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October 05 2013

Interview with Guinea Boxing Champ Turned Belgian Politician

Six time intercontinental International Boxing Federation middleweight boxing champion, Lansana Bea Diallo, better known as Bea Diallo [fr], born in Liberia and of Guinean stock, is also a Belgian politician.

Béa Diallo, boxeur. Photo extraite de sa page Facebook

Bea Diallo, Last Fight as boxer. Photo taken from his Facebook page (with permission) 

 

Elected to the Brussels regional parliament and to the parliament of the French community, Bea Diallo is alderman for Youth, Employment, Family, Inter-generational relations and Equal Opportunity in Ixelles, one of the nineteen municipalities of the Brussels-Capital region.

Global Voices put some questions to him.

Global Voices (GV): We know you as a boxing champion, but you are also a local representative in Belgium?  What a career!

Bea Diallo (BD): Yes, well, Guineans knew me as a boxer, but most of all as a man who tried to promote the image of Guinea and today. Not only have I been a member of the Belgian parliament for nearly ten years, but soon I will have been a local representative for almost seven years. I became a man of experience and recognised by the political world which was not a given.

GV: It is often difficult to combine high level sport with studying, you have a degree in Economics.

BD: Yes, high level sport is often incompatible with university studies, but, as I often say, with determination you can achieve many things and my dream was to succeed at both to be able to serve my country of origin one day. To help Guinea become a truly independent country and most of all to benefit the people with this blessing.

GV: How did you enter into politics?

BD: I really managed it by chance, I had never wanted to work in politics, but being a fighting man, committed to lots of causes, one day it was proposed that I supported a party as consensus candidate without even being in a position eligible for office as I occupied 69th place on the list. I found myself fifth out of twenty-five representatives.

GV: You fought in a boxing match in Guinea, what memory do you have of this?

BD: I think that it was the best moment of my sporting career. That is an unforgettable time, to box in front of 60,000 people and to have over 300,000 in the streets. It was quite simply magic.

GV:   You have tried to help inhabitants of Conakry [capital of Guinea], notably in the sphere of transport. What lessons do you take from this, and how?

BD: You know I have no regrets, I imagined that it was necessary to do it at that very moment; if I lost a lot of money with the bad faith of our politicians who were, besides, continuing to kill the people while living in opulence without any projects for Guineans.

GV: Do you have other ambitions for your country of origin, Guinea?

Béa Diallo en homme politique. Photo extraite de sa page Facebook, oeuvre de Francine Verstraeten

Bea Diallo in political mode. Photo taken from his Facebook page, taken by Francine Verstraeten

 

 

BD: The sole ambition that I have for Guinea is still the same – to help this wonderful country to free itself from the shackles imposed by our own Guinean brothers: the politicians, mostly in the opposition.

GV: Facebook, twitter and a blog! Should we conclude from this that Bea Diallo is like Barack Obama with social media, using it regularly, or do you just use it occasionally?

BD: No, unfortunately not enough, I still have to optimise and most of all be more professional in my use of these networks which are a real communication force.

GV: There are more and more young Africans who try to come to Europe, despite the serious risks to which they are exposed. What would you advise them?

BD:  It is difficult to give advice to these young people who are trying to improve their living conditions as well as those of their families with all the risks this brings. At the same time, no policy exists to encourage these young people to stay in their home country or continent.

But, in Europe today it is difficult to find work and to sort yourself out when you come from Africa so the fight must continue in the continent [of Africa] with a new generation taking power to give it to the people.

GV: Do you have a thought to leave us with?

BD: My conclusion is my dream! I would like Africans to come to Europe just as Europeans can go to Africa, in other words, on holiday and to go home because they have work and a family waiting for them.

GV: Thank you for answering our questions and good luck with your projects.

August 30 2013

Échec de *tous* les étudiants libériens au test d'admission à l'université · Global Voices en…

Échec de tous les étudiants libériens au test d’admission à l’#université · Global Voices en Français
http://fr.globalvoicesonline.org/2013/08/30/152840

Alors que le Liberia fête le dixième anniversaire de l’Accord de Paix signé à Accra, mettant un terme à quatorze années de #guerre_civile, près de 25 000 jeunes ont échoué au test d’admission à l’Université du Liberia. C’est la première fois qu’aucun candidat ne réussit ce test.

#Liberia #enseignement, #guerre_civile et manque de #livres_scolaires

August 28 2013

Not a Single Liberian Student Passed This Year's University Admission Test

As Liberia marks the 10th anniversary of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the 14-year civil war, nearly 25,000 school-leavers failed this year's admission test to the University of Liberia. It is the first
time that not a single candidate passed the admission test.

Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel peace laureate,  acknowledges that the education system in Liberia is

Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel peace laureate, acknowledges that the education system in Liberia is “in a mess”. Public Domain photo from the US State Department.

The BBC has reported that Liberia's Education Minister Education Minister, Etmonia David-Tarpeh, found it hard to believe that not a single candidate passed. She therefore intends to meet university officials to discuss the matter. She describes the failure rate as “mass murder.”

However, a private consultant, James Dorbor Jallah, who was hired by the university to manage the entrance examination confirmed the report and said the days are over when students were admitted into the University of Liberia through bribery or based on how many important people they know.

The world has reacted on Twitter with shock and disbelief at the news.

This is how Kenyan Harvard Kennedy School Professor Calestous Juma (@calestous) described the news:

King Leopold II of Belgium was the sole and de facto owner of the Congo Free State, the present day the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from 1885 to 1908.

Saran Kaba Jones (@sarankjones), a clean water advocate and social entrepreneur, said it is sad but not surprising:

Mbas Ndriver (@Kenfreykj), a Kenyan IT professional, wondered how not even a single person was smart enough to cheat:

Another Kenyan tweep, Eja Nla. (@Muntez_), said it should be illegal for all students to fail:

Ebenezer Flomo (@ebflomo), the co-founder of non-profit Help Encourage Liberia's Little Ones (@helpHELLO), noted that schools in Liberia do not have books:

Many schools in Liberia lack basic education material and many teachers are poorly qualified.

Tweeting from Russia, Denis Eyong (@eyongdenis) asked:

“How does a country torn from civil war recover?,” Tomoko Perez (@Tomoshiga) in New York asked:

Gambian journalist and human rights activist Sulayman Makalo (@MakaloMansa) shared a quote from a university official:

Nuesity! (@Nues_Ibunos) remarked:

Ghanaian tweep Tenace Kwaku Setor (@kwakutii) cautioned his fellow citizens:

Referring to last year's poor performance in Tanzania, Rwandan tweep katabarwa robert (@Proud2bRwandan) wrote:

Six out of every 10 students who sat last year's National Form Four examination in Tanzania failed.

Mika Mäkeläinen (@Mikareport), a foreign news journalist at the Finnish Broadcasting Company, warned those who want to study at the University of Liberia:

Daniel McLaughlin (@DanielJMcLaugh) from the UK joked:

A. K. Ohemeng-Boamah (@akobII) from Guinea blames the education system:

August 02 2013

News Websites Indicted over Land Grab Report

News Websites Rue89 and Basta Mag are indicted [fr] following charges by French investment and industrial holding group Bolloré over a report in which they implicate Bolloré [fr] in land grab activities [fr] in Africa. The report lists the group's  activities in Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Politis, a weekly analysis website, reacted to the news on twitter :

 

Freedom of Press : Basta ! and Rue89 are indicted following charges by Bolloré Group : Our friends at Basta…

Rue89 is a partner of Global Voices en Français.

May 24 2013

For Two Weeks, Liberia's Media Refused to Report on the President

Liberian independent journalists have ended a nearly two-week long freeze on coverage of the country's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a media blackout they placed on the leader for failing to condemn her security director's comments calling journalists “terrorists”.

The standoff between the media and Sirleaf began when Liberian journalists joined other journalists worldwide to celebrate World Press Day in the Liberian port city of Buchanan on May 3, 2013. However, participants were shocked when Othello Warric, director of presidential security unit Executive Protective Service (EPS), said that his office will not hesitate to go after journalists who “intrude the intelligence of the presidency”.

“Be careful in questioning the integrity of Liberians. Be careful, because you have your pen and we have our guns. And if you incriminate the character or integrity of Liberians, like myself, we will come after you,” Warrick was reported to have said at the event.

Pres.Sirleaf speaking in Margibi,Liberia.Photo courtesy Cyrus Wleh Badio the Press Secretary to Pres.Sirleaf.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speaking in Margibi,Liberia. Photo courtesy Cyrus Wleh Badio the Press Secretary to President Sirleaf.

After that fateful Friday, the Liberian independent media houses imposed media blackout on the presidency which was lifted following the intervention of the parliament.

The threat by the head of the presidential guard and the media blackout prompted online debate particularly on Discussing Liberia Facebook group [Editor's note: Discussing Liberia is a closed group. Content used with permission]. The debate revolved around, among other things, issues of freedom of the press and the relationship between the state and private media in Liberia.

Peter Bemah, a Liberian research analyst at the Liberian Senate, expressed his frustration over the president's silence on the matter:

The silence of the presidency in this matter is troubling and worrisome. It is my hope that this president will take the necessary disciplinary action in this matter.

Tom Winston Monboe explained the president's stance on the matter:

The presidency has a position on the issue bro. The President was quoted as saying the media blackout could remain in place for as long as the media wanted. As shocking as that statement was, it so far remains the President position on the matter.

Tamba Siaffa defended security director Warrick:

If the press in Liberia has the right and freedom to report all kinds of stories with 50% of them lies without any harassment and intimidation, why can a citizen also have that same right and freedom to express the way they feel about the press. The press Union has taken this too far. The president is the president and must be given the respect as the president of the republic. She has people that speak for her most of the time. The Ministry of Information and the President press secretary speak for her. They have spoken but the press wants the president as an individual to speak first. This is not fare [sic]

Media Hit. Photo courtesy of frontpageafricaonline.org

Image courtesy of frontpageafricaonline.

In solidarity with their colleagues and the principle of freedom of speech, the West African Journalist Association formally wrote the Liberian president and summed up their condemnation of Warrick's threat:

These statements further signal a worrying state orchestrated interference with the free flow of information, willingness to illegally interfere with the processing of news and ideas without recourse to or respect for any form of legal procedure.

It would accordingly imply that your Government does not intend to promote the free flow of ideas and divergent views. As a public figure and head of state and government, under international law, you are expected to be subject to a higher level of scrutiny and criticism from the press than other ordinary citizens and that you are in fact expected to tolerate such higher level of scrutiny and criticism

We also wish to bring to your attention our unflinching support to the Press Union of Liberia, independent journalists and all media partners in Liberia. WAJA stands by each and every position that the PUL has so far taken in protest and looks forward to the resolution of this crisis

Phillip Blamo, a Liberian priest, posted what he said were the president's words when quizzed about the media blackout:

I’M ENJOYING this benign neglect, I wish they will continue it for a long time

James Blackie did not think that the media blackout on the president was the solution:

will block out on our prezo solve [the] problems? Let's seek some other means cuz we as ordinary citizen need to know [what the] president does on a dialy basis so as critic or praise her. Please let seek another punishment 4 them

In an effort to counter Blackie's argument and stress the need for an independent press, Siezie Siefa opined:

LISTEN TO LBS [the state's Liberian Broadcasting Service] IF U ARE HUNGRY FOR NEWS FROM THE CLOWN….BUT YOU CANNOT PLAY LIP SERVICE TO PRESS FREEDOM AND MANIFEST CONDESCENDING BEHAVIOR AT THE SAME TIME…. the JOURNALISTS ARE NOT YOUR PLAY TOYS TO SPEAK TRASH TO. accordingly THE REGIME MUST BE SANCTIONED BY NOT GIVING THEM ANY RELEVANCE. psychologists WILL TELL U THAT IS THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSE FOR A REGIME THAT LACKS DOMESTIC LEGITIMACY.

August 16 2012

Côte d'Ivoire: Armed Men attack Army Positions in Abidjan, Dabou and at the Liberian Border

Bernard Assandé narrates the latest attack [fr]  on the Force Républicaine de la Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI, the national army of Côte d'Ivoire) in Dabou on August 15. The army regained control of the city after a night of confrontation.  On August 6, 7 people were killed in Abidjan [fr] after similar attacks. Fighting were also reported on August 13 in the Pehkan Military Barracks close to the Liberian Border.

June 13 2012

Africa: Improving Governance and Accountability with New Media

Kwami Ahiabenu, II, is a team leader of International Institute for ICT Journalism, the co-ordination organisation for African Elections Project (AEP). With over nine years of experience in management, marketing, new media, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and development, Kwami was Executive Director of AITEC Ghana and a former board member of Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS).

He served as a key committee member for the organization of World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) African Regional Meeting 2005. He has undertaken several training sessions on new media across Africa. He is a Steve Biko and Foster Davies Fellow.

African Elections Project was established in 2008 with the vision of enhancing the ability of journalists, citizen journalists and the news media to provide more timely and relevant elections information and knowledge while undertaking monitoring of specific and important aspects of governance.

AEP has covered elections in Ghana, Cote d‟Ivoire, Guinea, Mauritania, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Togo, Niger and Liberia. African Elections Project uses social media tools and ICT platforms such as blogs, interactive maps, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook.

L. Abena Annan (LA): What is your affiliation with the African Elections Project?

Kwami Ahiabenu, II (KA): I am part of [the] founders, currently serving as a consultant to the project, providing management support and serving as the training director.

LA: How long have you been involved with the project?

KA: Since the birth of the project in year 2008. We started the project by launching the coverage of Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea elections. Ghana elections did take place in 2008 but Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea took place in subsequent years.

LA: How would you describe this project for the average person to understand? What do you intend to accomplish with it?

KA: It is an online, SMS, mobile service which provides authoritative elections information and knowledge specifically news, analysis, elections powered by ICTs and new media. The service is brought to our audience by a team of dedicated journalists supported by civil society actors and citizen journalists


LA: What countries have you worked in? Do you intend to go to other countries as your website states only 10?

KA: We have worked in 11 countries to date, namely Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique, Malawi, Togo, Liberia and Niger working across English, French and Portuguese speaking countries. We currently cover each election happening on the continent on our homepage with Ghana elections 2012 being the current country we are covering. In addition to elections coverage, we have done some work in post-elections focusing on transparency and accountability issues and currently in partnership with Africatti we are monitoring health and education issues in two districts of Ghana under “Enabling Governance and Economic Transparency in Ghana using new media Project,” with plans to roll out to other African countries in the near future.

LA: How can people effectively use your website or information provided on it?

KA: Our audiences come to our website because of the high quality content which we generate and they consider it useful for themselves, so we can only improve our services by ensuring we constantly provide timely and relevant content to our audience base.

LA: Do you believe new technologies have improved democracy in Africa? Why?

KA: Democracy is a long journey, in this direction new technologies are assuming important roles in ensuring our people benefit from the fruits of democracy. That said, the journey is a long one; though we are recording some improvements we still have a long way to go to ensure that Africa as a whole nurtures its democracy.

LA: How empowering would you say technology has become to citizens of Africa?

KA: Technology can only play a role when the fundamentals are in place. If there is no true freedom of speech or free press, technology role becomes limited, though one may argue that technology can contribute to empowerment but it is important to stress the fact that technology plays a facilitating role and it works best when empowering environments are in place and protected to ensure technology’s role strive.

LA: What do you think the effect of technology on democracy will be 10 years from now?

KA: Technology roles cannot be discussed in isolation. Rapid growth of the tenets of democracy on the continent is a sure guarantee that technology impact on democracy is going to grow and become very important each passing day.

LA: What are your biggest challenges as an organization?

KA: We like to deploy cutting edge technologies in our coverage, but the high cost of ICT tools coupled by expensive bandwidth are always a challenge. Also user content generation is picking albeit slowly and our work will be made more interesting if the grandmother in the village can also contribute to our project.

LA: Any successes so far?

KA: The project has contributed significantly to building the capacity of journalists and citizen journalists in covering elections using new technologies, more importantly providing them with skills set they need to cover elections impartially thereby contributing to better elections which is a cornerstone of any democracy. One key achievement worthy of mention is the successful pilot of Ghana Post elections Project (”Because Accountability Counts”), where we contribute to the promotion of the culture of political accountability by providing a mechanism for citizens to match campaign promises and manifesto versus action and inaction of the ruling government.

The project incorporates citizen journalism mostly driven by mobile phones and has so far covered elections in 11 African countries namely Botswana, Cote d'lvoire, Ghana, Niger, Togo, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Liberia and Namibia. This is one of key result area.

The project has also contributed local content from an African prospective for the global market, thus, presenting the African story using African voices.

We have also contributed to the body of knowledge in African elections and democracy through our country specific countries and recently we contributed “A JOURNEY THROUGH 10 COUNTRIES - Online election coverage in Africa” article in the Journal of Journalism Practice.

At its innovation fair, “Moving beyond Conflict”, Cape Town, South Africa 2010, the World Bank ranked African Elections Projects as innovative in the area of improving governance and accountability through communication technologies.

Thumbnail image: An elderly lady being escorted by his son to vote. Photo courtesy of @liberiaelection.

May 03 2012

Liberia: Will Social Media Increase Civic Engagement?

Counselor Track (CT): Shelby, you are welcome to this interview. Can you please give us a brief introduction of yourself and your career background?

Shelby Grossman (SG): Before starting graduate school, I worked with human rights organizations in Liberia and Nigeria, and with a foundation in the US. Additionally, for more than 6 years I have maintained a blog on West African politics.

Shelby Grossman


CT: The growing usage of the internet and social media in Liberia is certainly a progressive trend. Having worked in Liberia, can you briefly tell us how the internet and social media are viewed by the cross sections of the Liberia population?

SG: My sense is that Liberians who use social media use it mostly to connect with people outside of Liberia. They might use email and Facebook to communicate with the large Liberian community in the United States, and share and view pictures about life on both sides of the Atlantic. A friend of mine who started an internet cafe made most of his money by offering internet phone calls to the US. More and more, however, Liberians in Liberia seem to be using Facebook to share photos and life events among themselves as well.

CT: Liberia is a post war nation which currently lacks reliable electricity and sufficient human resource in the IT related careers. How does this state of affair affect the overall impact and growth of social media as well as Internet access?

SG: Poor infrastructure is a huge obstacle for social media use. My friend who started the internet cafe had to shut it down after several months, as the costs of running a generator to power the cafe were prohibitively high. Smart phones are an increasingly popular way to access social media sites, but they are not conducive to creating and maintaining blogs. I think this can partly explain the dearth of active blogs by Liberians in Liberia.


CT: Are social media platforms a significant public sphere in Liberia?

SG: Social media in Liberia is a significant public sphere for a certain Liberians – namely urban, educated Liberians.

CT: Can social media in the long run increase civic engagement in Liberia?

SG: There are competing predictions about the ways in which social media could affect civic engagement. On the one hand, Twitter can spread information about where a protest is taking place and encourage more people to participate. On the other hand, if an incentive for civic engagement is to obtain information (e.g. I go out to the protest because I want to see how bigit is, and hear what the protest leaders have to say, and then tell all my friends about what I saw) social media might decrease civic engagement as this information can be accessed without leaving your home.

CT: 2011 pre-electoral activities and violence created an ‘unfavorable’ and fragile electoral environment, in what ways did social media help improve the situation following the relatively peaceful 2012 General Elections?

SG: Ushahidi-powered platforms allowed Liberians and foreigners to text in incidences of ballot fraud and hate speech and violence, facilitating more rapid responses to these incidences. It is possible that this made the elections more peaceful.

Ushahidi-powered map of election-related incidents from the 2011 Elections in Liberia:

CT: On Thursday 26 April 2012, the former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted by the the Sierra Leone Special Court in The Hague on 11 counts of crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone, in what significant manners did social media usage among Liberians affect discussions and coverage of trial?

SG: I doubt social media affected the trial, but social media certainly affected the degree to which Liberians could obtain information about the trial and engage with trial controversies.The Trial of Charles Taylor blog, run by the Open Society Justice Initiative, provided daily summaries of trial events for six years, along with analysis of legal issues and occasional commentaries from international law experts. Posts on this blog frequently sparked 40 or more comments and technical legal questions, which OSJI staff responded to promptly. It is difficult to determine what percent of the comments came from Liberians and Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora or at home, but there was certainly a good share of both. Further, Liberian newspapers frequently reprinted these blog posts, making them accessible to Liberians without internet access. The Trial of Charles Taylor blog deserves a huge amount of credit for what engagement there was with the trial.

CT: You followed and sampled the reactions of Liberians on Taylor’s verdict, what are your key findings?

SG: Liberians seemed largely disengaged with the trial over the past six years. The Taylor trial received far less local media coverage than the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings. It’s not completely clear why. One possibility is that the lack of media coverage prevented Liberians from engaging further in the trial, but this seems unlikely.My sense is that the lack of coverage reflected the lack of interest. The Taylor trial was in The Hague, while the TRC hearings were in Liberia, so that’s one possible explanation. The Taylor trial was about one big fish, whereas the TRC hearings took testimony from hundreds, so that’s another possible explanation.But the lack of engagement remains a puzzle to me. If a former US head of state was tried for war crimes Americans would be glued to their TVs watching the trial.

CT: What are the major challenges social media and the internet growth that Liberia faces?

SG: Liberia needs reliable, accessible, and affordable electricity throughout the country. This would make internet cafes cheaper and more accessible to a larger percent of Liberians.

CT: Finally, what message do you have for Liberia’s netizens and other friends of Liberia?

SG: Start a blog ! It is shockingly difficult to find original, reliable reporting about domestic Liberian politics. If a Liberian were to start a good blog about politics and update it regularly it would quickly aquire hundreds of readers.


CT: Shelby, it was really nice having you share your resourceful experience and insights with us. I wish you all the best in your endeavors. Thanks.

May 02 2012

Sierra Leone: Reflections on Charles Taylor and Justice

Robtel Pailey reflects on Charles Taylor's verdict: “What Charles Taylor’s verdict signifies for me is the need to reconfigure Africa’s domestic systems of justice, so that we don’t have to rely on the West to judge when, where, and under what circumstances we can punish for transgressions that we deem unacceptable….International justice is clearly blind to the atrocities committed by Western agents as well as non-Western countries that wield international clout or power.”

Africa: Calls for Transparency Over Marked Increase in Land Deals

The UK Guardian newspaper's Global Development blog reports that an international coalition of researchers and NGOs has released the world's largest public database of international land deals. This marks an important milestone in highlighting a developmental issue that has received little attention in the international news cycle.

The report states that almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000, and emphasizes the fact that this is not a new issue, yet points out that the number of such land deals has increased tremendously in the past five years.

Many observers are increasingly worried that these land deals usually take place in the world's poorest countries and that they impact its most vulnerable population, the farmers. The benefits seldom go to the general population, partially because of a lack of transparency in the proceedings of the transactions.

An additional report by Global Witness, entitled Dealing with Disclosure, emphasizes the dire need for transparency in the making of land deals.

World's poorest nations targeted 

The Global Witness report lists that 754 land deals have been identified, involving the majority of African countries for about 56.2 million hectares.

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

The nations targeted are usually some of the poorest in the world. The countries with the most deals in place are Mozambique (92 deals), Ethiopia (83), Tanzania (58) and Madagascar (39). Some of those deals have made headlines because they were conducted to ensure control over food imports, when the targeted regions faced major food crises.

The NGO GRAIN has already explained in detail the gist of their concerns in an extensive report released in 2008:

Today’s food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab. On the one hand, “food insecure” governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production. On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue. As a result, fertile agricultural land is becoming increasingly privatised and concentrated. If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world.

In Malawi, land deals have grown increasingly prevalent to the detriment of the local farmers. A report from Bangula explains the challenges faced by Malawian farmers, Dorothy Dyton and her family:

Like most smallholder farmers in Malawi, they did not have a title deed for the land Dyton was born on, and in 2009 she and about 2,000 other subsistence farmers from the area were informed by their local chief that the land had been sold and they could no longer cultivate there. […] Since that time, said Dyton, “life has been very hard on us.” With a game reserve on one side of the community and the Shire river and Mozambique border on the other, there is no other available land for them to farm and the family now ekes out a living selling firewood they gather from the nearby forest.

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Farmers in Madagascar share similar concerns because they do not own the rights to the land they farm and an effective land reform is yet to be implemented. The Malagasy association Terres Malgaches has been at the forefront of land protection for the local population. They report that [fr]:

 Les familles malgaches ne possèdent pas de document foncier pour sécuriser leurs terres contre les accaparements de toutes sortes. En effet, depuis la colonisation, l’obtention de titres fonciers auprès de l’un des 33 services des domaines d’un pays de 589 000 km2 nécessite 24 étapes, 6 ans en moyenne et jusqu’à 500 dollars US. (..) .  Face aux convoitises et accaparements dont les terres malgaches font l’objet actuellement, seule la possession d’un titre ou d’un certificat foncier, seuls documents juridiques reconnus, permet d’entreprendre des actions en justice en cas de conflit.

Malagasy families do not usually own an estate property document that enable them to secure their lands against land grab. In fact, since colonial times, one has needed about 24 steps, 6 years and up to 500 US dollars to get such documents. There are merely around 33 agencies in the country that deliver such documents for a country that is 589,000 kilometres square […] In the face of the increasing land grabs that Malagasy land is currently at risk of, this certificate is the only document that can trigger legal action in case of conflict.

The association also reports on the practices of a mining company Sheritt, in Ambatovy, which have created a buzz in the local blogosphere because of environmental concerns for the local population and business malpractices (via MiningWatch Canada):

Sherritt International’s Ambatovy project in eastern Madagascar – costing $5.5 billion to build and scheduled to begin full production this month – will comprise a number of open pit mines (..) it will close in 29 years. There are already many concerns about the mine from the thousands of local people near the facilities. They say that their fields are destroyed ; the water is dirty ; the fish in the river are dead and there have been landslides near their village. During testing of the new plant, there have been at least four separate leaks of sulphur dioxide from the hydro-metallurgical facility which villagers say have killed at least two adults and two babies and sickened at least 50 more people. In January, laid-off construction workers from Ambatovy began a wildcat strike, arguing that the jobs they were promised when construction ended have not materialized. The people in nearby cities like Moramanga say that their daughters are increasingly engaged in prostitution.

Video of a worker's testimony in Ambatovy.

Solutions for the local population? 

The plight of Madagascar's farmers' plight may be slowly changing though. Land reform discussions are in progress, according to this report:

 According to a paper presented at the 2011 International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, about 50 agribusiness projects were announced between 2005 and 2010, about 30 of which are still active, covering a total land area of about 150,000 ha. Projects include plantations to produce sugar cane, cassava and jatropha-based biofuel.
To prevent the negative impacts of land grabbing, (The NGO) EFA has set up social models for investors, with funding from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The goal is to help investors negotiate with the people in the area where they want to implement projects, as a way to prevent future problems.

Joachim Von Braun, formerly  of the International Food Policy Insitute (IFPRI), wrote the following regarding land deals:

 It is in the long-run interest of investors, host governments, and the local people involved to ensure that these arrangements are properly negotiated, practices are sustainable, and benefits are shared. Because of the transnational nature of such arrangements, no single institutional mechanism will ensure this outcome. Rather, a combination of international law, government policies, and the involvement of civil society, the media, and local communities is needed to minimize the threats and realize the benefits.

The need for transparency in land deals is further emphasized by  Megan MacInnes, Senior Land Campaigner at Global Witness:

Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. That this needs to change is well understood, but how to change it is not. For the first time, this report (Dealing with Disclosure)  sets out in detail what tools governments, companies and citizens can harness to remove the shroud of secrecy that surrounds land acquisition. It takes lessons from efforts to improve transparency in other sectors and looks at what is likely to work for land. Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them.

 

April 26 2012

Video: Mothers Around the World Share their Different Experiences

In the International Museum of Women, the current online exhibit is all about mothers. MAMA: Motherhood around the Globe explores the different aspects of motherhood through video interviews to women in Nigeria, Kenya, Afghanistan, USA, Colombia, Hungary, China and Norway.

Kenyan family

Lusina from Kenya is one of the interviewed mothers for IMOW

Mama to Be is the section on the expectations around motherhood and pregnancy, and how the different women, some not even out of their teens reacted and faced their impending motherhood.

How many women in the world actually have an opportunity to decide if, how, and when to create a family? What are the reasons that women today are choosing – or refusing to choose – motherhood?

In Healthy Mama, Healthy Baby, the stories these women share on their birthing experiences serve to illustrate how different cultures view birthing and health.

Every day, thousands of women worldwide give birth to new human life. While many of these women will have happy and successful deliveries, hundreds will die in childbirth. How do things like geography, income, and age affect your chances of a safe delivery? What is being done to improve upon the world’s maternal mortality rate, and how can you get involved?

In the Featured Voices section, stories were submitted by the audience and 6 stories were selected by an international jury for the Community Choice Awards. One of them is this excerpt of the hard situation in the Colombian hospital maternity wards by Jorge Caballero for Gusano Films. In Birth Journal Maternity Excerpt, a mother of 6 arrives to a checkup and then to deliver a baby. During the checkup, her story comes out through the questions asked by the doctor, and his attitude towards her changes, ending up with a suggestion for a tubal ligation and a curt farewell. During delivery, there isn't even time to move the lone woman to the gurney and into the maternity room, she gives birth on her hospital bed.

One-on-one interviews in Meet the Mamas focus the conversations around the woman and her personal story, for example, it helps contrast the different situations between a teen mother in Liberia, living what she calls in Critical Condition, and a teen mother in the United States, who through family support is able to move on ahead and continue her studies.

This exhibit in the International Museum of Women aims to get more people informed on the state of Women's Maternal Health, on their Get Involved page they suggest different ways in which readers can participate in improving the statistics and raise awareness themselves on these important issues.

April 23 2012

Liberia: A Preface to Liberia’s Complicated Biography

Robtel Pailey discusses Liberia's complicated biography: “April 12, 1980 is often described as the beginning of Liberia’s end. I think of it as the preface to Liberia’s long, complicated biography, the beginning of our awakening. It was a day when our pomp and circumstance left a deafening echo; when we were all exposed, laid bear by the realization that being the first African republic meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.”

February 24 2012

Liberia: “Kill the Gays” Bill Spreading

Former Liberian first lady Jewel Howard Taylor has introduced a bill making homosexuality liable to a death sentence. Jewel is a senator and former president Charles Taylor’s ex-wife. Uganda re-tabled a similar controversial anti-gay bill recently. Homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries and it can be punishable by death n Mauritania, Sudan, and northern Nigeria.

Writing about Liberia's anti-gay bill, Melanie says:

Expressed many times on my blog, is the fear that David Bahati’s Kill the Gays Bill, currently before the Ugandan Parliament, could well spread to other parts of Africa , as it is accompanied by the promotion of much anti-gay rhetoric and myth. It seems that the Kill the Gays idea is indeed spreading, even though it has met with great criticism around the world. In conversations last year, David Bahati told Warren Throckmorton and me that other African nations had expressed interest in his Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which we have come to know as The Kill the Gays Bill.

A map showing penalties targeting gays and lesbians in Africa. Image source: http://ilga.org/

Warren writes:

No date has been set for debate or vote. Both Houses of the legislature would need to pass the bill to send to the President for signature or veto. I wrote about this bill and a companion bill in their House last week.

As far as I can determine, in Liberia penalties for a First Degree Felony can range from 10 years in prison to death. The amendment is short and without definitions.


Evan wonders why
the Nobel prize winner and president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remains silent:

If convicted, such a crime would warrant punishment ranging from 10 years in jail to death.

And Nobel prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has remained silent on the issue.

The issue continues to heat up owing to the pressure of the U.S. and the U.K. to consider gay rights as human rights over the past year.

Should the U.S. cut back aid to Liberia?:

The U.S. gives quite a bit of aid to Liberia. The question is whether we will put our money where are mouths are and actually cut back assistance because of this issue, even as American influence on the continent wanes in the face of massive Chinese investment. Would such a stance fly well with the American electorate? There may be mixed support for gay marriage, but I’m pretty sure that a healthy majority of Americans would recognize death-for-sodomy as a massive human rights violation…

Liberia‘s former first lady's letter to the Liberian parliamentarians regarding anti-gay bill. Image courtesy of http://sebaspace.wordpress.com/.

Sebaspace thinks the former first lady is not genuine:

It would appear that Ms. Jewel Taylor has learned one or two things about how campaigns of this sort have come a-cropper in other parts of Africa. So, she is covering her flank by disguising her anti-gay sentiments in language that suggests that she is trying to prevent “gay marriage.”
—-
Really? In a country where the language of the law is against same gender loving, Ms. Taylor’s only concern is gay marriage? Why do I find that hard to believe?

Boima J. V. Boima cautions:

But the law, if passed, could have economic implications for Liberia since western powers including the US and UK are tying gay rights to foreign aid to third world countries, including Liberia.

The draft bill surfaced following repeated calls by UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon and western powers urging African leaders to legalize same sex marriage or risk being deprived of foreign assistance for development.

Gay rights activists and sympathizers can sign a petition to protest Liberia's “Kill the Gays” bill:

Target: Liberian Senator Jewel Haward Taylor

Goal: To urge Senator Taylor not to push this bill, which would allow judges to punish homosexual acts with the death penalty in Liberia.

In the west African country of Liberia, LGBT couples have been struggling to gain legal recognition. But Senator Taylor, who recently introduced a bill that would make homosexual acts punishable by death, could serve as a huge roadblock to equality. Senator Taylor must stop advocating for the passage of a bill that would essentially take the lives of some LGBT Liberians.

Many African leaders claim that homosexuality is un-natural and un-African. South African is an exception with a constitution, which provides the most comprehensive protection of gay rights in the world.

February 19 2012

Africa: Weaving the African Dream Through Social Innovations

Gamel identifies social innovations that weave the African dream: “Tech in Education: This project is the main motivation behind today’s post. Tech in Education is a 48hr gathering of ideas, people and digital tools aimed at creating novel web and mobile solutions to improve learning amongst primary and secondary school students in Nigeria.”

January 17 2012

Liberia: Lawmaker in the Web of Nudity

The year 2011 is significantly remembered for the release of several private and classified documents, which included U.S. State department diplomatic cables. Liberia as a nation is socially and morally at a crossroad following the recent revelation of a scandalous episode of nudity now widely known in Liberia as ‘Snoweleaks' or ‘Snowegate' which involves Edwin Melvin Snowe, Jr., a very popular lawmaker.

Rep.Edwin Melvin Snowe of Liberia.Photo:liberiapolitics.com

Rep.Edwin Melvin Snowe of Liberia. Photo courtesy of liberiapolitics.com

Snowe was removed from his position as Speaker in January 2007 following a vote of no confidence. However, on January 29, the Supreme Court ruled in Snowe's favor, describing his removal as unconstitutional.

The controversy arose when a lawyer and other advocacy groups revealed that Snowe's cash prize offered at a party hosted at his house had wooed a lady to strip naked and swim across his swimming pool.

‘Snowegate' has been stirring up real interesting reactions from both the home and diaspora fronts despite the fact that the lady at the center of the allegation denying that she was naked when she swam:

The lady who admitted receiving US$1,000 from Montressado County District Six Representative Edwin Snowe to dance naked at the bachelor’s eve of a Liberian journalist has denied reports that she paraded stark naked at Snowe’s residence last Friday night.

Appearing on a local radio talk show yesterday afternoon, the lady, only indentified Tracy, said she wore a brown swimming suit when she paraded in the presence of invited guests.

Women groups have added their voices to the call fo Snowe's resignation while the lawmakers were busy electing their leadership at the Capitol Building. Mother Hallowangah one of the leaders of the women protesters who described Hon.Snowe's action as “a heavy sin committed by a leader” had this to say:

we are here to tell our Representative Snowe to step aside and repent of his sins as David did in the Bible. He cannot lead us while he is polluted.I am telling Providence Baptist Church if they are not lover of money, to take the lead and tell Snowe to step aside if they are serving the true and living God. They should see reason to tell Snowe to step aside from the positions in the church and repent of his sins regardless of how much money he spends in the church as father of the year or the higher tithes payer in the that church.

The political political activist, Jurah M. Sanoe wrote:

Edwin Snowe is not a private citizen, but a public servant who has served in many capacities, including the present one as lawmaker. He has made fortunes for himself from public service which is the source of his wealth.
If the alleged incident is true, it is condemnable and Snowe must publically apologize to the Liberian people and especially residents of District 5. If not, those who elected him can also start an impeachment proceeding against him. Though this may not work in our gullible society, it will serve as caveat. To influence someone to naked herself in a gathering is a public nuisance,which is condemned under our laws, especially if done in the presence of foreign nationals

Getrude Williams was much more liberal in her reaction:

God does not like ugly neither does He care too much for pretty. I do not see where Snowe went wrong. Why are you people not blaming the firl also? She was not forced into doing what she did. If she was a decent girl she would not have done this. These are some of the things that happen at a bachelor's party, that's why it is called a bachelors party. Strippers are all over the world. Speaking of Clinton's blow job, it was done in the White House and not in his private home - where can the comparison come in? And, speaking of gays, Wow, Liberia has always had gays. From the days of Tubman to now, gay men and Lesbian women are infesting the Liberian society.Edwin, let it Snowe, let it Snowe

Alston C.Armah, a student at the University of Liberia, satirically added his voice in a very classical manner by going down historical lane to unearth another scandal known as the Knuckles-gate. Knuckle-gate is a sexual scandal that rocked Liberia and inevitably ended the political career of a top government officer:

Liberian women protesting for Hon.Snowe's resignation at the Liberian Capitol Building in Monrovia.Photo:fpa.com

Liberian women calling for Snowe's resignation at the Liberian Capitol Building in Monrovia. Photo courtesy of fpa.com

I write not to disprove what is being reported about Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe, but I write to say what I do know. Unlike some of my colleagues who have chosen to denigrate and condemn this honorable man, I choose to applaud and pay homage to him for his noble deeds.

Representative Snowe is an honorable man. He is a noble man who walks on the path of uprightness. So noble is he that he is reported to have dropped from 11th grade at the onset of our civil war, and, without completing high school, enrolled at the University of Liberia and graduated in record time.

Thanks to our porous educational system. Representative Snowe is so noble that, backed by his honestly gotten wealth, he paved his way to the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives. But, like all historical charades, he descended the post just as he had ascended.

Like Snowe like Knuckles, what’s strange? They are all, all honorable men.

Please tell the public to leave the honorable Snowe alone; let him continue with his honorable encounters. His life is worthy of emulation, and he is setting good examples from which wise young men would learn great lessons.

Even President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who had just signed the Code of Conduct for Executive Bill at the Executive Mansion had her view aired through her Press Secretary Cyrus Wleh Badio on the Snowegate issue:

The president seriously frowns on any act of immorality and she has in fact expressed that to individuals who may have been involved because she thinks it doesn’t speak well of some of the values we stand for as a country and so she frowns on it in a very serious manner

A.Darius Dillion, a political analyst, a friend and former subordinate of Snowe reacted in a more diplomatic fashion:

Firstly, I take cognizance of the fact that whether this story or incident is true or not, and even though this may be an acceptable norm at such occasions in other ‘open societies’, ours is not ‘open’ enough to stomach or embrace any news about a woman being requested or induced to “strip naked” in public for any form of reward;. Secondly, this was not a planned or generally agreed agenda item for the night. The offer put up by Mr. Snowe was something initiated and done unilaterally at his own volition, considering that it was a social event of adults. This has turned to be what we have on our hands. 

In consideration of the above, and since I was not physically present around the swimming pool at the time to have personally witnessed the incident, coupled with the fact that I have seen no such tape or photo to safely counter “Tracy’s” version or concur with Mr. Dan Saryee’s information, I come neither to out rightly condemn Mr. Snowe nor praise or prop him up. I must admit that I am not only worried but deeply disappointed over his prolonged silence on this matter which may make true the maxim that says “Silence means consent”. I therefore call on him to muster the courage to issue a public statement and apology to the women of Liberia and those who felt and still do feel offended by this story; especially the manner it was told. I also call on him to extend similar apology to all his friends who have been maligned as well as those who attended the bachelor’s party held at his home. I hold the view that had Mr. Snowe taken into consideration the sensitive feelings and reactionary attitude of our society to such stories, he would have thoughtfully avoided the embarrassment we all now face. I can only hope this will serve as lesson learnt, not only to Mr. Snowe as a public official, but to all who hold or aspire to public office in our land.

Tom Monboe, a humanitarian Liberia worker, boldly pointed out the human rights dimension of the issue:

The issue involving Rep Snowe is not just a morality issue but also a human right issue. Every high-quality human being who puts premium on the dignity of another person, should be concerned that no matter one’s social or economic status, their integrity should not be mortgaged with such a degree of pomposity. When two consenting adults meet and do what they want to do privately, that's fine. But when a financial offer is made for one to nude in the company of others mainly public officials, then it translates into a blatant mindless display of arrogance of resources. And this is why those involved should get the proportional public reprimand. For posterity sake, let others who were at the event join the likes of Dan Saryeh to be the witness of public conscience to redeem themselves from this sacrilege which is a scandal of an unimaginable proportion.

After almost two weeks of enduring the scorns from different sources, the embattled politician had his say:

Representative Snowe pointed out:I am deeply troubled by the manner in which a gathering intended to celebrate the holy matrimony of a brother and friend is now being transformed into degradation of womanhood; for this, I expressed deep regrets.I have never and will never do anything to bring womanhood into disrepute, no matter their status in society.I am deeply saddened that this unfounded allegation is being sustained in the media. I have spoken to my mother who has expressed dismay over the manner in which womanhood is being brought into disrepute and disdain by this unfounded allegation. I have also spoken to my pastor and some members of my church as well as other eminent women in our society who have all expressed deep concern over this falsehood.

When quizzed to give clarification on the exact details of what occurred on the night in question, the lawmaker cleverly survived the question with these words:

I have not come to tell you people what happened that night. What I have come to say is that all that is being reported in the media over the last few weeks is false and misleading

 

The stage is set, echoes of reactions are popping up from every angles. There are even claims of death threats made to journalists.

Will this scandal lead to the resignation of the lawmaker or will he “walk away like Craig Davids” ( a local expression in Liberia that means walking away with impunity). Liberia's respect for morality, cultural values and norms is at a crossroad.

December 30 2011

Africa: 10 West African Club Tracks

This is Boima Tucker's 2011 10 club friendly Afropop tracks: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one song dominate a nation’s psyche like Junior Freeman and African Soldier’s “Dumyarea” did in Liberia this summer. Maybe it was because it was an election season, and all the politicians co-opted the song for their own campaigns…”

December 26 2011

Liberia: Who Was at Fault for Monrovia Riots?

The Liberian capital Monrovia has been experiencing chaos and violence at the hands of angry students. What started less than a month ago as the presidential vacation job scheme for students turned Monrovia into a scene of violence. Government structures, public schools and vehicles were destroyed by angry students.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had earlier mandated the Monrovia City Corporation to design a scheme to get some 3,000 students employed under the auspices of a vacation job scheme. A program that was intended for 3,000 students turned out to be a chaotic 20,000 or more student vacation job program that soured the relations between the students and the Liberian government .

The riots are said to have erupted after the students who reportedly worked for around a week or so doing sanitation related works in Monrovia turned out for the promised $35 but could not get their pay in time and thereafter ran out of patience.

Liberian police battling to curb the students' riot.Pic courtest facebook.

Liberian police battling to quell rioting students. Photo courtesy of Earnest Garbleejay Smith Facebook page.

The violence has left so many with hundreds of unaswered of questions regarding the path of national development. Did the future leaders of Liberia behave like decent people with integrity? Nathan Patio Charles lamented:

@NathanPatio: for the second time vocation job students in # Liberia have gone on the rampage in Monrovia , burning gov't and private #cars,

Svaye saw the problem from a spiritual perspective:

@beSassic: Sending prayers to my sweet #Liberia

Samuel Herring weighed on the other side of the coin:

@theboyfromlib: Heard its not really the youth who worked. It those tryna get paid and can't provide identification. #Liberia

Le Patron Vonk quickly diagnosed the problem and recommended a remedy:

The hungry man is an angry man…Pay the students for the job they did…No curfew will solve this problem…blame it on Mary Broh.

Commenting on Le Patron Vonk's observations, Massa Johnson noted:

ur know we liberians are full off corruption.ur hired ppl with out proper id i myself if i was in lib i will be standing on line with my family.

Clarence Pratt wondered why will the students who will eventually get paid want destroy their country:

@Arsenalistical: They going to get pay so why are they overreacting and destroying homes, business and cars. Come on # Liberia

John Kantan, a victim of police brutality. Photo courtesy of Liberian Observer Online.

Moses Carter pointed out the source of the problem:

I think the problem here is there was error on the part of the recruitment process.. I see it as done in bogus manner.. many youths managed to squeeze their names on the lists through the printing of their own membership forms.. The Government also made mistake by converging over 10,000 youths at one Center to pay them.. something which became very impossible to have been done in time given the bogus recruitment that they had to verify names before payment which took some considerable time… The youths also failed to exercise patients.. the fact that the Government promised to pay them before the season, they needed to have exercise the wait and see action to see what was going to be the outcome of the process.. but instead they ran too fast out of patience… Hope lessons are learnt for future initiatives…

The government of Liberia announced last Friday that it would suspend the payments to all beneficiaries of the Christmas vacation job scheme because unscrupulous individuals infiltrated the process and caused damage to public and private properties. Who was at fault? The debate will certainly continue.

December 03 2011

African Bloggers React To UNESCO's Admission Of Palestine

[All links lead to French language pages except when otherwise noted]

The admission of Palestine as a full member of UNESCO on 31 October 2011 has prompted an intense debate, with people taking very different stands.  Africans from the continent as well as the diaspora have also taken an active part in the debate online.  However, whether they agreed or disagreed with Palestine's admission to UNESCO, the different sides have often projected the debate onto the internal problems of their own countries.

 

UNESCO admits Palestine. Photo by Salaam Shalom on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The site ouestaf.com reveals which African countries abstained from voting:

Trois pays ouest africains figurent dans le lot des abstentionnistes : Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Togo. Ils constituent avec le Cameroun, l’Ouganda, la Zambie et le Rwanda les seuls pays africains à n’avoir pas voté en faveur de la résolution faisant de Palestine un Etat membre à part entière de l’Unesco.

Three West African countries figure among the non-voters:  Ivory Coast, Liberia and Togo.  With Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda, these three are the only African countries to have voted against the resolution to make Palestine a full member state of UNESCO.

Each of the countries that chose to abstain gave its official reasons, which bloggers then quickly tore apart. The site amaizo.info published an article giving valid reasons for most of the countries:

En réalité, ces pays ont en commun d’assurer une partie de leur sécurité rapprochée jusqu’au niveau des gardes présidentielles avec Israël sans compter les aides économiques.

Ces « neutralistes » se cachent derrière l’obligation de réserve au lieu d’expliquer qu’ils sont tous directement ou indirectement tributaires du soutien des pays qui ne veulent pas entendre parler d’un Etat Palestinien pour le moment. Nommons Israël, les Etats-Unis, le Canada et la Colombie, etc. La France a voté en faveur de l’adhésion de la Palestine à l’UNESCO, mais annonce qu’elle s’abstiendra au Conseil de Sécurité.

In reality, these countries have a common purpose in ensuring part of their security, up to the level of presidential guards, with Israel, not counting economic aid. 

The ‘neutral ones' hide behind the duty to preserve secrecy, instead of explaining that they are all directly or indirectly dependent on the support of countries that, for the moment, don't want to hear about a Palestinian state.  Just to name some:  Israel, the United States, Canada, Colombia etc.  France voted in favour of Palestine joining UNESCO, but announced that it would abstain from the Security Council.

Explaining the position of Ivory Coast, the only African country run by a Muslim president to have opted for abstention, S. Débailly writes in an article entitled “Palestine in UNESCO / Ivory Coast abstains from voting - Why Alassane Ouattara didn't say yes to Nicolas Sarkozy”, published by abidjan.net:

Une source au ministère d’Etat, ministère des Affaires étrangères reconnaît que la pression a été forte. Mais, ajoute-t-elle, elle est restée fidèle à sa nouvelle ligne de conduite dictée par la recherche de la paix par la négociation et la volonté de préserver les amitiés avec tous les Etats du monde. Un peu comme la philosophie diplomatique du père fondateur [Félix Houphouët-Boigny], à savoir : ‘’la Côte d’Ivoire, amie de tous, ennemie de personne’’.

A source in the state ministry, the Foreign Affairs ministry, acknowledges that the pressure has been strong.  But, she adds, Ivory Coast has remained faithful to her new line of conduct dictated by the search for peace through negotiation and the desire to preserve friendships with all the world's governments.  A bit like the diplomatic philosophy of the founding father (Félix Houphouët-Boigny), that is, “Ivory Coast,  friend of all, enemy of no one”.

But Roch Tieh, a resident of Sétif in Morocco, commenting on that article, has quite a different explanation, more personal, for President Abdourahmane Dramane Ouattara (ADO):

Loin de partager l'avis de la plupart des frères qui sont intervenus sur ce sujet, j'ai une autre vision de la chose. Je risque de choquer certains, mais pour ceux qui me voient souvent prendre position pour ADO, je dirai ici (Sans en avoir la preuve) que le vote de notre Pays a été influencé, par la Première Dame (Que je respecte beaucoup). Elle serait d'origine Juive et donc comme le dit l'Agade: Ce qui Femme veut, DIEU le veut aussi. Notre Président a demandé que notre Pays s'abstienne, si on ne peut pas voter pour l'adhésion de la Palestine à l'Unesco, il faut rester neutre. C'est sage de sa part et il n'y a pas de Palabres inutiles à la maison.

Far from sharing the advice of most of the brothers who intervened on this subject, I have a different view of things.  I risk shocking some people, but for those who see me often taking a stand for ADO, I will say here (without having any proof) that our country's vote was influenced by the First Lady (for whom I have a lot of respect).  She would be of Jewish origin, thus as Agade says:  What Woman wants, GOD also wants.  Our president asked that our country abstain;  if we cannot vote for Palestine to become a member of UNESCO, we must remain neutral.  For his part, it's wise;  there'll be no endless, useless discussions at home.

A story written by Alain Noah Awana of the journal Le Messager (The Messenger) on cameroon-info.net agrees with the  previous analysis on why Cameroon also abstained:

Joint sur son téléphone portable alors qu'il se trouvait à Paris, le Pr. Messanga Nyamding donne les trois raisons qui, selon lui, ont poussé le Cameroun sur la voie de l'abstention….En filigrane, on peut comprendre que le pays a choisi la neutralité pour ne pas attirer les foudres de la communauté internationale, notamment celles des Etats-Unis. Deuxièmement, il se pourrait que le Cameroun ait voulu éviter de «frustrer» un pays ami. Là, le professeur parle d'Israël, qui était formellement opposé à l'admission de la Palestine à l'Unesco. «Le Cameroun a de très bonnes relations avec Israël, sur les plans économique et militaire. C'est un partenaire privilégié que nous n'avons pas voulu frustrer», argue-t-il. Enfin, et c'est la troisième raison, la position du Cameroun tient lieu du fait que c'est un pays très attaché aux groupes du tiers monde et des non alignés. «Nous avons donc choisi la voie du milieu, en attendant qu'il y ait visibilité. Et c'est d'ailleurs ce que le chef de l'Etat a toujours prôné», appuie-t-il.

Calling from his mobile phone while he was in Paris, Professor Messanga Nyamding gave three reasons which, according to him, drove Cameroon along the abstention path … It is implicit that we understand that this country chose neutrality in order not to attract angry responses from the international community, particularly the United States.  Secondly, it might be that Cameroon wanted to avoid ‘frustrating' a friendly country.  Here, the professor is talking about Israel, which was formally opposed to admitting Palestine to UNESCO.  “Cameroon has very good relations with Israel, on economic and military levels.  It's a special relationship that we don't want to trample on,” he argues.  Finally, the third reason is that Cameroon's position is a substitute for the fact that it's a country that's very attached to third world and non-aligned groups.  “So we have chosen the middle road, while waiting for things to become clearer.  And this is, may I add, what the head of state has always advocated,” he insists.

These explanations don't seem to convince Massaknowall, who makes the following remarks in the comment section:

La garde rapprochée de Biya est formée par les israëliens ceci explique peut-être cela tout simplement

Biya's bodyguard is composed of Israelis; perhaps this might be a simpler explanation.

In a comment on a story by Justin Daboné, entitled “Palestine in UNESCO:  Those American anti-democrats”, which appeared on the online site for L'Observateur Paalga in Burkina Faso, a reader named Osiris wrote, addressing President Obama:

vous devez user de votre influence pour amener les durs d' Israel à mettre un peu d'eau dans leurs vins§ beaucoup d'Israeliens ont payé de leur vie et idem pour les palestiniens ! Il est temps de donner un état à ce peuple.

You have to use your influence to bring the tough guys from Israel to put a little water in their wine.  A lot of Israelis have paid with their life and ditto for the Palestinians!  It's time to give this people a state.

Clive Chanda finds another reason for Zambia's abstention [en]:

… in 1991, several Jewish Rabbis, came to Zambia, and held a press conference at one of the top hotels in Lusaka, I forget which one. At this conference, they said that God Almighty had told them that there was a lost tribe of Jews in northern Zambia.

Another comment by Yambayamba published on zambianwatchdog.com draws conclusions [en] which sum up the point of view of many Africans:

Palestinians have suffered long enough. Telling Israel this truth does not mean, or should it ever be interpreted as being ANTI JEWISH. Good friends tell friends the truth. Sometimes truth is hard to hear, but it is the truth nonetheless. Because for how long are the Israelis going to sustain the current existing “status quo” between them and their neighbors, the Palestinians? The earlier they deal with this issue, the less physical and psychological damage it is going to cause to future generations in that part of the world.

November 20 2011

Liberia: Giving Free Press a Second Chance

The judgment in the controversial media closure case in Liberia gave justice a rare opportunity to prevail. On November 7, 2011 the Liberian government shut down three media houses (Love F.M/TV, Power F.M/TV and Kings F.M) for allegedly spreading hate messages likely to incite violence.The closure of the media houses was met with criticism from many Liberians.

The stations were forced off the air following a complaint filed by Justice Minister Christiana Tah and Information Minister Cletus Sieh.

However, Judge James Zota ordered the re-opening of the closed media outlets arguing that though the respondents action is being punishable under the law yet the court thought it befitting not to impose punishment against the respondents in an effort to guarantee press freedom in Liberia.

Giving a summary of the ruling on Liberia Elections 2011 Media Monitoring Group, Mohammed Ali wrote:

The Criminal Court A has just rule in the case putting the media institutions in the wrong on the basis of the pieces of evidence provided by Government. The Court said that the pieces of evidence provided by the government proved that the 3 media institutions were actually engaged in preaching hate messages. However, the Court has said that since this was a conference between the 3 Media Institutions and the government and not a trial, the media institutions should be reopened with the strongest warning that they will be closed permantly if they should ever repeat those hate messages again.

Reconciliation is the way forward: Two members of main politican parties in Liberia shaking hands. Photo courtesy of Photos of Liberia Elections 2011 Media Monitoring Group.

A commentary posted on African Election Project blog dismissed the “cowboy style” closure and kangaroo style “pardon”:

Perhaps it wouldbe more honourable to begin by first joining others to categorically decry, condemn and reject both the cowboy style closure of three local media entities and the rather bogus and kangaroo process that attended their “pardon”. It is shameful and troubling that Liberia, having endured a cataclysmic civil conflict due to political tyranny and elective justice, would be forced to down the dark paths.

Why did the government turn a blind eye to “a magazine without known editorial management” which “dropped from the sky”?:

A day or so before the November 7 inferno, a magazine without known editorial management dropped from the sky and distributed free of charge describing some Liberians as trouble mongers, charlatans and risky. The Government made no single shriek about it. It was patriotic Journalism. During the campaign and even today, the government's “dangling media” continue to demonize some parties and politicians. Those publications are neither “handate messages” nor ” anti-peace”…

A Molotov cocktail was thrown at Love FM in post-election violence. Photo courtesy of the Press Union of Liberia.


Vote4Africa an advocacy group summarized the case in the tweet below:

@vote4africa : #Liberia: 3 media outlets found guilty of inciting hatred, no penalty given:

R.S.W. Chea, a Liberian advocate, educator and clergyman chose to address the issue on Cafe L.I.B social network from its root while discussing Liberia three-fold problems facing Liberia: corruption, ignorance and illiteracy [*Cafe L.I.B is a global networking platform for Liberians & friends of Liberia, which requires login]:

In light of the current destruction of private and public properties, this problem should be the concern of every Liberian beyond politics and party lines.  In light of development, we are already way underdeveloped, and how much more undeveloped can we get?  All these burning down of media outlets, buildings and government vehicles are only setting us back economically, socially, and psychologically.  This is part of the reason we are where we are.  We have many issues in Liberia and they all result for the absence of nationalism, but on top of the list are three major problems, namely corruption, ignorance and illiteracy.  However, I will only address ignorance and illiteracy very briefly and continue on the issue of our non-nationalistic attitude and behavior.  Note that the two (ignorance and illiteracy) are not synonymous, but distinct, yet they compliment each other.

@africareview summed up the case in a few, yet meaningful words:

Court gives # Liberia broadcasters second chance

@Leo_Johnson, a young and emerging Liberia progressive tweep said:

Media found guilty of spreading hate messages in Liberia

Even before the court ordered the re-opening of the media entities, Liberians in the Diaspora voiced out their views from different standpoints. Jerome Gayman of Fort Pierce, Florida wrote:

When I went to work that Tuesday morning the first thing my boss asked was ‘What happened to the freedom of the press? What happened to the human rights? “This time around I was leaning towards Ellen’s re-election because she has done a lot of good stuffs in that country like the kind of developments under her that we had not seen in our times. And I was impressed under her administration on three issues that I had given her very high marks on: freedom of the press, economic development and women’s right. But I was shocked when I heard what happened that Monday.

The protestors have the right to protest. That reminded me of the April 14 Rice Riot and I couldn’t believe that could happen under her. I mean of all people, how could that have happened under her?

Unlike Jerome, Moses Dolo of Tigard, Oregon clarified and chose a different path:

We regret the death of any Liberian, but the government has the responsibility to protect the majority of the Liberian people. Politicians and media should not incite our people to violence for their own selfish objective.

Kadiatu Henry, a Liberian lady residing in Pennsylvania, U.S.A was far more elaborate:

In my mind, the government over-reacted. The police needed to be a bit tolerant and even if provoked to shoot, should have only shot in the air and not into the people especially after they had used tear gas. For the media houses closed down, it is difficult to maintain a balance between freedom of the press and misuse of that freedom. While it may have been wrong to shut them down, the government too may have sensed much danger coming out of their frequent playing of those ugly scenes over and over again, especially where election was slated for the next day.

Trouble Sayeh of Columbus, Ohio suggested that this could be a sign of more troubles ahead:

In my mind, those two actions of police brutal killing and clamp down on media only convinced me now that Ellen was only soft during first term to pat the Liberians. Now with a second term, she might show her worst since she will no longer need the Liberian people’s vote. “

“Honestly, I’m surprised but again not because she is just another African leader who is capable of any change at any time even if it means from better to evil. Let’s watch her second term. It could be a sign of more troubles.”

November 14 2011

Liberia: Who Did Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Win Against?

Engulfed with joy, fear, tension and even bloodbath; Liberia's 2011 general and presidential elections have come and gone. Yet there are many tales, emotions and memories left on the minds of Liberian citizens. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won re-election Thursday in a presidential run-off boycotted by the opposition.

“But exactly who did she win against?,” @Rwandankunda asks:

@Evode7 But the media has rubber-stamped the election as a 90% win. But exactly who did she win against? with a 30% turn out? #Liberia

@Rwandankunda again:

@geoffreyyork C'mon, how can anyone call that victory when the opposition did not participate? It is a troubling trend in Africa #Liberia

Many Voices, Many Interests, One Nation. Image courtesy of @liberiaelection.

Reacting to the news that the main opposition figure, Winston Tubman, is seeking legal options to have President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's re-election annulled, one Liberian netizen, Moses Carter, says:

If CDC [Congress for Democratic Change] has a case, the courts are the only sources of remedy.I think this bickering over legitimate or illegitimate needs to stop by all parties and let's move Liberia forward… If this is well said, then, let me know!!!

Mohamed Kamara wonders:

Why the world medias keep describing the Liberia election run-off as ”CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION” ?

Commenting about the boycott, @Kenyaeric tweets:

Boycotting elections in #Liberia a cowardly African way of sorting out political duels leading to violence.

@sarankjones says:

some people are clearly delusional. #Tubman #Liberia #Liberia2011

The New Dispensation blog publishes a statement from the Congress for Democratic Change:

A victim of elections violence ahead of Liberia's presidential run-off. Image courtesy of @liberiaelection

Our position to not recognize the results from the runoff remains unchanged; we will NOT recognize the so called win by President Sirleaf as a result of the very flawed process leading up to the second round of the elections; our party will meet shortly to revisit and re-examine our position and if there’s either an enhanced or mitigated position, we will announce it to all

Finally, Kate Cummings blogs about election related reports appearing on Ushahidi Liberia map:

During the last week, the majority of the map’s reports have been about the events surrounding Monday’s CDC rally turned violent, and minor incidents during the run-off and the following day. Some of the incidents reported include: attempted ballot box stealing, the torn down polling station results, tear gas fired by police when a crowd refused to give up ballot boxes, the closure of three major radio stations on charges of hate speech, the burning of a major radio station that is still under investigation, and Thursday’s release of 84 persons arrested during the rally.
Since Wednesday, the Ushahidi Liberia team has mostly been mapping news from the local media and international observers such as the Carter Center and ECOWAS. We plan to continue updating these vote counts until the final results are released. However, with recent news that opposition leader Winston Tubman will contest the results and seek legal action to hold another election next month, this election map may not go quiet simply because the last vote is counted.

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