By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) – Mixed news from Africa: the Somali Practitioner of ‘Yogadishu’, Ilwad Elman, is the German Africa Peace Prize Winner for 2020. Ilwad Elman has been helping former child soldiers and rape survivors overcome their trauma. Analysts say that recovery for the African States could be dimmed by debt. and African maternal health groups expect better times for women under Biden as the next US President.
“Yogadishu” – a combination of yoga and Mogadishu – is an alternative mental health technique, the therapy aims to break down walls of silence and begin the healing process. “We keep our doors open for those who want to gather and a safe space to do so,” says Elman, winner of the 2020 German Africa prize for humanitarian work in her homeland.
Ilwad’s father — an engineer, entrepreneur and social activist — had been an ardent peace activist in the 1990s, coining the famous mantra in Somalia: “Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen”. He was assassinated in 1996 for his human rights work and is known to this day as the Somali Father of Peace.
As violence grew in Somalia, Ilwad, her mother and sisters fled into exile in Canada. After 10 years, the family contemplated a return to the Horn of Africa. Ilwad didn’t speak the local language and the hardships of living in a war-torn country were unfamiliar and difficult for her.
But her mother – a strong human rights activist and a fierce custodian of her husband’s legacy – was determined to go back even at the height of the conflict. “From her I learned that you could be anything and everything you wanted to be as a woman,” said Ilwad.
“That is not a message woman and girls hear in Somalia. But my mother empowered, encouraged and challenged me to do more and be more,” Ilwad said. The family returned to Somalia in 2010 and rebuilt the father’s project to reintegrate child soldiers and civil war orphans into Somali society.
In addition to her work with the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, Ilwad runs “Sister Somalia” – the first rape crisis centre in Somalia. It was established to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence to rebuild and reclaim their lives.
She’s also part of the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Extremely Together initiative, which mobilizes political will to overcome threats to peace, development and human rights. For two years, she was the youngest consultant for the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund. She was also voted one of the 100 Most Influential Young Africans for 2020, organized by the Ghana-based Africa Youth Awards group.
Recovery Dimmed by Debt
As the year winds down, analysts are speculating about the biggest challenge facing Africa in the new year. It’s not what you might think. If you guessed Covid-19, you’d be wrong, says Alex Vines, director of regional and security studies at the London-based Chatham House. It’s a four-letter word – a polite one – and it’s Debt.
African debt will become a greater global concern in 2021 as many African states remain the world’s poorest and most fragile and have been hard hit by the economic and financial costs imposed by the pandemic, writes Vines in a recent editorial.
There’s $5.4 billion owed in 2020 but which could be postponed. That however is a fraction of the $13.6 billion in interest and principal owed by sub-Saharan African states to creditors.
Pile that on top of $20-billion in private obligations, much of it owed to Chinese commercial creditors or Eurobond repayments.
“2021 will be a slow recovery year for many African states, with increased unemployment and growing debts and reduced liquidity to provide public services,” Vines writes in the Mail & Guardian. “A few countries are likely to struggle – particularly Zambia, which in November became the first debt defaulter of the Covid-19 era. Angola and Namibia are also badly exposed. Zimbabwe is already in debt arrears and is not eligible for debt relief.
A number of African states, such as Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea, have been hit by a sharp down-turn in demand for their main export – oil. Angola will in 2020 have reached a debt to GDP ratio of just short of 120% – a lot of debt but little income.
Prior to Covid-19, sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries included several of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a burgeoning middle class, but also remained mired in some regions by debt, conflict and protests, and plagued by elites clinging to power.
Civilian-led reform movements toppled regimes in Algeria and Sudan in 2019 followed by messy transitions. Youth-led protests have clashed with government security forces, pushing for accountable government, such as the #EndSARS Movement in Lagos or the 11 November (Independence Day) demonstrations in Luanda.
More protests should be expected in 2021.
The year 2020 will, of course, be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic. Many African countries have handled the public health effects of coronavirus well compared with neighbouring continents, with some 55,000 related deaths and 2 million recovered out of a population of just over a billion – thanks to quick action and leadership by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, by public support and a youthful population.
Despite these challenges, 2021 could be an important moment for a fresh start, with debt forgiveness offering greater pan-African prosperity and resilience for future generations. The African Development Bank agrees. “Africa is still a prime investment destination despite COVID-19,” said Tetsushi Sonobe of the Asian Development Bank at a recent webinar. “Investment opportunities still abound in Africa.”
Better Times for Women Under Biden?
Maternal health groups worldwide are hoping that the election of Joe Biden will lead to a lifting of the so-called “global gag rule’ which cut off much-needed maternal health services in many parts of the developing world.
“I am excited and hopeful that things are going to be better,” said Nelly Munyasia, executive director of Reproductive Health Network Kenya. Her network promotes health services, including offering information about abortion.
“We are going to access funding and we are going to save the lives of women and girls,” she says, before explaining how tough the past four years has been.
Current US policies restrict access to safe abortion not just by attaching anti-abortion conditions to foreign aid. The United States also imposes its rules on how medical providers and non-profits spend their own funds, and on how they care for and advise their clients. The so-called global gag rule led to more pregnancies and lower contraceptive use among women in African countries reliant on U.S. foreign aid, according to a study published in the Lancet Global Health journal.
“Our findings suggest how a U.S. policy that aims to restrict federal funding for abortion services can lead, unintentionally, to more – and probably riskier – abortions in poor countries,” said Nina Brooks, a researcher at Stanford University who co-led the work.
Stanford University’s Eran Bendavid, who co-led the study, said its findings had probably captured only a partial view of the policy’s harm to maternal health, since knock-on effects of risky abortions were not measured.
“Because abortions are an important cause of maternal mortality, the increase in abortion uptake might also increase maternal deaths — and possibly disproportionately given that abortions under the policy could be less safe,” he said.
When organizations reject U.S. funds, they often have to reduce the scale of their programs—years of work to earn the trust of marginalized communities are also lost when clinics close and there are often no other existing programs to replace the services.
Past versions of the global gag rule have shown that the policy does not reduce the number of abortions and has instead increased unsafe abortions. It also has negative impacts on maternal, new-born, and child health.
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to repeal the Mexico City Policy – also known as the ‘global gag rule’ as one of his early acts in office. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 December 2020]
Photo credit: @IlwadElman
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