Somalia’s remittance crisis eclipses news of first US ambassador since 1991

At the end of its run last month, Merchant’s Bank was hosting more than two-thirds of small enterprises —historically known in Somalia as hawalas— that collect and distribute money from Somali communities in the US.

These hawalas are responsible for an estimated $215 million in aid to families in Somalia from the US each year, according to Oxfam. It almost matched US humanitarian funding for the combined 2014 and 2015 fiscal years at about $230 million, USAID reports.

The US government’s argument for shutting down the bank transfers is that Somalia’s informal banking infrastructure, years of civil war, and ongoing insurgency by extremist group Al Shabab creates fertile ground for money laundering and funding terror groups. But [Somali-American Ali] Eishe disagrees.

“How can the money I send each month support Al-Qaeda or Al Shabab?” he asks. “It is only enough to provide my family one meal a day.”

Read the rest over at The Christian Science Monitor.

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Algerians suffering from French atomic legacy, 55 years after nuke tests

Ahmed el-Hadj Hamadi was huddled into a building with the rest of his community by French soldiers early in the morning. They were instructed to lie down, close their eyes and cover their ears. He then remembers a sound like “the world coming to an end” and the windows turning white. A cord above their prone bodies swung erratically until the light bulb it held shattered.

Read the rest over at Al Jazeera America.

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New Member of the Frontline Freelance Register

Received word that I’ve been accepted into the Frontline Club’s Freelance Register. Groups like this are more and more necessary. A bit of info:

“The FFR’s core objective is to support the physical and mental well-being of actively working, international freelance journalists who take physical risks in their work. In a world where staff jobs and fully paid foreign assignments are increasingly scarce, foreign and war reporting is dominated by freelancers, many of whom are deeply committed professionals doing outstanding work. At the same time, many of these freelancers lack the institutional support and the financial means to adequately manage the challenges of operating in dangerous environments in the long term. They also lack organised representation, often leaving them at the mercy of powerful media groups. FFR aims to help freelancers by providing them with a forum, a representative body and a critical mass to face some of these challenges.

The FFR aims to ensure its members observe responsible news gathering standards consistent with industry-established safety standards. FFR aims to build a community of independent journalists, establishing a voice for them by working with journalist support organisations, industry figures and those with an interest in safety and security to support its members and champion safety and professional practice.”

For more, visit their website.

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South Africa’s Power Grid Is on the Brink of Collapse

South Africa is on high alert as a surge of power plant maintenance issues have led to a spike in enforced black-outs throughout the country, temporarily depriving millions of electricity and raising criticism of the government’s failure to address a longstanding need for more energy infrastructure.

Eskom, the government-owned electricity company which supplies 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity and 45 percent of electricity used by the African continent, has admitted that it is currently facing a “risk of collapse of its entire power network.”

If that happened, South Africa and portions of surrounding countries could be submerged in darkness for upwards of two weeks.

The country’s energy woes began in 2007, after the demand for energy by burgeoning industries like platinum and gold mining caught up with the country’s decades-old power infrastructure and led to a series of uncontrolled blackouts.

But last November a coal silo collapsed at an Eskom power facility that contributes 10 percent of South Africa’s energy and caused the site to lose 1,800 megawatts of its energy capacity.

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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Mugabe Picked as Next African Union Leader as Fight Against Boko Haram Ramps Up

The African Union (AU) unanimously agreed Friday to pursue a plan to increase the number of troops along Nigeria’s northeastern borders to help fight the spread of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. The deal was negotiated during the organization’s annual Heads of State summit, held this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where leaders also discussed the continent’s pressing medical, military, and infrastructure issues.

Robert Mugabe, the controversial 90-year-old president of Zimbabwe, who is banned from the United States due to accusations of rampant human rights abuses and election tampering during his 35-year rule, was appointed the next chairman of the AU during the summit, which gathers leaders from Africa’s 54 countries.

While the AU tried to focus on tackling several significant issues — including ongoing conflicts in Libya, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan, as well as the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa — Mugabe’s appointment became a lightning rod for criticism.

In addition to his alleged role in violence against opposition parties in Zimbabwe and the heavy restrictions placed on freedom of expression and assembly in his country, Mugabe’s recent remarks about gender were starkly at odds with the conference’s stated theme of empowering women. In 2013, Mugabe described female political opponents as “mere women,” and on Thursday he said it’s “not possible” for men and women to be equal.

“They get married, they must have babies, they must live at home, that’s a problem,” he said, elaborating on the remarks during a later interview. “I’m saying it’s not possible that women can be at par with men.”

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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Former Al Shabaab Official Says Extremist Group Is in ‘Total Collapse’

A former top official of Somalia’s Islamist extremist group al Shabaab announced that the organization is in “total collapse,” and urged other militants in the group to lay down their weapons during a press conference in Mogadishu Tuesday.

Zakariya Ismail Hersi was an al-Shabaab intelligence chief who claims he has left the group after surrendering to Somali police forces in the Gedo region of southern Somalia late last December. The United States had previously placed a $3 million reward on information leading to his capture.

“I look back to the original aims and objectives of al Shabaab, which many well-intentioned people would have welcomed,” Hersi said, according to a transcript posted to Facebook by government media adviser Abdirahman Omar Osman. “Unfortunately, few individuals that had their devious agenda, which I suspect to have foreign influence, have hijacked those aims and objectives.”

“I call on and encourage all my friends [in al Shabaab] to seek out a peaceful way of resolving all conflicts and towards reconciliation,” he added. “Al-Shabaab, is now in total collapse, and that is why I am here.”

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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Disappearance of Key Witness Raises Concerns Over Tampering in ICC Kenya Case

The International Criminal Court (ICC) restarted its prosecution earlier this month of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and Kenyan journalist Joshua Sang, who are being tried for allegedly commissioning gangs to murder and terrorize supporters of an opposition political party during Kenya‘s 2007-2008 national elections.

But the disappearance in late December of a man whom defense lawyers claim was a key witness in the trial has heightened concerns about the ongoing hazards faced by ICC witnesses in Kenya, many of whom have reported receiving bribery offers and threats of violence from people trying to discredit the court’s judicial efforts.

Read the rest over at VICE News.

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SASSI Issues Response to VICE Article on Drug-testing Welfare Recipients

SASSI, the for-profit institute that creates screening tests to determine if someone might be alcohol or drug dependent, responded to my VICE article on the growth of drug testing laws for welfare applicants in US states. While they do not explicitly connect this statement to my VICE article, it came just 10 days after one of their representatives sent me a lengthy email of demands and edit requests – all of which I reviewed, but the vast majority of which I felt were untenable.

“Ethical Issues:

• The purpose of the SASSI is to help people who have substance use disorders. To use the SASSI to discriminate against individuals, such as disqualifying job applicants or to deny public assistance, violates the purpose of the SASSI and is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

• No screening measure is 100% accurate, and specific clinical information is required to meet the current American Psychiatric Association standards for a clinical diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder. The SASSI can be a valuable tool for professionals making assessments when it is used properly and in conjunction with supplemental information.

• We encourage you to look over the following information regarding proper use of the SASSI screening instruments.”

Read the rest here, via ACLU.


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VICE Magazine Volume 22 Issue 1: The Outta My Way, I’m Walking Here Issue


I have a few hundred words in the newest edition of VICE Magazine about the rise of poverty-centered tours in South Africa. They string paying tourists through shanty towns and destitute communities to provide a kind of immersive education. “But isn’t that really unethical?” Seems like it – which is why local activists have been pretty up in arms about their growth.

Free, and available internationally.

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Most Welfare Recipients Don’t Use Drugs, So Why Do States Keep Drug-Testing Them?

[S]tates are increasingly putting their faith in welfare drug-testing legislation. Michigan is the 12th state to have enshrined such a law since 2011, though of those 12, only Georgia and Oklahoma pursued laws with conditions as stringent as those in Florida.

The public, it seems, is equally faithful. According to polls from 2011 and 2013, 53 percent and 51 percent of Americans favored drug tests for all government assistance recipients, respectively. The same year Florida enacted its now-defunct law, 71 percent of those surveyed in-state supported it. And a 2011 poll in Michigan revealed 79 percent of residents supported the state’s new pilot program back then, before it had passed.

So most Americans believe states should drug test individuals who benefit from TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly known as welfare), SNAP—aka food stamps—and other programs. But is there any evidence that this is a good idea?

Read the rest over at VICE.

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