Despite massive urbanization and exodus of people from the countryside to towns, Africa still relies on its farmers and nomadic herders for subsistence. These people, however, are the poorest of the poor and rarely get the financial assistance they need to develop their farms and improve for their lives. They are also losing their farms and grazing land at an alarming rate due to the land grab by greedy real estate companies.
In countries like Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, the nomads and farmers have become like endangered species. Though most of them have lost their farms and animals in droughts and civil wars, those still surviving have been boxed into small non-arable lands and rugged mountains where they can barely eke out subsistence. They get no health care, no education for their children, no protection from greedy land grabbers and no insurance against natural disasters. And yet most of the population depends on the grain and dairy products they provide. The situation is similar in many African countries. The international community feeds, shelters and extends assistance to idle town dwellers but rarely remembers these invisible productive rural communities.
Addressing the plight of these people will not only change their lives but it will transform entire African societies.
It is therefore incumbent upon the World Bank to take these people into consideration in its ambitious Africa Action Plan. The Bank has to overstep the African governments and African politicians and make a contract with these underprivileged yet productive and essential citizens.
The International Development Association, IDA, which delivers the World Bank’s support to Africa, should ensure that these people get their fair share of the Bank’s lending, which according to the Bank reached US $4.7 billion last year and is expected to exceed $5 billion this year.
The IDA should know that by extending even a quarter of that staggering amount to African farming villages and nomads, it would make a far-reaching impact on people’s lives, rather than handing the entire amount to corrupt politicians to buy votes, import CO2-gushing SUVs and stash the rest in foreign accounts.
It would be a revolutionary step if World Bank officials were to show some modesty and take a lesson from Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, who through his revolutionary microcredit movement transformed millions of poverty-ridden Bangladeshi people into a productive work force. It was his effort to generate economic and social benefits from the bottom up that the Nobel Committee cited when awarding the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize to Yunus and his Bank.
As the world fervently turns to clean energy and begins to fight global warming, I think it will be fitting for international organizations like the World Bank to also commence a “clean aid” strategy in Africa, by extending loans to those Africans who still keep their bond with mother earth and seek to earn their living away from the pollution-spewing cities. This strategy would help African farmers improve their farming methods and grow more CO2-consuming greenery, thus contributing to the effort against global warming. It would be “clean aid” in another sense as well: bypassing the corruption of local politics and going directly to the people who need it, and will use it well.
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