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 Whistleblowers Need Protection



By Hon. David Kilgour
21 April 2010

Mahatma Gandhi once said: "Poverty is the worst form of violence." In Africa, violence over scarce food and other resources has raged against millions of vulnerable families. The steepest personal costs are mostly paid by children and women as elsewhere with conflicts.

Robert Calderisi of Canada, who worked as an economist for CIDA, the World Bank, etc. for many years on African issues, says this about poverty on the continent in his 2006 book (The Trouble with Africa): ". Africa has suffered grievously over the last 30 years. It has more than doubled its population and lost half its income. Disease is spreading. School attendance is dropping. Vaccination programs are sporadic. Food security is uneven. And Africa is the only region in the world that has grown steadily poorer since 1970."

These problems are threatening now to worsen, with climate change, droughts, overpopulation, trafficking in human beings and arms, an obscene scramble by governments and some businesses for minerals and oil-with resulting violence in places like Sudan and the DRC, and growing food and water security problems.

The full effects of the 2008/09 economic crisis on Africa are still unclear. We know it will negatively impact foreign investment into, and exports from, virtually all African countries. While the rest of the world focuses on themselves, investment available for Africa is likely to drop. The developed economies must not during the downturn reduce their official development assistance (ODA) to African and other developing countries. The modest UN Millennium Development Goals must be reached by 2015.


Excerpt from: “Overcoming the barriers of poverty: challenges for youth participation in sub-Saharan Africa”. Chapter 3 in the United Nations World Youth Report 2007:

Armed conflict: lingering effect on youth poverty and welfare

''Sub-Saharan Africa has been the site of numerous armed conflicts in which young people have been both victims and perpetrators of violence...the period 1990-2000 alone saw 19 major armed conflicts in Africa, ranging from civil wars to the 1998-2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique all experienced chaotic transitions from colonial rule (Addison, 2003).

''Children and youth are increasingly participating in armed conflicts as active soldiers. Various reasons account for their involvement... Some are being forcibly recruited, coerced and induced to become combatants and are often manipulated by adults (United Nations, 1996). Many young people who engage in armed conflict do so because of poverty. In one study, crippling poverty and hopelessness were unanimously identified as key motivators for the 60 combatants interviewed (Human Rights Watch, 2005). Research has indicated that drug use is associated with crime and violence, and it has been alleged that cannabis is being produced to finance armed rebellions in West Africa. Many young people in urban areas are being recruited to sell these drugs in the cities (Wannenburg, 2005). Factors such as these make youth living in poverty especially vulnerable to the combined effects of illicit drug use and armed conflict.


"... a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that two thirds of child soldiers served under their own initiative in armed forces... One former young combatant and current Ugandan activist, Okwir Rabwni, said “I joined as a volunteer. I had been exposed to politics and I was ready to join the struggle when I was 15. This is common in Africa. … Young people are politically idealistic and ambitious, and attracted to quick solutions to their problems.” Unrest in the Horn of Africa and State of Somalia has seen youths fighting on both sides of the conflict: the Ethiopian backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Libya, Eritrea and Egypt have been used as training grounds for these young soldiers, who have been implicated in a number of assassinations and attacks against foreigners in Somalia, according to the International Crisis Group... In times of conflict and poverty, young people are attracted to the military as it offers them an identity they are otherwise deprived of... youths can be drawn into armed groups as it gives them a fast-track to adulthood. Adolescence and youth are a critical stage in a person’s development. It is a time of rapid transformation which can see young people taking risks as they try on their new roles and responsibilities. This period is intensified during times of conflict when the social norms and means of support are removed, stopping young people from making a normal evolution to becoming an adult. Excerpt from: Integrated Regional Information Networks. “IRIN In-Depth—Youth in Crisis: Coming of Age in the 21st Century”. February 2007:

''... Young people are often among the victims of the violence and brutality that occurs in periods of conflict (see box 3.1). Even in countries that have not experienced armed conflict, there is a heavy toll from firearms injuries and other types of interpersonal violence that can lead to physical disability (World Health Organization, 2006).

"... It is estimated that in Rwanda, owing to the genocide of 1994, the proportion of households below the poverty line rose from 53 per cent in 1993 to 70 per cent in 1997 (International Monetary Fund and World Bank, 1999). Combined with poverty, conflict deepens the alienation of young people from society and hampers their ability to participate fully in development even after the conflict is over. In a culture where youth often have no voice, and no opportunities to develop themselves, recruitment of young people into militias has been easy, especially when it comes with the promise or prospects of some meagre remuneration or power.”

Further reading:

UN Habitat. Strategy Paper on Youth in Africa: A Focus on the Most Vulnerable Groups. June 2004:

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Reports to the Security Council on children and armed conflict (2009):


Excerpt from: “UNESCO SHS strategy on African youth: towards enabling policy environment for youth development and civic engagement in Africa (2009-2013)”. UNESCO. 7 April 2010:

...a strong potential faced with serious challenges

''Constituting a major share of Africa’s population (20.4% or close to 198 million people aged 15-24 years old and over 30%, aged 15-35 years old based on the definition used by the African Union), youth are, on average, better connected to the rest of the world than any of the earlier generations of youth in the region. Increases, for both young men and young women, in the rates related to primary completion, literacy and of the girls to boys ratio in education indicate that youth in Africa are better educated than their parents. Also, the reduction of the adolescent birth rate and the figures relating to comprehensive correct knowledge of HIV/AIDS point to the progress made towards addressing health and reproduction challenges.

''Youth in Africa are nowadays more involved in voluntary activities, which provide the opportunity to gain... employment skills while contributing to national and community development. National governments are increasingly recognizing the importance of building youth capacities and involv(ing) youth-led organizations and other civil society institutions in the development of policy responses affecting youth. Information and Communication Technology (ICT)... is causing rapid and fundamental transformations in the lives of youth, who use ICT for entertainment, social networking, seeking jobs, gathering information or communicating comments and concerns. Youth appear. more determined to find options to bridge the gap between opportunities available to them in the continent and what they perceive to be possible in the global arena.

''...significant constraints to effective youth development persist... Too often, the formative years of African youth are characterized by exposure to deep-seated poverty, deficiencies in basic services, limited access to education, health care, opportunities for decent employment, poor governance and ongoing conflict and war. Compared to other world regions, literacy and secondary school enrolment rates are still very low (e.g. the literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa where only 72.1% of the youth population are literate, whereas in Asia it is 86.5% and in Latin America 96%6) while access to post-primary education remains limited in many contexts. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 3 in 10 youths living on less than US $1 per day. Youth make up 37% of the working-age population, but 60% of the total unemployed7, ... Among the 10 million youth currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, more than 60% (6.2 million) are in sub-Saharan Africa; over 12 million youth have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Africa, leading to the creation of hundreds of thousands of children and youth-headed households.9 Many more such households have been created by armed conflict... African youth do not benefit in an equal manner from the opportunities created by globalization in terms of growth and real development. These challenges are even more severe for particular sub-groups within the youth cohort, including girls and young women, youth with disabilities, those living in rural areas or regions suffering from ongoing conflict and those affected by HIV/AIDS.

Investing in African youth: an asset for prosperity

''... youth are Africa’s foremost social capital, which presents the continent with an opportunity to accelerate growth, reduce poverty and build a sustainable and peaceful future. African youth are key partners and actors for development, peace and reconciliation: owing to their vision, drive and commitment, they are particularly well placed to work towards a lasting dialogue and social cohesion and to establish linkages between the different social actors, while developing innovative ideas... Africa’s development agenda should aim at creating an enabling policy environment in which youth could strive to foster an environment that fully protects their rights, that is conducive to their development and empowerment and that adequately prepares them for responsible citizenship. It is indispensable to scale up investment in youth...

Excerpt from: “Overcoming the barriers of poverty: challenges for youth participation in sub-Saharan Africa”. Chapter 3 in the United Nations World Youth Report 2007:

Education: Despite progress, there is much to be done

''Sub-Saharan Africa has perhaps made the greatest progress in recent years in providing access to education. Efforts towards achieving universal primary education by 2015, as called for in the Millennium Development Goals, have produced a higher number of primary education graduates in sub-Saharan Africa. Enrolment in primary education increased from 57 per cent in 1999 to 70 per cent in 2005 (United Nations, 2007)...

''...During the latter part of the 1970s and into the 1980s... government difficulties in meeting the growing educational needs of the population became overwhelming. Although many countries in the region had policies for providing free and compulsory primary schooling, education remained expensive for the average household because of non-tuition costs such as uniforms, books and transportation. As a result, many of Africa’s current youth cohorts were unable to complete a basic primary education...

''Without an adequate education, youth face a difficult transition to adulthood and independence, as they are likely to experience unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. The exclusion of young people from the education system, and consequently from other opportunities later in life, is likely to persist unless policies are adopted and implemented to ameliorate the situation. The limited opportunities for youth in Africa to obtain a relevant, high-quality education leave many with no choice but to migrate. Tertiary students from sub-Saharan Africa are the most mobile in the world; the region’s outbound mobility ratio of 5.9 per cent is the highest in the world and almost three times the global average.

"... Migration trends, which often begin with student mobility, are associated with the large-scale transfer of resources through remittances. Youth who migrate in search of an education and stay to work in their host countries often become contacts or financiers for others back home who have few opportunities. Although there are no estimates of the proportion of remittances sent by youth, there are data indicating that young male migrants who are married are likely to send money regularly. Young female migrants also tend to contribute regularly to their families, particularly if their children are left behind (United Nations Population Fund, 2006).

Further reading:

UNESCO. Education For All: Global Monitoring Report 2010:

Sub-Saharan Africa - Regional overview

Towards Better Days

There are good reasons for optimism about brighter days ahead for Africans generally. Multiparty democracy has now swept through much of the continent. Even by 2000, 32 out of 54 African heads of state had been chosen in elections against rivals backed by opposition parties. In 1975, only three heads of state were chosen that way. Over the past eighteen years, moreover, more political parties have been founded in Africa than at any time since decolonization; democracy has taken root in many countries.

In Africa as elsewhere economic renewal and democratization best go hand in hand. Botswana and Mauritius have experienced the highest long-term growth rates, while also enjoying the longest period of democratic governance. Certainly, a dysfunctional government, even if produced democratically, cannot provide the transparent and accountable decision making needed to achieve sustainable economic progress. Positive growth has returned to Benin, Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa, where the resurgence of democracy has been strong. Those having the most difficulties during the 1990s were not cases of failed democratization but failed governance.

Another encouraging development is the resurgence of civil society, which has been at the forefront of the struggles to dislodge authoritarian regimes. It is in states everywhere where civil society and independent media are weak that the greatest challenges to genuine electoral competition and accountability exist.

Some of the other reasons for optimism about Africa on which Calderisi and I agree strongly include the following:

1- Africa’s talented people. The continent has had seven Nobel Prize winners and there are probably hundreds of other potential ones emerging in fields such as science, medicine and economics. If conditions allow, many daughters and sons of Africa in the diaspora are ready to return to the continent.

2- One route to success is to unleash talent and enterprise among Africans regardless of regional or ethnic origin. This must be done in such radical ways that it will attract attention at home and abroad as in the oft-cited cases of Botswana and Mauritius.

3- Africans are not condemned to live under dictatorships or pale imitations of the rule of law, dignity and multiparty democracy. They can demand much more of authoritarian or incompetent governments without resorting to bloodshed. Peaceful civic resistance can lead to durable democracy and often has, especially in recent years.

4- Friends of Africans abroad can champion independent media, supporting organizations like Reporters Sans Frontiers, and placing emphasis on improving primary education and fighting HIV/AIDS. Ngos like Bempong are helping.

5- The approximately 40 percent of the African continent’s savings held abroad is potentially available for investment in the any of the 54 countries, which have good governance and the rule of law. The continent continues to enjoy the good will of many governments, NGOs and charities.


Bill Clinton said that "global poverty is a powder keg that could be ignited by our indifference." The French-born American writer Anais Nin says, “If all of us acted in unison as I act individually there would be no wars and no poverty. I have made myself personally responsible for the fate of every human being who has come my way."

To defeat violence and poverty in Africa and elsewhere in the world, all of us as members of one human family need to take responsibility for every human being who comes our way. It is our shared responsibility to help build governance systems that encourage accountability and deter corruption by strengthening the rule of law and respect for human dignity. Only when we achieve this solidarity will we build a world of peace. Onwards then to Bempong!

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