An August 19 attack on the Port-au-Prince police headquarters by pissed-off former Haitian soldiers should be a wake up call to Canadians. So far, the Haiti UN mission has seemed as safe as the soldiers’ quip, the “Haitian Vacation”. The UN soldiers patrol the capital in rickety Italian trucks, stopping to chat with the locals. On the surface, this mission looks like summer camp compared to the nightmare of enforcing peace in the former Yugoslavia.
But for one crucial factor: The UN troops are propping up an increasingly unpopular government. A government that is seen by many Haitians to be getting its orders from Washington, not Port-au-Prince. Canadian troops lead the UN mission in Haiti and make up 700 of the 1500 soldiers stationed there (the rest are from Pakistan and Bangladesh). There is a serious danger they will be caught in the crossfire of any uprising or coup attempt.
Canadian troops shadow president Rene Preval 24 hours a day and also guard the National Police. When I visited the dilapidated palace in July, with its handful of Canadian troops banging away on laptop computers, I could only hope nobody will want to mess with the UN.
The two prongs of Haitian renewal – reforming the economy and the justice system – are both being directed by the U.S.. Haitian senator Jean-Robert Martinez had a theory about the August 19 attack, which killed a shoeshine boy. Martinez believes it was in retaliation for government plans to privatize Haiti’s rotting nationalised industries – a condition for receiving loans from the U.S. and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Haiti is a good example of the carnage of cynical U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. wooed and then coddled the corrupt Haitian elite to run its sweatshops. As the “development” organization USAID once said, Haiti could be the “Taiwan of the Caribbean”. The U.S. trained the Haitian death squad Front pour l’Avancement et le Progres Haitien (FRAPH), who then littered the outskirts of Port-au-Prince with the bodies of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s supporters during the dark days of the 1991 coup.
Three weeks ago American troops from the 82nd Airborne plopped down on the streets of Port-au-Prince to spend a week patrolling. What kind of message does this send? This tells the Haitians that the UN isn’t the real deal; that if they get out of line, the Americans will kick their butts. Why does Canada allow the U.S. to undermine the credibility of our peacekeeping mission?
More visits by the Americans can be expected. It is no accident that a medical team attached to the 82nd Airborne remains on duty at the American base in Port-au-Prince.
The so-called justice reforms are mostly window dressing. Canada spent $4,750,000 to build and renovate court houses for the same corrupt judges that were the problem in the first place. That’s the equivalent of punishing a thief by buying him/her some new furniture.
Rather than telling the Haitians to tighten their buckles around hungry bellies, Canada should be leading the fight to pave roads and provide clean water and social services to all. Canada should not be helping to impose austerity economics on the Western hemisphere’s poorest country.
Last month UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon pointed out the urgent need for interesting and relevant content to attract Africans to the internet. Official statistics can make for grim reading: the continent has less bandwidth than Ireland (World Economic Forum). While it is true Africa is restricted by serious technological and economic disadvantages, African ingenuity, creativity and hard work are bypassing these impediments to get things done nonetheless. While word has got out about the impressive take-up of mobile phones in Africa, the new world of Web 2.0 is also spawning a new generation of inspiring African technology whizzes transforming perceptions and grabbing the world’s attention.
Alongside the combination of innovation and affordability that has made Africa the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, there is a home-grown technology boom underway: “African firms are already participating in the forefront of technological developments and investment opportunities,” according to the Africa Competitiveness Report 2007.
Powerful and easy-to-use Web 2.0 tools are being used by Africans during times of crisis. Among the most innovative are “mash-ups” – a term once used to refer to the musical style of combining two or more song tracks that has come to mean the blending together of various software programmes. These Web 2.0 software mashups combine weather information, maps, webcams, population figures, even restaurant locations – in fact any application that can be easily added to a website. The possibilities are limitless, and this is what is causing so much excitement for development in the South.
In Kenya, a website called Ushahidi (Swahili for testimony), is using ICT (information and communications technology) and mobile phones to save lives in the post-election violence. People on the ground can send in live situation reports and alerts through the web and mobile phones to the website, which then maps violence in real time.
According to the site’s originator, Kenyan Ory Okolloh, Ushahidi.com “is a tool for people who witness acts of violence in Kenya in these post-election times. You can report the incident that you have seen, and it will appear on a map-based view for others to see.”
It has been put together by Kenyan web developer David Kobia (also the developer of Mashada, an online African community), and inspired by African blogger Erik “Hash” Hersman and other Kenyan bloggers and activists.
At the start of the violence, Okolloh had put out a message for help on the web. “Google Earth supposedly shows in great detail where the damage is being done on the ground,” Okolloh said on the site. “It occurs to me that it will be useful to keep a record of this, if one is thinking long-term. For the reconciliation process to occur at the local level the truth of what happened will first have to come out. Guys looking to do something – any techies out there willing to do a mashup of where the violence and destruction is occurring using Google Maps?”
The website came together quite quickly: after initial discussions amongst the team of five on January 5, it was live by January 9 (they estimate 40 hours for development and 20 to 30 hours for testing and promotion).
For others who want to do the same, the key is good relationships, not necessarily technology, the Ushahidi team says. “My advice is to make sure you’re well networked with the right people before something like this is needed,” said Erik Hersman, who runs Afrigadget and White African blogs. “By the time you need a site like Ushahidi, it’s too late to start making connections, it’s time to build … everyone needs the passion to fulfill the vision of the project.”
And to keep it going is not that time consuming, they say. The largest part of their time is spent keeping in contact with NGOs and a volunteer network in Kenya, and verifying the information.
“My advice would be to keep things as simple as possible.,” said Kenyan David Kobia. “Mashups are basically methods of relaying data, so simplicity is absolutely key.”
“The feedback has been phenomenal. Ushahidi’s graphical representation of events illustrates to some degree the magnitude of the events to people outside Kenya. The enormity of the situation can be understood better as events unfold, keeping everyone in the loop with a point of reference – people tend to become apathetic when regular news moves from the front page.”
Ushahidi has been praised for providing NGOs, the international community and humanitarian agencies with vital information they can use to help people.
Kobia has also launched a new mashup to promote Kenyan unity called ihavenotribe.
AfricaNews.com has also been turning to mobile phones to get the news out on the Kenyan crisis. The agency’s reporters use internet-enabled mobile phones with portable keyboards to transmit photos, video and text for reports. All of it is uploaded to the www.africanews.com website. Some are calling this the first use of mobile phone journalism in Africa.
Pambazuka News Action Alert blog for Kenya updates.
Web 2.0 tools that are for free and how to use them: an excellent resource from San Francisco’s Techsoup.
An excellent set of links to Web 2.0 tools and which ones are free, is here: directimpactnow.com
Mashups.com has the latest news and links to get involved in this new internet phenomenon:
Programmable Web: This outstanding website links to all active mashups on the web by category and gives real-time reports on progress and lots of links and support to get started.
African Web 2.0: 2007 was a busy year for African Web 2.0 sites, as they have grown in number and sophistication. Here you can see an at-a-glance collage of the sites’ logos and links to them: flickr.com
The Caribbean nation of Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line (CIA World Factbook). The country had been enjoying some positive economic growth since 2005 after decades of economic and political turmoil.
The country’s political vacuum and economic problems gave rise to violent gang rule on its streets and a collapse in public services, in particular garbage collection. The piles of waste became a source of disease and squalor as well as providing barricades for gangs to wage their street battles.
Haiti was also hit by four devastating hurricanes in 2008, with heavy damage to the country’s agricultural sector and transport infrastructure.
But a project by UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation (http://ssc.undp.org/Home.118.0.html) has turned around a Haitian neighbourhood by simultaneously cleaning up the garbage, creating employment and income and reducing gang violence and despair. The United Nations has been working in Haiti to restore the economy and bring peace and good government to the country since the 1990s. Its most recent mission, MINUSTAH (http://minustah.org/),has been running since 2004.
“I know we have a bad image. But the violence is going down in my neighbourhood,” said Gislène La Salle, a widow and a mother of six from Carrefour-Feuilles, to the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).
“But when the security situation deteriorated sharply, I could not work in the streets. Luckily, six months ago, I found work in this project. Now, life is more stable. I have a regular income,” she said.
“The money I earn allows me to feed my family better and send three of my six children to school.”
The neighbourhood has a population of 150,000. Nine community leaders were identified and a management committee set up called the Committee d’Action Sanitaire de Carrefour Feuilles (CASCAF). The management committee then undertook difficult negotiations with local street vendors to establish garbage collection points. A waste collection plan was drawn up, and around 400 workers were hired to clean the streets and canals and collect the waste.
The workers were divided up into nine street cleaning teams and three waste collection teams, comprising people who were members of rival groups.
The project started in 2006 from a very basic point: generating awareness in the population about the dangers of waste and the need for it to be disposed of. The breakdown in public services from decades of political turmoil and poverty had meant a culture of waste disposal no longer existed. The project drew on similar experiences in Brazil and used Brazilian expertise.
A triage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_Triage)centre was set up to sort the waste into paper, plastic, metal, glass and organic matter for recycling. Two products are made from the waste to earn income: cooking briquettes and fertilizer.
The cooking briquettes may also help stem Haiti’s horrific deforestation. The country shares its island with the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, and anyone flying over the island can see a sharp dividing line between the green and lush forests of the Dominican Republic and the almost-barren and dusty Haitian hills.
By turning the trash into cooking briquettes, people are being offered an alternative to chopping down the forests and burning trees to make charcoal fuel for cooking.
Income for the waste collectors has increased to US $3 a day and the project has removed 70 percent of the neighbourhood’s waste, making it easier to get around and get things done (another boost to incomes).
Georginette is also a widow. Like Gislène, this mother of seven is thrilled to find a regular job. “Earlier, only three of my seven children went to school. Many children from the neighbourhood roamed the streets. But since November 2007 when I began working here, I can afford to send five,” she said.
Prior to the project, the neighbourhood was one of the most dangerous in Port-au-Prince. The project unexpectedly found the history of violence and conflict were quickly overcome when the project began to make quick progress.
Collecting the waste now earns an income for 380 families. And by gravitating community leadership to nonviolent leaders, relationships between people and groups improved.
The 50 waste collection points and public garbage bins now contribute to a reduction in common diseases that are rife in other parts of Haiti: leptospirosis, worms, canicola fever, tetanus, yellow fever, typhoid, dengue, and malaria.
Originally, the government of Haiti appealed to the India, Brazil and South Africa Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation (IBSA Trust Fund) (http://www.indianembassy.org/newsite/press_release/2007/Sept/17.asp) to get to grips with the woeful garbage collection in the capital, while tackling the violence in the slums and lack of economic opportunity.
The project is also a partnership between Port-au-Prince’s city hall, the Ministry of Public Works and other government ministries, Quisqueya University, UNDP Haiti, IBSA, and the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation. The project is run on the ground by UNDP Haiti.
Where once the trash made flooding worse by blocking canals, having it removed has prevented the stew of waste that was produced when floods occurred.
“Impressed by the positive results so far, the Haitian government would like to replicate this model in other regions of the country,” said Eliana Nicolini, the UNDP project coordinator.
It is hoped the project can be scaled up to reach across Haiti and even be replicated in other countries. The UN Special Envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, has been drafted in to help with raising funds for expanding the project.
The Love n’ Haiti project has been selected by the BBC’s World Challenge contest, which invites the general public to vote for which project they think is the best. Voting takes place on their website:http://www.theworldchallenge.co.uk.The project is number eight in the list on the website.
“It is not easy to choose who to hire in a place where so many are desperately in need of work. Many people beg us for work but we don’t have vacancies at the moment. If we can hire even 100 more persons, it would solve a lot of problems,” said Patrick Massenat, a local youth heading a committee created to implement activities contributing to waste management and to ensure effective involvement of governmental institutions.
“Most people in this area never knew real work. Now, they have experienced it. They also have families. The area is cleaner; the women who lost their husbands in gang wars and police firing are happier. It’s a beginning.”
4) Proyecto Alcatraz (Project Alcatraz): This Venezuelan project offers violent gang members the opportunity to go straight and make their way into the economic mainstream with real job opportunities and skills. Website:http://www.proyectoalcatraz.org/home_eng.php
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
In August 1992 I wrote a feature for Canada’s This Magazine. The country was in the depths of a severe recession and an austerity crisis but this also came with two emergencies requiring the Canadian Armed Forces: the first Gulf War from 1990 to 1991, and at home, the 1990 Oka Crisis. A few years prior (1988) changes were made to the War Measures Act (Canada invoked the War Measures Act in 1970 during the October FLQ Crisis, bringing troops to Canadian streets and mass arrests), replacing it with something called the Emergency Measures Act (EMA) (now Emergencies Act), which was given Royal Assent in 1988. I interviewed various legal experts on this new legislation and its implications and applications in future civil emergencies.
“The EMA WILL be used to suppress civil liberties in various parts of the country,” says Rosenthal. “A thing to keep in mind is that although the War Measures Act was passed during the First World War, it wasn’t used in a terrible way until 1970. The emergencies legislation is on the books. The Public Order Emergency could be used to suppress any kind of legitimate dissent.”
Many critics fear there is potential for manipulation of the EMA in the heat of the moment in the hands of an unscrupulous government.
“Words are very malleable,” says Rosenthal. “It was absurd for Trudeau to claim that there was an apprehended insurrection in Quebec in 1970. As he said the words he knew it was a lie.”
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