Issues & Analysis
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ON THE MEDIA: Commentary: When faraway tragedies are ignored, it’s not always the media’s fault

Their posts will say things like …

“These Attacks Happened Days Before Brussels — But You Probably Didn’t Hear About Them.”

“Over 40 innocent people (mostly children and women) killed in today’s terrorist attack … Any #JeSuisLahore?”

This belief that the West does not care very much about people killed in faraway places is mostly true. But the idea that the fault lies with the Western media is an attempt to use journalists as convenient scapegoats.

As one Twitter user from Chicago wrote: “It’s unacceptable that when terrorism strikes in countries that arent part of the western world there is no media coverage #PrayForNigeria”

That’s just wrong. You were told, you just didn’t pay attention.

When the Boko Haram attack occurred in January, the Tribune reported it online and in print. But no throngs flocked to the story through our homepage and tweets. One of the three comments left on the story even pointed out that no one seems to care about such an act of barbarism.

Years back, when the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls first put Boko Haram on many Western minds, we saw very little engagement with our stories until a social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls started receiving attention from the first lady and fashion models. I still recall one editor here at the Tribune describing it thusly, weeks after the news broke, “I think the world is starting to catch up to that story.”

The world might have caught up at the time, but it appears to have fallen behind again.

Some will say it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — that if we treated Nigeria the way we treated the Boston Marathon bombing, people would care. It’s a fair rebuke.

Here is what we did not do for the Easter attack in Pakistan that we might for an attack like the one in Brussels:

We did not send a news alert, and arguably we should have. We did not tweet every conceivable update to the story. We did not elevate it to the centerpiece of our website, or change our Web layout to accommodate the crush of information and reaction we expect from a major story. We did put a headline on our printed front page, though it referred readers to our Nation & World section for the story itself.

Our article on the Pakistan bombing was promoted as the second most important story on our Web homepage (just below news about the mayor’s unprecedented end-around to appoint a new interim police superintendent). Headlines made it clear this was an attack aimed at Christian children celebrating Easter in a major city. But the story was never our most-read by homepage visitors, or shared widely on Facebook. Not even close.

Stories about Chicago’s apartment building parking glut and a Brooklyn letter carrier being harassed by the NYPD on his route were more popular, at least among our online readership.

The truth is, most people didn’t seem to care much about the carnage in Pakistan. This wasn’t a uniquely American problem either. The same thing happened at The Guardian, a British paper, according to an article Monday by an online news editor on Medium.

If the reader response to the Pakistan story had been anything like what we saw for the Brussels or Boston or Paris terror attacks, we would have given it wall-to-wall coverage. My newspaper colleagues and I ache to be relevant and valuable in your lives. Literally, our jobs depend on it.

Don’t get me wrong: We will cover the important news whether or not it attracts a large audience online. But reader interest does help shape the size of the spotlight we offer to certain stories.

It’s pointless, even arrogant, for me to criticize the readers for what they’re interested in.

No one deserves shame for caring about places they have been to, or might go, or where they share a common cultural and political heritage. People generally care about news that most directly affects them. Which means they pay more attention to the Chicago Police Department than an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban.

And yes, Western media have their biases. Absolutely. I don’t speak Urdu so I have no idea what to look for on Twitter to see if there is some #JeSuisLahore hashtag trending in support of the Pakistan victims.

The news media do a lot of criticizing. Of elected officials, of art, of ballplayers. Media deserve healthy criticism of our own.

One thing we have learned is that the complexity of world news is difficult and the media — myself included — have not done a good job of helping readers understand. These places are foreign, after all, and need to be better contextualized. It’s one of the reasons The Washington Post’s “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” story, and a similar one about Ukraine, were highly popular features.

Eric Rich, the Post’s editor who oversees homepages, explained to me: “If we see readers passing an important story by, for example, we might try to explain its importance more in the headline or blurb. Or we might try to convey its human dimensions more starkly.”

But sometimes, no matter how enthusiastically we present the news, the audience is just not interested.

Here is the Big Media Secret: We will generally do what you tell us to do. You, the reader, viewer, Tweeter, Facebooker currently hold more power over what is covered than at any time in history. There are no classified ads to pad salaries anymore. We survive by giving you what makes you click, subscribe and share us. This is, in some ways, a blessing. We’re responsible to what you want, and when we make an impact, we know it. But in some ways, it’s a curse. We run the risk of becoming a clearinghouse of our worst instincts, and yours.

If you show me you care about Nigeria, I’ll fly to Lagos in a heartbeat. But please don’t tell me I don’t care, just because others on your Facebook feed didn’t loop you in. Caring is what we as journalists spend our entire careers doing.

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AFGHANISTAN: What became of 25 young Afghan deportees?

By Kristy Siegfried   6 April 2016 IRIN

Zakir was just 14 when he fled pressure from Taliban fighters to join their ranks and embarked on the long and dangerous journey from Afghanistan to Britain.

In the UK, he found not only safety but also the opportunity to pursue the education he could never have in Afghanistan. But his legal status was temporary and shortly before turning 18, he received a letter from the Home Office saying his status would soon expire and he faced the prospect of being returned to Afghanistan.

Now aged 23 and still waiting for a decision on his final appeal to remain in the UK, Zakir’s life has been on hold for the past five years, but he remains determined to avoid deportation to his home country.

“There is no way I can go home,” he said in a pre-recorded speech played at an event in London on Tuesday night to launch a study into what happens to former child asylum seekers forcibly returned to Afghanistan. “People are still looking for me [there],” Zakir said. “My culture has changed. I feel British.”

The research, which followed 25 returnees over 18 months, shows that Zakir’s fears are well founded. It discovered that the young people experience numerous severe difficulties after their return to Afghanistan. These range from insecurity to a lack of social networks, work or education opportunities, and mental health problems. More than half the returnees said they planned to leave Afghanistan again. By the end of the research period, six had done so, while the whereabouts of 11 others was unknown.

Young Afghans make up the second largest group of unaccompanied children who apply for asylum in the UK – 656 out of 3,043 asylum applications from unaccompanied children made in 2015 were Afghan. The majority are given only temporary leave to remain and are placed with foster families or in the care of local authorities. Reaching 18 means not only leaving the care system but also losing the right to remain in the UK. Applications to extend status or appeal the original decision on their asylum applications are rarely successful.

“Most adult Afghans get some kind of protection status on appeal, but it’s much more common for young people to be refused because of inconsistencies in their stories,” explained Emily Bowerman, a programme manager with the Refugees Support Network (RSN), which provides educational and legal support to young unaccompanied refugee children in London and produced ‘After Return’, the report released on Tuesday.

“Imagine a 15- or 16-year-old who’s probably spent a year travelling. When they have their initial interview after they arrive in the UK… often they struggle to articulate their claim for asylum,” Bowerman told IRIN.

According to Home Office data, 2,018 young people have been forcibly returned to Afghanistan from the UK since 2007. A lack of post-return monitoring means very little is known about their whereabouts or wellbeing, but there is mounting evidence that security conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated over the past year, since the withdrawal of international forces. Last year saw the highest number of civilian casualties since 2009.

An August 2015 court injunction that had halted deportations to Afghanistan from the UK due to the worsening security situation was successfully overturned by the Home Office last month.

The ‘After Return’ study found that 12 of the returnees interviewed had experienced security incidents including bomb blasts and targeted attacks. One was beaten unconscious by unknown assailants in Kabul and another witnessed the killing of another young returnee.

“Being a returnee does increase their risk,” said Bowerman. “It makes them stand out and subjects them to particular targeting by Taliban groups.”

She added that it also affected their ability to form new friendships or reconnect with family. “Other people in society fear they’ll put them at risk,” she said.

Many young people in the study hid their status as returnees from new friends while less than half were living with their families. In some cases families were still paying off debts incurred from funding their migration to the UK and couldn’t afford to support them. Some even resented their return.

Only a fifth of the returnees had found stable employment in Afghanistan, where jobs are already scarce and their lack of personal connections and status as returnees worked against them.

Feelings of isolation, stigmatisation and hopelessness about their futures meant that 22 of the 25 returnees were struggling emotionally and 15 had mental health issues including severe anxiety and depression.

“I have seen my worst days after the return to Afghanistan,” said one. Another talked about being constantly mocked by people: “They say I have wasted my life and now have returned with empty hands. It feels so depressing from inside.”

RSN is hopeful the findings will be used as evidence that could result in fewer young Afghans having their asylum applications refused or spending long periods in limbo before ultimately being returned.

Zakir has been offered a place at university and even a bursary, but he can’t accept either until his immigration status is resolved. In the meantime, he has to sign in with the Home Office every two weeks and lives in constant fear of being detained and deported.

“I have made friends and a future for myself here in London, but I am facing having all of that taken away from me.”

 

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Haitian media partner highlights Owning Our Future, Kreole

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 Haitian Alternative Information Network

Haïti/Reconstruction post-séisme : Des efforts de relèvement, exposés dans des mini-films documentaires

alterpresse.org/Groupe Medialternatif, originalPar Edner Fils Décime

P-au-P, 28 mars 2016 [AlterPresse] — Vient de paraître une collection de dix courts documentaires, baptisée « owning our future / Posséder notre avenir », dont a pris connaissance l’agence en ligne AlterPresse.

Cette collection de 10 courts documentaires retrace des histoires d’efforts, accomplis pour se prendre en main, malgré la précarité et les conditions de vie qui ont empiré après le tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010.

L’un des objectifs poursuivis est de vivre l’espoir de lendemains meilleurs, construits avec les propres mains d’habitantes et d’habitants dans le présent.

« Owning our future » donne donc à voir des perspectives haïtiennes en images.

En « se concentrant sur les défis de développement économique et social, auxquels sont confrontés les Haïtiennes et Haïtiens », cette collection entend [nourrir] « la compréhension d’une Haïti, qui va au-delà de ses catastrophes artificielles et naturelles », indique, sans ambages, la pochette de la collection.

Produits par Community supported film (Csf), en association avec le Groupe Médialternatif, ces mini-films de moins de dix minutes offrent l’opportunité « unique » de découvrir différentes facettes de la vie haïtienne, à travers des images et paroles de vendeurs de rues, de membres d’organisations de développement, d’artistes, de personnes en situation de handicap, de fermiers, etc.

Les 3 réalisatrices et 7 réalisateurs de ces mini-films sont des Haïtiennes et Haïtiens ayant suivi, fin 2014, une formation intensive de 5 semaines sur le cinéma documentaire à Port-au-Prince, sous la houlette des institutions productrices de la collection.

Chèmèt, Chèmètrès est l’histoire de la reconstruction durable des maisons des habitantes et habitants, dans une zone rurale de Gressier (à moins d’une trentaine de km, au sud de la capitale, Port-au-Prince), par la pratique du système de solidarité haïtienne, dénommé Konbit.

Le mini-film montre également comment, en plaçant les actrices/acteurs-bénéficiaires au cœur des activités, le coût des constructions est nettement moindre.

Tourné autour d’une personne non-voyante, Bouske Lavi met en lumière une personne, souffrant de handicap, mais qui se démarque, comme véritable leader, pour encourager les autres personnes dans la même situation à se construire en toute autonomie.

Transformer les décombres du tremblement de terre en objets d’art, puiser les matières premières de son art dans ce qui reste debout des édifices de la Grand’Rue (boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines) de Port-au-Prince est le fil conducteur de Soti nan dekonm.

Le travail des « artistes de la résistance » trouve ici une mise en spotlight.

Chanje vitès fait vivre l’histoire d’une femme, mère de famille, qui fait tomber les stéréotypes, en pratiquant le métier de mécanicienne à côté de son mari. Elle démontre combien le métier de mécanicienne n’a rien d’insolite.

Une femme entrepreneure haïtienne, affectée – au triple point de vue physique, psychologique et économique – dans le violent tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010, a su trouver l’énergie, en elle, pour restaurer la fierté familiale, par la mise en place d’une entreprise de décoration intérieure.

Son histoire est évocatrice. C’est File Zegwi.

On retrouve d’autres histoires, issues des perspectives locales, dans lesquelles les actrices et les acteurs se prennent en main pour maîtriser leur avenir.

Les exemples sont parlants : qu’il s’agisse d’une production, pour renforcer les capacités de sa communauté Pwodiksyon lèt pou yon kominote djanm, de la transmission de connaissances aux générations à venir, pour ne pas perdre l’illustre pratique artisanale du fer découpé dans fòme jenerasyon k ap vini an (former la génération future), ou de cette ode aux parents, vendeurs de rue, vendeurs de rien, qui investissent dans l’avenir de leur progéniture envesti nan timoun (investir dans les enfants).

Geto pwòp, Geto vèt met en lumière des pratiques positives, dans les quartiers populaires, généralement présentés sous un jour « de crasse, de pauvreté et de criminalité ».

L’adaptation du konbit (tradition rurale), au contexte urbain, crée des jardins urbains, travaillés par des voisines et voisins dans une sorte de vivre ensemble.

Le tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010 a pour corollaire d’autres séismes dans plusieurs branches économiques de la vie nationale, notamment dans les petits métiers.

Dezas pèpè a fait vivre le drame d’un vieux cordonnier, qui résiste, pour garder le métier et faire vivre sa famille.

Faut-il rappeler que le tremblement de terre du 12 janvier 2010 a occasionné la mort de près de 300 mille personnes et autant de blessés, sans compter des dégâts matériels considérables. [efd emb rc apr 28/03/2016 14:40]

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AFGHANISTAN: Amina Azimi — Raising the Voices of the Disabled in Afghanistan

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AFGHANISTAN: Desperate Afghans flee amid Taliban surge, economic woes, rampant corruption

 April 6, 2016 Washington Times

Young Afghan refugees are left in limbo on the Greek-Macedonia border, where a makeshift refugee camp is struggling to handle the estimated 14,000 people stranded after Macedonia announced it would close its border with Greece. (Valerie Plesch/Special to the Washington Times)

Photo by: Valerie Plesch Young Afghan refugees are left in limbo on the Greek-Macedonia border, where a makeshift refugee camp is struggling to handle the estimated 14,000 people stranded after Macedonia announced it would close its border with Greece. (Valerie Plesch/Special to the Washington Times)

KABUL, Afghanistan — For the hundreds of Afghans who lined up before sunrise here at Kabul’s only passport office one recent morning, their slow steps were the first of a long, desperate journey out of their war-stricken nation.

One applicant, 30-year-old house painter Hashmatullah Naimi from the neighboring province of Parwan, hoped to join the tens of thousands of Afghans who have already left their homeland in the last year in search of better jobs and a better life in Western Europe, a peril-filled trek that usually takes them through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece.


“I feel so scared of dying of poverty — there are no more jobs in Afghanistan. I am a house painter, but nowadays no one is asking me to paint their home,” he said while waiting in line with around 350 other applicants. “The economy of the country is breaking down, and people do not want to risk spending their money.”

The lagging economy and rampant corruption, along with a worsening security situation, are threatening Afghanistan’s fledging democracy despite the best efforts and huge investment of the U.S. and its allies, say analysts.

“Insecurity has increased in large parts of the country,” said Arne Strand, an Afghanistan expert in Norway and research director at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, an independent research center on international affairs. “The Taliban has gained strongholds not only in the south but also in the north, which has led them both to higher insecurity but also more migration,”

October 2016 will mark the 15th anniversary of the U.S.-led military invasion in Afghanistan that removed the fundamentalist Taliban from power but created a central government that has proven barely able to hold onto power in Kabul. Since then, two U.S. presidents have overseen the deployment of more than 130,000 American and U.S.-led coalition troops to the battlefields for a war that has cost American taxpayers more than $1 trillion.

Despite those efforts, Afghans don’t want to stay.

Stuck near the finish line

More than 3,000 miles away from Kabul’s passport office, the Afghans who made it out congregate among the thousands stranded in the makeshift camps in the northern Greek village of Idomeni. They’re stuck because the Macedonian government recently closed its doors to all refugees, creating the bottleneck.

Here they are among the estimated 14,000 refugees stranded in Idomeni who fled conflicts in Syria and elsewhere this year along the so-called “Balkan Route” that runs through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and other nations before it ends in Central Europe.

Last year more than 1 million refugees attempted to enter Europe. Around 178,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe last year, according to Eurostat. Many won’t be allowed to stay. The European Union has reportedly drafted a plan that would send 80,000 Afghans back to Afghanistan. The Afghan government says it is unable to accommodate and ensure the safety of those returning.

This year Afghans represent 26 percent, or roughly 37,000, of the total Mediterranean Sea arrivals to Europe, making them the second-highest group after Syrians, according to the U.N.

One Afghan at the Greek camp, Zalmai Rahimi, 32, speaks with an American accent owing to his 11 years working with the U.S. Army. He abandoned a thriving carpet and jewelry business when he left for the West. After spending close to $11,000 to escape Afghanistan with the help of smugglers, he now shares a tent with his wife and three sons on a muddy Greek field.

“I had a good home — everything was good for me, the only problem I had was working for the Americans,” he said about his life in the western city of Herat.

Taliban militants often threatened him and his family, said Mr. Rahimi. A few years ago he applied for a special visa issued by the U.S. government to Afghans who worked with the American military. In his pocket he still kept an apparently legitimate recommendation letter from the American military. But he claimed the American Embassy in Kabul never responded to his application.

“Before it was just the Taliban in Afghanistan, now Daesh is there,” he said, using the alternate name for the Syria-based jihadi Islamic State movement that has recently moved into Afghanistan. “It’s a big problem for the Afghan people.”

Rising civilian casualties

Last year saw the highest recorded number of Afghan civilian casualties since the beginning of the war in 2001 — a total of more than 11,000 deaths and injuries, according to a recent U.N. survey. Areas of the country that were once deemed safe are now wracked by violence as the Taliban test the weak, faction-ridden government in Kabul.

But some experts argue that other problems besides security are holding back Afghanistan.

“It’s not really a military issue,” said Mr. Strand. “It’s just as much a lack of governance. It’s a lack of trust in the government in Kabul.”

In 2014, after highly contested elections, the Obama administration and other governments brokered a power-sharing agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and the government’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. But Mr. Abdullah’s allies in parliament have blocked Mr. Ghani’s nominations for key government positions, including defense minister, a position that has been vacant since the agreement was signed.

In addition to a weak government, Kabul relies on international donors to fund services for its 32.5 million people. The country received around $16 billion in international aid for 2014 through 2017. Those funds could dry up soon, however, giving more Afghans a reason to leave.

“There is a fear that by 2017 the international donors will not necessarily continue the funding at the same level as today,” Mr. Strand said.




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HAITI: 7 Articles To Read Uncovering Hillary Clinton’s Haiti Record

 

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Missing from the discussion of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s record has been her work in Haiti, where she blatantly manipulated and threatened Haitian government officials to control electoral outcomes. In that country, too, she and her husband have led the way in promoting a sweatshop-led development model.

Other Worlds has compiled a list of articles that take a closer look into Clinton’s work in Haiti and what her Presidency could portend for other nations. Take a closer look:

Clinton Emails Reveal “Behind the Doors Actions” of Private Sector and US Embassy in Haiti Elections

Recently released e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s private server reveal new details of how U.S. officials worked closely with the Haitian private sector as they forced Haitian authorities to change the results of the first round presidential elections in late 2010. The e-mails documenting these “behind the doors actions” were made public as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

READ MORE

What Are We Missing About Haiti in the Hillary Emails?

The Fourth Estate is in foreclosure. The “who, what, where, when, and why” of traditional coverage is missing. A thorough analysis of what is redacted or completely missing in the Clinton emails is not forthcoming, and the real scandal resides in politically motivated reporting. It is time that the press wipe themselves clean of political bias and stop shouting about the paper tiger of wiped servers. To steal a quote from Hillary at the initial Benghazi hearing, “What difference does it make?”

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A Look at Hillary (and Bill) Clinton’s Past in Haiti

Hillary Clinton might have some explaining to do before she can claim the top spot in the Democratic primary. Any pro-Hillary voters who prioritize moral plans for American foreign policy should probably look into the candidate’s past in Haiti.

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The King and Queen of Haiti

Sunday, January 30, 2011. Two hundred thousand people occupied Egypt’s Tahrir Square, defying a military curfew to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Tunisia’s authoritarian leader had just been overthrown, unleashing a wave of anti-government protests from Yemen to Syria to Morocco. South Sudan’s provisional president announced his people had voted overwhelmingly for independence, clearing the way for the breakup of Africa’s largest country. Yet as Hillary Clinton rushed to Andrews Air Force Base to catch her battered government-issue 727, the secretary of state was not headed to Cairo, Tunis or Juba. She was going to Haiti
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Role of Hillary Clinton’s brother in Haiti gold mine raises eyebrows

Drive down the rutted dirt road a couple of miles to the guardhouse, then hike 15 minutes up to the overgrown hilltop, and there it is: a piece of 3 1/2 -inch-wide PVC pipe sticking out of the ground.

This is what, at least for the time being, a gold mine looks like.

It also has become a potentially problematic issue for Hillary Rodham Clinton as she considers a second presidential run, after it was revealed this month that in 2013, one of her brothers was added to the advisory board of the company that owns the mine.

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Outsourcing Haiti

Across the country from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, miles of decrepit pot-holed streets give way to a smooth roadway leading up to the gates of the Caracol Industrial Park, but no further. The fishing hamlet of Caracol, from which the park gets its name, lies around the bend down a bumpy dirt road. Four years after the earthquake that destroyed the country on January 12, 2010, the Caracol Industrial Park is the flagship reconstruction project of the international community in Haiti. Signs adorn nearby roads, mostly in English, declaring the region “Open for Business.” In a dusty field, hundreds of empty, brightly colored houses are under construction in neat rows. If all goes as hoped for by the enthusiastic backers of the industrial park, this area could be home to as many as 300,000 additional residents over the next decade.

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WikiLeaks Haiti: Let Them Live on $3 a Day

Contractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere, according to secret State Department cables.

The factory owners told the Haitian Parliament that they were willing to give workers a 9-cents-per-hour pay increase to 31 cents per hour to make T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing giants like Dockers and Nautica.

But the factory owners refused to pay 62 cents per hour, or $5 per day, as a measure unanimously passed by the Haitian Parliament in June 2009 would have mandated. And they had the vigorous backing of the US Agency for International Development and the US Embassy when they took that stand.

READ MORE

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Assoc Press highlights Haitian artists group covered in trainee’s film

The Atis Rezistans (Artists’ Resistance) is highlighted in the following Associated Press article.  CSFilm’s trainee Robenson Sanon produced Out of the Rubble on an artist in this group.  The film is part of the collection,  Owning Our Future-Haitian Perspectives in Film.

Haiti Artists Forge Int’l Reputation With Art Made of Junk

By DAVID MCFADDEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Apr 11, 2016

Amid a maze of car repair shops in Haiti’s gritty capital, Andre Eugene pitches a shredded tire he found atop a towering sculpture he built out of rusty engine parts, bed springs and other cast-off junk.

“This is what I do: I work with the garbage of the world,” says Eugene, assessing the largest sculpture displayed at the entrance of his studio and open-air museum off a crumbling street cutting through some of Port-au-Prince’s poorest neighborhoods.

The Haitian sculptor is a founding member of Atis Rezistans, a shifting collective of artists who recycle whatever useful scraps they can find to give a raw, physical shape to the spiritual world of Voodoo, or Vodou as the religion is known by Haitians, and weigh in on the country’s chronic political and economic troubles.

While Haiti’s established galleries were slow to warm to the scrap sculptors of the capital’s impoverished Grand Rue neighborhood, bustling with furniture-makers and other craftsmen, the artisans working with recycled materials have been embraced by a number of international art connoisseurs and academics.

Haiti Scrap Sculpture

Over the last decade, the work of Atis Rezistans has been exhibited in cities such as Paris, London, and Los Angeles. There are sculptures included in the permanent collections of museums, including the Frost Art Museum in Miami.

Haitian art has long had a reputation for imaginative richness, and wealthy international collectors including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and filmmaker Jonathan Demme sought out self-taught painters colorfully evoking the everyday lives of Haitians or depicting dreamlike scenes. And even though found-object creations have been part of the poor country’s art for decades, experts say there has been nothing like the in-your-face works of Atis Rezistans.

“Atis Rezistans takes an old practice in new directions, expanding the range of materials used and offering stunning new meanings for objects found in everyday life,” said Marcus Rediker, a collector of Haitian art and a distinguished professor of Atlantic history at the University of Pittsburgh.

The materials that form the sharp-edged sculptures include automotive fragments, carved wood pieces, broken TVs, discarded toys and even real human skulls collected at a cemetery of mausoleums where bones were scattered by grave robbers.

Many of their artworks are a nod to Baron Samedi, the Vodou god of the dead, and his rambunctious offspring, Gede. Others offer a kaleidoscope of jarring images out of a Mad Max movie: sculptures of faces with spikes; masked figures resembling shrouded corpses; broken baby dolls fused with computer motherboards.

But it’s not all darkness. There’s plenty of evidence of playfulness and irreverent theatricality, such as a skull-topped figure with a stethoscope, snake sculptures with scales of inlaid bottle caps and much frank sexual imagery.

Perhaps their most acclaimed collaborative creation has been a mashup of high art-meets-developing world called the “Ghetto Biennale.” Every two years, international artists come to the Grand Rue neighborhood in a kind of cross-cultural festival that leaves the door open for just about anything.

The Ghetto Biennale takes a form developed for European art fairs and radically subverts it, according to Anthony Bogues, a Brown University professor who co-curated a 2011 exhibition of Haitian art at the Providence, Rhode Island school.

“Art for them is not about the elite but rather recognizing that art is a language in which Haitispeaks to itself and the world,” Bogues said of Atis Rezistans.

Collaborations with overseas artists who come to Haiti have given younger members of the collective chances to tap into art networks across the globe, while international artists are stimulated by the Haitian group’s creative process.

“Their philosophy to turn trash into art, thus something seemingly worthless into something valuable, has inspired me,” said Alice Smeets, a Belgian artist who collaborated with members of Atis Rezistans to create staged photographs in Haitian slums that depict figures from tarot cards.

Eugene hopes that the praise gathered for the group he founded with Celeur Jean-Herard, who has since departed the collective, can now translate into enough earnings to upgrade his yard’s musty museum and improve the lives of members. and local youngsters dubbed “children of the resistance” who sculpt and paint.

Though he has traveled the world with his art, Eugene still lives in a small concrete shack next to his Grand Rue workshop and “Musee d’Art,” where many sculptures are caked with dust and swathed in cobwebs. Two turkeys and several cats were the only visitors one recent afternoon.

He calls Atis Rezistans a social “movement” that should expand opportunities for its artists.

“I don’t want to be famous,” Eugene said in his rain-slicked concrete yard in the poor neighborhood, shortly after returning to Haiti from an exhibit of a major piece in Milan. “Step by step, I am looking to make money so we can improve our situation here.”

———

David McFadden on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

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AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan’s ArtLords try to reclaim Kabul

4 April 2016   BBC

A group of Afghan activists and artists are attempting to reclaim Kabul after years of war – by arming themselves with paintbrushes. Because of the poor security situation, many defensive walls have sprung up around high-profile buildings in the city, and these provide the ArtLords with their canvases.

Anti-corruption painting on the wall of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security

Image copyrightArtLords

The group has produced a series of paintings of eyes on the walls, which are mostly accompanied by the slogan “I See You” and are designed as a warning to corrupt officials. This set of eyes, on the wall of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), mysteriously disappeared only a few days after it was painted in December.

After a huge public outcry, the NDS asked the ArtLords to draw the painting again, but on a different wall, which the ArtLords refused to do. “Now we have the same eyes and slogans on the same wall,” ArtLords founder Omaid Sharifi says.

Omaid Sharifi working on a painting

Image copyrightArtLords

Omaid Sharifi says he wants the paintings to penetrate the politicians’ defences.

“They use these walls for protection and we want to take all that down.”

Baryalai Fetrat, sociology lecturer at Kabul University, says these paintings are “a powerful tool” for bringing about social change, cutting as they do across the educational divide.

Portrait of Afghan policewoman Fariba Hamid

Image copyrightArtLords

Policewoman Fariba Hamid was painted on the security wall of Kabul’s ninth police district, where she serves. The portrait was put up to celebrate International Women’s Day in March.

“We face lots of struggles,” the policewoman said of her role.

This painting appeared near the area in Kabul where an Afghan woman, Farkhunda, was fatally lynched by a group of men just over a year ago. She was falsely accused of burning the Koran.

The slogan beneath the picture says: “A brave man supports women.”

Painting of camel and heart in Kabul

Image copyrightArtLords

Not all the paintings are political – this one suggests a caravan of love from a country at war.

And the ArtLords have shown their work outside Afghanistan too.

This installation, which was showcased in Berlin in December, was “a mixed work between us and German artists”, Omaid Sharifi says. It was based on an image taken in 2014 at a camp for internally displaced people in Afghanistan.

Photographer Rada Akbar was documenting underage marriage when she captured a young mother, Naghma, and her baby daughter on film. Naghma, who was then 19, had been married for two years and had lived in the camp for 15 years.

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AFGHANISTAN: Obama’s Afghan Dilemma: To Bomb or Not to Bomb

BY: DAN DE LUCE, PAUL MCLEAR  

As Kabul’s fragile army struggles to hold the line, will Washington’s warplanes come to the rescue?

Obama’s Afghan Dilemma: To Bomb or Not to Bomb

The Taliban released a propaganda video in August that showed more than 100 fighters, clutching AK-47 rifles and sitting astride motorcycles, gathered in broad daylight outside the Afghan city of Kunduz to pledge allegiance to the group’s new leader. The scene would have been impossible two years ago, when any crowd of Taliban fighters would have been decimated from the air by U.S. warplanes.

Times have changed. The United States withdrew most of its troops in 2014 and dramatically reduced the number of airstrikes against Taliban targets throughout the country. The footage from Kunduz illustrated how the Taliban has been taking advantage of their new freedom: by conquering the city. The insurgents held Kunduz for two weeks before being pushed out by Afghan and U.S. personnel in October. Still, many officials believe it’s only a matter of time before the Taliban targets the city again.

The Taliban’s growing military might is posing a thorny strategic question for President Barack Obama, who took office promising to end what is now America’s longest war. The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars training Afghan security personnel, who have suffered enormous casualties while trying — and failing — to repel the Taliban’s advances in the country’s south, east, and north. That leaves the White House with an unpalatable choice: Keep the stringent rules limiting the numbers of strikes in place and risk seeing the militants continue to gain ground, or allow American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets at the risk of deepening Washington’s combat role in Afghanistan.

One Saudi’s Protest, Through The Viewfinder
A photography exhibit in Washington by a Saudi doctor-turned-artist casts a critical eye on Riyadh’s relationship with big oil and Mecca.
The rules of engagement were sharply curtailed with the formal end of NATO’s combat mission in January 2015. U.S. commanders can call in airstrikes only to protect NATO troops, target al Qaeda militants, or come to the aid of Afghan forces in danger of being overrun by the Taliban or suffering a clear defeat on the ground.

In practice, that meant the U.S. was rarely directly targeting the militants from the air. After U.S. Green Berets and their Afghan allies were ambushed near the town of Marja in Helmand province in January, the Americans called in 12 airstrikes to ward off Taliban attackers to buy time for a rescue force to arrive. And last October, U.S. commandos directed an AC-130 gunship to pound Taliban positions in Kunduz city during intense house-to-house fighting. The crew targeted the wrong building, killing 42 patients and staff at a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

With the Taliban on the march and the Islamic State expanding its presence in Afghanistan, senior Pentagon officials believe it’s time for those rules to change. They’re pushing for revising the rules of engagement so they would be free to fire on Taliban forces massing to seize territory and directly target their leadership.

That could mean a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. strikes against the Taliban, a group Washington has spent years trying to coax to the negotiating table.

It would also represent a sharp reversal of recent battleground dynamics in Afghanistan. Since the new airstrike rules were adopted in 2015, the U.S. air war has been drastically curtailed, according to U.S. Central Command. In 2014, while the NATO combat mission was still going, American warplanes dropped 2,365 bombs. In 2015, by contrast, U.S. aircraft dropped just 947.

The upshot is that while the political debate in Washington has long been focused on how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan, the future of the war in Afghanistan could hinge not on the number of boots on the ground but on the role of American air power there.

Gen. John Campbell, until recently the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, spent nearly a year asking the White House to permit the U.S. military to bomb Islamic State targets. The administration didn’t sign off on the change until January. Defense officials have refused to detail airstrikes on ISIS targets.

The expanded air raids have helped roll back ISIS in the past two months, current and former Pentagon officials said.

Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council on Tuesday that U.S. bombing raids have helped confine ISIS to a small corner of the country along its border with Pakistan.

But while Islamic State militants are under pressure from the air, the Taliban has been able to move fighters and equipment across the Pakistan border with impunity while launching conventional operations on a frequency and scale not seen since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

In the southern province of Helmand, where U.S. and NATO allies suffered serious casualties over the past decade, the ferocity with which the Taliban has surged into the area has knocked Afghan forces on their heels, forcing the army to pull out of key districts like Musa Qala and Now Zad. Overall, the Taliban controls five of the province’s 14 districts and is fighting to gain the upper hand in most of the remaining ones.

The Afghan government has lobbied Washington to delay a planned drawdown of the current 9,800-strong U.S. force and to keep up its assistance with air power and logistical support. About 3,000 of those troops are special operations forces, some of whom accompany Afghan commandos on missions, while the rest are trainers and advisors clustered mainly in Kabul.

James Cunningham, the former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, said Washington should allow the military to bomb a wider array of targets. “The administration should expand our commanders’ authorities to enable more flexible use of our military, especially air power, in support of both the Afghan security forces and the counterterrorism mission,” Cunningham told Foreign Policy.

The White House has been getting a similar message from Campbell. Throughout his tenure, he warned of the resiliency of the Taliban, making the case for slowing troop drawdown plans and expanding the role of U.S. advisers on the ground.

At congressional hearings last month, Campbell told lawmakers: “One of the things [Afghan forces] ask for every day is close air support.”

He said he viewed the Taliban as an enemy of the United States, because it had “killed many of my soldiers,” and that the scaling back of U.S. forces and air power had given the insurgency a boost.

The four-star general suggested Obama’s plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops to about 5,500 later this year might have to be discarded if local forces continue to struggle. “If the Afghans cannot improve, we’re going to have to make some adjustments. And that means that number will most likely go up.”

The blunt talk has landed Campbell in hot water at the Pentagon, where unnamed officials accused him of submitting his request for expanded airstrikes against the Taliban directly to the White House, bypassing Defense Secretary Ash Carter,according to The Washington Post.

At a news conference Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook declined to discuss the content of conversations between the general and Carter, though he stopped short of rebutting the report that Campbell had gone around the defense secretary. U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat Ryder said Campbell went through the proper chain of command. In an email to The Washington Post, meanwhile, Campbell adamantly denied he had in any way tried to circumvent Carter’s authority.

The Pentagon said no decision has been made to broaden the air campaign in Afghanistan and that Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, who recently succeeded Campbell as commander, is carrying out a review of the mission. The review will examine air power as well as the Obama administration’s tentative plan to reduce U.S. forces from 9,800 to 5,500 troops this year.

Obama and U.S. military leaders in Kabul have long grappled over the best use of America’s formidable air power in the war in Afghanistan. U.S. air raids helped topple the Taliban regime quickly in 2001. But former Afghan President Hamid Karzai frequently denounced Washington over airstrikes that killed and injured civilians. The U.S. approach has varied with different commanders. Gen. Stanley McChrystal scaled back the bombing to avoid alienating the Afghan population, while his successor, Gen. David Petraeus, ramped up the air raids in a bid to push the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The call for more air raids underscores the chronic weakness of Afghanistan’s security forces, despite $64 billion in American arms and training since 2002. Several provinces are now under threat of falling to the Taliban, and the Afghan forces remain plagued by desertion and shoddy leadership. When insurgents seizedKunduz city in September, Afghan police failed to put up much resistance and fled en masse. The Afghan army, meanwhile, initially refused to deploy beyond its base at the local airport, former Pentagon officials told FP.

Although the disorganized Afghan forces have struggled against the Taliban, NATO military officers have praised rank-and-file army troops for their willingness to enter into combat. Since the bulk of the NATO force departed, casualties have spiked among the Afghan army and police. About 16,000 Afghan troops were killed or wounded in 2015, up 28 percent from the previous year.

The Afghans are slowly building their own air force but it won’t be fully ready to fight until about 2020, according to Pentagon officials. The Afghan military already flies over a dozen Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter gunships, one Mi-35 attack helicopter, and 10 light-attack helicopters. Kabul’s punch from the air received a boost in January when the first four A-29 Super Tucano fighter aircraft arrived, along with eight pilots who were trained in the United States.

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DEVELOPMENT: Life Amid Conflict In Yemen: ‘Everyone has forgotten us’

By: Karl Schembri   21 March 2016The Guardian 

More than 80% of the population is now in need of humanitarian aid. On a visit to the capital Sana’a, Karl Schembri spoke to families struggling to cope.

A Yemeni child stands inside his house in Sana’a, damaged in an airstrike. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

The first thing I noticed was the destroyed airport. I flew in to Yemen on a small aircraft chartered by the UN Humanitarian Air Service with a handful of other aid workers – at the time the only way for foreigners to make it to Sana’a. It felt surreal landing among other destroyed aircraft and the skeleton of what was once an international airport terminal.

On the way to the city, it was the types of places that had been bombed that really struck me: fuel stations, bridges, roads, factories. Instead of coffee kiosks the streets are now lined with mobile fuel sellers, as the Saudi-led blockade has made Yemenis turn to the black market for their essential daily needs.

Government and military buildings have become regular targets in the daily air strikes. Even when the attacks do not target civilians directly, it is always the innocent families who get hit in one way or another, and the effects are always devastating.

That’s what happened to Mahmoud Zeid last June. He was queuing to get cooking gas when an airstrike hit. Rushing to his home, he found his two-room house overwhelmed with fumes, all windows destroyed, part of the roof gone. His frail wife, Sabah, who suffers from kidney failure, had passed out. His children were terrified, trying to revive their mother while thinking of where to flee. There was shrapnel everywhere, kilometres away from the bombing site, and hundreds of families staggering through the rubble towards some place of safety.

A building destroyed during recent fighting in Yemen’s south-western city of Taiz. Photograph: Anees Mahyoub/Reuters

Zeid and his family walked to a school a few kilometres away, where they took refuge for months, sleeping in a classroom with other displaced families. On their first night, they slept on the floor, until they came by some blankets. The mother lost some of her kidney dialysis sessions, leaving her weaker.

I met them back in their house, where they returned after a few months, the windows still broken and the damaged parts of the roof patched with wood. They told me they’ve never been poorer. Zeid used to work as a tailor before the war and blockade started a year ago, but with no electricity in Sana’a and people having lost most of their spending power, the business had to close down.

“I can create anything: shirts, trousers, bags, but there’s no work right now,” he told me in tears. “As a father, as the head of the family … I can’t deal with this.”

Since the war started, they have had to pay for all of his wife’s medications, services and medical disposables used for her dialysis. She is weaker than ever, and keeps missing dialysis sessions when they don’t have money for the transport.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, together with support from United Nations World Food Programme, provides them with food aid, but they don’t even have the fuel to cook their dinner. While we spoke, Sabah was burning cardboard pieces, plastic and whatever they could find in streets, so that she could cook for the family.

Family in Yemen

Mahmoud Zeid, his wife Sabah and their son. The family has now returned to their damaged house. Photograph: Karl Schembri/NRC

As if Yemen – already the poorest country in the region – was not marginalised enough, the escalation in the conflict and blockade over the last year has pushed it even further out of sight but also further into poverty and desperation.

So much of what I saw during my 10 days in Sana’a reminded me of Gaza, where I lived for four years. The blockade and the massive poverty brought overnight because of it. The attacks on civilian infrastructure – from hospitals and schools to bowling alleys. And the sheer impunity with which all this happens. The air strikes at night keeps everyone guessing what the latest target is. But there is also a touching, overwhelming warmth that makes the Palestinians in Gaza and the Yemenis so similar. The more people are forcibly cut off from the rest of humanity through man-made barriers, the more they value the little details that make us human.

I cannot but admit failure in my job, in helping in any way to bring Yemen closer to the lucky, wealthier side of humanity. Even for those obsessed with raising walls and closing borders in Europe, Yemen doesn’t even feature because barely any Yemenis make it to Europe. There are 21 million people now in urgent need of humanitarian aid, more than 80% of the entire population. Half of them are suffering from hunger. But figures don’t move people.

As our driver Ziyaad took me back to the airport at the end of my stay, he asked a painful question: “I understand your job is to bring attention to our situation, but how do you do it? Nobody cares. We’ve been in this war for almost a year and everyone has forgotten us.”

Karl Schembri is Middle East regional media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council. Follow @Karl_Schembri on Twitter.

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ON THE MEDIA/AFGHANISTAN: Afghan Women’s Radio Returns After Taliban Attack

Afghanistan Womens Radio

In this Friday, March 4, 2016 photo, broadcasters of Radio Shaesta prepare themselves to go on-air, in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Six months after fleeing a Taliban assault on her city, the owner of an Afghan radio station devoted to women’s rights is back home and returning to the airwaves.

Zarghona Hassan is a lifelong activist and the founder of a radio station in Kunduz that until last year reached hundreds of thousands of listeners across northern Afghanistan, where the vast majority of women are illiterate and largely confined to their homes.

Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence.

A program called “Unwanted Traditions” took a critical look at centuries-old Afghan customs, like the forced marriage of young girls in order to resolve disputes. “Introducing Elites” featured interviews with women who have succeeded in politics and activism, and those who have helped other women in their communities.

“We have had an enormous impact on the lives of women, raising their awareness of their rights, of what they can achieve, encouraging women to take part in politics, to vote and to put themselves forward for provincial council seats,” Hassan said.

Programming also encouraged women to take an active role in ending the country’s 15-year war by exhorting their brothers and sons to lay down arms, she said.

Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where the literacy rate is less than 40 percent and much of the population lives in remote communities. Wind-up radios requiring no batteries are popular and widely accessible in communities where electricity is erratic or non-existent.

In northern Afghanistan, where just 15 percent of women can read and write, radio is a rare portal to the outside world. The U.N. Development Program says Shaesta reached up to 800,000 people.

“I’ve met illiterate women weaving carpets with the radio on because they can listen and it doesn’t interrupt their work,” Hassan said. “I once met a farmer out in his field who had a radio hooked over the horn of one of his cows.”

Hassan often invited Islamic scholars onto her programs to give their seal of approval. But the Taliban, who espouse a harsh version of Shariah law, view her and other women’s rights activists as purveyors of Western influence who threaten the country’s moral fabric.

She has received more death threats than she can count, one of which even specified an exact date. So when the insurgents stormed into Kunduz on Sept. 28, she knew she had to run.

“The Taliban had a list of all the women who were working in the government, civil society, media, women’s organizations,” she said. “I knew they were going to come for me.” She hid in a relative’s basement for two days before donning an all-covering burqa and fleeing the city.

The Taliban held Kunduz for three days, during which they looted businesses and hunted down activists and journalists. Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes pushed them out more than two weeks later, but by then the militants had looted Shaesta and burned it to the ground, along with another radio outlet run by Hassan that was oriented toward youth.

Now, six months later, she has returned to Kunduz, and Shaesta has come back on air in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. She was able to rebuild the station with a $9,000 grant from the UNDP, which said it hopes to encourage a “courageous voice for change.”

“Women’s rights are a key lever toward improving the lives of the entire community,” said UNDP country director Douglas Keh. “When women and girls have the same opportunities (as men and boys) in education, and the same economic opportunities, society as a whole benefits.”

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DEVELOPMENT: Secret Aid Worker: Buzzwords Are Killing Development

Tuesday 8 March 2016

All I knew about the organisation was what was written on its website. A small NGO with high quality graphics? Smiling babies? Empowerment? Sold. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Words like ‘human-centred’ and ‘grassroots’ aren’t helping communities, they just make donors feel better about patronising neo-colonialist practices.

International development professionals love their buzzwords. Empowerment. Agency. Community-based. Human-centred. Equal partnership. Grassroots.

I work for an NGO in sub-Saharan Africa that uses all of these words on its beautifully designed website, full of high-resolution photos of smiling African babies. We are all about “empowering the community” with a battle cry of “Healthcare for everyone!” We take every chance we can find to let you know that we, like apparently no other humans on earth, believe that health is a human right.

When I was offered the chance to work here, all I knew about the organisation was what was written on its website. I was impressed. A small NGO with high quality graphics? Smiling babies? Empowerment? Sold. They spouted all the words I had learned about community-based development in class, so they had to be doing things correctly, right?

Wrong. Oh, so so wrong. Here’s what I have found.

We talk about empowerment, yet our patients and our staff members, many of whom are beneficiaries of the organisation themselves, have zero input into how decisions are made. In fact, many of our lowest-paid employees are expected to use their own salaries to pay for work-related costs, leaving them effectively with no salary at the end of the month.

We talk about agency, and yet our board of directors is 100% white. Not one person of colour or from the beneficiary country.

We talk about grassroots development, and yet many of our programmes are defined by the whims of American “experts” thousands of miles away.

We talk about equal partnership, yet the local government offers few to no resources to our health programmes. What motivation will they ever have to provide these necessary services to their own population when foreigners are continuing to provide it for them?

As a person of colour, I cannot help but see how my parents must have felt in the post-colonial country they grew up in. People who do not look like you, who do not come from your socioeconomic background, who do not share any of your life experiences are the same ones who are making decisions for your people. And it’s difficult to question these practices when you know you are receiving services that would otherwise be unavailable. I know I am part of the problem.

We Americans continue to make decisions, citing positive feedback and eternal gratefulness from African beneficiaries as justification for not involving them in the decision-making process. They’re happy having access to the healthcare we gave them, so why take the time to involve them in decisions that directly concern their lives?

Empowerment and agency and human-centricity have come to seem like euphemistic ways to get donors to feel like they are not engaging in neo-colonial practices by defining and determining the presence of healthcare for populations worlds away from their own.

To address this issue, we know we should be actively searching out local leaders in the community, hiring should be more diverse, and foreigners should be taking the role of support staff, not local. So why don’t foreign NGOs make these changes, when they know that they should? Crude pragmatism is the most often used excuse. “We’ll have an American in this role now, but eventually, we’ll hire local staff.” Or perhaps, “We’re doing our best, and it was just too difficult to find anyone else who could do this job.” Or, as all NGOs state, “We did not have enough funding.”

However, practices such as seeking out diversity and being intentional about the role of foreign staff often does not require additional resources. It does, however, require a commitment to critical reflection and to a constant, rigorous analysis of whether practice is truly reflecting the intention of the buzzword. And “doing our best” cannot be good enough when the future of communities and countries are at stake. Yes, perhaps it will take longer to train local staff to do the jobs young Americans can do with their fancy university degrees, but it is the responsibility of organisations who have taken on this work to do it correctly, or at the very least, in the way they say they are doing.

Sure, formalised colonialism is over. But now we have to make sure we aren’t implementing an even more insidious, neo-colonial system that gives white, rich people around the world the power to make decisions for countries that are not their own.

Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at globaldevpros@theguardian.com – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.

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DEVELOPMENT: Does the west really care about development?

By:  5 March 2016  The Guardian

oil

Prime Minister Mossadegh (right) of Iran, is amused by a miniature oil well presented to him during the 1951 US negotiations over oil. Two years later he would be deposed with the help of the CIA. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

We need to stop pretending that the United States, France and Britain are benevolent champions of the poor.

When it comes to international affairs, western politicians love to celebrate their devotion to development. In her flagship speech on development as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton offered stories about US aid transforming the lives of poor people in Indonesia, Nicaragua and South Africa. Laurent Fabius, the minister of foreign affairs for France, recently hailed his country’s commitment to development in the former colonies of west Africa. And at last year’s UN sustainable development goals summit, David Cameron spoke proudly about Britain’s record of providing “stability and security” to poor countries.

But this narrative of western benevolence only works by relying on our collective amnesia. For a slightly less fairytale-like version of the west’s relationship with development, we need to rewind to the decades following the second world war.

After the end of European colonialism in Africa and Asia, and with the brief cessation of US intervention in Latin America, developing countries were growing incomes and reducing poverty at a rapid pace. Beginning in the 1950s, countries like Guatemala, Indonesia, and Iran drew on the Keynesian model of mixed economy that had been working so well in the west. They made strategic use of land reforms to help peasant farmers, labour laws to boost workers’ wages, tariffs to protect local businesses, and resource nationalisation to help fund public housing, healthcare, and education.

sukarno

1945: Indonesian president Achmed Sukarno posing with his family, his wife (R), their son Guntur and daughter Megawati (2nd L) at their home shortly after he was elected president. Photograph: -/EPA

This approach – known as “developmentalism” – was built on the twin values of economic independence and social justice. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked quite well. According to economist Robert Pollin, developmentalist policies sustained high per capita income growth rates of 3.2% for at least 20 years – higher than at any other time during the whole 20th century. As a result, the gap between the west and the rest began to narrow for the first time in history. It was nothing short of a miracle.

One might think western states would be thrilled at this success, but they were not amused. The new policies meant that multinational companies no longer had the easy access to the cheap labour, raw materials and consumer markets to which they had become accustomed during the colonial era.

Western powers – specifically the US, Britain andFrance – were not willing to let this continue. Instead of supporting the developmentalist movement, they set out on a decades-long campaign to topple the elected governments that were leading it and to install strongmen friendly to their interests – a long and bloody history that has been almost entirely erased from our collective memory.

shah

Mohammed Riza Pahlevi was instated as Shah of Iran in 1954. Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

It began with Iran in 1953. The democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was rolling out a wide range of pro-poor reforms, part of which included wresting control of the country’s oil reserves from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP). Britain rejected this move, and responded swiftly. With the help of the CIA, Churchilldeposed Mosaddegh in a coup d’etat and replaced him with an absolute monarch, Mohammed Riza Pahlevi, who reversed Mosaddegh’s reforms and went on to rule Iran with western support for 26 years.

The following year, the US did the very same thing in Guatemala. Jacobo Arbenz – the country’s second democratically-elected president – was redistributing unused portions of large private estates to landless Mayan peasants, with full compensation for the owners. But the American-based United Fruit Company took issue with this policy, and pushed Eisenhower to topple Arbenz. After the coup, Guatemala was ruled by US-backed dictatorships for 42 years, which presided over the massacre of more than 200,000 Mayans and one of the highest poverty rates in Latin America.

montt

Former Guatemalan President (1982-1983), retired General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, 86, during the 2013 trial against him on charges of genocide committed during his regime. Photograph: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Brazil, too, was hit by a US-backed coup; they deposed President Goulart for his land reforms, corporate taxes, and other pro-poor policies that western companies disliked, and replaced him with a military dictatorship that lasted 21 years. President Sukarno of Indonesia was ousted for similar policies and replaced by a dictator, who – with British and US support – killed more than one million peasants, workers, and activists in one of the worst mass murders of the century, and went on to rule for 31 years. And then of course there was Chile: the US helped depose President Allende, the soft-spoken doctor who promised better wages, fairer rents, and social services for the poor, and replaced him with a dictator whose economic policies plunged some 45% of Chileans into poverty.

Some regions never even got a shot at developmentalism, western intervention was so swift. In Uganda, Britain raised the murderous Idi Amin to power, who crushed the progressive Common Man’s Charter before it could be implemented. In the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first elected leader, wasassassinated by Belgium and the CIA when it became clear he would restrict foreign control over resource-rich Katanga province. Western powers installed Mobutu Sese Seko in his place, a cartoonishly corrupt dictator who commanded the country for nearly forty years with billions of dollars in US aid. Under Mobutu’s reign, per capita income collapsed by 2.2% each year; ordinary Congolese suffered poverty worse than that which they had known under Belgian colonial rule.

allende

Chilean President Salvador Allende (R) alongside Cuban President Fidel Castro during his visit to Chile in 1972. Photograph: File Photo/Reuters/Corbis

In west Africa, France refused to cede control over the region’s resources after the end of colonialism. Working through the secretive Françafrique network, they rigged the first elections in Cameroon and handpicked the president after poisoning his main opponent. In Gabon, they installed the dictatorship of Omar Bongo and kept him in power for 41 years in exchange for access to the country’s oil.

We could rehearse many, many more examples, all the way up to the recent western-backed coups in Haiti. It is tempting to see this as nothing but a list of crimes – albeit one that casts serious doubts on the west’s claims to promoting democracy and human rights abroad. But it is more than that. It reflects an organised effort on the part of western powers to destroy the developmentalist movement that flowered in the global south after colonialism. They simply would not tolerate development if it restricted their access to resources and markets.

The legacy of this history is that there is nowgreater inequality between the west and the rest than there was at the end of colonialism. And a soul-scorching 4.2 billion people remain in poverty today. No one has been brought to justice for the coups and assassinations that destroyed the global south’s most promising attempt at development and crushed popular dreams of independence. Probably no one ever will. But we need to acknowledge that they happened, and stop pretending that the US, France and Britain are benevolent champions of the poor.

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ON THE MEDIA: Caught Between The East And West: The “Media War” Intensifies In Serbia And Montenegro

By: Marija Šajkaš and Milka Tadić Mijović   CIMA

Videographers in the Sava Centar in New Belgrade. Photo by Pål Nordseth and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

As EU and U.S. assistance to independent media in Serbia and Montenegro declines, Russians are seizing the opportunity to support and promote pro-Russian media, broadcasting news in the local language, and investing in media development in the western Balkans. This turn of events bears watching by the international media development community and advocates for free and independent media.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in 2015, one of the hotly debated topics was Russia’s increasing influence on the countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Bloc, influence that is now especially aggressive in the media sphere. The chief conclusion of the meeting was that “extraordinary measures” have to be taken for the EU to counter Russia’s “active propaganda campaign,” and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, was tasked with forming a “counter propaganda team.”

But it is becoming increasingly obvious that the new measures will focus primarily on the countries with large Russian-speaking populations that are part of the EU, such as the Baltic states, or the countries that Europe perceives as important, such as Ukraine. Parts of the western Balkans, which only recently emerged from ethnic wars and have yet to fully embrace democratic political processes—including creating stable, independent media institutions—are left to fend for themselves.  Due to historic ties, steady influence of the Christian-Orthodox Church, and the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, citizens of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro are deeply divided over the relationships with the West and Russia, making it a welcoming ground for business, policies, and the messaging coming from Moscow.

Caught between the East and the West

Since the end of wars in former Yugoslavia, both countries define their foreign policy priorities in terms of the alliance with the European Union and, in the case of Montenegro, toward membership in NATO.  Not surprisingly, a number of senior Russian officials have openly opposed Montenegro’s entry into NATO. Acknowledging the current political situation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that together with Serbia, Macedonia, and some other countries, Montenegro is in “the line of fire” between the U.S.and Russia.

Although Western media such as CNN, BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Voice of America are present in the region, media liberties are shrinking, and professional standards are at historic lows. The highly fractured commercial market for media makes it vulnerable to capture by outside influences. Due to the shift in donor interests and lack of funding, the influence of the EU and American media development organizations is diminishing, leaving the void in the media sphere to be filed with reporting coming from Moscow.

Russian efforts to strengthen ties with the “brotherly nations” of Serbia and Montenegro, to use the phrase often heard from Moscow, is not restricted to the economy. By the end of 2014, with its slogan “Sputnik Tells the Untold,” Moscow launched Sputnik, a news portal in the Serbian language –shared by Montenegrins and Serbs–available on radio stations and streaming on the Web. It provides news content, analysis, and opinions.

Examples of the analysis include arguments supporting the idea that the Malaysia Airlines flight that went down in Ukraine was targeted by a Ukrainian missile system; and an article explaining that the G-7 sanctions on Russia are not related to the conflict in Ukraine but to the fact that Russia is currently one of the world’s “strongest economies.” Although Sputnik is registered as a local organization, in order to get any information about its operations written questions have to be submitted up front, and its headquarters in Moscow must approve the conversation. With its modern design and a staff of journalists who used to work for independent media, Sputnik is treated by many Serbian media as a trusted source of information and its content is uncritically shared by Serbian media.

The number of media outlets registered locally and supported with Russian capital In Serbia and Montenegro is increasing, as is Russian-sponsored content appearing in the local press. With its 300 pages and printed in full color on glossy paper, the magazineRussia Danas (Russia Today) has a mission to “create a positive image of modern Russia.”

Russian media style is appealing in the Balkans

Zoran Stanojevic, editor at Serbian National Television and a veteran journalist is of the opinion that Russian media is popular in the region not so much because of the content, but because of the style.  According to Stanojevic, Western media  are often too politically correct, leaving the impression that there is more to be told about a certain story, whereas Russian media are more direct, which Serbian viewers prefer. He also noted that Western media almost never report positively about Russian politics and Serbian viewers perceive that as bias.

According to Elena Popovic, secretary and general counsel of the Media Development Investment Fund, media in Serbia are so underfunded that they cannot afford to pay for content from news agencies such as Reuters and have to look to Russian and Chinese sources, as they are generally free of charge.

In Montenegro, Russians run several radio stations that cover practically all the coast and the big cities. They have established Russian-language schools and are engaged in NGO development, providing economic and technical support to organizations that oppose Montenegro’s plans to join NATO. Their biggest radio station, More, advertises its services in both languages and brands itself as the place to explain Montenegro to Russians and vice versa.

Russia Today is recruiting media workers for its Serbian language service. Russian money supplements the revenues of some Serbian and Montenegrin media that for years have advocated for Russia.

Russian Soft Power on the Rise in the Region

Russia’s penetration of the media space, not only of Serbia and Montenegro but also in other countries, is not unexpected, according to Predrag Simic, professor of political science at the University of Belgrade.  “I believe that this is a logical move for a country that wants to be a global power and to demonstrate its global power, to be a rival to the United States. This is what people do today. This is the so-called ‘soft power,’ or what the Americans call the power of the media,” Simic says.

Some measurable results of Russia’s orchestrated efforts to influence the media sector in the western Balkans are that more than half of the Serbian population now perceives Russia favorably, while only one-third is in favor of the EU. There is also a drop in support for EU membership and a steady negative perception of NATO, culminating in the refusal by Serbia to take part in EU sanctions against Russia. Although Montenegro was officially invited to join NATO in December 2015, its people are bitterly divided about that, with a 2015 poll showing 36.5 percent of the population to be in favor of it, 36.20 percent against it, and 27.3 percent of Montenegrins saying they would not vote either way.

The “Media War” Continues in Serbia and Montenegro

Serbs and Montenegrins are aware of the “media war” between the EU and Russia, though in their perception, forged by the local media, this is not a war for freedom of information but rather a battle between East and West.

However, perhaps the most troubling effects of Russian style journalism will be on local media in Serbia and Montenegro as it legitimizes state-controlled information and “patriotic reporting.”  Much like in the Russian media’s portrayal of President Vladimir Putin, Serbia’s prime minister is increasingly portrayed as a larger than life figure. The media report that he is the first to come to work, and the last to leave, that he cares for the country’s progress so much that he is not taking summer vacation.

Media influenced by Russia contribute to a fragmented picture of the world in which news is tailored for Russian political and economic interests, and the people of Serbia and Montenegro are left with increasingly unreliable information.


Marija Šajkaš is a U.S. correspondent for a Serbian weekly Novi Magazin. She has 25 years of experience working as a reporter, editor, and media consultant. Milka Tadić Mijović is a journalist, media executive, and was civic activist during the turbulent transition era in the Southeast Europe. She is one of the co-founders of the weekly Monitor, the first Montenegrin private and independent weekly magazine. 

 

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ON THE MEDIA: In Burma, A Chance For New Momentum On Media Reform

MARCH 14TH, 2016   By:      CIMA

For media freedom advocates, the NLD’s rise to power is a hopeful sign. (Photo by Htoo Tay Zar via Wiki Commons)

As Burma’s new National League of Democracy (NLD)-dominated parliament nears the selection of the country’s next president, media reform advocates will be looking for the NLD to continue reforms of the country’s media environment, but little is known about the incoming leadership’s policy priorities.

Ever since the country began to open up in 2011, the media landscape has evolved dramatically. What was once a repressive state controlled media space, has become a relatively more open landscape populated by new and formerly exile media entities jockeying for a share of an increasingly crowded market. Although the previous government made progress in media reform efforts, and frequently spoke in favor of further liberalizing the sector, a series of high profile incidents over the past two years cast doubts over the former government’s commitment to free and independent media.

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(Photo by Robert Daly via Flickr)

The Ministry of Information’s August 2015 defamation case against five members of the Eleven Media Group, followed by contempt of court charges for an additional 17 company staff, cast serious doubts over the government’s commitment to a free press. In addition, the government has been accused of complicity in recent cyberattacks against independent news outlets, including Irrawaddy, Democratic Voice of Burma, and Eleven Media, and routinely harassing journalists who report on seemingly sensitive topics such as security and defense matters.

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A Multi-stakeholder Approach to Regain Momentum

With a new government of NLD leaders set to take the helm this month, there is reason to hope that the lost momentum for media reform will be reclaimed, but little is known about the media policy priorities of the incoming NLD leadership.

It is in this context that Deutsche Welle Akademie (DWA) recently convened a multi-stakeholder meeting involving 40 representatives of private and state  media organizations as well as civil society activists, media lawyers. The goal of the meeting was to discuss ways to continue media reform efforts by identifying key challenges and articulating media policy priorities.

Notably, the meeting also brought together officials of the outgoing government and the incoming NLD leadership to discuss how the transition will effect media reform in the country. The NLD’s leading voice on media policy, U Aung Shin, a close confidante of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, represented the NLD and sought to assuage concerns among attendees that the NLD might not consider media reform a key priority and that the leadership transition might stall implementation of the 2015 broadcast law.

Although the 2015 broadcast law is not without its flaws and will require improvement, including greater independence for the Press Council, the law still marks progress in the regulatory framework for Burmese media. Implementation of the law was of particular interest to DWA and others at the meeting because of provisions that will allow for the establishment of community radio stations in the country. U Aung Shin stated that community radio is in fact a key media policy priority for Aung San Suu Kyi. Although he did not elaborate on the position, this is an encouraging sign for community radio advocates in the country.

Community Radio – the Next Frontier for Media in Burma?

I recently spoke with Andrea Rübenacker, Deutsche Welle Akademie’s regional coordinator for media development programs in Southeast Asia about this issue. Ms. Rübenacker argued that community radio could play a vital role in the development of the media environment in Burma and significantly strengthen access to information in rural parts of the country. At present there are no community radio stations in the country, and despite the 2015 broadcast law, there is still no process for issuing licenses. Much work is yet to be done before community radio becomes a reality, but according to Rübenacker, if approved under the new government, DWA stands ready to implement a pilot community radio project in the country. Community radio could provide a much needed new platform for a plurality of independent voices addressing local issues across the country’s ethnically diverse and sometimes fractured regions. Although the law only allows for community radio licenses for “geographic communities” work will need to be done to ensure that Buddhist extremists and ultra-nationalists do not co-opt community radio frequencies to further their agendas.

Multi-stakeholder meetings, such as DWA’s recent dialogue in Yangon, that engage the government, civil society, and private sector media leaders are crucial for addressing sector-wide challenges in the media in a given country or region. Even in instances where seemingly pro-reform governments come to power, media reform can still be relegated to the back burner if political pressure is not applied by a wide range of stakeholders. The risk of inaction during windows of political opportunity is serious. Arcane and restrictive laws can be allowed to persist and new laws never properly implemented. Media reform advocacy requires persistent pressure from a broad coalition of actors, and this kind of engagement could shepherd  Burma closer to an open and free media landscape that the country will need to grow and prosper.


Paul Rothman is the Assistant Partnerships Officer at the Center for International Media Assistance in Washington, DC.

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ON THE MEDIA: Here’s How 4 Hyper-Local Newsrooms are Harnessing Video

By: Josh Stearns This post first appeared on Medium. MEDIASHIFT

Photo by Tim Caynes, used via creative commons    In January, media consultant Mario Garcia wrote that 2016 would be “the year of (more and better) video” and argued that “video should be central to any newsroom’s digital strategy.” Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in his keynote to the Mobile World Congress that “we’re going to be in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.” And his company is tweaking their algorithm to privilege video more and more.
“… the rise of video on the web doesn’t have to leave local newsrooms behind.”
Doing video right can be expensive and resource intensive, and we’ve largely seen big newsrooms (BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Washington Post) and video-centric start-ups (AJ+, NowThis) lead the way.
However, the rise of video on the web doesn’t have to leave local newsrooms behind. In New Jersey, four tiny local newsrooms are experimenting with the role of video at the hyperlocal level. All of these projects are very early in their testing and development, but each contain some useful ideas about how local newsrooms can test video with their audience.

1) Social Video as a Tool for Community Engagement
Jersey Shore Hurricane News (JSHN) is a local newsroom with three part time staff and was born on Facebook, where it now has more than 220,000 fans. In the last year, it has also grown its Instagram community exponentially and started a new project called #OneJerseyShore, in which they focus on different communities up and down New Jersey’s coast, asking people to submit photos and videos of their home towns. They then create videos along with a mix of original reporting and community content.

This is part of a strategic effort by JSHN to cultivate what they call a “contributor culture” where people are a part of the journalism process. The #JSHN tag has over 30k images on Instagram, and their goal is to build on people’s desire to share and connect by producing stories and engagement opportunities. The final videos are uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, as well as chopped up for use on Instagram.
Scrolling through both their Facebook and Instagram accounts, you see a ton of community-submitted footage. Some of that footage is of tranquil sunsets and beach scenes, but the Jersey Shore Hurricane News community also regularly submits video that breaks news, like this Coast Guard rescue.
“JSHN closes the gap between user-generated content and formal news reporting by producing stories that stem from community submissions,” Justin Auciello, the founder of Jersey Shore Hurricane News told me. “For example, with the Coast Guard rescue, JSHN confirmed the activity rapidly, posted the video, and then used that tip to contact the Coast Guard. The formal report — which included a gallery of user generated photos from the scene — came shortly thereafter, and it was posted on WHYY’s Newsworks, which partners with JSHN.” This unique pro-am model gives local people deep buy-in to the work of the newsroom.

2) Bilingual Weekly News Summaries
New Brunswick Today reports in English and Spanish online, in print and via a new video series. The New Brunswick Today team focuses on watchdog investigations, accountability reporting and daily news. Their week in review is just a few weeks old, and they are still developing the audience around it, but initial feedback has been positive. They are one of the only newsrooms I have seen investing in bi-lingual video at the hyperlocal level. New Brunswick Today currently has a crowdfunding campaign focused on expanding their original Spanish language reporting.

New Brunswick Today also regularly shows up with their cameras to local committee meetings where no other journalist is attending and shares the video on their site. Their work is forcing city departments to be more transparent. “The city council only started filming their meetings and putting them online after we made a commitment to doing it first,” said Sean Monahan, New Brunswick Today’s publisher, “It was something we had asked them many times to do.” But it wasn’t until after a few months of Monahan recording the meetings that the council began doing it themselves.
3) News in 90 Seconds
Brick City Live is a two-year-old hyperlocal site covering New Jersey’s largest city, Newark. Brick City Live’s founder Andaiye Taylor developed the video idea based on feedback from her community, and because no one else locally was covering local news this way.
The videos focus on repackaging content from the site and highlighting important stories from other outlets. She creates the script from headlines and Facebook posts written throughout the week, and the video includes images from the stories. Taylor uses text overlays to make sure people can still watch the videos with the sound off. Hers is the only one of the four sites doing that so far. All the videos are directly uploaded to Facebook, where she sees the primary audience for the videos. Once she builds up her audience for the videos, she plans to look for advertisers and sponsors.

4) Turning Videos into Revenue for Local News
Kevin Coughlin, the founder of Morristown Green, has had video on his site since its earliest days. I rarely see him without a video camera by his side. That fact recently helped land his footage on network news when he recorded a bear that took up residence in the local town green.

His video coverage includes local cultural events, high school talent shows, town committee meetings and much more. On his YouTube account, many of his videos have over 10,000 views, and some have more than a 100,000. That’s nothing compared to national newsrooms, but for a small local site like Morristown Green, those are big stats.
Coughlin makes money from his videos in a range of ways. He’s occasionally paid to record events at local universities, and he edits and sells videos of local events to performers and parents.

He has also been hired to create a video reel for a local guy auditioning for The Bachelor and a music video for a classical ensemble. On YouTube, some of his videos have preroll or pop-up ads on them, but those have produced very little revenue at this point. Finally, building on his love of video, he has run summer camps in video journalism for local teens and created a local film festival that was revenue positive the last year he did it.

Each of these journalists is developing video strategies rooted in their unique communities, but together they show a terrific range of experimentation. These aren’t the only small hyperlocal news organizations working with video. The Center for Community Journalism in the UK pointed me to other great work happening at sites like YourThurrock.com and Wrexham.com, which are doing great work on local politics and election videos.
With new tools like Periscope and Facebook Live, local newsrooms can marry these edited videos with livestreaming from news events. If you want to think through the role of video in your newsroom, this report from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism is a good place to start. Also check out the lessons learned from Kasia Pilat’s work developing video products and strategy with the Daily Dot.
      Josh Stearns is the Director of Journalism & Sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Follow him on Twitter and sign up for the weekly Local Fix newsletter on innovation, community engagement and local news.

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AFGHANISTAN/DEVELOPMENT: Afghanistan’s surprisingly predictable economic crash

By Jared Ferrie  Asia Editor  14 March 2016 IRIN

People lined up at the passport office in Kabul

Afghanistan’s economic collapse was sudden, surprising, and entirely predictable.

When the United States withdrew around 60,000 soldiers just over a year ago, much of the money propping up the crippled economy left with them. Their departure was part of the end of a NATO mission that at its peak included 100,000 US troops and 30,000 from other nations.

The mass withdrawal was scheduled years ago. But nobody – neither the previous Afghan government nor international donors – came up with a comprehensive plan to ease the blow of the economic shock that would surely follow.

“I have not seen anything that would indicate that we developed any programmes anticipating this tremendous negative impact on the economy,” John Sopko, the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction who reports to Congress on how US aid money has been spent, told IRIN.

“Shame on us,” he added.

Likewise, Afghan officials in former president Hamid Karzai’s administration seemed oblivious of the economic catastrophe that was bearing down on them.

“Not enough people grasped the meaning of it and looked at the macro and micro economic impact that it might have on Afghanistan,” said Omar Samad, a senior advisor to the current government and former ambassador to Canada and France.

“People assumed that it would be business as usual.”

It wasn’t though. Instead, a lot of business left with the Americans.

In comments included in a January report by Sopko’s office, SIGAR, President Ashraf Ghani said at least 100,000 jobs were lost in the transport sector alone, which had contributed about 22 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. The construction sector and services connected to it had been driven by US military contracts and accounted for 40 percent of GDP.

The loss of the money flowing into the economy from jobs and contracts connected to the US military had an immediate effect. Economic growth plunged to 1.3 percent in 2014, down from an average of 6.9 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the World Bank. The average yearly income per person fell from $730 in 2013 to $680 the following year.

Afghanistan economic growth rates

World Bank Afghanistan economic growth rates

Who’s in charge?

IRIN requested comment from the US Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Department of Defense about the current economic crisis, the lack of preparation for it, and failures that SIGAR has uncovered with American aid projects. Only USAID responded.

“In advance of the drawdown of international troops and the 2014 election, USAID developed a transition plan to guide our support for agriculture-led economic growth, with a particular focus on supporting the Afghan government’s ability to generate the revenue needed to support the Afghan private sector,” said Larry Sampler, who works with the agency on Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs.

As an example, Sampler cited USAID’s development of an electronic payment system for customs duties on imports. Previously, payments would be collected in cash, which would then be driven to the bank in an armoured car. The electronic payments are quicker, safer and allow the government to more efficiently collect customs duties, a key source of revenue.

Sopko said many US-funded programmes were successful, but overall reconstruction has been characterised by mismanagement and waste. Such a scattershot approach has led directly to the current economic crisis. While USAID and other agencies may have had their own strategies to ease Afghanistan through the transition period, there seems to have been little coordination and no overarching plan.

Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry also declined to comment.

What went wrong?

The US alone has pumped at least $113 billion in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan since helping to overthrow the Taliban at the end of 2001, according to SIGAR. That does not include having the US military on the ground fighting, which would bring the cost to almost a trillion dollars, but it’s more than America spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

Despite that staggering investment, Afghanistan in 2016 looks nothing like West Germany 14 years after the end of the Second World War. So what went wrong?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

SIGAR has published a series of reports exposing waste, corruption and mismanagement of programmes led by USAID, the Department of Defense, and the State Department.

They include an investigation into the DoD spending $486 million on cargo planes for the Afghan Air Force, which found that “those aircraft could not even meet operation requirements in the Afghan setting”. Eventually, 16 of them were sold for scrap metal at six cents a pound, fetching $32,000.

Another investigation showed that the DoD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent almost $150 million on housing for staff members who oversaw “unfinished, poorly planned, and ill-conceived projects”. They included a $6 million plan to import nine Italian goats to stimulate a cashmere industry. The Task Force has been disbanded and the fate of the goats remains unknown.

Not all projects were failures, of course, and there’s no doubt that Afghanistan’s economy is better off now than it was under the Taliban. But the overall approach to rebuilding Afghanistan was haphazard, say insiders.

“There were problems with aid being asked to be spent too quickly, and too much of it, and not directed at the longer term,” said Bill Byrd, who was country manager and economic advisor at the World Bank in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006 and is now with the United States Institute for Peace.

Byrd and others, including Samad, said donors neglected the key sector of agriculture, as well as other important areas like water management and infrastructure development. Samad said the main focus had been on security, while development planning was “erratic”.

“Every year, or every other year, everybody got together and changed course, changed priorities,” he said. “We were not very consistent with follow-up and implementation.”

That lack of focus meant that some sectors of the economy and some people benefited greatly, while others were left behind. A World Bankreport shows that the poverty rate stayed at 36 percent between 2007 and 2012 even as there was strong economic growth, including an astonishing 21 percent in 2009. Instead of raising living standards for the majority of Afghans, inequality increased.

A shoeshine boy in Kabul

Jim Huylebroek/IRIN Many poor families send their children to work like this boy shining shoes in Kabul

What now?

It’s not all bad news. The World Bank predicts economic growth to rise steadily for the next few years. There have been major successes in health and education, as well as training and equipping the Afghan military, which is now facing a rising insurgency from not only the Taliban, but from other groups including the so-called Islamic State.

Worsening security is feeding the economic crisis, and fractures in the government are not helping, said Byrd.

Afghanistan’s National Unity Government was created as a way out of a political crisis, after the disputed results of 2014 elections threaten to tip the country into another armed conflict. The UN oversaw an extensive audit, but the results were never made public. Instead, Ghani was appointed president, while the new position of Chief Executive Officer was created for his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

“It seemed almost like the NUG agreement was a recipe for inaction, and that is a problem,” said Byrd. “The National Unity Government needs to act more like a unified government that’s responding to what by consensus is a national emergency.”

There are indications that the NUG can be decisive. Byrd pointed to the government’s success in getting tax hikes approved by parliament and improving tax collection, which increased government revenue by more than 20 percent last year.

“I think it’s an example that its not impossible for the government to function and it achieved a credible and significant success,” he said. “The situation would have been worse if the hemorrhage of revenue had continued in 2015.”

Samad said it’s impossible to disentangle poor security and governance from the economic crisis, and improvements in those fields are key. He downplayed divisions in the NUG and pointed to Ghani’s widely heralded commitments to fighting corruption, as well as efforts by the government to create political space for peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Even if the government’s anti-corruption strategies and peace negotiations are successful, it won’t be any time soon.

“Nobody’s holding their breath for peace tomorrow,” said Samad.

Voting with their feet

Many Afghans have grown tired of waiting for things to get better. Instead, they are leaving the country in higher numbers than at any time since the Taliban. Afghans comprise the second largest number of arrivals in Europe after Syria, making up almost a quarter of asylum claims, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

The Tahiri family, for instance, is packing up shop and heading to Europe – anywhere in Europe – despite the considerable costs and dangers.

Standing outside the central passport office in the capital, Kabul, Ahmad Tahiri (not his real name) explained that sales at his fabric shop have been so slow over the past year that he can barely support his wife and three children.

“Now we have come to a conclusion that if we stay things will even get worse,” said his younger brother, Abdullah. “That’s why we will spend everything we have to reach a better place – if not for us at least for our next generation.”

(Nisar Ahmad contributed reporting from Kabul. Cover photo: Afghans line up at the central passport office in Kabul in August 2015)

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DEVELOPMENT: The Empowerment of Women Will Be Central to Realising Sustainable Global Development

By Mary Robinson   original

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland,(1990-1997) and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 to 2002).

DUBLIN, Mar 4 2016 (IPS) – “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” – the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day serves as a timely reminder that, despite incremental progress of recent years and the ambition of the new global development agenda, we must redouble efforts to achieve a world underpinned by gender equality. All women must be empowered to realise their full and equal rights. But what does it actually mean to step it up for gender equality?

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson

For me, this requires targeted approaches to ensure that all women have a voice in the formulation of decisions that impact upon their lives. This is particularly important when it comes to facilitating the engagement of grassroots women. To realise the “leave no-one behind” approach called for in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the commitment “to reach the furthest behind first”, grassroots women must be recognised as key actors in global sustainable development.

Grassroots women around the world hold a wealth of knowledge which we will need to manage the impacts of climate change and accelerate sustainable development. However, in order to properly value this knowledge and put it to use, women must be allowed to participate meaningfully in the design, planning and implementation of policies and programmes that impact on their lives. Ensuring women’s voices are heard and their needs acted uponis central to advancing climate justice.

The impacts of climate change are different for women and men.

Grassroots women are more likely to bear the greater burden in the face of climate change, particularly in situations of poverty. Climate change exacerbates existing patterns of inequality, including gender inequality. Grassroots women have limited access to productive resources; restricted mobility and little voice in decision makingleave them highly vulnerable to climate change. Climate policy, to be effective, must understand these underlying inequalities in order to address the different ways in which climate effects grassroots women.

Enabling the meaningful participation of women is not just the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. The global development sector has learned, sometimes the hard way, that programmes designed for vulnerable communities, without engaging with the women of the community, rarely achieve their desired outcomes. This important lesson is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goal 5 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) which includes a target to: ‘Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life’. This need is particularly acute in the case of grassroots women. Unfortunately, the importance of including women in decision making and promoting women’s leadership is less well understood by the climate regime. Yet the majority of those on the front lines of poverty and climate change are women.

Some progress has made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 2012 the Parties to the Convention adopted the Doha Miracle (Decision 23/CP.18), a decision to enhance the participation of women in climate change negotiations.Parties will review progress against the ambition this decision at COP 22 in November. When they do, however, they will see that only slight gains have been made in terms of equality of representation at negotiations. For instance, the latest UNFCCC Gender Composition Reporthighlights that only 36% of delegates were women at COP 20, and this figure drops to 26% when considering heads of delegations. In Lima Parties agreed to commence the Lima work programme on gender, a two year exploration of the gender dimensions of climate change and the Paris Agreement on climate change recognises the need for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

These are all signs of progress, but a lot more needs to be done to be done in order for women’s voices to be thoroughly included in the formation of climate action. A key next step is investment in training and capacity building for grassroots women in order to enable full and effective participation. This is captured in SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) which includes a target which calls on States to promote capacity building mechanisms in small island developing states and least developed countries to assist women, youth and local and marginalised communities to take part in climate change-related planning and management. Operationalising this target will be critical to achieving a harmonised and people centred approach to both the sustainable development agenda and the new climate agreement.

In 2015, the global community laid a foundation upon which we can build a safer world with opportunity for all. In concluding the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, world leaders signalled a willingness to change course – to leave behind the unequal and unsustainable traditional development models and move towards a future free from poverty and want, with abundant clean energy and a healthy environment.

In 2016 we begin to plan and implement these two ambitious, universal international processes; we must ensure that women’s voices, and human rights, inform our actions. Grassrootswomen must not be seen simply as passive recipients of climate assistance. They are key actors in achieving their right to development. By acknowledging grassroots women as agents of change within their communities, valuing their knowledge and building their capacity to adapt, decision makers can develop sustainable, long term climate solutions at a local level which will strengthen whole communities.

As we “step it up for gender equality”, I call on all those in positions of influence to provide the platforms for grassroots women to speak to for themselves. Listening to, and valuing,theirknowledge and experiencewill help to shape progresstowards 2030 that is good for people, the planet and gender equality.

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ON THE MEDIA: Every Day Is a Good Day to Hear More Women in the Media

By Farhana Haque Rahman  original

ROME, Mar 7 2016 (IPS) – On International Women’s Day newspapers and radio shows are filled with women’s voices. Yet too often the media’s attention is fleeting.

These are the best of times, but without a doubt also the worst of times, for journalism and journalists – especially women in the media.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

According to the Global Media Monitoring Project, women still account for only 24 percent of the people “heard or read about in print, radio and television news across the world.”

Or as women’s media organisation Foreign Policy Interrupted have put it: “a woman over 65 is less likely to be cited as an expert in the media (than) a boy in the 13 to 18 age group.”

Hearing women in the media is not just about who is holding the notebook and voice recorder. Journalists also need to think about who they quote in their articles.

IPS is proud to have an editorial policy of deliberately seeking quotes from women on all topics, not just on topics that have traditionally been considered “women’s issues”.

For those women who are journalists, many face violence and harassment even as they go about their daily work. Two-thirds of more than 900 women journalists surveyed by the International Women’s Media Foundation said they had experienced some kind of threat or abuse – often by male colleagues. We all should take a deep breath.

More than one in five of the women media professionals asked said that they had experienced physical violence in relation to their work – the majority of these described it as sexual in nature – and government officials, police and apparently random people in crowds were cited as frequent perpetrators.

IPS applauds the efforts of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Christiane Amanpour, the high-profile CNN correspondent who is now serving as UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador on freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety, on their campaign to stamp out the most existential threats to female journalists.

Yet any gains made in bringing women’s voices to the fore in the media are threatened when the news industry itself is put under pressure.

The sector is already in a commercial pinch, reducing resources available for reporters to provide their watchdog function. On top of that, there is a sense of growing censorship, taking different forms in different parts of the world.

Press freedom isn’t threatened only by violence. Esteemed scholar Partha Chatterjee denounced what he called a “McCarthyite era” wave in India. Journalists have been killed or intimidated in countries across the globe, and many deliberately avoid reporting on their nemeses. And the bad winds aren’t blowing only in developing countries. A U.S. presidential candidate fanned the flame of our concern last month when he suggested changing libel laws to make it easier to “win money” from journalists by suing them.

Free speech is widely believed to be a public good. But it is also “the most complex and controversial right,” in the recent words of Irene Khan, head of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO). It may not be an absolute right but it is one that is intimately tied up with what Khan called “the right to hear.”

We have a right to hear diverse voices and particularly women’s voices in the media every day. We – including we journalists – also have a responsibility to listen.

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AFGHANISTAN/DEVELOPMENT: Afghanistan’s Path to Women’s Rights Is Paved With Risk, but Built on Hope

Women in the Afghan National Army. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Laura R. McFarlane/Released. Creative commons.

For Afghan women, the systematic repression and violence of the Taliban era was replaced by opportunities, but also fear and insecurity in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of their country.

Today gender politics in Afghanistan are more complicated than ever, with victories in some areas qualified by setbacks in others.

Since the beginning of this year the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize, while Sumaya Ghulami won gold in taekwondo at the South Asian games held in Guwahati and Shillong, India, an achievement unthinkable during the Taliban era.

But women have been among the greatest victims of the intensifying Taliban insurgency and a rise in criminal violence that neither the frail government in Kabul nor the shrinking American military contingent on the ground have been able to contain.

Read and weep

The age of social media has shone a spotlight on some of the most egregious examples of violence against women in recent times.

Last November, in a Taliban-controlled village in Ghor province, central Afghanistan, a 19-year-old woman, Rokhshana was stoned to death for adultery.

The adultery charge was technical in nature — an escape from a marriage that had been forced on her — and the viral video of the stoning seemingly filmed on a cell phone inspired widespread disgust across Afghanistan’s growing online networks.

Ghor province’s  former governor Seema Joyenda, only the second woman governor to be appointed in Afghanistan, became one of the main champions for justice for Rokhshana.

But Joyenda herself was eventually pushed out of office after conservatives led a successful — if not uncontested — campaign to remove her from office.

Rokhshana’s stoning came just months after another horrific incident that attracted the attention of the world, when a mentally ill woman, Farkhunda, was beaten to death and burned for allegedly setting a Koran on fire.

One of the most horrible incidents of gender-based violence in the post-2001 period took place at the very end of last year.

Pajhwok Afghan news reported that eleven men, including four policemen, gang-raped a girl of nine in the country’s northwest, where the government and the Taliban are vying for control.

Afghan women in the spring

But the news is not all bad.

This month Sumaya Ghulami returned to Afghanistan to a hero’s welcome after her taekwondo gold in 2016 South Asian Games. She was publicly congratulated by President Ghani and widely lauded in the press.

Ghani’s wife, Rula Ghani, recently announced plans to build the country’s first women-only university with funding from the government of Turkey, a move seen as key to guaranteeing women’s access to higher education.

Meanwhile, over a hundred Italian MPs suggested the Afghan women’s cycling team for the Noble peace prize earlier this month. The nomination thrilled the Afghanistan section of Twitter.

Such events are symbolic of a growing visibility for women in public life. In the parliament, women make up 28% of the seats — a bigger proportion of women than in the US Congress.

However, no woman has headed the parliament, indicating that a female presence in domestic politics can expand without necessarily translating into real power.

A clear example of this was Ghani’s attempt to include a woman judge into the national high court council, which was swiftly blocked by a parliament where conservatives are gaining ground.

Long road to respect

The Afghan woman’s position in society is thus subject to flux, varying from community to community.

Hazara women have seen a particularly fast-paced change in their lives, influenced possibly by higher rates of female education relative to other ethnic groups in the post-Taliban era.

Among Afghanistan’s most influential women are Sima Samar Head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission and Afghanistan’s first female governor Habiba Sarabi of Bamiyan province, both ethnic Hazara.

Laila Haidari, another Hazara, is a woman social volunteer who has found the Mother Camp which treats drug addicted men.

But women across groups in the country remain prejudiced by Afghan civil law, which reserves the right of divorce exclusively for men, while family matters remain under the control of the head of the family in most cases.

And critically, the Taliban is gaining ground across the country, even as the movement itself splinters, while hardline clerics have continually decried women’s rights as a Western imposition.

In such a fluid environment, women are locked in a contradiction: they enjoy more space for participation than they did 15 years ago, but are also most likely to be a lightening rod for the inevitable conservative backlash.

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