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Uganda looks online for answers to COVID economic crisis

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A market vendor uses the SafeBoda app which connects vendors to households using the SafeBoda transport service during the COVID-19 lockdown in Kampala, Uganda. Image: UNCDF

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.

Safer options

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.

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Africa

SADC Summit Ends With Promises of More Meetings

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) held an Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo to deliberate on measures on addressing terrorism and its related impact on the current development specifically in the Mozambique and generally in southern Africa. The Cabo Delgado crisis started in 2017 with insurgents taking control of parts of northern Mozambique.

One of the two troikas consists of the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of SADC (namely Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania), while the second is formed by the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of the SADC organ for politics, defence and security cooperation (Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe).

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the ministers of international relations, defence and state security attended the meeting. It was also attended by Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

The summit was called in the wake of the terrorist attack of 24 March against the town of Palma in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, but the leaders did not pledge any immediate practical support for Mozambique.

SADC Troika heads however said the acts of terrorism perpetrated against innocent civilians in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, could not be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response and reported that 12 decapitated bodies have been found behind a hotel in the region.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, warning of the spread of violence throughout Southern Africa.

Among the measures that the SADC countries should implement to combat terrorism is strengthening border control between Southern African countries, he said, and further added that Southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Nyusi stressed that the organization should implement practical acts to combat this scourge of terrorism to prevent its expansion and destabilization of the region, and warned of the risk that the actions of armed groups with a jihadist connotation could hinder regional integration.

According official reports, SADC fends off United States / European Union anti-terror intervention in Cabo Delgado. It further said no to another Mali / Somalia / Libya / Syria disaster on the African continent, adding that the global Anti-Terror lobbies are frustrated.

Deeply concerned about the continued terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, especially for the lives and welfare of the residents who continue to suffer from the atrocious, brutal and indiscriminate assaults, the leaders decided at their meeting to deploy a technical mission to Mozambique. It’s not clear what action the region will take but the deployed technical mission will report back to heads of state by 29 April.

The final communiqué from the summit condemned the terrorist attacks “in the strongest terms” and declared that “such heinous attacks cannot be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response” but it did not suggest what such a regional response might consist of.

The Summit expressed “SADC’s full solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique” and reaffirmed “SADC’s continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in the Republic of Mozambique.”

The summit ordered “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique, and the convening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ by 28 April 2021 that will report to the Extraordinary Organ Troika summit on 29 April 2021.

The extremely brief communiqué mentioned no other specific measures.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation about a fortnight ago when armed groups attacked the town of Palma, which is about six kilometres from the multi-million dollar natural gas, according to United Nations data.

The attacks caused dozens of deaths and forced thousands of Palma residents to flee, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected some 700,000 people in the province since the conflicts data. Several countries have offered Maputo military support on the ground to combat these insurgents, but so far there has been no openness, although reports and testimonies are pointing to security companies and mercenaries in the area.

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African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution

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Authors: Akinwumi Adesina and Patrick Verkooijen*

After a dark 2020, a new year has brought new hope. In Africa, where up to 40 million more people were driven into extreme poverty and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years, a brighter future beckons as the economy is forecast to return to growth this year.

Africa now has an opportunity to reset its economic compass. To build back not just better, but greener. Particularly as the next crisis—climate change—is already upon us.

Africa’s food systems must be made more resilient to future shocks such as floods, droughts, and disease. Urgent and sustainable increases in food production are needed to reduce reliance on food imports and reduce poverty, and this is where digital services come into play.

With mobile phone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to reach half a billion this year, digital services offered via text messaging can reach even the most remote village. And at least one-fifth of these phones also have smart features, meaning they can connect to the internet.

We can already see how digital services drive prosperity locally and nationally. In Uganda, SMS services that promote market price awareness have lifted the price farmers receive for bananas by 36 percent, beans by 16.5 percent, maize by 17 percent, and coffee by 19 percent. In Ghana, services that cut out the middleman have lifted the price for maize by 10 percent and groundnuts by 7 percent.

But digital services don’t just raise farmgate prices, they are the gateway to farm loans, crop insurance, and greater economic security, which in turn enables farmers to increase their resilience to climate change—by experimenting with new, drought-resistant crops, for example, or innovative farming methods.

Text messages with weather reports help farmers make better decisions about when and what to plant, and when to harvest.

In Niger, a phone-based education program has improved crop diversity, with more farmers likely to grow the cash crop okra, while an advisory service in Ethiopia helped increase wheat production from one ton to three tons per hectare.

The data footprints phone users create can also be analyzed to help assess risk when it comes to offering loans, making credit cheaper and more accessible.

Phones and digital services also speed up the spread of information through social networks, helping farmers learn about new drought-resistant crops or services that can increase productivity. Free-to-use mobile phone-based app WeFarm, for example, has already helped more than 2.4 million farmers find certified suppliers of quality seeds at fair prices. They can also connect farmers to internet-based services.

Examples of digital innovation abound, sometimes across borders. In Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, equipment-sharing platform Hello Tractor is helping farmers rent machinery by the day or even hour, while in Ethiopia, AfriScout, run by the non-government organization Project Concern International with the World Food Programme and the Ministry for Agriculture, provides satellite images of water supplies and crops every 10 days so problems can be spotted quickly to aid remedial action.

Transforming food systems digitally has demonstrably excellent results: the African Development Bank, which has allocated over half of its climate financing to adaptation since 2019, has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to lift yields by an average 60 percent through applying digital technology, for example.

This is why the Global Center on Adaptation and the African Development Bank have launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $25 billion to scale up and accelerate innovative climate-change adaptation across Africa.

Once developed, the digital nature of these services often makes such projects easy to replicate elsewhere and scale, even across large rural areas with little existing infrastructure.

Further, adaptation projects are proven to be highly cost-effective, often delivering value many times the original investment and so helping African economies grow faster and create many more much-needed jobs.

This makes it imperative that the global resolve to rebuild economies in the wake of Covid-19 is harnessed in the most effective way. We must not simply replicate the mistakes of the past. We must build back stronger, with a more resilient and climate-smart focus.

Funding and promoting disruptive business models in which digital technologies are embedded to increase productivity without using more land or more water will create a triple win: increased production, a more resilient climate and more empowered farmers.

We have the means and the technical capability to put Africa well on the way to achieving food self-sufficiency and greater climate resilience. In doing so, we can help millions move out of food poverty. We must not squander this opportunity to create truly historic and lasting change.

AfDB

*Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

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Towards the Second Russia-Africa Summit

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Following the instruction of Russian President on the preparation of the second Russia-Africa Summit in 2022, a working meeting between Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS), the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum and the Roscongress Foundation was held in Moscow.

Among the participants of the meeting were Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation Anton Kobyakov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Oleg Ozerov, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer of the Roscongress Foundation, Head of the Coordination Council for Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Alexander Stuglev and Head of AECAS Alexander Saltanov.

They discussed the prospects for further development of relationships with African countries in accordance with the decisions of the first Russia-Africa Summit that was held in Sochi in October 2019, as well as the key aspects of preparation for the next top-level Russian-African meeting in 2022, including the need to establish efficient information cooperation with African countries.

Adviser to the President was presented with the interim results of the work done by the Secretariat that was created in 2020 for coordination and preparation of events within the Russia-Africa format, as well as advances made by AECAS, the establishment of which is an important achievement on the way to efficient and fruitful preparation for subsequent events of the Russian-African track.

The day before Russian President Vladimir Putin informed the participants of the International Inter-Party Conference Russia-Africa: Reviving Traditions about the preparation for the second Russia-Africa Summit in a telegram and noted that the first Summit «gave a strong momentum to the development of friendly relationships between our country and countries of the African continent.»

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, who took part in the Inter-Party Conference, said that the Summit is already being prepared and filled with meaningful content, and roadmaps of Russian-African economic, scientific and humanitarian cooperation are to be drafted in the near future. Minister also noted that African issues are supposed to be included in the programme of the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. These topics will be further discussed at the next meeting of foreign ministers of Russia and the African Union trio that is scheduled for 2021.

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