Obama hails ’emerging Africa’; Protesters trapped in the past; The scourge of hazardous food; Where have the entry-level jobs gone?

1 Obama hails ‘emerging Africa’ (BBC) US President Barack Obama has hailed a new emerging Africa, on the last day of a summit in Washington DC with 40 African leaders. Wednesday’s talks covered security concerns and corruption – two areas the US administration says are holding back growth and investment in Africa. US firms pledged $37bn in investment during the summit.

The White House announced new aid to support African peacekeeping forces and new security co-operation. And Mr Obama said the nations had agreed to convene “experts” to discuss transparency and good governance on the continent. During the three-day summit, Mr Obama discussed how the US was shifting its support for African away from humanitarian aid and towards equal economic partnerships.

The president’s 2013 Power Africa has pledged aims to double electricity in Sub-Saharan African, and US run programmes aim to lift 50 million people out of poverty and double the number of children infected with HIV who are taking anti-retroviral drugs. The presidents of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone cancelled their plans to attend amid an Ebola outbreak, and sent delegates instead.


2 Protestors trapped in the past (SThembiso Msomi in Johannesburg Times) Twenty years into representative democracy and freedom, there is still a substantial number of South Africans who believe that their voices will not be heard unless they engage in the illegal and violent forms of protest that were preferred during the last days of apartheid.

Given the fact that the vast majority of South Africans had no representation in parliament and other institutions of power during apartheid, it was understandable that people embarked on those kinds of protest. But why do apartheid protests survive in a post-apartheid country?

Kuruman residents decided to shut down their schools in a bid to be heard barely a month after the last general election. What stopped them from using their votes? What about other forms of passive resistance that would not put the future of their children at risk? Surely a march or a peaceful sit-in at the provincial government offices in Kimberley would have driven the point home loud and clear.

But, be it in Kuruman or in the Johannesburg CBD – where toyi-toying school children went on a rampage, looting stock from poor street vendors – it is clear that many have not moved beyond the apartheid-era forms of protest. They behave as if the current political dispensation is both unrepresentative and illegal. If our democracy is to prosper, this culture must die.

Protest will always be an integral part of democratic expression but it must be conducted in a way that does not interfere with the freedom of others. More than the tarred roads, Kuruman residents should be insisting that their children get the best education possible in order to lift themselves and their families permanently out of poverty.


3 The scourge of hazardous food (Straits Times) Tough action taken against high-profile food safety violations in China was spurred by public fury. But piecemeal enforcement, however vigorous, will not put an end to cases of exploding watermelons, glow-in-the-dark pork and such. Bizarre abuses still crop up with alarming frequency. China has seen nine major scandals in a mere six years, the latest one being the supply of expired meat that has affected global brands such as McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Burger King.

Public distrust is not misplaced in the light of systemic challenges facing food security in China. Unethical acts often go beyond rogue individuals, and even the management of big operations have been implicated. In the case of expired meat, six executives from Shanghai Husi Food, owned by an American group, were detained by investigators. In many instances, it is hard to ascribe blame as supply chains are hydra-headed.

Modernisation is not always a panacea. The industrialisation of food production has led to cheaper food but it also exacts a heavy cost, as the West has seen. For example, an over-dependence on antibiotics to fatten farm animals quickly and control disease in overcrowded pens poses a public health hazard, as it promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


4 Where have the entry-level jobs gone? (Lauren Weber & Melissa Korn in The Wall Street Journal) Companies bruised by the recession have stayed lean by automating and outsourcing core functions while slashing training budgets and payrolls. But in an effort to cut costs, some companies also have cut entry-level jobs that serve as a crucial first step on the path to a professional career. And others have made the responsibilities for first-timers more sophisticated, raising the bar for new graduates, who are expected to arrive job-ready from day one.

These developments may be making it more difficult for some young adults to gain a foothold in the labor market, economists say. The unemployment rate for people 20- to 24-years-old is falling as the economy recovers, but remained at a historically high 11.3% in July. Young adults lacking college degrees are having an especially hard time finding entry-level jobs.

The number of recruiters requesting two or more years of work experience for some middle-skill occupations rose as much as 30% from 2007 to 2010, according to a paper by economists at Harvard University and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The slack labor market during that time offered a natural experiment, said one of the authors, Alicia Sasser Modestino. “Employers had carte blanche” to choose the most skilled applicants from a pool stocked with candidates, she said.

Entry-level workers are now being assigned thinking roles, as opposed to “just following a checklist,” said David Vogel, who manages the undergraduate career-development office at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “It raises the bar on the types of work that can be done by the entry-level hire, as opposed to eliminating the need.”



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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