their standing in society, like that of less privileged Afghan women, has since been destroyed.
In 2000, Vietnam was anxious to pump life into its economy. Less than a generation removed from a crippling war, the country faced challenges such as reducing poverty and creating enough jobs to absorb some 1.5 million people entering the labor force each year.
Biogas projects in Africa have a worthy goal—to cheaply convert waste into fuel—but a discouraging record of failure. Reliable biogas operations require specific conditions and careful maintenance. So when Alvaro Gutierrez from Colombia set out to launch a biogas program in Kenya, he reached out for advice and found it, for free, from colleagues all over the world.
Here in South Africa, the recently approved merger between Walmart and local retailer Massmart has made supplier development a hot topic. Opponents of the merger argue that it will hurt small suppliers by denying them access to the combined company’s supply chain. But the sobering truth is that even before the merger, small companies—particularly black companies—had little chance of penetrating the supply chains of most large South African corporates. International consolidation is a red herring; the more pressing problem is the structural exclusion of nearly 6 million small businesses in the local market.
Five years ago, the Kingdom of Jordan took a critically important step to conserve its scarce water resources by approving a Water Demand Management (WDM) Policy. While many middle-income and advanced economies have overemphasized supply-side solutions—a costly, myopic, and ultimately inadequate response–water-starved Jordan is beginning to see the benefits of a more balanced strategy.
Doing business in Afghanistan is tough. The last 30 years of conflict aside, private-sector growth is obstructed by perpetual mistrust, poor transportation and energy infrastructure, a lack of market information, and a business disabling environment. Infrastructure has been destroyed, investment discouraged, and industrial capacity depleted. Many professionals have left the country, while labor forces have been displaced or are untrained.
The Sishen Iron Ore Company Community Development Trust faced a fabulous opportunity—and a daunting challenge. A beneficiary of mining giant Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore Company, the trust recently came into a sooner-than-expected windfall of dividend income. This annuity could continue for 20 years or more, depending on the life of the company assets, efficient operation of the mine, and global demand for iron ore.
Army Special Forces Colonel (Retired) Barry Shapiro joined DAI in 2009 after a distinguished military career specializing in training and liaising with the security forces of Central Asian and Southeast Asian countries. He has extensive experience training local police, special, and military forces in countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Thailand.
As USAID STAR helped open doors for Vietnam to global trade, another project is helping the country cut red tape across its 63 provinces so its citizens can transact business more smoothly. The USAID Vietnam Competitiveness Initiative (USAID VNCI), also implemented by DAI, supports the government’s Project 30 reforms.