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Sunday Mail and Jim Murphy MP investigate the Qatar construction industry ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022

11 April 2014

Inside the Qatar 2022 World Cup camps:

“The treatment of migrant workers is no longer the ugly secret of the beautiful game – we know the truth and football has to act.” says Jim Murphy.

DFID under Labour – Development and Power

8 April 2014

Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, speech at the ONE Campaign

Good afternoon, and thank you to the ONE Campaign for hosting today.

The ONE Campaign, is an organisation set up to change the world as it is, something that in the last decade you and others have worked tirelessly to do.

I’m here on behalf of another organisation set up in an earlier century to change the world as it then was: The Labour Party. Both organisations have made some progress but we know that we still have a long way to go.

For Labour, the Gleneagles Agreement and the 2005 development campaign was a highlight of our time in office.
The question then was how we build on a movement that saw 250,000 take to the streets and many others use the early days of social media to help make poverty history. The questions today are how we rebuild that mass movement and more importantly why and around what causes.

Because politics and the world has moved on.
The global financial crisis has made many feel more insecure. The Arab Uprisings brought hope, then violence and now for many, despair. And the painful increase in natural disasters points to the ever greater influence of climate change on our daily lives.

Yet on a fundamental level much has stayed the same. Intergenerational poverty and bad governance are still holding too many countries and their people back. And cultural barriers lead to a position where many women, disabled people, and too many minorities are discriminated against and denied access to their fair share of goods, services and opportunity.


We all instinctively feel that this is wrong, but before we start to put things right we have to properly understand why and how it happens. My sense is that you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is and that’s what I want to make an initial attempt at today. It’s my view that the terrible circumstances faced by many are the consequences and not the causes of the disadvantage we want to bridge.

Poverty, no access to education, no healthcare, modern day slavery, discrimination, conflict and corruption. All pernicious problems for sure. But more of a consequence than a cause. They are symptoms of the real driving force of inequity – a fundamental imbalance of power.

The economic power to prosper; fair access to the market and fair place to trade in. Freedom from poverty and closed markets, freedom to work hard and get on.

The social power of opportunity; the right to a decent education, and the safety of proper healthcare. Freedom from enforced ignorance and the fear that disease means destitution, the freedom to realise potential, and to live a full and healthy life.

The political power to demand change and use the ballot box to affect it. Freedom from persecution, corruption, and violence, freedom to think, to talk, to love, to debate, to have a say.

Some people have it and too many people don’t, and that’s the problem.

It’s an imbalance in power that in part leads to a child born in Africa today being on average twenty four times less likely to reach their fifth birthday than those born in Europe.

They are a third less likely to finish primary school and eight times less likely to go to university.

And they are twenty five times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

All of this is an inequality caused in large part by a fundamental imbalance of power.

If I’m Secretary of State I want to point the Department at the actual problem as I see it and not only at the terrible consequences. I want to address those imbalances in power that leave too many families, communities and even countries behind. I want DFID to help break that chain of unequal power distribution that passes from one generation to another.

Growth with Equity

It’s often said that there’s no shortage of food in the world, only that it’s unevenly distributed. The same is true of power. There is no shortage. It’s just that there is too much in too few people’s hands. And so part of the solution must be to distribute that power more evenly.

The obvious place to start is economic power.

Economic growth has the potential to be the engine that drives a better distribution of power. But we should be clear; growth without jobs, inclusion, healthcare, education, human rights – growth without power, won’t do.

As Bobby Kennedy once said,
“gross national product… measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.
Anyone on the wrong side of the extractive industries can testify to that. The United Nations Development Programme tells us what the down side of resource driven growth can mean, “limited job creation; violent conflicts; corruption; environmental degradation; gender violence; and the spread of HIV and AIDS.”

Far too often unequal growth means no growth at all for the poor. In 2012 DRC grew by over 7% but unemployment still tops 50%. Sierra Leone has seen growth powered by its mining sector of more than 16%, but three quarters still live in extreme poverty with low levels of education, poor health conditions and limited access to clean water.

And in India, the tenth richest economy in the world which is powering along but with income per capita ranked at 149th in the world, and in the state of Madhya Pradesh infant mortality is higher than Senegal or Eritrea.

But despite all of this, growth can open the door to equity. Growth and equity can be – should be – mutually reinforcing, with power more evenly distributed, which in turn can address causes and their consequences.

Now of course the UK can’t fix this across the world on its own – and in truth there is no fix in the old fashioned sense of that concept – but it is part of the task of the next global development framework. The Shadow DFID team are currently reviewing what a new set of ambitious and achievable goals would be. We know that time is short and that there will be just a matter of weeks after the General Election before the world has to come to an agreement and so we will make our approach clear long before then.

And this is an effort that has to work in concert with the energy of governments, the private sector, civil society and international bodies like the IMF and the World Bank.

That of course includes the EU – now the world’s largest donor. And at next month’s European elections, Labour are clear that our MEPs will work to ensure that every single pound of taxpayers’ money that passes through the European Union delivers the maximum value and impact. And as part of that appeal we will continue to call on other European countries to fulfil their promises to support global development.

Tackling the building blocks of inequality

I’d like to detail some of the practical examples of what I’m talking about when I say that the next Labour government will work internationally to tackle power imbalances.

Let’s start in the realm of measurable inequality.

Poverty, no access to education or healthcare – all big issues that require serious solutions. The worldwide improvement over the last fifty years has been widespread and in some cases dramatic. But, too many are still left without economic or social power. So Labour will learn from the best innovations across the world, that tackle some of the structures of this inequality.

Individual governments and aid agencies are developing new models to open up access to economic power through cash transfers as well as broadening social power by financing healthcare and education that’s free at the point of delivery.

That’s what I want to see DFID do more of under Labour. So we will look at reinstating the support this government cut for innovative small projects.

And in Brazil, the conditional cash transfers of the ‘Bolsa Familia’ scheme have been credited with making a substantial contribution to the country’s falling levels of inequality. Proving once again that donor countries don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. I want DFID to look at schemes like this and where sensible I want DFID to intellectually borrow from them.

Responsible capitalism: International tax rules

Of course, none of these schemes are without cost.

For the developing world to fund progressive programmes and become truly self sufficient we should support these countries to strengthen themselves through building a solid tax base of their own.

So I can confirm today that the next Labour government would restructure our existing support for developing countries by first of all doubling the £20 million DFID currently gives to help governments build up their own tax collecting capabilities.

And if successful we will look at going even further. This is development for the long-term which can pay for itself. Last year DFID announced £6m for “four international projects” which they estimate could generate some £100m in revenues over 4 years. If it is successful that would pay for itself sixteen times over. If rolled out in a substantial and successful way that can be transformational change, that’s what I want to see more of.

Of course, there are limits to this approach and this isn’t the whole answer on tax justice – nowhere near it. I’m not here today to start making unilateral promises now; but an incoming Labour government will work through how we best achieve a fairer system for the world’s poorest people and countries.

International workers’ rights

Of course reshaping the rules of the game isn’t just about new powers for more governments, it means changes for working people too.

Economic power at the bottom as well as the top. Decent jobs, under decent conditions for decent pay is a cornerstone of the Labour movement, and it’s a vital part of development as well. A year ago the collapse of Rana Plaza killed more than 1,100 people many of whom had pleaded against being forced into the creaking building just days before the tragedy. At the start of this year, garment workers in Cambodia were killed by local police as they took to the streets to demand fairer pay. And today, Human Rights Watch report that migrant domestic workers are dying for their work as many toil for long hours for low pay, seven days a week.

That’s why DFID under the next Labour government will make promoting workers’ rights a crucial component of our Department for International Development.

Last week I travelled to Qatar. The host country of the 2022 football World Cup, and per head home to the richest people on the planet. It’s also home to an army of migrant workers, who take on enormous debt to travel thousands of miles. On arrival they can discover the contracts they were promised do not exist, lower pay and longer hours can be the least of their problems. Pay is often withheld and passports seized, accommodation can be squalid and health and safety procedures almost non-existent.
This is the quicksand of forced labour.

You could ask for no better demonstration of today’s power imbalances than the prospect of thousands living in sub-human conditions, with no rights and no way out, so that the world’s richest sport can hold a festival.
Truly the ugly side of the beautiful game.

That’s why I am calling on FIFA to act – their World Cup, their responsibility.

And it’s why I want to see the UK government use existing budgets to extend the Work in Freedom programme to cover construction workers in Qatar.

Of course this is not just a problem in one tiny but prosperous state in the Gulf. We should use the extra scrutiny provided by the World Cup to push for change but we have to look wider too.

So Labour will reverse this government’s decision to withdraw funding from the ILO and we will work with our international partners like the ITUC to ensure that those who have the will to work hard, can have the power to get on.

Human rights

Power shared should also mean rights better protected. The power to achieve more and to be held back less.
But today, for too many there’s too much poverty and too few human rights.

So DFID under Labour will put human rights at the heart of our work – civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural. And where we can, we will support projects and programmes to better protect and promote rights. We will also look to build more human rights principles into more DFID contracts.

But in addition to that we will set up a new Human Rights Unit in DFID, headed by a senior official, to help monitor rights based developments in partner countries more closely; and work extensively with international experts on the implementation of this rights based development approach.

Authoritarian and ‘rights free development’ can leave poor and vulnerable people worse off, forced from their land, exploited, and exposed to poisoning and pollution. ‘Rights respecting development’ can help prevent abuses that are sometimes associated with economic development.

General and sectoral budget support can be vital for strengthening the institutional capacity of governments to reduce poverty and inequality, but UK support should come with conditions. And we should be clear that better economic growth or wider access to services don’t somehow excuse or mitigate repression or the denial of human rights.

So Labour is looking at new tough rules for the granting of UK aid. Under these plans governments in receipt of direct UK aid would face an annual audit. As well as firm rules on transparency and corruption, we would monitor respect for human rights. A new unit at the heart of DFID would assess states against internationally agreed standards.

Governments that fail to meet those standards – that break international law or breach the UN Charter or globally agreed covenants for example – and show no sign of progression would face consequences. Labour is developing a system of graduated withdrawal through which transgressors would see direct support reduced and eventually suspended if respect for human rights is not reinstalled. And in extreme cases we would of course reserve the right to act immediately. Recent reforms in Burma indicate that using economic and foreign aid leverage can produce human rights results.

I know that there may be some sensitivities about this approach but at the outset I’m clear that we won’t act in a way that hurts those that need our support. We would ensure that poor people don’t pay twice the price for bad governance. UK development investment would remain in their country. We would look to go round those governments and keep the support in the country but out of government hands. We would work through multilateral agencies and NGOs so those in need don’t lose out.

Labour’s vision

Now I know these aren’t all the answers. And I can’t pretend that these measures will change the world overnight. But they point to a determination to do some things differently.

Under Labour, DFID will be a department that works on development by tackling the three big imbalances of power.

Political, economic and social opportunity.

Three components of one problem.

Amartya Sen’s insight is that none of this is an optional extra – they are each intrinsic to the puzzle.

In his language of freedoms he argues that these empowerments,
“[are] not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its principal means.”

And I wholeheartedly agree.

So Labour’s vision is a DFID that tackles power imbalances by expanding freedoms as well as signing cheques. Measuring success by the change we make, not the cash we put in. And we know that affecting that change means working well with the international community.

Too often, people say there is a choice between the interests of richer countries and those in the developing world. But improving tax fairness benefits both the developed and developing world. All of us, rich and poor, will all be affected by climate change. It might seem that the powerful and the powerless live in different worlds but it’s one planet and we need to change how it is run. Our global contract with developing countries needs to reflect that.

We should work in a spirit of cooperation and always seek to avoid over simplification because:
Countries aren’t exclusively corrupt or democratic. Political systems, leaders, individuals can be, but nations are infinitely more intricate.

A policy where we understand that whilst much of Africa is changing it is neither simply booming nor bleak.

Women are neither singularly the victims of a status quo nor the exclusive agents of change.

Appreciating complexity might make for a harder sound-bite but it helps build better policy. Despite that complexity, there is one straightforward truth that is clear from the UN’s My World survey suggest that from Glasgow to Ghana, London to Lahore, people fundamentally want similar things.

Safety for themselves and the ones they love, the opportunity for them and their families to get on and a social safety net to get them back on their feet when times get tough. They want the power to live their lives as they see fit.

And that’s what we will seek to achieve

Government Critique

I hope that you accept that I haven’t come here to make a speech which sets out to attack the government. But at the moment some people tell me that under this government DFID sometimes feels like it’s drifting.

I’m not normally into the politics of cultural conceit but if DFID doesn’t lead internationally no-one else will.

Make no mistake, despite any criticism I have, DFID is still home to some of the best specialists in the world.

When I travelled to the Philippines with Cafod in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan I saw first-hand the difference that that expertise makes. Last month I was in Lebanon and Jordan with World Vision, and again what I saw was British support making a real difference to those most in need. From the Philippines to Syria, the international community often looks to the UK for our ideas as well as investment.

So DFID has an awful lot going for it: a huge range of expertise and the resources to make it count. Last week, with cross party support, I was delighted that the UK government hit the commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance.

So the question in political circles is now less about how much we spend, and more about how we spend it.

Alongside that it is right that people ask whether a larger development budget can be delivered by an ever smaller department. There are real worries that in a bid to cut costs, the department has kept the bureaucracy but is losing some expertise and with that the ability to lead.

Some might find this to be too idealistic but I don’t see the primary point of DFID to simply distribute aid, but to help change the world by redistributing power.

And even with an increased budget in a field where a few pounds can change a life, we shouldn’t waste a penny.

A culture where success is judged by the money put in instead of the change others get out, will lead to more TradeMark SouthernAfricas.

A scheme so far off track that whilst it failed to reduce poverty, it succeeded in wasting millions and accidentally handing tens of thousands of pounds to the Mugabe regime.

As the aid budget rises so must our ability to control it. Spending money wisely will run through everything DFID under Labour will do. That’s why Labour supports the Independent Commission for Aid Impact – the development watchdog that exposed the problems at TradeMark SouthernAfrica.

In my previous role I was determined to deal with the financial overheating in the Defence budget and I want to be just as rigorous on Development.

So we will look closely at how we evaluate and measure value for money, but for Labour efficiency doesn’t just mean cutting costs and managing expenditure, it means maximising the impact we make. When a budget as important as this is ring-fenced, there is a fiscal responsibility and a moral duty to deliver as much change as possible for the money we invest
That sort of value for money is crucial.

Before I finish I want to make a brief comment about public opinion.

People can be cynical about development and if I thought it didn’t work I would be cynical too.

But the facts are clear. Aid and Development do work.

During thirteen years in office, DFID with Labour did help change the world of millions of people.
Not by accident but because we made it happen – we trebled spending on development, made poverty reduction a legal requirement, created a separate department for development with a seat in the cabinet and reach throughout Whitehall, and our Prime Ministers spent real political capital, inside our government and on the world stage to get things done.

I am proud of that record. But I didn’t get in to politics to protect Labour achievements – and there is never a belated sense of gratitude from a public who are much more interested in what you’re going to do next time than what you did the last time.
So I believe in a politics that doesn’t canonise achievements but builds on them.

For progressives the world over that is what politics is about: A sense of change.

And in no other government department can you help change the world quite like in DFID.

So under the next Labour Government that is what DFID will be all about. A department for global change.

And we should bang the drum for development as loudly as we can.

Because sometimes at the moment, it feels like we are losing an argument that we’re not even fully making. It’s important that together we helped forge what I hope will become an enduring political consensus on 0.7%. But we haven’t gone far enough to persuade many of the public. Protecting the DFID budget while most other government departments are being cut isn’t something we should want or expect to do in private or in some way detached from the public’s anxieties about life here at home.

So we should make the case every day we can.

Development changes and saves lives. Just look around the world

Life expectancies are rising, whilst preventable deaths are falling,
More children are in schools, whilst fewer mothers die in child birth,
Literacy is storming ahead whilst polio is mostly in retreat

All, in part, because of aid and international development efforts across the world.

But to those unmoved by the altruism of global citizenship, we also have to make the argument that development is also in Britain’s best interests.

Britain invests in development to prevent extreme poverty, climate change and conflict. If we resile from that responsibility, one way or another we will still carry a cost. The way to eliminate that cost is to tackle it at its source.

The UK would be immeasurably better off growing and trading within a strong global economy with a sustainable climate, supported governments and secure borders. That’s what British development helps to achieve. Tackling the big global issues now can save us billions in the future.

This generation has the power to eliminate aid dependency for good. Lift a billion out of poverty and prevent half a million a year from dying on their first day.

But it’s much more than that.

Not just huge numbers but big change.

Empowering the powerless. That’s what we can do.

That’s why we are all here today.

That’s what DFID is for.

And if Labour have the opportunity to govern, that’s what I will ensure DFID delivers.

Tuberculosis in Cambodia: Finding new ways to combat one of the world’s oldest diseases

1 April 2014

Cambodia 2Nic Dakin MP for Scunthorpe County

The stench filled our nostrils and assaulted our taste. I treaded carefully on top of wooden slats
that threatened to give way to a stew of green and brown water. All around me children squeezed past me, easily finding footing on the narrow wooden structures that create walkways in between their homes. I wondered how often someone lands in the pungent brine that lay below our feet.

Built on top of a lake of raw sewage, the Steung Meanchey slum on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in Cambodia is an example of how desperate people will find any place to live and make it home. Families have built their homes out of wooden stilts and metal sheets that hover precariously above a toxic sea. It is here that tuberculosis (TB), one of the world’s oldest diseases, is rife and continues to threaten the lives of families and communities.

I recently travelled to Cambodia with RESULTS UK to learn about how key global health issues affect development. TB remains one of the world’s top infectious disease killers and continues to claim 1.3 million lives every year. Yet when we think of some of the world’s biggest global health challenges we often think of two of the world’s other leading infectious disease killers – HIV and malaria. TB is usually the forgotten one – considered outdated, a disease of the past.

Cambodia 3During my trip to Cambodia I was able to see first-hand that this is not the case. TB continues to affect some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. TB most severely affects individuals between the ages of 15-54 – the most productive years of a person’s life. TB is a cause and consequence of poverty, and yet it remains low on the list of diseases we feel we need to respond to with a sense of urgency.

Cambodia makes up a large portion of the global TB burden. Although it has managed to halve its TB rate over the past decade, it still has one of the highest rates in the world: 27 times higher than that in the UK. In light of it’s tragic past under Khmer Rouge rule, Cambodia’s high TB rates come of little surprise. Khmer Rouge rule completely decimated the country’s infrastructure, including its hospitals and health centres. Fewer than 50 doctors were left practicing from a former workforce of around 600. The scars of the three and a half years of the genocide are not fully repaired.

The Steung Meanchey slum we visited demonstrates how difficult it is to control TB when some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people lack access to TB diagnosis and care. It underscores how important it is to develop new and innovative ways to find and treat people with TB who otherwise continue to spread, suffer and die from TB.

This is where a pioneering initiative called TB REACH comes in. We visited a programme funded by TB REACH and led by the Sihanouk Hospital’s Center for Hope. Community health volunteers accompanied TB health workers door to door to actively find individuals with TB and put them on treatment. The TB workers interviewed individuals about their health, and if a person displayed any TB symptoms they would cough up a sputum sample which the TB worker then transports back to the lab for testing. The TB test and any subsequent TB treatment needed are all provided free of charge. Rather than waiting for people with TB to come to a health centre, actively finding and treating people with TB is what breaks the cycle of transmission.

Cambodia 1If we truly want to eliminate one of the world’s oldest diseases, we have to be more aggressive in how we tackle this epidemic. The UK Government has a strong history of supporting multilateral organisations like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which is currently the biggest international funder of TB programmes. However, more can be achieved by supporting innovative programmes like TB REACH. Only then will we be able to drive out a disease that has killed more people than any other in history.


 Photo credits: (C) Nick Axelrod/Results UK 


LCID reports from Scottish Labour Party Conference

27 March 2014

LCID Scottish Officer Alastair Osborne sent this report from the Scottish Labour Party Conference.

The LCID Fringe Meeting at the Scottish Labour Party Conference in Perth (21 March) was well Football4Africa1attended and a great success. The main focus was the Football4Africa event with delegates and visitors asked to bring along a football strip of their local team. The charity distributes the strips in Africa and uses football to raise awareness and funds for the children of Africa whilst their parent charity, Abaana, helps meet their practical needs. Over 500 strips were donated, representing more than 50 Scottish senior clubs as well as junior clubs, English and foreign clubs. In keeping with the football theme pies and bovril were served (with wine for those with more refined taste)

After a long photo session for those who wanted their picture taken in front of our banner Football4Africa2holding their favourite team strip, I welcomed everyone and introduced the two speakers, Sarah Boyack MSP, Chair of the Cross Party International Development Group in the Scottish Parliament; and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Jim Murphy.

LCID are grateful to the staff in Jim’s Constituency Office for the work they put in organising the event and to Diageo for providing sponsorship.

Football4Africa5In addition to the Fringe Meeting there was a good conference session on Scotland in the World. Speakers were Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary; Jim Murphy, Shadow International Development Secretary and the Scottish Euro election candidates, including MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler. Jim’s address was followed by a panel Q & A on International development.

Labour European Election Fundraiser on 1st April

25 March 2014

Labour needs a strong voice in Europe, not least to defend the work the EU does on international development.

To show your support, attend the Labour London fundraiser for the European Election.

The evening offers the opportunity to meet the London Labour Candidates, and Glenys Kinnock, Labour Party Member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 2009, House of Lords Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 2010-13 and LCID’s Honorary Vice President.

Glenys Kinnock Euro invite V4cropped


or email

LCID stands #WithSyria

13 March 2014

The British public can send strong message to the UK Government that this year must be the last one of the conflict.

The war in Syria will have been raging for three years this Saturday, March 15. The date marks the third anniversary of the start of the ongoing conflict. Over the past three years, the humanitarian situation in the country has worsened. The extent of the crisis is almost impossible to comprehend.

More than 130,000 are already dead, and every month a further 6,000 people are killed. There is also a displacement crisis of the worst possible level. Workers for NGOs, activists, and journalists have risked their lives over the past few years working in Syria to lessen the humanitarian crisis and to raise public awareness of the appalling reality of life for the Syrian people.

Responsibility for the conflict lies with President Assad’s regime. However, it also represents a three year long collective failing of the international community to agree on how to help ensure the end of the suffering. Extremism is rising, and terrorist attacks within neighbouring Lebanon demonstrate that concerns about the conflict spilling into neighbouring countries are becoming a reality. Neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq are straining under humanitarian pressure. In Lebanon alone, the World Bank has estimated the Syrian refugee crisis has cost over $7.5bn (£4.5bn).

There is a very real danger now the Geneva II talks have ended and the situation in Syria has not improved that the crisis will be overshadowed by other international events. Domestic events will dominate the UK political calendar over the next few months; next week’s budget, the local elections in May, followed by the Queen’s Speech in June – the last before the 2015 General Election.

The British public (including LCID members) have an important role in ensuring that all eyes remain on Syria. Syria must remain at the top of the UK Government agenda, and, together with international partners, the UK Government must do everything possible to press for a political solution, including engaging with those who have influence over the Assad regime.

For individuals, writing to, or better still arranging a meeting with, their MP to discuss the importance of ending the Syrian conflict is the best way to do this.

A strong message must be sent to the UK Government, and to the international community, that this year must be the last year of the conflict. We must reassert our solidarity with the people of Syria, and stand #WithSyria.


New research on Twitter in Africa: what does it mean for development?

12 March 2014

Laura Kyrke-Smith, LCID’s CLP & PPC Outreach Officer and Director at Portland

It has become a cliché to say that new communications technologies and platforms are bringing huge change to countries across Africa.

And whether it is DFID working with mobile phone companies to inform young people about nutrition, or the Gates Foundation working with smallholder farmers to improve access to digital financial services, international development organisations have adapted their priorities and programmes to capitalise on the opportunities provided by evolving communications technologies and platforms.

Even so, it is striking how quickly the communications landscape is evolving – and how the implications for the development community are changing fast in turn.

Today at Portland we launched our latest research into Twitter in Africa. Building on its 2012 study, Portland looked in more depth at which cities are the most active, which languages are being used, and which issues are being discussed.

Johannesburg is by far the most active city in Africa, with almost 350,000 geo-located tweets during the last quarter of 2014. In East Africa Nairobi takes the top spot, and in West Africa it is Accra.

3 out of 4 tweets in Africa are in English, French or Arabic, but there is plenty of Twitter activity too in Zulu, Swahili, Afrikaans and Xhosa – something that it is easy to overlook from outside.

And while some conversations revolve around politics – including #KenyaAt50, which was trending during the period studied – it is striking how dominant the conversations around brands, sports and entertainment are. More people tweeted about football than they did the death of Nelson Mandela.

All of which raises some interesting questions for people working in development.

At the launch event this morning, lots of people noted how Twitter in Africa doesn’t seem to be as disruptive to established elites as it has been elsewhere. While in the Ukraine there has been a surge in Twitter use around the protests, in Africa it is #SamsungLove that is trending. How do people who care about transparency and accountability help Twitter become a tool for asking questions, digging deeper and helping governments and businesses to become more accountable?

How do people working in development get their issues talked about in the same way that football or music is talked about? In January this year ONE launched their DO AGRIC campaign with a live Twitter chat with Nigerian musician D’banj. It put agriculture on the radar of hundreds of thousands of D’banj’s fans and Twitter followers, who otherwise would not have been engaged on the issue, and sets a lead that other development organisations will surely have to follow.

Who is driving the conversations that the development community here would like to see happening? No doubt there is more that donors and NGOs can do to steer and participate in conversations, but perhaps it is D’banj or gospel singer Juliani in Kenya, also prominent in Twitter debates on agriculture, who will be leading future conversations about development in Africa.
And is it enough to only track and engage on social media in English and French? English in particular is still very dominant, but it is important for development organisations to know that English language content might not reach one in four Twitter users on the continent.

Twitter is of course just one of many platforms taking off. More people use Facebook than Twitter in many parts of Africa; other social media platforms like Mxit are huge too.

But the challenges across the evolving media landscape are the same. Where are conversations happening now, what are they about, who is leading them? Understanding the answers – and the implications for development – will be essential in making the changes we want to see.


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