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For-Profit Schools the New Shape of Structural Adjustment in Africa?

September 22, 2015

There is a battle brewing on the African continent.  For decades Africans fought against Structural Adjustment Programs and the devastation they wrought across the continent.  The HIV/AIDS crisis, inability to contain Ebola, Malaria, and the many other ways that African governments are unable to respond to the needs of their people have largely been blamed on the legacy of Structural Adjustment which dismantled the public sector.

Today it seems the public sector across Africa is facing the same challenges and same battle lines are drawn, this time with Education as the bone of contention:

The World Bank will not end poverty by promoting fee-charging, for-profit schools in Kenya and Uganda

Published on Thursday, 14 May 2015

Written by  education in crisis

“Just” $6 a month?: The World Bank will not end poverty by promoting fee-charging, for-profit schools in Kenya and Uganda

Response to President Jim Kim’s speech from concerned communities and organisations in Kenya and Uganda:

In his speech of 7th April 2015 titled “Ending Extreme Poverty by 2030: The Final Push” delivered ahead of the 2015 World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, praised the for-profit, fee-charging chain of private primary schools based in Kenya and Uganda, Bridge International Academies (BIA)(1) . He argues that thanks to these academies, where nearly 120,000 pupils are enrolled, “[a]fter about two years, students’ average scores for reading and math have risen high above their public school peers”. And these results, he said, are achieved for “just” $6 dollars a month.

The figure given of $6 is not accurate. Schools fees at BIA range from about $6.5 to $9, depending on the grade(2) . To this should be added the cost of uniforms, sold by Bridge, which cost about $18.5 per year, the equivalent of another $2 per month over 9 months, and exam fees of $2 to $3 per term. Other costs for textbooks, payment transfers, or other items may be added, and so a conservative estimate of the real monthly amount received by BIA for each child ranges rather between $9 and $13 a month – excluding food, which BIA provides for an additional $7 per month. The total monthly bill including school meals thus ranges between $16 and $20.

Nevertheless, even assuming a cost of $6 per month, the speech reveals the World Bank’s profound lack of understanding of the reality of poor people’s lives. When President Kim argues that schooling at Bridge costs “just” $6, the underlying message is that $6 a month is a small amount of money worth paying for schooling, even in contexts of great poverty. Such a statement is ill-informed and dangerous, especially coming from a world leader with the power to influence directions in global development. It is alarming that charging poor people school fees—something that the global community has worked particularly hard to abolish over the last two decades due to their negative impact on the poor—is being promoted as a means of ending poverty.

We, civil society organisations and citizens of Kenya and Uganda, are appalled that an organisation whose mandate is supposed to be to lift people out of poverty shows such a profound misunderstanding and disconnect from the lives and rights of poor people in Kenya and Uganda. We, who live in Kenya and in Uganda, can testify that $6 per month is much more money than most of our families, friends, and community members can afford without making huge sacrifices. If the World Bank is serious about improving education in Kenya and Uganda, it should support our governments to expand and improve our public education systems, provide quality education to all children free-of-charge, and address other financial barriers to access.

Comments and concerns from Kenya

According to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey in Kenya released in 2015(3), women from poor families record higher birth-rates compared to their counterparts from wealthier families. The poorest families in Kenya today have three times as many children as a wealthy one. Nationally, women from the poorest families were found to have an average of 6.4 children although those aged 19 to 49 had an exceptionally higher fertility rate at an average of 9.4 children each.

Data from the latest 2012/2013 household survey in Kenya show that half of the households in Kenya earn KES 7,000 ($75) or less(4). Thus, for half of Kenyan households, even assuming a cost of $6 a month, sending 3 children of primary school age to a Bridge Academy would cost at least 24% of their monthly income. Taking into account more realistic monthly costs of about $17 that include school meals, sending their children to a Bridge Academy would cost half Kenyan households at least 68% of their monthly income. But it’s often more. 47% of Kenya’s population live below the poverty line, and for some counties in the rural areas the poverty rates escalate to as high as 70%(5). This means that for 47% of the population, any expenditure to access education, even $6, means sacrificing another essential right for their survival, such as health, food, or water.

A recent study commissioned by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented in 2012 – 2014 by Concern Worldwide Kenya further shows that in five urban informal settlements where BIA has schools, households spend on average 63.8% of their income on food. Thus, for most people living in slums, any expense towards education, even $6, is a threat to their food security. This particularly affects women-headed households, which have lower income, and up to 74% of which are severely food insecure.

In addition, these figures hide large disparities. Household income of people living in informal settlements varies greatly, from 2,371 KES ($25) to 25,081 KES ($267) a month. Households in the lowest income quintile in slums – a fifth of people – report spending over 100% of their 4-week income on food. They cannot afford any expense towards school fees without making themselves hungry. Thus, not only does a household sending a child to Bridge International Academies make a substantial sacrifice, but only a few households, relatively less poor, have the financial means to send children to Bridge. The result is that, “just” $6 a month is enough to entrench inequalities and create deep educational segregation.

These statistics correspond to the research that Hakijamii has conducted in a number of informal settlements. Monthly household income for the residents Hakijamii interviewed ranges from 4,000 KES ($42) to 12,000 KES ($128). Yet, monthly rent is around 3,000 KES, to which should be added 500 KES for toilets, electricity and water. Parents of children who go to Bridge schools interviewed by Hakijamii regularly have to pull their children out of school because they cannot pay the fees (2 to 3 months a year).

In Kenya, as in other developing countries, costs remain a primary barrier to basic education. With, as of 2012, nearly one out of 6 of Kenya’s primary school-aged children not enrolled in primary school, mostly due to cost factors(7), charging school fees will not help reach these 1,000,000 out-of-school children(8).

Comments and concerns from Uganda

Uganda is documented to have one of the highest total fertility rates in the world with an average of 6.06 children born per woman. According to the World Population Data Sheet, 2013, Ugandan women from the poorest fifth of families have twice as many children as those from the wealthiest fifth.

According to the 2012/2013 Uganda National Household Survey(9), 48% of households earn 200,000 Uganda Shillings (Ush) – about $68 – per month, or less. And 21% of households earn less than Ush 100,000 ($34) per month. In Uganda, 20% of the population cannot afford even enough food to live.

Thus, for the 48% of families earning less than Ush 200,000, assuming three children of primary school age, the total cost of sending their children to Bridge Academies would be at least 26% of their monthly income (assuming a cost of $6 a month), and more likely around 75% (taking the more realistic figure of $17 a month). For the 21% of households that earn less than Ush 100,000 a month, sending 3 children to Bridge would represent at least 52% of their monthly income, and more likely around 153%. Such an amount is inconceivable for this part of the population which already lives below the poverty line – meaning that they cannot afford even minimum food requirements.

Requiring $6 a month is thus either expecting poor Ugandan families to borrow in order to keep all their children in school or to choose which child goes to school. The latter will disproportionately affect girls, whose enrolment rates had improved thanks to the removal of tuition fees under the Universal Primary Education System. Charging fees will also not help the 9% of children who currently remain out of school in Uganda(10) and is bound to result in more school dropouts – as research shows that fees are the most common educational barrier cited by parents whose children drop out or never enrol in school.

A lot of money, for a lot of profit

$6 is therefore a lot of money for the millions of poor people in Kenya, Uganda, and across the world who are denied their right to education.

Of course, some relatively poor families – though not the poorest – put their children in Bridge Academies. But this is always a substantial sacrifice for them, at the expense of the realisation of other essential survival rights, such as food, health care, or water. They do so because they aspire to a better life.

But what they may not know is that they are making this sacrifice to put their children in classrooms with teachers that are trained for only 5 weeks and in schools that have never been externally inspected. What they may not know is that they are making this sacrifice to support a for-profit enterprise, where “just” $6 a month is going to a multinational company and its investors. There is no circumstance under which such sacrifices from poor people to enrol their children in poor quality, for-profit schools can be justified.

Better results—on what evidence?

The World Bank did not disclose the source of evidence on which President Kim based his argument that Bridge Academies have better results than public schools. However, as there is to-date no academic study available on Bridge, it appears that the World Bank borrowed its data from a study conducted by Bridge itself(11).

If this is the case, this raises deep concerns. A study in which the researcher is itself the focus of the research question is clearly non-objective, invalidating its conclusions. Just by way of example, this study conducted by BIA appears on the outset to be problematic as it compares two (anonymous) public schools to 26 BIA schools. It is inconceivable that a leading global development institution such as the World Bank (one that further prides itself as a rigorous “knowledge bank”) would use such biased data not only to inform its own strategies but also to promote Bridge on a global platform as a means for governments, development banks, and other partners to work together to end extreme poverty by 2030.

World Bank support to private but not public education

The World Bank, through its private sector investment arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), has invested $10 million in Bridge Academies. The investment, made in 2014, is to be used to increase the number of Bridge schools in Kenya and expand to three countries, including Uganda, where seven schools recently opened in February 2015 (the other two being Nigeria and India). The IFC also approved a loan of $4.1 million to Merryland High School, a private, fee-charging secondary school in Entebbe, Uganda in December 2014.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has no active or planned investments in either Kenya or Uganda’s public basic education systems. The International Development Association (IDA), the arm of the World Bank that provides concessional loans and grants to the world’s poorest governments and serves Kenya and Uganda, has no active commitments to basic education in Kenya or Uganda — and neither does it have any such future commitments in the pipeline. IDA has not financially supported Kenya’s public basic education system since 2010, and Uganda’s IDA program that benefited its public basic education system closed last year.

It is alarming to see the World Bank supporting private but not public basic education in Kenya and Uganda, and given the World Bank’s power to influence the development landscape, it is a worrying indication of future trends. With the IFC’s investment of $10 million alongside those of Pearson, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Pierre Omidyar, combined investments in Bridge Academies have reached over $100 million. Meanwhile, active support to Kenya’s public education system from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)—the world’s only multilateral funding initiative exclusively devoted to basic education—only totals $88.4 million. Uganda’s current GPE grant totals $100 million.

This is clearly out of balance given that the greatest gains in education provision have historically been through free public education systems, which will continue to offer the greatest hope of reaching the remaining out-of-school children. In April, UNESCO released its annual Education for All Global Monitoring Report, largely attributing educational gains made from 2000 to 2015 to the abolition of school fees in public education systems around the world.

Public primary education in Kenya and Uganda is, in law, free and mandatory. International human rights standards require these countries to provide free quality education for all. The World Bank should work towards supporting countries such as Uganda and Kenya to put the laws into reality, and support public education systems.

The World Bank is not listening to civil society

This is not the first time that civil society has shared its concerns about the World Bank’s investments in the expansion of fee-charging primary schools and about Bridge Academies in particular. Only a month before Jim Kim’s speech, several members of civil society from around the world, including Uganda, met with senior education officials of the World Bank to specifically discuss the rise of fee-charging, private primary schools, the World Bank’s support to them, and Bridge Academies in particular. These civil society representatives were not just isolated voices but part of a global movement with united positions on these issues, illustrated by such actions as a recent call by 190 education advocates from 91 countries for governments to stop education profiteers, and the Marrakesh call from 70 global and African organisations to the African Development Bank and United Nations agencies.

Jim Kim’s promotion of Bridge Academies a month after civil society’s meeting with the World Bank precisely on this issue indicates either a disregard for citizen concerns or a breakdown in communication between World Bank education officials and the Office of the President. It also seems to be contradictory to what other World Bank education officials are saying in public forums about the importance of public education. We believe President Kim’s dedication to listening to civil society to be sincere and welcome the opportunity to work with him to clarify the World Bank’s position on this issue.

We also recognise that “Citizen Engagement” is currently the lowest performing area of institutional reform in Jim Kim’s President’s Delivery Unit (having achieved only 4% of its target and bearing the status of “Needs Improvement”). We likewise welcome the opportunity to provide input and lessons learned from our side as to how the World Bank may more effectively reach its target for citizen engagement.

Moving forward

We, concerned organisations in Uganda and Kenya, call on the World Bank Group to:

  • Stop promoting the model used by Bridge International Academies and other fee-charging, private schools, and publicly re-commit the World Bank to universal, free and compulsory basic education.
  • Cease investments in Bridge International Academies and other fee-charging, private providers of basic education
  • Re-establish World Bank investments in Kenya and Uganda’s public basic education systems.
  • Refrain from basing its views on self-produced evidence from corporate providers of education, and instead base its policies on independent, rigorous studies assessing the impact of education models on the totality of the right to education, including on discrimination and segregation.
  • Listen to and respond to the concerns of civil society, including by seriously taking into account their views when assessing and considering models such as that of Bridge International Academies and other fee-charging, private providers of basic education.

Download Full Statement and list of 119 signatory organisations

Download Joint open letter to President Kim



1- See

2- Prices communicated by parents during interviews and officially communicated by BIA.

3- Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) report released on 2/4/15 conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).


5- Kenya Economic Report, 2013.

7- Helpdesk Report: Barriers to Enrolment in Kenya

8- Data from

9- Uganda National Household Survey, 2012/2013, accessed on

10- Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2011.

11- The paper is available on BIA’s website on

Boys Dancing

September 15, 2015

I am Feminist because I love men.

I believe that if we can fix the world for boys and men, then we will also have fixed it for all of us.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about men and masculinity recently. I have been thinking about masculinity especially from my perch as the mother of two boys.  I am furiously angry at the horribleness that the world throws my boys. At all little boys.  I’m angry at the assumption that boys will inherently be violent and mean just because they are born boys.

Yet WE are the ones who take innocent, generous, happy little boys and contort them into the dehumanising cages of what we think men should be.  We have made the world not a kind place for boys and I believe that repairing the damage is very much part of the feminist project. Not its entirety, but a critical component.

One of my absolute favourite videos is this one of Sergei Polunin gracefully dancing to Hosier’s ‘Take me to Church”  The song and this video by David LaChapelle open the floodgates for me in ways few things do.

The combination of Sergei’s life story, the violence he has had to endure in his short life, and his renegade existence as the ‘bad boy’ of ballet, together with the heart rending lyrics of Hozier’s song about the violence that gay men have to endure because they do not fit into our narrow definitions of masculinity make me angry.

I remember my son’s kindergarten when he and the other little boys were not allowed to join in on ballet class because, has he announced at home one day after school, “boys don’t do ballet, ballet is for girls!”  We found out that the little boys had been pressing their noses against the windows outside the classroom watching the little girls dance to the music inside.  The teachers wouldn’t let the boys in to participate.

His father and I promptly took the matter up with the school, signed him up for ballet class, and every day he came home from school he and his father watched YouTube videos of famous male ballet dancers.

A week later he came home and announced that boys can be pilots but girls can’t fly airplanes.  So of course we pulled out pictures of Kenya’s own Koki Mutungi among others.  And the week after he declared …

We thought we were stemming the tide. Turns out we had only put a finger into they dyke. The world is a deluge of what boys and girls can and can’t do.


Of Boys and Masculinity

September 8, 2015

I am feminist because I love men.  A revolutionary kind of love.

The kind of love bell hooks talks about when she writes that “the soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion

As a feminist I believe that if we fix the world for boys then we will have also fixed it for all of us.

I am the mother of two sons.  Daily I struggle with what it will take to raise boys who are strong AND gentle. To not continue framing the world as one where boys need to be strong strong BUT gentle.

Chimamanda tells us that “by far the worst thing we do for males, by making them feel like they have to be hard, is we leave them with very fragile egos”.  In our framing of masculinity “we teach boys to be afraid of fear”.

The Representation Project talks about the mask we make boys wear. Boys who have to swallow their feelings and who are dying on the inside. How we drive boys to homicidal or suicidal violence.  It makes me weep what we do to boys.

As a feminist mother with the overwhelming responsibility of raising boys into men, how can I raise my sons to not feel the need to be ‘hard’ but rather to embrace the full spectrum of their humanity?  And in a world determined to force them to prove their masculinity in narrowly defined terms.

How do I raise sons who will be disgusted by the Mollis rape affair (trigger warning!) ?  How does one raise boys who would also have the character to not just walk away from a scene of violence, but actually stand up to stop the violence?

Does that gentleness I seek to retain in my boys mean that they can’t be strong?  Surely we still need men who will deploy their strength and power to stand and defend the vulnerable.

Oh, and how do I do this without being a helicopter parent?!

This thing feels rigged against me!

Of Coats and Hoods

September 1, 2015

Its taken me years to tell two stories whose pain went too deep.

But now I’m ready to so here goes:

During my senior year at Whitman College I purchased a used winter coat from an online military supply store.  As soon as winter hit I donned my ‘new’ coat and wore it everywhere.

One cold night, as I walked home from the library, I approached a couple with young baby in a stroller. We drew close on the dim sidewalk, and the man suddenly wielded a baseball bat and took a protective stance in front of his family. Shocked at the immanent attack I scurried across the street, terrified for my life. Describing the scene to my roommates we agreed: that man had seen me, a tall black figure in a heavy coat, as a menace. This was rural Washington, where a grocery clerk had once reacted to my skin color by asking if I planned to use foodstamps to pay for my purchases…(I was too dumbfounded to offer a response)

After college I earned a scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in Political Science at the U. of Minnesota.  My trusted coat was a frequent shield against the insanely cold Midwest winters.

One night, again after a late night of studying on campus I donned my old coat and stepped into the elevator. A senior faculty member was there already; she shrank away, clutching her bag tightly. Three silent floors later, her quivering voice demanded why I was on campus. Stunned silent for a minute, I explained myself.  “I’m one of the new grad students.”

But this met only dubious silence. Apparently a black person in an old coat was unwelcome here at night. Explanation and justification were needed for my black body occupying such hallowed, ivory tower space.  It was so painfully obvious that I did not belong.

Years later, that same coat kept my mother warm as she watched my Ph.D. hooding ceremony, and induction into the academy (by a different woman professor :)  I marvel at the fact that where that old coat had so often marked my exclusion, this hood announced my belonging.

Or so I thought…

Why African Women Scientists Matter

August 25, 2015

I had an opportunity to share my thoughts on why investing in African women scientists matters with the Sci Dev community. SciDev.Net is the world’s leading source of reliable and authoritative news, views and analysis on information about science and technology for global development.

My interview on my work with African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) was part of the Africa’s PhD Renaissance series funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Check out my full interview on Sci Dev here

AWARD fellows from Mozambique: fun fearless leaders of Africa’s agricultural transformation

Nothing About Us, Without Us: Placing African women at the centre of conversations about the African agricultural revolution

August 18, 2015

In October  2014 UN Women with the African Union (AU), IFAD, FAO and WFP co-hosted an exciting regional Sharefair for Rural Women’s Technologies  at the UN Compound in Gigiri, Nairobi- Kenya. The innovations showcased have tremendous potential to improve the lives of African women smallholder farmers.

I got to address the plenary session and focused my attention on African the loud silence of women’s missing voices in the African agricultural sector.  Below is the full text of my speech:

Nothing About Us, Without Us

As a young girl I remember my parents taking me to what was then the Nairobi ‘show’ put together by the Agricultural society of Kenya. I was mesmerised by all the products on offer, the balloons, the toys, and, as always, the junk food.

Those early days going to the ‘show’ bred in me a passion for agriculture that has surprised even my parents. Brought up in the concrete jungle that is Nairobi’s Eastlands, nobody expected me to care about agriculture.

Yet here I am. My favorite thing is grow my own food and whenever I can, I like to take my son to agricultural fairs. Its our special bonding time.

Agriculture has the power to connect the spirit and the body in powerful ways. Agriculture has the power to inspire a young generation.

A young generation who, like my unborn child, are facing an uncertain food future in Africa.

We are facing a serious challenge; Africa needs to increase food production by 260% by the year 2050 if we are to feed ourselves and our children.

Even as we focus on increased food production its important that we focus on HOW we do this.

If we are not careful we might end up increasing food production to feed the world as African children die of hunger.

Its important that this increase in food production not just be for export but that we increase food production so that we feed Africans.

As some of you know, I am new to the Agriculture sector, having taken the helm of AWARD only seven months ago. Before that I served as an Asst Prof of Political Science at the university of San Francisco and the director of Akili Dada, a young women’s leadership incubator.

In the seven months since I have joined the agriculture sector I have heard a lot about how we are going to need to innovate so as to meet the challenge of feeding Africa.

We have also been told that African women are a critical component in unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential.

I must admit, however, that, even as we talk about how important African women are to the agricultural revolution at hand, I have been surprised at how often African women are talked ABOUT rather than occupying the podium and actually speaking to the issues.  It is, in some spaces, perfectly ok to have a panel about African women in Agriculture without any African women present!

That is why I’m thrilled to be here with you. At an event that places African women’s voices at the center of the agriculture conversation.

From my prior background in academia and then working in women’s rights I know that if we are not intentional in our focus on women they get forgotten.

Today I would like to share with you three key areas that I believe are critical to pay particular attention to women and for women’s voices to be heard:


It is surprising to me that its only recently that the key players in the agriculture sector have began talking about the critical links between agriculture and nutrition.

Indeed I believe the decades-long silence and failure to connect the dots between agricultural production and human nutrition is a direct result of the marginalization of women’s voices within the larger agricultural ecosystem.

If we had been listening to women’s voices all along we wouldn’t just now be discovering how important nutrition is in the conversation about increasing food production.

Mechanization: There is a strong argument that for African Agriculture to really take off, we need to mechanize. I have heard it said that we need to relegate the hoe to the museums of history. That my unborn son will need to go to the Nairobi National Museum to see what a jembe or a panga used to look like and how they were used. Right next to the primitive stones that pre-historic humans in this region used to hunt those millions of years ago.

Unfortunately, Too often conversations about mechanization of African agriculture are conversations about big tractors to farm massive trackts of land.

And that is where we need to be careful. Because if we refuse to see African women, if we refuse to acknowledge the conditions under which African women farm, we will fail to connect the dots between women’s lack of access to land, and the proposed mechanical tools.

In being enamored by the big shiny new tractors, we can fail to see the ways that most African women engaged in agriculture farm smaller tracts of land and don’t have access to the financing it takes to purchase the big machines.

I am heartened to be here and to see the focus on accessible technologies and machines. Modern tools that women can use and use now. We must make sure that investments in these tools continue.

Access to finance: There is emerging conversations about how to improve African farmer’s access to finance so as to ensure that they can participate effectively in markets.   Again reforming our financial sectors to address the needs of farmers is critical.

But we must also be careful that we pay attention to where women farmers are located in this space. We risk serious failures if we create farming finance systems that don’t pay attention to the ways that patriarchy functions in our communities. It is critical, as we design farming finance, to set aside funds that specifically target women and that help women leverage on their particular assets, be it social connections, labour, or small animals. Farming finance that requires title deeds as collateral will, from the beginning, be designed to marginalize women.

Women at the table:

We also know that for women not to fall out of these critical discussions, women MUST be at the decision making table.

We also know that in Africa today only 1 in 4 agricultural scientists is a woman and the numbers are even worse when it comes to leadership where only 1 in 7 is a leader. If you have a room of 7 core leaders making decisions on what new seed varieties should be developed, what new methods of financing we should adopt for rural agriculture, only one of those decision makers will be a woman. That is where we must drive change.

AWARD’s work is critical in driving change. We are working to ensure that African women scientists have the advanced science skills, the professional networks, the mentoring, and the leadership skills they need to make a real difference in the African Agricultural ecosystem.

But the task ahead does not just belong to AWARD.

Its critical that we invest in girls and young women to ensure that they make it to the agricultural sciences, to agribusiness, and to agricultural financing.

That is why experiences like the sharefair are critical. I guarantee you that there is a girl or a young woman who has passed by here today whose life has changed. Who has become inspired to pursue agriculture as a passion.

She may be the next winner of the World Food Prize, the next minister of agriculture in any of our countries, or the next president.

African Agriculture Rising: Prosperity for a select few or will ALL of Africa rise?

August 11, 2015

I got the exciting opportunity to address the 2014 AGRF held at the Nelson Mandela hall of the African Union.  Coverage of my speech included:

The full text of my speech is below:

Five months ago I left academia as well as the young women’s leadership incubator that I had founded 10 years prior to accept a position as Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).

I was drawn to AWARD and the agricultural sector in particular because of my big-eyed wonder at the potential that agriculture has to be the driver of Africa’s transformative growth. Trained as a Political Scientist, I’ve grown perhaps skeptical of expectations that we have any hope of transforming a continent that is still hungry. I am optimistic that agriculture filling Africa’s hungry bellies and nourishing her stunted children is the place we must first start if we are to drive the transformation that we all dream of.

I have received many warm welcomes including this tremendous opportunity to stand in the hallowed halls of the African Union. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to address you, many of you my elders.

So allow me to come to you as a younger sister and even as a daughter. A beautiful thing about out African cultures is the tremendous space each of them allows for young people to ask questions in the process of learning. It is this opportunity that I seek to take. Allow me thin to come to you as a young woman with questions that are at once naïve, but that are, at the same time, hopefully provocative.

The first question that I have for you, and for all of us really, is: Why is it that Africa must increase food production?

I realize how simple this question sounds but it does honestly come from a place of confusion out of the many difference answers I have received to the same question since coming into the agricultural sector.

It seems to me that, as Africans, we are at an urgent crossroads and facing a critical decision. We must decide whether increased food production will be part of what H.E. the Minister of Agriculture from Nigeria called a ‘prodigal agriculture’. An agriculture that follows previous paths of extraction and export of Africa’s natural resources but serves only to grow our poverty.

That is one fork in the road.

Instead, it seems that we must increase Africa’s food production so that we can feed Africans and build African wealth and prosperity.

What at first seems a simple question is suddenly steeped in a bitter history and continued threat of the extraction & appropriation of African resources that does not build African prosperity.

Clarity about WHY we must increase food production then becomes an important as we continue these conversations.

Once we establish what I heard called ‘an adequate consensus’ about why increased production is important, then we have increasing clarity on why we must build agricultural value chains that are inclusive.

Because even as we celebrate Africa’s rising, we must maintain a commitment to ALL of Africa rising. This is a call that H.E. the chair of the African Union reminded us so eloquently about during the opening plenary.

Allow me here to invoke that famed reggae musician, Bob Marley, who reminded us that when it rains, it does not rain on one man’s house alone.

You are not wealthy when your brother sleeps hungry and lays in waiting ready to pounce on you at the gate of your mansion as you drive out in the morning. That is not wealth.

True African prosperity must see ALL Africans rise. To achieve that, inclusivity is imperative.

The second question, perhaps a naïve question, but I think a critical one still is: HOW do we build this inclusivity into our work?

And here allow me to lean into my training as a Political Scientist and ask a question I learnt to ask often. Which ‘others’ are we seeking to include? Which women are we including? Which youth are we including?

In conversations about inclusiveness we often talk about categories of people at the margins of our societies as if they are a monolithic whole. We often use lenses that do not allow us to capture the complexities of real life.

Intersections of identities are important.

None of us here fits neatly into just one category of identity. You may be male but come from a marginalized pastoralist community. You may be female but come from a family of wealth and power.

Our identities are complex.

African identities are complex.

Commitment to building inclusive agricultural value chains will recognize the complexity of the identities of those we seek to include.

This has real implications for our work, our daily work.

For example, when discussing question of inclusiveness in access to land for agricultural production, we must make sure that women are part of the equation. But we must also ask ‘which women?’, avoiding the temptation to conflate all women into one monolithic group.

Many of us here know that in our families, the relationship between the mother in law and the daughter in law is often a complicated power dynamic. A dynamic which impacts young women’s access to land.

Which women?

And this is not just a women’s issue. Because often when it’s a women’s issue, its easier to slip it under the carpet and forget it.

We know that as sub-divisible plots of arable land are decreasing and that young men also have increased challenges accessing land and are forced into urban poverty.

So questions of land and land access must have at the center issues of inclusiveness.

A second example, technology in agriculture, offers tremendous promise. But we also know that infrastructure imbalances place rural populations at a disadvantage compared to urban ones when it comes to taking advantage of the opportunities offered by technology is revolutionizing African agriculture.

These complexities don’t mean that we stop addressing issues of land access or technology in agriculture. It means we must constantly be reminded of WHY we are doing this work. We are doing it so that ALL Africans may rise.

My third and final provocation is to challenge us to address the issue of inclusiveness not as an issue of charity. As if, by including those at the margins of our societies, we are doing them a favor. The question of inclusivity is not about charity; it is about building Africa’s prosperity.

Two examples come to mind:

It has not made sense to me that as a continent, we continue to deny ourselves the talent and the brilliance of women who comprise 50% of our population. Why is it that we we are ok to leave behind 50% of our potential leaders, innovators, women who may hold the solutions to the biggest challenges facing this continent? Why is it that, through systems that leave women outside of decision making, outside of the rooms where critical decisions are made, we do not access for ourselves, as a continent, the tremendous resources that these women represent?

The youth bulge in Africa. We have an opportunity in Africa. We can either see the increased number of young people on this continent as a threat, as a destabilizing force, or we can look over to Europe, look over to Japan and see they way they look at our young population with envy as their own population ages. We have tremendous power with the labor force that is coming up. Including young people, having young people present at the table when we set policies, when we have these conversations is going to be critical to whether young people are a threat or an opportunity for Africa.

I want to close by reminding us that a generation ahead of us fought hard for Africa’s independence. This year many of our countries are celebrating 50 years of independence.

But unfortunately we can agree that even with independence, African prosperity has remained somewhat elusive. Many of the aspirations that our fathers and mothers had at independence have not yet been realized.   Some have, but too many of our people remain poor.

I firmly believe that we, those of us in this room, are the generation charged with bringing about Africa’s prosperity. Our fathers, our mothers brought independence. It is on us who are alive 50 years from independence to secure Africa’s prosperity.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

But even as we work towards a prosperous Africa we have a set of tough set of urgent question that we must answer first: Prosperity for who? Is it going to be prosperity for a select few who won’t be able to sleep comfortably at night or will ALL of Africa rise?


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