Category Archives: International Policy

Education and Violent Extremism in Africa: The Importance of Evidence-based Interventions for National Security

The international development sector, especially in the United States, is facing an uncertain future. Long considered to be both a virtuous endeavor and a crucial mechanism for achieving US foreign policy aims, development assistance is struggling to remain relevant. Both politicians and citizens are skeptical of development aid and are increasingly focused on more traditional strategies to ensure national security, particularly in the face of the growing threats of terrorism and violent extremism. Shifts in spending priorities call into question the longevity of US investments in education and women’s empowerment, as well as the continued existence of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and State Department in their current forms.

Education, Workforce Development, and Violent Extremism in Africa

However, as US military leaders have argued, development assistance can be just as important as defense spending to ensuring our national security. Clear connections can be drawn between expanding access to education and workforce development—areas in which USAID has built expertise—and countering violent extremism (CVE), a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration. Violent extremist groups often recruit from the young, poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized populations of a society, which include many of the same individuals targeted by education and workforce development programs.

These connections are especially clear in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa’s youth population is growing far more quickly than the number of jobs available, leading to high rates of youth unemployment across the continent. Ten to twelve million African youth enter the workforce each year, but governments struggle to create opportunities for them in economies that are often still largely agricultural. Between 2000 and 2007, the working-age population in Africa grew by 96 million; only 63 million jobs were created during the same period.

In the absence of quality education and gainful employment, African youth may be more susceptible to recruitment by the extremist organizations gaining influence on the continent. Helping African governments figure out how to break the link between unemployed youth and extremist organizations will be a crucial policy issue for the US government as Africa’s power and population grow.

A  constructed classroom by USAID.
Abdulaziz Bashir, USAID (2017)

Education and Violent Extremism: The Evidence

 It is easy to imagine increased US support for education and workforce development programs in Africa as one solution to this problem – if African youth have access to education and jobs, courtesy of USAID-funded programs, they will be less susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups. However, reliable evidence on the relationship between education and violent extremism is actually quite scarce.  An evaluation published last year by US-based NGO MercyCorps of the impact of access to education and civic engagement programs on political violence in Somalia suggests the story is more complicated than it might seem.

The MercyCorps-led impact evaluation, which examined the effects of a USAID-funded program in Somaliland called the Somali Youth Leaders Initiative (SYLI), suggested that education can make youth either more or less likely to become involved in political violence, depending on both education quality and the larger context. It found that while increased access to secondary education reduced youth participation in political violence by 16%, it increased youth support for political violence by 11%. However, when access to education was combined with opportunities for youth to become more civically engaged in their community, participation and support for political violence dropped by 14% and 20%, respectively.

Impact of Youth Leader Initiative on Stability
Mercy Corps (2016)

While additional evaluations are necessary to confirm these results, the story they tell makes sense. Educated youth living under repressive or inept governments with no access to meaningful work opportunities may become increasingly frustrated with their situations. They may then be more likely to turn to political violence as a way to affect change. However, if youth are given positive strategies for changing their lives and communities along with access to education, and see their education as linked to a better future, they may become less likely to resort to violence than their uneducated peers.

The Impact of Education Quality

 Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the relationship between education and violence is further complicated by the question of the quality of education youth can access. Over the past decade African governments (with support from funders like USAID) have successfully increased the percentage of African children enrolled in school. However, in many cases this increased access has come with lower quality; children are now attending school, but are not learning.

MercyCorps’ study shows evidence of this trend. It found that youth with access to education had a much less favorable view of government performance in providing education – probably because they were receiving low-quality education. African governments, and their international partners like USAID, need to be worried not just about whether youth are in school and engaged in their communities, but also about whether poor-quality education is adding fuel to the fire.

Implications for Funding and Policy

As MercyCorps’ research illustrates, US policymakers concerned about the rise of extremism in Africa should think twice before abandoning US investments in education on the continent. While proposed budget cuts to USAID have yet to be approved by Congress, general consensus within the Agency is that education, environment, and gender programs are likely to be scaled back, while spending on health is likely to be maintained. Advocates for education within USAID, the State Department, and their partner organizations need to focus their message to ensure elected officials and the public understand the links between education and extremism and continue funding education interventions.

More research is needed to fully understand the relationship among education, civic engagement, and violence. However, evidence from the MercyCorps study suggests that even if funding for education is cut, prioritizing education quality, workforce development, and civic engagement will maximize the effect of US education spending on violent extremism. USAID and its partners should prioritize these strategies now, but especially if anticipated budget cuts come to pass. While the international education sector needs to tailor its advocacy message to align with the US government focus on CVE to minimize budgetary impacts on its work, it should also focus on incorporating empirical evidence like MercyCorps’ study into project design to improve learning outcomes and decrease violence.

Increasing access to quality education in Africa should be a central component of the US government’s CVE efforts on the continent. However, evidence also suggests that USAID must consider the larger context in which education takes place to ensure their programs actually increase the opportunities available for youth, rather than just their frustrations.

Sarah Maniates is a second year MPP student at Sanford concentrating in international development and education policy. She spent the summer interning with USAID’s Bureau for Africa.

Combatting the Effects of Climate Change and Global Disparities in Energy Access through Solar Electrification

 

Climate Change: Current State

Source: NASA

Climate change discussions are nothing new. Fossil fuels and alternative energy discussions have been in place since before Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth in 2006, and will continue long after this year. NASA reported that 2016 was the warmest year globally, and 2015 was the warmest before that, illustrating gradual increases in temperature. In turn, rising temperatures have contributed to increased intensity of weather related threats such as hurricanes, like the devastating Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina last year. Rising temperatures have also contributed to warmer water and air around the Antarctic, which recently resulted in a large iceberg, the size of Delaware, breaking off from Antarctica and “fundamentally changing the landscape of the Antarctic peninsula.” As the landscape around us reacts to changes in the environment, what does the future hold?

David Wallace-Wells, a journalist focusing on climate change and the environment, recently outlined his vision to this question in a New York Magazine article “The Uninhabitable Earth.”  He paints a bleak future where disease burden increases, increased violence erupts, economic instability rises, and humanity faces the consequences of the resulting turmoil. Wallace-Wells warns “parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.”

Global Disparities in Energy Access

Source: USAID

In order to feel the gravity of climate change consequences, one should first understand the disproportionality of electricity access and energy consumption. In the United States, virtually everyone has access to electricity. At the same time, the U.S. is also one of the highest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. The country produced 6.587 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2015, with 29% from electricity use.

Compare this to the 1.2 billion people (16% of the global population) who lack access to electricity. Nearly 95% of this energy-poor population resides in rural Sub-Saharan Africa or Asia, revealing one of the largest development challenges of our time. The world’s population is expected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, with half the growth occurring in Africa. If these individuals were to gain access to electricity via natural gas or coal, given the expected population growth, it is likely that the Wallace-Wells perspective of climate change will be a quickly emerging reality.

So how are businesses tackling both the development challenge of increasing global electricity access while simultaneously understanding the importance of sustainability and limited resources?

Sustainable Developments in Solar Electrification 

Source: Matthieu Young, USAID

Enterprising companies have been creating alternate sources of renewable energy to bring electricity to individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. By moving straight to clean technology and renewable energy in the form of solar and wind powered electricity initiatives, these companies are “leapfrogging” past the detrimental effects of natural gas and coal. This is right in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number seven to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Electrifying Sub-Saharan Africa is important – not just for those living in the region but also for the world. Increased access to affordable and reliable electricity will help poverty alleviation, as there are increased opportunities for business growth, longer hours of operation, and the ability to integrate technology into daily life. Hospitals are able to treat patients in better conditions, leading to overall health improvements. Schools are able to increase students’ access to education through different information communication technologies leading to increased teacher retention and student completion rates.

The main push, as described by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker, has been a “Race to Solar-Power Africa.” McKibben describes how both American and African led businesses are using innovative and affordable mechanisms to supply electricity though affordable off-grid solar kits in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Off-grid solar power systems do not require the same cumbersome and expensive infrastructure that currently exist in the United States. As a result, these innovative systems help cut labor and capital costs in bringing electricity to regions previously without access. These systems also help lower long-term costs as they are affordable – essentially the same cost, if not lower, as traditional kerosene – and provide clean electricity lasting up to four times longer.

Both the affordability and increased duration of electricity are partially due to the drop in prices of solar panels, coupled with technology advances enabling the creation of more efficient light bulbs.

Innovative Solar Companies

Several solar companies and entrepreneurs are entering the electrification space in Sub-Saharan Africa because it is relatively nascent and not yet monopolized. Companies are entering the market through different avenues including as a solar panel providers, solar panel installers, as utility companies, or as wholesalers or retailers of solar products.

One American company, Off-Grid Electric, sells a starter kit including “a panel, a battery, a few L.E.D. lights, a phone charger, and a radio” priced at just $8 a month for three years. After the three years have passed, the family or individual then owns the kit.

Black Star Energy, a Ghanaian company offers solar power in the guise of a utility company. Black Star installs solar micro-grids in communities needing electricity. Unlike Off-Grid Electric where individuals pay for the physical equipment, Black Star users “will always pay bills, but the charges start at only two dollars a month.” They are essentially paying for the utility of electricity, and therefore, will never own the technology themselves.

These personal home solar kits are one sustainable method by which to electrify Africa. Innovations, such as Off-Grid Electric, have gained traction due to venture capital support from Silicon Valley and USAID’s Power Africa mechanism which pledged four million dollars to solar start-ups focusing on African off-grid energy.

The benefits from electrification will help Sub-Saharan African nations close the gap in energy poverty while rising against several existing development challenges. Leadership from these nations benefitting from renewable energy initiatives will be essential in curbing global climate change threats, and can perhaps alter the way we currently think about development and growth.

Rohini Ravi is a second year Master of Public Policy focusing on international development and global health.

 

 

COP-22 highlights need for American leadership in combating climate change in India

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning. Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning.
Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New Delhi, India: My father has struggled to complete his morning run for the past few weeks. Thick and unrelenting smog has settled over New Delhi, forcing residents to wear facemasks and invest in air purifiers. “My whole family has bought facemasks and air purifiers,” says Nikhil Dugal, long-term resident of the city.

Pollution levels are on the rise in developing cities like New Delhi, as president-elect Donald Trump has threatened to cancel the Paris Accord. This frustrating dichotomy and the need for American leadership in the fight against climate change were highlighted at United Nations COP22 summit that took place earlier in November. Continue reading

The Other Election: Choosing Earth’s Governor

Source: United Nations

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) skipped the first World Humanitarian Summit in May. The summit produced groundbreaking agreements on a range of humanitarian issues. However, expert opinions are mixed on how effective these changes will be, due to the absence of the permanent five (P5.)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was resolute. “The absence of these leaders from this meeting does not provide an excuse for inaction,” he said. “They have a unique responsibility to pursue peace and stability, and to support the most vulnerable.” However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s last day in office is December 31, and his tenure is almost over; the election for his successor is already underway.

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Can WhatsApp be used for policy innovations in developing countries?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87244355@N00/376781013/

When I was traveling through the gorgeous and remote Kerala Backwaters in India last year, I met a bright teenage entrepreneur named Amit, from the local fishing village. He owns three canoes, which he uses as taxis to transport locals and tourists from village to village. This story is as old as time, except for one thing: it was 2015, and his business depended entirely on the popular messaging app WhatsApp.

Amit uses WhatsApp to coordinate with his employees (other young men from his village), who operate his canoes in the area. He also pushes messages about canoe rates and locations to a growing list of customers (he believes he can find enough customers to invest in more canoes). Even as I finished my canoe ride, Amit made sure that we were connected — just in case I had friends coming to the area. “Hey bro, make sure you add me on WhatsApp.” Always hustling.

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