By Jacob Kushner
When Xi Jinping pondered which foreign region to visit first as China’s newly appointed President, he wasn’t swayed to a mineral-rich Australia, a thriving Singapore or steadfast North Korea. Instead, his careful calculations took him to Africa. After a brief, almost obligatory stop in Moscow, he flew to Tanzania, South Africa and Congo-Brazzaville, where he promised $20 billion in new credit to finance infrastructure and agriculture in Africa over the next three years.
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Some two months after that visit, President Barack Obama followed in the Chinese leader’s footsteps. It was only the American President’s first extended trip to Africa since taking office some four and a half years earlier. The sign of America’s lagging commitment to Africa was not lost upon Africans. That China has moved 600 million people out of extreme poverty over the past 35 years is a source of wonder for many Africans who remain trapped in cycles of poverty. As the American President spoke of a “Pivot to Asia,” China was intently channeling its attention here: In 2009 China supplanted the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner and never looked back. China’s government estimates that it conducted $200 billion worth of trade with the continent in 2012.
Perhaps no African people is more optimistic about the potential of Chinese investment than that of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation rich in natural resources but poor in nearly every other respect.
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In this article for The American Interest magazine, Jacob Kushner argues the United States should re-think its approach to diplomacy—a sphere in which China is uncharacteristically out-maneuvering the United States in Africa in several important ways.
One group of workers who earn a high wage and unusual benefits is helping others earn the same.
By Jacob Kushner
Founded in 2010 by the collegiate clothing supplier Knights Apparel Inc., Altagracia Apparel pays its workers a so-called living wage, calculated to be about three times the country’s minimum wage for factories in its free trade zones. Altagracia workers earn at least $500 US per month, well above the minimum wage of about $150.
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Four years since Altagracia opened its doors, the factory has become a model of what workers in the Dominican Republic dream to achieve.
Like their colleagues in many other countries, public school teachers here lead huge classes for shrinking pay. Some warn they won’t put up with it much longer.
ARUSHA, Tanzania — Five days a week, Caroline Benedict Kessy stands before a class of 77 third-grade students and struggles to devise a way to teach all of them how to read and write.
The other two days she spends at home baking wedding cakes to sell. Each cake earns her an average of 300,000 shillings (about $187 US). That’s equivalent to half her monthly teaching salary for just one day of baking.
She isn’t alone. Kessy, 46, is among the tens of thousands of public school teachers in Tanzania who face monumental class sizes for meager pay. Many work two or three jobs to supplement their income, and some quit education altogether.
“Someone was working here for three years and then she (gave) up to sell stationary and phones,” said Kessy. Now, “she’s making more money than we do.”
Fair Trade and other certifications have led to better wages and benefits at some flower farms, but progress is inconsistent.
THIKA, Kenya — On a bright Tuesday morning in central Kenya, Mark Chirchir paces up and down rows of red and yellow roses. He watches over workers as they seed, plant and water the rose bushes, then clip the stems, strip them of their leaves and bunch them into bouquets for export to Europe and the United States. Production surges around Valentine’s Day and Christmas.
An environmental specialist at the mid-sized flower farm Simbi Roses, Chirchir, 37, remembers an era when workers would sustain injuries on the job — rashes or even eye burns from the spraying of chemical pesticides.
“In the past we used to use very toxic chemicals, but with time we are phasing those out and replacing them with soft chemicals and biological organisms to feed on pests,” he said.
This is one of many improvements in worker protections here in Kenya’s blossoming horticulture sector. Kenya is the world’s fourth largest exporter of cut flowers, employing approximately 100,000 people whose wages directly support an estimated half-million more of their family members.
But not all flower companies here have followed Simbi Roses’ lead by paying workers higher wages, offering more benefits and taking steps to ensure worker safety.
From a society split between Muslims and Christians comes a model for peaceful political change.
ZANZIBAR, Tanzania – Political divisions in this East African nation are so profound that to achieve some sort of unity may, paradoxically, require dividing the country even further—into as many as three governments within a single state.
That’s the proposal put forth by a group of politicians drafting a new constitution intended to usher in prosperity for all Tanzania’s people, urban and rural, rich and poor. That task appears even more daunting given that Tanzanians are further divided by religion, split between Christians and Muslims and those who are animist or practice local religions.
And yet the one thing nearly everyone in Tanzania agrees on is that religion should have little or nothing to do with the constitutional process.
“Wherever you are, you want good education, health services—these things are universal,” said Maria Kashonda, member of the Constitutional Review Commission. “People are putting aside their religious differences for these.”
GlobalPost sits down with Superintendent Seline Awinja on gender-based violence and times when “there is no womanhood and no manhood.”
NAIROBI, Kenya — Seline Awinja, one of Kenya’s highest-ranking female police officers, smiles proudly as she recounts the ranks she’s advanced in her 26 years with the force: From constable to corporal to sergeant to senior sergeant to inspector to chief inspector — and now to superintendent of police for Nairobi’s Njiru district.
Awinja, 46, sits at a desk in a tin hut that serves as her command post. Plainclothes officers enter repeatedly to tell her about a dispute unfolding between armed thugs and a landowner over control over a nearby plot of land.
She fires back at them in Swahili, telling them to “bring their big guns” and hold the peace until a judge can be summoned to arbitrate. “Deal with them like a man,” she yells, and sends them off.
As the US military this year lifts its longtime ban on women in combat roles, a similar debate is unfolding within the Kenya Police. In the United States, female American soldiers and their allies argued the ban limited women’s ability to rise through the ranks into the military’s highest positions. In Kenya, a legacy of female officers serving in only secretarial roles has only partially faded: Today only 11 percent of Kenya’s 73,000 police officers are women, according to a United Nations estimate.
Recently, female police in Kenya have been called upon to staff ‘gender desks’ at local police stations to handle cases of sexual and domestic violence of the sort that Kenya’s male-dominated police force is notorious for failing to take seriously. Kenya made international headlines last month after police in Western Kenya set free three suspects in the gang rape of a woman known as “Liz” rather than investigate or charge them.
GlobalPost sat down with Awinja to ask what drove her to pursue a position of leadership that few of her female counterparts share — and how she approaches her role.
Kenyans are abuzz with hope that its newly-discovered resources will enrich the country, but is Kenya prepared to make the most of its natural wealth?
Kenya, a long time outlier in a continent known for its mining and oil, is now facing the prospect of a natural resources boom itself. And Kenyans are abuzz with hope that the country can harness its newfound mineral wealth to propel East Africa’s largest economy even further.
But while these discoveries could provide a significant source of revenue for Kenya, disorganisation within Kenya’s mining ministry, and controversy surrounding one Canadian company in particular, raise concerns that Kenya may be unprepared to regulate and benefit from its forthcoming resource surge.
Read the full article as it appeared at Think Africa Press.
People with albinism in rural Tanzania live in fear of attacks by those who believe their body parts will bring them riches.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — One October night in Tanzania’s southernmost Mtwara region, a group of men with their faces covered pounded on the wooden door to Zainab Muhamed’s home and told her to open up. They would not say what they wanted — but it was obvious.
Muhamed had just given birth to the second of two daughters with albinism — a genetic abnormality resulting in an absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes that makes the bearer appear extremely pale.
Today, many in rural Tanzania still believe that procuring the arm, leg, fingers, skin or hair of an albino person and brewing it into a potion will make them rich. Tanzania’s deep-rooted superstitions about albinos surfaced in 2006 as a wave of violence against them erupted across rural parts of the country.
Since then, “these myths have resulted in 71 documented deaths in Tanzania, 38 attacks including deaths in other African countries, 32 attempted murders with some victims left mutilated in Tanzania and other parts of Africa,” particularly Burundi and Kenya, according to a 2012 report by the albino advocacy group Under the Same Sun.
As the nation grieves, few Kenyans direct their anger toward Somali immigrants here. But that hasn’t stopped police from singling out Somali communities.
NAIROBI, Kenya — In the middle of a crowded downtown street stand two hundred men and women, listening to a religious debate between a Muslim cleric and a Christian priest.
The two take turns shouting into a microphone that amplifies their voices to the curious onlookers: ‘The Bible says…’ the priest begins. The cleric responds, “The Koran says…” and so on.
The ritual has become a daily phenomenon as Christians and Muslims come together to discuss their religions here in Eastleigh, the heart of Nairobi’s Somali Muslim community. But this religious debate held a special significance Monday, exactly one month after gunmen including at least one Muslim of Somali heritage began their deadly siege of Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — By almost any measure, job prospects for young people in this East African nation should be bountiful.
Tanzania ranks among the world’s 30 fastest growing economies and spends a higher percentage of its GDP on education than all but 26 others. In theory, this should correspond to the rapid creation of new jobs and an abundance of well-educated young people to fill them.
But Tanzania is facing a youth unemployment crisis rivaled by few other nations in the world. In 2012, Tanzania was home to more unemployed 15 to 24-year-olds per capita than 109 other countries. In a survey by the non-governmental organization Restless Development, out of over 1,000 young people across Tanzania, only 14 percent reported working a formal, wage-earning job.
Read the full story at GlobalPost.