east Africa


New law makes harsher climate for gay Ugandans | 

Ugandan pupils from different schools take part in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex, at the Omega Healing Center outside of Kampala, in Uganda Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.
Ugandan pupils from different schools take part in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill.
AP Photo/Stephen Wandera

Boston, MA – Returning home to Uganda after two years makes James* feel uneasy. As a gay man from a country that penalizes homosexuality, James cannot even use his real name for fear of outing himself to the wrong people.

“I choose not to think about it,” he said to Humanosphere.

Only some friends and family know that that he James is gay. Being out has not necessarily changed the minds of the people close to him. The Boston-area student said that friends that do not know about his sexuality will freely share anti-homosexual sentiments on social media.

“The ones that know; I will post something on Facebook and they won’t say anything,” he said. “They choose not to engage in that, but they will comment on other things.”

That was before the east African nation’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law legislation that now imposes harsher penalties on homosexuality. People can now go to jail for life if convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” Such a punishment would be dealt to those having gay sex with a minor, having sex if infected with HIV and with a vulnerable victim. It adds onto existing laws that carried punishments from 14 years to life in prison.

The law makes for a more tense situation in a country that has witnessed hostility towards gay Ugandans. Activist David Kato was among some 100 Ugandans outed by the tabloid magazine Rolling Stone in 2010. A year later he was brutally attacked in his home. He died on the way to the hospital. A public outcry galvanized the issue of gay rights in Uganda to slow down anti-gay legislation, but the law finally passed.

Such tactics were undertaken only a day after the bill was signed.The headline on today’s Ugandan tabloid magazine Red Pepper, touted exposing “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos.” International leaders reacted strongly to the signing.

“We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Continue reading

The trouble with Maasai boys | 

DSC_0093Uwiro, Tanzania - A drought in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northwest Tanzania claimed the lives of more than 200 children in 2011. The dry season and unsure rains mean that the Maasai children that live in the region are still at risk.

It may be the boys who are at the greatest risk.

Girls fall behind at an early age compared to their male peers around the world. The semi-nomadic Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania are known for their male warriors, the morani. The masculine culture would lead one to conclude that the problems start with the girls, but it is the Maasai boys who are in trouble.

Boys traditionally take care of the cattle during the day, leaving them with little to eat for a day that requires a lot of walking and work. An analysis of the body mass index (BMI) of school-age boys and girls (between seven and nineteen years old) in the region shows a stark divide. Malnutrition is striking at a point of vital development for all children. Continue reading

Finding a business solution to Tanzania’s agriculture problem | 

DSC_0275-e1380999665533-300x451Iringa, Tanzania – In center of this East African nation, two organizations are working with poor farmers to prove that business, rather than traditional aid, is the key to making sustainable gains out of poverty.

The idea is a popular one in the development community, and seemingly obvious, but moving from concept to reality has it challenges.

The government of Tanzania and foreign donors are intensely focused on improving food security. Two foreign firms, Cheetah Development and the One Acre Fund, are promoting market-based solutions to farmers that they contend are more productive and sustainable than charity or hand-outs.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that both are non-profit organizations that depend upon charity and donations in the West to catalyze their for-profit business solutions in Africa. But more important is that One Acre Fund is monitoring and evaluating its projects; Cheetah simply assumes if people buy-in to its small for-profit venture here, that’s proof enough of its impact.

The two organizations are neighbors in Iringa, a small agricultural community in a very dry part of the country. The rains have not yet arrived and red dust coats the withered maize stalks.

Though located literally next door to each other, Cheetah and One Acre Fund take significantly different approaches to the needs of Tanzanian farmers. Cheetah takes a page from the business handbook, having launched a for-profit subsidiary that tracks sales of products – like its newly launched solar food drying system – to determine what is or is not working. One Acre Fund (OAF) offers loans, does farmer training and evaluates progress each step of the way.

The number of people reached by the two may reflect their respective tactics. Reservoir, a business under Cheetah that sells solar drying racks to farmers, has reached only 55 farmers so far this year. OAF worked with 1,150 farmers in the 2012 growing season, its first in Tanzania, and will enroll more than 3,000 for the upcoming planting season. Continue reading

Bringing better nutrition to Tanzania’s farmers | 

Abdullah Muhammad in his home.
Abdullah Muhammad in his home.

Morogoro, Tanzania - Abdullah Yahya’s farm sits above the dirt road that is unfriendly to cars after it rains.

Corn stalks remain in the ground, withered by a lack of recent rains. The morning rain is a good sign. Abdullah will soon uproot the failed crop and plant wit the hopes of a successful harvest.

He lives in a two-room home with his wife Zainabu, their four year-old son Idrisa and one year-old daughter Ailat (rhymes with violet). Another son lives with Zainbu’s brother. Idrisa is tiny and shy. By appearances he looks smaller than the average boy his age. Ailat, on the other hand, is full-faced and engaging with everyone around her.

Zainabu says the difference is because she continues to breastfeed her daughter, but did not do so for the boys. She learned through the Mwanzo Bora Nutrition Program (MBNP), implemented by the NGO AfriCare, that she should continue breastfeeding for the first two years of Ailat’s life.

While the measurable impact of the scheme on stunting is not available, the participants appear to be happy with the program so far. Mothers said their children are gaining weight, reported breastfeeding infants longer and said their children are noticeably healthier. Continue reading

Bono uses the F word | 

Bono, U2′s lead singer and perhaps the world’s leading (or at least most celebrated) advocate in the fight against global poverty, has been known to use the F word on occasion.

Here, in this post for the ONE campaign (which Bono co-founded as a grassroots lobbying campaign to urge governments to fund the fight on poverty), he says another F word should be even more offensive.


Says Bono:

The food crisis in the Horn of Africa is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe, but it is getting less attention than the latest Hollywood break-ups and make-ups.

What makes this so offensive, the rock star writes, is that famines are man-made. Droughts, crop failure and so on may have natural causes, Bono notes, but there is no reason anyone should starve to death in the 21st Century. There is enough food on the planet to feed everyone.

Here’s Bono and some of his well-known friends discussing the even-more-offensive F word:

Fighting famine with peanut paste freed from patent protection | 

It’s called Plumpy’nut, a nutritionally fortified peanut-based food paste that’s one of the primary weapons in the battle against starvation in the Horn of Africa.

And it well may be in wider use in the famine in East Africa because of some folks who months earlier filed a lawsuit challenging a patent on Plumpy’nut.

Here’s an NBC video report about a non-profit Rhode Island manufacturer of Plumpy’Nut (preceded by an ad for Nutri-Grain) and a famine refugee camp in Dadaab Kenya featuring children treated for malnutrition:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

There have been a number of similar stories recently, on CNN, in Fast Company and other media. Most follow a similar story line, describing this amazingly cheap, simple and powerful nutritional product and its use to fight hunger and malnutrition around the world.

What gets little mention in most of these stories is that Plumpy’nut was invented and patented by a French company, Nutriset, many years ago. And when these other companies, like the one profiled by NBC, wanted to get in on the action of producing this humanitarian foodstuff a patent protection legal battle ensued.

Here’s a BBC story on the legal battle last year and another one by the UN’s news service IRIN describing the pressure on Nutriset to allow others to produce Plumpy’nut.

Nutriset eventually bowed to pressure and has allowed other organizations to produce Plumpy’nut under a Patents Usage Agreement.


Interactive map of East Africa famine | 

The online international news organization GlobalPost has published this useful interactive map of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. It is based on data from the UN’s World Food Programme (which I suppose justifies the somewhat invasive WFP request-to-donate button on the map).

Go to link above. Below is just a screen grab.

Global Post

News update: Aid organizations continue to do media’s job | 

As I noted earlier, members of humanitarian organizations are often doing the media’s job overseas — of being there (when the media organization isn’t) and “reporting” on what’s happening.

Joy Portella of Mercy Corps (the subject of my earlier post) is back in Seattle after traveling in East Africa and sharing her observations for her organization’s blog — as well as doing stories for other media. Portella was in the world’s newest nation South Sudan for its first independence day celebration and after that traveled to do reports on drought-stricken east Africa.

Portella worked with many media and wrote a number or articles, including these compelling stories for CNN. Here she is on CNN being interviewed for further perspective:

The reports all feature photos credited to Mercy Corps and the latest CNN interview with Portella ends with a suggestion that people donate funds to Mercy Corps and other such organizations.

Portella also wrote this op-ed today for the Christian Science Monitor contending, correctly I think, that the famine now killing thousands in the Horn of Africa is at least as deserving of American aid as was Japan after it was hit by a devastating quake and tsunami:

The people of the Horn of Africa are suffering in numbers bigger than those that inspired the Live Aid anti-famine movement of the 1980s. Things won’t get better in the coming months leading up to the hoped-for fall rains. If we – American donors, the U.S. government, and other donor countries, together with the governments of the affected region – don’t act now, the vice will keep tightening, and families will get squeezed dry.

I think Portella’s stories and op-eds are great. But I also think it’s important to note that she has been serving as a proxy for media organizations who are not on the scene and not really doing the reporting. The fund-raising pitch at the end of the CNN video is a little disturbing, as another indication that the line between those doing aid and those reporting on it is getting blurred.

I would be interested in seeing a comparative analysis of both the humanitarian response and the media’s response to the tragedies in Japan and East Africa.

I think I’m on solid ground saying that the media devoted much more attention and resources to the tragedy in Japan than it has, so far, to the much more severe and devastating catastrophe unfolding in East Africa. What about the humanitarian response? Did we actually give more money to Japan?

Is the lack of investment by the media in telling the story of the crisis in East Africa part of the problem here? Is the increasing practice of asking members of aid organizations, people like Portella, to act as proxies for the absent media a stop-gap solution, or also a potential problem?