Economy

Female Engineers, The Future Of Africa's Urban Development

As Tanzania seeks to decongest Africa's fastest growing city, more women are stepping up to become registered as professional engineers.

Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania
Anne Kidmose Jensen

DAR ES SALAAM — From her desk, Zanura Miraji views a gateway to the center of Tanzania's most populous city. Beneath her, cars become snared in traffic jams, while motorcycles zigzag between them and commuters struggle to squeeze onto the city's packed buses.

But Miraji's eyes are fixed on her computer screen. An intern at a consulting engineering firm, the 27-year-old electrical engineer is focused on designing sockets and wiring for a new office building. Finding this job was not easy, she says.

"It was difficult to find training as an engineer and employers would ask: ‘Can this one really work? She is a woman,"" she says.

But those attitudes are changing. Miraji is among the 441 women who have received a monthly grant and mentoring through the Structured Engineers Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) to complete their training as engineers.

Tanzania's Engineering Registration Board (ERB) initiated the program in 2003. To boost the number of female engineers, they also launched the Female Engineers Capacity-Building Program, with funding from the Norwegian government, in 2010. Since then, the proportion of female engineers in Tanzania has more than doubled, from 4 percent of professionals to 9 percent.

ERB officials say the monthly allowance they provide makes it possible for women to finish their training and qualify for jobs while still supporting their families. This has a knock-on effect for the economy as a whole. "When the women are registered as engineers, they go to work in the government or private companies, and many get higher positions. They help the economy of the country," says Benedict Mukama, ERB's assistant registrar.

daressalaam_tanzania_women

Since 2010, the proportion of female engineers in Tanzania has more than doubled. — Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

According to a report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering in London, there's a strong link between a country's engineering capacity and its economic development. With engineers qualified to design not only bridges and roads but also digital infrastructure, the productivity of a country will increase, it states.

While the report does not document a direct link between female engineers and economic development, it notes that sub-Saharan African countries could boost their engineering sector by employing more female engineers.

This growing workforce of female engineers will be vital in the demand for innovative solutions as Africa embraces 21st-century planning philosophies, says Katrine Vestbostad, the supervisor of the SEAP program as energy counselor at the Norwegian embassy in Dar es Salaam.

"We can see that many women are interested in and capable of becoming engineers and that can feed directly into the industrialization agenda of Tanzania. In general, a diverse group of people could come up with new ideas," Vestbostad says.

Hema Vallabh, the co-founder of the South African organization WomEng, believes that, in the coming decades of Africa's infrastructural change, women could play a vital part in creating a new future for the continent.

Women in the developing world give more attention to communities.

"Now, with a new generation, there's a chance that the narrative on women in science will change. And we see that women go into professions that contribute to building the nation. So, if you start including people in the economy, more people will also contribute," she says.

Female engineers make a unique contribution to city planning, as they bring inclusive solutions to the table, believes Vallabh.

"Women in the developing world give more attention to communities. So, women have the brains and the people factor. Women make engineering human," she says.

This kind of input could be vital in Dar es Salaam, cited as the fastest-growing city in Africa. Apartment buildings are shooting up, forever altering the skyline, and the city's first flyover, intended to tackle traffic congestion, is expected to open in September. More infrastructure projects are still on the drawing board – including an ambitious plan to build East Africa's largest port north of the city.

Divina Kaombe, a lecturer in the Department of Engineering at the University of Dar es Salaam, is certain that female engineers will create a more sustainable force of technicians.

"If you look at economic sustainability, you need to have enough engineers, because otherwise, you have to hire expatriates. And being a woman and a mother, you can easily encourage your children to go through a technical course because you've done it yourself. It creates sustainability," she says.

It's a sentiment embodied by Estersia Manjira, 30, already registered as a civil engineer and supervisor of the construction of a seawall along Dar es Salaam's coastline. "When you're an engineer, you're a leader. In the industry, people need someone who can deliver, and once you do that, women and men are treated equally," Manjira says.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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