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February 27 2014

Saving Primate Lemurs

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Mother lemur and her offspring by Tambako on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

A group of researchers from Madagascar, Canada, UK and USA published a detailed report in Science that alerts on the possible extinctions of 90% of the known lemurs of Madagascar following the prolonged political crisis in the country.  One of the researcher, Christoph Schwitzer,  explains to the Scientific American the dire consequences of such threat:

lemurs have important ecological and economic roles, and are essential to maintaining Madagascar’s unique forests through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism.

Another researcher, Ian Colquhoun, explains what can be done to protect the unique Malagasy ecosystem in which the lemurs can thrive:

We highlight three key ways to save lemurs: community-based conservation management, the long-term presence of researchers at field sites, and ecotourism.

February 26 2014

Trinidad & Tobago: Concerns About the What'sApp Purchase

In reaction to Facebook's recent purchase of What'sApp for US$19 billion, ICT Pulse shares some points about which “tech and app developer communities worldwide should be mindful.”

February 25 2014

Madagascar Still Awaiting a New Prime Minister, Government

A full month since President-elect Hery Rajaonarimampianina took position as the new head of state in Madagascar, there are still no indication who the new prime minister will be and what government he/she will assemble. Ma-Laza argues that the main issue is not really the identity of the prime minister but what he/she will bring to the table [fr]: 

 Un  technicien hors pair,  rassembleur, capable de mener à bien la politique générale du Président de la République. Ce Premier ministre ne  devrait appartenir à aucune mouvance politique, en principe.Mais il n’est ni contre Rajoelina, ni contre Ravalomanana. Bref, c’est un oiseau rare qui inspire aux bailleurs de fonds la confiance. Cette personne existe-t-elle ?  

(The prime minister should be) a person with outstanding technical know-how, a uniter who is able to carry out the policy of the President of the Republic. In theory, the Prime Minister should not belong to any political movement. He will not be against Rajoelina, nor against Ravalomanana (the two last presidents). In short, he will have to be that rare person who will inspire the trust of the investors. The question is:  does this person even exist?

Police Repression Legalized as Mining Protests Grow in Peru

This article, written by Luis Manuel Claps, was originally published on the NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America) blog Extractives in Latin America. Luis Manuel Claps studied Communications at the Buenos Aires University. He has followed mining in Latin America since 2004 as editor of the Mines and Communities Website. He is based in Lima, Perú.

Elmer Campos Álvarez, a 32-year-old farmer, is from the Caserío Tupac Amaru in the province of Celendín, Cajamarca Region, Northern Peru. On November 24, 2011, Elmer, along with some friends, set out for the mountains of Cajamarca to protest against a massive open-pit gold mine proposed for the districts of Sorochuco and Huasmín. Elmer and his friends call themselves los defensores de las lagunas (the Defenders of the Lakes). See Elmer's video testimony [es] published by La Mula in January 2012.) Still defending the lakes, anti-mining protesters such as Elmer face a new threat in a new law that allows police to use deadly force without fear of consequences.

Three days later they reached the Maque-Maque crossroads, between the Azul and El Perol lakes, two of the four lakes threatened by the project. Meanwhile, a general regional strike had been declared in opposition to the mine. In the early morning of November 29, a confrontation broke out when some 30 police officers contracted by Minera Yanacocha to guard the concession site ordered the protestors to go away. The police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition.

When the police started firing, Elmer went to aid one of his friends and was shot in the back. He lost consciousness and was taken to the city of Chota, and then to the coastal city of Chiclayo, where he was hospitalized for a week. He lost a kidney and his spleen, and suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the waist down. An estimated 24 other protestors were injured in the Maque-Maque crackdown.

(infoconga.wordpress)

(infoconga.wordpress)

People in Cajamarca know all too well of the impacts of large scale gold mining. For the past two decades, Newmont Mining and Buenaventura have operated the Yanacocha mine, the largest open-pit goldmine in South America. A planned expansion known as the Conga project is said to assure another twenty years of production. The total investment tops $4.8 billion, one of the biggest ever in Peru’s mining sector. A plant with the capacity to process 92,000 tons of rock a day would produce 3.1 billion pounds of copper and 11.6 million ounces of gold (an executive summary of the project's Environmental Impactv Study, or EIA, is accessible here [es]).

Compañía de Minas Buenaventura is Peru's largest publicly traded precious metals company and a major holder of mining rights throughout the country. It has two big U.S. partners: Denver-based Newmont Mining at Minera Yanacocha in Cajamarca and Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan at Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde in Arequipa. Peru is the world's sixth-largest gold producer.

Protesters have challenged the Conga mine for the past several years, and police repression is currently the subject of two legal proceedings in Peru. The first is a criminal investigation against the two commanding police officers the day of the attacks, Coronel Amador Bacalla Guadalupe and Captian Wagner Ocampo Huamán. The second is a civil lawsuit against the police authorities [es] and responsible government officials.

Elmer simply wants justice [es]: “I didn’t do any harm and the authorities have been very cruel. I don’t know what will happen to me, the doctor says there is nothing that can be done to my spinal cord.” Mar Pérez, a lawyer at the National Human Rights Coordinator, representing Elmer, adds: “We seek justice, accountability, and greater protection for human rights, and to end a culture of impunity for police repression of legitimate protest activity.”

The struggle has returned to the United States as well. On January 2, 2014, EarthRights International (ERI), representing Elmer Campos, filed a federal court motion in Newmont's hometown, Denver, Colorado, seeking information held by the company including photographic and video evidence, reports of Yanacocha security or employees, records of communications with the police, and internal company communications, that shed light on the events of that day and for the benefit of the Peruvian legal proceedings. The action was filed under 28 U.S.C. § 1782, a law which allows parties in foreign legal proceedings to obtain documents and information from individuals or companies in the United States.

“Police repression of social protest against mining operations is endemic in Peru,” said Benjamin Hoffman, ERI’s Amazon Staff Attorney. “The problem is exacerbated in cases like this where public police officers are deployed in the service of private security.”

Elmer and ERI’s legal action attracted considerable attention in late January in the Peruvian press [es] and social media. This coincided with a coordinated offensive to present the local leaders opposed to Minera Yanacocha in Cajamarca as “backed by foreigners interested in blocking the economic development of our country,” as a researcher associated with the mining sector claimed recently [es] in El Comercio newspaper. The propaganda campaign [es] to delegitimize local leaders also targeted the Piura region, where Buenaventura wants to develop the El Faique gold project.

A Violent Consensus

Starting with a strong precedent under former President Alan García, government response to protest in Peru has been overwhelmingly militarized. Steven Levitsky calls it the “Lima consensus” [es]: Lima elites adhere to orthodox neoliberalism, such that the use of lethal force seems to be a legitimate way to deal with social protests in mining areas. Despite the fact that Ollanta Humala’s administration has sometimes sought more political and negotiated means, this consensus remains in place.

A report released in December 2013 by Peruvian NGOs Grufides, Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras (Human Rights without Borders), the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator for Human Rights, CNDDHH), and the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) of Switzerland, revealed that foreign mining corporations have signed agreements with the National Police to secure their operations. These agreements allow them to request permanent police presence or ask for rapid deployment of larger units to repress social protests. In some cases, the report reveals, the companies provide the police with full financial and logistical support.

International human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others, have asked President Humala to prevent the unlawful use of lethal force by security forces during crowd-control operations. But Peru’s government seems to be going in the exact opposite direction, as an article in the penal code was modified last month in a way that critics say allows police and the military to use deadly force without facing consequences. The new Law 30151 says that members of the Armed Forces and the National Police are “exempt from criminal responsibility” if they cause injury or death through the use of their guns while on duty.

In a statement [es] condemning the law, the Public Ombudsman’s office recalled that since mid-2011, 34 civilians have been killed and more than 949 people wounded in social conflicts, including five military and 357 police. A number of national [es] and international human rights organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [es] have also condemned Law 30151.

As Yanacocha comes to exhaustion, mining operations need to expand. The Conga project is one of these expansion plans, perhaps the most ambitious. A long history of mining conflicts in Cajamarca suggests that Elmer’s struggle for justice will be a long one, and in all likelihood, one of many.

February 23 2014

Indian Blogger Exposes Fuel Pump Cheating With Viral Video

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

Screenshot from the video uploaded by Kiruba Shankar

In India, where fraud at gas pumps is commonplace and many complaints remain unresolved, a blogger's viral Facebook video has helped shed light on the problem.

Kiruba Shankar, a digital entrepreneur, author, teacher, farmer and long-time blogger in Chennai, India, explained how he first discovered the fraudulent practice:

I just caught the staff red-handed at Bharath Petroleum fuel station on Mount Road. They tried stealing Rs.700 worth of petrol. I paid Rs.2000 for the fuel and as the meter reached Rs.1300, one of the guys tried distracting me by asking me for my car number. Immediately, his accomplice manning the fuel pump stopped the pump and quickly reset the meter. As soon as the guy asked me for the number, I smelled a rat and saw the pump just when the guy was resetting it.

This incident took place in the Bharath Petroleum's Mount Road outlet in Chennai. Kiruba uploaded the video to Facebook, and the one-minute, 44-second-long video went viral with more than 6,000 shares and 3,000 likes. Many people shared their similar experiences in the comments section and local media started reporting on it.

Rajesh Murugesan, a commenter on the video, said:

Hey guys why blame only Bharat Petroleum, it happens with all petrol bunks. our Indian officer's just need to fill their pockets and are not worried about others. These officer's to be punished or teased in public.

Yashwanth Vee, another commenter, wrote:

It is a good thing that you came out and posted this on a social network. Hope the responsible person sees this video and takes some kind of action.

Kiruba posted updates on how the authorities reacted:

The social media outrage coupled with the coverage in national dailies has brought this incident right up to the CMD and top management of Bharath Petroleum.

They requested Mr.Kshitij Midha, Area Sales Manager for South Chennai to meet me in person. He is incharge of overseeing 35 fuel stations, including the one where the incident took place. [...]

The BPCL official did an investigation with the owner and staff at Ashwini Automobiles (the franchisee who runs the fuel station). After cross examining, they did find the two men guilty and they have been fired from their jobs. [...]

BPCL has the official complaint numbers displayed in all petrol pumps but most of the customers don’t take the extra effort to lodge a complaint. He encouraged people to complain which will keep the staff grounded.

Blogger Shushant Kulkarni from Pune advised how not to get cheated in a petrol station:

You might be getting fooled if you are not paying close attention. [...] I have noticed this a lot many times, have gotten first hand experience getting cheated a couple of times :), but eventually learned the pattern. You have experienced these or may be you are not paying attention to these.

The Allrounder blog also has similar tips to share. Vinaya Naidu at Lighthouse Insights blog lauded the role of social media in exposing malpractice in the society:

A rampant malpractice at most fuel stations in the country, one that needs to be tackled in these times of high fuel prices. It is interesting to observe how social media can play an important role in eliminating this, if leveraged fruitfully as Kiruba did.

China Internet Giant Tencent's New Acquisition Follows Online2Offline Trend

China is the fastest growing consumption market in the world. As the economy shifts from manufacturing to the service industry, the driving force of the country's GDP will be consumption; online to offline commerce is definitely a fierce battlefield.

A recent example of this is Chinese Internet giant Tencent's acquisition of a 20-percent stake worth 400 million US dollars in Yelp-like website Dianping to further expand its online to offline (O2O) commerce.

Founded in 2003, Dianping is the largest online ratings and reviews platform in China. It provides urban guide for consumption, which includes merchant information, consumer reviews, discount, group buying, online restaurant reservations and take-out ordering services. It had more than 90 million monthly active users and more than eight million local businesses covering nearly 2,300 cities across the Chinese mainland by the fourth quarter of 2013.

Upon the acquisition, the online service platform will be integrated with Tencent's social communications platforms, in particular its instant messaging mobile applications – WeChat's online payment service, as well as Tencent's mobile map application. WeChat has gained about 600 million users by the end of 2013.

Zhang Tao, founder and CEO of Dianping, stated that Tencent's social network and traffic would boost Dianping’s growth and that he would continue to seek for an independent initial public offering for Dianping after Tencent’s investment.

As people's shopping habits have changed from offline to online, O2O commerce has become a golden goose for China's three major Internet giants – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, collectively known as BAT – to compete for. In the past two years, the three corporations have made some strategic moves respectively.

To establish the O2O business, the connection between online social groups and offline services through social media platforms is most crucial. Tencent made the move by integrating WeChat with online shopping platforms, such as JD.com and consumption guides such as Dianping. Baidu invested in Nuomi, a group-buying service. Alibaba merged with microblogging website Sina Weibo to expand its Alipay online payments for businesses including Meitun, China's biggest group-buying site, and Kuaidi, a taxi-hailing app, as well as Citic 21CN Co., a medicine purchase platform.

Tech manager “Yu Feng” commented on the competition between Tecent and Alibaba:

对腾讯来说这绝对是O2O的胜负手,支付宝能做起来,因为背靠着淘宝巨大的交易额,微信的支付需要交易场景的加持才能真正发展起来……你可以把微信支付+大众点评,理解为另一个支付宝+淘宝的组合,就容易看懂了。

It’s a key move for Tencent to push O2O. Alipay has grown quickly because it’s been based on huge trading volume of Taobao. The growth of WeChat payments need a trading scenario……It’d be better understood when you see WeChat payments + Dianping as another Alipay + Taobao [China's biggest online shopping platform].

In the midst of fierce competition among the BAT, whether or not online e-commerce platforms can gain from the integration process remains a question. Tech Journalist “Zhao Nan100″ pointed out that Dianping has paid a large amount of “entrance fee” to Tencent in the acquisition:

为了在微信“我的银行卡”占个座,大众点评实际上不仅没从腾讯拿4亿美元,反而是给了腾讯6.9亿美元,只不过这部分钱是以出让股份的形式表现的。要知道,如果现在IPO,大众点评怎么可能只值20亿美元,折价的部分实际上就是给腾讯的钱。其它创业者们,看到微信“我的银行卡”买一个位置的花费。

Practically Dianping has not taken 400 million from Tencent, instead it’s paid Tencent 690 million in shares for a seat on WeChat’s “my bank cards” [Tencent's online payment system]. Had Dianping listed as in stock market now, it would be worth a lot more than $2 billion. The discounted part become the fee paid to Tencent. Other online business starters can see the price to buy a seat on WeChat's “my bank cards”.

Zhang Pang, a business blogger, believed that such integration will become a trend as O2O commerce continues to expand:

其实现有一个势头正在越来越明显,那就是在中国互联网产业内的创业公司想要“不站队”,保持独立发展,将会越来越艰难,巨头通过注入自身资源而不仅仅是资金,将会迅速影响创业公司在某个领域的竞争环境和前景。这个趋势,将对未来一段时间创业企业的发展路径带来深远的影响。

The trend is getting more obvious. It is more and more difficult for Chinese online businesses to remain independent and stay out of the “clans”. The giants will not only inject capital but its resources and it will affect the environment and future of the business sector. Such a trend will have serious impact on the developmental path of Internet start-ups.

However, netizen “Classmate Ji” disagreed with the technological deterministic view, writing that informative consumer information is more important than “payment connection”:

大众点评APP独立用户数去年就已经超8000万,都是来自于真实口碑用户,用得着去买微信入口?别以为有个入口就能翻云覆雨,当年口碑网挟雅虎巨大流量和资源冲击大众点评,结果怎样,现在还有人知道么。O2O不是互联网人玩概念玩出来的,那是踏踏实实沉下心来做线下做出来的。

Dianping’s independent users have risen to over 80 million last year. Does it need to buy a WeChat entrance? Don’t think you can do everything by owning an entrance. Don’t forget the Koubei.com case, which had battled with Dianping using high traffic and resources from Yahoo, but ended in failure. O2O needs down-to-earth offline work rather than playing around with Internet concepts.

February 22 2014

Pro-Maidan Video Goes Viral Thanks to Pavel Durov, Russia's Zuckerberg

Screen capture from

Screen capture from “Fear Is Not Real.” YouTube.

Pavel Durov, the creator of Russia's most popular online social network, Vkontakte, is an unusual man. Young and fabulously wealthy (he made nearly half a billion dollars [ru] last month divesting from VK), Durov has something of a mixed reputation. In December 2011, he gained a reputation for defending civil rights, when he publicly defied a police request to delete certain Vkontakte groups formed in opposition to United Russia, the country's dominant political party. Early last year, however, Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's best established anti-regime newspapers, revealed evidence that Durov may have cooperated with the authorities in more subtle ways. In the last year, Durov has been at the center of a shareholders conflict with United Capital Partners, an investment group that bought 48% of Vkontakte in April 2013. Last month, Durov sold his remaining 12% in the company to a close ally of Alisher Usmanov, preserving Mail.ru Group's majority control.

While he's no longer a part-owner in the website, Durov remains Vkontakte's CEO. That arrangement might not last much longer. Indeed, there is widespread speculation in Russia that Durov will soon be forced out of the company entirely. Durov has fought hard to remain at Vkontakte, but his recent divestment suggests he may finally be acquiescing. (Losing his creation undoubtedly costs him some sleep, but Durov can now toss and turn on a bed of 420 million dollars, thanks to the stock sale.) 

Besides selling off his shares, Durov did something else recently that could signify his impatience with keeping himself in the good graces of Russia's powerful. On February 20, 2014, Durov republished an evocative two-minute video featuring combat footage from Kiev, narrated in a dramatic male voice cheering on demonstrators. The video is thoroughly pro-Maidan, challenging protesters to overcome the fear of battle and encouraging them to continue resisting. At the time of this writing, Durov's post has almost 32 thousand views and over 17 thousand “likes.”

Given the political climate in Russia now, Durov's willingness to stake such an unabashedly pro-opposition position on the Ukraine crisis is rather astounding. Durov leads a multi-billion-dollar company—the “Facebook of the Russian Internet”—where an unpredictable competition between two investment tycoons will decide his future. Outside Vkontakte, Russian politicians have been on a spree of attacks against anyone who promotes “extremism” (read: any kind of support for Ukraine's opposition). As I've documented in past Global Voices posts, there have been assaults on television and radio stations, websites, and individuals—sometimes for behavior as innocuous as a bad joke. Is Durov's daring a show of open defiance? 

The video: “Fear Is Not Real”

Artist Alexander Makedonskiy originally authored the video that Durov published on Vkontakte. YouTube hosts the clip, as well, on Makedonskiy's channel and other accounts. The commentary in the video is a curious mix of dialogue from two Hollywood movies: the 2013 film After Earth, starring Will Smith, and the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone's sixth and final Rocky installment. (The scenes harvested for the narration include father-and-son moments from each film, and the speech Rocky delivers to the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission, when he tries to renew his boxing license.)

What follows is a transcription [ru] of the “Fear Is Not Real” Maidan video, with the original English text from the two films mentioned above. The video itself, with English subtitles, can be viewed below.

Страха в реальности нет!
Страх живет в одном закоулке в наших мыслях о будущим.
Страх это плод нашего во брожения.
Он заставляет нас боятся того чего нет! И вероятно не будет ни-ког-да!
Это ж чистое безумия.
Ты только пойми меня правильно!
Опасность это реальный факт, но страх это твой выбор!
Я скажу то что для тебя не новость. Мир не такой солнечный и приветливый.
Это очень опасная и жесткая места.
Если толька дашь слабину, он опрокинет с такой сили тебя что больше уже не встанешь!
Не ты, не я не кто на свете не бьет так сильно как жизнь!
Совсем не важно как ты ударишь , а важно какой держишь удар.
Как двигаешься в перед будешь идти иди если с испугай не свернешь!
Толька так побеждают!
Если знаешь чего ты стоишь?! Иди бери свое!
Но будь готов удары держат!
А ни плакаться и говорит ” я нечего не добился из-за его из-за нее и из-за кого-то. Так делает трусы а ты не трус!!! Быт этого не может!
Если человек сам хочет за что то драться, хочет добиваться своего, кто правы остановит его?! А может кому-то из вас тоже чего-то хотелось.?! Чего-то о чем мечтал, чего-то не обычного. А его не дают “нет” говорят и точка.
Кто имеют права так говорит “кто?” Ни кто !
Человек сам решает в какую сторону ему повернуть. Права каждого быт именно тем кем он захочет быт!

Fear is not real.
The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future.
It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.
That is near insanity.
Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.
You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
How much you can take and keep moving forward.
That’s how winning is done!  
Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth!
But you gotta be willing to take the hits.
And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody!
Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! 
Because if you’re willing to go through all the battling you've got to go through to get where you wanna get—who’s got the right to stop you? Maybe some of you guys got something you never finished, something you really want to do, something you never said to somebody—something!—and you’re told “No,” even after you pay your dues?
Who’s got the right to tell you that? Who? Nobody!
It’s your right to listen to your gut. It ain’t nobody’s right to say “No” after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do.

February 20 2014

Nigerian President Suspends Central Bank Head for ‘Financial Recklessness’

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), was relieved of his job on February 20, 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan for “financial recklessness and misconduct”. He has since been replaced by the most senior CBN deputy governor Dr. Sarah Alade.

press release from the presidential adviser for media and publicity detailed the reasons for suspending Sanusi: 

Having taken special notice of reports of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria and other investigating bodies, which indicate clearly that Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s tenure has been characterized by various acts of financial recklessness and misconduct which are inconsistent with the administration’s vision of a Central Bank propelled by the core values of focused economic management, prudence, transparency and financial discipline;

Being also deeply concerned about far-reaching irregularities under Mallam Sanusi’s watch which have distracted the Central Bank away from the pursuit and achievement of its statutory mandate; and  

Being determined to urgently re-position the Central Bank of Nigeria for greater efficiency, respect for due process and accountability, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has ordered the immediate suspension of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi from the Office of Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.  

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi [Image released under the Creative Commons Licence]

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Image by David Shankbone and released under the Creative Commons licence.

It's not the first time the former chief banker of Nigeria has been in the news. Last year, the contents of a letter he wrote to the president were leaked to the press

Mr. Sanusi’s had in September written a letter to to President Goodluck Jonathan detailing the theft of close to $50 billion in oil proceeds by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The letter later to the press and became a subject of public discourse.

Although Mr. Sanusi later revised the figure of the missing funds down to $12 billion, reportedly due to threats by associates of President Jonathan to make an issue of his reckless spending and philandering, the president concluded that the CBN governor’ pronouncement is set out to embarrass his government and demean his office.

However, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation denied the allegations from the former bank chief, saying he was playing politics in a report by the Daily Trust newspaper:

Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) yesterday denied reports credited to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Sanusi Lamido Sanusi  that it withheld $49.8bn (equivalent N8 trillion) representing 76% of the total crude oil revenues from January 2012 to July 2013.

NNPC spokesman Omar Farouk Ibrahim said in a statement that the allegation is borne out of misunderstanding of the workings of the oil and gas industry and the modality for remitting crude oil sales revenue into the Federation Account.

A defiant Sanusi late last month once again accused the NNPC of corruption, according to a report by Premium Times

Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, struck a defiant tone again Tuesday, accusing state-run oil firm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, of failing to pay to the federation account at least $20 billion of government oil revenues.

Prior to the announcement, a YouTube video uploaded by Chime Asonye titled “Overcoming the fear of vested interest, Sanusi Lamido at TEDxYouth@Maitama” had gone viral in Nigeria's blogosphere.

The suspension of the bank chief has drawn the ire of Nigerian netizens. Namama thought it's another imprudent decision by the president:

Tunde Bakare asserted that suspending Sanusi will not arrest the corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC):

Helen Alfred insisted that Nigerians deserve the truth about the missing funds that Sanusi spoke about:

Another tweep accused the government of double standards:

Not all tweets were critical of the government though. For instance, blogger and writer, Willy Wonka wondered about the uproar on Twitter:

Spain's Love-Hate Relationship With The New York Times

A news stand in Madrid. Photo by Flickr user Juanedc. CC BY 2.0

A news stand in Madrid. Photo by Flickr user Juanedc. CC BY 2.0

When The New York Times reports on Spain, Spanish media report on The New York Times. The American newspaper's coverage of the country throughout the crushing economic crisis of the last several years has routinely made headlines, and a February 18, 2013 story about the relative lateness of Spain's national schedule was no exception.

The article, titled “Spain, Land of 10 P.M. Dinners, Asks if It’s Time to Reset Clock“, profiles a small movement that wants to bring the country's traditional schedule – with its late bedtime, long lunches and even longer workdays – in line with the rest of Europe in the hopes of boosting productivity. 

The Gray Lady's story, which ran on the front page of the print edition below the fold, made its way into the Spanish news cycle throughout the day, appearing on more than a dozen news sites. Criticism was heaped on reporter Jim Yardley for evoking the stereotypical siesta, or midday nap, a thing of the past for most working people in Spain and a sore spot for Spaniards fed up with skewed foreign coverage. 

Some outlets used headlines claiming that The New York Times “criticizes the Spanish lifestyle” or was outright “against the siesta and Spanish schedule.” A poor translation of the story's own headline that traded “Spain [...] Asks if It's Time to Reset Clock” for the more accusatory “Spain, [...] Ask Yourselves if It's Time to Change Schedules” (“España, el país de las cenas a las 10 P.M, preguntaos si no es hora de cambiar los horarios“) further fanned the flames.

While some Spaniards got behind the idea of dialing back their country's clock, others took to social media to defend Spanish culture.

And we're all bullfighters and play the guitar

It seems that to work at The New York Times it's essential to hate Spain and its customs

Totally in favor of changing our schedule habits, but I prefer dinner at 10 than having a handgun at home

Kick ‘em when they're down

It's not the first time during the economic crisis that The New York Times or other American and British media have acted as a rallying point for Spaniards who see the reporting as sensationalized or arrogant. British newspaper The Telegraph ruffled feathers with a similar report in September 2013 (“Time's up for siestas, delayed meetings and late nights, Spaniards told in effort to make them work better“) on a Spanish parliamentary commission's call to reform the working schedule. A photo of a shirtless pot-bellied man sleeping upright in a chair outdoors originally accompanied the story, but was swapped after the paper received complaints for a less crude shot of a man in a button-up shirt and newsboy cap napping in a horse-drawn carriage. 

Much more outcry followed another front-page, below-the-fold story published in The New York Times in 2012 that featured a black-and-white photo of a man rummaging through a dumpster. The article detailed the problem of hunger against the backdrop of Spain's high unemployment – about a quarter of all Spaniards are out of work, while the number is closer to 50 percent for young people – and cited Catholic charity Caritas’ report that it had provided meals for nearly one million Spaniards in 2010, more than twice the number in 2007 before the crisis. A slide show of photos capturing scenes of protest and poverty was published online alongside it.  

The story and accompanying photos sparked heated discussions online. An Internet campaign #paraNYTimes countered the narrative by collecting more positive snapshots of daily life. One user on Reddit-like website menéame wrote:

Sensacionalista, podría poner fotos similares sobre los EEUU, en blaco y negro y todo, y hacerlos parecer un país tercermundista.

Sensationalized, you could find similar photos about the US, in black and white and everything, and make it seem like a third-world country

In a different discussion thread, user “josejon” argued

El reportaje da una imagen parcial de España: realidad cierta, pero no completa. Es comprensible que media docena de fotos no pueden abarcar todo un país, y que el fotógrafo tiene derecho a escoger y mostrar una parte del todo, según su interés o el tema que desea reflejar, pero después nos encontramos con la opiníon generada por ello en quienes, desde el desconocimiento y la distancia, juzgan el todo por la parte, lo unifican y España entera somos los de las fotos. No es así, y lo sabemos.

The report gives a partial image of Spain: true fact, but not complete. It's understandable that half a dozen photos can't cover the whole country and that the photographer has the right to choose and display only a selection according to his interests or the theme that he wishes to convey, but afterward we are left with the opinion that it generates in people who, in ignorance and from a distance, judge the whole by the part and put it together that all of us in Spain are those in the photos. It's not like that, and we know it.

Holding up a mirror

Others saw the story as confirmation that the situation in Spain had indeed gone from bad to worse. Responding to an analysis published by online news site eldiario.es, “What happens when the most influential newspaper on the planet gives you the third degree,” commenter “kio” wrote:

Muy de marca españa eso de invertir más energía en preocuparse más por la imagen que se da al exterior, “el que dirán”, que de arreglar las cosas de casa. No importa que haya gente que pase o se muera hambre, lo importante es que no se enteren los de fuera. Patético.

Very much in line with the Spanish brand, all this investment of energy in worrying more about the image being broadcast to the world, “what they will say”, than about fixing things at home. It doesn't matter that there may be people starving or dying of hunger. The important thing is that those abroad don't hear about it. Pathetic.

When it was revealed last summer by an ex-Popular Party treasurer that current Spanish President Mariano Rajoy had received payments from a secret slush fund for years, the international media coverage was taken by some as an important echo of the corruption in the country's politics. 

Shameful…even the New York Times says that Rajoy should beat it. How pitiful Spain is, damn…

Even the Financial Times is talking bad about Rajoy, let's see if he has a little bit of dignity left, I doubt it, and steps down once and for all

And a New York Times piece from May 2013 detailing the culture of corruption in local and national politics – about 1,000 officials were under investigation at the time, according to the article – stirred up similar reactions.

“I hope the damage that this New York Times article causes to this rotten system makes it so that there are more and more people who are ready to change this terrible reality of corruption, abuse and power,” a menéame commenter wrote.

The power of foreign coverage 

But why is so much attention given to foreign media's editorial choices? With tourism a major driver of the Spanish economy, accounting for 10.9 percent of the country's economic output in 2012 according to Spain's National Institute of Statistics, many worry about the marca España, or Spanish brand, being portrayed to the rest of the world.

Positive coverage can certainly have an impact. After The New York Times included Burgos in its list of “46 Places to Go in 2013,” the northern Spanish city saw a staggering 145 percent jump in American tourists, what one local paper dubbed “the New York Times effect.” And the level of confidence that potential overseas investors have in the stability of a country can make or break their decision to put money there. 

But with foreign coverage sticking to its largely negative focus and the country's political and economic struggles still ongoing, #MarcaEspaña has become go-to sarcastic commentary on social media for Spaniards unhappy with the current state of affairs.

Still, others recommend ignoring the coverage. For better or worse, foreign media will continue to report on Spain how they want.

The New York Times writes an article about Spain and we get upset. When we stop getting worked up about what others think we will be better off

L. Finch is a journalist, translator, lead Global Voices sub-editor and Spanish-language lover. Originally from the US Midwest, she now calls Madrid home.

February 19 2014

Empty Office Buildings in Trinidad's Capital

The huge potential supply of State-built, unfinished office buildings in our capital is the ‘Elephant in the Room‘.

Afra Raymond confronts it in an effort to address “the viability of the long-term and large-scale investments which have been made in Port-of-Spain by private and public capital.”

Photographers Snap Over Online Accreditation for Trinidad Carnival

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is a spectacle, heavily marketed as “the greatest show on earth” – and nowhere is it more of a spectacle than on social media.

Facebook and Twitter have taken every aspect of the Carnival scene online. You have easy access to fete schedules and flyers to help you decide where is the best place to party on any given night. While said fete is in progress, you can scan through scores of photographs to see who's there and what they're wearing. Missed Panorama semi-finals? YouTube is sure to have videos of the best steel pan performances. From soca tunes to costumes, social media has significantly expanded the reach of the festival – there are even entire businesses dedicated to documenting the social aspects of the season – but this year, the National Carnival Commission (NCC), the body charged with coordinating the organisational, promotional and commercial aspects of all things Carnival, finds itself in the midst of managing a controversy over accreditation rights and the use of Carnival imagery on social media.

Contention of this sort is unfortunately nothing new to the NCC, but the origin of the directive concerning online copyright is unclear. The National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) has said that did not come from them (one unnamed company, according to reports, has allegedly secured the online publishing rights for the entire festival) while the NCC maintains that their attitude towards Carnival coverage is that it should be as far reaching and accessible as possible.

Two photographers who have spent much of their careers documenting Trinidad and Tobago Carnival have expressed their opinions about the whole affair. Abigail Hadeed posted a detailed status update on Facebook, the first part of which questioned where her accreditation fees were going:

As a photographer who has dedicated all of my working life to the documentation and archiving of Carnival and Traditional Mas, I have since 1985 paid for press passes. For all of these decades the people from whom I purchased the passes have never been able to adequately give me a break down of what I am paying for, or how they arrived at the cost. I have experienced everything form the hostile response ‘If you don’t like it you have a choice!’ to ‘it’s for the copyright — the designers get this money.’ Well I have spoken to many of the people I have photographed over these two decades and none have ever received a cent of the money collected.

She was “really disheartened” upon hearing reports of the selling of all the social media rights to one company, saying:

It seems that ignorance, greed and a lack of accountability is (sic) yet again the order of the day.

Hadeed went on to lament the unprofessionalism of the accreditation process as well as the lack of proper facilities for media:

Until 2 or 3 years ago [the process] provided neither a place to sit, nor a media area for photographers, far less access to toilets, parking, or a safe place to be when waiting on bands. At no time in the decades of my photographing carnival has anyone suggested to those constructing the stages that thought should be given to where the media needs to be, to adequately do their job. That said, if you attend any major event such as the Olympics, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, large concerts, etc…there are areas dedicated to media only — centers for the media to recharge batteries, upload images and so on…Here in Trinidad we behave like carnival is something new and every year treat it with a level of surprise and disorganization, so the same old arguments arise with no solutions found and this cycle continues year in and year out.

So disillusioned is Hadeed about the entire process that she decided not to pay for accreditation this Carnival:

I am now considering my further involvement in the photographing and documenting of our cultural heritage. Why should I continue to spend thousands of dollars for accreditation that is not justified and does not serve my needs as a photographer? The way things are now structured the cost of photographing carnival does not make financial sense. If we as a people do not care about being the keepers of our cultural heritage to the extent that we essentially obstruct rather than support the documentation and dissemination of our heritage, I am left wondering what will be there for future generations. It seems as though institutions outside of Trinidad have more of an appreciation for our culture than we do.

Fellow photography veteran Mark Lyndersay, who blogs here, republished a statement from the photographer who questioned the NCC accreditation process late last week and was told that whatever fee he paid would not include online rights:

For at least the last six years Zorce Publications Ltd. has successfully sought accreditation to shoot still photos for archive use on the internet. Prior to this we were not aware of the accreditation process.

On February 11th, around 2pm, we came to the NCC office to meet the usual pleasant and familiar people to apply once more for our accreditation.

Since the NCBA representative was present, a lady that we are accustomed to seeing each year for our interview, we proceeded with reading through this year's NCBA application form. The NCBA lady recalled that Zorce was on a list of companies that were to be told this year that no internet-related permissions would be allowed. She clarified that this meant no social media (e.g. Facebook), no websites or no web-streaming of any photos or video. She conveyed that she was told to let everyone on the list, which was presumably every entity that was internet accredited last year was to be told the same except one company that bought the exclusive rights this year from the NCBA. She then called the NCBA office and verified that this was in fact so.

The statement described, in further detail, why it was important for his company to be allowed online publishing rights – the fees for the remaining options of print and private archives were too expensive:

I reminded her that being a car-related publication and website, we fundamentally thought that it would be a good idea to promote T&T by inviting our web users to view our online archives and subsequently our social media albums; with the hope of attracting a different sector of tourists along with our regular readers.

She indicated that while she understood our position clearly, and she knows us from processing our permissions each year, she could only abide by the instructions she was given and suggested that anyone who wished to take the issue further could speak with the CEO of the NCBA.

The statement noted the highlights of the conversation and the pressing questions arising out of them:

• Who is the mystery person or organisation who was the exclusive right to internet related Carnival 2014 Mas content through the NCBA?
• What exactly is being paid for with respect to copyright fees with NCBA?
• Exactly who [does] the NCBA now represent/protect?
• What do the NCBA-protected gain?
• Can the NCBA assume control over an independently owned portal such as Facebook or the entire internet?
• What about tourists or simple amateur public photographers seeking to enjoy the event in their own non-commercial way?
• If a photographer or media producer has the direct permission of (a) band/bands via a signed, stamped letter from their bandleader(s) to put their content in an approved location inclusive of any specified print medium, website or social media outlet…where does the NCC stand on granting accreditation passes that indicate permission to shoot Mas?

Narend Sooknarine, the photographer, summed up his experience by saying:

Indirectly, it seems the NCC accreditation badge does not fully cover all permissions for all venues at this time since the NCBA does not represent many of the large and popular bands that form the bulk of our Carnival content.

Quite frankly for most photographers who are seeking to ‘do the correct thing’ this is proving to be unreasonable.

Mark Lyndersay, in a follow-up post, asked a perfectly legitimate question:

The first thing that’s worth considering here is why there is accreditation at all.
The only sensible answer is that there is a limited amount of space available with good access to the performances of Carnival.
If that’s the reason, then there are several aspects of that which need to be interrogated.

His analysis supported Abigail Hadeed's testimony of poor facilities and constrained access:

First, why is the physical space so limited? In fact, after all this time, the access area for most Carnival events is growing smaller and more hostile to photographers and videographers, which is somewhat strange, since it ensures that our coverage of Carnival is becoming less interesting and more constrained.

It also pushes people keen to make better pictures into defying stage rules and authority.
Given the nature of the festival, there has always been more people who want to capture images of events than there will be space to accommodate them comfortably.

Since this will always be a small group who should be in it?
It stands to reason that working media should be first on the list. These are the people who are responsible for the public record of Carnival, and their efforts ensure that there is archival testimony of the work that Carnival’s creators invest every year.

Lyndersay also acknowledged the power of social media, saying:

There is now more to effective communication of the festival’s virtues than just traditional media. There are bloggers, social media attractors and documentarians working aggressively on commenting on and recording the festival in a way that goes well beyond what we see in the coverage done by local media.

If someone is extending the public understanding of Carnival with good results and an impressive audience online, they are likely to be doing it on their own dime. Should they be punished for that by having daunting fees levied on them or rewarded for their educated engagement with the event?

He continued:

The simple truth is that these fees have ruined the coverage of Carnival. Imposing hefty fees on people producing documents recording Carnival may seem to be a good idea for the people receiving the cash (no doubt a pittance to the bandleaders who have pressed for it), but it has created a lowest common denominator ethos among those who do produce such publications and broadcasts.

There is no room for careful thought, intellectual analysis or adventurous image creation in such documents. They must ensure a return on their investment, who we now have Carnival “magazines” with cover to cover images of half-naked women and little else. These documents must make their money back, inclusive of the fees harvested in the dubious name of copyright early in the dance, and the results have been putrid for more than a decade now.

Even if the fees were removed this year, it will take decades to get back to the pinnacle of such Carnival records.

Both photographers tempered their criticism with tangible suggestions for improvement. Hadeed felt that “an open dialogue between the stakeholders and the photographers is absolutely necessary”:

Unfortunately, unless there are clearly defined standards as to what should be provided for media accreditation, along with some training for those members who police judging points, photographers will always be open to the hostility of the people working for NCBA, Pan Trinbago etc. Regardless if you have a pass or not, the video teams get preference, and the photographers are constantly pushed, shoved and beaten at will by the misplaced anger of officials who take their position as if they were the guardians of the mas!

I ask that the organizations responsible for accreditation take responsibility for their decision making by simply inviting all of the stakeholders to meet and seek responsible solutions that address the breadth and depth of the issues at hand.

Lyndersay suggested several ways to revamp the process:

Loosen the restrictions of official access to Carnival in the interests of getting more of the record into the public domain. It can only improve the festival and bring more paying visitors to T&T.

Acknowledge the importance of documentarians and new media practitioners in bringing more attention to the festival, particularly those aspects of it which are dying through a lack of attention.

Improve the actual accommodations. Better line of sight angles and preplanning of the actual visual coverage of the event would satisfy more image makers and lead to better images emerging from Carnival 2014.

Ensure that accredited image makers actually have a chance to do the work they have come to do. This isn’t a party for us. Control your stages with clear rules or let madness reign.

Remove the fees for documentary publication in print and video for local producers. What’s happened since they were imposed has been far more costly than any money that’s been earned.

Will any of these improvements happen, though? According to Lyndersay, the powers that be have been moving in the wrong direction for decades:

As everything about Carnival becomes shorter and more pointed, it begins to resemble nothing less than a gladius on which we are relentlessly impaling our creative future.

An effective copyright regime for Carnival will call for work to earn the real rewards that are due, but everyone’s too busy lining up at the trough to lap up much easier money, even if it's only a thin gruel.

February 18 2014

Adapting to Extreme Climate Change in Mali and Madagascar

Forest in the Kayes Region in Mali CC-NC-2.0

Forest in the Kayes region of Mali CC-NC-2.0

Mali and Madagascar have faced many similar challenges over the past five years. Political turmoil punctuated by coup d'états that saw the removal of their president-elects before the end of their terms. As a consequence, both economies had steep dives in terms of GDP. Today, Madagascar and Mali are both trying to rebuild their broken political systems via newly elected executive branches.

A lesser known challenge that both countries face is their struggle against extreme climate change. Fragile countries are often more vulnerable to extreme weather, but that adage could not be more evident than in the recent evolution of the ecosystem in Madagascar and Mali.

An undeniable impact

In Mali, the forest is slowly given way to the Sahara desert in the north. The Kayes region is symptomatic of the seemingly unstoppable progression of the desert in a region that used to host a buoyant forest and is now home to vast areas of sands and rocks.

Adrien de Chaisemartin and his colleagues from the McKinsey's Johannesburg office reported on the impact of climate change in the Malian region:

Mali is a mostly dry nation, subject to frequent droughts. Increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall tell of a shift in climate zones as the desert moves south over productive land. In these regions, farmers dependent on agriculture and livestock already face trying periods of drought and have few options to overcome them. Many are moving to the cities, others to the country’s less arid south.

Kayes region  in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Kayes region in Mali at the border with Senegal via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Here is how they assess the current situation and the potential economic loss for the country:

The climate zone shift—the combined effect of rising average temperatures and declining average rainfall—has already pushed the country’s agroecological zones to the south over the past 50 years, with average rainfall down by about 200 millimeters and average temperatures up by 0.5°C over the same period. [..] The pessimistic high-change scenario could involve losses of about $300 million annually (some 15 percent of the value of agriculture and livestock); the optimistic scenario, losses of $120 million annually (6 percent)

In Madagascar, the impact of climate change was even more dramatic. Following two consecutive cyclones (Giovanna in 2012 and Haruna in 2013) that made landfall on the island and displaced at least 100,000 people, the southern region was plagued by a locust invasion. How those events are related is explained by Emmanuel Perrin on maxisciences [fr]:

Le cyclone Haruna a touché l’île de Madagascar. Or, son passage a créé les conditions d'humidité favorables à la prolifération de criquets migrateurs. Les autorités n’ont pas réagi à temps et, aujourd’hui, leur population atteint 500 milliards d’individus, estime une récente mission de comptage.

Cyclone Haruna hit the island of Madagascar and its landfall has created the humid conditions that favors the massive proliferation of locusts. The authorities did not react in time, and today their population reached 500 billion in the most recent estimates.

Locust invasion in down town Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

Locust invasion in downtown Fianaratsoa, Madagascar

The World Food Programme states that 60 percent of rice production will be affected by the locust invasion. Cyclone Haruna's direct impact was also dramatically felt by southern farmers as 6,351 hectares of their crop fields were flooded. Raw footage of the floods can be seen in this video from YouTube user ongbelavenir:

How to adapt

So what can local population do to withstand the climate assault on their way of life? Here are a few ideas by Michael Kleine and his fellow scientists or researchers from the International Union of Forest Research Organizations solutions (IUFRO):

New modes of governance should enhance effective stakeholder and community participation, transparent and accountable decision-making, and the equitable sharing of benefits. And strategies for adapting forests to climate change must be coordinated with those of other sectors and integrated into national and regional development programmes and strategies.

In the field, new strategies are dependent on the local context and the type of activities in the region. For instance, declining crop yields can be countered with the following measures: increase crop diversification and plant early maturing crop varieties such as the NERICA rice variety. 

Dr. Balgis Osman Elasha emphasized the importance of grasping the local context and gaining buy-ins from community leaders to implement the new measures:

The same policy could yield contrasting results ,for different sectors or different activities in the same sector, e.g. removing subsides on inputs, from agriculture produced positive impact on traditional rain fed sector (using minimum inputs), and negative impacts on mechanized irrigated agriculture (using intensive inputs) [..] Community Leaders are key players in the policy process , they possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge regarding the wise use and conservation of natural resources, moreover, customary rules and orders issued by them , are considered sacred by their local community. 

February 17 2014

Could Barbados’ Economic Crisis Spread to Other Islands?

Abeng News Magazine's Mark Lee says that the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) Country Report “reads like a good cop bad cop interrogation of the Barbados economy”. Read the details, here.

Algerian Cartoonist Faces 18 Months in Jail for Mocking President

[All links lead to French-language web pages.]

His name is Djamel Ghanem, and he's a young Algerian cartoonist. His job is no fun in a country where censorship and prosecution await those who dare to speak their minds. Ghanem faces 18 months in prison for an unpublished caricature of Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that was deemed offensive by the authorities. 

Djamel Ghanem

Djamel Ghanem via Algérie Focus. Used with permission

In fact, President Bouteflika is not represented or even directly mentioned in the unpublished cartoon. The drawing portrays two citizens mocking the fourth term the current president is seeking after ruling Algeria for 15 years. The caricature compares the fourth mandate to baby diapers. With the drawing, Ghanem wanted to convey the idea that Algerians are treated like children.

For that, he was taken to court and threatened with imprisonment. The district attorney of Oran, the second largest city in Algeria, located 400 kilometers northwest of the capital Algiers, wanted the cartoonist to admit that he had the intention of insulting the president. But Ghanem categorically denied that he had such intention. 

Neither Bouteflika nor his advisers filed the suit against Ghanem. It was Ghanem's former employer, La Voix de l'Oranie (Voice of Oran), a daily newspaper known for its pro-regime editorial line, who sued him for the cartoon which was never published in the media. 

Sued by his own newspaper, Ghanem saw all the doors of Algerian media closing in his face. Interviewed by Algerie-Focus, Ghanem explained that he has had difficulties finding a lawyer to defend his cause along with other challenges: 

Le DRS, le département des services secrets algériens, avait menacé le directeur de publication d’un autre quotidien si jamais il me recrutait. Je suis devenu persona non grata. A travers moi, ils veulent abattre l’opposition algérienne qui dit non à un quatrième mandat

The DRS, the Algerian Intelligence Department, threatened the director of another newspaper against hiring me. I became persona non-grata. Through me, they want to thwart the opposition who is fighting against a fourth term for the president.

After the case's first hearing, the judges requested an 18-month prison sentence against Ghanem. The final ruling is expected next month on March 4. Meanwhile, netizens are voicing their support for and solidarity with Ghanem. An online petition demands that Ghanem be let go:

Si les médias et l’opinion se taisaient sur cette atteinte à la liberté d’expression et ces violations des droits d’un citoyen dans les bureaux d’un juge, les tribunaux pourraient demain condamner un journaliste pour avoir pensé du mal du président de la république, d’un gradé de l’armée, d’un ministre ou d’un élu. Nous signataires de cet appel exigeons l’arrêt des poursuites judiciaires engagées contre Djamel Ghanem

If the media and the opinion keep quiet on this infringement of freedom of expression and the violation of a citizen's rights, then tomorrow any court can charge a journalist for criticizing the president of the republic, an army official, a minister or a deputy. With this petition, we demand an end to the prosecution against Djamel Ghanem.

By shielding the president against any criticism, the administration is trying to impose a totalitarian ideology upon its citizens. Freedom of expression is at risk in Algeria. Ghanem's case is a typical example of how dire the situation is for cartoonists and other people willing to speak up.

February 14 2014

Ending Illegal Logging and Launching Forest Carbon Credits in Madagascar

 Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Illegally logged rosewood from Masoala and Marojejy in Antalaha, Madagascar via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

The new administration in Madagascar is seemingly making a concerted effort to curb down deforestation in Madagascar. First, new president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has made ending illegal logging of Madagascar rosewood a priority at his first executive meeting[fr]. Second, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced that the Government of Madagascar has approved carbon sales with Microsoft and its carbon offset partner, The CarbonNeutral Company, and Zoo Zurich. The funds from carbon sales will be used by Makira REDD+ Project for conservation, capacity building, and enforcement activities related to conservation of Madagascar's rainforest. It is yet to be seen whether these measures will be implemented in the field. 

Examining the Post-Colonial Evolution of Francophone and Anglophone Africa

Screen capture of animated slideshow on the legacy of French and English colonization in Africa via Le Monde

Screen capture of animated slideshow on the legacy of French and English colonization in Africa -Blue countries are French-speaking nations, red countries are English-speaking nations.  via Le Monde

The topic of the post-colonial evolution of francophone versus anglophone African states has always a fodder for intense debate. Cheidozié Dike, from Nigeria, brings a new perspective to the subject :     

While the French Loi Cadre system was mostly about integration, the British colonial system sought only exploitation. Creating an air of suspicion between the nations that make up present-day Anglophone Africa, fracturing connections before they were even made, all the better to rule.[.;] Francophone Africans do not feel the need to aspire to western culture, because the French culture was wedded with local customs such that it became an indivisible whole

However, the predominant analysis from francophone Africa is quite different. Ouréguéhi, from Benin, articulates why he thinks francophone Africa is lagging behind its anglophone counterpart financially [fr]:

Les pays anglophones ont été libérés de leur colon sur tous les plans. la France a toujours les regards dans les affaires des colonisés sans oublier la dictée qu'elle fait à ces pays. Quand tu veux voir celui que tu prétends aider évoluer, tu lui donne les conseils tout en lui laissant le choix de sa politique

English-speaking countries were freed from their colonizers at all levels. France still keeps an eye in the affairs of its former colonies, not to mention the fact that she still dictates (a few policies) of these countries. When you want to help someone evolve, you give him/her advice but you let them choose their own policy. 

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

What Guinea Needs Now is Peace and Stability

Conakry Ville via wikimedia license CC-BY-2.0

Downtown Conakry via wikimedia CC-BY-2.0

Serge Lamah reports on his blog[fr] that Oyé Guilavogui, the communication minister has pointed out the pressing needs for Guinea today :

Vous vous rappelez, en 2011, les avions en direction de Conakry ne désemplissaient pas. Les hôtels étaient pleins à tout moment, aujourd’hui, allez-y, il y a de la place toutes les saisons. Les avions viennent à moitié vides parce qu’il n y a pas eu de calme, on ne s’est pas acceptés. Donc on est obligé de tout remettre à plat pour faire revenir les investisseurs. Pour qu’un investisseur mette son argent dans un pays, le premier critère est qu’il faut qu’il y ait la stabilité, la paix.

You remember in 2011, planes bound for Conakry never emptied. Hotels were always but today, there are always empty rooms all year long. The planes are half empty because there is always uncertainty and we have yet to learn to live with each other again. So we are forced to get back to the drawing board and in order to appeal to investors again. For an investor to invest in a country, the first criterion is that there must be stability and peace. 

February 12 2014

Drug Bust Holds Lessons for Caribbean Distribution Chains

Of the recent drug bust originating out of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados Underground says:

The fundamentals are clear. Supply chain security in the Caribbean is weak, and known local and regional solutions need to be applied and strengthened.

February 11 2014

Mapping Conflicts Between Indigenous Peoples and Corporations in Latin America

map conflicts latin america

Codpi (Coordination for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) has created a map to monitor projects that are affecting indigenous territories, as their website explains [es]:

This map aims to collect cases of conflict that arise due to the presence of transnational corporations -mainly those with headquarters in Spain- in the territories of indigenous peoples in Latin America.

In Otramérica [es], Diego Jiménez from Codpi adds:

It is a tool in permanent construction, which collects some of the most important cases of violations, and that will be completed periodically to reflect a total of 50 identified [cases]. For each [case] a record is published -accessible from the interactive map- that contains basic information about the violated rights, the resistance posed by the indigenous people and a summary of the current situation. We have also included a number of links and additional audiovisual material.

With all this, we don't want to limit ourselves to denouncing a situation of enormous and increasing severity. We also hope that this tool will be useful and effective for indigenous peoples and also for the organizations, social movements and groups working with them.

Argentina: ‘We Increase’ Progress or Corruption?

Imagen del usuario @AdrianBono en Twitter

“Don't buy Pantene, 40% increase”; “Don't buy Elvive due to excessive increase” Image by user @AdrianBono on Twitter

A speech on national television by President Cristina Fernández in which she announced a new increase in retirement pensions and in education allowances, among other things, provoked immediate responses among Twitter users who began using the hashtag #Aumentamos (we increase) to give their own account of what has ‘increased’ in the country.

Since the beginning of 2014, for example, one of the issues that most impacts Argentinians is the increase in prices. From the cost of basic household goods to appliances and cars, there have been substantial changes affecting the economy in general.

User casarosada uploaded the February 4 speech to YouTube [es]:

During the speech, Cristina Fernández emphasized the positive gains generated during her tenure:

Aumentamos las medidas que permitieron aumentar: hemos aumentado los puestos de trabajo, 6 millones de puestos de trabajo. Hemos aumentado las fábricas, más de 58 mil fábricas desde 2003; hemos aumentado los parques industriales.

We’ve increased the measures that allowed gains: we’ve increased jobs, 6 million new jobs. We’ve increased the number of factories, more than 58,000 factories since 2003; we’ve increased [the number of] industrial parks.

Fernández continues:

Aumentamos las universidades nacionales, tenemos nueve más; aumentamos el número de escuelas y de aulas [...] aumentamos la cantidad de becas y salarios para que los científicos se quedaran en la Argentina; aumentamos la inversión en ciencia y tecnología [...] Aumentamos la infraestructura en riego, en camino, en obras que permitieron recuperar miles de hectáreas bajo el agua; aumentamos la cantidad de argentinos que tienen agua potable y cloacas, también aumentamos el pavimento.

We’ve increased national universities, we have nine more; we increased the number of schools and classrooms […]; we’ve increased the number of scholarships and salaries so that scientists will stay in Argentina; we’ve increased investment in science and technology; […] we increased irrigation infrastructure, road works, and works that allowed us to recover thousands of acres of land under water; we increased the number of Argentinians who have potable water and sewer, and we’ve increased [the amount of] paved areas.

And finally:

Aumentamos el número de jubilados en más de 2,5 millones, gente que no tenía una cobertura previsional y que nos convierte en el país de Latinoamérica de mayor cobertura previsional, con 93%; aumentamos los salarios [...]. Aumentamos la compra de medicamentos [...]. Aumentamos las inversiones en viviendas [...]. Aumentamos la cobertura de aquellos que todavía no tienen un trabajo registrado, que están en ese limbo que se denomina trabajo informal [...].

We increased the number of retirees by more than 2.5 million, people who had no pension coverage, and that makes us the largest country in Latin America with pension coverage at 93%; we increased wages […] We increased purchases of medications […].  We increased investment in housing […] We increased coverage for those who don’t have registered work, who are in that limbo called informal work […]

She also said that her government has increased ‘consumption capacity’ and added: “I don’t think there are any Argentinians going hungry.”

Following the speech, the phrase “we increased” [es] quickly became a local trend on Twitter, with opinions for and against:

We’ve increased EVERYTHING! Corruption, poverty, hatred, the pockets of officials, shamelessness, lies, insecurity, her wealth

We’ve increased poverty, taxes, corruption, ignorance, insecurity, unemployment, violence, etc. The most corrupt government in history!

We’ve increased theft, prices, people who don’t have anything to eat, floods, deaths. But no worries, Cris says nobody is lacking anything (?)

But those who were in agreement with the national broadcast expressed their support:

We're with you yesterday, today and always! Happiness and commitment with the people!

A society that doesn’t help its elders and doesn’t help educate its children is a society that has no memory

What can I tell you about our beloved president after listening to her? That today more than ever: we will keep supporting this project!

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