Sunday, July 31, 2005

Spiegel interview with African economics expert James Shikwati: "For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!"

Not sure what to think about Der Spiegel Interview July 4, 2005 with African Economics Expert: 'For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!'

The Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati, 35, says that aid to Africa does more harm than good. The avid proponent of globalization spoke with SPIEGEL about the disastrous effects of Western development policy in Africa, corrupt rulers, and the tendency to overstate the AIDS problem.

[via INCITE: Aid to Africa: Please Stop - with thanks]

Africa's digital future - Kenya pilots Pocket PC education: The Eduvision pilot project

Note this copy of a BBC report today about an extraordinary experiment aimed at using technology to deliver education across the continent.

Kenya pilots Pocket PC education
By Richard Taylor
Editor, BBC Click Online

In the final report of Click Online's Africa season, we visit Kenya where a trial project using handheld Pocket PCs could help reduce the costs of education in poor communities.

Mbita Point, on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria, hosts a small rural community.

A few minutes walk from the main town lies the local primary school, housed on the campus of a renowned research institute.

As the only school in the area with access to electricity, Mbita Primary enjoys a relatively privileged location.

This aside, it suffers from the same problems encountered by other public schools.

Since the Kenyan government introduced free primary school education two years ago, the resulting influx of kids has meant that resources are spread as thinly as ever.

In the future the students will be able to complete their assignments on these books and send them to the teacher.

Classrooms are crowded, and the all-too-familiar scenario of children sharing outdated textbooks is still very much in evidence.

However, in Class Five, things are just a little bit different. Fifty-four 11-year-old students are willing guinea pigs in an extraordinary experiment aimed at using technology to deliver education across the continent.

In the Eduvision pilot project, textbooks are out, customised Pocket PCs, referred to as e-slates, are very much in.

They are wi-fi enabled and run on licence-free open source software to keep costs down.

"The e-slates contain all the sorts of information you'd find in a textbook and a lot more," said Eduvision co-founder Maciej Sudra.

"They contain textual information, visual information and questions. Within visual information we can have audio files, we can have video clips, we can have animations.

"At the moment the e-slates only contain digitised textbooks, but we're hoping that in the future the students will be able to complete their assignments on these books and send them to the teacher, and the teacher will be able to grade them and send them back to the student."

Pocket PCs were chosen in place of desktops because they are more portable, so the children can take them home at night, and also because they're also cheaper, making them cost-effective alternatives to traditional methods of learning.

Eduvision co-founder Matthew Herren says families pay upwards of $100 a year for textbooks.

"Our system is something that we hope will be sustainable, and the money that they use towards textbooks could be used to buy e-slates instead, which can last more than a year, thereby reducing the cost of education."

Moreover, the potential offered by e-slates is enormous. The content stored on them can be dynamically updated wirelessly, hence the need for wi-fi.
This means that they could include anything from new textbooks which have just come on stream, to other content like local information or even pages from the web.

The team have also devised a rather neat system for getting the information onto the devices.

First off, content is created and formatted for use on the e-slate.

A central operations centre distributes the material over a cheap satellite radio downlink to a satellite radio receiver in the school.

The information passes through a base station which beams it out wirelessly to the students. And so a new and enjoyable way of learning is born.

"I like using [the] e-slate because I can take it home to use it at night and I can use it because it has [a] battery," said Viola, a pupil at Mbita Primary.

Fellow pupil Felix had a few problems: "At first I found it difficult, but when our teacher, Maureen, told me to go in early to teach me, I went. The next day I found it easy."

Potential pitfalls

Although the kids are certainly enthralled by the novelty of the hi-tech gadgetry, their teachers are a little more realistic.

"There are too many drawbacks," said Robert Odero, a teacher at the school.

"One is the lack of electric power in most of our schools, and since the machine needs constant recharging for it to be effectively used this would affect the users as well as the teachers.

"Another thing is the delicate nature of the machine. Given the rugged terrain of our country and the paths our kids use on their way to school, these things could easily fall on the way."

According to Eduvision co-founder Matthew Herren, the e-slates are fragile because the project is in a pilot stage.

"In any implementation in the future that's on a larger scale we will have them custom made to our specifications and coated in rubber and made much hardier," he said.

"At the same time, with textbooks there's no reason why a student couldn't drop all of their books into a pail of water and damage them as well."

There are plenty of concerns which have given pause for thought during the 18 months the pilot's been running.

The Eduvision team says all the issues can be solved and that the technology could be rolled out across countries and even extended beyond education.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of sceptics who believe it will never make it off this campus.

Kenya's Assistant Minister of Education, Science and Technology believes the project's flawed not just in design, but in its very conception.

"We need to be careful that we don't bring about too many experiments, and this is another such experiment being done without ensuring that we have the right environment for it to be assured of success," said Kilemi Mwiria.

"I think it's a big leap, a big giant leap for schools, students and communities that don't even know what a desktop computer is, as well as what you can use computers for.

"I think to suddenly bring even more advanced technology is being a bit unrealistic."

Few people could deny that this project is both novel and enterprising, and even while it's still in testing, Eduvision concede that they themselves have still got a lot to learn.

But they are convinced it will play a part in Africa's digital future.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Windmills in Ethiopia - Peasants must become freehold owners of their land

An email for Sudan Watch yesterday contained an opinion piece on Africa by Matthew Parris at Times Online 2 July 2005.

The piece, entitled "We must all sneer and scoff at the corrupt, cruel jackasses of Africa", contains interesting information about windmills and Ethiopia.

Note what Thabo Mbeki's brother, Moeletsi Mbeki, says about windmills - and this excerpt from the piece:

"Peasants must become freehold owners of their land, he said, and I agree. This nascent class of producers must be empowered to make their work worthwhile and their voices heard. But all across the continent, traditional tribal values, Western-style collectivist ideologies and the greed of political elites have joined in a murderous embrace to stop this."

Monday, July 25, 2005

Five killed, 31 injured in hand grenade attacks in eastern Ethiopia

July 25 (AFP) -- At least five people have been killed and 31 injured in a series of hand grenade attacks in eastern Ethiopia that may have been politically motivated, police and diplomats said Monday.

The attacks took place late Sunday at several bars and a private home in the town of Jijiga, about 720 kilometers (450 miles) east of Addis Ababa in Somali state where parliamentary elections are to be held next month, they said. Full Story.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Despite good rains many remain hungry in Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 19, 2005 (PANA) -- Despite the markedly eased food insecurity trends in Ethiopia, many at-risk pastoralists and vulnerable subsistent peasants would require food assistance until the end of the year, according to local and UN agencies monitoring the situation.

Improved rainfall, increased food distributions and non-food aid pledges over the past months have helped ease extreme conditions, the agencies said in their latest Food Security Update on Ethiopia.

According to a pre-harvest preliminary assessment, based on the current rainy season, the number of people in need of emergency assistance may increase by between 2.5 and 3 million in the second half of 2005.

"While this will not change the peak number of 3.8 million emergency beneficiaries that was estimated in May, it does mean that these people will need to continue receiving food aid for a longer period of time than originally estimated," explains the multi-agency assessment report.

Additional beneficiaries would translate into an estimated additional emergency food aid requirement of close to 200,000 tonnes.

The whole food aid pipeline and emergency food security reserves appear to be sufficient till the end of the year.

However, irregular and delayed distributions were likely to result in serious nutritional consequences, especially in drought and flood affected areas in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR) and in the pastoral regions of Somali and Afar.

The agencies have urged the government and donors to ensure that pledged resources are delivered in a timely and well-targeted way to highly food insecure households.

According to the multi-agency pre-harvest assessment, conducted between 23 June and 6 July 2005, the season was generally good, despite excessive rains in some areas and erratic and late rains in others.

"Despite the relatively good 'belg' rainy season, humanitarian assistance will continue to be necessary in a number of areas throughout the country during the remainder of the year," says the report.

This is attributed to, among other factors, inability to recover from the previous season's poor pasture and water availability in pastoral areas, under-utilisation of inputs (due to price increases), high malnutrition rates compounded by inadequate public health services and ethnic-based conflicts in southern Oromiya and Afar regions.

Water shortages and inadequate public health services, especially in pastoral areas, have exacerbated the crisis.

In general, Ethiopia's food and non-food aid needs are expected to remain at their peak levels from July through September.

20 year old Brett Thalman who authors Canadian Liberal @ Penn and lives in Philadelphia, USA is a junior (3rd year) at the University of Pennsylvania studying Political Science and business at The Wharton School.

He is an active Young Liberal both federally and provincially in Ontario and describes himself as "a proud Canadian Liberal's perspective on Canadian Politics, Ontario Politics and an outsider's perspective on American Politics.."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Africa: Niger children starving to death

This morning, I received an email from someone together with the following message and link to Hilary Andersson's report at BBC News online:

** Message **
Another one for you to worry over. As we shall increasingly discover, very many people are living in the wrong place, and shouldn't have been born, anyway. The great fear amongst Niger's neighbours is that these starving folk will move across over their borders, in search of food. What is your solution?

** Niger children starving to death **
Children are dying of hunger in feeding centres in Niger where 3.6m people face food shortages, aid agencies warn.
- - -

It is difficult to know what to say. My first reaction to Andersson's news on Niger is that it seems to have come out of the blue. The way the aid agencies sound in the report you would think they had shouted it from the rooftops and nobody responded. I receive daily email alerts on Africa but this is the first I've heard of such a crisis in Niger.

Hilary Andersson, a first class reporter, says little foreign aid has gone into Niger to deal with the crisis so far; aid agencies in the country predict the situation will get worse in the coming months and say the world has responded too late.
"The crisis in the south of the country has been caused by a drought and a plague of locusts which destroyed much of last year's harvest. Aid agency World Vision warns that 10% of the children in the worst affected areas could die. Niger is a vast desert country and one of the poorest on earth. Millions of people, a third of the population, face food shortages.

"There are children dying every day in our centres," says Milton Tetonidis of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). 'We're completely overwhelmed, there'd better be other people coming quickly to help us out - I mean, the response has been desperately slow.'"
Note, the report clearly states
"the hunger in Niger was predicted months ago - but that did nothing to prevent the present disaster - a severe drought last year, combined with a plague of locusts, destroyed much of the crop that was needed to feed the people and the cattle they rely on".
The report says the "international community" has reacted too late to the crisis. I guess the "international community" comprises the UN and donors from 191-member states. What became of all the donations and aid pledged over the past year - not to mention the public outcry on behalf of Africa and intense lobbying on Darfur? Where are all the African voices shouting about Niger? And all those who complained about white-man helping Africa with global campaigns such as Make Poverty History and Live 8? It is sickening to know about Niger at such a late stage. What has the African Union and its neighbours - and massive number of church goers - done to avoid such a terrible crisis in Niger? Once again, the onus appears to be on the West to come to the rescue - when will it end? How much longer do we have to stomach getting criticised by Africans for coming to Africa's aid?

Going by what happened in Darfur last April [the UN admitted, when put under to pressure to answer questions later on, that it failed to respond to the world's worst humanitarian crisis quickly enough] one has to conclude the UN is not on the ball and fails to act proactively. The report says "UN bodies and NGOs are appealing for donations through their websites" - when are the African fatcats who were educated in the West going to get a grip and start doing something constructive. We cannot keep going on like this. Even the head of the African Union recently said that if Africa is not sorted within the next 27 years, by which time its population will double, Africa will not be manageable for the rest of the world. It's food and aid needs will be too great.

Sorry to admit it is emotionally draining blogging about African politics and Africa's crises. I'm afraid I cannot take on blogging about Niger right now unless I get some helping hands. If any blogger would like to co-author Sudan Watch, Congo Watch, Uganda Watch, Ethiopia Watch [and possibly Niger Watch], please make contact. In the meantime, if any blogger can put together news items/summaries/round-ups and/or blog round ups for any of those sites, please email me and I will publish them asap with full credit and blog link. Depending on suitability of content, some posts could appear at more than one blog. Thanks.

Note these snippets from Hilary Andersson's report on Niger:

A severe drought last year, combined with a plague of locusts, destroyed much of the crop that was needed to feed the people and the cattle they rely on.

Now, across the windswept plains of the Sahel, carcasses of cattle litter the landscape.

Rains have come - but so late they are now a curse, bringing malaria and other disease.

Families are roaming the parched desert looking for help. One family we came across did not even know where they were going.

"I'm wandering like a madman," the father said. "I'm afraid we'll all starve."

They were hundreds of miles from the nearest food distribution point.

Aid agencies estimate that tens of thousands of children are in the advanced stages of starvation.

Children are dying daily in the few feeding centres there are, where their place in the queue could make the difference between life and death.

Amina is so starved she cannot eat even if she wants to.

"She vomits as soon as I give her food or water," says her mother.

"As far as I'm concerned, God did not make us all equal - I mean, look at us all here. None of us has enough food."


Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live 8 global concerts underway

Concerts are taking place around the world to put pressure on political leaders to tackle poverty in Africa.

Three billion people are watching. So far, 1.5 million people have added their name to the message being delivered to the Group 8 leaders on Wednesday in Scotland, UK. No matter where you are in the world, please add your name to The LIVE 8 List and visit Make Poverty History if you have not already done so.

Japan kicked off the first concert.

Live 8 Tokyo

Photo: Japanese band Rize started proceedings in Tokyo (Material and photos courtesy BBC)

The biggest concert, in London's Hyde Park, has opened with Sir Paul McCartney singing with U2 in front of an audience of up to 200,000. Bill Gates and Kofi Annan made a surprise appearance on stage to say a few words for the cause. Click here for line-ups of other Live 8 concerts.


Photo: Great performance by Bono and U2

Mariners begin Sail 8 round trip

The first of the boats answering Bob Geldof's call to ferry people from France for the G8 protests has left Portsmouth harbour. Full report.

Sail 8

Photo: Geldof wants protesters to collect their 'French cousins' (BBC)

Thousands flock to poverty march

Make Poverty History March

Thousands of protesters are taking part in a Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh, Scotland as musicians perform in Live 8 concerts around the globe.

Early estimates are of about 100,000 people involved in the event to highlight their message to G8 leaders meeting at Gleneagles on Wednesday.

1.5 million turned up for Live 8 in Philadelphia.