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February 27 2014

One Third of Pregnancies Are Unintended in Burkina Faso

Social Researchers at L’Institut supérieur des sciences de la population (High Institute of Population Science) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso published a report entitled “Grossesses non désirées et avortements au Burkina : causes et conséquences” (The causes and consequences of Unintended Pregnancies and Abortions in Burkina Faso). The report highlights a few important statistics [fr]: 

  •  Un tiers de toutes les grossesses ne sont pas intentionnelles, et un tiers de ces grossesses non intentionnelles se terminent par un avortement.
  •  La taille de la famille désirée est en moyenne, de 6 enfants dans les zones rurales, contre 3 à Ouagadougou. 
  • Entre la moitié et les deux tiers de l’ensemble des femmes qui avortent sollicitent des praticiens traditionnels sans compétence particulière

-A third of all pregnancies are unintended, and one third of these unintended pregnancies result in an abortion.
-The size of the desired family is on average of 6 children in rural areas, against 3 in Ouagadougou.
-Between half and two thirds of women who seek abortions are going to traditional practitioners who do not have the required medical skills. 

February 26 2014

Mushrooms, France's Latest Food Trend

Comestible? Pas sûr! licence creative commons Pavlinajane sur Flickr

Edible mushroom? Who knows. Pavlinajane on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

[All links lead to French-language websites unless otherwise noted.]

As a result of both the economic crisis and the need to eat healthier, the worldwide trend of eating local products has also gained ground in France, and at the center of the movement is the mushroom.

A Google blog searched returns 708,000 hits for the word “mushroom”, proof of the blogosphere's fascination for the fungus. Cristau de Hauguerne, an early pioneer of the trend, waxes poetic about her affinity for mushrooms: 

Dès que la neige eut fondu, que la pluie cessa et que le soleil put enfin réchauffer les pentes, les cèpes d'été en surprirent plus d'un dans la hêtraie-sapinière. Quelques sujets en prélude fin juin, mais, loin de faiblir, sans l'ombre d'un orage, l'activité mycélienne s'intensifia graduellement dans le courant du mois de juillet, aestivalis entrainant même pinophilus dans sa fureur de vivre. Après deux années d'indigence, au faîte de l'été, de par leur abondance ces cèpes conférèrent finalement aux sous-bois de hêtres l'allure de la grande pousse automnale. 

As soon as the snow had melted, the rain had stopped and the sun had finally warmed up the slopes, the summer porcini mushroom showing up in the beech-fir forest came as a surprise to many. An early smattering appeared towards the end of June, but, with no hint of a storm in sight, mycelial activity thrived and proliferated uninterruptedly, intensifying gradually throughout July, pinophilus kind bringing the aestivais kind with it in its eagerness to spread out. After two years of acclimatization, at the height of summer the abundance of porcini lent the beech woods the appearance of a full autumn flush.

Although the mushroom has had its longstanding enthusiasts, it has recently acquired a more significant status among the general public: like wine or seasonal fruit and veg, it is highly valued both in the mind and on the plate, associated with a better lifestyle and close proximity to local farmers. 

The most recent edition of the magazine We Demain published on 13 February even argued that “mushrooms are the new elixir of life“.

Local vs. imported

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) licence creative commons Kozumel sur Flickr

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) photo by Kozumel on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

However, this movement sometimes contradicts itself. On the one hand, it emphasizes local cultivation, whilst on the other hand, it glamorizes the exotic promise of imported mushrooms. These days, Asian mushrooms, such as shiitake or enokiadorn the shelves of French supermarkets alongside the common or garden variety button mushroom.

Shitake carries all the virtues usually associated with mushrooms: anti-aging and anti-cancer properties, the source of three different B-vitamins, etc. The Réseau Biloba blog expounds on the numerous virtues attributed to this fungus:

Le shiitake est riche en fibres alimentaires; substances qui ne sont pas digérées par l’organisme. La majorité des fibres du shiitake sont sous forme insoluble, fibres qui contribuent particulièrement à maintenir une bonne  fonction intestinale. De plus, une alimentation riche en fibres peut participer à la prévention des maladies cardiovasculaires et du cancer du côlon, ainsi qu’au contrôle du diabète de type 2 et de l’appétit.

Shitake is rich in dietary fibre: substances that are not digested by the organism. The majority of the fibre contained in shitake are insoluble, thus contributing to maintaining a healthy transit. In addition, nutrition that is rich in fibre may help prevent heart disease and cancer of the colon, as well as control of type 2 diabetes and appetite.

So is this mushroom consumption just a fad, a con or a fabulous discovery? Absolutely Green blog published a pertinent post:

A l’origine, on suppose que ce sont les Chinois qui ont découvert ce champignon, il y a plus de 6 000 ans. (…) Et pourtant, ce sont les Japonais (…) qui le diffusèrent à travers l’Asie, à partir du 11ème siècle. Plus qu’un aliment, le shiitake était envisagé comme une sorte de végétal miracle, augmentant la longévité, améliorant vigueur sexuelle et endurance physique. Encore de nos jours, cette réputation lui colle à la peau et fait débat. 

En comparaison, les Occidentaux se sont initiés tardivement à cette culture : il a fallu attendre les années 1970, alors que les Etats-Unis décrétaient un embargo sur les champignons vivants en provenance d’Asie, pour que des producteurs s’y attèlent. Et, encore de nos jours, les Européens restent frileux : quelques initiatives en Hollande et en France se comptent sur les doigts de la main.

It is thought that this mushroom was first discovered in China more than 6,000 years ago. But the Japanese are responsible for its propagation throughout Asia, from the 11th century onward. Far more than a mere aliment, shitake was considered to be a sort of herbal miracle, promoting longevity, improving sexual performance and physical endurance. To this day, it is stuck with this much-debated reputation. 

Westerners, in comparison, were introduced to this culture much later: It wasn't until the 1970s when the United States placed an embargo on live mushrooms imported from Asia, that production really took off. Even today, Europeans are still hesitant and there are only a handful of ventures in Holland and France.

Note that shitake does not come cheap, as demonstrated in the detailed comparative study published by Virginie on the same blog post. Nonetheless, for those who have had the chance to taste it, shitake is particularly tasty, especially if simply sauteed with a splash of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.

The art of picking and preparing mushrooms

Cèpe de Bordeaux

Boletus edulis – Cèpe of Bordeaux. Photo by caitphil on Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Closer to home, there are many mushrooms within reach for any would-be hunters. Hunting for chanterelles, morels and Bordeaux porcini belongs to the same back-to-earth, back-to-basics movement as the pursuit of shitake's benefits.

The occasionally hunter, however, would be well advised to read up on the subject in order to avoid great or even disastrous inconvenience. According to the Ministry of Health, 546 cases of mushroom poisoning were registered in 2013. Pickers must also beware of the areas they forage in, which are sometimes regulated.

Furthermore, mushrooms are known for their surprising capacity to concentrate environmental pollution, explained in this French-language video: 

Hand-picked wild mushrooms become the centerpiece of a meal for guests, and can be prepared in a large variety of ways, ranging from the very simple to the very complicated. In her blog Papilles et pupilles, Anne shares the quintessence of the Bordeaux porcini:

C’est le roi des champignons locaux, à côté de lui nul n’est à la hauteur. (…) Les coins à champignon comptent parmi les secrets les mieux gardés que l’on ne partage que sur son lit de mort. 

No other mushrooms can compare to this one, it is the king of all local mushrooms. The best mushroom spots are among the most fiercely guarded secrets, shared only on one's deathbed.

Top chefs recommend scores of recipes for wild mushrooms. From cream of morel and white mushrooms to pig trotter pancake with shallots and black truffle, there is something for all tastes, for vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Here is a simple recipe for raw porcini from a famous chef: 

The chef explains the process as follows:  

Separate the heads from the tails of the porcini and chop into fine slices.
Put the chopped porcini in a bowl and season with olive oil.
Add salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, and if you have it, truffle juice. DO NOT use truffle oil.  
Add the basil leaves and stir. The salad should be bright.
Season with salt, pepper and olive oil.

For Cristau de Hueauguerne, one burning question remains, even in the middle of winter:

Alors que nous sommes rendus au milieu d'un hiver méconnaissable, se dessine en sous-sol la future saison des champignons, qui ne connaît pas de trêve, et, quoi que cela s'avère fort difficile et hasardeux, nous sommes déjà nombreux à nous demander quelle sera la teneur du millésime 2014. 

Whilst we are in the middle of a unprecedented winter, the next mushroom season is taking shape in the subsoil, and even though this may seem risky or even rash, many of us are wondering what the 2014 millesime (year of harvest)  has in store.

8 Dishes From Africa We Dare You To Try

Mopane worm. Photo released to be used freely by  Arne Larsen.

A live Mopane worm. Photo released to be used freely by Arne Larsen.

As we conclude “Food Month” here at Global Voices Online, let's take a look at eight dishes from Sub-Saharan Africa that might take you out of your culinary comfort zone. We dare you to try them”

1. Madora (mopane worms):

Delicious Mopane worms ready to serve. Photo used with permission from www.zimbokitchen.com

Delicious Mopane worms ready to serve. Photo used with permission from www.zimbokitchen.com

Madora (Gonimbrasia belina) is a species of moth found in much of Southern Africa, whose large edible caterpillar, the mopani or mopane worm, is an important source of protein for millions of indigenous Southern Africans.

If you want to try mopane worms, follow Zimbo Kitchen instructions here:

Before you run-off, madora are high in protein to the extent that it’s just what the doctor ordered. Here is the power of protein according to WebMD – “protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood“. No wonder why the folks in rural Zimbabwe escape many diseases suffered by us urbanites.

In Zimbabwe, this delicacy is often prepared in a simple and straight forward manner – frying. This is how I intend to do them today with a little variation of my own involving black pepper. You are good to go when you choose this combo: sadza, green veggies and mbuya’s tomato and onion soup to accompany this dish even though it’s still possible to have madora on their own as a crisp snack or with other combinations. Enough said, let’s start frying!

2. Nsenene (grasshoppers):

A male grasshopper. Photo released under Creative Commons License by Wikipedia user Bruce Marlin.

A live male grasshopper. Photo released under Creative Commons license by Wikipedia user Bruce Marlin.

Nsenene” is the Luganda name for a long-horned grasshopper (more commonly called bush cricket or katydid) that is a central Ugandan delicacy as well as an important source of income. The insect is also eaten in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Follow these seven steps to make your grasshopper dish.

3. Bullfrog:

African bullfrog. Photo released under Creative Commons License by Wikipedia user Stevenj

African bullfrog. Photo released under Creative Commons License by Wikipedia user Stevenj

Science in Africa blog explains how the frog is eaten in Namibia:

In Namibian traditional cuisine the entire frog is eaten, with the exception of the alimentary canal, which may be fed to dogs or poultry.

It continues:

Generally people are advised to wait until the Giant Bullfrogs start croaking or until “after the third rain” before eating them. Despite this caution people in some areas choose to eat frogs prematurely. However when they do so very specific anti-poisoning preventative measures are usually taken.

People from the Oshakati/Ongwediva [northern Namibia] area prevent poisoning by lining their cooking pots with pieces of dry wood from a tree locally known as Omuhongo (not to be confused by Omuoongo, the Marula tree). This wood apparently neutralises the frog poison while also preventing the frog skin from sticking to the pot bottom. “Nobody becomes ill from the disease when this cooking method is followed. In the Okambebe/Oshikango areas, where the Omuhongo tree appears to be unknown, people use the Omuva and Oshipeke trees instead. “Only two small pieces cut from Omuva or Oshipeke, when used to line the bottom of the pot while cooking frogs, will prevent the disease from attacking the culprit.

4. Mazondo (Beef trotters):

Mazondo (beef trotters) ready to be eaten. Photo used with permission from www.zimbokitchen.com.

Mazondo (beef trotters) ready to be eaten. Photo used with permission from www.zimbokitchen.com.

Mazondo (Beef trotters) are amongst one of the favourite dishes for most Zimbabwean men and some women too. It’s best to slow cook them on your stove if you’re not cooking them pamoto (using firewood). The way to prepare them is pretty straight forward, much like pork trotters, maguru (tripe) or even beef stew which are prepared in more or less the same way here in Zimbabwe.

5. Termites:

Termits (white ants) in Sudan. Public domain photo from the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Termites (white ants) in Sudan. Public domain photo from the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Termites are also known as “white ants”, although they are unrelated to ants. They are a delicacy in many African cultures.

Here are photo instructions on how to fry flying termites.

6. Blood and milk:

Thomson Safaris blog notes:

[...] but much more fascinating [about the Maasai diet] (and possibly a little off-putting to the western palate) is the tradition of drinking raw blood, cooked blood, and blood-milk mixtures.

This is the traditional method of obtaining cow's blood:

they [Maasai] eat milk and blood which is harvested by puncturing the loose flesh on the cow's neck with an arrow. The wound is closed after a gourdfull of blood is obtained. This operation can be repeated every month or so with no harm to the cow. The Masai typically drink blood mixed with milk.

Brave enough to try it? Make a blood and milk concoction as follows:

Cow blood can be cooked with fresh or sour milk as follows: Pour the fresh blood through a sieve to separate it from the clots. Mix three parts liquid blood to one part milk (or equal parts blood and sour milk). Cook over low heat, stirring often, for twenty to thirty minutes. The mixture should thicken like scrambled eggs. If desired, butter, fried chopped onions, or salt can be added during cooking. Serve with Ugali, Fufu, or boiled Plantains, or Rice.

7. Mbewa (mice):

Mice is a well-known delicacy in northern Malawi, where it is known as “mbewa”, as well as in eastern Zambia.

The YouTube video below from Peter Larson shows roasted mice for sale:

Writing about “mbewa”, Peter Larson says:

Malawians are largely divided as to the culinary merit of Mbewa. Most love the Mbewa and consider it a delicious snack food. Others decry them as unfit for eating. Mbewa are caught and roasted over a fire, but clearly not roasted long enough to burn off the copious amounts of visible fur. Malawians then garnish them with salt and cayenne pepper and gnaw on them like jerky, consuming them completely, bones and all.

If you want to know all the social and cultural dynamics involved in mice-eating and, more importantly, how to hunt your own mice for dinner, read this blog post.

8. Palm tree larvae:

Next time you are hungry, try this one! Photo released under Creative Commons by Luigi Barraco.

Next time you are hungry, reach for one of these! Photo released under Creative Commons by Luigi Barraco.

Palm tree larvae is a delicious tropical treat and a great source of protein.

Follow cooking instructions [fr] from Cuisine Au Kamer to make your own delicious plate of palm tree larvae:

Nettoyer les larves: les laver à grande eau les ouvrir avec les doigts et enlever le liquide marron qui se trouve à l'intérieur des larves

Disposer directement chaque larve nettoyée dans la marmite qui sera utilisée pour les cuire. L'enlèvement du liquide marron à l'intérieur des larves colore les doigts en couleur marron, mais cette couleur s'enlève au lavage.

Préparer les condiments nécessaires: ail, basilic africain, oignon, pèbè, feuille de gingembre (odzom). Mélanger avec les larves et mettre au feu doux. Ne pas ajouter de l'eau. laisser cuire 25 à 30 mns à feu doux, le temps que les larves produisent leur huile, puis servir.

Wash really well with water, open the larvae with your fingers and remove the brown liquid that is inside the larvae.

Put each larva directly into the pot (don't worry if the brown liquid stains your fingers, this color can be removed with washing).

Prepare the necessary condiments: garlic, African basil, onion, pébé [a local spice in Cameroon], ginger leaves. Mix with the larvae and cook on a low heat. Do not add water. Cook for 25-30 minutes on a low heat until the larvae start melting, and then serve.

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?

List of Deceased in Venezuela Protests Available in 5 Languages

In the blog Panfleto Negro [es], John Manuel Silva and Emiliana Duarte are keeping a list of confirmed deaths from the ongoing protests taking place in Venezuela. The list -originally in Spanish- has been translated into English, German, Italian and French.

February 23 2014

First Open Heart Surgery in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

Child awaiting heart surgery via La chaine de l'espoir with their permission

The health international network La Chaîne de l’Espoir (The Link of Hope) reports that 7 Congolese children in critical conditions benefited from open heart surgeries [fr] on February 14 in Brazzaville, Congo. With the help of the Congo Assistance Fundation as well, Prince Béni and Maya, both suffering from cardiomyopathy were operated for several hours as told in the following report [fr]:

Elle a dix ans et ne pèse que quinze kilos. Son cœur fonctionne mal. Il l'empêche de s'alimenter et donc de grandir. La petite fille doit être opérée le plus vite possible. L'intervention dure six heures.

(Mayala) is ten years old and weighs fifteen pounds. Her heart is malfunctioning. It prevents her from getting nutrients to all her cells and therefore growing. The girl needed an operation as soon as possible. The procedure took six hours.

February 22 2014

Malagasy React to SI Swimming Suit Issue and Model's Take on Madagascar

The 2014 Sports Illustrated Swimming Suit Issue was shot on Nosy Iranja (Iranja Island), Madagascar:

Nosy Iranja is known as the Turtle island for the Hawksbill Turtles came to shore to lay their eggs. It is also known for the spectacular sandbank that bridges the two nearby islands.

Nosy Iranja, Madagascar - Public Domain

Nosy Iranja, Madagascar – Public Domain

Russian Top model Irina Shayk and wife of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo said that she has a special relationship with Madagascar:

When I was a student I did a report on Madagascar, and ever since then it was my biggest dream to go there [..] The (Malagasy) people live and get by every day walking in the roads, living this super simple life, and they're still happy. It is an experience that keeps you humble, puts things in perspective.

Rakotonirina Miaro wonders why the world outside Madagascar seem to appreciate the island's treasures but Malgasy citizens cannot seem to notice [mg]:

Ny olon-kafa maita ny hatsaran'ny Nosin-tsik fa ny tompony jay no tsy mahafatatra fa tsar i Gasikara! Tsara daholo ny mannequin naka sary é!

Foreigners know how beautiful our island is but we, who live here, do not seem to appreciate about our own treasures. Oh yeah, and the swimming suit models were not bad looking either

February 21 2014

‘Central African Republic's Most Pressing Need Is Security for its People’

Mme Beatrice Epaye via Centrafrique Press blog -Domaine public

Béatrice Epaye via the CAR Press blog – Public domain

Béatrice Epaye is a former member of Parliament and today a member of the Central African Republic's National Transition Council (CNT), the body tasked with selecting a transitional president who will lead the war-torn country until the next presidential elections. When an uprising plunged the country into crisis in late 2012, the previous President-elect François Bozizé was removed by the Séléka rebels.

The terrible religious conflict continues still in the Central African Republic (CAR). On February 19, heavy fighting erupted near the airport in the capital Bangui. Anti-Balaka groups tried to block the evacuation of Muslims and disrupted a visit by a top United Nations (UN) aid official.  

Epaye agreed to answer our questions on the current situation in the Central African Republic and the steps which need to be taken to avoid a human catastrophe in her country. In addition to her role on the National Transition Council, she is the president of the “La Voix du Coeur” (Voice of the Heart) Centre, which is currently a place of welcome and support for street children in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. She also sits on the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa's parliament (CEMAC) in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, where she represents the Council.

Global Voices (GV): What's the latest situation in your area? 

Béatrice Epaye (BE): Je suis une habitante de Bangui la capitale de la RCA, une ville meurtrie par le conflit. Tous les jours, de chez moi, j'entends des coups de feux venus de certains quartiers de Bangui. Ma maison comme beaucoup d’autres accueillent des proches venus de quartiers plus fragiles. Les gens fuient et beaucoup se sont regroupés dans des lieux qu'ils estiment sécurisés : Aéroport, Mosquées, Églises, dans des familles, en brousse dans la périphérie de Bangui ou en République Démocratique du Congo de l'autre côté du fleuve Oubangui.

De même, le Centre « Voix du Cœur » que j’ai fondé est devenu un lieu de regroupement pour les enfants de la rue en détresse. Là chrétiens et musulmans se côtoient, s’entraident.

Béatrice Epaye (BE): I live in Bangui the capital of the CAR, a town battered by conflict. Every day from my own home I hear shots coming from different areas of Bangui. Like many others, my house welcomes friends who come from the most fragile areas. People are fleeing and many gather together in areas which they feel are more secure: the airport, mosques, churches, with families, in the bush on the edge of Bangui, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side of the Ubangi River.

Likewise, the Voice of the Heart Centre which I founded has become a gathering place for distressed street children. Christians and Muslims come together and help each other.

GV: How do you manage the uncertainties? What are the most pressing needs so far?

BE: Effectivement c'est une situation difficile et précaire pour tout le monde : à tout moment le pire peut se produire! Quand on sent le danger, on cherche un abri.

Le plus difficile pour les familles et sur les sites des déplacés, c'est de ne pas avoir à manger ni avoir la possibilité de se soigner. Les salaires ne sont pas payés depuis 4 mois, et l'aide humanitaire n'est pas suffisante, ou même parfois inexistante. Dans leurs fuites les populations ont laissé derrière elles le nécessaire pour le quotidien et manquent du minimum pour la survie. Ensuite les enfants ne vont pas à l'école… on en est à un tel point que je ne peux pas le décrire.

BE: It's really a very difficult and precarious situation for everyone: the worst can happen at any moment! When we sense danger we look for shelter.

The most difficult thing for the families, and at the internally displaced persons sites, is having nothing to eat and no possibility of taking care of yourself. Salaries haven't been paid in four months, and humanitarian aid is not sufficient and sometimes even non-existent. As they fled, populations left behind things necessary for daily life and don't have the minimum needed to survive. Then children aren't going to school… we've reached such a point that I can't even describe it.

GV: How has the violence between Christians and Muslims increased so quickly in a country that isn't known for religious conflicts?

BE: Effectivement, le pays n'a jamais connu de conflits religieux. Les deux communautés ont toujours vécu ensemble en cohésion. Les familles s'échangent les repas lors des fêtes de Pâques, de la Tabaski, du Ramadan, de Noël et lors des mariages religieux. Lors du coup d’État nous avons vu parmi les rebelles des étrangers, engagés comme mercenaires. Depuis le début de leur progression ils ont utilisé les communautés musulmanes avec un discours de libérateurs des musulmans face aux mécréants qui les maltraitent. Ils ont pu enrôler beaucoup de jeunes qui les ont aidé à s'attaquer aux biens de l’église et faire les exactions que nous avons tous connues. Jusqu’à maintenant, nous avons toujours recherché à vivre en harmonie entre Centrafricains, avec nos différences de confessions ; comme nation, nous avons aussi accueilli beaucoup de personnes et de familles venant des pays voisins.

Cependant, il y a l'attitude de certains agents de l’État face à des concitoyens ou des résidents qu’ils supposent musulmans. Ceux-ci sont freinés dans leur démarche pour un papier administratif ou pour passer un barrage des forces de l'ordre. De même, les populations du nord-est de la RCA proches du Tchad et du Soudan (Darfour), vivant à plus de 1000 KM de la capitale, et majoritairement musulmanes, bénéficient peu du soutien de l’Etat parce que l’administration et les services publics sont quasi inexistants dans cette région, ce qui peut amener les habitants à se sentir laissés pour compte. Ces populations sont plus liées aux populations frontalières des autres pays voisins, ce qui est normal et parlent ensemble la même langue, ont une culture proche, mais ils sont alors perçus comme étrangers et eux-mêmes se sentent loin de la majorité chrétienne du pays. Au cœur du conflit que nous vivons, en ce moment, la grande majorité silencieuse des Centrafricains refusent la violence et beaucoup ont eu a agir pour protéger ou sauver la vie d’autres, souvent d’une autre communauté religieuse qu’eux.

BE: The country has never really known religious conflict. The two communities have always lived together with cohesion. Families exchange meals at Easter, Tabaski, Ramadan, Christmas and at religious marriages. When the revolution happened, we saw foreigners amongst the rebels, taken on as mercenaries. Since they started to advance they've made use of Muslim communities by making speeches about freeing Muslims from infidels who have treated them badly. They were able to recruit many young people who have helped them attack church property and carry out abuses which we've all experienced. Until now, we've always sought a harmonious life between Central Africans with our different faiths. As a nation we've also welcomed many people and families from neighbouring countries.

However, there is an attitude which certain public officials have concerning fellow citizens or residents who they believe to be Muslim. The movement of these people is slowed down by checking administrative documents or going through a security checkpoint. In the same way, populations in the northeast of the CAR close to Chad and Sudan (Darfour), who live more than 1,000 km from the capital and the majority of whom are Muslims, receive little benefit from state aid because the administration and public services are almost non-existent in this region, which can lead to local residents feeling overlooked. These populations are more closely linked to border populations from other neighbouring countries, which is normal, they speak the same language together, have cultural similarities, but then they are seen as foreigners and themselves feel a long way from the country's Christian majority. At the heart of the conflict which we're living in at the moment is the large Christian silent majority refuses violence and many have had to act to protect or save other people's lives, often from a different religious community to their own.

GV: You say that it's critical that the communities talk to each other and have a dialogue in order to solve problems. In your opinion, what conditions are needed in order to set up this dialogue? How can the international community help in this area?

BE: J'estime que parallèlement à la sécurisation du pays il faut commencer la réconciliation entre les communautés.

Tout d'abord, rassurer la communauté musulmane qui est en train de quitter le pays, elle fait partie prenante de la RCA. Il s'agit de réfuter toute idée soit de les chasser, soit de scission du pays. Il faut éliminer dans les mentalités la confusion systématique entre Seleka et musulman.

Inviter à ouvrir un processus de dialogue politique entre toutes les parties prenantes aux conflits, mais aussi avec les acteurs non-armés afin de lancer un processus de réconciliation nationale à même d'apaiser aujourd'hui les populations désemparées et leur redonner confiance dans l'avenir.

Dès la rentrée scolaire, qu'on commence à mettre en place un programme sur le vivre ensemble pour les enfants, et aussi l'élargir dans les quartiers et villages.

Il faut renforcer la sensibilisation déjà initiée par la plate-forme inter-religieuse dans les Églises, les Mosquées et autres Temples, ainsi que d'autres initiatives locales qui concourent à la paix”. Il est vrai que l'idée d'organiser des élections fait partie des priorités de la Communauté internationale, mais cette idée fait certainement peur à la communauté musulmane centrafricaine. C'est pourquoi il serait souhaitable que parallèlement au processus électoral, soit amorcé un programme de réconciliation nationale, une démarche qui assure à chacun qu’il sera reconnu comme centrafricain à part entière.

BE: I believe that parallel to securing the country we have to start the reconciliation process between communities.

First of all, we must reassure the Muslim community, which is in the process of leaving the country, that they are a stakeholder in the CAR. We have to refute any idea of banishing them or splitting the country. We have to eliminate the systematic confusion in people's minds between Seleka and Muslim.

We must encourage the opening of a political dialogue between all parties taking part in the conflict, but also key players who are not fighting, in order to start a national reconciliation process to give comfort to helpless populations and give them back confidence in the future.

Once the new school year begins we must set up a children's program about living together and also extend this to urban areas and villages.

We have to support the raising of public awareness, which has already been initiated by the inter-religious platform in churches, mosques, and other temples, just like other local initiatives which lead to peace. It's true that the idea of organising elections is amongst the priorities of the international community, but this idea also scares the Central African Muslim community. That's why it would be desirable to launch a national reconciliation program alongside the electoral process, an approach which assures everyone that they will be recognised as fully Central African.

GV: What are the other pressing needs for Central Africa at the moment? What solutions can be put forward?

BE: Le besoin le plus pressant pour la RCA c'est d'abord la sécurité pour son peuple. L'idéal serait que les familles rentrent chez elles avant les premières pluies du mois de février, que l'aide humanitaire arrive aux habitants partout où on peut les trouver (alimentation, eau potable, soins, couchages, produits d'hygiène, vêtements…). Ce serait aussi le paiement des salaires aux fonctionnaires.

BE: The CAR's most pressing need is security for its people. Ideally, families would be able to return to their homes before the first rains in February and humanitarian aid would arrive for local people wherever they are (food, drinking water, medical supplies, sleeping bags, hygiene products, clothes..). Also, public officials would have their salaries paid.

Interview With Fula-Language Blogger Balde Mamadou Tafsir for Mother Language Day

Fula is the language of the Fula (Fulani) people. Few African ethnic groups exhibit such a wide range of political and economic integration in the West African region. Fula people number among Africa's greatest writers, professors, filmmakers, artists, politicians, and businessmen. Yet Fula nomads, representing the largest migratory ethnic group in the world, live in extremely precarious conditions as they travel with their livestock in the Sahel savannah. They are called Fulɓe (singular Pullo) in the Fula language, Fula or Fulani in English, and peul in French. The geographic distribution of the population extends from West Africa to Central and East Africa.

The Fula language varies significantly between countries:

Le peul, ou peulh ou fulfulde, ou pularpulaar, est une langue parlée dans une vingtaine d’États d’Afrique occidentale et centrale, des rives du Sénégal à celles du Nil. C'est la langue maternelle des ethnies peules, et aussi une langue seconde employée régionalement comme langue véhiculaire, par d'autres ethnies.

Fula (also known as peulh, fulfulde, pular, or pulaar) is a language spoken in some twenty West and Central African countries, from the banks of the Senegal to those of the Nile. It is the native language of ethnic Fulas and is also spoken as a second language and lingua franca by members of other ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, this language, despite being taught in several universities outside of Africa, is rarely taught in school systems on the continent.

African culture and languages researcher Balde Mamadou Tafsir writes two blogs in Fula, his native language. For the first, Misiide [ful], he uses the Latin alphabet, and for the second, tafsirexpress.blogspot.com [ful], he posts using the Arabic alphabet. His goal is to promote all facets of Fula language and culture. For International Mother Language Day, a UNESCO initiative celebrated every February 21st since 2000, he agreed to answer a few questions for Global Voices.

Balde Tasfir facebook photo profile with his permission

Balde Tasfir facebook photo profile with his permission

What do you think of International Mother Language Day?

Balde Mamadou Tafsir (BMT): C’est un moment de partage de joie, de satisfaction, de se sentir intégré dans la diversité culturelle. En ma qualité de développeur web de langues et cultures africaines je considère la Journée Internationale de la Langue Maternelle comme une merveilleuse occasion de maintenir ce noble objectif.

Je pense qu’il faut soutenir la résolution de L’UNESCO [ résolution 37 adoptée en 1999 par  la Conférence générale de cette institution du système des Nations Unies basée à Paris] qui affirme cette reconnaissance de la diversité culturelle de par le monde, cette journée nous encourage à multiplier nos efforts dans le développement de nos langues nationales.

Balde Mamadou Tafsir (BMT): It's an occasion to share joy and satisfaction, to feel integrated in cultural diversity. As a web developer working on African languages and cultures, I consider International Mother Language Day to be a wonderful occasion to further this important objective.
I think we need to support the UNESCO resolution [resolution 37 adopted in 1999 by UNESCO's General Conference of the United Nations System in Paris], which reaffirms recognition of cultural diversity throughout the world. This day encourages us to redouble our efforts in the development of our national languages.

What do you blog about?

BMT: Je blog le plus souvent sur la culture, les langues africaines, tout comme sur les activités socioculturelles.

I blog mainly about African culture and languages, as well as social and cultural activities. 

What do you find gratifying about blogging?

BMT: Tout d’abord, ça me rassure que bon nombre de mes lecteurs apprécient mes billets, mais aussi les questions/thèmes que j’aborde sur mes blogs. Ça m’encourage à plus écrire dans ces domaines.

First of all, it's reassuring that a good number of readers appreciate my posts, as well as the questions and themes that I bring up on my blogs. That encourages me to write more on these subjects.

What have you been working on since starting the blog Misiide?

BMT: Quelque mois après sa création, Misiide a lancé une version en arabe du blog pour ses lecteurs utilisant les caractères arabes. Tout récemment,  j’ai enregistré un album de poèmes poular (ou peul) qui sortira bientôt. Actuellement, je travaille sur la traduction des logiciels en peul. J’ai aussi traduit pas mal de livres en poular comme j’ai réalisé un petit lexique (poular-français, français-poular, et poular-arabe). D’autres projets sont en route.

A few months after its creation, Misiide launched an Arabic version for its readers who use the Arabic alphabet. Just recently, I recorded an album of Fula language poems, which will be released soon. I'm currently working on translating software into Fula. I've translated quite a few books into Fula and have also created a little glossary (Fula-French, French-Fula, and Fula-Arabic.) Other projects are on their way.

What kinds of difficulties do you come across?

BMT: Ce sont entre autres les mêmes difficultés que rencontrent nombre de bloggeurs à savoir : Problèmes financiers et techniques, l’entretien du blog… Sauf que nous avons plus de difficultés que celui qui blogue dans une des langues les plus utilisées, qui ont facilement accès au web. En outre quant à nous bloggeurs en langues africaines, le nombre de nos lecteurs est rès limités par rapport aux bloggeurs dans les langues les plus courantes. 

For the most part, I encounter the same difficulties as other bloggers, such as financial and technical problems and blog maintenance issues. However, we face more difficulties than bloggers who write in more widely spoken languages and who have easy access to the internet. Plus, African language bloggers have a very limited number of readers compared to bloggers in more common languages.

What do you think about teaching native languages in the school system?

BMT: L’enseignement des langues nationales dans le système scolaire mérite d’être encourager comme stratégie pour une amélioration de la réussite des élèves. Car elle joue un grand rôle dans la formation et l’affirmation de l’identité culturelle des individus, par conséquent leur valeur comme instruments de communication.

D’après les études, notamment celles menées conjointement par l’UNESCO et l’UNICEF, les élèves des pays où la langue maternelle est aussi la langue d’enseignement, surpassent les autres dans la plupart des secteurs d’étude.

Teaching national languages in the school system should be encouraged as a strategy for improving students’ success. It plays an important role in the formation and affirmation of individuals’ cultural identity, and, therefore, has value as a means of communication.
According to research studies, especially those conducted jointly by UNESCO and UNICEF, students who are taught in their native language outperform other students in a majority of subjects.

What are the results of mother tongue education in schools in Guinea?

BMT: La Guinée a mené une expérience originale dans l’enseignement des langues nationales a l’école ; comparativement aux autres pays de la sous région, mais elle a obtenu des résultats critiques et peu déterminants, dont le plus important a été la baisse du niveau des élèves dans les langues d'importance mondiale (arabe, français, anglais).

Compared to other countries in the subregion, Guinea has led an original experiment in teaching national languages at school. But Guinea has seen disappointing and inconclusive results, most importantly a decline in students’ performance in major world languages (Arabic, French, and English).

What caused this failure?

BMT: A mon avis, cet échec est dû au manque de préparation de l’opération, mais aussi au fait que les langues nationales étudiées à l’école étaient trop nombreuses par rapport à un petit pays comme la Guinée. Sans oublier le manque de motivation de parts et d'autres (enseignants, élève et parents d’élèves).

In my opinion, this failure is due to a lack of preparation for the undertaking, but also to the fact that the national languages studied in schools are too numerous for a small country like Guinea. Not to mention the lack of motivation of the various parties (teachers, students, and parents).

At what age do you think mother tongue education should begin?

BMT: Les études nous ont toujours démontré que l’introduction des langues nationales dans l’enseignement permet incontestablement d’obtenir une plus grande scolarisation des enfants de bons résultats scolaires. Cependant, la scolarisation en langues nationales doit absolument commencée dès les premières années de l’école.

Studies have always shown that the introduction of national languages in education unquestionably allows children to perform better in school. However, mother tongue education absolutely must begin in the first years of school.

Do you use your native language every day? In what context?

BMT: Oui ! Cela dépend de mes activités journalières, mais étant un étranger dans le pays ou je vie, l’utilisation de ma langue se focalise le plus souvent sur les moyens de communications (téléphone, internet…).

Yes! That depends on my daily activities, but as a foreigner in the country I live in, the use of my native language mainly revolves around means of communication (telephone, internet…).

What do you predict for the future of your language?

BMT: En se basant sur les différents travaux réalisés pour cette langue afin qu’elle soit plus intégrée dans la vie publique en général me rassure que celle-ci sera un jour l’une des langues de science et de technique.

Judging from the various projects undertaken to better integrate this language in public life, I generally feel reassured that one day it will become one of the languages of science and technology.

Anything else you would like to add?

BMT: Je profite de cette occasion pour saluer la résolution de l’UNESCO qui affirme que la reconnaissance et le respect pour la diversité culturelle dans le domaine du langage inspirent une solidarité basée sur la compréhension, la tolérance et le dialogue, et que toute action qui favorise l’utilisation des langues maternelles sert non seulement à encourager la diversité linguistique et l’éducation multilingue. Cette résolution, vise aussi à sensibiliser davantage à la multiplicité des traditions linguistiques et culturelles dans le monde.

Je lance un appel a tous mes amis bloggeurs à travers le monde, à s’associer à cette Journée pour prendre part à cette journée pour bloguer dans les langues nationales parce que nos langues sont  menacées d’extinction.

I'll take this opportunity to acknowledge the UNESCO resolution, which affirms that recognition and respect for cultural diversity in language inspire solidarity based on comprehension, tolerance, and dialogue. This resolution advocates that any action promoting the use of native languages should serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education, but also to increase sensitivity to the multiplicity of linguistic and cultural traditions in the world.
I urge all my blogger friends across the world to take part in this day by blogging in their native languages, because our languages are at risk of extinction.

 

February 20 2014

Parlez-vous français? Learning French According to Global Voices Translators

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa.

Bangui, Central African Republic. The French language retains some of its former influence in the former French colonies in Africa. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I never fully understood the challenges of learning French until my girlfriend decided to take up the language. She would ask me – a native French speaker – questions that I had no answer for. 

My girlfriend speaks Mandarin and English, and as she asked more questions, I began to realise the extent to which the language I had grown up with in Madagascar is loaded with exceptions. Learning a new language can be a daunting prospect for beginners, but for newcomers to France who are starting from scratch, learning French can be especially challenging. 

French was important as a lingua franca until the middle of the 20th century, but its influence has since waned. Some experts blame the relative decline of French worldwide on the the complexity of the language. 

There have been several attempts over the years to reform and simplify the French language, notably at the level of orthography, but they were mostly ignored. A policy introduced in 1990 put forward general rules and lists of modified words, though institutions have been slow to adopt them

Still, the global influence of French language influence in the world should not be dismissed. French, spoken as a first language in France, Monaco, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, and some parts of Canada and the U.S., has an estimated 110 million native speakers. 190 million more speak French as a second language, and it's registered as an official language in 29 countries. The largest numbers of French second-language speakers reside in Francophone Africa, the largest contingent being from the Democratic Republic of Congo (32 million) and Cameroon (7.2 million). 

A good example of its influence is the scope of Alliance Française, an international non-profit organization that aims to promote French language and culture around the world. Each year, 450,000 people of all ages attend French classes at Alliances Française in 136 countries.

The question remains: how does learning French compare with other languages? We posed the question to a few members of the Global Voices family, and also asked them to share any tips they had for beginners. Here's what they said:

 Carol Bidwell 

As an English native speaker who has learnt both French and German, I have to say both are tricky for different reasons. French pronunciation can be quite tricky if you aren't coming from an Romance language background, and I have found that in some situations (mainly dealing with official/ government stuff) French people can be quite dismissive if your pronunciation isn't perfect, which can be demoralizing. In terms of grammar too, French is full of exceptions to rules, so as soon as you feel like you've learnt something there is more to learn! I don't want this to sound too negative though, because it does get easier and sticking at it is definitely worth it!

 Andrew Kowalczuk

French is one of the most idiomatic languages, and there are thousands of them, too many to study, so you have to learn gradually from context.

Thalia Rahme : 

French is my second language after Arabic. In Lebanon, at home or in the streets, Lebanese people speak basic French. Nevertheless, I think that my Lebanese English-educated friends training have had some difficulties because they only start taking French as a third language in schools when they are 11. 
 
But I notice many don't retain much of what they have learned [and they] also tend to feel embarrassed when speaking in public [especially] the pronunciation…Still, the French taught in schools in Lebanon is the formal one,so if you go to France you will feel as if in another planet when hearing some of the local idioms or slang. Also we have developed our Lebanized French i.e. by turning some of the Lebanese expressions into French 

 Alison McMillan quotes from a blog that explains the struggle of learning a new language:

You speak your native language. It is organized in certain ways: the grammar with its subject, verb and object in a certain order; different levels of politeness; and your culture mirrored in this structure as well as in idiom and metaphor. You express yourself in terms of it; you came to yourself through it; in effect, you are it. When you learn another language, you learn a different way to organize reality. When you grow fluent in this new language, you can say and even do things in ways you could not previously; certain new aspects are highlighted, and some things that you originally could more precisely formulate are now missing.

Danielle Martineau:  

French has its quirks like all languages. I started learning French when I was 9 and like anything else it's just commitment and practice and pushing through the hard part in the beginning. I do recommend this video. It is a TED talk by the Fluent in three months guy, Benny Lewis. He says something that I think is really accurate about people learning a new language. Usually they are shy and afraid to make mistakes so they never really jump right in from the beginning for fear of being judged. They think other people will be offended by their imperfect language skills when most people are just thrilled that you are making an effort and taking an interest in their culture and language. Also a lot of French people will correct you when you make mistakes in speech – it's not considered rude, and I actually really love it.  Nothing like making a mistake to learn how to do things right!

Suzanne Lehn

As a French person, my experience with the issue is an indirect one. I know a Chinese lady who married a Frenchman and they live in the US, so the language they have in common is English. [..] The big difference between Chinese and French languages: the grammar, it seems! Almost non-existent in Chinese and cumbersome in French. Also one must be aware that one can/should learn the oral language first. I know a lady who speaks perfect oral French from having lived in France for 2 years, but still cannot write it at all.

Georgia Popplewell

I come from staunchly Anglophone Trinidad and Tobago, but I enjoy learning languages, and didn't find French particularly difficult. After studying it for three years in secondary school, I changed to Spanish, then somehow decided to major in French at university. I don't think I'd still be speaking French fairly fluently today, however, if I hadn't spent five months living and working in Martinique shortly after graduating. Having to communicate exclusively in French for that period seems to have locked the language into my brain.

I also have a far larger vocabulary in French than in Spanish, and I attribute that to the fact that I've read more widely in French. Gaining a solid grasp of a language, in my opinion, entails engaging with both living, contemporary examples of the language, such as you encounter in films, newspapers and magazines, and the more formal kind of language you'd find in literary works as well.

Jane Ellis:

French is a language where, the more you know, the harder it gets. One of the hardest things is definitely the grammar. In particular, I have found the passé simple very hard to use, as well as the subjunctive. I am getting a lot better at the subjunctive, but it is very difficult for a British person who has never even been taught about the existence of the subjunctive in English (!) to compute/process a whole new way of theoretical thinking.

Also, for me, the speaking is definitely the hardest. I freely admit to being hopeless as speaking French! I am confident on paper, but not orally. Lack of practice since I have been living in a Spanish-speaking country for the past three years and learning the local lingo, plus, I have to say, also due to rebuffs when trying to speak French to French-speakers.
As a result, although my Spanish is garbled and pretty hopeless, I am MUCH more confident about trying to speak it because the locals are so encouraging and friendly.

Lova Rakatomalala is Global Voices’ editor for the Francophone region. When he first arrived from Madagascar to the US as a freshman at Tulane University, his fear of speaking English with a French accent was so overwhelming that he selected classes on the sole basis that they not require him to speak in public. He tweets—in French, Malagasy and English!—at @lrakoto.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

Tunisia: Jailed Facebook User Pardoned, Release Unconfirmed

After spending nearly two years in prison, Jabeur Mejri jailed for posting content deemed offensive to Islam, obtained presidential pardon, local media reported on Wednesday.

In March 2012, Mejri was sentenced to seven and half years imprisonment for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on his Facebook page. His friend, Ghazi Beji who published an ebook named “the illusion of Islam”, received the same sentence in absentia after fleeing the country. He now lives in France after obtaining asylum there.

They were found guilty of ‘publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals', ‘insulting others through public communication networks’ and ‘assaulting public morals'.

Mejri was repeatedly denied pardon requests made by his defense team, despite multiple promises from interim President Moncef Marzouki to release him.

For instance, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) last September, Marzouki said that he is “waiting for the good political moment” to release Mejri.

“Now when you have this situation with the Salafists, extremely violent, releasing this guy right now could be dangerous for himself”, he added drawing criticism from human rights activists who considered his statement as an excuse to keep Mejri in prison.

On Facebook, the President's office confirmed the pardon[ar]:

الناطق الرسمي باسم رئاسة الجمهورية السيد عدنان منصر على موجات شمس إف إم :رئيس الجمهورية أمضى منذ أيام عفوا خاصا عن جابر الماجري في القضية الأصلية

The official spokesperson of the Presidency of the Republic Mr Adnan Mansar speaking on Radio Shems FM: Days ago, the President of the Republic signed a special pardon for Jabeur Mejri in the first case

Twitter reactions followed:

Ghassen Yahia referred [fr] to the country's new constitution which guarantees freedoms of speech, thought and conscience. The same charter, adopted last January bans “attacks on sanctities”, though.

Jabeur freed? Is this the first implementation of the new constitution?

Yamina Thabet, president of the Tunisian Association for Minorities, tweeted [fr]:

#freejabeur…it is too late, this is not a pardon but an attempt to repair a serious blow to human dignity

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey

Cartoon in support of Jabeur Mejri, by Fey


Martin Pradel called for caution [fr]:

The pardon was announced a while ago, it should have been signed. But, caution as long as Jabeur has not been effectively released

Though pardoned, Mejri's release remains unconfirmed. The privately owned radio Shems FM reported that he remains in prison over an old lawsuit against him.

In a statement published yesterday [Feb 19, 2014], his support committee said [fr]:

Nous ne pouvons confirmer ou infirmer, pour le moment, ce nouveau rebondissement dans le dossier de Jabeur Mejri

Right now, we can neither confirm nor deny this new development in the case of Jabeur Mejri

Last January, the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) announced that Mejri would soon be released to travel to Sweden where he obtained political asylum.

Molka Chaari tweeted [fr]:

Pardoned, ok. But is he “obliged” to leave the country???

February 19 2014

“Now is the Time for Men of Goodwill to Stand Up” in the Central African Republic

Andrew Harding on Africa Review reports on the courageous acts of a congregation in the shabby town of Boali, Central African Republic and notably one Father Xavier Fagba. The St Peter's Parish church has sheltered Muslims seeking sanctuary from ethnic cleansing perpetrated by anti balaka gangs:    

“Now is the time for men of goodwill to stand up and prove the strength and quality of their faith,” said Father Fagba, [..] ”When I did this, nobody in the community understood me. They attacked and threatened me.” The Muslims – about 650 in all – arrived at the church on January 16 and 17. ”The Muslims discovered in our church that the God we worship is the same as their God,” said Father Fagba.

On twitter, a hashtag #CARKindness reports the local acts of kindness amidst the unspeakable wave of violence that plagues the country. Here is another instance of such kindness:

February 18 2014

“Bring All the Culprits of Ethnic Cleansing to Justice” Says a CAR Citizen of Muslim and Christian Descent

Here is Moussa Tanko–Tchaibou's take on the ethnic cleansing that is underway in his country, the Central African Republic and what should be done to stop it [fr]:

Je suis centrafricain de confession musulmane avec cette particularité illustrative de la cohésion sociale, celle d’avoir un père de confession musulmane et une mère d’origine chrétienne [..]  Alors que la maison commune est en train de bruler qu’apportent-ils comme contribution afin de mettre fin à cette situation? Rien à part se préparer pour les prochaines échéances électorales, à attiser à distance cette haine contre une certaine catégorie de population [..]  il faudrait que les choses avancent vite, car ne pas traduire les coupables de ces crimes horribles devant la cour pénale internationale laisse la porte ouverte à d’autres massacres.

I am a Central African Republic citizen who happens to be muslim. In what used to be an illustration of the social cohesion of the past in my country, my father is Muslim and my mother is Christian. [..] While the house of Central Africa is now burning, what did that they (political leaders) do to put an end to this situation? Nothing but prepare for the next elections and stir up hatred against a certain group of people [..] The world needs to move quickly (in identifying the culprits), because if we doe not bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to the International Criminal Court rapidly, we will leave the door open for other massacres to occur.

Hayes Brown unpacks why it is important to better understand the two-way atrocities in the region and whether the use of the term genocide in the media is appropriate. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch states that without prompt action, the country will be emptied of its Muslim population [fr]. 

SmartNomination, a Counter to the Binge Drinking Game Neknomination

The online drinking game Neknomination that promotes binge drinking for teenagers has outraged many people around the world. Neknomination asks participants to film themselves drinking an alcoholic beverage in one gulp, upload the footage to the web and nominate others to do the same. Julien Voinson, a young frenchman from Bordeaux, decided to counter the drinking game with a more positive initiative called SmartNomination [fr]. The idea is to film oneself doing charity work and then nominate a friend to do the same. Created on February 12, the facebook page has already close to 9,000 likes. In the following video,  Voinson explains the details of his project  [fr]:

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

The Millenium Development Goal for Safe Water Is Still Beyond Reach for Many African Countries

Point d'eau du village de Mwamanongu, en Tanzanie. CC-BY-2.0

Water source in Mwamanongu, Tanzania. CC-BY-2.0

Virgil HOUESSOU, a Benin-based reporter for the African association for clean water,  is pessimistic about the Millenium Development Goal with respect to safe water. He writes  on the collective blog Wash Journalists [fr]: 

A quelques mois de l’échéance de la réalisation des OMD [Objectifs du millénaire pour le développement],  beaucoup de défis restent à relever dans le secteur de l’eau et de l’assainissement. De nombreux pays africains trainent encore le pas et ne sont pas sûrs de les atteindre

A few months removed from the deadline for reaching the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], many challenges remain in the area of ​​water and sanitation. Many African countries have yet to fully get going on this topic and therefore are quite unsure of reaching their objectives.

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 16 2014

Togolese Skier Petitjean, from Facebook to the 2014 Winter Olympics

Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean, Togolese cross-country skier via wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean, Togolese cross-country skier via Africa Top Sports CC-BY-2.0


Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean is a cross-country skier who competes for Togo at the 2014 Winter Olympics Game. The president of the Togolese Ski federation explained that they reached out to Togolese abroad via Facebook to recruit some athletes.After finishing her first olympian race, Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean said[fr]:

Merci tout le monde pour tous ces encouragements tout au long du mois qui à précédé les jeux, de la semaine et même de cette journée, ils m’ont tous vraiment touché et je pense même qu’ils m’ont permis de m’accrocher jusqu’au bout de la course.

Thanks everyone for all the encouragement throughout the months prior to the race and especially today, they all touched me and I think they even pushed me to hang on until the end of the race.

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. 

“Another Face of Africa”: Call for Photos, Stories

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A group of young volunteers from southern Germany, many of whom have lived in Africa, are calling for photos, essays, videos, blog posts or poems by locals of five major African cities: Lagos, Addis Ababa, Gaborone, Kigali and Kinshasa.

With a forthcoming exhibition called “Sichtwechsel,” their goal is to show another face of Africa than what typically appears in German media — modern, urban, rapidly developing societies.

See their website at Missing-Images.com in English, French and German. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2014.

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