Friday, 21 December 2012

Women Farmers in Tanzania - I'm a farmer, get me out of there!

Women farmers at the Maisha Plus Village teach youngsters from the city how to grow and prepare their food/Sven Torfinn
I spent a few days in a typical African village in Tanzania with thatched huts, water well, goats and scrawny chickens scurrying about, but this village was actually built from scratch at a secret location in the Pawni region. It was the set for a Big Brother-type show organized by the international development charity Oxfam and the popular Tanzanian reality TV show Maisha Plus. Fourteen women who farm small plots of land in rural Tanzania and 26 youths from the cities competed for the titles of "Mama Shujaa Wa Chakula" (woman food hero) and youth food hero.
The idea was to give young contestants and millions of viewers a taste of what women in Africa go through to put food on the table with limited resources and in the face of enormous challenges. It was also a rare opportunity to celebrate them, put farming and gender issues on the agenda and force politicians to listen.

Here is a short blog post I've written for the Economist:

The EconomistFarming in Tanzania

I'm a farmer, get me out of here

Dec 18th 2012, 9:57 by V.M. | DAR ES SALAAM

STARS of most reality television shows spend their time nibbling earwigs, sunbathing and bickering. Those taking part in a Big Brother-style show recently broadcast in Tanzania, however, had a more productive experience.

Fourteen farmers, all women, and 26 urban youngsters were thrown together in a specially constructed village under near 24-hour TV surveillance. The women set daily tasks from their own lives—growing vegetables, looking after cows or fetching water—which the teenagers had to complete in order to survive. The farmers were given farming tips and got to talk to politicians and policy-makers in the "diary room".

In Tanzania, as in many African countries, women produce much of the food that feeds their people, but few own their land. "Women are treated as tractors, but they have to treat their husbands like angels," said one of the contestants.

The Women Food Heroes competition, run by Oxfam and "Maisha Plus", a popular Tanzanian reality TV show, gave the young contestants and its viewers a taste of what women in Tanzania endure to put food on the table. It was a rare opportunity to promote women’s voices and celebrate their contribution, says Mwanahamisi Salimu of Oxfam. It was also a chance to push for them to have access to the same kind of support and rights already available to men farmers, she continues. It showed that small-scale agriculture is a sustainable way of feeding the country.

Broadcast nightly on the biggest national network and promoted on social media, radio and newspapers, the programme reached more than half the population. In the countryside, people gathered in community centres to watch it. Its popularity has forced politicians to talk about farming, a subject about which they are usually fairly quiet.

The winner, Sister Martha Mwasu Waziri from Dodoma, who won $6,300 to buy farming equipment, says she wants to turn her farm—which she built on a scrap of wasteland—into a demonstration farm to show others what they can achieve. "I learned so much here and that is more important to me than winning the competition," says Mary Kamwaka Maumbi, another finalist. "I’ve learned how to do a crop calendar, when to start breeding my pigs and when to inoculate them, how to get my produce to the market and what to do with my money.  I’ll put everything into practice and will show others how to do it.  It will have an impact on my whole village."

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Women Connect, Build Peace

Here is a great initiative that brings together women from Arab, Muslim and Western communities around the world to help breaking down cultural and religious stereotypes and misunderstandings.

The Connection Point Dialogue was launched a year ago by Peace X Peace, a global women’s peacebuilding network, to counter the alarming rise in Islamophobia.

It is a forum for open, informal, real-time communication that can humanize distant peoples and expand worldviews.  The first phase was a blog where women from all over the world could write, ask questions, debate and learn about one another. The second phase uses videoconferencing to further the cross-cultural exchanges.

Stephanie Knox Cubbon, one of the program’s facilitators, says:  "Though we come from different places, we share many challenges and issues, and together we can learn strategies to overcome these challenges. The Connection Point Dialogue allows women not only to examine these challenges, but to brainstorm ways to take collective action to make the world more peaceful for today's increasingly globalized world, a program like this is needed now more than ever."

Founded in 2002, Peace X Peace (pronounce Peace by Peace) involves 20,000 women in 125 countries.  Their programs promote gender equity and peacebuilding through leadership development, mentorship, public policy and intercultural dialogue. They are great! Read more about them here and look for their posts on my blogroll. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Kampala Convention – Africa takes the lead to help IDPs

IDPs in a DRC camp/IDMC- Nicolas Postal

Across the world, millions of people are forced to flee their homes because of war, natural disasters and other reasons, but have not crossed an internationally recognised border: they are internally displace people (IDPs). As such, they are not refugees and don’t have any special status under international law.

But today, Africa has made global history by pioneering a ground-breaking new legal framework to protect and assist them.  The Kampala Convention, which came into force today (6th December 2012), is a tool designed by Africa for Africans, which binds governments to provide legal protection for the rights and well-being of those forced to flee inside their home countries due to conflict, violence, natural disasters or development projects.

Almost 40 per cent of the all the people worldwide who have been displaced within their own country as a result of conflict or violence live in Africa. The continent is home to 9.8 million people displaced by conflict – almost four times the number of refugees in the region. When those forced from their homes by other events, such as natural disasters are included, this figure is even higher.
The Kampala Convention is an innovative and comprehensive framework that seeks to address the needs of internally displaced people and the communities that take them in, and to help them find solutions to reestablish their lives. Among measures national authorities must take under the Kampala Convention are:
• gathering data on and identify IDPs to understand where they are and what they need.
• providing personal ID documents.
• tracing family members and help to reunite them
• consult with IDPs in decisions related to their needs

The reality is that right now, people are forced to flee their homes for a whole host of causes, from natural disasters such as floods and droughts, forced evictions because of development projects such as dam building or logging projects, as well as war, conflict and violence,’’ said Kim Mancini, Senior Training and Legal Officer at the Internal DisplacementMonitoring Centre (IDMC). ‘’The Kampala Convention is comprehensive in that it addresses the multiple causes of displacement, so this signals an important step towards addressing the plight of millions of Africans who are uprooted from their homes.’’
"While recognising the responsibility on states and enabling IDPs to claim their rights is a huge achievement, and one which we hope will encourage other world leaders to follow suit, this is a beginning, not an end,” says Sebastían Albuja, Head of the Africa Department at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre(IDMC). “The convention will not in itself create significant concrete change for internally displaced people until measures are taken by the 15 countries currently legally bound by the convention to ensure that it is reflected in their national legislation and made into a concrete reality.’’
 The Convention was actually adopted by the African Union (AU) on 23 October 2009. But it only came into force today, 30 days after Swaziland became the 15th country to ratify it, pushing the Convention over the threshold necessary for it to become legally binding.
 The countries which have ratified the Kampala Convention are:
 Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Gambia, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and most recently, Swaziland. 

While 15 countries are now legally bound by the convention, 37 of the 53 countries in the AU have signed it, which means that they are committed to its content, but they are not legally bound by it. "The countries who have not yet adopted the convention must do so, as a legal framework is the very basis of ensuring the rights and well-being of people forced to flee inside their home country’’ says Albuja.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Sun's page 3: 'boobs are not news' say protesters' video

Non-British readers might not know this, but our best-selling newspaper, the Sun (circ. 2.7 million), features daily a topless young woman on page 3.  When I present the Sun newspaper as part of an overview of the British media in my journalism class, my international students are rather incredulous and many are deeply offended. Here, people are used to it and no one raises an eyebrow at the men who slowly study their page 3. on the tube.  Young women apparently volunteer to figure there and boyfriends send pictures of their sweethearts to the Sun as a tribute to their beauty.  But many women resent this blatant sexism in our media and have campaigned against page 3. for decades
Last week, on the 42nd anniversary of the first topless woman appearing on page 3 of the Sun, the human rights group Object led a protest against the tabloid's sexism and objectification of women. Demonstrators prepared giant birthday cards – one with images of  topless women from the tabloids and one with fully-clothed professional men from the same papers – and delivered them in front of the office of the Sun's editor, Dominic Mohan, at News International's headquarters in London. 

Mohan defended page 3. as an "innocuous British institution" while giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry in February.  And previous Sun’s editors, including Rebekah Wade (now Brooks), have always maintained that page 3. is part of the DNA of the paper and that people who object could simply not buy the paper. But that’s not the point: even if we don’t read the Sun, the images are there. What is the impact of continuously presenting women as sex objects and men as doers?
By the way, when protestors put a photograph of the birthday cards on Facebook, it was swiftly removed without warning, because the explicit images apparently violate Facebook's terms. Yet these images came from our national newspapers, fully available to all, sold in supermarkets and newsagents.
And it’s not like pages. 3 are a blip in media portraying women as capable and respectable.   It would help if there were at least more positive images of women and more women's voices to balance this out. But as numerous projects have shown, this is far from the case.  A report by Women in Journalism last month showed that women account for just 16% of those mentioned or quoted in lead stories. And when they were mentioned, they were often presented as victims. (See my previous blog post about this.)
Women have campaigned against page. 3 all along without much success, but let’s hope the Leveson inquiry will help bring a new focus on sexism in the media.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Anish Kapoor does a Gangnam Style in support of Ai Weiwei

Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor has made a rousing (and funny!) video in support of prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. 

Amnesty International activists and various artists gathered at Anish Kapoor’s London studio this week to shoot a parody of South Korean rapper Psy’s mega hit Gangnam Style film in support of Ai.  Ai’s had done his own version last month, featuring the original video interspersed with clips of him and friends doing the popular dance, wearing handcuffs to represent the lack of freedom of speech in China. The film was immediately removed from the web by the Chinese authorities.
Kapoor’s parody version, called "Gangnam for Freedom", was choreographed by Akram Khan, who helped craft the Olympic opening ceremony for London 2012.  Leading figures from the arts, including artists Mark Wallinger, Bob and Roberta Smith and Tom Phillips, dancers Tamara Rojo and Deborah Bull, Southbank Centre Director Jude Kelly, made cameo appearances.  

The video also includes contributions sent from MoMA, Guggenheim, New Museum, Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; Helen Bamber; Hanif Kurieshi, and many others.  
Kapoor, who sported a brigh pink T-shirt in the video, said: “Our film aims to make a serious point about freedom of speech and freedom of expression. It is our hope that this gesture of support for Ai Weiwei and all prisoners of conscience will be wide-ranging and will help to emphasize how important these freedoms are to us all.” 
The film has won support from various human rights organizations, among them, Amnesty, Liberty, Index on Censorship and The Helen Bamber Foundation.  
Museums and organizations around the world will be screening the film, including the ICA who will be showing the film prior to each feature shown in their cinema from Friday, for two weeks.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Judgement day – Iran Tribunal exposes mass massacres of the 1980s

Family members of political prisoners executed during mass massacres of the 1980s and the summer of 1988, gather at Tehran’s Khavaran cemetery to commemorate their loved ones/ Iran Tribunal 
Following a harrowing three-day hearing at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Iran Tribunal, a tribunal of conscience, delivered its interim judgement on October 27th.  According to the tribunal, the Islamic Republic of Iran committed crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights against its citizens committed during “the bloody decade” of 1980s.

This is a monumental achievement for the survivors and families of the victims of the mass massacres of political prisoners in the 1980s. The Tribunal has allowed their voices to be officially recorded and heard in court for the first time in 25 years. Unlike atrocities in Rwanda, Srebrenica and General Pinochet's Chile, they never had any opportunity for justice and legal redress.

"The consequences of this judgment are profound,” says Prof John Cooper QC, the lead prosecutor at the tribunal. “It finally provides an independent and authoritative finding that the Islamic Republic of Iran [was] responsible for murdering and torturing [its] citizens on a staggering scale. This judgment, along with the carefully documented evidence from over 100 victims can now be presented to the international community as part of the victim's fight for justice.”

When the judgment was announced, the courtroom fell quiet.  The silence was thick with emotions held back for 25 years. Then the people in the assembly slowly stood up and held pictures of their loved ones killed by the Iranian regime in the purges of the 1980s.  All were weeping.

For me, it was an emotional moment as well as I have come to know many survivors and bereaved over the many years I’ve been trying to report the story. I’ve followed the making of the Iran Tribunal - a grassroots movement created by survivors and families of victims because no official bodies would investigate their complaints.  It is a testament to their determination and resilience that they’ve managed to put the truth out there after all these years. The process also exposes shortcomings of the UN and other international bodies, which were supposed to investigate these atrocities. For information about the Truth Commission, the first stage of the Iran Tribunal, click here.

Read my blog in the Economist about the Iran Tribunal’s judgement here.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

It’s a Men’s World - Men still dominate British newspapers

Plus ça change…

I was shocked by the recent research carried on by Women in Journalism, a networking and campaigning organization I am a member of, showing that men still dominate not only the stories on national newspaper’s front pages, but the bylines as well.  They studied all the major UK national daily newspaper's front pages from 16 April to 13 May this year.

When you look around newspaper offices and TV stations today, there seem to be as many women as men, but when it comes to writing the news or appearing in it, women still can't quite make it up to a third of all contributions.

What appears on front pages is important because, despite declining readership and revenues, they still help dictate the day's agenda for both online and broadcast news.

The study found that 78 per cent of all front page bylines were male, versus 22 per cent female, with wide variance between titles. The Daily Express was the title with the most female bylines with a 50/50 split. The Independent had the least – a pathetic 9 per cent!

The content of the lead stories was also dominated by men, according to the WIJ research.  Eighty-four per cent of those quoted or mentioned by name in front-page stories were men. However, 79 per cent of those who might qualify as "victims" in front-page stories were women.  I guess the same might be said about the coverage of Africa news. 

But that’s not all. Across newsrooms, three quarters of news journalists are men while women make up just a third of journalists covering business and politics, according the WIJ research.  When I started as a journalist more than 20 years ago, the figures were similar. It is so depressing to see that nothing at all has changed after all these years. And it is not just the coverage of politics, business and sports that men dominate, but they also make 70 per cent of arts reporters and up 49 per cent of lifestyle reporters.  

Women were also found to be less likely to be in senior newspaper positions, with eight out of the top ten newspapers having almost twice as many male editors as women editors.

Sue Matthias, who is a Women in Journalism's committee member and edits the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, said: "Women's rights in the workplace may have improved, but this research shows that there is still a long way to go in British newspapers.

"The gender imbalance we have uncovered is shocking and it seems old attitudes are still alive and well in many places."

What surprises me is that during the eight years I have been teaching journalism, the majority of my students have been women. Yet, the jobs still seem to go to men. Why is this so?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Microfinance - Grameen Bank under Threat

VSL meeting in a suburb of Accra, Ghana/Fjona Hill

Writing about development and humanitarian issues, I am well aware of the importance of microloans and how non-profit lenders and savings and loans associations can help change lives (see my recent post and article in the Economist on Village Savings and Loans Associations. Also, if you want a clear explanation of how microcredit works, see the excellent graphic at the end of this post).

So, I was alarmed reading this recent appeal from the global campaigning group Avaaz that the Grameen Bank is under threat.

The Grameen Bank is very different from traditional banks. They loan money to 8.4 million people, mostly women from the poorest villages in Bangladesh, so they can buy assets like cows or sewing machines and start earning money. These women borrowers also run the bank -- they are not only the majority shareholders, 9 out of 12 seats on the board are held by village women in saris.

I haven’t had time to verify Avaaz’s claims and I know that the Grameen Bank has come under criticism over the past few years for tax evasion. There were also accusations that microcredit can bring communities into debt from which they cannot escape and that the Grameen Bank was linked to exploitation and pressures on poor families to sell their belongings.  (That’s why I prefer the Village Savings and Loans model in which the money comes from the community itself.)

I don’t know what is behind the Bangladeshi government’s decision regarding the bank, but here is what Avaaz says:   “Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina wants to end Grameen Bank as we know it.  She first stripped Dr. Yunus’ position as the bank’s managing director, and now just passed a law that would allow the government to bypass the people-elected board and handpick his successor. We fear that the government may use its newfound power to manipulate millions of members for votes in next year’s election.

“Grameen's downfall would be a disaster for Bangladesh and the larger microcredit movement that is working to improve lives across the globe.”  Avaaz is asking people to sign their urgent petition to PM Hasina.

Here is a very good graphic, which explains clearly the process of microloans and how microlending, if done correctly, can help millions of people around the world. The graphic is produced by, a personal finance blog by a team of experts focusing on all things credit and debt related.

 Microlending Infographic

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Transformational Media – Can the media be a force for good?

As I write about human rights, social justice and development, my stories are often about hardship, injustice and abuse.  These stories are depressing. They are hard on my readers and on myself.  I believe these stories need to be told,  but there might be another way to tell them. Increasingly, I’ve tried to look for the positive, even in the most depressing stories, to seek solutions instead of just outlining problems. We all need hope.

So, I was intrigued when I found in my mailbox an invitation to attend a Transformational Media conference at Sadler's Wells in London on 27-28 Sept.  The conference’s website describes Transformational Media this way: “Transformation Media may be focused on inner qualities, inspiring stories or on practical solutions. It is transformational in the sense that its goal is to transform conflict into peace, to unite rather than divide, and transform environmental destruction into living in harmony with the natural world.”

Just what I was looking for!  

It could have been a lot of hot air – and there was some of that, but on the whole, the summit was inspiring and exciting. Over two days, journalists, film-makers, musicians, publishers, web designers and other creative people focused on how the media could bring solutions to cultural, social, environmental and economic problems.

My favourites included a wonderful story-telling workshop with Dara Marks, a leading Hollywood script consultant, exploring the power of myths, and a talk by former BBC and ITV national news anchor Martyn Lewis, in which he argued for the media to achieve a fairer balance between the positive and the negative, and analyse success and achievement as well as failure and disaster.

Gilles Vanderpooten told us why he created Reporters d’Espoir (Reporters of Hope) to encourage the media reframe problems in term of solutions and help mediatise positive innovative initiatives.

Actor Felicity Finch, who plays Ruth in the Archers and worked on radio dramas in Rwanda and Afghanistan, explained how radio soaps can be used to convey important messages , such as HIV and domestic violence. Journalist Catherine Gyldensted has developed a “positive news” module to teach in journalism schools. She said journalists needed new heroes - not just muckrakers and war reporters, but reporters of positive changes. Musician and TV & radio presenter Clemency Burton-Hill talked about what happens when people listen to music together and how music can change lives.

Other speakers included Greg Barrow from the UN World Food Programme; BBC World Affairs Producer Stuart Hughes; Jarvis Smith, founder of Green Magazine; Julie Mollins from Reuters AlertNet; Anna Coote, head of Social Policy at the New Economic Foundation and  Beadie Finzi, foundation director of BRITDOC.

“The vision is for the event to become an annual global gathering exploring emerging trends and how media can be a force for good in the world,” says Jeremy Wickremer, founder of Ideal Media, who organized the summit.

I truly hope something will come out of this…

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Women’s rights heroes wanted

Do you know someone who has made a significant difference on the ground in promoting women's rights? If yes, please nominate them for the upcoming Trust Women Award 2012.

The Trust Women Award 2012 is part of the Trust Women Conference, a joint venture between Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune, dedicated to forging real solutions to challenges faced by women worldwide.

The award seeks to celebrate an innovator whose bold thinking and high-impact work has helped women defend and advance their rights. Another award will be presented to a journalist who has made a significant contribution to the coverage of women’s rights in 2012.

Nominees will be judged on the groundbreaking nature of their work, its impact and scalability. The winner will be acknowledged through Reuters and IHT channels, including a profile in the IHT, and will receive a cash prize of $5,000 to help further their work.

The closing date for entries is Monday, 8 October, 2012. Shortlisted nominees will be notified in late October. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, 4 December 2012 in London.

You can download an application form from this website.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Poverty in the UK – Save the Children launches first domestic appeal


Save the Children is best known for its work with starving children in Africa or Asia, but this time, the international aid charity is turning its attention to the UK – the world’s sixth richest country.   

The charity is launching “It Shouldn’t Happen Here”,  its first-ever domestic appeal to help children across the UK have hot meals, adequate shoes, winter clothes and other necessities they cannot afford because their parents have been hit hard by budget cuts and the recession.

The charity is hoping to raise £500,000  - a modest goal compared to its international humanitarian appeals – but its symbolic impact is huge. It shows the failure of the coalition government to tackle mounting poverty and inequality in the UK.

 "It is shocking to think that in the UK in 2012, families are being forced to miss out on essentials like food or take on crippling debts just to meet everyday living costs,” says Chris Wellings, Save the Children's UK head of policy.  "Poverty in the UK is different to some of the poorer countries in the world. It is more nuanced and poses different problems. But it does not mean that we cannot stand up for children's rights in the UK."

According to a survey of 5,000 UK adults commissioned by Save the Children:
• Nearly two thirds of parents in poverty (61%) say they have cut back on food and over a quarter (26%) say they have skipped meals in the past year.
• One in five parents in poverty says they cannot afford to replace their children's worn-out shoes, while 80% of parents in poverty say they have had to borrow money to pay for food and clothes over the past 12 months.
• Some 44% of families in poverty say that "every week they are short of money", while 29% say they have "nothing left to cut back on".

Not surprisingly, financial worries are taking a toll on parents’ physical and mental well-being, triggering arguments and other signs of family stress, the survey indicates. 

Save the Children is calling on the government to stick to its 2020 child poverty targets, to encourage more employers to give the current living wage of £7.20 to  £8.30 an hour, provide extra childcare support for low-income parents and allow parents to keep more of their earnings before benefits are withdrawn. 

The charity's Shouldn't Happen Here report is the second high-profile study by an international aid charity to focus on domestic poverty in recent months. Oxfam's Perfect Storm, published in June, said that cuts and rising living costs were threatening to return the UK to levels of inequality not seen since Victorian times.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Thousands sill missing in Balkans

The beautiful Mostar Bridge has been rebuilt, but elsewhere the scars from the Balkan wars are still visible and raw/Veronique Mistiaen

I’ve recently travelled through Bosnia and Croatia, and was shocked to see that two decades after the Balkan wars, the scars are still so visible and raw: many buildings are still in ruins or poked with bullet holes. People are suspicious and deeply divided, and many children are growing up without ever meeting a child from another ethnic group. Across the Balkans, thousands of people are still missing.

Today, some 14,000 people remain unaccounted for in the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia – nearly half of the total number who disappeared in the decade since war broke out in 1991.
Between 1991 and 2001, a total of 34,700 people were reported missing due to enforced disappearances or abductions in the region. The majority of their relatives are still waiting for justice.
In a briefing published yesterday on the International Day of the Disappeared, The right to know: Families still left in the dark in the Balkans, Amnesty International calls on the authorities in the Balkans to investigate enforced disappearances – crimes under international law – and to ensure the victims and their families receive access to justice and reparations.
Not far from the Mostar Bridge, many buildings are still in ruins/Veronique Mistiaen

Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director, Jezerca Tigani, said:
“People living in the Balkans have not closed the chapter on enforced disappearances. They are a daily source of pain for the relatives still waiting to learn the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, still searching for truth, justice and reparation.
“The victims of enforced disappearances come from all ethnic groups and from all walks of life. Civilians and soldiers, men, women and children – their families have the right to know the truth about the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and the result of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person. For families of the disappeared, having the body returned for burial is the first step towards achieving justice.
 “The lack of investigations and prosecutions of enforced disappearances and abductions remains a serious concern throughout the Balkans.  
“The major obstacle to tackling impunity and bringing the perpetrators to justice is a persistent lack of political will in all countries of the region.”
The briefing highlights cases of enforced disappearances and abductions in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia and Kosovo. All six governments have failed to abide by their international legal obligations to effectively investigate and prosecute these crimes.
Some perpetrators have been brought to justice by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but the Tribunal is nearing the end of its mandate.
Domestic courts are slow to abide by their responsibility to seek out, identify and prosecute the remaining perpetrators.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Ikal Angelei fights giant dam

Ikal Angelei/courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize
 In my work, I come across numerous projects designed to bring progress and development to developing countries across the world. Often, these projects affect the environment and clash with human rights of local populations – sometimes violently so.   I often wonder how to strike the right balance?

I’ve recently spoken with Ikal Angelei, a remarkable young Kenyan whose fight to save Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake from Africa’s biggest dam project, has thrust her at the forefront of one of the most polarizing environmental and economic battles in Africa.

When built, the Ethiopian-led Gibe III Dam will nearly double electrical output to Ethiopia, and Kenya is expected to purchase a third of the power generated from it. The Ethiopian and Kenyan governments believe the energy is vital to fuel development, and the project had the backing of China, the World Bank and other major investors.  But Angelei worried that the giant dam would deprive local communities from vital water and cause more bloodshed in an already volatile region.  “The dam will cause further scarcity of resources and exacerbate conflicts in an already fragile region. Communities there are in need of water and food much more than electricity.”

She made it her mission to stop the dam. She founded Friends of Lake Turkana and worked tirelessly to inform local chiefs and elders about the implications of the project. She also approached academics, politicians and influential people across the world in person and through social media.

Angelei addressing villagers on lake's shores/courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize

Amazingly, she has succeeded in stopping the dam in its tracks through effective campaigning of the Kenyan parliament and UNESCO.  For her work and courage, the 31 year old has been awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize – a sort of Nobel Prize for grassroots environmental activists.

When asked what she would tell her critics who argue that her campaign is blocking much needed development in Kenya and Ethiopia, she replied:

“We are witnessing governments destroy the environment to increase their GDPs.  While we appreciate the need to develop, meet Millennium goals by 2015, and agree that we all have to solve the current problems of access to energy and employment, we cannot achieve these at the expense of the environment, especially with the availability of alternatives and the reality of climate change."  She pointed out that both Kenya and Ethiopia have wind and geothermal energy resources.

"Progress cannot leave people or the Earth worse off. We are not against development: we can develop in a sustainable way, in a way that would not violate human rights and destroy the environment."

 Read my article about Angelei in the summer issue of the New Internationalist here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

England riots one year on – Hackney’s youths reflect on freedom and safety

Freedom/Lydia Noura, 16

To mark the anniversary of the devastating riots, which spread across the country last summer, Art Against Knives is hosting an exhibit exploring notions of freedom and safety in London’s Hackney’s diverse community.

Through film, audio, photography, painting and writing, the exhibition showcases the community’s response to the riots, police’s stop-and-search and freedom. The work is the result of collaborations between established photographers and young people from the borough.

The exhibition, which opens on Thursday 9 August at the Art Against Knives Gallery in Shoreditch and runs until the end of the month, kick-starts ‘STOP AND TALK’, a nationwide campaign that calls for better and fairer relationships between the police and young people.

The exhibit’s opening night also features a talk on journalism and the riots with award-winning Guardian journalist Paul Lewis, as well as a preview of Pagan, a short film about Kes, a 18-year-old from Hackney caught between the police and rival gangs. The film opens to the public on 31st August at Dalston Eastern Curve/V22.

For many young people, the borough is a haven of arts, culture and fashion, but for Kes and thousands who grew up here, most of the area is off-limits.  Large parts of Hackney have been claimed by one gang or another, and though most people have no idea where the borders lie, for Kes these invisible lines dictate where he goes and what he does in the place he calls home.

Instead of being able to turn to the police, young black people like Kes are 30 times more likely to be stopped-and-searched than white people, so the presence of officers on the streets only makes them feel less safe.

Stop and Search/Ondre Roach, 18

Hackney has been simmering with discontent as young people find themselves on the wrong side of the police and increasing social inequality. Last year's riots saw the borough reach boiling point.

The 'STOP AND TALK’ campaign is asking the police to try to better understand young people, connect with them and protect them rather than automatically see them as suspects.

Art Against Knives is a youth-led charity, which works to reduce the causes of knife crime through art initiatives and providing an alternative to violent gang culture.

The charity was born from the tragic and unprovoked stabbing of Oliver Hemsley, a 21-year-old student from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design. The attack, which has left Oliver in a wheelchair, took place in Shoreditch, East London in August 2008. Art Against Knives decided to create something positive from this terrible experience.

Art Against Knives Gallery, Unit 55, Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London E1 6GJ