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Yaounde Declaration: Africa’s answer to stop the continent’s mass rural exodus

Representatives from over 30 African countries held discussion about Africa's plan to improve roads, provide education and energy in the rural areas

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In this photo taken June 20, 2016, pedestrians shop at a market in Lagos, Nigeria. Source-VOA
  • Experts from over 30 African countries met in Yaounde, Cameroon, for a Forum on Rural Development
  • During the week-long discussions, they devised a plan to control influx of African migrants taking long and perilous journey to Europe and the US, to find work
  • At the end of the discussions, Experts adopted, The Yaounde declaration, which calls for development in rural areas so that the African youth don’t have to make the dangerous trip to Europe for seeking employment

AFRICA, September 11, 2016: Representatives of 30 African countries have been working this week to map out ways to stop the continent’s mass rural exodus at the Forum on Rural Development in Yaounde.

Emmanuel Afessi works on his desktop at Odja center in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, where he is training 30 youths on information technologies at the center he created when he returned from the United States a year ago.

“Africa needs to produce its own knowledge, its own equipment and that is why we want to train people within the continent,” he said. “ICTs help close the gap between the developed and the developing world much faster than any technology including the motor vehicles. It is a large contributor to most African countries GDPs today. Think about just the whole aspects of internet and mobile phone. That is a huge multi-billion dollar market.”

The 33-year-old Afessi says he was unemployed and fled to Paris and then the United States, where he was denied refugee status. He says he could not find work and decided to return home, sell his father’s piece of land, and open the ICT center.

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Afessi was part of Africa’s rapidly growing population of emigrants. The U.N. Refugee Agency reports estimates this year nearly 47,000 migrants have reached Italy, the vast majority of them Sub-Saharan Africans.

A representative of Kenyan civil society organizations at the Forum on Rural Development, Vitalis Abbasi, says many of the migrants are highly educated, but unemployed and are traveling from rural areas in search of opportunities.

“If the roads were good, the energy systems were well, we could also access information and communication technologies, a lot of people will stay in those areas,” said Abbasi. “We could lift people up in those areas by pulling agriculture production up. So once people get a bit more money in their pockets, it is now easier for the rest of the economy to grow because when a lot of rural people have a bit more money in their pockets, even up to $2 per day average, they start consuming industrial goods, also manufacturing our own goods, rather than always depending on importing.”

Experts from 30 African countries adopted what they call the Yaounde declaration that invites Africa to invest more in the rural areas youths are deserting. They say Africa is losing its trained human capital if current trends continue.

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The head of program implementation at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Estherine Fotabong, says governments should have the political will to create enabling environments for the private sector and civil society groups.

“We still have the majority of Africans living in rural areas, despite the rapid urbanization rates and from different studies the projection is that up to 2035 that will still be the case,” said Fotabong. “We still have most Africans employed in agriculture and we still have lots of land in our rural areas, so why not invest in social amenities, in infrastructure, in better education systems, in industrialization in rural areas so that youths will not see any reason to leave the rural areas to go to the cities.”

The Yaounde declaration is accompanied by a call for action that requests African heads of state to support the implementation of an action plan being developed to stop Africans from having to make the dangerous trip to Europe. (VOA)

Next Story

Laos’ Champasak Province Refuses To Sell Their Land For SEZ

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

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Khone Phapheng Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls on the Mekong River in Khong district of southwestern Laos' Champasak province, is one of the sountry's most beautiful natural attractions. RFA

At least 140 families from eight villages in the Khong district of southwestern Laos’ Champasak province are refusing to sell their land or relocate to make way for a special economic zone planned for their area.

Despite this, developers have begun the hasty construction of an access road that would bring construction traffic dangerously close to some of the villages.

The first phase of the Mahanathy Siphandone special economic zone (SEZ) is expected to be built by 2021 and will cover nearly 200 hectares (494 acres) of land throughout the six villages. The project will be expanded to cover nearly 10,000 (24,710 acres) hectares of land in the province.

During the first phase of construction, 35 five-star hotels and casinos will be built at a cost of more than U.S. $9 billion.

The Laos Mahanathy Siphandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., also known as Laos Maha Nathi Sithandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., received a 99-year concession for the land on which the SEZ will sit, is providing 80 percent of the funding, while the Lao government is supplying the rest.

The company and the Lao government signed a memorandum of understanding on June 20, 2017, for the first phase of construction, according to project documents.

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“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

But residents of Ban Hinsiu, Ban Phon, Ban Hang Khong, Ban Don Khong, Ban Muang Sen, Ban Phon Kao, Ban Thakhob, and Ban Houakhok villages have officially refused to give up their land.

“The company wants people’s land, but people don’t want to just hand it over,” said the chief of an affected village in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service last month.

“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said.

People living in the affected area say they understand what is at stake. The SEZ could be beneficial to the region and the country as a whole, providing a needed economic jumpstart.

“We are all for economic growth, but if we give up the land, we will not have place to live,” said the chief.

He explained that the authorities, after hearing their complaints, decided to give another plot of land to the company, closer to Tha Khob village, near an old golf course, but this did not solve the problem, because the company is building a 40-km (25-mile) access road to get there.

“The road is only six meters wide, but the Lao authorities say it needs to be 6.5 meters. Since construction [of the road] has already started, the company is simply filling out what would be the shoulder of the road with soil in an effort to save money,” said the chief.

A Khong district official said that villagers and developers have been unable to compromise on the scope of the project.

“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

The district official added that the initial plan of the development will cover 3,000 hectares of land and affect eight villages. Later the development will expand to 6,000 hectares and will affect 11 more villages.

As one of the least developed Southeast Asian nations, Laos has become a target for massive foreign investment, especially from companies in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, which receive attractive investment incentives from the Lao government.

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“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said. Pixabay

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

Also Read: Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

The government has said that it plans to build 41 special and specific economic zones, mostly in border areas and remote parts of the country, and that the zones will create about 50,000 jobs and possibly increase local per capita incomes to as much as U.S. $2,400.

Laos’ per capita income in 2017 was U.S. $2,330, according to the World Bank. (RFA)