Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador

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María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Mar 31 2021 (IPS) – Salvadoran villager Maria Luz Rodriguez placed the cheese on top of the lasagna she was cooking outdoors, put the pan in her solar oven and glanced at the midday sun to be sure there was enough energy for cooking.

“Hopefully it won’t get too cloudy later,” Maria Luz, 78, told IPS. She then checked the thermometer inside the oven to see if it had reached 150 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature to start baking.

She lives in El Salamar, a coastal village of 95 families located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the central department of La Paz which is home to some 30,000 people on the edge of an impressive ecosystem: the mangroves and bodies of water that make up the Estero de Jaltepeque, a natural reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres.

After several minutes the cheese began to melt, a clear sign that things were going well inside the solar oven, which is simply a box with a lid that functions as a mirror, directing sunlight into the interior, which is covered with metal sheets.

“I like to cook lasagna on special occasions,” Maria Luz said with a smile.

After Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America in 2005, a small emergency fund reached El Salamar two years later, which eventually became the start of a much more ambitious sustainable development project that ended up including more than 600 families.

Solar ovens and energy-efficient cookstoves emerged as an important component of the programme.

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The project was financed by the Global Environment Facility‘s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, and El Salamar was later joined by other villages, bringing the total number to 18. The overall investment was more than 400,000 dollars.

In addition to solar ovens and high-energy rocket stoves, work was done on mangrove reforestation and sustainable management of fishing and agriculture, among other measures. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities in these villages, in addition to seasonal work during the sugarcane harvest.

While María Luz made the lasagna, her daughter, María del Carmen Rodríguez, 49, was cooking two other dishes: bean soup with vegetables and beef, and rice – not in a solar oven but on one of the rocket stoves.

This stove is a circular structure 25 centimetres high and about 30 centimetres in diameter, whose base has an opening in which a small metal grill is inserted to hold twigs no more than 15 centimetres long, which come from the gliridicia (Gliricidia sepium) tree. This promotes the use of living fences that provide firewood, to avoid damaging the mangroves.

The stove maintains a good flame with very little wood, due to its high energy efficiency, unlike traditional cookstoves, which require several logs to prepare each meal and produce smoke that is harmful to health.

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The rocket stove can cook anything, but it is designed to work with another complementary mechanism for maximum energy efficiency.

Once the stews or soups have reached boiling point, they are placed inside the “magic” stove: a circular box about 36 centimetres in diameter made of polystyrene or durapax, as it is known locally, a material that retains heat.

The food is left there, covered, to finish cooking with the steam from the hot pot, like a kind of steamer.

“The nice thing about this is that you can do other things while the soup is cooking by itself in the magic stove,” explained María del Carmen, a homemaker who has five children.

The technology for both stoves was brought to these coastal villages by a team of Chileans financed by the Chile Fund against Hunger and Poverty, established in 2006 by the government of that South American country and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote South-South cooperation.

The Chileans taught a group of young people from several of these communities how to make the components of the rocket stoves, which are made from clay, cement and a commercial sealant or glue.

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The use of these stoves “has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent compared to traditional stoves,” Juan René Guzmán, coordinator of the GEF’s Small Grants Programme in El Salvador, told IPS.

Some 150 families use rocket stoves and magic stoves in 10 of the villages that were part of the project, which ended in 2017.

“People were given their cooking kits, and in return they had to help plant mangroves, or collect plastic, not burn garbage, etc. But not everyone was willing to work for the environment,” Claudia Trinidad, 26, a native of El Salamar and a senior studying business administration – online due to the COVID pandemic – at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, told IPS.

Those who worked on the mangrove reforestation generated hours of labour, which were counted as more than 800,000 dollars in matching funds provided by the communities.

In the project area, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored, and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and land ecosystems.

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador's southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador’s southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez, from the town of San Sebastián El Chingo, was among the people who participated in the work. She was also cooking bean soup for lunch on her rocket stove when IPS visited her home during a tour of the area.

“I like the stove because you feel less heat when you are preparing food, plus it’s very economical, just a few twigs and that’s it,” said Petrona, 59.

The bean soup, a staple dish in El Salvador, would be ready in an hour, she said. She used just under one kilo of beans, and the soup would feed her and her four children for about five days.

However, she used only the rocket stove, without the magic stove, more out of habit than anything else. “We always have gliridicia twigs on hand,” she said, which make it easy to use the stove.

Although the solar oven offers the cleanest solution, few people still have theirs, IPS found.

This is due to the fact that the wood they were built with was not of the best quality and the coastal weather conditions and moths soon took their toll.

Maria Luz is one of the few people who still uses hers, not only to cook lasagna, but for a wide variety of recipes, such as orange bread.

However, the project is not only about stoves and ovens.

 Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The beneficiary families also received cayucos (flat-bottomed boats smaller than canoes) and fishing nets, plus support for setting up nurseries for blue crabs and mollusks native to the area, as part of the fishing component with a focus on sustainability in this region on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Several families have dug ponds that fill up with water from the estuary at high tide, where they raise fish that provide them with food in times of scarcity, such as during the lockdown declared in the country in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The project also promoted the planting of corn and beans with native seeds, as well as other crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, cushaw squash and radishes – using organic fertiliser and herbicides.

The president of the Local Development Committee of San Luis La Herradura, Daniel Mercado, told IPS that during the COVID-19 health emergency people in the area resorted to bartering to stock up on the food they needed.

“If one community had tomatoes and another had fish, we traded, we learned to survive, to coexist,” Daniel said. “It was like the communism of the early Christians.”



Family background and social upbringing

(Unedited transcript)

                  By Toyin Falola 

Tell me, who is Paul Tiyambe Zeleza?

First, let me begin by thanking you, Toyin, for the honor and opportunity to do this interview with you. In the African intellectual community, both on the continent and in the diaspora, we admire and appreciate the amazing work you have done to promote African scholarship through your own prodigious publication record, but also for your exemplary support and celebration of African scholars including providing publishing outlets and mentoring for younger scholars.

Like everyone else, my personal, professional, and social identities are both multiple and always in a state of becoming. None of us is ever one thing, frozen in a permanent state of being. On the personal front, in my six decades of life I’ve been a son, sibling, husband, father, uncle, friend and colleague, and so on, affiliations that have given me immeasurable emotional and psychological sustenance. Professionally, I’ve been a student, teacher, scholar, public intellectual, creative writer, university administrator, and member of various boards, all immensely rich and diverse experiences that have shaped my intellectual passions, proclivities, and perspectives.

My social biography has been framed by various historical geographies. The family I was born into has lived in three Southern African countries: Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. My parents met in Zimbabwe and I was born in Harare, then they returned to Malawi where I grew up. My mother partly grew up in Zambia. In the early 1970s the family returned to Zimbabwe, while I remained at school in Malawi. Then in the early 1980s the family moved to Botswana. So my siblings and I were born in three different countries. We’re a transnational family, a multilingual and multicultural family. We’re a product of the migrant labor system of Southern Africa engendered by settler colonial capitalism in the region.

My own itinerary built on these transnational trails. I did my primary and secondary schooling and undergraduate education in Malawi. I left for graduate school in 1977, first for the University of London for my masters degree, then for my doctoral degree at Dalhousie University in Canada. My working life started at the University of Malawi where I served as a teaching assistant soon after graduation in 1976. My PhD studies and academic career took me to Kenya three times, Jamaica, Canada, and the United States.

On a more personal level, my two children were born in Malawi and Canada, respectively. My first wife was African Canadian, and my wife of the past 22 years is African American. So you can say, I’ve followed my parents footsteps by creating my own transnational family. As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! In short, my social biography has been marked by deep transnational and diasporic affiliations from birth. This helps explain my strong Pan-African identifications and inclinations.

I also see myself as a social activist, fervently committed to emancipatory causes ranging from struggles for gender equality, participatory democracy and active citizenship, to the construction of inclusive and sustainable developmental states and societies. The flip side is my intolerance against oppression and exploitation, human rights abuses, political persecution, marginalization and corruption, which unfortunately are rampant in our societies on the continent and in the diaspora.

Outside office work, I am an avid reader. I subscribe to dozens of newspapers and magazines from Malawi, South Africa and Kenya, and outside of the continent from the UK, Canada and the US. On vacation I love reading novels and biographies. I thoroughly enjoy watching movies and television serials from different regions and countries around the world on my iPad, which I think is one of the coolest inventions ever! One of my favorite pastimes is taking long walks, which I do every day. For more elevated pleasures, especially when traveling or visiting a city for the first time, I find going to art galleries and museums revealing of the collective imagination and history of a place. Musical performances, theater and public readings by authors of their work always uplift my spirits, so does eating out. COVID-19 has been a bane on these pleasures. I find cooking relaxing, an opportunity to indulge my culinary creativity and fantasies. I’m not particularly interested in sports, except for international tournaments during which I’m more invested in the victory of African or African diaspora players than in the actual game.

Let us talk about your town and country when you were growing up?

My earliest memories are growing up in Lilongwe, which became Malawi’s capital in 1975 replacing the old colonial capital of Zomba. The Lilongwe of the early 1960s was a relatively small city. I remember it as being very clean. We lived in a lovely neighborhood, or location as there’re called in Malawi, of neat two- or three-bedroom bungalows, with tree-lined streets. I’m the first born in my family so I was both privileged and subject to strict discipline. My father was a foreman, a kind of manager, in the city’s Public Works Department. My mother stayed at home and was quite entrepreneurial. She made and sold embroidery.

My parents came from two different ethnic groups, and as I noted earlier they partly grew up in the neighboring countries, so they were quite worldly in that sense. One result is that we did not grow up thinking in ethnic terms. We embraced a kind of pan-national and pan-regional identity. My mother’s ethnic group, the Ngoni, trace their history to the great migrations in Southern Africa in the 19th century spawned by the formation of the Zulu nation. My father’s ethnic group, the Chewa, trace their origins to migrations from the DRC many centuries earlier.

Both communities are matrilineal in which lineage, property, and land rights are traced through women. Colonialism overlaid its patriarchal structures, practices, and ideologies on the society, but critical elements of matrilineal culture persisted. In our family, we grew up prioritizing relatives from my mother’s family over those from my father’s. In fact, while I’ve visited my mother’s ancestral homeland many times, I’ve been to my father’s only twice. The first time was in 1960. I remember we drove all day in his green land-rover to get there. The second was in 2014 when I went with him to visit his relatives after he had returned from Botswana where he had lived for thirty years and during which he took Botswana citizenship. It’s a region of stunning beauty, with rolling green hills, golden grassland valleys, and shimmering rivers.

I started my education at Lilongwe Government Primary School from the time I was 5 years old as there were no kindergartens at that time. I initially hated school, especially standing in line during assembly, and the teachers forcing us to repeat the alphabet and counting numbers, which I found easy to grasp. Eventually, I loved it especially once I could read stories in both Chichewa and English. I was excited and intrigued by the way reading transported me in my imagination to different worlds and places, people’s lives and experiences. Thus began my lifelong passion for voracious reading.

At the beginning of 1964, we moved to Malawi’s commercial capital city of Blantyre, named after the birthplace of the Scottish British explorer, David Livingstone. Malawi’s founding president was an irredeemable Anglophile and loved Scotland where he did some of his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, so his government never countenanced changing the city’s name. Malawi got its independence from Britain on July 6, 1964. On the eve of independence, we stayed up late, the first time I ever remember doing so. We lived within a few miles from the national stadium. At midnight, the night boomed and cracked with magnificent showers of fireworks I had never seen before. My parents embraced and danced, the only time I witnessed that public display of pure parental joy.

At that time, Blantyre was much larger and more cosmopolitan than Lilongwe. Besides, the indigenous Africans, it had a sizable population of Malawians of Asian origin, who dominated the commercial sector, and European settlers who run the few manufacturing enterprises and transnational businesses, as well as the large tea estates in the surrounding districts. Unlike Lilongwe, which is relatively flat, Blantyre’s physical landscape is made up of undulating hills and mountains.

We settled in a newly constructed neighborhood of beautiful bungalows. The area became known as the “New Lines” to distinguish it from the much older nearby colonial neighborhoods. I spent some of my happiest years there. At first, my brothers and I were enrolled at a Catholic primary school where I did my Standard 4 and 5. For Standard 6-8 I was enrolled at a school closer to our home, Chitawira Primary School. By then, I loved school. I particularly liked mathematics, the sciences, history and geography. I couldn’t care less about English, Chichewa, or physical education, which I was not good at.

At Chitawira I usually came in third in my class, behind two extremely brilliant girls, both named Rosemary. I have always wondered what happened to them, for when I went to college years later they were not there. In 1968, I sat for the primary school leaving certificate. The top performing students were selected for boarding secondary schools, and others went to day schools. The list was published in the newspaper to the great pride of my family. I was selected to go to St. Patrick’s Secondary School. All our teachers except two, the Chichewa and physical education instructors, were Catholic fathers and brothers from the Netherlands. They were demanding and exceptional. They expected and wanted us to excel. I remember the headmaster, Bro. Aloysius, telling me I was bright enough to become not just a teacher but a university professor one day!

The University of Malawi was opened in 1965 when I was in Standard 5. As it so happened, some of the new students used to walk from their hostels in one part of town to the Polytechnic, one of the constituent colleges of the university, close to our house. That’s when I knew there was such a thing as university. They looked both strange and resplendent in their black gowns which they wore everyday. I told my mother I would go to university one day like the students I saw.

I was very close to my mother. As the first born, she entrusted me with looking after my younger siblings. She taught me to cook and do household chores including ironing and taking care of the garden by the house. We talked all the time and she would usually defend me when my father wanted to discipline me if I had done something wrong or if my siblings had done something wrong.  As I grew older, my mother would send me to the grocery store, or we would go together to the city market on Saturdays. That was usually the highlight of my week. Later when I got married, my wife noted I was pretty domesticated, that I enjoyed going to the store and cooking. Besides my mother’s company, I loved lingering around when she had friends over, surreptitiously listening to their conversations. When the late Professor David Rubadiri first read the draft of my novel, Smoldering Charcoal, he observed that the dialogue among the women had a remarkable authenticity and flow.

As city dwellers, we were often visited by my mother’s and father’s relatives from the rural areas. My parents were also generous in that they raised some of their nephews and nieces as members of our family. My siblings and I particularly enjoyed the company of my mother’s relatives, especially her brothers and sisters and her mother. Grandmother was a bundle of joy who enjoyed indulging us and annoying my mother for her tolerance of our occasional cheekiness. Agogo, the term for grandma, was a remarkable woman, who spent years in neighboring countries including Zimbabwe where she went with her first husband, my mother’s father in the early 1950s. She didn’t suffer fools and married three times. My grandfather established a laundry business in Harare, which apparently did well. There’s a family picture of my mother holding me when I was three days old with my grandfather in his three-piece suit.

The only time we left Blantyre was to either go to Zimbabwe for holiday or to my mother’s ancestral home village, where some of her cousins, aunts and uncles still lived. I loved visiting my mother’s relatives especially her grandfather and grandmother, who we used to call Bambo Nkulu and Mai Nkulu. Bambo Nkulu, whose real name was Ishmael Mwale, was one of the first Malawians to get a colonial education. He would regale us, his great grandchildren, with stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1920s, he was a member of a five-man team that translated the Bible from English to Chichewa. He served as a court clerk and one of the main advisors of the Inkosi ya Makosi Gomani II, the paramount chief of the Ngoni.

To my eternal regret, he passed away in 1972, a few weeks before I went to university. I would have loved to have talked to him as a budding historian. Unfortunately, I never met my grandparents on my father’s side as they passed away before I was born. My grandfather worked in the traditional court in his district and his death forced my father, who had been a leading student, coming on top nationally in primary school national exams he sat before his father’s death, to drop out of school and trek to Southern Rhodesia.

Growing up in Blantyre in the 1960s was full of opportunities. We lived near a sports center run by the Lions Club where my friends and I often went to play lawn tennis and football, although I never really excelled in either game. We also played football in makeshift pitches in our neighborhood, as well as many other games. One of my fondest memories was playing in the national stadium for the under—11s as curtain raisers for a regular football tournament.

We also lived within walking distance to the city’s leading public library and information center, which has since been converted into a conference center, where my friends and I would frequent to read books and comics. Sometimes, we would go to the nearby hills and pick wild fruits including mangoes and guavas. One of the central scenes in my novel is of a kid falling from a mango tree and the chain of events that unfolds from that tragic incident. We made our own toys and competed fiercely in making them from cars, trucks, and buses, to guns, bows and arrows.

One particularly fun hobby my friends and I relished was making song books, that is, writing down the lyrics of popular songs. Our musical tastes were eclectic from soul music, to rock and roll, to pop music. We were particularly enraptured by the Motown sound. For African music, we mostly listened to South African bands and singers, both male and female, and famous musicians from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The local music scene was largely confined to traditional music, which we associated with the rural areas and the dances at political rallies that we didn’t much care for.

In 1968, I left home in Blantyre for boarding secondary school. I was 13. Although the school was not too far away, that was the last time I lived with my parents except for the holidays. Boarding school forces one to grow up quickly, to learn to fend for oneself, to become independent. It can be hard, emotionally draining, of course. It was especially challenging for the boys from far away and the rural areas. I loved secondary school because it expanded my intellectual horizons. I also got to appreciate more keenly the country’s diversity in terms of class, ethnicity, and religion.

I had grown up in a religious home. More accurately, my father was very religious. My mother was not. I found solace in my mother’s indifference to religion. My father would have us do Bible study several times a week. While I liked the Bible stories, I found the studies a chore and I rebelled by not going to church. When my father’s denomination, Jehovah’s Witnesses, was proscribed by the government in 1967, I was secretly pleased.

But when the government started actively persecuting members of the denomination, I was alarmed. In 1972, fearful for his life and that of his family the family fled to Zimbabwe. I declined to go with them and chose to go to university where I had just been selected whatever the consequences. I was not going to sacrifice for a religion I didn’t believe in, but I was prepared to do so for higher education that I so desperately aspired to have. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I was 17 years old. My parents were fearful for me. But I am glad I made that momentous decision.






Humans are generally entangled with a web of identity not because they are naturally inclined to multiple indexes of identification, but centrally because they find themselves in an environment configured to align with plural ethnicities and nationalities. A being does not drop from the sky like a wandering alien; instead, we are attached to a family group that comfortably forms a unit in every human society. Farther from this, we are groomed by individuals who are often entirely unrelated to our sociocultural backgrounds. Because of the lived experience with a different set of people, we are once again accorded another identity within which we would function and with whom we would find in-group sustenance. As we grow up, we navigate our ways in human society to attain a different level away from the cultural, professional, political, economic, and philosophical, and we become affiliated with multiple or diverse identities, which make it generally difficult for us to be confined to a single form of identification. Ultimately, this is the condition that we all find ourselves.

A conversation with Paul Zeleza further confirms the assumption that human nature is transcendental and unfixed. We choose identity either consciously (perhaps after one can make decisions when attaining a certain age) or unconsciously during our development. Zeleza’s trajectory of identity formation is unquestionably eclectic, for he has evolved through the years of being associated with, or by deliberately associating himself to, some well-defined societies of people in professional and practical worlds. Being a son, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a father, and more importantly, a friend have all shaped his perceptions and responsibilities to the society that groomed him. As a son, he learned that one’s responsibility as a social animal is not exclusive to an individual, especially in a continent of people with a deep-seated interest in its human interrelationships. A child’s responsibility to his/her parents and later siblings, for a start, is socially given, for they are part of the materials that form the network of human connections used mainly to advance the social courses of actions. As such, a child considers him/herself an asset and also an instrument: An asset because he/she would automatically inherit the responsibility of advancing the collective ambitions and goals of his/her immediate society (which may not necessarily be defined culturally), and an instrument because he/she is a tool for shaping the said society. In other words, there would be no such notion as social evolution when there are no individuals who would bring about this supposed change. The situation of Zeleza is evident of this, such as others do in similar capacities.

The uniqueness of his situation is confirmed by the historical geographies that nature has associated him with in good measure. To take as an illustration, his coincidence of being birthed in Zimbabwe, raised in Malawi, and having a professional relationship with Botswana all combine to produce the intellectually eclectic individual we have in him. By this permutation, he has experienced a magnificent interplay of cultural diversity, social interactions, and philosophical eclecticism. In fact, anyone who would be prepared for important things in life would necessarily have the opportunity to test different sociocultural and sociopolitical human conditions. It provides one with the required human capital to successfully manage people and advance their collective dreams. Therefore, while it was possible that the childhood and experience of Zeleza would have been dismissively adjudged as complex, or maybe more plainly intricate, nature has carefully been preparing him ahead for the vast responsibility that would be attached to his personal, social, political, and professional identity. We cannot contend that this transnational mobility, known to Zeleza and his family, provided them with the needed technical and philosophical knowledge about Africa, and the complex political terrain enabled by the expediency of colonialism. He had his primary education in Malawi, giving him the necessary sociopolitical exposure to situations and circumstances of the postcolonial time that defined the African children within the context of that timeframe.

Meanwhile, human sociocultural philosophy is always in a constant state of flux. And due to this mobility and/or flexibility, we are able to imbibe a culture of eclecticism in our personal and professional lives. Without being eclectic, or if you like diverse, appropriating the right kinds of human philosophy to solve an existential challenge of a globalist posture is readily difficult, for the approaches needed to address one’s social issues cannot be used when confronted by intricate situations in culturally distant places. At the same time, the situation cannot be evaded in a world in which physical and geographical boundaries are collapsed through the internet―a generational project meant to enhance a globalization agenda. When Zeleza again advanced his academic pursuit to London in 1977, he was preparing for something massive and transcendental. As if he had an incurable urge for the acquisition of knowledge from very diverse sociocultural environments, his Ph.D. academic experience took him to continents, including but not limited to the Americas and Africa. For anyone who understands the tradition in the academic community, it would be difficult not to understand that any academic expedition that takes people from one cultural end to another would always have the advantage of exposing them to different human cultures. For Zeleza, all these became a force that determined his transnational mobility and constantly mobile identity.

Therefore, it is not suspicious that a man exposed to this level of human condition and experiences would be essentially Pan-African or inclined to accept his own complex identity. As a child growing up, his intra-continental mobility has been a product of postcolonial politics that continues to enhance Africans’ spatial mobility and render them in a continued state of flux. As an academic, he was exposed to the educational trajectory of the continent, how it has been colored, and how it has been systematically affected by the said experiences. Being exposed to the network of intercontinental industrial and political expansion ignited a revolutionary drive in him, which later transformed into his series of aspirations and focus on African epistemology. Serving at the professional and leadership level was a protest and resistance culture to effect changes in systems that are essentially rigid due to their dependency on colonial systems and structures. Whereas it is not only important to be flexible if one wants to compete in current global socio-economic engagements, especially in the form of education given to the people, the need to develop an eclectic sociocultural philosophy cannot be underestimated as these are needed for the enhancement of one’s civilization agenda. Compared to other civilizations, Africa is lagging for reasons that are not unconnected to their limitations of educative initiatives.

In the intellectual category in which Zeleza found himself, it is impossible not to become a revolutionary tool, providing people with the most basic understanding of their cultural and political situations to provoke in them the revolutionary thinking needed for sustainable evolution and development. By becoming a gender equality advocate, for example, shows that he has mastered the situation of the continent and realized that one of the clogs in the wheel of African development is their rigidity to gender roles. Although people are usually of the opinion that Africa is an extremely patriarchal society, an assumption that is more controversial than truthful, it cannot be disregarded that the patriarchal conditions were aggravated by the political schematics of the colonizing force. Within the spate of a little less than three centuries, Africans, having been well exposed to the systematic and systemic culture of patriarchy, have perfected the act of excluding their female counterparts in public administration and other political engagements, disempowering them and making them a dangling appendage to their male counterparts. This has brought some unmitigated disaster for Africans and their culture on many grounds.

For one, the exclusion of a female demographic in an environment where they are socially expected to function at a maximum comes with some unforeseen consequences. In addition to their roles as caregivers and mothers, women are expected to be the shock absorbers of the family. They are socially expected to combine caregiving with teaching the children. They are constantly pressured to support their husbands (whatever that means), and other roles are culturally allocated to them. This is despite the fact that the economic opportunities needed to function at maximum in these responsibilities are not usually allotted to them. This compounds their woes and forces many of them to become essentially vociferous advocates of gender equality, in cases where most of them are not depressed already. For anyone who is informed about their existential challenges, it is helpful rather than shortsighted to join the bandwagon of their protest in the quest for a better society. The fight does not necessarily need to be gender-specific. Anyone and everyone who sees the socio-economic lopsidedness is morally expected to join the campaign for gender equity because whoever is fighting for gender equality is seeking the betterment of the society. Perhaps, this is what informed Zeleza’s inclusion in the gender equality protest, whose waves and tides have been definitely registered in the minds of people in this contemporary time. For the continent to progress as expected, the unassigned workload that the male demographic has assigned for themselves must be shared with their female counterparts to relieve them and encourage alternative thinking and approaches in sociopolitical problem-solving.

It is evident that anyone who supports the above agenda would accept a participatory democracy where individuals are represented and included in their social development. Democracy, which is an often-preferred political system in contemporary times, remains the most transparent system for the promotion of a nation and its socio-economic condition. However, the failure to befriend an inclusive government would always have adverse effects observable in African politics that have overtaken the continent in recent times. Having preferences for the exclusion of the people in any governmental dispensation breeds political patronage and a clientelistic government in which institutions are disrespected and abused by those in power. Africa comes unclean in this aspect. One of the reasons for the emasculation of their economic system is that participatory politics has been supplanted in preference for exclusionary ones. Thus, the resources with which the continent has been blessed benefit only the bureaucratic arrangements in the continent. The ordinary people are powerless, perhaps because administrators have found a consummate method of excluding them and their voices in the realm of making important decisions. In essence, the experiences that shaped Zeleza’s sociocultural philosophy are the ones that he grew up to challenge and change so that succeeding generations would not face the same problems that he witnessed.

It is often said that a good reader is a good leader. This saying did not come from the simplistic association of readership to scholarship, by the way. It is from the understanding that on the pages of books are silent ideas and philosophies carefully and artfully archived by brilliant authors whose communication with the audience spans beyond fixed generations. The ideas in books, when unearthed as archaeologists unearth evidence from forgotten sites of history, are in themselves powerful and not without their forces of creation. They create the energy to consider events from a different perspective and challenge traditional models of thinking. Through books, humans are open to diverse discussions and ideas that reflect different sociocultural or sociopolitical conditions. By their appropriation, therefore, it is likely that they would be useful for the enhancement of a revolutionary trajectory to move the people towards a better and more desired condition. Unsurprisingly, the fact that Zeleza has been an avid reader is a revelation of his intellectual ingenuity. Raised in a generation where all hope on the African future is cast on the fact of quality education acquisition, Zeleza has constructed for himself a solid intellectual identity that has unarguably molded him into a respectful and respected individual. While formative education is usually determined by parental and sometimes social factors, the education in subsequent years is usually exclusive to an individual decision.

Despite the freedom that comes from adulthood, however, one’s disposition to life is shaped by the cultural traditions and experiences that one has as a child. In an African environment, the fact that individuals are exposed to a strong social upbringing further solidifies the cultural tradition identified here. Parental contributions to the socialization of children take crucial precedence in the African society, for they are not only the shoulders upon which a child stands to see the world, but they are also the eyes with which they see the social configurations entrenched in the people’s philosophy. Zeleza has good parents who were consciously available for him to have a fulfilled relationship with the environment. Having a father who provides for the family’s financial needs and a mother who supplies the family’s moral and ideological oxygen is an added advantage to him as a child. It was more soothing for him because he was the first child of the family. By that virtue, he met the full preparedness of parents who provided all the needed support for his development. The fluidity of ethnic identity that was well celebrated among Africans before the ascension of the visitors helped him in the visualization of the society, not from a jaundiced perspective, but rather from an elaborate one. He already was equipped with the knowledge that the society is diverse, so it helped him see himself as the center of anything and everything, and shaped him to consider himself a part of the moving society whose knowledge and contributions are hugely important. Indeed, it was because his childhood experience followed this trajectory that he sees himself as constantly evolving and not frozen in a permanent state of being.

Thus, Zeleza’s brilliance was nothing short of conscious training, dedication, determination, and strengthened commitment, all of which were accumulated from the beginning of his childhood. Enhanced by his purposeful parents, he was married to books and numerous scholarly production from a very young age. This earned him the admiration of many and also placed him in a desirable and appropriate level because he was poised and ready for the challenges of life. Even when the indigenous educational systems of Africans were submerged and supplanted by the hegemonic civilization, its structures still survived in a more sophisticated manner in contemporary times. For example, it is within the educational process of Africans that children learn about the immense responsibility ahead of them, and the social contributions they are expected to offer to make it better collectively. Without this, it would be next to difficult for them to understand their roles as members of the society. Perhaps, it comes from the knowledge that the colonial adventurers would not tell them; the knowledge that Africans are socially expected to perform some tasks is passed through the parents, the primary agent of socialization and education for the children.

Being brought up by responsible parents helped Zeleza beyond expectations. He was shown unmixed parental affection and love. Through his parents, he learned that he has a responsibility to the basic family that produced him. Although such knowledge prepared him for the bigger one in the future, the fact that he has to cater to his siblings was injected into him right from the beginning. And this underscores, once again, the place of the African woman in the structuration of the African society. On the occasion that they are abandoned, the results in most cases are usually devastating. Zeleza was schooled by his mother from childhood so that the siblings, the younger ones behind him, would bring social pressure on him because, by the configuration of human relationship, kinship makes it important that he provides for them, not necessarily in terms of money but in the idea that they should benefit from his comparative advantage because of his age. The pressure to support the siblings is not exclusive to Zeleza, and it is not because he is a male. Rather, it came because he was the first child of the family who had the opportunity to experience parental attention in bringing him up. The first child takes on additional responsibilities.

In essence, the sociocultural philosophy of Zeleza is a mix of varieties of childhood experiences. His being raised in a postcolonial environment brought out in him the determination to make a difference by giving full attention to the needed sociopolitical and socioreligious changes. He was also shaped by the politics of an African household where he was introduced to a network of social activities. The fact that the colonial educational system failed to create in him contradictions that reflect instability further affirms the assumption that he grew under the right parents. He moved from place to place because of factors that were not unconnected to postcolonial political eventualities. He is very refined because he grew up witnessing cosmopolitan. Because of divergent opportunities, he has continuously evolved, advanced, and achieved a height that shows that he is dedicated and focused. Personally, professionally, and socially, his identities are constantly shaped and reshaped by events and circumstances, and the inevitable political activities that serve as the context.

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Debt Moratoria in the Next Pandemic: Be Prepared, and Be Fair

Aid, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


Credit: Temilade Adelaja via Communication for Development Ltd/CGAP, Washington DC

WASHINGTON DC, Mar 25 2021 (IPS) – Imagine it is 2025 and that, unfortunately, another pandemic is sweeping the world. Much like in the 2020 crisis, borrowers have seen their livelihoods upended and are struggling to repay loans.

One of the questions before policy makers amid this new crisis is whether to extend moratoria to distressed borrowers. In search of answers, they reflect on the world’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic and whether moratoria were part of the solution. These policy makers conclude that they did some things right in 2020.

Just days into COVID-19 lockdowns, bank regulators in more than 115 countries granted special permission for financial services providers (FSPs) to extend moratoria to millions of borrowers, especially those with small business and consumer loans. These moratoria were the next best thing to cash in the wallet for borrowers who had lost their jobs or seen their business revenue plummet.

For lower-income countries, whose governments could ill afford welfare payments, moratoria became an important form of economic relief. And by relaxing provisioning on paused loans, these special moratoria also shored up FSPs’ balance sheets and prevented panic in financial systems.

Through the moratoria, the world’s economies put the shock-absorbing capacity of financial systems to good use.

But these policy makers also see that moratoria could have worked better in some respects. So, in 2025, as the world once again turns to moratoria, they are determined to learn the lessons of the past and make moratoria work even better. What do they do differently?

Fair burden sharing

As public health authorities shutter the economy to stop the new pandemic, advocates for lower-income people are already calling on policy makers to spread the economic burden among those better able to bear it.

Policy makers know that moratoria on small loans (as well as evictions and mortgages) will shift some economic pain from lower-income families and small businesses onto banks and landlords — at least, temporarily.

But they recall that, in 2020, FSPs shifted the pain back to small borrowers by allowing interest to accrue and compound during moratoria. Ultimately, borrowers paid to pause their loans – often dearly.

Back in 2020, policy makers debated whether to shift some of the long-term burden of accrued and compounding interest away from borrowers, but it was difficult for them to find a workable solution.

In India, after much debate in the Supreme Court over who should pay this additional interest, the government found a remedy when it agreed to pay banks the compounding portion of borrowers’ interest incurred during moratoria. Implicitly, this decision made moratoria part of the government’s overall pandemic response while affirming the right of the banks to charge fully for delayed payments.

Fortunately, in 2025, several governments have included special provisions in their catastrophe protocols that pledge government funding for a portion of the interest that small loans accrue during moratoria.

This pledge helps to ensure policies intended to help low-income people don’t end up harming them. It has the added benefit of providing banks with a small amount of liquidity during the moratoria period.

Moratoria will also be fairer this time around because policy makers have universally agreed that borrowers should have the right to choose whether to accept or reject a moratorium offer. This was not always the case in 2020.

In some countries, regulators — anxious to prevent panic — and FSPs — wishing to avoid tedious case-by-case administration — promulgated blanket moratoria, even before obtaining agreement from borrowers.

However, some borrowers preferred to keep paying to avoid extra interest charges. In response to push back from borrowers on unilateral moratoria, authorities in Peru affirmed consumers’ right to unwind unwanted moratoria. Today, following this example, regulators the world over require FSPs to notify borrowers of moratoria offers and present them with the option to refuse.

Policy makers have also anticipated the challenge of maintaining borrowers’ standing with credit bureaus. When borrowers accept moratoria during a national emergency, it should not hurt their creditworthiness.

In 2020, there was confusion over how banks should report restructured loans to credit bureaus, how credit bureaus were to incorporate these loans into credit scores, and how new lenders were to use the information.

In India, FSPs simply didn’t report many loans for several months. Eventually, those problems were sorted out. Now, in 2025, credit bureaus follow well-understood protocols for handling loans in moratoria during emergencies.


The emergency protocols that the world’s banking authorities and FSPs put in place after the COVID-19 pandemic also address operational continuity and communications.

Back in 2020, economic lockdowns prevented in-person interactions between lenders and borrowers and often led to breakdowns in communication. In Uganda, loan officers could not meet with customers in the field, and transport restrictions prevented adequate staffing of branches and even call centers. FSPs transacting mainly in cash were caught especially flat-footed.

Thankfully, this problem is behind us now. The pandemic accelerated FSPs’ digitization plans across the world, and record numbers of borrowers started using mobile technology. FSPs serving lower-income customers now routinely communicate and transact digitally.

They have also upgraded their internal systems to handle the irregular schedules of loans in moratoria. And the expansion of digital infrastructure during and after COVID-19 now allows staff to work from home.

Consumer protection

As financial regulators and supervisors prepare for the new moratoria in 2025, they are better equipped to mitigate some of the consumer risks that appeared in 2020. They now use market monitoring tools, such as suptech, consumer phone surveys and mystery shopping, to assess consumer risks in real time. They can quickly spot issues such as abusive collections practices.

Nevertheless, both financial authorities and FSPs have learned from the previous crisis that ensuring good communication and transparency will be challenging. Moratoria are unfamiliar concepts, and the math is complicated.

Learning from 2020, when poor communication led to misunderstandings, mistakes and abuse, regulators have already issued consumer protection rules to ensure the public fully understands moratoria offers and their consequences.

Additionally, communications now flow not just to customers, but also from them. Policy makers are widely using tools that give consumers a collective voice and reveal what they are experiencing.

Several regulators have put consultative bodies in place to have a regular dialogue with consumers, and consumer associations regularly convey issues to them. Such tools proved useful in 2020.

In Peru, for example, the consumer protection agency INDECOPI listened systematically to customers and alerted regulators and FSPs to emerging abuses so that they could respond quickly.


The COVID-19 pandemic lasted much longer than anyone foresaw, and unanticipated implementation challenges arose. If policy makers learned one thing, was is that you can never anticipate all the ways an emergency will unfold.

Accordingly, the countries that were best prepared for the next pandemic were those that had established channels for authorities and FSPs to work together to respond to evolving conditions.

Source: Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) is a global partnership of more than 30 leading development organizations that works to advance the lives of poor people through financial inclusion.

*Elisabeth is the former managing director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. She is a visiting fellow at the Financial Access Initiative and a consultant at CGAP.

*Eric Duflos, Senior Financial Sector Specialist, leads CGAP’s work on consumer protection, from policy, industry and customer perspectives, ensuring that financial services have positive outcomes for customers.


The UN Food Systems Summit: How Not to Respond to the Urgency of Reform

Aid, Civil Society, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


At a critical juncture on the road to the UN Food Systems Summit, three UN rights experts warn that it will fail to be a ‘people’s summit’ unless it is urgently rethought.

NEW YORK, Mar 22 2021 (IPS) – Global food systems have been failing most people for a long time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a critical situation even worse. 265 million people are threatened by famine, up 50% on last year; 700 million suffer from chronic hunger; and 2 billion more from malnutrition, with obesity and associated diet-related diseases increasing in all world regions.

Michael Fakhri

Everyone agrees that we need urgent solutions and action. The convening of this year’s UN Food Systems Summit by Secretary General António Guterres was therefore welcome. However, as we move towards critical junctures on the road to the Summit, we remain deeply concerned that this ‘people’s summit’ will fail the people it claims to be serving.

After more than a year of deliberations, the Summit participants will meet this October in New York to present “principles to guide governments and other stakeholders looking to leverage their food systems” to support the Sustainable Development Goals. We will be told that the outcomes have been endorsed by the civil society groups who took part, with ‘solutions’ crowd-sourced from tens of thousands of people around the world. And if other solutions are not there, we will be told that this is because their proponents refused to come to the table.

But coming to the table to discuss ‘solutions’ is not as simple as it sounds. What if the table is already set, the seating plan non-negotiable, the menu highly limited? And what if the real conversation is actually happening at a different table?

These concerns are still as pressing today as they were on day one.

First, the Summit initially bypassed the bodies already doing the very hard work of governing global food systems. The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) already has the structure that the Summit organizers have been hastily reconstructing: a space for discussing the future of food systems, a comprehensive commitment to the right to food, mechanisms for involving civil society and the private sector on their own terms, and a panel of experts regularly providing cutting-edge reports. In other words, everyone is already at the table. The Summit has flagrantly – and perhaps deliberately – shifted governments’ attention away from the CFS.

Hilal Elver

Second, the Summit’s rules of engagement were determined by a small set of actors. The private sector, organizations serving the private sector (notably the World Economic Forum), scientists, and economists initiated the process. The table was set with their perspectives, knowledge, interests and biases. Investors and entrepreneurs working in partnership with scientists framed the agenda, and governments and civil society actors were invited to work within those parameters. Inevitably, that has meant a focus on what the small group saw as scalable, investment-friendly, ‘game-changing’ solutions – the bread and butter of Davos. Reading between the lines, this means AI-controlled farming systems, gene editing, and other high-tech solutions geared towards large-scale agriculture.

As a result, the ideas that should have been the starting point for a ‘people’s summit’ have effectively been shut out. For over a decade, farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and food workers have been demanding a food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty and agroecology. This vision is based on redesigning, re-diversifying, and re-localizing farming systems. It requires that economic assumptions be questioned, human rights be protected, and power be rebalanced.

Some concessions have been made on the road to the Summit. But these changes have been too late, or too cosmetic, to impact meaningfully the process. Only in November was the CFS added to the Summit’s Advisory Committee. And only this month was the FAO’s Right to Food office invited to participate (with a limited mandate). Presumably there will be further changes at the margins: human rights will be mentioned in general terms, agroecology will be included as one of many solutions.

Olivier De Schutter

But this will not be enough to make the Summit outcomes legitimate for those of us — inside and outside the process — who remain skeptical. Having all served as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, we have witnessed first-hand the importance of improving accountability and democracy in food systems, and the value of people’s local and traditional knowledge. It is deeply concerning that we had to spend a year persuading the convenors that human rights matter for this UN Secretary General’s Food Systems Summit. It is also highly problematic that issues of power, participation, and accountability (i.e. how and by whom will the outcomes be delivered) remain unresolved.

Those of us who came to the Summit table did so in the hope that we could fundamentally change the course. As the end-game approaches, we still hope that this is possible. But radical change is needed:

    ● The right to food must be central to all aspects of the Summit, with attention on holding those with power accountable;
    ● Agroecology should be recognized as a paradigm (if not the paradigm) for transforming food systems, alongside actionable recommendations to support agroecological transition;
    ● The CFS should be designated as the home of the Summit outcomes, and the place where it is discussed and implemented, using its inclusive participation mechanisms.

In other words, to make this a people’s summit, the table needs to be urgently re-set.

Michael Fakhri is the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Hilal Elver served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2014-2020.
Olivier De Schutter served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2008-2014, and is the current UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, and co-chair of IPES-Food.


UW offers virtual internships to promote youth empowerment through agriculture in Malawi

The University of Wisconsin partnered with the Associated Center for Agro-Based Development, an organization promoting youth economic empowerment through agriculture, and a student organization to create new internship opportunities for UW students.

The organization currently supports 3,000 rural youth farmers in central Malawi through skill development training, farm input loans and market facilitation, according to the ACADES website. Project Malawi UW is a student organization partnering with ACADES to promote agribusiness as an employment opportunity for the youth in Malawi. 

Project Malawi UW’s president and UW senior Lusayo Mwakatika said he led the organization’s partnership with ACADES after he attended one of their events while interning in Malawi in 2018.

“When I saw ACADES and what they were doing with agriculture, I thought it was a perfect organization for us to partner with,” Mwakatika said. “I saw that they’re actually doing something that has the potential to help the country as a whole.”

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UW International Internship Program advisor and program coordinator Nathaniel Liedl said the new ACADES internship offerings would not happen without Mwakatika — he approached IIP with the idea and suggested trying it virtually when it fell through in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mwakatika said ACADES is doing well keeping up with day-to-day activities, but has difficulty finding time to reflect and get creative with their work as an organization with a small staff now working with 5,000 people. 

“We found that an internship would be an extra addition to their work because now … if they have some overload, they can have an intern help them,” Mwakatika said.

ACADES offers two different virtual internships — Program Assistant Intern and Development Research Intern, according to the UW IIP website

Liedl said the two positions overlap a fair amount. Any students with a background in agriculture, economics, project management or research could benefit from these internships.

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“[The team] started working from just pure passion and believing in the dream of the organization, so you find that they’re not just there for a job,” Mwakatika said. “That’s a very good environment to be in as an intern, because once you can get that kind of spirit, you can take that with you wherever you go to work.” 

Mwakatika said this internship also benefits students by introducing them to another culture. This kind of cultural exposure is important, because it can help students grow and become more well-rounded citizens, Mwakatika said. 

While bigger companies tend to have interns focus on specific tasks, working for a startup-based organization like ACADES also gives students the opportunity to work in different areas, develop troubleshooting skills and have a deeper impact, Mwakatika said. 

While virtual internships cannot recreate the experience of living and working abroad, being engaged virtually still helped students develop valuable skills, the director of UW IIP Michelle Hall said. 

“With the virtual environment, I think they’re getting the network, connection and mentorship with someone abroad, but they’re also getting communication, time management and other practices that are needed to work across languages, time zones and cultural differences,” Hall said. 

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UW Study Abroad is regularly monitoring global circumstances with respect to COVID-19, but in-person summer programs starting prior to July 1, 2021 in addition to Spring semester 2021 programs were canceled, according to the UW Study Abroad website

Hall said she hopes virtual internships will continue to have a place within IIP, because many students appreciate part-time opportunities they can balance with their schoolwork. 

“This has opened up new channels and opened it up to students who might not have considered themselves able to go abroad or able to commit the time for something more intensive than this but have still gotten huge benefits, connections and work experience that these have offered,” Hall said. 

Including the ACADES’ offerings, UW IIP has many summer internships which are still open, Hall said.

Mwakatika said students can also get involved with ACADES’s mission by joining Project Malawi UW and supporting their fundraising efforts. In April, the student organization will be selling handmade jewelry from an artist in Malawi who works with young women who are jobless, Mwakatika said. 

Project Malawi UW will also be selling paintings by one of its artists and donating food from African restaurants in Madison, Mwakatika said. 

“We are also accepting members … and we are very happy to welcome new students who want to join us,” Mwakatika said.


Women Will Not Reach Parity at the Pinnacle of Power for Another 130 Years, Predicts UN

Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés was only the fourth woman in the 76-year history of the United Nations to be elected President of the General Assembly, the UN’s main deliberative and policy-making body. She was the Foreign Minister of Ecuador. She is being congratulated by the outgoing President Miroslav Lajčák, (centre) and the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. September 2018. Credit: UN / Loey Felipe

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 2021 (IPS) – The United Nations says the highest levels of political power remain the furthest from achieving gender parity in an increasingly male-dominated power structure worldwide.

Women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 23 countries (10 women Heads of State and 13 women Heads of Government out of 193 UN member states), while 119 countries have never had a woman leader.

At the current rate, says a new report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, parity at the pinnacle of power will not be reached for another 130 years. (based on calculations of UN-Women data, as of 1 November 2020).

But this triggers the question: Does this also apply to the United Nations, which has never had a woman as Secretary-General, while only four women have been elected to lead the General Assembly– over a period of 76 years.?

Available research demonstrates that women’s and men’s education, political experience and ages upon entering executive office are similar.

Gendered perceptions that executive offices should be filled by men, and not on the basis of credentials, account for women’s severe underrepresentation at this level., according to the report which will go before the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), March 15-26.

The CSW, described as the principal global intergovernmental body, exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, is a functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Speaking on International Women’s Day March 8, Guterres singled out the progress made on gender parity under his administration.

“Overall, we in the United Nations are on a positive trajectory towards gender parity. Two decades after the General Assembly’s first deadline, we are finally making progress across the entire United Nations system. We achieved the goal of 50-50 gender parity amongst my Senior leadership, two years ahead of my commitment,” he said.

In the Secretariat, the proportion of women in the professional categories and above has increased to over 41 per cent from 37 per cent in 2017 – a steady annual increase. “This shows that our strategy works”.

In the Secretariat’s field operations, the gender balance is 31 percent women and 69 percent men.

Guterres also said: “We are taking steps to identify qualified women candidates to replace many of the 3,000 international staff who are retiring in the next eight years, the majority of whom are men. This includes measures to develop staff and build internal talent pipelines.”

In 1953, India’s Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, pictured at UN Headquarters alongside the then Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, was elected as the 8th and first woman President. Credit: UN / Albert Fox

Gender equality is a question of power. “We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture and male-dominated power structures. This has inevitably affected the institutional culture of the United Nations, and of diplomacy as a whole”, he declared.

But does that male-dominated power structure reach out to the office of the UN Secretary-General?

Ian Richards, a former president of the UN staff coordinating committee, told IPS there have been varied reactions from UN staff to the Secretary-General’s gender parity policy, particularly when it comes to downsizing in peacekeeping operations.

“However, this year many staff have been asking us if the Secretary-General plans to apply the gender parity policy to his own position, which up to now has only been filled by men. We don’t know how to answer them on this as it is outside our mandate,” said Richards.

“The Secretary-General may wish to address this question directly,” he added.

Barbara Adams, chair of the board of Global Policy Forum, told IPS: “It’s a relief to see that the Secretary-General is no longer equating gender parity with gender equality. As we know overcoming structural or institutional discrimination of any and all kinds extends to measures beyond individual appointments.”

The recognition of importance and impact of power dynamics is welcome, but “taking” power in the present setup is a bit of a contradiction in terms, she argued.

Perhaps the quote of Simone de Beauvoir would be of interest, said Adams, a former Associate Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in New York (1981–1988).

Considered one of the most pre-eminent French existentialist philosophers and writers, Simone de Beauvoir, once famously remarked: “The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power”.