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Russia’s Best News Portal Decimated

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 3:27pm

So ends an era for Russian news portal Lenta.ru. Image mixed by author.

Galina Timchenko, long-time chief editor of Russia’s most popular news website, Lenta.ru, lost her job today. Following government censors’ second official warning to Lenta.ru in less than twelve months (a legal pretext for revoking the outlet’s media license), owner Alexander Mamut suddenly fired Timchenko, replacing her with Alexey Goreslavsky, who in the past has managed several pro-Kremlin media projects. The staff at Lenta.ru responded with a public letter of protest, published on the site’s splash page, which another news website, Slon.ru, claims is a letter of mass resignations. Individually, several of Lenta.ru’s most celebrated journalists, including Ilya Azar (still reporting from Crimea), have indicated on Twitter and Facebook that they refuse to work under Goreslavsky.

Lenta.ru’s troubles today began with news that Roscomnadzor (Russia’s communications regulatory agency) issued the site an official warning over a hyperlink that appeared in an article published on March 10, 2014. The offending link was inserted into an interview by Azar with Andrei Tarasenko, head of the Kiev chapter of the Ukrainian-nationalist paramilitary group Pravyi Sektor—an organization the Russian government frequently blames for unrest in Ukraine.

On March 3, Roscomnadzor complied with a ruling by Russia’s Attorney General, ordering Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, to block access from Russian IP addresses to 13 Ukrainian nationalist groups, including Pravyi Sektor.

Though Azar’s interview was with a high-ranking Pravyi Sektor figure, Roscomnadzor objected only to a hyperlink in the text that redirected readers to a separate interview with Yarosh, published on a Ukrainian website in the summer of 2008. Lenta.ru quickly removed the hyperlink, leaving Azar’s interview online and accessible to the public. Still chief editor, Galina Timchenko wrote on Facebook this morning, “the whole problem was just in the hyperlink,” suggesting to readers that the day’s drama at Lenta.ru had ended.

Three hours later, Timchenko posted to Facebook again, announcing the end of her tenure at Lenta.ru, offering thanks for “interesting times.”

What happened?

Looking back, Timchenko’s fall and the collapse of public trust in Lenta.ru that her dismissal has precipitated are not so surprising. In May 2012, Timchenko spoke openly about resigning from Lenta.ru, saying she planned to leave in a couple of years, agreeing with characterizations that compared her to Boris Yeltsin shortly before he handed over power to Vladimir Putin. (“I’m tired, I’m leaving.”) Two years ago, Timchenko said that Russia’s 2011-2012 “Winter of Discontent” mass protests had no special impact on Lenta.ru, contrasting the site with TV Rain, a television station that transformed itself into a mouthpiece for the new street opposition.

Galina Timchenko, Lenta.ru's former chief editor, ousted today.

In an interview earlier this year, Timchenko compared herself not to Yeltsin but Vsevolod Rudnev, commander of the doomed Russian cruiser Varyag, which Rudnev scuttled rather than let it fall into Japanese hands in 1904. Roughly two years have passed since she signaled her plans to leave Lenta.ru, but Timchenko’s departure today is anything but voluntary.  

Her replacement, Alexey Goreslavsky, has managed two notoriously pro-Kremlin media projects: Vzgliad.ru, an openly pro-government news website, and Agency One, a public relations firm. Criticizing Goreslavsky’s appointment today, blogger Alexey Navalny called Vzgliad.ru a “complete failure,” despite its “inconceivable” (i.e., remarkably large) budget. Agency One, meanwhile, is responsible for a series of racist viral videos meant to help Sergei Sobyanin’s recent Moscow mayoral campaign. Last December, in his capacity as representative for Lenta.ru’s parent company, Goreslavsky was one of the only Russian media figures who was even remotely receptive to signing a controversial government memorandum on digital anti-piracy measures.

Lenta.ru’s independence survived multiple corporate shakeups, until early 2013, when owner Vladimir Potanin (apparently under Kremlin pressure to facilitate greater consolidation of Russia’s media outlets) agreed to merge operations with fellow tycoon Alexander Mamut. The merger might have spared Lenta.ru big changes, were it not for the loss of Rafael Akopov, who left Potanin’s company just months before the deal. According to TV Rain, Akopov was instrumental over the years in protecting Lenta.ru’s autonomy. With him out of the picture, in Russia’s jingoist climate today, it became far easier for owners and state authorities to meddle in the politics of the country’s most popular news portal. When Lenta.ru hyperlinked to comments by a Ukrainian nationalist—an extremist and an enemy of the state, says Moscow—it offered an ideal excuse to purge the website’s leadership.

Meet the result: Alexey Goreslavsky and the decimation of Lenta.ru’s reputation.

Categories: Business Feed

Russia’s Best News Portal Decimated

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 3:27pm

So ends an era for Russian news portal Lenta.ru. Image mixed by author.

Galina Timchenko, long-time chief editor of Russia’s most popular news website, Lenta.ru, lost her job today. Following government censors’ second official warning to Lenta.ru in less than twelve months (a legal pretext for revoking the outlet’s media license), owner Alexander Mamut suddenly fired Timchenko, replacing her with Alexey Goreslavsky, who in the past has managed several pro-Kremlin media projects. The staff at Lenta.ru responded with a public letter of protest, published on the site’s splash page, which another news website, Slon.ru, claims is a letter of mass resignations. Individually, several of Lenta.ru’s most celebrated journalists, including Ilya Azar (still reporting from Crimea), have indicated on Twitter and Facebook that they refuse to work under Goreslavsky.

Lenta.ru’s troubles today began with news that Roscomnadzor (Russia’s communications regulatory agency) issued the site an official warning over a hyperlink that appeared in an article published on March 10, 2014. The offending link was inserted into an interview by Azar with Andrei Tarasenko, head of the Kiev chapter of the Ukrainian-nationalist paramilitary group Pravyi Sektor—an organization the Russian government frequently blames for unrest in Ukraine.

On March 3, Roscomnadzor complied with a ruling by Russia’s Attorney General, ordering Vkontakte, Russia’s most popular social network, to block access from Russian IP addresses to 13 Ukrainian nationalist groups, including Pravyi Sektor.

Though Azar’s interview was with a high-ranking Pravyi Sektor figure, Roscomnadzor objected only to a hyperlink in the text that redirected readers to a separate interview with Yarosh, published on a Ukrainian website in the summer of 2008. Lenta.ru quickly removed the hyperlink, leaving Azar’s interview online and accessible to the public. Still chief editor, Galina Timchenko wrote on Facebook this morning, “the whole problem was just in the hyperlink,” suggesting to readers that the day’s drama at Lenta.ru had ended.

Three hours later, Timchenko posted to Facebook again, announcing the end of her tenure at Lenta.ru, offering thanks for “interesting times.”

What happened?

Looking back, Timchenko’s fall and the collapse of public trust in Lenta.ru that her dismissal has precipitated are not so surprising. In May 2012, Timchenko spoke openly about resigning from Lenta.ru, saying she planned to leave in a couple of years, agreeing with characterizations that compared her to Boris Yeltsin shortly before he handed over power to Vladimir Putin. (“I’m tired, I’m leaving.”) Two years ago, Timchenko said that Russia’s 2011-2012 “Winter of Discontent” mass protests had no special impact on Lenta.ru, contrasting the site with TV Rain, a television station that transformed itself into a mouthpiece for the new street opposition.

Galina Timchenko, Lenta.ru's former chief editor, ousted today.

In an interview earlier this year, Timchenko compared herself not to Yeltsin but Vsevolod Rudnev, commander of the doomed Russian cruiser Varyag, which Rudnev scuttled rather than let it fall into Japanese hands in 1904. Roughly two years have passed since she signaled her plans to leave Lenta.ru, but Timchenko’s departure today is anything but voluntary.  

Her replacement, Alexey Goreslavsky, has managed two notoriously pro-Kremlin media projects: Vzgliad.ru, an openly pro-government news website, and Agency One, a public relations firm. Criticizing Goreslavsky’s appointment today, blogger Alexey Navalny called Vzgliad.ru a “complete failure,” despite its “inconceivable” (i.e., remarkably large) budget. Agency One, meanwhile, is responsible for a series of racist viral videos meant to help Sergei Sobyanin’s recent Moscow mayoral campaign. Last December, in his capacity as representative for Lenta.ru’s parent company, Goreslavsky was one of the only Russian media figures who was even remotely receptive to signing a controversial government memorandum on digital anti-piracy measures.

Lenta.ru’s independence survived multiple corporate shakeups, until early 2013, when owner Vladimir Potanin (apparently under Kremlin pressure to facilitate greater consolidation of Russia’s media outlets) agreed to merge operations with fellow tycoon Alexander Mamut. The merger might have spared Lenta.ru big changes, were it not for the loss of Rafael Akopov, who left Potanin’s company just months before the deal. According to TV Rain, Akopov was instrumental over the years in protecting Lenta.ru’s autonomy. With him out of the picture, in Russia’s jingoist climate today, it became far easier for owners and state authorities to meddle in the politics of the country’s most popular news portal. When Lenta.ru hyperlinked to comments by a Ukrainian nationalist—an extremist and an enemy of the state, says Moscow—it offered an ideal excuse to purge the website’s leadership.

Meet the result: Alexey Goreslavsky and the decimation of Lenta.ru’s reputation.

Categories: Business Feed

The Land of Fires, Italy's “Gateway to Hell”

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 7:51pm

2014 began with renewed concern about pollution in a part of the Italian territory known as the “Terra dei fuochi” (Land of Fires) [All links lead to Italian-language web pages unless otherwise noted]. In this area, which is located between Naples and Caserta, the Ecomafia has been disposing of toxic waste for years.

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Since the '80s a union of interests between the Camorra (an organized crime group active mainly in Naples and the surrounding region of Campania), the industrialists and the Neapolitan and Campania political class has poisoned this part of Italy, which is amongst the most beautiful areas in the country. The blogger, Enzo Ciacco, writes on lettera43.it:

I territori colpiti dai veleni di camorra sono quelli tra le province di Napoli e Caserta. L’area è compresa tra i comuni di Qualiano, Giugliano in Campania, Orta di Atella, Caivano, Acerra, Nola, Marcianise, Succivo, Frattaminore, Frattamaggiore, Aversa, Mondragone, Castevolturno, Villa Literno, Pozzuoli, Bacoli, Marano, Cicciano, Palma Campania, Melito di Napoli. A Napoli, il quartiere Pianura.

A firmare il Patto per la Terra dei fuochi, l’11 luglio 2013, sono stati ben 57 comuni tra Napoli e Caserta. Ma la verità è che nessuno sa quanti e dove siano i rifiuti tossici sepolti nel corso degli anni nell’area. L’Arpac, l’agenzia campana per l’ambiente, ha contato più di 2 mila siti inquinati.

The areas affected by the Camorra's toxic waste are those between the provinces of Naples and Caserta. The area includes the towns of Qualiano, Giugliano in Campania, Orta di Atella, Caivano, Acerra, Nola, Marcianise, Succivo, Frattaminore, Frattamaggiore, Aversa, Mondragone, Castevolturno, Villa Literno, Pozzuoli, Bacoli, Marano, Cicciano, Palma Campania and Melito di Napoli. In Naples, the Pianura neighbourhood.

57 municipalities between Naples and Caserta signed the Land of Fires Pact on July 11, 2013. But the truth is that no one knows in how many places and where the toxic waste has been buried in the area over the years. ARPAC, the Campania environmental agency, has found more than 2,000 contaminated sites.

Enrico Ferdinandi quotes the reformed mafioso, Carmine Schiavone's 1997 declarations made in front of the parliamentary committee on Ecomafias, and whose confessions brought down the Casalesi clan.

Avevamo creato un sistema di tipo militare, con ragazzi incensurati muniti di regolare porto d’armi che giravano in macchina. Avevamo divise e palette dei carabinieri, della finanza e della polizia. Ognuno aveva un suo reparto prestabilito». I rifiuti, raccontò il pentito, venivano scaricati di notte e le pale meccaniche vi spargevano sopra del terreno. Ma talvolta la spazzatura finiva anche a 20 o a 30 metri di profondità.

Nei verbali si può apprendere che alcuni rifiuti radioattivi, per la precisione fanghi nucleari provenienti dalla Germania: «dovrebbero trovarsi in un terreno sul quale ci sono le bufale e su cui non cresce più erba».

We had created a type of military system, with boys with no criminal records and a valid firearms license in the car. We had Carabiniere, police and finance police uniforms and signalling disks. Everyone had their own set unit“. The waste, according to the the reformed mafioso, was unloaded at night and the bulldozers would cover it with earth. But sometimes the rubbish ended up 20 or 30 metres deep.

The records show that some radioactive waste, to be precise nuclear sludge, from Germany: “should be in a field where there are buffaloes and where the grass does not grow“.

The effects on health, above all, are disastrous. The website laretenonperdona.it indicates the illnesses that the population is suffering from:

In questi territori sono stati riscontrati picchi di patologie quali tumori allo stomaco, al rene, al fegato, alla trachea, ai bronchi, ai polmoni, alla pleura e alla vescica nonché malformazioni e difetti congeniti. 

In these areas rates of disease increased such as stomach, kidney, liver, throat, lung, bronchus, pleura and bladder cancers as well as malformations and birth defects.

Quoting Gaetano Rivezzi, president of the Italian section of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (ISDE) [en] in Campania, the website liberainformazione.org published the following:

 … in alcuni distretti c’è stato un aumento del 300% di queste malattie in pochissimi anni. L’esempio più eclatante è il distretto di Frattamaggiore, 5 comuni con un bacino di 100 mila abitanti: qui i medici hanno registrato 136 casi nel 2008 diventati 420 nel 2012. Poi ci sono i numeri del distretto di Casalnuovo – precisa – qui i codici 048, cioè le persone con un tumore, passano da 384 a 622 in 5 anni. 

… in some areas there was a 300% increase in these diseases in just a few years. The most striking example is of the district of Frattamaggiore, containing 5 municipalities with a catchment area of 100,000 inhabitants: here doctors registered 136 cases in 2008 which rose to 420 in 2012. Then there are the figures of the Casalnuovo district – he adds – here the 048 codes, in other words people with tumors, have risen from 384 to 622 in 5 years. 

Map of the “terra dei fuochi” taken from “laretenonperdona.it”

Annalisa Tancredi on ambientequotidiano.it, analyses the consequences of this pollution, which affects the surface of the land, groundwater, plants, rivers, the sea and the air:

Il risultato è che questi campi agricoli, nonostante i divieti, sono ancora oggi coltivati dai contadini che producono verdure ed ortaggi di ogni genere – come pomodori, zucchine, cavoli, broccoli e altra frutta -, e li rivendono nei mercati ad aziende multinazionali per la produzione di passate di pomodori e minestroni surgelati che vengono rivendute non solo in tutta Italia, ma anche in Europa e all’estero….

Sempre nella zona della Terra dei Fuochi, ad essere contaminati non sono solo i terreni e le falde acquifere, ma anche gli allevamenti che mangiano e bevono i prodotti di questa terra. Un ex allevatore ha denunciato la morte di 2.700 su 3.000 capi di bestiame a causa di malattie, deperimento e malformazioni alla nascita: ha raccontato di veri e propri mostri delle malformazioni genetiche come agnelli con due teste o con la coda sullo stomaco.

The result is that these fields, despite the prohibitions, are still cultivated by farmers who produce all kinds of vegetables and pulses such as tomatoes, courgettes, cabbage, broccoli and other fruit -, and sell them on to markets and multinational companies who produce pasta sauces and frozen soups that are sold not only in Italy but also in Europe and the rest of the world…

In the Terra dei Fuochi area, not only the land and groundwater have been contaminated, but also the livestock that eats and drinks this land's produce. A former farmer has reported the deaths of 2,700 out of 3,000 head of cattle due to disease, decay and birth defects: he told of real monsters with birth defects like lambs with two heads or with a tail coming out of their stomach.

Faced with this situation, the inhabitants of the infected areas have many concerns. In a post Giuliana Caso comments on the people's anger and asks herself:

Photo from the TV investigation by the programme ‘Le Iene', but if they do not explain clearly we risk reducing all of Campania to the Terra dei Fuochi. Source the movimentopaceambasciatori blog

Perché tutto quello che ha saputo produrre l’ex ministro della sanità Renato Balduzzi è stato un miserabile progetto di studio? Che accidenti c’è ancora da studiare? Le pecore deformi di Alessandro Cannavacciuolo non sono abbastanza? Le decine di bambini morti non sono abbastanza? Le centinaia di casi di tumore non sono abbastanza? I contadini criminali e ignoranti che hanno irrorato i campi con il mix letale di concime e veleni del nord non sono abbastanza? Che accidenti ancora serve perché si dichiari lo stato emergenza?

Why has the former Health Minister Renato Balduzzi only been able to produce a pitiful draft project? What the hell is there left to clarify? Are Alessandro Cannavacciuolo's deformed sheep not enough? Are dozens of dead children not enough? Are hundreds of cases of cancer not enough? Are criminal and uneducated farmers who sprayed the fields with a lethal mix of fertilizers and poisons from the north not enough? What else do you need to declare a state of emergency?

While letteradonna.it notes that:

L’emergenza ambientale nella Terra dei Fuochi ha provocato un effetto psicosi nella vendita dei prodotti tipici, dalla mozzarella di Bufala Dop all’ortofrutta, crollate nell’ultimo mese del 35-40%. Lo dice la Cia-Confederazione italiana agricoltori, sottolineando che nonostante le rassicurazioni di istituzioni e associazioni di categoria, i consumatori continuano a identificare la Campania con quella limitata porzione di territorio regionale devastato da roghi e veleni.

L‘effetto-fuga dai prodotti campani può diventare pericoloso per l’economia e l’occupazione, visto che si tratta della terza regione in Italia per produzione agricola con oltre 136 mila aziende e 65 mila addetti.

The environmental emergency in the Terra dei Fuochi has caused a psychosis effect in the sale of typical products, from mozzarella to fruit and vegetables, which dropped by 35-40% last month. The CIA – Italian Farmers Confederation, points out that, despite the assurances of institutions and associations, consumers continue to identify the Campania region with that small part of the region ravaged by fires and toxins.

Avoiding Campania products can become dangerous for the economy and employment, as it is the third region in Italy for agricultural production with over 136,000 companies and 65,000 employees.

Following a letter from Cardinal Sepe and the bishops of the dioceses of the Terra dei Fuochi, the head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, has called on the government to deal firmly with this emergency. The website lettera43.it quotes his letter:

“IL GRIDO DELLE MADRI”. Nella sua lettera, Napolitano ha ricordato “il grido accorato delle madri dei bambini colpiti da gravi patologie tumorali ricondotte al criminale inquinamento dei vostri territori della Campania”, rinnovando “la mia intima partecipazione al loro dolore, confidando che non abbandonino la fiducia nell'impegno delle istituzioni, reso più coeso e credibile anche grazie alla partecipazione attiva della rete di comitati e singoli cittadini che non si contentano di denunciare i crimini subiti, ma sostengono con le loro iniziative, le operazioni di monitoraggio e di bonifica dei siti”. 

“THE CRY OF MOTHERS”. In his letter, Napolitano noted “the anguished cry of the mothers of children with serious tumours linked to criminal pollution of areas of Campania, [renewing] my intimate involvement with their grief, trusting that they do not abandon their trust in the commitment of the institutions, made more cohesive and believable thanks to the active participation of the network of committees and individuals who are not content with only denouncing the crimes suffered, but support monitoring operations and site decontamination with their initiatives.”

“Just think, this used to all be Campania” comic strip about the fires in the Terra dei Fuochi by Cecigian

The government branch directed by the Prime Minister Enrico Letta, decided in early January 2014 to send the army to Campania “to counter the eco-mafia”. However, according to the reactions reported by the media, many citizens question the usefulness of the army in these areas. Here are some comments made by the readers of corrieredelmezzogiorno.corriere.it:

gengiscano14 GENNAIO 2014 | 18.49

“Manderemo l'esercito per contrastare le ecomafie”. Cosa vuol dire , che i militari se vedono sversamenti abusivi di sostanze nel terreno possono sparare? Che se vedono gente appiccare fuochi all'immondizia possono arrestarli? Se non è questo , lasciamoli in caserma. Risparmiamo soldi. 

gengiscano14 JANUARY 2014 | 18.49

“We'll send the army to counter the eco-mafia”. What does that mean, that if the military see people illegally dumping substances in the ground they can shoot? That if they see people set fire to garbage they can arrest them? If that's not what they are here for then leave them in the barracks. Let's save money. 

Lettore_519922815 GENNAIO 2014 | 13.25

mossa solo demagogica. Meglio impiegare questi soldi per carabinieri e polizia e corpo forestale che hanno compiti investigativi. A che servono ora i soldati? Servivano venti anni fa quando gli sversamenti erano in atto, ora bisogna bonificare ed impedire roghi, cosa che può avvenire con indagini per capire chi ha interesse e chi è l'autore dei roghi tossici.

Lettore_519922815 JANUARY 2014 | 13.25

Only a demagogic move. It would be better to use this money for the Carabinieri and the police and the forest rangers who have investigative duties. What do we need soldiers for now? We needed them twenty years ago when the dumping was taking place, now we need to clean up and prevent fires, which can be done with investigations to find out who is to gain and who is creating the toxic fires.

Journalist  describes how migratory birds after long journeys to other continents are poisoned by drinking the toxic water of about a thousand ponds that are located in this area before continuing their flight in ilfattoquotidiano.it. His article was then picked up on by numerous blogs and elicited several comments from readers. 

Categories: Business Feed

Macedonian Students Campaign Against Unlivable Conditions in Dormitories

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 12:34pm

Macedonian students demanding better life conditions in public university dormitories published a blog entitled “Operacija studentski” [mk] (“Operation Dorm”) displaying photos of everyday life in the facilities and urging students to contribute. Many of the photos show highly inadequate living conditions in the student dormitories.

The blog and photos have gained much visibility on social networks, as many social media users react to the inactivity of the official student organizations sanctioned by the state. Prompted by “Operation Dorm”, many other students have also taken to social networks to post photos of the horrible living conditions in some of the state university dormitories. Since these dormitories are the only ones in the country, the competition to gain beds in them is fierce and mired with suspicions of corruption.

Dormitory reception with signs “There's no hot water, we are fixing the problem” and “Go to your boyfriends’ places to take a bath.” Photo by Operacija studentski.

The following video from A1on article [mk] about the dorms also displays the situation.

Sharing on social networks increased after posting of an imgur English-language photo gallery. This also spawned parodies, such as “an image of Alexander the Great appeared in the mold” [mk] (referring to recent development promoted by politicians), “Hollywood will rent the site to film horror movies” [mk], a comparison with Norwegian prison, and articles in foreign media [hr].

Categories: Business Feed

Macedonian Students Campaign Against Unlivable Conditions in Dormitories

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 12:34pm

Macedonian students demanding better life conditions in public university dormitories published a blog entitled “Operacija studentski” [mk] (“Operation Dorm”) displaying photos of everyday life in the facilities and urging students to contribute. Many of the photos show highly inadequate living conditions in the student dormitories.

The blog and photos have gained much visibility on social networks, as many social media users react to the inactivity of the official student organizations sanctioned by the state. Prompted by “Operation Dorm”, many other students have also taken to social networks to post photos of the horrible living conditions in some of the state university dormitories. Since these dormitories are the only ones in the country, the competition to gain beds in them is fierce and mired with suspicions of corruption.

Dormitory reception with signs “There's no hot water, we are fixing the problem” and “Go to your boyfriends’ places to take a bath.” Photo by Operacija studentski.

The following video from A1on article [mk] about the dorms also displays the situation.

Sharing on social networks increased after posting of an imgur English-language photo gallery. This also spawned parodies, such as “an image of Alexander the Great appeared in the mold” [mk] (referring to recent development promoted by politicians), “Hollywood will rent the site to film horror movies” [mk], a comparison with Norwegian prison, and articles in foreign media [hr].

Categories: Business Feed

Reducing the Gap Between Africa's Rich and Poor

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 3:57am

Thousands of people are demonstrating on the streets to protest against low salaries, the high cost of living and an insufficient state safety net.

A reaction to austerity measures in Greece? Or a follow-up to the Arab Spring? No, these are protests for greater equality in Sub-Saharan Africa, most recently in Burkina Faso.

The widening gap between rich and poor is as troubling in Africa as in the rest of the world. In fact, many Africans believe that inequalities are becoming more marked: A tiny minority is getting richer while the lines of poor people grow out the door. The contrast is all the more striking in Africa since the poverty level has been at a consistently high level for decades, despite the continent's significant average GDP growth.

The second most expensive yacht in the world, belonging to the son of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equitorial Guinea – Public domain

A columnist from the independent daily L'Observateur Paalga in Burkin Faso explains the general feeling of discontent [fr]:

Les uns prennent l’avion pour aller soigner un rhume des foins pendant que les autres bouffent les pissenlits par la racine parce qu’ils n’ont pas l’argent pour aller traiter un simple palu.

Some take a plane to get treated for hay fever, while others are pushing up daisies because they can’t afford basic malaria treatment.

However, growth in Africa is expected – the World Bank paints an optimistic picture of African potential, but warns against persistently high inequalities:

Economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remains strong with growth forecasted to be 4.9% in 2013. Almost a third of countries in the region are growing at 6% and more, and African countries are now routinely among the fastest-growing countries in the world [...] [however the report] notes that poverty and inequality remain “unacceptably high and the pace of reduction unacceptably slow.” Almost one out of every two Africans lives in extreme poverty today.

Revenue inequality in African towns via French documentation – Public domain

Denis Cogneau, responsible for research at the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), explains that these inequalities in Africa have a well-defined historical origin [fr]:

Les États postcoloniaux ont hérité d’institutions économiques et sociales extractives, caractérisées par un dualisme extrêmement marqué entre un secteur formel de taille réduite, et un vaste secteur informel incluant la paysannerie. De même, beaucoup de pays se caractérisent par un dualisme scolaire et sanitaire, caractérisé par la coexistence d’institutions d’élite publiques et privées coûteuses situées dans la capitale, et d’un secteur de base (écoles primaires et dispensaires) faiblement doté en personnel, médiocrement approvisionné et inégalement réparti sur le territoire. Dans ce contexte, l’école a joué un rôle très dangereux, car elle a été (et est toujours) l’une des clefs d’accès, «non seulement aux emplois dans le secteur moderne, mais aussi aux positions dans l’appareil d’État et au pouvoir politique, suivant en cela les évolutions des sociétés européennes». L’inégalité des chances dans l’accès implique, par conséquent, une reproduction plus accentuée des élites politiques.

Postcolonial states inherited extractive economic and social institutions, characterised by a sharply marked dualism between a small formal sector and a huge informal sector, including farmers. Similarly, many countries are characterised by a dualism in education and health, distinguished by the coexistence of expensive, private and public elite institutions situated in the capital, and a core sector (primary schools and health centres) lacking personnel, poorly stocked, and unevenly spread out across the region. In this context, school plays a very dangerous role, as it was (and still is) one of the keys of entry “not only to jobs in the modern sector, but also to positions in the state apparatus and political power, mirroring the evolution of European societies”. Consequently, the unequal chances of gaining access imply a more marked reproduction of the political elite.

What measures can be taken to reduce these inequalities?

At a a local level, efforts are often not made to understand the exact circumstances that lead to growing inequality. Several organisations have implemented tools to monitor the lives of vulnerable populations in order to clarify the reasons behind it.

In Madagascar, CIRAD (a French research centre working with developing countries to tackle international agricultural and development issues) has proposed the creation of an observatory to carry out monitoring and improve living standards in rural areas [fr]:

Le Réseau des observatoires ruraux (ROR) constitue un dispositif de suivi et d’analyse des conditions de vie des ménages ruraux. Un des objectifs principaux est d’appréhender l’évolution de la situation des ménages ruraux et l’impact des mesures publiques et des chocs externes sur ces ménages. Chaque observatoire comporte un panel de 500 ménages sur des sites choisis de manière raisonnée avec le bailleur. Le questionnaire couvre les principaux aspects des la vie des ménages sur une période de 12 mois. Les résultats permettent une comparaison des situations dans le temps (par année) et dans l’espace (entre les observatoires).

The network of local rural observatories (ROR) consists of a tool that tracks and analyses living conditions in rural households. One of the principal objectives is to gain an understanding of the evolution of the situation in rural households and the impact that public measures and external shocks have on these households. Each observatory is made up of a panel of 500 households in sites chosen in agreement with the landowner. The questionnaire covers the main aspects of household life over a 12-month period. The results mean we can make a comparison in time (per year) and in space (between observatories).

Sexual inequality in Burkina Faso has been identified as a significant barrier to development, as studies have shown that the participation of women in the active life of a country has a considerable impact on its development. Bougnan Naon explains what the Dakupa Association is doing [fr] on this topic in the Boulgou province:

L'enjeu du projet est de permettre la création d'un réseau fonctionnel avec des membres compétents pour influencer les attitudes/pratiques traditionnelles, ainsi que les politiques et stratégies locales de lutte contre les inégalités de genre [..] (L'objectif est de): former 50 acteurs-clefs locaux aux stratégies de prise en compte du genre dans la mise en œuvre des projets et programmes par an, d'organiser des suivis-supervisions pour faciliter l'application effective de l'approche (maîtrise des outils et de l'identification d'actions genre pertinentes) par les ONG au profit de leurs cibles.

The aim of the project is to enable the creation of a functional network with competent members in order to influence traditional attitudes/practices, as well as local policies and strategies which fight against gender inequalities [...] (The objective is to) create 50 local key players with strategies to ensure gender is taken into account when launching projects and programs each year, and for the NGO to get closer to its targets by organising supervisors to facilitate the effective application of the approach (learning the tools and identifying pertinent gender actions).

Categories: Business Feed

Reducing the Gap Between Africa's Rich and Poor

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 3:57am

Thousands of people are demonstrating on the streets to protest against low salaries, the high cost of living and an insufficient state safety net.

A reaction to austerity measures in Greece? Or a follow-up to the Arab Spring? No, these are protests for greater equality in Sub-Saharan Africa, most recently in Burkina Faso.

The widening gap between rich and poor is as troubling in Africa as in the rest of the world. In fact, many Africans believe that inequalities are becoming more marked: A tiny minority is getting richer while the lines of poor people grow out the door. The contrast is all the more striking in Africa since the poverty level has been at a consistently high level for decades, despite the continent's significant average GDP growth.

The second most expensive yacht in the world, belonging to the son of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equitorial Guinea – Public domain

A columnist from the independent daily L'Observateur Paalga in Burkin Faso explains the general feeling of discontent [fr]:

Les uns prennent l’avion pour aller soigner un rhume des foins pendant que les autres bouffent les pissenlits par la racine parce qu’ils n’ont pas l’argent pour aller traiter un simple palu.

Some take a plane to get treated for hay fever, while others are pushing up daisies because they can’t afford basic malaria treatment.

However, growth in Africa is expected – the World Bank paints an optimistic picture of African potential, but warns against persistently high inequalities:

Economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remains strong with growth forecasted to be 4.9% in 2013. Almost a third of countries in the region are growing at 6% and more, and African countries are now routinely among the fastest-growing countries in the world [...] [however the report] notes that poverty and inequality remain “unacceptably high and the pace of reduction unacceptably slow.” Almost one out of every two Africans lives in extreme poverty today.

Revenue inequality in African towns via French documentation – Public domain

Denis Cogneau, responsible for research at the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), explains that these inequalities in Africa have a well-defined historical origin [fr]:

Les États postcoloniaux ont hérité d’institutions économiques et sociales extractives, caractérisées par un dualisme extrêmement marqué entre un secteur formel de taille réduite, et un vaste secteur informel incluant la paysannerie. De même, beaucoup de pays se caractérisent par un dualisme scolaire et sanitaire, caractérisé par la coexistence d’institutions d’élite publiques et privées coûteuses situées dans la capitale, et d’un secteur de base (écoles primaires et dispensaires) faiblement doté en personnel, médiocrement approvisionné et inégalement réparti sur le territoire. Dans ce contexte, l’école a joué un rôle très dangereux, car elle a été (et est toujours) l’une des clefs d’accès, «non seulement aux emplois dans le secteur moderne, mais aussi aux positions dans l’appareil d’État et au pouvoir politique, suivant en cela les évolutions des sociétés européennes». L’inégalité des chances dans l’accès implique, par conséquent, une reproduction plus accentuée des élites politiques.

Postcolonial states inherited extractive economic and social institutions, characterised by a sharply marked dualism between a small formal sector and a huge informal sector, including farmers. Similarly, many countries are characterised by a dualism in education and health, distinguished by the coexistence of expensive, private and public elite institutions situated in the capital, and a core sector (primary schools and health centres) lacking personnel, poorly stocked, and unevenly spread out across the region. In this context, school plays a very dangerous role, as it was (and still is) one of the keys of entry “not only to jobs in the modern sector, but also to positions in the state apparatus and political power, mirroring the evolution of European societies”. Consequently, the unequal chances of gaining access imply a more marked reproduction of the political elite.

What measures can be taken to reduce these inequalities?

At a a local level, efforts are often not made to understand the exact circumstances that lead to growing inequality. Several organisations have implemented tools to monitor the lives of vulnerable populations in order to clarify the reasons behind it.

In Madagascar, CIRAD (a French research centre working with developing countries to tackle international agricultural and development issues) has proposed the creation of an observatory to carry out monitoring and improve living standards in rural areas [fr]:

Le Réseau des observatoires ruraux (ROR) constitue un dispositif de suivi et d’analyse des conditions de vie des ménages ruraux. Un des objectifs principaux est d’appréhender l’évolution de la situation des ménages ruraux et l’impact des mesures publiques et des chocs externes sur ces ménages. Chaque observatoire comporte un panel de 500 ménages sur des sites choisis de manière raisonnée avec le bailleur. Le questionnaire couvre les principaux aspects des la vie des ménages sur une période de 12 mois. Les résultats permettent une comparaison des situations dans le temps (par année) et dans l’espace (entre les observatoires).

The network of local rural observatories (ROR) consists of a tool that tracks and analyses living conditions in rural households. One of the principal objectives is to gain an understanding of the evolution of the situation in rural households and the impact that public measures and external shocks have on these households. Each observatory is made up of a panel of 500 households in sites chosen in agreement with the landowner. The questionnaire covers the main aspects of household life over a 12-month period. The results mean we can make a comparison in time (per year) and in space (between observatories).

Sexual inequality in Burkina Faso has been identified as a significant barrier to development, as studies have shown that the participation of women in the active life of a country has a considerable impact on its development. Bougnan Naon explains what the Dakupa Association is doing [fr] on this topic in the Boulgou province:

L'enjeu du projet est de permettre la création d'un réseau fonctionnel avec des membres compétents pour influencer les attitudes/pratiques traditionnelles, ainsi que les politiques et stratégies locales de lutte contre les inégalités de genre [..] (L'objectif est de): former 50 acteurs-clefs locaux aux stratégies de prise en compte du genre dans la mise en œuvre des projets et programmes par an, d'organiser des suivis-supervisions pour faciliter l'application effective de l'approche (maîtrise des outils et de l'identification d'actions genre pertinentes) par les ONG au profit de leurs cibles.

The aim of the project is to enable the creation of a functional network with competent members in order to influence traditional attitudes/practices, as well as local policies and strategies which fight against gender inequalities [...] (The objective is to) create 50 local key players with strategies to ensure gender is taken into account when launching projects and programs each year, and for the NGO to get closer to its targets by organising supervisors to facilitate the effective application of the approach (learning the tools and identifying pertinent gender actions).

Categories: Business Feed

China's Tencent to Step Up Competition With JD.com Stake

Sun, 03/09/2014 - 11:44pm

Tencent, Asia’s largest Internet company, is poised to buy a 16-percent stake in China’s leading online retailer JD.com, according to Chinese media reports, a big move in China’s e-commerce market. The official announcement is expected next week.

The move is widely viewed as a strategic collaboration to shore up the two parties against their common competitor Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company.

Tencent is best known for its WeChat messaging service, which has more than 272 million monthly active users, mainly in China. It had appointed Barclays bank to advise it on a potential purchase of JD.com shares, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

The company could merge its less popular e-commerce services Buy.qq.com and Yixun.com with JD.com, China’s second-largest online retailer, in return for the latter’s stock. JD.com would benefit from Tencent’s huge social network traffic, especially through WeChat, to help it compete with Alibaba. JD.com’s founder Richard Liu would still hold over half of the voting rights.

Tencent and JD's CEOs (Photo from Sina Weibo)

JD.com is currently preparing for a 1.5 billion dollar U.S. listing, ahead of a much anticipated listing by bigger rival Alibaba Group Holding.

An operational tie-up between Tencent and JD.com could create a strong competitor to Alibaba, which has thus far dominated China's e-commerce market. 

JD.com’s presence in e-commerce is small compared with rival Alibaba, but an alliance with Tencent could create a bigger player. JD.com, like Amazon.com, is a direct seller of goods, while Alibaba runs eBay-like online marketplaces where many merchants sell items directly to customers. Analysts say Tencent could turn WeChat's vast user base into a platform for offering other services such as mobile shopping, and a partnership with JD.com could provide Tencent with more resources in running e-commerce operations.

JD.com wants to take advantage of Tencent’s overwhelming online presence, especially in the mobile area, while Tencent wants to put its online payment system into better use by working together with JD.com’s well-established e-commerce sector.

Tencent could sell its e-commerce assets, tiny compared to JD.com, at a good price and focus on core business of social networking and promising financial business.

An e-commerce consulting company CEO “Lu Zhengwang” was optimistic about the deal:

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After packaging Paipai.com and Yixun.com to JD.com and building a solid online shopping payment entry, WeChat would have more opportunities to construct mobile shopping platform. A small mobile shopping ecosystem would pop up after WeChat payments are opened, stepping up competition with Taobao mobile. JD.com would be more confident in its coming IPO with Tencent’s investment and traffic resources from PC and mobile devices. The situation will become that Paipai.com + JD.com versus Taobao + Tmall

A netizen “About Yao Zhonglin” said the potential merge signaled that China’s Internet is entering into an oligopoly:

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What’s more interesting is that two giants are starting to contact nearly all Internet companies, negotiate about potential investments or acquisitions. China’s Internet industry has started a ‘take sides’ game. Even such small companies like JD.com and 360 have been reported to receive investments from Tencent and Alibaba respectively. Nearly all valuable Internet firms will be asked to choose a side. It signals that China’s Internet is headed toward twin oligopolies.

Chinese netizens responded on tech social media Huxiu.com with a variety of opinions to the report of Tencent and JD.com’s potential collaboration:

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Floating over desert”: Richard Liu would “marry” Tencent only after Tencent sent its e-commerce sector to JD.com. This is likely to happen. JD.com would end up just one of many sites without Tencent; Tencent’s e-commerce sector would be unable to achieve bigger success without an e-commerce giant like JD.com. For Tencent, time is worth more than money in the mobile Internet era. It’s likely that the situation has settled, whether to transfer Yixun to JD.com would just be a chip on negotiating table.

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I don’t want Tencent to buy a stake in JD.com. For us common consumers, the more e-commerce companies there are, the fiercer the competitions becomes, the more benefits we’ll gain. We’re going to lose if there is just oligopoly in market.

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Laughing and cursing to survive: Tencent has become more like an investment bank. It may have realized that its own e-commerce business would hardly grow into a giant, so now is the time to sell. It could focus on core businesses like social networking and promising Internet finance. Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp has proven the potential value of social networking. Along this trend, Tencent could sell its flat video sector. Tencent’s e-commerce sector like Yixun.com seems not very valuable for JD.com, but may improve JD’s listing story and add to its valuation. The merger could also help JD get Tencent’s social network traffic.   

Categories: Business Feed

Keep Calm. Singapore is the Most Expensive City in the World…For Expats

Thu, 03/06/2014 - 8:09pm

Marina Bay. Flickr photo by Nicolas Lannuzel (CC License)

Singapore was recently rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the most expensive city in the world. But many Singaporeans are disputing the tag which they claim to be misleading and even inaccurate.

The country’s finance minister clarified that the country’s cost of living continues to be affordable for most Singaporeans:

From time to time, these surveys will come up, and people will give it a spin, but they are measuring something quite different from the cost of living for our residents.

What is important for us is that Singaporeans, and particularly low- and middle-income Singaporeans, have incomes that grow faster than the cost of living. That is what is important and what we have fortunately been able to achieve.

Indeed, the survey examined 160 services and products in 140 cities in order to guide expats and business managers:

The survey itself is a purpose-built internet tool designed to help human resources and finance managers calculate cost-of-living allowances and build compensation packages for expatriates and business travellers. The survey incorporates easy-to-understand comparative cost-of-living indices between cities. The survey allows for city-to-city comparisons, but for the purpose of this report all cities are compared to a base city of New York, which has an index set at 100.

But Everything Also Complain wanted the government to go beyond the survey methodology and instead reflect on the economic situation of Singaporeans:

There are flaws in this survey, no doubt, but brushing it aside as one targetting just expats without a fair definition of ‘expat’ and making it a defensive ‘us vs them’ exercise is a typical symptom of blame-shifting instead of self-reflection.

Jay Teo described the ranking as inaccurate:

After living in Singapore for the past 25 years, I find this statement to be lacking in accuracy from the perspective of a local citizen.

Yes, Singapore may not be the cheapest place in the world, but the average Singaporean is doing pretty alright financially. So before people start packing their bags and move to India, Syria or Nepal to enjoy the lowest costs of living in the world (according to the survey), let's take a look at the facts.

A letter received by Five Stars and a Moon also rejected the conclusion that living in Singapore is costlier than in other global cities:

The article seems to give the impression that Singapore is the costliest city to live in even for Singaporeans. This, in my opinion is not true. Try getting a Singaporean to live in Oslo, Paris, New York or even London just for a week and they will return tell you how cheap Singapore is.

Blogging for Myself highlighted the growing inequality in ‘rich’ Singapore:

We are one city but two economies: the rich and the poor. The middle class are painfully caught between the two because part of their living is in the rich space where they are regularly out bidden by the rich. I think that is why they are raising a hue and cry on social media and the blogosphere over our new most pricey city laurel.

Jeff Cuellar warned that cost of living will continue to rise in Singapore:

The fact that a globally recognized survey measuring the “actual” cost of life’s necessities ranks Singapore as the most expensive city should be a wakeup call to everyone. The truth of the matter is this – life in Singapore will never get any cheaper.

Think about it, Singapore has been in the top 20 on this list for the last years! Why is that? Because Singapore’s high prices are maintained by the scarcity of resources, land, and the infrastructure to support motor vehicles for the average citizen.

The biggest takeaway you can get from this news is to prepare today for a future that will be even more expensive than it is today.

Benjamin Chiang urged Singaporeans to find ‘oasis of opportunities’ in the country:

Basic education is virtually free. The destitute are taken off the streets, housed and helped back on their feet. The handicapped have social assistance. The poor also have similar assistance and help with job placement. A strong tripartite alliance is lifting both wages and productivity. Government handouts that neutralise the effects of Goods and Services tax. Very low income taxes.

See beyond the high price and you will see an oasis of opportunities. Opportunities for one to capitalise off the wealth in this country and to build a niche of success for oneself.

My Singapore News sees a problem on how to convince Singaporeans to return home:

We are so expensive in two big ticket items, housing and cars. How are we going to tell our Singaporeans to come back home to live and work here when they have to pay a ransom just to get a roof over their head and a decent car to enjoy the good life?

Lifestyle is an important factor to determine whether living in Singapore is expensive or affordable, according to Limpeh Foreign Talent

Ultimately, it depends on your personal circumstances whether or not you find Singapore an expensive place to live. If you are a young person living with your parents (so you don't really have to worry too much about rent or utility bills), you're happy to use public transport, eat at hawker centers and hunt for bargains when it comes to shopping, then Singapore can be pretty affordable. But if you have to rent your own place, you insist on having a car, eat in nice restaurants and pay full whack at the designer boutiques on Orchard Road, then that kind of lifestyle can make living in any city an expensive experience.

Categories: Business Feed

Trinidad & Tobago Carnival in Danger?

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 9:39pm

This year's Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is practically over, but it has inspired a slew of blog posts – some explaining various aspects of the celebrations, but others lamenting the state of the festival.

Tony Deyal, writing at Abeng News Magazine, described it like this:

I am in Trinidad. It is hot and dry. The roads are crowded. The murder rate is high. The nights are noisy. It is a silly season beyond reason, adequate description and financial sanity. It is Carnival time.

The rest of his post was mostly a recollection of the “Old Time Carnival” of his childhood, but even amidst the revelry, he noted:

What struck me was that there was always an undercurrent of violence- perhaps because the majority of the people worked in the cane-fields, made their living with cutlasses and spent most of their recreation time in the rum shops. It was the way disputes were settled and started.

Photo of a Jab Molassie by Quinten Questel; used under a CC license.

Back in the present day, Mark Lyndersay, via a series of thoughtful posts, contemplated the challenges facing “Carnival's leadership”. Naturally, he consulted “people whose work [he] enjoy[s] and who also have both opinions on and skin in the festival”. His experts included Leslie-Ann Boisselle, a ten-time queen of Carnival contestant who suggested that calypso should be taken out of Dimanche Gras:

‘Leave the kings and queens for Dimanche Gras because tourists don't understand the calypso but the visual medium of the mas resonates with them.’
She believes that both shows, a calypso final and a costume based Dimanche Gras could be ‘tight, well coordinated productions, professionally produced…make it something that could be filmed and marketed for sale, something that could be run on international tv as a two-hour special.’

“Carnival Queen”; photo by Quinten Questel, used under a CC license.

Kenwyn Murray, part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies Carnival Studies Unit, thought that there should be more training in the Carnival arts:

‘What we admire about the mas of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is what we forget about it. They came out of yards, where there was informal training going on. The event has moved out of ritualistic expression to a larger commercial activity. There has been unchecked growth and people have been participating in an ad hoc way, based on what they know and what they can rely on. Training in the industry needs to be looked at deliberately.’

To help meet meet the need, the university is now offering a Practitioners Certificate in the Carnival Arts.

“Future bat head” part of the Cat in Bag Productions 2014 Carnival presentation and an example of the skill of wire bending; photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC license.

Blogger BC Pires had an interesting perspective:

‘I'd axe out VIP sections of anything, including declaring all-inclusive mas bands illegal. If we keep turning what used to be something that brought us all together into the main device for separating us, it will end in bloodshed on the streets, and not the one or two choppings or stabbings we have now. There will be an eruption of violence that will make the steelband clashes of old look like primary school recess lock neck. We will all be playing casualty.

No, put that change as two. The first firetrucking thing I'd do is force music systems and bands to keep their volumes to a healthy level. NOTHING is ruining Carnival now more than the earsplitting volume of the music, it's like being beaten up.’

In another post, Lyndersay addressed “the geography of Carnival” by itemizing all the controversies that took place this year with regard to parade routes:

The road, this Carnival makes clear, is no longer made to walk as Lord Kitchener sang.
It’s now an event management challenge that must be planned and curated with immaculate clarity if everyone who hopes to enjoy Carnival is to have their space.

The country’s largest annual festival is being convened along roadways that no longer meet the needs of the vehicular traffic they were originally designed for, so it’s no surprise that they are also inadequate to meet the surge in Carnival Tuesday foot traffic.

The tweaks and adjustments that have sought to meet the growth of the festival amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The good ship Carnival is listing badly and there seems to be a dearth of either creative or sensible thinking about how to address the problem.

He continued:

It’s been more than 60 years since the administration of Carnival came under the oversight of the State, and this premier event has attracted increased taxpayer funding even as the planning invested in its long term development has withered.

In that time, calypso has become a ward of the state, the steelband is in desperate decline and design has been balkanized into traditional and fun silos, neither of which has advanced the design of Carnival over the last two decades.
Carnival needs better analysis, better management and better organization.
The continuing wonder, that the event is so exciting…and so much fun should not cloud the thinking of the festival’s leadership.

It’s time to seriously examine the issues and make hard decisions about the festival itself that separate history, tradition and sentiment from reality.
Carnival is creatively reinvented from the ground up each year, but there is no reason that its infrastructure and organization should follow that model.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: small, creative Carnival bands springing up and bringing together the best of art, design and social commentary, all in a fun package.

“‘Miss Miles’ setting up”; an example of one of the small bands that blends creative design with social commentary; photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC license.

Finally, Lyndersay wondered about “how tissue thin the difference between modern soca and European dance music has become” and why local music just can't seem to break through internationally:

It’s not the only spot in the Carnival landscape where international breakthroughs seem imminent, and it also isn’t the first instance of the type of creative osmosis that’s brought the festival to international attention.

From Who let the dogs out to Minshall’s command performances for the Olympics, to the impact of Differentology on international music charts, the products, aesthetic and creative potential of Carnival always seem just on the verge of being a big thing, before retreating determinedly to the safety of the parochial.

What is it about T&T that brings us global attention, as calypso did in the 1940’s and 50’s, only to lose momentum?

In his estimation, “a misunderstanding of roles is a big part of it”:

The State really needs to decide whether it is an investor in Carnival or its sponsor. When Carnival stakeholders begin to gripe about the lavish freeness expected by representatives of the State during events, perhaps it’s time to admit that you’re a sponsor, and a loutish one at that.

Yet the conversation about Carnival is always about investment and returns and earnings, business terms that mean nothing when more than $200 million can be ploughed into the annual festival with no expectation of serious accountability for spending on that scale.

An investor considers a plan, puts money behind it and expects accurate reporting on the progress of the business.
A sponsor buys into a brand in the hopes of leveraging their own fortunes, their return comes in winning attention.
The state needs to decide which it is and stop trying to be the worst of both.
Similarly, the NCC [National Carnival Commission] really needs to decide exactly what it is, because it’s acting like the serf of the stakeholders instead of the convenor of Carnival.

He summarized the state of Carnival by saying:

Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, there will be much celebratory backpatting on the success of another edition of the festival.
This will happen regardless of the conspicuous failures of so many State sponsored events to galvanise public interest or to contribute to the formation of anything that might resemble a sustainable Carnival economy.
Next up is Lent, when the literal eating of fish will accelerate, despite another year’s lost opportunity during Carnival to meaningfully engage the metaphor of making fishers of men.

The images of the Jab Molassie and the Carnival Queen are by Quinten Questel, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.

The images of the Future bat head and “Miss Miles” setting up are by Georgia Popplewell, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.

Categories: Business Feed

Trinidad & Tobago Carnival in Danger?

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 9:39pm

This year's Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is practically over, but it has inspired a slew of blog posts – some explaining various aspects of the celebrations, but others lamenting the state of the festival.

Tony Deyal, writing at Abeng News Magazine, described it like this:

I am in Trinidad. It is hot and dry. The roads are crowded. The murder rate is high. The nights are noisy. It is a silly season beyond reason, adequate description and financial sanity. It is Carnival time.

The rest of his post was mostly a recollection of the “Old Time Carnival” of his childhood, but even amidst the revelry, he noted:

What struck me was that there was always an undercurrent of violence- perhaps because the majority of the people worked in the cane-fields, made their living with cutlasses and spent most of their recreation time in the rum shops. It was the way disputes were settled and started.

Photo of a Jab Molassie by Quinten Questel; used under a CC license.

Back in the present day, Mark Lyndersay, via a series of thoughtful posts, contemplated the challenges facing “Carnival's leadership”. Naturally, he consulted “people whose work [he] enjoy[s] and who also have both opinions on and skin in the festival”. His experts included Leslie-Ann Boisselle, a ten-time queen of Carnival contestant who suggested that calypso should be taken out of Dimanche Gras:

‘Leave the kings and queens for Dimanche Gras because tourists don't understand the calypso but the visual medium of the mas resonates with them.’
She believes that both shows, a calypso final and a costume based Dimanche Gras could be ‘tight, well coordinated productions, professionally produced…make it something that could be filmed and marketed for sale, something that could be run on international tv as a two-hour special.’

“Carnival Queen”; photo by Quinten Questel, used under a CC license.

Kenwyn Murray, part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies Carnival Studies Unit, thought that there should be more training in the Carnival arts:

‘What we admire about the mas of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is what we forget about it. They came out of yards, where there was informal training going on. The event has moved out of ritualistic expression to a larger commercial activity. There has been unchecked growth and people have been participating in an ad hoc way, based on what they know and what they can rely on. Training in the industry needs to be looked at deliberately.’

To help meet meet the need, the university is now offering a Practitioners Certificate in the Carnival Arts.

“Future bat head” part of the Cat in Bag Productions 2014 Carnival presentation and an example of the skill of wire bending; photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC license.

Blogger BC Pires had an interesting perspective:

‘I'd axe out VIP sections of anything, including declaring all-inclusive mas bands illegal. If we keep turning what used to be something that brought us all together into the main device for separating us, it will end in bloodshed on the streets, and not the one or two choppings or stabbings we have now. There will be an eruption of violence that will make the steelband clashes of old look like primary school recess lock neck. We will all be playing casualty.

No, put that change as two. The first firetrucking thing I'd do is force music systems and bands to keep their volumes to a healthy level. NOTHING is ruining Carnival now more than the earsplitting volume of the music, it's like being beaten up.’

In another post, Lyndersay addressed “the geography of Carnival” by itemizing all the controversies that took place this year with regard to parade routes:

The road, this Carnival makes clear, is no longer made to walk as Lord Kitchener sang.
It’s now an event management challenge that must be planned and curated with immaculate clarity if everyone who hopes to enjoy Carnival is to have their space.

The country’s largest annual festival is being convened along roadways that no longer meet the needs of the vehicular traffic they were originally designed for, so it’s no surprise that they are also inadequate to meet the surge in Carnival Tuesday foot traffic.

The tweaks and adjustments that have sought to meet the growth of the festival amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The good ship Carnival is listing badly and there seems to be a dearth of either creative or sensible thinking about how to address the problem.

He continued:

It’s been more than 60 years since the administration of Carnival came under the oversight of the State, and this premier event has attracted increased taxpayer funding even as the planning invested in its long term development has withered.

In that time, calypso has become a ward of the state, the steelband is in desperate decline and design has been balkanized into traditional and fun silos, neither of which has advanced the design of Carnival over the last two decades.
Carnival needs better analysis, better management and better organization.
The continuing wonder, that the event is so exciting…and so much fun should not cloud the thinking of the festival’s leadership.

It’s time to seriously examine the issues and make hard decisions about the festival itself that separate history, tradition and sentiment from reality.
Carnival is creatively reinvented from the ground up each year, but there is no reason that its infrastructure and organization should follow that model.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: small, creative Carnival bands springing up and bringing together the best of art, design and social commentary, all in a fun package.

“‘Miss Miles’ setting up”; an example of one of the small bands that blends creative design with social commentary; photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC license.

Finally, Lyndersay wondered about “how tissue thin the difference between modern soca and European dance music has become” and why local music just can't seem to break through internationally:

It’s not the only spot in the Carnival landscape where international breakthroughs seem imminent, and it also isn’t the first instance of the type of creative osmosis that’s brought the festival to international attention.

From Who let the dogs out to Minshall’s command performances for the Olympics, to the impact of Differentology on international music charts, the products, aesthetic and creative potential of Carnival always seem just on the verge of being a big thing, before retreating determinedly to the safety of the parochial.

What is it about T&T that brings us global attention, as calypso did in the 1940’s and 50’s, only to lose momentum?

In his estimation, “a misunderstanding of roles is a big part of it”:

The State really needs to decide whether it is an investor in Carnival or its sponsor. When Carnival stakeholders begin to gripe about the lavish freeness expected by representatives of the State during events, perhaps it’s time to admit that you’re a sponsor, and a loutish one at that.

Yet the conversation about Carnival is always about investment and returns and earnings, business terms that mean nothing when more than $200 million can be ploughed into the annual festival with no expectation of serious accountability for spending on that scale.

An investor considers a plan, puts money behind it and expects accurate reporting on the progress of the business.
A sponsor buys into a brand in the hopes of leveraging their own fortunes, their return comes in winning attention.
The state needs to decide which it is and stop trying to be the worst of both.
Similarly, the NCC [National Carnival Commission] really needs to decide exactly what it is, because it’s acting like the serf of the stakeholders instead of the convenor of Carnival.

He summarized the state of Carnival by saying:

Tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, there will be much celebratory backpatting on the success of another edition of the festival.
This will happen regardless of the conspicuous failures of so many State sponsored events to galvanise public interest or to contribute to the formation of anything that might resemble a sustainable Carnival economy.
Next up is Lent, when the literal eating of fish will accelerate, despite another year’s lost opportunity during Carnival to meaningfully engage the metaphor of making fishers of men.

The images of the Jab Molassie and the Carnival Queen are by Quinten Questel, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.

The images of the Future bat head and “Miss Miles” setting up are by Georgia Popplewell, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.

Categories: Business Feed

Dozens of Policemen Watch Hundreds of Macedonians March Against Poverty

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 7:19pm

As planned, at exactly 11:55 am, the “5 (minutes) to 12″ March Against Poverty began at the Parliament in capital city Skopje, on March 1, 2014. Photos and multimedia galleries from the march suggest about a thousand people participated with a high number of police officers cordoning their route. The event ended in an open-air “Concert for Dignity” at the Jadran Square.

In Macedonia, ranked among the poorest countries in Europe, every third citizen lives below the poverty line [pdf].

March Against Poverty in Skopje. Photo by author on March 1, 2014. CC-BY- 2.0

Organizers of the event, 8th of September and the Macedonian Platform Against Poverty, are demanding a change in social welfare laws to provide decent basic income for Macedonia's poorest citizens. The event proceeded peacefully, with one exception – a police officer harassed a journalist and protester.  Activist Petrit Saracini wrote [mk] on Facebook:

Dobro pomina marsot i koncertot protiv siromastijata, bez incidentite koi gi najavuvaa mediumite na vlasta. Osven eden moment, koga, koj drug, ako ne policijata, povotrno prekardasi, i legitimirase snimatel, a koga direktorkata na Helsinski gi prasala sto pravat, grubo ja otturnale. Pred lugje i kameri. Ic ne im cue. Na edvaj ni 1000 lugje izvadija 1000 dzandari. Nazdravje neka im se dnevnicite. I tie gi plakjame nie.

The march and the concert against poverty went well, without the incidents ‘predicted’ by pro-government media. Except at one point, when, who else but the police, went overboard, and asked for the ID of a cameramen. When the director of Helsinki Committee asked what they are doing, she was roughly pushed to the ground, in front of people and in front of cameras. They didn't care. For maybe less than 1000 people they had 1000 armed police officers. May they spend their overtime pay in health. We pay for them anyway.

The director of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization, Uranija Pirovska stated [mk] that she intended to file a complaint with the Ministry of Interior based on a video clip that documented the event, along with eyewitness testimonies.

In September 2013, the private television channel Nova TV reported and analyzed [mk] a similar incident, in which police forced their cameraman to delete footage of police aggression against protesters who were trying to protect a landmark Skopje public park from destruction. To date, no action has been taken against the perpetrator of this incident.

In front of government buildings protesters were met by a police cordon and a cordon of ancient statues- real archeological artifacts – set there in 2007. Under the Skopje 2014 project, the Government is turning the modernist facade into a faux-baroque style at a initial cost of 9 million euros. Photo by author. CC-BY.

The march was organized and promoted through a Facebook event page, a blog and Twitter under the ahashtags #5??12 and #5do12 on Twitter.

Categories: Business Feed

Dozens of Policemen Watch Hundreds of Macedonians March Against Poverty

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 7:19pm

As planned, at exactly 11:55 am, the “5 (minutes) to 12″ March Against Poverty began at the Parliament in capital city Skopje, on March 1, 2014. Photos and multimedia galleries from the march suggest about a thousand people participated with a high number of police officers cordoning their route. The event ended in an open-air “Concert for Dignity” at the Jadran Square.

In Macedonia, ranked among the poorest countries in Europe, every third citizen lives below the poverty line [pdf].

March Against Poverty in Skopje. Photo by author on March 1, 2014. CC-BY- 2.0

Organizers of the event, 8th of September and the Macedonian Platform Against Poverty, are demanding a change in social welfare laws to provide decent basic income for Macedonia's poorest citizens. The event proceeded peacefully, with one exception – a police officer harassed a journalist and protester.  Activist Petrit Saracini wrote [mk] on Facebook:

Dobro pomina marsot i koncertot protiv siromastijata, bez incidentite koi gi najavuvaa mediumite na vlasta. Osven eden moment, koga, koj drug, ako ne policijata, povotrno prekardasi, i legitimirase snimatel, a koga direktorkata na Helsinski gi prasala sto pravat, grubo ja otturnale. Pred lugje i kameri. Ic ne im cue. Na edvaj ni 1000 lugje izvadija 1000 dzandari. Nazdravje neka im se dnevnicite. I tie gi plakjame nie.

The march and the concert against poverty went well, without the incidents ‘predicted’ by pro-government media. Except at one point, when, who else but the police, went overboard, and asked for the ID of a cameramen. When the director of Helsinki Committee asked what they are doing, she was roughly pushed to the ground, in front of people and in front of cameras. They didn't care. For maybe less than 1000 people they had 1000 armed police officers. May they spend their overtime pay in health. We pay for them anyway.

The director of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization, Uranija Pirovska stated [mk] that she intended to file a complaint with the Ministry of Interior based on a video clip that documented the event, along with eyewitness testimonies.

In September 2013, the private television channel Nova TV reported and analyzed [mk] a similar incident, in which police forced their cameraman to delete footage of police aggression against protesters who were trying to protect a landmark Skopje public park from destruction. To date, no action has been taken against the perpetrator of this incident.

In front of government buildings protesters were met by a police cordon and a cordon of ancient statues- real archeological artifacts – set there in 2007. Under the Skopje 2014 project, the Government is turning the modernist facade into a faux-baroque style at a initial cost of 9 million euros. Photo by author. CC-BY.

The march was organized and promoted through a Facebook event page, a blog and Twitter under the ahashtags #5??12 and #5do12 on Twitter.

Categories: Business Feed

Solving Poverty in Malaysia

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 6:53pm

The group Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia is pushing for the passage of a Social Inclusion Act to address the problem of poverty in Malaysia:

Top-down prescription is not working despite the claims otherwise by the government. For aid to really work, one needs to get into the fine-grain pockets of pain and the ignored because each case is unique. For one it may be about education, for another about a gambling habit or a handicap or of self-esteem. It's not about opening the money tap per se, but how you distribute and use these funds.

Categories: Business Feed

Solving Poverty in Malaysia

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 6:53pm

The group Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia is pushing for the passage of a Social Inclusion Act to address the problem of poverty in Malaysia:

Top-down prescription is not working despite the claims otherwise by the government. For aid to really work, one needs to get into the fine-grain pockets of pain and the ignored because each case is unique. For one it may be about education, for another about a gambling habit or a handicap or of self-esteem. It's not about opening the money tap per se, but how you distribute and use these funds.

Categories: Business Feed

Funding Challenges for Scientific Research in France, African Countries

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 3:22am

The importance of the role of scientific research in the economy of the world's countries is rarely disputed. However this impact is mostly indirect, or direct but with only a long-term impact, due to the benefits of scientific discoveries. So the problem of research profitability in the short- to medium-term remains for many countries.

Research financing follows a variety of rules, with funds coming from the public or private sector. For public research, the French National Research Agency uses a few numbers to explain how research is financed in France [fr]:

Les laboratoires de recherche publics sont en partie financés par les crédits budgétaires des universités, des organismes de recherche publics et des agences de financement, dont l'Agence nationale de la recherche (A.N.R.). Ils bénéficient d'autres dotations provenant des régions françaises, des associations caritatives, de l'industrie et de l'Europe. [...] 7 000 projets financés rassemblant plus de 22 000 équipes de recherche publiques et privées entre 2005-2009 et le montant cumulé des financements 2005-2009 est de 3 milliards d'euros.

Public research laboratories are partially funded by budget appropriation from universities, public research bodies, and financial agencies, such as the French National Research Agency (A.N.R.). They also benefit from allocations from French administrative regions, charitable groups, industry, and from Europe. [...] 7,000 projects funded, bringing together over 22,000 private and public research teams between 2005-2009. The cumulative amount financed between 2005-2009 is three billion euros.

Public research funding in France – Public domain.
Research in France is financed by universities, research bodies, and the National Agency for Research (ANR). It also gets contributions from the pharma industry and European Commission.

Despite the resulting efforts of the government to re-energise the sector [fr], French research is suffering in comparison to its Anglo-Saxon neighbours and is showing signs of running out of steam. David Larousserie puts forward the premise that scientific research in France is competitive but brings little return, in an article entitled “The limited efficacy of public research funding” [fr]:

Les experts soulignent aussi “les bonnes performances en recherche de la France” mais les jugent “moyennes en termes d'innovation et de retombées économiques”. La France publie beaucoup (6e rang mondial) et dépose bon nombre de brevets (4e rang sur les dépôts en Europe), mais des indicateurs “d'innovation” la placent au 24e rang.

Experts also emphasise “the good performance of research in France” but judge it “average in terms of innovation and economic return”. France publishes a lot (ranked 6th in the world) and files a good number of patents (4th place out of all European filings), but ranks 24th according to “innovation” indicators.

He adds that:

Pour expliquer la réduction des marges de manœuvre en dépit d'une enveloppe globale en croissance, les magistrats rappellent que la cause essentielle est l'augmentation des frais de personnel dans les organismes de recherche. Au CNRS, avec des effectifs de fonctionnaires stables, la subvention publique a augmenté de 293 millions d'euros entre 2006 et 2011

To explain the reduced room to manoeuvre despite a growing global budget, magistrates recall that the root cause is the increase in personnel costs in research organisations. At the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), with a stable employee workforce, public subsidy increased by 293 billion euros between 2006 and 2011.

Others think that there are different factors involved, like Patrick Fauconnier, who believes that coordination between the different research organisations leaves a lot to be desired [fr]:

Quand on veut monter une Unité mixte de recherche (UMR), la structure qui permet de partager des contrats de recherche, par exemple entre une université et le CNRS, beaucoup de temps et d’argent sont gâchés en gestion de problèmes administratifs complexes.

When we want to create a joint research unit (UMR), the structure which enables the sharing of research contracts (between a university and the CNRS for example), a lot of time and money is wasted in dealing with complex administrative problems.

NASA researchers on Project Stardust – Public domain

Research in Africa

If research is experiencing financial difficulties in France, it's still in its early stages in most African countries. Thus only South Africa appears in the top 30 countries in terms of investment in research and development (R&D). Worse, no French-speaking African country appears in the top 70 of countries investing in research.

And yet Juian Siddle explains that the African continent has everything it needs to become the next large global scientifc hub:

The groundwork is there – knowledge, ingenuity, willingness to learn and adapt, coupled with the rapid expansion of digital technology. All of this is really allowing Africa to play a major part in global scientific collaborations.

Calestous Juma, a professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University, adds that the context for the African continent is different:

The strategic focus for Africa should therefore be on generating research that has immediate local use. It is through such strategies that Africa will be able to make its own unique contributions to the global scientific enterprise

Chemistry lesson in Kenya from un.org, with their permission

Are we really helping research?

But perhaps, despite promises of help from many governments, scientific research is missing the real support of public opinion, support which would allow it to put pressure on politicians to help research in a sustainable way. That's John Skylar's argument, in an article which responds to the fact that the page “I fucking love science” is a viral phenomenon on the web, but in reality few countries are ready to invest in quality research: 

The pattern you’re seeing is a steady drop in funding of science by the government over the last 10 or 20 years. [...] You know what budget doesn’t match this trend? U.S. defense spending. [...] If you loved science, you’d vote based on candidates who want to increase funding for it. You’d make it an issue that actually generates media debate, that sees equal time with the wars we fight

Categories: Business Feed

Trinidad & Tobago: Between Governments

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 8:28pm

In the context of the number and scale of projects being undertaken via government to government arrangements, Afra Raymond explains why Trinidad and Tobago's current high-level State mission to China is “a critical issue to delve into.”

Categories: Business Feed

In Cuba, Everything Increases Except State Workers’ Salaries

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 5:37pm

The price of food products has been increasing in Cuba, while workers’ wages remain unchanged. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

The recently finalized congress of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC), the only organization of its kind in the country, concluded with the confirmation that unless there is an increase in productivity, there will be no increase in the salaries of Cuban state workers.

In Cuba, the median salary of state workers stands at 15 dollars per month, according to the exchange rate of Cuba's national currency. Meanwhile, the cost of living has increased in recent years, after the implementation of economic measures such as the elimination of certain food products from the basic food basket subsidized by the State. In addition, there has been a significant increase in food prices in the private market.

According to the president of Cuba, Raúl Castro,

sería irresponsable y con efectos contraproducentes disponer un aumento generalizado de los salarios en el sector estatal, ya que lo único que causaría es una espiral inflacionaria en los precios, de no estar debidamente respaldado por un incremento suficiente de la oferta de bienes y servicios.

“It would be irresponsible and counterproductive to order a generalized salary increase in the state sector, because it would only cause an inflationary spiral unless it is fully backed by a matching increase in the goods and services on offer.”

Making a salary increase conditional on increased productivity has refocused the debate on the vicious cycle that has ensnared Cuba in recent times.

The recently elected secretary of the CTC, Ulises Guilarte, pointed out the consequences of this cycle [es]:

Los problemas del salario se identifican como el principal obstáculo para el incremento de la productividad y la eficiencia, señalándose en no pocos lugares como causa de desmotivación, apatía y desinterés por el trabajo, con las consiguientes afectaciones en la disciplina laboral, el éxodo de trabajadores calificados hacia actividades mejor remuneradas pero menos exigentes desde el punto de vista profesional, produciéndose sin dudas un proceso de descapitalización de la fuerza de trabajo, lo que ha impactado fundamentalmente en las ramas industriales básicas, el Ministerio de la Construcción y otros, además de la negativa cada vez más frecuente a ser promovidos a responsabilidades de dirección.

Salary problems are the main obstacle to increasing productivity and efficiency in many places, causing apathy and lack of motivation and interest in work, with consequent effects on discipline and the exodus of qualified workers towards better compensated and less demanding professional activities, resulting in a tangible decapitalization of the work force, which has fundamentally impacted the basic branches of industry, the construction ministry, and others, as well as ever-increasing denials of promotions to leadership positions.

In his speech, Raúl Castro confirmed that medical workers would receive a salary increase, “given that the country’s fundamental income at this time is a result of the work of thousands of doctors offering their services abroad.”

In January 2011, the Brazilian ambassador in Havana announced [es] that there would be 11,000 Cuban doctors working in the poorest and most remote parts of his country that year.

The South-South Cooperation, a partner of the Pan-American Health Organization, will give around $500 million dollars to Cuba annually.

On his blog Esquinas de Cuba, Alejandro Ulloa argues [es]:

(…) De no lograr abundantes inversiones extranjeras, al igual que la recapitalización de importantes sectores productivos, la economía cubana estará moviéndose en este círculo vicioso, que atenta a todas luces contra el incremento del poder adquisitivo de los salarios, verdadero problema que afecta a la población hoy.

(…) Without significant foreign investments, as well as the recapitalization of major productive sectors, the Cuban economy will continue in this vicious cycle, which clearly threatens the increase of the purchasing power of wages, the real problem affecting the population today.

Categories: Business Feed

The Sustainable Fishing Practices of Dhivehi Reef Fishermen

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 6:53pm

Maldivian blogger Hani Amir writes about the traditional fishing methods of the reef fishermen of Maldives which include catching tons of fish with their hands, instead of nets or rods. The bloggers also sheds light on how they are being exploited by greedy resort owners who tries to exploit them by not paying what they deserve.

Categories: Business Feed

Macedonians Prepare to March Against Poverty in Skopje

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 2:15pm

Macedonia is one of Europe's poorest countries, with an estimated 30 percent of the population living in poverty and a similar percentage of its people are out of work. The country even ranked as the most miserable in the world on The Economist's 2012 Misery Index, which ranks countries by unemployment rate plus inflation rate.

Two Macedonian non-governmental organizations, Platform Against Poverty and 8th of September, are trying to do something about it. They are organizing a March Against Poverty in the capital city Skopje for March 1, 2014 at 11:55 under the symbolic title “5 minutes to 12.”

The march is being organized and promoted through a Facebook event page and a blog by the same name, as well as under hashtags #5??12 and #5do12 on Twitter. It will end in an open air concert dubbed the Concert for Dignity. 

“5 minutes to 12″ flyer explains the march route: Parliament, Government and Jadran Square.

The organizers of the march explain [mk] their reasons on the official website:

????????? ? ????? ??????????, ????? ??? ????????? ????? ??????? ?? ???. ???? ?????? ?? ???????? ?? ?? ????????? ? ?? ?? ??????? ????????????? ???? ???? ??? ?????? ?? ???????????, ?? ? ???? ??? ?????? ?? ???????? ?? ???????? ?? ??????? ? ?? ????????? ?? ????? ?? ???? ??? ?????? ????

?é ?????? ? ??? ??? ????????? ????????? ?? ????????? „????? ????? ?? ???????“, ? ?? ??????????? ?? ?? ?????? ?? ??????? ?? ???? ??? ???? ????.

??? ????? ???? ???? ?????? ?? ???????? ???? ????????? ?????? ?? ?????? ? ??????, ???? ???? ???? ????? ?????? ?? ????????? ?? ???????????? ?? ??????? ???????? ?? ?????. ???? ???????????? ??? ?? ?? ???????????? ?? ????????? ???? ? ???? ?? ??????????? ????????? ?? ?? ??????, ????????? ?????? ?? ???? ? ???????????. ??????, ??????? ???? ???? ????????? ???? ??????? ? ????? ??????? ????? ??? ????? ?????????? ?? ??????? ?? ????? ????? ? ??????? ?? ?????? ?? ??????? ?????.

The answer is simple: because the citizens need it. This event calls upon all who live in poverty, but also those who want to stand on the side of the people and speak in the name of the voiceless.

We are glad that citizens have started asking “why should we go out,” and are not just joining marches by directive.

Throughout the month of March, we want to show that citizens live worse [than before], that no government so far has contributed to the improvement of their quality of life. That the stats presented to us about economic development and increase of social transfers are not real, that citizens live in misery and poverty. We also consider all previous events successful and good because every time the people go out in the streets they raise their voice for a better life.

Prior to the march, the organizers have been conducting research [mk] with focus groups and organizing public debates to get feedback and information from the people. They strive to get public support so they can initiate changes to the Law on Social Protection and debate in the Parliament for ensuring a decent minimal income for all.

To aid in the promotion and give a voice to the voiceless, several students from the Skopje Faculty of Dramatic Arts made videos in which they read portions of statements from the survey.

The monologue in the above video [mk] is transcribed and translated below:

??? ??? ????????? ????? ? ???? ??? ????. ?? ??? ????????? ? ????? ????????? ????? ??? ?????? ??????. ??? ??? ? ??????? ?? ????? ???? ?? ????????? – ???? ?? ?? ?? ??????. ??????????, ???? ?? ?? ????????. ??? ? ?? ?????? ? ????. ? ???? ???????? ?? ??????, ????? ???? ?? ?? ???????. ????? ?????? ?? ?????? ?? ?????????, ?? ??????? ????????… ????? ?? ?? ??????. ???? ?? ????? ?????, ?????… ? ??? ????? ?? ?????? ? ??????. ? ?????? ?? ???? ?? ?? ?????. ??? ???? ????? ?? ????? ?????. ?? ?????? ???? ??? ? ?????. ????? ?? ?? ??????? ?????. ???? ?????? ?? ????? ?? ???? ??? ????? ???? ?? ?????????. ?? ?? ?? ????? ?? ??? ??? ???? ? ?? ??? ??? ?????? ??????. ?? ?? ?? ?? ?????? ?? ?? ?? ????????

I am a single mother of two. Unemployed, I take social benefits of 3,000 denars [about 67 US dollars]. In our place it is shameful to say you are poor – everybody will laugh at you. Simply, they won't accept you. This is bad for the kids too. No matter which institution you go to, nobody will help you. I spent years dragging in the social welfare, in all kinds of institutions… Nobody helps. They just say wait, wait… and all your life passes waiting. While the kids have nothing to eat. Those kids need some food. They will also need to go to school. You'll need to clothe them in something. You only make the matters worse if you say you are poor. What should I do with those two kids and those 3,000 denars. What should I feed them? What clothes can I buy?

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