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February 19 2014

10 New Documentaries at the Luxor African Film Festival

Tom Devriendt lists 10 documentaries to look out for at the Luxor African Film Festival:

The third edition of the Egyptian Luxor African Film Festival again has a wide-ranging programme scheduled for next month. Selected films will be showing in different competitions: Long Narrative, Short Narratives, Short Documentaries and Long Documentary. Below you’ll find a couple of the selected documentaries’ trailers (set in Togo, Senegal, Ghana, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Angola) that were recently uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo, plus links to the films’ websites — where available.

February 10 2014

Somali Activist's Personal Account of Female Genital Mutilation

Activist Asha Ismail via

Activist Asha Ismail via “Save a Girl, Save a Generation” Facebook page.

Somali activist Asha Ismail recounted her own experience with female genital mutilation (FGM) and her fight to eradicate it to radio Onda Vasca on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, 2014 (hear the full interview in Spanish here).

Asha Ismail was born in a Somali village and subjected to FGM when she was just 5 years old. She promised herself that she would never let her own daughter suffer such torture. Currently, she directs the organization Save a Girl, Save a Generation, which campaigns against FGM and other practices that violate women's rights such as forced marriage.

Asked whether about the practice's cultural and religious ties, a factor that could complicate efforts to combat it, she said that FGM violates women's rights and dignity, and in many cases, women stay in situations in which their own will is totally defeated.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted in his message for the day, “Just because a harmful practice has long existed does not justify its continuation. All ‘traditions’ that demean, dehumanize and injure are human rights violations that must be actively opposed until they are ended.”

January 29 2014

Netizen Report: Terror Group Forces Internet Shutdowns in Somalia

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El Gohary, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Somalia, where the nation’s two main ISPs—Hormuud Telecom and Nationlink—have caved to demands from Al Shabab that they block Internet access in central and southern Somalia. Company officials, who tried in vain to negotiate with the terrorist group, believe the threat originated from the highest ranks of the organization. In a statement issued by radio, the group warned that any institution or individual who violates the ban will be “considered to be working with the enemy and…will be dealt with in accordance [with] Sharia law.” Observers suspect that Al Shabab leaders are forcing the ban out of fear that the Internet will aid authorities and other actors in tracking their movement and activities. Although just over 1% of Somalis use the Internet, mobile 3G is increasingly popular in urban areas.

Free Expression: Watchdogs and ‘Wolf’ Face Censorship in Kenya

A new media law in Kenya could leave bloggers and independent journalists facing sky-high fines over infractions on an impossibly vague series of provisions. Local bloggers are warning that the law’s broad definition of who is considered a “journalist” — one that could apply to bloggers, citizen reporters, and even social media users — will have a chilling effect on independent reporting across the country. The legislation enables government-appointed judges to issue fines of up to KSH 2 million (US$23,310) for media institutions and up to KSH 500,000 (US$5,827) for individuals.

Two individuals selling pirated copies of Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wallstreet” were arrested last week not for piracy, but for the film itself, which has been banned by Kenya’s Film Classification Board. A flurry of comments criticizing the ban has since appeared on the Board’s Facebook page.

Index on Censorship reports that the UK’s controversial new porn filters are exhibiting classic flaws in broad filtering systems by blocking sites covering “LGBTI issues, sex education and even domestic violence and rape” but somehow underfiltering pornography. Way to go, David!

The largest Internet blackout in Chinese history was most probably caused by the country’s notorious “Great Firewall”. Internet monitoring companies suspect that Chinese censors mistakenly re-directed the entire country’s web traffic to servers belonging to a company called Sophidea, which appears to be located in the US. The company’s servers reportedly crashed under the load for approximately eight hours. Greatfire.org offered a technical analysis of the event, pointing to potential explanations for the error.

Thuggery: Ukrainian officials intimidate Euromaidan protesters via text

The Ukrainian government targeted Euromaidan protesters last week with a deluge of mobile SMS messages reading: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” Although a brand new local law criminalizes participation in violent protest, the messages had little effect in stemming violent clashes with riot police. Three Ukrainian cellphone companies have denied any involvement in the effort, noting that the government may have pirated protesters’ data from nearby cellphone towers.

A Kuwaiti court sentenced Twitter user Abdullah Fairouz Abdullah Abd al-Kareem to five years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the Emir over the social network. Local law prohibits any message that “objects to the rights and authorities of the Emir or faults him.” Al-Kareem will soon appeal his case before a higher court.

Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti, founder of Uyghur Online and an advocate for autonomy in the ethic minority region of China was arrested last week, allegedly for promoting a separatist agenda, though he does not actually support this platform. Despite an online petition signed by more than 1,000 Chinese intellectuals and an appeal by the US State Department, Tohti remains detained. His family is under house arrest, and seven of his students have been questioned by local authorities.

Surveillance: Spying on India, NETRA-style

The Indian government is once again stepping up its ability to intercept and spy on citizens’ online communications. Earlier this month, officials announced the launch of the NETRA spy system intended to monitor keywords in all major forms of online communication — email, social networking platforms, VoIP, chat, and online forums — in real time. There will be no judicial oversight of NETRA activities and Internet service providers will have no involvement (or knowledge) of government snooping via NETRA.

A new rule requires Chinese netizens to use their real names when uploading videos to Chinese websites. The government says the measure is intended to “prevent vulgar content, base art forms, exaggerated violence, and sexual content…having a negative effect on society.”

Internet Governance: Fighting for “.gov” (in Chinese)

The challenges the Internet poses to national sovereignty were highlighted this week around a battle between China and Taiwan for control of the top-level domain (TLD) .政府 (the Chinese character equivalent for .gov). The Chinese government complained to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) after a Taiwanese government-affiliated company submitted an application for the TLD, arguing that the company, Net-Chinese, isn’t “vested with the authority or mandate to endorse claims of government status on behalf of all governments.”

Internet Insecurity: Vietnam’s pro-government hackers on global phishing expedition

The Vietnamese government’s enthusiasm for censorship is well known, but the country’s sketchy pro-government hackers are targeting even non-Vietnamese people with malicious phishing campaigns. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recent targets include a US-based blogger who operates a popular dissident website, a British journalist based in Hanoi, a France-based Vietnamese math professor and democracy activist, and an American activist. Although it lacks China’s advanced censorship capabilities, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has admitted employing 900 people “to counter online criticism.”

Netizen Activism: “Free our friends,” bloggers say

Bloggers, activists, journalists, and artists from across the Arab region gathered in Amman, Jordan last week for the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting, organized by Global Voices and 7iber. Over four days of training, collaboration, discussion and debate, the group issued calls for the release of imprisoned rights advocates Alaa Abd El Fattah in Egypt and Bassel Safadi in Syria, along with kidnapped Syrian human rights advocate Razan Zeitouneh.

Cool Things

Guyana Crime Reports, an innovative new crime reporting website in Guyana, combines GIS mapping and crowdsourced crime detection, along with vigorous staff-led verification of citizen reports.

Publications and Studies

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

December 03 2013

Five Arab Countries Among Top 10 Corrupt Worldwide

Five Arab countries have been named among the top 10 most corrupt countries, according to Transparency International's newly released annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

Egyptian Amro Ali reacts:

And Sudanese Usamah Mohamed comments:

July 14 2013

How Closing Account of Money Transfer Organisations Threatens Peace in Somalia

Laure Hammond explains how a recent decision by Barclays Bank to close the accounts of 250 money transfer organisations working around the world will have a particularly severe effect on Somalia’s efforts to emerge from two decades of conflict.

May 23 2013

Discover Somalia Blog Hopes to Promote Somalia and Its People

Discover Somalia is a cultural & photography blog dedicated to Somalia. The blog aims at promoting a more accurate media image of Somalia and the potential of its people, beauty and natural resources.

January 18 2013

Gabon to Mali: History of French Military Interventions in Africa

[All links forward to french articles unless otherwise stated] 

The French military intervention in Mali, known as Operation Serval [en] started on January 11, 2013 following the advance of terrorists groups towards Bamako. Lauded by a substantial part of the Malian population [en] and many outside observers, the military intervention diverts, however, from the non-interventionist line professed by French President Hollande in Africa.


View L'intervention militaire étrangère au Mali in a larger map
Google interactive map of the Malian conflict by Jeune Afrique

Francis d'Alençon wonders why French interventions in Africa do not raise protests around the world:

Bizarre, bizarre… L’intervention française au Mali ne dérange personne alors que des actions américaines similaires soulèveraient des tempêtes de protestation… De l’avantage de ne pas être une super puissance.

This is odd… The french intervention in Mali does not bother anyone whereas similar actions by the USA would have raised a storm of protests.. There are perks to not being the world's top super power.

To illustrate his point, he quotes from the Cech newspaper Lidové noviny :

Les Français sont intervenus plus de 50 fois en Afrique depuis 1960. Ils ont combattu au Tchad, dans la guerre non déclarée avec la Libye, protégé les régimes de Djibouti et de République Centrafricaine des rebelles, empêché un coup d’état aux Comores, sont intervenus en Côte d’Ivoire. Que ce soit pour préserver des intérêts économiques, protéger les ressortissants français ou démontrer le statut de grande puissance du pays, les locataires de l’Élysée, de gauche comme de droite, ont fréquemment manifesté leur penchant pour les actions unilatérales. … Pourtant personne n’a jamais protesté. … Si les États-Unis intervenaient avec une telle véhémence, il y aurait des protestations interminables en Europe. Et les ambassades américaines verraient défiler des diplomates fâchés, à commencer par les Français.

The French have now intervened more than 50 times in Africa since 1960. They fought in Chad, in the war with Libya, protected regimes in  Djibouti and the Central African Republic from rebels, prevented a coup in the Comoros and intervened in Côte d'Ivoire. Whether to preserve economic interests, protect French nationals or showcase the still imposing power of France, the main tenants of the Palais de l'Élysée, either from the left or from the right wings, have frequently expressed their penchant for unilateral action. But … nobody has ever protested. If … the United States intervened in such a manner, there would be an endless sequence of protests in Europe. U.S. embassies would see angry diplomats coming through their doors, starting with the French ones.

Carte de la rébellion touareg au Azawad, au nord de Mali indiquant les attaques des rebelles au 5 avril 2012

Map of the Tuareg rebellion in Azawad, Northern Mali showing rebel attacks as of April 5, 2012 (CC-BY-3.0)

Below is a chronology of these interventions [There are indeed quite a few of them but contrary to what the Cech newspaper stated, there were less than 50 french interventions in Africa ]. It is based on two articles:  one is a review written by  Nestor N’Gampoula  for Oeil d'Afrique and  another one by Jean-Patrick Grumberg for Dreuz Info. Grumberg adds that most of the French interventions in Africa took place on former colonial soil :

In 1964, airborne french troops landed in Libreville, Gabon after an attempted coup against the regime back then.

From 1968 to 1972, French troops took part in the fight against the rebellion in the Tibesti region in northern Chad.

In 1978 in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), 600 French legionnaires went into the town of Kolwezi, in the south-east to help thousands of Africans and Europeans threatened by Katangan rebels. The mission was in response to a call for help made by President Mobutu Sese Seko to help his country. The operation cost the lives of five legionnaires, but allowed the evacuation of 2700 Westerners.

In 1979 in CAR, Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa is removed by French paratroopers during the Operation Barracuda.

From 1983-1984 in Chad, France undertook Operation Manta, a 3,000 men strong operation to face armed rebels supported by Libya. Two years later, another French military action, composed of mostly aerial attacks called “Operation Epervier“, was deployed after an anti-government attack.

In Comoros in 1989, after the assassination of President Ahmed Abdallah and the takeover of the country by the French mercenary Bob Denard, about 200 French soldiers arrived in the country to force them to leave the country.

In 1990, Paris sends troops to Gabon in Libreville and Port-Gentil in reinforcement of the French contingent after violent riots erupted. The operation allowed the evacuation of some 1,800 foreigners.

In 1991 in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), the Belgian and French troops managed to evacuate foreigners after violent riots and looting occurred in the country.

In 1991 still, French troops based in Djibouti help the Afar rebellion to disarm Ethiopian troops that had crossed the border following the overthrow of Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam.

In 1994, French and Belgian soldiers evacuate Europeans while Rwanda Hutus massacred hundreds thousands of Tutsis. Later in the year, some 2,500 French soldiers, supported by african troops, launched “Operation Turquoise“, described as a humanitarian effort, in Zaire and in eastern Rwanda.

In 1995, a thousand men involved in Operation Azalea ended another attempted coup against Comorian President  Said Mohamed Djohar by Bob Denard.

In 1996 in the Central African Republic (CAR), operation Almandin secured the safety of foreigners and the evacuation of 1,600 people after the army mutinied against President Ange-Félix Patassé. The following year in 1997, specifically after the murder of two French soldiers, a French operation against the mutineers was mandated in Bangui (Central African Republic).

The same year, 1997, some 1,200 French soldiers rescued French and African expatriates during fighting between the Congolese army and supporters of the military leader Denis Sassou Nguesso, now President of the Republic of Congo.

In 2002, French forces undertook Operation Licorne to help Westerners trapped by a military uprising that effectively divided Côte-d’Ivoire in two regions.

In 2003, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Operation Artemis in Ituri  secured the area and put an end to ongoing massacres. This was followed by the deployment of 2,000 peacekeepers,  80% of which were French.

In 2004 in Côte-d’Ivoire, France destroyed the small Ivorian airforce after government forces bombed a French base.

In 2008 a new French intervention strengthens the regime of Chadian President Idriss Deby and evacuated foreigners while rebels from neighboring Sudan attacked.

In March 2011 in Libya had the French airforces were the first to bomb Gaddafi forces after the vote at the United Nations authorized intervention in Libya to protect civilians caught up in the rebellion against Gaddafi. NATO took command of the overall mission on March 31, a mission that helped the Libyan rebels to defeat the forces of the government and take power.

In 2011 in Côte-d’Ivoire,  French forces alongside UN forces tip the balance in favor of Ouattara during the civil war. The war broke out after the refusal of Laurent Gbagbo to resign and accept the verdict of the election that pronounced Alassane Ouattara as president.

France had decided to break with his role as “policeman of Africa” by refusing to intervene again in the Central African Republic  where François Bozizé (former army chief who came to power by overthrowing the elected president Ange-Félix Patassé on March 15, 2003) faced a rebellion uprising. Little did he know that the events in Mali would force his hands :

In 2013 in Mali,  French bombarded Islamist rebels after they tried to expand their powerbase  towards the Malian capital, Bamako. France had already warned that control of the north of Mali by the rebels posed a threat to the security of Europe.

At the same time, France has mounted a commando operation to try to save a French hostage held by al Shabaab militants in Somalia, also allied with al-Qaeda. The hostage was  killed by the militants.

December 15 2012

Fatal Wage Dispute Sparks Revenge Attacks Against Zambia's Somali Residents

The shooting of a Zambian worker allegedly by his Somali employer after a wage dispute, on 13 December, 2012, has triggered a series of revenge attacks against Somali residents in Ndola, Zambia’s third largest city, 400 km north of the capital Lusaka.

Reporting on the riots, Zambian Reports wrote:

Ndola residents have taken to the streets damaging property, particularly those belonging to Somali nations following the shooting of a Zambian in a wage dispute.

Somali nationals are also being targeted for beatings as a sign of revenge.

The riots started early this morning in Northrise forcing Copperbelt riot police to descend on the city to quell the volatile situation. The situation was particularly worse in Masala and Ndeke township where majority of Somalians reside in Ndola.

The Zambian Eye also reported:

Zambians are rioting in Ndola the provincial capital of the Copperbelt.

The riot started this morning and by press time 9:30 am local time the residents were still rioting looting a shop of a Somalian in the Second Class area in the Central district. Zambian Eye reporter at the scene says there was no presence of the police yet.

Goods wealth millions of kwacha has been rooted [sic].

“The situation is tense here right now people are looting the shop grabbing assorted groceries such as sugar and cooking oil, Zambian Eye reporters said.

The riot follows the shooting of a Zambian who is reported to have been demanding for his money on Thursday by a Somalian

The story was also picked up by Somali news website, Hiiraan Online.

On Twitter Temwani Nkhata wrote:

@NkhataTemwani: @ caesarcognac yeah we good people bt nw its gettin outa hand…u knw nw they hv become disrespectful and arrogant to us as a peole,enuf!  [yeah, we are good people but now it is getting out of hand… you know now they have become disrespectiful and arrogant to us people, enough!]

Read the earlier tweet:

@caesarcognac @blistic_1 @ NkhataTemwani: @Kush_411 we tolerate so much  as Zambians these ppl  is [are] taking us for granted. Why do we give [th]em so much power?

On Facebook, netizens disagreed with someone who blamed the entire Somali community for the incident. Richard Banda Lcgi Meiz wrote:

A Zambian was shot dead yesterday by a Somalian national and it has sparked riots /looting in Ndola. The issue is that Zambia is going to be in trouble not many years or decades from now following the influx of Somalians. These are guys who are coming from a war-torn or failed state and came in Zambia without anything. They are bearing children who are sarcastically claiming to be Zambians and so they are considering the provisions of our citizenship clause.

[…] We must have control on the influx of Somalians in this country otherwise our great-grand children will curse us while we will be in our graves for the current failures to set things straight.

The Somalians have their own buses and schools and we dont know whether they are teaching those children of theirs hate for the non-Muslims or not.

Banda was criticized by Emmanuel Mulenga:

Damn you stereotypes! Just because one Somalian commits a crime, you condemn everyone of Somalian decent? Learn to embrace equality and diversity! Deal case by case not this rubbish racism you are posting!

There was no official statement from the police at the time of writing on whether there has been any arrests among looters apart from an earlier statement attributed to provincial police commissioner Mary Tembo on the arrest of the Somali suspected killer.

In July 2012, the Zambian Police thwarted a xenophobic attack on a national who was burnt to death in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. A number of Somali nationals are settled in and around Ndola where they run businesses ranging from transportation to supermarkets.

December 02 2012

Voting for the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa

An annual competition has been launched for the public to vote for the seven best natural wonders of Africa, with the voting currently underway. The competition is organized by global grassroots endeavor Seven Natural Wonders and at this point includes 12 sites from across the African continent.

Discover the shortlist and other suggested contenders which didn't make the cut this year.

The Okavango Delta, Botswana

Hippos bathing in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, the world's largest inland delta by John on Wikipedia CC-license-by

The Okavango Delta is the world's largest inland delta, created from the rains that fill the Okavango River. The Namibian government has plans to build a hydropower station which would regulate the Okavango's flow, but environmentalists fear that this project could destroy most of the fauna and flora in the Delta.

The Red Sea Reef, Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea

The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. Its Reef stretches over 1,240 miles along the coast of Egypt, Sudan, and Eritrea and contains more than 1,100 species of fish.

Anthia goldfish in the Red Sea from Wikimedia commons. Image in the public domain.

Anthia goldfish in the Red Sea from Wikimedia commons. Image in the public domain.

Mount Kenya, Kenya 

Mount Kenya wall

Mount Kenya wall by Radu vatcu CC license-BY-3.0

Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro. It was covered by an ice cap for thousands of years. The Mount Kenya ecosystem provides water directly for over two million people. The park receives over 16,000 visitors per year.

The Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

Local people on the Avenue of the Baobabs, Morondava, Madagascar. Image on Wikimedia commons, in public domain.

Local people on the Avenue of the Baobabs, Morondava, Madagascar. Image on Wikimedia commons, in public domain.

The Avenue of the Baobabs is located between Morondava and Belon'i Tsiribihina in the Menabe region in western Madagascar. Baobab trees, up to 800 years old, stand about 30 meters in height and this particular species is endemic to Madagascar. The site was present in the news recently because it was victim of a wild fire that burnt down newly planted trees around the giant trees.

 The Stone Forest of Bamaraha, Madagascar

Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve in Madagascar. Image on Wikipedia (CC-license-BY-3.0).

Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve in Madagascar. Image on Wikipedia (CC-license-BY-3.0).

Tsingy de Bemaraha is a nature reserve located near the western coast of Madagascar in the Melaky Region. This National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the main attraction is the stone forest that is composed of limestone needles originating from erosion patterns from groundwater and winds.

Zuma Rock, Nigeria

Zuma Rock near Abuja by Jeff Attaway on FlickR license (CC-BY-2.0).

Zuma Rock near Abuja by Jeff Attaway on FlickR license (CC-BY-2.0).

Zuma Rock is a 725 meter high monolith found in Nigeria on the road out of Abuja. Its nickname ‘Gateway to Abuja' is derived from this road.

The Peak of Furnace, Réunion Island

Eruption at the Peak, April 2007 on FlickR by zatiqs (CC license-BY-NC-SA).

Eruption at the Peak, April 2007 on FlickR by zatiqs (CC license-BY-NC-SA).

Le Piton de la Fournaise (The Peak of Furnace) is a shield volcano on the eastern side of Réunion island in the Indian Ocean. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

The Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles

Aldabra Island, Seychelles on FlickR by Johny Shaw (CC-BY-2.0).

Aldabra Island, Seychelles on FlickR by Johny Shaw (CC-BY-2.0).

Aldabra is the world's second largest coral atoll and forms part of the Seychelles. Aldabra is almost entirely free of human interference and is home to the world's largest population of giant tortoises.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania 

Kibo on Mt Kilimanjaro by Chris 73 (CC-NC-BY).

Kibo on Mt Kilimanjaro by Chris 73 (CC-NC-BY).

Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world at 5,895 meters. The current shrinking and thinning of Kilimanjaro's ice field is similar to other glacier retreat in mid-to-low latitudes across the globe. At the current rate, Kilimanjaro is expected to become ice-free some time between 2022 and 2033.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

A young male lion at the hunt in Ngorongoro Crater by Brocken Inaglory on Wikimedia (CC-BY-3.0).

A young male lion at the hunt in Ngorongoro Crater by Brocken Inaglory on Wikimedia (CC-BY-3.0).

The Ngorongoro Crater is a large, unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera located in the west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands area of Tanzania. The crater plays host to almost every individual species of wildlife in East Africa, with an estimated 25,000 animals within the crater.

The Serengeti Migration, Tanzania

Wildebeest crossing the river by Stefan Swanepoel in Wikipedia (CC-BY-3.0).

Wildebeest crossing the river by Stefan Swanepoel in Wikipedia (CC-BY-3.0).

The Serengeti migration is the longest and largest overland migration in the world. Each year, the great wildebeest migration begins in the Ngorongoro area of the southern Serengeti of Tanzania in January to March, when the calving season begins; some 750,000 zebra precede the migration of 1.2 million wildebeest.

The Sahara Desert

Camels in Guelta d'Archei, Ennedi, north-east Chad. Image on Wikipedia (CC-BY-2.0).

Camels in Guelta d'Archei, Ennedi, north-east Chad. Image on Wikipedia (CC-BY-2.0).

The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert in the world. The desert encompasses, at least in part, the countries of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia. The southern border of the Sahara is marked by a band of semi-arid savanna called the Sahel.

Bloggers' suggestions

A number of natural wonders were omitted from the shortlist, so a few bloggers have added their own suggestions via their blogs. A slight controversy was the fact that a few countries were featured several times while others were not mentioned at all, despite having worthy candidates.

The Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The Victoria Falls at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe is already selected as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Swimming at the edge of Victoria Falls in a naturally formed safe pool, accessed via Livingstone Island. Image on wikimedia commons, released into public domain by Ian Restall.

Swimming at the edge of Victoria Falls in a naturally formed safe pool, accessed via Livingstone Island. Image on wikimedia commons, released into public domain by Ian Restall.

Blyde River Canyon, South Africa 

The Blyde River Canyon is located in Mpumalanga and forms the northern part of the Drakensberg escarpment. It is 16 miles (26 kilometers) in length and is on average around 2,500 feet (762 meters) deep. The Canyon consists mostly of red sandstone.

The Weeping Face of Nature located in Blyde River Canyon. Image by Ptosio on Wikipedia (CC-BY-3.0).

The Weeping Face of Nature located in Blyde River Canyon. Image by Ptosio on Wikipedia (CC-BY-3.0).

Feel free to add any sites that you feel were omitted in the selection process in the comments section below.

August 30 2012

Chinese Weapons Flooding Africa

Deborah Brautigam from China in Africa provided more background information about the importation of Chinese Weapons in African countries and explained the incentive of arms sale is from private sector:

As we saw in the notorious Libya case, it appears that Chinese companies with their own balance sheets are “going global” and making arms export decisions and deals.

August 10 2012

Somalia: The Very First Humanitarian “Customer Calling Center”

In her blog post about the very first humanitarian customer calling center, Anahi Ayala Iacucci describes “a quick and convenient way for Somali beneficiaries to give feedback about projects funded or services provided by the Danish Refugee Council using an SMS feedback system”: “This project has started in September 2011 and since then, “beneficiary SMS feedback has been implemented in 31 towns and villages in the North and East of Somalia…You can discover more about this project on the dedicated blog.”

June 21 2012

Somalia: Deep Divisions Over New Constitution

Somalia has never had a central government controlling the entire country since the fall of Muhammad Siad Barre in 1991. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is the internationally recognized government of the Republic of Somalia.

After political discussions in Ethiopian, leaders of various Somali parties agreed to political steps to end the transitional period and elect a new president. One of the steps outlined in a detailed timetable is the drafting of a new constitution.

Military portrait of Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia's longest-serving President. Source: U.S. Library of Congress (Public Domain)

Technical Revision Committee for the new constitution participated in a 4-day working session in Nairobi:

A four-day working session with the Signatories’ Technical Revision Committee has been concluded in Nairobi. The working session is a follow up to the recent Addis Signatories’ meeting were most of the constitutional issues were agreed and some of the provisions – prepared by the Independent Federal Constitution Commission – have been amended after congenial political negotiations between the signatories of the Roadmap to end the transition, which was adopted in Mogadishu last September. The technical Revision Committee’s mandate as per Addis Ababa’s Communiqué is to complete the constitutional process.

The Minister of Constitutional Affairs who convened the meeting explained to the participants and the media that “that road towards ending of the transition is getting closer and closer by the day, and we need to collectively work towards delivering a constitution that Somalia deserves and which serves its people.

Members of the Technical Revision Committee in Nairobi. Photo courtesy of http://horn.so/

Mahad Abdalle Awad, Deputy-Minister Ministry of Planning International Cooperation in Somalia, is optimistic that the country will soon have a new constitution:

Fearmongers use scare tactics to influence public opinion to impede change and progress by disseminating false information about the draft constitution and the planned Constituent Assembly meeting. Naysayers, natural skeptics and cynical people among us, habitually express negativity about the accomplishment of others and are pessimistic about change. Dale Carnegie’s famous quote fittingly describes the nature of Naysayers when he wrote “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do.”

These Naysayers often spread blatant lies to oppose anything other people do. In the case of the Constituent Assembly, they assert that the constitution can only be approved by popular referendum, disregarding discernible historical fact that the Somali Republic itself was founded by the 1960 Constitution, approved by Constituent Assembly of only 110 delegates, and a process that took only 29 days, whereby public referendum was held 21st of July 1961, after more than one year.

However, Mohamed Ali Hassan, Chairman of the Somali-American Peace Council and Manuela Melandri, PhD candidate at University College London, note that most Somalis look at the draft constitution with deep skepticism:

The optimism of the international community is not shared by Somalis themselves, who instead look with deep skepticism at a document that they perceive as externally-imposed, faulty and fundamentally undemocratic.

To understand this dynamic, one should start by questioning the facts. What is wrong with the new Somali Constitution and why has the adoption of this document been met with resistance by educated Somalis, religious figures, secularists, former Somali Prime Ministers, women, scholars and by Somali Diaspora organizations?

First, there are issues concerning the content of the Constitution and the substance of its provisions.

Above all, the question of federalism remains deeply divisive. Views can be found both in support of and against Somalia adopting a federal structure.

Somali President Sharif Sheikh in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 12th African Union Summit Feb. 2, 2009. Source: U.S. federal government (Public Domain

But one Somali argue that the new constitution can be improved in the future. Somalis do not have time to wait for a a perfect constitution:

Whether we like it or not, when we see images of the Somali people around the world and we compare our own situation (at least, those in the Diaspora that live in peace), do we feel that those brothers and sisters need a constitution that works for them now since they are dealing with horrible situations? Think about this: maxay ku gaaraan mustaqbalka?

You have to know that I did not write those news articles mentioned above, Iam not part of the group that put together of the new constitution and I am not here to justify whether the new constitution is good, bad or ugly. All I want to remind you is that: those that are in need may not have time to wait a new perfect and pretty constitution; they need one that works for them for the time being. More importantly, I am not here to oppose anyone’s idea – I am just expressing my own views as anyone else. However, the best solution that I see, at least in my opinion, let us commence discussing how to improve the new constitutions in the future.

Mohamud Uluso considers the draft constitution “a hurried job, with the latest version available only in Somali language while various outdated or fake versions are circulating on the web”:

It appears that the UN-wise roadmap for Somalia is nothing but part of a plan of perfidy to keep Somalia and the Somalis in turmoil. Instead of liberating the true Somalis, who need and want to continue living in and developing their own country and their communities inside Somalia, the planned constitution appears as the manifestation of the shackles of foreign as well as internal oppression of the indigenous Somali people in perpetuity.

Most Somalis and their scholars doubt that it is the right time to engage in the process of forming a new constitution during an era of civil strife and turmoil in Somalia and wonder why millions of dollars have been spent by the players from the so-called international community to re-invent the wheel, while the existing Somali constitution could just be amended if any real need would be given and legally as well as representatively expressed - reflecting the true and free will of the Somali people.

According to insiders FGM [Transitional Federal Government] is now permitted by the newly proposed Somali constitution, which will be presented for adoption to selected “traditional leaders”. A typical scheme how the UN and their stooges want to get it their way - or the way their master wants it.

Abduallhi Jamaa analyses various arguments about the draft constitution appearing online, vernacular radios and in village meetings and cafes:

Analysts say the proposed law is seemingly a milestone, but one that may fracture Somalia further into autonomous and semi-autonomous regions as well as ministates.
—-

“There is absolute confusion. There wasn’t any civic education to put across the letter and spirit of the proposed laws and this means that most people are not comfortable with the contents, many more have not heard about the whole process,” he [Hassan Sheikh, the leader of the Party of Peace and Development] told Somalia Report.

Amongst the contentious issues include the proposed model of government, the controversial issue of natural resources and the religious influence. Some players argue that the language of the draft is not understandable, an issue that can lead to various kinds of misinterpretation.

—-

“The issue isn't just about the dispute over the contents. It is related to an absence of public representation. I do not wish to be part of a constituent assembly that does not represent Somalia’s vision and mission,” said traditional elder Mohamed Hersi.

Google Ideas developed a pilot project with the Somali service, Africa Division of Voice of America (VOA) to help Somalis register their opinions with just a few clicks. The poll shows, among other things, that Somalis want a Somalia based on the civil and criminal codes of Sharia, a strong central government and are divided over the inclusion of women in government.

May 02 2012

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 18 2012

Somalia: Hands Off Somalia

Hands Off Somalia is a campaign originally organised to oppose any upcoming corporate, political and military intervention in Somalia by the British government, which was signalled at their conference held on 23 February 2012.

March 12 2012

Italy Condemned for Violations of African Refugee Rights

On February 23, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has come to a historic judgment, that Italy violated the European Convention on Human Rights by intercepting and sending back Eritrean and Somali migrants to Libya.

African Refugees by Vito Manzari on Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

African Refugees by Vito Manzari on Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Unione Diritti Umani Blog explains [it] the events:

Il caso Hirsi e altri contro Italia riguarda la prima operazione di respingimento effettuata il 6 maggio 2009, a 35 miglia a sud di Lampedusa, in acque internazionali. Le autorità italiane hanno intercettato una barca con a bordo circa 200 somali ed eritrei, tra cui bambini e donne in stato di gravidanza. Questi migranti sono stati presi a bordo da una imbarcazione italiana, respinti a Tripoli e riconsegnati, contro la loro volontà, alle autorità libiche. Senza essere identificati, ascoltati né preventivamente informati sulla loro reale destinazione. I migranti erano, infatti, convinti di essere diretti verso le coste italiane. 11 cittadini somali e 13 cittadini eritrei, rintracciati e assistiti in Libia dal Consiglio italiano per i rifugiati dopo il loro respingimento, hanno presentato un ricorso contro l’Italia alla Corte Europea, attraverso gli avvocati Anton Giulio Lana e Andrea Saccucci, dell’Unione forense per la tutela dei diritti umani.

The Hirsi case and others versus Italy pertains to the first push back operation carried out on May 6, 2009, in international waters, 35 miles south of Lampedusa. Italian authorities intercepted a boat carrying some 200 Somalis and Eritreans, including children and pregnant women. The migrants were then taken on board an Italian ship, sent back to Tripoli, and handed over against their will to Libyan authorities. They were not identified, no one  listened to them or informed beforehand of their actual destination. In fact, the migrants were convinced that were heading toward the Italian coast. After this operation, 11 Somali citizens and 13 Eritrean citizens, who were found and helped in Libya by the Italian Council for Refugees, brought action against Italy before the European Court of Justice. Assistance was provided by Anton Giulio Lana and Andrea Saccucci, from the Union of Lawyers for Protection of Human Rights.

GiulioL [it] described the operation upon their arrival in Tripoli [it] on the blog ilmalpaese:

Sul molo di Tripoli li aspettava la polizia libica, con i camion container pronti a caricarli, come carri bestiame, per poi smistarli nelle varie prigioni del paese. A bordo di quelle motovedette c’era un fotogiornalista, Enrico Dagnino, che ha raccontato la violenza di quell’operazione. Poi fu censura.

The Libyan police were awaiting them on the dock with container trucks ready to pick them up, like livestock onto cattle cars, and then send them to various prisons around the country. A photojournalist, Enrico Dagnino, who was on board the patrol boat, described in detail the violence in this operation. After that, the proceedings were censored.

This action led to the non-implementation of the principles governing the treatment of people fleeing from danger, Henry Oliver explains on the UK Human Rights blog:

 The return involved a violation of Article 3 (anti-torture and inhumane treatment), Article 4 of Protocol 4 (collective expulsion of aliens), and  Article 13 (right to an effective remedy). The patrols that returned migrants to Libya were in breach of the non-refoulement principle.

An immigrant's t-shirt saying "I am an immigrant using soap and water" to avoid abuse. By Cristiano Corsini on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

An immigrant's t-shirt saying "I am an immigrant using soap and water" to avoid abuse. By Cristiano Corsini on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

The old Italian government, formed by Silvio Berlusconi's party, Popolo della libertà (People of Freedom), and Umberto Bossi's extreme right party, the Northern League, created a legal arsenal and took steps against immigration in Italy, which have been denounced on several occasions by civil society and the Catholic Church. Italy has also been condemned on various instances for its anti-immigration [it] policy, which is inconsistent with European treaties.

Gabriele Del Grande's blog fortresseurope.blogspot.com [it] publishes information about Fortess Europe's activities for the defense of immigrant rights. The association has produced a great number of reports, first hand accounts and films on refugee treatment in Italy as well as in other European countries.

Here he describes prison life [it] in Libya during the rule of the old regime:

Siamo a Misratah, 210 km a est di Tripoli, in Libia. E i detenuti sono tutti richiedenti asilo politico eritrei, arrestati al largo di Lampedusa o nei quartieri degli immigrati a Tripoli. Vittime collaterali della cooperazione italo libica contro l’immigrazione. Sono più di 600 persone, tra cui 58 donne e diversi bambini e neonati. Sono in carcere da più di due anni, ma nessuno di loro è stato processato. Dormono in camere senza finestre di 4 metri per 5, fino a 20 persone, buttati per terra su stuoini e materassini di gommapiuma. Di giorno si riuniscono nel cortile di 20 metri per 20 su cui si affacciano le camere, sotto lo sguardo vigile della polizia. Sono ragazzi tra i 20 e i 30 anni. La loro colpa? Aver tentato di raggiungere l’Europa per chiedere asilo.

We are in Misratah, 210 km east of Tripoli, in Libya. All the prisoners here are Eritrean asylum seekers, arrested offshore of Lampedusa or in immigrant neighborhoods in Tripoli. Collateral victims of Italy's and Libya's cooperation against immigration. More than 600 people, of whom 58 are women, there are also several children and babies in the group. They have been in prison for over two years, but none of them has been tried. Up to 20 people sleep laid out on mats or foam mattresses in windowless rooms measuring 4 meters by 5. During the day, they are placed under the police's vigilant eye into a courtyard, measuring 20 meters by 20, onto which the rooms open. They are all between 20 and 30 years old. And what did they do wrong? Attempt to reach Europe in search of asylum.

The blog observatoirecitoyen.over-blog.org discloses [fr] that:

Le principe de non refoulement, inscrit dans la Convention des Nations unies sur le statut des réfugiés de 1951, interdit de renvoyer une personne vers un pays où sa vie ou sa liberté peut être menacée. …

Quelque 602 migrants ont été interceptés en mer et immédiatement refoulés de mai à juillet 2009, principalement vers la Libye, un pays où “toute personne détenue risque d'être soumise à des mauvais traitements sérieux” ou d'être renvoyée vers un pays où existent de tels risques, note le CPT (Comité de prévention de la torture).

Certes, reconnaît-il, “les Etats ont le droit souverain de protéger leurs frontières et de contrôler l'immigration”, mais l'Italie doit revoir ses procédures pour s'assurer que tous les migrants interceptés reçoivent d'abord des soins et puissent déposer une demande d'asile.

The principle of non-refoulement, enshrined in the 1951 in the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, prohibits sending a person back to a country where his life or freedom may be threatened. …

From May to July 2009, some 602 migrants were intercepted at sea and immediately turned away. They were chiefly sent back to Libya, a country where “every person arrested risks being subjected to serious mistreatment,” or of being sent back to a country where such risks do exist, the CPT remarked (Committee for the Prevention of Torture).

Of course, the CPT admits, “States have the sovereign right to protect their borders and control immigration,” but Italy should review its procedures to ensure that all intercepted migrants first receive care and can apply for asylum.

Unfortunately in Europe, Italy is not the only country to carry out forced mass repatriations. This association reports [it] that:

Dal 1988 sono morte lungo le frontiere dell'Europa almeno 18.058 persone. Di cui 2.251 soltanto dall'inizio del 2011. Il dato è aggiornato al 7 dicembre 2011 e si basa sulle notizie censite negli archivi della stampa internazionale degli ultimi 23 anni. Il dato reale potrebbe essere molto più grande. Nessuno sa quanti siano i naufragi di cui non abbiamo mai avuto notizia. Lo sanno soltanto le famiglie dei dispersi, che dal Marocco allo Sri Lanka, si chiedono da anni che fine abbiano fatto i loro figli partiti un bel giorno per l'Europa e mai più tornati.

Since 1988, at least 18,058 [it] people have died along Europe's borders. Of this only 2,251 have died since the beginning of 2011. This data was updated on December 7, 2011, and was based on the census data from the international press archives over the past 23 years. The real figure could be much higher. No one knows how many ships have wrecked since we have never heard. Only the families of the missing persons know. These families, from Morocco to Sri Lanka, have been questioning for years what has happened to their children who left one day for Europe and never came back.

Paolo Lambruschi, for his part, wrote [it] on website of the Italian Episcopal Conference's newspaper:

E, cosa che interessa tutta l’Ue, andranno riviste le operazioni Frontex di pattugliamento del Mediterraneo perché per la prima volta viene equiparato il respingimento di gruppi alla frontiera e in alto mare allé espulsioni collettive. A 22 ricorrenti su 24, 11 somali e 13 eritrei, l’Italia dovrà versare un risarcimento di 15 mila euro più le spese processuali. Gli altri due sono morti.

And, something which concerns all EU countries, the operations of Frontex patrols in the Mediterranean will be revised, because for the first time the pushing back of groups at borders and on the high seas is tantamount to mass deportations. Italy will have to pay 15,000 euros plus legal costs to 22 of 24 plaintiffs, 11 Somalis and 13 Eritreans. The other two are dead.

Gabriele Del Grande's blog fortresseurope.blogspot.com concludes [it]:

Un giorno a Lampedusa e a Zuwarah, a Evros e a Samos, a Las Palmas e a Motril saranno eretti dei sacrari con i nomi delle vittime di questi anni di repressione della libertà di movimento. E ai nostri nipoti non potremo neanche dire che non lo sapevamo. Di seguito la rassegna completa e aggiornata delle notizie, dal 1988 a oggi. Per un'analisi delle statistiche, frontiera per frontiera, leggete la scheda Fortezza Europa.

One day, at Lampedusa and at Zouara, at Samos at Evros, at Las Palmas and at Motril, shrines will be erected with the victims' names from these years of repression of freedom of movement. And we won't be able to tell our grandchildren that we didn't know. Here you can find a comprehensive presentation and updates of information, from 1988 until today. For an analysis of the statistics, border by border, read the map Fortezza Europa (Fortress Europe).

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.

 

January 17 2012

Black Women in European Politics: from Struggle to Success

Nowadays, it is a common occcurence to witness African-born women having successful careers in Europe. Despite the evident challenges, many of them have also distiguished themselves in politics. Still, it was not so long ago that such success would have seemed impossible. To achieve greatness, these women have often come a long way, both literally and figuratively.

In order to better appreciate the progress made, one needs to think back to the 19th century and consider the image of black women in Europe then. For the purpose of this article, we will only address the story of women from the African diaspora who have been elected to positions of leadership in countries other than the colonial powers that previously ruled their home countries.

A history of racism

Postcard depicting Sarah Baartman, Wikipedia (public domain)

The story of the “Hottentot Venus” is symptomatic of the relationship between the West and African women in the last two centuries. Sébastien Hervieu, an Africa correspondent for Le Monde newspaper in France, tells the story of Sarah Baartman from South Africa, better known as the “Hottentot Venus”. In an article published in October 2010 in his blog afriquedusud.blog.lemonde.fr, he reviews [fr] Abdellatif Kechiche's [fr] film about her tragic story, Black Venus:

Au début du XIXème siècle, cette servante est emmenée en Europe et devient un objet de foire en raison de ses attributs physiques proéminents. Certains “scientifiques” utilisent sa présence pour théoriser l'infériorité de la “race noire”. Lorsqu'elle meurt à seulement 25 ans, ses organes génitaux et son cerveau sont placés dans des bocaux de formol, et son squelette et le moulage de son corps sont exposés au musée de l'Homme à Paris. C'est seulement en 2002 que la France accepte de rendre la dépouille de Saartjie Baartman à l'Afrique du Sud, concluant ainsi un long imbroglio juridique et diplomatique

At the beginning of the 19th century, this servant was brought to Europe and became a fairground attraction because of her prominent physical attributes. Some “scientists” used her presence to support the theory that the “black race” was inferior. When she died at only 25, her genitals and her brain were placed in jars of formaldehyde. Her skeleton and a molding of her body were exhibited at the Museum of Man in Paris. It was only in 2002 that France agreed to return Sarah Baartman's remains to South Africa, thereby drawing to a close a long running legal and diplomatic imbroglio [fr].

Sarah Baartman died in Paris on 29th September 1815. More than 100 years later, the Khoïkhoï people in South Africa called on Nelson Mandela to demand the restitution of Sarah's remains. The demand was met with the refusal of the French authorities and the scientific community citing the inalienable heritage of science and the state, but France eventually repatriated the body to South Africa where, in accordance with the rites of her people, it was purified and placed on a bed of dried herbs which were set alight.

Norway

Two centuries later, the position of black women in Europe has drastically changed. Amongst others, many have now been elected to political office.

Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen on Wikipedia (Norway) (CC-BY 3.0)

Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen in Norway is one of these women, and one of the most interesting because she shows the contradictions that still exist within some countries. She had to step down from a ministerial post in the Norwegian government just four months into her job. An article on Grioo.com sets out her career [fr]:

Originaire de l’Ile de la Martinique, à 44 ans, Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen a obtenu son poste de ministre de l’Enfance et de la Parité au sein du gouvernement de centre-gauche norvégien le 18 octobre 2007[…] Elle est mariée avec Terje Osmundsen, un homme politique membre du parti conservateur norvégien. Après son mariage, elle a pris la nationalité norvégienne et renoncé à celle de la France. Le pays n’autorisant pas la double nationalité.

Born in Martinique, 44 year old Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen gained her post as Minster for Children and Equality in the centre-left Norwegian government on 18th October 2007 […] She is married to Terje Osmundsen, a politician and member of the Norwegian conservative party. After their marriage she took Norwegian nationality and renounced her French nationality as the country does not allow dual nationality.

In an interview with Patrick Karam from the website fxgpariscaraibe.com in 2008 she explains [fr] some of the things that played in her favour in being appointed and why she stepped down following a controversy over an alleged conflict of interest in the hiring of a political appointee:

En Norvège, il y a obligation de représentation des deux sexes dans les conseils d’administration, 40 % de femmes au minimum. Nous menons aussi une politique pour inciter les hommes à prendre plus de responsabilité dans le foyer pour laisser les femmes entreprendre professionnellement. J’ai travaillé aussi sur l’enfance en danger, les violences, les maltraitances… J’ai travaillé quatre mois sans être critiquée, c’était une expérience réussie. Les critiques sont venues avec la nomination d’une médiatrice. Avec du recul, tout le monde voit que c’est une bagatelle. J’ai cédé au pouvoir de la presse.

In Norway there must be parity of representation between the two sexes within the administrative councils, with a minimum of 40% women. We are also pursuing a policy which encourages men to take more responsibilty at home, leaving women able to pursue a career. I also worked on child endangerment, violence, abuse… I worked for four months without criticism and it was a real success. The criticism began with the appointment of an ombudsman for children. In hindsight everyone can see it was something being made out of nothing. I gave in to the power of the media.

Sweden

Nyamko sabuni

Nyamko Sabuni, Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA)

Nyamko Sabuni [fr] is a former minister in Sweden, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Born in Burundi in 1969, her father fled the country due to persecution. She was elected to the Riksday as a member of the parliament in 2002, and at 37 years old became a Swedish goverment minister from 2006 to 2010. An article published on congopage.com sets out [fr] her progress.

En 1981, à l’âge de 12 ans, elle est arrivée en Suède avec sa mère et trois de ses cinq frères et sœurs. Là, elle a retrouvé son père, un opposant politique plusieurs fois emprisonné au Congo (actuellement République démocratique du Congo), venu dans le pays nordique grâce à Amnesty International.

In 1981, at the age of 12, she arrived in Sweden with her mother and three of her brothers and sisters. There she was reunited with her father, an opposition politician imprisoned several times in Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), who had come to the Nordic country with the help of Amnesty International.

The Netherlands

Ayaan hirsi ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wikipedia (public domain)

The Hirsiali blog presents a profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

Née en Somalie en 1969, excisée à l’âge de 5 ans, Ayaan Hirsi Ali est scolarisée dans un lycée musulman pour filles. Soumise à ses parents, à son clan et à sa religion jusqu’à l’âge de vingt-trois ans, elle profite d’un passage dans sa famille en Allemagne, pour s’enfuir et échapper à un mariage forcé. Réfugiée aux Pays-Bas, elle adopte les valeurs libérales occidentales au point de devenir une jeune députée à La Haye et de s’affirmer athée. Pour avoir travaillé dans les services sociaux du royaume, elle connaît, de l’intérieur, les horreurs tolérées à l’encontre des femmes au nom du multiculturalisme.

Born in Somalia in 1969 and circumcised at the age of 5, Ayaan Hirsi Ali went to a Muslim girls school. Subjugated by her parents, her clan and her religion up to the age of 23, she took advantage of a trip to visit family in Germany to flee and escape a forced marriage. Taking refuge in Holland, she adopted Western liberal values to the extent that she became a young member of parliament in The Hague and declared herself to be an athiest. After having worked in the country's social services she knows, at first hand, the horrors tolerated against women in the name of multiculturalism.

A fierce apponent of some of the aspects of Islam and African traditions that go against basic human rights, she founded an NGO whose aims are set out, on her website Ayaan Hirsiali in the following terms:

In response to ongoing abuses of women’s rights, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her supporters established the AHA Foundation in 2007 to help protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.

Italy

The first black person to be elected to the Italian parliament is Mercedes Lourdes Frias from the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean. This is how she is described [en] on the blogging site Black Women in Europe:

Mercedes Lourdes Frias was born in the Dominican Republic. She was the first black person elected to the Italian Parliament in 2006 where she served through April 2008. She was a member of the Commission on Constitutional Affairs and the Parliamentary Committee on the Implementation of the Control of Schengen Agreement, and the Control and Surveillance on Immigration. She works on anti-racist activities and welcoming immigrants. From 1994 1997 she was a member of the Council of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy. In the town of Empoli Ms Frias served a councilor for the environment, rights of citizenship, equal opportunities.

The most surprising of the black women to have been elected via universal sufferage or appointed to positions of elevated responsibility in European countries is Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane, elected in 2009 on a Northern League ticket; the most racist and xenophobic of Italy's political parties. One of the party's objectives is the secessoin of some of the northern part the Italian peninsula (though the boundary is not clearly undefined) because the party leaders do not like Southern Italians.

The blog stranieriinitalia.it (foreigners in Italy) gives a brief outline of her career [it]:

Il primo sindaco di colore in Italia ha la camicia verde. Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane si è aggiudicata con appena 38 voti di scarto la fascia tricolore a Viggiù, cinquemila anime in Valceresio, tra Varesotto e Canton Ticino. Alle sue spalle, una lunga storia di migrazioni. Di Viggiù era originaria la famiglia materna del neosindaco, scalpellini emigrati in Francia, dove durante la seconda guerra mondiale arrivò il padre, un soldato statunitense afroamericano. Il neo sindaco è nata a Springfield, nel Massachussets, nel 1961, ma a dieci anni, dopo la separazione dei genitori, ha seguito la madre nel paesino d’origine.

Italy's first coloured mayor wears a green shirt [the colour worn by Northern League supporters]. Sandra Maria (Sandy) Cane won the tricolour scarf of the Mayor of Viggiù, a town of five thousand inhabitants in the Valceresio region, between the town of Varèse and the Canton of Tessin, with a margin on only 38 votes.
A past with a long history of migration. The new mayor's family on her mother's side were stone masons, originally from Viggiù, who migrated to France. During the Second World War, her father, an African-American soldier from the United States arrived in France. The new Mayor was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1961, but ten years after the separation of her parents she followed her mother back to her home village.

This, according to the blog associazioneumoja.wordpress.com, is how she found herself [it] in politics, with a rather unlikely ideological platform:

Della Lega sono sempre stata sostenitrice, anche se mai vera militante. Quando ero ragazza morivo dal ridere a vedere i loro manifesti, curiosi e di forte impatto. Poi quindici anni fa, più o meno, mi sono avvicinata di più. […] Vedo come «molto americana» anche la Lega, per la richiesta di rispettare rigorosamente la legge, anche per i clandestini. Anche se a Viggiù, precisa, non ci sono problemi di integrazione, nè tantomeno di sicurezza. Tra le priorità, guarda al rilancio turistico del paese, con manifestazioni e attenzione alla cultura.

I have always supported the Northern League without ever being very active. When I was a little girl their posters used to make me laugh, they were curious and had a big impact. Then, around fifteen years ago I became a little more involved. […] I see it as being “very American”, even the Northern League, because they insist on a rigorous respect for the law, even for illegal immigrants. Even so, she points out that there are no problems of integration and still yet security in Viggiù. One of her priorities is to reignite tourism in the area, with events and a focus on culture.

Despite the marked progress in the inclusion of African women in European politics, they represent isolated cases as, beyond the difficulties they face due to racism or culture and religion, even within their own families and their own societies, they also have to face up to the challenges that all women across the world face [fr]: domestic violence, the challenge of bearing children, marginalisation and under-representation.

January 13 2012

Kenya/Somalia: Twitter War: Kenyan Army Versus Al Shabaab

Kenya's military incursion into Somalia against the militant group Al Shabaab dubbed “Operation Linda Nchi” (Swahili for “Operation Defend the Country”) has turned into Twitter war. This came after the official military spokesperson Major E ChirChir going by the Twitter handle  @MajorEChirchir posted old photos claiming that a Kenyan Al Shabaab recruit had been stoned to death recently by the group members because of “a difference of opinion”. Image of the now deleted tweet can be seen at this here

It later became apparent that the photos were actually taken by a Somalian journalist in 2009 and does not even feature a Kenyan Al Shabab recruit. The Kenyan military spokesperson has displayed a sense of responsibility by acknowledging responsibility and stating in one tweet:

Official logo of the Kenyan army. Photo source: @MajorEChirchir.


@MajorEChirchir: #PicturePosting I take responsibility for posting an old photo, but execution did happen on Tuesday. Friday execution likely.

Reacting to @MajorEChirchir's tweets, @SelfMadeAbdi asks:

@SelfMadeAbdi: Are we suppose to believe u now?

@Dannmanufc writes:

@Dannmanufc: loosing trust of your updates

@kithembe says:

@kithembe: @MajorEChirchir #PicturePosting it is sad but stop posting old pictures.

Image of @MajorEChirchir tweets. Image source: globalpost.com

His post has raised furor online with a number of Twitter users venting their anger, distrust and opinions on the issue under the hashtag #PicturePosting. Tweep @mamayaimani writes:

@mamayaimani:
@MajorEChirchir #PicturePosting You do realise what his does to your credibility, don't you? You see what it does for the other side?

Twitter user @geoffreyork blasts @MajorEChirchir by revealing:

@geoffreyork: Here are the 2009 photos from a British newspaper: http://bit.ly/yDYRn4 Compare them to Major C's tweeted photos. Identical.

The Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen Twitter page, @HMSpress, took a few quips at the Kenya Defence Forces stating:

@HMSpress: For those interested: the incident took place in 2009, the man wasn’t #Kenyan, it wasn’t in Kismayo, and it wasn’t HSM http://www.dhanbaal.com/main/index.php?module=News&func=display&sid=272

@HMSpress: They seem unsophisticated, even in their propaganda campaign. A simple Google search would have saved them such an embarrassment

Kenyans and other interested persons responded to the whole fiasco and here is a sample of thjeir tweets:

Tech Blogger @RobertAlai comments:

@RobertAlai: @MajorEChirchir we are waiting for your answers. You tried to fool us. We need reality not faked scenes

Okwaroh states:

@Okwaroh: @MajorEChirchir and to what extent should we tolerate your ‘omissions'. This raises loads of questions about the credibility of your WORD

Responding to the misleading photos, one Kenyan Twitter user, @Jkisioh, coins a new terms “Twicide” and asks:

@JKisioh: Has @MajorEChirchir committed twicide?

The Kenyan military spokesperson may have thought that the tweet would be easily consumed by unsuspecting netizens and believed as gospel truth. The veracity of his statements are not only being put to test by the Al Shabaab and its sympathizers but also by Kenyan citizens as “Tweet war” and social media warfare continue.

The Kenyan capital, Nairobi, saw two deadly grenade attack incidents linked to Al Shabaab last year: one at a popular entertainment club and the other at a crowded bus stop in downtown Nairobi.

January 08 2012

Africa: ICTs for Refugees and Displaced Persons

In recent weeks Global Voices has continued to present to its readers more examples how citizen media is used to empower refugees and displaced people. However, while blogs and social networking sites clearly have a role to play in amplifying marginalized voices, so too do ICTs in general.

MobileActive, for example, is encouraged by the potential for mobile phones to allow refugees to not only remain in contact with loved ones, but to also more easily locate them. The site draws readers' attention to a special issue of Forced Migration Review which takes an in-depth look at the use of ICTs in this context.

Refugees in Uganda are using SMS and cellphones to reconnect with family members and close friends. Photo via MobileActive

Refugees often experience a compound trauma: The situation that caused them to flee in the first place, as well as the fact that many families become separated during migration. For refugee's health and well-being and ability to resettle, it is vital to know the whereabouts of relatives, their safety, and their ability to remain in contact. Today, mobile phones are the most important technology for refugees to find relatives and remain in contact.

The Forced Migration Review Issue 38, The Technology Issue covers technologies for refugees in particular. Two chapters shine a light on the use of mobile phones among refugees, as well as some of the problems with this tech to find and contact family member such as issues of security, and accessibility.

Deputy UN High Commissioner for Refugees T Alexander Aleinikoff provides an introduction to the special issue.

Superficially at least, today’s refugee camps do not appear significantly different from those that existed 30 or 40 years ago. Modernisation seems to have passed them by. But upon a closer look, it becomes apparent that things are changing.

Today, refugees and IDPs in the poorest of countries often have access to a mobile phone and are able to watch satellite TV. Internet cafés have sprung up in some settlements, the hardware purchased by refugee entrepreneurs or donated by humanitarian organisations such as UNHCR. And aid agencies themselves are increasingly making use of advanced technology: geographic information systems, Skype, biometric databases and Google Earth, to give just a few examples.

In one article, the example of a tracing project implemented by the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) in cooperation with Refugees United (RU) is highlighted.

In 1991 Ahmed Hassan Osman* fled the conflict in Somalia, leaving his family in Kismayu, and made his way to Kenya in search of asylum. Ahmed lived for a while in Ifo refugee camp before being resettled to Colorado in the US where he was granted full US citizenship.

In 1992, his cousin Abdulahi Sheikh arrived in Kenya in search of support. Granted refugee status, Abdulahi ended up in Dagahaley camp in Dadaab. He believed Ahmed was either in Dadaab or had been there but his efforts to find him were unsuccessful and he soon gave up hope of ever finding him. In fact, Abdulahi believed Ahmed had gone back to Somalia.

In early 2011 RCK employed Abdulahi to assist the RU project in Dagahaley refugee camp. Abdulahi registered with the tracing project and began a search for missing loved ones. Coming across a name that was familiar, he contacted the person through the RU message system. When he received a reply he realised that, after 20 years of separation and search, he had found his beloved cousin. They exchanged phone numbers and Ahmed called, breaking 20 years of silence. Today, the two keep in touch regularly and both Abdulahi and Ahmed continue to search for more friends and family members.

Of course, as MobileActive also stresses, some problems with local infrastructure remain an obstacle to the widespread adoption of such systems.

In some areas of Africa, there is no telecommunications coverage. Workshop participants commented that where it does exist, phone connections are regularly cut off, and some of them had also experienced intrusion in communication such as crossed lines. The strength of the network signal overseas is weak, and the lack of a reliable or steady source of electricity in a recipient’s country can be a major problem, although this varies by region. Growth of populations in some areas weakens network strength, due to the drain on power. Individuals may also have difficulty accessing electricity to charge their mobile phones.

[…]

Finding the best technology to use for different family members can be difficult, particularly if they themselves are displaced, because of factors such as the variety of available services, whether the family member could afford them and whether they have the skills to use them. One participant observed that the majority of their family members overseas needed to access communication technology through others. One participant described the difficulties she had in contacting her husband in a camp. She sent money to him to buy a phone but other people in the camp would also use it leaving her often waiting for hours to get in touch.

Cheap options such as email, voice-over-internet or instant messaging may not be accessible or affordable, and access to the internet in Africa is very expensive. Furthermore, displaced family members overseas may not know how to use these facilities.

From providing refugees with access to information on health and educational opportunities to using Facebook, Gmail Chat and Skype to maintain connections with family members and friends across geographical divides, the issue provides a comprehensive overview of how ICTs are being used.

Ushahidi also gets a mention in relation to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti as well as in general as it pertains to conflict, disaster and refugees. Indeed, PBS' Idea Lab takes a look at an Al Jazeera and Ushahidi collaboration to connect and empower Somalis separated by conflict and famine.

Somalia Speaks is a collaboration between Souktel, a Palestinian-based organization providing SMS messaging services, Ushahidi, Al Jazeera, Crowdflower, and the African Diaspora Institute. “We wanted to find out the perspective of normal Somali citizens to tell us how the crisis has affected them and the Somali diaspora,” Al Jazeera's Soud Hyder said in an interview.

[…]

The goal of Somalia Speaks is to aggregate unheard voices from inside the region as well as from the Somalia diaspora by asking via text message: How has the Somalia Conflict affected your life? Responses are translated into English and plotted on a map. Since the launch, approximately 3,000 SMS messages have been received.

[…]

For Al Jazeera, Somalia Speaks is also a chance to test innovative mobile approaches to citizen media and news gathering.

In October 2010, MobileActive also profiled a mobile-based project implemented by Refugees United in Uganda with the support of Ericsson, UNHCR and the Omidyar Network, noting that one blog called it “the social network that is more important than Facebook.”

The Technology Issue by Forced Migration Review can be read online here.

December 30 2011

Somalia: Crimes against Journalists Increased In 2011

In a post published on december, 27th, The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) declares that: “In 2011, 4 journalists were murdered in Mogadishu alone, making it the only place where the utmost repulsive crimes against journalists were committed. A further 7 journalists were wounded, 5 in Mogadishu, while the remaining 2 were wounded in Bossasso and Galkayo.” Furthermore 19 medias worker were arrested and 7 media houses targeted with aggressive, repressive and violent actions.

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