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December 24 2013

Are Volunteer Programs Empowering — or Exploitative?

This article by Angilee Shah for The World originally appeared on PRI.org on December 19, 2013 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.

Giving time to a cause you believe in can be extremely rewarding. As Demba Kandeh, a volunteer worker in the Gambia, explained, “Volunteering is a beautiful thing.”

But when do volunteer programs empower and when do they exploit? Does building this kind of workforce benefit communities? Would essential services simply not be provided if it weren't for volunteers, as several people told Amy Costello in her investigation of volunteer health workers in Senegal.

With help in part from the Global Voices community of bloggers, we found perspectives from around the globe.

Laura Morris, 28, an editor [for Rising Voices!] in Paris, spent five months as a volunteer for a small NGO in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and seven months as a volunteer for an organization that provides care for the elderly in London. Morris says she understood why the Cambodian organization did not pay her — she was the only foreigner there, and they could not have afforded the salary — but she thinks that the London nonprofit simply took advantage of a tough job market and gave her work that should have been performed by a paid employee.

“I volunteered for it, so it was my decision to work with them, but I was also asked to do work that I absolutely should have been paid for, that was much higher than entry-level,” Morris says.

Have you volunteered for a nonprofit organization? Share your own experiences and follow the hashtag #TrackingCharity on Twitter to discuss.

October 04 2013

The Gambia Quits British Commonwealth, Calling It ‘Extension of Colonialism’

President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. During his speech, he condemned homosexuality, calling it one of the “biggest threats to human existence”. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The tiny West African State of The Gambia has announced via state television that it will withdraw from the Commonwealth of Nations, a fellowship of 54 countries that are mainly former colonies of the British Empire.

A statement released on Wednesday, 2 October 2013 stated that “the government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism.”

No further reasons have been advanced by the government, but relations between the Gambia and the UK in 2013 have been rocky. In April, the UK Foreign Office's annual Human Rights and Democracy Report was critical of the country's human rights record under President Yahya Jammeh, highlighting violations such as unlawful detentions, illegal closures of newspapers and discrimination against minority groups. The country's response to the report was sharp: “Britain has no moral authority to dictate moral standards of rectitude and democracy to any former colony in Africa”.

After the Gambia announced the decision to dump its membership of the international body headed by Queen Elizabeth II, netizens around the globe have reacted with mix feelings.

Mathew Jallow, an exiled Gambian journalist, saw the move as good for publicising President Jammeh's “stupidity“. Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, for years has earned the world's ire for his repressive rule, one that has been defined by executions, restricted freedom of the press and expression, persecution of homosexuals, and heavy-handed supression of political dissent:

Behind every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. Yahya Jammeh's Gambia withdrawal from the Commonwealth is more negative publicity worth one year's newspaper reporting. Today, ever country in the world will carry this withdrawal news and every Commonwealth member state, including the US, will have every lingering doubt about our claims, confirmed. This is what dictators do all the time. They create their own downfalls as they attempt to solidify their rules and barricade themselves within their crumbling worlds. Thank you Yahya Jammeh. All our efforts could not have publicized your stupidity better.

Commenting on his Facebook wall, Gambian journalist Sainey MK Marena analyzed the situation (post used with permission):

Gambia withdrawal from the Commonwealths attracts international headlines. The multi -million dollar question is why are we withdrawing our membership at a time when countries like Mozambique and others are seriously yearning to join the global body. Gambia has and continued to benefit from commonwealth in diverse areas including education/scholarship, sports and most recently the commonwealth proposed National Human Rights Commission. MY point is Gambia like any nation has right to withdraw from any association or organization but is should be based on credible and genuine reason (s). In 2003, Zimbabwe Under Mugabe withdraw from the Commonwealth for reasons best known to them but smallest country in the mainland African should take a different take and approached.

However, Sefa-Nyarko Clement seemed to disagree, writing on Facebook:

Great move, Gambia. Although I don't subscribe to the summary executions and despotic policies of Baba Jammeh, I support his withdrawal from the Commonwealth. Indeed, the Commonwealth of Nations has outlived its usefulness.

On Twitter, user Abdou ‏(@abs2ray) criticised the president's behaviour:

While the discussion on the Jammeh’s latest diplomatic rumbling continues, it remains unclear what the poorly impoverished nation will gain by quitting the Commonwealth.

July 12 2013

New Internet Law in The Gambia Puts Gag on Government Criticism

Parliamentarians in the tiny West African state of the Gambia have ratified and passed a new law that clamps down on critiquing or lampooning government officials on the Internet.

The Information Communication (amendment) Act 2013 imposes a jail term of up to 15 years in prison or a fine of up to three million Dalasi (about 100,000 US dollars) or both. The law seeks to punish “instigating violence against the government or public officials”, and also targets individuals who “caricature or make derogatory statements against officials” or “impersonate public officials”.

The Gambia's Minister of Information, Communication, and Information Infrastructure, Nana Grey-Johnson, said the bill is meant to serve as a deterrent.

“This bill seeks to provide for the deterrent punishment of such persons who are engaged in such treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside The Gambia,” he was quoted as saying last Wednesday shortly before the Assembly approved the new bill.

Reporters Without Borders stated on 5 July, 2013 that the organization is “very disturbed by amendments to the 2009 Information and Communications Act”:

The authorities are using these amendments to target news providers and crack down on the Internet, one of the last spaces for freedom of information in Gambia. We call for their immediate withdrawal and a complete overhaul of the law, which already gags the media in the name of state security.

The Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh is on the May 2013 Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom” while Gambia is ranked 152nd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The organisation further said:

The amendments to the Information and Communications Act that the Gambian parliament has just adopted aggravate what is already one of Africa's most repressive laws.

Amnesty International noted that the new law is “an outrageous attack on freedom of expression” in the Gambia:

By attempting to repress dissent even on the internet, the new bill takes the restriction of freedom of expression in The Gambia to a shocking new level,” Amnesty International Africa Deputy Director, Lucy Freeman said. Amnesty laments that the new law means a simple cartoon or satirical comedy could carry up to 15 years in jail and a fine of up to of three million Dalasi (about £54,500).

Condemning the new law, Article 19 said:

The newly adopted law is the latest attempt by the Gambian authorities to stifle dissent in a country that already has some of the harshest laws on the right to freedom of expression in Africa.

The Gambia's National Assembly also came under fire not long ago from activist groups for an April 16, 2013 amendment of Section 114 of the Criminal Code which imposes a jail term of five years or a fine of 50,000 Dalasi (about 1,650 US dollars) on people convicted of giving false information. That law previously allowed a jail term of not more than six months or a fine of 500 Dalasi (about 17 US dollars) or both.

Fatou Jaw Manneh, an exiled Gambian journalist living in the USA, wrote on her Facebook wall, “Senseless and Ruthless! We are not threatened and shall never back down!!!” while referring to the new Internet amendment.

She further added:

We [online journalists in the diaspora] should be ready to declare war on Yaya [Gambian president] and his political and intellectual prostitutes! We all know the scumbags behind this outrageous bill. We cannot let some heartless government folks scare us. You men of the pen should equally declare war on them.

Gambia's National Assembly. Photo courtesy of Jollofnews.com

Gambia's National Assembly. Photo courtesy of Jollofnews.com

On the Gambia Free Expression Campaign Facebook group, Baboucarr Ceesay, the first Vice President of the Gambia Press Union (GPU), has a warning for his colleagues:

Beware!!!!! The Gambia has a National Assembly where every kind of draconian Bill can be passed without thorough scrutiny.

Bax, a reader on online citizen news site, JollofNews, wondered how this law will be enforced:

To even convene a National Assembly Sitting to discuss this Bill was a complete waste of Public Funds,not to mention the Stupidity of passing it as Law…A law that no one in that country can enforce,because the intended target group,whether it be the proprietors of the online media (Freedom,Jollof news,Hello Gambia,Maafanta ,etc) or the numerous bloggers,are either not within their reach or are “faceless” and “nameless”.

Another reader, B4Africa, wrote that spreading false news online is not recipe for chaos:

The only recipe for chaos and instability is your laws/decrees which are ment [sic] to control our people`s mind.Controlling your people like animals is not a recipe for peace/stability.
Dictator jammeh will,against the will of the Gambain people enact laws to suit his own ends.
Dictator jammeh will always pass statute law that will decrease the rights of the people with free speech,freedom of movement and freedom of thought.
Dictator jammeh will ensure that those close party members or fools around him will receive unearned rewards/protections and he will cease back those rewards/protections from them after using their brains for them.
The Gambians should unite and kick out this vampire from power to save our country.

However, Radiokangkang supported the law:

I totally agree and sopport these laws to held those responsible accountable. We shouldn't wait until the damage is already done by the “ENEMY OF THE STATE” But, to engage them within the law os the land, to prosecute them and if convicted to punish them accordingly.

These laws are well overdue. I welcome!!! this new law in place.

On Twitter, Africa Seen Heard (@AFRICASeenHeard) reacted by writing:

@AFRICASeenHeard: The law is a spider’s web; only the little insects get caught in it. #Gambia

“It's your kid, ladumdum” (@ladumdum) asked:

@ladumdum: @ayittey So through which media can citizens express their opinion about his excellency without facing stiff penalties. #Gambia

George Ayittey (‏@ayittey) pointed out the irony behind the new legislation:

@ayittey: And the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights (Banjul Charter) was crafted in Gambia and adopted in 1981 http://bit.ly/hm5nMy

June 11 2013

Senegal's Democratic Tradition Takes Worrisome Turn

[All links forward to French-language webpages unless otherwise noted.]

Senegal has a solid tradition of democracy and protection of freedom of expression and human rights. But recent months have seen the West African nation's reputation as a stronghold for democracy in Africa seriously damaged with the evictions of a Chadian journalist and Gambian dissident, both opponents of the governments in their home countries.

Chadian [en] blogger and journalist Makaila Nguebla [en], an opponent of his country's President Idriss Déby [en] who has ruled Chad for more than two decades, was deported on May 8, 2013 to neighboring Guinea. Nguebala runs a highly critical blog about his country's regime.

Well-known Gambian [en] opponent Kukoi Samba Sanyang [en], who led the 1981 rebellion against the regime of former President Dawda Kaïraba Diawara, was expelled April 17, 2013 to Mali.

Mamadou Oumar Ndiaye, author for the Senegalese weekly Le Témoin, detailed Senegal's democratic character, giving credit to the country's first President Leopold Sedar Senghor, a poet and intellectual who served from 1960 to 1980, in his post titled “Senegal, your excellent traditions are falling apart!“:

Le Sénégal n’a ni or (ou alors très peu, dans la région de Kédougou), ni diamants, encore moins du pétrole, du gaz ou de l’uranium … De plus, la pluviométrie n’y est pas abondante et la plupart de nos paysans ne travaillent que trois mois dans l’année … Malgré tout, notre pays tient une place honorable dans le concert des nations africaines. Et, à franchement parler, il a un niveau de développement que beaucoup de pays incroyablement gâtés par la nature nous envient. Cela est dû, bien sûr, à la qualité des ressources humaines du Sénégal produites par un système éducatif de qualité mis en place par le premier président de la République, le poète, agrégé de grammaire et académicien Léopold Sédar Senghor. Un système public d’éducation dont l’actuel Président est un pur produit, soit dit en passant. … Ce niveau de développement enviable, notre pays le doit aussi à sa stabilité politique légendaire qui a fait que, depuis l’indépendance en 1960, il n’a jamais connu de coup d’Etat militaire. En Afrique, notre pays est l’un des rares à avoir toujours été gouverné par un pouvoir civil. Et au moment où partout ailleurs, les pouvoirs militaires étaient la règle, le Sénégal a constitué une joyeuse exception, un îlot de démocratie dans un océan de dictatures … Bref, de quelque côté qu’on le prenne, le Sénégal a toujours fait figure d’exception en Afrique.

Senegal has neither gold (or very little, in the Kedougou region) nor diamonds, let alone oil, gas or uranium … In addition, rainfall is not abundant and most of our farmers only work three months per year … However, our country holds an honorable place among the African nations. And frankly speaking, Senegal has a level of development that many other countries with more natural blessings would envy. This is, of course, due to the quality of human resources in Senegal which is itself, a byproduct of the quality of the educational system established by the first President of the Republic of Senegal Leopold Sedar Senghor. Senghor was also a poet, a grammar scholar and the first African elected as a member of the Académie françaiseBy the way the current president is a pure product of this same public educational system. … This enviable standard of development, our country also owes it to its legendary political stability; since its independence in 1960, it has never experienced a military coup. In Africa, our country is one of the few to have only been governed by civil authorities. And when everywhere else, military authorities were the rule, Senegal was a happy exception; an island of democracy in a sea of dictatorships … Anyway, whichever way you see, Senegal has always been an exception in Africa.

But some consider that Senegal has moved away from that legacy left by Sedar Senghor. Last year, former President Abdoulaye Wade [en], who was accused during his tenure corruption, nepotism and curtailing freedom of the press, was defeated in his highly criticized bid for a third term [en] in office.

With Wade’s regime at an end, some expected a return to those democratic roots. But these recent measures taken by the current government raise questions about its commitment to do so.

Even Wade, who was much criticized [en] during his regime, was always respectful of Senegal's tradition as a host country for freedom of speech activists. The failure of Wade's government was not about free speech activists, but was not regularizing the situation of refugees.

As deported Chadian blogger Nguebala told Global Voices in an email exchange:

“Under Abdoulaye Wade's regime, I was never arrested once by the police”

A coalition called “Right of Asylum and Freedom of Expression” was created to demand Nguebla’s return. In the following video, the coalition unpacks the context of the evicitions and the risks that the bloggers are facing:

Boly BAH, journalist for La Gazette (a Senegalese website) called for the sliding of Senegal's democracy to be stopped in his post “The Deviant Turn of a Democracy“:

Une dérive à stopper. Qui est le prochain sur la liste ? En moins de deux mois, le Sénégal a chassé deux opposants africains de Dakar. … C’est une concession grave à des régimes anti-démocratiques … Cette expulsion d’un défenseur des droits humains et leader d’opinion vers la Guinée, un pays « non sûr » et en proie à des tensions politiques, laisse apparaître un deal entre les autorités politiques sénégalaises et tchadiennes, en vue d’extrader Makaila Nguebla au Tchad où sa vie est menacée.
Le combat sera mené jusqu’au retour de Makaila et de Kukoi Samba Sanyang. …

Les pays n’ont pas d’ami mais des intérêts. En procédant aux expulsions de Kukoi Samba Sanyang, le Sénégal défend peut-être les relations de bon voisinage avec la Gambie. Et fait un clin d’œil à Yaya Jammeh, président gambien au cœur du règlement du conflit de la Casamance. La Gambie avait même facilité la libération des otages sénégalais, il y a quelques mois. C’est peut-être compréhensible de lui renvoyer la monnaie en expulsant son opposant-rebelle, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. Avec le Tchad, certes, il n’y a pas cette grande amitié, mais la nouvelle posture africaine de Idrisss Deby Itno vaut peut-être cette largesse.

Deby a le vent en poupe et avec sa forte colonie militaire dans le désert malien, le président tchadien est en pleine puissance sous-régionale. Le Tchad contribue aussi au financement du procès d’Habré. Maintenant, si le jugement d’Habré participe au renforcement de l’indépendance judiciaire africaine, l’expulsion de Makaïla reste plutôt suspecte. Le blogueur était un combattant de la démocratie. Un relais entre son peuple et l’extérieur. Il était la voix des sans voix tchadiennes, il informait des dérives de Deby parce que bénéficiant de cette liberté d’expression qui fait défaut à ses confrères restés au pays.

This drifting away from our legacy has to be stopped. Who is next on the list? In less than two months, Senegal deported two African political activists. … This is a serious concession to all anti-democratic regimes… This deportation of a human rights activist and opinion leader to Guinea, an “unsafe” country plagued by political tensions suggests a deal between Senegalese and Chadian political authorities. Next might be the extradition of Makaila Nguebla back to Chad where his life is under threat.

This struggle will continue until both Makaila and Kukoi Samba Sanyang return. …

Countries do not have friends, they have interests. In carrying out the evictions of Kukoi Samba Sanyang, Senegal may be maintaining good relations with the Gambia. He might also reach out to Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian President who is at the heart of the conflict in Casamance. Gambia has even facilitated the release of some Senegalese hostages in Gambia a few months ago. It is perhaps understandable to pay him back by expelling his rebellious opponent, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. With Chad, of course, there is no such great friendship, but Idriss Deby’s new african posture (his involvment in Mali) might be worth it.

Deby is on the rise and with his strong military forces in the desert of Mali, Chad's president is showing his full might in the region. Chad also contributes to the financing of [former leader of Chad Hissène] Habré’s trial. Now the Habré trial may help strengthen African judicial independence but on the other hand, Makaila’s deportation is rather dubious. The blogger was an advocate of democracy, a bridge between his people and the outside world. He was the voice of those Chadians without a voice; he informed the world about Deby’s excess because he enjoyed freedom of expression that his colleagues back home could not have.

Another recent issue is also symptomatic of the worrisome turn taken by Senegal on the protection of human rights.

Taking advantage of the media circus in Senegal caused by these two cases, a member of parliament of the presidential majority wants to file a bill for the return of death penalty.  Senegal abolished the death penalty in 2004 and the last execution was held in 1967.

Even Fekke Maci Bolle, a political movement led Youssou N'Dour, the current Minister of Culture and Tourism, has come out against this bill. The movement published its stance on its Facebook page:

Celui ou celle qui affirme que l'on vit confortablement dans le couloir de la mort n'y a de toute évidence jamais mis les pieds … On voit rarement une personne riche ou aisée monter à la potence … La peine de mort est la négation absolue des droits humains. Il s’agit d'un meurtre commis par l'État, avec préméditation et de sang-froid. Ce châtiment cruel, inhumain et dégradant est infligé au nom de la justice.
Cette peine viole le droit à la vie inscrit dans la Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme.
Amnesty International s'oppose à la peine de mort en toutes circonstances, quels que soient la nature du crime commis, les caractéristiques de son auteur ou la méthode utilisée par l'État pour l'exécuter.

Whoever says that one lives comfortably on death row has obviously never been there … You rarely see a rich or wealthy person being executed … Death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. It is a planned and cold-blooded murder committed by the State. This cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is inflicted in the name of justice.
It violates the right to life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or how he committed the crime.

March 25 2013

Nine Street Kids Die in Senegal Quran School Fire

At least nine children died in a raging fire on the night of Sunday 3 March, 2013 in the Medina district of Dakar, Senegal. It was reported that a fire broke out while the children were sleeping in a crowded room at an Islamic school in the capital, and at least seven of the dead are thought to be ‘talibs’ (Quran students).

Following the tragedy, several politicians reacted [fr] to the news, and in doing so, have highlighted just how tough the living conditions can be for talibs.

Hady Ba [fr] explains, on his blog, what being a talib [fr] entails:

Traditionnellement au Sénégal, les parents confiaient leurs enfants à des érudits pour qu’ils leur apprennent d’abord à mémoriser le Coran puis, au fur et à mesure qu’ils grandissent, les sciences religieuses. Durant les premières années de cet apprentissage, ces enfants ne sont pas nourris par le marabout auquel ils sont confiés mais par la communauté toute entière. Chacun de ces enfants a une écuelle et, trois fois par jour, ces élèves qui sont appelés talibés (oui, c’est la même racine arabe que taliban J) font le tour des maisons de la ville ou du village et reçoivent des poignées de nourritures qu’ils recueillent dans ces écuelles et mangent …  Cette éducation était faite pour former des hommes stoïques se contentant de ce qu’ils ont, résistant à la faim et indifférents aux plaisirs de ce bas monde. Elle s’inscrivait dans une certaine vision du monde et dans un réseau social tel que toute la communauté se sentait responsable des enfants errants.

In Senegal, parents would traditionally entrust the care of their children to scholars who would teach them to memorize the Quran and then, as the children grew older, theology. During the first few years of their studies, these children would not be fed by the marabout [translator's note: Quran teacher] to which they were assigned, but by the entire community. Each of these children had a bowl and, three times a day, these students – which are know as ‘talibs’ (yes, the word comes from the same Arabic root as ‘Taliban') – would go from door to door among the houses of the town or the village, receiving handfuls of food that they would gather in their bowls to eat … The tradition was meant to be educational – it was intended to form stoic men who, content with what they have, would resist hunger and be indifferent to the pleasures of this base world. The tradition was based on a particular world-view and on social networks through which the the whole community felt responsible for the wandering children.

Over the course of the last few decades, however, the hardships faced by the talibs have started to become excessive. In its article ‘La détresse des enfants talibés‘ [fr; translator's note: the plight of  talib children], Sentinelles, a Swiss NGO, explains:

Les talibés survivent dans des daaras (écoles coraniques), souvent des habitations de fortune, inachevées, sans eau ni électricité, où les enfants, en surnombre, privés d'hygiène et de soins, s'entassent pour dormir, généralement à même le sol ou parfois sur des nattes, les uns collés aux autres. Beaucoup de daaras fleurissent ainsi, avec à leur tête des marabouts recherchant plus des profits personnels que le bien-être des talibés, devenus pour eux une source de revenus. Ils sont à la merci de leur «maître» qui a tous les droits sur eux. Le sévices corporels violents sont courant durant l'enseignement religieux. Au Sénégal, à peu près n’importe quel musulman peut se dire marabout, et il n’existe aucune loi régissant les daaras, contrairement aux établissements scolaires. Les marabouts sont vénérés et jouissent d’un véritable pouvoir sur la population.

The talib survive in the daaras (Quran schools) – often unfinished, makeshift shelters, without water or electricity, where children, deprived of hygiene and basic care, crowd together to sleep, usually on the floor or sometimes on mats, each child pressed up against the next. Many daaras thrive in this way – under the management of marabouts who are more concerned with their own profits than the talibs’ welfare, the students having become a source of income for their teachers. The talibs are at the mercy of these “masters”, who may do with them what they please – violent beatings are common during a talib's religious education. In Senegal, nearly any Muslim can become a marabout, and – in contrast to other types of schools – there is no law governing the daaras. The marabouts are revered and enjoy very real power over the population.

In response to this tragedy, the government has given instructions on the immediate banning of the practice of begging, believing that at the heart of the problem lies the exploitation of children by organized begging. Leral.net has quoted [fr] Abdoul Mbaye, Prime Minister of Senegal, as follows:

Selon Abdoul Mbaye, cette « mendicité organisée et cette exploitation des enfants en leur faisant vivre des conditions terribles et des risques doivent cesser ». À l’en croire, « c’est parce que les ressortissants sénégalais ne sont pas dupes que certains marabouts vont aller [chercher des enfants] jusque dans les pays limitrophes en Gambie, en Guinée Bissau et au Mali. Le Président de la République a donné des instructions fermes : de telles pratiques doivent cesser. Les marabouts véreux seront chassés et punis… »

According to Abdoul Mbaye, this “organized begging and this exploitation of children by making them live in risk and in terrible conditions must stop.” According to him, “it is because Senegalese nationals are not gullible that some marabouts go [looking for children] in the neighboring countries of Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Mali. The President has given clear instructions on this issue: such practices must stop. Corrupt marabouts will be sought out and punished …

However, as the columnist Dom Bochel Guégan [fr] has pointed out, this is not the first time that the Senegalese government has taken such measures. She would like to believe that the prohibition on begging by children will be effective, however [fr]:

Il est tentant pour certains parents, tentant ou seule issue possible, de confier leur enfant en espérant qu'ainsi, il aura de quoi manger…

Sans compter tous les gamins venus de l'étranger, de Guinée ou d'ailleurs et qu'il faudra rendre à leurs familles, si on les trouve…

En 2010 déjà, Abdoulaye Wade, alors président de la République avait lui aussi annoncé la fin de la mendicité de ces mêmes talibés, poussé par la pression internationale des bailleurs de fond qui avaient posé ce préalable à toute autre aide financière.

La promesse n'aura pas tenu longtemps. Durant quoi ? deux, trois semaines nous avons effectivement constaté la disparition de ces gamins des rues, avant qu'ils ne reviennent, tous, et que les choses reprennent comme avant.

It is tempting for some parents to entrust their children [to a marabout] in the hope that this way, they will not starve. Indeed, this may sometimes be the only possible solution…

Not to mention all the children who have come from abroad – from Guinea or elsewhere – that would need to be returned to their families once they are found…

Already in 2010, Abdoulaye Wade, then President of the Republic, had announced an end to talibé begging. He had been driven by pressure from international donors who had set this as a precondition to further financial aid.

The promise did not last long. How long? We saw the streets kids disappear for two or three weeks and then they came back, all of them, and things once again became as they had been before.

These are not the only difficulties facing the government. As Hady Ba and Dom Bochel Guégan have pointed out, there was also swift backlash from religious leaders. They cite two instances of such opposition:

Quran teachers from Touba, Darou Moukhty and Diourbel have been reported [fr] as stating:

« Aucun daara ne sera fermé… Nous refusons le diktat de l’Etat… L’Etat est dans une logique de règlements de comptes… Le talibé est un petit mendiant et l’Etat un grand mendiant … Nous sommes prêts à regrouper 6.666 daaras pour des prières destructrices … ».

“Not a single daara (ed's note: school in wolof) will be closed … We reject the government's diktat … The government is out to settle scores  … While the talibé is a small beggar, the government is a bigger beggar … We are ready to bring together 6,666 daaras to pray for its destruction … “.

The Rufisque daara Quran teachers' regional collective was reported [fr] to have held a press conference in which they threatened mystical combat against the President.

Some commentators have suggested that the government might introduce religious instruction into the general school curriculum. Serigne Mansour Sy Djamil [fr], a member of parliament and a religious leader, has argued that the government is responsible for the Medina fire. He has accused the government of abandoning Quran schools, leaving them to face poverty so that it can fund its republican [secular] education agenda.

Photo de Dom Bochel Guégan. Avec autorisation.

Photograph of a child in a Senegal street taken Dom Bochel Guégan. (reproduced with her permission)

One netizen has reacted [fr] as follows on Facebook:

Ce matin [12 mars]  encore j'ai croisé des enfants, nus pieds, vêtus d'un simple tee-shirt trop grand, l'interdiction n'est bien évidemment pas respectée. Le premier ministre a dit hier que les lois étaient déjà existantes (vrai) et qu'il suffisait de les appliquer. Yako, fokon, espérons.

Still this morning [March 12], I bumped into children, barefoot, wearing nothing but an oversized T-shirt – the prohibition is clearly not being respected. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the necessary laws were already in place (true) and that these need only to be applied. Yako fokon which means let's hope.

 

February 22 2013

Journalists Under Pressure in the Gambia Turn to Blogs

The hostile media landscape in the Gambia, marred by aggressive laws and regulatory measures that have almost crippled mainstream outlets, has some journalists in the country turning to blogs to report the news.

Advocacy groups have long criticized the Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh for his dismal record on press freedom. A self-proclaimed healer who says he has found cures to AIDS, obesity, and erectile dysfunction, Jammeh is on the 2012 list of predators to press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

With the emergence of social media, many observers worry that Jammeh's brutal restrictions on mainstream journalists are likely to be transferred to netizens.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Photo released under the GNU Free Documentation License by Wikipedia user JohnArmagh.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Photo by Wikipedia user JohnArmagh. Used under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Even though the West African country is said to have a lower cost of internet connectivity compared to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of bloggers and netizens is relatively low. Here are some of the most active and popular blogs in Gambia, mostly run by Gambian journalists who have been sent into redundancy by the country’s anti-press laws and practices.

The Gambia News Online is run by Lamin Jahateh. It is an independent and non-partisan blog that seeks to feed its readers with the latest news and events in the Gambia and beyond with a special focus on economic and financial news, features, and analysis. “At Gambia News Online, we tell the news as it happens,” according to Jahateh.

Modou S. Joof is the editor and publisher of The North Bank Evening Standard blog, which is dedicated to “Telling the stories of Africa to over one billion Africans”. But just below that Joof has this for his readers: “To our dear subscribers, readers, and followers: please be informed that from now till 2015 this blog may not be UPDATED on a daily basis. This is because the publisher and editor is currently pursuing a two-year diploma course on journalism and mass communication. He maybe too busy to keep up with the much needed pace and frequency to keep this blog UPDATED on a daily basis.”

The Gambia News Wave is another news blog edited and managed by Demba Kandeh, also a journalist (the author of this post). The blog is dedicated to information sharing.

Image accompanying a post by Modou S. Joof about Gambia’s insurance industry campaign to eradicate poor public image. Photo credit: Lamin Jahateh.

Image accompanying a post about the Gambian insurance industry's campaign to eradicate poor public image. Photo credit: Lamin Jahateh.

Amat Jeng is also a Gambian journalist based in Sweden and blogs at Media Revolution. He notes that his blog is a reservoir for news about the Gambia and the sub-region. It endeavors to give impartial reports to anyone interested in business, economy, financial, and political news about the Gambia.

In his latest post on February 7, 2013, Jeng revealed the Gambia’s domestic debt burden increase for the period 2011-2012. He is one of the few Gambian bloggers based abroad.

Women’s Bantaba is managed by Binta Bah, a journalist and a women’s rights activist. She notes that her blog aspires to tell stories that have never been told. Her latest post is an interview with one of the Gambia’s leading women and girls’ rights activists, Amie Bojang Sissoho, a programme officer at the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practice (GAMCOTRAP).

The Nget Cell blog is run by Abdoulie Nget. A layout designer, Nget was also the sports editor of the once popular newspaper in the Gambia, The Daily News. The newspaper, along with two media houses, was ordered to close down operations late last year by operatives of the Gambia’s notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA).

Other blogs on the Gambia include the following:
Kissykissy Mansa
Gambia Affairs
Gambia Business Updates
The Kingdom (Mansabanko)
Campus and Field News
Young Journalists Association of The Gambia

*Thumbnail: Gambian blogger Lamin Jahateh who runs The Gambia News Online blog. Photo source: Lamin Jahateh (used with permission).

February 14 2013

Musicians Aim Fighting Words at the Gambia's Hardliner President

A popular music video featuring a group of artists taking aim at the president of the Gambia's tightening grip on the West African country is making the rounds among Gambians home and abroad.

Musicians Xuman, Djily Bagdad, Tiat, and Ombre Zion accuse Gambian President Yahya Jammeh of despotism in the song titled “Against Impunity” published on YouTube, rapping in English and Wolof about the oppressive state of Gambian society under the hardliner's thumb and encouraging Gambians to rise up. The video, which was released in December, has more than 26,000 views.

Since coming to power in 1996, President Jammeh's poor human rights record has drawn steady criticism. Last year, he oversaw the execution of a number of prisoners in a short period of time, earning condemnation from the international community and human rights groups. He has also been accused of restricting political expression and press freedom, as well as persecuting homosexuals.

The video opens with one of the musicians, who wears a blue t-shirt that reads “No to violence against journalist”, singing the song's chorus: “We have to handle our own destiny / So it’s the right time to fight against impunity”.

Later on in the video, one of the other artists raps:

Why leave our future in one man's hands?
No rules at all, it's like a no man's land
Many been declared missing
Unsolved mysteries
The population running scared
Living in misery
Stand up for our rights
And let freedom ring
Let's knock this dictator out of the ring

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Photo released under the GNU Free Documentation License by Wikipedia user JohnArmagh.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. Photo released under the GNU Free Documentation License by Wikipedia user JohnArmagh.


JollofNews reported
 that after its release, the video went viral among Gambians sharing it on social media websites such as Facebook.

Praise was high for the video among viewers who commented about it on YouTube, and some even went as far as to accuse local Gambian musicians of cowardice for not writing similar songs to condemn President Jammeh's documented human rights abuses. The artists in the “Against Impunity” video appear to be from the neighboring country of Senegal, not from the Gambia.

ismeala bakhoum wrote on YouTube:

Nice song and if the gambian can't fight for himself he can have the senegalese help not the senegalese goverment [sic] but the senegalese people, human right and even the artist.
This video should be a shame for the gambian artist,u calling yourself patriot but you can't fight for your country.
At least if you do not fight, do not go about making songs to promote, and that is what Gambian artists do.

Mahammadou Bah also pointed a finger at Gambian musicians:

true song i love.Gambians artist are sell outs

fanbondiK encouraged people to take action:

I got goose bumps all over my body.. Gambians lets stop slumbering and confront this dictator. We want to be FREEEEEEEEEEEE!!! How can we be enslaved by our own country man?

Pressfreedom1 criticized people who disliked the video:

Shame on people who dislike this video. Just keep on supporting this tyrant. He will one day come for your mum and dad. Idiots!!!!!!!!!!!!!

One JollofNews reader raved about the song:

Super lyrics!! Awesome video!!! And a very beautiful tune!!!

I have always loved Gambian music from santay alla, da fugitive, black nature, aada gee posse', born africa, panachi chaw, flying lion n crew, Dj cora, Chambion DJ, u name them

This group's tune is beautiful. Some of their wollof lyrics sound to me like senegalese wollof accent.. am not really sure. need to listen to it one more time

I do know that Jammeh was not rattled by nov 11th events [Editor's note: Gambian members of the Armed Forces Patriotic Revolutionary Council ordered the summary executions of the officers and men of the Gambian armed forces on November 11th, 1994 following an abortive coup] . Am not sure if music can ever rattle him.

But one thing I do know is; this thing rocks my bones

February 06 2013

Minnesota Congressman Promises to Help Gambians

Congressman Keith Ellison in the United States House of Representative promises to help Gambians in their fight for democracy: “Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and his Staff had a fruitful discussion on Gambia’s ailing democracy with the civil society group based in Minneapolis last Monday.”

It’s Four-Day Week In Gambia

“Unlike in the rest of the world, employees in a tiny nation on Africa’s west coast can now enjoy an extended weekend of three days, beginning Friday.
The reform introduced in the public-sector by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh came into force on February 1 ignoring Opposition protest,” SeyiSanchez reports.

October 28 2012

Gambia: Dramatic Increase in Executions

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of executions recently in Gambia, with nine prisoners put to death on a single day, August 23, 2012. Forty seven people have been condemned to death since July 2010. The sudden increase in capital punishment over the last few months coupled with confusing declarations from President Jammeh have worried citizens of Gambia as well as those in neighbouring countries. The death penalty was abolished in Gambia in 1993. However, Yaya Jammeh re-established it by decree in August 1995, after coming to power in the coup of July 22, 1994.

On blog Assirou.net [fr] a post entitled Yahya Jammeh’s Macabre Clean-up [fr] explained how the world heard about the latest executions in Gambia:

Le 20 août, dans une adresse à la Nation diffusée en boucle, le croque-mort gambien déclarait vouloir rayer de la liste des vivants, d’ici le milieu du mois de septembre, tous les condamnés à la peine capitale [D’après un décompte de l’AFP, depuis juillet 2010, 47 personnes au total ont été condamnées à mort dans le pays.]. Argument de cette subite poussée de fièvre présidentielle: il n’est pas question que le gouvernement «permette que 99% de la population soit prise en otage par des criminels».

On August 20, in an extensively broadcast address to the Nation, the “Gambian undertaker” said he wanted to cross off all those sentenced to the death penalty from the ‘list of the living’ by mid-September [according to the AFP a total of 47 people have been sentenced to death in the country since July 2010]. The justification for this sudden thrust of presidential excitement: there is no question that the government would “permit 99% of the population to be taken hostage by criminals”.

Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia by John Armagh on wikipedia - used under GNU licence

Faced with the international outcry that this declaration has created, it seemed for a while that the Gambian dictator would back down as we can read on diasponews.com in a post entitled ‘Gambia: Banjul talks about “slips of the tongue” and “misinterpretation”’ [fr]:

L’ambassadeur de Gambie au Sénégal … aurait fait état d’une «mauvaise interprétation de (ses) propos» par les opposants et par la presse. Et dans «le pire des cas», aurait-il ajouté, il s’agirait d’un «dérapage verbal» qui ne portera à aucune conséquence.

The Ambassador of Gambia in Senegal… claimed a “misinterpretation of (his) remarks” by opponents and the press. And in “the worst case”, he reportedly added, it would have been an inconsequential “slip of the tongue”.

Yet two days later, on August 23, although there had been no executions in the country for a quarter of a century, the executions of nine [fr] who had been sentenced to death including a man and a woman [fr] from Senegal [fr] were announced to a shocked populace.

Video of Jammeh explaining the carrying out of executions by YouTube User 112233444821

Finally, on September 21, Jammeh broke his silence regarding the recent executions [fr]:

Semblant dans une bulle, Yaya Jammeh n’avait pas juge nécessaire de répondre a toutes les attaques dirigées contre son pays et ses pratiques.

Seemingly in a bubble, Yaya Jammeh did not judge it necessary to answer all the attacks against his country and its practices.

Serekunda Market by Ikiwaner on Wikipedia under Creative Commons licence

Senego.com continued [fr]:

Yahya Jammeh a profité de l’audience qu’il a accordée à ses compatriotes venus labourer ses champs à Kanilaï, pour leur expliquer les raisons pour lesquelles il a fait exécuter les neuf prisonniers condamnés à mort avant de leur demander leur position par rapport au débat soulevé.

« Je travaille pour vous et même si je dois mourir pour vous, je le ferai. Je ne vais jamais succomber à la pression humaine, mais si vous le peuple gambien me suppliez d’arrêter les exécutions, je vais les suspendre parce que tout ce que je fais je le fais pour votre intérêt.

Si je dois signer dix mille condamnations à mort pour sauver 1,6 million de Gambiens, je le ferais. Si un pays a un citoyen en Gambie et ne veut pas qu’il soit exécuté, qu’il ne laisse pas tuer quelqu’un en territoire gambien. Je vais mourir pour l’Afrique », a martelé le dirigeant gambien »

Yahya Jammeh used the audience he gave his countrymen who came to work in the fields of Kanilai to explain to them why he executed the nine prisoners who had been sentenced to death. He then asked their position in relation to the debate raised.

“I work for you and even if I must die for you, I will. I will never give in to pressure from people, but if you, the Gambian people, implore me to stop the executions, I will suspend them because all that I do, I do for your benefit.

If I have to sign ten thousand death sentences to save 1.6 million Gambians, I will. If a country has one of its citizens in Gambia, and doesn’t want them to be executed, then they shouldn’t let them kill anyone on Gambian territory. I would die for Africa”, thundered the Gambian leader.

One month later, on October 20, Senego.com [fr] informed us that four detainees had died [from what appears to be poisoning] [fr] [and that this must have been] the new way of executing those condemned to death.

The same weekend we learned that the death penalty was pronounced for seven detainees [fr], including former soldiers.

Here is a video showing one of the executed prisoners, Tabara Samb, from YouTube User tfm:

April 16 2012

Chinese Africans in Hong Kong

The Republic of the Gambia has no consulate in Hong Kong. But the city has a population of Mainland Chinese Gambian passport holders seeking residency in HK via the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme (CIES). More from David Webb.

March 07 2012

Africa: Interview With Africa Desk Officer at the Committee to Protect Journalists

Abdoulaye Bah (AB): First of all, who is Mohamed Keita ?

Mohammed Keita (MK): I run the Africa desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which is based in New-York.

AB: What are the aims of CPJ?

MK: CPJ is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide since 1981. CPJ was founded by a group of eminent American journalists, including the late Walter Cronkyte and Dan Rather, to support their colleagues around the world during a period of kidnappings and murders of journalists in Lebanon and Latin America in the 1980s. CPJ cherishes its independence from any government and does not take any contributions from any state.

Abdoulaye Bah (AB): First of all, who is Mohamed Keita ?

Mohammed Keita (MK): I run the Africa desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which is based in New-York.

AB: What are the aims of CPJ?

MK: CPJ is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide since 1981. CPJ was founded by a group of eminent American journalists, including the late Walter Cronkyte and Dan Rather, to support their colleagues around the world during a period of kidnappings and murders of journalists in Lebanon and Latin America in the 1980s. CPJ cherishes its independence from any government and does not take any contributions from any state.

Logo of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Image source: http://cpj.org/.

AB: What are the African countries where freedom of expression is most at risk?

MK: Eritrea: President Isaias Afewerki brutally closed down the independent press in this Red Sea nation in a September 2001 crackdown on dissent. Since then, Isaias' information minister Al Abdu runs and directs the propaganda machine of the state-controlled press. The government directs journalists what and how to report on. It is the African country whose prisons are holding the largest number of journalists (at least 28). All the journalists are held in secret prisons without charge or trial and without contact with their families, with many of them thought to have died in custody. Only Iran is imprisoning more journalists worldwide.

Ethiopia: In February 2011, Ethiopian police threatened to throw into prison dissident blogger Eskinder Nega if he did not stop comparing the Arab Spring uprisings to Ethiopia’s 2005 pro-democracy protests. Eskinder was arrested 9 months later on terrorism charges and faces a possible life sentence in a politicized case based on his critical online writings. Ethiopia operates sub-saharan Africa’s most extensive snd sophisticated Internet censorship infrasctructure and was ranked among CPJ’s top 10 Online Oppressors.

The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is trailing only Eritrea in imprisonment of journalists. Almost all the journalists, including two Swedish reporters, have been charged with terrorism for reporting on opposition and rebel groups. With a series of restrictive laws, Meles' ruling EPRDF has tightned absolute grip over media licensing and regulation, the public state media and all public institutions. The independent press is limited to a handful of private newspapers and one radio station. The government also jams radio programs from Voice of America and Deutsche Welle and bans journalists’ access to the Ogaden where a rebellion is taking place. Meles' government has driven into exile the largest number of journalists in the world over the last decade.

Gambia: President Yahya Jammeh's years of intimidation of the press, a series of arson attacks on media houses, the closure of newspapers and radio stations, the unsolved murder of Deyda Hydara and the disappearance in government custody of reporter Ebrima Chief Manneh, have created a climate of terror for journalists in Gambia and forced the best journalists into exile.

Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe arrested and prosecuted a man last year for posting a political comment on Facebook. President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF has allowed only a handful of independent newspapers to operate in Zimbabwe while retaining absolute grip over media licensing and regulation and national airwaves. Journalists operate under some of the world's most restrictive security and media laws.

Equatorial Guinea: President Teodoro Obiang's grip on the oil-rich nation is based on strict control of news and information. The president and his associates control all the media outlets in the country and no journalist is able to report independently about national priorities or spending or corruption.

Rwanda: Paul Kagame justifies restrictions on the press by invoking Radio Milles Collines, which in fact was a government-sponsored radio station, not an independent station. Kagame's government also abuses laws against “genocide ideology” and “ethnic divisionism” to prosecute and jail critical journalists and opinions contradicting the official version of the 1994 genocide.

Somalia: all belligerents in Somalia's conflict target journalists who are caught in the crossfire between rival militias, warlords, government and insurgents. Somalia is the deadliest country for the press in Africa: at least 40 journalists have been killed since 1992.

South Africa: President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress has faced press criticism over its record on corruption, crime and poverty. To silence the critics, the government has introduced a series of legislative proposals that would criminalize investigative journalists, including the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, which critics have called the secrecy bill. Verbal and physical intimidation of journalists, particularly by the ANC’s youth league is on the rise.

Angola: President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos and his associates of the ruling MPLA control most of Angola's media outlets and enforce censorship of news and information. only 2 newspapers and 2 radio stations were not controlled by the government. Journalists reporting about official corruption are prosecuted and given prison sentences. Security forces attacked and intimidated journalists reporting on anti-government protests by youths calling for Dos Santos to step down.

Angola and Cameroon have introduced legislative measures to combat “internet crime” but the laws punish the electronic dissemination of photos and videos of public events with prison terms.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Journalists operate at the mercy of security forces, rebel groups and powerful politicians who abuse journalists in total impunity. at least 8 journalists have been murdered since 2005 with justice falling short of solving the murders.

Ethiopia's dissident blogger Eskinder Nega. Photo courtesy of Lennart Kjörling.

AB: Bloggers from North Africa have contributed significantly to the success of revolts in the countries of North Africa. Is it conceivable that in sub-Saharan Africa bloggers play a similar role?

MK: Social media tools have become platforms for the kind of dissent that is repressed offline and they are used to organize protests offline. Some governments, such as Ethiopia, Angola, and Cameroon, are beginning to crack down on this use of the Internet, by passing laws against “cyber crime” or intimidating bloggers. In addition, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube users who are posting photos and videos from the streets using their cell phones are breaking some of the biggest news in Africa these days, and traditional media is trying to keep up with them.

AB: In Mozambique, in 2008 and 2010, well before the revolutions in the Arab world, the civil society was able to organize a demonstration against the rising cost of living using SMS. In Ghana, in 2010, citizens participated massively in constitutional review by using Facebook and mobile phones. Should these examples be regarded as exceptional cases or other similar events may occur elsewhere?

MK: Social media in the hands of young citizen journalists is fueling protest movements in Angola, Nigeria and Senegal.

The cover of CPJ

AB: What role do you attribute to social media in Africa and what are the obstacles?

MK: They have democratized news and information - making it more difficult for governments and the enemies of press freedom to keep a nation into the dark. it has created a virtual bridge between Africans in the Diaspora and those in the home countries. but the users are still largely unprepared to the dangers lurking online. Zimbabwe arrested and prosecuted a man last year for posting a political comment on Facebook. and many governments regularly demand email passwords of journalists in custody. Data security is the next challenge for journalists as more of them start to mostly work online.

AB: What can we expect from the African Union?

MK: The AU has a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression but she works only part time and lacks the resource to do her job. AU member states still lack the political will to respect press freedom and protect journalists. Regional human rights instruments like the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS) give us hope. The court issued landmark rulings against the Gambia on cases of disappearance and torture of journalists, but the problem is enforcement.

AB: The year 2011 was difficult for the press freedom in Africa, how do you see the year 2012?

MK: Each new year brings new challenges in this battle to keep the press free. The secrecy bill in South Africa has to be defeated, because South Africa is a model of democracy and free press for the continent, and this bill threatens to undo 18 years of progress since the end of Apartheid. South Sudan, the world's newest nation, is already abusing press freedom, this is also worrying. Ethiopia and Burundi's abuse of terrorism laws to prosecute and jail critical journalists is a disturbing new trend that has to be stopped. Press freedom is on the brink of extinction in Ethiopia, Angola, Gambia and Rwanda. Niger is probably the best example of a country where press freedom has advanced.

You can follow Mohamed Keita on Twitter @africamedia_CPJ and also read his articles on CPJ blog.

 

November 09 2011

Global: Replacing Moreno Ocampo at the International Criminal Court

Luis Moreno Ocampo's term as the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is coming to an end. The elections for judges are scheduled for the tenth session of the Assembly of States Parties at United Nations Headquarters from the 12-21 December, 2011.

So who might end up replacing Luis Moreno Ocampo as Chief Prosecutor of the ICC? As of the time of writing, the frontrunner is the Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia.

Other candidates include:

… Andrew Cayley, a co-prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia who comes from Britain; Tanzania's Chief Justice Mohamed Chande Othman; and Robert Petit, a counsel at the crimes against humanity and war crimes section of Canada's Justice Department.

The ECCC court room on 20 July 2009 during testimony of former Khmer Rouge prison guard Him Huy. Courtesy of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

The ECCC court room on 20 July 2009 during testimony of former Khmer Rouge prison guard Him Huy. Courtesy of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

“Any of those four would be an improvement,” Joshua Rozenberg of the BBC's Law in Action writes in response to a query from the author:

@JoshuaRozenberg@efleischer Any of those four would be an improvement. Come to think of it, anyone would be better.

Almost in counterpoint to Rozenberg’s disapproval however, is Bensouda herself. In an interview with The Global Observatory, she stresses the idea of letting the court be the court:

I think one of the strongest arguments to make about not amending or changing anything is, at least let the court go into full cycle, let it try and test all the parts of the statute that we will be dealing with, before you want to amend it.

In reaching out to the online community specifically interested in the International Criminal Court, Jesse Loncraine of IJ Central, an activist organization created by Skylight Pictureswrote that:

If Bensouda takes over, expect a victim driven approach.

And the idea of this ‘victim driven’ approach manifests itself at least within the interview with The Global Observatory:

You should also take note that the ICC is the first international criminal court created that also took into account victim participation. Most of it was as a result of what happened in the ad-hoc tribunals and how the victims felt so helpless, that they are just passive subjects, they are used as witnesses but when it comes to them participating, having their views and concerns, and at the end of the day seeking reparations, it did not happen. It is happening at the ICC. Again, I give examples of the trials that have taken place so far and how the victims have been very active subjects in those trials.

[…]

It is not the work of the Office of the Prosecutor, of course, to deal with reparations. It is the judges, and they will decide how they want to decide, and the trust fund for victims will take it up from there. But what we have been doing at the level of the Office of the Prosecutor is see how we can connect situations that can help each other.

Global Voices has previously reported on efforts to bring the British-born Prime Minister of Thailand to the International Criminal Court, Kenyans organizing to show support for the ICC (or texting their votes to save a suspect), the Sudanese blogosphere reacting to the arrest warrant issued against Omar al-Bashir (as well as here), African bloggers reacting to Karadžić’s arrest, the trial of Charles Taylor at the ICJ and more.

One of the issues in dealing with a global institution is to begin to work towards building a global conversation around it; in taking a step back and in reply to being queried as to what he thinks about the court, Ahron Young, the Melbourne Bureau Chief for Sky News, writes:

I agree that people in corrupt countries need to do something and the ICC offers at least some hope that something can be done.

Jahanzaib Haque, web editor for The Express Tribune, writes:

I don't have a strong opinion about the ICC, but I am a believer in justice without borders, and the ICC is a (flawed) necessary step in the right direction towards a unified, cosmopolitan existence for all.

November 02 2011

Gambia: Pigs, Cows and Birds

Lynn blogs about pigs, cows and birds in Gambia: “I got two melons straight from the field and one bag of charcoal for a future barbeque. The most beautiful part of the journey is seeing the birds. Tiny pillar box reds called red billed fire finches and a carmine bee-eater; soft floaty blues called blue bellied rollers; northern red bishops…”

September 26 2011

Protecting African Forests: Wangari Maathai's Legacy

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

Wangari Maathai, a prominent Kenyan environmental and political activist and 2004 Nobel prize winner passed away on September 25, 2011. She was the first African woman to be awarded the prize and is recognized worldwide as the leading figure in the environmental fight to protect the environment through sustainable actions on African continent. She was also part of the jury at the World Future Council Award this past week.

Wangari Maathai. Image under CC License from Wikipedia.

Wangari Maathai. Image under CC License from Wikipedia.

The council has selected Rwanda and Gambia as the winners of an award for best forest policies in 2011. The awards also highlighted the US Lacey Act amendment of 2008 which prohibits all trade in wood and plant products that are knowingly illegally sourced. The Lacey Act has already had a major impact in curbing down the illegal logging of rosewood from Madagascar's rainforests.

Other African nations have also done remarkably well in protecting their environment in the face of increasing threats from climate change.

Rwanda

Rwanda was awarded the prize for their continued effort in reversal in the trend of declining forest cover. The philosophy behind the prioritizing of reforestation is explained as follows [fr] on afrik.com:

Les experts disent que le transfert de propriété des terres et des ressources aux communautés locales est un moyen de sortir de la tragédie des biens communs, [..]  Le gouvernement est actuellement en train de mettre en oeuvre une stratégie de développement économique et de réduction de la pauvreté qui considère l’inversion de la déforestation comme un facteur crucial dans la réduction de la pauvreté, et a fixé l’objectif d’augmenter la couverture forestière du pays de 30 pour cent d’ici à 2020. La couverture forestière a déjà augmenté de 37 pour cent depuis 1990.

Experts argue that the transfer of land properties and resources to local communities is an important channel to exit the tragedy of commons […] the government is currently putting in place a strategy for economic development and poverty reduction that regards reforestation as crucial factor in poverty reduction and sets as a goal to increase the forest area of the country by 30% from now to 2020. The forest cover has already increased by 37% since 1990.

Gambia

Tree in Gambia by Guillaume Colin on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Tree in Gambia by Guillaume Colin on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The Gambia’s Community Forest Policy is the other African nation recipient of the first Silver award. Eduardo Rojas Briales, assistant director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, explains:

The success of the Gambia's Community Forest Policy proves that even in the world's poorest countries, with the right policies and adequate legislation in place rural populations can benefit economically and significantly improve their food security. In Gambia the innovative policy included forest tenure transition from state ownership to management by local communities, which enabled them to reduce illegal logging and benefit from using the forest products.[..] Gambia has managed to buck a strong deforestation trend in Africa with over 350 villages managing twelve percent of the country’s forests, with a net increase in forest cover of 8.5 percent over the last two decades.

Madagascar

The institutional measures with the most successful impact with protecting the endangered rain forest of Madagascar can be credited to the US Lacey Act amendment of 2008 which prohibits all trade in wood and plant products that are knowingly illegally sourced.

Illegal logging of Madagascar rosewood has plagued conservation effort for several years. This trafficking has increased at an alarming rate since the political crisis of 2009, as explained previously on in these interviews and in this report.

Why is the Lacey Act effective in having an impact across borders ? Tewolde Berhan Egziabher, director general of Environmental Protection Authority in Ethiopia explains:

The strength of the Act lies in its ability to target and place responsibility on every stage of the timber supply chain. It has forced importers to take responsibility for their wood products and has already produced positive results in increasing due diligence assessments and demand for certified wood products.

This Act  has also been critical in protecting the endangered species of lemurs in the the Malagasy rain forest, most notably the silky Sifaka:

Trouble in Lemur Land from Erik R Patel on Vimeo.

The Lacey Act has also indirectly created a small diplomatic incident between France and the United States, when the First Lady Michelle Obama gifted a Gibson guitar to the model/singer and France's first lady Carla Bruni [fr]. Malagasy blogger Avylavitra explains the incident [mg]:

Fa ny tena anton-dresaka eto dia ny fanomezana nomen’ny vadin’ny filoha Amerikana, Michelle Obama ho an’i Carla Bruni, vadin’ny filoha frantsay Sarkozy, nandritra ny vovonan’ny OTAN tany Strasbourg tamin’ny taona 2009. Gitara Gibson no natolony tamin’izay fotoana izay, vita avy amin’ny hazo Andramena, hazo sarobidy voarara ny famoahana azy avy aty Madagasikara,

What really got people talking was the fact that the gift that American first lady Michelle Obama gave Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni at the NATO meeting in Strasbourg, France in 2009. The Gibson guitar is made of rosewood, a type of precious wood that is protected from commercial endeavors in Madagascar.

Senegal

Route of the Great Green Wall

Protecting forests also means fighting back the desertification across the African continent due to climate change. The Green Great Wall (GGW) initiative is a transcontinental project, under the umbrella of Community of the Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) and the African Union that strives to be a multi-species vegetal belt 15 km wide that will link Dakar and Djibouti and stretch over a distance of about 7000 km.

The Sécheresse/Désertification blog explains in further detail the implications of project [fr]:

Entre 2006 et 2007, quatre mille hectares soit environ sept kilomètres d’arbres ont déjà été plantés sur le tracé sénégalais de la Grande Muraille Verte. en 2008, l’Etat plantera des arbres sur une superficie de deux mille hectares dans la région de Louga. Ces végétaux sélectionés et adaptés au territoire, seront boisés en bloc contrairement aux plantations déjà existantes qui sont cultivées de façon discontinue [..] La muraille traversera le Sénégal, la Mauritanie, le Mali, le Burkina Faso, le Niger, le Nigeria, le Soudan, l’Erythrée et finira à Djibouti [..] Le professeur Dia a annoncé que la désertification a fait perdre au Sénégal près de deux millions d’hectares de terres arables.

In 2006-07, 4000 hectares, i.e 7 kilometers of trees were planted on the Senegalese trace of the Great Green Wall. In 2008, the State will also plant 2,000 hectares in the Louga region. The selected plants are adapted to the territory and will be grown in block as opposed to the existing parsimonious vegetation [..] The Wall will cross Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Eritrea and will end in Djibouti [..] Professor Dia states that desertification has already caused the loss of 2 millions hectares of arable lands in Senegal

The legacy of Wangari Maathai will live on with all the measures taken by each African nation. Her message to the world was that we collectively need to make sure that the challenge of desertification is being met heads on and to realize that local communities must be an integral part of this challenge.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.

September 24 2011

Update on Global Voices Mentorship: Meet the Activists

For over a month, ten Global Voices bloggers have been working with activists from ten different countries as mentors of members of the new Blogger Swarm of Activista, the youth network of international development organization ActionAid. The mentorship focusses on blogging, networking and online capacity building.

A group photo of the Blogger Swarm

Members of the Activista Blogger Swarm (pictured here) are each working with a Global Voices mentor

In a previous post we introduced all the participants, and now we would like to invite you to find out more about the activists involved, via the Activista Youtube channel. Here's Kodili, from Uganda, sharing why she became an activist, her motivations and her expectations of the Blogger Swarm project:

Follow the Swarm!

The Blogger Swarm aims to put youth at the forefront of the discussion about food and climate justice, the issues on which the activists involved are focusing their individual work and research.

With the help of Global Voices mentors they are working on their blogging skills while getting more comfortable with using digital tools for collaborative work and online networking. Here is a list of some of their latest blog posts:

To stay updated subscribe to the Blogger Swarm blog or follow our mentors and mentees list on Twitter.

Thanks for supporting this initiative!

July 31 2011

Gambia: Peace Corps Volunteer Visits Gambia After 38 Years

“The first black US Peace Corps volunteer to come to The Gambia, in 1970, nine years after the founding of Peace Corps by former US President John F Kennedy in 1961, has arrived in The Gambia with his family, to share his experience as a peace corps volunteer,” Shout-Africa reports.

June 26 2011

Africa: 11 Ways For African Revolutionaries to Get Around Internet Blockades

Willemien Groot's Guide for African Revolutionaries: 11 Ways to get around internet blockades: “Internet blockades are more the rule than the exception in non-democratic countries. But there are ways to get round them, even though no censorship circumvention tool is 100 percent safe. Rule number 1: you’re clever, but the authorities are cleverer.”

May 30 2011

Gambia: On Gambia's First President

Mathew K. Jallow discuses the legacy of Sir Dawda K Jawara, Gambia's first president: “As president, Sir Dawda Jawara was unlike most African leaders and politicians of his generation; leaders who took advantage of their positions to enrich themselves with the wealth of their people. If there was one negative about the era of Sir Dawda on which there is universal agreement among Gambians, it was that he overstayed as president…”

May 14 2011

Gambia: The Arrest, Detention and Release of News Reporter

Learn about the arrest, detention and subsequent release of a judicial reporter of The Daily News in Gambia: “Baba Sillah was assigned to make further findings about the alleged murder of one Cherno Alieu Suwareh, who was allegedly tortured to death by four officers of National Drug Enforcement Agency of The Gambia.”

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