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September 23 2013

How the Nairobi Mall Attack Unfolded on Social Media

Shurufu is a Tanzanian journalist based in Dar es Salaam. He tweets at @shurufu. Also read his post Global Voices Author Remembers Friends Slain in Nairobi Mall Attack.

In a moment, everything changed. On 21 September, 2013, a group of armed militants stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, and opened fire, killing by the latest count 69 people and injuring hundreds more.

Twitter captured the confusion of the attack in real-time as users first reported what they thought was an explosion. Shortly after noon, news started trickling through the social network that something had gone horribly wrong at Westgate Mall, one of Nairobi's most popular locations for foreigners and middle-class Kenyans.

Ma Bradley (@NyamburaMumbi) tweeted:

In the immediate few minutes after after the news broke, however, it was still unclear what, exactly, was going on. Naporneon Pornaparte (@aCreole) reflected this uncertainty in his tweet:

For some, the location of the reported incident itself was under dispute. Ramsy Ama Ramah (@ramjanja) suggested that initial reports claiming that an explosion had taken place at Westgate were mistaken:

yoh the explosion is in Mathare not Westgate

Soon enough, however, it became clear that something ominous was taking place at the mall. Confirmation of this came after the Ministry of Interior tweeted this update:

What was emerging on the Twittersphere was that armed individuals had gone inside Westgate, journalist

Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo via his twitter account (

Despite this update from the authorities, the nature of what they were responding to remained a mystery, even to them, at least based on what they were saying publicly, as revealed by Internal Security Ministry Permanent Secretary Mutea Iringo's comments to reporters:

But other sources within the Kenyan police started to realize that what they were confronting was more than an armed robbery. Here is Robert Alai (@RobertAlai), one of the first to report that something more sinister was underway:

After images like these began to circulate, it was becoming clear that an act of terror had been perpetrated in Westgate:

Who is behind the Westgate attack?

At about 11 p.m. in the evening, President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation and confirmed that what was happening in Westgate was, indeed, a terror attack. Via KTN:

Mr. Kenyatta was sombre and informed his people the enormity of what Kenya was experiencing:

This morning, a group of armed terrorists forcefully entered the Westgate Mall in Nairobi’s Parklands area and unleashed senseless violence upon customers and workers. They have killed at least 39 innocent people and injured more than 150 others. With the entire nation, I stand with the families of those who have lost their lives and extend every Kenyan’s deepest condolences.

Later, it would be reported that he too had lost loved ones:

According to reports, the president’s nephew, Mbugua and his fiancée Wahito, were shot dead during the attack and from a witness account, Mbugua had made it safely out of the building when he realised that his fiancee was still stuck in the building. He rushed back to get her only to be shot dead together with his fiancee.

Despite the confirmation that the Westgate attack was an act of terrorism, it was still unclear who had perpetrated it.

In his statement to the nation, President Kenyatta did not name assign responsibility to any specific group. But soon, a Twitter handle believed to be controlled by Al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamist group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The account has since been suspended, but their claim of responsibility is captured in this Storify piece by Canoe News. Robert Alai was also able to capture an image of the Al-Shabaab alleged Twitter page before it was taken down:

Indeed, hours later, a YouTube clip purporting to be by Al-Shabaab was posted online. In grandiose and religious tones, the message was chilling:

Soon after, a group of Muslim Scholars reacted angrily to the claims by supposed members of Al-Shabab that their actions were committed in the name of Islam. The Nigerian popular online platform, Nairaland, quoted a Sheikh Abu Eesa Niamatullah, denouncing what he called their turning of blood of civilians into cheap commodity. He went on to say,

You never touched anything except that you destroyed it, you never entered a legitimate cause except that you corrupted it, you never came across the sanctity of human life except that you violated it, and you never tried to act in the name of Islam except that you polluted it.

So why now, Al-Shabaab?

The audacity of this attack has left some to suggest it may portend a new phase for the Somali Islamists.

In August of this year, analyst Abdihakim Ainte (@Abdikhakim) writing on the website Al-Monitor suggested that the defeats experienced by the group in Somalia at the hands of Ugandan and Kenyan troops has forced it to adopt a more guerrilla and assymetrical type of warfare. To wit:

In a recent audio message, Ahmed Godane, al-Shabab’s operational brain, made it clear that he is determined to reverse the organization’s plummeting operations. That includes, as he put it, plans to install a whole new generation who can interact with fast-moving jihadist warfare. Unlike al-Shabab 1.0, the upgraded al-Shabab is likely to have new recruiters — mostly youths, under 30, who have exposure to the West and are fluent in foreign languages, to appeal to coming generations. This seems evident in new footage released by al-Shabab featuring three young Somali-Americans who died while waging war. The video “The Path to Paradise: From the Twin Cities to the Land of Migration” is part of al-Qaeda-approved propaganda messages to appeal to the next generation.

Meanwhile, Ken Menkhaus over at Think Progress concured that Al-Shabab is indeed weakened. Menkhaus went on to argue that this latest gamble by the group was an attempt to reframe the terms of the conflict in Somalia:

The Westgate attack is the latest sign of the group’s weakness. It was a desperate, high-risk gamble by Shabaab to reverse its prospects. If the deadly attack succeeds in prompting vigilante violence by Kenyan citizens or heavy-handed government reactions against Somali residents, Shabaab stands a chance of recasting itself as the vanguard militia protecting Somalis against external enemies. It desperately needs to reframe the conflict in Somalia as Somalis versus the foreigners, not as Somalis who seek peace and a return to normalcy versus a toxic jihadi movement.

On Twitter, Charles Onyango Obbo (@coboo3) disagreed, saying that the attack shows the metastasizing of Al-Shabaab:

A version of this perspective was echoed in the analysis from the website Somalia Newsroom, which argued that the Westgate attack was inevitable blowback from Kenya's continued operations in Somalia. Additionally, they pointed out, a lack of a long-term strategic plan on how to combat terrorism by Kenya may explain Al-Shabaab's continued potency:

The Kenyan government may find more progress in combatting the influence of al-Shabaab and its sympathizers by building bridges between communities rather than scapegoating, offering under-served communities more resources to serve youth and families, and undertaking serious reform and accountability for security forces’ actions on civilians.

While Kenya’s current approach to al-Shabaab has garnered some successes, it has created tension in Somalia and left unaddressed shortcomings at home. Rather than respond in blind rage to the Westgate attack, Kenya should meditate and answer soberly to the real questions that it is confronting in trying to increase stability at home and abroad.

There is no doubt that, as time goes by, more pondering and analysis will follow to reflect on the horrific events of 21 September.

Also read: Global Voices Author Remembers Friends Slain in Nairobi Mall Attack.

September 17 2013

Brazilian Artists Unite to Save Lions in Kenya

Leo Vultus by Murillo Martinsfor the campaign Run4Run4Lions.

Leo Vultus by Murillo Martins for the campaign Run4Run4Lions.

After the collective publication #sobreontem (About Yesterday) in support of the movement [pt] that started the protests this past June in São Paulo, Brazilian artists are now coming together for a new cause. This time, their artwork is against lion-killing in Sumbaru, Kenya.

Natives of the region are using poison and other weapons against lions that are attacking their goats. To raise the public's awareness of this issue, in 2010 the Ewaso Lions Project organized a half-marathon with the purpose of “neutralizing conflicts between humans and wildlife by involving the local community in the conservation of the lions.” For the organizers, part of the solution to the problem is “more free goats”, and that's why at the first event in 2010, the prizes for winning the race were goats.

Now the project is preparing for the next race with the crowdfunding campaign #Run4Run4Lions, which will collect funds for 2014′s half-marathon. The Brazilian artists’ original artwork (of which some pieces are already sold out) is offered as compensation for those who support the project.

Learn more about the campaign:

September 13 2013

Kenya water discovery brings hope for drought relief in rural north | Global development |…

#Kenya water discovery brings hope for drought relief in rural north | Global development | theguardian.com
http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/11/kenya-water-discovery-drought-relief

Two vast underground aquifers, storing billions of litres of water, have been discovered in the poorest and least developed area of Kenya.

The finds, in Turkana county in the north west, were uncovered using new technology to interpret ground-penetrating radar from satellites. Professor Judy Wakhungu, appointed minister of environment, water and natural resources in April, described the find as extremely significant. “It is not too deep and ought not to be not too expensive to develop,” she added.

Wakhungu said Kenya plans to use the technology to map the entire country: “We are excited to be able to provide a national map of the country’s water resources.”

“We processed imagery from the pace shuttle,” Gachet said. “This allowed us to build up a detailed surface map. Then we interpreted radar imagery from the Japanese space agency and deep seismic data from the oil industry. With this approach, we were able to peel back the surface of the earth like an onion.”

#eau #satellite #cartographie #aquifère

July 30 2013

Ugandans Take Digs at Kenya's Bestiality Trend on Twitter

A recent news report that claimed bestiality is increasing among Kenyans has unleashed a volley of mocking from neighboring Ugandans on Twitter.

IQ4News, an online journalism organisation that produces news and analysis on Africa, reported on 25 July, 2013, the story of the supposed emerging trend in Kenya. The report said:

First it was at the port city of Mombasa, famed for tourism, where eleven women, including two university students were found having sex with dogs. Then a famous businessman in Tigania was nabbed by police for raping a cow.

It did not end there. Hardly a day passes without a Kenyan man found in a steamy moment with an animal, with the latest being the Nyeri saga where a man has been charged in court for sleeping with a hen and Murang’a where four men were caught having sex with a donkey in turns on Wednesday.

The man in the hen saga was caught by his 10-year old son who alerted his brother, the owner of the hen, who later reported him to the police. Police said they are seeking the services of the veterinarians to establish the cause the hens’ death.

Following the reports, some Ugandans used the hashtag #KenyansAndAnimals to make fun of Kenyans. Other non-Ugandan tweeters have also joined the discussion.

Helen Hasyanut (@hasyanut) remarked:

Swittie Hanks (@SwittieHanks) noted:

He is not allowed (‏@HeIsNotAllowed) pointed out that:

Edgar (@EdgarKW) wrote:

Replying to Allan Ssenyonga's tweet (@ssojo81Andima), Jeff (@andsjeff), a Ugandan computer scientist, wrote:

A Ugandan architect student Marvin EL Smull (@smull_El) joked:

SonOfFate (@katsiotho) made a humorous reference to Noah's ark:

Chronicles of Uchiha (@arnold_cle) wrote:

Silver Eyakoowa (@silwaxxy) made a religious comment:

Kenyans replied with their tweets to the Ugandans:

Kenyan investigative journalist Dennis Okari (@DennisOkari)

Lely Netso (@LNetso) advised Ugandans:

Louse Wanjiru (@Loiseshish) tweeted:

Freelance journalist Maxon airo (@Maxonairo) said that Ugandans have finally learnt how to tweet:

*Thumbnail image released under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) by Wikipedia user Jjron (John O'Neill).

July 25 2013

African Fabric Kimono Belt Supports Mothers in Earthquake Disaster Area

A group of Japanese mothers in Sendai city is producing special kimono belts with fairly-traded African fabrics.
Yumi Nakano, who organizes the fundraising [ja] by requesting a donation in exchange for the belts, hopes to encourage more people to enjoy the traditional Japanese kimono and help support the mothers of the area affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami to rebuild their lives at the same time supporting Africans [ja] who hand-loom the fabric.

africa kimono

A group of mothers made Japanese Kimono belt using African fabrics. Image used with permission by Yumi Nakano

July 16 2013

The Beautiful “Country” of Africa

In this week's edition of the Kenyan online magazine Brainstorm, Brenda Wambui rails against the ongoing narratives about Africa: “Africa is a country”, “Africa rising”, ‘”African fashion”. She looks at ways Kenyans can reclaim their story and define themselves on their own terms:

As Kenya, or any other country, we should define who we are, what we stand for, what we expect of other countries we interact with, and what we will and will not accept. We should forge this identity independent of others’ expectations and preconceptions. Then, we should stand by it. Saying who you are is not enough, you also have to show who you are by how you act.

July 04 2013

Kenya Bans NGO's Local Complementary Currency, Arrests Project Leaders

Kenyan authorities have shut down a social complementary currency project aimed at reinforcing the local economy in Kenya and arrested six of the project leaders under the pretext of counterfeiting.

Through local NGO Koru-Kenya, led by former Peace Corps volunteer Will Ruddick, the Bangla-Pesa was conceived in May 2011 and was officially launched on May 11,  2013. But the Bangla-Pesa did not have the chance to run for more than three weeks before authorities put a stop to it. On May 29, 2013, six members of the project were arrested and face up to seven years in jail.

The Central Bank of Kenya claimed that the currency could destabilise the economy, and police complained that the NGO wasn't registered, according to news reports. The team behind Bangla-Pesa was even accused of being linked with the nationalist terrorist group MRC. These accusations were unfounded, police recognized later.

Bangla Vouchers. © Koru-Kenya

Bangla Vouchers. © Koru-Kenya with permission

From Bristol to Thailand, complementary currencies have gained momentum and recognition from civil societies and public institutions around the world. More than 5,000 complementary currencies exist worldwide, with a common goal to enable citizens to regain control of their means of exchange.

Some of them, like the Bristol pound, aim at reinforcing the local economy, others want to encourage environment-friendly behaviors or recognize the informal economy, or simply to give access to a currency tool that some areas have been deprived of.

The website of the project explains how the Bangla-Pesa works:

This currency forms a buffer against fluctuations in the money supply due to remittances, weather, holidays, sending children to school, political turmoil and so on. The fundamental driver of this economic stability and increase in trade is due to the BBN member’s ability to trade their excess capacity. For instance a bicycle operator may have the capacity for 20 customers, but in general only has 10. Now he can give rides to those businesses in exchange for goods and services they have in excess, such as a woman who has extra tomatoes to sell. This increases the overall efficiency of the market and helps the community weather poor economic periods.

Very soon, the new local currency caught people's attention, such as Ritchie King writing for the webzine Quartz:

The goal is to create an interest-free system of microfinance that doesn't rely on a bank or financier, but allows new businesses to get started by buying local goods and services on credit. Will it work? Hard to say, but Koru plans to release a progress report at the end of the year.

The crime of alleviating poverty

After the arrests, a wave of protest in support of the project emerged denouncing the inconsistency of the accusations being made against Ruddick and his team.

On her blog Web of Debt, Ellen Brown stood by the Bangla-Pesa and described the pretext of the arrests as a “crime of allieviating poverty”. She explained:

In this case, the physical Bangla-Pesa voucher looks nothing like the national currency, as it would need to in order to sustain a charge of forgery. The intent of complementary currencies, as their name implies, is not to imitate or compete with the national currency but to complement it, allowing for increased sales within the local community of existing goods and services that would otherwise go unsold. Today, the Bank of England itself acknowledges this role of complementary currencies.

Along with Elleb Brown, a number of individuals and organizations have offered their support. Badi Twalib, a member of the Kenyan parliament, also expressed his support: “The government should support the initiative instead of arresting people,” he said.

The United Nations also wrote a letter of support [PDF], which clearly states the inconsistency by emphasizing the usefulness of the Bangla-Pesa:

Local barter currency systems, such as the Banglapesa vouchers, can be very useful where local productive capacities are under-used due to a scarcity of national currency in circulation within a local territory. The vouchers enable trad to happen among local producers and consumers, which otherwise would not happen.

On Next City, writer Jason Patinkin illustrated the outcomes of the social currency in its early steps in the neighbourhood of Bangladesh, near Nairobi:

Fatuma, who said her gross income each day was about 2,000 shillings, said she might throw out up to 200 shillings of spoiled stock each day. But she sold some of that extra stock for about 50 Bangla-Pesa each day, thus reducing waste by at least 25 percent and giving her extra “cash” to buy things like maize and soap. That extra buying power was crucial on slow business days, including the afternoon I spoke to her. “For women like me who don’t have a husband and who have kids, in a day like this where you’ve not sold anything, it would be better to have Bangla-Pesa to go get some food,” she said.

According to a study produced by the NGO which runs the currency, results after one week were very positive, with an increase of more than 20 percent in trade. Unfortunately, further data was confiscated by the police, leaving it impossible to analyse the later weeks.

On Facebook, the page “Kenyans Must Know” pointed out the irony of the story:

Banning Bangla Pesa while allowing Mpesa, debit cards and similar to operate as legal tender is discriminatory. Mpesa and related money is nothing but a promissory sms generated on mobile phone networks; Bangla on the other hand is promissory pieces of paper circulating among a small network of dwellers in Bangladesh slums in Mombasa. Hence, there is no other reason than the fact that those who own Bangla Pesa are dirt poor, while those who own the likes of Mpesa are stinking rich. That is discrimination and it should be nipped in the bud.

M-Pesa is a very popular mobile-payment currency system which is entirely legal in Kenya and currently monopolizes more than 20 percent of the GDP of Kenya. But unlike Bangla-Pesa, M-Pesa is run by Safaricom, a private company which is making huge profits, at the expense of the Kenyan government which loses seigniorage revenue when more people are using M-Pesa, explained Izabella Kaminska on FT Alphaville earlier this year.

“Time to get serious”

To defend their case in court, the NGO has launched a petition on its website, and a crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of their defence and build the next steps for the Bangla-Pesa: a mobile application enabling trade without the need for physical vouchers, like M-Pesa works. The NGO requests 47,000 euros (about 60,700 US dollars) to achieve this.

The next hearing will take place on July 17. The six members of the projects face up to seven years of jail.

On his blog, Matthew P Slater wrote a note entitled “Time to get serious”. He explained why he believes the affair is important — and calls for more support.

Bangla Pesa is a test case, and it stands on the front line of the movement in the 21st Century. If you can't give much money, what else can you do?

June 16 2013

Association for World's Mobile Operators Opens Africa Office

The GSMA, the global association for the world’s mobile operators, opens an African office in Nairobi, White African reports:

Back in 2010 when the iHub first opened, we had some of their staff who were in Kenya working out of the iHub and using the space for different meetings. They loved the vibe and makeup of the Kenyan tech community and wanted to figure out how they could connect and be a part of this same energetic space, while at the same time fulfilling their obligation to Africa’s mobile operators.

June 07 2013

Au Kenya, « on aime leurs voitures solides et leur discrétion »

Du 11 au 21 avril 2013, « Le Monde diplomatique » a pris part à un voyage de presse organisé par l'Agence japonaise de coopération internationale (JICA) au Kenya. Entre programmes d'assistance technique, actions humanitaires et sanitaires et projets de haute technologie, Tokyo pose les jalons d'une (...) / Afrique, Japon, Kenya, Aide au développement, Commerce international, Développement, Énergie, Entreprise, Idéologie, Santé, Solidarité, Technologie, Travail, Environnement, Peuples autochtones, Néolibéralisme, Afrique de l'Est, Relations bilatérales - 2013/06

May 16 2013

Activists Occupy Parliament in Kenya

Kenyans activists occupied the Kenyan parliament yesterday to protest against attempts by Members of Parliament to demand more money. The activists have been using the hashtag occupyparliament on Twitter.

May 07 2013

Remembering Dennis Kimambo

Rising Voices note: This tribute post was written by Janet Feldman, upon learning about the death of Dennis Kimambo of the Rising Voices grantee project REPACTED on April 29, 2013. At the time of publication, the circumstances surrounding his death are still being investigated.

When I first heard the news that Dennis Kimambo had been missing for over a week, I was worried, but envisioned him in a rural part of Kenya, conducting an HIV/AIDS educational outreach, or in Dubai, where he had been invited at one point to play in a golf tournament, one of his favorite pastimes.

After the news came that his body had been discovered on April 29, and that he had met a violent death, I could not fathom or accept it. Stan Tuvako, a close friend of ours and the person who actually introduced us, said in the aftermath of the announcement: “it was shocking how much violence this man of peace encountered.” That this courageous soul faced violence and death again and again over the decade I knew him, and continued to do the work for which he seemed born, was just one of the remarkable qualities we so loved and admired in him.

Dennis Kimambo

Dennis Kimambo

Dennis had a motto: “humanity before politics.” During the 2007-2008 post-election conflict in Kenya, which threatened to spiral into civil war, Dennis and many others faced threats to their lives and safety on a daily basis, yet continued to reach across political and cultural lines in attempts to quell the violence and encourage tolerance, understanding, and cooperation.

I knew Dennis virtually for many years before we met in 2007, the only time I would ever see him in person. Our relationship was forged via email and phone, and built on several mutual passions, including the use of arts and media to address HIV/AIDS and health issues, the empowerment of young people, and the peaceful resolution of conflict. I was a mentor in the beginning, but felt like a student myself as he forged ahead in the many forms of activism that distinguished his brief but meaningful life.

Dennis began his career in several youth groups based in his hometown of Nakuru, Kenya. After we met, he became one of the mainstays in the ActALIVE arts coalition I founded in 2002, whose mission was to bring together artists and others using creative approaches to health and development issues, specifically focusing on HIV/AIDS.

In 2001, Dennis and young theatre artists from the Nakuru Players Theatre Club founded the theatre-for-development nonprofit, REPACTED (Rapid Effective Participatory Action in Community Theatre Education and Development), which uses a new and unique form of audience participation and interaction–called “magnet theatre”–to educate young and old, women and men, prisoners, and people already HIV-positive on health issues, behavior change, stigma and discrimination, and self-empowerment. The “Mr. and Miss Red Ribbon” contest, held each year on World AIDS Day (December 1), is an innovative beauty pageant emphasizing the importance of self-esteem and healthy lifestyles for those who are HIV-positive.

Several other opportunities emerged that would carry Dennis and his peers in new directions, including a grant from the MTV “Staying Alive” Foundation that funded HIV/AIDS education and prevention efforts among the male and female inmates at the prison in Nakuru. The grant also allowed community-theatre outreaches to young people to educate them about HIV/AIDS, encourage use of prevention measures, and promote voluntary counselling and testing (VCT).

Dennis (on the right) and colleagues at the REPACTED offices in Nakuru. Photo by David Sasaki and used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Dennis (on the right) and colleagues at the REPACTED offices in Nakuru. Photo by David Sasaki and used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Dennis and other members of ActALIVE in Kenya, India, Thailand, Nigeria, USA, Uganda, South Africa, and elsewhere became involved in 2005 in the first World AIDS Day activities of the Global Peace Tiles Project, an arts endeavor using collaged tiles as a means to convey messages about peace, health education, HIV/AIDS prevention, and sustainable development.

In 2007-2008, Dennis and other peace activists in Kenya faced perhaps their greatest challenge to date: quelling the violence that was threatening to kill thousands and destroy the fabric of Kenyan society. He and a group of Kenyans and others from around the world, myself included, became involved in a project called “Pyramid of Peace,” a name coined from an acrobatic act created by the Nafsi Afrika Acrobats based in Nairobi, whose theme is peaceful co-existence among the various tribal groups in Kenya.

Dennis Kimambo. Photo by David Sasaki and used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Dennis Kimambo. Photo by David Sasaki and used under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

The Pyramid of Peace, created under the auspices of the Lithuania-based think-tank Minciu Sodas, helped members in Kenya to confront violence and seek peaceful resolution to conflict. One unique feature of this endeavor was the use of cellphone credits to help us communicate with each other and also to distribute within areas of conflict to the various factions. Dennis credited this approach with saving his life at one point, when he was confronted by an angry mob.

REPACTED began to incorporate the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) during this time, and the two Rising Voices grants the group received helped immensely to increase and improve their efforts. The first grant enabled the purchase of equipment (video and photo cameras, a computer, and a modem) that allowed REPACTED to introduce a group of 27 young people to the digital world. Blogging was a focal point, and this resulted in invaluable participation in RV's “Blogging Positively” project, which has produced an e-guide, a map of bloggers who write on HIV/AIDS themes, and follow-on discussions about next steps, such as development of a curriculum.

The Rising Voices grant also allowed REPACTED to organize a Youth Media Consultative Forum, to train local residents to gather news and stories and share them with an international audience. Various forms of citizen media were envisioned and used in this project, and magnet theatre formed a central part of these efforts. In addition, REPACTED helped Kenyans displaced by the civil disruptions of 2007-2008 to tell their stories, and in more recent times has organized civic-education activities regarding elections, voting, and constitutional matters, all in hopes of ensuring that history does not repeat itself.

The REPACTED weblog at RV contains four years (2007-2011) of informative and insightful postings about the group and their work.

“Denno,” as his friends often called him, has been described in recent days as a loving father, a wonderful husband, a leader of great vision, a cherished friend, a person of “light,” a force for good, an activist who helped change hearts and minds. He had the dreams of a Martin Luther King, and the courage and determination of a Gandhi. He was a hero to so many of us, and he will be always.

In trying to find a way to recover the inspiration and hopefulness he embodied, and move forward with the work to which Dennis gave his life–and perhaps for which he gave his life (a police investigation is now ongoing as to the motives behind his death)–I am reminded of the lyrics to a song I know he would have loved, called “Times Like These” (Foo Fighters): “it's times like these you learn to live again, it's times like these you give and give again, it's times like these you learn to love again, time and time again.”

Thanks so much for teaching us how to live, to give, and to love, Dennis! You were and always will be a man for times like these, and what you gave to the world will be remembered and cherished time and time again.

May 01 2013

‘Africa Is A Country’ Blog Challenges West's Idea of Africa

This isn't another blog about “famine, Bono, or Barack Obama,” warns the blog Africa is a Country in its description on Facebook.

The ironically titled blog aims, among other things, to do away with the the narrative told and retold by western media that Africa is “a perpetual sob story”, Africa is a Country founder Sean Jacobs told Global Voices.

At the same time, Jacobs said, the blog is a collective of scholars, writers, artists, filmmakers, bloggers, and curators who together produce online commentary, original writing, media criticism, short videos, and photography that is working to reimagine Africa as a community.

 

SeanJacobs.

The founder of the Africa is a Country blog, Sean Jacobs. Photo courtesy of Sean Jacobs.

We recently caught up with Jacobs, a media and international affairs scholar who currently teaches at The New School in New York, to talk about the blog.

Ndesanjo Macha (NM): Will you briefly tell us about yourself?

Sean Jacobs (SJ): I was born in Apartheid South Africa and grew up in a working class coloured township in the city. I am very much a product of segregation, anti-apartheid student movements, affirmative action and the euphoria represented by political freedom in South Africa. I went to the University of Cape Town (still very white at that time) on a scholarship and worked briefly as a journalist before I came to the US as a Fulbright Scholar in the mid-1990s [...]

I returned to South Africa at the end of my studies as I felt I would miss out on the experience of working there while democracy was still fresh. So, in 1997 I got hired by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, an organization which played a central role in South Africa’s political transition. [...]

In 2001, I came to New York City to take up a graduate fellowship at The New School. I eventually settled in New York City and got married.

I suppose I consider myself an African immigrant in America now (I have two children who were born here) and while I keep up with specifically South African politics, I have also come to care more for how the continent and its people is represented in media here. That’s where Africa is a Country came into the picture.

NM: What is Africa is a Country?

SJ: Africa is a Country is a blog that developed over time — and I want to emphasize this process as it wasn't always clear what it would be become — into a collective of scholars, writers, artists, filmmakers, bloggers, and curators who together produce online commentary, original writing, media criticism, short videos, and photography that deliberately challenge and destabilize received wisdom about the African continent and its people in Western media (that definition includes “old media,” new social media as well as “global news media” like Al Jazeera).

Our main outlet at present is the blog, though we've collaborated with film festivals, print publications and co-hosted public events. We also count as part of our community people who read or comment on our site each day. We've sourced some blog posts and eventual regular contributors from amongst our readers.

NM: Why “Africa is a country”? Isn't Africa a continent?

SJ: Of course we don’t literally believe Africa is a Country. The title of the blog is ironic and is a reaction to old and tired images of “Africa.” As one of the core members of the collective, Neelika Jayawardane, explains in the “About” section on our Facebook page, the blog is that and more. That is, Africa is a Country is also about constructing a kind of “country.” One where the “nation” operates outside the borders of modern nation states in Africa and its continental and conceptual boundaries. So, yes, the blog announces that Africa is indeed a “country,” an imagined community whose “citizens” must reinvent the narrative and visual economy of Africa. I hope that makes sense.

NM: How did you come up with the title of the blog?

SJ: I can’t pinpoint the exact source or moment. It was definitely a mix of factors. There were countless instances of celebrities, politicians (including some who denied immediately that they had said so) who would make the mistake of talking about “the country of Africa” or be very vague of where they traveled when they visited the continent or who exactly (a country, a people, a city, etc) they were describing. In other cases, some journalists implied that Africa was a country in their writings or reporting. But there was something else I did regularly. While blogging as Leo Africanus, I started writing the words “Africa is a Country” in one or other incredulous post about some clearly misdirected reporting from and about Africa. One day I decided to just rename the blog Africa is a Country. It helped that the title attracted more people to show a sudden interest in or reading the blog or that searches for “Africa is a country” led to us.

NM: Who are other authors involved in creating content for the blog?

SJ: Currently the collective consists of about 30 core members and a fluid cast of contributors. So we’re a mix of graduate students, professors, activists, development workers, writers, journalism students, art critics, novelists, photographers, activists, filmmakers, a DJ, and a film curator, among others. [...]

NM: What kind of readers visit your site and where do most of them come from?

SJ: We now have more than 11,000 Facebook “Likes,” close to 20,000 Twitter followers, and average between 7,000-10,000 hits per day on the blog, which has had over three million total views since we made the name change. Readers come from all over, though a fast reliable internet connection helps. So most readers live, work or study in the United States and/or Europe. On the continent, most of the readers come from Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.

NM: What are your greatest achievements with the blog so far?

SJ: That’s for our readers to decide. Again, let me drew on something Elliot and wrote down recently when asked the same question: We feel that global, by definition that’s usually Western, media — with few exceptions — have shown themselves time and again to be utterly unable to cover the continent in the depth and detail it demands, still less with any appreciation for Africa as a site of astonishing cultural and artistic production. Africa is a Country aspires to offer an international-scale corrective to this, not in terms of patronising “positive” news stories or PR-style neoliberal boosterism, but through the sustained daily work of presenting and engaging critically with the cultural and political life of Africa and its diaspora. [...]

Of course, not everything we do is hardcore: Something we are very excited about is the launch recently of a page on the blog titled “Football is a Country.” We've managed to convince some excellent writers, photographers, film makers and bloggers to commit themselves as contributors and we’re hoping to expand on it.

NM: What is most read post so far?

SJ: The most read post on the blog thus far has been by Elliot Ross on Kony 2012.

But I also want to mention a number of other excellent posts (and I am going to have to leave some posts out of this list, though that does not make them less deserving): There’s Boima Tucker’s explorations on DJ culture and Jeremy Weate's “When Kim Kardasian Came to Lagos and “419ed the 419ers”. Separately, we’ve featured a number of interviews such as Zachary Rosen’s interview with artist Toyin Odutola, Corinna Jentzch’s interview with the German photographer Gregor Zielke, Amkhelwa Mbekeni’s interview with Bongeziwe Mabandla and historian Dan Magaziner’s interview with the author of a book on Marcus Garvey.

‘Agroam’ Lends Hand to African Farmers

Agroam is a website designed to help African farmers market their products as efficiently as possible and give more opportunities to match buyers and sellers at fair prices.

April 05 2013

Opening the Black Box of Governance: Alleviating Poverty With Data

Global Voices bloggers have been commissioned to liveblog the OECD Global Forum on Development in Paris on April 4-5, 2013. Leading up to the meeting, our team is submitting posts about development issues that help serve as weekly online discussion topics on their website (#OECDgfd)

The constant rise of Internet and mobile phone use is an opportunity to enable more citizens to engage with governance. Technology can help improve citizen participation in decision-making and can re-energise participation in public life. Transparency and accountability is becoming a diverse and dynamic field for exploration worldwide.

Opening the data produced by public administrations is part of an effective approach to poverty alleviation. Incredible amounts of data are produced every day, by a wide range of stakeholders: governments, media, mobile operators, citizens themselves. Despite the huge potential for using data about a society or government for the public good, it is rarely released and shared for public use. Additionally, reliable statistics can be hard to come by or are still the exclusive property of government or corporate officials.

The benefits of citizen engagement are numerous, wide-ranging and significant for all stakeholders, as Striking Poverty, a World Bank initiative, illustrates:

For the marginalized poor, participation mechanisms can provide channels for shaping solutions and holding governments accountable for policies and services delivered. For organizations, governments, and funders, engagement with communities is beneficial in that citizens will support, adopt, champion, and eventually share in the ownership and success of programs.

Does Open Data work in developing countries?

Open Data endeavours in both rich and poor countries often come up against a shortage of technical and political skills that prevent citizens from actively engaging with them. There can easily be a gap between the goals of data advocates and citizens’ understanding of the data. Still, a huge number of creative approaches to collect and make sense of data related to public life show promise that this is the most straightforward way into civic engagement.

The Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI), the first national Open Data project in Sub-Saharan Africa, was launched in 2011. The released data sets (over 400) provide data for socially-relevant domains from education to sanitation. Kenya is in fact the first developing country to have an Open Data portal. In greater Africa, Morocco was first to launch an Open Data platform. Tunisia followed in 2011 with Open Data Tunisia.

Open Government Data

Open Government Data by Justin Grimes on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Seizing the potential of Open Data for developing countries and the growing number of national ventures, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has launched the Open Data for Africa portal, as a part of the Africa Information Highway initiative. It encompasses Open Data platforms for the following 20 African countries:

Algeria, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Although the challenges are numerous, multiple success stories show that the key to using technology for transparency and accountability efforts is to employ a collaborative approach and ensure that tools are user-friendly and quick to offer results.

A report by the Global Voices ‘Technology for Transparency’ initiative looking at citizen initiatives for transparency and accountability across the globe found that:

Data visualization and navigation tools are a key feature in more than half of the projects we documented, as are diverse forms of data collection from citizens. Approximately one third of the projects use mobile phones in some way, most commonly by allowing citizens to submit or receive information via text messages.

These observations illustrate that citizen initiatives are not only directed towards gathering data but also towards making sense of it for the wider community. The projects show great opportunity for well-managed data and related statistics released through open government data programs. The next milestone for governments in developing countries is to solve the problems of data quality and availability, as well as the technical and statistical capacity of staff and institutions.

Opening the governance

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched back in September 2011 when the governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States took stance in favour of more transparent governance by signing the Open Government Declaration:

The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this work is never easy.

It takes political leadership. It takes technical knowledge. It takes sustained effort and investment. It takes collaboration between governments and civil society.

Shortly after, the World Bank recognized the importance of the foundational principles of the Partnership and declared its support to the initiative “by facilitating knowledge exchanges and helping to build the capacity of OGP member countries to elaborate and implement their plans to become more open and responsive.”

The OGP already has 50 members. Although several African countries have presented their action plans and three of them — South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya — have already delivered their commitments, Africa is still trailing in involvement.

The most recent OGP Africa meeting indicates that slow progress is being made, with Ghana and Liberia developing their respective ‘Action Plans’ in order to apply for membership at the Open Government Partnership.

New approaches, new challenges ahead

Is technology the panacea for developing countries? Definitely not. But it definitely paves the way for addressing open, socially and politically relevant questions. Even though the KODI has not had much impact on Kenyans, and very few African states rush to join the OGP, these dynamics are irreversible. The very existence of the endeavours described above is a solid step in the right direction.

March 11 2013

All Eyes on Kenya — and Cameras, too

This post was written by Kim Howell, Online Communication Coordinator at WITNESS. An earlier version of the post appeared on the WITNESS Video For Change blog on March 4, 2013.

A week ago today, as Kenyans went to the polls to elect a new president, two questions burned in the minds of voters and onlookers throughout the world: Who would win the election? And would election day be peaceful?

The victory of Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kenyan politician who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in planning and funding ethnic violence around national elections in 2007, has generated much controversy that will unquestionably persist as Raila Odinga, his primary opponent, seeks to contest the vote count. But apart from a few exceptions, journalists and citizens throughout the country have reported that elections were peaceful.

Polling station, Kenya, 2007. Photo by Anthony Njenga. (CC BY 2.0)

Polling station in Kenya, 2007. Photo by Anthony Njenga. (CC BY 2.0)

Credit for this shift belongs in great part to citizens across the country, who mobilized to support peace. Among them are 120 human rights activists and citizen journalists who participated in WITNESS video trainings in February (read about what they learned). Several of them recently shared their thoughts, outlining their hopes and fears for the election, explaining what motivated them to learn how to film, and sharing filming tips they thought would be useful to others.

Training participants were well-prepared to use video to document the election, and to advocate for peace afterwards. They all felt that knowing how to film was critical. As Agatha Gichuki pointed out, videos “can give witness, evidence, and can also bring change where need be.” Amina Hamisi had already used these lessons before the election, filming campaign rallies, speeches, and mock elections in Mombasa. Leyla Dahir noted that she “used the skills acquired by talking to [her] friends about video advocacy and telling them of its importance during this election and how it can be used [as] evidence.”

Photo by Michael Kanyi, published with photographer's permission.

Participants in WITNESS’ Kenya training practice filming. Photo by Michael Kanyi, published with photographer's permission.

In the words of Anastasia Nabukenyaost, activists need “basic tips and techniques in developing human rights evidence.” This will “ensure effective video advocacy and documentation that will have an impact, pass the message, and achieve its goals.”

The most popular lessons centered on filming for human rights documentation and evidence. Leyla Dahir believes that these trainings “will help curb the problems faced in 2007/2008 post-election violence, as many perpetrators went unpunished due to lack of evidence.” Click here to learn how to film for human rights documentation and evidence [sw].

Along those lines, Kelvin Obalu touched on InformaCam, WITNESS’s new Android app, which embeds metadata to increase a video’s verifiability and its likelihood to stand as legal evidence. Participants also appreciated learning to film with few resources—some worked only with cell phones. Leyla Dahir pointed out that,

it might be challenging for me to shoot a video due to lack of equipment, but where an opportunity arises I’ll use my phone wherever there is violence or [if] I see someone taking bribes or campaigning on election day, as that is an offense.

Click here to learn how to film with a cell phone here [sw].

Agatha Gichuki and Yvonne Godia most appreciated learning how to “obtain informed consent and concealing of identity where need be.” WITNESS has posted guides on how to interview someone while maintaining their anonymity [sw] and ensure informed consent [sw].

Amina Bakari Hamisi particularly appreciated learning “different types of shots and their interpretations, reasons for using them, and how it makes…for better understanding.” This brief video describes the effects of different types of shots.

Leyla Dahir summed up the purpose of these lessons, saying that

We learnt about the video advocacy methodology and the filming technique…because in today’s technological world, anyone can learn about video shooting, but without [video advocacy methodology and filming techniques] you would not be in a position to get across your message.

Participants armed themselves with this knowledge to plan for the worst-case scenario, and some of their fears were prescient. Amina Hamisi’s greatest fear was the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), which is allegedly responsible for the worst incident of election-related violence so far: an ambush of Kenyan security forces by armed militants. Kelvin Obalu and others feared a “costly” and “unsettling” run-off election. If Raila Odinga's challenge against the results holds water, Kenya will indeed head to a run-off election in April.

All participants reiterated hopes for “free, fair, and smooth general elections”  (Amina Hamisi), and that “Kenyans come out in large numbers to vote wisely [and] maintain peace” (Yvonne Godia). Isolated flare-ups notwithstanding, these hopes appear to have come true.

These activists had opinions about which candidate they supported, but they were also willing to question their own assumptions in a way that bodes very well for the country’s democracy. Sharon Adongo wondered,

How can one be said to be unbiased in their videos? I mean, obviously I’m human and support a candidate, so how should I ensure that I do not just cover one story but also the other person’s?

March 10 2013

Chinese Investment: Business Comes First in Africa

Nan Chen, a Chinese American working in Nairobi interviewed some Chinese expats and local Kenyans about China's business culture in Africa (via Tea Leaf Nation):

For Chinese expats, business comes first and politics second. The upcoming Kenyan elections matter only to the extent that they impact business. While among my western colleagues, these elections represent a momentous political situation with human rights implications, the Chinese (though not unconcerned with potential elections violence) find the politics disruptive of business.

March 05 2013

Kenyans Flood Polls Despite Election Day Violence

Machete-wielding separatists left at least 13 dead in Kenya as millions of people turned out in historic numbers to cast their votes on March 4, 2013 in one of the most watched general elections in Africa since the country's elections in 2007 ended in ethnic bloodshed.

Sporadic acts of violence marred the otherwise peaceful election, the country's first under its new 2010 constitution. Voters chose candidates for president, members of parliament, county governors, senators, county assembly representatives, and women county representatives.

Official results are expected to be announced by March 11, 2013.

Many were concerned over a possible repeat of violence which exploded after the 2007 presidential elections. More than 1,100 people were killed and 600,000 were displaced after the 2007 elections in Kenya after the disputed election results triggered clashes between tribes.

The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders branch in Kenya (@nchrdkenya) reported that armed men were allegedly breaking into homes and stealing IDs during election day 2013 [Global Voices has not confirmed this report]:

@nchrdkenya: Alleged Starehe constituency 50 men armed with “pangas” and 2 pistols are breaking into homes and stealing IDs and phones.#kenyadecides

@Nairoboy shares this photo onf Twitter asking, "If this woman, as old & frail as she is, came out to vote, what's your excuse?" Photo source:   @Nairoboy

@Nairoboy shares this photo on Twitter asking, “If this woman, as old & frail as she is, came out to vote, what's your excuse?” Photo source: @Nairoboy

But despite fears of renewed violence, voters turned out by the millions:

@WanjiruMachari1: #KenyaDecides #Elections2013 some polling stations in #Nakuruare waiting for formality to close. recorded over 80% voter turn-out

Early predictions indicated that the high turnout could shatter the record set with the 2010 constitution referendum, according to National Media Editor Charles Onyango-Obbo (@cobbo3):

@cobbo3: Highest turnout for a vote in Kenya was in 2010 constitution referendum; 72.2%. #KenyaDecides 2013 could hit 80% plus!

Voters, some sick, walked many miles to exercise their democratic right:

@SEREKII: Never seen this determination to vote in Coast! My aunt who is ailing from mild stroke walked 2kms to vote#kenyadecides

@wndiwa: Morans walked 100km to vote in wamba #KenyaDecides

@MoritzCOTR: Amazingly, most Kenyans stood in queues for up to 10 hours without killing each other #Shocked http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/at-least-15-reported-dead-in-kenya-election-day-violence-8518677.html … #kenyadecides

Long queues were reported in many polling stations with some voters having to wait for hours before casting their votes. One woman went into labour before casting her vote:

@Toili12: A woman goes into labour in a voting queue at Kariobangi South Primary polling center before casting her vote #KenyaDecides

@nochiel: Voting was protracted, tedious, and exhausting. Also, most of us waited 5 hours to get to the booth. #KenyaDecides

@Da_Dunx_Mugi: If it has taken 90mins for me to take 15 steps, how long will it take me to take another 500-600 steps?! #KenyaDecides

@japho1: I have never been on queue for this long since I started voting way back in 2002.#KenyaDecides

However, some voters such as Harry Karanja (@startupkenya) spent no time at all in a queue:

@startupkenya: Thanks all for voting early, because of you I've just spent a total of 0 minutes queuing #KenyaDecides

Njambi Kiburio (@NjambiII) remained optimistic about the elections:

@NjambiII: @cnnbrk [CNN Breaking News] Kenya has news for you. May you hunger for sad news, and find none here. #KenyaDecides

Some netizens argued that foreign media outlets only focused on bad news. Twitter user @Owitie wrote that Kenyans can report their own stories:

@Owitie: Those few mzungus [white people] aka wabeberu [imperialists] need to realize that as#KenyaDecides we can report our own news and tell our stories.

Small business owner Ian Cox (@IanECox) pondered the possibility of Uhuru Kenyatta, who is facing charges at the international criminal court following the 2007 post-election violence, winning the presidential election:

@IanECox: I wonder how the international press will react if #kenyadecides to elect Uhuru.. those dumb Kenyans.. etc etc

Some praised the performance of Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Entertainer Kabochi Gakau (@Kaytrixx) noted that the commission is better organised than the 2007 elections:

@Kaytrixx: I must say though, IEBC is pretty organised, much better than the last election. Transparent. #Peace254 #KenyaDecides

@thisiskenyan: 18 more people then I get my turn… these iebc guys are on turbo mode kudos! #Kenyadecides #mugugagreenedition

@Olashmartine: 10hrs 7 mins to vote! well done IEBC you've outdone yourself #kenyadecides #KEpolls2013

Others had a humorous take on the elections:

@keruanna: And a bird just shitted on me. Next time I'll pick a polling station without trees #Kenyadecides

@dnahinga: I think they should extend the time for opening bars also.#KenyaKwanza We don't want to tempt those still queing#KenyaDecides

@mwamishitemi: i can confirm that the ‘middle class’ did indeed vote. those on twitter polling station, you have 15 minutes… #kenyadecides

@FelixDonBash: I think today breaks the record for most twitpics of fingers#KenyaDecides

@ngatia_sammy: Samburu morans [Samburu Maasai warriors] trekked 104 km to a polling station ,they demanded to be given 1st priority so that they could go back to graze #kenyadecides

Finally, friends of Kenya sent love and good wishes on Twitter:

@tmsruge: Sending some mad love to Kenya right now. Showing WHOLE world how participatory democracy is done. Go big brother, go!!

@RDustinLong: Good luck to all my Kenyan friends today with their Presidential election. #kenyadecides

 

February 27 2013

Monitoring Dangerous Speech in Kenya

Umati is a project that seeks to monitor and report the role of new media on an election: “Our Kenya-based project has citizens at its core and uses relevant technologies to collect,organize, analyze, and disseminate the information collected.”

The Land Problem in Kenya

Chrenyan discusses the land problem, which has become an election issue in Kenya: “It is a historical injustice for the Kenyatta family to own (it is said) half a million acres of land, all over this country (including thousands of acres in Coast Province). The defence that this land was bought is no defence at all, because the critical factor is not that the land was bought.”

February 25 2013

La diplomatie du téléphone portable à la conquête des pauvres

Google recrute des militants des droits humains, Hillary Clinton soutient des projets humanitaires mêlant affaires et technologie ; en Afrique, l'omniprésence du téléphone mobile, même dans les régions les plus pauvres, en fait un outil au service du développement ainsi qu'un terrain de conquête. Voici (...) / Afrique, États-Unis (affaires extérieures), Kenya, Action humanitaire, Communication, Entreprise, Finance, Information, Internet, Mutation, ONG, Pauvreté, Technologies de l'information, Technologie, Télécommunications, Diplomatie - 2012/05
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