NaNoWriMo: Part Deux

Once again I find myself on the cusp of October, ready to tumble headlong into another chilly November.  It’s no reason to worry though because November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)!  NaNoWriMo is a global challenge to people who enjoy writing.  The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.  It is not an easy task, but it is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done.  I can’t explain what it feels like to hold a self-written novel in your hand, but I can imagine it falls somewhere close to holding your first born.

Last year I wrote a sequel to a story I began writing in 1995.  This year I plan to continue that saga.  My obstacles are twice as formidable this year.  I’m now living in England and taking a total of 80 credits this term.  I’m determined though to give it my best go though.  I have the opportunity to utilize the inspirations of a fresh location, a conglomerate of new friends and 365 days of pent up ideas.  Already I can feel the verbage building up, begging to be let out.  Its a incredibly exciting feeling.

If you’ve never tried NaNoWriMo before, I suggest givinig it a go.  I know so many people who are incredibly talented, but can’t be bothered to pick up a pen or put fingers to keyboard.  Don’t be that guy/girl.  Don’t argue that you are too busy.  Have  a bit of confidence in yourself.  Strive for something and you just might be surprised.

I’ll keep a tally on this site and maybe even leave some clips.

Check out NaNoWriMo!

And be my NaNoWriMo Buddy!

ICROSS Updates

ICROSS parade in Nakuru

As part of the ICROSS support programme Sophie Ligondo, ICROSS Project manager walks with ICROSS carers and health teams in Nakuru.  The event with other partners was to create awareness and advocacy for stigmaticed groups.  ICROSS works with many people who have been victims of violence,  HIV AIDS patients and those terminally ill.

Our Nakuru projects are expanding throughout the next few months and we plan on reaching even more vulnerable children by early 2009.

Ilkilorit Clinic Update

We have begun work on a new ICROSS project to provide health services in a new area of Maasai land. The  clinic will immediately benefit up to 12,000 people from 2,000 homesteads. There is a chronic lack of health access in the area, with many people having to travel 10 -15km to the nearest dispensary.

This lack of direct access to health facilities has a short as well as long term negative impact on the wellbeing of these communities, with many children not being able to attend schools due to regular illness and lack of appropriate medical care within their area.

ICROSS has mobilized the community to support the undertaking by using local labor and contributions (i.e. raw materials) to help build the clinic, which will be undertaken at a cost of approximately £21,000, including the staff house which will accommodate the resident doctor.

The results of building a clinic in this area will be both immediate and long term.

Access to local health care and health education will provide immediate aid to those who otherwise would have limited or no access;  there will an increase in school attendance for children (the clinic is a short distance from a local school); and we aim to reduce disease within the area and lower the mortality rate from 32% to under 8%.

The ICROSS team led by Sarune Ole Lengeny has been working with the community for  months planning the exciting new initiative, another  locally owned and planned idea.

With the help of the Global fund ICROSS will extend its services to new locations presently.

Five Year Plan

ICROSS has finalised the updated five year plan for the International programmes and public health strategy. The five year plan is in line with latest Global health policies and International developments. The Five year plan, which is evaluated and updated regularly has made adjustments in the light of shifts in International markets, the Global financial changes and the latest evidence regarding medical demographics and health priorities.

As ICROSS continues to learn and respond to ever changing dynamics, our programme development team has scaled up innovative training and reorganisation. With your help ICROSS continues to strengthen local communities and respond to the poorest of the poor in a creative and fresh set of initiatives. Working with our partners in communities and with the Ministry of health we are working on new low cost responses to the changing needs and challenges facing Africa.

The full plan is available for viewing and download here.

Ivory auction opens amid concerns

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

The first officially sanctioned sale of ivory in southern Africa for almost a decade opened on Tuesday.

Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe will auction more than 100 tonnes of ivory from stockpiles to buyers from China and Japan.

The money raised will go into elephant conservation projects.

Some environment groups say the sales encourage poachers elsewhere in Africa to kill elephants for ivory that can be fed into the illegal trade.

However, data collected by the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic shows that seizures of illegal ivory fell in the years following the last legal sale in 1999.

“We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade.”
Will Travers, Born Free

The secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the UN body that sanctioned the sale, says it will monitor trade in China and Japan to make sure companies are not mixing illegally sourced ivory with these legal shipments.

The tusks being sold come mainly from animals that died naturally. China and Japan are not permitted to export the material.

The ivory trade was banned globally in 1989 because poaching was decimating elephant populations. This and the 1999 sale are the only exceptions.

Last week, the internet site eBay banned virtually all products containing ivory after lobbying from animal welfare groups.

Continental divide

The sale was approved in principle in 2002; and at last year’s CITES meeting in The Hague, delegates agreed that enough precautions had been taken that the auction could go ahead, with Japan as the sole validated buyer.

Earlier this year, CITES decided that China had acted against the illegal trade with enough vigour that Chinese companies could also bid for a share of the stockpiled ivory.

“We implement our international obligations to protect endangered wild animals, and we have always honoured our international obligations,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters as the auction opened.

This is contested by some environment groups, which argue that Chinese controls remain lax.

“We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade,” said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation.

“For some inexplicable reason some people think that all elephant populations are adequately protected and thriving. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The issue starkly illustrates the divided fortunes of elephants across Africa.

In some range states, particularly those in central and west Africa affected by civil unrest, populations are believed to be declining, partly because of poaching.

But in southern Africa, decades of protection and management have seen numbers rising by about 4% per year. South Africa has recently approved in principle the use of culling to control populations.

Meet Enceladus

Saturn’s tiny, icy moon Enceladus has recently been visited by NASA’s Cassini orbiter on several very close approaches – once coming within a mere 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the surface. Scientists are learning a great deal about this curious little moon. Only about 500 kilometers wide (310 miles), it is very active, emitting internal heat, churning its surface, and – through cryovolcanism – ejecting masses of microscopic ice particles into Saturnian orbit. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for over 4 years now, and has provided some amazing views of tiny Enceladus, some collected here. Another close flyby is scheduled for Halloween, October 31st.

Read more here.

Mars pioneers should stay there permanently, says Buzz Aldrin

The first astronauts sent to Mars should be prepared to spend the rest of their lives there, in the same way that European pioneers headed to America knowing they would not return home, says moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.

In an interview with AFP, the second man to set foot on the Moon said the Red Planet offered far greater potential than Earth’s satellite as a place for habitation.

With what appears to be vast reserves of frozen water, Mars “is nearer terrestrial conditions, much better than the Moon and any other place,” Aldrin, 78, said in a visit to Paris on Tuesday.

“It is easier to subsist, to provide the support needed for people there than on the Moon.”

It took Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins eight days to go to the Moon — 380,000 kilometres (238,000 miles) from Earth — and return in July 1969, aboard Apollo 11.

Going to Mars, though, is a different prospect.

The distance between the Red Planet and Earth varies between 55 million (34 million miles) and more than 400 million kms (250 million miles).

Even at the most favourable planetary conjunction, this means a round trip to Mars would take around a year and a half.

“That’s why you [should] send people there permanently,” said Aldrin. “If we are not willing to do that, then I don’t think we should just go once and have the expense of doing that and then stop.”

He asked: “If we are going to put a few people down there and ensure their appropriate safety, would you then go through all that trouble and then bring them back immediately, after a year, a year and a half?”

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are sketching tentative plans for a manned mission to Mars that would take place around 2030 or 2040.

Based on experience culled from a planned return to the Moon, the mission would entail about half a dozen people, with life-support systems and other gear pre-positioned for them on the Martian surface.

Aldrin said the vanguard could be joined by others, making a colony around 30 people.

“They need to go there more with the psychology of knowing that you are a pioneering settler and you don’t look forward to go back home again after a couple a years,” he said.

“At age 30, they are given an opportunity. If they accept, then we train them, at age 35, we send them. At age 65, who knows what advances have taken place. They can retire there, or maybe we can bring them back.”

Many scientists argue that sending humans to Mars is a waste of money compared with unmanned missions that deliver more science and point out the risks from psychological stress and damage to DNA from fast-moving sub-atomic particles called cosmic rays.

Aldrin, though, argued that given the time lag in communications between Earth and Mars, it made sense to have human explorers who could make decisions swiftly and on the spot.

And, he said, going to Mars provided a rationale for manned flights, which were designed to “do things that are innovative, new, pioneering.”

On that score, Aldrin said the US space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS) were a disappointment.

The shuttle “has not lived up to its expectations, neither has the space station,” said Aldrin.

The United States will be without manned flight capability for around five years after the problem-plagued shuttle is withdrawn in 2010, while the ISS, still under construction, may cost as much as 100 billion dollars, according to some estimates.

The Day the World Didn’t End

Here’s what didn’t happen on Sept. 10th:

The world did not end. Switching on the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland, did not trigger the creation of a microscopic black hole. And that black hole did not start rapidly sucking in surrounding matter faster and faster until it devoured the Earth, as sensationalist news reports had suggested it might.

Of course, because you’re alive and reading this article today, you already knew that. Currently the accelerator, an underground ring 5 miles across called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), has been shut down for repairs. But once the immensely powerful machine starts back up, is there a chance that the doomsday scenario could still occur?

Relax. As Mark Twain might have said, reports of Earth’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

“There never really was a danger from the accelerator, but that sure didn’t stop people from speculating that there might be!” says Robert Johnson, a physicist at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics and a member of the science team for NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which launched in June to study gamma rays from many phenomena, including possible evaporating black holes.

There are several reasons why the world did not come to an end on Sept. 10th, and why the Large Hadron Collider isn’t capable of triggering such a calamity.

First of all, yes, it is true that the LHC might create microscopic black holes. But, for the record, it could not have created one on its first day. That’s because the physicists at CERN didn’t steer beams of protons into each other to create high-energy collisions. Sept. 10th was just a warmup run. To date, the collider still has not produced any collisions, and it is the extreme energy of those collisions — up to 14 tera-electron volts — that could potentially create a microscopic black hole.

Actually, once the LHC is running again and begins producing collisions, physicists will be ecstatic if it creates a tiny black hole. It would be the first experimental evidence to support an elegant but unproven and controversial “theory of everything” called string theory.

In string theory, electrons, photons, quarks, and all the other fundamental particles are different vibrations of infinitesimal strings in 10 dimensions: 9 space dimensions and one time dimension. (The other 6 space dimensions are hidden by one explanation or another, for example by being “curled up” on an extremely small scale.) Some physicists tout string theory’s mathematical elegance and its ability to integrate gravity with the other forces of nature. The widely accepted Standard Model of particle physics does not include gravity, which is one reason why it does not predict that the LHC would create a gravitationally collapsed point — a black hole — while string theory does.

Many physicists have started to doubt whether string theory is true. But assuming for a moment that it is, what would happen when a black hole is born inside the LHC? The surprising answer is “not much.” Even if the black hole survives for more than a fraction of a second (which it probably wouldn’t), most likely it would be flung out into space. “It would only have the mass of a hundred or so protons, and it would be moving at near the speed of light, so it would easily have escape velocity,” Johnson explains. Because the tiny black hole would be less than a thousandth the size of a proton and would have an exceedingly weak gravitational pull, it could easily zip through solid rock without ever touching — or sucking in — any matter. From the perspective of something this tiny, the atoms that make up “solid” rock appear to be almost entirely empty space: the vast space between the atoms’ nuclei and their orbiting electrons. So a micro black hole could shoot down through the center of the Earth and out the other side without causing any damage just as easily as it could shoot up through 300 feet of the Swiss countryside. Either way, it would end up out in the near-vacuum of space, where the odds of it touching and sucking in any matter so that it could grow into a menace would be smaller still.

So the first thing a micro-black hole would do is leave the planet safely behind. But there are other, even stronger reasons why scientists believe the LHC poses no threat to Earth. For one, a black hole created in the LHC would almost certainly evaporate before it got very far, most scientists believe. Stephen Hawking, the physicist who wrote A Brief History of Time, predicted that black holes radiate energy, a phenomenon known as Hawking radiation. Because of this steady loss of energy, black holes eventually evaporate. The smaller the black hole, the more intense the Hawking radiation, and the quicker the black hole will vanish. So a black hole a thousand times smaller than a proton should disappear almost instantly in a quick burst of radiation.

“Hawking’s prediction is not based on speculative string theory but rather on well understood principles of quantum mechanics and particle physics,” Johnson notes.

Despite its strong theoretical foundations, Hawking radiation has never been observed directly. Still, scientists are confident that any black hole created by the LHC would pose no threat. How can they be so sure? Because of cosmic rays. Thousands of times per day, high-energy cosmic rays strike the Earth’s atmosphere, colliding with molecules in the air with at least 20 times more energy than the most powerful collisions that the LHC can produce. So if this new accelerator could make Earth-devouring black holes, cosmic rays would have already done so billions of times during Earth’s long history.

And yet, here we are. Let the collisions begin!

Source: by Dr. Tony Phillips, Science@NASA

Malaysian archaeologists find complete Neolithic skeletons

Archaeologists have found two groups of complete Neolithic human remains in peninsular Malaysia and on Borneo island that may better explain prehistoric human life, reports said Friday.

Archaeologists say the remains are more than 3,000 years old and were found within two months of each other, in prehistoric burial grounds surrounded by ceremonial beads, pottery, shells and animal bones, the Sun daily reported.

“These remains are very important as the skeletons are almost fully complete,” Mokhtar Saidin, head of the Malaysian Centre for Archaeological Research told the paper.

The first set of remains found in a mangrove swamp on the island of Pulau Kalumpang off northern Perak state consists of three Mongoloid males aged between 15 and 35 years old, the Sun reported.

The second set were of seven males and a female found in the back of the Niah caves complex in Sarawak state on Borneo, bearing Austro-Melanosoid features similar to Australian Aborigines, it reported.

Mokhtar told the paper the remains reveal details about early indigenous societies that lived in the country with ancient paintings also found on the walls of the cave in Sarawak.

He said the Perak skeletons were 98 percent complete compared with the 11,000-year old Perak Man, found in 1991 in the north of the state and which is only 90 percent complete but is the oldest human skeleton found so far in Malaysia.

The paper said local authorities have invited Japanese palaeoanthropologist Hirofumi Matsumura to study the bone remains in order to shed some light on these prehistoric humans and their lifestyles


Researcher Hopes to Find Hidden Tomb of Genghis Khan Using Non-Invasive Technologies

According to legend, Genghis Khan lies buried somewhere beneath the dusty steppe of Northeastern Mongolia, entombed in a spot so secretive that anyone who made the mistake of encountering his funeral procession was executed on the spot. Once he was below ground, his men brought in horses to trample evidence of his grave, and just to be absolutely sure he would never be found, they diverted a river to flow over their leader’s final resting place.

What Khan and his followers couldn’t have envisioned was that nearly 800 years after his death, scientists at UC San Diego’s Center for Interdisciplinary Science in Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3) would be able to locate his tomb using advanced visualization technologies whose origins can be traced back to the time of the Mongolian emperor himself.

“As outrageous as it might sound, we’re looking for the tomb of Genghis Khan,” says Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin, an affiliated researcher for CISA3. “Genghis Khan was one of the most exceptional men in all of history, but his life is too often dismissed as being that of a bloodthirsty warrior. Few people in the West know about his legacy — that he united warring tribes of Mongolia and merged them into one, that he introduced the East to the West making explorations like those of Marco Polo possible, that he tried to create a central world currency, that he introduced a written language to the Mongol people and created bridges that we still use today within the realm of international relations.

“But as great a man he was, there are few clues and no factual evidence about Genghis Khan’s burial, which is why we need to start using technology to solve this mystery.”

Lin and several colleagues — including Professor Maurizio Seracini, the director of CISA3 and the man behind the search for Leonardo da Vinci’s lost “Battle of Anghiari” painting — are hoping to use advanced visualization and analytical technologies available at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) to pinpoint Khan’s tomb and conduct a non-invasive archaeological analysis of the area where he is believed to be buried. Lin plans to work with Seracini to establish a position at UCSD that will allow him to spearhead the three-year Valley of the Khans project, which will require $700,000 in funding for eight researchers (including all expedition costs).

Khan’s grave is presumably in a region bordered by Mongolia’s Onon River and the Khan khentii mountains near his birthplace in Khentii Aimag, and some experts believe his sons and other family members were later buried beside him. The researchers, however, have little additional information to go on. Directly following Khan’s death in 1227, the area around his tomb was deemed forbidden by the emperor’s guards, and later in the 20th century, by strict Russian occupation, which prohibited Mongolians from even talking about Genghis Khan because they felt it might lead to nationalist uprising. Only since the 1990s have researchers been allowed in the area, and several other research teams have tried unsuccessfully to locate the tomb.

Lin hopes of success are based on his access to unparalleled technology at Calit2 and CISA3 to pinpoint the area where Khan might have been laid to rest, find the tomb itself and then develop a virtual recreation of it using various methods of spectral and digital imaging.

Explains Lin : “If you have a large burial, that’s going to have an impact on the landscape. To find Khan’s tomb, we’ll be using remote sensing techniques and satellite imagery to take digital pictures of the ground in the surrounding region, which we’ll be able to display on Calit2’s 287-million pixel HIPerSpace display wall. But we also want to make this an interactive research project and get the public involved. One of our ideas is to utilize something like the International Space Station’s ‘EarthCam’ program at UCSD, which recruits middle school students to control a satellite camera and take pictures of the earth. We’d have them do the same thing, only they’d be taking pictures of the area where Genghis’ tomb might be located.”

Lin says another approach would be to combine social networking with visualization techniques to replicate something like the online “Find Steve Fossett” project, which enlisted members of the general public to flag anomalous satellite images in the hopes that they could locate the missing adventurer.

“Once we’ve narrowed down this region in Mongolia to a certain area,” Lin continues, “we’ll use techniques such as ground penetrating radar, electromagnetic induction and magnetometry to produce non-destructive, non-invasive surveys. We’ll then work with people in UCSD’s electrical engineering department to develop visual algorithms that will allow us to create a high-resolution, 3-D representation of the site.”

Notably, these computer-based technologies are modern evolutions of moveable type and the printing press — innovations that historian Jack Weatherford argues were spread by way of the Mongols as they conquered parts of Europe (Chinese printing technologies predated Gutenberg’s printing press by several hundred years). Lin speculates that remnants of those international conquests might even turn up in Khan’s tomb, but, he adds, “The process of doing an archaeological dig is up to the Mongolian government.”

Lin says he’s hoping to collaborate with the Mongolian government and national universities, through the help of Amaraa and Bayarsihan Baljinnayam — siblings from what he endearingly calls his “Mongolian family.” They will assist with language interpretation and expedition coordination, and most importantly, local media and political support — connections that will prove very useful as Lin navigates through the often complex arena of international relations.

Noting that his project team also includes San Diego State University Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry William G. Tong, UCSD Field Systems Engineer Nathan Ricklin, UCSD Computer Vision Engineer Shay Har-Noy and Independent Engineering Geologist Charles Ince, Lin says he sees parallels between the collaborative work he’s doing with CISA3 and Genghis’ own push to adapt to new technologies.

“He took the best resources of entire world — whether weaponry or medicine — and adopted those technologies into his own methodology. We’re trying to implement that same adaptation to many disciplines into our own work. We’re taking the great work that’s already been done in archaeology and further developing it by using technologies from other disciplines — computer vision, social networking, electrical engineering — while at the same time never forgetting fundamentals of historical search.

Despite the technologies and expertise available to him, Lin says he is well aware of the great challenges the project poses. “One consistent fact is that there is no fact,” he admits. “It’s a story of secrets upon secrets and myths upon myths.

“If I could meet Genghis Khan today, I would ask how he would have wanted to be remembered in history,” Lin muses. “The fact that he died in his bed surrounded by people who loved him and never had a single General turn his back on him, the fact that the loyalty of his people is so sound it can be heard across the world — these are the marks of one of the most impressive military heroes of all time. This is an example of a leader who was ruthless, strict, disciplined, and in a lot of ways, extremely honorable. If he was able to rewrite his own history, I wonder how he’d want it heard.”


Africa and the global financial crisis: Disaster or opportunity?

By Dr. Michael Meegan

Africa has seen dramatic shifts over the past 20 years. It has always been a continent of dynamic change and turmoil. The last few weeks in International markets have shaken the Globe and the chain reaction will affect us all, especially the poorest.

Despite very real challenges there are signs of hope. International attention has focused on poverty, corruption poor economic growth, AIDS and famine.  Media has rarely highlighted other trends and patterns that show another side to Africa.  Markets are opening, new industries are emerging and global shifts are encouraging.  The impact of the global financial crisis on Africa has been cushioned by its limited holdings of stock share capital. Most essential credit lies with secure multi and bilateral structures like the World Bank and IMF, Governments and nonprofit institutions. 

Given the downturn in global markets, many investors will be reluctant to increase African investment or explore trade relationships in a climate of declining credit. The notable exception in Africa has been China, this too may change. China depends on exports but if demand slows as consumers spend less the slump will impact all of South East Asia. As part of the chain reaction Africa will have its own industries hurt as Westerners choose cheaper holiday destinations, import less and become more careful with spending.

While Africa has a long way to catch up with other areas like South America and India there are encouraging signs.  There are less people living in absolute poverty than thirty years ago though the gap is greater than ever.  There are less people seriously malnourished the twenty years ago but famines continue to be often man made like Darfur.

Many African countries like Tanzania and Kenya are seeing a slow increase in economic growth with those experiencing decline (like Somalia and Zimbabwe) being trapped in power traps and control feuds. Most of the Continent is moving, though rarely on its own terms towards integrated democracy. Western models of political management are not always ideal even in Europe, our own Governments struggle with local politics and corruption as well. The difference has always been scale and acceptance of open dishonesty at every level of society from the educational system to judiciary.

Global economy has dramatically shifted in the last decade; fast emerging economies like Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and China are shifting global trade balances. With China exporting far more than it imports it is fast becoming one of the richest economies in the World. The impact on Africa has been the opening of new trading relationships with many countries turning away from often poor trade relationships with western trading blocks to more favorable partnerships with middle income economies. While the Global crisis will have negative effects on Growth in the short term, Western Governments have already begun restructuring in order to protect the financial systems from further collapse.

While there is likely to be significant cutbacks in spending, there is a realization that the world economy is truly global and interrelated. This recognition alone means that no trading block can thrive if another is in decline. The World stock exchanges are so closely linked that share prices followed mirror patterns throughout the past weeks. African Governments followed European central banks to protect their vulnerable economies Nigeria changed the interest rate from 10.25% to 9.75%, the liquidity rate from 40% to 30%, and cash reserve requirement from 4% to 2%. The policy adjustments are designed to pump N150 billion into the system and improve liquidity. Nigeria is seen as the country best prepared to manage the present crisis.

South Africa’s central bank governor Tito Mboweni warned that slowing economic growth linked to the financial crisis risked pushing tens of millions into poverty in Africa. The IMF warned on Wednesday that Sub-Saharan Africa would see slower growth this year and next as the region suffers from the global financial turmoil and a sharp spike in inflation pressures.( AFP)

Africa has made great strides over the last decade with improved Governance , widespread efforts for improved Governmental transparency and political reform.  While there are many challenges throughout the continent, the UNICEF indicators have improved over the past decade. Apart from   setbacks in life expectancy in many countries largely due to to HIV related deaths there are signs of improved health services, long term changes in infant mortality in the Sub Sahara as well as improved quality of life.

One of the key elements to the exponential success of South Americas rise out of poverty into middle income economies has been its economic diversity. South East Asia also moved from poverty in the 1950s and 60s into highly effective diversified markets by the early 1980s. The educational systems of countries like the Philippines provide useful examples of how poor countries can develop curricula that prepare their work force internationally. The Philippines realized how useful it would be to have children speaking English and like India they were outward looking in their strategic vision. Africa too has an opportunity of incorporating some of the lessons learnt from countries that have   moved from being low income to middle income economies. 

South African finance Minister Trevor Manuel said in an interview with Business Day newspaper that it will probably be a year or more before the impact is seen fully. The Ugandan Government called for increased regional trade to lessen dependency of overseas markets.

The African labor force has never been as prepared with a record number of University graduates. Investment while small has been growing. If African countries could follow examples like India and proactively nurture IT, computer and communication industries new opportunities may open up as they have in Asia.

Communication and transport have seen dramatic progress in the last five years with street hawkers, shepherd and farmers part of the mobile phone revolution. A traditional pastoralist mother can now phone her daughter miles away even though the family may have no electricity at home.  The mobile phone age has leap frogged communication into rural communities who could never have dreamt of phones five years ago.  Mobile phones and computers are increasingly affordable and with them new possibilities for commerce.

The Aid industry worth billions of dollars may be affected by a short term decline in funding as Governments curb new funding, the most vulnerable group in many African countries will be the new emerging middle class.  In countries like Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, this rapidly growing percent of the work force have helped strengthen thriving economies and seen the start of western style suburbs and spending habits.  These tax payers have made a major contribution in stabilizing especially urban growth in cities across Africa.

This new middle class will be nervous as they often work in industries most tied to International business like export, tourism, finance and insurance.

UNECA chief Abdoulie Janneh was reassuring taking an optimistic view, “It is frightening, but I am optimistic that the process of fixing the problems has begun, and at the end of the day, we hope this continent would be better off.”(Peter Heinlein, Voice of America, Addis Ababa, 10 October 2008).

Many economists agree that Africa will be among the least affected by the crisis, but it may slow down AID and development funding for a period while markets recover.

The setbacks and challenges range from endemic corruption and poor planning to pockets of poverty of those not part of the new growth. Many cities in Africa are surrounded by slums which can easily be ignited as we saw in Kenya and South Africa earlier this year.

As always it is the most vulnerable who are most at risk.  Countries like Kenya are beginning to take initiatives to tackle rising slum populations and improve opportunities and living conditions. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya has launched an ambitious programme to replace the ghettos and confront the poverty trap that millions find themselves in.  If it works, it will be an important model of coping with urban slums in Africa, starting with Nairobi’s one million slum dwellers.

Another challenge is that the wealth of natural resources in Africa rarely filters down to the poor, even wealthy countries like Nigeria has areas of   poverty despite considerable oil exports.
How Africa uses its natural wealth depends on its ability to learn how to manage its very vulnerable economies. Some countries are better at  marketing than others, south Africa and Egypt have  highly successful overseas policies to promote investment and tourism, others like Sudan and Zimbabwe have further to go.

Nelson Mandela often said that the future of Africa lay in investing in the children, in education.  This human resource is perhaps the key to Africa’s future.  The Western World needs to have a donor shift; a change of model regarding Africa. Ultimately the last few weeks have been a wakeup call for the World.  A reminder that we are all fragile and our world can easily fall apart.  It will fall apart unless we are all working together, together as equal partners.  Western Governments might learn a little humility from the lessons of the Global melt down.  They might listen more and trust more, and   adopt greater real partnership.  The days of donor driven policies and agendas are at an end , the great wisdom of the  capitalist consumer model has been shown to be a dangerous illusion, and more honest transparent  strategies will be needed as the World begins  reforming and regrouping.

For Africa this is an exciting opportunity, a real chance to be more engaged as equals in a global economy realizing we are interdependent.  The rich may not always be rich and poor may not always be poor; the best we should be is a community of equals working towards a common future learning from mistakes and building on success.

Photo of the Day – Ashurnasirpal II

Bristol City Museum
October 2008

“The supreme, the merciless, the destroyer of opposition, the exalted King, the shepherd, the protector of the quarters of the world, the King the word of whose mouth destroys mountains and seas, who by his lordly attack has forced mighty and merciless Kings from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same to acknowledge one supremacy.”

I guess they didn’t have a word for badass in 4600 BC.