Tag Archives: Africa

A differentiated, responsibilities-based approach to living with the Covid-19 pandemic

Rosa Graham Thomas - in UK lockdown

Rosa Graham Thomas – in UK lockdown

The United Kingdom has among the worst COVID-19 infection and death rates in the world (see Financial Times, 28th May 2020).  This is in part because of very serious errors of judgement made by the UK Government (see my list of questions to which they must answer, 27th April 2020), but it is also a result of the behaviour of substantial numbers of UK citizens during “lockdown” who, for whatever, chose not to self-isolate  (including the Prime Minister’s Senior Advisor, Dominic Cummings).  The UK government at the end of May also made another serious error of judgement, relaxing the restrictions, even for those who had previously been told to shield themselves, when  daily numbers of new infections and deaths were very much higher than they were when other countries had begun to “open up” (BBC, 31st May 2020).  This is despite the advice of many senior scientists who said that it was too early to relax the restrictions (BBC, 30th May 2020).  Estimates by the Office for National Statistics (28th May 2020) suggested that there were then at least 8000 new cases a day in England, excluding those in care homes or hospitals.  The daily average number of deaths from COVID-19 in the UK to the week ending 31st May was 242 (gov.uk, 31st May 2020).

Countries cannot stay locked down for ever, though, and it is essential for people to go back to work; indeed, it may well be that a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 will not be found in the short term, and societies may have to learn to live with this coronavirus for the foreseeable future.  Difficult decisions will therefore need to be made about how to manage daily life and reduce the number of deaths caused by SARS-Cov-2.  These decisions will need to vary depending on the specific contexts of each country, including its demographics (see my post of 7th May 2020) and environmental factors (see my post of 3rd May 2020).  In the UK, the government has used fairly crude measures, trying to ensure that large numbers of people stayed at home (even though most of them would not be seriously ill if they caught COVID-19), rather than varying the strategy according to risk.  Most actions and discussions have also adopted a human rights based approach to considering how decisions should be made (see for example Morley et al.’s paper on the ethics of tracing apps, or Lord Sumpton’s discussion of why lockdown is despotic).  Instead, I suggest here that we need to adopt highly differentiated strategies, based on our responsibilities (or obligations, as Onora O’Neill suggests in her 2016 book Justice Across Boundaries).

Differentiated risks of COVID-19

There is increasingly sophisticated analysis in various parts of the world to suggest that different groups of people have substantially different risk factors.  While anyone can die from COVID-19, the following generalisations about who is most likely to die seem to have widespread support:

  • Older people are more at risk of having serious complications or dying from COVID-19.  Public Health England (PHE) in their early June 2020 report on disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19, showed that “Among people with a positive test, when compared with those under 40, those who were 80 or older were seventy times more likely to die”.   Dowd et al. (2020) likewise show that “Currently, COVID-19 mortality risk is highly concentrated at older ages, particularly those aged 80+”.  Case Fatality Rates (CFRs) generally increase significantly with age, especially for those over 60; in Italy 96.9% of deaths by the end of March were for those over 60 (Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 2020).  In South Africa 80% of the COVID-19 deaths reported by 2nd May were for people over 50, with a quarter of deaths being in the 60-69 age group.  There is, though, still uncertainty as to whether there is something specific about age itself, or whether these figures are because older people are more likely to have other comorbidities.  It is also interesting to note that the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) Infection Survey pilot suggested that the highest percentage of those testing positive in the UK between 26th April and 24th May were in the 20-49 year age group.
  • Men are more vulnerable than women.  This may well be because women have two X chromosomes (The Guardian, 7th June 2020), although there remains some dispute about the influence of gender on infection and mortality.  The PHE report cited above shows that in England “Working age males diagnosed with COVID-19 were twice as likely to die as females”.  Most surveys seem to suggest that men are more at risk than women, but the ONS survey of those testing positive interestingly indicated that “there is no evidence of differences in the proportions of men or women testing positive for COVID-19”.
  • People with comorbidities are much more likely to be seriously ill or die from COVID-19 than are those who are otherwise healthy.  Data for March reported by the US CDC indicates that almost 90% of all patients hospitalised that month had one or more underlying conditions, with 49.7% having hypertension, 48.3% being obese, 34.6% having chronic lung disease,  28.3% having Type 2 diabetes, and 27.8% having cardiovascular disease.  These five health problems are associated with higher death rates in most places where the data have been studied, although precise percentages vary quite considerably between populations (for a review of underlying metabolic health see Lancet, 2020; for a useful South African perspective, see Cullinan, 2020).  The UK authorities have defined clinically vulnerable people as follows:
    • “aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
    • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (that is, anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
      • chronic (long-term) mild to moderate respiratory diseases, such asasthma,chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema orbronchitis○chronic heart disease, such asheart failure
      • chronic kidney disease
      • chronic liver disease, such ashepatitis○chronic neurological conditions, such asParkinson’s disease,motor neurone disease,multiple sclerosis (MS), or cerebral palsy
      • diabetes
      • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets
      • being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
      • pregnant women
    • As above, there is a further category of people with serious underlying health conditions who are clinically extremely vulnerable, meaning they are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus”
  • Ethnicity does appear to have an effect on the seriousness of health impacts of COVID-19, even taking other factors into consideration, but the precise reasons for this are not yet known.  In the UK, more people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have been seriously ill or died from COVID-19 than have people of white ethnicity, but this could be partly explained by deprivation, cultural factors (such as religious and family interactions), and comorbidities (such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes).  England’s PHE report concludes that “An analysis of survival among confirmed COVID-19 cases and using more detailed ethnic groups, shows that after accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region, people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British”.  More recently, the ISARIC CCP-UK study has shown convincingly that: (i) “Ethnic Minorities in hospital with COVID-19 were more likely to be admitted to critical care and receive IMV than Whites”, and (ii) “South Asians are at greater risk of dying, due at least in part to a higher prevalence of pre-existing diabetes” (see Harrison and Docherty, 17th June 2020).  Insufficient detailed studies have yet been undertaken in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, to see whether ethnicity is indeed also a risk factor there.
  • The risk of being infected is higher indoors than out of doors.  This is mainly because there is generally more air movement to disperse SARS-Cov-2 outdoors (although air conditioning systems indoors do spread it in the direction blown by a fan), and people are usually in closer juxtaposition for longer indoors than outside.  It is also easier to maintain sufficient distance between people outdoors than indoors (see inews, 11th May 2020).  However, there is still some uncertainty about this.  Thus, the UK ONS survey claimed in late May 2020 that “Individuals working outside the home show higher rates of positive tests than those who work from home”.  This is, though, probably because those self-isolating and working at home simply don’t come into as much contact with potentially infectious people outside the home.

Much of the research on which these conclusions are drawn is based on early evidence from China, as well as more recent evidence from Europe and the USA where the infection and death rates have been so high.  A particularly interesting issue is therefore whether these generalisations may also apply in other parts of the world, and especially in countries in Africa and South Asia which have yet to experience very serious rates of infection (see my previous post on On ageing populations, “development” and Covid-19).  It may well be that their governments could learn from the mistakes made in the UK and the USA and develop a more nuanced approach as outlined below.

A differentiated risk- and responsibilities-based approach to managing COVID-19

This post makes two core suggestions: states need to adopt nuanced and differentiated responses to living with COVID-19 in the foreseeable future, and that human rights considerations should be balanced by a responsibilities agenda.

A differentiated risk-based approach to COVID-19

Most governments have adopted stringent lockdown policies in response to COVID-19 that have been applied to everyone, regardless of their health risks.  This has caused considerable damage to their economies, as well as other serious health issues.  Many deaths resulting from the existence of COVID-19 are thus not actually being caused by the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus.  Numerous businesses are failing, and fit elderly people have complained vociferously about not being permitted to partake fully in “normal” society.

Now that more is known about the health risks of COVID-19, it makes considerable sense to develop context specific solutions that take into accont the risk factors noted above.  Governments must first ensure that they have an adequate and robust health service capable of dealing with the number of people who are likely to get infected, but wasteful fiascos such as the construction of new Nightingale Hospitals in the UK that were never really needed, or the numerous projects across the world to create novel designs for new venitlators for which not enough nursing staff are available (and when many people on ventilators actually die), must not be repeated.  The hospital services in some countries will come near to being overwhelmed (as in Italy), or may indeed collapse (see recent reports from Brazil, India and Pakistan which seem near this point).  However, even where countries are unable to manage the health requirements of the majority of people affected, it is still vital that what services are available are used to treat those most in need and most likely to survive treatment.  Is is also crucial that a responsibilities approach is inculcated and adopted at all scales from the state to the individual if the impact of the pandemic is to be mitigated.

It would thus seem wise to introduce comprehensive risk-based schemes through which everyone can evaluate their likelihood of being seriously ill from COVID-19 and their risk of infecting other vulnerable people, so that they can take appropriate actions to reduce such risk.  At present, and as noted above, the key risk factors seem to be:

  • age,
  • gender,
  • comorbidities,
  • ethnicity, and
  • location

Put simply, and based largely on European and North American evidence, elderly men with comorbidities from BAME backgrounds spending all their time indoors would seem to be most at risk, and we should all do what we can to help protect them.  Young, fit, active white women spending most of their time outdoors would seem to be least at risk.

This has implications for work, transport, and social life, and carefully nuanced schemes should be introduced to enable as many people as possible to live the lives that they wish to.  For example, where resources are constrained, working-at-home policies could first be made available to the most at risk, encouraging those least at risk to stay at work, or indeed to return to work as previously.  Tourism, travel and entertainment is much less risky for the fit and young, so they should be allowed to take those risks if they want to, while alternative arrangements are put in place for the most vunerably elderly Bangladeshi men (such as support for online tourism or special take-away meals for celebratory occasions).

Responsibilities- rather than rights-based approaches

For too long, rights-based approaches have dominated global and national policies, and insufficient attention has been paid to the responsibilities that are essential to ensure the extstence of well-functioning societies  (see my Prolegomena on Human Rights and Responsibilities).  All too often when a “right” is claimed, it is uncertain who has the “responsibility” to deliver it.  Many, for example, have commented on the human rights aspects of COVID-19 (see Human Rights Watch, 19th March 2020; Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, 6th May 2020; The Guardian, 29th April 2020) , but rather fewer on the human responsibilities dimension.

This is particularly reflected in the tension between individual privacy rights and communal responsibilities in terms of the imposition and use of tracking apps to identify COVID-19 contacts (Human Rights Watch, 13th May 2020; Privacy International, no date; Morley et al., 2020).  However, it also lies at the heart of discussions about wearing masks: all to often such usage is criticised for not really protecting the individual, which completely misses the point that their main use is to protect the community from infected individuals.  People thus have a responsibility to wear masks so that if they are asymptomatic their chances of infecting many others are reduced (see my Face masks and Covid-19: communal not individual relevance).

Two main implications of a shift to a more responsibilities-based approach are important:

  • The first is that governments have a fundamental responsibility to care for their most vulnerable and at risk citizens.  The shocking way in which the UK government placed its focus on “saving the NHS” above “saving vulnerable people” is an all-too-visible example of a failure to adhere to such a principle.  It was a serious injustice for UK policy to have sent elderly people with COVID-19 back into care homes and the community from hospital, as a result of which many of them died, many others were infected, and many more certainly died sooner than they would otherwise have done.  This principle, though, is also of crucial importance in countries where the health services have difficulty, or will have difficulties in the future, in coping with the COVID-19 crisis.  It is absolutely the responsibility of governments to recognise that many low-risk people will survive COVID-19 with little or no lasting health implications, and that they should be allowed to continue if they wish to in the productive economy.  However, at the same time, governments must put in measures whereby those at risk are protected, and given the wherewithall to sustain themselves.
  • The second, and closely related principle is that individuals also have fundamentally important responsibilities to others.  Some positive evidence of communal responsibility and action has been visible in countries across the world during COVID-19, but support for at-risk people has been less than many had hoped for or expected.  Moreover, there have also been substantial numbers of explicitly negative communal actions: digital-attacks on health care organisations have proliferated during the pandemic, and doctors and nurses have been victimised for spreading the coronavirus in countries as diverse as Mexico and Pakistan.  Almost always, the emphasis has been on the rights of the individual (to enjoy the beach or to party) rather than on their responsibilites to others (to protect others from the actions of the self).  Put simply, all of us have responsibilities to protect everyone else from being infected, and to enable as many people as possible to continue to live active and fulfilled lives.

Is it too much to hope for that one of the results of COVID-19 may be the creation of societies where we shift the focus more to our responsibilities towards others than attention on ourselves?  In the short term, this would mean that we should all be:

  • Thinking that we could be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, and take actions to prevent us from infecting others;
  • Caring for and serving vulnerable neighbours who cannot benefit from the freedoms that we enjoy; and
  • Taking action to self-isolate and get tested immediately we think we might be infected with COVID-19.

Whilst this is written primarily from the perspective of someone living in a country that is now coming out of lockdown, these principles apply globally, and if adopted in countries that have not yet encountered serious outbreaks of COVID-19 might help them escape some of the more serious impacts of economic shutdown.

Masai children learning in Tanzania

Masai children learning in Tanzania

[Updated 19th June 2020]

 

6 Comments

Filed under Africa, Asia, Covid-19, ICT4D, United Nations

On ageing populations, “development” and Covid-19

There is increasingly clear evidence that older people are more likely to die from Covid-19 than are younger people: on 17th February,  the China CDC weekly report showed that among the cases known in China by then, the ≥80 age group had the highest case fatality rate at 14.8% (with the 70-79 age group being 8% and the 60-69% age group being 3.6%); and in early April, the WHO Regional Director for Europe highlighted that over 95% of Covid-19 deaths occurred in those over 60, with more than 50% in those aged 80 years or older.  In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in mid-April that mortality from Covid-19 increased consistently with age, with only about 13% of deaths being of people under 65.  Significantly, though it noted that men had a death rate double that of women; more recent ONS reports have also shown that (when taking into account age) Black men and women were more than four times as likely to die from Covid-19 then were those of White ethnicity, and that such differences in mortality were partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage.  These data are stark, and are as yet still not fully explained.  As people grow older, they generally have greater comorbidities, and it may be the impact that Covid-19 has on these other health problems that is more significant than age itself.

However, this is an important reminder that Covid-19 is primarily an old-people’s disease.  It is striking to recall that in 1951 life expectancy at birth in England and Wales was only 66.4 for men and 71.5 for women; in 1901 the figures were 48.5 and 52.4 respectively (ONS, 2015).  Put simply, people born 70 years ago were not expected to live to the age at which most people are now dying from Covid-19.  This has important ramifications, and raises very difficult questions.  Have people, perhaps, become over expectant about longevity?  Will Covid-19 temper our aspirations to live for ever?  Will it be a check on the ambitions of companies such as Novartis, Alphabet and Illumina to extend life well beyond 100 years (CNBC, 2019)?  Is the main problem of Covid-19 that most people living in the richer countires of the world have become too cosy in their expectations of living to a ripe old age?

Implications for Europe and north America: too many old people

Thought experiments can be a helpful means of highlighting challenging issues.  Suppose, for example, that there had been no lockdowns in Europe and North America.  It seems very likely that substantial numbers of elderly people would have died already (see projections by epidemiologists at Imperial College which suggested that without mitigation strategies Covid-19 would have resulted in 40 milllion deaths globally in 2020).  If a vaccine or cure is not found, then it still seems likely that large numbers of elderly people will indeed die in Europe at an age well short of what they and their families have grown accustomed to expecting.

However, think of the impact that this will have on the economy and health services.  Once large numbers of elderly people have died, national pension bills will fall, the burden on health services will be reduced, the percentage of people within the economically productive age range will increase, and the economic vitality of their countries will be revitalised.  If Covid-19 (or its successors) become an everyday part of life, the economic “burden” of older people will be dramatically reduced.  It is scarcely surprising that rumours  circulated about the intentions of UK government policy in early- to mid-March.  As Martin Shaw noted at the time, it had been credibly reported that the “Government’s strategy was ‘herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means that some pensioners die, too bad’; or as summed up even more succinctly by a senior Tory, ‘Herd immunity and let the old people die’”.  Whilst the government strenuosly denied this, there is a realistic logic to the idea that letting large numbers of old people die would have clear economic benefits, and would avoid the very considerable costs that are accruing as a result of economic shutdown.

I should stress that this is definitely not a scenario that I would want to encourage or endorse, but in the early part of May, the balance of popular opinion (or the influence of the business community and mainstream media in the UK) does seem to be swinging towards a view that the costs of lockdown are too high to continue to protect the elderly, especially in those countries where there have already been very high death rates (as in Belgium, the UK, France, Italy, Spain and the USA).  Yet, the 20th and latest Imperial College Covid-19 report  concludes for Italy that “even a 20% return to pre-lockdown mobility could lead to a resurgence in the number of deaths far greater than experienced in the current wave in several regions”.

Implications for Africa and South Asia: youthful countries

The real purpose of this reflection, though, is to consider the implications of the above arguments for some of the economically poorest countries in the world.  Data about Covid-19 infections and deaths in Africa and Asia are likely to be even less reliable than they are in Europe, and the countries in these continents are in any case much earlier in their encounters with Covid-19 than are those of Europe.  Recent reports, for example, suggest that the real number of deaths related to Covid-19 may be many times the number that are currently reported (see The Guardian‘s recent report on Somalia).  Nevertheless, we do have relatively accurate data about the demographic structures of most countries in the world.  The chart below therefore shows the relationships between current density of Covid-19 deaths and the percentage of population aged ≥65 for a sample of countries.[i]

Screenshot 2020-05-08 at 08.33.35

This graph is striking, but difficut to interpret (and can be misleading), mainly because most countries in Africa and Latin America are only at an early stage in their Covid-19 outbreaks.  We simply do not know how many deaths they are likely to witness, and few models have yet been published that predict the likely outcomes.   However, with the very notable exceptions of Japan, Greece and Germany, it re-emphasises that high percentages of Covid-19 deaths are mainly found in those countries that have more than 15% of their populations aged ≥65.  Even Brazil, where the death rate is currently growing rapidly, is still nowhere near at the level of mortality that has occurred in Europe and the USA.  The quite remarkable achievement of Greece, with only 147 deaths by 7th May, is also highly noteworthy because despite a fragile health service and an elderly population it has managed to achieve something that most other European countries have been unable to do.  Most commentators suggest that this is mainly because it imposed a dramatic lockdown even before the first deaths were recorded.

Most countries of the world have intiated lockdowns, and these are having particularly significant impacts on the poorest and most marginalised who can least afford it. An obvious question therefore arises: if Covid-19 mainly affects the elderly, should countries with young populations (such as most of those of Africa, Asia and Latin America) follow the “older” countries in imposing strict lockdowns that will have damaging effects on their economies and the livelihoods of those who can least afford it?  Put another way, are the mitigating actions of European and North American countries, where more than 15% of their populations are ≥65, relevant to economically poorer countries with less than 10% of their populations in this age group?

It is far from easy to answer this.  Perhaps the very small numbers of people reportedly dying in Africa at present is only because the coronavirus has not yet gained a grip, and any loosening of the mitigating measures would unleash the pandemic at a scale similar to that seen in Europe.  The WHO, for example, has warned  that the Covid-19 pandemic might kill as many as 190,000 people in Africa in the year ahead (Al Jazeera, 8th May), with many more dying subsequently.  This may well be true, but there is at least a chance that the youthful populations of Africa will be better able to deal with Covid-19 than have done the older populations of Europe.  It must, though, be emphasised that many younger people who are infected with Covid-19 do indeed have serious illnesses, and some die.  We also do not yet know the long-term health impacts of this coronavirus.  Moreover, the evidence that socially disadvantaged people are also more likely to die than their more affluent neighbours further suggests that the poorest and most marginalised in these countries may well have higher death rates.

As I have illustrated elsewhere, there is some (but by no means conclusive) evidence that environmental factors may also play a role in limiting the spread of Covid-19.  If the environments of Africa and South Asia are indeed not particularly conducive to the spread of Covid-19, then their youthful populations might not need to endure the very tight lockdowns imposed in many European countries. That having been said, the rapidly increasing number of infections and deaths in Brazil (with 121,600 cases and 8,022 deaths as of 7th May), which has physical environments and climates similar to many parts of western and southern Africa, does not bode well for the future spread of Covid-19 in Africa.

Conclusions

In conclusion, there remains much that is unknown about how Covid-19 spreads and who it affects most damagingly.  The evidence from Japan, Greece and Germany shows that even when countries do have a high percentage of elderly people, it is still possible to contain and limit the spread of Covid-19, thereby preventing very large numbers of deaths.  The abject failures of governments in countries such as the UK and Belgium to manage the pandemic and save lives likewise indicate how not to respond to the pandemic.  The governments of African and South Asian countries, with their youthful populations who appear less likely to suffer severe symptoms, may well therefore have an advantage over their European counterparts.  If they can draw lessons about what has worked and what has failed, then they are also in a good position to bounce back swiftly from the economic harm caused by economic and social lockdowns.

 


[i] The selected countries included the ten most populous countries in the world (in descending order of total population, China, India, USA, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Mexico), a selection of European countries with mixed trajectories (listed alphabetically, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland), and a diverse sample of African (alphabetically, DRC, Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania), and other (alphabetically, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Turkey) countries.

4 Comments

Filed under Africa, Asia, Covid-19, Environment, Europe, Health

Short guides to literature on technology use in education: both the positives and the negatives…

Infant school

Infant school in Cocody, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Far too many initiatives using technology in education fail to learn from the experiences of others as they seek to be innovative and novel.  Consequently, the same mistakes tend to be replicated over and over again.  Far too many researchers likewise fail to read but a fraction of the vast literature that has been published on technology and education, and bibliographies in PhD theses in the field are increasingly often only sketchy at best.

In 2017 and 2018 I had the privilege of being asked to write a report for UNICEF on how the organisation might respond to the future interface between technology and learning.  This involved reading hundreds of reports, interviewing numerous people, and drawing on my experiences across the world over the last quarter of a century.  It made me realise how little I know, and how much still needs to be done.

However, in order to help others on this journey of discovery and learning, I thought it might be helpful to share a shortened version of the footnotes (34 sides) and a short summary bibliography (10 sides) that I included in that report.  Many of the links to the original literature or examples are included (please let me know if any are broken so that I can try to update them!).  Not least, I hope that this might reduce the flow of questions I receive from people beginning to get interested in the field, either for research or because they have a great idea that they would like to introduce in practice on the ground – most of whom have never actually read much before asking me the question!  These are but starting points on a lifetime of learning and discovery, but I hope that people may find them useful.

I have previously posted summaries of some of the content of my UNICEF report elsewhere on my Blog as follows:

I must stress that these are very much my own views, and in no way represent the opinions of UNICEF or those with whom I have previosuly worked.  They are offered here, though, to get us all to ask some of the difficult questions about ways through which some of the poorest and most marginalised can benefit from the use of technology in education, if indeed that will ever truly be possible (at least in a relative sense).

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, AI, Education, Higher Education, ICT4D, technology, United Nations

ICTs, sustainability and development case studies: M-KOPA Solar

Earlier this year, I was privileged to work on a co-authored book project for the ITU.  This was published by the ITU as ICT-Centric Economic Growth, Innovation and Job Creation, and was launched at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Argentina in October.  The chapter that I led was entitled ICTs, sustainability and development: critical elements, and provided a challenging account of ICTs and sustainability.

Each chapter was accompanied by a single case study – although I had argued strongly that there should be more than one case study for each chapter, so that a range of different examples and perspectives could be included.  I had worked with several colleagues to produce great examples that would exemplify some of the key arguments of the chapter, but sadly these were not published.

Hence, as a supplement to the book, I am including these now as blog posts.  This is the second, and focuses on the way through which M-KOPA is making sustainable energy available to poor people in eastern Africa.  Since this was first written almost a year ago, new data are available, but I hope that this will provide some insights into an important commercial initiative that is indeed using ICTs to contribute to sustainable development.

M-KOPA Solar: using ICTs to enable poor people and marginalised communities to access sustainable energy

M-KOPA Solar has developed a highly innovative solution for using ICTs to deliver on sustainable energy provision, especially for previously unserved poor people.  It is therefore an excellent example of the ways through which ICTs can indeed deliver on some of the critical challenges identified in this chapter at the interface between ICTs and the SDGs.  Above all, it indicates how new technologies can create novel and disruptive opportunities for those with entrepreneurial and innovative approaches to develop new business models that can indeed deliver valuable services to previously marginalised people.

M-KOPA

M-KOPA Solar is a Kenyan solar energy company founded in 2011 by Nick Hughes, Chad Larson and Jesse Moore, and its mission is “to upgrade lives by making high-quality solutions affordable to everyone”.  Nick Hughes was previously responsible for creating the very successful M-PESA mobile money solution for Vodafone, where Moore had also worked.  As of July 2016, M-KOPA has connected 450,000 homes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to solar power, with more than 500 new homes being added every day.

Three factors have been central to M-KOPA’s success: the ability of its founders to identify a viable and innovative business model; their identification of a real need for which people are willing to pay; and then their skills in creating an innovative cost effective solution.  At the heart of their model is the ability for people to use their mobile phones to pay a small amount each month through mobile money transfer to buy the equipment, and then to own it after a year’s usage.  Their 2016 basic model is the M-KOPA IV Solar Home System, which has an 8W solar panel, providing energy for 3 LED light bulbs, a portable rechargeable torch, a home charging USB with five standard connections, and a rechargeable radio.  In Kenya users pay a deposit of 2,999 KES (£22.45) and then 50 KES (£0.37) a day for a year, during which time there is a full warranty for the equipment.  Prices are similar in neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania.  The actual equipment is available through local dealers, and there is also a customer care team that supports customers, agents and retail partners.  A more expensive version of the model, the M-KOPA 400 also has a 16” digital television, which requires a deposit of 7,999 KES and a daily payment of 125 KES.

The company estimates that current customers will make projected savings of US$ 300 million over the next four year, and are enjoying 50 million hours of kerosene-free lighting per month.  This has important environmental ramifications by reducing harmful emissions and the risk of fire causing serious burns to people using kerosene.  They have also created some 2,500 jobs in East Africa, thereby contributing to the wider employment and economy of the region.  One of the most striking features of M-KOPA is that it has developed a business model that delivers on a real need, and does so in a cost-effective manner through the use of mobile money payments.  It estimates that more than three-quarters of its customers live on less than US$ 2 a day, and this is therefore an innovation that really delivers on the needs of some of the world’s poorest people.  Providing light extends the time people have both for social activities and also for productive education and information gathering, thereby potentially enabling many other SDGs to be achieved, including those related to education and health.  The use of radios puts them in touch with what is going on in the wider world, and their recharged phones enable them to communicate with others whenever they have connectivity.  The indirect contributions of M-KOPA thus go far beyond merely the provision of affordable light for poor people.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, ICT4D, ICTs, SDGs

Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum, Arusha

Just under 200 people (including regulators, the private sector and civil society groups) have come together to discuss critical issues surrounding the switchover/transition from analogue to digital broadcasting at the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation’s Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum (#DBS2014) taking place from 11th-14th February 2014.  We were delighted that Hon Dr. Fenella E. Mukangara (Minister of Information, Youth, Culture and Sport of the United Republic of Tanzania) was able to open the Forum this morning.

With Nkoma and Mukangara

In my welcome address, as well as thanking the government of Tanzania and especially the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, I took the opportunity to highlight four particular issues:

  • The importance for Africa –  digital transition/switchover has considerable potential, especially in terms of the diversity of services it can offer, as well as the digital dividend it will provide through the reallocation of spectra.  However, it must be used to  serve the interests of all of Africa’s people, especially the marginalised, such as people with disabilities and those living in sparsely populated rural areas.
  • The potential for Africa – people living in Africa should not be only learning from the experiences of other parts of the world in terms of good practices (part of the purpose of this Forum), but should also be developing innovative solutions for the context of Africa, that can in their turn be used in other international contexts. We must build on the richness of African innovation.
  • The challenges facing Africa – some of the many challenges facing Africa include:
    • it is not easy to deliver transition/switchover solutions at a cost that everyone can afford;
    • we must not fall into the trap of being forced to deliver to a time-schedule that may not  be realistically feasible;
    • ensuring indeed that the poor and marginalised – those who often currently benefit most from analogue radio and television – can indeed still afford to do access digital broadcasting;
    • ensuring quality standards of equipment such as set top boxes; and
    • ensuring that appropriate information is shared with everyone in a diversity of languages.
  • My own experiences of switchover – I recall my parents being really concerned about switchover in England, not fully understanding what was involved, but they were grateful that a free service for elderly people was provided to put in a set top box and help them to use it effectively.  My mother can now benefit from all that digital TV can offer! This particularly reminds that it is not so much the technology that is the challenge, but rather that the most difficult thing to get right is how to ensure that everyone, and particularly the elderly, the spatially marginalised and those with disabilities, can really benefit from digital switchover.

Sirpa OjalaImage from session on the future of African broadcasting

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, ICT4D

Barriers to learning through mobile devices in Africa

Screen-Shot-2013-06-07-at-17.36.39-300x159I had the pleasure of participating in the Planet Earth Institute‘s discussion on mobile technology for education in Africa, held on 5th June at the House of Lords.  It’s interesting how such occasions, where one has to speak on the spur of the moment about important issues, provide a spur for innovative and creative thinking.  The mix of the people, and the sharing of ideas really can generate new thoughts.

The main point that I tried to convey throughout the event was that it is the learning that matters.  Far too many initiatives are technology-led, rather than needs driven.  Hence, mobile devices are absolutely not the solution for African education, although they can indeed help to deliver certain new kinds of learning opportunity.  After all, as I mentioned, many years ago I engaged in mobile learning when I read books on long car journeys!

Screen-Shot-2013-06-07-at-17.31.05At one point, we were asked to think about the barriers preventing the spread of m-learning in Africa, and I want here to expand a little on the five ‘Cs’ that I came up with.  To be sure, they are a little contrived, but I do think that if these barriers can be overcome, then some real progress can be made:

  1. Connectivity.  To me, this is one of the biggest challenges for any ‘mobile-‘ initiative.  Certainly people have developed simple SMS based learning solutions, and games that can function on basic phones and devices, but the difference between these and what can be done on smart-phones is huge.  Smart-phones enable engagement with the wealth of resources on the web, and offer a completely different learning experience for people of all ages and backgrounds – if they can afford them (Cost!).  So, providing mobile broadband solutions that everyone can access seems to me to be the most important challenge facing those who want to deliver high quality learning experiences through mobile devices.  Hence, initiatives such as the work of the Broadband Commission and the Alliance for the Affordable Internet are of particular importance – but we must turn the rhetoric into reality!  That’s one reason why the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation has placed such emphasis on the importance of mobile broadband in its current strategic plan.
  2. Charging (electricity).  By this, I mean the importance of ensuring that it is easy and cheap to charge mobile devices everywhere.  Electricity is absolutely essential for all digital technologies, and is all too often insufficiently considered when developing such initiatives.  For those off the main grid, it is essential that simple, cheap and accessible means of recharging devices are developed and shared widely across the continent. Likewise, developing batteries that last much longer than at present is also an important consideration.  My experiences in 2011 in rural China have given me lots of ideas about how this can be achieved – and where there are supplies of running water I have been very impressed with some of the micro-hydro initiatives that have been developed in south-east Asia.
  3. Communication rather than content.  I have often written about this, but it seems to me that the really innovative thing about mobile-phones is that they enable entirely new ways of communication.  Yet, far too often they are seen primarily as devices to supply/enable content consumption.  I believe passionately that learning should not simply be about learning and regurgitating – yet our education systems seem to focus more and more on encouraging people to take on board accepted ‘truths’.  Learning, should be about thinking for oneself, and coming up with new solutions to old problems!  This is often best achieved through communication and interaction – the debating of ideas – and not just through digesting existing knowledge.  Far too often, digital technologies associated with learning have reinforced regurgitation, rather than encouraging new ways of thinking.  Hence, I want to shift the balance towards using devices for communication – they are, after all, mobile phones – rather than just for content consumption.
  4. Calculating (effective monitoring and evaluation).  This is a bit contrived, but I could not think of a better ‘C’ for ‘monitoring and evaluation’!  By ‘calculating’, I mean that we need to calculate the impact of our initiatives on learning achievements.  Although many people talk about the importance of monitoring and evaluation, there is far too little good and effective work in this area.  If we do not understand the real effects, including the unintended consequences, of the use of mobile devices in learning, then we cannot really determine how best to implement initiatives at scale.  We must also be much more open about our failures so that others can learn from our experiences.  Hence, the lack of quality monitoring and evaluation is a real barrier.
  5. Commitment.  This is hugely important.  There must be real commitment to using mobile devices effectively for learning, rather than simply using content provision as a means of selling more mobile devices!  I fear that all too often, ‘m-‘ initiatives are driven  too much by commercial interests, often in alliance with those who see ICTs as some kind of silver bullet that will transform society for the better, rather than by the real health, learning or governance needs and aspirations of people.

At the end, I was asked by Lord Boateng to sum up my thoughts about barriers, and simply said that the biggest barrier of all was our imagination!  If we really focus on the learning, and develop innovative solutions whereby everyone can use mobile devices to enhance their lives, wherever they are living, then, and only then, can we talk about real m-development.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Higher Education, ICT4D

Speech at the launch of the British Academy’s Working with Africa Report

Following Professor Graham Furniss’s opening remarks, I was invited to speak in my role as Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK at the launch of the British Academy’s new report entitled “Working with Africa: Human and Social Science Research in Action” on 3rd March 2011.  My  short speech outlined the importance of the British Academy’s funding programmes, the difficulties facing African universities and academics, and the ways through which the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) is seeking to support them in partnership with like-minded organisations.

I began by thanking  Graham Furniss, not only for his work at the British Academy in driving forward many of their African initiatives, but also for joining the CSC as a new Commissioner.  I then emphasised the quality of the research featured in Working with Africa and thoroughly recommended it to the audience as a good read.  I highlighted in particular the value of the British Academy’s past small grants programme, noting that small amounts of funding can go a long way in supporting outstanding and innovative research in the humanities and social sciences.  This is particularly true for UK researchers near the beginnings of their careers, but it is also very important for establishing networks and partnerships as exemplified by the Academy’s support for research in Africa.

Despite such funding, I emphasised the many challenges faced by African researchers, and the very difficult financial, infrastructural and capacity issues that African universities had to overcome.  I argued  that years of global emphasis on primary education in Africa had left the higher education sector in a very diminished state.  I also made the point that whilst much international emphasis is placed on support for scientific research designed to reduce poverty, research in the social sciences and humanities is at least as, if not more, important.  Such research helps develop understandings of critical issues concerned with governance, social equality, the law, cultural diversity and economic change.

Finally, I highlighted the critical role of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in supporting research and professional development in Africa.  The last decade has seen a transformation in the Commission’s activities, so that far from being a traditional awarder of basic scholarships, it now provides seven different kinds of award, including distance-based studentships as well as professional and academic fellowships.  Moreover, evidence from the CSC’s monitoring and evaluation programme clearly indicates the value that these have in terms of development impact.  The Commission is delighted that it continues to have the strong support of the UK government, and that DFID will be providing some £20 million a year towards its programme of awards in developing countries in the 2011-15 period.  To be effective, though, it is important that we work together in partnership.  I concluded by reiterating my thanks to the British Academy and also emphasising the need for the Commission and the Academy to work closely together in the future to achieve our shared objectives of enhancing scholarship in African universities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Higher Education, Universities

New guide to good practices in UK-Africa Higher Education partnerships

The Association of Commonwealth Universities’ Africa Unit has just published an excellent short guide on good practices in developing educational partnerships between higher education institutions in Africa and the UK.

As the Africa Unit comments, “The main reason behind the preparation of this Guide … is the lack of knowledge about the scope, nature and depth of partnerships in this area. The Guide does not set out to present a set of universal, objective rules to be followed and which will guarantee success. Instead, it identifies 10 valuable ‘principles of management and good governance’ which have been the driver behind a number of successful and sustainable UK-Africa partnerships, which can inform future partnerships”.

This is a really useful document, full of helpful tips and advice, and anyone considering developing such partnerships should get hold of a copy and read it diligently. The ten key principles that it advocates are:

  1. Shared Ownership
  2. Trust and Transparency
  3. Mutual Understanding of different Cultural and Working Environments
  4. Clear Division of Roles and Responsibilities
  5. Effective and Regular Communication
  6. Joint Strategic Planning and Implementation
  7. Strong Commitment across the board from Staff and Management
  8. Supportive Institutional Infrastructure
  9. Monitoring and Evaluation
  10. Sustainability

As someone who has been actively involved in such partnerships over the last decade, these principles resonate very strongly with my own experiences.  Many thanks to the Africa Unit for expressing them so clearly and succinctly.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Higher Education

ICTs, Citizens and the State – seminar at Michigan State University

Thanks to colleagues in the Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media Department at Michigan State University for their valuable critique of some of my thoughts on the ethical dimensions of e-government initiatives following my seminar there today.  My paper examined the moral implications of the use of ICTs in e-government initiatives, focusing especially on national databases, identity cards and surveillance technologies.  It suggested that in resolving debates over these, we need to reach ethical resolutions concerning notions of trust, privacy and the law.  I also drew attention to the ethical problems that emerge in linking the notion of Universal Human Rights with the introduction of ICTs in developing countries.

In terms of general conclusions, the following seem particularly pertinent:

  1. First, there are indeed many complex ethical aspects associated with e-government, and while to date the emphasis among governments of developing countries, international agencies and donors has very largely been on their positive practical benefits, I suggest that we need to pay much more thorough attention  to their ethical grounding, and especially to the balance of rights and interests between citizens and the state.
  2. Second, in so doing, I suggest that three areas warrant particular attention, namely the ethics of trust, privacy and the law.   It is here that Geuss’s (2008) emphasis on existing real political contexts, rather than the imposition of some external ideal ethical solution, needs to reiterated.  The fundamental point I wish to emphasise is that in each country where e-government initiatives are introduced, people need to ask about the rights and wrongs of such proposals in terms of existing ethical understandings of trust, privacy and the law.
  3. I also sought to raise fundamental questions concerning the continuing validity of much of the human rights based policy and legislation that has dominated global agendas during the last 50 years – particularly in the context of e-government initiatives, and their implication for the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of states.  We need to open up for sensible debate the value of the emphasis placed on human rights, criticism of which is all too often seen as being politically incorrect and a taboo subject. However, if people do not actually have ‘rights’ that they can give up to a state, then we need to reconsider the whole edifice upon which such arguments are built.  An idealistic belief that people have universal rights has not been any protection for those who have suffered at the hands of those who do not believe in such rights.  There is therefore a strong argument that we need to shift the balance away from rights, and towards the responsibilities that people and states have for each other.  For example, rather than simply claiming that knowledge is some kind of human right, it might be a much more positive step to argue that states have a responsibility to enable their citizens to gain knowledge.
  4. Capurro (2007) has argued that ‘Western’ concepts of individual privacy are very different from the ‘African’ emphasis on communal traditions.  It may well therefore be that many of the existing models of e-government developed around European and north America notions of individual privacy are inappropriate in an African or Asian context, and that instead Africans and Asians should instead be designing new such initiatives around their own traditions and cultural practices
  5. Whatever the benefits to states, individuals and communities of e-government initiatives, there is no doubt that global corporations developing the hardware and software for such systems have been very great beneficiaries.  One of the difficult ethical questions that arise from this concerns how we judge whether it is better for poor and marginalised communities for such e-government initiatives to have been introduced, or whether they might actually be more advantaged if their governments did not spend vast sums of money on their implementation.  Just because it is possible to implement national citizen databases, to use biodata for ID cards, and to introduce sophisticated digital surveillance mechanisms does not mean that it is right to do so.

2 Comments

Filed under Africa, Ethics, ICT4D, My Lectures

Learning Management Systems in Africa

Our research paper on Learning Management Systems in Africa resulting from the DelPHE funded collaboration with colleagues in the University of Education, Winneba (Ghana), Maseno University (Kenya), and Eduardo Mondlane University (Mozambique) has just been published as

  • Tim Unwin, with Beate Kleessen, David Hollow, James B. Williams, Leonard Mware Oloo, John Alwala, Inocente Mutimucuio, Feliciana Eduardo and Xavier Muianga (2009) Digital learning management systems in Africa: myths and realities, Open Learning: the Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 25(1), 5-23.

In summary, the paper  reports on a survey of 358 respondents across 25 African countries into their usage of learning management systems. It concludes that while there are some enthusiastic advocates of such systems, the reality is that most African educators as yet have little knowledge about, or interest in, their usage. There remain very considerable infrastructural constraints to be overcome before they can be widely adopted for open and distance learning across the continent, and there is still reluctance in many institutions to develop systems that can enable learning resources to be made available in this way. This does not mean that the potential of high-quality digital learning management systems should be ignored in Africa, but rather that much more sustained work needs to be done in human capacity development and infrastructural provision if African learners are truly to benefit from the interactive learning experiences that such systems can deliver.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Education, Higher Education, ICT4D