Category Archives: Democracy, Governance and Activism

Obama’s first 100 days


h/t Peter Kaminski

Whole SJ Mercury News front page today is a nice word cloud/graphic on Obama’s first 100 days: #tagcloud #bho100

Peter Kaminski


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Calling Mogadishu, we have a problem! : The crew of the hijacked Ukrainian merchant vessel MV Faina stand on the deck, under the watch of armed Somali pirates on November 9 after a US Navy request to check on their health and welfare, at sea off the coast of Somalia.

The standoff between the U.S. Navy and pirates off the coast of Somalia has generated a fury of debates within the Obama administration over policy toward the Horn of Africa nation.

What the Somali politicians, warlords and religious fundamentalists could not achieve for years, a rag tag bunch of pirates did  …. make the world realize that Somalia is OUR problem too …

P.S/ does a great picture essay on the Pirates of Somalia

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Vote Report India, a collaborative citizen-powered election monitoring platform for Indian goes LIVE


India will hold general elections to the 15th Lok Sabha in 5 phases on April 16, April 22, April 23, April 30, May 7 and May 13, 2009. The results of the election will be announced in single phase on May 16, 2009.

After less than 10 days of incredible behind the scene’s work by some wonderful volunteers, technologists and bloggers, we are proud to introduce VoteReport India – a crowd-sourced collaborative election monitoring platform for the 2009 Indian general elections.

The timing for VoteReport India could not have been better given that the Ushahidi team had spent a weekend geeking about what the next iteration of Ushahidi should look like. Ushahidi, has come quite a way’s since its intial response to track the post election violence in Kenya. Since then it has been launched independently in hosted instance such as the DRC, and through partnerships like the one with Al Jazeera during the Gaza conflict.

The VoteReport India instance is particularly interesting given the complexity and magnitude of the Indian election landscape. Ushahidi’s strength has always been to put the right tools to keep OUR elections honest in the hands of the common man. A citizen with access to the web or at the very least a mobile phone, is empowered to report any improper election conduct and these would cluster on the map. Crowds can do wonderful things when given access to the right tools as seen after the November 26 Mumbai attacks that brought a flood of concerned citizens fourth flooding channels like twitter.

The Ushahidi team has been actively thinking of how a to validate and collate information in near real time — or as Erik Hersman puts it, crowd-source the filter. We are calling this mix of machine analytics + crowdsourcing initiative “Swift River” — and VoteReport India is the first instance where it will be implemented. The Indian Genereal Elections will be a first for the this initiative.

How can you help this effort? Well, I’m glad you asked 🙂


Help us get the word out, Here is where we are on

If you have a blog or a website, please consider writing about Vote Report India and displaying our banners (200X200 and 150X150) on your blog or website.


The next step is to actually use the Vote Report India platform. Here is how you can send in reports:

  1. SMS to 5676785
  2. Email to
  3. Twitter with #votereport
  4. Online via web form


Please participate in this initiative and help us ensure a free, fair and transparent election process in India. To help out contact Vote Report India.

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Obama appoints Swahili-Speaking Retired General as Special Envoy to Sudan

Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration

Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration

Mr. Obama will tap Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force officer who grew up in Africa as the son of missionaries, to take on one of the most delicate diplomatic missions of his presidency, according to three administration officials, who were not authorized to discuss the selection before the official announcement on Wednesday.

March, 18th 2008 – New York Times

According to the NYTimes, President Obama plans to appoint Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, a retired general and a close adviser as his Special Envoy to Sudan as the administration turns up the pressures on the Government in Khartoum. This is especially significant given that the International Criminal Court (ICC), issued an arrest warrant for Omar Hassan al-Bashir on 4 March 2009 on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. President al-Bashir responded by expulsion of aid groups.

What makes Major Gration an interesting choice is his past. Beyond just being a Swahili Speaker he has been in a similar situation thrice in his life, according to his Wikipedia entry

Gration grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where his parents worked as missionaries; during the Congo Crisis in the early 1960s, his family was evacuated three times and became refugees.

This also reminds me of a much discussed piece on twitter that was featured in the Huffington Post by Mona Gable on  “Why Obama Needs A Special Envoy to Africa (& not just George Clooney)”

Hopefully, an envoy to Sudan is a begining for a more engaged Africa policy from this administration …  and in more areas than just conflict resolution and into areas such as balanced trade, renewable energy and education initiatives.

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Africa deserves better leaders ..

Today’s top stories from the BBC’s Africa section. Don’t we deserve better from our leadership …


BBC Africa Page: last updated at 17:56 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009


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The U.N. discusses mandating the Right to Water


Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has a wonderful story about the U.N. considering mandating the right to water.

This is in part a response to water riots in Bolivia, Mali, Uruguay, Argentina and South Africa where the governments were unable to anticipate or explain unusually high water rates brought on by privatization of water services.

While private industry is critical to better purification and delivery systems, water must remain a public resource so as to prevent its exploitation. Classifying water as a human right would send the right message – that Governments have an obligation to allocate adequate resources that provide equal access to water for all their citizens.

Enshrining water as a right sounds innocent. But it carries multiple implications. On one level, such a right would put nations on notice to upgrade water systems to make sure all their citizens have access. It’s an inarguable ideal for a human necessity.

Poor nations, the real audience for the water-as-a-right campaign, have experienced a confusing spin cycle of rich-country ideas. First, foreign aid failed to improve water deliveries, as weak governments weren’t up to the task of rebuilding. Then a new wave of aid from the World Bank and the United Nations came with a condition: Here’s the money, but it needs to be handled by private companies with the management and experience to pull off an infrastructure rebuild.

source:  Is there a right to water?, San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, December 26, 2008

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Why I blog about Africa

Why write about Africa? There are many reasons why people choose to blog about Africa, but few have ever been challenged to share their reasons. Interestingly enough, African bloggers have been responding to a wonderful post by Théophile Kouamouo, a blogger based in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), who started a meme asking why you blog about Africa:

Why do you blog about Africa? Do we blog for the diaspora and for the world at large, cut off from our contemporary on the continent? Is blogging about Africa done in the same way as blogging about Europe or Asia? Does the African-oriented blogosphere have something specific to offer to the world version 2.0?

To understand why I write about Africa, there are a few things you must know about me:

  1. I am a third generation Kenyan.
  2. Like many in his time, my father’s grandfather came to Africa as a laborer for the great East African Railway from India. The journey was hard, their future was uncertain but he was determined to find his destiny in a land that his forefathers would have known little about.
  3. I am also an Indian.
  4. My mother comes from a state where the seeds of peaceful revolution were planted by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, later known as the Mahatma – this state, Gujarat has been the powerhouse of Indian Industry ever since.
  5. Lastly, I’m American educated.  I believe strongly in mankind’s responsibility to protect some basic inalienable rights for every human being as outlined in the American Declaration of Independence , “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “.

I write about Africa because I believe in Africa; I believe in the dream of a  self reliant and prosperous Africa; I believe in the unwavering strength of its people, and the richness of its cultural history. My Africa is undergoing a revolution – a silent revolution, a peaceful revolution, an information revolution. The youth are vocal and demanding a better future. Rather than look at the west for answers, it is engaging the west to define it’s own future. Lastly, I write about Africa because its my home – and this is why I write about Africa.

Why do you blog about Africa? I’d love to hear from you …

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Ben Affleck tours War torn Eastern Congo


“I’m not an expert in international affairs or diplomacy, but it doesn’t take that to see the tremendous suffering here”

Actor, Ben Affleck traveled to Africa’s Congo region three times over the last eight months, hoping to understand firsthand one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises of this century.

Affleck and the “Nightline” team traveled through refugee camps, hospitals and clinics, meeting with warlords, relief workers, child soldiers and members of parliament in an effort to better understand the place where over the last decade more than 4 million people have died in the deadliest conflict since World War II.

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Why Ushahidi must succeed in the DRC Congo and how to help?

The DRC deployment can be found at, and the mobile number to send SMS reports to is +243992592111
Internally Displaced People leave Kibati heading north from the city to their villages, Kibumba and Rugari, north of the provincial capital of Goma, Congo, on November 2, 2008. Several thousand people displaced in the fighting between rebels and government troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo began returning home Sunday as a ceasefire held, an AFP correspondent on the scene reported. (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Internally Displaced People leave Kibati heading north from the city to their villages, Kibumba and Rugari, north of the provincial capital of Goma, Congo, on November 2, 2008. Several thousand people displaced in the fighting between rebels and government troops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo began returning home Sunday as a ceasefire held, an AFP correspondent on the scene reported. (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Full Photo Set from the DRC here:

The Ushahidi team released an instance of their crowd sourced crisis reporting engine for the Congo today.

Just days after announcing their alpha release Ushahidi already has it’s first major crisis deployment at hand. The team took a collective decision last week to work overtime and deploy in the Democratic Republic of Congo even though the Engine is still in Alpha and has some kinks — everyone agrees that the current situation is dire and we could not justify the wait.

The Congo poses a difficult, but all too common crisis situation and the team is working overtime to tackle multiple challenges. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced into refugees, many of them sick, wounded and starving. Since this is an open source project, a major part of the work is done by volunteers ALL of whom believe in the necessity of accurate reporting in a time of crisis.

Ushahidi was very effective when first deployed to document the incidents of violence and looting during the post-election crisis in Kenya, but more than the need for accurate reporting, the assimilated incident reports help Coordinate Humanitarian Resources and Aid to those most afflicted by the conflict.

I believe in Ushahidi. There are numerous reasons why Ushahidi must succeed, but most of all because it holds parties accountable for their atrocities when humanity is at its worst — thus preserving some dignity for those dispossessed.

How to Help?

  1. Get the Word Out Help spread the word that the website is live. Share this with everyone you know – the more the people know about what is happening on the ground, and the more the media keep their focus on this story, the more likely our leaders will intervene to make a difference.
  2. Help verify and collect reports: Unlike our first installation in Kenya, the Congo poses some real challenges for the Ushahidi team. UN peacekeepers and NGo’s are being evacuated in droves and we need to get the message to the people on the ground in the Eastern Congo that this tool is now available for them to report incidents in on. If you have contacts there, or can help spread the word through some other means, tell them about our SMS number +243992592111
  3. Help make Ushahidi better: Since Ushahidi is an open source effort, we are always looking for help to make the tool better. We are still in the Alpha Stages of development but David Kobia and the team decided that we had a stable enough install to have a working version for the Congo. We are always working out kinks and incorporating lessons learnt. Hop on over to the Ushahidi blog for up to date updates and reach out if you think you can help.

Learn more about Ushahidi and how you can help here

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Once a lost boy of Sudan, Lopez Lomong leads the US at the Beijing Olympics

What a class act – the United States announced today that Lopez Lomong, a former child prisoner from war-torn Sudan, will lead the their team into the National Stadium in Beijing for the start of the 2008 Olympics.

Lomong is now an American citizen and was chosen to be the flag bearer after a vote by his fellow team members. His journey is inspiring to say the least. Born in Southern Sudan; kidnapped and separated from his parents at age 6 during a civil war; Lopez escaped and made it to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he spent more than a decade before coming to the United States in 2001 and qualifying to represent his adopted country in the Olympics for the 1,500-meter race.

China has long been criticized for not intervening in Africa especially in Sudan’s Darfur region where they have business interests. China has a long standing policy of “non-interference”, but is quickly learning that as it grows in strength, it has a moral responsibility to influence positive change globally.

Hopefully Lomong’s long journey will act as an inspiration to millions of Chinese citizens and help them recognize that the hopes and aspirations of Darfuri’s are no different that their very own – bringing us closer to the “One World, One Dream” ideal of the Olympics.

Here is to a wonderful Beijing Olympics. Good luck to the host nation and to all the inspirational athletes partipating in China.

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