The context: With three-quarters of Africa’s poor living in rural areas and depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, governments recognise that boosting agricultural productivity offers a key strategy for alleviating poverty and hunger. In 2009, the African Union’s plan for agriculture (CAADP) reached critical momentum with 20 countries working on new robust plans for agriculture. At the same time, the international community sought avenues through which to invest in tackling the food crisis, which now means 1 billion people, are hungry. CAADP provided a great opportunity, but only if African governments and Development Partners could establish ways of working together.

Wasafiri’s role: Wasafiri consultant Ian Randall, pulled together a team including Liberal Seburikoko, to facilitate a meeting at the UN in Addis Ababa, through which 18 African and 15 donor governments came to a common agreement on how to work together on CAADP. The resulting guidelines can be downloaded here. Since then Ian has worked for DFID, GIZ and USAID to support co-ordination between Development Partners as they align behind CAADP.

Generating action: The meeting was dubbed “The Addis Consensus” and heralded as a watershed moment in effective partnership by the international community to tackle the food crisis. Many African governments are developing strong agricultural plans that look set to receive additional donor finance. In Rwanda, the CAADP plan has seen agricultural growth leap from .7% to 15% and donors recently pledged a further $83 million.

Ian Randall facilitating a session

Ian Randall facilitating a session

Big business has a rare opportunity to bring stability and development to Africa’s troubled Great Lakes region.


In August last year, the beleaguered communities of Eastern Congo were again assailed by war. The rebel general Laurent Nkunda’s Rwandan-backed militas launched yet another violent campaign, threatening to return a region tormented by ethnic division and vast mineral wealth to all out conflict.

Yet in the space of just six months, a wave of unlikely events has brought fresh cause for optimism to the Great Lakes.

Firstly and most importantly, the upsurge in conflict was curtailed in dramatic fashion. The international community commendably dispatched ministerial officials and peace envoys to negotiate but it took an unprecedented agreement between President Kabila of Congo and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame to arrange for the arrest of the rebel general and to deploy Rwandan troops to secure the region.

Perhaps even more remarkably, these same troops completed an orderly withdrawal just days ago, surprising those who feared the intentions of the Rwandans from the very beginning. Despite legitimate concerns of a power vacuum in their absence, exacerbated by a chronically inadequate Congolese army and the continued presence of numerous militias, the early signs are hopeful.

Secondly, a spate of initiatives have been launched to bolster the private sector’s role in the Great Lakes region. For example, in the face of a World Bank report that for the third year running the Congo was ‘the worst country in the world for doing business in’, German agency GTZ boldly launched the Responsible Business Network. This initiative consists of international corporations active in Congo and aims to introduce stronger governance and human rights practices in their businesses.

There also appears to be a growing momentum for greater engagement with the private sector in tackling the region’s illicit trade in ‘conflict minerals’ such as coltan, tin and gold. This should come as no surprise; the UN Expert Group recently uncovered evidence that ‘all the main parties in the conflict in eastern DRC – armed groups as well as the Congolese army – are financing themselves via the exploitation and trade of eastern DRC’s mineral wealth’.

The Congolese Prime Minister last week invited international donor agencies, government officials and civil society representatives to a brainstorming soiree in Kinshasa specifically to unearth new ideas for a short-term stabilisation plan which prioritises economic recovery. The momentum appears to have spread to Europe where in The Hague, international companies gathered at the behest of the Dutch Minister for Development to do exactly the same. This followed a February gathering in Brussels of the “Task Force” on illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources – comprising European donor agencies working under the auspices of The Contact Group For The Great Lakes Region.

And the Germans once again seem to have taken the initiative. Next month they begin an ambitious pilot project in partnership with the Rwandan government and a prominent minerals investment company to introduce minimum standards of ethical and environmental practices. This bid to create ‘islands of good governance’ is taking place amidst the very militias, corrupt traders and officials who have exploited the hundred million dollar a year trade for over a decade, fueling the horrific conflict and exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Definitely no place for the fainthearted.

Even the UN’s much maligned peacekeeping force MONUC has joined the act. For the first time in its nine-year history, MONUC is now mandated to ‘use its monitoring and inspection capacities to curtail the provision of support to illegal armed groups derived from illicit trade in natural resources’. A tall order perhaps, but a significant step in the right direction.

This moment presents a unique convergence of interest in the role of the private sector as a force for stabilisation and development. It must be said at such a time that continual calls by activist groups for the withdrawal of business are not helpful. Their persistence in pressuring the multinationals with sanctions and boycotts may have served their purpose but now may do more harm than good. If their efforts serve to drive away reputable companies then the void left behind will only benefit those at the root of the problem.

A far more pressing issue is the global economic crisis. Massive falls in the prices of copper and cobalt have devastated the mining sector – resulting in the cancellation of 40% of concessions in the Congo’s Katanga region alone and forcing over 350,000 people out of work. In a rapidly declining market, the litmus test for industry will be to innovate more sustainable approaches to doing business.

But in a rare moment of relative stability the cast of players involved must seize the initiatve:

  • The private sector should resist pressures to withdraw and instead deliberately source its minerals from the region while demanding accountable governance and minimum standards across supply chains;
  • Donor agencies must take new steps to promote genuine cross-sector dialogue that serves the interests of affected communities and which leads to coordinated action;
  • MONUC must play its part by disrupting the provision of support to the myriad illegal armed groups;
  • Civil society should invest in alternative livelihoods programmes for those forced into artesianal mining;
  • The national and provincial governments must promote an integrated strategy for economic development while at the same time confronting corrupt officials and traders;

The solution cannot lie in disengagement. Sustainable peace in the Congo always seems a distant dream but at a time when stepping away is simply not an option, the call should be for new partnerships and collaborative leadership.

Spend enough time amidst one of the world’s ever present humanitarian disasters, and you may become outraged by the failings of leadership. You might witness aid programmes stagnate under the morass of infighting, power exploited for political gain, or morale vanish as leaders obfuscate and deliberate.

Spend a little longer however, and acts of true leadership reveal themselves. You watch as teams are galvanised, crippling dilemmas resolved, intractable problems overcome or action sparked which brings aid to people living in crisis.

On reflection, it may become apparent that leadership, however flawed or inspired, is one of the most critical determinants of success or failure of any emergency response.

A humanitarian operation is desperately unforgiving territory for leadership. There is little tolerance for failings and few rewards for risk taking. So much is beyond control: fresh outbreaks of conflict, geopolitical wrangling, oppressive and unpredictable regimes, recurring seismic tremors or relentless demands by stakeholders wielding competing influences.

Whatever remains within the leader’s grasp is overshadowed by the sheer scale of the task, prey to problems which arise at startling speed, living conditions fraught with hardship and the inexorable pressure of ensuring security of the team, and scarcity… of everything.

At its core, leadership in such an environment demands an emotional resilience that few manage to develop and fewer sustain. The innermost test is perhaps the most taxing; the battle to stave off cynicism, the void of emotional support, the toll on spirits when things don’t get any better. This, compounded by the need to remain a pillar for others.

Few other contexts come close to the leadership challenges of a humanitarian crisis

And yet, the international humanitarian community finds itself in an untenable situation of its own making; on the one hand it’s ambitious undertakings rest almost entirely in the hands of those leading them, and on the other, it has failed to adequately value the importance of such leadership.

And the omission is deeply ingrained. Although humanitarian organizations and donors themselves acknowledge that the humanitarian response provided is not good enough, the issue of leadership is rarely confronted. The dominant management framework that underpins almost all humanitarian endeavour (and funding) the world over – the logical framework – utterly fails to value the role of leadership in successful programme planning and delivery.

And so the most important questions of humanitarian leadership remain without adequate response:

–        How can courageous and inspiring humanitarian leadership be developed?

–        How can a humanitarian organisation build a culture of excellent, accountable leadership?

–        How can humanitarian endeavours become infused by acts of such leadership?

Wasafiri is deeply committed to generating leadership action to serve people living in crisis. We believe that developing effective leaders, supported by organisations who value the importance of such leadership, is fundamental to responding successfully to the acute demands of today’s humanitarian crises.

Recently my brain has been aching with the complexity of how to improve food security and rural incomes for the poor… 960 million people are hungry. 80 million more than last year. 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas. They could produce more food, but they do not have access to the capital, seeds, fertiliser, knowledge, tools, and markets (amongst other things) that would make it possible. Climate change is already undermining the productivity of poor farmers, and will do so more and more. Production needs to double if we are to feed the inevitable 9 billion people who will be on Earth in 2050.

There are thousands upon thousands of pages of reports and books to read, all analysing the problem. Development agencies are heavy with them. Desks piled high and walls lined with creaking shelves. I was briefly seduced by the idea that perhaps I could be the one to find the answer. If I read enough, and thought hard enough then perhaps I could suggest the perfect combination of measures that would eradicate hunger and rural poverty. All I would have to do was persuade the world to follow my suggestions. It seems to work for Jeffry Sachs.

But that’s not how change happens. Change happens when the right people are brought together in an empowering context to innovate solutions to problems they have a stake in. Change happens when people take risks to do something different, to work together, to learn from mistakes. Writing a report on the Nigerian rice market is unlikely to change much. Bring together Nigerian smallholders, a food supply chain company, some investors, the government and a charity that provides farmer training, and they are likely to create meaningful change and quickly – possibly without writing a single report.

Markets are good at change. People innovate, take risks, act with commitment, and if they are successful then the surplus is reinvested to got to scale. If they fail, then learning is quick and the initiative ends. Food globally is almost entirely produced and distributed by the private sector, and for over 5 billion people this works remarkably well with business driving up productivity and quality.

However, markets are clearly failing to serve the billion hungry people. The barriers are such that is just not commercially viable  – often not even for these individuals to produce enough food for themselves. The Malawian farmer will not buy new seed or fertiliser when the price of maize is so volatile that he is likely to make a loss when it comes time to sell.

When markets are failing to deliver on a public good such as food, then the state has a role to play. The danger is that the state tries to address the problem by attempting to do the work of the private sector. Politicians cannot be seen to fail, so reports will be commissioned to analyse problems, waiting for the perfect solution to emerge before taking any action. And actions, no matter how misdirected, are declared a success and continue to swallow up resources.

Instead, the state should act to make markets work for the poor. Through convening stakeholders, reform of regulation, or providing risk finance, the state can tip the balance of opportunities and risks in favour of commercially viable food production. Then it can step aside and let the market innovate and act to make change happen. Feeding the hungry requires less words and more leadership action.

Wasafiri is committed to generating action that improves the lives of the poor. We recognise hunger as a complex global issue that requires public and private sector actors to collaborate if we are to achieve long-lasting systemic change. There is a need for cross-sector activity that identifies market failures, convenes actors, innovates commercially viable solutions, and drives co-ordinated, focussed action. The public sector can demonstrate leadership by helping convene, providing risk finance or reforming regulation. The private sector can demonstrate leadership by innovating commercial solutions to make markets work for the poor, that is to get more food on the plates of hungry people.