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New African Magazine
SWEDD is a seven-country initiative in the Sahel, designed to foster demographic transition and promote economic growth by investing in women’s empowerment, funded and supported by the World Bank and a wide range of private sector partners, with the backing of UN agencies including the WHO, UNICEF and UN Women. Now embarking on a second five-year term, it is set to continue its work to address high maternal mortality rates, child marriages, female genital mutilation (FGM), and benefit women in areas including access to employment.
“We share a common vision on the challenges of the development of our continent, particularly the acceleration of the demographic transition, the greater empowerment of women and the development of human capital to accelerate economic growth and increase the well-being of African populations, particularly in the Sahel region.”
Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the Republic of Niger, during the SWEDD Resource Mobilisation Roundtable, on the sidelines of the recent African Union Summit in Niamey
The genesis of a project led by seven Sahel countries
The Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) initiative started with a call to action in November 2013 by Niger’s President, Mahamadou Issoufou. This appeal to invest in women’s empowerment in the Sahel to accelerate the demographic transition, and spur the demographic dividend, resulted in a project financed by the World Bank with $207m, over a five-year period (2013-19). This amount was increased to $295m when Benin joined SWEDD in 2018. In view of the project’s successful results, it has been renewed for the period 2019-2023 and other countries are considering taking part.
The project is based on a partnership between Sahelian countries concerned by the same issues: high fertility and maternal mortality rates, the persistence of early marriages and female genital mutilation (FGM), and women’s difficulties accessing employment. Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad decided to pool their resources with the support of three major partners: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which started initial studies among other contributions; the UN Population Fund’s West and Central Africa Regional Office (UNFPA-WCARO), which coordinated technical assistance for the development of sub-projects and helped with the implementation of initiatives; and the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), an ECOWAS agency based in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, which has provided support for the medical component.
In addition, SWEDD countries have developed several other types of partnerships. They turned to NGOs to support community interventions to mobilise the leaders of neighbourhoods, villages and women’s associations, as well as traditional and religious leaders. The goal has been to spread the message of women’s empowerment by explaining to men (who make decisions about the health of their wives) why it is crucial to let women access prenatal and neonatal care, to give birth in dispensaries, space births, etc. Promundo, an organisation specialising in processes designed to change attitudes on gender issues, has contributed to the development of training manuals, and monitoring the implementation of these initiatives.
SWEDD, a programme built on partnerships
One of SWEDD’s levers for action is providing support for training institutes. The goal is to increase the ratio of midwives and nurses to women of childbearing age, and to reduce maternal mortality. Three teaching centres of excellence were launched at the end of 2018, each running four-semester Masters degrees in Nursing and Obstetrics Sciences, in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Niger. Côte d’Ivoire’s National Institute for Health Workers Training (INFAS), at the University Hospital of Treichville, Abidjan, provides a Masters in the Pedagogy of Health Sciences. Mali’s National Institute for Health Sciences Training (INFSS) in Bamako offers a Masters in Health Services Management. In Niger, the National School of Public Health / Damouré Zika (ENSP-DZ) in Niamey has a Masters in Obstetrics Gynaecology.
Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the leading Sunni Islamic educational institution, is also an important partner. In April 2018, the International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research organised a training workshop at the university attended by 42 religious leaders from the Sahel, to bring the message of family planning to the most influential people in their communuties.
Results and impact
Within the UN system, several agencies including UN Women, the WHO and UNICEF are involved in the partnership. More than 150 private sector entities have also committed to supporting SWEDD, including Facebook, Orange and Ecobank, either financially or through assisting with capacity building, or through joint projects to create employment opportunities for the target groups. A network of influential leaders has been established to strengthen the project, including First Ladies, Youth, Religious Leaders and Traditional Communicators.
A vast communication campaign was launched in a massive outreach effort, reaching more than 284m people through video spots picked up by TV channels, online media and social networks, as well as print media. The First Ladies have actively supported SWEDD projects through their Foundations. Their commitment resulted in a side-event at the African Union Summit in Niamey in July, led by Niger’s First Lady, Dr Lalla Malika Missoufou, advancing the campaign against early marriages, and at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Girls’ schooling is progressing, with an average admission rate of 81% for the 75 schools targeted by the SWEDD project in Mali. The dropout rate for girls in Côte d’Ivoire has declined thanks to nutritional support (hot meals served for all in schools). The prevalence of modern contraceptive methods has increased, with 4.3m new users from 2016 to 2018 in the six countries. In addition, the proportion of 15 to 19-year-old married girls everywhere showed a slight decline, falling in Burkina Faso from 28.4% to 26.3%, in Chad from 39% to 37.3%, and in Niger from 59% to 56.2%.
Apart from the 1,640 husbands’ clubs established to help men develop their knowledge in Burkina Faso, SWEDD has helped to build 3,400 ‘safe spaces’ across the Sahel that have benefited 102,000 adolescent girls. Similarly, 100,000 girls benefit from economic empowerment programmes, which include access to ‘non-traditional’ areas such as mechanics in Chad. Six National Observatories for the Demographic Dividend have been set up to allow each country to follow specific indicators.
Between 2015 and 2018, the number of midwives and nurses in the six SWEDD countries increased from 31,043 to 35,775. With the centres of excellence, the Sahel will have 126 Masters-level professionals by 2020, who will in turn be able to train their peers. The selected students commit themselves to serve as a trainer for three years.
Efforts continue with a review by a group of jurists of all existing texts on women’s empowerment. Lawyers, parliamentarians and activists gathered in Nouakchott, Mauritania in early 2019 to establish a plan to improve the legal environment for women’s rights, in areas such as family codes, home ownership, equality, etc. Each country is responsible for reviewing potential progress, with a view to general improvement that could be in line with the example of Senegal, the most advanced country in this field, even though it is not yet part of the SWEDD project.
In late 2018, the Follow-up Committee of the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development, meeting in Accra, Ghana, adopted a resolution calling on the AU to move the SWEDD project to the continental level.
In the meantime, the potential of the partnership is wide-ranging. At the level of the countries involved, SWEDD is a tool for regional integration, sharing good practices and South-South cooperation. Teams from all seven countries make site visits, evaluate and learn from their experiences. If the projects had been launched individually, without consultation, they would not have been as impactful.
Gender issues are high on national agendas, with priority given to the necessary budgets. One study by SWEDD has assessed the scale of the challenges, identifying populations at risk, especially among adolescent girls, to provide interventions that will enable them to unleash their full potential as adults. The public-private partnership logic, which prevails for SWEDD, allows the private sector to provide funding, but also innovation.
For example, the Ivorian start-up Solar Pak has provided solar energy bags that enable young people to have the light to study. The Burkinabé Civil Project allows children to get their birth certificate from a central registry – a first step in the fight against early marriage. In addition to the political will of SWEDD member countries to participate in investing in women’s empowerment and human capital as a development strategy for growth, other commitments needed to scale up the project are coming to fruition, notably thanks to the SWEDD Resource Mobilisation Roundtable held on the sidelines of the AU Summit in Niamey. Here, bilateral, multilateral, private sector, NGO and civil society partners pledged to provide financial, material, technical and social support and contributions.
New African Magazine
By: Regina Jane Jere
The cooperation between the Russia Federation and Africa goes back decades to when the then Soviet Union provided tactical and logistical support to African countries during their struggle for independence and self-determination.
In recent years, and perhaps reflecting global ideological convergence, it is the level of economic cooperation between Russia and Africa that has generated the most interest and traction. For example, in just the past decade, the volume of trade between the two partners has grown by more than 140% reaching $20.4bn in 2018 and inbound investments from Russia have been on the rise as well.
Prospects for further expansion are positive, especially considering the rich historical possibilities for complementarity between the two economies.
Russia’s technology and expertise in energy and infrastructure is extremely important and relevant in Africa where infrastructure deficit, and especially the chronic deficit of power generation and distribution, has been singled out as a major constraint to productivity growth and output expansion.
Meanwhile, Russian expertise in integrated natural resource management could help the continent draw on its excess natural resource endowment to catalyse commodity-based industrialisation and lay the foundation for a win-win economic cooperation and trade in an increasingly challenging zero-sum global trade and economic environment.
In his official opening speech at the The Annual Meetings of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), held in Moscow, last June, Russia’s Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, pointed out that globalisation had shifted the drivers of growth to developing countries, making Africa a more important partner for Russia, adding that Africa could tap into Russia’s decades-old business and industrial expertise to boost productive capacities and exploit opportunities.
In the same vein, Professor Benedict Oramah, president of Afreximbank, called on partners from all corners of the world who shared the vision of a progressive African continent and of Afreximbank to “join forces to push forward a new agenda for Africa”. The Annual Meetings focused on the theme ‘Harnessing Emerging Partnerships in an Era of Rising Protectionism’.
Africa has been enjoying strong economic growth over the last two decades with growth rates averaging 4.5%, above the world average of 3.8%. The region has some of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is offering high returns on investment, which have been a source of attraction for global investors from both developed and developing regions.
Still, the growth resilience enjoyed by the region also reflects the increasing diversification of its sources of growth and trading partners in a changing global trading landscape of a rising South, where China and India – two BRICS countries along with Russia – have become Africa’s first and second single largest trading partners, respectively.
But in a world where global trade has been largely dominated by manufactured goods with increasing technological content, sustaining robust growth rates in Africa and enhancing its integration into the global economy will require expanding investment in energy, technology and innovation. This in addition to investment in physical and economic infrastructure, to boost value addition and drive manufacturing output.
In this context, closing Africa’s infrastructure gap to boost productivity is particularly critical. Russia’s investment in key strategic sectors and industries, such as petrochemicals, aviation and rail will not only sustain economic expansion across Africa, it also has the potential of accelerating the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area – AfCFTA.
Dealing with infrastructure bottlenecks
Although the AfCFTA has been touted as a game-changer with the potential to create one of the largest single markets for goods and services in the world, forging new trade partnerships to attract more foreign direct investment in support of infrastructure development and expansion of manufacturing output will be critical for its successful implementation.
Even though digitalisation is revolutionising payment and delivery systems, geography still determines the flows of goods and services. And in Africa where about a third of countries are landlocked, addressing infrastructure bottlenecks will go a long way to boosting cross-border trade and accelerating the process of economic transformation needed to further the integration of African countries into the global economy.
Investors, including those from Russia – are taking advantage of the growth opportunities to be created by the expanding economies of scale and the higher returns on investment the new trading bloc and integrated market will bring.
Already, multinational corporations are responding to new incentives associated with the AfCFTA, with Volkswagen and Peugeot announcing their intention to build manufacturing and assembly plants in Rwanda and Kenya.
The growing partnership between Africa and Russia offers further potential for the latter to join the growing ranks of investors and take advantage of new trade and investment opportunities associated with the AfCFTA.
Russia’s competitive advantage
However, while opportunities for growth and high returns are expected to be significant under the AfCFTA, Russian investors will have to adapt to the new and increasingly more competitive economic environment within the region. Interest in Africa is growing not just from traditional partners but also, and increasingly, from emerging developing market economies. This is perhaps one of the crucial challenges that resurgent Russia could face in its reengagement and increasing economic cooperation with Africa.
But Russia’s expertise around energy, infrastructure and technology – where it is globally competitive – could set the deepening level of cooperation, on a truly win-win partnership and strengthen the foundation of growth resilience both in Africa and Russia, in a zero-sum global trade and policy environment.
The first high-level Russia-Africa Investment Summit, which is scheduled to be held in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi later this year, will provide the opportunity to introduce African sovereign and corporate leaders to their Russian counterparts and to broaden areas of mutual interest with a view to further strengthening the level of engagement for a win-win partnership. The fact that so many African leaders have welcomed the event augurs well.
Expectations are very high. In a continent where infrastructure financing needs exceed $100bn annually and where annual trade financing gaps are just as large, the importance of this summit will not be about the number of contracts expected to be signed, but rather the scale and size of deals and their relevance to growth and development priorities. This should be the metric to inform the planning of the summit and monitor its development impact and outcomes.
Expectations are very high. In a continent where infrastructure financing needs exceed 100bn annually and where annual trade financing gaps are just as large, the importance of this summit will not be about the number of contracts expected to be signed, but rather the scale and size of deals and their relevance to growth and development priorities. This should be the metric to inform the planning of the summit and monitor its development impact and outcomes.
However, the Sochi summit should also provide a platform to explore and realise investment opportunities both around economic development and national security.
If there is one lesson learned over the years from the Russian experience in a zero-sum game world of competing geopolitical interests, it is the strong link between national security and economic development. Indeed, as Kofi Annan, the late UN Secretary-General, stated in one of his most memorable speeches, there can be “no development without security, and no security without development”.
In this regard the renewed and deepening partnership between Russia and Africa should also aim to strengthen the foundation for national security, to set Africa on an irreversible growth path during the implementation of the AfCFTA.
Moments in history
The Sochi summit, and more generally, the new rapprochement will also provide the opportunity to reintroduce Russia to Africa at a time when the increasing emphasis on economics and competition from a growing number of development partners has perhaps clouded the historical relationship that Russia played during the liberation movements, putting it on the right side of African history.
In effect despite the strong historical ties, very few Africans and Russians, especially among the younger generation, remember the sacrifices made by the latter during the struggle for independence in Africa.
However, in Africa this historical inability to remember the support provided by Russians is part of a broader cultural challenge and historical amnesia, which has characterised the post-independence era.
For example, the legacy of the freedom fighter and first post-colonial Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo – Patrice Lumumba – is more alive in Russia, where a prestigious university was named after him, than in the DR Congo, let alone the rest of Africa, where leaders are yet to erect a single monument where leaders are yet to erect a single monument in his honour and memory.
The Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi will therefore, also be the first step on the path to increasing recognition and greater acknowledgement of many other acknowledgement of many other important contributions Russia has made at critical moments in African important contributions Russia has made at critical moments in African history.
In this regard, creating the right conditions for a mutual understanding and cooperation not just at the economic and corporate level, but also in the education and cultural sphere, will be an important outcome of this first-ever Russia-Africa Summit.
It is one that will lay a strong foundation for a win-win partnership and ensure historical continuity across generations.