The Mawazo Institute has recently released a statement on the need to address intersectional and structural violence against black Americans, Africans, and women around the world. I’m so proud of the work that our phenomenal team, lead by Kenyan women, is doing to level the playing field by supporting other East African women.
The Mawazo Institute is an African and woman-led organization that exists to support voices that are too often marginalised. Over the last few weeks, we have felt tremendous grief at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police. We have also taken the opportunity to reflect on how this act of violence is a brutal example of the systemic racism that exists not just in the US but around the world.
As actors in the higher education sector, we know of the racism that Black researchers face in academic spaces. As an organisation whose employees are Black, we know, firsthand, about racism. These experiences have helped inform our desire to build the capacities of African researchers in their own countries, communities, and homes.
As we reflect on this moment of global outrage, we are however encouraged by the movement for change that George Floyd has inspired. Proudly, the Mawazo Institute joins voices across the world in declaring that Black Lives Matter. This includes African lives. This includes Kenyan lives.This includes women’s lives. We take this opportunity to stand in solidarity with all those who oppose police and state brutality, and those working to put an end to gender-based violence, which has seen a sharp rise during the pandemic. We are allies in envisioning a world in which every individual is given the opportunity to live up to their fullest potential.
That’s the focus of a new research briefing from the Mawazo Institute. The project team surveyed over 500 academics, mostly from East Africa, about whether the pandemic had disrupted their research and teaching. The vast majority said they were experiencing interruptions to their courses and research, while less than 40% said that e-learning was being offered by their institutions. Combine this with concerns about already-low research output across the continent, and it’s going to be a difficult year for the higher education and research sectors.
I’ve got an article out at the New Humanitarian looking at how African countries have responded to the economic impacts of coronavirus. Most countries were quick to take public health measures to contain the virus, but responding to its economic harms has taken more time. The first wave of economic measures mostly benefitted the middle class:
Economic relief efforts have come in two waves so far. The first, implemented in late March and early April, often involved cuts in the fees and taxes citizens must pay to the government or to banks.
For example, Kenya has cut income tax rates for both the lowest and the highest earning categories, and has cut corporate tax rates from 30 percent to 25 percent. Ghana is providing free water to citizens as long as they don’t have any overdue bills with the national water company. And 18 African countries have lowered interest rates to encourage individuals and businesses to borrow from banks.
These relief efforts are fairly easy for governments to implement, since they only involve changing payment policies. They also primarily benefit the middle class, who are more likely to have formal jobs that pay income taxes, fully paid water bills, and loans from a bank.
Pro-poor relief efforts are now getting off the ground, albeit more slowly:
The second wave of economic relief efforts is now getting underway as of mid-April. This has involved direct support to poor people who might otherwise go hungry.
Rwanda and Uganda have already begun providing people in their capital cities with food aid. Kenya and Malawi have started cash transfers, and South Africa has increased its monthly payments to current welfare beneficiaries, and is creating new cash transfer programmes for the newly unemployed…
Notably, the countries that moved relatively quickly on economic relief all had welfare programmes in place already. But these existing schemes are primarily aimed at alleviating rural poverty, while the impact of coronavirus is being felt most heavily in cities. This means many countries are being forced to create new relief programmes rather than scaling up existing ones.
Astrid Haas and I have a new piece out at The Conversation discussing the role that rural migration can play in pandemic response in African countries. Rural areas often serve as a type of informal safety net in times of crisis, as people leave the cities to return to farming, but many African countries have blocked this avenue because of the risk of spreading the virus. However, there’s a trade-off here with the risk of hunger, since they also can’t rapidly scale up urban safety nets to provide food to jobless people in cities.
One possible solution is facilitating safe rural migration programs. What would that look like?
The basic idea is straightforward: help urban residents cover the costs of returning to stay with their extended families in the countryside, provide sanitary supplies to reduce the risk of infection in transit, and scale up health system surveillance to catch and contain potential rural outbreaks early.
Do read the rest of the piece for further reflections on how this might work.
Dina Pomeranz kindly invited me to give a guest lecture to her “Global Poverty Analysis” undergraduate course at the University of Zurich earlier this month. I summarized the points I made in my African Arguments piece about the need for “smart lockdowns” in African countries, which involve safely re-opening markets and providing income support to vulnerable people. The slides are here, and you can watch a video of the lecture here. (Photo on the title slide is via Wikipedia.)