Saturday, December 25, 2010

Where Kenya Leads, Others Follow

Why doesn't Laurent Gbagbo wake up and smell the cocoa? That is the question on the minds of many watching the unfolding events in the Ivory Coast. However, seen through the prism of recent closely fought elections on the continent, Gbagbo's actions are not only rational, but also sadly predictable.

The script was pioneered right here in Kenya: A relatively free and remarkably violence-free campaign -followed by an equally remarkably peaceful election- give way to a delay in announcing the presidential poll results, sparking a dispute over the count. The incumbent is then declared the winner (despite all evidence to the contrary) and hastily organizes an inauguration. A violent stand-off with the opposition quickly ensues followed by internationally mediated talks resulting in the incumbent retaining his position. The erstwhile "real winner" gets a prime-ministership and a share of the government in return for his acquiescence in the robbery.

That, in brief, is how you rig an election nowadays.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe was quick to cotton on to the benefits of the plan. Now it's Gbagbo's turn. He probably thinks that all he has to do is tough it out for a few more weeks and the West, anxious that the world might run out of chocolate, will cave in and call for a negotiated settlement of the "dispute." This would, of course, mean that Gbagbo would participate in such talks as de facto head of state ala Mwai Kibaki.

Welcome to African Democracy where we are all winners, even when we lose.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Six Cases Please

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting The Cable Guy

The recent arrest of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, in the UK must be viewed with extreme prejudice, given the shenanigans surrounding the issuing of the arrest warrant against him and the attempts by Western governments, led by the US, to cripple his organisation.

The West has pulled all the stops in its attempt to get Assange and knock out Wikileaks. The fact that he is yet to be accused of violating any laws has not stopped governments trying to find, or perhaps manufacture, a reason to detain him. In his home country, Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that the Australia Federal Police were going through ''thorough processes'' to find any laws Assange may have broken. The Attorney-General has intimated that Assange might not be welcome back if convicted over the leaks, while at the same time declaring that Australia was providing ''every assistance'' to US authorities in their investigation. According to The Age, one of Australia's leading newspapers, government authorities around the world are working overtime to determine whether Assange could be charged with a crime related to the leaks.

Assange’s arrest is based on a warrant issued by a Swedish prosecutor. He is wanted for questioning in Sweden for what his solicitor has called “sex by surprise.” Interestingly, though, at the same time the Swedes were issuing arrest warrants claiming they could not find him, news organisations such as Al Jazeera had no problems locating him for on air interviews.

According to Bjorn Hurtig, Assange's Stockholm-based lawyer, the warrant itself is based on "exaggerated grounds." The accusations, which Assange denies, apparently stem from a malfunctioning condom and a refusal to wear one during a separate encounter. A report on the Reuters website says the two women involved were not initially looking to file charges but rather to track him down and persuade him to get tested for an STD.

Citing several people in contact with Assange's entourage at the time, some of whom have since fallen out with him, the report says that it was only after the women had trouble finding Assange -he had turned off his cellphone out of concern his enemies might trace him- that they turned to the police. An initial arrest warrant on rape and molestation charges issued mid-August by an on-call prosecutor was dropped a day later by another prosecutor and the charges later reinstated by a third, Marianne Ny, who, according to AOL News, has been active in proposed reforms of Swedish rape laws, including a radical redefinition of consent.

The women’s lawyer, Claes Borgstrom confirmed to reporters at the time that his clients' allegations against Assange related to efforts he made to have sex with them without wearing condoms, and his subsequent reluctance to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, following Assange’s arrest, a lawyer representing the Swedish government laid out for a British judge four specific charges of sexual misconduct but the word "rape" was not part of the charges which cited "unlawful coercion" and Assange's alleged reluctance to use condoms. A spokeswoman for Swedish prosecutors has also affirmed that at the moment Assange is not formally charged in Sweden, but is only wanted for questioning.

The Swedes also seemed determined to make exceptions for Assange. According to the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, which in August hired Assange to contribute bimonthly columns on politics and freedom of expression, last year a couple of Irishmen aboard a sea vessel were caught on tape beating a Swede, Christer Skoog, unconcious and then stomping on his head. However, despite the assault having taken place in Swedish waters, having the surveillance tape, and witnesses recognising and identifying both assailants, Sweden's public prosecutor decided to drop the case. Asked why he had not sought their extradition from Ireland, prosecutor Thomas Holst declared: “If we were to try to go after all the people who committed less serious crimes, we would have a lot to do.”

According to the Reuters report, however, the most serious accusation Swedish prosecutors made against him in a statement on their website is that he committed "rape, less serious crime" -- the least serious of three levels of rape charges that are on the statute books in Sweden. Conviction carries a maximum four year jail sentence and a minimum of less than two years, depending upon the circumstances. According to Assange's London lawyer, Mark Stephens, punishment could also be as light as a fine of 5,000 kronor or about $715. Despite this, it seems, however, that the Swedes have decided the accusations against Assange are of a sufficiently serious nature to justify an international arrest warrant.

Western governments have not been above using dirty tricks get to Assange and to knock out his website. After cyber attacks caused it to be dropped by its server, the US government leaned on US corporations to get them to stop servicing the now rogue site. According to TIME magazine, thanks in part to an effort by the office of Senator Joe Lieberman, who heads the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Wikileaks has been pushed off a series of servers in the US. PayPal, the online money transfer service, cut off Wikileaks after being requested to do so by the US State Department. Mastercard and Visa quickly followed, seriously threatening the operations of Wikileaks, which depends on donations from supporters.

In Europe, French Industry Minister Eric Besson called for the site to be banned from French servers and the Swiss postal system shut down Assange's bank account, stripping him of yet another key fundraising tool. Postfinance, the financial arm of Swiss Post, apparently only recently discovered that Assange had “provided false information regarding his place of residence during the account opening process,” because he used his lawyer's address in Switzerland for his correspondence with the bank.

Much of the criticism of Wikileaks revolves around the notion that releasing such information risks lives, exposing or compromising the identities of informants, spies, human rights activists, journalists and dissidents. According to former US House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, “Julian Assange is engaged in warfare,” and his actions are “information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed.” US state department legal adviser Harold Koh has said that Wikileaks' document dump "could place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals" as well as "ongoing military operations."

However, following the release of another haul of US defence department documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in August, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told the Washington Post: "We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents." The fact is Wikileaks had already redacted names and other information in the Iraq War logs. And though criticized for not redacting names in the Afghanistan files, the site had asked the government for help in doing exactly that but the government declined.

Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers which detailed US government lies and cover-ups in the Vietnam War, is sceptical of whether the government really believes that lives are at stake. He told the BBC's World Today programme that US officials made that same argument every time there was a potentially embarrassing leak. "The same charges were made against the Pentagon Papers and turned out to be quite invalid."

Ellsberg is now fronting a group of ex-intelligence officers from the CIA, FBI and the British Government that has written an open letter of support for Assange and WikiLeaks. He has previously said that labelling the Pentagon Papers leak as 'good' whilst the Cablegate leaks are 'bad' makes no sense. "That's just a cover for people who don't want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy. The truth is that EVERY attack now made on Wikileaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."

Others are also rallying to Wikileaks’ defence including a clandestine group of internet vigilantes, known only as Anonymous and operating under the banner Operation Payback, which has launched cyber attacks against the websites of the companies that have yanked their support for WikiLeaks, temporarily taking some of them down. “At stake is not just the future of WikiLeaks, the protesters seem to believe, but freedom on the net in general — a principle worth defending by any means possible, however dubious,” writes Ray Singel in an article published by the online tech magazine,

Friday, December 10, 2010

Latest Anti-WikiLeaks Technology

Pressing Freedoms: Shutting Up WikiLeaks, Shutting Down The Media

December 7, 2010 is a date which will live in infamy. Not because it marks the anniversary of the Japanese attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, but because of two events which took place on two continents separated by the Atlantic Ocean but united by shared interests. In the UK, Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website, Wikileaks, was arrested on a Swedish warrant and across the Atlantic, the US announced that it would be hosting UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day event in May next year.

Under normal circumstances, none of these would merit any attention. However these are not normal circumstances. In the last few weeks, the diplomatic world has been thrown into a tizzy by Wikileaks' release of thousands of the quarter of a million classified cables, containing secret communications from US envoys around the world.

The cables have caused much embarrassment and earned Assange the enmity of government types across the Western world. In the US, Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, has branded him “a high-tech terrorist” and the ever-colourful former vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, compared him to the “editor” of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire and demanded that he be hunted down “with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.”

Western governments have launched a crusade against Wikileaks which has spilled over into the internet and commercial domains. The US government has leaned on American corporations to get them to stop servicing the now rogue site. Wikileaks has been pushed off a series of servers in the US and online money transfer services, such as Pay Pal and Mastercard, have cut it off. In Europe, the Swiss postal system shut down Assange's bank account, stripping him of yet another key fundraising tool.

Despite all this, the US and her allies have yet to come up with a single law that Assange has broken in relation to the leaked documents. The fact is Wikileaks hasn't actually leaked anything. It has simply published material leaked by a young soldier, Private First Class Bradley Manning, who, having watched Iraqi police abuses, and having read of similar and worse incidents in official messages, reportedly concluded, "I was actively involved in something that I was completely against."

“It is simply ridiculous to even think Wikileaks has done anything criminal” says Andreas Fink, CEO of DataCell, an Icelandic online payment company that has kept the channels open to Wikileaks and threatened to sue VISA for stopping payments via DataCell to the site. “If Wikileaks is criminal, then CNN, and BBC, The New York Times, The Guardian, Al Jazeera and many others would have to be considered criminals too as they have published the same information.”

The only explanation for the unprecedented attack on rights that citizens of the West take for granted is that the ultimate target is the public's right to know what is being done and said in their name by shadowy officers in faraway places.

Much of the criticism of Wikileaks also revolves around the notion that releasing such information risks lives, exposing or compromising the identities of informants, spies, human rights activists, journalists and dissidents. Yet previous Wikileaks’ releases of US defence department documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in no such consequences. Four months later, the US military still has no evidence that anyone has been harmed because of information gleaned from Wikileaks documents.

It is painfully obvious that governments are seeking to protect their own reputations, not lives. The attacks on Wikileaks are part of a global trend towards constricting media freedoms. The Freedom of the Press 2010 report, compiled by Freedom House, which conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, reveals that the overall level of press freedom worldwide has been in decline for the last 8 years.

“Both governments and private individuals,” the report says, “continue to restrict media freedom through the broad or disproportionate application of laws that forbid … ‘endangering national security.’” In particular, the report notes that the internet and other new media have become sites of contestation between citizens attempting to provide and access news and governments attempting to maintain control.

The governments have argued that secrecy is essential for the conduct of diplomacy. But as US President Barack Obama noted last year: “The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.” Secrecy is also an important ingredient in the conduct of illegal and immoral activities and it is one that is frequently employed by repressive governments across the globe. It is the duty of a free and responsible press to strive to uncover that which governments would rather hide.

It is, therefore, more than a touch hypocritical for the US to be hosting the World Press Freedom Day 2011 in order to, according to one online report, “prove its commitment to expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.” The theme for the commemoration will be “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers”. It will perhaps be the perfect opportunity to ponder why the governments of societies which pioneered press freedoms in the last century have become the new barriers to the spread of those same liberties in this one.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Politics of Identity

After two decades in power, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni probably needs to update his image in view of next year's election. And he has hit on a new strategy to woo young voters. The 66-year old is reinventing himself as a hip-hop star and his debut rap song has become a sensation on the radio and in the nation's dance clubs. While addressing a huge crowd of youth supporters on last month, Museveni decided to show off his rapping prowess, saying that he had recently learned about "the black African roots of hip hop music." A music producer captured the rhymes and later put them to beats, creating the song "U Want Another Rap?" with Fenon Records. The song features the president rapping in Runyankore about God and family, followed by the chorus "Yes, Sevo!", which was added by the producer. Sevo is a common nickname for Museveni.

Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin is intent on forging a different kind of identity. In a bid to boost his action-man credentials, he strapped on a helmet branded with the Russian flag before climbing into a powerful Renault Formula One race car and tore along an empty road near St Petersburg by himself, reaching speeds of nearly 250 kilometres per hour. It is just the latest in a long list of machismo stunts the 58-year old has pulled off in the recent past. It all started with flying a fighter jet into war-torn Chechnya in 2000. In August this year, he was photographed hunting endangered whales with a cross-bow during a scientific expedition in choppy seas, and later taking the controls of a plane to dump water on a Moscow wildfire. He has also shot a Siberian tiger with a tranquiliser gun and released leopards into a wildlife sanctuary.

It was not only politicians seeking a public makeover. A young Asian male was placed under arrest after he donned a mask and boarded a flight from Hong Kong to Canada. However, at some point during the flight he went to the toilet and emerged without the elaborate disguise, looking like the fresh-faced twenty-something he actually is. In what they described as an "unbelievable case of concealment", authorities in Vancouver, who had been tipped off by the cabin crew, later found a bag containing a Mission Impossible-type head mask of a white man complete with a brown leather cap, glasses and a thin brown cardigan. The young man, who had apparently swapped boarding passes with a US citizen to get on the flight, has now claimed asylum in Canada – presumably using his real identity.

Disguises, however, can have fatal consequences. A 32-year old actor playing the role of a masked gunman in the Philippines was shot dead after he was mistaken for a real assassin. Kirk Abella, was shooting a scene for the movie Going Somewhere when the local security guard, Eddie Cuizon, was called by a concerned citizen saying there was a masked gunman in the area. As the director shouted "action", the actor took off on a motorcycle with another masked rider at the controls. Cuizon later told police he saw two men on a motorcycle but they sped away as he tried to approach them. He then shot Abella fearing they were going to escape. Police said that other witnesses initially thought the shot fired was part of the movie. Cuizon now faces real-life charges of homicide and violation of a gun ban.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Religion is the Opium of the People

Karl Marx wasn’t kidding. Police in the Parisian suburb of La Verriere failed find a trace of any other hallucinogenic drug after a family of 12 leapt from their second floor balcony claiming to be fleeing Beelzebub. According to police, the incident occurred when a wife awoke to find her husband moving about naked in the room. She began screaming 'It's the devil! It's the devil!' and the man ran into the next room where the others were watching TV. One woman grabbed a knife and stabbed him before others pushed him out through the front door. When he forced his way back in, the terrified lot leapt from the balcony screaming 'Jesus! Jesus!' Inexplicably, the nudist also leapt from the balcony. Detectives are treating it as a case of mistaken identity.

Zimbabwe’s Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, likes to portray himself as very religious. He is apt to quote the Bible in his speeches, sometimes adding a few revelations of his own, such when he divulged God’s advice to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: "My Son, take it like a man …" Last week, however, it was reported that Sabina Mugabe, the younger sister of octagenarian president Robert Mugabe, had had a revelation of her own to make regarding Gono. Shortly before she died three months ago, she reportedly told her brother that Gono and Mugabe’s wife of 14 years, Grace, had been making a cuckold of him. Though the President is said to be "ready to go to war," things might still turn out OK for the former tea-boy. As one intelligence official put it, "once Mugabe hears something like that, I think someone will go and meet God."

Many self-declared religious types abhor any discussion of sex outside the home. In keeping with this, an Australian church has kicked out a woman who dared to act in an impotence treatment ad. Libby Ashby told the Melbourne-based radio station, 3AW, that she had been “disfellowshipped” from her local congregation, following her starring role in a commercial where seems to use her husband’s erect penis as a stepping stone to higher things. In the ad, after she asks for his help to reach a container above the fridge, he opens up his dressing gown to reveal a sight which the viewer can’t see – but which she is clearly happy about. Ashby then steps onto the hidden prop and gets the jar. The single mother said she knew the advert would be controversial with church-goers but a lack of funds left her with little option. “My Visa was calling out for mercy,” she revealed. The church is unlikely to be so charitable. “They have said I will not be reinstated until the advert comes off air,” Ashby said.

In a bid to restore morality and fight the vice of sexual harassment, the mayor of the Italian sea-side town of Castellammare di Stabia, south of Naples, has ordered his police to fine women who wear 'very short' miniskirts or tops that display too much cleavage. Luigi Bobbio, who was elected on Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party ticket, won a council vote to ban anything that doesn’t fully cover underwear. Police, who now have the authority to hand out fines of up to $450, were however cautioned against being too zealous identifying offenders. "They won't need to carry out checks up close. One glance will be enough to judge," said mayor Bobbio, who also wishes to criminalize blasphemy and playing football in public parks.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki’s sermons about the evils of corruption have a decidedly hollow ring to them. While campaigning for re-election three years ago, he promised to run a clean government. Now, barely a week after he and Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, were forced to suspended William Ruto, a cabinet minister facing graft charges, another, Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula has resigned (or in the parlance of the day, stepped aside to allow for investigations) after he was named in a parliamentary report looking into shenanigans surrounding the acquisition of property by Kenyan embassies abroad. And that may not be the end of it. Other members of the “clean” cabinet with the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads include Kiraitu Murungi (under whose watch $100 million worth of oil disappeared in the Triton Oil scandal), Prof. Sam Ongeri (in charge when another $100 million in free education funds went missing) and Naomi Shaaban (whose ministry was blamed for the loss of $2.5 million meant of resettling the internally displaced).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Somalia: Mission Possible

Two weeks ago, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council recommended that the mandated strength of its peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) be raised from 8000 to 20,000 troops. It also called on the international community to blockade Somali ports and enforce a no-fly zone over the country to interdict resupply for Islamist rebels fighting to overthrow the internationally recognized government.

As the UN mulls over this proposal, events on the ground continue to give an indication of the effect increased troop numbers can have.

Since 2007, AU peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi have been deployed in Mogadishu under both an AU and UN mandate and at the invitation of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. Their task is to support the decade-long Somali peace process and the transitional institutions it has generated.

For much of this time, AMISOM has been seriously under-resourced and undermanned. Nonetheless, the troops succeeded in their foremost task of protecting the Transitional Federal Government from Al Qaida liked extremist groups who have foresworn the peace process. In July, however, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development resolved to send a further 2000 troops, bringing the AU mission to its mandated strength of 8000. By mid-August, half of the IGAD troops had been inserted into Mogadishu and the effect have been quick and dramatic.

In June, the TFG controlled just 5 districts in the capital. Now, with the support of the IGAD reinforcements the TFG has managed to gain ground and now controls nearly half of the capital’s 16 districts. The gains are all the more remarkable considering that they were made in the face of a so-called “terminal offensive” launched by the extremist group, Al Shabab during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

These successes have provided a springboard for the TFG to launch its long-awaited offensive to retake the rest of the country. Last week, the TFG and its allies captured Beled-Hawo, a southwestern Somali town near the Kenyan border, deep in the heart of al Shabaab territory - a huge blow to the insurgents’ image of invincibility. Government forces are now at the doorstep of the strategically important town of Beled weyne, Hiiraan’s regional capital, threatening the insurgents’ grip over South and Central Somalia.

The losses suffered by the insurgents have amplified clan divisions and disputes over command, the policy of denying access to humanitarian organizations trying to help the suffering population in Central and South Somalia, and the role of foreign fighters. According to the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank that monitors global security, the failure of the Ramadan offensive, led to “a major rift between Al Shabab’s emir, Sheikh Ahmad Abdi Godane and his deputy, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow.”

This is significant because, as US global security consultancy, Stratfor, says, it represents a split between the group’s nationalist and internationalist elements. According to Stratfor, Godane “is considered the leader of the internationalist elements, coordinating closely with foreign jihadists from al Qaeda who have joined its ranks over the last few years,” and is “responsible for propelling the Somali theater onto the global jihadist radar.”

Stratfor however notes that fighting to bring the global jihad to Somalia and basing such efforts in Somali territory is deeply unpopular, and the group has been at pains to hide their intentions under the guise of nationalism. A split with Robow, one of the more nationalist voices, and who had previously been replaced as the group’s spokesman in 2009 following his opposition to the policy of denying access to humanitarian organizations trying to help the suffering population, would not only significantly weaken Al Shabab, but also rob them of this platform.

Meanwhile, the TFG is exploiting the space created by the AMISOM deployment to deliver some services to people in Mogadishu and beyond. At the end of August, the Independent Federal Constitution Commission produced a draft constitution and submitted it to the people for consultation. The Mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Nur, is rehabilitating roads, providing street lighting and rebuilding markets in the capital. He has recently submitted a 4 year plan for regenerating the city to our development partners, the first time this has ever been done.

The people of Mogadishu are voting with their feet, and most of the city’s 2 million people now live in areas controlled by the TFG, many having moved there to escape the ‘reign of terror’ offered by the al Shabab. Even in areas not yet under their control, the TFG is, according to Prof. Abdullahi Sheikh Ali, Minister of State for Planning and International Co-operation, working with community elders and non-governmental organisations to launch projects such as the rehabilitation of canals in Hiiran area and Middle Shabelle.

Much of this progress, though, is sadly undermined by continued political disagreements and wrangling within the government. A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister was deposed and the process of selecting a replacement has been afflicted with delays and held hostage to disputes between the President and the Speaker. However, it is instructive to note that, while regrettable, the conflicts within the TFG are being mediated through political and constitutional processes, a clear break from the past preference for violence and war.

All this has been achieved by the insertion of just 1000 extra soldiers. Imagine the impact of sending twelve times that number.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Diaspora Crucial To Somali Economy

Somalia has been engulfed in civil war for 20 years, resulting in the collapse of central state institutions, the destruction of social and economic infrastructure and massive internal and external migration. However, despite the absence of a state and its financial, economic and social institutions, combined with other challenges, the traditional Somali spirit of entrepreneurship remains strong and the private sector resilient and robust.

Indeed, the private sector has managed to grow impressively, particularly in the areas of trade, commerce, transport, remittance services and telecommunications, as well as in the primary sectors, notably in livestock, agriculture and fisheries. Aggregate trade data reported by partner countries to the IMF reveal that by 2006, Somalia’s imports had almost doubled, reaching a historical record of $461 million in 2004. In the first six years of the new millennium, exports almost tripled, reaching $266 million in 2004.

This economic activity is powered by remittances from Somalia’s vast Diaspora which, as a proportion of the country’s population, is perhaps the largest in the world. One in every 8 Somalis lives abroad, most of them having either fled the repression of Siad Barre’s military dictatorship or the chaos that followed his ouster and the collapse of the state. They constitute 80% of the country’s skilled manpower and send close to $1 billion every year to relatives in the country.

Without these remittances, the country’s private sector would undoubtedly fold. It already faces significant challenges accessing credit and other financial services. The collapse of the central government in 1991 led to the ultimate collapse of the country’s commercial banking sector, which had previously been plagued by corruption and mismanagement. There are currently no formal financial institutions operating in Somalia nor any fully functioning formal financial sector regulatory bodies, making it impossible to encourage and harness domestic savings. Further, the country is also locked out of international capital markets. Somalia relations with international creditors were frozen in late 1980s due to the economic mismanagement of the Barre regime.

The remittances also dwarf any international aid the country receives as Overseas Development Assistance. Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income less than half the regional average and, in 2003, it was estimated that nearly three-quarters of the population lived on less than two dollars a day. Per-capita aid to Somalia, had reached $41 in 2003, totaling $272 million. Remittances, at roughly four times that number, clearly show that the major inflow of “aid” comes from Somalis themselves.

Most beneficiaries live in urban areas, with the remittances constituting about 40 percent of the income of urban households. Less than 10 percent of transactions are destined for rural villages. According to a paper prepared for the UN conference on Somalia held in Istanbul in May this year, individual transfers are usually in small amounts averaging $132, sent regularly to cover basic family needs. In fact, household consumption, including expenditure on education and health, accounts for between half and two thirds of remittance spending. However, studies in Somaliland show that remittances are increasingly being used to fund new organizations and development projects, and such transactions usually involve larger sums.

Whether invested or consumed, remittances have important macroeconomic impacts generating positive multiplier effects, while stimulating various sectors of the economy. Studies in Mexico show that for every dollar received from migrants working abroad translates to a $ 2.69 in the Gross National Product. Other studies analyzing links between remittances and poverty in Ghana suggest that raising remittance by 10 percent reduces the share of those in poverty by 3.5 percent and has a negligible impact on income inequality. A study in Hargeisa found that households earning less than $2 a day had no direct access to remittances from abroad and had to rely on gifts from family members or neighbors.

It is not only by sending money that the Somali Diaspora is contributing to the resurgence of Somalia. They are also giving of their time and skills. Many have returned to help the fledgling Transitional Federal Government create lasting institutions while others are undertaking individual initiatives aimed at improving the lives of Somalis. In 1999, a Somali Canadian family returning to Hargeisa identified an unmet demand for English language primary education for the children of families returning from the West. They founded the Blooming Primary School, which by March 2005 had a student population of nearly 600. Fully a quarter of the pupils wee exempted from paying fees, including 60 from the Hargeisa Orphanage.

As Somalis work to rebuild their country from the ashes of the last twenty years, it is certain that those in the Diaspora will continue to play a critical role.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Banking on Somalia: Why Remittance Companies Are Crucial to Rebuilding The Shattered Economy

Somalia’s crippled financial system faces severe challenges even as the country struggles to emerge from two decades of conflict.

Peacebuilding and reconstruction work will cost billions of dollars. The question of how this is paid for is crucial. Though Somalia potentially has sufficient natural resources, these are yet to be developed and the current level of funding for the Transitional Federal Government does not inspire confidence that the international community is keen to foot the bill.

Further, the country has been suspended from accessing global financial markets, and cannot expect to borrow to finance the cost. Further, rampant borrowing by Somalia's former military regime has left a pending debt crisis and the country has not taken advantage of the many opportunities for debt relief that have presented themselves over the past 20 years. As of 2007, the national debt stood at US$ 3.3 billion, 81 per cent of which is arrears.

Though the private sector is growing the country lacks a strong banking sector able to mobilize domestic savings for investment, providing the fuel for economic growth and the resources for reconstruction. In January 1991, all state institutions that provided services and regulated the economy collapsed, including the Central Bank of Somalia and the entire banking system.

According to a 2004 report by KPMG, the banking sector currently comprises a virtually-non-existent formal sector and an active informal sector. The former includes central banks in Mogadishu, and in the self-governing regions of Puntland and Somaliland. The country has no commercial banks though the central banks in Bosasso and Hargeisa offer limited commercial banking services, creating an undesirable conflict of interest with their role as treasurer of their respective regional governments.

Though the Central Bank of Somalia reopened its offices in Mogadishu and Baidoa in December 2006, it continues to have limited functionality. Despite a draft Central Bank Bill and Banking Bill having been developed, these are yet to become law and the bank operates under Decree Law No 6 of 18 October 1968.

The informal sector, which is dominated by privately-owned remittance companies, offers more promise. What started as a way for Somalis fleeing poverty, repression and, more recently, anarchy, to send cash back to their extended families in Somalia has in many cases blossomed into full-blown financial operations. By 2004, the remittances had reached $1 billion and to date remain Somalia’s largest source of foreign exchange. Though a tiny proportion of the global remittance industry, which is estimated at between $100 and $300 billion, these transfers account for up to 40 percent of the income of urban households in Somalia. A survey conducted by UNDP estimated that more than a quarter of families in Somalia receive remittances from abroad.

Remittance companies, being the sole international financial institutions operating in Somalia, are a lifeline for many Somali families both in Somalia and in the Horn of Africa. They provide a conduit for hard currency entering and leaving the country, as well as an instrument for trade and commerce in Somalia and abroad.

According to Mohamed Abshir Waldo, founder and director of the Sandi Consulting Group, a political, business and strategic consulting group whose primary focus is the revival and reconstruction of the Somali nation, the system of sending remittances in the first half of the 1990s was highly informal and personalized. It typically relied on trust relations with a known broker based in Nairobi or elsewhere who would insure that funds were delivered (either by carriers who flew to cities with cash on daily khat flights or via local high frequency radio operators) to family members inside Somalia or in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa.

HF radio was at the time the only means of communication available inside Somalia at that time and local private operators thus handled most remittances. They founded the first, small-scale remittance sector and a lack of capital prevented them from expanding the service beyond very modest levels. However, revolutionary advances in the telecommunications sector in the 90s made remittance transfers from great distances much easier. The rise of the remittance companies specializing in global money transfers into and out of Somalia followed the introduction of the first private satellite phone companies in 1994-95. Most of HF radio operators have been absorbed into these larger remittance companies as local agents, giving the companies the ability to reach virtually every community in the country, though some independent operators in small towns and villages continue to play a minor role in remitting money.

It is a misnomer to call these Somali remittance companies. Whilst the owners and origins of these companies are ethnic Somalis, most of them have operations in the Gulf, United States, Europe and East Africa and almost all are, in fact, owned and managed by citizens of these countries. According to Waldo, Somali nationals own less 15 hawalas while the overseas-owned remittance companies could be in the hundreds. It is the close partnership and networking between the overseas hawalas and the local Somali hawalas that gives the impression that they are one and the same. Typically, the international operators create regional clearing centres or headquarters in key locations worldwide, and decentralize most of the operations at country level through ‘agents’ – either as branches owned by the company or agencies franchised to independent agents.

Major operators include Sahaan, Amal Express, Global, Al-Mustaqbal, Towfiq and Barwaqo Financial Services, all of which are based in Dubai. Others are Cidgal in Djibouti, Kaah Express and Dalsan Nairobi and Salama Money Express operates out of London. The largest is Dahabshiil which is based in Hargeisa, the capital of the autonomous region of Somaliland. According to a report published in The EastAfrican, industry experts estimate it handles up to two-thirds of remittances to Somalia and is fast emerging as the largest money transfer company on the continent.

Growing out of a small store in the tiny town of Burau, Dahabshiil, which also deals in telecommunications, is today a multi-million dollar empire, with bases in over 40 countries including Australia, the United Arab Emirates and Britain. The company maintains offices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan and Ethiopia.

While the remittance companies rely mainly on the business of migrant money transfers from western economies for family maintenance and investment in Somalia, individuals and businesses within the country use them as crude savings banks, depositing funds for short periods. According to the KWPC report, this quasi-banking role continues to generate the most interest amongst major remittance companies. In fact, Dahabshiil is currently constructing a bank in downtown Hargeisa.

However, most other remittance companies face major constraints in converting themselves into banks, not the least of which is the lack of a centralized government and financial regulatory authority. The lack know-your-customer regulation coupled with the relative simplicity of hawallas creates the possibility of hiding the origin and destination of funds or breaking the audit trail. That has led to unfounded suspicions that these firms were being used by terrorists to transfer funds for terror plots and as a conduit for money laundering. Such accusations can have devastating effects.

In 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, the US government shut down the overseas money remittance channel of the then largest Somali remittance company, al-Barakat, labeling the company "the quartermasters of terror." This was despite numerous investigations turning up nothing linking al-Barakaat to terrorist activities as outlined by the 9/11 Commission, and the fact that the terrorists involved in the attacks received the majority of their funds through the conventional financial system.

Nonetheless, the closure of Al-Barakat significantly dented the confidence of the Somali business community in the remittance companies as a result of losing their deposits. And though other companies were quick to step into the void, the humanitarian impact of money frozen in transit was considerable because Al-Barakat handled half of all remittances to Somalia and was the country's largest private employer.

As Somalia strives to rebuild its shattered economy, a viable commercial banking sector will be indispensable. As noted in a UNDP report prepared by Dr. Abdusalam Omer, “commercial banks provide services that are not currently provided by the remittance companies such as retail banking, corporate banking, and loans for commercial and social development.”

In creating such a sector, the country would do well to take advantage of the remittance companies, most of whom are legally registered or in the process of legalizing their status and pay taxes in every country in which they operate. As the KPMG report says, there is no reason why the existing Somali remittance companies cannot expand to provide commercial banking services in Somalia, or anywhere else. Despite the lack of formal regulatory mechanisms in Somalia, all these companies exercise self-regulation of some kind and at a conference held in Dubai in June 2003, they committed themselves to move towards licensing and to formalize their operations preparing the ground for the expansion of financial services.

Dahabshiil, for example, embarked on a campaign to apply for and register its operations with concerned authorities in all countries where this is required, hired money laundering reporting officers and trained staff on rules and procedures. It incorporated appropriate checks in its IT software allowing for the reporting of suspicious activity and on transactions that exceed a certain amount by agents and published guidelines for its agents on how to detect suspicious transactions and report them.

Still, Somalia does not have much of the legal framework, technical expertise, security, or strong central bank needed to regulate the establishment of any commercial banks. This will only come with the establishment of the state and its institutions. This is what the TFG and the international community must strive to do with utmost haste.

As Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi, professor of international politics at Qatar University and author of the book, Understanding the Conflagration of Somalia: Identity, Islam and Peacebuilding, wrote in an article published by Al Jazeera earlier this year, “economic development is key to a sustainable peace in Somalia…. The time has now come for the international community to stop bypassing or ignoring the already weak Somali government institutions. Reinstituting a legitimate and functioning central authority should be the priority of all interested stakeholders.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

AMISOM Expands Bases as Shabaab Offensive Fizzles

The view from an Amisom position overlooking a busy intersection at Kilometre 4 in Mogadishu. Civilian lfe is slowly returning to normal in areas under the peacekeepers control

By Patrick Gathara
Nairobi, September 15 2010

The “terminal” Ramadan offensive by Al Shabab, the extremist group fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-recognized Transitional Federal Government and impose an extreme form of Islamic law, seems to have run out of steam. Barely three weeks after declaring they would drive AU peacekeepers out Somalia and erase the TFG presence, the militants top command have reportedly gathered in Baidoa to review their Ramadan operations amid reports of mass desertions and huge complaints from the populace as fighters are returned to their villages scarred, injured or dead. All indications point to complete disarray within the extremists ranks, dwindling public support and an inability to decide on their next course of action.

Unable to dislodge the peacekeepers, the Al Qaida-aligned extremists, under the tutelage of foreign fighters, have turned on the civilian population. On August 24, militants wearing Somali military uniforms stormed Muna hotel in Mogadishu, firing indiscriminately and killing close to 40 people, including six parliamentarians. A day later, a roadside bomb killed 15 people, including several school children. Just last week, a suicide attack on the Aden Ade International Airport claimed the lives of 9.

The militants’ tactics are increasingly alienating them from the local population. A sign of their desperation came this week when a spokesman for the militants reportedly went on radio to appeal for public support, money, food and even blood donations. The call came as reports emerged of a crowd walking out of a Mosque in protest at the Mullah's support for the Shabab. Other reports have pointed to civilians leaving areas under Shabab control and streaming into those under the TFG and AMISOM where they can access medical attention and humanitarian aid. AMISOM already distributes 1.8 million litres of clean drinking water to civilians living near its bases in addition to providing them with free medical services at its hospital and outpatient clinics.

Following the failure of the offensive, sources at AMISOM say, the Shabab are probably at the weakest they have been since 2006, having taken hundreds of casualties while achieving little in terms of strategic gains. However, the AU peacekeepers, hamstrung by a restrictive mandate and a shortage of troops, are unable to capitalize on this to push the extremists out of the city altogether.

The 7000-strong AMISOM force has been in Somalia since 2007 in support of the decade-old peace process and the government generated by it. For most of that time, despite being undermanned and underequipped, they have successfully held of repeated attacks by the Islamist rebels. The troops, drawn from Uganda and Burundi, are only authorized to fire in self-defense and in defense of critical infrastructure and civilians.
During Ramadan, the AU peacekeepers, working closely with Somali government forces, managed to secure key positions and civilian areas in the Somali capital. One company from the Burundi contingent recently deployed to Hoshi, which guards the south-western route into the city, in support of Transitional Federal Government troops there who had come under attack from the Shabab. The location is critical to securing the neighbourhood of Medina, and also serves to extend the defenses of the Mogadishu National University campus where the contingent has its main base.

Col. Aloys Sindayihebura, the Deputy Burundi Contingent Commander, and Col. Agi, a senior TFG commander, accompanied journalists on a tour of the base, which basically comprises two compounds on either side of Kabka road, one of the city’s main arteries and a crucial supply route.

Addressing the reporters, the two officers were candid about the challenges facing the fledgling Somali army and the need for continued AMISOM support. The TFG, said Col. Agi, had problems paying salaries and providing meals to his troops. He acknowledged that this was having an adverse effect on recruitment. “Some of my soldiers have gone nearly 5 months without pay,” he said.

In addition to Hoshi and the University, the Burundi contingent has 4 other bases along Kabka road covering the area between Madina and Gaashandiga, including one at the Siad Barre Military Academy. Burundi soldiers are also deployed in two bases at Al Jazeera, guarding the southern approach to the Aden Ade International Airport, where the main AMISOM Force Headquarters are located.

Kilometre 4, a public square in the city, is now a hive of bustling activity as people go about their business free from the fear of insurgent attack. This followed the opening of a new AMISOM base at Coca Cola village, just a day into the militant’s offensive. Giving journalists a tour of the new position, the commander of the Ugandan contingent, Col. Michael Ondoga, said the base was necessary to reinforce weaker TFG positions and to deny the militants mortar range. Prior to that, al-Shabab attacks had killed 7 people at K4, including 6 at a nearby camp for the displaced.

At another outpost bordering the northern district of Bondere, AMISOM troops are sandwiched between Villa Somalia, the seat of the Transitional Federal Government, and al Shabab positions to the north and east. The hilltop encampment is on territory formerly used by the Shabab to shell the Presidential Palace and surrounding civilian areas. It was taken on July 21 following three days of heavy fighting which cost the lives of 2 AMISOM troops and those of over 70 Shabab fighters.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kenyan Justice

Vetting Judges

Last Word

You could say South Africa has a problem with AIDS. And not just because the condition kills 1000 South Africans every day. The nation is still working to correct the damage done by years of "Aids denialism" under the leadership of former president Thabo Mbeki, who delayed the roll out of life-saving anti retro-viral drugs, while his health minister suggested a diet of beetroot and garlic could cure the virus. Now a pastor has at the non-denominational Way of Life church in Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, has hit upon a novel way to change attitudes. He recently caused outrage by preaching a sermon entitled "Jesus was HIV positive". Reverend Xola Skosana, who has lost two sisters to the disease, said his sermon was designed to combat the stigma surrounding HIV and Aids. His approach has been praised by Aids campaigners in the country but condemned by some Christians, who accuse him of portraying Jesus as sexually promiscuous. WWJD?


Ghana on the other hand, has issues with English. Recently the leader of the main opposition National Patriotic Party sparked controversy by calling President Atta Mills "Professor Dolittle". For a week, the full machinery of the state was deployed to counter this. While that controversy raged, an even greater row broke out when the chairman of Mills' National Democratic Congress called for a purge of the judiciary. This in a country where the word "purge" evokes images of nasty medicines for bodily functions. The idea of party officials lining up judges and forcing purgatives down their throats or rectums to empty their stomach contents drove tensions up. Things got worse when he was asked how he intended to do the purging. "There are many ways of killing a cat," declared the NDC chairman, who comes from a region where cats are considered a delicacy. And again, this in a country where independent-minded judges have in the past been abducted and murdered by government goons. Eventually, President Mills calmed the furore by assuring all that he had no intention of interfering with the judiciary and even thanked his opponent for not calling him “Professor Do-nothing”!


Africans in general have a problem with the weather. Not only do thousands perish every year from the results of droughts and floods, but some have also taken to blaming climate change for the seemingly interminable wars on the continent. Last year, a research paper suggested that climate had been a major driver of armed conflict, and that future warming was likely to increase the number of deaths from war. However, recent study suggests that this is not the case and challenges assumptions that environmental disasters, such as drought and prolonged heat waves, had played a part in triggering unrest. The findings, which have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the United States, instead blame traditional factors - such as poverty and social tensions - for the outbreak of conflicts. One might also include traditional, melanin-induced, stupidity.


Chimpanzees in the wild don’t take too kindly to snares. And now the primates are learning to outwit their human hunters. Researchers in the rainforests of Guinea are going ape over the discovery that chimps have not only learnt to recognise snares but, astonishingly, intentionally seek the traps out and deactivate them, setting them off without being harmed. The observation was serendipitously made by primatologists Gaku Ohashi and Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa who were following chimps living in Bossou, Guinea to study the apes' social behaviour. The two, from the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, Japan, observed five male chimps, both juvenile and adult, attempting to break and deactivate snares on at least six separate occasions. On two of them, the traps were successfully deactivated. In all cases, the chimps avoided touching the dangerous part of the snare, the wire loop.


Jemaine Jackson, brother of the late pop sensation, Michael, obviously has no problem with torture and repression. In May, the pop star, who was attending the birthday celebrations of Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, declared that the dictator, who is famous for a herbal concoction that he claims can cure AIDS on Thursdays, was “doing a wonderful job, and putting a smile on the faces of the people… He's not just a politician; he's a wonderful, genuine person." It’s enough to make one question whether the President’s birthday fell on a Thursday, and whether he shared his concoction with the guests. At the very least, it is a cautionary tale for those who confuse celebrity with intelligence or wisdom.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Fat Lady Sings

What does Robert Mugabe have in common with 1990’s fake pop stars, Milli Vanilli? “Blame it on the rain” was the duos last number one hit before their lip-synching scandal broke. It also happens to be Uncle Bob’s go-to explanation for Zimbabwe’s food shortages. During his recent visit to the World Expo in Shanghai, China, the octogenarian president said his country’s poor harvests were as a result of “inclement weather.” Many would however blame it on his 20-year reign, citing the disastrous land reform programme which crippled the agricultural sector, the bedrock of Zimbabwe’s economy, and bankrupted the country. Mugabe, though, is not one to dwell on his countrymen’s misfortunes. He was later photographed engaging in some retail therapy in Hong Kong, where he owns a house and his daughter attends university. He reportedly spent the weekend shopping for high-end suits and shoes in the city's Kowloon district.

"When you're in love with a beautiful woman, you watch your friends" goes a popular 1970s single by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III of Swaziland, should have been paying heed. While he was attending to State business in Taiwan, his childhood friend, Justice Minister Ndumiso Mamba, was nabbed in bed with the Mswati’s 12th wife, Queen Nothando Dube, a former Miss Teen beauty contestant. The pair were busted by state security agents, who had apparently been following them for weeks, at the lavish Royal Villas Hotel. Though Swazi laws prohibit dishonouring the monarch, this did not stop the agents snapping photos of Mamba emerging head first from underneath the 22-year-old royal's bed where he was attempting to hide. The images later made their way onto the web. Mamba was immediately arrested on the orders of the King, whose mother - the Indlovukazi or Great She-Elephant - has reportedly sent a delegation to Mamba's village to lay charges of "trespassing into another man's home". He could face the death penalty if found guilty, while mother-of-two Dube would be banished from the kingdom.

In 2003, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks, a Texas based country group, declared: “We don't want this war, this violence." Seven years, and over a million Iraqi civilian casualties later, the last US combat troops have left the devastated country. However, 50,000 are staying behind to, according to their commanding officer, Gen. Ray Odierno, “prevent foreign powers from meddling with the new government.” Apparently the Americans do not consider themselves a foreign power in a country six thousand miles from home.

The US musical duo, Wilderland, and some top music industry veterans recently released a new song titled “Fragile Day” which was written about two years prior to the BP Gulf oil spill, and features lyrics about fish swimming and dying in an oil-filled ocean. To counter such impressions, US President Barack Obama had a White House photographer take a picture oh him and his daughter, Sasha, swimming in the sea off Florida last weekend. The official picture was intended to provide evidence that the region's beaches are back to normal. However, it soon emerged that the President was actually trying to pull a fast one. The private beach on which it was taken, off Alligator Point in St Andrew Bay, north-west Florida, isn't technically in the gulf.

South Africa’s journalists may soon be singing the blues following government plans to institute a so-called “media tribunal” as well regulate what can be reported on and what constitutes a state secret. The government claims the law under consideration is necessary to limit the damage caused by media houses and their newspapers which they claim represent only a narrow, predominantly “white” interest. Predictably, the controversial head of ANC’s Youth league, Julius Malema, who has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, declared that the media must be regulated because "they think they are untouchable". The move comes in the wake of news reports that Ebrahim Rasool, who in 2008 was fired as Western Cape premier partly because of allegations that he had bribed journalists to report favourably about him, had been appointed South Africa's ambassador to the United States.

Aid Relief?

"No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy."
Amartya Sen

Phoney Wars

Sunday, August 15, 2010

POTUS on Vacation

Planting Democracy, Pierre?

The Last Word

Somalia’s reputation has taken a battering over the past two decades as a result of incessant conflict. However, one of the warring parties has come up with a novel approach to marketing the country as a destination –make getting married there cheap. The Ahlu-Sunna Waljamaa group, which controls the central regions of the war-torn country and is allied to the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government, has set new rules for weddings taking place in areas under their authority. The strictures include a ban on long vehicle convoys. These can sometimes have as many as 50 cars, which the militants consider to be extravagant and un-Islamic. Consequently, wedding the wedding parties have been limited to a maximum of 3 cars. However, wedding tourists may be put off by the requirement that, according to one Ahlu Sunna commander, there be no celebration after the end of a week long honeymoon “when the couple are over with their whatever.”


The board of directors at the world’s largest technology firm, HP, is fighting to restore its good name following the less than quiet departure of the firm’s chief executive. Mark Hurd was forced to resign after he failed to tell the board about a personal relationship with a female marketing contractor who was hired by his office. Additionally, he allegedly falsified expense reports for dinners he had with Jodie Fisher, a 50 year-old an actress and businesswoman whom the company was paying up to $5,000 per event to greet people and make introductions at events. In what must serve as a cautionary tale for executives everywhere, the details of Hurd’s malfeasance only came to light after Fisher sued him –get this- for sexual harassment. Now, some of his friends, including Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, have publicly challenged the decision to remove him, noting that he was getting stick from both ends without benefit of a carrot (the relationship with Fisher was never consummated).


Marketers will tell you that a Brand Proposition is the bundle of benefits promised by any brand. For example, the slogan for JetBlue Airways, an American low-cost carrier, promises “Happy Jetting.” However, last Monday, this was a promise that the company spectacularly failed to keep on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport. Following a dispute with a passenger who stood to fetch luggage too soon, career flight attendant Steven Slater got on the public-address intercom and let loose a string of invective before making the most dramatic of exits. Grabbing a beer (or two, no one’s really sure) from the beverage cart not only from the plane, the probably-now-unemployed 38 year old deployed the emergency evacuation chute and slid down. He then ran to the employee parking lot and drove off, the authorities said.


It might be accurate to say that Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm which recently agreed to pay $550 million to settle charges of selling mortgage securities secretly designed to help a hedge-fund cash in on the housing market's collapse, has soiled it image. Just don’t use a four-letter equivalent. In the wake of embarrassing profanity that came to light in recent Congressional hearings, the company has banned employees from swearing in emails. "[B]oy, that timberwo[l]f was one s****y deal," declared a 2007 email that was repeatedly referred to at the hearing. Now the company has employed screening software to catch naughty words, even those disguised by asterixes. In fact, so effective is the new software that the injunction itself had to be delivered to employees verbally.


New Delhi is infamous for its unruly motorists who routinely ignore red lights, and other inconvenient traffic rules, to find open routes –much like our matatus. Now, the city’s traffic police have turned to a well known brand for help. Within two months of the cops starting a Facebook page where people could post photographs of traffic violations, digital informants had posted almost 3,000 photographs and dozens of videos. According to Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Satyendra Garg, using the license plate numbers shown in the images to track vehicle owners, Delhi Traffic Police have issued close to 700 tickets. Almost 50 these went to police officers.