Online Communities


Reuters
Friday, May 4, 2007; 1:12 PM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission embraced Eritrea’s government on Friday in the search for a comprehensive solution to a range of conflicts across the Horn of Africa, from Darfur to Somalia.

European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel gave a warm welcome to President Isaias Afwerki despite accusations of human rights violations, praising his diplomacy over Sudan and his decision to ban the forced circumcision of young girls.

Foreign editor Keith Richburg joins host Sam Litzinger every Thursday at noon for a roundup of the latest world news.

“I was very, very honored to receive him in the Commission,” he told a joint news conference.

“This is … an important event, an international signal for the EU and for Eritrea. I have very high expectations in this new kind of relations between the Commission and Eritrea.”

Eritrea last month quit the east African regional bloc IGAD, in a feud over the group’s support of Somalia’s interim government — strongly backed by Ethiopia — Eritrea’s bitter foe since a 1998-2000 war.

Afwerki dismissed charges by Addis Ababa that Eritrea was behind a rebel attack in southeast Ethiopia last month in which 74 people were killed and seven Chinese workers were seized.

“It’s become a habit, it’s become an addiction to blame anything on Asmara so don’t be surprised,” he said, adding that the sheer distance between Eritrea and the remote Ogaden area of Ethiopia where the attack occurred made any link impossible.

Security experts say Asmara has long supported Ethiopian rebels groups to pressure Addis Ababa, which Eritrea denies.

“KEY PARTNER”

Michel made no public mention of human rights, media freedom or growing tension between Eritrea and Ethiopia, saying he hoped a regular political dialogue with Asmara would help improve the mood for solving all problems in the region.

“Everybody knows Eritrea is a key partner and a key actor in the Horn,” he said, citing efforts to bring peace to Somalia, where Asmara has backed an Islamist movement ousted from power in Mogadishu by Ethiopian military intervention in February.

A November report to the United Nations on arms embargo violations in Somalia said Eritrea repeatedly armed and trained Islamist militants who opposed the Somali interim government.

Asmara denies this, but has hosted Islamist leaders in Eritrea. It has repeatedly criticized both Ethiopia and the Somali interim government and accused them of undermining what it called the Islamists popularly supported movement.

Ethiopia’s ambassador in Brussels, Berhane Gebre-Christos, at a news briefing coinciding with the president’s visit, accused Eritrea of playing a destructive role in the region.

“It has become a pariah state as far as its role is concerned in Somalia,” he said.

Gebre-Christos said the European Union should call on Afwerki to abandon “terrorism.” “What he is doing is terrorism,” he said. “The European Union should tell him unambiguously that he has to cease from terrorist acts.”

Harry Goldstein
Senior Associate Editor, IEEE* Spectrum

IEEE Spectrum Radio

What does it take to build a computer lab in sub-Saharan Africa? IEEE Spectrum’s Harry Goldstein travelled to Nigeria to investigate the use of recently installed fiber-optic cables, but ended up spearheading the construction of a computing center for students at the Federal University of Technology Owerri.

The computer lab was to replace the cumbersome system of taking hand written notes to internet cafes to send as e-mail, and provide internet access to the students of FUTO. Goldstein encountered several challenges in securing funding and support to build the lab. Together with a grant from the IEEE foundation, Hewlett Packard donated the computers and equipment to fill the lab.

Despite the multi-million dollar fiber optic cable connection, internet access was hugely expensive and only available through satellite connections. Besides having to find reliable sources of electricity, there also remained the problem of providing adequate network support. Listen to how a dedicated group found solutions to most of the lingering problems, providing an invaluable educational resource for Nigeria’s future scientists and engineers.

*The IEEE, a non-profit organization, is the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology.

The full name of the IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., although the organization is referred to by the letters I-E-E-E and pronounced Eye-triple-E.

Africa Calling
By Victor W.A. Mbarika and Irene Mbarika

This is a great article for anyone interested in the African wireless revolution or digital divide issues. One of my most time consuming hobbies is reading about technology; especially technological development in Africa. So here’s one of my favourite articles, (also posted on my blog: http://www.afrorise.wordpress.com).

Mobile in Africa

Mobile Subscriptions Skyrocket: Africa far outpaces the rest of the world in average annual growth of mobile phone subscriptions. According to the International Telecommunication Union, from 1999 through 2004 Africans signed up for cellphones at a far greater rate than Asians and nearly three times as fast as Americans. Most of that growth was in the sub-Saharan region [left]. Illustration: Bryan Christie Design (2)

Mobile vs. Fixed

Mobile vs. Fixed Lines in Africa: The most recent figures from the International Telecommunication Union show that between 1994 and 2004 the number of telephone subscribers per 100 inhabitants in Africa increased dramatically, thanks to a huge upsurge in cellphone usage starting in the late 1990s.
Source: International Telecommunication Union

I’ve been meaning to designate an afroRise! Person of the Year for 2006.

I think I will dedicate to all Africans conscious of the digital divide and raising awareness about the potentially democratizing effect of the internet. So, my Persons of the Year are African Bloggers. You’re the bomb.

I realize that TIME Magazine and I are on the same page. We took the easy way out by acknowledging everybody and nobody at once. I’m just making the Time Magazine awards more particular: African netizens. Because there’s so much more for us to do!

Here’s the TIME article, which is now a month old. Here’s a snippet if you don’t want to read the whole thing:

NEW YORK (AP) – Congratulations! You are the Time magazine “Person of the Year.”

The annual honor for 2006 went to each and every one of us, as Time cited the shift from institutions to individuals – citizens of the new digital democracy, as the magazine put it. The winners this year were anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web.

“If you choose an individual, you have to justify how that person affected millions of people,” said Richard Stengel, who took over as Time’s managing editor earlier this year. “But if you choose millions of people, you don’t have to justify it to anyone.”

Good one. At least by isolating African bloggers I’m choosing hundreds, maybe thousands. (I don’t know, is there a count?)

Technology is a word that separates people, there are those who love it and those who hate it – rarely is a person in between these two feelings. Well I guess people have a love/hate relationship with Technology but that would require me to think more deeply about the big generalizations I’m about to make and I’m not prepared to do that.

<Begin “My Opinion” aka Gross Generalizations>

Lately I’ve been contemplating the real need for a strategic demystification of technology in underserviced communities, particularly, among black youth who are either disengaged or labelled “at-risk” in schools. I use the word “at-risk” cautiously because of course it connotes a certain risk threshold, and it labels students, chunking people into weird categories. The label is subjective of course because teachers perceive who and who is not “at-risk” and most problematically it disregards social, economic and other life circumstances that contribute to low capacity and school success/performance.

So today I had a discussion about blogging with some youth very dear to my heart. They are all extremely intelligent and critical thinkers yet they didn’t really know about/care for the idea of blogging. Blogging, or reading blogs, is an experience, it can’t really be described. The availability of different types of information in varied styles of writing is astounding in sheer magnitude but also in its effect – one cannot help become a better – more efficient, more engaged – reader. The internet should be used as a supplement to education, as it is in many context, but this critical path needs guidance and direction.

For example, I often wonder why some young people I talk to are interested in the internet insofar as it allows them to communicate with the friends they have just seen at school (MSN, Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, and other e-mail/chat servers) or read about people they don’t know or don’t like (Hi5, MySpace.com, Friendster, and other social networking sites). I am not against these types of communication and am a part of most of them but it seems to me that students focusing exclusively on these are missing out big time. The internet is more than online games and checking out when the next movie is playing. IT is more than music websites or You Tube. It is all of these things but so much more.

<IT as the Multi-versity>

Yes IT is its own MULTIversity. Unlike a UNIversity with a distinct objective of socializing students into certain subject matters, the multiversity allows students to adopt their own positions on subject matter according to their own research/project interests. Thus, smart surfing is a key asset in life.

Technology and the internet allow students to master their own way of thinking. They allow them to gather and sort information in a way that is comprehensive and makes sense to them. Your own PC is a manifestation of the way your mind works. Now if only this was taught more in school – the importance of mastering technology and internet communications technology specifically.

Kids of the information age are growing up with computers all around them, but I’m wondering if people are feeling comfortable with this environment? Do people feel in control of this experience or do they feel like passive observers of Microsoft software applications – Open, Click, Type, Save? The average person needs more accessibility and practical advice about how the internet can make our life so much easier.

This is especially true for those of us coming from communities where the digital divide is large and growing…

I know this discussion is not yet over for me…will add more to it later.

Self-determination in the information age. It’s a critical matter and affects minority communities in all countries. We all have the issue of what to do with globalized information and ideas; or as coined by Dr. Arjun Appadurai, Ph.D “ideoscapes” and “ethnoscapes”. As a contemporary social-cultural anthropologist, Dr. Appadurai (Wiki) writes on “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”. (1990). I read this for a class on Global Governance and Educational Change but you can find a small excerpt on Wiki. What the heck, I’ll post it for you here:

Appadurai articulated a view of cultural activity known as the imaginary (sociology), or the social imaginary. For Appadurai the imaginary is composed of five dimensions of global cultural flow: 1) ethnoscapes; 2) mediascapes; 3) technoscapes; 4) finanscapes; 5) ideoscapes.

He describes the imaginary as: “The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice. No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is somewhere else), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer elite pastime (thus not relevant to the lives of ordinary people), and no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (in the sense of both labor and culturally organized practice), and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibillity. This unleasing of the imagination links the play of pastiche (in some settings) to the terror and coercion of states and their competitors. The imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order” (“Disjuncture and Difference”, Modernity at Large, 31).

Similarly, Anthropologist Dr. Victoria Bernal, Ph.D. has written extensively about the Eritrean Diaspora and Eritreans in Cyberspace. The following articles relate to the subject. Click on the link for the Full Text article:

Abstract: In this article I analyse the Eritrean diaspora and its use of cyberspace to theorize the ways transnationalism and new media are associated with the rise of new forms of community, public spheres and sites of cultural production. The struggle for national independence coincided with the rise of the Internet and the Eritrean diaspora has been actively involved in the new state. Eritreans abroad use the Internet as a transnational public sphere where they produce and debate narratives of history, culture, democracy and identity. Through the web the diaspora has mobilized demonstrators, amassed funds for war, debated the formulation of the constitution, and influenced the government of Eritrea. Through their web postings, ‘Internet intellectuals’ interpret national crises, rearticulate values and construct community. Thus, the Internet is not simply about information but is also an emotion-laden and creative space. More than simply refugees or struggling workers, diasporas online may invent new forms of citizenship, community and political practices.

Abstract: For Eritreans in diaspora, identities are deterritorialized, one’s most pressing communication may be with far-flung strangers in cyberspace, and one’s political engagement is centered on a distant homeland. Eritrean experiences, thus, seem to bring together various qualities that scholars have been grappling with trying to chart the implications of the infotech revolution and life on-line, in seeking to understand processes of transnationalism and globalization, and in charting the elusive construction of community in the postmodern age. Through an analysis of the social history of http://www.dehai.org, a website developed by Eritreans in diaspora, explore the ways that new forms of technological and geographical mobility are changing the conditions not just of capitalist production but also of knowledge production and the constitution of publics, public spheres, communities, and nations. [Keywords: cyberspace, public sphere, politics, diaspora, community, conflict, Eritrea]

Likewise, Dr. John Sorensen, Ph.D. worked with the Eritrean Relief Association in Canada; he has a background in anthropology and a PhD from the interdisciplinary Social and Political Thought Program at York University. His field research has concerned African nationalist movements, refugees and diaspora communities and repatriation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. His books include: African Refugees: Development Aid and Repatriation (Westview), Disaster and Development in the Horn of Africa (Macmillan), Imagining Ethiopia: Struggles for History and Identity in the Horn of Africa (Rutgers University Press), Ghosts and Shadows: Construction of Identity and Community in an African Diaspora (University of Toronto Press) and Culture of Prejudice (Broadview) and he is currently writing on gender and reconstruction of the state in Eritrea, looking at the experience of the thirty-year struggle for independence and the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia; it is largely based on interviews with women who served in the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.

Information, Cyberspace and Good Governance

I think the relationship between information and information-management needs to be carefully studied as a subsect of good governance in Africa. I was lucky enough to meet a very bright woman by the name of Azeb Tewolde who works as Director of the Research and Documentation Centre in Eritrea.  (They are re-doing the website – should be complete January 2007 so go back and visit!) This woman is brilliant and very forward-thinking. She is one example of how the “partnership” maxim in development programming and implementation: that individuals and communities know what they need and what works best – but just need some resources and capacity-building– if adhered to by progam planners- would succeed brilliantly. Ms. Tewolde thinks that information management should be the road to development.

Information is capacity-building. Many people tend to politicize everything about Eritrean development – as though any activity is determined by and cloaked in a political affiliation. I guess this is the view that frustrates me. Politics changes, our ideas and sentiments about politicians change given fresh information and events. Our positions are guided by new knowledge. So why, in any regional context, and especially now in the information age, should we put our political allegiances before the information we have at our disposal? Get informed and then make decisions. This is the best (and in my view most responsible) way to be an agent of change in Eritrea and any other developing nation in Africa, Asia, Middle East, etc. The only position I adhere to religiously in development projects is capital “T” Transparency. Be transparent with your people – it’s only fair. The people pay tax, send remittances, pray and hope for development. And in the diaspora, there is an urgency around helping with national development but I think there needs to be a broad-based discussion (I’m scared to use the D-word, democratic) and needs assessment on how, when, why, where and with whom and what purpose this development assistance should take place. The government can lead us, the diaspora can lead us, the international community can lead us – with collaborative work this all happens simultaneously. The diaspora is a major voice in this discussion and the internet is a major tool.

tedglobal.gif

TEDGlobal 2007: “Africa: The Next Chapter”

On Nov. 29. 2006 TEDGlobal unveiled plans for their first TEDGlobal conference in Africa, to be held in Arusha, Tanzania from June 4 to 7, 2007. “Africa, The Next Chapter” will feature 50 extraordinary speakers (over 30 of them have been painstakingly linked here for you by yours truly) who are shaping Africa’s future though innovation and world-changing ideas.

Underlying this new initiative is our recognition that Africa is at an important tipping point. It’s problems and challenges are well known. But across the continent, tremendous change is afoot. Ingenious solutions are being applied to tackle some of the toughest health and infrastructure problems; businesses are being launched that are capable of transforming the lives of millions. A new generation of Africans is emerging who refuse to be daunted by Africa’s familiar litany of challenges, and instead believe an exciting future beckons. They include leading entrepreneurs, inventors, cultural ambassadors, scientists, designers, artists, writers, activists, musicians and mavericks making real change across the continent.

Leading their efforts is TEDGlobal Program Director Emeka Okafor: entrepreneur, analyst and creator of the influential blogs Africa Unchained and Timbuktu Chronicles.

Here are the speakers – emerging African leaders, along with a few non-African counterparts:

TEDGlobal 2007 speakers include:

Binyavanga Wainaina: Award winning author of “Discovering Home” and “How To Write About Africa.”

Bola Olabisi: The inspiring founder of Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network, an organization that seeks to identify and support talented women in Africa and elsewhere.

Ken Ofori-Atta: CEO & Co-Founder of Databank, a leading stock brokerage firm in Ghana.

Simon Mwacharo: CEO of Craftskills, an innovative manufacturer of renewable modular energy systems based on solar and wind power.

Carol Pineau: Journalist and producer of the documentary “Africa Open for Business.”

Chris Abani: Award winning author of the novels “Graceland” and “Kalakuta Republic.”

Chris Johns: Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic and acclaimed photographer of “Valley of Life: Africa’s Great Rift.”

Danniel Annerose: CEO and Founder of Manobi, developer of prize-winning cell phone-based services that, for example, give farmers market intelligence and allow them to achieve better prices for their crops.

Dele Olojede: A journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles on Rwanda.

Ernest Chijioke Madu: Surgeon, medical outsourcing pioneer and Founder (in the Caribbean) of the Heart Institute, a world-class cardiovascular center.

Eleni Gabre-Madhin: Economist and leading researcher on African agricultural markets.

Andrew Mwenda: Leading journalist, activist and Stanford Fellow.

George Ayittey: Economist and outspoken author of books that have helped redefine the agenda for African development, such as “Indigenous African Institutions” and “Africa Unchained.”

Noah Samara: Founder and CEO of Worldspace, leading provider of satellite radio to Africa and the Middle East.

H Chinery-Hesse: Founder and CEO of Softtribe, a developer of what has been described as ‘tropically tolerant software.’

Jacqueline Novogratz: After 20 years’ involvement in Africa, she founded the Acumen Fund, a leader of the “new philanthropy” movement which, instead of offering charity, supports entrepreneurs who are building businesses in areas such as healthcare, low-cost housing and water distribution.

James Shikwati: A Kenyan writer and commentator on public policy. He is known for promoting trade and economic freedom as a way to tackle poverty.

Seyi Oyesola: Physician and Co-Inventor of ‘Hospital in a Box’, a portable operating theatre that runs on solar power. Also an expert in medical simulator training.

Florence Seriki: Founder and CEO of Omatek Computers, who have proved it’s possible to be a successful computer manufacturer in West Africa.

Kwabena Boahen: A leading Stanford-based researcher in “neuromorphic processors” – he is creating silicon chips capable of emulating parts of the brain.

Jane Goodall: Famous for her pioneering work with chimpanzees in Tanzania, she has become a globally recognized conservationist and a United Nations “Messenger of Peace.”

Leon Kintaudi: Physician leading efforts to rebuild the rural health infrastructure in the Congo.

Ndidi Nwuneli: Founder of Leap Africa, which is committed to inspiring and equipping a new generation of African entrepreneurs.

Alieu Conteh: As CEO and Founder of Vodafone Congo, he has proved the power of cell phones in one of the toughest markets in the world.

Onesmo Ole MoiYoi: A Tanzanian molecular biologist, regarded as a leader in the global research effort to develop environmentally sound ways to combat disease in humans and animals.

Ory Okolloh: Lawyer, Activist, Blogger and Founder of “Mzalendo: Eye On Kenyan Parliament.”

Patrick Awuah: Co-Founder of Ashesi University, Ghana, a leading West African Liberal Arts College.

Russell Southwood: Founder and publisher of Balancing Act, a publication covering ICT developments on the continent.

Moses Makayoto: A globally recognized Kenyan scientist with a string of successful inventions, such as a pesticide for use in refugee camps, new technologies for processing honey and cotton, and a low-cost detergent made from local materials.

Ted Kidane: Co-Founder and COO of Feedelix, the developer of a non-Latin script for Ethiopic, Hindi and Mandarin-speaking cell phone users.

Ron Eglash: Professor and publisher of “African Fractals,” an investigative overview of fractals in African aesthetics and visual imagery.

Raoul Peck: Acclaimed filmmaker, “Lumumba”, “Sometimes in April.”

Spencer Wells: Leading geneticist and anthropologist, author of the acclaimed book “The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey,” an account of how genetic data has been used to trace human migration over the past 60,000 years.

Patty Stonesifer: CEO of the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organization. The Foundation funds multiple projects in Africa with a major focus on tackling AIDS, malaria and other public health issues.

We invite all of you to look at Africa through a new lens: the Africa of progress, change and inspirational success, the Africa where powerful new ideas can change the face of the continent. More information and registration details on TED.com.

FYI & Registration: TEDGLOBAL Information.

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