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The Scourge of Child Slavery Persists Despite Laws

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Child labor thrives in West Africa despite stringent policies against it.


It’s the crack of dawn in Obuasi, Ghana, and Kwame Twumasi’s work has just begun on the farm owned by his uncle in the forest. Like every day, what lies ahead is hard manual labor.

He begins by using a chainsaw to clear a wooded area. This done, Twumasi climbs a cocoa tree and with a large machete, expertly cuts down cocoa bean pods. Five young boys wait patiently below ready to stuff the pods into large sacks that sometimes weigh as much as 90kg.

They slowly haul the sacks – at least three times their individual weight – on to their bare backs and lug them through the forest to the depot.


“Sometimes,the bags are so heavy that we struggle to drag them and it takes two people to move them to the depot.

One day, the bag was so heavy that it broke and we were beaten badly,” says Twumasi.

Twumasi is 13 years old and has been working as a slave since the age of nine, when his mother passed away and he was sent to live with his uncle in the Ashanti Region. His story mirrors that of countless, hapless children being used as cheap labor by farmers all over West Africa to keep the costs of labor and production down.

“We barely make enough to survive. I am making about GHS200 ($41) a month as a cocoa farmer and there is a lot of competition out there as these international brands have no loyalty to us. We have to do what we can to keep costs low, and  children help make that possible,” says Kofi (real name withheld), Twumasi’s uncle.

Chocolate is big business. Its raw material is the cocoa bean, which predominantly grows in the tropical climates of Western Africa, Asia and Latin America. Ghana and the Ivory Coast supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa sold to a majority of chocolate companies.

The widespread use of child labor in West Africa has come under intense scrutiny owing primarily to the work of a handful of organizations and journalists.

“Most of the farms in West Africa supply cocoa to international giants… and they continue to squeeze impoverished farmers out of good margins and as a result they continue this practice of child slavery because that is the only way they can make ends meet,” says Mike Oppong, an agricultural economist in Ghana.

Child labor entails work that is mentally, physically, socially and morally harmful to children and deprives them of opportunities for schooling and development.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) 2017 Multiple Cluster Survey (MICS),about 50.8% of Nigerian children, aged between five and 17, are involved in child labor.

“The north-central region in Nigeria has the highest burden of child labor of 56.8 percent. These numbers are extremely alarming as this region also accounts for the highest number of children working in hazardous conditions in the country,” says Maureen Zubie-Okolo, UNICEF’s monitoring and evaluation specialist.

In northern Nigeria, many families send children from rural to urban areas to live with Islamic teachers, known as mallams, and receive a Koranic education. These children, known as almajiri, may receive lessons, but teachers often force them to beg on the streets and surrender the money they collect, making them highly vulnerable to recruitment by Boko Haram, according to a report by the United States Department of Labor (DOL).

According to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO), Africa has the largest number of child laborers; 72.1 million African children are estimated to be in child labor and 31.5 million doing hazardous work.

Places like Benin City, in Nigeria, are a major human trafficking hub in Africa where many girls are trafficked to Europe for forced labor and sex work.

The problem is widespread and millions of children from West African countries experience forced labor, including begging on the streets and domestic work,” says Tosin Ajao, an economist in Abuja.

Landlocked Burkina Faso is wedged between Mali and Niger to the northwest and east, and borders Ghana on the north. Here, artisanal or small-scale mining is widespread, with thousands of people migrating here to join the gold rush.

According to DOL, in 2012, almost half of all children in Burkina Faso younger than 18 were engaged in some type of work with many of them toiling in the agriculture and mining sectors where they are exposed to chemical hazards, hazardous machinery and heavy labor.

The ILO estimates that 30% to 50% of the mine workers in western and north central Africa are younger than 18. Extreme poverty has exacerbated this epidemic.

The problem of child labor in Africa requires urgent attention in order to support governments to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.7 to end all forms of child labor by 2025 and forced labor, trafficking and modern slavery by 2030.

To tackle this, governments need to raise awareness and ensure social protection, education of current and at-risk child laborers, as well as strengthen institutional capacity and policies.

Hopefully, they will, soon.

Arts

‘Our Home Became The Film Set, Blankets Became Props, Windows Became Locations’

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A poem exclusively penned and performed in lockdown in the US for the readers of FORBES AFRICA, by Rwandan artist Malaika Uwamahoro.

Malaika Uwamahoro, an artist born in Rwanda, and a Theatre Studies BA graduate from Fordham University in New York City, has performed her own poetry on stages around the world including at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the African Union summits in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Kigali (Rwanda).

In 2014, she made her Off-Broadway debut at Signature Theatre in the world premiere of Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho.

Currently resident in Portland, Maine, in the United States, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her life in lockdown, and about a poem she penned exclusively for the readers of the magazine: “To fight this pandemic, essential workers and medical doctors are doing their best on the frontlines to ensure everyone in need gets the necessary support and best care possible… Before we are all choked and out of breath just by thinking about this, I extend this poetry piece as an invitation to look inward.”

How did she come up with the poem, titled I Don’t Mind!, and its accompanying video?

“It was late in the night, my fiancé was fast asleep, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I really feel about all this, what are my true thoughts about this pandemic, what can I do’? I opened my notes and the words began to flow.”

A few days later, she shared the poem with her fiancé, Christian Kayiteshonga, a filmmaker.

“We had previously been pondering ways to make art in our home. This poem seemed like the perfect push to set us in our new path. Our home became the film set, using blankets and cake mix as props, windows and office space as locations, myself as the talent, him as the crew, and now you as the audience,” says Uwamahoro, who also performed for the ‘In the Spotlight’ segment at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban, South Africa, on March 6.

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Current Affairs

True Sport: Gary Player On Family, Isolation And The Covid-19 Aftermath

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Gary Player is currently in lockdown in Pennsylvania in the US; image supplied

South Africa’s 84-year-old golf legend Gary Player speaks to FORBES AFRICA about the greatest honor of his life and on training like a 40-year-old at his daughter’s home during the lockdown in the US.

South Africa’s nine-time Grand Slam golfer, Gary Player, is currently in lockdown with his wife Vivienne in Pennsylvania, in the United States (US), where the couple are visiting their daughter Amanda-Leigh Hall and her family.

Player had also arrived in the US to receive what he calls one of the greatest honors of his life, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Donald Trump at the White House on March 23; some of the past recipients of the prestigious award include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mother Teresa, Toni Morrison, Tiger Woods and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

But the lockdown changed all plans.

So the golfer, best known for an illustrious playing career that included 165 professional victories, is now in his daughter’s home, “training like a 40-year-old”.

Elated, Player classifies the Presidential Medal of Freedom recognition as coming second to the honor of being a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

When asked how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected him, the world-renowned 84-year-old golfer, nicknamed the ‘Black Night’, says in a phone interview from the US with FORBES AFRICA: “We are living in extraordinary times. This is not life as we have come to know it. My heart goes out to people during this trying time.”

Player fears the aftermath of the Covid-19 virus could be devastating to all, as some are already beginning to suffer due to the inability to earn an income.

“The post Covid-19 world may cause humans to sink into an inevitable hole of depression, and I fear that people will be dying not of the virus, but of hunger and thirst,” he says.

Player says he prays numerous times a day to thank God for his blessings. This year, he celebrates being married to Vivienne for 63 years.

“I love her even more now than I did back then, I wouldn’t trade the last 63 years for nothing on this earth,” Player says.

Vivienne has traveled the entire “amazing” route with Player while raising the couple’s six children: Jennifer, Marc, Wayne, Michelle, Theresa, and Amanda.

“I can safely, and with confidence, say that my wife is my best friend,” adds Player.

Although in his eighties, and true to his second nickname, ‘Mr Fitness’, Player may be in  lockdown in his daughter’s home but he exercises diligently at the in-house gym.

Gary Player training at the gym in his daughter’s home; image supplied

He also ventures into the forested area on his daughter’s property for long, peaceful walks in solitude. There is also a simulator at the house where Player can tee off as though on a golf course.

Including him and his wife, there are currently nine people in his daughter’s home, and although being in isolation, this experience has brought the family even closer, he says.

“All of us participate in joint activities that were never possible before due to everyone’s busy lifestyles. I love my large family,” attests the man blessed with 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is yet to meet his month-old great-grandchild born to granddaughter Antonia and who is the newest addition to his large family.

When the lockdown ends, Player hopes to return to normal life “as soon as possible”. As a businessman with a “hectic, hectic” schedule, he is eager to get back to doing what he loves and says that being patient is not an easy feat.

Commenting on his own future, Player says he wishes to be remembered as a man who tried to contribute to society despite the mistakes he made.

“When I die and pass away, I want people to know that I tried my best in life. And that I am sorry for all the mistakes I made. Admittedly, we all make mistakes.

“I want to be remembered as a man who loved his fellow men,” says the legend who has also recently been key to integrating golf courses into local communities back home in South Africa.

“I am convinced there is a black girl or boy in South Africa today with tremendous athletic prowess, with the talent. If they can just be incentivized, then there is a chance,” Player told FORBES AFRICA for a story on his new initiatives in November 2018.


Brandon Nel, FORBES AFRICA contributor

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Billionaires

How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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