28 September 2013

Reporting from Tanzania and Kenya for the Next Month

I am off tonight for Dar es Salaam as a part of a reporting trip with the International Reporting Project. I will be joining a small group of journalists to see what is happening in Tanzania on the side of agriculture. Then I am sticking around on my own to go to Kenya.

I will visit the Millennium Village Project in Sauri, One Acre Fund in Kakamega, see LifeStraws in action, see the inner workings of Innovations for Poverty Action, meet with GiveDirectly recipients and more.

My stories will appear over at Humanosphere. Also be on the lookout for some more CGI and UN Week related stories early next week. As a part of the trip I will be using social media to document and report as I go along. I will try to update this blog as best I can, but your best bet is to follow me on Twitter and read my stories here: http://www.humanosphere.org/author/tmurphy/.

Please feel free to suggest ideas. If you are based in Kenya or Tanzania, I'd love to get together while I am bouncing around from place to place. I will be in Dar, Arusha, Nairobi, Kisumu and Kakamega.

21 September 2013

Gettleman's Profile of Kagame is too Balanced (and Rwanda is not happy)

Credit: WEF
Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jeffrey Gettleman finally got the opportunity to sit down with Rwanda’s controversial president Paul Kagame.

The three hour conversation was used in an article published in the New York Magazineprofiling Kagame. The piece caught attention for a less-than-flattering depiction of the Rwandan president and even generated a bizarre response from the Kagame office.

Gettleman’s piece covers the range of views on Kagame. He is the leader who turned around Rwanda in the wake of a horrific genocide that should have sent the country in a tailspin. He is also the autocrat who stifles opponents in Rwanda and is accused of inciting rebellion in the neighboring DR Congo by supporting rebel groups.

Yolande Makolo, the communications director for the Presidency in Rwanda, responded critically to the article in allAfrica. She said that she turned down Gettleman’s previous requests to interview Kagame, but was convinced by a mutual acquaintance to allow for the conversation. When it did happen, Gettleman went well beyond the hour that he was allotted to speak with the president.

The article itself was disappointing to Makolo. She acknowledged that her contacts and colleagues considered the report to be balanced. That was not good news to her ears.

“I am sorry but “balance” hurts Rwandans, and Africans,” she wrote.

“Even when stories reflect more positives than negatives, the positives don’t carry as much weight overall as the negatives, which chip away at the agency we are working to accumulate. Balance thus erodes our reputation and standing in the global pecking order, keeping us on a pedestal that says we are and will perpetually be second class.”

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

20 September 2013

God (and evangelicals) Loves Uganda, The Impact is Serious

Uganda has emerged as a focal point of US evangelical efforts in Africa. A new film, God Loves Uganda, shows how the efforts to bring Jesus to Ugandans is also spreading hate against gays. Specifically, it has enabled the progress of legislation that will imprison gay Ugandans.

Film director Roger Ross Williams debuted the film at the Sundance film festival earlier this year and it will hit US screens in October. The main character is Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia and doctoral candidate at Boston University. His 2010 research paper showed how a new form of evangelism took shape in Africa starting in the 1970s and 80s that impacts the trend of anti-gay laws across the continent.

“African allies of the U.S. Christian Right echo their friends in deriding African and Western human rights campaigners as pursuing a neocolonial agenda,” says the report. “To better support the communities, allies around the world need to be more attuned to the complexity of theological and institutional ties between Africa and the U.S. Christian Right.”

Kaoma issued a range of recommendations including dispelling the myth that human rights advocacy is a form of neocolonialism and making it clear to Africans what the US Christian Right actually stands for. Those shifts coupled with a rights-based progression in individual nations could tip the scale away from bigotry and towards respected rights.

Continue at Humanosphere to see the rest of the article and the movie trailer...

Controversy follows gender-based violence campaign in India

A new ad campaign in India is using venerated Hindu goddesses to call attention to gender-based violence. It caught a lot of attention when it launched two weeks ago, but the group behind the campaign says it is not affiliated with it.

The images were commissioned by Save the Children India’s Save our Sisters campaign. Its work is focused on eliminating the trafficking of young girls and women in India. Save commissioned Taproot India to put the campaign together.

There were nearly 250,000 reported crimes against women in India last year. The Abused Goddesses campaign shows photographs of models as figures like Saraswati.

Viewers of the ads are encouraged to ‘Save our Sisters’ by calling a hotline to report incidents of violence. However, Save the Children India is now distancing itself from the campaign after it gained attention earlier this month.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

19 September 2013

Are video games the next global health frontier?

This is my first article for the Beacon Reader. Described as the Netflix of journalism, you can subscribe for only $5 a month and get exclusive content from me, Tristan McConnell, Kate Cronin-Furman (aka 1/2 of Wronging Rights), Joshua Foust, Barry Malone and many more. Try it for two weeks today (click 'fund his work').

Gaming may be the next frontier for global health innovation. If mobile health is the new and cool kid in school, then games for health is the awkward youngest sibling with few friends. It is the parents who see the potential in their youngest child and are willing to support his development.

Heather Wipfli is one of those parents. She is the Associate Director at the University of Southern California Institute for Global Health. USC also happens to be home to the Game Innovation Lab, a strength at the university and a natural place to explore gaming solutions to global health problems.

Advocacy initially interested she as a potential for gaming, but now she believes that games can do much more. A game like Free Rice combines learning, play and giving by automatically donating advertisement revenues to the World Food Programme.

“Integrating information with play could be a way to dispense important lessons,” she says.

One of her initial projects was a game called 1,000 Days, created in collaboration with the Global Alliance and ABC News. The game, played on Facebook, was designed to build awareness about the importance of a child’s first 1,000 days. With only $10,000 to build the game, Wipfli worked with a group of students to build the game.

Continue reading at the Beacon Reader...

DAWNS Debut e-book: Who Shot Ahmed?

I am proud to announce the first DAWNS-published ebook: Who Shot Ahmed? A Mystery Unravels in Bahrain’s Botched Arab Spring by Elizabeth Dickinson. I am biased because I was a part of the production, but Beth's reporting is excellent and it is a compelling read. Buy it today at the Amazon Kindle Store or Smashwords.

The story recounts the murder of a 22-year-old videographer, killed in cold blood in the dead of night at the height of Bahrain’s Arab Spring revolution. On a small island Kingdom swirling with political, economic, and sectarian tensions, Ahmed’s murder epitomized everything that had gone wrong since 2011, when pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in droves.

Drawing on dozens of testimonies, journalist Elizabeth Dickinson traces the tale of Ahmed’s death and his family’s fearless quest for justice. Darting between narratives and delving into characters, it is a tale of a life lost and the great powers—from Washington to London, and Riyadh to Manama—that did nothing to stop the crisis. 

“For those of us in the business of recording history as it unfolds, it is inspiring to read the sad but ultimately uplifting story that Elizabeth Dickinson offers up regarding a young Bahraini cameraman, Ahmed Ismail al-Samadi, who was shot dead by police during pro-democracy protests he was filming," says ICG CEO Joost Hiltermann.

"Be it in Bahrain, in Egypt, in Syria, or any other zone of conflict and contestation, the role of the media is critical, and it should therefore come as no surprise that the person holding the camera to document events — for the record, for justice, for posterity — becomes a target. In telling Ahmed’s tale, with its bittersweet ending, Dickinson reaffirms the continuity of recording history, despite a regime’s attempt to break it by killing the messenger.”

Dickinson has a deep knowledge of the region, but she brings a story from a foreign land straight back home: Ahmed could be any of our sons.

Who Shot Ahmed? is available for purchase in the Amazon Kindle Store or Smashwords (for non-Kindle users and people living in Kindle unfriendly countries).
Elizabeth Dickinson is an American journalist based in Abu Dhabi. Reporting from five continents, she has served as assistant managing editor at Foreign Policy magazine, Nigeria correspondent for The Economist, as well as contributing Editor at World Affairs and correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. Her work has additionally appeared in The National, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Washington Monthly, The Atlantic, and The New Republic. This work is based on her independent investigation and does not represent the views of her employers. Who Shot Ahmed? was edited by Sandra Allen.

What do the poor want after the MDGs?

What do the poor want in the global fight against poverty?

Well, at least in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India, the poor got a chance to say.

In June and July, surveyors in these countries sought feedback from the poor on what should follow in the wake of the expiration of the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Each of the groups outlined different ideas in recently published communiqués.

The Egypt group stressed more attention to the issue of self-sufficiency. Uganda’s urged for sustainable development and India’s recommendations focused on equality. Finally, the panel in Brazil outlined what it called a ‘global life plan’ that illustrates the interconnectedness of everyone in the world.

“We consider that “Self-Sufficiency” is one of the main issues to concentrate on at the national as well as at the international level because it is a direct factor contributing to the protection of Human Dignity. Every person will have Self-Sufficiency when “he doesn’t look or wish to have what other people have,” write the Egyptian panel.

The communiqués build off of a series of recommendations were published earlier this year from a UN High-Level Panel led by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Recommendations from the country-level discussions and the High-Level Panel (HLP) find points of accord and disagreement. Inclusion is seen as an important part of the process of moving people out of poverty, but the communiques talked less about how it can apply to issues like gender (though Uganda does talk about women’s empowerment) and energy as opposed to the HLP.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

18 September 2013

Differing views on the UN chemical weapons report

The much anticipated report from United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria was finally released on Monday. The group’s findings pointed towards the use of chemical weapons by Syrian armed forces. The US and UN made strong statements about Syria’s use of the weapons. Russia is again the dissenter.

However, the Syrian government is not directly assigned blame. Rather the information provided in the report strongly indicates that the attacks were carried out by Syrian government troops.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide a clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used,” conclude the inspectors.

The attack was deadlier that it may have otherwise been due to the fact that it was launched in the cooler morning. The report says that air moving down to the ground made it easier for the gas to spread once deployed and more easily enter the lower levels of buildings.

People who were at the scene of the attacks told the inspectors that they experienced symptoms ranging from blurred vision and shortness of breath to vomiting and loss of consciousness. Those that ran to help described people laying on the ground dead or unconscious. They too began to experience some of the effects of the nerve agent.

US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said there is no doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

A rape problem in parts of Asia and some insights to prevention

Nearly one in four men surveyed in six Asian countries admit to having raped a woman, find UN-backed researchers. The good news is that the data provides a road map to preventing future rapes.

The research was conducted in coordination with the UN-backed Partners for Prevention program. Established in 2008, Partners for Prevention aims to prevent gender-based violence in Asia and the Pacific. Interviews took place in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea.

Reasons cited range from sexual entitlement to entertainment to punishment, say researchers in a paper published in British health journal The Lancet. Alcohol was surprisingly low on list of motivations, said report author Dr Emma Fulu.

“We hope to see this new knowledge used for more informed programs and policies to end violence against women,” said Fulu.

Men between the ages of 18 and 49 years old were interviewed by fellow men. Rape was not explicitly discussed, rather it was brought up through questions asking if they “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it.”

Between 6% and 8% surveyed said that they forced a non-partner to have sex with them. Of that group, more than half said they committed their first rape as a teen.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

16 September 2013

Migration, Disease and Development

Amy Lieberman has a nice article in the World Policy Journal on the nexus of migration and the spread of disease. She reports from Nepal:
Yet the issue of health—access to education, services, treatment, and a quality of life that can prevent migrants from getting sick with a transmittable illness—remains largely absent from regional and international agreements and discussions on migration. It is unlikely to surface as a priority any time soon, international experts on health and migration say, given the predominant, though inaccurate, conviction that migrants bring disease to a new country rather than acquiring them there and returning home to spread the contagion. 
“We talk about global health care and everybody seems to agree on the principles, but when it comes to migrants, you see the sensitivity the issue raises. People say, ‘Oh, now we are talking about migrants’,” says Davide Mosca, the Geneva-based director of the International Organization for Migration’s Department of Migrant Health. “No one shares the responsibility. We talk about migration, but not about health. It’s too sensitive.” Indeed, the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations body that should monitor and police this growing crisis, refuses even to discuss the issue publicly. 
Talk of migration often makes politicians balk, given the impact the typically unpopular policy issues may have on their political future. The public often fears migrants spread disease and pose excessive burdens on government-supported health care. “Because of this stigma, it is unpopular for politicians to stand for migrants’ rights, including health. There is a deliberate tendency to avoid any explicit promotion of inclusive policies and practices,” says Mosca. The alternative, and generally accepted model, is simply to exclude migrants from countries’ public health systems, or to restrict their access.
Read it here

11 September 2013

Success in Africa: CEOs share their insights

What does it take for a business to succeed in Africa?

To answer that question, Jonathan Berman spoke with the people who are doing business on the continent. Presently, there are 150 companies valued at over $1 billion in Africa and more than 500 companies with annual sales above $100 million. CEOs from foreign and domestic companies weigh in with their lessons on how to leverage the rising continent for success.

Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise recounts the conversations that Berman has with leaders ranging from GE’s Jeff Immelt to James Mwangi, CEO of the Kenya-based Equity Bank. Berman uses his experience in analyzing and working with the private sector to try to get at the heart of how businesses are having an positive impact.

“Success in Africa reveals a place where business is transforming millions of lives for the better, while generating wealth for those willing to lead. The power to transform lives is a driver for men and women passionate about business everywhere,” says Berman.

I spoke with Berman about the book and the debate over whether or not Africa is a rising continent. He also addresses some concerns that people have about the private sector entering African markets. Previous discussions with Berman have revealed a person who is a strong believer in what the private sector can accomplish, but is not blind to the potential negative impacts if companies exploit regions and/or people.

The idea that Africa is rising turns out to be a heated topic. Why does your analysis and experience lead to the conclusion that the continent is rising? In what way are current views on Africa and its countries distorted? What can be done to change those errors in judgement?

That it is a heated topic at all is a reflection of how strong Africa’s presence is in the world’s consciousness. The rapid change underway in Africa challenges a lot of treasured mythology about Africa as solely a place of happy animals and miserable people. You can see media outlets from CNN to HBO have a hard time breaking out of that mythology. See HBO’s current hit Newsroom, in which Africa is so tragic it drives poor Maggie insane. The development professionals I know have worked hard to reduce or eliminate African tragedy, and they recoil from that monolithic portrayal.

Of course, Africa’s a large and differentiated continent, so both the growth data and the related optimism vary. Even in a single country, growth is not linear. Nonetheless, the data of the last decade clearly support the assertion that Africa is among the fastest growing places on earth, and also the continent with the greatest optimism among polled businesses. I think about what Vimal Shah, the head of the Kenyan Manufacturer’s association, said to me recently. “All the ladders I see are pointed in the same direction.” They are of different heights, and not everyone is on that ladder yet, but I see what Vimal sees.

continue reading the interview on Humanosphere...

10 September 2013

Blogging Advice from Blog Experts

Chris Lysy reached out to a bunch of bloggers to get responses on a series of questions about the act of blogging. I participated alongside some much smarter people than I (such as Beth Kanter and Seth Godin). You can see their responses here and mine below (with Chris's great cartoons).

On challenges

For me it is still getting over publishing and putting myself out there. Even when I am doing more of a reported story than a blog/opinion I feel a sort of resistance to publishing and the vulnerability that comes with it once it is out there. The other stuff is relatively easy for me at this point, but there is that fear of rejection or failure that immediately follows hitting the publish button.


Think of it as an extension of what you are already doing. You are reading and pulling together a lot of information and resources about what you know best. Blogging is a public way to gather that information, make a few notes and share with others.

The benefits are that people will interact with you. It can foster connections and potential suggestions/opportunities that may not have existed prior. Also, there is the fact that there is evidence showing how blogging about research can lead to more citations and reads of published works. As long as the person does not say anything improper, blogging is a great support for a researcher’s work.

09 September 2013

NGOs make Peace Push for Syria

Zaatari refugee camp. Credit: Oxfam
US Senator John McCain is an unlikely ally for President Obama’s sales pitch to launch a military intervention in Syria. Congress has some time to decide what it will do before it reconvenes, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are working in and around Syria are pushing for the US to do more, just not with its military.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a strong statement on Sunday condemning the spectre of US attacks in Syria calling such an intervention “largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.”

It will be impossible to reach an international consensus, even if there is definitive evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria, says ICG. Much of that is due to the 2003 campaign to invade Iraq based on reported weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be false. More importantly, the group raises concerns that strikes will raise the level of violence and not prove to be an adequate deterrent to chemical weapon use.

“The Syrians we meet are crying out for peace,” agrees Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser. “Ultimately, there must be a political solution to the crisis. Military intervention should be an option of last resort.”

The number of refugees is now more than 2 million people, said the UN today. There will be a total of 3.5 million refugees by the year’s end, expects the UN. One million of the current refugees are children, estimates Save the Children. The organization’s CEO Carolyn Miles also urged immediate action in and around Syria.

“This is not a crisis we can sit out; it is not going away. The refugee disaster the war in Syria has created is getting far worse, far faster than the world can cope with. It is now critically important world leaders secure humanitarian access across Syria,” she said.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

06 September 2013

What Celebrities Accomplish for Humanitarian Campaigns

Mia Farrow in the CAR. Credit: Pierre Holz
Celebrities are often used as eye candy for charity campaigns and giant advocacy efforts.

Remarks from actress Angelina Jolie are released alongside comments from the UN on the number of Syrian refugees surpassing the 2 million mark this week. Mia Farrow vocally campaigned against China in the run up to the 2008 Olympics in response to their support of the brutal regime in Sudan.

George Clooney also made Sudan his point of focus, Ben Affleck has the DR Congo, Princess Diana campaigned to end landmines and Bono wants to end extreme poverty.

Using celebrities does have an impact, but not how you may have expected.

They do have a small impact on humanitarian events, but generally serve as amplification tools for existing organizations and campaigns. In some way, the Hollywood set use their celebrity to reach audience by putting their ability to represent an idea created by someone else to the public. It is a lot like acting in a film.

Researchers Asteris Huliaras and Nikolaos Tzifakis published a pair of papers (both gated) that look at celebrity impact on international relations and specifically at how Clooney and Farrowplayed a part in the Save Darfur effort. Personal experiences and the ability to gain access to higher levels in the political latter make it easier for celebrities to remain local in their reach while traveling to and connecting with international issues.

The role of celebrity is oft debated in humanitarian circles. NYU Economist Bill Easterly is one of the more vocal critics of using celebrities in support of aid and humanitarian efforts. He says that they amplify the simplistic idea of the basket case that is Africa. A homogeneous place that is in need of benevolent outsiders, and celebrities, to save destitute children. Most importantly, current celebrities do not challenge the power structures that perpetuate poverty, argued Easterly in late 2010.

Does Africa Have a Drinking Problem? Yes and No

Credit: Erik Hersman
Africa, it turns out, is the new frontier for the booze industry. Developing countries plus the right demographics make for the right market opportunity. The major beverage companies know it and they are making a move.

The thing is, reported Jessica Hatcher for TIME this month, that Africa has a drinking problem. Health systems are unable to cope with the increasing number of people affected by alcohol.
Chronic corruption means every new control measure is an opportunity for police to solicit bribes. While average per capita consumption figures (excluding South Africa) are very low, Africa has the highest proportion of binge drinkers in the world: 25% of those who drink drink too much, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Beverage companies dismiss that figure as poorly sourced, and certainly the problem is underresearched.
A closer look at the data reveals a more complicated story. Yes, the Africans that do drink have a high rate of alcohol abuse, but the overall drinking levels are right about on par with the rest of the world. That appears to be due to the fact that many Africans, particularly Muslims, do not drink at all.

The fact-checking blog Africa Check took a closer look at the WHO data about drinking in Africa. The continent of Africa barely out consumes (6.15 liters per capita) the global average (6.13 liters per capita). Seven countries, for some reason, are excluded from the Africa region: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Djibouti, Morocco, Somalia and Sudan. All are home to a significant number of Muslims that may further drive down the continent’s averages.

Americans and Europeans drink far more, on average than Africans. In fact, more than 70% of Africans said they did not consume alcohol in the past year (compared to 17.7% in the US). Africa Check rightly points out that the TIME article neglects to mention that an overwhelming number of Africans do not drink at all.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

05 September 2013

Derek Jeter, Metrics and Development Lessons

What does New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s ability to play shortstop have to do with development? Turns out plenty.

Jeter is regard as among the best shortstops in the history of baseball. The captain of the New York Yankees has the wins (5 World Series titles), the stats (more than 3,000 hits) and the awards (five Gold Gloves, Rookie of the Year, World Series MVP). The signature jump-throw from a ground ball to his right side was held up as evidence of his skill as a fielder.

Jeter is by most accounts among the greats in the history of professional baseball (that is not purely the bias of a Yankee fan). He is also not a very good shortstop.

Despite winning awards that confer Jeter as the best fielder at his position, it turns out that he is one of the worst. It is not necessarily news at this point. The part of the game that was once believed to be the hardest to measure, aside from errors, is now quantifiable. By comparing players against each other, calculating distance covered for a play and so on, there is now a way to determine who is best.
Jeter’s jump-throw is a result of his poor range. 
The story of Jeter’s defense was recently chronicled by Ben Lindbergh for ESPN’s Grandland.
According to two historical play-by-play-based systems, Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average and Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone, Jeter has cost his team more in the field than any other player in history, with both methods assessing the damage at 230 to 260 runs.
By all appearances Jeter excelled in every aspect of the game. Without more sophisticated analysis of his fielding, the myth of Jeter the great fielder would have continued.

Continue reading on Humanosphere...

The not-so-arbitrary Chemical Weapons Red Line

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately about the abhorrent act of Syrian forces deploying chemical weapons to kill hundreds of people last week.

“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality,” said Kerry.

“Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.”

Analysts suggest that Kerry’s remarks represent the US taking yet another step closer to intervention in Syria’s civil war. Lawmakers like Senator John McCain are pushing hard for the Obama Administration to take a more active role. The president’s invocation of a red line on the issue of chemical weapons has been a source of debate and anger for those supporting US action in Syria.

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” said the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

continue reading on Humanosphere...