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Monday, March 26, 2012

Revitalizing Africa’s Higher Education for a Globalized Knowledge Economy

Africa’s higher education is in shambles. For many decades, African governments and development partners have marginalized vocational training and higher education.

The Darker summit on “Education for All” in 2000 for instance, prioritized basic education and adult literacy as a key driver of social welfare. Part of the reason higher education has been marginalized is because earlier studies by economists, including Milton Friedman, suggested that higher education yielded no social benefits beyond those accrued by the individuals.

In a review of 22 Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and 9 interim PRSPs from African countries, only two countries explicitly planned to increase funding for tertiary education budgets. Six PRSPs explicitly planned budget cuts. Donor agencies have abetted African governments’ neglect of higher education. For instance, international funding for higher education is on average US$ 600 million annually, or one quarter of all international aid to the education sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Low enrollment rates exemplify persistent underinvestment in higher education. According to a UNESCO report published in 2009, gross enrollment in Africa’s higher education was just 5 %, compared to 11 % in India, 20 % in China and 70% in OECD countries.

Similarly, chronic underinvestment in higher education has precipitated further declines in quality and relevance of education, the quality of graduates and stifled scientific, technological and social innovation. Moreover, Africa’s peer reviewed research constitutes only 0.7 % of total global intellectual output. The implication is that African scholars are not doing enough to generate knowledge that could provide local solutions to urgent socio-economic, institutional, technological and environmental challenges.

Economic growth benefit of higher education is only one dimension. An equally important but often ignored dimension is education’s contribution to enhancing capability of the state through robust governance and effective service delivery. This can only be delivered through a cadre of well-educated and skilled civil service. But decades of underinvestment in higher education have caused what some leading scholars have described as state capability traps exemplified by pervasive implementation failure by the an incompetent state bureaucracy.

A 2011 audit of revealed that, nearly fifty years after independence, public servants with post-secondary education comprise a mere 10 % of Kenya’s public servants. Similarly, in 1998, less than 3% of the national public administration staff of Mozambique had post-secondary education in 2001.

In Zambia, country with a population of about 13 million people the current doctor ratio is 1 to 15,000, far lower than WHO recommended ration of 1 to 5000. This is partly explained by the fact that Zambia has a single public medical school, University of Zambia that graduates about 50 physicians annually. Consequently, deaths from preventable diseases are rising while life expectancy is falling. In Ghana, according a UNDP report published in 1994, quality, quantity and supply of critical, high-level skills are cause for concern.

According to the Commission for Africa report published in 2005, weak human capacity is a critical problem in most African countries, affecting all tiers of government and is likely to get worse, given the low levels of investment in higher education. Africa’s capacity to deliver on its development goals and compete in a globalized knowledge is therefore at risk.

Besides low investment in higher education, low enrollment and low academic output, both undergraduate and graduate programs in Africa’s universities are out of sync with the urgent societal needs. The yawning supply – demand gap for skills exacerbates the problem of graduate unemployment and further undermines public confidence in the “value” of university education.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa 2005 report on Youth, Education, Skills and Employment observed that Africa’s youth face many challenges in gaining an education that equips them with the skills and knowledge needed by the labor market, leading to high rates of unemployment among university graduates.

The diminishing return on investment in basic education is now widely recognized. With this recognition comes the imperative to direct attention to the hitherto neglected higher education. A critical motivation for the need to revitalize Africa’s higher education is the growing dominance of the so-called knowledge worker for a Knowledge Economy.

To educate the next generation for a globalized knowledge economy we must depart from modes of teaching and learning that rely solely on didactic approaches, which only demand regurgitation from students.

To educate the next generation for a globalized knowledge economy demands that we embrace new approaches that are consistent with contemporary views of epistemology and learning theory, which treat knowledge as co-constructed by the student and the professor. Such approaches will demand of students, analytical reasoning, critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as reflective practice, innovation and entrepreneurship.

It is the caliber of Africa’s human resource, not its oil or diamonds or land or dreamy visions or ingratiation with China, that will catalyze an endogenous, sustainable socio-economic and technological transformation.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time to End US Monopoly in Nominating World Bank President

Robert B. Zoellick will not seek a second mandate as president of the World Bank when his first term expires on June 30 2012.


Since its establishment seven decades ago, the head of the World Bank has been nominated and appointed by the US president. The tacit agreement was devious in the 1940s; it is even more imperious in the 21st century.


The perceived failure of the World Bank to deliver on its core mission springs largely from the fact that its "club governance" style is out of sync with global reality, which requires anticipatory, flexible collaborative and inclusive multilateral institutions. The World Bank's decision-making process is therefore seen as exclusive and accountable only to a few powerful countries. This undermines its inclusiveness, effectiveness and legitimacy.


The imperative to bridge the long-standing international development gap – enhancing global stability, reducing income inequality, eradicating poverty, hunger and infectious diseases – is a compelling reason for a more collaborative approach to tackling global challenges through inclusive, transparent and effective global institutions.


Furthermore, the economic turmoil, global warming and rising income inequality painfully underscore the critical need for robust, global collective governance. At its best, the World Bank can serve as a dynamo, converting ideas and knowledge into innovative solutions to tackle poverty, disease, hunger, global warming and environmental degradation.


Consequently, finding Mr. Zoellick's replacement has touched off intense global interest. This is good news for the World Bank and developing countries, which often bear the brunt of the Bank's policies. The Group of 20 is committed to a "new open, transparent and merit-based selection process" for the next president. China and Brazil have urged for a fair, competitive selection process. Developing economies must engage with the World Bank not just as recipients but also as stakeholders whose opinion count.


Can President Obama find the courage to acquiesce to an "open, merit-based selection process"? Not in an election year. Some of the corporations who make millions off the World Bank are contributors to US political campaigns. There are strong political incentives to appoint Wall Street or Washington insider. Zoellick served previously as US trade representative and managing director at Goldman Sachs.


The long list for Zoellick's replacement included Microsoft Corporation Chairman Bill Gates, Brown University President Ruth Simmons, Chairman, and CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi. The White House is now looking at the short list. Will it be Lawrence Summers, disgraced Harvard President and former Obama economic adviser? John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN?


The Beltway rumor-mill is on overdrive. The candidate with the most gravitas, Senator John Kerry, does not want the job. Without a background or training in economics, Ms Rice would be a long short. Moreover, Rice could be US Secretary of State in Obama's second term. Not Larry Summers. As then-president of Harvard, he suggested that women might lack an "intrinsic aptitude" for science and technology. Summers also signed a memo to dump toxic waste in developing countries as chief economist of the World Bank in 1991.


In a maverick move Prof. Jeffery D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, economist, author and UN adviser, has publicly declared his eagerness to lead the World Bank. Sachs' long record of standing for the poorest of the poor for decades: on debt cancellation, food security, disease control, climate change and global stability is unmatched by any of the names in the Obama short list.


Sachs' self-declared candidacy has gathered global momentum. Sachs' candidacy has drawn a number of endorsements from Bhutan, East Timor, Haiti, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Namibia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay. 12 Nobel Laureates and intellectual leaders have also endorsed him. Last week, 27 Democrats in the House of Representatives pressed President Obama to nominate Jeffery Sachs as the next World Bank president.


Sachs' approach has been criticized as top-down and mostly prescriptive. Sachs is vilified for being too trusting of "simple" solutions, which are often technology based, discounting institutions and more evolutionary processes. Among colleagues, Sachs is perceived as arrogant and undiplomatic because he does not listen with compassion when he holds the right opinion.


Conversely, Sachs is also one of the few people who can cultivate and sustain connections across business, politics, global diplomacy and Hollywood for the cause of tackling global issues. That is rare and valuable asset to mobilizing interest and resources to solve big problems.


An open, merit-based selection process" could rely on a small selection committee appointed by the World Bank board. Its task would be to draw up a shortlist from candidates nominated by member countries or by key stakeholders.


The World Bank will release a short list of three candidates on March 23 2012.

Can President Obama find the courage to end the Wall Street–Washington hegemony of the World Bank?

Alex O. Awiti, PhD
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reclaiming Kenyan Cities for People

William Henry Ogilvie, the Scottish-Australian poet, wrote “These are the men with sun-tanned faces and keen far-sighted eyes, the men of the open spaces”. Open outdoor spaces are innately liberating, bequeathing to us the privilege of reflection and introspection.

By most accounts we will end this century as homo urbanus – wholly urban creatures. This demographic transition will see millions give up the vast airy purity of open spaces of the countryside for cloistered, stifling existence in the city – the concrete jungle of hard tarred roads, stone, glass, steel, parking lots, automobiles traffic congestion and polluted air.

There is a large and growing body of evidence in ecology and psychology, which demonstrates an inherent human desire to connect with nature. The term “biophilia” was used by social psychologist Erich S. Fromm to describe a psychological attraction to things living things. In his book Biophilia, acclaimed biologist E.O. Wilson suggests that human beings subconsciously seek connections with the rest of life.

In his book, The Voice of the Earth, Theodore Roszak coined the word ecopsychology. Ecopsychology suggests that a synergistic relationship exists between planetary and human well-being. Wilson argued that people deprived of contact with nature suffer psychologically, causing measurable decline in human well-being.

Studies have linked the lack of windows with high rates of anxiety, depression and delirium among inpatients. Similarly, a study of patient recovery in a Pennsylvania hospital showed that patients whose rooms overlooked the parking lot recovered from illness more slowly compared to those whose rooms overlooked gardens with flowers and trees. The deep affiliations humans have with nature could be rooted in our biology.

Suppression of the ecological unconscious is the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society. A study published last year in the journal Nature showed that mood and anxiety disorders are more prevalent among city dwellers. Other studies have shown that schizophrenia incidence is about doubled in people born and raised in cities, with evidence of a dose response relationship that points to causation.

A personal car enables efficient mobility in low-density urban or rural settings. But if you live in Nairobi, use of a personal mostly delivers immobility, not mobility. City driving has a price too. In a survey of adult drivers in twenty major world cities by IBM, 30% of the respondents reported stress from traffic congestion, 27% reported increased anger and 29% reported that traffic congestion impaired their performance at work or school. Other studies have traced the direct physiological effect of traffic congestion in raising blood pressure and release of stress hormones.

Nairobi has an overbearing physical imprint of the automobile. A disproportionate area of Nairobi is dedicated to highways, roads, streets, parking lots, service stations, vehicle oriented business and second-hand car dealerships. Pedestrian paths are rapid transit corridors for Matatu. Open public spaces are expansion frontiers for corrupt public officials and their acolytes.

Nairobi city is also a victim of engineering bias, focusing on one problem at a time. If the problem is traffic congestion, the solution is to build more highways. If you take a systems view and think of the street as serving multiple functions, like walking, biking, recreation and habitat the solution space will not be limited to ungainly concrete-walled road overpasses.

To reclaim the city of Nairobi for people the following investments are imperative: make public transportation the centerpiece of urban mobility; make highways, and streets pedestrian and bicycle friendly; and, convert 40% of parking spaces into green public spaces. Such investments would reduce carbon emissions, eliminate health-damaging pollution, incorporate exercise into daily routines and lower the risk of mental and lifestyle illnesses.
Kenya could learn from best practice elsewhere. In his tenure as mayor of Colombia’s city of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa created or rehabilitated 1,200 parks, built hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths, introduced a bus rapid transit system and reduced rush-hour traffic by 40%. Mayor Penalosa involved local urban communities in greening their neighborhoods by planting 100,000 trees.

In 2007 Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC, an audacious plan to expand New York’s urban forests and ensure that all New Yorkers live within a 10-meter walk of a park. In 2001, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe was handed Europe’s worst traffic congestion and air quality – Paris. Mayor Bertrand pledged to cut traffic by 40 % by 2020. He invested high quality public transit for Parisians by providing transit in outlying regions, reducing number of lanes for cars and creating express lanes for buses and bicycles.

Kenya’s future is inextricably linked to urban growth. The future growth and expansion of our towns must focus on designing urban infrastructure for more people, not for more cars. We must therefore make the creation of an equitable and healthy urban environment, which is built to a human scale, a top policy priority.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Managing Slum Urbanism in Kenya

Since The Economist declared Africa “the hopeless continent” a decade ago, profound change has taken hold. The authoritative weekly has flip-flopped and now believes that Africa’s lion economies are on the prowl. McKinsey Global Institute, a business think tank, shows that sub-Saharan Africa’s real GDP growth rate jumped to an annual average of 5.7%, up from only 2.4% over the previous two decades.

But there is another dimension to the African saga. The continent’s population is set hit 2 billion over the next four decades. Such doubling will transform irreversibly, Africa’s demographic structure. Africa’s extra people will likely flock the cities. Today 40% of Africans are city dwellers, up from 30% a generation ago. By 2025 the number is likely to be over 50%. We will end this century as homo urbanus.

According to a notable think tank, Monitor Group, Africa’s growth is inextricable bound to competitive clusters based in cities rather than to nation states. Cities generate most of Africa’s wealth. For instance, Nairobi employs 23% of Kenyans who generate 45 % of Kenya’s GDP. In contrast, Agriculture employs nearly 70 % of the population who contribute 29% of national GDP. The urbanization dividend is real.

Although African cities have become a potent magnet for millions of ex-rural folk, urbanization’s welcome association with increased prosperity has turned in a tale of woe. Mismanagement of Africa’s rapid urbanization has led to a proliferation of slums. Informal housing, insecure tenure and lack of access to water and sanitation characterize Africa’s slum settlements.

Located just 5 kilometers from the leafy and sunny allure of Nairobi’s city centre is Africa’s most charismatic slum, Kibera. It is home to hundreds of thousands of families who live in numbing squalor; no water and sanitation, residents pay to use the few communal toilets. When it rains raw sewage drenches the neighborhood. Wet or dry, Kibera stinks. Recent estimates show that over 60 per cent of Nairobi’s residents live in places like Kibera. At the national level between 30 and 40 per cent of Kenya’s urban population live in slums.

Slums are a testament to the failure of Kenya’s political and policy elite to come to terms with the material realities of urbanization, especially its infrastructure, service and human well-being imperatives. There is little acknowledgement that a weak economic base, rapid population growth over last 40 years, collapse or rural economy, high levels of income inequality and a lack of affordable stocks of quality land and housing creates a fertile substrate for slum proliferation.

But slums are also the hallmark of incredible social response by the poor to catastrophic political, policy, and market failure. For the poor, nothing is expected from the state. Nothing is anticipated from the formal private market. In slums, poor urban residents club together in various assemblages, leveraging social capital and ingenuity to stretch their meager incomes.

Places like Kibera are not fetid ghettos of discontent. They are a furnace of white heat of resolve and indomitable entrepreneurship. The narrow and squalid street corners of slums are a complex interchange of retail and services – one-chair
barbershops and three-bench bars interspersed with racks of used clothes and stalls of groceries. For hundreds of thousands of families, life in the slums is an opportunity to partake of the humblest yet most grace-filled benediction; an opportunity, through hard work, to join the ranks of the urban working class or to start a business.

At the risk of simplifying a complex problem, I suggest two approaches to dealing with slum urbanism. First, we must urgently invest in growth priming urban infrastructure like water, sanitation, energy, recreational parks, public transportation, education, health, security and equitable housing.

Growth-stimulating investments inevitably catalyze larger processes of economic development, which raise property values, attract capital investment, create high quality jobs and increase asset and revenue tax base of cities. Cities could recoup their investment through tax revenues, which can fund systematic and sustained in situ slum upgrading. Furthermore, tax revenues accruing to city governments could underwrite a stable market of affordable stock of housing and land for the low-income urban households. This approach depends on appropriate governance reform, which includes decentralization of authority, fiscal control and accountability to cities.

Second, we must slow down rural-urban migration to manageable levels by improving conditions in the countryside. This means more than providing basic social services like education and healthcare for children. It means using tax and infrastructure incentives to encourage industrial and service sector investment in small towns rather than just in large cities like Nairobi and Mombasa.

The easy solution is to bulldoze slums out of existence. More importantly, families who lose what little they have invested in housing are not richer as result of the demolition, but poorer, as is the city itself.

Friday, March 2, 2012

How Jeffery Sachs Would Lead The World Bank

How I would lead the World Bank

By Jeffrey Sachs, Published in The Washington Post Thursday, March 1, 2012

My quest to help end poverty has taken me to more than 125 countries, from mega-city capitals to mountaintop villages, from rain forest settlements to nomadic desert camps. Now I hope it will take me to 18th and Pennsylvania, to the presidency of the World Bank. I am eager for this challenge.

Unlike previous World Bank presidents, I don’t come from Wall Street or U.S. politics. I am a practitioner of economic development, a scholar and a writer. My track record is to side with the poor and hungry, not with a corporate balance sheet or a government. Yet the solutions work for all — the poor, companies, governments and the rest of us — by creating a more prosperous, healthy and secure world.

I don’t seek the bank presidency because of its financial muscle. The bank’s net disbursements (disbursements minus repayments of funds from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development as well as the International Development Association) were about $16 billion in fiscal 2011. That’s a meaningful sum — but global markets easily eclipse the bank as providers of finance.

The World Bank is potentially far more decisive than a bank. At its best, the bank serves as a powerhouse of ideas and a meeting ground for key actors who together can solve daunting problems of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation. The World Bank should create a truly international meeting of the minds (a point underscored by the fact that its highly esteemed lead economist is from China).

I know the power of that approach. In Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, I’ve been a trusted problem-solver for heads of state and impoverished villagers. My good fortune to see the world through the eyes of others, during 30 years working on some of the world’s most vexing problems, has helped me understand various regions’ challenges and the need for tailored solutions. There are reasons why what works well in the United States might not work in Nigeria, Ethiopia or India.

Yet the World Bank is adrift. It is spread too thin. It has taken on too many fads. It is too disconnected from critical areas of science and knowledge. Without incisive leadership, the bank has often seemed like just a bank. And unfortunately, Washington has backed at the helm bankers and politicians who lack the expertise to fulfill the institution’s unique mandate.

The World Bank presidency should not be a training ground in development. Its leader should come to office understanding the realities of flooded villages, drought-ridden farms, desperate mothers hovering over comatose, malaria-infected children, and teenage girls unable to pay high school tuition. More than knowing these realities, and caring to end them, the bank president should understand their causes and interconnected solutions.

Solutions to critical problems such as hunger, AIDS, malaria and extreme deprivation remain unaddressed because of vast gaps in knowledge, experience and power among those who ultimately need to work together. I work with scientists who have powerful answers but no public voice; bankers with ample finance but no clear idea of how to deploy it; business leaders with powerful technologies but no ways to reach the poor; civil society with deep community roots but no access to capital; and politicians who lack the time or experience to forge solutions.

Finding the graceful way forward, forging the networks that can create global change, should be the bank’s greatest role. I’ll stand on my record of helping to create those networks: to launch the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; to bring new support for the world’s poorest farmers so they can boost yields, production and income; to scale up the role of community health workers; to translate debt relief into poverty reduction; to link the poorest countries to global markets in support of exports for growth; to make mobile technologies the new edge of development practice; and to link climate science with solutions.

My role has been to help bring together vastly diverse communities of knowledge, power, and influence to see what can work in practice and then to help make it happen.

I am ready to lead the bank into a new era of problem-solving. I will work with industry, governments and civil society to bring broadband to clinics, schools and health workers, creating a revolution of knowledge, disease control, quality education and small businesses. I will work with agronomists, veterinary scientists, engineers and communities to build prosperity in impoverished and violence-ridden dry lands.

I will work with engineers and financiers to harness the solar power of the deserts in the service of hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who lack electricity. I will work with urban planners, architects and community organizations to help ensure that the developing world’s mega-cities are places to live and thrive.

This and much more is within our grasp. Properly led, the World Bank can build bridges among science, business, civil society and finance that will put sustainable solutions within reach. Let’s get started.


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