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Archive for February 24th, 2010

Yes, this whole week I was stuck in conferences telling me the world is going to burn in the next 50 to 100 years. And the rising oceans will act as a temporary cool-down – but then we will drown as they rise a bit too much. Bye-bye Manhattan. Bye-bye Cape Town. Bye-bye London. Depressing. Not really. As you all know I am a natural optimist. I know that we will find a solution. We’ll just first go through all the other bad options before we do the right thing. But I am still stuck on what we can do in Africa. And I can’t find a solution. I think we are stuck in a Catch 22 situation on dealing with climate change in Africa. We are stuck – each time we find a solution it forces us back to our starting point.

I know I have argued that people will first look at the things that will kill them immediately – health, food and war. But the climate change will affect Africa and the impact will be felt way more than in any other region. The impact will be disproportionate. Why? Because we live such a marginal life – always on the edge. And the only way we can survive is through ubuntu – supporting each other with the little we have. This social safety net is build with little chain links that helps us stay connected to each other and connected to life. We only have each other to depend on and our social safety net is each other. When this break we are pretty… hum… stuffed (sorry, wanted to use a harder word). We have seen it when these safety nets break – Ethiopia in the 80′s, Somalia in the 90′s,  Sudan today. The impact is so much worse than anywhere else. Because people can’t share anymore. There is just nothing to share. And people die. Climate change will have a huge impact as we will see consistent crop failures and the breaking of the social safety net. We will help each other until there is nothing left to share. And then we die. So climate change is important. But I just can’t see a way out of it. I just can’t see a way of dealing with it in Africa. How to get beyond where we are.

The first problem is dealing with the money that would be needed to fight climate change in Africa. It isn’t as easy as we think. More aid? Maybe. But from where? One of the proposals is that some of the money that comes from carbon trading should be diverted to Africa’s fight on climate change. I have a problem with that (no surprise there). There will not be enough money generated from carbon trading to deal with Africa and all the other areas that needs to be dealt with. So where will the money come from? More aid from the US and Europe? That could work. Couldn’t it? No.

Aid money is needed for the first fight – HIV/Aids, TB, malaria, food, water, etc. All these areas are already underfunded. So any aid going to fight climate change will be money that should go to the first group of priorities – things that are killing people today. Even if we include the funding in projects aimed at sustainability – farming, manufacturing, trade, investment – the money will still be a diversion from the main aim of improving Africa. And we just don’t have enough money going around at the moment. Look after the first things first. Once that is done you can look at climate change – but not a minute earlier. And we know that adequate aid (and trade) ain’t gonna happen soon.

So what do we do if we get the money from somewhere (and somehow)? How would we spend it? We struggle with basic capacity in Africa already. We struggle to get the medicine to people even if we get medicine for free. We can’t help all the farmers become more efficient even if we get the funding that is needed. We have a lack of capacity to do some of the basics – where do we get the capacity to deal with climate change? Do they want us to hire some more of those western consultants to help us out? Divert some more money away? And what do they know? They can’t even solve it in their own country where they have all the solutions already – how are they going to solve it in Africa?

And what about the infrastructure? We are so behind in providing the infrastructure needed to run our countries – how are we going to build infrastructure for climate change? We have coal – not wind-farms or geothermal. I can picture it now – a huge wind-farm right next the coffee farmer in Ethiopia. That ain’t gonna happen soon either. We have to build the roads before we can build the wind-farm. Shouldn’t we?

Even if we get all that sorted (how I don’t know) – should this be the priority for governments? Can we just get them to govern a bit more efficiently first? Their priority should be to start governing and not to talk about things that removes them even further from the people. They should get their priorities straight. Govern first. Plan for tomorrow next. And then plan for the long term. But first things first, thank you.

Sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? Each solution offers a new challenge that brings us back to our starting point. How to deal with climate change in Africa. Catch 22? More money needed… but elsewhere. More capacity needed… but elsewhere. More infrastructure needed… but elsewhere. More governing… but elsewhere. I just don’t know what the answer is. And, in all honesty, I haven’t seen or found a solution that seems to do the work. Nothing has convinced me yet. But I am convinced of one thing though. That in the end the African people will find a way through this. They will find a solution. They always somehow manages to find solutions when they face the most impossible situations. Throw a war our way – we’ll get through to the other side. Colonize us – we’ll survive. Crops fail – we’ll share the little we have. HIV/Aids killing people – we’ll look after the kids. Somehow we find a way forward.

Catch 22? Not really. That book was written by an American. More like A Long Walk To Freedom if you ask me. But please, just not Things Fall Apart.

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The capitalist have left the building. We just can’t find them anymore. Everyone seems to be a social entrepreneur (when they aren’t green investors). Do-gooders with with spreadsheets as they are called. People who take a social need and turn it into a business.

And we have some classic examples to look up to. Aussie Nic Frances whose group, Easy Being Green, plans to cut carbon emissions in Australian households over the next 10 years. The business? He hands out free low-energy light bulbs and low-flow shower heads in return for the rights to trade the carbon emissions the equipment will save. Nic sells the carbon credits to industry, and is now aims to take his business global.

Isaac Durojaiye runs a franchise in Africa. In a continent where children die from diarrhea from bad sanitation, Isaac supplies mobile toilets to slum areas and young people run the franchise in the slum. They keep 60 percent and the rest goes to Isaac. And Africa is a large continent with a huge market to expand the franchise.

Bottom line (no pun)? Their business address a social need AND they make money from the enterprise. Of course, they put more money back into the business to buy more light bulbs or more toilets – a typical business expansion strategy of investing back into your business for expansion. And I am sure they take enough to ensure they don’t suffer too much.

But there are other classic examples of social entrepreneurs. Another classic example of a business idea that started with a focus on a social need and expanded this globally? Wal-Mart. Sam Walton started with a very basic idea of offering the community what they needed and wanted straight after the Second World War – stores that offer goods at the lowest possible prices and that stayed open later during key holidays. He passed on the saving he made from buying from lowest priced suppliers to his customers. A basic social need of the time developed into a business model social entrepreneurs have duplicated ever since – give people what the need at a price they can afford. If it works, give it to more people.

At the heart of almost every large business lies the social entrepreneur. Timberland started from the idea of giving working people a set of work boots they can afford and that will protect them from the elements they have to face in their work. McDonald’s from giving people, who work long hours and earn low wages, quick and cheap food they can have ‘on the run’. Pfizer from the simple need to make medicine taste better. The Home Depot from the need to give people the tools and skills to do the DIY job themselves. These companies were all started by social entrepreneurs.

The challenge for most companies is to remember why they started in the first place and ask themselves – are we still serving a social need? And for our future growth – what social need can we serve to continue to grow as a company, still be socially relevant and needed by society. And no one said you only had to serve one single social need through your business. There is no reason why you can’t give people goods at an affordable price, lower your environmental impact, and provide your workers with health care and pension. Ask Tesco’s, the Body Shop, Ben & Jerry’s or Starbucks – they continue to do that. (By the way, you don’t have to like any of these companies. None of them are perfect. Not even Nick and Isaac will go through life without making a mistake).

Now, if only I can find a social need to package and sell it like Nic and Isaac. Oh, I don’t know – maybe a pill to end poverty, a drink that will end hunger, a shoe that provides shelter, a lipstick for good health, or crops that will end abuse.

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So you worry about global warming? The latest is that it might actually be good for your health so you shouldn’t worry about it. It’s just a lot of hot air according to those in the know. Just be prepared and have your fan ready. According to a study done by the UK’s the Department of Health and Health Protection Agency (HPA), global warming might actually be a better than you think. Just be prepared and you should be oki-doki. Or at least those in the UK. Yeh, right.

I wonder of this will work in Africa as well?Let’s look at the tips they gave people to help them survive this global warming phenomenon in the UK and implement these in Africa.

1. Have a fan.What? Genius! I am a big fan of Bafana Bafana (stop laughing) and I know a number of other Bafana Bafana fans. I’ll just bring them with then. No problem. I have a fan with me – a Bafana Bafana fan. Now what? Oops, sorry. You meant a fan like in a gadget that blows air around? What, like a politician? Oh, this thing with the propellers. Thanks. But how does it do the blowing bit? And what is this long rope sticking out at the end? I need to stick it in where? An ‘eletricity outlet’? What the hell is that dude? No can do. We don’t have electricity coming out the walls you know. Maybe I’ll just fan myself with a few leaves or do it Kenneth Kaunda style with a white handkerchief. But no luck on the fan though. Let’s try the next tip.

2. Keep windows open as long as cooler outside. No problem with the window bit. We don’t have any windows. Maybe in the big cities, but not out on the farms. But I do have a problem with the technical bit of cooler outside though. Won’t everything get way hot if it is global warming? So outside might be boiling hot and still be cooler than inside. Bit of a problem that one. From the fire into the frying pan. Literally. The difference between outside and inside – being boiled or being fried. Your choice. I’ll go back to the fan, thanks.

3. Invest in blinds. What? You mean like in blind people? How the hell is that going to help me? Will they fan me while I tell them it is something else? I think that is so typical of you guys. Pick someone to discriminate against and exploit them. I will have no part in this. Oh, sorry! You mean a cloth type of thing in front of the windows. No problem. We’ll just hang the mosquito nets in front of the windows. Double whammy. Stay cool and stay alive. But can you send a few more our way?

4. Keep hydrated. No problem. I’ll keep drinking those Cokes and Castles. Easiest thing you have asked me so far. We like our beer. But how much is enough? Same thing my wife asks me every night. But you have given me a good excuse I can use. “Honey, I am really doing this to fight global warming. Really, I promise you. The umlungu said I should drink a bit more to keep hydrated. You know we have no running water and I don’t want you to walk the 10 miles to the river each day when you don’t even know if it has dried up or not“. Cheers, thanks for that one.

5. Eat regularly, and keep salt levels up. I thought you were serious about this. Come on now. I make less than a $1 a day. How am I going to pay for all that food with salt? You think the woman in the market will have the salt levels on the nutrition label on the back of the mielies/corn, fruit and veg? I don’t even know where the next meal is coming from. Never mind where my bloody salt is coming from. The only salt I taste is the sweat I taste while working on the farm to feed everyone in the world.

And I am not sure how long that will last either. The problem is, you see, that all this heat is starting to impact our production over here. Uganda coffee farmers are already starting to feel the affect of global warming, Droughts and sporadic rain will continue to affect our crops. And sometimes we will have good times and sometimes not. And we won’t know if it will hit the whole country or only parts of it. Ethiopia had bumper crops, but bad spells in certain areas. You might argue that this has always happened. And maybe it has and maybe it hasn’t. I can only react to what I see. And what I see tells me it won’t get any easier over the next few years and decades. Better get used to it. You got the tips on how to survive though haven’t you?

What really annoys me is that the UK Department of Health actually tries to put a positive spin on this. See they argue that less people will die from the heat during global warming than from the cold right now. They will experience a better climate as the UK heats up – from a miserable and damp little island to a sunny holiday destination. The new Bahamas. They are trying to argue that it will actually be better for them! (Ever watched Life of Brian? Sounds a bit like them singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.) Stuff those outside the UK. Every country for itself now. What do we have to look forward to? Beachfront property in Zambia with the sea levels rising? Shark cage diving in Zimbabwe? Chad, better start getting your navy ready to fight off the Spanish trawlers.

But in the meantime for those in the UK, close those blinds so I can’t see you eating those salty crisps and drinking that bottled water. And close the windows and turn up the fan, it’s getting hot out here.

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