Congo Watch: July 2005

Sunday, July 31, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classrooms are crowded, and the all-too-familiar scenario of children sharing outdated textbooks is still very much in evidence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential pitfalls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 23, 2005

DR Congo: New Congolese rebels from Uganda cause worry

Today, I started a new blog called Niger Watch and posted at Uganda Watch. So, it has been helpful updating this blog up with part of a Great Lakes news round-up by Congo Girl for which I most grateful. Thanks CG!

Donors agree to provide $100 million more for polls - European donors and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo committed themselves on Tuesday to provide an additional €85 million ($100 million) for democratic elections in the central African country, but officials say more money is still needed. - 12 Jul 2005 (IRIN)

UN says it needs an extra US $190 million for polls - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has issued a two-page report to the Security Council in which he gave details of almost US $190 million in additional costs the UN requires to support upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). - 14 Jul 2005 (IRIN)

Some 32,000 displaced by attack in South Kivu - The UN said on Tuesday that some 32,000 civilians were displaced from their homes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Kalonge Chiefdom, in Sud Kivu Province, following an attack earlier in July by Hutu Rwandans militias. - 20 Jul 2005 (IRIN)

New Congolese rebels cause worry - The United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says it is concerned by the creation of a new rebel group in neighbouring Uganda. The BBC has seen a document announcing the formation of the Congolese Revolutionary Movement (MRC), which says it is fighting for the rights of the people in DR Congo's eastern Ituri and North Kivu regions. - 20 July 2005 (BBC)

Two mass graves reported in eastern village of Ntulumamba - Two mass graves believed to contain the remains of 39 civilians killed on Saturday in Ntulumamba village, in Kalonge Chiefdom 75 km north of Bukavu, have been reported to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), a UN spokeswoman said. - 13 Jul 2005 (IRIN)

DR Congo's towns besieged by rapists - The town of Walungu - a quiet trading centre perched on top of the fertile hills of South Kivu province - is a town under siege. - 5 July 2005 (BBC)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Africa: Niger children starving to death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags:

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

DR Congo villagers burnt to death

BBC report says UN peacekeepers are tightening the screw in eastern DRC:

The UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of Congo says at least 30 people were burnt to death in their huts on Saturday night.

Monuc sent 50 peacekeepers to Mamba village, in South Kivu province, to verify reports it had been attacked by Rwandan Hutu militias.

They discovered a village burnt to the ground and two mass graves.

Witnesses said 39 villagers, mostly women and children, had been locked in their huts which were then set ablaze.

UN officials say at least 50 others were wounded.

The BBC's Arnaud Zajtman in the Congolese capital Kinshasa says the massacre took place 40 km west of Bukavu in the park of Kahozi Biega, a rebel stronghold where UN peacekeepers have only recently begun patrols.

The UN believes the massacre could be a warning to the local population not to co-operate with the peacekeepers.

Much of the South Kivu region is under the control of the FDLR, which is accused of playing a lead role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu militias.

Speaking from his exile in Brussels, the leader of the Hutu rebels, Ignace Murwanashyaka, denied ordering the attack, and blamed a splinter group.

Hutu rebels fled Rwanda and crossed into Eastern Congo 11 years ago after their alleged involvement in the Rwandan genocide.

An estimated 15,000 Hutu rebels are still active and represent one of the main threats to security in the area.

Several rounds of negotiations and a UN-sponsored voluntary disarmament programme have failed to restore peace to Eastern Congo.

The rebels say that they will return peacefully to Rwanda only when the political situation allows, but recently the UN peacekeepers and the Congolese army have threatened to use force to disarm the militiamen.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live 8 global concerts underway

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

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

Japan kicked off the first concert.

Live 8 Tokyo

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

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

Bono

Photo: Great performance by Bono and U2

Mariners begin Sail 8 round trip

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

Sail 8

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

Thousands flock to poverty march

Make Poverty History March

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

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

1.5 million turned up for Live 8 in Philadelphia.

Tags: