From banking, to food delivery, and taxi bookings, Uganda is rapidly becoming accustomed to many of the online tools that are commonplace in developed economies, and which don’t rely on face-to-face interactions. The UN is supporting this shift, as a way to help developing economies recover from the global economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ruth Tindyebwa, a market vendor in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, was badly affected by the government’s lockdown measures, imposed on March 22. Much of her custom came from people walking past her stall on the way to work. After the restrictions were put into place, this source of income dried up. Things have now turned around, however, thanks to a project set up by the UN, in collaboration with a local company called Safeboda.
Safeboda promises users a safer option than the usual “bodabodas”, the motorcycle taxis, often unlicenced, that weave their way through the streets of Uganda and other east African countries.
The company operates in a way that is familiar to users of well-known taxi-hailing platforms, such as Uber or Lyft: users download an app, enter their destination and see the estimated cost of their ride. The company offers assurances that the drivers will be safe, well-trained and professional.
After the Ugandan government enacted its lockdown measures, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), responded by launching its partnership with Safeboda, creating a new e-commerce platform that connects market vendors to customers.
Orders for produce are placed via the Safeboda app, and paid for, using its mobile wallet feature. The company’s accredited riders then deliver the produce.
The result has been a boost in trade for hundreds of market vendors, regular income for the bodaboda drivers, and a safe way for customers to receive the goods.
Ms. Tindyebwa was one of the first market vendors to sign up to the project: her daily sales are now even higher than they were before lockdown. “The most amazing part is that I can save for my children’s school fees on my e-wallet as I wait for the schools to reopen after this lockdown,” she says.
‘E-commerce has come and it will never go away’
The Safeboda scheme is not the only partnership launched by the UN in Uganda. In May, the UN Development Programme, UNDP, joined forces with Jumia Foods, the country’s largest e-commerce company, to create an online platform specifically designed to connect some of the most vulnerable members of the workforce with potential customers.
The initiative is designed to empower those hit hardest in the informal trade sector, and more than 60 per cent of those who have signed up for it are women, young people, and persons with disabilities.
It also helps to connect farmers, keeping alive the flow of products from rural areas to urban markets. As part of the support, UNDP is providing sellers more than 3,000 vendors in five Kampala markets, with smartphones, airtime, and data packages.
At the launch of the partnership in May, Amelia Kyambadde, Uganda’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, declared that she expects it to promote the growth of online commerce. “One of the lessons we have learnt is that e-commerce has come, and it will never go away”, she said.
Elsie Attafuah, the UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, was equally upbeat, describing the partnership with Jumia as a “safe, convenient and fast service to the citizens of Uganda”, which will boost trade.
“COVID-19 presents not only a health but also a humanitarian and development crisis that is threatening to leave deep social, economic and political scars for years. It is, therefore, important to expand e-commerce to enable business continuity, support livelihoods and enable early recovery from the pandemic”, she added.
Innovating a way out of crisis
One of the aims of such partnerships, is to demonstrate the many benefits of digital services to small businesses and consumers, and encourage further digital innovation, leading to sustainable growth in the Ugandan economy.
In many other ways, the UN is working closely with Ugandan government to turn things around, by using digital tools.
The UN Safeboda and Jumia schemes are just two examples of the ways in which online commerce can help to kickstart, in a sustainable way that benefits all, the Ugandan economy. Like so many other countries around the world, Uganda is struggling to cope with the devastating effects of the economic crisis brought about by COVID-19.
The World Bank estimates that real GDP growth this year will be less than 2 per cent, compared with almost 5.6 per cent in 2019.
The UN agency for trade, UNCTAD, has made several recommendations, on how to improve the supply of digital services in Uganda, and UNDP is supporting the government in its development of an e-commerce strategy, which has seen new laws have been passed, aimed at improving people’s trust in online transactions.
E-commerce has been identified by the UN as a powerful way to drive growth, boost trade and create jobs, but many developing countries are still lagging behind in this area.
Through initiatives such as UNCTAD’s e-trade for all platform, which aims to coordinate the efforts of NGOs, foundations, and others, to harness the potential of the internet for economic development, it is hoped that the progress seen in Uganda can be replicated elsewhere, as governments attempt to navigate their way out of this unprecedented global crisis.
The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan
Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.
The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.
In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.
Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.
The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.
While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.
Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine
As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.
“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.
Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.
The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.
The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.
Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,
Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter
A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.
The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.
Earlier in August 2021, UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.
August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.
Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.
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