Africa and Middle East - Issue 87 - Magazine | Monocle

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Country pile


This summer, residents in the town of Naameh in Mount Lebanon put their foot down and stopped people from dumping in the town’s landfill, upon which half the country relies. Before long, Beirut’s streets were piled high with rubbish. The smell was so bad that waiters at city bars were forced to wear face masks.

The rubbish may now be gone from the streets but the problem isn’t over – just out of sight. However, Sidon, in Lebanon’s south, offers a case study for rethinking refuse and Beirut should be taking note. Sidon used to be infamous for “Garbage Mountain”: an odorous and ominous 58-metre-high pile that grew over 30 years and was prone to large, polluting fires. Mayor Mohamed al-Saudi pushed for a solution last year and with help from the UN Development Programme managed to contain the mountain and build a park over it.

A visit to Garbage Mountain today reveals a gentle 8-metre-high hill, thankfully without odour, and abutted by a newly planted garden and sea wall. “I wanted people who suffered for 30 years to see something nice and smell something different,” says al-Saudi. Officials from Tripoli and a Beirut suburb have visited Sidon to see how they might be able to do the same for their respective heaps.

To deal with new rubbish, a solid-waste treatment centre was built just next door. This plant, which is one of a kind in the Middle East, receives all the rubbish of Sidon and its surrounding municipalities, recycles the glass, metal, plastic and cardboard and uses any organic waste to produce the energy the plant runs on. In the future there are plans to create enough surplus energy from the plant to then sell back to the grid – a double-win in a country that faces daily power cuts. “We are ready to set this up in Lebanon,” says Nabil Zantout, the plant’s general manager. “We have the know-how and this is a proven model. The only thing in the way is politics.”

Depth charge


Oman has a surprise solution to help extract the heaviest oil from its reserves: solar power. When completed, the 1,000-megawatt Miraah project will have enough mirrors to reflect the sun and boil water. The steam that’s produced will subsequently be injected into underground reservoirs, making highly viscous oil easier to extract.

The country remains reliant on oil and gas to keep its economy ticking over and enhanced oil recovery projects such as this have allowed it to return production to 950,000 barrels a day. But with the project costing $600m (€522m)and Oman suffering from a slump in oil prices, there is no guarantee the plan will pay off.

Election watch


Divisive politics

Date: 11 October
Type: Presidential
Candidates: This is essentially a re-run of Guinea’s previous presidential election in 2010 (its first free one). President Alpha Condé will seek a second term and former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo will be likeliest to stop him.
Issues: Timing is a major one: earlier this year, violent protests followed the announcement that local elections will be held after the presidential poll.
Monocle comment: Condé enjoys the backing of the Malinke group, while Diallo is supported largely by the Fula. Moving past such divisions is the work of generations – but a fair, orderly vote would be a start.


Kareem Ibrahim

Co-founder, Tadamun


Cairo is notorious for a lack of accountability when it comes to municipal services. Kareem Ibrahim is co-founder of Tadamun, an initiative that advises 20 million Cairenes on negotiating the city’s complex structures of governance.

Why does Cairo need Tadamun?
Cairo does not need more undemocratic and elitist decisions. Instead, all citizens should be able to devise policies that are effective, participatory and sustainable.

What’s the first step to improving quality of life in Egyptian cities?
Build capacity for state institutions and make them accountable. Most of all, when we listen to what people need, we can distribute public resources more equitably.

How do you explain the chasm between Egypt’s reported economic growth, particularly its plans to build new cities, and the poor urban reality on the ground?
The state still believes in abstract ideas and simplistic solutions. The idea of building a new city – to start with a clean slate and think that we’ll make it better the second time around – is always tempting. Unfortunately this doesn’t work because we repeat our past mistakes.

Is there room for what you do within politics?
Yes because the state controls public resources and policies. Unless we engage through dialogue – and sometimes contestation – we would go in a vicious circle.


Mmusi Maimane

Leader of the Democratic Alliance

South Africa

Alexander Matthews

Julia Merrett

Soweto-born Mmusi Maimane cuts an energetically svelte figure across a political landscape still dominated by the ageing veterans of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. In May he became the first black leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the country’s largest opposition party. The centre-right party has grown in support from 1.7 per cent in 1994 to 22.23 per cent in last year’s general elections, and has governed the Western Cape province since 2009. But it has failed to make a significant national breakthrough: the governing ANC won more than 60 per cent of the vote last year.

Part of the problem has been that many people see the DA as too white. Maimane’s election may change that. His rise within the party has been meteoric since he joined in 2009. The former business consultant stood as the party’s mayoral candidate for Johannesburg in 2011, the first in a string of high-profile roles that included serving as the party’s national spokesperson. MONOCLE met him at his Cape Town office.

Monocle: Will your race help to make inroads in electoral support among blacks, which remains low for the DA?
Mmusi Maimane: The currency of your race gives people the ability to self-identify: “I hear you and I hear my own story in you.” My own story and biography has allowed more South Africans to say: “Wait, he understands poverty; he understands not having access to opportunity; he understands discrimination.”

M: How do you negotiate the tension between holding government to account with presenting an alternative vision?
MM: We’re getting better at saying we want to speak on so many issues rather than just speak on anything. When things come up: you’ve got to know which ones speak to your ultimate vision.

M: How will you lead differently to Helen Zille, your predecessor?
MM: I think in many ways Helen fought for whatever was instant whereas I’m generally trying to fight for whatever world we’re trying to create. She focused on the micro details whereas I often see the macro picture.

M: If you were to become president of the country tomorrow, what initiatives would you implement to kick-start South Africa’s struggling economy?
MM: I hold the strong view that you must have a market-based economy: if you believe the private sector is going to create jobs, then you must lead so that it does. We [must] professionalise the state because clearly corruption thrives in the absence of a capable state. No economy grows if the quality of your labour is poor and that speaks to our education system [and] how we diversify the skills set.

M: Local government elections are next year. What are your goals for these?
MM: I want to win the Nelson Mandela Bay metro [Port Elizabeth], I want to win Tshwane [Pretoria] and I want to push the ANC below 50 per cent in Jo’burg. I want to retain the municipalities we govern and then grow the majority in Cape Town.

M: How do you hope to achieve this?
MM: Activism. You’ve got to get boots on the ground. People don’t know enough about the DA so we allow our opponents to craft our narrative. We don’t articulate our world as we’d like to. We’ve adopted into our constitution a values charter that says we want to build our society on the basis of freedom, fairness and opportunity. It not’s just one that says: “We must oppose this.” It’s one that says: “Here’s the world as we’d like to see it.”

M: What sort of legacy do you want to leave behind?
MM: Ultimately we must get into national government. I want to see the organisation grow because it will prove the point that non-racialism is a reality.

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