“We will be asking: is bribery business as usual at the UN?”, US Attorney Preet Bharara, October 2015
“If proven, today’s charges will confirm that the cancer of corruption that plagues too many local and state governments infects the United Nations as well.”, US Attorney Preet Bharara, October 2015
“Corruption at any level of government undermines the rule of law and cannot be tolerated. But corruption is especially corrosive when it occurs at an international body like the United Nations. By paying bribes to two U.N. ambassadors to advance his interest in obtaining formal support for the Macau conference center project, Ng Lap Seng tried to manipulate the functions of the United Nations. The sentence handed down today demonstrates that those who engage in corruption will pay a heavy price and serves as a reminder that no one stands above the law.”, Acting Assistant General John P. Cronan, May 2018
“It is important to send a message, to the people at the UN itself and to other institutions in this country, that perverting the decision-making or attempting to pervert the decision-making through bribes will not be tolerated.”, US District Judge Vernon Broderick, May 2018
It first came to light in 2015. Arrests by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in New York – steps away from the headquarters of the United Nations – began a journey of discovery that led to a remarkable story of global order and power upended. Since World War II one country alone reigned supreme over the global economy and the rules and norms that underpinned it: the United States.
It is a story that has it all: the gambling sin-bin of Macau, human and sex trafficking, bribery, corruption, money laundering, spies, and, if they are to be believed, naive UN officials hiding behind their laissez-passer passports who knew nothing about all of this but were happy to take the money for a five-star conference and a trip to China (and a free iPad). How the UN ended up in this quagmire leaves many puzzled and perplexed. Then there is a so-called “21st century” media service that really is a “conduit” for bribery and money laundering (and possibly fake news), and who to this day is still reporting from the United Nations.
May 2018 saw the ending of one chapter in the ongoing corruption saga surrounding the executives of South-South News and their alleged bribery and money laundering conduit targeting the United Nations (UN). On 11 May 2018 Ng Lap Seng was sentenced to 4 years in prison for being the ring leader of an elaborate, multi-year, multinational scheme to bribe UN officials and launder money into the United States.
The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York at the time, Preet Bharara, released a flowchart showing how the alleged bribery scheme targeting the United Nations worked. A series of court trials followed for the various co-conspirators, including senior executives and board members for South-South News, culminating in the 27 July 2017 conviction of the alleged ring leader of the scheme, Macau casino billionaire Ng Lap Seng, on six counts “for his role in a scheme to bribe United Nations ambassadors to obtain support to build a conference center in Macau that would host, among other events, the annual United Nations Global South-South Development Expo“. He used the news service South-South News as a “conduit for bribery and money laundering” at the United Nations, according to the FBI, something admitted to by various co-conspirators in court and under oath.
Southern Art Hubs Grab Attention for Creative EconomyDevelopment Challenges: Regeneration – of poor neighbourhoods, districts, even whole countries after a conflict – is both a challenge and a key to transforming lives. One approach that has a track record is turning to artists and creative people to re-imagine a neighbourhood or country’s culture, and restore pride and vitality to places beaten down by life’s hardships.
Afropolitan: African Fashion Scene Bursting with EnergyDevelopment Challenges: In the face of Congo’s civil strife, a group of very fashionable gentlemen bring colour and style to the country while also pioneering a way to make money and improve standards of dress in the country. Members of “La sape,” or La Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Société_des_ambianceurs_et_des_personnes_élégantes) — the society of tastemakers and elegant people — wear designer fashions either bought in Europe, or handmade in Congo.
Brewing Prosperity Creates Good JobsDevelopment Challenges: In the Democratic Republic of Congo – home to the world’s largest United Nations peacekeeping mission and decades of bloody civil war – a brewery has not only survived, it has thrived to become a popular brand throughout central Africa. By being a success, the Brasimba brewery has brought prosperity and high-quality jobs to Congo’s second largest city, Lubumbashi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lubumbashi), and proven that a modern business can do well there despite the obstacles.
Digital Mapping to put Slums on the MapDevelopment Challenges: People are now turning to the growing penetration of digital technologies into slums and poor areas to find solutions. With mobile phones available across much of the global South, and plans underway to expand access to broadband internet even in poorly served Africa, it is becoming possible to develop a digital picture of a slum area and map its needs and population.
Innovation Villages Tackling MDGsDevelopment Challenges: The global economic crisis that began to roll across the world in September 2008 is threatening gains made against poverty and hunger all over the South. As Kevin Watkins from UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report told the Financial Times, “With the slowdown in growth in 2009, we estimate that the average income of the 391 million Africans living on less than US $1.25 a day will take a 20 percent hit.”
New Appetite for Nutritious Traditional VegetablesDevelopment Challenges: Throughout the history of farming, around 7,000 species of plants have been domesticated. Yet everyday diets only draw on 30 percent of these plants and even this number has been going down as more people consume mass-market foods (FAO).
African Countries Re-branding for New Economic RoleDevelopment Challenges: Africa’s diverse countries have been subject to years of negative stories in the media. The effect on global audiences has left many to cast the whole continent in a bad light and to know little about the individual countries and cultures. This has damaged business confidence over the years. Just like products and people, nations need to have a strong and positive brand to do well in the global economy.
Tiny Homes to Meet Global Housing CrisisDevelopment Challenges: More than 1 billion people around the world lack decent shelter. Of these, the majority live in urban areas, usually in slums and informal settlements (UN-HABITAT). The world’s megacities – like Mumbai, India, where more than 22 million live in the metropolitan region – have to find a way to provide housing that is both affordable and does the minimum possible amount of harm to the environment.
Ending Gang Violence While Cleaning the Streets in HaitiDevelopment Challenges: The Caribbean nation of Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line (CIA World Factbook). The country had been enjoying some positive economic growth since 2005 after decades of economic and political turmoil.
Growing a Southern Brand to Global Success: The Olam StoryDevelopment Challenges: Most people haven’t heard of Olam International, but they know the brands they work for and they more than likely eat their produce. The story of Olam (www.olamonline.com) – a global food supply company in ‘agri-products’ that got its start in Nigeria – shows how a Southern brand can grow and go global, and overcome the difficulties of cross-border trade.
Making the World a Better Place for Southern ProjectsDevelopment Challenges: An exciting new initiative based in Germany, but already featuring hundreds of projects from across the South, is using the power of the internet to directly connect projects and donors.
Bamboo Becomes Transport Option for the SouthDevelopment Challenges: The sturdy bamboo plant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo) is enjoying a revival around the world as a building material. A strong, fast-growing and highly renewable woody plant, it is becoming increasingly popular as people seek out less environmentally wasteful alternatives to steel and other materials.
Kenyan Mobile Phone InnovationsDevelopment Challenges: A couple of enterprising Kenyan engineering students are showing how mobile phones are an inventor’s dream. Their two inventions – one a way to re-charge phones while bicycling, the other an aid for catching fish – show the potential for adapting this technology to the needs of the poor.
Info Ladies and Question Boxes: Reaching Out to the PoorDevelopment Challenges: Quick access to accurate and useful information is crucial for development. With the remarkable spread of information around the world via the Internet – one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century – more than 1.5 billion people now use the Web to boost their incomes and opportunities (Internet World Stats).
Avoiding Wasting Food and Human Potential with ICTsDevelopment Challenges: Creative use of information technology in the South is helping to address two very different kinds of waste – of food and of human and community potential.
Toilet Malls Make Going BetterDevelopment Challenges: Across the global South, clever entrepreneurs are transforming services that were bare-bones, grim and out-of-date into modern facilities packed with features that help to pay for their operation. In Kenya, an entrepreneur has used this approach to transform the poor quality of public toilets.
Crowdsourcing Mobile Phones to Make the Poor MoneyDevelopment Challenges The proliferation of mobile phones across the global South, reaching even the poorest places on the planet, has given birth to whole new ways of making money. A phenomenon called ‘crowdsourcing’ – in which the power of individuals is harvested to achieve a goal – is now being used to create networks of people earning extra income.
Tourist Passion for Quirky Holidays Helps SouthDevelopment Challenges:Conventional thinking holds that any country with a poor or non-existent reputation in the international media will not attract tourists. But this conventional thinking is wrong: The hottest tourist trend for 2009 is directly benefiting the South’s more out-of-the-way and under-appreciated countries. So says a travel expert who specializes in overlooked travel destinations.
Protecting Threatened Fruits and Nuts in Central AsiaDevelopment Challenges: Between 94,000 and 144,000 plant species — a quarter to a half of the world’s total — could die out in the coming years, according to an estimate by Scientific American (2002). Among them are vital food crops, threatened by a world in which climate change is causing more weather turbulence and diseases and viruses can spread rapidly and destroy crops.
Southern Drink Challenges Corporate DominanceDevelopment Challenges: Across the global South, its thirsty people have long been a target market for Northern drinks companies. The ubiquity of the American soft drink Coca Cola, or even its rival Pepsi Cola, is testimony to that. Even the most remote village on the impoverished island of Haiti can offer an ice-cold Coke.
Kenyan Eco-Village Being Built by Slum-DwellersDevelopment Challenges: A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth.
Taxis Promote African Music BeatsDevelopment Challenges: South Africa’s township music is pounding its way into the global music charts. How has music made in the impoverished townships that are a hangover from decades of apartheid – the country’s former racial separation laws, which trapped millions of black South Africans in disenfranchisement and poverty – travelled around the world? By hitching a ride with the country’s ubiquitous taxi drivers.
Successful Fuel-Efficient Cookers Show the WayDevelopment Challenges: Kenyan entrepreneur has cooked up a fuel-efficient stove and oven that uses less of a precious national resource: wood from trees. Most African households using fuel-burning stoves either cannot afford clean-burning fuels like natural gas or electric stoves, or do not have access to them. They are stuck having to burn wood or other materials like animal dung – collectively called biomass – on open fires.
A New Mobile Phone Aimed at the PoorDevelopment Challenges: A low-cost Venezuelan mobile phone aimed at the South’s poor is proving that South-South technological cooperation works. Packed with features and costing no more than US $15 – making it one of the cheapest mobile handsets in the world – the phone is aimed at the fast-growing mobile market across the global South.
African Online Supermarket Set to Boost TradeDevelopment Challenges: African Online Supermarket Set to Boost Trade Online retailing and marketing strategies are revolutionizing how people around the world buy products and services – but so far they have not benefited most of Africa’s small businesses and traders. On a continent where trading for survival is the norm, very few people are reaping the benefits of selling on the Internet.
Rebuilding After Chinese Earthquake: Beautiful Bamboo HomesDevelopment Challenges: It has been a year since the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China that killed more than 70,000 people. Getting Sichuan back to normal is critical for not only the province’s people, but for all of China. Sichuan is China’s rice bowl, growing more food than any other province. But despite the abundance of food, Sichuan remains poor and has seen its working age population move away for work. If it is to have a viable future then its communities need to get back to normal as fast as possible – and its farming economy back to full production.
SOS Shops Keep Food Affordable for Poor, UnemployedDevelopment Challenges: As the global downturn bears down on country after country, governments around the world are introducing austerity measures to try to keep their economies going. Many countries are now facing financial crisis and the need for loans and support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Formerly comfortable people are going from regular employment to unemployment or erratic employment, and growing numbers of people are finding it hard even to afford basics such as food.
Cleaner Stoves To Reduce Global WarmingDevelopment Challenges: The use of polluting fuel-burning stoves by half the world’s population – including 80 percent of rural households – is a documented contributor to a host of health problems. Poor households not only have to contend with the ill health effects of dirty water and poor sanitation, the fumes from burning dung, wood, coal or crop leftovers lead to the deaths of more than 1.6 million people a year from breathing toxic indoor air (WHO).
Solar Powered Village Kick-Starts Development GoalsDevelopment Challenges: More than 1.7 billion people around the world have no domestic electricity supply, of whom more than 500 million live in sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank). Without electricity, many development goals remain dreams that will never be achieved. But in a first for India, a village is now entirely powered by solar energy, kick-starting its development and reversing the decline common to many villages.
Rainforest Gum Gets Global MarketDevelopment Challenges: Mexico is home to the second largest rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon jungle. But the country’s forests face serious threats from logging, cattle ranching and agriculture. As much as 80 percent of Mexico’s original forests have already been lost. A group of Mexican farmers is now using sophisticated product marketing to preserve their income, and the 1.3 million hectares of rainforest as well.
Disabled Congolese Musicians Become World HitDevelopment Challenges: A group of Congolese musicians is using music to overcome obstacles – both economic and social – that come with being disabled in a poor country. Called Staff Benda Bilili, they are on course to be a global sensation and are looking forward to their first European tour. A remarkable achievement for anyone from a war-torn country, let alone for musicians who live as paraplegics in the slums of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinshasa).
Camel Ice Cream Delivering Desert Dessert Development Challenges: The global food crisis is forcing people around the world to think differently about how food is produced and what new products can boost the incomes of farmers. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people worldwide who are undernourished (FAO). The world’s over 19.4 million camels (FAO, 2003) are now being tapped for their highly nutritious, healing and tasty milk.
Finding Fortune in Traditional MedicineDevelopment Challenges:Traditional medicines and treatments could help provide the next wave of affordable drugs and medicines for the world. But a phenomenon known as ‘bio-prospecting’ – in which global companies grab a stake in these once-free medicines – has been placing traditional medicines out of reach of Southern entrepreneurs.
Accessing Global Markets Via Design SolutionsDevelopment Challenges:The power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is increasingly being seen as a critical component of successful economic development.
Berber Hip Hop Helps Re-ignite Culture and EconomyDevelopment Challenges: Music is being used to revive the ancient language of the original North African desert dwellers, the Berbers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berber_people). And in the process, it is spawning a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and generating income.
Cashing in on Music in BrazilDevelopment Challenges:Brazilian musicians have found a way to prosper and exploit the realities of music distribution in the modern age. The biggest problem for most artists – both beginners and those who are more established – is how to earn an income from their work. In the digital age, it is next to impossible to stop people freely copying your work and passing it on.
Cuba’s Hurricane Recovery SolutionDevelopment Challenges: The frequency of extreme weather in the past decade has been attributed to global warming (http://tinyurl.com/5peel). Many scientists believe the future will bring even more turbulent weather events and disasters. The devastation and hardship brought by natural disasters can eradicate development gains, and destroy livelihoods and health. It is critical countries help people to get back to their normal lives as fast as possible.
Afghanistan’s Juicy Solution to Drug TradeDevelopment Challenges:Afghanistan is the world’s largest source of the illegal drugs opium and heroin (International Narcotics Control Board), both of which are derived from the bright-red flower, the poppy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppy).The country produced 8,200 tons of heroin in 2007, up 34 percent from the previous year.The negative consequences of the flourishing drug trade are numerous: it is destabilizing Afghanistan’s neighbours and undermining political and legal institutions, addiction rates are soaring, and addicts are spreading HIV/AIDS.
DIY Solution Charges Mobile Phones with BatteriesDevelopment Challenges: There are now more than 3.5 billion mobile phones in use around the world. In the past five years, their use and distribution has exploded across the global South, including in once hard-to-reach places in Africa. In fact, Africa is the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market. Over the past five years the continent’s mobile phone usage has increased at an annual rate of 65 percent – twice the rate of Asia.
African Bus to Tackle African RoadsDevelopment Challenges: Roads in many parts of Africa are rough at best, and hostile to vehicles designed with smooth, flat highways in mind. Even in countries like South Africa, where modern highways are common, a quick turn off the smooth highway to visit many communities will mean tackling makeshift dirt roads. In these conditions, buses imported from Western Europe are at a disadvantage when they hit the bone-jarring reality of potholed roads.
Debt-free Homes For the PoorDevelopment Challenges:As the population around the world’s cities grows, and slums grow larger and more prevalent, the urgent need for affordable and decent housing becomes more pressing. The world’s megacities – like Buenos Aires, Argentina, where more than 13 million live in the metropolitan region – have to find a way to provide housing that is both cheap and does the minimum possible amount of harm to the environment.
Rickshaw Drivers Prosper with New ServicesDevelopment Challenges:The rickshaw is the world’s oldest form of wheeled transportation and forms a significant part of India’s transport infrastructure. In large cities across Asia, 1 million three-wheeled auto-rickshaws form an important means of daily transportation and a vital source of income for their drivers. There are 8 million cycle rickshaws on the streets of India, the government says. They perform many tasks: as taxis, as couriers, as goods movers. And the Indian government promotes cycle rickshaws as a non-polluting alternative.
Venezuela’s Currencies Promote Cooperation Not CompetitionDevelopment Challenges: The global economic crisis has spread around the world and is bringing many problems in its wake. As global currency markets gyrate wildly, and people find they can go from having wealth to being poor almost overnight, the question is being asked: “is there another way?”
Kenyan Bank Helps the Poor and Gets RichDevelopment Challenges: Good quality banking services are a basic building block to rising incomes. Yet the poor across the South are often overlooked and denied access to savings accounts and loans. Many low-income people are openly discriminated against as ‘bad risks’ by banks, and denied the sort of banking services middle and higher income people take for granted. Yet it is a myth that the poor do not have money or do not wish to save and invest for their future or for business.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions is the monthly e-newsletter for the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation in UNDP (formerly the United Nations Development Programme’s South-South Cooperation Unit). I research and write all stories (since January 2007). You can view the original website here. The stories are in English, French and Spanish.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions reaches a global audience of influential decision-makers on the frontlines of international development in the South. More than 2,000 subscribers read the newsletter every month (academic institutions, UN agencies, private sector companies, UNDP Country Offices, financial institutions including the IMF and World Bank, inter-governmental organisations, UNDP knowledge networks around the world, and all South-South focal points in West Africa).
Remember to think of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions when you have a Southern innovation to share with the world. You can read our archive of stories online here: http://ssc.undp.org/index.php?id=66
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Increasing the agricultural productivity of Africa is critical for the continent’s future development, and the world’s. Two-thirds of Africans derive their main income from agriculture, but the continent has the largest quantity of unproductive – or unused – potential agricultural land in the world.
This means the continent has the potential to become the world’s new breadbasket – but there is a problem. A report by the International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agriculture (IFDC) found the continent had a “soil health crisis” and that three-quarters of its farmlands were severely degraded (New Scientist). The causes of this crisis include overuse of the same plot of land due to population growth, which prevents farmers moving around, and high fertilizer costs, leading to African farmers using just 10 per cent of the world average on their farms.
But a new study shows that an existing practice by some African farmers could help solve this dilemma if it was adopted by the majority.
At the University of Sydney in Australia, a study has confirmed the effectiveness of ants and termites as a tool to increase farm yields in dry areas. It found ants and termites in drier climates of the global South improved soil conditions just as earthworms do in northern, wetter and colder climates. Both termites and ants, by burrowing their way through the soil, carve out tunnels that make it easier for plants to shoot their roots outwards in search of water.
In field experiments, ants and termites helped raise wheat yields by 36 per cent by increasing water and nitrogen absorption. This is critical for agriculture in arid climates.
While termites wreak havoc on crops such as maize (corn) and sugarcane, they are very useful for other African crops.
The Australian research found termites infuse nitrogen into the soil. Nitrogen is usually dumped on fields with expensive fertilizers that are subject to market fluctuations. The termites have nitrogen-heavy bacteria in their stomachs, which they excrete into the soil through their faeces or saliva.
The research also found termites helped with reducing water wastage.
This research reinforces what has long been known to some African farmers. Long-held farmer tradition in parts of West Africa uses termites to enhance soil by placing wood on the earth to attract them. By burying manure in holes near newly planted grains, farmers in Burkina Faso attract termites to the soil.
In Malawi, bananas are planted near termite mounds to encourage the creatures. In southern Zambia, soil from termite nests is harvested and used as top soil on agricultural land.
If more farmers adopted this practice, Africa could simultaneously address its chronic malnutrition and hunger problem and contribute to the world’s food needs. As the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) found, “With 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land and low crop yields, Africa is ripe for a ‘green revolution’ like those that transformed agriculture in Asia and Brazil.”
McKinsey estimated that Africa’s agricultural output could increase from US $280 billion a year now to US $500 billion by 2020 and as much as US $880 billion by 2030.
The UN recently declared that the world’s population has reached 7 billion. That is many mouths to feed and presents Africa with a dilemma and an opportunity.
And as urban growth accelerates across the global South – the world is now a majority urban place – there is a huge profit to be made from providing food to growing urban populations.
The time to act is now, as there have been reports from African farmers that they are seeing harvests declining by 15 to 25 per cent. And the picture gets gloomier: many farmers think their harvests will drop by half over the next five years.
Given that there are 2,600 different species of termites now recognised in the world (UNEP) and with over 660 species, found in Africa, it is by far the richest continent in termite diversity (Eggleton 2000) and they are proof that an affordable solution is close at hand to the current crisis.
1) World Vegetable Center: The World Vegetable Center is the world’s leading international non-profit research and development institute committed to alleviating poverty and malnutrition in developing countries through vegetable research and development. Website:http://www.avrdc.org
2) Songhai Centre: a Benin-based NGO that is a training, production, research, and development centre in sustainable agriculture. Website:http://www.songhai.org/english
5) African Alliance for Capital Expansion: A management consultancy focused on private sector development and agribusiness in West Africa. Website:http://www.africanace.com/v3
6) Ants and termites increase crop yield in a dry climate by Theodore A. Evans, Tracy Z. Dawes, Philip R. Ward and Nathan Lo, Nature Communications 2, Article number: 262
7) Integrating Ethno-Ecological and Scientific Knowledge of Termites for Sustainable Termite Management and Human Welfare in Africa by Gudeta W. Sileshi et al, Ecology and Society, Volume 14, Number 1. Website:http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss1/art48