Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Safari Murders - A review of the True Stories Documentary on Mass Murder in the CAR

Safari, Witchcraft and Murder

On 26th November, More 4 released the documentary entitled 'Safari, Witchcraft and Murder', a documentary about a Mass Murder on Safari Company land in the Central African Republic. 3 days after discovering dead bodies in central Africa, British worker David Simpson was suspected of a Mass Murder that he says he did not commit. The documentary caused quite a stir on Twitter, being criticised as ignorant and racist.

David Simpson Discovered 13 dead Bodies in the Central African Republic

David Simpson found 13 bodies in the Central African Republic, after previously warning miners not to use their Safari company owned land for sifting for gold.  He initially found 5 bodies on the Safari company land. He called the CAR police immediately. When he smelt the strong stench, he immediately knew that there were more bodies in the area. But this led police to presume that he had done the killings, as he knew so much about the situation. David Simpson spent almost 5 months in an African prison, before being brought back home to Yorkshire.

Still to this day, no-one has been bought to justice for these murders. Human Rights watch conducted an investigation into the massacres which has concluded that the murders were likely to have been caused by the Ugandan rebel group the Lords Resistance Army.


Why did Safari, Witchcraft and Murder cause such a stir?

It seems that despite proclaiming his innocence, David Simpson did not present himself in the most positive light on the documentary. He commented that it was strage being 'the only white face in a sea of darkness' and consequently got accused of being racist. He played on African notions of witchcraft by threatening the miners on the land using three fake skulls, prior to the murders. Some would say that no wonder he was accused.

The director also received some criticism, as many viewers said that the documentary was too one sided. After all, no police or witnesses from the Central African republic featured in the documentary.

The Issues Raised - Politics, Land Ownership and Unrest in Central Africa

The issues raised by the discussions stemming from this documentary are vast. Indeed, the corruption of the CA justice system has been discussed. Yet, this is not the UK or the US - what did they expect? CSI? It is important not to generalise, but to explore why the justice systems in such countries are the way that they are. This is bound and intertwined in the complexities of African politics.

The issues of land ownership were also raised by this documentary. The gold miners were told not to tresspass on Safari company land. Who did the company purchase the land from? The government? If so, who did the government get the land from? Also, to what extent is Western involvement in building infrastructure and working in conservation helpful to African nations? Are jobs created, or is it just interferring? The issues raised are clearly too complex to be discussed in a single documentary.

David Simpson returns to the CAR - A Positive Ending?

Despite the way that David Simpson came across on camera, his heart seems to be in the right place. David returned to the Central African Republic in 2012 to continue to work for the Safari company. He said that he didn't want to be another person who gave up on Africa.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Amazonian Rainforest and Nature’s Cash Flows

Economic Threats to the Amazon Rainforest

The Amazonian rainforest is one of the richest ecosystems in biodiversity and provides the world with a wide range of ecosystem services, such as climate regulation, hydrological services, fire protection, pollination, timber and non-timber forest products and recreation. However, Amazonian rainforests are facing some economics driven threats: cattle ranching and increasing plantations of soy and palm. The increased international demand for soybean based products has opened the door of profitability to the Latin American production. The cost: to increase the crop area, they need to reduce the forest size. Not to mention that parts of Amazonian rainforest could be auctioned to international oil companies. (Source: http://amazonwatch.org/news/2013/0328-ecuadors-amazon-rainforest-may-be-auctioned-to-chinese-oil-companies )

Economy vs Environment: The Tough choice of Governments

Governments of countries in the Amazonian region find in agriculture, cattle ranching and mining an opportunity to improve economic development. It is understandable. They face difficult choices: on one side, the preservation of a local natural resource that has a global impact and, on the other, the continuity of economic policies, the generation of employment and the improvement of economic conditions for poorest populations. However, at this point, if we choose development over preservation we could be sacrificing the long term for the short term (Source: http://worldinfo.org/2012/01/food-for-thought-soybean-endangers-brazil-amazon-rainforest/). 

The Impact on Ecosystems

Amongst the long term costs there are the destruction of tropical ecosystems, the reduction of biodiversity and, due to the reduction of the natural capital in the ecosystem, the flow of ecosystem services (the services we, as humans, enjoy from ecosystems without making any effort) is altered impairing as well, among others, the climate control functions these forests have. The stock of CO2 trapped in these forests is extremely relevant to control the climate change problem and, at this moment, there is no way to completely value such a huge service and the potential damage (Beukering B et al, 2007).
We are facing a situation in which ecosystems (forests, coral reefs...) are competing with other economic activities. However, these economic activities put clear numbers on the table: a soy producing company can tell you clearly how much money it expects to generate as a cash flow. Nevertheless, most of environmental services that we need and enjoy don’t have a value yet. They are not easy to put into dollars or British pounds, and some of the methodologies used to approach a monetary value are still controversial within the scientific community. The mistake some policymakers make is to think because the numbers are not there, these natural resources simply don’t have any value at all and they are not generating any positive impact. 

REDD Projects

There are projects such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries). The general objective of this program is to generate financial incentives to preserve the stock of carbon in the forests, reduce emissions from forested lands in developing countries and invest in low carbon paths. Put it simply, this is a way in which richer economies pay to developing economies to preserve natural resources and generate local sustainable projects at the same time. The point is that besides important cuts in carbon emissions from developed countries, developing countries can engage in REDD programs. The outcome could not be very good if these activities were substitutes. If we want to achieve climate change targets, we have to work in both fronts (Source: http://www.un-redd.org/aboutredd/tabid/582/default.aspx)
However, the challenge is to generate sustainable activities with cash flows positive enough to compete with those that put ecosystems in risk. Additionally, to keep up with the increasing global consumption, if we don’t want to endanger our remaining ecosystems, we must increase productivity: strategies and technologies must be developed to multiply the production per hectare or even reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and some other land intensive products such as beef to reasonable and sustainable levels.
It is a difficult task, but it is one that must be done if we want to generate real and permanent incentives to preserve our remaining natural capital (most of it in developing countries). REDD is just one example, but most of the diverse strategies are inspired, similarly, on the idea that we can have economic growth and sustainability at the same time: that we don’t have to fall in the irony of giving away the planet to eradicate poverty.  

Beukering P et al,(2007) “Keeping the Amazon forests standing: a matter of values” WWF Available from http://www.wwf.se/source.php/1229304/Keeping%20the%20Amazon%20forests%20standing.pdf

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Threat of Terrorism in Kenya, and the Kenyan presence of US Troops

This week, York based student Lottie May gives her insight into the threat of terrorism in Kenya, and reflects on why there is still sometimes a presence of US troops.

The Threat of Terrorism in Kenya

The threat of terrorism hangs heavy over Kenya- worrying the local Kenyan communities, as their economy is dependent upon the wealth that tourism brings. The slightest piece of bad news deters travellers from the UK. When speaking to the hotel manager he confirmed that his bookings are down by 60%, impacts of this resort to him having to let staff go. With employment rates at a low, for some their only chance of employment is with the hotel. I built up a friendship with one of the waiters through my frequent visits to Watamu. However, this year I returned to find that he, along with many others, had lost his job. When getting into contact with him again, I found that he has travelled to Sudan in search for work. Once earning a decent salary, he will send the money home to his family. This is a common occurrence in countries like Kenya or the African Continent, showing the sacrifices families must make to get by.

A prominent threat that has been recognized worldwide is the threat from Somali terrorists and Pirates, again contributing greatly to Kenya’s economy. This affected my family and I directly, with the possibility that we weren’t able to travel to Watamu with it being so close to the boarder of the restricted area in which the government had issued. This was the same year when fireworks were banned for New Year celebrations; seen to act as a hazard with the terrorist attacks in Nairobi at the time. Although the threats of Somalia terrorists and Pirates have undoubtedly decreased, you can see the country now taking serious precautions to prevent any potential threat within vulnerable areas.

On my visit to town, I walked past a local church. What was brought to my attention was the people entering the church were being scanned for weapons. It is clear from this that, although very minimal, the locals are doing their best to protect themselves and their communities. However it is difficult not to notice that the resources that they have for security aren’t a fraction of the security surrounding and protecting my hotel. It seems that the life of a Western is more valuable than that of a local Kenyan? Incidentally, something that is an on going concern and threat of the Kenyan peoples daily life, these frequent terrorist attacks in Mombasa are so rarely heard of back home- is that because no Western people have been killed?

The presence of US Troops in Kenya

One of the most constant aspects of my holiday to Watamu is the people, with the same individuals return each year. However to my surprise I’m sharing the resort with 15 US troops. Stationed here until May; I had some initial concerns about their reason for being here, particularly with Kenya’s increasing rate of terrorist attacks. 

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

After speaking to them it was pleasing to note their role here is one of education and welfare support. The US has invested heavily to develop the local Kenyan people’s understanding of enhanced farming techniques (fish farms), improving their environmental and social awareness. These all aim to help build strong, stable relations within the country to gain peaceful communities. In the long term this works to grow a sense of self-sufficiency amongst the Kenyan people, striving for a more independent country. This proactive strategy not only improves the way of life for the people, but also makes them less susceptible to the influence of radical fundamentalists who prey of dissatisfaction and encourage violent behavior. When speaking with the Lieutenant it is clear that are doing as much as they can to put things right and essentially avoiding any unnecessary conflict taking innocent lives.

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Kenya Diary - Reflections on Watumu by Lottie May

York based student Lottie May spends every Christmas in Watumu, just North of Mombasa. She has kindly shared some thoughts with us. Enjoy her fantastic insight to this amazing country.

Reflecting on tourism - What is the 'real' Africa?

It’s hard to remember the last Christmas I spent at home; the typical English Christmas isn’t familiar to me that’s for sure. Instead when December comes around my family and I set off to Watamu, Kenya – a small village 2 hours north of Mombasa and 1 hour south of the Somali border. Undoubtedly we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, first visiting the continent 7 years ago, we are drawn back every single year. So December 2012 it’s no different; once again we settle back into our usual resort, apply the sun tan lotion and get comfy on the sun beds. 

All you can see is the serine white beaches and the clear blue Indian Ocean reaching for miles. The deserted surroundings allow the faint whistle of the breeze and the crashing of the waves to ring in our ears as we doze in and out of our sleep.

The break and drastic change from the normal hectic lifestyle back in England, makes it extremely easy to get into this daily pattern, wasting away the days one by one. I can’t fault people for doing that, as long as they understand that sitting in a resort, is far from the ‘real’ Africa. You can’t say you have been to Africa until you venture from the haven of tourism, characterized by the stereotypical holiday privileges, which are expected by holidaymakers. The built up hotels, running water and food at hand all come unnaturally in this country and stepping out into the local villages strongly initiate this realization.

Photography - Lottie May (all rights reserved)

Kenyan Culture and the great Sense of Community

The contrast between environments when simply walking beyond the exit of the hotel still amazes me. When first visiting Africa I remember it being very overwhelming. This is down to the main fact that you can’t walk for more than 5 yards without being approached by someone. However despite the slight irritation of this, the majority means no harm, only there to greet you or maybe try to sell you something hoping to make small profit. This is common within the African culture with all the communities being so tightly intertwined, showing a genuine sense of compassion for one another. This is not only displayed when simply walking down the dusty African lanes, but also through organizations set up to help individuals in the communities. 

Visiting the Rainbow Orphanage

One of these organizations in which I regularly visit is the Rainbow Orphanage, run by an American woman called Linda who sold all her worldly possessions to build this orphanage. The facilities are very basic with no electricity and the children are squeezed into bunked dorms. They have so little but are so happy and grateful. Rainbow orphanage is full to the seams and Linda often has the difficult task of turning away small children who are left overnight waiting at the gate. Many of the children have AIDS – an epidemic in this part of Africa affecting 1 in 4 people. Linda draws her inspiration from her religious beliefs; indeed this is the value base, which guides the behavior within the orphanage. I feel so humble watching these small children sing grateful thanks for the food they have been given for the day – a bit of rice and some dried goat. Then I return to my hotel and face the buffet of luxurious foods that their minds could not even imagine.


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Amnesty International

Amnesty International

Who are Amnesty?

Amnesty International was founded in July 1961 by British lawyer, Peter Benenson and they are based in London. They are a non-governmental campaigning organisation whose main focus is to protect people and their human rights especially when it involves justice, fairness, freedom and truth. Support for Amnesty is worldwide and they have over 2.8 million members in more than 150 countries all helping in different ways.

What do Amnesty do?

Amnesty really believes that if people work together then the changes that they strive to make can happen – the power of team work. Amnesty have many on-going projects and some of their most recent include campaigning for women’s human rights and the issues that prevent them from having the freedom they deserve. Other campaigns that Amnesty has been working on are the abolition of the death penalty and security and human rights in countries such as Egypt and Syria.  

Success Stories of Amnesty

On their website, Amnesty specifically state that they don’t take credit if, for example, a government changes its laws. However every year, Amnesty receives messages from people’s lives that have been improved since Amnesty started campaigning. These messages reinforce Amnesty’s belief that working together can really make a difference. The Amnesty website shares some of their great stories including one about Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti.

The Nigerian government were concerned that his music contained political criticisms and they felt threatened by this. After he had repeatedly been beaten up and arrested, the government sentenced him to 5 years imprisonment. Amnesty came to the defence of Fela and started campaigning against his prison sentence. They argued that it was an unfair sentence as Fela hadn’t actually been prisoned for a criminal offence but because of his political behaviour which hadn’t been violent. Amnesty was contacted by many of his fans from all over the world and with their help Fela was let out of prison after 18 months.

Feeling inspired to join Amnesty?

Amnesty has made it so easy to become a member, you can do it all through their website and it’s very cheap to do! An adult can join Amnesty for £24 a year or £2 a month or even better for students - £7.50 for the year! Both of these include a welcome pack, an Amnesty magazine every 2 months and a say in Amnesty’s future.

Want to do something good in 2013? Stand up for human rights around the world – join Amnesty. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Nigeria: Witchcraft and Oil Spills

Nigeria is a country located in western Africa and has an estimated population of 162.5 million people (Source: Trading Economics). It is considered to be an LEDC, a Less Economically Developed Country. One of their key industries is oil exportation and it brings a lot of money into their economy.
But did you know that there is a link between the oil industry and witchcraft? In this blog we’re going to have a look at the link between the two. 


What is witchcraft? 

Looking back in history, there are many tales and articles that mention witchcraft.  One of the most famous ‘tests’ to prove somebody was a practicing witch was to throw them into a lake. If they sunk, they had been wrongly accused but if they floated, they were a witch and would most likely be killed. 

This may be a thing of the past for many of us around the world however unfortunately for some countries, people are still being accused of witchcraft, and in Nigeria’s case, it’s the children.  

Oil Spills in Nigeria

As we have already mentioned, the oil industry is very important to Nigeria, but it has its problems. One of the main concerns is the infrastructure of the industry, which is based in the Niger Delta. The fields are all very small which means there are a lot of pipes, the majority of them being over ground, connecting them together. 

The general maintenance and up keep of these pipes is not very good which means that they have started to corrode which leads to leaks that spill across the land. The environment is being badly damaged because of this and is making a lot of the land uninhabitable. According to Amnesty USA, local people and NGOs are reporting that the pipes in the Bodo area have not been replaced since 1958”

Oil spills can stretch over a vast area which is why they have such a serious effect on the landscape. Many plants and animals suffer and crops are killed because of the pollution in the ground and water. The people who live in the area suffer from various health problems as a result. 

So how does this link to 'witchcraft'? 

Unfortunately, the people in Nigeria don’t have such easy access to the technology that we do so many of the adults are left uneducated. Only the first six years of school are compulsory. Many Nigerians living in the Niger Delta don’t realise that the problems they have such as illnesses, death and famine are because of the oil leaks.  They blame the oldest child for 'witchcraft', which they believe can cause death in the family.  Their beliefs in witchcraft are influenced by corrupt Church leaders who want to profit from so called 'exorcisms' and cultural beliefs in black magic. 

As Stepping Stones Nigeria explains, “This fear stems from the belief that a spiritual spell can be given to a person through food and drink”. They go on to say that their soul leaves their body to be initiated into witchcraft.

The Reality of 'child witchcraft' in Nigeria

Unfortunately for the accused children, they are exposed to traumatic punishment from the people around them. Shockingly, some of them are chained up and tortured in churches to try and get them to confess, some are poisoned to death and others are publicly humiliated and murdered or abandoned. 

There are groups that have been set up to fight for the rights of these children including ‘Stepping Stones Nigeria’. Not only do they help the abandoned people by giving them food and clothes and medical treatment for their injuries but they are trying to educate the people of Nigeria to stop these acts of violence and hopefully change their attitudes towards witchcraft.  

Stepping Stones Nigeria are also trying to raise awareness about child witchcraft and these acts of violence that may not be well known to the rest of the world.
References on 'Witchcraft' in Nigeria


Thursday, 24 January 2013

China’s influence in Africa

In recent months China have stepped up its influence in Africa. It is important to note that China’s relations have been longstanding and this blog does not attempt to look into previous goings on – but focuses on what is happening now, why it is happening and why it is important.  

Why is China involved in Africa?

It is well documented that China has relations with Africa, which are becoming more and more intertwined – but why? Quite simply – Natural resources – Oil and Natural Gas. China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner, with over 800 Chinese firms involved in Africa, it is thought that trade between China and Africa is at $166.3 billion which is triple the figures seen in 2006. China and Africa set up the FOCAC in 2000 to monitor relations, estimates say that investment could reach $2.1 trillion by 2035.

What’s in it for Africa?
Sinopec, one of China’s largest state owned oil companies, provided Angola with $2 billion from China’s Eximbank to rebuild the country’s railways, state buildings, hospitals and roads. Many African governments believe the investment from China as key for them to gain economic security and develop. However, the investment comes at a price, China is investing to gain access to oil and economic gain. Critics condemn China for providing aid as a bargaining tool and believe China are attempting to elevate the pressure they are facing over Human Rights.

Why are China’s relations with Africa important?

Many African nations suffer at the hands of dictators. The vast majority of the continent is still part of the developing world and therefore relies on aid from developed, mostly democratic nations.
As a result, aid comes from the Western World with demands over human rights, cease fires and control over where the aid goes. China is all too familiar with Western pressure about human rights and makes no such demands on Africa.
China has been accused of exploiting Africa and acting in a “neo-colonialist” manner, as well as actively supported dictatorships. In recent years, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe seized land from civilians - the land has been contracted out to China to farm. Last year the resultant famine led to a revolt by those who had lost their land - Mugabe fled to China for protection.
The ‘Western-World’ see China as supporting and perpetuating Africa’s problems for its own gain, yet this would not be the first time Africa found itself in such a situation. In the not so distant past, it was the West who took advantage of Africa to colonized and developed. Following Algerian-French war in 1962 Algeria gained independence, yet France walked away with an agreement, which still gave them access to Algerian oil for the next six years. In 1914 Nigeria signed an ordinance, providing BP with sole access to oil exploration. Africa has vast quantities of natural resources that are untouched.  As the developed world expands these resources become more valuable which could be financially extremely beneficial to Africa. However, this in turn will allow Africa to expand increasing its own demand for natural resources - could this mean for the future of the worlds obsession with fuel. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Gender in India - Will recent protests help to lower rape and violence against women in India?

Approximately one month ago, several men were arrested for gang raping a woman on a moving bus in India. The 23 year old medical student later died in a Singapore hospital. This week, 5 men were arrested for a similar incident in the Punjab on a 12 year old girl.

This has sparked protests across India about gender issues women's rights.  But will this die down when these key news stories come out of the limelight? Or will it have an impact on the way that women are treated in India today?

Here you can see the protest at India gate in Delhi in December. This publicity on the gang rape of the 23 year old back in December sparked a national cry for justice for women throughout India.  Many people in India are supporting women's rights and more equality. Many campaign for a better justice system through marches and protests. Youths of India's middle class have taken to social media such as Twitter and Facebook to express their outrage. According to Kavita Krishnan, a leading figure in the Delhi protests, it has pushed issues of gender into areas of political debate (CBC News).

Many rape cases in India go unreported due to the stigma associated with being a rape victim. Every 22 minutes a rape is reported in India, so in reality, figures are estimated to be much higher. Perhaps given the recent publicity, more women will become empowered to speak up. However, it is important to remember that India is extremely diverse and contains cultural variations within the country itself.

Despite the mass publicity and protest spurred by the recent rape cases, violence against women doesn't seem to have lowered in India since the publicity of these attacks. According to NDTV, the government is still struggling to respond to the public outcry.

What does the future hold for women in India? Do you think that violence attacks against women will be reduced following the recent protests? Please leave your comments on our blog.


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Recommended Film on civil war in the Congo: Blood in the mobile

We would like to recommend the film 'Blood in the mobile' to anyone with an interest in civil war and the Congo. 'Blood in the Mobile' tells the story of how minerals used in the production of mobile phones are coming from mines in the Eastern DRC, and there is no guarantee that they are not conflict minerals that fund the violence and civil war.  This film highlights issues of both individual and corporate responsibility.

You can watch the trailer here:

To buy the 'Blood in the Mobile' DVD, follow this link.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Kigali Crafts makes 'Lens Of The Day' on Squidoo

Congratulations to Amy Trumpeter and the Kigali Crafts team. The Squidoo lens on Kigali Crafts is 'Lens Of The Day' today. Kigali Crafts is a fair trade company that supports Rwandan genocide survivors in their fight against poverty through fair trade.

If you would like to view the Lens Of The Day, follow this link:

How I set up a Fair Trade Project supporting Rwandan Genocide Survivors

You can find out what Kigali Crafts is all about by watching 'The Alysia Judge Show' on YouTube. 'The Alysia Judge Show' is directed by Grace Jamieson at The TFTV Department, University of York.

Gaining the featured spot of 'Lens Of The Day' on Squidoo will raise interest in international development through fair trade, and, of course, raise interest in the Kigali Crafts project itself. Many thanks to Squidoo for supporting this amazing project.

Friday, 4 January 2013

'Why Poverty' series now available online

If you missed the amazing 'Why Poverty' series of 8 BBC documentaries, worry not The 'Why Poverty' series is now avalable to watch online.  To find out more click here.

'Why Poverty' also contains a series of mini-films that internview people living below the poverty line and exploring poverty related issues all around the world. Below, you can watch the short video of 'Finding Josephine'.  A family who sponsor a child in Uganda go to see the difference that their money actually makes.

What is Poverty?