Category Archives: Human Rights

My heart’s with Ethan

 Chris Jordan, Cell Phones, 2007 (courtesy: http://www.chrisjordan.com/)

Ethan Zuckerman remains my No. 1 favourite blogger of all times, and given how much I struggle to update GlobaLab at least 2-3 times a week, while trying to work and retain a decent social life, I am in awe at his amazing prolificacy.

A quick browse at his last few entries would be enough to feed an average person’s brain for 6 months. Over the last few days, he’s been busy reporting from the PopTech conference, which he describes as “the annual three-day gathering of scientists, inventors, geeks, philosophers and thinkers in coastal Maine“. The event is a catwalk for amazing projects and ideas that are truly transforming the world. If you haven’t followed the event, you can read Ethan’s posts on some of the most interesting presentations, including (but there are more):

It took me good part of the day to read them all, and there are many more celebrity bloggers who reported from the event, including BoingBoing, Next Billion, and a few (but not many) non-English speaking bloggers.

If this isn’t enough for you, check out Ethan’s earlier post about a new initiative to fight counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Ghana (hopefully soon the whole of Africa), mPedigree, which will use mobile phones to track drugs from their original producers all the way to the pharmacy shelves, allowing each buyer in the chain to ensure that they’re dealing with a legitimate product. Or check out the entry in which he takes a good shot at unravelling the complex situation in Somalia, in response to the Onion’s eye-opening video Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex, a must see for all Africanists:

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

What can I say? Ethan, you are my personal hero!!!

What to do with icanhasprotest.com?

cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuute 

Ethan Zuckerman, in his infinite creativity, has just purchased the site http://icanhasprotest.com/. The idea came from an exchange with commenters on an excellent blog-post about the connection between cute cats and web censorship – i.e. how Web 2.0 online tools have been used by social activists, something Ethan has spoken at length about in the past.

The call’s out about what to do with this site. Here’s an idea: how about using it to collect – in a wiki format – all those examples of successful protests, campaigns, rallies, mass-mobilisations, and so on, which have been possible thanks to Web 2.0 tools? This way, social activists will have a one-stop shop where to get ideas on how to adopt these technologies and give feedback when they have not worked…

If you have better ideas, get in touch with Ethan…

Google Earth in defence of Amazon tribe

The Peruvian Amazon Basin - by Sunvil

Via the PSD Blog, here’s a story about how Google Earth has come to the aid of a Brazilian Amazon tribe fighting for its rights against loggers and miners:

[…] “The Amazon rain forest and its indigenous peoples are disappearing rapidly, which has serious consequences both locally and globally,” said Google Earth spokeswoman Megan Quinn. “This project can raise global awareness of the Surui people’s struggle to preserve their land and culture by reaching more than 200 million Google Earth users around the world.” This is not the first time Google Earth has helped environmental or humanitarian causes. Last year, the Mountain View company joined with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to map out destroyed villages in Darfur, with the Jane Goodall Institute to follow chimpanzees in Tanzania, and with the U.N. Environment Program to illustrate 100 areas around the world that have been severely deforested.

In the case of the Amazon, Almir says improved satellite images would not only keep tabs on loggers and miners but would also help strengthen Surui culture by cataloging medicinal plants, hunting grounds, ancestral cemeteries and sacred sites. […]

Read the full article here.

Bullet – The Execution

This video, posted on YouTube a few months ago, earned Amnesty International the Silver Lion at the Cannes Film Festival 2007. It is absolutely amazing:

[via Lentatiblog, on which I will probably write a post soon]

Joss Whedon on the Right of Women to Be Equal

Equality is a long way away

Joss Whedon – writer, director and creator of the popular series Buffy the Vampire Slayer – recently posted an appeal on Whedonesque. I am reproducing it here because I think it is one of the most moving statements on women’s equality I have ever read.

Let’s watch a girl get beaten to death

This is not my blog, but I don’t have a blog, or a space, and I’d like to be heard for a bit.

Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken – by more than one phone – from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.

I could start a rant about the level to which we have become desensitized to violence, about the evils of the voyeuristic digital world in which everything is shown and everything is game, but honestly, it’s been said. And I certainly have no jingoistic cultural agenda. I like to think that in America this would be considered unbearably appalling, that Kitty Genovese is still remembered, that we are more evolved. But coincidentally, right before I stumbled on this vid I watched the trailer for “Captivity”.

A few of you may know that I took public exception to the billboard campaign for this film, which showed a concise narrative of the kidnapping, torture and murder of a sexy young woman. I wanted to see if the film was perhaps more substantial (especially given the fact that it was directed by “The Killing Fields” Roland Joffe) than the exploitive ad campaign had painted it. The trailer resembles nothing so much as the CNN story on Dua Khalil. Pretty much all you learn is that Elisha Cuthbert is beautiful, then kidnapped, inventively, repeatedly and horrifically tortured, and that the first thing she screams is “I’m sorry”.

“I’m sorry.”

What is wrong with women?

I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.

How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence — is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.

I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I’m sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they’re also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.

It’s safe to say that I’ve snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I’ve looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I’ve shorted out. I don’t pretend to be a great guy; I know really really well about objectification, trust me. And I’m not for a second going down the “women are saints” route – that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted. If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart? (I was going to use ‘trees’ as my example, but at the rate we’re getting rid of them I’m pretty sure we really do think they’re evil. See how all rants become one?)

Now those of you who frequent this site are, in my wildly biased opinion, fairly evolved. You may hear nothing new here. You may be way ahead of me. But I can’t contain my despair, for Dua Khalil, for humanity, for the world we’re shaping. Those of you who have followed the link I set up know that it doesn’t bring you to a video of a murder. It brings you to a place of sanity, of people who have never stopped asking the question of what is wrong with this world and have set about trying to change the answer. Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.

All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once. If you can’t think of what to do, there is this handy link. Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.

I have never had any faith in humanity. But I will give us props on this: if we can evolve, invent and theorize our way into the technologically magical, culturally diverse and artistically magnificent race we are and still get people to buy the idiotic idea that half of us are inferior, we’re pretty amazing. Let our next sleight of hand be to make that myth disappear.

The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up.

-joss

A CNN report on the killing of Dua Khalil can be seen here.

GlobaLab weekly round-up: 24/02/07-02/03/07

A whimsical image of the blogosphere from the edge of the core - via Datamining

This (late) update is a hasty one because over the last 2 weeks the real world is distracting me from the virtual… but this is what I collected from my feeds…

Africa

Middle East & North Africa

Globalisation debate

  • A couple of exchanges on Demos’ Greenhouse about a recent event they hosted with John Ralston Saul, a renowned philosopher, novelist, political penseur, who has provocatively pronounced the “end of globalism“. A quick scan, and it seems this provocative statement could simply be re-phrased as the rejection of neo-liberalism. Had he framed the debate in these terms, it would have sounded less plausible, slightly rehashed and probably less marketable than the grand statement above. But then, we all need to make a living.

ICT and creativity

International Development

  • Suzanne Smith on PSD blog puts an end to years of heated debates about the role of private finance investment in reducing poverty: ‘If you have ever doubted the importance of the finance sector in reducing poverty, a new paper will set your mind at rest. More finance sector development leads to more investment in tractors and fertilizers, leading to more food‘. If only we had more World Bank experts telling us children what’s right and what’s wrong, we’d all sleep better at night…
  • Meantime, always on PSD, new research reveals that privatization in 2005 has hit new records, with ‘transactions concentrated in China, Czech Republic, Hungary, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine and the top ten deals are largely in banking and telecommunications‘.

Russia

Environment

Corporat Social (ir-)Responsibility

Blog Babble and random weird stuff

China can be good for Africa. But not alone.

South African landscape - courtesy of forksteel

With a little delay, I report from a really good conference held last week at the Royal Commonwealth Society, and organised by the Royal African Society, about the relationship between Africa and China, and whether anyone should start worrying about it (like I seem to do all too often).

The first speaker was Dr Nkosana Moyo, Zimbabwe’s former industry minister, now working for a private equity investor in emerging markets. After hammering out some data about investments, imports, exports and what not, he basically made one sole argument: when we point the finger at China’s lack of conditionality in its economic initiatives in the continent, we are actually de-responsibilizing Africa’s leaders, who are the ones who should be actually held accountable to their people and the wider world if the unexpected income is not channelled through appropriate socio-environmental institutional mechanisms. All very well, I’d say, but this doesn’t really help us deal with the problem, Dr Moyo, does it? Or are you suggesting regime change in Africa too?

The second speaker was far more intriguing. Stephen Chan‘s web-designing capabilities may be below average, but he’s got plenty of other skills to make up for this deficiency, in the academic, literary and – most importantly – martial arts fields. His presentation captured many aspects of the problem: for a start, China is pursuing strategic investments on the continent, and ensuring long-term contracts with African governments, having poured more than $900m of the $15bn of foreign direct investment to the continent in 2004. This might seem appealing to many African leaders, stripped for cash and desperate to build up their foreign exchange reserves, but it will probably turn sour 10-20 years down the line:

China’s export bank, Eximbank – explains Le Monde Diplomatique‘s Jean-Christophe Servant – has approved a $2bn line of credit to enable Angola to reconstruct infrastructure – including electricity, railways and administrative buildings – destroyed during 30 years of civil war. In return China would receive 10,000 barrels of oil a day. […] The line of credit – at 1.5% over 17 years – might look disadvantageous to China in the short term, but Chinese companies will secure the lion’s share of lucrative contracts for national reconstruction. Local people are unhappy. As independent economist José Cerqueira pointed out: “There is a condition in the loan that 30% will be subcontracted to Angolan firms, but that still leaves 70% which will not. Angolan businessmen are very worried about this, because they don’t get the business, and the construction sector is one in which Angolans hope they can find work”

The first issue, therefore, is one of renegotiability, i.e. the need for African leaders and businesses to understand the longer-term implications of the concessions they are granting to China, and ensure there are clauses for when the terms of trade are no longer appealing. The second one, which we are more familiar with, is that of the lack of ‘strings attached’ to China’s loans and aid packages, which are frustrating in particular the US’ attempts to link these with a committment to uphold a series of environmental and social standards. Continues Le Monde:

In the past, international organisations such as the World Bank have been criticised for making loans to countries in need conditional upon non-negotiable demands. Now the situation is reversed, with China granting unconditional, instant credits that encourage white elephant projects, without concern for financial transparency.

This is clearly related to the ongoing conflicts in Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic, where revenues from the sales to China will undoubtedly be converted into arms, a concern which has led some commentators to declare Beijing 2008 the Genocide Olympics. This is where the EU can and should make an important contribution. Despite $40bn in trade recorded in 2005 (a fourfold increase since 2001), Africa still accounts for a less than 3% of China’s global commerce. An estimated 80% of Africa’s trade is instead with the EU, which remains its crucial partner for historical and geographical reasons, or perhaps because – to date – there isn’t a single university in the whole of Africa that teaches Chinese, a fact that surely limits any meaningful attempt at deepening the economic relationship between the two regions.

By avoiding the short-sighted pitfalls of competition – concluded Chan – Europe would be able to develop a healthy triangulation module, which would bring wealth and development at the heighest social and environmental standards. And indeed, Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner’s recent visit to China has begun linking energy security and sustainable development objectives with engaged discussions on Africa. But these steps are still too tentative: strong and effective policy decisions are required soon if the EU doesn’t want to see itself outmaneuvered by an aggressive US and an intransigent China coming to blows in the not-too-distant future over Africa’s soil.