Monthly Archives: March 2012

The rise of the black nerd in pop culture

By Mekeisha Madden Toby, Special to CNN

Alphonso McAuley plays a
Alphonso McAuley plays a “blerd” on the Fox comedy “Breaking In.”

  • Black nerds or ‘blerds’ are increasingly visible in pop culture
  • Actors like Donald Glover, Damon Wayans and Alphonso McAuley are playing nerds
  • Expert says “It’s fashionable to wear bowties and be educated”

(CNN) — Comedians Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the brains behind the hit Comedy Central sketch show “Key & Peele,” joked that President Barack Obama is the idol black nerds have longed for and needed.

“Obama was the best thing for black nerds everywhere. Finally we had a role model,” Peele humorously told reporters recently. “Before Obama, we basically had Urkel.”

Black nerds, aka “blerds,” is a way to describe African-American intellectuals in a time when it’s finally cool to be something other than an athlete or rapper.

“There have long been African-American intellectuals,” said Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., whose new genealogical show, “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” debuted last Sunday on PBS.

“The difference with my generation and those after is that there are more of us in the spotlight,” Gates said. “With my PBS specials, I drew a record 25 million viewers. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the platform I have.”

“It’s good to see black intellectuals do well,” he said. “We as a people are a whole range of things, and we’re finally starting to see that reflected in the media.”

Because there is a growing number of prominent and successful people considered blerds such as President Obama, Gates and astrophysicist and PBS star Neil deGrasse Tyson, TV viewers are starting to see more and more blerd-type characters on their favorite comedies and even children’s programs.

That’s right. Lance Robertson, aka DJ Lance Rock from Nickelodeon’s “Yo Gabba Gabba!” is a total blerd.

The list also includes comedic actor Jordan Carlos from “I Just Want My Pants Back” on MTV; Aisha Tyler from FX’s “Archer” and “Happy Endings” star Damon Wayans Jr. on ABC.

“I’m a black nerd and that was illegal until 2003,” joked Donald Glover in one of his Comedy Central standup specials.

Glover has also started blending his nerdy habits in with that of his “Community” character, Troy.

A comedian and a former writer for “30 Rock,” Glover has created a whole stand-up act trumpeting blerds like the president and rapper Kanye West.

“Strange, specific stuff — that’s what makes a nerd a nerd,” Glover has explained during his bit. “Kanye West is a black nerd. If you go up to Kanye West and say ‘Hey, what are your favorite things?’ He’d be like ‘Robots and Teddy bears.'”

“That’s a nerd.”

Similar observations have been made by comedian and actor Kevin Hart (a guest star on ABC’s “Modern Family”).

Like Glover, Hart has created a new brand of dorky, self-deprecating humor that is completely different than that of their comedy predecessors, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock.

“It’s fashionable to wear bowties and be educated,” said Dave Nemetz, a TV content producer for Yahoo! “It’s part of multiculturalism and with everything blending together, there’s a certain subset of (black nerd life) that’s becoming cool right now.

“Nerds are cool right now in general and that’s certainly an aspect.”

Nemetz said the rise in characters such as Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) on “Happy Endings” is also the result of color-blind casting.

“Damon Wayans’ character wouldn’t necessarily be a black character the way it was written,” Nemetz said. “He’s fantastic and that helped him get cast but I also think once you get people from different cultures coming in, and taking roles that may not have been written for them, you see this type of advancement.

“Twenty years ago, it would’ve been out of place to have this character there because it wasn’t happening culturally.”

Carlos, who also does standup, said his blerd character Eric on “I Just Want My Pants Back” was Jewish in the David J. Rosen book the show is based on. Rosen also created the TV show and Eric is a medical student.

“I like that they were open to different people coming in and going against type,” Carlos said of the show’s producers. “I’ve been Pookie Crack Head No. 2, but I’d never been a member of a cast.”

Alphonso McAuley, plays a blerd on the Fox comedy “Breaking In.”

He said his character Cash is into “Star Wars” way more than he is in real life, in spite of the fact that he owns not one but two “Star Wars” Lego sets.

“Up until now, black nerds weren’t being celebrated,” McAuley said. “We’ve seen the thug, the athlete, the rapper and the comedic best friend. This is something different.

“It’s cool to be uncool.”


CARIBBEAN TECHNOLOGY NEWS SUMMARY for the week ending March 30th, 2012


Jamaica College won the third place prize at the US FIRST Robotics Tech Challenge, which was held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. The Jamaica College Robotics team was the only team from a Caribbean high school to participate in the competition. This was the third year that the team, the Gold Griffins, entered the tournament. They competed with 71 high schools from the U.S. to win the bronze medal.

A meeting of Caribbean representatives will be held to prepare for the “Connect to Americas” meeting in Panama in July 2012. According to Cleveland Thomas, the area representative for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), noted that the Arab, African, and European groups had already held their meetings. About 40 representatives of Caribbean organizations will meet to discuss the area’s contribution to the summit in Panama. The purpose of the summit meeting is to ensure that the countries are linked via information and communication technologies.

The government of Jamaica plans to merge broadcasting, utilities, and spectrum regulators into a single agency, according to Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining for Jamaica. The new regulatory body would combine the functions of the Spectrum Management Authority, which regulars radio frequencies, the Office of Utilities Regulation, and the Broadcasting Commission. The process is scheduled for completion within 18 months.

Digicel Group plans to install a fiber-optic cable from Haiti to an existing cable that links Jamaica to the United States. The new cable, which will cost US$16 million, is designed to provide improvements in data and call services by the summer of 2012. Digicel is also considering making an investment in its own cable, which will link the U.S. and Jamaica.

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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Caribbean News


CARIBBEAN NEWS SUMMARY for the week ending March 30th, 2012

Most governments and businesses in the Caribbean are not paying close enough attention to the threat of a cyber attack, in spite of signs that the region is not exempt from Internet threats. The broadband network of LIME Barbados recently experienced a denial of service attack, and many customers felt a degradation of their services. LIME cited other examples of cyber attacks in the Caribbean and stated that it would bring legal action against the offenders if they could be identified.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies may construct a hotel and conference center complex in Haiti. The buildings would be located on part of property purchased by the organization after the earthquake in 2010. The cost of the property was $10.5 million. It is hoped that profits from the project would help to continue the work of the local Red Cross in Haiti in the future.

The Air Passenger Duty imposed by the United Kingdom on visitors to the Caribbean is expected to increase by eight percent on April 1, 2012. This is twice the rate of inflation and will add considerably to the cost of visits to the region. Richard Skerritt, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has warned that imposing the increase would create additional damage in the region’s economic situation. The economy is strongly dependent on tourism, and the APD to the Caribbean is already too high, said Skerritt. In spite of continuing government protests about the increase, the government in the United Kingdom has refused to give way on the issue.

A select group of students from the American University of Antigua’s College of Medicine will travel to Mumbai in India for training in its emergency rooms. The university has signed agreements with King Edward Medical Hospital in Mumbai and the Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad to provide “in the field” training to its medical students.

Rumors abound in Haiti and tend to create additional chaos in an already chaotic country. Haiti remains in a fragile condition a year after its presidential elections, which were damaged by protests and delayed reconstruction efforts. The rumors proliferate through radio reports, which often lead to panics, closed shops and schools, and general turmoil. The radio reports are effective only because there is widespread illiteracy in the country, and the government does not operate with transparency. New digital outlets like Twitter are only adding to the rumor mill, and there is an apparently deliberate effort to undermine the presidency of Michel Martelly through these channels.

A study by the CARICOM Secretariat on Migration and Free Movement has found that most work permits issued by members of CARICOM went to non-CARICOM citizens. Of the 85,000 work permits granted by member states between 2000 and 2010, 64,750 went to non-CARICOM citizens. Owen Arthur, Barbados Opposition leader, noted that non-CARICOM nationals are getting the benefit of job opportunities in the region at the expense of the region’s actual citizens. He supports full labor mobility as the best option to promote and obtain development in the Caribbean.

Scotiabank Group wants Jamaicans to eat more lionfish in order to control the species’ impact on native marine life. The firm has launched a campaign called “Scotia Goes Green on Lion Fish: Let’s Eat Them to Beat Them.” According to Donovan Stanberry, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the lionfish is defeating the government’s efforts to reinstate stocks of local fish. The Ministry supports eating lion fish, says Stanberry, who saluted the vision of Scotiabank Group in aiding research on the invasive species.

The government of Jamaica will support recommendations included in the report addressing campaign finance reforms issued by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ). According to Phillip Paulwell, leader of government business in the House of Representatives, the government will work with the ECJ to ensure that relevant legislation is written and presented to Parliament in a timely manner. The ECJ recommendations include establishing limits for contributions to candidates and political parties.

According to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), the autopsy report on the body of Dianne Gordon of Cassava Piece has made its examination of the incident even more urgent. The autopsy was conducted by Dr. Dinesh Rao, the government’s chief forensic pathologist. It indicated that Gordon, 45, was shot at close range. The police claim that the woman was killed during a battle with gunmen in the St. Andrew community.

A number of businesses in downtown Kingston had to close for the day due to raw sewage, which was flowing down Princess Street. The sewage flow also flooded at least one of the stores. Businesses and vendors on the street have complained about the problem for months, but it finally became too bad to ignore. According to Mansure Hanna, who has operated a business on Princess Street for over 30 years, this is a persistent problem that has worsened over time, and now people are concerned for their health. Business representatives want the issue addressed immediately.

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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Caribbean News


For sustainable cities, Africa needs planning

From Africa Renewal

Interview with UN-Habitat’s Joan Clos –  Photograph: Greenpeace

Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, visiting the Kibera slum in Nairobi, KenyaJoan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, visiting the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

Africa’s cities are growing very rapidly. By 2009 some 395 million Africans — nearly 40 per cent of the continent’s population — lived in urban areas. That number is projected to triple to more than 1.2 billion, or 60 per cent of all Africans, by 2050. For the United Nations Human Settlements Programme — known as UN-Habitat — that growth represents a dual challenge: helping Africans to better harness the productive potential of their cities, but also to cope with the increased demands for municipal services and decent housing, so that more and more people are not obliged to crowd into impoverished slum areas. Joan Clos, a former mayor of Barcelona, Spain, and since 2010 the executive director of UN-Habitat, believes that tackling those challenges will above all require more systematic urban planning.Africa Renewal’s managing editor, Ernest Harsch, spoke with him at UN-Habitat’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

How has the exceptionally rapid growth of Africa’s cities affected general approaches to urban development?

We are seeing an unprecedented pace of urbanization in Africa. We have seen similar movements in other continents before. But what is different in Africa is the speed of the process. The response to that is to improve urban planning, to plan for city growth. At the beginning, it’s usually very difficult. The first waves of migration to the city are unplanned. But it is necessary to introduce as soon as possible urban planning on a massive scale in Africa.

In some countries in Africa, where urban planning is being attempted, it often seems slow and bureaucratic, and by the time it reaches implementation, things have already changed, growth has outstripped the plans. Can planning efforts really keep up?

The first step is the limitation of public space in relation to private space. This is something that has to be done by the government, because there is no other entity. The problem is that if the government is uncoordinated, or it doesn’t have the instruments, the speed of planning is much slower than the speed of city growth. The only solution is to speed up the planning process, because you cannot stop in-migration. If it’s complex because it involves different ministries, it needs to be simplified. And if it’s too dependent on central government, then it should be delegated to the local authorities.

For every “if” there must be a solution. There’s no other alternative for proper city growth than to be planned. If an unplanned city is built, then its reconstruction, the introduction of planning afterward, is much more difficult. It’s very expensive, it brings social conflicts. When you see economies, like the African ones, growing at 6 to 7 per cent, there’s no excuse. You cannot have such a rate of growth without at the same time putting in place urban planning instruments.

In some cities in Africa, particularly major ones, there have been efforts to revitalize centre cities, to attract foreign investors and businesses. Sometimes, when this has been done in a top-down fashion, local communities have resisted. How can this be avoided?

It is a question of the maturity of the political system. In a weak system, sometimes the way they do planning is by authoritarian means, without taking into account the rights of the people. There’s no need for practices that don’t take care of the affected people. There’s room enough for everybody to be better off. Urban planning can help generate wealth. And when you generate wealth, there’s always the possibility of distributing it. But if someone tries to develop the city and capture all the wealth for himself, then conflict is sure to arise.

There are many examples [of good planning] in Africa, but mostly at the small scale. They are not perfect, but are advancing in a good direction, in Morocco, Mauritius, Rwanda. What we still don’t see is a pro-active approach, of national governments developing national urban policies to cope with the challenging future of African cities. Urban planning is not something for tomorrow. It should be there today, this afternoon.

How does climate change affect urban development?

The typical unplanned city, which has no streets, no drainage system, or is built on slopes, is very susceptible to climate change. It’s very prone to huge catastrophes. The solution to the risk of climate change, again, is urban planning. This is one additional reason why governments will be pushed to do something in favour of urban planning, to protect the population against climate change disasters.

These are now typically considered to be natural disasters. But in the future they will be seen as a failure of government. In a lot of countries in the world, people at first saw them as natural disasters, but they later on looked at the government and said, “No, no. It’s wrongdoing. It’s a lack of planning, a lack of foresight by the government.” We have seen earthquakes with very high tolls of victims, and similar, even stronger, earthquakes elsewhere, with very few victims. The natural disaster, the quake, is the same. What is different is the outcome.

Many urban Africans currently are obliged to live in slums. Could you talk about UN-Habitat’s approach to participatory slum upgrading?

In a sense, the slum is a failure of the state. In most slums the state doesn’t intervene. Legitimacy inside of the slum rests with the community. If you want to improve the conditions of the slum, you need to establish a dialogue with the community. They are the ones who will understand it, the ones who have the legitimacy to perform it.

When you introduce streets and latrines, and put lights in the streets, immediately you have shops that emerge, you have more economic activities. There’s a virtuous circle of self-improvement. Yes, this requires an initial investment. But it also requires dialogue with the stakeholders in the slums, the local community, the structure owners, to agree on the improvements.

Construction of a housing project in KwaMashu, the largest poor township near South Africa's port city of DurbanConstruction of a housing project in KwaMashu, the largest poor township near South Africa’s port city of Durban.

Photograph: Africa Media Online / South Photos / John Robinson

Do upgrading slums and urban planning also involve land tenure reform?

Yes. Security of tenure is very related to urban planning. First you need to identify the plots. We are advising governments, regional authorities and local governments, through different legislation and land tools, to have a proper census of urban plots. The next step is introducing urban planning. This includes introducing public space, mainly streets. This sometimes affects existing plots, so you need to readjust land ownership. And that requires a legal instrument — which is lacking in most of Africa — by which a pool of owners can readjust their share of the property in a way that they don’t lose value. In every urbanized continent there are centuries of tradition of land readjustment. This is something we need to help introduce and develop in Africa.

In many African countries there have been moves toward the decentralization of government institutions. How does that relate to urban development?

I don’t like the word “decentralization.” It doesn’t explain well what is happening. I prefer to say “local government empowerment.” The weight of central government is so weak that you cannot really talk about decentralization. What is new is that national constitutions and national political agreements now allow for the empowerment of local authorities. This allows more forces in society to develop. It empowers local governments to have local taxes, to create local fiscal systems. That requires some kind of inventory of businesses.

With all that, slowly, you see an improvement of the general institutional capacity of the country. I am sure that we will see in the next 10, 15, 20 years in Africa an evolution of local institutions, regional institutions and, of course, central government institutions, which will add more meat to the backbone of the state that we know today.

What about urban governance?

This process will also bring an improvement of governance. Of course, there are going to be scandals, problems. But in general the tendency that I foresee is toward an increased complexity and completeness of institutional relationships and capacities in a more modern state. The only way to fight corruption is to improve your institutions. This is something that will be demanded by the population. Municipal services, as any other good, also need to be financed. I would expect that with the growth of African economies, room will be created for financing urban services.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be without conflicts. In the end there will be better conditions of living, and better conditions of freedom and capacity for citizens. The young people in Africa are pushing very strongly. They are going to be a political force. They are going to demand these kinds of changes.


‘Only our collective voice will be heard’

From Africa Renewal

Interview with Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International Photograph: Greenpeace

Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, interviewed by Africa RenewalKumi Naidoo, fighting for the environment, development and people’s empowerment.

From the struggle against apartheid and poverty in his native South Africa, to helping lead Greenpeace, one of the world’s foremost environmental advocacy groups, Kumi Naidoo sees less of a difference than a continuum. “An activist is an activist,” he explains to Africa Renewal. In advance of the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development — also known as “Rio+20” — we asked Mr. Naidoo, who became executive director of Greenpeace International in 2009, to reflect on a few of the more pressing issues affecting Africa.

Twenty years ago, the first Rio summit emphasized that environmental protection and economic development are complementary, rather than counter-posed priorities. How significant was that shift in perspective?

Rio 1992 ended the false dichotomy between environment and development. Governments pledged to make development work for all, including for future generations. This was a breakthrough and remains our real global challenge: to deliver decent lives for all within the ecological boundaries the planet sets for us.

Key environmental agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing have been agreed since Rio. Last year investments in renewable energies overtook investments in old fossil fuel technologies for the first time.

At Rio [2012] governments must listen to the people, not the polluters, otherwise they are bound to fail the world. It’s a very small but powerful group of players who gain from the current destructive status quo that is holding us back.

To be credible, Rio+20 must support an energy revolution based on renewable energy and energy efficiency and providing access to energy for all. Governments and businesses must commit to zero deforestation by 2020 and governments must upgrade the UN Environment Programme to specialized agency status.

Rio+20 will seek to popularize the notion of the “green economy.” What might that mean for Africa?

The fair green economy we want is one that provides sustainable livelihoods for all while fully respecting ecological limits — our planetary boundaries. In a truly green economy, the economy will be a mechanism to deliver societal goals, and economic growth as an end goal in and of itself will be abandoned.

The green economy is not only an opportunity for African countries, but a necessity. Africa is at the frontline of climate change. One can already see the impacts: drought, conflicts in areas such as the Horn of Africa, increased migrations, food security compromised . . . We can no longer sit back and watch it happen.

Climate change can be an opportunity for Africa; it doesn’t have to remain a threat. There is huge potential for building new industries across Africa. We are blessed with vast renewable energy sources such as sun and wind. The wealth is simply amazing. In South Africa 149,000 direct jobs could be created by 2030 — 38,000 more than in the current government’s plan. That’s the kind of decisive action — leading to wins for the planet and the poor alike — that a green economy could deliver.

Desertification and land degradation are particular concerns in Africa. Are they getting enough attention in international discussions of sustainable development?

No, they are not given sufficient weight. You can see that when you look at the pitiful budget and capacity of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Greenpeace calls for sustainable agriculture that works with the land rather than against it, which avoids degradation. Greenpeace works in the forests — including with indigenous peoples — to show that development is possible without deforestation and degradation. Also without proper governance — land use planning — and regulations and law enforcement, the problem of desertification cannot be addressed properly.

Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, interviewed by Africa RenewalA solar power panel in Cape Town: Developing South Africa’s renewable energy industries could create nearly 150,000 new jobs by 2030.

Photograph: Africa Media Online / Ed Suter

At international conferences on the environment, African delegates often raise the need for financial support to help them adapt and change. Do you see this happening?

Social and environmental protection needs additional money, and it is high time governments provide it. Developed countries have indeed broken many aid promises. That is shameful, especially when you consider how much money they could easily find when they decided they needed to bail out their greedy banks.

Can Africa become more than a bystander in the international discussions on climate change?

The tragedy about this whole issue for somebody like me — coming from Africa — is that the people who are least responsible for climate chaos are the ones who are paying the first and the most brutal price. Climate change in Africa is contributing to the creation of more deserts, starvation and water scarcity.

Our continent needs to take leadership in the international negotiations, nationally and regionally. Our political leaders need to understand and accept that other nations’ actions will impact their own people at home, and they need to be clear and not compromise our right to a future.

How can global management of the environment be strengthened?

Today governance gaps created by globalization provide a permissive environment for wrongful acts by companies. At Rio 2012, governments must agree to the development of a global instrument that ensures full liability for any social or environmental damage that global corporations cause. African governments should also call for creating strong regulation and control of financial markets and introducing restrictions on speculators and speculative products to stop harmful practices that lead to rising resource and commodity prices and an accelerated depletion of natural resources, with dramatic consequences for poor people and small economies.

What if negotiators fail to agree on a suitable successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to curb emissions of the “greenhouse gases” that harm the earth’s ozone layer?

The answer is simple: They then will be admitting that governments and political leaders are sleep-walking us into a crisis of epic proportions, putting the future and lives of our children and grandchildren in jeopardy and great danger.

Many citizens in the world, especially young people — I know my own daughter feels this way — are completely disgusted by how governments lack the political will to establish a solid, time-bound process to address the biggest threat our planet faces.

Do African governments need to pay more attention to their own people?

A true revolution can only start when governments start listening to the people and not to the polluters. The power of the people can no longer be undermined. What our brothers and sisters in North Africa and the Middle East have done is a clear example of that. Based on what history has taught us, at the end of the day it is up to the voices of thoughtful, concerned citizens to stand up and resist the lack of action. If there is one thing I have learned about big systemic change, it is the following: Without decent men and women who say that enough is enough, and who are willing to go to prison for it, systemic change won’t happen.

There is strong civil society across Africa, and it’s getting stronger and stronger. The recent events not only in North Africa but also across the continent have shown the power of people. We need to go beyond the solo approach and work together and lend our voices across all sectors: environmental, human rights, health, education, etc. Only our collective voice will be heard.


Africa’s priorities for sustainable development

From Africa Renewal

Under a sustainable forestry programme, a logger cuts down a tree in the Ndoki rainforest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Under a sustainable forestry programme, a logger cuts down a tree in the Ndoki rainforest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Slowing deforestation is a high priority in Africa.

Photograph: Redux / REA / Gilles Rolle

In preparation for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio, African heads of state and ministers have been meeting on a consensus response. Africa’s priority areas — some highlighted below — show a mix of challenges and progress.

Agricultural production & food security

Increasing commitments to agricultural productivity

Agriculture employs 60 per cent of Africa’s labour force, while three-fifths of farmers work at a subsistence level. Efforts in many African countries to increase agricultural production have not guaranteed food security. Africa still relies on rain-fed agriculture, making it vulnerable to harsh weather conditions, including climate change. Africa’s food insecurity has been further worsened by the threat of rising food prices caused by increased incomes in countries such as China, India and Brazil, the growing use of land for biofuels and the subsidies rich countries offer their own farmers. African leaders need the developed world to increase its commitments to assist agricultural productivity and food security in the continent. They have committed themselves — through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), adopted in July 2003 under the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) — to allocate at least 10 per cent of national budgets to agriculture. They also aim to boost growth in agricultural production to at least an average 6 per cent a year. Countries, such as Sierra Leone, that have increased budgetary allocations have improved their productivity.

Industrial development

Action to boost manufacturing

Africa’s industries — manufacturing, mining and construction — are weak. The sector currently employs only 15 per cent of Africa’s workforce. The share of manufactures in Africa’s exports fell from 43 per cent in 2000 to 39 per cent in 2008. Labour-intensive manufacturing such as textiles, fabricated metals, apparel and leather products declined from 23 per cent of all manufacturing in 2000 to 20 per cent in 2009. African leaders in February 2008 adopted a Plan of Action for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa. South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have made improvements.


Providing access to safe drinking water

Africa is a dry continent, second only to Australia. Around 340 million Africans have no access to safe drinking water, about 40 per cent of the world’s total. Estimates indicate that only 26 out of 54 African countries will meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the percentage of the population without access to safe drinking water by 2015. Uneven water distribution is one problem. Central Africa accounts for 48 per cent of Africa’s internal water supply, while North Africa has only 1.25 per cent. The infrastructure capacity to provide safe water is also uneven: although 90 per cent of people in North Africa have access to safe drinking war, only 61 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa do. Gambia and Cape Verde, however, provide clean water to 80 per cent of their populations. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), harvesting rainwater could provide water for half of all Africans.

Hazardous wastes

For environmentally sound management

Africa’s infrastructure and land use planning are unable to cope with the rapid growth of urban areas (currently 3.5 per cent per year), adding to the discharge of wastes in water and other uncontrolled places. African leaders have asked the international community to support the transfer of knowledge and technology for environmentally sound management of wastes. They also want support to strengthen capacity to control imports and exports of wastes into and within Africa. Many African countries have met their commitment under the Dakar Declaration to ban leaded gasoline. The International Atomic Energy Agency is helping some countries to safely manage radioactive wastes, especially with the discovery of uranium in a number of African countries. Gambia, Nigeria and Senegal, among others, have started implementing the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, to help standardize the handling of chemicals.

Climate Change

Protecting an especially vulnerable continent

In Africa climate change is hindering progress towards sustainable development by contributing to reduced rainfall, hotter temperatures, flooding and the spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera. Africa accounts for only 2-3 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Africa’s biggest contributors are South Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Nigeria. While it contributes relatively little to global greenhouse gas emissions, Africa’s low adaptive capacity makes it more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. If greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed, scientists agree, average global temperatures could rise 4-5° centigrade within a century, which would be calamitous, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Currently the Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in over 60 years.


Enhancing the efficient use of energy resources

Of the 1.4 billion people worldwide without access to energy, 40 per cent are in sub-Saharan Africa. The continent’s energy development lags behind the growth of its population and socio-economic needs, according to a NEPAD report. Africa, with 13 per cent of the world’s population, produces 7 per cent of global commercial energy, but consumes only 3 per cent of it. “Thus, most of the commercial energy it produces is consumed elsewhere,” states NEPAD. In sub-Saharan Africa, traditional fuels, such as firewood, constitute two-thirds of energy consumption. African leaders have endorsed a 10-year programme on sustainable consumption and production to enhance the efficient use of energy resources.

Jacques Diouf, then director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, addressing a World Food Day ceremonyJacques Diouf, then director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, addressing a World Food Day ceremony: African countries are pushing to increase agricultural productivity to feed their growing populations.

Photograph: FAO / Alessandra Benedetti

Sustainable Tourism

Africa is the fastest growing tourist destination in the world

About 7.7 million people are employed in Africa’s tourism and travel sector, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. In 2004, NEPAD approved a Tourism Action Plan to make Africa the “21st century destination.” Most African governments have tourism in their development strategies, including marketing, research and development, and codes of conduct for tourism. There are plans to invest in major projects likely to generate spin-offs and enhance Africa’s economic integration. Tourist arrivals in Africa grew 8.8 per cent in 2009-2010, the highest rate for any region. Morocco, Angola, Cape Verde, Madagascar, Egypt and South Africa are recording double-digit growth, while Tanzania and Mauritius are not far behind. However, tourism slowed in North Africa due to recent political developments.

Gender Equality

African women’s involvement in politics is increasing

Twenty-nine African countries have ratified the protocol of the African charter promoting women’s rights. All but 10 African countries have adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The AU launched in October 2010 the African Women’s Decade. In addition 18 of the 28 countries where female genital mutilation was widely practiced have outlawed it, with a goal of totally eliminating it by 2015. African women’s involvement in politics is increasing. In 2008 Rwanda elected a majority of women to its lower chamber of parliament, the highest worldwide. Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, was elected in 2005 and then re-elected in 2011. Despite such gains, only 76 girls for every 100 boys are enrolled in colleges and universities in Africa, 91 girls for every 100 boys in primary schools and 79 girls for every 100 boys in secondary schools.

Education and health

Many countries are on track to achieve universal primary education

Many African countries are on track to achieving the MDG target of universal primary education by 2015. Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania have abolished school fees for primary education. However, 30 million children, mostly girls, still have no access to education and there is an acute need for more trained teachers. At the tertiary levels, enrolment is just 6 per cent, while up to 40 per cent of faculty positions are vacant.

Many African countries face a high prevalence of malaria, HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular ailments. In 2008 Africa accounted for half of the world’s 8.8 million child deaths. But there is also good news. Since 1990, under-five mortality in sub-Saharan Africa has declined by 22 per cent. In 2008, some 76 per cent of one-year-olds were immunized against measles, compared to 58 per cent in 1990. Mozambique has achieved a reduction in infant mortality of more than 70 per cent, Malawi of 68 per cent and Niger of 64 per cent. Burundi, Cape Verde and Egypt have also registered impressive progress in reducing infant mortality.

Ecological degradation

Safeguarding forests and natural habitats

Africa is losing 4 million hectares of forest every year, twice the world’s average deforestation rate. While deforestation may increase agricultural land, it also leads to only short-lived agricultural productivity as land nutrients are depleted. Approximately 50 per cent of Africa’s eco-regions have lost 50 per cent of their areas to degradation, cultivation or urbanization, according to UNEP. Africa still has over 2 million square kilometres of protected areas. Nevertheless, the continent’s coastal areas continue to confront problems associated with oil and mineral extraction, uncontrolled fishing, mismanagement of mangrove forests and coastal development. Forest trees are being used to build shelters and for charcoal, destroying the habitats of many species.


Towards African cities without slums

From Africa Renewal

Governments set course towards improving poor urban areas

Kaci Racelma, Rabat – Photograph: Africa Media Online / Ricardo Gangale

Poor district in Algeria’s capital, AlgiersPoor district in Algeria’s capital, Algiers. Most North African countries have made progress in reducing slum areas.

Millions of Africans live in slums, and the rapid growth of African cities is compounding the problem. Africa faces the huge challenge of “improving the lives of slum dwellers, but also preventing the formation of new slums,” says Joan Clos, executive director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

Africa’s housing ministers, who last met in Rabat, Morocco, in September 2011, are well aware of this challenge. Gathered under the auspices of the African Ministers Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD), they outlined new policies for housing and urban development across the continent, in line with the “cities without slums” initiative they originally adopted in 2005.

Some slum dwellers fear this may be mostly talk. “I am only interested in being removed from here, to live in a more decent environment,” says Rachid Lashab, who lives in the Essekouila slum in Casablanca. “I am not interested in the many conferences that our leaders attend.”

But in Rabat, the ministers at least laid out broad goals. These included improving urban planning, making service land (for public buildings) more available, developing industrial, agricultural and crafts towns, and slowing down rural-to-urban migration of people in search of job opportunities.

Crowding and disease

According to estimates by UN-Habitat, 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were living in slums in 2010, or 61.7 per cent of the region’s urban population, the highest rate in the world. North Africa had another 12 million slum dwellers; that was just 13.3 per cent of its urban residents, the lowest rate in the developing world.

The lack of adequate sanitation, potable water and electricity, in addition to substandard housing and overcrowding, aggravates the spread of diseases and avoidable deaths, according to a recent report of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Slums contribute to low life expectancy. In Mali, for example, more than 80 per cent of the population lacks good housing and average life expectancy is just 51 years, according to the UN Development Programme.

Mali’s situation reflects that of much of sub-Saharan Africa. Gakou Salimata Fofana, Mali’s former minister of housing, land affairs and planning, urged urgent measures from Africa’s housing ministers. “We must take decisive action,” she said. “Otherwise there is the risk of having an urban population [in Mali] of about 6 million souls still living in informal settlements by 2020,” or nearly twice the current number.

Jugurtha Ait El Hadj, an Algeria-based urban planner, believes that African ministers are on the right course. “Such meetings are especially helpful in that they allow exchange of experiences. But these meetings must be accompanied by concrete steps.”

There are many roadblocks to achieving the dream of cities without slums. Algerian Minister for Housing and Urban Development Noureddine Moussa noted that the expansion of cities in Africa limits the ability of national and local governments to provide security and supply basic social services in health, education, water and sanitation.

Climate change

In addition, notes Mr. El Hadj, climate change will interact with urbanization in unpredictable ways. In 2007 an assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Programme, warned that “urbanization and climate change may work synergistically to increase disease burdens.”

Slum dwellers also face harsh environmental challenges due to the low quality of construction materials used in buildings and slums, which are located mostly on marginal land. Many slums are vulnerable to accidental fires. In September 2011, for instance, more than 100 people were killed when a leaking petrol pipeline exploded in Mukuru wa Njenga, a densely populated Nairobi slum.

Individual countries’ differences in geography, climate, expertise and financial resources will influence efforts to implement any continent-wide urban development plan. In Rabat, the ministers suggested that these challenges can be tackled through effective collaboration and support from international partners, including the UN.

Steady progress

There is some good news. A 2010 UN-Habitat report found that countries such as Egypt, Libya and Morocco have “nearly halved their total number of urban slum dwellers, and Tunisia has eradicated them completely.” Ghana, Senegal and Uganda have also made steady progress, reducing their slum populations by up to 20 per cent. In Nigeria, the slum population came down from 75 per cent of all urban residents in 1990 to 61.9 per cent in 2010. In South Africa, the proportion dropped from 46.2 per cent to 28.7 per cent during the same period.

Morocco’s urban development model continues to draw a spotlight. In 2004 the government launched its own “cities without slums” programme, fashioning an urban development strategy to enable slum dwellers to have decent homes with access to water, power and sanitation. By 2011 about 100,000 new housing units had been created in different parts of the country. Overall, 37 of Morocco’s 83 cities have been transformed, a change that has benefitted more than 1.5 million people. These cities now boast streetlights, drainage systems, safe water, roads, sanitation and other infrastructure. The development of Bouregreg Valley (near Rabat) and other “green areas” is also notable.

Fathallah Oualalou, former Moroccan minister of housing and currently mayor of Rabat, linked the successful urbanization efforts to effective implementation of the road map developed in 2010 in Bamako, Mali, at the third conference of African housing ministers — making the point that such meetings can in fact be useful. The roadmap emphasizes efficiency in land management, sustainable housing, urban transportation and sanitation, among other issues.

Mr. Moussa, the Algerian housing minister, lists other keys to success. These include the efficient and equitable management of land, the enactment of appropriate land laws so that women and other vulnerable groups can have access, and improvements in social conditions in housing projects. The provision of schools, clinics, electricity and sanitation is important, says Mr. Moussa. “We can’t design a sustainable development plan without sustainable urbanization,” he argues. Urbanization should be controlled, he adds, and efforts should be made “to reduce inequality between the rich and the poor by offering basic services to all people.”

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