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From Despair to Optimism in Rwanda : The Story of Gaudance Mukagasana

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Gaudance Mukagasana is one of the thousands of beneficiaries whose life was transformed by the World Bank Supported Social Protection. Photo: Frank Kanye

Gaudance Mukagasana was completely lost when her husband walked away leaving her  to raise their three children alone. She was young then, with no skills to survive on, so she moved in with her mother and desperately tried to eke a living off the small family piece of land. But it wasn’t enough to provide security to the family of five.

“He was our sole bread earner,” said the 40-year-old. “It was like the world had crumbled right before me.”

A lifesaver came in 2013 when she was accepted in the Vision 2020 Umurenge Progam (VUP), the government’s flagship scial protection program. Supported by the World Bank through the Social Protection Project, VUP aims to eradicate extreme poverty, and malnutrition, as well as strengthen household resilience and promote socio-economic transformation by accelerating graduation from extreme poverty.

Mukagasana joined the VUP’s public work program, one of the components which provides paid employment to able-bodied adults from extremely poor households, and worked on the construction of radical agriculture terraces. With her salary, she was able to provide her family with the basic needs and save a little. She later got a credit of 60,000 Rwf (about $70) from the VUP-run micro-credit scheme, which she invested in vegetables farming to supplement her income.

The program’s micro-credits scheme comes with training, to equip the beneficiaries with formal skills. Mukagasana benefited from  trainings in basic financial education, business development and management skills.

“To me, the training is the most important asset I got from the program,” she said. “It instilled in me a sense of confidence, opened my eyes to the many available services and opportunities and taught me how to use them to improve my life.”

Since the VUP’s inception in 2008, more than 2,200 projects have been implemented under its public works component, which has employed more than 800,000 households, and generated more than 40 million paid working days. The expanded public works component which offers flexible year-round work schedule to moderately labor-constrained households caring for children was introduced in 2016/2017 and currently covers 80 sectors with 12,053 households, more than 70% of which are headed by women. As of 2017, VUP’s direct support (cash transfer) component has grown to cover the entire country with over 96,000 households.

“The World Bank partnership with the Government of Rwanda in establishing a strong foundation for social protection played a key role in positioning Rwanda among global leaders in building an integrated social protection system in low-income environment that is closely tied to national poverty reduction goals,” said Yasser El Gammal, World Bank Rwanda country manager.

Equipped with the newly-acquired skills, Mukagasana rallied eleven members of her community into an association and  encouraged them to save. They later secured a loan of 840,000 RwF (about $1,000) from the local Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO) which they invested in hybrid goats farming. The venture paid off;  a year later, with her share of the profits from the cooperative and the revenues from her vegetable farm, she embarked on realizing her dream: building her own house.

Standing proudly in front of her well-furnished, three-bedroom house, the confident entrepreneur investor revealed “It had always been my cherished dream to one day have a house of our own; where my children could grow up in comfort.” The house is connected to electricity, has a 5m³ water tank to tap rainwater and an annex that houses a kitchen and a store. Next to it stands a new house, where she intends to open a shop.

Mukagasana has graduated from the program and happy to be able to take care of herself and her family. Two of her children are in college.

“I can confidently say I am now financially independent and feel secure. I know I can take care of myself and my family,” she said. “I honestly don’t feel vulnerable or scared of the future any more.”

World Bank

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Africa

Wagner: Putin’s secret weapon on the way to Mali?

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Soldiers from the Wagner Group (source: middleeastmonitor.com)

France is outraged at the prospect of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group arriving in Mali. However, Paris is seeking a way out of an unwinnable conflict.

On September 13, a Reuters news agency article citing unnamed sources and reporting advanced negotiations between Mali and the Russian mercenary company Wagner sparked a firestorm of reactions. The United States, Germany, and the United Nations have all warned Bamako’s military against such collaboration. According to them, the arrival of Russian mercenaries – a thousand have been estimated – would jeopardize the West’s commitment to fighting the jihadists who control a large portion of Malian territory.

But France, understandably, is the most vocal against such a move. The former colonial power has maintained a military presence in the country since 2013, when it halted the jihadists’ advance on the capital. Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, visited Bamako on September 20th to warn Malian colonels in power following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021. Wagner’s choice, she said, would be that of “isolation” at a time when “the international community has never been so numerous in fighting jihadists in the Sahel”.

What the minister does not mention is that France’s commitment to Mali is waning. Emmanuel Macron used the second Malian coup d’état last June, less than a year before the French presidential election, to announce a “redeployment” of French forces in Mali. Although Paris refuses to discuss a de facto withdrawal, even if it is partial, the truth is that the tricolored soldiers will abandon the isolated bases of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit in the country’s north by next year, concentrating on the area further south of the three borders with Niger and Burkina Faso.

Europeans, who are expected to be more supportive of France, are also perplexed. The humiliation of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has served as a wake-up call. The Afghan government’s sudden collapse in the face of the Taliban has demonstrated how difficult it is to build a strong army and institutions. This scenario appears to be repeating itself in Mali.

The possibility of a rapprochement between Bamako and Moscow is taken seriously because Putschists in Mali have always been sensitive to Russian offerings. Colonel Sadio Camara, Mali’s Defense Minister, visited Russia on September 4. Disagreements over a reversal of Mali’s alliances are said to have been one of the causes of the Malian colonels’ second coup, which ousted the civilian transitional government last May.

Russia also acts as a boogeyman for the Malian military. According to a Daily Beast investigation, the Malian army organized a supposedly spontaneous demonstration last May demanding Russian intervention. This was also a warning to the international community, which is growing weary of the country’s poor governance and repeated coups.

Is Mali transitioning from the French to the Russian spheres of influence? Since Moscow gained a foothold in the Central African Republic, the scenario is not a figment of the imagination. Russian instructors and Wagner’s mercenaries have proven their worth in this former French backyard. Even though the UN condemns Russia’s atrocities in this conflict, the Russians were able to push back the rebels who were threatening the capital Bangui last December with the help of UN peacekeepers and Rwandan reinforcements.

The Kremlin denies any involvement with the Wagner group. However, the company is actually run by a close associate of Vladimir Putin. The use of private mercenaries allows Moscow to avoid military commitments abroad, as it did previously in Ukraine and Libya. “Russia is not negotiating a military presence in Mali,” said a Kremlin spokesman in mid-September. When questioned by the magazine Jeune Afrique on September 20th, Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra swore that he had “not signed anything with Wagner.” “In the Central African Republic, we have companies that were established in accordance with the law and operate on liberalized markets,” he explained.

Nothing has been decided on Wagner, it is repeated in Bamako. According to the military, the selection of foreign “partners” is a matter of Mali’s “sovereignty.” They regard these “rumors” as an attempt to “discredit the country.” The Malian junta is under siege, not only from jihadists but also from the international community. The latter is calling for elections to be held in February to return power to civilians, as stipulated in the military-agreed transition charter. Electoral reform must come before the election. However, Colonel Assimi Gota, the transitional president, has shown little interest in preparing for these elections. The Malian junta may also be hoping that Russia’s partners will be less stringent on democratic requirements.

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Google Drives Deeper into Africa

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As the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the new initiative that places emphasis on intra-African trade – including free movement of goods, capital  and people – foreign players have accordingly raising eyes on using the new opportunity to expand their operations in Africa.

Foreign enterprises are gearing up to localize production in industrial hubs and distribute their products across the borderless territory considered as a single market in Africa. Thus, by its description, Africa’s estimated population of 1.3 billion presents itself a huge market – from baby products through automobiles and to anything consumable.

Google LLC, the U.S. Global Technology Gaint, has primarily set its eyes on business, with a comprehensive plan to expand its operations into Africa. Google made known its plans to commit US$1 billion over the next five years in tech-led initiatives in Africa. It is investing this US$ 1 billion in Nigeria and African countries to support and transform the digital market over the next five years.

In its media release, it said the investment would include landing a subsea cable into the continent to enable faster internet speeds, low-interest loans for small businesses, equity investments into African startups, skills training and many more directions determined in future.

This is in a bid to enable fast, affordable internet access for more Africans, building helpful products, supporting entrepreneurship and small business, and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, noted that the company was building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. Through the Black Founders Fund, Google will invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support.

The developing world represents the best chance of growth for large internet companies, and today, one of the very biggest set out its strategy for how it plans to tackle that.

“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade – but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African. Today, I’m excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of US$1 billion over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation, to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups,” said Pichai.

According to him, this is in addition to Google’s existing support through the Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, which has helped more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years. The subsea cable is set to cut across South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena, connecting Africa and Europe.

According to Managing Director for Google in Africa, Nitin Gajria, it will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve Africa. It is projected to create about 1.7 million jobs in Nigeria and South Africa by 2025 as the digital economy grows.

Google further announced the launch of the Africa Investment Fund, where it will invest US$50 million in start-ups across the continent providing them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.

It will additionally disburse US$10 million in low-interest loans to small businesses in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in order to alleviate hardships brought about by the Covid pandemic.

Google is bringing venture capital into the continent. The fund might work in a similar fashion as the Google for Startups Accelerator programme.

Although Africa has a Big Four (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt) in terms of startup and venture capital activity on the continent, the accelerator has made sure to accept applications from startups in less-funded and overlooked regions. These countries include Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Founded in September 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is considered as one of the Big Five information technology companies alongside Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Google specializes in internet cloud services, software and hardware as well as online advertising technologies.

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Because Now We Can

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ASARPI, registered in  South Africa as The Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas and in Mauritius as Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas, is not only a primarily virtual  Pan African bridging Asia think tank but  is also a  global multicultural restorative justice and peacemaking making movement.We of ASARPI believe and strive daily to  live lives embracing ,living , and advocating restorative justice embedded policy ideas and practices which eradicate serious quality of life problems such as colonialism, racism sexism, ageism,poverty, environmental injustices,  anti-religious bigotry,poor government and civil society leadership; and  lack of access to decent  water,healthcare, law, and education.Core in this ASARPI mission is our rock solid belief that we are all made in the image of God and thus are all brothers and sisters in need of recovering our humanity in the authentic embracing of others especially those we have been  wrongly taught we are inferior or superior to  since as human beings we are all endowed with gifts and talents deserving to be recognized, cultivated, mentored, and used positively for our self  benefit and that of our loved but  most importantly ,for the  benefit of the rest of humanity.

Giving honor to The Right Honorable Lady Sarojini Jugnauth , welcome  Giving honor to  my great friend and more than that great brother Mr.Maxime N.C  King , to my present and absent brothers and sisters of the  Diplomatic Corps  lead by my gracious sister Her Excellency Rezina Ahmed,   High Commissioner for Bangladesh as well as  my brothers and sisters of The Chinese Chamber Silk Route Business community, including FALCON ; educational political,  religious , and other civil society leaders  and  my other brothers and sisters here today including the  marvelous leadership of  Jienfie Smart City on this  October 1 National Day of the People’s Republic of China, and UN International  Day Greetings and Welcome. Thanks for coming. All other protocols are respected  , appreciated,and observed.

I wish to thank my brother Maxime King for inviting me as Director of ASARPI, to be the Honorary Chair of this historical The SILK ROAD FOUNDATION & The CHINESE BUSINESS CHAMBER__Africa event in germinating right here in Jinfei Smart City the seeds of something well bigger than life in a new needed perspective in linking the economic and business relations among Chinese and other Asians with their continental African brothers and sisters with full effort as well in involving Africans and Asians not only on the two massive continents of the world but also Africans and Asians in their global Diasporas with points of conversions and synergies. As we move forward we need to be forward thinking about mutual respect and collaboration rather than imitating our western brothers and sisters who for centuries indulged in creating and sustaining  oppressive and exploitative  hierarchies of colonialism, slavery, racism, seismic,ageism,indentured labor, genocide, massive poverty , and the devastation of environments including the disability of biodiversity creating such horrible ecological imbalances generating the terrible pandemics which are characterizing our lives in this 21st century world in which we are trying to survive let alone prosper.

 We can do much better than this since  as human beings we all are made in the image of God in need of embracing each other and thus finding our own sustaining humanity. We must do better than this what the West has done to us and what we have and do to each other in grotesquely bigoted  attitudes and ill exploitative treatments as Africans and Asians take the center field of global affairs with a West not declining but in serious need of reorientation in understanding that White Supremacy and its demands for hegemony and imperialism does not work any more.

 We need new ways of coming to justice and peace tables in how we do economics and business together in a world with declining resources  though  with incredible digital age technologies thus in need to learn how to collaborate rather than taking and keeping rather than going to war to take the oil, the other precious minerals and to take the land of the helpless and hopeless if not by war through deceptive humanitarian overtures with evil undercurrent agendas. We need to do much better. We must and can in bold design and implementation with effective monitoring and evaluation authentic,  build a   sustainable new world glowing from an African and Asian center which produces quality technologies and commodities from fashions to food to automobiles made to last rather than made cheaply to roll over profits.   Where human  responsibilities and rights  are lived each day not merely talked about. We need to use surplus capital from means of digital  knowledge and traditional industrial production to be philanthropically socially responsible and responsive rather than copying the Western way of being greedy and stingy or promoting philanthropic initiatives which are superficial and short term rather than sustainable, Liberating, and empowering. We can do all of this because now we can . 

We Africans and Asians wherever we are , no longer have to stoop to those in the North and in the West or in other ways ask for permission and have our sovereignty and other human rights imposed on. Not with nearly half of the global economy being anchored in China and in other Asian countries and with African national leaders increasingly understanding that they too hold extraordinary promise in being serious economic players especially when in coalition with China and other nations as genuine partners in global economic and business futures. 

We have a long way to go. What matters is what we are going to do  in the described partnership we mark and celebrate today. We are going here in Mauritius on this train of a new era of African and Chinese and otherwise Asian economic and business collaborative partnerships not only for the betterment of our national and continental selves but for the entire world in desperate need to make new mojitos in new glass mugs to bring together all of us be it with chopsticks, utensils, or eating with our hands. So it is the reason why ASARPI as a virtual and face to face think tank  is joining brotherly and sisterly arms with the SILK_ROAD Foundation, the African_ China Business Forum, the Chinese Business Chamber , and other Asian business  partners in locked brotherly and sisterly arms with African partners   to be THE venue for freedom of exchange of ideas and strategies to do the necessary to bring what we dream as being a more equitable world driven by justice and peace and human responsibilities and human rights into a stunning reality for the entire world to see but more importantly benefit from in the liberation and empowerment of all humanity no matter who we are demographically, nationalities,our systems of governance, and our religious beliefs .Let’s go.Let’s get going Now Now.

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