Monthly Archives: March 2012

Why the World Bank needs an African Woman as its President

Yesterday the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank confirmed that the period for submitting nominations for the next President was officially closed and the 3 nominations received within this period were:

  • Jim Yong Kim, a US national and President of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
  • José Antonio Ocampo, a Colombian national and Professor at Columbia University, New York
  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian national, Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Nigeria

Individual candidate interviews will take place in Washington DC in the next few weeks and a new supposedly merit-based president is expected to be announced shortly thereafter. There has been a large amount of pressure from developing nations to appoint a President from one of our countries, and considering that since the inception of the World Bank in 1944 only US citizens have held the position, our lobby is justifiably receiving widespread support. This argument could be taken even further though, to the point where we say that it’s time for an African Woman specifically to sit in the position, and this is why:

It is almost universally accepted, although not yet universally acted upon, that Africa is the world’s current GDP growth rate leader, has a rapidly expanding (and profitable) middle class, is the continent offering the greatest investment returns,  and  all this is expected to continue and grow as governance and infrastructure constantly improve. The global economy of the future is one in which Africa is going to play a substantially larger and more important role. It follows that since our continent’s people and the management of our resources will have a larger impact on economies beyond our shores than ever before that our involvement in global financial systems and organisations should be larger than ever before too.

The people of Africa and the developing world have the most at stake when it comes to global financial decisions/systems, yet to date have had the least input into these. The World Bank’s primary customer base is the developing world and yet we have never been represented at the top of this organisation. To be successful the organisation needs to understand clearly and be directed by these realities – what better way to do this than through representation of this group at the very top?  Ignoring these realities in the past has evidently neither served us nor the developed world well and the time for fresh perspectives and approaches seems to be upon us. In the business world for a company in this position a customer-centric approach is generally the most accepted and successful business practice. Why should this logic not apply to the World Bank?

From a more ideological stand-point and as a believer in the principal of democracy, even at a global level, it needs to be noted that Africans account for a 6th of all people living on the planet. Our representation at global levels of organisations such as the World Bank specifically but also the IMF, WHO, UN and so on is not even close and this needs to change, simple. Our fair share of influence needs to be apportioned and placing an African Woman as president of the World Bank would be a great start.

It could very easily be argued that African Women are the most marginalised, under-represented and disadvantaged people on the planet, yet despite this a constant stream of almost miraculous tales of business success and community impact can be found all around the continent.  There’s Prisca Tshabalala, the South African founder and manager of the Nkanyezi Stimulation centre for children with multiple disabilities; Bethlehem Alemu, the Ethiopian founder of Sole Rebels, an eco-sensitive footwear brand; Kenyan-born Ory Okolloh who spearheaded the founding of Ushahidi, the many women who manage and run the award-winning Swazi Secrets, a Swazi company making beauty products from natural resources and completely managed by the local women themselves. I literally could fill pages with such inspiring examples but my point is not to list but rather illustrate the massive and growing impact women are making across the continent (especially as they realize they do not need permission to do so.) Imagine then what these incredible people could do if considered, for the first time, and represented at the level of global financial policy formulation, aid distribution and investment direction?

As far as inspiring women go Nigerian-born Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is about as inspiring as they come. She is a former World Bank Vice-President and Corporate Secretary, posts she left to take up arguably the most challenging finance position in the world: Minister of Finance in Nigeria. During her first term (2003 – 2006) she increased the country’s reserves from US$7bn to US$30bn, brought inflation down from 28% to 11%, increased average GDP growth from 2.3% p/a in the previous decade to 6.5% p/a in this one and focused on rooting out corruption despite the fact that this pursuit often endangered her life. Importantly, I believe,  she is an ardent advocate of the ‘Trade not Aid’ movement and can be seen presenting motivating, incredibly well delivered speeches encouraging and helping others to see Africa, and  particularly its women, differently.  She has also already indicated that there would be no ‘business as usual’ if she took charge, “I share the World Bank vision of fighting poverty with passion. The issue is in what direction one must take this to make this the most beneficial” she has said, and this only strengthens her candidacy.

“She has eminent academic qualifications and would be, I think, a candidate of choice not only on the African continent but well beyond as well,” South Africa’s Pravin Gordhan said this week. His position is also supported by Nigeria and Angola in a rare display of unity between these countries, usually battling for dominance of the continent. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s individual credentials alone would be impressive but add to this her position as an African Woman who is capable of and uniquely positioned to truly represent Africans, Women and the developing world. She truly is the strongest candidate, possibly even the organisation’s only hope of survival.


Ernst & Young. 2011 Africa Attractiveness Survey. ‘It’s time for Africa’

Mfonobong Nsehe. 2012. ‘Africa’s Most Successful Women: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu’

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. 2007. ‘Want to help Africa? Do business here’


The Other Side of Uganda: Part 2



Chuhan-Pole & Angwafo. 2011. ‘Yes Africa Can’

Uganda Communications Commission. 2010 ‘Telecommunications statistics as at December, 2005 – 2009’

Uganda Revenue Authority. 2010. ‘Number of businesses by Sector with monthly Turnover of 10 million and above (2008 – 2009)’

UN Fact Sheet. December 2010. ‘Trends in Tertiary Education: Sub Saharan Africa’

World Bank. 2010. ‘World Development Indicators Database – Data Profile’

World Bank. 2010. ‘World Development Indicators Database – Millennium Development Goals’


Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Infographics, Uganda


The Other Side of Uganda: Part 1

In November 2009 my hubby and I were on our way back to South Africa after 14 months living in Kenya. To end an amazing adventure in style we decided to go gorilla trekking in the Impenetrable Forest (accessible only by foot) at Bwindi in Uganda. A friend from South Africa was visiting us in Kenya at the time and so decided to join us on our detour to Uganda. Upon arrival, after the 45 minute flight from Nairobi, we made our way across beautiful Kampala via a hotel that had messed up our booking to the Hotel Rooch where we ended up staying. Although we all agreed the hotel’s name was uncomfortably close to “roach”, it was very good value for money and staffed with very friendly, kind and helpful people. Early the next morning we met our tour guide, Farouk, and started the day-long drive across the entire country, through the Queen Elizabeth National Park and on to Bwindi. Immediately we were impressed by how efficiently the traffic ran and even though the row of cars in front of us seemed endless it caused very little delay (unlike Nairobi, London, Johannesburg or New York!) and we were soon on our way. Our first stop was at the equator where in addition to taking the mandatory touristy photos with the Equator sign we also did a little shopping at a local craft centre. After spending time in Kenya we were immediately struck by the lack of hecklers, no one was hassling us, no one telling us sob stories as motivation for buying their goods and certainly no fighting between vendors. All were (justifiably) proud artists who had set prices clearly marked on all their goods and you could buy or not – simply demand and supply of quality goods, no charity needed or accepted here.

An easy, relaxing, and very pleasant drive later we arrived in Bwindi just as the sun was setting and knew instantly we were in for an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime! We were surrounded by thick, green, lush forests and every now and then a clearing had been made and a home created. It wasn’t long however before the forest starting claiming its space back and the houses (please note houses NOT shacks) just disappeared into the trees. There was a village that was abuzz with the usual activities of that time of the day – adults heading home from work, often via a shop or two, the kids playing in the streets and a large amount of catching up between the villagers who all knew each other’s names.  And then there was a smell. A clean fresh smell of nature that you just do not get until you are far far away from any sort of industrial activity to areas where humans have not yet started to change the environment on a large scale industrial sort of way.  This was the only place on earth (so far) where I have smelt that smell. It was all these things and so much more that made Bwindi immediately impressive.

Bwindi is locally managed and governed but the area’s people work in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to ensure the area’s biggest resources (the forests and gorillas) are not only preserved but managed for the benefit of all. Managing protected areas with ‘community’ participation is one of the key strategies of the UWA management style as laid out in the Uganda Wildlife Policy (Republic of Uganda 1999).The gorilla permit at the time was US$500 (worth every cent) and this money is spent on much more than just the staff costs, admin, the gorillas or the forest itself.  How do I know this? Because we were shown! That’s part of the deal: you see the gorillas and then you see the village that enables the gorillas to still be there, as well as how they have adapted their society’s activities and methods to ensure preservation of the environment.  This does mean that the forests and gorillas need to subsidise village needs that would usually be funded by activities that are limited because of their existence.  But that’s ok because they do!  The money clearly goes straight to the thriving community, no corruption since the finances are all public, and just a few examples of what this has led to which we actually saw were:

  • The Bwindi Community Hospital which is not only run with gorilla permit funds but was built with them too. The hospital provides healthcare to over 40000 locals and visiting tourists if required. The hospital is small but state of the art.
  • The provision of infrastructure, health and education services to the formally re-located but then not re-settled Batwa people
  • Maintenance of all roads in the area – which although not great, would be impassable if it were not for the daily efforts of locals
  • The Bwindi Primary School, the building of which was funded and is maintained through gorilla permit revenue.

The management of this area surely has some issues, but which are in the world doesn’t! Anyway truly successful people see constant room for improvement regardless of success. However this system is as close to perfect as I have seen anywhere else in the world. The area as a whole is thriving and developing. It flies in the face of the African stereotypes of corrupt officials, dysfunctional societies with no or poor healthcare and education systems, non-participatory governance and a general inability to be successful. Please be clear these are not my perceptions but ones I encounter all the time – hence me writing this blog in the first place.

I haven’t even started telling you about our visit to the witch doctor, also an engineer, who is very clear on what he can help with and when not refers people to the local clinic. Or the banana breweries pioneering new products and markets. Or the criminals who, thanks to a local initiative, are made to work on farms that provide food back to the communities they committed crimes against.

And so while I really don’t want to get into a debate about the validity, accuracy or efficiency etc. of Kony 2012 I do want to highlight another side of Uganda. I don’t know exactly who is guilty of what in that whole saga but I do know that all of what I have written above is true because it was my experience. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues but it is certainly not (or at least not all by a LONG shot) the war-torn, dysfunctional country of starving gun-carrying children some now believe it is. The country and its innovative and entrepreneurial people are so much more. I do hope people will listen to my personal experience of efficient, fun, safe (yes it was safe, even to walk around Kampala at 04:00 in the morning!) and exciting Uganda but I don’t expect this to sway you on its own – in fact please don’t let it! All facts and opinions should be verifiable by other sources and so my next blog will be an infographic with some good news about Uganda in the form of hard numbers. If you haven’t yet thought twice about the current portrayal of Uganda, hopefully these two blogs will encourage you to…


Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Travel, Uganda


A real life example of why I believe in Africa

One of the best days of my life to date – definitely top 5 moments – was a random Tuesday of June 2009 in Orlando West, Soweto. I was standing outside a classroom at Nkanyezi Stimulation Centre and watching with 2 others (Prisca and Vusi) through the window, behind the curtains where we were out of sight. We were watching as one of the carers from the Nkanyezi Stimulation centre, Salomina, was encouraging Thato to take her very first steps. Thato was six at the time, suffered from three different physical disabilities and doctors had told her parents that there was a very tiny possibility that she would be able to walk but in order to achieve this, extensive and continuous (read: very expensive) treatment would be required. Yet here she was taking her first steps in a classroom without electricity, carpets, any equipment – never mind specialised equipment – and a carer with no training but plenty of love and patience. Thato seemed to understand the gravity of the moment and after 5 steps in a row, taken very seriously and with every bit of her concentration, she exploded into that true belly laughter that only children seem to be able to do. And while Thato laughed Salomina, Prisca, Vusi and I all cried, cried and cried some more at the witnessing of what was a real life miracle.

What made this a miracle was not that her chances of walking, according to doctors, were slim even with the best care available – although this was so – but that this had occurred in a place with so little in a physical or material sense. Also because although Thato was the first to be taught to walk at Nkanyezi there have been several others who have done the same since. It shows that what really counts at the end of the day is perseverance, patience, determination and (albeit very hippy of me) love. With these things the most insurmountable odds can be overcome. This centre is proof of that…

The Nkanyezi Stimulation Centre was founded by Prisca Tshabalala, who having recently given birth to Nkanyezi, a child with multiple disabilities, searched for some form of support and assistance in her Orlando West community of Soweto but found none. Not the sort of woman to sit around and do nothing she started a support group for parents of children with multiple disabilities that within weeks had over 40 members. This group grew and grew all the while with Prisca reading and learning as much as she could about not only coping but flourishing with, because of and despite any disabilities. Eventually it became clear that a special school was needed for such children and since there wasn’t one Prisca founded one. After years of fund raising, campaigning and dogged determination Dimpho Stimulation Centre for children with multiple disabilities was only weeks away from opening when tragedy struck.  Prisca’s shining star, as she called Nkanyezi, passed away in 2000 at age eleven having never seen the school his mother had worked so hard to create for him and others like him. Despite her heartbreak, despite the fact that she no longer needed the services of such a school she persevered and now she did so because of a promise to Nkanyezi to make as much of a difference as possible to the lives of ‘his people.’ Twelve years later Prisca still runs the school, in fact gives her monthly pension to the school to ensure it survives, and is the foundation of strength, love and determination which seems to feed the rest of the school. From the carers, who come to work with smiles on their faces and endless patience for their pupils despite the fact that they often go unpaid for months at a time because of funding shortages, to the gardener Bra Nxobo who has been providing lunch to the centre through his vegetable garden and maintaining the centre grounds for 10 years also more often than not without pay and even with broken ribs!

This centre is just one of the many reasons I believe in Africa. The economic growth rates, education statistics etc. are all very impressive and important but it is the people, the people like Prisca, Salomina and Bra Nxobo that make me believe. The knowledge they have acquired on their own, the innovations they have come up with to overcome resource shortages, the dedication despite scant reward are motivators and inspirational to all who come across them. They make me believe because with such goodness, determination and self-sacrifice, of which Nkanyezi is just one example of many from our continent, it seems impossible for us not to succeed.

For more details check out Nkanyezi on Facebook (Nkanyezi Stimulation Centre) + Twitter (@NkanyeziCentre)


Sub Saharan Africa’s Tertiary Education Highlights

Sub Saharan Africa’s tertiary education figures are not really something worth celebrating at their current levels. Enrollment rates are still below global averages and the gender ratio of male to female students requires urgent attention. There is good news though and that is the rate at which our continent is changing these figures. Development and growth have not only been above global rates, but more importantly have been consistently so for over 40 years. This area has been and is receiving prioritised attention from Sub Saharan Africa’s governments, this attention is paying off and that’s always good news!


Assie-Lumumba, N. 2006. ‘Empowerment of Women in Higher Education in Africa’

UN Fact Sheet. December 2010. ‘Trends in Tertiary Education: Sub Saharan Africa’

UN News (as published on Africa The Good News). April 2011. ‘Education spending in Sub Saharan Africa Increases’