Issues & Analysis
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Haiti Training – See Their First Videos

The Haitian Perspectives in Film training and documentary production is going very well.  We’ve gotten through the first two weeks of major skill building and now we begin the last three weeks of story development, final projects, production and editing.  The trainees are impressing themselves with their newly acquired skills, but also fearing that they won’t be able to put it all together to produce their final films.  Time will tell, but based on my experience in Afghanistan and elsewhere, I am confident that our impressive group of Haitian trainees will produce equally revealing and engaging stories about their communities’ economic and social development.

The first week was all about visual storytelling – well composed, exposed and focused shots fitting together one after another to create a scene.  They started shooting on day one and by the end of the week had shot multiple activities culminating in short simple visual scenes of local crafts people and manufactures. These folks had not used a video camera two weeks ago!

                              

Last week they concentrated on sound and scene-based storytelling.  Continuing on from the exercises from the first week, they shot and edited a scene with multiple characters working together and a scene with all of them meeting or talking.  From the meeting they selected one participant with whom to practice their newly learned video interviewing technique.  In addition, to emphasize the importance of natural sound in lived-reality documentary filmmaking, they recorded sound-only stories.  What an intense week!  They have to learn so much, so fast that they don’t have time to question their capacity to process it all.

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Many mornings we start by watching a section of a documentary.  Wednesday we watched part of Raul Peck’s Fatal Assistance, a controversial film about the post-earthquake relief effort in Haiti.  Haitians take great pleasure in heated argument.  During the coffee break the room broke into three groups of shouters, all debating the topics covered in the film and concerns about how the film presented these issues.  When it looks to me like things are getting out of control, and the volume can’t get any louder, the storm breaks and laughter takes over.  Not too different then the way it rains.  The thunder is deafening, the streets turn into rivers of trash and rubble and then it stops. Never quiet, but calmer.

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We are still in need of funds to support the public engagement campaign in January 2015 which will use the films to inject Haitian views into the international dialogue about Haiti! Please donate if you can.

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Afghanistan, Development: Pentagon’s Economic Development in Afghanistan ‘Accomplished Nothing’

Defence News, Nov. 18, 2014 – 03:45AM   |  By JOE GOULD   |

An Afghan construction worker makes concrete tubes on the outskirts of Kabul. A U.S. inspector general is investigating Pentagon reconstruction efforts in the country. (WAKIL KOHSAR/ / Agence France-Presse)

WASHINGTON — The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says he is investigating the Pentagon’s efforts to spark that country’s economic development, which cost between $700 million and $800 million and “accomplished nothing.”

SIGAR’s chief, John Sopko, told reporters Tuesday, that the agency has opened an “in-depth review” into the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), a Defense Department unit aimed at developing war zone mining, industrial development and fostering private investments.

“We have gotten serious allegations about the management and mismanagement of that agency, as well as a policy question about what they were doing and whether they should have existed,” Sopko said.

More broadly, Sopko faulted the US government’s economic development efforts in Afghanistan as “an abysmal failure,” saying it lacked a single leader, a clear strategy or accountability. An avenue of inquiry for SIGAR’s investigation into TFBSO could be Afghanistan’s underdeveloped mining industry.

“We have seen hit-and-miss efforts to develop the [Afghan] economy,” Sopko said of the US. “You, the development experts, should have had a plan to develop the economy and you haven’t, so now we’re stuck.”

Untapped mineral wealth in Afghanistan is estimated at $1 trillion, but Sopko noted that Afghanistan has only recently passed mineral laws and legal gaps make investment unattractive. Critics say the law lacks transparency regarding contracts and ownership, and strong rules for open and fair bidding.

The task force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sopko has said the US’ unprecedented $120 billion reconstruction investment there is at risk because Afghanistan is rife with corruption and lacks the security, technical prowess and economic health to sustain much of the work the US has done. He cited the case of $486 million the Defense Department spent for 20 G222 transport planes intended for the Afghan Air Force that sat idle in Kabul before they were sold for $32,000 and scrapped.

While the perception on Capitol Hill is that the US commitment is over, Sopko said, it has promised a decade of funding in its bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan.

“We need to make a commitment there because they can’t afford the government we’ve given them, and if our intended goal was a government that would keep or kick the terrorists out, we’re going to have to fund it,” Sopko said.

Afghanistan’s domestic revenues do not cover its total public expenditures, 90 percent of which are funded by the US and international partners, according to a report last year from another government watchdog, the Government Accountability Office.

Corruption continues to feed the insurgency and drain the economy, Sopko said, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s focus on anti-corruption and regaining money from the 2010 Kabul Bank failure are positive signs. Sopko was optimistic for freedom of movement and better security within 10 years.

“It is better, but the question I’m asking is, ‘Could it have been better,’” he said. “This is the most money we have spent on reconstruction of a single country in the history of our republic. Shouldn’t it have been better?” ■

Email: jgould@defensenews.com.

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Afghanistan, Development: The West Made Lots of Promises to Afghan Girls, Now It’s Breaking Them

Original article found on: The Daily Beast

By Heather Barr, 10/20/14

One reason given for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was to educate girls. But as the Western military shrinks there, so does the funding for those schools.

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty

KABUL, Afghanistan — The girls of Afghanistan have been betrayed. When Taliban rule ended almost 13 years ago, international donors rushed in to promise that young women would no longer be denied an education. Western governments spent a decade patting themselves on the back for what they touted as exceptional work supporting schools for the beleaguered girls of Afghanistan. They talked about bringing women out of purdah, literally as well as figuratively, so they could help their families and their country to prosper.

But the closing of one school after another exposes the hollowness of those promises. In fact, the state of education in Afghanistan is still so shaky that only about half of Afghan girls manage to go to school, and those numbers are set to decline.

In the volatile southern province of Kandahar, for instance, an innovative school for teenage girls will soon close its doors. The Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies, established in 2006 with funding and encouragement from the Canadian government, has run out of donors. And it is only one of a number of Afghan schools to face the budget axe swung by distant governments and cost-cutting politicians.

Other schools have been shuttered because of attacks and threats stemming from the war that continues to engulf the country. In July, girls’ schools closed in one entire district, depriving 40,000 girls of education.

The website of the U.S. development agency proudly proclaims, “In 2013, one million Afghan learners are enrolled in schools with USAID assistance, and over 5 million primary grade students benefitted from USAID assistance.” But in January 2014, the U.S. Congress cut the U.S. government’s allocation of development aid for Afghanistan by half.

Then there’s the United Kingdom. “We agree that expanded access to good quality secondary education that produces skills for employment is essential for Afghanistan’s future prosperity,” the British government wrote in 2013. Yet in a 2012 report the U.K. government had already decided that it had “built too much” in terms of schools and health clinics in Afghanistan and that only “critical” facilities would remain open.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said Laura Bush, wife of then-U.S. President George W. Bush.
Getting Afghan girls into school wasn’t just a benign-but-unintended by-product of the international military intervention in Afghanistan. Soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and the invasion of Afghanistan, world leaders explicitly cited the extreme oppression suffered by women and girls under the Taliban as a justification for the operation.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said Laura Bush, wife of then-U.S. President George W. Bush, in November 2001, giving the weekly presidential radio address in place of her husband.

“The women of Afghanistan still have a spirit that belies their unfair, downtrodden image,” said Cherie Blair, wife of then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, also in November 2001. “We need to help them free that spirit and give them their voice back, so they can create the better Afghanistan we all want to see.”

But today, as crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and West Africa compete for attention, Afghanistan is not even yesterday’s news—it’s last year’s news. Journalists are leaving Kabul, embassies are downsizing, and donors are quietly and drastically scaling back.

“How’s it going?” I asked a friend who runs aid programs at the U.S. embassy in Kabul not long ago.

“Oh, you know,” he said. “Just shutting things down.”

Military disengagement from Afghanistan is advancing; the newly signed Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. and Status of Forces Agreement with NATO pave the way for a continued, but very limited, international military involvement in Afghanistan.

Donor involvement is more important than ever, however. President Hamid Karzai handed over to Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, not just the reins of power but also a badly overdrawn checking account. Ghani’s government has been forced to seek a $537 million bailout from donors just to continue paying civil servant salaries. There are hopes that this new government, fronted by Ghani, a technocrat who was formerly Afghanistan’s finance minister and spent several decades with the World Bank, will bring much-needed fiscal stability to the Afghan economy. But that won’t happen tomorrow.

Afghanistan will have to pay for its own schools one day, and one hopes it is moving in that direction. But it can’t possibly do so right now. The ones who will pay first and worst are the country’s girls as they slide back toward the devastation of illiteracy.

A November donor conference in London will bring together all of Afghanistan’s donors to take stock of commitments made at the 2012 Tokyo Conference and to craft a new partnership going forward. Donors should come to the conference mindful not just of commitments they have made to the Afghan government, but also the solemn pledges they first made to support Afghan women and girls in 2001, and have made over and over since then.

Earlier this month, after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two children’s rights activists, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Yousafzai, a 17-year old from Pakistan, would be travelling to Canada to accept honorary Canadian citizenship, an honor only five others, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, have ever received. U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to congratulate the Nobel winners as well, saying, “As we celebrate their achievements, we must recommit ourselves to the world that they seek—one in which our daughters have the right and opportunity to get an education; and in which all children are treated equally.”

That’s what Afghan girls want. And that’s what the countries that marched into Afghanistan 13 years ago promised them. This is no time to break that promise.

Original article found on: The Daily Beast

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Haiti: Creating Haiti’s Future Leaders Through Art

Original article found on: Huffington Post

By Karl Romain, Posted:

Photo credit: Fedno Lubin, ACFFC alumnu

Photo credit: Fedno Lubin, ACFFC alumnu

 

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti took an estimated 316,000 lives and destroyed buildings and entire towns. One such city, Jacmel, began a very special phase of its revival six months after the disaster to memorialize the lives lost: a mural project called Mosaïque Jacmel.

The organization, Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC) partnered with artist Laurel True of True Mosaics Studio who came and taught local children how to use mosaics to change the face of the devastation. True eventually became ACFFC’s Mosaic Program Director.

Today, Jacmel is known for its beautiful mosaic walls created by the city’s young artists, and is supported by the local Departments of Tourism and Culture, Jacmel, and Sud-Est, which recently commissioned the students to create mosaic stairs leading to the open air market in the center of town. The mosaics stand as glittering symbols of hope and transformation in Haiti.

My family emigrated from Haiti when I was a child. To hear of this creative endeavor, and the leadership skills it is bringing to its children, makes me hopeful for my homeland. I spoke with Laurel True, and Nadïne LaFond, a New Jersey-based musician, visual artist and arts educator born in Brooklyn of Haitian descent and longtime friend to ACFFC about the project.

Turning broken pieces into a new whole

“The Tree of Life public art installation turned broken pieces into a new whole, memorializing lives lost in the earthquake,” says True. The kids were involved in all parts of the inspiring mural — the design, development, and execution. The mural has become a focal point in the community. It has become a place for people to gather, as well as a place for artists to sell their crafts.

The ACFFC was founded in 1999 to provide children in need with a place to go. The foundation, as it’s called, provides food and clean water, medical care, education, and art programs for the children. The mosaic art program started after the earthquake–and after the numbers of the kids the foundation cared for nearly doubled. “It’s not about handouts,” ACFFC Media Coordinator, Rae Stevenson tells me. “It’s about investing in futures. These kids have everything they need within them to overcome their circumstances. What we do is give them the tools to develop these skills.”

“We focus on how to train kids to start thinking of how to flow this into a small business; how to order supplies, to price things, create a proposal, how to talk to a client, etc.,” explains True. “Over the past few years, I’ve passed the baton on to some of the kids. The older kids are super empowered to say what they think, what they want, state their vision, and just go for it.”

The results are phenomenal: Last November, the group was invited to Delray Beach, Florida to create a mural together with the Toussaint L’Ouverture High School, (the first time they’ve been commissioned to go to another country). The public art installation was created to memorialize the people of Florida, who have come to Haiti’s aid after numerous natural disasters. When LaFond — who’d been collaborating with True, Stevenson and Katherine Bullock, U.S. Director of Operations at ACFFC, to create a new support project — started telling her friends here in the States, the reaction was huge. So they came up with another plan — a way for people to sponsor a mosaic wall in Jacmel.

“These kids are so smart, so creative, so activated, and they’re changing the face of Haiti,” says LaFond “They’re the next generation of creative leaders.” By giving them the support they need, they will transition to the next step: taking these skills and creating the self-sufficiency that is at the heart of the program, and the heart of Haiti.

LaFond is currently working on a multi-media art project in collaboration with the students. In the coming months, True will be working on mosaic projects near Jacmel and helping students launch their Sponsor a Mosaic Wall project, while Bullock and Stevenson of the ACFFC Leadership Team will soon be packing their bags to join the students in Jacmel for six months to support a number of projects on the ground.

And those are just ACFFC’s plans for this winter. With so many creative pursuits at the foundation, there are many opportunities for meaningful giving this season. To get involved and support its mission, please visit acffc.org. In addition to the Sponsor a Mosaic Wall project, there are opportunities to support an individual young artist for a year, purchase artwork made by ACFFC students, and show your support with ACFFC gear.

Original article found on: Huffington Post

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Immigrant and Refugee: Baker’s cabinet pick raises eyebrows

Original article found on: The Boston Globe

By Maria Sacchetti | November 13, 2014

 

Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash has led a city of immigrants for 14 years. And when controversy erupted, community leaders say Ash did not flinch.

He cleared permits for immigrants-rights marches, and greeted the demonstrators when they paraded past City Hall. He stood by the City Council when it declared Chelsea a sanctuary city for immigrants. And he welcomed immigrant children to the city during a national crisis last summer when some mayors sought to turn them away.

But this week, the towering Democrat raised eyebrows by agreeing to serve as secretary of housing and economic development for Governor-elect Charlie Baker, a Republican who opposes illegal immigration.

City Manager Jay Ash (left), a Democrat, has been viewed as championing immigrants’ rights in Chelsea.

City Manager Jay Ash (left), a Democrat, has been viewed as championing immigrants’ rights in Chelsea.

“I don’t get it,” said Gladys Vega, the executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrants, who berated Baker for his immigration policies at a campaign stop in August. “It was like, wow.”

Ash, 53, the son of a single mother, grew up in Chelsea’s subsidized housing and is Baker’s first Cabinet pick. To some, Ash’s appointment was seen as an overture to the Democrats after Baker’s narrow victory Nov. 4.

But Ash’s selection is also a curiosity in a city with the highest proportion of immigrants in Massachusetts, nearly 45 percent, triple the state average. The vast majority are not US citizens, but a mix of immigrants from Somalia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and elsewhere, some here legally and others illegally.

Baker opposed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and backed the federal Secure Communities program to detect criminals here illegally, even as the mayors of Boston and Somerville curtailed it in their cities, saying it was also ensnaring immigrants stopped for minor traffic violations.

Baker also favors barring illegal immigrants from state public housing, in keeping with federal law, and has pointed out that a ban would not apply retroactively, so people would not be evicted. The plan has won support in the Democrat-led state Legislature, but advocates for immigrants successfully lobbied to eliminate the restrictions.

Ash declined to comment on Baker’s immigration policies when reached by phone Wednesday, but called the Cabinet post “a great opportunity.”

“I’m looking forward to serving with the governor,” Ash said. “I’m sure that the governor will do great things for the Commonwealth.”

Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said Ash and Baker did not discuss specific policy before the appointment but that Ash would carry out Baker’s initiatives, including on housing policy and immigration.

“There are no litmus tests when it comes to finding great people to join Governor-elect Baker and Jay is eager to follow through on all of Baker’s initiatives including the alignment of housing policy with federal standards,” Buckley said.

Supporters say Baker has shown flexibility on immigration issues, and was willing to welcome immigrant children to Massachusetts last summer. He has also pledged to continue in-state tuition for immigrant children with temporary legal residency since 2012, known as Dreamers.

Some say Ash’s appointment transcends immigration issues, and reflects Ash’s skills as a tireless yet practical manager eager to see results.

During his tenure as city manager, Chelsea built several new hotels, a major Market Basket supermarket, and 2,000 housing units.

“I just think Jay will approach things with respect and dignity for all human beings and a realistic world view,” said Molly Baldwin, chief executive and founder of Roca, a nonprofit in Chelsea that works with high risk youth and young adults. “If we can have a lot more of that in government that’s a good thing.”

Roy Avellaneda, a former Chelsea city councilor whose Argentine parents were once undocumented, said Ash’s skills transcend immigration issues and could improve cities similar to Chelsea statewide.

“You won’t find a bigger advocate” for affordable housing, Avellaneda said. “You’ve got to look at the position he’s appointed to. That’s right up his alley.”

Vega, head of the Chelsea Collaborative, remained skeptical. She felt it was inappropriate of Ash to join Baker in a campaign stop in Chelsea last August, a city that has championed immigrant rights.

“I think that he should have said no,” Vega said of Ash’s decision to work for Baker. “The only thing that gives me hope is that his heart [Ash] was very loyal to immigrants.”

The same month Ash welcomed Baker in Chelsea, he also welcomed immigrant children who arrived in the country this summer, while the Lynn mayor criticized the surge of children for straining budgets for health care and schools.

“When the mayor of Lynn was saying no, Jay was saying yes,” Vega said, and added, “He said the City of Chelsea’s open for anyone who wants to come. We don’t care about your immigration status.”

“Maybe he’ll educate Baker,” she said. “Who knows?”

Original article found on: The Boston Globe

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Development, Afghanistan: Afghan malnutrition – the search for solutions

JALALABAD, 11 November 2014 (IRIN) – Abdullah’s wails of pain are punctuated only by his rasping cough. His arms bound to his body, he is five months old but weighs just 3.2kg, lighter than some newborns. In the next bed, three-month old Shukoria looks withered and worn, her face wrinkled and pained.

Both are suffering from malnutrition, which affects more than 40 percent of Afghan children, killing thousands every year and leaving millions with permanent disabilities.

“Malnutrition is the main reason for deaths of children under five in this province,” Homayoun Zaheer, head of the Jalalabad hospital, said, pointing to the children.

A government-backed report highlighted the extent of malnutrition in the country, yet experts say efforts to tackle the problem are hampered by cultural norms, shrinking health budgets and the short-term nature of aid donations.

Slow starters

While Afghan malnutrition rates have long been high, until recently they had, many aid workers agree, been something of a hidden problem as there was – and still is – a lack of evidence about the scale of the problem.

The issue was therefore often neglected when aid was doled out. Since 2007 the country has been the world’s leading recipient of development assistance as a percentage of its national income, with US$6.2 billion in 2012 alone. Yet that spending has focused on governance and security, and while new health infrastructure has been created, the extent of malnutrition has received little study.

Franck Abeille, country director at Action Against Hunger (known by its French acronym ACF) said that in the early years after the 2001 US-led invasion there was little focus on malnutrition. “ACF, for example, hardly worked on nutrition from 2003 up until 2006-07,” he said.

The most recent National Nutrition Survey – the first in the country since 2004 – released late last year, showed that over 40 percent of Afghan children under the age of five suffered from permanent stunting as a result of malnutrition, while 9.5 percent of children suffered from wasting.

The number of children with severe acute malnutrition had more than tripled from 98,900 in 2003 to 362,317, while the estimated number of pregnant and lactating women requiring nutrition interventions had nearly doubled to 246,283. Acute malnutrition typically kills more quickly than chronic malnutrition, which is the world’s leading cause of preventable mental disability.

Budget issues

The survey, coming alongside other new evidence, has helped prompt both the Afghan government and the UN to commit to focusing their resources on malnutrition, with the problem to be designated one of the three key priorities of the forthcoming Common Humanitarian Action Plan for 2015.

Yet the drive comes at a time when health resources are being squeezed. Under the country’s Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) healthcare system, international NGOs act as contractors to take on the basic provision of health services in a given district. As the Afghan government has faced financial cutbacks the BPHS budget has decreased, undermining malnutrition outreach programmes. In one province, the monthly budget per patient for all services dropped from 7 euros up to 2013 to 4.7 euros per patient per year in 2014, according to a report from ACF.

“The contract has a set amount of money per patient and the nutrition amount is too small to be useful as it doesn’t allow for any outreach work to take place,” Mark Bowden, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and the Humanitarian Coordinator for the country. “So essentially nutrition has been ignored within the health system.”

Towards solutions

While all sides now agree on the severity of the malnutrition crisis, the solutions are less agreed upon.

Claude Jibidar, country director at the World Food Programme, said that one route he was pushing for is to fortify wheat – the staple of the Afghan diet – potentially with government subsidies.

“A lot of the micronutrient deficiencies would be immediately dealt with,” Jibidar said. “You fortify with a pack of minerals and vitamins [dealing with] anaemia, iron, vitamin A and vitamin D deficiencies.”

“To address the causes of malnutrition. the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“People say it has an effect on the price – I am told it would cost about $4-5 dollars additionally per kilo. Even if it is 10 times that the benefit is worth it,” he added.

Yet such a scheme, while potentially making older Afghans healthier, would only have a limited impact on the youngest.

Hamza Atim, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical coordinator for Boost Hospital in Lashkar Gar – in the contested Helmand Province where acute malnutrition is among the highest in the country – pointed out that many Afghan communities do not have a culture of breastfeeding their newly-born children.

Abeille pointed out that this can lead to stunting. “When a child is born, the first milk from the mother. is really the first thing the baby needs,” he said.

“We treat children who are acutely malnourished in hospital – but this is only addressing the symptoms of malnutrition,” Atim said. “If you need to address the causes you need to do a lot of things but the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“Breastfeeding will stop children from getting a lot of illnesses. But this has gone on for generations, so it is a hard sell to address.”

In Jalalabad, Zaheer said they had launched education schemes for the local population, including group sessions in which mothers are taught about health schemes, but admitted many women, particularly those in rural areas, cannot afford to come every week. “Poverty is the key issue here. Poverty and ignorance – it can be a vicious cycle,” he said.

Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator, agreed that more education schemes are needed. “The highest rates of malnutrition correlate to the highest rates of female illiteracy and lack of female education.”

From humanitarian to development

A shift in attitudes on malnutrition may also help. While emergency humanitarian actors have prioritized acute malnutrition, development agencies are needed.

“You have figures for acute malnutrition that are above emergency levels – which is why we treat it as a humanitarian issue – but there are also major issues of stunting, which is largely a development issue,” Bowden said.

Abeille echoed a number of other actors calling for long-term development funding to tackle the root causes of malnutrition.

“When you meet donors they say: ‘one year is perfect, let’s move forward.’ When you suggest three or four years they say: ‘I am not sure we can find the funds.’ So next year we come back with the same problem.”

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On the Media: The Globe rolls out red carpet for documentary film

Original article found on: Poynter

Published Oct. 24, 2014 1:25 pm

This year, editors at The Boston Globe noticed that they shared something important with Hollywood’s biggest night: three directors, all trained at nearby Harvard University, each got Oscar nods for documentary filmmaking.

That got the paper’s attention. Globe editors had known for awhile that New England was a hotbed for documentarians, with big names like Ken Burns and Errol Morris calling the region home. The arts staff, under film editor Janice Page, had long discussed expanding the paper’s coverage of documentary filmmaking; now they had a newspeg.

Now, a few months later, The Boston Globe is rolling out a red carpet of its own for the region’s filmmakers and cinephiles. On Thursday, the paper announced GlobeDocs, a bid to celebrate the city’s nonfiction film scene. The initiative, headed up by Page, will include a series of free screenings (at least one every month) at independent theaters throughout Boston that will include panel discussions with filmmakers and industry experts. The paper is currently working to identify advertisers to sponsor the screenings, said Boston Globe CEO Mike Sheehan.

In an effort to become a hub for the film community, The Globe is also planning to put on a film festival sometime in 2015 and has begun a fund “to support up-and-coming filmmakers,” according to a release announcing GlobeDocs.

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s announcement, the paper was already beefing up its documentary coverage. Earlier this month, The Globe began devoting a full page of its Sunday arts section to nonfiction film. The paper brought aboard Peter Keough, the former film editor of the now-defunct Boston Phoenix, to anchor the section; he writes a weekly roundup of the region’s documentary news called “Doc Talk” and asks a prominent movie-lover for recommendations in a feature called “Documania.”

Close watchers of The Globe will notice this isn’t the first time the paper has invested in specialized coverage of the city. This year, the paper rolled out two standalone sites — BetaBoston and Crux — to chronicle the startup and Catholic communities, respectively. In June, the paper added a Friday print section, “Capital,” dedicated exclusively to politics coverage. And there will likely be more specialized verticals to follow, Sheehan said.

And as with the other new initiatives, The Globe is planning to kick off GlobeDocs with a live event — in this case, a screening of “The Irish Pub,” featuring a discussion with director Alex Fegan moderated by Globe columnist Kevin Cullen. This echoes other launch events held for verticals like Crux and Capital.

The business thinking behind these live meetups — from next year’s film festival to events the paper’s has been putting on for years — is to position The Globe to become a convener of the community in addition to its chronicler, Sheehan said. The events, which build and showcase the verticals’ respective audiences, have the potential to indirectly drive revenue by making them more attractive to advertisers.

“Newspapers were traditionally experienced in someone’s hand, something someone read,” Sheehan said. “At their best today, newspapers are something that bring people together.”

Original article found on: Poynter

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On the Media: Controlled chaos – As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?

Original article found on: NiemanLab

By LIAM ANDREW Oct. 29, 2014

Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
Documentary film and journalism are, in many ways, rooted in the same traditions. Though focus on narrative often differentiates film from traditional journalism, it helps to remember that the earliest films were straightforward recordings of real life, such as trains pulling into stations.

Decades after L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, journalists like Edward R. Murrow made activist films that helped shape the documentary’s focus on social issues, while 1960s direct cinema filmmakers played with a journalistic sense of objectivity and realism.

Today, more and more documentaries are finding news publishers to be the ideal platforms for their work — especially interactive documentaries, like those mapped by Docubase. Meanwhile, journalism schools increasingly offer courses in software development and multimedia production. As both practices migrate into the digital space, they have a lot to learn from one another.

odlmitlogoTo further explore this convergence, earlier this month MIT’s Open Documentary Lab and the MacArthur Foundation hosted a daylong event called “The New Reality.”1 Participants represented old stalwarts with large audiences like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Frontline, younger upstarts like Vox and Storyful, documentary fixtures from Tribeca and Sundance, and a range of academics studying digital journalism and interactive media. The goal was to explore the synergies and fissures at the crossroads of interactive documentary and digital journalism; here’s a brief overview of what was discussed, what remains unsolved, and what went unsaid.

The forms and platforms are converging
Journalists and filmmakers are increasingly using the same tools to tell stories, and they’re releasing them on the same platforms. Two panels at “The New Reality” — “Documentary Forms and Processes” and “Technologies in a Changing Media Landscape” — focused on these issues. Recurring examples of this technical merging were the many docs released by news entities, such as Katerina Cizek’s Highrise project produced by the National Film Board of Canada and published with the Times.

News organizations already have a built-in audience with stakes in social issues, an ideal springboard for a documentary filmmaker. In addition, entities like the Times and the Guardian have rich archives and technological firepower, allowing filmmakers to continue to push the boundaries of their form.

At the outset, Frontline’s Raney Aronson, a panelist, asked when a documentary should be interactive instead of linear. Panelists explored the tension between immersion and play, and the balance of experimentation with cohesion; web-native documentaries can take endless forms, each with endless capacity, but nobody wants to see a sprawling, sloppy product. The interactive form often requires the viewer to be an active and interested participant in the topic.

Cizek mentioned her favorite line, “I came for the technology, I stayed for the story,” but many storytellers are looking for a broader audience than activists and doc enthusiasts.

The unique form of each interactive doc also makes critical comparison and audience literacy difficult. Most agreed that projects should start with the story and build the form around it, but templates can serve as shortcuts to start developing a language for interactive features. Gabriel Dance of The Marshall Project called each story “a beautiful delicate flower…there is no template, there is no tool,” and AIR’s Sue Schardt stressed that it’s important to find the language before the funding models.

But too much experimentation may also keep the field from legitimizing. Some documentaries, like 18 Days in Egypt or Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo‘s Sandy Storyline, are about process and participation too; how can we judge these works critically? How will they be assessed for potential funding? And do they have a place in the newsroom, as CUNY’s new social journalism master’s degree might suggest?

There was also more practical discussion around technologies and platforms, and the challenge of balancing readymade templates and customized tools and code. Standardizing forms would also mean standardizing technologies and frameworks, which would streamline the process and reduce costs, but risk some of the creative experimentation. For now, storytellers are limited by the small screens of mobile devices and minimal capacity for interaction; the most exciting content-sharing platforms are too complex for mass audiences and commercial viability. Having conceded to Facebook and YouTube as the primary interaction and communication platforms, the trick might be to build tools that creatively remix them, though APIs may be unstable and engineers would end up taking on editorial responsibilities.

Audiences, participants, and publics are in transition
Journalists and documentarians have always cared about the impact of their work, but now they can see, measure, and interact with it. Digital metrics have changed what constitutes a successful project, which increasingly contributes to choices made by the creators (and some argued that it certainly should). Moreover, the web has created new opportunities for crowdsourced and participatory works — journalists use their audience to land scoops, source data, and fund projects. At MIT, the depth of potential audience interaction was discussed on panels such as “Rethinking Participation: What Can We Learn from Documentaries?” and “Audience Engagement & Impact.”

But “the audience” and “the public” are two very different groups, as the Times’ Lexi Mainland pointed out. Times readers represent a limited demographic, and will only be able to contribute to a small subset of the paper’s journalism; this is even more true for the niche audiences at small startups and trade journals. Tapping into the web’s communication channels without falling into the audience bubble will be crucial as storytellers hunt for stories worth telling, and presenting them compellingly.

Some panelists claimed to have a clear picture of their audience, but none have a solid grasp on impact. This is unsurprising, given that even the audience turns out to be slippery — public institutions are there to serve the public, of course, but their viewership and donors must be a priority. Older demographics still reach for TV and traditional forms, while digital and interactive viewers will skew younger. We can measure some behaviors, but they’re continuously shifting. For example, panelist Kamal Sinclair of Sundance pointed out that, while nobody expected millennials to sit and watch a 45-minute video on mobile, Vice has proven that they will.

What does that mean for the definition of a “successful” video project, as compared to a few years ago? Panelist and Rutgers professor Philip Napoli suggested that time spent was a dangerous measure of quality, too, calling attention “the last bottleneck” for the media world. There was general agreement that while metrics for documentary skew towards qualitative and personal impact measurement, journalism skews more towards the quantitative and aggregative. A blurring of these lines seems healthy as the forms collide.

Another concern around audience was the necessity of closing the feedback loop with creators. Participant and USC professor Henry Jenkins championed networked “circulation” over traditional top-down “distribution,” saying it would afford a better afterlife to projects and inform newsroom processes and practices.

The traditions, standards, and institutions remain divergent
Finally, a panel called “Journalistic Standards in Transition” focused on the balance between aesthetics and ethics in documentary and in journalism. For better or worse, journalism is a more codified institution than documentary, with its own degrees and standards about what journalism “is” or should be. Documentary is a more ramshackle affair, with its share of festivals and awards but less unified and established conventions.

The panel started with Aronson asking panelists to define journalism, which set the tone for complex questions: how do you deal with bias or media with an agenda, like an ISIS propaganda video? How many cameras need to be present to “verify” an event? Is it wrong for journalists to manipulate footage, even to add sound effects or music?

The current trend towards advocacy journalism can borrow ideas from documentary, but Jason Spingarn-Koff of the Times’ Op-Docs reiterated the need for fact-checking in order to maintain journalistic rigor. “We shouldn’t make everyone adhere to being journalists, but we do have journalistic standards at the Times,” he says.

But outside the Times, the line grows ever blurrier — there is no journalism, only “acts of journalism,” as Jeff Howe said, reiterating a line of Jay Rosen’s. Some journalistic outfits, like the Center for Investigative Reporting, are making graphic novels and rap videos; Ariane Wu asked when this stopped being journalism and became something more like art. On the one hand, this is a question of semantics, but on the other hand, the question has major consequences for how nonfiction video and interactive projects get made, structured and funded.

Another major differenceC9B80531-DF6B-4262-9788-BE27D63D6C4E is that, while docs can take years to create, news is inherently fast-paced. Longform works emerge between these time scales, of course, and can be crucial for bringing the public’s attention to complex story arcs; this type of storytelling helps the audience place newsworthy events in the context of larger historical phenomena. Interactive features might have form and marketing challenges, but they can play a crucial role in balancing the time scale of the news cycle.

What’s next — and what’s missing
While a few participants expressed relief at avoiding state-of-the-industry and revenue model discussions, such conversation was sometimes unavoidable. Beyond lamenting the lack of platform innovation in a crowded market, Larry Birnbaum of Narrative Science reminded attendees that advertisers lurk just around the corner of every new media innovation: there are people with much more money and much clearer goals who are eager for these tools and forms to be developed.

Looking further into the future, new platforms will mean new responsibilities for storytellers. Oculus Rift was cited as an example of a technology that raises the stakes, as do 3-D and tactile media. These platforms, like any others, have the potential to manipulate viewers and spread propaganda, but Birnbaum suggested that while computers can provide us with live data, immersive graphics and interactivity, they are still very far away from the higher-level field of complex storytelling.

Overall, “storytelling” was the word of the day. Participants preferred to self-identify as “storytellers” and “story-makers” rather than the platform-stereotyped “journalist” or “filmmaker.” It’s also telling that while everyone wants to be a storyteller, no one wants to be maligned as a “content creator.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Cizek spoke of “the people formerly known as subjects,” a phrase that resonated with many. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether we haven’t replaced “subjects” with “users,” a term that comes from the tech industry, which has fashioned better techniques for understanding its audience than the journalism or media industries. There could have been, I think, more discussion of these terms and who owns their histories.

Caught between advertisers and aggregators, journalists are not as in control of their message as much as storytellers typically like to be. In the age of the attention economy, gaining eyeballs often means producing work that triggers an emotional response, new ground for traditionalists. Is this journalism or documentary? Birnbaum, and others, called it loosely controlled chaos.

“Live with it,” he said. “It’s a haphazard field.”

Original article found on: NiemanLab

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Afghanistan: Climate change – Afghans on the front line

Original article found on: IRIN – Asia

By Joe Dyke

Photo1

Naim Korbon is rebuilding his home after devastating floods (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, 4 November 2014 (IRIN) – In northern Afghanistan, the residents don’t often use the phrase – most don’t even know it. But as they describe how increasingly extreme weather patterns are making their lives harder every year, they map out many of the symptoms of climate change. As a new UN report warns that “irreversible” climate change is affecting more people than ever, these Afghans are on the front line.

Naim Korbon says he is 90 years old, though he admits he does not really know. Either way he is too old to be carrying cement. Yet in the northern Afghan village of Rozi Bay in Balkh Province, he and his extended family are rebuilding their homes.

Earlier this year his life’s work was destroyed as vicious floods cascaded through the area. It was, local experts say, the worst to hit the region in 42 years. Nearly half of the village was swept away, including Korbon’s home. All down his street buildings – many of them over 50 years old – are slumped; roofs sliding off, surrounded by piles of debris. “We will rebuild it all better than before,” Korbon said, picking up his shovel.

A young boy sits in front of his partially destroyed home (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

A young boy sits in front of his partially destroyed home (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

Floods are not the only weather making the residents’ lives harder. In the nearby village of Baghacha Khan Mula local representative Abdul Jalote Mufakar pointed at the barren earth with a sense of resignation. “In recent years, there are no crops. Only almonds grow any more,” he said.

This pattern of long droughts, poor harvests and flash floods has been a growing trend for the people of northern Afghanistan, with experts largely in agreement that the climate is becoming more extreme. A new report identified Afghanistan as one of 11 countries globally at extreme risk of both climate change and food insecurity.

One trend is for late, harsh cold snaps that can mean snow and sleet hit just as crops and fruits are blossoming, killing the produce. “Every year the cold season comes later and stays later,” Mufakar says.

Such cold snaps also help make the floods more intense, Andrew Scanlon, country director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), explained: “If you are getting late snow it is warmer and melts faster. If you get snow up to April, it is not very consolidated and it melts in May; whereas if you get snow in February or March it packs and lasts all the way through until August.”

High risks

Scanlon estimates that since 1982 temperatures in northern Afghanistan have risen about 0.8 degrees per decade, though he accepts that the data is not reliable enough to know for certain.

These changes have coincided with, and partly led to, increasing poverty for the residents in Balkh. In the 1970s, the average Tajik family (the majority ethnic grouping in the area) in northern Afghanistan had 100 goats, one cow and two oxen, according to a report by the NGO Action Against Hunger. Today, it is seven goats and less than one cow or ox per family.

“Among the crops that may benefit is exactly the one that the Afghan government and the foreign forces are seeking to fight – opium poppies.” While three decades of war has been the primary driver of this gradual slide into poverty, the changing climate has also played a role. “Most people here are farmers. In the past we used to have a lot of livestock but after several years of drought, we had to eat the animals,” Mufakar explains.

Mohibullah Niazi, senior shelter technical officer at the north Afghanistan branch of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says the climate may have reached a tipping point.

“People are experiencing flash flooding, river flooding, landslides [and] avalanches in [the past] three years, [the likes of which] they had not experienced in past 56 years.

Adapt or die

Adjusting to such a situation requires radical thinking. Scanlon said there was a push from the UN, civil society, NGOs and local Afghan groups to encourage the nascent Afghan government towards a larger programme of what is called watershed management.

This would include more schemes to protect individual towns like Khulm in Balkh Province. The town has been spared some of the worst flooding in recent years following the creation of a watershed project designed by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Three dams harvest the rain and floodwater, while two reservoirs feed a drip irrigation system – helping water 150 hectares of land planted with trees. This also leads to more stable earth, reducing the risk of flooding.

Other adaptation mechanisms are being employed as well. To reduce the flood risks, houses built to government standards are required to have stronger foundations, while expensive burnt bricks are used wherever possible to reduce the risk of collapse.

A March 2014 Afghan government planning document seen by IRIN also highlights the need for farmers to shift the crops they produce.

The long drought that followed the floods has left the earth parched (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

The long drought that followed the floods has left the earth parched (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

“Whilst certain crop species may actually benefit from carbon enrichment and increased temperatures (e.g. wheat, which may experience an expansion of its growing season), it is likely that the increase in intensity and duration of both droughts and floods will significantly decrease the productivity of most species,” the document said.

Among the crops that may benefit is exactly the one that the Afghan government and the foreign forces are seeking to fight – opium poppies. The US government has spent $7.6 billion in the past 13 years trying to tackle poppies, which form the basis of heroin, according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Yet in recent years there has been a resurgence in cultivation, partly as poppies require less water than other crops.

“More water intensive staple crops will become less attractive to farmers, with a likely increase in the attractiveness of those that are more drought hardy, including opium poppy,” Niazi said.

Part of the issue is that villages like Rozi Bay cannot do it alone. Most areas affected by flooding are downstream, but the problems start far higher at the source of the rivers. “People start to do protection work in the lower catchments to protect the [populations] but you have to really start way back up in Badakhshan where the problems are emanating from,” said Scanlon, referring to the northern mountainous province.

Scanlon said that only in recent years have the reporting mechanisms in the country been strong enough to start to build up the country’s meteorological data, enabling better understanding of environmental change. UNEP, along with the Afghan government and other partners, is in the process of establishing a national environment data center. This, he said, is beginning to enable them to develop a bigger picture of the challenges with the aim of establishing better early-warning systems among others. “We need to embrace complexity and then come up with solutions for complex situations,” he said.

While he was careful not to talk about specific towns, Scanlon suggested that a debate needs to be had about whether it is feasible to keep rebuilding in areas that are likely to see yet more extreme weather in the coming years. It could, he posits, be better to move communities on to higher regions rather than continue to invest in rebuilding those in flood-prone ones.

But in a region where attachment to land is incredibly high, any such moves are likely to face fierce resistance. Mufakar tells a cautionary tale of one man who left his village after the floods to seek a new life in the state capital Mazar-i-Sharif. “When I see him now he just cries – before he had land, now he has nothing,” he said.

And back in Rozi Bay, Korbon, too, has little time for such pessimism in the face of climate change. Pointing to newly built foundations and burnt bricks, he is confident the problem is dealt with for good.

“We borrowed more [than the NGO gave us] so we only have to do this once, never again,” he said. The meteorologists may not be so sure.

Original article found on: IRIN – Asia

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Training Process

Interviewing applicants that work in radio, journalism, the theater, print, photography, communications and with social change organizations.

Interviewing applicants that work in radio, journalism, the theater, print, photography, communications and with social change organizations.

The Training Begins

Our work begins in Haiti – thanks in great part to your support and encouragement. Starting tomorrow, Monday November 3, Haitians will be trained to produce 10 short films telling Haiti’s story since the 2010 earthquake.

On Friday evening CSFilm and our Haitian partners, Groupe Medialternatif, finalized the selection of the 10 participants! That is, after 5 intense hours of reviewing and debating the 19 that were interviewed, after 2.5 days of interviews, after reviewing the materials of all 74 applicants’ and weeks of outreach across the country! Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, CSFilm’s Haiti program coordinator, Gotson, head of Groupe Medialternatif, and assistants have made great efforts to gather a diverse group – in terms of gender, regional, media and community engagement backgrounds. We were blurry eyed and gleaming from the stifling heat but feeling very good as we called each successful candidate.

This weekend we have finalized the setup of the training site, which is generously being provided by REFRAKA, Network of Haitian Woman Community Radio Broadcasters.

And now, after two years of dreaming, fundraising and planning, the team and trainees will gather in the morning to begin the work of Haitians producing a new series of broadcast-quality documentary films. Their films will add Haitian perspectives and experience to the local and international conversation about what has and has not happened since the 7.0 earthquake – one of the world’s worst disasters.

 

 

 

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Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s first lady to focus on humanitarian assistance

 

Original article found on: Khaama Press

By KHAAMA PRESS – Fri Sep 26 2014, 12:22 pm

 

Afghanistans-first-lady

Afghanistan’s first lady Rula Ghani Ahmadzai will focus on humanitarian assistance after Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai takes office as the new president of Afghanistan.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani said his wife will start charitable works for women and children and internally displaced individuals who are in need of assistance.

Shukria Barekzai, a member of Dr. Ghani’s camp, said the decision by Afghanistan’s first lady is a good news for women and children who are in need of support and assistance.

Barekzai said Rula Ghani was involved in humanitarian assistance activities in the past as well but she will double her activities after her spouse takes office.

The presidential inauguration for the president-elect of the country is expected to be organized on coming Monday.
Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was declared the president-elect by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan earlier this week.

The announcement was made following the conclusion of an agreement between Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah for the formation of a national unity government.

Original article found on: Khaama Press

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On the Media: Mozambique Election: citizen journalists keep politicians on their toes

Original article from: The Guardian

Supporters cheer for the Renamo opposition candidate Afonso Dhlakama at rally in Maputo. Photograph: Antonio Silva/EPA

Supporters cheer for the Renamo opposition candidate Afonso Dhlakama at rally in Maputo. Photograph: Antonio Silva/EPA

As Mozambique prepares to go to the polls for Wednesday’s presidential election, the ruling party Frelimo faces its first real political challenge since the country gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.

President Armando Guebuza must step down after his maximum two terms in office, and the campaign mounted by Renamo – Frelimo’s long-standing political rival – has resulted in a race to succeed him that has become too tight to call.

It has also been a race fraught with irregularities, which are being increasingly exposed by a small army of citizen journalists across the country.

Here are a few snapshots from various election campaigns in Mozambique, all from the last two months:

  • In Macomia, in northern Cabo Delgado province, a government Toyota Land Cruiser – covered in posters of the ruling party, Frelimo – is used to distribute campaign material. This is illegal. Click! A reporter takes a picture and Instagrams it to the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP) in Maputo.
  • In Machava, Matola, near Maputo, a police station is plastered with Frelimo posters. Neighbours alert the election reporter. He checks, clicks, sends, and CIP posts it in its online election newsletter.
  • On 24 September 2014, in Chibuto, Gaza province, Frelimo supporters attack the caravan of the opposition Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) presidential candidate Daviz Simango with stones and bottles while the police watch. Citizen reporters documented the hour-long battle and later checked if any arrests had been made. None were made.

These stories have been published on the CIP website faster than any other news outlet. Media pickup is immediate. The Constitutional Council and electoral authorities read it. In many ways, the electoral reporting project sets the media agenda.

Independent journalism

With 150 reporters, at least one in each of Mozambique’s 143 electoral districts, CIP’s on-the-ground coverage maps out flash points and trends. The reporting has exposed misuses of state bureaucracy and resources to promote the ruling party.

The project, led by CIP researcherJoseph Hanlon, started during the 2013 municipal elections, in collaboration with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

From that day in 2013, it has proved its value. For example, long before the electoral commission received official complaints, correspondents across the country reported that many of the printers sent to polling stations were not working. In response, the commission quickly told the South African supplier to solve the problem.

A policeman guards election kits at a warehouse in Maputo. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

A policeman guards election kits at a warehouse in Maputo. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

And when the official vote count in Gurue in the north appeared suspiciously different from the parallel counting of the electoral observatory, the opposition complained, and the CIP’s election bulletin circulated both tallies. This boosted both the complaint’s credibility, and led the Constitutional Council to order a new poll, which the opposition party, MDM, eventually won.

Although many of the reporters work for local papers and community radio stations, and have some experience of collecting information, many lack formal journalistic training.

Mozambican media outlets, although lively, are often aligned to political parties or act a platform for the publisher’s views. Independent journalism, based on facts and research, not on opinion, is scarce. In 2013, CIP and EISA trained its reporters in electoral law and the basic rules of journalism – accuracy, confirmation, and facts.

Equipped with a user-friendly manual written by Hanlon, their reporters learned to spot irregularities, to identify sources (although CIP may protect their identity), check facts and ignore rumour.

Hanlon sums it up: “We hammer into the heads of all our journalists that allegations must be backed up. Perhaps the hardest for Mozambican journalists is the rule of information, not rhetoric. Let the facts speak for themselves. And don’t just report the problems, report normality and success.”

A Renamo supporter takes part in a motorcade campaign rally on 11 October 2014 in Maputo. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

A Renamo supporter takes part in a motorcade campaign rally on 11 October 2014 in Maputo. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Encouraging free and fair elections

Back in Maputo, the CIP team scrutinises the information before publishing it, earning trust amongst its many readers.

In rural Mozambique, where there is little media presence, government employees and police chiefs often run their districts like fiefdoms. In 2013, for example, an administrator – on a whim and without a court order – instructed police to padlock the local community radio station because it had reported on local corruption. Assuming that “Maputo will never know and people here are docile”, the electoral reporting project is sending a message to local authorities they are being watched, and that the nation will know about irregularities. This year, reporters noted fewer government cars being used openly by Frelimo than in 2013.

The election in 2013 was tight. Renamo boycotted it, MDM received 40% of the total vote, won two cities in the first round (Beira and Quelimane) and two after flawed counts and new elections (Nampula and Gurue). In Maputo and Matola, usually Frelimo strongholds, MDM won over 42% of the vote.

However, 2014 is a different game: this year, Renamo is participating, which splits the opposition and could make results even more contested.

The CIPs reporting project is part of a broader effort by civil society to ensure free and fair elections, and disrupt the apathy creeping into the country’s voting population since the first democratic polls in 1994. Less than half of eligible voters voted in 2013.

Those that do should at least know their vote is not being tampered with, and that the election has been fair. In a country with few safeguards in place, active citizen reporting is proving to be one of the most effective ways to guarantee this.

Original article can be found on: The Guardian

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Afghanistan: Afghan Media Org Convenes High-Level Meeting on Access to Information

Original article found on: Internews

October 9th, 2014

Historically, the government of Afghanistan has been marked by a lack of transparency, with only a vague – and thus far unenforced – reference in its decade-old constitution to the guaranteed right to access to information.

That all might be changing soon: earlier this summer, Afghanistan’s Lower House of Parliament approved the country’s first-ever Access to Information Law. Now, Internews partner Nai is leading multi-stakeholder advocacy efforts to encourage the swift and responsible passage of the law by Afghanistan’s Upper House, and ultimately by Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Having met with the Upper House of Parliament earlier this summer, last month, Nai convened media, civil society, and government leaders – including former President Karzai’s legal advisor and high-ranking officials from the Ministries of Information and Culture, Defense, Interior Affairs, and Commerce and Industry – for a roundtable discussion on the effective and fair implementation of the law.

Although spokespeople for the Ministry of Defense emphasized a need to keep information concerning national security and the wellbeing of Afghan troops confidential, the group agreed that government agencies should start preparing now to put systems in place to allow Afghan citizens to request and gain access to government-held information in a timely fashion. These mechanisms include establishing access to information committees in Kabul as well as in seven additional zones across the country, trainings for government workers, classifying and even digitizing data if possible, and setting up clear channels of communication and cooperation between government agencies.

Nai legal advisor Qasim Rahmani called on the National Assembly to hold a joint committee session to allow lawmakers to reconcile different existing drafts of the law. That way, he said, the government can prevent confusion and misinterpretation once the law goes into effect.

In numerous press releases, media briefings, and roundtable discussions leading up to Parliament’s vote on the law, Nai has repeatedly stressed how critical such a law will be for reducing corruption, protecting journalists, and building a more democratic Afghan society.

The law, said Executive Director Mujeeb Khalvatgar, will “allow Afghan journalists to work in a better and safer environment than they do now…it will lay the groundwork for journalists to produce more investigative reports.”

“The Access to Information Law is an important piece of legislation for all, but specifically for media outlets,” said Nasir Maimanagy, who attended the meeting representing Internews radio partner Salam Watandar. “This law will provide the strongest tool ever – access to information – for the media to monitor the activities of both the government and the private sector.”

Maimanagy noted that for all of the law’s promise, however, its proper enforcement is far from a done deal. “Implementation is a daunting task,” he said. “If not implemented properly, the hopes of media organizations will turn to dismay and frustration.”

Internews’ support for Nai is funded by the US Agency for International Development.

Original article found on: Internews

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Immigrant and Refugee Issues: Realities About Refugee Camps

Original article found on: IRIN

by Kristy Siegfried on October 7th, 2014

Photo: Jodi Hilton/IRIN UNHCR wants camps to be the exception rather than the norm

Photo: Jodi Hilton/IRIN
UNHCR wants camps to be the exception rather than the norm

JOHANNESBURG: For years, the images most commonly associated with refugees have been of sprawling, dusty camps populated by rows of tents sheltering thousands of men, women and children with little to occupy them besides queuing for aid handouts.

The reality is that only just over one third of the world’s 17 million refugees live in camps today. The rest choose to live in cities or communities where a more independent, if precarious, existence is possible.

The international humanitarian community has been slow to respond to this reality, but is now scrambling to catch up, especially in view of the crisis in Syria which has so far produced over three million refugees, the majority of whom are living in cities in neighbouring countries.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in particular, has struggled to adapt its traditionally camp-based model to fulfil its mandate of ensuring that all refugees have access to protection and assistance, wherever they may live.

In 2009, it released a policy statement on refugee protection and solutions in urban areas which recognized urban areas as “a legitimate place for refugees to enjoy their rights”.

Now it has gone a significant step further with the release of an “Alternatives to Camps” policy which commits the agency to actively pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible. It is the first official recognition by UNHCR that camps should be a last resort rather than the default response to refugee influxes, and has been widely welcomed by the refugee rights community as representing a major, if overdue, shift in the agency’s approach.

Between the UNHCR’s establishment in the early 1950s and the installation of its current High Commissioner Antonio Guterres in 2005, “there was a widespread assumption within the humanitarian community that refugees belonged in camps,” according to Jeff Crisp, formerly the agency’s head of policy and evaluation, writing in a blog for advocacy group Refugees International, where he now serves as senior director for policy and advocacy.

Camps becoming harder to fund

Keeping refugees in camps has not only been logistically far more convenient for aid providers, but has often been the preference of host states who view camps as minimizing both the perceived security threat posed by refugees and their burden on local communities and economies. However, as refugee crises have become more protracted, with over six million refugees now living in exile for five or more years, camps have become increasingly difficult to fund.

“A lot of funding goes to new emergencies but within as little as 18 months, if the emergency is not continuing, there’s a falling away of donor support,” said Steven Corliss, director of UNHCR’s programme management and support division. As support diminishes programmes such as secondary education are the first casualties, but eventually even basic services come under pressure. Recently, the World Food Programme had to cut food rations for a third of all African refugees, the majority of them long-term refugees confined to camps.

Photo: IRIN In the top six refugee-hosting countries in the world, the majority of refugees are already living outside camps

Photo: IRIN
In the top six refugee-hosting countries in the world, the majority of refugees are already living outside camps

UNHCR’s new policy acknowledges that camps remain a necessary feature of the humanitarian landscape, particularly in the context of emergencies and where host governments insist on them, but adds that “they nevertheless represent a compromise that limits the rights and freedoms of refugees and too often remain after the emergency phase and the essential reasons for their existence have passed.”

“Camps should be the exception and, to the extent possible, a temporary measure,” states the policy.

Corliss of UNHCR explained that the policy was the result of an internal discussion and “a conviction that this is the right and most humane approach…

“The idea is to give people a meaningful choice and the opportunity to live a more dignified life,” he told IRIN.

Sonia Ben Ali, founding director of Urban Refugees, an NGO, described the new policy as “a milestone” and welcomed its rights-based approach. “It plays a very strong role in showing how UNHCR recognizes that camps are not the proper conditions for refugees to live in,” she told IRIN.

Getting host states on board could be tricky

She added that the success of the policy would depend to a large extent on how effective advocacy efforts will be, particularly in convincing host governments that alternatives to camps are not only better for refugees, but can also produce better outcomes for local economies and host communities.

“We need to address the [security and economic] concerns of host states, and for this we really need an evidence base,” she said.

Corliss agreed that there was a need to gather more evidence that alternatives to the camps’ approaches could benefit host communities, for example by allowing aid agencies to invest more in local infrastructure instead of funding parallel service delivery systems in camps.

“Refugees come with assets; they have a lot of human potential that can help stimulate the economy. It’s very important to document that so we can advocate for it.”

Researchers from Oxford University’s Humanitarian Innovation Project have begun this task with a recent study from Uganda showing that the majority of refugees who gained permission to live and work outside designated refugee settlements, found ways to sustain themselves without aid.

However, not everyone is confident that even evidence-based advocacy efforts will be enough to overcome resistance from host states that often has less to do with real concerns about refugees over-burdening local communities than with what Lucy Hovil, a senior researcher at the International Refugee Rights Initiative, referred to in a recent article as “realpolitik”.

In Kenya, for example, the dominant narrative that Somali refugees represent a security threat, has seen thousands of Somalis living in Nairobi pushed back to camps in the past six months.

Michael Kagan, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at Nevada University’s William S. Boyd School of Law, described the alternatives to camps’ policy as encouraging but “still aspirational”.

“The missing link is to explain how host governments can be persuaded to let refugees have more autonomy,” he said. “What is still not clear is how UNHCR will react when host governments refuse to abandon camps. Will UNHCR cooperate? Will they refuse? How hard will UNHCR push? Will UNHCR fall back on platitudes rather than standards? This, we don’t know.”

Change needed in livelihoods support

Corliss of UNHCR acknowledged that “creating an enabling environment in terms of law and policy” would be essential to the new policy’s success, but also pointed to the need for a “fundamental transformation in the way we do livelihoods programming”. Whereas in the past, livelihoods support has been used “as a kind of occupational therapy, to keep people busy in camps”, Corliss said UNHCR was moving towards “a much more hard-headed, market-oriented approach” that would help refugees acquire the appropriate skills to enter a host country’s job market or to start a small business.

Corliss added that bringing refugees to the point where they can achieve sustainable livelihoods requires “comprehensive support over a period of time”.

In recent years, UNHCR and other aid agencies have been experimenting with various ways of delivering that support to refugees dispersed throughout urban areas. “Cash-based interventions will be very important,” said Corliss, and have the added benefit of stimulating local economies. UNHCR is already making use of cash-based interventions in 94 operations around the world. In the longer term, however, there will be a need to work with development partners to strengthen local infrastructure such as public health systems.

“This is a policy that’s extremely ambitious and is going to have to be progressively implemented,” he told IRIN.

Guidance to help field staff operationalize the policy is still being developed and UNHCR will need buy-in from partners, including international NGOs, other UN agencies and donors, but most importantly host governments.

Kagan pointed out that outside camps, what refugees needed even more than aid was rights – “the right to work, the right to send your kids to school. These are the things refugees need in cities,” said Kagan. “They have to have rights to be able to rebuild their lives in dignity. And that requires government buy-in.”

Original article found on: IRIN

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Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s Political Transition

Original article found on: International Crisis Group

Kabul/Brussels | 16 Oct 2014afghanistan-16oct

In its latest report, Afghanistan’s Political Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the politics surrounding the deeply contested 2014 presidential election, analysing threats and opportunities. Any election during an escalating civil war will never reflect the full breadth of popular opinion, and the polls were marred by substantial fraud. Still, the most peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history creates opportunities to improve governance, reduce corruption and steer the country toward greater stability.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • The formation of a national unity government including Ghani and his election rival Abdullah Abdullah presents opportunities to stabilise the transition, preventing further erosion of state cohesion – but it also poses risks, particularly of factionalism within Kabul. Afghanistan and its donors must focus on the stability of the government while implementing the reforms promised in Ghani’s manifesto.
  • Ethnic tensions became more acute during the second round, in particular, as ethnic Pashtuns and Uzbeks rallied in large numbers around Ghani and his running mate Abdul Rashid Dostum; at the same time, Abdullah’s ticket became identified mainly with ethnic Tajiks and some Hazara factions. Reducing such mistrust will be crucial if this political transition is to survive.
  • Some of the political fallout from such a divisive process could be addressed with a transparent review of lessons to be applied to strengthen the 2015 parliamentary and 2019 presidential elections. Such a review, with the potential for reconsidering laws, regulations and even the constitution, may allow for some dilution of the winner-takes-all presidential system.
  • In the short term, Ghani and Abdullah must steer the government through urgent business, including satisfying the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), to prevent Afghanistan from being blacklisted by financial institutions and ensure continued donor support.

“Ghani and Abdullah will need to continue serving as voices of restraint as they strive to make the unity government function, and they deserve to receive international support in these efforts” says says Graeme Smith, Afghanistan Senior Analyst. “The Afghan government cannot afford to drift, and any disunity in Kabul will affect the country’s ability to fight its battles and pay its bills”.

“While the two candidates’ power-sharing deals may be imperfect, they have also opened a conversation about revising the overly centralised presidential system”, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser. “Afghanistan needs constitutional reforms to dilute some powers of the presidency and give more responsibilities to elected local officials. This would help mitigate factional tensions in the government and lower the stakes in future elections”.

Original article found on: International Crisis Group

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Development: The Peace Bridge to Nowhere

Original article found on: Foreign Policy

BY ANDREW BLUM SEPTEMBER 22, 2014

Changing how peacebuilding organizations measure success could save aid projects that are stuck trying to meet rigid, dated, and increasingly arbitrary goals in conflict zones.

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Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan — a depressing list, which seems to grow each day. It can be read as shorthand for human suffering and international tragedy. For the multitude of conflict prevention and humanitarian organizations that are committed to preventing the calamities that have struck these countries, the list is a sobering reminder of how much work needs to be done.

But it is also a reminder that this work demands continuous evaluation. The governments, foundations, and individuals that fund international aid work demand assurance that their money is being spent wisely; any hope for success demands being able to deploy smart, well-run programs. And doing that means being able to hold agencies and organizations accountable.

There’s a paradox, however. The challenges inherent to working in conflict zones means that strengthening the current approach to accountability — judging success against promises made years ahead of time — will create less effective programs, not better ones. The paradox is caused by a stable, slow-moving system, like the U.S. government, colliding with the unstable, rapidly changing conditions in conflict zones.

Virtually all of the work funded by the U.S. government or other international funders in areas of conflict follows a certain model: An agency identifies a problem and designs programming to address it, then hires a for-profit contractor or non-profit NGO to make it happen. Along with other independent agencies, such as inspectors general, the funding agency then tries to hold the hired organization accountable for achieving the objectives described in the original agreement. In the end, the results are supposed to check off the boxes from the initial plan, regardless of what might have happened in the interim.
Needless to say, this doesn’t always work out.

The rigid approach to implementing projects, not so surprisingly, has contributed to some well-documented failures. The final report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq (SIGIR) documented hundreds of abandoned projects that Iraqis are not using, including a $40 million prison that “will never hold a single Iraqi prisoner.” In her new book Peaceland, Severine Autesserre describes another illuminating failure: The United Nations sought to increase security in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by deploying additional police officers to the region. However, the police received no training, and the government of the DRC saw them as U.N. police, so refused to pay them. As Autesserre documents, the untrained, unpaid police became just another group preying on the local population, but at the end of the project, because the stated goal was to establish the force in the first place, the U.N. still claimed it as a success.

Lurking behind these failures is funding agencies’ normal accountability mechanisms, which simply don’t work when applied to conflict-affected areas because they make it very difficult to adapt programming to changing circumstances. As Andrew Natsios, the former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has argued, the accountability system in Washington, which he calls the counter-bureaucracy, “misapplies a domestic management lens to aid programs.”

Holding an organization accountable for building a highway bridge in Minnesota, for instance, requires a different approach than holding an organization accountable for building a Ministry of Justice in Libya.

Holding an organization accountable for building a highway bridge in Minnesota, for instance, requires a different approach than holding an organization accountable for building a Ministry of Justice in Libya.

Still, the need for accountability won’t change — working in challenging places cannot mean that organizations get a pass for not doing the job. But the way that success is measured and applied needs to evolve. So how should the U.S. government hold peacebuilders, contractors and NGOs, accountable in a way that actually makes sense?

To oversimplify a bit, the current approach is built around two basic questions that funding agencies ask: Did you do what you promised you would, and did it achieve the results you said it would? As a result, in the field, the plan drafted by the government — called a “scope-of-work” — guides every decision that contractors and NGOs make. Given how long planning and procurement can take for projects like the prison in Iraq, this means that contractors are often trying to fulfill promises made up to three years before projects even start.

To fix this process — that is, make it more responsive and agile — those questions should be focused on how the project achieved results in an unstable environment. The first question to program directors should be: What results did you achieve? Then, how did the project adapt to be most effective, given the changing context in which you are operating? Finally, what evidence do you have that supports your decisions regarding adapting your project?

Given the rigid, detailed planning processes that are the norm in U.S. government-funded projects, that may sound like a radical departure, but many of the building blocks are already in place. There are already examples of NGOs, international organizations, and U.S. government agencies that have adopted the flexible, adaptive programming that is required to be effective in conflict zones. The NGO Partners for Democratic Change, for instance, often uses a model that is based on establishing a permanent partner “center” within a conflict zone, such as Yemen or Colombia, as opposed to implementing a project with a set of pre-determined activities. A recent evaluation of this model claimed that, “as process experts, the Centers were able to adapt their programs and services to meet new needs and take advantage of new opportunities.” Religious networks, in part because they have independent sources of funding, have been employing a similar, so-called “window of opportunity” model for decades. This model relies on continuous presence in an area and the ability to respond flexibly to opportunities as they arise.

The U.S. Institute of Peace, where I work, uses a similar model, implementing something called Justice and Security Dialogues in six different conflict zones. The project, which consists of ongoing discussions between police and community organizations, is organized as a platform, as opposed to a strict set of activities. The nature of the dialogue and the problems addressed are regularly adapted based on the feedback received from the community and security services. This adaptation makes the dialogues better, and it makes it more likely they will succeed.

The truth of the matter is that it is easier than ever to get reliable feedback on how projects are working. New tools, including SMS-based cell phone surveys, civilian-controlled satellites and drones, social media, and groundbreaking big data projects (such as the GDELT initiative), all provide new and powerful ways to gather data within conflict contexts on both program activities and broader context. And gathering this information will only get easier. The challenge, therefore, is creating a feedback loop, and the only way this can happen is if projects are allowed to adapt in response to the data they gather.

Finally, there is hard evidence that adaptive projects are simply more effective. In a recent blog post, Duncan Green, a strategic advisor for Oxfam Great Britain, discusses a study of the evaluations of 10,000 development projects. The paper reports that, in general, giving program implementers flexibility to adapt to changing realities makes their projects more effective. That impact is stronger in complex environments like conflict zones. A recent evaluation of USAID reconciliation programming similarly found that “programs are most effective when they are adaptively implemented.”

Peacebuilders thus know how to implement adaptive programming, and they know it works. But many of the organizations doing good programming are succeeding despite the demands of their funders, compliance officers, or inspectors general. They find ways to be more flexible, while at the same time doing just enough to keep the “counter-bureaucracy” happy. The shift that is needed is an approach to accountability that doesn’t just create space at the margins for creative organizations to do flexible programming, but which demands that all organizations do this sort of programming. It must then require that organizations provide evidence explaining programming decisions they made and the results achieved. (As a bonus, this approach can safeguard taxpayers’ money.)

As rallying cries go, “More, but different accountability!” probably won’t inspire the masses to march in the streets. For peacebuilders, though, who are used to the long, hard, often dangerous tasks involved in helping countries put themselves back together, it might resonate. It’s time to stop making the hard work even harder.

 

Andrew Blum is the vice president for program management and evaluation at the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.

Original article found on: Foreign Policy

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Distribution: New Distributor for The Fruit of Our Labor

download (1)CSFilm recently teamed up with Documentary Educational Resources (DER) to take over further distribution of The Fruit of Our Labor: Afghan Perspectives in Film.

The mission of DER is to promote thought-provoking documentary film and media for learning about the people and cultures of the world. The main objectives of DER are to promote cross-cultural understanding, provide innovation and authenticity in storytelling and cinematic representation, to provide access to and preservation of the films, and to maintain a high quality of films.

“We represent films with enduring value as documents of human societies and cultures, that portray unique subjectivities, record diverse cultural practices and beliefs, and offer insights into the procefilmsses underlying social and cultural continuity and change. We look for films that reflect deep cultural knowledge, whether through research or the close collaboration of filmmaker and subjects.”

Visit the DER website to learn more about their work and if you haven’t already, view and learn more about CSFilm’s collection of Afghan-made films, The Fruit of Our Labor.

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Funding: Swiss Development Coop. Funds Haiti Project

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The Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) in Haiti has made a grant of $42,000 toward our Haitian Perspectives in Film project! The support of our project is part of the SDC’s newest focus on media development and communications as an integral part of Haitian economic and social development.

We are their first project as part of this new initiative to strengthen the use of communications and media to facilitate effective development.

This funding, in addition to your generous individual donations, will allow us to conduct the training in Haiti this fall which will produce a collection of Haitian films to be released in advance of the 5th anniversary of the Haitian earthquake in January 2015. The trainee’s films will serve to hold international and local governments and organizations accountable for effective aid and good governance.SDC photo

We are still in need of funds to support the public engagement campaign in January 2015 which will use the films to inject Haitian views into the international dialogue about Haiti! Please donate if you can.

 

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Partnership: New Haitian Media Partner

 

downloadHaiti’s Groupe Medialternatif (GMA, Alternative Media Group) has joined CSFilm to implement the Haitian Perspectives in Film project. Participation of local community media partners like GMA assure that CSFilm’s efforts are informed by local knowledge and experience, integrated into the existing Haitian media-making environment, therefore locally owned and better positioned for sustainable impact. GMA will coordinate Haitian distribution of the films while CSFilm concentrates on international usage.

parnerGMA is the leading independent media group in Haiti. Its mission is to foster a safe space for communication and information as part of an alternative vision based on respect for human rights and ethical rules governing the journalist profession.

The priority of Groupe Medialternatif is to provide information on political, economic, social and cultural processes and to involve members of social movements, human rights groups, development agencies, research institutions, etc.

Please visit GMA and affiliate AlterPresse’s websites to learn more.You will be able to follow our progress at CSFilm.org and on Facebook and Twitter.

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Afghanistan: There’s no hiding US failure in Afghanistan

Originalar ticle found on: Ground Truth

By Ben Brody on October 2nd, 2014

Blog: Troops who remain on the ground no longer try to sugarcoat the reality that the war has accomplished little of permanence.

Deep into the drawdown, fuel is no longer distributed to smaller bases by road — it is too dangerous and there aren't enough trucks. Two Chinooks at Kandahar Airfield prepare to deliver fuel containers to a small contingent of troops at FOB Apache in neighboring Zabul Province. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

Deep into the drawdown, fuel is no longer distributed to smaller bases by road — it is too dangerous and there aren’t enough trucks. Two Chinooks at Kandahar Airfield prepare to deliver fuel containers to a small contingent of troops at FOB Apache in neighboring Zabul Province. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — In ten years of covering the American military at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve become pretty used to the avalanche of Orwellian strategic messaging that comes with an embed. “Good news” is highlighted and discussed without context or sense of irony, “bad news” is excluded.

This last trip to Afghanistan was different. I was primarily there to cover the mechanics of the drawdown of troops, so of course the drawdown itself was presented as running along pretty smoothly. Fair enough. But this time there was no attempt to put the current mission into the larger context of a successful endgame. Even the military’s own messaging experts won’t touch a conclusion that absurd.

Iraq was always more saturated with strategic spin than Afghanistan, and no amount of unbridled optimism was ever considered unseemly or naive in the military’s eyes. I’ll never forget when a brigade commander told me that he expected his 4,000 soldiers to control Baghdad so thoroughly that no additional troops would be necessary at the end of his tour.

This was in January 2005, the insurgency in full swing, Sadr City boiling over. As the cradle of civilization burned, his media embeds were shown pointless construction projects and soldiers handing out Beanie Babies to children.

In Afghanistan, embedded reporters have been typically given more free rein, particularly during the 2009-2012 troop surge. At that time, it was easy to get to an isolated combat outpost and patrol alongside ground troops for weeks at a time. That brings its own editorial challenges, as reporters are expected to bond with troops through shared hardship, gradually nudging war coverage toward the positive.

Certainly, the story of the American war in Afghanistan has its positive aspects, but you can’t accurately tell the story of building a school for girls without putting it in the context of its tenuous lease on life and impending collapse.

As US troops leave their combat outposts, the Taliban is resurgent in a few key places and the Afghan Army is hard pressed in Helmand, the poppy-growing capital. Kabul is more dangerous for foreigners than ever, due to a new Taliban strategy of opportunistic assassinations. A few weeks ago, a US soldier momentarily stepped out of his armored truck to help a Kabul police officer direct traffic.

A Taliban fighter who happened to be nearby seized the moment, and stabbed the soldier to death before fleeing on a motorcycle.

Whether or not the Afghan Army can hold their ground against the Taliban in the Pashtun south, electricity is about to become a serious problem there with USAID’s failure to move the Kajaki Dam hydroelectric project forward. Kandahar City could be essentially without electricity from 2015 to 2018, according to the US military’s best-case-scenario projections.

The Taliban’s murderous goals and the continuing debacle of Kajaki, however, are relatively minor problems compared with the makings of a civil war that have been brewing over the presidential election. Afghanistan has been in a state of political and economic paralysis for the last ten months, as a tainted election threatens to draw at least four northern provinces into open rebellion against the central government.

The makeshift power-sharing solution, with Ashraf Ghani named president and his rival Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive, is a tenuous arrangement at best. Both men have different visions for Afghanistan, and it’s hard to imagine an era of compromise and consensus springing forth in Kabul.

Many soldiers and airmen I spoke with casually — at the chow hall, at the bazaar, waiting at the flight line — said they felt conflicted about the drawdown. They all see Afghanistan quickly descending into chaos as the Americans leave, perhaps even before, however they disagree about whether 50 or more years of occupation would fundamentally change anything about the place for the better.

“It’s rewarding to be able to say that we’re helping get NATO home,” said Maj. Chris Carmichael, whose unit is responsible for shipping the bulk of military equipment from Bagram Airfield to the United States. “But in my own opinion, we need to be here another 50 to 70 years. Look at South Korea and how they’re a major economic powerhouse now. How can you change a whole culture in 10 years?”

After 13 years of war, you’d be hard pressed to find a soldier who believes that a few more years of boots on the ground in Afghanistan would put the country on the road to stability, much less prosperity. Of course many young soldiers want to go out and fight there anyway, but that is not because they believe in the larger strategic gambit. Combat is the central rite of passage in America’s all-volunteer military culture, and an entire generation of soldiers before them have had that experience.

One clear winner has emerged from the murky, indecisive conflict in Afghanistan: the companies employing military contractors. Troop levels are a bit misleading, as they do not prescribe the number of contractors on the ground. At the end of 2014, Bagram Airfield will house approximately 5,000 troops, and 10,000 contractors.

President Ghani has signed a deal that permits 9,800 US soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, but soldiers already there say that number is arbitrary and that the military will hire as many contractors as they need to in order to accomplish the missions they prioritize.

Bagram Airfield is the nerve center for the military drawdown in Afghanistan, and the place where the most US troops will be stationed after 2014. The mechanics and machinery of the drawdown are impressive. The new hardened US headquarters buildings have an amazingly solid, imperious feel to them, as though they are meant to last forever as monuments to an occupation that transformed Afghanistan for the better.

They also feel more sterile than a building in Afghanistan has any right to be, insulated from both Taliban rockets and from the reality of the continuing conflict — as well as the country’s history as the graveyard of empires. The crumbling Soviet office buildings and aircraft hangars next door probably felt the same way 30 years ago.

Originalar ticle found on: Ground Truth

 

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