Tag Archives: Africa

Some Notes on Eritrea’s Economy

According to the recently published Global Economic Prospects, a World Bank Group flagship report, the year 2016 was marked by stagnant global trade, subdued investment, and heightened policy uncertainty. For 2017, a subdued recovery is expected, with receding obstacles to activity in commodity exporters and solid domestic demand in commodity importers. Additionally, weak investment is weighing on medium-term prospects across many emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs). Although fiscal stimulus in major economies, if implemented, may boost global growth above expectations, risks to growth forecasts remain tilted to the downside.

 

For Eritrea, GDP growth was slightly above 4% in 2016, outpacing the global average, as well as GDP growth in the advanced economies, developing economies, and Africa (see figure 1). As well, Eritrea’s projected growth for the next several years is expected to outpace global projections (see figure 2). Importantly, such economic growth can be central to poverty reduction and the realization of broader development goals. Moving forward, Eritrea can address several areas in order to sustain positive economic momentum and enhance overall development.

 

Manufacturing and skills development

 

An area Eritrea should prioritize is manufacturing and skills development. As Eritrea continues to grow and integrate into the broader regional and global economy, it is vital to raise and vary exports, moving away from low-value added and potentially unstable primary products. Manufacturing is essential to growth, and with rapid technical change and global economic integration, it is becoming important as a means of modernizing and diversifying the economic base.

 

Consequently, focusing on and investing in technical and vocational programs and human capital development are key since they can help build and refine the population’s skills and capabilities to compete within fiercely competitive markets. Notably, advanced skills are not just a requirement for “hi-tech” sectors; even supposedly “simple” areas such as apparel, footwear, and basic engineering products require a degree of skills to compete. Of further importance, a skilled, knowledgeable workforce dramatically improves the investment climate since trained, skilled workers create an attractive economic environment for investors.

 

Beyond their necessity for competing in regional or global markets, Eritrea should invest in technical and vocational skills programs and human capital development since they help in the fulfillment of a range of fundamental human rights, significantly contribute to social inclusion, can considerably raise productivity and earnings (particularly of the working poor), reduce unemployment, increase the efficiency of entrepreneurs, and play positive, influential roles in crime and poverty reduction (AfDB; BCG; World Bank 2014).

 

The importance of technical and vocational skills and human capital development is particularly apparent in relation to skills gaps. Skills gaps are prevalent across much of the developing world – such as in Eritrea – and they persist despite generally high unemployment rates. Potential workers, lacking the skills and training required by various industries, remain idle and unproductive. An insightful case is Sri Lanka; while the country has the most educated workforce in South Asia, with 87 percent of citizens completing secondary school, its workforce is not equipped with the right skills to be machine operators, technicians, sales associates, and managers (World Bank 2014). In this context, vocational and technical training programs can provide workers with the vital skills required by dynamic, evolving economies, and can ultimately help address problems of unemployment and lack of productivity (BCG).

 

Notably, skills acquired from or honed within technical and vocational programs are especially significant for youth. Young people frequently remain at the end of the job queue for the formal labor market because they lack adequate skills and experience (Boateng 2002). With little access to formal employment, youth may instead turn to the informal sector. While the informal sector can frequently offer certain tangible benefits, it can also be characterized by long, unpredictable hours and limited protections, returns, safety, or security. More problematically, youth unemployment can also potentially lead to emigration, or crime and other harmful or dangerous behaviors, such as sex work or illicit drug use.

 

Overall, vocational and technical programs and human capital development are critical elements in encouraging and accelerating development, inclusive growth, and poverty reduction through economic transformation and job creation (AfDB). Moving forward, Eritrea should continue to invest in vocational and technical programs, and seek to enhance their overall effectiveness and impact. Doing so will require firm political commitment, the ongoing participation and cooperation of local and international partners, sustainable financing (especially for infrastructure and equipment), and the foresight to ensure that expansion does not dilute the quality of training.

 

To augment impact, the potential for enterprise-based training should be explored, while technical and vocational programs should be carefully assessed, diversified, and matched with the skills required by the labor market, possibly with the active participation of employers (Kanyenze, Mhone and Spareboom 2000; World Bank 2014). An illustrative example is the system of productivity councils that was a fundamental component of the rapid growth and success of the East Asian economies. Specifically, the system involved the specific skills profile required by the private sector being fed directly into the curricula of the educational and technical sector.

 

Finally, the Eritrean government and relevant stakeholders can further develop awareness campaigns illustrating that technical and vocational programs are an important means of empowering individuals to fully develop their capabilities and tangibly improve their lives. Importantly, these campaigns will help garner greater attention and participation, while counteracting potential obstacles related to perceptions of the alleged low prestige of technical and vocational programs.

 

Fisheries

 

Eritrea’s coastline on the Red Sea is approximately 1200 kilometers, making it one of the longest in the world, with approximately 1000 kilometers more coming from its numerous islands on the Red Sea. Notably, the waters of the southern part of the Red Sea are highly productive and rich in biodiversity, with substantial populations of over 1000 species of fish. Commercially valuable fish include groupers, snappers, emperors, lizardfish, breams, jacks, trevallies, mackerels, tunas, sharks, sardines, and anchovies.

 

However, while the region, which includes hundreds of islands as well as the major ports of Massawa in central Eritrea and Assab in the south, has a potential yield of 80000 metric tons of fish per year, Eritrea’s annual total capture production remains quite low. Thus, not only can the fisheries sector play an important role for poverty reduction, employment, income generation, food security (e.g. through reducing the need to depend on food imports to fill gaps), and nutrition (e.g. fish products are an important source of animal protein and essential micronutrients for balanced nutrition and good health), it also holds the potential to be a significant export industry and thus contribute to overall development and growth.

 

It is imperative, however, that Eritrea develop this sector in environmentally-friendly, sustainable ways. Proper management can avoid pollution and destructive fishing practices, ultimately ensuring the continued productivity of coastal waters and future growth, food security and jobs for coastal communities.

 

Tourism

Globally, the tourism industry accounts for about 10% of global GDP and one out of every 11 jobs. Tourism is an important foreign exchange earner, and many countries encourage tourism to help promote development and economic growth. The conclusion that tourism benefits nations’ economies applies both to developed nations and developing countries, although the effect may be stronger for less-developed countries with a relatively simple economy – such as Eritrea (Sahli and Carey 2013).

For Eritrea, a country blessed with a warm, hospitable climate, rich cultural heritage, and great natural assets, the tourism sector holds enormous potential to reduce poverty and enhance economic growth. However, the country must remain committed to the continued development of basic infrastructure (e.g. roads and airport facilities). Furthermore, the experience of countries that have developed successful tourism sectors (e.g. the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN]) can offer important lessons for Eritrea, particularly in terms of improving connectivity, visa facilitation, and services. While tourism can promote growth and development, Eritrea must also make efforts to minimize or avoid potential adverse effects (e.g. on environment, cultural heritage, or local communities).

 

Figure 1

2016-gdp-growth

Source: World Bank 2017

Note: GDP Growth, Constant 2010 USD

Figure 2

economic-prospects

Source: World Bank 2017

Note: GDP Growth, Constant 2010 USD

Advertisements

Sport and Resistance: Lilesa’s Brave Stand for Freedom in Ethiopia

According to the late Nelson Mandela, the great South African anti-apartheid revolutionary who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, “Sport has the power to change the world.” It brings people together, offering unity and shared celebration. At the same time, however, sport frequently serves as an important outlet for social and political resistance. Specifically, for those suffering oppression, discrimination, and despair, sport is often so significant because it provides a vital means of retaining humanity, dignity, hope, and inspiration.

 

On Sunday in Brazil, as he crossed the finish line to take the Olympic silver medal after a grueling marathon race, Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms above his head. Later, at the conclusion of his press conference, Lilesa repeated the gesture in front of the world’s media. Although at first glance the gestures appeared somewhat innocuous, they were strong and courageous acts conducted in solidarity with the thousands of people in Ethiopia and across the world protesting against the Ethiopian government. Hundreds of anti-government protesters have been killed and countless others arrested by authorities amid the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia. For months, hundreds of thousands of people from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups (primarily the Oromo and Amhara) have rallied to protest political marginalization and systematic persecution by the minority-led government. In Brazil, the young Lilesa, from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, not only won silver, he utilized his platform to stand up for justice and emphasized the underlying socio-political significance of sport.

 

For years, the banned colles castelleres (human towers) or trekking excursions and support for FC Barcelona were a reflection of Catalonian resistance against Franco’s fascistic regime in Spain, while support for Spartak Moscow was, at times, seen as a symbol of political resistance against the official establishment in the former USSR. Additionally, in Korea, football within the curricula of physical education created a platform for Korean resistance to Japanese colonialism (Numerato 2011: 109-110).

 

Similarly, in Eritrea, the most popular sport, cycling, became a symbol of resistance to Italian colonialism. The first sighting of a bicycle in the country was in the latter half of the 1800s in Massawa, having been introduced by the Italians. By the 1930s, clubs were being organized, and on 21 April 1937, the first race took place in Asmara. However, during this period, Eritreans were barred from races and clubs due to the segregationist policies of fascism. Not to be denied, Eritreans soon created their own competitions and formed their own clubs. Then, in 1939, a special “trial of strength” was organized by the Italian colonial administrators; Eritreans and Italians would compete together in the same race. In Mussolini’s Italy, sporting success was to embody the greater glory of the fascist nation-state, and the joint Eritrean-Italian race was expected to display the superiority of the colonial master. Instead, like Jesse Owens’ spectacular destruction of Hitler’s Nazi propaganda about Aryan supremacy in the 1936 Munich Olympics, Eritrea’s Ghebremariam Ghebru won the race and shattered colonial myths about Eritrean inferiority.

 

During the turbulent 1960s, in the midst of the growing black power movement, the civil rights struggle, and the anti-Vietnam war movement, Muhammad Ali, widely regarded as the best boxer ever, became a global symbol of resistance to racism, militarism, and inequality. He unapologetically raised troubling questions and forced society to come to terms with civil rights, race, religion, war, and imperialism, defying all convention and the US government (Rowe 2016; Zirin 2016).

 

“I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong,” Ali stated forcefully. “They never called me ni–er.” With that, despite being at the peak of his career and understanding the implications, he refused to serve in the US Armed Services. Subsequently, he was stripped of his heavyweight title, convicted of draft evasion (facing a 5-year prison sentence), fined thousands of dollars, and banned for several years. While he would eventually make a glorious return to the ring, it was his strongly principled stand and unwavering activism that truly made him “the greatest” and an inspiration for millions worldwide.

 

In 1968, a year after Ali was convicted of draft evasion, two black American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medallists in the 200 meters, made history at the Mexico Olympics by staging a silent protest against the continuing racial discrimination of blacks in the US. They stood with their heads bowed and a black-gloved hand raised as the American national anthem played during the victory ceremony. Although they were immediately booed and castigated by many, and then quickly suspended by their team and expelled from the Olympics, Carlos and Smith’s brave act, which soon gained much support from black athletes around the world, “shifted dissidence from the periphery of American life to primetime television,” and “was understood as an act of solidarity with all those fighting for greater equality, justice and human rights” (Younge 2012).

 

Although the authoritarian Ethiopian government has attempted to forcibly crush the protests and rules the country through the politics of fear, Lilesa’s gesture embodies strength, hope, courage, solidarity, and defiance, while poignantly illustrating the broader socio-political significance of sport.

 

 

 

Image 1: Fiyesa Lilesa crossing the finish line and showing solidarity with protesters in Ethiopia.

lilesa1

 

 

 

 

Image 2: Fiyesa Lilesa showing solidarity with protesters in Ethiopia

Lilesa 2


El Nino in East Africa: Update on Eritrea

In the Horn of Africa, a drought exacerbated by El Niño has directly affected the region, leading to an increase in food insecurity and malnutrition. This post presents an update on Eritrea.
According to a recent summary report by FEWS NET (a USAID-funded initiative),

“Consistent and above-average rain over the past few weeks has led to moisture surpluses throughout much of Eastern Africa. Torrential rain is forecast to continue over western Sudan and the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea, likely to elevate the River Nile and Al Gash River levels further and potentially resulting in flooding over many areas of Sudan during the next week.”

Furthermore, the report notes that,

“While the abundance of seasonal rain is expected favor cropping activities over many areas of the region, frequent and above-average rain over the western Ethiopian and Eritrean Highlands also raises the Nile and Al Gash River levels and thus increases the risks for river flooding along downstream areas in Sudan. For next week, the probability for above-average precipitation remains quite high…”
As well, a late July 2016 report by the FAO and the Global Information and Early Warning System, Good Prospects for Yields of 2016 Main “Kiremti” Season Crops, details that,

“The 2016 “kiremti” rains (June to September) started on time in Debud, Anseba and Gash-Barka regions, favouring land preparation and planting operations. As shown by satellite imagery, crops and pasture in most inland areas are currently in good conditions due to abundant and well‑distributed precipitation.”
Encouragingly, although vegetation health in some areas in the northern Anseba and southern Gash-Barka regions has been negatively impacted by soil moisture deficits, the report also states that the,

“Latest meteorological forecasts for the period from June to September 2016 indicate an increased likelihood of above normal rainfall amounts over most of the country, with expected positive effects on crop yields.”
This positive outlook is paralleled by the WFP which recently claimed that “the forecasts for the main rainfall season of July-October indicate on or above average rainfall across Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.” This is significant since it should promote favourable and improved crop production and pasture resources across the country. Furthermore, the FAO and WFP’s recently published 2016/2017 El Nino Seasonal Overview, which explores the ongoing and future impact of El Nino, suggests that Eritrea will be “moderately affected.”
Additionally, on 16 August 2016, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, released US$50 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for severely underfunded aid operations in six neglected emergencies, including Eritrea. Specifically, the press release states,

“An allocation of $2 million will support humanitarian partners in Eritrea in responding to current needs due to arid conditions and poor rains. Additionally, gaps in health care, water, sanitation and hygiene services will be addressed.” Furthermore, the aid will also help address the multi-sector needs of over 2,200 Somali refugees in Eritrea.

Importantly, this will continue to support Eritrea’s broad developmental aims. Notably, the United Nations and various other international partners have had a long presence in Eritrea, collaborating with the Government and other stakeholders to work towards a variety of socio-economic and development priorities. For example, the UN operational presence in Eritrea includes the WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, UNAIDS, FAO, OCHA and UNDSS, while the WFP  maintains a liaison office, and non-resident UN Agencies (such as IFAD, IAEA, UNIDO, ILO, and UNEP) are also represented and work in Eritrea.
In 2015,  US$ 3 million was allocated by UN CERF to support a range of development programmes (e.g. health, nutrition, etc.) in Southern Red Sea (SRS), Northern Red Sea (NRS), Debub, Gash Barka and Anseba regions. This was undertaken in close alignment and coordination with the 2013-2016 Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework (SPCF). The  SPCF, jointly signed by the UN and Eritrea, focuses on an array of programmes in the nutrition, health, food security, and water, sanitation and hygiene sectors.
As a final point, it is important to properly understand Eritrea’s “unconventional” approach to external aid. Specifically,  Eritrea turns down aid when it does not fit the country’s needs or its capacity to use effectively. Eritrea does not reject external support – it actively welcomes it, but only when it complements the country’s own efforts. The Government has long encouraged aid that addresses specific needs which cannot be met internally, which is designed to minimize continued external support, and which complements and strengthens (instead of replacing) Eritrea’s own institutional capacity to implement projects. This approach is rooted in a strong desire to avoid crippling dependence and to foster a clear sense of responsibility for the country’s future among all citizens.

Unfortunately, this approach is often misunderstood (or even dismissed). Instead, the country’s determination to rely upon itself and promote independence should be encouraged, and external organizations and potential partners should be committed to working with it on that basis.

Figure 1: Total US Foreign Aid – 2016/17 ($US Millions)

Untitled

Figure 2: UN CERF Project Allocations by Sector (2006-2015)

2

Image 1: Local market in Eritrea

SAM_0988.JPG

Image 2: Local market in Eritrea

market

(Image 2 credit: Solomon Abraha [@solomonasmara])

 

 


Politics of Fear: Crisis in Ethiopia and the Role of the International Community

Dozens of anti-government protesters have been killed and arrested by government authorities amid ongoing unrest in Ethiopia. For months, hundreds of thousands of protesters from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups have rallied to protest political marginalization and systematic persecution by the government. In June, a 61-page human rights report was released, condemning the Ethiopian government’s heavy-handed response to the protests. According to the report by Human Rights Watch, Such a Brutal Crackdown: Killings and Arrests in Response to Ethiopia’s Oromo Protests, during the widespread protests, largely arising within Oromia (but now extending to other regions), Ethiopian security forces have resorted to excessive and unnecessary lethal force and mass arrests, engaged in the harsh, ruthless mistreatment of those in detention, and restricted access to information. Estimates suggest that over 400 protesters or others had been killed by security forces, while tens of thousands more have been arrested, figures that will now have risen significantly.

 

Corruption and poor governance remain deeply embedded within Ethiopia’s socio-political structure, and the country consistently scores extremely poorly on a range of international governance indicators. The Ethiopian government has been consistently criticized by an array of international rights groups for its broad range of human rights abuses including its harsh repression of minorities and journalists, press censorship, draconian anti-terror laws that are utilized to silence all forms of dissent, and brutal crackdowns upon opposition groups and protestors.

 

Although the ongoing crisis encapsulates the government’s utter contempt for basic human rights and the overwhelming “politics of fear” that pervades the country’s socio-political landscape, it also reveals, in crystal clear detail, the highly troubling role played by much of the international community, led by the US and the West. Specifically, while the government’s brutal crackdown warrants a strong rebuke and condemnation, there has been a severely muted international response, with many of Ethiopia’s foreign supporters remaining silent.

 

Rather than condemn or censure Ethiopia’s brutal crackdown, the international community has turned a blind eye, abdicated its responsibility, and instead been acquiescent to Ethiopia’s persistent violations and repression. Last year, both US President, Barack Obama, and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, granted legitimacy to the Ethiopian government by praising its “democracy” – even though the country’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Ruling Democratic Front (EPRDF), swept the national elections by winning 100 percent of the parliamentary seats.

 

When the French statesman, Talleyrand, was told by an aide of the murder of a political opponent, the aide said, “It’s a terrible crime, Sir.” In response, Talleyrand answered, “It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder.” Likewise is the West’s propping up of the Ethiopian government. Unwavering support for and appeasement of Ethiopia are part of a policy approach based upon the misguided belief, dating back to the immediate post-World War 2 period but rearticulated more recently in terms of regional “anchor states” designations, that Ethiopia is vital to protecting US and Western geostrategic interests and foreign policy aims. However, not only is this approach morally reprehensible, with the US and West being directly complicit in the mass crimes, transgressions, and reign of terror perpetrated by the Ethiopian government, the misguided policy approach has largely failed to achieve its objectives, to even a minor degree, and instead only served to stunt regional development and destabilize both Ethiopia and the broader Horn of Africa region.

 

In seeking to address Ethiopia’s flagrant dismissal of international norms and blatant disregard for human rights, a number of measures could be undertaken (e.g. sanctions). However, the first, and possibly most far-reaching and effective, response by the international community should be to withdraw its unwavering support for the repressive Ethiopian government.

 

George Galloway, respected British politician, broadcaster, and writer, has frequently voiced concern of how the West’s support for dictatorial, tyrannical regimes in the name of security only results in “blowback” and harming the populations of those countries. Regarding Ethiopia, Galloway has decried how the UK and US policy of encouraging, arming, training, financing, and facilitating the Ethiopian government’s “reign of terror” is “morally vacuous.” Similarly, respected international economist, William Easterly, has recommended that the international community “stop financing tyranny and repression” in Ethiopia.

 

For decades, Ethiopia has been highly dependent on external economic assistance. In 2012, it was the world’s seventh largest recipient of official humanitarian aid and received $3.2B in total assistance, the latter figure representing between 50-60 percent of its total budget, while its 2011 share of total official development assistance – approximately 4 percent – placed it behind only Afghanistan. Problematically, however, even while it is one of the world’s leading recipients of foreign aid, and is currently requesting even greater financial support, the Ethiopian government also annually spends hundreds of millions of dollars on weapons and arms – which are now being used against its own civilians.

 

With such a critical dependency on and misuse of foreign aid, threats to “turn off the tap” unless Ethiopia changes course may be a viable step toward improving the country’s rights record. Alternatively, rather than providing aid directly to the Ethiopian regime, which has a long track record of corruption and misappropriation, the international community should consider directly supporting local human rights and democracy groups (although this may be difficult due to Ethiopia’s draconian laws on civil society and NGOs).

 

An indication of the possible far-reaching effects of removing external support from a harsh, brutal regime can be seen in the example of Indonesia. Noam Chomsky, internationally renowned professor and activist, has written and spoken extensively on how US and Western support for the despotic regime in Indonesia played an indirect, yet extremely harmful, role in the carnage and deaths of hundreds of thousands in East Timor. However, in 1999, after much pressure, the US finally “pulled the plug” on its support for the Suharto regime, quickly leading to the end of Indonesia’s brutal campaign. Specifically,

 

“[f]or 25 years, the United States strongly supported the

vicious Indonesian invasion and massacre, a virtual

genocide. It was happening right through 1999, as the

Indonesian atrocities increased and escalated, after Dili

the capital city was practically evacuated. After Indonesian

attacks, the US was still supporting it. Finally, in mid-September

1999, under considerable international and also domestic

pressure, Clinton quietly told the Indonesian generals “It’s

finished.” And they had said they’d never leave, they said

“this is our territory.” They pulled out within days, and allowed a

UN peacekeeping force to enter without Indonesian military resistance.

Well, you know, that’s a dramatic indication of what can be done.”

 

While the socio-political dynamics and historical contexts of Indonesia and Ethiopia are admittedly quite different, the comparison also offers relevant and striking similarities. Both regimes received decades-worth of external economic, military, and political support (particularly from the US). Additionally, both regimes systematically and persistently violated human rights, transgressed various international laws (such as through military occupation), and engaged in large-scale campaigns described as “genocidal.”

 

With Ethiopia continuing to overlook basic international norms, standards, and laws in its brutal crackdowns upon opposition groups and protesters, the international community must end its complicity in and indirect support for the government’s various transgressions. As Clinton relayed to Indonesia’s leadership, the international community must tell Ethiopia, “it’s finished.”

 

====================================

US President Obama Discussing Ethiopia

 

 

Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Discussing Ethiopia

 

Figure 1: US Assistance to Ethiopia

Picture3

Figure 2: Ethiopia Military Expenditure

Picture1


World Hepatitis Day 2016: Examining Eritrea

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day (WHD), one of eight official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization (WHO). WHD aims to raise global awareness of hepatitis and encourage prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Viral hepatitis – a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E – affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing acute and chronic disease and killing close to 1.4 million people every year.

 

The year 2016 is particularly important in the global fight to eliminate hepatitis. Earlier this year, on 28 May, 194 WHO Member States made a historic commitment to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. During the 69th World Health Assembly, governments unanimously voted to adopt the first ever Global Viral Hepatitis Strategy, signalling the greatest global commitment in viral hepatitis to date. The strategy sets a goal of eliminating hepatitis B and C by 2030 and includes a set of prevention and treatment targets which, if reached, will reduce annual deaths by 65% and increase treatment to 80%, saving 7.1 million lives globally by 2030. Furthermore, as part of the commitments made during at the 69th World Health Assembly, Nohep, a global movement to eliminate viral hepatitis, is being launched on 28 July to bring people together and provide a platform for people to speak out, be engaged, and take action to ensure global commitments are met and viral hepatitis is eliminated by 2030.

 

Hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver, can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Although hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis, other infections, toxic substances (such as alcohol and certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis. Globally, viral hepatitis affects approximately 400 million people, with 6-10 million newly infected annually.

 

While hepatitis is a global problem, sub-Saharan Africa is particularly burdened. For example, hepatitis B prevalence is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, where between 5-10% of the adult population is chronically infected, while with a prevalence of between 5-8% and an estimated 32 million people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), sub-Saharan Africa has the highest burden of the disease in the world (Karoney and Siika 2013; Schweitzer et al. 2015). Moreover, sub-Saharan Africa has a high prevalence for the other viruses as well due to generally poor sanitary conditions and hygienic practices, lack of access to safe water, and poor awareness and education.

 

Eritrea’s efforts to combat hepatitis have involved a multidimensional, cost-effective, pragmatic approach and broad participation. A range of general public health and development initiatives that have been undertaken have helped to combat the prevalence and spread of hepatitis in the country. These include: sexual health education; widespread advocacy and awareness campaigns; the provision of condoms, the expansion of access to basic sanitation and safe, clean water, particularly in rural areas; improved disposal of sewage within communities; and harm reduction programs.

 

Another vital step has been immunization and vaccination which, according to the WHO, is, “the most effective and cost-saving means of prevention.” For many years in Eritrea, immunization and vaccination programs have been conducted through an array of cooperative agreements with various international organizations and partners, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNICEF, the WHO, and the GAVI Alliance. These partnerships have increased important supplies such as vaccines, syringes, and other materials, while strengthening support for the development, production, and dissemination of social mobilization materials, regional plans, and logistics.

 

In 2002, Eritrea introduced childhood immunization against hepatitis B as part of the Ministry of Health’s Expanded Program on Immunization, which also delivers immunization for children against seven other vaccine preventable diseases (i.e. Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Whooping Cough, Tetanus, Polio, Measles and Homophiles influenza type B). According to recently updated data from the WHO and UNICEF, national HepB3 coverage (measuring the number of third doses of Hep-B vaccine administered to infants) in Eritrea is approximately 95%. By comparison, the global average national coverage rate is 87%, while the average for Africa is 81%. In terms of Eritrea’s neighbours, national coverage rates are as follows: Djibouti 84%; Ethiopia 86%; Kenya 89%; Somalia 42%; South Sudan 31%; Sudan 93%, and Uganda 78%.

 

Table 1: East Africa National HepB3 Coverage Rates 2015 (WHO 2015)

HepB3Coverage2015WHO

 

Hepatitis B vaccination programs are particularly important because they gradually result in the reduction of HBV-related chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer. Ultimately, Eritrea’s vaccination programs have played an important role in reducing the prevalence and spread of hepatitis, and recent research studies estimate that the country’s prevalence of hepatitis B is approximately 2.49%, the lowest in Africa (Schweitzer et al. 2015).

 

Table 2: East Africa Estimated Hepatitis B Virus Prevalence (Percentage)

HepBPrevalence

 

Overall, Eritrea’s multifaceted efforts have had a positive impact in combating and controlling hepatitis. With renewed commitment, effective immunization, vaccination, and prevention programs, an expansion of treatment and health services, as well as continued support from international partners, Eritrea can move towards eliminating viral hepatitis and continue to protect and improve the health and development of its greatest asset – its men, women, and children.

eritrean newborn - health


Reflections on Graduation at CASS – Eritrea

For the last year I have been teaching in Eritrea. On Tuesday 12 July 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in the 9th annual graduation ceremony at the College of Arts and Social Sciences, located in Adi Keih, Eritrea. A total of 180 students proudly received a Diploma or Bachelor of Arts Degree. The College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), currently within its sixth academic year as a stand-alone institution, has an annual enrollment of approximately 1500 students, nearly evenly split between males and females (specifically, 51 percent of students are male and 49% are female).

College of Arts and Social Sciences (Adi Keih, Eritrea)

Located near several significant traditional and historical sites, the school has ten total academic departments, nine of which award degrees while one awards diplomas. Of note, CASS has also developed a new and exciting Master’s Degree program in collaboration with the University of Helsinki. The college also boasts a traditional and digital library, a growing collection of resources for visually impaired students, a bookstore, staff and student cafeterias, a recreation lounge featuring satellite television and games, several all-weather outdoor sports courts, highly successful intercollegiate athletic teams, and various student clubs.

Hours after Tuesday’s memorable ceremony, I retreated to my office to quietly reflect on how amazing it was to have been part of such a wonderful occasion. From the beginning of the ceremony until the end, things ran very smoothly, serving as a reflection of the hard work, dedication, sound planning, and selflessness of numerous people from across the close-knit CASS academic community and the surrounding areas. The organization committee’s large investments of time and effort in preparation were not overlooked or unnoticed, but were instead deeply appreciated and highly admired.

While graduation represents the culmination of a student’s academic journey, it is important to remember that it is only possible with the strong support and backing of friends, family, and communities. Simply, graduation is not a day so much about “me” but “we.” One glance into the CASS auditorium helped to illustrate just how so. Seats were filled by people from all walks of life, all sharing some connection, small or large, to the graduates. I will never forget the great pride exhibited by fathers, the loud, piercing ululating and tears of joy shed by mothers, or the sheer admiration expressed by friends and siblings as the graduates slowly, confidently strode across the stage, faces beaming with sheer happiness, to collect their certificates.

Earlier this year, I went back to the place I was born, visiting my family’s old home, as well as various family and friends. It was particularly special and especially moving since it was my first time meeting many of them, while others I had only met as an infant, over 20 years ago. When I was child, my family left Eritrea. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to visit and live in many countries around the world throughout Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Last year at about this time, I fulfilled a long-time family dream and goal – completing my Ph.D.

Shortly after graduation, I had the possibility to pursue a variety of different jobs and opportunities, but I kindly turned them down. My heart simply wasn’t into it. Somewhat perplexed, some classmates and colleagues asked me “Fikre, why?” I told them the answer, in just four words, “I’m going to Eritrea.”

Thereafter, many would respond, “Eritrea? Why?”

First, and most simply, it is home. No matter where you are in the world, you’ll always have a special bond with home. While it had been many years and although I traveled thousands of miles, I don’t think I’ve ever really left home.

However, another important reason I chose to come home to Eritrea is because of the youth and the students, such as the 180 new graduates of CASS. Not due to some egotistical rationale or saviour-type complex. But instead, because of the inspiration they provide and the admiration they elicit. I admire what they represent and the high-standing principles they wonderfully reflect. I tremendously respect how, regardless of whatever challenge may arise, instead of shirking responsibility or hesitating, so many of them choose to address it directly and head-on. I greatly admire their deep passion for learning, growth, and individual development and commend their pursuit for more.  I can only applaud the fact that the young graduates have already faced and overcome obstacles, barriers, and challenges that many others could barely fathom, let alone begin to face.

Last year, shortly before arriving at CASS, I recall preparing a large collection of materials and lessons I wanted to teach and share. As a teacher, I’d like to think I’ve been able to accomplish a lot of that. But never, in my wildest dreams, could I have expected to attain what I have from the students, many who graduated on Tuesday. Accordingly, to them, I humbly say Yekinyelay. Thank you for your efforts and hard work. Thank you for what you have taught me and for providing amazing lessons and wonderful examples that simply cannot be found in books.

On Tuesday, walking across the CASS campus and around the auditorium, I felt a slight hint of sadness because I understood that students that I had come to know, admire, and appreciate would soon be leaving. However, those emotions were soon overtaken by a deep and profound sense of happiness, anticipation, and pride in the realization that the young, limitless graduates were moving on to pursue their individual or family dreams and aspirations, and play a positive, constructive role in establishing a prosperous, harmonious nation.

20160712_110348


Canada Elections: Justin Trudeau Out West in Harper’s Backyard

I had the opportunity to attend Justin Trudeau and Matt Grant’s Liberal Party “Meet and Greet” event in Calgary, the hometown of Conservative Leader and Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. While the conditions were sweltering hot, the atmosphere was welcoming and positive, and it was good to see a considerable number of people, young and old and of a range of ethnicities, in attendance.

 

Liberal Leader Trudeau’s speech mainly focused on the economy, and discussing how the Conservatives have failed to develop a positive foundation for Alberta’s energy future. With the national election campaign having just begun, expect more focus on Canada’s faltering economy. Canada’s economy contracted by the most in nearly six years in the first quarter of 2015, and the economy recently recorded its fifth consecutive monthly contraction in gross domestic product raising fears of a new recession (technically, recessions are defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth). Although Harper remains optimistic about an economic turnaround, his record has increasingly come under attack. In a recent exhaustive empirical comparison of Canada’s economic record under the Harper government with previous post-war prime ministers, the authors concluded that “there is no other time in Canada’s post-war economic history in which Canada’s economy has performed worse than it did under the Harper government.” For Trudeau and other candidates, the suggestion is that Harper is out of touch and that it is definitely time for a change.

 

Trudeau also noted how the national government has been focused more on itself than on the citizens, and also claimed that it spends “your money on themselves to buy an election instead of investing it in you to make your lives better,” in reference to the Conservative Party’s alleged use of departmental ad budgets to boost the Harper government’s brand. Trudeau’s comments also seem appropriate since Harper’s call for an early election stands to considerably hurt taxpayers who may end up forking over $1.23 for every dollar a political party spends during the election campaign (through rebates for parties’ election expenses and individual candidate’s campaign costs, and financing of the federal political contribution tax credit).
Although the economy will understandably be a key area of focus on the campaign trail, another topic that ought to arouse significant attention is foreign policy. Across the post-World War II period, Canada was globally respected and admired for its foreign policy which held up the importance of international institutions, promoted multilateral diplomacy, sought to strengthen international laws, rules and norms, and pushed for dialogue, reconciliation, and the peaceful settlement of global disputes. However, under Harper, Canada has experienced a radical shift in foreign policy – essentially Canada’s foreign policy has become “un-Canadian.” Thus, an important election question is how will Trudeau (or other candidates) handle Canada’s involvement and approach in or towards Afghanistan, Libya (recall Canada flew among the most sorties of any NATO member), Iraq, Ukraine and Russia, Iran, Syria, Israel (under Harper Canada became the single most supportive nation of Israeli policy, exceeding even the United States, at times), and the environment? Will it be more of the same or the ushering in of change?

SAM_0847

 

Trudeau with a baby from the crowd.

 

SAM_0848

Trudeau and the author.

 


%d bloggers like this: