Sunday, December 28, 2008

James Iroha Uchechukwu of Nigeria wins 2008 Prince Claus Awards for Photography

These articles were taken from the Prince Claus Awards web site and also from the on line web site “The Power of Culture.” The web address where the original of each excerpt may be found follows each excerpt.

"James Iroha Uchechukwu (b. 1972, Enugu) is the leading light of a new generation of Nigerian photographers. By fusing the documentation of everyday reality with the creative language of imagery, Uchechukwu expands the possibilities of photography, pushing local art in new directions. His high quality images depict bodies in context, exploring the physicality of existence in the mix of cultures and influences that is 21st century Lagos, a megacity with urgent social issues. Fire, Flesh and Blood (2004), a group of images depicting open-air abattoirs, won the Elan Prize at the African Photography Encounters (2005). While documentary in inspiration, the series plunges the viewer into the chaos of colour, smoke and close-ups that are iconic in their intensity, capturing moments that are at once harsh, powerful and poetic.

Uchechukwu was instrumental in founding the Depth of Field (DOF) collective, bringing six talented young photographers together to create strong exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad. By combining their highly individual perspectives they offer insight into the complexity of their environment. Uchechukwu is also instrumental in mentoring a younger generation of photographers through workshops and seminars.

James Iroha Uchechukwu is awarded for his striking photographic work, for his stimulation of photography as a contemporary Nigerian art form, and for his energetic support of young artists.

The Prince Clause 2008 Awards

Below is an article about Uchechukwu taken from “The Power of Culture.”

Photographer James Iroha Uchechukwu and the shape of blank spaces

December 2008 -The Nigerian photographer James Iroha Uchechukwu(Enugu, 1972) just completed a stay in Amsterdam at the Thami Mnyele Foundation studio. Within the framework of the Terrain Vague project, he combed the city looking for empty places, images that fit the bill of his concept of the phrase. His chosen directive was the definition applied by architect Professor Ignasi de Solá-Morales: "seemingly blank spaces that are either underused or abandoned, nondescript or just plain boring." Terrain Vague is a residency project in Amsterdam (Thami Mnyele) and Las Palmas (Casa África), with four participating artists. The project is organised by Multipistes, a multi-stage cooperative established by Abdellah Karroum and Eline Van der Vlist, cultural administrators for the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. The results will be exhibited on Las Palmas and bundled into a publication.

Uchechukwu is one of the eleven winners of the Prince Claus Awards 2008. From the jury report: "James Iroha Uchechukwu is awarded for his striking photographic work, his stimulation of photography as a contemporary Nigerian art form, and his energetic support for young artists."

In the summer of 2008, Uchechukwu’s work was on display in the Netherlands at Snap Judgments, an exhibition compiled by Okwui Enwezor in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum. On that occasion, Uchechukwu’s work was presented as part of the artists collective that he personally established: Depth of Field (DOF). Like in Terrain Vague, the focus in DOF is determined by the city. Uchechukwu, for example, photographed an abattoir in southern Nigeria and made group portraits of athletes and soda vendors. Regarding his importance as an African photographer from the African continent, Mark Sealy, curator and director of Autograph (Association of Black Photographers): "[…] Uchechukwu’s photographs function like hot molecules across the body politic of photographic institutions that regurgitate the same old canon […]."

The Power of Culture

The Prince Claus Awards have been presented annually to artists, thinkers and cultural organisations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean since 1997.

About the Prince Claus Awards

The Prince Claus Awards initiative
The Prince Claus Fund approaches a changing group of experts in fields relevant to its mission of culture and development to nominate candidates.

Outstanding quality
Outstanding quality is an essential condition for an award. The most important consideration of the jury is the positive effect of a laureate’s work on a wider cultural or social field. The Prince Claus Fund interprets culture in a broad sense to encompass all kinds of artistic and intellectual disciplines, science, media and education.

A principal award and additional awards
The Principal Award of € 100,000 is presented during a festive ceremony at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam in December every year. The additional awards of € 25,000 each are presented in the Dutch embassies in the countries where the recipients live in December and January.

The Prince Claus Awards Books
Every year, the Fund publishes a book including the awards speech by one of the Honorary Chairmen, an extract of the lecture by a leading thinker, the jury’s report and extensive discussions of the laureates’ work by renowned experts.
Prince Claus Awards Books

The Prince Claus Fund maintains a broadly based view of culture that accommodates all kinds of artistic and intellectual disciplines, the transmission of culture, and education and media. In addition, the Fund is interested in the cultural and intercultural dimensions of fields that are not obviously a part of ‘culture’ in the conventional sense. Examples include technology, science and sport. These fields may also entail vocabularies and vernaculars – such as salsa, rap, combat sports and marathon running – that travel across the world and develop into universal languages that span different cultures. Interculturality is prominent on the Fund’s agenda.

The Fund is interested in all the concepts and activities that are relevant to the extensive field of culture and development. Each year the Fund chooses a theme in order to introduce an area of concern.

In its policy, the Prince Claus Fund is guided by four main themes: Zones of Silence (the locating and opening of areas of cultural silence); Creating Spaces of Freedom (the creation of cultural sanctuaries); Beauty in Context (the analysis of beauty in different cultural environments); and Living Together (the art of co-existence). Over the years, the Fund has also worked with a series of sub-themes, such as The Survival and Innovation of Crafts (as part of Beauty in Context), The Positive Results of Asylum and Migration (as part of Living Together) and Humour and Satire (as part of Creating Spaces of Freedom).

The Prince Claus Awards

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

SolarAid - Powering Up

The following is a statement of strategy taken from the SolarAid web site:

SolarAid aims to enable the world's poorest people to have clean, renewable power. Solar power leads to better education, health, safety and income by allowing poor communities to cook, pump water, run fridges, store vaccines, light homes, schools, clinics and businesses, power computers and homes, farm more effectively, and much more.

SolarAid carries out DIY solar projects - training local communities how to build small scale solar devices such as solar powered radios and lanterns - and installs small solar systems for community centres, medical clinics, schools and other such communal infrastructure.

For the duration of this plan, we will:

1. Focus on sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest. This will allow us to benefit from synergies as we develop a programme of activity that is geographically focused.

2. Focus mainly on the rural poor, who are the most impoverished and marginalised from energy networks, although we will work with the urban poor if their access to the grid is limited or non-existent.

3. Build a solid programme of DIY solar and installations before moving on to disaster relief and advocacy.

4. Work through international NGOs and local partner organizations rather than implementing directly. We will work with organizations that take a community-involvement approach to development.

5. Focus on programme sustainability through a microbusiness approach that encourages beneficiaries to develop their own solar or solar-powered businesses; sustainable technologies; and a gender approach.

6. Develop from the outset a solid system for monitoring and evaluation.

As SolarAid grows, it will educate and influence the public and policy makers on issues related to renewable energy and climate change and their impact on the world's poorest people.

The following article by John Keane - Head of programmes at SolarAid gives a clear idea about how SolarAid is helping to achieve its goals. [Published online by ICT Update

Solar power provides income-generating opportunities in East Africa

The introduction of solar power systems to rural communities in East Africa is providing new business opportunities, as well as affordable and safe electricity supplies.

Johari lives in the Iringa region of Tanzania. She used to work as a manual labourer, breaking rocks and selling the stones for building material. But now, after a short training course, Johari is assembling and selling small solar panels that can be used to power radios and recharge batteries for lamps and mobile phones.

Johari is one of several hundred people already trained by SolarAid, a charity set up in 2006 to fight climate change and global poverty. The organization is currently focusing its efforts in Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania, and promotes economic development by encouraging entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses building and selling solar products. The businesses provide new sources of income for the trainees, who can supply solar equipment at affordable prices, giving even the poorest people access to clean, renewable energy.

The market for inexpensive solar power is considerable. Using Tanzania as an example, only 2% of rural communities are served by the main electricity grid, forcing those without to burn kerosene, diesel and candles for light in the evening. All of these sources emit carbon dioxide, cause accidental fires and, in the case of kerosene and diesel, can lead to respiratory disease. Many people also rely on cheap but poor quality disposable batteries for their radios, which they have to replace regularly. The used batteries are rarely disposed of safely, and are often left to decompose on the ground, poisoning the land and posing a danger to livestock and small children.

The good news is that solar power is a viable and realistic energy alternative. In much of Africa there is plenty of free sunlight year-round that can be converted to electricity. There are, however, three significant obstacles preventing greater access to solar power:

financial barriers – solar power is traditionally seen as too expensive for the majority of people;
access to the market – it is difficult for many solar companies, often based in large towns, to reach customers living in
rural areas, and of course for potential customers to contact them;
education and awareness – many people do not understand how solar power works, what it can do, or how to choose a system and
maintain it. Many systems fail due to poor maintenance, misuse and incorrect sizing, affecting consumer confidence and the
reputation of solar power.
SolarAid is tackling the above problems through what it calls microsolar and macrosolar projects.


Microsolar projects provide opportunities for enterprising people to set up businesses selling solar power equipment. These
entrepreneurs market low-cost solar systems tailor-made to meet the local demand for affordable electricity. The projects
provide business management, technical and marketing training to enable individuals and community groups to establish and
operate successful businesses. For instance, part of the income generated by the project participants is reinvested to ensure
the long-term continuation of their businesses.

Microsolar projects attempt to overcome financial barriers through the promotion of small solar panels and products that,
because of their size, are less expensive than the more usual, larger solar systems. Of course their small size also means
that microsolar products only generate small amounts of power (typically less than 2 watts), but even 0.3 watts of power is
enough to play a radio all day long for years on end, or to power long-life or energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode)
light bulbs. Rural communities benefit by being able to recharge their mobile phones using a reliable and low-cost energy
source. Farmers are then able to communicate with buyers to find the best prices for their produce, giving them increased
access to new markets and removing the need to deal with local middlemen.

Microsolar products are also small enough that travelling salesmen can easily transport them to rural areas that are not
connected to the grid, and display them in village markets where there is a high demand for solar products. Households that
start using microsolar products no longer need to buy as much kerosene or as many batteries, and can use the money for other


Macrosolar projects are designed to enable institutions in rural areas not connected to the electricity grid, including
schools, clinics and community centres, to benefit from electricity-generating solar installations (typically 100–500 watts).
All the projects are designed to improve community services and generate an income by including a business component such as
a phone recharging service.

In Mumbwa district in Zambia, for example, one solar installation provides lighting for a community centre, which houses a
small library and an area where local women’s groups meet in the evening to make clothes. The centre also uses the system to
earn money by recharging mobile phone batteries. A vocational training centre in Malawi, meanwhile, is also using its solar
system to provide lighting and power for a television. The centre generates extra income by charging community members who
want to watch sports events on TV.

While the ways in which each system is used may vary considerably, the themes common to all of these projects are community
use and income generation. If a system cannot generate funds, it is likely that it will fall into disrepair. SolarAid works
to ensure that every system installed includes a component that can be used to generate an income, and will enable the
community to save part of the proceeds and reinvest it in the system.

The larger solar power systems are often too expensive for many individuals or communities to purchase outright, but SolarAid
does not provide them for free. Around the world, too many solar projects have failed as a result of poor planning and the
lack of local participation, as community members feel they have no vested interest in the system. To avoid this, SolarAid
provides users with details of how much the components cost, how long they are likely to last and, based on this, works out
the minimum income targets that the community needs to meet per month and per year.


SolarAid’s projects give low-income rural communities access to an electricity supply that serves local needs and can
generate an income by selling solar-powered services. To apply for a system, community members first need to put together a
sound business plan detailing the benefits for end users, how the system will be used to generate an income, and how it will
be managed. They have to commit themselves both financially and physically, meaning that they also have to contribute through
some form of work, such as helping to install the system or teaching other community members about solar power. End users
also have to attend training courses prior to installation. This helps to ensure that the users know how to operate the
system correctly and how to monitor it and carry out repairs should part of it fail.

SolarAid is currently carrying out research into using solar systems to power water pumps in Malawi that can be used to
irrigate farmland. Irrigation has been shown elsewhere to dramatically increase, crop yield which in turn can lead to
increased incomes for the farmers. They are also developing a pilot project in Tanzania with NoPc, an organization working to
bring the internet to schools in rural areas.

SolarAid sees its microsolar and macrosolar projects as just the beginning of its work in Africa and elsewhere. Countries
with high levels of solar insolation (sunshine year-round can certainly look to solar power not only as an off-grid solution,
but also as power source that can contribute towards the expansion of the main electricity grid.

Ultimately, SolarAid wants to help governments understand the benefits of solar energy so that they are more likely to adopt
solar solutions in the future rather than relying on carbon-emitting fossil fuels.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

FADECO: A Model To Follow

This item was found in the “AfricaFocus Bulletin” and is a reprint of a portion of the article: Unbounded Possibilities: Observations on sustaining rural information and communication technology (ICT) in Africa Written by Ian Douglas Howard on behalf of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) - October 2008. References to “the author” in the text are to Ian Howard. Also, the text of the article uses British common usage of English and that that commonly used in the U.S.

Case Study #1: Grassroots ICT Development in Tanzania - FADECO

8.1 Background

FADECO is located in the small town of Karagwe in northwestern Tanzania near the Burundi and Ugandan borders. The town, marked by a police outpost, a few schools and a concentration of mud and some cinder block buildings, rests on a table-top plateau that overlooks lush valleys where bananas, coffee, and staple foods are grown. The road from Bukoba, the regional capital, is unpaved - like most roads in the large east African country. The drive takes several hours, weaving past farmers carrying their goods on their heads, bicycles, scooters and the occasional car, all cloaked inred clouds of dust along the winding and bumpy road.

Registered not-for-profit NGO founded in 1996 by a group led by current director Mr. Sekiku Joseph Mtabazi, FADECO is a small and very modest association. In addition to the director, its principal staff consists of Mr. Itegereize Titus Tobias (chair), Mrs. Elieth Kikaka, (office manager) and Mr. John Kibuuka (information technology manager). The organisation works to provide information resources that help families to improve their living standards. It serves as a vehicle for promoting new agricultural methods and other activities to heighten community and economic development.

Where possible these efforts have been commercialised as separate ventures. For example, Sekiku began a very small seasonal fruit drying business, FADECO Trading Co. Ltd., based on techniques that he promoted via FADECO. As well as acting as chair, Mr. Titus sells agribusiness products that support the farming techniques taught by FADECO, such as solar drying and composting. FADECO largely serves as a brand name for initiatives promoted by the group, as it has few resources.

The group has maintained an apolitical nature, partly to avoid any confrontation. As noted by Sekiku, the organisation allows the group to participate in not-for-profit initiatives where there is funding and no commercial interest. The association is best described as a manifestation of Sekiku's interests and a body that legitimises his endeavours.

In 1997, Sekiku, a self-taught technologist, began work on a small telecentre for the community under the FADECO umbrella. This centre was based on his property in the building next to his home that was previously used for the aforementioned fruit-drying business. Sekiku purchased used computers for a few hundred dollars each ... They were then connected to the internet via modems on a fixed-line telephone network. To pay for some of this equipment, Sekiku received small grants and donations from the Dutch NGO the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (Hivos), the British Council and others.

In 2004, after a few years of operation, he was able to buy a VSAT (a weighty purchase at more than USD 3,500) with the financial support of an NGO called the Regional Agricultural Information Network (RAIN). He purchased the VSAT so that he could avoid the onerous charges for internet access. To access the internet, his telecentre previously had to dial out to Dar Es Salaam, 1,500 kilometres away, with fees for these long-distance calls calculated based on distance. ,,,

In late 2006, ... Sekiku began to build a wireless network. His intent was to share the internet costs with other groups in Karagwe. He started his network with a few off-the-shelf wireless access points and at each site used directional antennas to point back to his base station at FADECO. In August of 2007, his network connected three clients: 1) a private secondary school; 2) the local office for the electric company (Tanesco); and 3) a local agricultural development NGO.

8.2 Observations

Sekiku explained the long process of discovery and frustration that he experienced while connecting these customer sites to his network. He toiled slowly, learning piece by piece how to install equipment and debug problems with help from colleagues via email and online chat, and using online references such as the WNDW books and internet forums. Eventually, however, he did persevere.

This case study demonstrates that learning is critical to allow such networks to be installed and supported. Sekiku was not taught, but learned how to build the network by searching for information and through trial-and-error. This learning process did require access to good learning materials, some counsel and reasonable access to equipment, but for the most part it was accomplished through sweat and passion. The process of taking ICT graduates from local universities and developing them into technologists can take considerable time. This process can also be counter-cultural for many, where the norm for young employees is for them to rarely be asked to make decisions on their own. This resistance to self-learning must be broken.

Opportunities for self-learning are further hindered because few of these capable minds have the opportunity to tinker with computers or other gadgets, or break them as do many techies from richer markets. Learning the troubleshooting process is central to becoming technologically minded. This analytical process can take considerable effort but can be done. The many ad-hoc roadside bicycle, car and television repair shops across developing nations are a testament that this ability exists everywhere but that it is not well cultivated by most developing nation schools. ...

In most ways the development of this network defies conventional best-practices, which recommend that ICT projects are planned, people trained, and equipment selected based on design and evaluation before commencing work. Sekiku's approach missed each of these steps, working in a piecemeal fashion with few resources and no formal training. ... and, yet, the network was built and still persists. Thus, it has succeeded in becoming sustainable.

The slow process that Sekiku undertook allowed him to build the needed skills at the same pace as the network's growth - not by design but due to access to equipment and funds. This slow development is contrary to standard practice. Generally, telecentres are built rapidly so that they can be operational as soon as possible. Building quickly is perhaps necessary where rent and salaries are high, and technical competence and equipment abundant. In this case growing slowly was not a problem and is the norm. By building slowly the staff can learn how to support the network as it grows in complexity. This contrasts with many other sites that the author has visited, where local staff members have not appropriated the skills required to support the systems or services provided by the site, resulting in their degradation.

8.2.2 ICT sites that do have readily available technical support should adopt new systems only at a pace at which their staff (or their support network) can competently learn how to use and support them.

In 2004, the author visited the University of Bamako at the behest of USAID, which had sponsored a project to install a wireless network there. Although the system was reasonably well installed by local and foreign contractors, it fell into disrepair within a few months. Funding for continued technical support had ended and local staff had limited knowledge of how to support the system. Thus, many of the sites were completely offline, while the network at large was so overwhelmed by viruses that it was virtually unusable. Staff had been provided training, but most had little prior technical experience and very little experience with networking.

Some believe that a techie can be made by sending someone to a five-week training program. The author has found, however, that the attributes required of techies (such as the ability to persist, self-learn and troubleshoot and profound curiosity about how things work) must already exist as they cannot easily be taught, but generally only fostered. This site reinforced this notion. Even after many weeks of comprehensive training by the implementers, these former administrators were evidently not transformed into technicians.

When the author's team arrived at the university, his team set about a slow process of teaching a few of the staff how to repair these problems themselves. They identified those staff members who possessed techie attributes and gave them responsibilities. Eventually, with a lot of guidance and on-the-job training, they were able to repair the network themselves. A little more than a year later, the university's staff independently and successfully moved several nodes and installed some new sites.

8.2.3 The need to localise expertise and provision for local repairs and within local means becomes more necessary with increasing distance from major urban areas.
The ability of local staff to support their network increases in importance as locations become more remote. In isolated places like Karagwe there are great costs to bring in expertise or equipment from commercial centres such as Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi, or Kampala.

8.2.4 Commercial grade wireless systems are often cheaper once training and long-term support is factored into total costs because of the inaccessibility and lack of local resources in rural developing communities. There is also a paradox in the use of low-cost wireless/ICT systems in the developing world. The factors that make this equipment relatively cheap in the developed world are less relevant in rural developing communities, where affordable equipment is generally of poorer quality and very basic. Low-cost wireless routers are designed to sit in the corner of a climate controlled office and connect a couple of laptops nearby. When these low-cost routers are subjected to the heat, humidity, and/or dust of many developing countries, they quickly fail.

When there is a lack of competent technical staff in rural developing communities, installing poorer grade equipment can raise support and training costs and increase risks of failure. This is often overlooked by western project proponents who see low-cost tools as a way to overcome limited resources and do not consider the costs of supporting such systems - costs which are largely absent in developed world cities. ...

8.3 Financial Analysis

Money flows through in small amounts and seasonally nourishes this business, not unlike the farms and other enterprises that surround it. Appendix one shows the FADECO telecentre's income statement for a typical month in 2007. As the bottom line of this table indicates, this business loses money, but it continues to persist because it is sustained by its operator, Sekiku.

The business model that has emerged for this site is one that generates revenue by providing a variety of ICT services including training, internet use, and wireless internet access to the three customer sites. There is not a formal business plan, nor a business per say, so this assertion is based on facts gathered on-site. The telecentre has also begun a FM radio station which supports itself through announcements, advertising and sponsored programs. Though not an internet service, the radio is an inexpensive way for Sekiku to extend the internet out to the poor, those who cannot read, and/or are not computer literate by reading what they find on the internet over the air.

Typically the telecentre earns about USD 370 per month. Costs can be broken down into operating and staffing costs. Operating costs are paid to service providers and amount to an average of USD 400 per month. Staffing costs amount to almost USD 340 per month. However, this figure indicates only what is paid in ideal circumstances, and staff members are typically only paid when there is sufficient money. Most often, they only take home only a fraction of this amount. Staff members are quasi-volunteers, with no formal status. They could best be described as "casual wage workers," meaning that their wage is not defined strictly, but they are paid according to the resources available to the telecentre.

While this arrangement allows FADECO to continue operating despite little revenue, it means that staff members treat their work as a hobby that they attend to after taking care of family and other personal interests. It limits the professionalism of the business ... [nevertheless] This flexibility in staffing is perhaps why FADECO and many, if not most, businesses can survive in such rural economies with wild variability in incomes due to seasonality and commodity price fluctuation.

Costs are also scaled in other areas, as with telephone use. Because neither the telecentre nor Sekiku have immediate access to credit, expenses are naturally scaled back when there is no cash to buy phone credit. These scalable costs allow the centre to adjust to fluctuations, though they make it quite difficult to plan or keep consistent service levels.

Beyond the telecentre, Sekiku is able to do ICT consulting work based on the expertise he developed through the telecentre. Mostly derived through conferences, consulting is his greatest source of revenue and nearly pure profit. In 2007, he earned about USD 6,000, up from USD 4,000 in 2006. Through these revenues Sekiku subsidises the telecentre, contributing approximately USD 200 per month to pay its staff, buy equipment to expand its services, and repay the three-year loan for the building. This, while the telecentre is a loss-making venture, it does provide Sekiku the opportunity to learn and gain income through consulting work


Association for Progressive Communications


Friday, September 12, 2008


This Article is taken in its entirety from Pambazuka News, which in turn credits the New York Times for first publishing the article on July 20, 2008. The author and location are cited below.


Kenya: Inside Nairobi, the next Palo Alto?
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In the republic of innovation, life is unfair. A relatively small number of places — all in wealthy countries or in China and India — create nearly every important technological advance. Consider Wilfred Mworia, a 22-year-old engineering student and freelance code writer in Nairobi, Kenya. In the four weeks leading up to Apple’s much-anticipated release of a new iPhone on July 11, Mr. Mworia created an application for the phone that shows where events in Nairobi are happening and allows people to add details about them.
Inside Nairobi, the Next Palo Alto?

IN the republic of innovation, life is unfair. A relatively small number of places — all in wealthy countries or in China and India — create nearly every important technological advance.

Other places must be content with technologies made by others. Yet people in these areas are dreaming of more.

Consider Wilfred Mworia, a 22-year-old engineering student and freelance code writer in Nairobi, Kenya. In the four weeks leading up to Apple’s much-anticipated release of a new iPhone on July 11, Mr. Mworia created an application for the phone that shows where events in Nairobi are happening and allows people to add details about them.

Mr. Mworia’s desire to develop an application for the iPhone is not unusual: many designers around the world are writing programs for the device. But his location posed some daunting obstacles: the iPhone doesn’t work in Nairobi, and Mr. Mworia doesn’t even own one. He wrote his program on an iPhone simulator.

“Even if I don’t have an iPhone,” Mr. Mworia says defiantly, “I can still have a world market for my work.”

Nairobi’s challenges are many. Internet use is relatively expensive and slow. Power failures are common. The city also lacks a world-class technical university. Mr. Mworia’s professors don’t offer lessons in the latest computer languages; he must learn them on his own.

Political instability can be a problem, too. Earlier this year, Kenya suffered widespread violence after its disputed national election. For weeks, work in Nairobi came to a halt.

“If you have a bright idea in Nairobi, you can’t just turn it around,” says Laura Frederick, an American working on an online payment system in the city.

Still, Nairobi is home to a digital brew that invites optimism about its chances for creating unusual innovations. The city has relatively few wired phone lines or networked personal computers, so mobile phones are the essential digital tool. Four times as many people have them as have bank accounts. Text messages are far more popular than e-mail. Safaricom, the dominant mobile provider, offers a service called M-pesa that lets customers send money with text messages. Nokia sells brand-new phones here for as little as $33.

While engineers in the United States lavish attention on expensive phones that boast laptoplike features, in Kenya there are 10 million low-end phones. Millions more are used elsewhere in Africa. Enhancements to such basic phones can be experimented with cheaply in Nairobi, and because designers are weaned on narrow bandwidth, they are comfortable writing compact programs suited to puny devices.

“Applications are heavy in America,” says Michael Wakahe, a Nairobi code writer. “Here we have to make them light,” because simpler hardware requires smaller programs. These can have advantages in wireless systems.

The distinctive digital experience in Nairobi inspires confidence in its youthful community of programmers, bloggers and Web enthusiasts. Over the past year, about 600 people in Nairobi — most under 25 — have coalesced into a group called Skunk Works, sharing ideas and encouraging new businesses. In June, it held an all-day workshop that included sessions on using the Android phone operating system from Google, developing applications for digital maps and creating content for mobile phones.

“Possibilities are opening up for us,” says Josiah Mugambi, one of the group’s organizers.

The prospect of marrying low-end mobile phones with the Internet is earning Nairobi notice from outsiders, who wonder whether the city might emerge as a test-bed for tomorrow’s technologies. One intriguing possibility is broadcasting local television programs on mobile phones.

In Nairobi’s highest-profile validation, Google opened a development office here last September. “Africa is a huge long-term market for us,” Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said by e-mail. “We have to start by helping people get online, and the creativity of the people will take care of the rest.”

Google hired seven recent university graduates, who digitally mapped the streets and structures of Nairobi for Google Maps. The company is now doing the same for other African cities. A leading Nairobi television broadcaster, NTV, has made a deal to present whole episodes of its programs on YouTube, a Google property.

Google plans to hire more people in Nairobi and is recruiting staff in half a dozen other African cities. In Nairobi, Google chose a veteran of the city’s Internet-access industry to lead its office. The company assigned two Americans here; like the presidential candidate Barack Obama, each is the child of a Kenyan and an American.

The company’s presence has raised ambitions. “When I interview people for jobs in this office,” explains Chris Kiagiri, a Google technology officer in Nairobi, “I ask them, ‘What would you like to see Google do in this market that it has not attempted anywhere else in the world?’”

“A lot of people assume Google is trying to replicate in Africa what it has done elsewhere,” adds Mr. Kiagiri, who transferred last year from Google’s head office in California. “Sure, we want to bring existing products into this market. But we also want to organize information locally in a way we haven’t done elsewhere.”

To be truly creative in a technological backwater is to defeat geography. Even as powerful a technological force as Google might not succeed. But dreaming of greatness, Kenyans are pushing Google to expand into completely new areas.

One local programmer, Timothy Mbugua, wants Google to enhance its communication backbone so he can use it to build a money-transfer business that would charge lower rates than existing services. While it sounds daunting, Mr. Mbugua explains, “I’m only saying to Google, ‘This is what I need from you in order to execute my idea.’”

* G. Pascal Zachary teaches journalism at Stanford and writes about technology and economic development. E-mail:

* This article was first publish in the New York Times on 20 July 2008.

ISSN 1753-6839 Fahamu

Friday, August 22, 2008


[This article was taken in full from IOL, whose website is listd below]

Computer hub launched in Philippi
July 30 2008 at 03:03PM
By Nomangesi Mbiza

New hope for the jobless in Philippi has come with the launch of a computer hub which will allow people to register for work, create CVs and get information about job opportunities and skills development.

The Umsebenzi Job Opportunities Information hub, which was launched on Tuesday by Western Cape Transport and Public Works MEC Marius Fransman, is situated at Philippi's Tsoga Centre.  The hub is one of 30 planned for the Western Cape.  The sites are a government initiative to help provide young people, women and the disabled with access to a computer and an opportunity to register on an Internet-based system.

Fransman said they chose to start in Philippi because it was such a disadvantaged area.  "Philippi is a community that has been bypassed and sidelined," he said.

The department of transport and public works will also post employment opportunities at the information hubs and will use information loaded there to recruit people.

Fransman said the hubs would also provide an accurate indication of the skills levels among the unemployed.

"This afternoon I am hosting more than 100 business executives to appeal for their support for this initiative," he said.

The hubs each have 30 computers sponsored by Dell Computers. The company's Rubiena Duarte said they had selected the project because of their commitment to skills development, reducing unemployment and empowering people through knowledge.

Lerato Molebatsi, of Sanlam, another of the sponsors, said they were delighted to be involved in the pilot programme. "This is truly a grassroots empowerment initiative."

Ward councillor Monwabisi Mbaliswano said he was happy that Philippi had been chosen because it was one of Cape Town's poorest areas.

Samora Machel resident Zoleka Maso said: "It is really going to help us."


Thursday, August 07, 2008


this article was taken from the SOPUDEP website which quotes Kevin Site's "expose" on Yahoo.

For several months now, a variety of characters have

appeared at the school to demand they vacate the premises. Some falsely stated they were descendants of the original owner but mostly it was an attempt to pressure the school by disrupting its normal operation. On Monday July 28, 2008, the Mayor of Petion-Ville, Lydie Clark Parent, delivered an eight (8) day eviction notice to SOPUDEP to vacate their school premises. This action is NOT legal as SOPUDEP has a 12-year lease on the property that expires in 2012. The school's rights under this contract were ultimately respected by the Mayor's office and the government of Latortue in 2004-2006 and has subsequently been recognized as valid by the Ministry of Education and the Preval administration.

On Tuesday, August 5, 2008, the SOPUDEP school will begin the procedure to file an injunction against Mayor Lydie Clark Parent and ask the court to uphold their binding 12-year lease at their current location. In an effort to show Mayor Parent and the Haitian court the importance of the SOPUDEP school, they ask that all people of goodwill and solidarity please write a letter expressing their support for the school and its more that 450 students. These letters will be critical to showing the wide-spread support SOPUDEP school has throughout the world in the coming days and weeks. Please take five minutes of your time as soon as possible and help save this wonderful resource for Haiti's poorest children in Petion-Ville, Haiti by writing a letter on their behalf today!

Lionel Wooley was an assassin for the regimes of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. In exchange for killing opponents of these repressive regimes in Haiti, he was allowed to steal the property of his victims and claim them as his own. In late 2000, Lionel Wooley died in exile in Miami and the government expropriated the properties he had stolen. Most were returned to the surviving members of the original victim’s families but a few had no known descendents. Among these few properties was a dilapidated mansion, burned and pillaged by an angry local community after the departure of Baby Doc. It is situated in the hills of Petion-Ville behind the Montana Hotel .

The property passed through Mayor Sulley Guriere of Petion-Ville, to SOPUDEP whose membership actively participates in the National Literacy Project. Although the literacy campaign is designed for adults 30-60, SOPUDEP was deeply affected by the number of school age children who attended classes as well. They were mostly children of the poor whose parents could not afford to send them to school and could not find a place for them in the over crowded classrooms of the already overwhelmed public schools system. For this reason SOPUDEP made a decision to turn the property into a school for the most vulnerable and poor children of Petion-Ville. The SOPUDEP team hired a lawyer and began the legal process for acquiring a long term lease of the property in 2000 as well as restructuring their organization to meet the requirements of the Haitian government to operate the school. SOPUDEP was given a 12-year lease on the property that expires in 2012 and was provided accreditation by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education to conduct a school at the facility.

Their initial enrollment totaled 160 but has now grown to over 480 as of the 2007/08 school year. It stands as a beautiful example of transforming a gruesome legacy of the past into a symbol of hope for the future.

Since its founding, the school also added a government funded hot lunch program to supplement the diet of their students and staff. For many it was their only meal of the day. When President Aristide was ousted in 2004, funding for the program ceased. That same year the school suffered threats of attack from militia groups and unelected officials. Thankfully, no harm was inflicted on them. SOPUDEP struggles each month to pay its staff and continue the hot lunch program that was reinstated in March of 2008. SOPUDEP is a wonderful example of a community initiative founded more on courage and love than money. They try not turn down any poor child of the community for lack of funds.

For further information about SOPUDEP school please visit:

-Kevin Site's expose of the school for Hotzones on Yahoo:


Wednesday, August 06, 2008


This article is reproduced entirely from the AfroAmerica XXI Newsletter #2

In response to the continued lack of investment, economic marginalization and human rights violations, leaders of African descendant communities from Latin America have created AFROAMERICA XXI (AAXXI). This is a coalition with chapters in thirteen (13) countries in the Americas and partnerships in Africa, the Caribbean, the United States and Europe.

Of the approximately 540 million people in the Latin America, 150 million are Afro Latinos. Similar to others of African descent, Afro Latinos have suffered the ravages and devastation of slavery and continue to suffer from persistent acts of racism. Politically and economically isolated, most Afro-descendants throughout Latin America do not have legal protection, political representation, land rights, human rights or access to quality healthcare.

Brazil (52%) and Colombia (26%) are the countries with the largest Black populations in South America. Fortunately, Brazil and Colombia have both recently developed the most extensive anti-discrimination legislation for African descendants in Latin America.

AFROAMERICA XXI (AAXXI) is a coalition of African Descendant organizations designed to provide solutions to the various issues plaguing African descendant populations in their respective localities and on the international level through which African descendants from the Americas [a] have defined their goals for this century [b] have an Action Plan to attain these results [c] collectively fight the problems of racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion [d] advocate for their interests nationally and internationally and [e] form links worldwide with the African Diaspora and support one another.

With our acquired experience and focus on accomplishing our action plan (1998-2021), we continue to strengthen our organizations and build new and innovative programs to improve the living conditions of African descendants from Latin America. We hope, with your support, to continue this work.


*Bring visibility to African descendants on the local and international levels.

*Strengthen African descendants' human resources, raise levels of self-esteem, improve community organizational capacities and increase participation in the democratic process of governance, improve the administrative, financial and programming abilities for the development of Afro-descendants' Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) and interconnect the Black organizations and communities in this hemisphere.

*Find support for projects of the African descendants' civil society organizations that target solutions to the high-priority problems that African descendants from Latin America face.

*Obtain support from the governments of the region and international agencies for programs that are a high-priority for African descendant populations, such as those that work toward the reduction of poverty.


Democratic Participation: Our programs look to enhance the roles of Afro-Latino representatives and organizations and to advocate for government responsiveness to the needs of their communities. We work to promote local political participation of Afro-Latino organizations and leaders. We build roundtables with representatives of the government to collect feedback from representatives of the Afro-Latino community on the greatest challenges they face in their respective countries. Even though these goals are important, only a few Afro-Latino organizations have experience in working towards achieving them. We have identified experts that travel to different countries on behalf of AAXXI and meet with local organizations to develop training methodology that is participatory, dynamic and based on the realities of the particular communities. Also, we work with legislators and other leaders to introduce legislative proposals.

Education: AAXXI is lobbying on the local and national levels to re-design school curriculums and incorporate Afro-Latino historical content that is appropriate for the different levels of the educational system. We are also working to increase access to middle, secondary and higher education, particularly for the rural, and low-income urban sectors. We are promoting and establishing scholarship funds for Afro-Latino students from low income families.

Health: AAXXI has designed and implemented effective campaigns and programs in the areas of preventive, reproductive and sexual health care among young people and adults. There are special programs for the prevention of AIDS, a disease that has had an alarming increase in the Afro-Latino population in the past 10 years. We are also working to recover and use natural medicines and traditional medicinal practices of Afro-Latino culture. Equally important is the effort to advocate for the improvement of physical infrastructure and professional staff at the health centers in Black communities.

Economic Empowerment: AAXXI is building methodologies to foster the creation of new micro-enterprises and to strengthen those already existing among African descendants in Latin America. This will be done by providing technical support, lobbying and advisory services. The principal characteristics of this effort are: respect for the culture and increasing the participation of the communities in these initiatives. With the help of our different tourist programs, we are also supporting Black businesses and stimulating the growth of markets.

Human Rights: AAXXI is promoting the defense of human rights in the Afro-Latino community by developing and trainings groups of Afro-Latino lawyers and leaders. These groups are helping with issues of land protection, identifying cases and victims of racial discrimination and racially motivated police harassment.

We are also developing materials to distribute in the community and among Afro-Latino organizations. These materials include, "Compendio Normativo de Acciones Afirmativas a Favor de las Comunidades Afrolatioamericanas" and "Los afrodescendientes y los mecanismos de protección nacional y regional contra actos de discriminación racial, racismo, xenofobia e intolerancia." The first of these books contains all of the legislation supporting the rights of African Descendant peoples in Latin America, as well as international agreements on this subject. The second book is a hand book addressed to leaders in Latin America to help them identify cases of racial discrimination and police harassment and to know the legal action to take in those cases.

AAXXI is advocating for Afro-Latino issues at the Organization of America States (OAS). We are also registered at the OAS.

Media: AAXXI is producing a TV program in Colombia called "Sello Negro La Voz de los AfroColomianos." The TV program encourages discussing and educating the public on Afro-Colombian issues and racial discrimination. AAXXI is preparing to expand its website to include information about AAXXI activities, educational materials, and training methodologies. Finally, AAXXI is preparing a series of articles and reports on human rights and AAXXI's activities for Afro-Latino publications throughout the hemisphere. For this last initiative, we are calling on African-American organizations and international agencies to help us disseminate this information by requesting our published material and including it in their organizations' literature.

In all programs, we ensure the participation of women and youth. We also conduct focus groups in order to promote their ideas and activities.


Our office in the USA is integrated by an active group of Afro-Latinos and African-Americans. We are creating new ways to bring visibility to the Afro-Latino population, exchange experiences and solutions between Afro-Latino and African-American communities and to identify consortium organizations and promote and facilitate joint ventures.

Tourist Program: We have developed a program where US citizens can come and discover the Black Communities of Latin America through trips. You can learn about the Afro-Latino history, culture and the work that is taking place in Black community organizations. At the same time, you will be supporting Afro-Latino businesses, and enjoying traditional festivals, food, beautiful beaches, music and dance of African descendants in Central and South America.

Youth professional attachment: This program will begin in 2008, through which young Afro-Latino members from an organization in Latin America serve for three (3) months as temporary staff interns at Afroamerica XXI - USA, acquiring knowledge in English, while learning about international agencies, and lobbying. Also, these youths will be building links with African-American youth and universities.

Forums/Conferences: AAXXI prepares and conducts educational presentations during each year about the conditions of the African Diaspora from Latin America. This presentations help to build a dialogue with the international community, organizations and agencies in the USA.

Individuals and/or organizations can:

Volunteer to translate articles or proposals from Spanish to English.

Support new or existing programs and conferences developed by Afroamerica XXI.

Sponsor or support the visit of an Afro-Latino leader to your country or another country.

Participate in our educational rours to African descendant communities of Latin America.

Give a donation and help us to combat racial discrimination, exclusion and marginalization in the Americas.

Contact us with your suggestions or comments to improve our work.

P.O. Box 3072
Washington DC 20010
Phone: 202-460-6446 / 202-269-1586

Friday, May 02, 2008


The following statements were taken from the IPC web site and quoted without editing. There is much more informaion on the IPC web site, and I have only quoted it in part to illustrate some of the points that I consider to be significant.

What is Food Sovereignty ?

"Food Sovereignty is the RIGHT of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies."

What is IPC ?

"The IPC is a global network of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Social Movements concerned with food sovereignty issues and programs. It includes social organizations representing small-scale farmers, fisher folk, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, agricultural workers' trade unions; sub-regional/regional CSOs which act as regional focal points; CSOs and networks with particular expertise in lobbying and advocacy which act as thematic focal points.

"The IPC serves as a facilitation mechanism for the dialogue between Social movements/CSOs and the UN agencies dealing with food and agriculture. In particular, the IPC facilitated the participation of CSOs to the World Food Summit, the World Food Summit: five years later and the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development"



"The International NGO/CSO Planning Committee - IPC is a global network of NGOs/CSOs concerned with food sovereignty issues and programs. It includes social organizations representing small farmers, fisher folk, indigenous peoples, agricultural workers' trade unions; sub-regional/regional NGOs/CSOs which act as regional focal points; and NGO networks with particular expertise and a long history of lobbying and action and advocacy on issues related to food sovereignty and agriculture, which act as thematic focal points.

"Many of these civil society actors have been engaged in global networking on these issues since the time of the NGO Forum organized in parallel to the World Food Summit (WFS) of 1996. The WFS was the most important international conference on the '90s focusing specifically on food security and, as such, it gave expression to one of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which now provide a basis for the international community's development agenda.

"Thanks to a process which has developed over the past seven years, these NGOs/CSOs have increasingly achieved an effective presence in the work of relevant international organizations on a platform of food sovereignty, right to food, and food sovereignty. The two NGO/CSO Fora organized in Rome in 1996 and 2002 in parallel to the WFS and the WFS:fyl, based on the principles of civil society self-organization and autonomy, have made a particularly important contribution to strengthening civil society networking and impact.

"The process of organization for the 2002 Forum, which benefited from the support of the FAO, involved thematic reflection and decentralized discussions at national and regional levels over a period of two and a half years. It has led to the development of an innovative mechanism for interaction on issues of food sovereignty between the NGOs/CSOs and social movements, on the one hand, and, on the other, governments and international institutions. Particular attention has been given to FAO initially. This was due to need to mobilize for the WFS:fyl and in view of FAO's role within the UN system as focal point for food sovereignty in the follow-up to the WFS and the implementation of the MDGs.

"Other international organizations targeted in the recommendations of the 2002 NGO/CSO Forum for Food Sovereignty include IFAD, WFP, the World Bank and the WTO. At the same time, the decentralized process of debate over many months which culminated in the Forum helped NGOs/CSOs to engage - often for the first time - in debate on food sovereignty issues with their governments at national, sub-regional and regional levels.

"The IPC is not a centralized structure claiming to represent its members. Instead, its legitimacy is based on its ability to bring to the attention of its interlocutors the concerns and the battles which a broad diversity of civil society organizations are conducting daily in their field work and their advocacy at local, regional and global levels. It serves as a mechanism for diffusion of information and training on issues regarding food sovereignty and food sovereignty. It promotes fora in which NGOs/CSOs and social movements involved in food and agriculture issues can debate, articulate their positions and build their relationships at national, regional and global levels. It reinforces the effectiveness of civil society lobbying by strengthening their capacities for analysis and alliances. It facilitates dialogue and debate between civil society actors, governments and other stakeholders at all levels."

Visit the IPC site for more information.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

CENTRE SONGHAI - Help For The Farmers

While the contents of this post was lifted in its entirety from the web site of Songhai Centere it was taken from different pages in the web site to give the reader a broad scope of the organization's activities in a very short space.

In the early 1980's, a small group of people led by Father Godfrey Nzamujo determined that the level of development in Africa was grossly insufficient and sought to restore dignity to the African people. The result was the creation of the Songhai Center. Named after the famed 15th-century Malian empire,

Songhai is a center for training, for production, research and development of sustainable agricultural practices. The movement seeks to augment the standard of living of Africa's populations using the following methods for the creation of viable agricultural enterprises:

Through the use of local resources, traditional and modern methods;
Through the hybridization of traditional and modern agricultural practices;
Through the instruction and implementation of effective management;
Through the encouragement of individual and communal responsibility and initiatives;
Through the inclusion of diverse opinions.

The ambition of Songhai is to foster an environment of creativity and innovation and as a result, reestablish a stable African society. Songhai draws inspiration from "the Timbuctu effect" - Pride, progress and effective result-, by clearly emphasizing all the advantages Africa offers. Citizens can therefore benefit from globalization rather than be excluded from it or solely bear the weight of its effects.


Funds are collected from the sale of Songhai's own products as well as grants from various partners. Most of Songhai's resources are used to finance production activities while a small portion is allocated to administrative expenses. The ongoing objective is to attain 100% financial independence.
Songhai is an institution which seeks to exist via its own efforts and which finances its programs primarily from revenues generated by its own activities. In addition to the internally generated funds, several partners support many of Songhai's investment projects. They include the following organizations:

USAID (United States Agency for International Development) - principal partner
Songhai Support Group (California)

UNDP , HCR, (United Nations Agencies)

RABOBANK Foundation ( The Netherlands)

Accion Verapaz (Spain)

SID (Society for International Development)

IDRC (International Development Research Centre)

Coopération Française (France)

CCFD (Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement - Catholic Commission against Hunger and for Development) (France)

Electriciens du Monde (France),

OXFAM Quebec

Songhai France, bringing together several support associations in France (Solidarité Songhai, Songhai-Chasselay, Collecte pour les jeunes installés -Collection for young farmers -, the Parish of Froissy-St, André...) and the governments of Benin


More than 400 students in training in the centers located in Porto Novo, Savalou, Parakou, and Kinwedji for an 18-month training period.

More than 250 farms established in all the regions and managed by the young people trained in Benin; they are brought together under a Network involving local coordinating units.

More than 300 participants from various countries and from all walks of life take part each year in short-term training programs

More than 150 permanent staff, facilitators, technicians and administrators

More than 4,000 visitors every year.

More than 40 partners from public and private institutions, NGOs, associations, universities, and international institutions like USAID and UNDP.


For agriculture to become a viable force of development, it must be extensive and holistic, going beyond purely agricultural knowledge (integrated production - animal husbandry, fish farming, appropriate technologies) and include education in management, organization, and planning.
In pursuing these goals, Songhai is involved in various activities, highlighting sectors leading up to and resulting from agricultural production.
Its principal activities are completely inter-related. They are as follows:

The objectives of the agricultural production are as follows:

Promote the integrated system of agricultural production (diversification).

Manage the production units with a goal of making them profitable as well as remaining conscious of the environment.

Improve the productivity of production units (training given by Songhai cannot be credible if it is not validated on the field via profitability and research).

Supervise the student farmers and trainees.

Provide agricultural services for the installed farmers and the Songhai centers (ex. production of seeds and materials).


To put the finishing touches on the practice of integration and bring together all the sectors, a biogas production system was established. Methane is produced from animal excrement, plant wastes, and sewage water (from showers and toilets). This is used as a source of energy. Today, the methane from the system feeds the kitchens of the student farmers' canteen and the center's restaurants.

As a method for refining polluted water, the green method of purification
consists of purifying water by planting aquatic plants such as water hyacinth, water lettuce, and a fern called azolla. These plants have the tendency to absorb organic materials, which are suspended in water. After running through a certain number of basins where the plants are cultivated, the water, which is now sufficiently filtered, can be used again for fish farming

Centre Songhai

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Action Aid – Maintaining Focus

While much of the world has been fixated on the violence that followed flawed elections in Keny’s presidential elections in December of 2007, hard working NGOs have been able to keep a focus on other problems in the country as well.

Below is a report published by ActionAid on February 29, 2008 trying to raise awareness about a drought that is threatening lives in of people as well as livestock in Kenya.


Kenya’s pastoralist communities in crisis

29 February 2008

Drought threatens North Eastern Province and areas of the southern Coast region.

“Pastoralist people are facing crisis in Kenya’s North Eastern Province (bordering Somalia) and in some neighbouring districts of Coast province, because of drought and the consequent pressure on grazing land warns ActionAid.

Enrico Eminae, ActionAid’s coordinator in North Eastern Province warned that 35,000 pastoralists in Takaba district are already at risk.

He said: "People in over 28 trading centres in Takaba are relying on water delivered in trucks because shallow wells and water pans have dried up.

"For pastoralist communities in particular, lack of water signals hunger because their livestock, their only source of food and income, are at much greater risk. “It also triggers conflict over resources as different clans crisscross each other’s territory in search of pasture and water."

Current flashpoints

In Sericho, the Ewaso Ngiro flood plains have dried up with the river receding to about 100km upstream. Communities have to rely on shallow wells dug into the now dry riverbed.

The situation in Takaba is even more fragile as pastoralists congregate around Takaba town with their livestock in search of water.• Conflict has occurred in the villages of Darwed, Didkuro and Wangaidahan as pastoralists move in search of alternative livelihoods.

In Tana River and Ganze (Coast Region), pastoralists are also on the move. Grazing and water areas are diminishing fast and resources are overstretched.

Enrico Eminae concluded: "Animals' health is deteriorating fast. If the long rains fail in March there could well be a crisis. Even if rain falls, the pastoralists' situation is now so fragile, that flash floods could easily compromise the survival of their animals."

No one would argue that the post election violence in Kenya was not an extremely news story and it deserved the degree of attention that it received from the global media. Unfortunately, much of the media attention contained elements of distortion that placed an unwarranted amount of blame for the violence in the early days on ethnic strife. Now that the sensational “photo ops” are no longer in abundance, many of the journalists who were hanging on every new development in that story have left Kenya in search of newer sensational stories.

This pattern of behavior by the major press outlets in the western world make it difficult for organizations like ActionAid to educate the world about other problems that need to be addressed as well; and they are reduced to releasing their own statements about matters of life and death that don’t make it to the major newspapers and television broadcasts.


Who They Are:
In their own words: "ActionAid is a unique partnership of people who are fighting for a world without poverty, in which every person can exercise their right to a life of dignity. We work with poor and marginalised people to help eradicate poverty by overcoming the injustice and inequity that cause it."

How They work
“We work with poor and marginalised communities to help them recognise, promote and secure their basic rights, and control their own development.”

Their Strategy
“In 2005, ActionAid agreed a new international strategy, Rights to end poverty, which sets clear and ambitious priorities to guide our staff and partners over the next five years. Our strategy tackles head-on the unacceptable truth that poverty and injustice remain deeply entrenched in many parts of the globe.

If we are to fulfil our mission to eradicate poverty and injustice, we must take sides with poor and excluded people and communities and help them to secure their rights.

Women’s rights and gender equality offer the key to poverty reduction and achieving them is a central focus of our strategy.

We will bring greater focus and depth while continuing to work on the areas of education, food and HIV and AIDS.

To these we have added new priorities, developing our policy and programme work on human security in situations of violent conflict and emergencies, and on democracy and governance.

Strategic priorities:

women’s rights
the right to education
the right to food
the right to human security in conflict and emergencies
the right to life and dignity in the face of HIV and AIDS
the right to just and democratic governance
The strategy provides clear direction for organising and governing the growing ActionAid family and its relationships with the outside world. It sets out how we will make ourselves more accountable, both to the poor and excluded people with whom we work and to our supporters and funders.”


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Top 10 Open Source Tools for eActivism

This article is a bit dated, but the information is still valuable. Open source software is a valuable tool for the aware NGO manager. This article was found at the “Designing for Civil Society Blog” which reported the article from : “Steven Clift's excellent “Democracies Online Newswire”.”

Top 10 Open Source Tools for eActivism
by Dan Bashaw & Mike Gifford Jan 7, 2004

People have been trying to use the web to create change from its conception. Along with the rest of the Internet community, activist focus has moved away from producing static content to building on- line communities. There are a number of Application Service Providers (ASPs) providing external eActivist applications that can be integrated with the look and feel of an organization's existing web site, but we will not be evaluating ASPs in this article. Instead, we want to discuss eActivist applications that can be run from the same server as the organization's existing website. Furthermore, we will be looking at Free Software applications that can be downloaded, modified, and distributed by the users of the software.

Broadly speaking, the eActivist applications described below can be categorized as either informational, aiding in efficiently spreading your message, or actionable, allowing your users to act on their information and understanding of issues. Although the distinction can be useful in deciding which tool to use, many applications have now evolved to include elements of both.

The first five applications examined are primarily informational: four are tools for building web sites, and have considerable overlap in core features, though each has different strengths, weaknesses, and appropriate uses. The fifth focuses on eNewsletters.

We have provided just a brief sketch of the functionality of each application. Describing the type of interaction they allow and with whom. Outlining their key strengths and weaknesses as we see them. Providing some activists tips for their use and providing an example.

We feature one example, but have also listed alternatives which are worth considering.
1. ActionApps (On-line Magazine/Content Sharing) “”
Interaction: Minimal interaction between visitors & content authors
Strength: Publishing Control & Extensive Cross Site/Server Publishing Permissions. A good publishing tool.
Weaknesses: Often too big & cumbersome for organizations that don't need this type of control.
Activist Tips: Some organizations may want to share content between other related organizations. Set up within the Association of Progressive Computing, this model made a lot of sense to member organizations which already had close associations. Some coalitions are using this type of permission based content sharing to maintain an issue related site which is fed by a number of member organizations.
Alternatives: slashForums, Blogs, Back-End and Active (below) can all provide content non-interactive content publishing.
2. PostNuke (Slash Forums/Portals) “”
Interaction: Plenty of opportunities for users to submit stories, links, & comments for publishing on the site. Dialogue is usually shaped through a response to an article posted by the editorial team.
Strengths: Lots of add on modules, often installed with a web hosts default control panel.
Weaknesses: Many slash sites are hard to modify to look like anything but a slash site. Content becomes stale very quickly and daily posts are almost required.
Activist Tips: Selecting the right modules for your site is the key to using any of the 'slash' content management systems. Pick the features (i.e. polls, surveys, galleries, calendars, forums, etc.) that your site needs, and keep it simple by not offering those that don't forward your goals. It is also important to watch the activity in different modules to see which ones are being used.
In terms of keeping your site fresh, the authoring environment is key to creating a site that is easily maintained. Look for authoring tools that will allow your authors to style their own text easily and quickly. A system that is too obscure or complex will not be used.
Alternatives: The listings in the left hand sidebar at Open Source CMS ( link to demos of many portal systems, including postNuke ( , and Plone (
3. Drupal (Blogs) “”
Interaction: Lots of user interaction & interaction between related Drupal sites. Extensive use of RSS feed publishing & aggregating.
Strengths: Informal, newsy, often personal. There are a lot of folks who are bloggers or participate in blog culture.
Weaknesses: Like other news focused sites, if it isn't updated regularly, it becomes stale very quickly.
Activist Tips: For activist organizations, the blog format can be a great way to humanize messages on an ongoing topic or a developing campaign. Because *blog=personal* to the reader, campaign blogs have a 'note from a friend' feel to them -- much more personal than the same information presented in a web news or magazine framework. When using blogs, consider having a single 'voice' or a small group of voices do all posts, to reinforce the personal flavour of the blog.
As well consider displaying the blog's 'RSS feed' (Headline, annotation and link of each blog entry) into the sidebar of your organizational web site and your email campaigns, to extend this personal voice further.
Example: (likely not using drupal)
Alternatives: Also consider Geeklog (, and the various blogs listed under the 'Blogs' heading in the left hand sidebar at Open Source CMS (
4. Active (News Posting) “”
Interaction: Terrific news contributions.
Strengths: It is a great way to gather news from an event or a community. One of the best tools for posting/displaying multi-media.
Weaknesses: Like other news sites, they can grow stale quickly. As well, due to the open publishing nature of Active, editorial control over the Newswire is weak. It is almost impossible to totally control the content of the site.
Activist Tips: Indymedia sites running Active first came into prominence during the Seattle anti-globalization protests in 1999, where the ability to post news rapidly from the streets to the web was critical to getting the story out. Active is ideal for an action-oriented situation, where information is posted in real-time and contextualized on-the- fly by volunteer editors.
However -- it is not as good an ongoing publishing system choice for an activist organization with a controlled editorial workflow. Because Active allows any member of the public to post directly to an unmoderated Newswire, it can leave an organization open to potential legal and 'staying on message' problems if the Newswire is not closely monitored. If tighter editorial and user control are important to your organization ActiveApps, postNuke and Drupal (all noted above) are alternatives.
Example: (The umbrella site for over 80 Indymedia sites) and (A typical Active site showing the Newswire in the righthand sidebar).
Alternatives: Variations on the PHP-based Active ( include MiR (, a Java implemetation, and IMCSlash (, written in Perl.
5. phpList (eNewsletters) “”
Interaction: It's entirely one way, but it gives the user the opportunity to indicate what they want to subscribe to. It also provides an opportunity to gather other information about your site's visitors.
Strengths: It is easy to set up and provides an easy way to encourage other participants to come back to your site. Users can provide their interests & geographic location to allow users to get more targeted eNewsletters.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of options and it may take a bit of time to learn how to use it, particularly if you are only sending out eNewsletters every couple of months.
Tips: Plan to write a eNewsletter once every month or two, more if your campaign is very active. Make sure that you write the eNewsletter to be short and easy to scan. Provide a title, short abstract an a link to an article on your website with the full story. Text is generally preferred by users and easier to be forwarded on in email & included in other forums. Always ask your subscribers to forward this message on to their friends. When referring to a URL, make sure to include the "http://"
Alternatives: Mailman (, Sympa ( and other mailing list managers also allow one-way 'broadcast' lists. Also consider LetterIT (
The remaining five eActivist applications examined below are broadly 'actionables' involving peer-to-peer (Forums, eCards, Wikis), peer-to-Pol (ePetitions), and peer-to-pole (eLeaflets/ePosters) communications.
6. phpBB (Forums) “”
Interaction: It's all interaction. Discussions take place in forums and users contribute all of the content.
Strengths: It's a commonly understood format so it is easy for new people to start participating. The ability to have restricted forums is also useful for some organizations.
Weaknesses: It may need to be moderated, or at least monitored so that you are familiar with what is being posted. Also, it may take some time to get people using/posting to the forum.
Activist Tips: Bulletin boards or on-line forums predate the Internet and are one of the most understood forms of web dialogues, and training time for most is minimal. It is a good environment for brainstorming or allowing folks to vent their concerns. Many forums allow for moderation so that inappropriate posts can be adjusted, but this takes time as does building an active, constructive climate for exchanging ideas.
If a forum is little-used, consider replacing it with either a mailing list like Mailman (, or a simpler bulletin board system like wwwBoard ( which shows all posts in a 'tree view' on a single page. Both of these alternatives will encourage more participation in low-traffic situations.
Example: (Not using phpBB)
Alternatives: Also consider the forums listed under the 'Forums' heading in the left hand sidebar at Open Source CMS (
7. WebCards (eCards/email2friends) “”
Interaction: Limited opportunity to send a message to a friend. Essentially an advanced email2friend form.
Strengths: By using innovative images you can encourage folks to spread the word more about your campaign. Like blogs, people that use webcards will use them a lot and come back when they can.
Weaknesses: When was the last time you were really influenced by a postcard?
Activist Tips: eCards are a 'semi-viral' marketing technique -- they cannot escape and circulate independently of your organization, as an email can, so you maintain control over the organizational image projected by your eCards.
* Humour will often work well with eCards, as more users will be likely to pass along a humorous message than a less evocative one.
* In order to keep your activist message clear for for the recipient of the eCard, you can include your headline and other key text directly into the eCard image.
Example: (not using webcards)
Alternatives: Website Gizmos, Send Card or see
8. TWiki (Wiki/Group Documentation) “”
Interaction: Total, but focused on creating more static documentation by the community
Strengths: It's a great web based collaboration platform. The ability to create common documents & review changes makes this application quite powerful for community groups.
Weaknesses: Wiki markup isn't consistent, it takes a bit of training for folks to get used to, editorial rights can be abused.
Activist Tips: Wiki webs are great tools for collaborative writing when your goal is to ultimately have a static or slowly-evolving document for internal use or public display: policy and procedures, grant proposals, reports can all be built effectively in a Wiki, with each contributor working in their own time on the single live document. As Wikis support roll-back to previous versions of pages, editorial control can be maintained while allowing freedom to each contributor.
Wikis can also serve as a shared brainstorming and notebook tool for activist groups -- though the fact that wiki information is not 'pushed' to users desktops requires that users building a project must intentionally visit and contribute to the Wiki. Twiki, which supports RSS feeds, can push notification of page changes to users, encouraging participation.
New users will need to be given a brief introduction to using Wiki, to give them familiarity with adding pages, editing content, and basic text styling, to ensure that they are comfortable in the Wiki environment.
As an example of how far groups can go in using Wiki as a writing tool, look at the multi-lingual Wikipedia (
Example: (not using twiki)
Alternatives: Also consider the forums listed under the 'Wiki' heading in the left hand sidebar at Open Source CMS (
9. Back-End (eActions/ePetitions) “”
Interaction: It's a focused level of interaction, but asks permission to contact folks in the future.
Strengths: People are comfortable giving a minor level of support to an organizations cause through Petitions & eActions.
Weaknesses: They are most useful if there are multiple campaigns or opportunities for people to start becoming more educated & aware. The flexibility of Back-End makes it more time consuming to customize.
Activist Tips: Keep the text of the ePetition or eAction short & easy to read. Make sure to have links to other information about the campaign on your site that people can read up on if they are interested. Make sure that you ask for permission from your supporters to contact them. People like seeing other people's comments, so if possible display the and the number of signatories.
Alternatives: simpetition ~PostNuke module
10. FPDF (eLeaflets/ePosters) (Dynamic PDF/Graphic Generation) “”
Interaction: Simple off the web interaction. Allowing folks to download & print off posters, petitions, stickers and brochures customized online for their local campaigns.
Strengths: Good control over printed output, not dependent on the user's browser capabilities or Operating System.
Weaknesses: Introduces an additional server-side technology to accomplish PDF generation, which could have server performance impacts.
Activist Tips: If you want to be able to take your message to the streets and extend your brand to support local activists. Target specific communities on the fly with a customized pamphlet.
Alternatives: For some applications, CSS2 stylesheets ( can be used to print simple dynamic content such as handbills. R&OS have produced a PDF class ( and there are a number of other graphic/pdf modification tools which are being developed.
Of course, in the rapidly evolving world of eActivism, any list of 10 anythings will have at least 11 members by the time it is completed! Emerging technologies that might be applied to eActivism include: RSS feeds, Friendster, cellphone texting, cam-phones, and audio blogs. Any of these may inspire or connect to Open Source applications. Older technologies such as chat and Internet telephony may also spring back onto the stage as activist solutions.
As well, the convergence of existing tools often leads to new solutions. We've selected TikiWiki, a tool that blends Wiki and Portal features, to round out our list of ten eActivist applications with its eleventh member.
11. TikiWiki “”
Interaction: TikiWiki is a content management system for writers. It supports wikiwiki web pages, blogs, CMS news article publishing, discussion forums, a directory of links, a calendar, RSS newsfeeds, user-designed databases for tracking contacts/events, and many other things as lots of people added code to the product over the last year.
Strengths: A 'swiss army knife' tool with a massive feature set!
Weaknesses: make sure to use the latest version of TikiWiki (1.1.1 or higher)for improved speed over earlier, slower builds. TikiWiki shares the relatively rigid 'portal' look of phpNuke and other slashForum applications.
Activist Tips: Use the collaborative capabilities of TikiWiki to work with a dispersed group of authors on keeping the site's formal content fresh. Use the built-in blogs, chat forums and image galleries to build community interaction. The combination plays to TikiWiki's strengths as a multifunction tool for building a site that is both informational and actionable.
Alternatives: Other general content management frameworks, such as Geeklog ( and Typo3 ( also take the fusion approach -- but none include the Wiki capabilities of TikiWiki.
Dan & Mike would like to thank David Newman his contribution to this section.
Sorting them out
There are a number of ways to compare eActivist applications as an aid in deciding which to consider for your organization.
We have plotted these tools on the Surman-o-graph, (an emerging standard in analyzing civil society communications) clustering them in the Formal/Centralized and Informal/Distributed quadrants:
In deciding which specific tool to apply to your eActivist problems, consider the following questions:
* Does the tool do what I need 'out-of-the-box', or will it need to be customized?
* Is the user interface simple for the people who will be working with the application?
* Is there reasonable documentation and support? Does the support forum handle newbie questions well?
* Does the tool use technologies and languages we are already familiar with?
* Is there an on-line demo my users can play around with to see if the tool 'feels right' to them?
* Is the tool's programming team actively developing and maintaining the tool?
* Is the tool one of the more popular ones in it's category?
A yes to a majority of these questions is a sign that you've may have the right application for your eActivist job.

There are a lot of Open Source tools out there which you can employ for your campaigns. We have tried to list some of the ones which we feel are the most useful in the fall of 2003. Like the Internet as a whole, Open Source projects tend to evolve quickly and new initiatives are popping up all of the time. The challenge for anyone putting together an activist web site will be in blending these and other tools into a seamless user interface. Customizing and adapting any software to meet your needs can be time consuming, but often the development communities behind these Open Source projects can help point you in the right direction. Most Open Source projects also have web developers who can be hired to modify the code that they have developed. Any customized code can be brought back into the core of the project so that it can benefit the whole community.

Dan Bashaw -
Dan works as a web developer for TM Newmedia, a Victoria BC eLearning and web development company, is an activist with the Victoria Independent Media Center, and is working on a project to to create CommunityPipe, a free and easily replicated open source hosting service for small-scale community and activist web sites.

Mike Gifford - / “”
Mike is the president of OpenConcept Consulting, Open Source Web Applications for Social Change. OpenConcept is the lead developer of CMS.
* Many of these applications will run on both proprietary & non-priorietary Operating Systems, however, you will have to check with your web host to determine if you have the software which is required.

Steven L. Clift - W: Minneapolis - - - E: Minnesota - - - - - T: +1.612.822.8667 USA - - - - - - M: +1.612.203.5181
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