Africa

The Trouble with (Mobile) Phones

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As supply chains go we very rarely stop to ask where the materials in our mobiles phones (cell phones for the American readers) come from, what the human cost might be. The use of coltan, (a contraction of columbite and tantalite, and its derivative tantalum), to make capacitors for electronic goods becomes a problem when its sale funds a civil war and the social impact on the local population includes death, violence, rape, poor labor conditions and the breakdown of family units.

The battles in Central Africa have been raging for almost twenty years and are funded, in large part, by the localized militias’ control of natural mineral deposits, whether directly, or through taxing and exploiting artisanal miners and local populations.

Artisanal mining is at best described as basic. Small teams with primitive tools clear some jungle, dig up the ground and extract whatever minerals they find close to the surface. Through an informal market, minerals are then sold on to middlemen and make their way along precarious routes, through multiple palms greased with taxes and bribes.

In Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC – democratic? that has got to be a joke, yeah?), at least 5 million people have died in the recent conflicts, of whom it is estimated around 40% were women and children. Recruitment of children as soldiers has been systematic, along with widespread sexual violence as a weapon of war (that’s rape if you were wondering). The warfare is complex and ever changing, with an intricate web of rebel and government-backed militias in combat with each other. Gender-based violence has become a weapon of choice in these conflicts.

According to most experts, smelters and refiners are the main “bottle neck point” of the conflict mineral supply chain. So, an accurate list of smelters would be extremely useful in determining conflict mineral sourcing.  Many of these smelters are highly mobile operations, often based in difficult to reach locations deep within conflict zones and so its likely to be extremely difficult to capture usable data on the operations. 

But hope is on the horizon (well of sorts anyway).  the US has recognized the exploitation associated with, and trade of conflict minerals originating in the DRC is helping to finance conflict characterized by extreme levels of violence in the Eastern DRC, particularly sexual and gender-based violence.

According to Oren Ben-Zeev, a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers who assists companies to comply with the disclosure process, the chain of custody of conflict minerals is difficult to establish.

Ben-Zeev states, “identifying the ‘chain of custody’ between the origin of the minerals and the finished products into which they are incorporated, compounds in difficulty for every supplier tier between the smelter and the reporting company. At the end of the day, companies that are far downstream cannot conclusively determine the smelters in their supply chain.”

Conflict minerals are made into essential components in all advanced electronic devices. There is little we, as consumers, can do to change this. But we can vote with our wallets to support those tech companies that demonstrate their commitment to implementing comprehensive due diligences processes in their supply chains.

The Fairphone initiative, based in Amsterdam, offers the first conflict mineral free smart phone, and Intel now manufactures a conflict mineral free microprocessor. Raise Hope for Congo, a campaign of NGO the Enough Project, ranks electronics companies based on their actions to contribute to a clean minerals trade in the DRC.

Next time you reach for your smart phone or tablet, perhaps it’s worth considering what your response will be.

Much of the above is based on work by Jude Soundar and Alex Newton

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Are they worth it?

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Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la vers...
Publicité pour Twitter et Facebook sur la version hébreu de Wikipédia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Youth (yoof) culture in the UK to a large extent is informed in attitudes by Hip-Hop Culture, or certainly the gift-wrapped version we see on MTV, Virgin Music… Critics may be easily prompted to dismiss this version of ‘yoof culture’ as the ramblings of uneducated and lazy youth. But I point to the growing levels of violence practiced against the youth by older and wiser (?) generations and by youth on youth or gang violence mostly in our urban centres.

The State terror that drove Aaron Schwartz to commit suicide; the domestic violence that killed Kasandra Perkins; the communal violence that killed Trayvon Martin and fatally wounded Malala Yousufzai; have all become commonplace. Not UK violence but for sure the violence that we meet every evening on the 6 pm news broadcast. The message is clear, people of youth are violent! Its a crisis!

Education can and often does address the underlying causes of violence but is not the sole key to addressing this crisis.Teachers must help reclaim the public by affirming with youth that life is worth living. Pedagogy must wrestle with the fact that the worth of youth largely swings between being targeted as (new) consumers and being seen as a disposable population fit only for the prison.

Renewed societal values are absolutely central to the improvement in youth experience; by showing how racism, sexism, and economical exploitation shape the outcomes and therefore the values of the youth, teachers have an opportunity to use the past experience of youth to improve the possible future experience of youth. Some Feminists building on critical views of the traditional nuclear family have illuminated the complex ways that power and violence function in the nuclear family and heterosexual relationships. Yet the buck stops there – the family is to blame?

I think not, well not entirely anyway. We lack the language and values necessary to address the states of terror that have escalated into youth-on-youth violence.

As we move into a more technologically-integrated society (Facebook, Twitter, Google+…), the pressing question is how to elevate the experience and contribution of the youth through these social networking platforms. The first task in answering this question is to challenge the notion that the youth are aloof and normalized to the violence in their midst. If we look closely at these social media hangouts, we find that youth are driven by two goals: the need to share information, and the need to be content creators.

Our next task, then, is to engage them in transforming their ingenuity and passion to share and create content that revises the modern world. Obvious blueprints have been offered. The revolutionary maneuvers of youth in North Africa have been realized through Twitter as a cabal for strategy. The Occupy movement illustrated how we can create webs of inclusion in a leaderless movement, and introduced the public speaking platform known as mic check. These ideas engender a generational attitude encapsulating a way of being. Of social awareness on a grander scale.

This isn’t however, the Marxist dream of a classless society. The economic, social and educational carnage youth face in the streets makes us culpable for failing to create effective institutions that integrate youth into society. If the future belongs to the youth, we must engage them by transforming the ideas of identity management on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram into community management by asking them to help share and create ideals we can live by.

“Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you’ll be strong
Fighting for your rights, even when you’re wrong
And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone
I am worth it?”
— Kenderick Lamar

Does Forgiveness = Justice?

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Forgiveness
Forgiveness (Photo credit: Celestine Chua)

The death and subsequent celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life has brought me to think deeply about his very being, his reasoning and his impact (globally).

Its probably fair to say that Nelson Mandela was a world statesman of outstanding stature and that he was much admired for his accommodation of his persecutors rather than unleashing country-wide revenge and blood-letting. His behavior immediately following his release from prison marks him out as a remarkable leader which it would be wonderful if others would emulate his example.

But…

The context in this case as in any case is all important. Only those who have been persecuted and suffered hold the position where forgiveness can be proffered.  And forgiveness can only be given where the persecuted has the power to forgive, that they have political power over their former persecutors, or more fundamentally that they have survived the persecution, the attempt to harm. It is only in these circumstances that forgiveness can be given.

Nobody is entitled to give forgiveness for the harm done to others, regardless of their closeness. You cannot suffer and forgive for others. In short only the victim can forgive. There can theretofore be no forgiveness for the crimes of Hitler or Stalin or Mao or many others; to forgive them would be to deny their victims and attempt to change history.

Self-evident as this position may seem there is nonetheless a predication by western politicians to accommodate perceived evil, to as it were make room for the enemy within. Compromise and accommodation are seen as preferable for ‘peace’ rather than conflict. Our leaders somehow find a way of ‘blinding’ themselves to the obvious peril of allowing some people to continue to function and think the way they do. To remain an enemy.

It is a view that refuses to recognize the difference between truly evil regimes, the Apartheid regime being a perfect example, and those who though different have much in common with our own. It inevitably leads to appeasement of the unappeasable and the associated victory of evil over good.

Little surprise however in today’s climate where good and bad have become relative concepts, the difference blurred to a point where distinction between the two is all but impossible. Its so blurred to the point where those regimes seen as victim regimes but who from time to time practice bad behavior are tolerated and allowed to persist, ignored or even condoned. The ANC did kill those it saw as traitors by ‘necklacing’ – putting a tyre around a persons neck and burning them to death. Wholly unacceptable behavior by any regime at any time but nevertheless overlooked as it was done by those people where the victims of the odious Apartheid regime.

Its hard if not impossible to not see Nelson Mandela in the light of the forgiving statesman for this was his signature characteristic. The substitution of justice with ‘truth and reconciliation’ could well be the overriding reason that at the time of his release from prison and election as South African President there wasn’t a blood-bath, an orgy of revenge by the recently oppressed Black South Africans on their Afrikaner tormentors but the restraining influence of Nelson Mandela has now departed and what is in store for South Africa can only be speculation. But that speculation seems to be suggesting that there may well be a conflict, after all the lot of the black South African is not much changed in 20 years.

Society needs to express its collective abhorrence of evil actions so that justice is done and society is better for it, it is less likely to commit the same actions in the future.

This is why justice must be served, criminal trials are an absolute necessity to ensure any semblance of justice. Forgiveness may well be necessary for individuals to move on out of the darkness, but justice is necessary for society to function. The ability to forgive is a great virtue but it is not a replacement, not even a poor replacement for justice. The fundamental distinction between right and wrong, good and bad cannot be replaced, to do so is to allow confusion to be the moral guiding light, something I fear western governments are increasingly all to prone to doing.

Death of a Peacekeeper

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Setting off with 2 trucks, jeeps and material ...
Setting off with 2 trucks, jeeps and material in Bangui; © OCHA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a strange day yesterday, a very strange day indeed. There was the world media event that was the Nelson Mandela memorial, President Obama et al involved in a ‘selfie’ caught on camera by the press and then there was the conflict in Central African Republic.

The French Army, there as peace keepers, peace makers actually but I’m sure you know what I mean banned all media activity for the day. This is unusual to say the very least. Journalists were banned from filming with the French Forces, cancelled until further notice.

Journalists were left to report and film in the absence of armed protection and so they did what journalists do, they made reports.  And these reports, what did they say?

They told the story of a lawless country, of streets barred to ordinary people and to the journalists as it happens. But yesterday the army roadblocks had been removed, almost as if the effort to prevent further slaughter by the militia were suspended for the day! And then the news came that French President Francois Holland was to visit or more accurately fly into a secure, (very secure actually, the army had been taken off the streets to protect him during the visit) airport surrounded by soldiers and barbed wire then fly back out again.

Nonetheless journalists did witness some peacekeeping forces in action. Forces from FOMAC from the UN, African Troops this time were engaged in a fire-fight with local militia whilst covering people seeking to go about their business as usual as possible in these extraordinary circumstances. At least one was felled, killed I don’t know but probably and given the reports possibly from gunfire from his own troops who were seen to be firing what can be best described as in a chaotic manner.

But did we see the report? Not unless you go looking for the information.

I am reminded of Romeo Dalliers, the most senior UN military official on the ground during the Rwandan conflict who said of Africa and Africans that they were people who had nothing to lose except their lives. But that their lives were worthless in the eyes of the world and so what should be expected is more not less conflict, more not less hate, and more not less death.

The death of the two French Soldiers is without doubt a tragedy, but we have to place a higher value on human life, all human life no matter where they were born, what their wealth, no matter what their skin colour or who they pray too. Human life is NOT an economic statistic!

What to remember of Nelson Mandela

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English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo date...
English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo dates from 1937. South Africa protect the copyright of photographs for 50 years from their first publication. See . Since this image would have been PD in South Africa in 1996, when the URAA took effect, this image is PD in the U.S. Image source: http://www.anc.org.za/people/mandela/index.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What are things that we should remember of Nelson Mandela?

1948 was a symbolic date in many ways, not least because during this year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was being drafted and the very same nations writing this declaration were wholly supporting the South African Apartheid system. Nelson Mandela stood as a powerful personality against the Apartheid system, he stood for equality for the right of a black skin person to be judged equal to a white skin person and to a brown skin person.  He also stood for the right of the white and the brown skin people to have equality with black skin people.

Nelson Mandela embodied the notion of equality. He asked but 2 questions:

  1. Is it fair that because a person has white skin that they have more rights than those who don’t?
  2. Is it fair that because a person has black skin that they have less rights than people who don’t?

What remains of these questions about skin colour is found in the collective imagination. All nations must be sure to say collectively that their nation belongs to them no matter what colour your skin is, that each and every one of us has a role to play, that we have equality of opportunity and of responsibility.

There are un-countable millions who feel as I do that an educated population provided with equality of opportunity not judged on skin colour or religious practice has within its collective imagination the resources to overcome the challenges of harmful ideas and victimization.

Asylum

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English: Chart showing in-country UK immigrati...
English: Chart showing in-country UK immigration removals, (failed asylum seekers and others), since 1993 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The media is fond of shining a spotlight on our asylum system, it makes good copy or TV. Its not the best way of running a debate but it does illustrate a reality that should not be overlooked. Britain like the rest of developed Europe is facing increasing asylum demands, probably in the region of 70% increase in the last 8 years.

The influx of asylum seekers is as a direct consequence of the numerous conflicts and wars around the globe. Asylum of itself is not a problem and should never be seen in terms of being a problem, its the fact that there is at the same time massive economic migration going on. Asylum is a tradition of most developed western European nations, a proud tradition in most cases and it must be preserved, it must be accepted that we are fortunate and have the honor of assisting those who need our help. I find it shocking that there are some who reside in this country who feel differently.

Nonetheless, it might be fair to comment that our processing centers are perhaps close to full and stretched for staff. The cracks are becoming obvious. The system is unable to deal with complex situations meaning it slows and blocks preventing those who might most need our help from getting it because we just don’t know they need it.

We should feel rightly proud that asylum seekers come to our countries with the intention of seeking help and maybe even settling on a more permanent basis. The contribute to the wealth (economically and culturally) to our societies. But its clear that the social support systems cannot support these people, those employed to help, the case-workers burn-out with massive levels of sickness absence. All the time the human tragedies build. There is a need to protect the individuals but also there is a need for process which is at best a delayed process.

I would agree with anybody who said reform is urgently needed. Without question we should not settle for half measures, current failures should be corrected, but not at any cost. The economic cost of failure is mounting but so is the probable economic cost of doing the job right. My experience in industry is that doing something right first time is the most economically cost effective way of doing a job. I have no doubt that the same apply’s to the asylum system.

Delays might be necessary, so improved holding centers to accommodate the asylum seekers while the initial checks are being done would be a really good start. Simplification of procedures and processes would also help greatly. These two factors would simply add to the quality and speed of service provided, making it more respectful and certain in outcome.

A win-win in anybody’s language I guess.

At the borders of course better directional control would be needed, this is not a resources issue but probably a training and information issue.

And then once a final decision is made the person if successful should be assimilated into society. With a fully renovated procedure the asylum seeker and society will be both better served.

Final decisions are important and really need to be as speedy as possible. I’m sure most would agree that an asylum seeker should not have to face an almost endless wait on deportation or not. There has got to be clear pathways for those who do not gain asylum, they should not be expected to wait for an appropriate moment for return to their own country.  Our collective responsibility as a European Union should be ensuring those who want and need out help can access it but those who do not are dealt with firmly, fairly and quickly.

White Widow

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AMISOM Al Shabab and Somali public
AMISOM Al Shabab and Somali public (Photo credit: macalin)

Today (Tuesday 24 Sept. 2013) the print and on-line media is in a real spin with speculation that Samantha Lewthwait branded the ‘White Widow’ in the British press is involved and possibly killed in the al Shabab attack by islamic extremists on the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

She’s 29 years old, has 4 children and is the widow of Germaine Lindsay one of the 7/7 bombers who killed himself and others in the London June 2005 atrocity. She disappeared not long after driving speculation that she is involved in islamic terrorist activities. Survivors from the Nairobi attack have said that there’s a veiled white woman involved in the killings and of course the press media have made a great leap in their speculation.  That isn’t to say they aren’t right though.

What we do know is that al Shabab is definitely behind the action, they’ve claimed responsibility and they have form. British media has jumped on the claims from al Shabab that Lewthwait is part of the armed group attacking the shopping complex. As far as the islamists are concerned she’s the star turn. Indeed the British sources are suggesting that Lewthwaite is actually behind the attack and is running it.

All this said if she is indeed a member or affiliate of an organisation such as al Shabab the British (and probably the Americans too) have a problem. The Americans backed by the Brits and now the French seem to have a single solution to conflict where there’s an islamic element involved; military action. We (I mean the royal we here) have lost sight of what is happening in our own countries. There are whole areas where islam is the overarching cultural influence. Sections of society are not British but are islamic, and this is a concern. These people are becoming radicalized and using the relative wealth naturally derived from living in a developed liberal western society to get themselves into terror training camps which are on the whole in those places on the globe which are inaccessible (in failed states).

This isn’t new, its just more pressing than it used to be (has anyone read Londinistan?). We are generating our very own terrorists and exporting them to kill and maim those who are the easier targets. A bit more inward concentration, a bit more public action in our own country really wouldn’t go a miss. The British (and I’d guess the American and French public would welcome the action) public would seem a whole lot happier if action was taken at source instead of seeing those responsible allowed to drift almost at will around the world exporting their very own brand of lunatic terror.

I was talking with a colleague earlier today and he was very anxious to explain that those undertaking the attack in Kenya are not real Muslims. Well my understanding of islam is that he is probably right.

There is lesser & greater jihad. Greater jihad is about persuasion, education and evangelism. It also says that islam should not be forced on non-believers. All commendable and those who stick to these rules are perfectly okay with me, I have no difficulty with islam or Muslims. Lesser jihad is concerned with war and is essentially a last resort when an islamic nation is under attack by an unjustified aggressor. Now this too I don’t actually have a problem with except to say that no islamic nation is under attack by an unjustified aggressor. Certainly not by Kenya who through contributing to the African Union force in Somalia are trying to bring peace.

So I say to western governments; get your house in order and deal with the home grown extremists (I don’t just mean islamic either, it could be far-right groups as well). Stop exporting terror.