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Archive for January 15th, 2010

A Kenyan blogger found a way to get information from the crowd.

Posted by Administrator on January 15, 2010

Ory Okolloh turned the Web into a living record of crisis and relief.

Ory Okolloh turned the Web into a living record of crisis and relief.

One November a few years ago, 15,000 people were pushing up against the barbed wire outside the United Nation’s mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo in Goma. They were some of the quarter-million refugees who had fled violent clashes in the Congo in the last few weeks, and they were begging for help. Their camps were destroyed, there was no food, no toilets and very little water. Militias were fighting a mere 7 miles to the northeast.

Several hundred miles away in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ory Okolloh was receiving reports from the scene verified by an NGO, and uploading them onto a public Web site. Okolloh, 31, created the site using Ushahidi, a free piece of software that quickly creates Web sites to which eyewitnesses of war and crisis in out-of-reach places can send news by e-mail or text and have it attached to a Google (nasdaq: GOOGnews people ) map. Ushahidi grew out of a citizen journalism effort Okolloh helped lead during the deadly postelection rioting in Kenya in 2008. The software, still in its early days, has been deployed in South Africa to help gather stories of xenophobic attacks there in May 2008 and is now in use in the Congo.

Ushahidi is the latest effort to “crowd-source” newsgathering on unfolding crises in remote areas via e-mail and mobile phones. The idea is to get immediate attention and relief to strife zones, and fill the gap left by news organizations that have slashed their foreign bureaus. Not-for-profit Witness.org, started with help from rocker Peter Gabriel, gives cameras and editing equipment to aid workers and trains them to record any human rights abuses. Sahana, an open-source software similar to Ushahidi, was created in Sri Lanka after the tsunami of December 2004. It has been used to coordinate requests for relief efforts, track victims in camps and shelters, and coordinate volunteers in the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2006 mud slide in the Philippines, the 2007 earthquake in Peru and the 2008 earthquake in China.

Ushahidi, Swahili for “testimony,” has simplified the technology so that anyone can use it, and it’s designed to take input from hundreds of people by cell phone or e-mail. It uses free software called FrontlineSMS that turns a laptop and a mobile phone into a text-broadcasting hub. As an SMS is sent from a hot zone, the message synchs with the Ushahidi software and shows up in a Web administrator’s in-box. The Web admin can decide to send a text message back to the sender to verify the information, send out a blast alert to large numbers of people or post the information onto a Web page with location information from Google Maps (or do all three). FrontlineSMS provides phone numbers in areas where the larger SMS gateways don’t operate. Okolloh hopes Ushahidi can be used to send reminder alerts to people on antiretroviral medication or warnings in regions that are at high risk for natural disasters. Some of these ideas are currently being tried in Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia, among others. Okolloh has quit her consulting job to spread Ushahidi full-time and in June 2008 received a $200,000 grant from Humanity United, a Redwood City, Calif. not-for-profit.

Ushahidi got started late 2007 when Okolloh went home to vote in Kenya’s elections. President Mwai Kibaki’s victory looked rigged, and vicious riots and looting were sweeping the country. Okolloh found herself chained to her laptop, with her baby left in the care of her family. Okolloh, a native of Kenya with a 2005 Harvard law degree, had been living in Johannesburg but kept up a blog about Kenya politics.

Fifteen hundred were killed and half a million displaced while the news went black for three days. Okolloh was getting updates from both political parties, Kenyan journalists and her own sources within Parliament. She put up her e-mail address on her blog and was flooded with information. At times she was updating her blog every few seconds.

By Jan. 2 2009, Okolloh was running out of diapers and formula and, with supplies scarce in Nairobi, she went back to Johannesburg. In a post she asked if there were any techies willing to do a mash-up of where the violence and destruction (and any peace efforts) were taking place using Google Earth. Next thing she knew, a reader of her blog had bought her a url and donated the server space. Two fellow bloggers wrote the initial software code and within three days Ushahidi was up and running. Okolloh tried to verify information by calling back people who had texted in the news or checking against media reports. “It was very ad hoc,” she says. She applied the old maxim: When in doubt, leave it out. Radio deejays started reading some of the blog on air.

A ranger in Bogoria (northeast of Nairobi), William Kimosop, was driving to check on a remote outpost one evening in January when he stumbled across several hundred women, old people and children, lost in a ravine as they fled their villages where the men were still fighting. Four babies were born in that ravine, and supplies were running out. There were no government officials or police around. He sent a text message to a friend in Nairobi, asking her to get help from aid agencies. The friend forwarded his plea to a few people, after which it got picked up by Ushahidi and within six days a Red Cross truck reached him.

// <![CDATA[Okolloh is at the moment monitoring the situation in Haiti. She said the site has received very little traffic from Haiti, which suggests that what little IT infrastructure there was has been "significantly" disrupted.Most of "the mobile network still appears to be down, though [we're] getting reports that Blackberry is working. We've been struggling to get a local line or short code [numbers] that people can use," he wrote in an e-mail response to Computerworld. “Radio stations also appear to be down.”

Okolloh said there are indications that some Haitians are able to communicate via satellite phone and to get online via satellite. Twitter and other social network sites were a lifeline for communications in the hours and days after the earthquake.

“So it’s not a complete blackout,” Okolloh said. “I’ve seen urgent requests for satellite phones to be donated for Haiti government officials.”

Sources: Forbes and Computerworld]]>

Posted in Features | Comments Off on A Kenyan blogger found a way to get information from the crowd.

Father gets life for drowning son in bathtub

Posted by Administrator on January 15, 2010

Gideon Omondi talks briefly with one of his defense attorneys, Mark Brown after being sentenced Friday for murder in the drowning death of his four year old son, Richie, in 2006. MIGUEL VASCONCELLOS, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Gideon Omondi talks briefly with one of his defense attorneys, Mark Brown after being sentenced Friday for murder in the drowning death of his four year old son, Richie, in 2006. MIGUEL VASCONCELLOS, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA – A 36-year-old college engineering student from Kenya who killed his 4-year-old son in 2006 by holding him under water for three to five minutes in a Fullerton apartment was sentenced to 25-years to life in prison today.

Gideon Omondi, 36, who was convicted of first-degree murder last year for the Sept. 10, 2006 drowning death of his son Richie, had no visible display of emotion as Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg handed down the maximum allowable term.

Froeberg also gave Omondi a second life term on an attempted murder conviction for dousing himself and his sonwith gasoline in preparation for lighting them both on fire in January 2006.

Omondi was embroiled in a bitter custody dispute over Richard with his estranged wife, Hellen, when he decided to drown his son rather than lose custody.

In a tearful victim-impact statement prior to sentencing, Hellen Omondi said she was heart-broken over the loss of her son. “The pain I will take to my grave,” she said. “I will never forgive him.”

Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy argued that Omondi planned the killing because he felt he would lose custody of Richie. He said Gideon Omondi demonstrated that he knew what he was doing was wrong because he immediately drove to the Fullerton police station and confessed

Fullerton officers went to the apartment Omondi shared with his brother and found the boy’s body tucked in his father’s bed.

Deputy Public Defender Mark Brown argued during a sanity phase that Omondi, a graduate student in engineering at Cal State Fullerton, was legally insane with a major depressive mental disorder and did not understand the act was morally wrong.

A psychiatrist hired by the defense testified that Omondi was suicidal and angry and paranoid about the family law system was out to get him in the custody dispute. But court-appointed psychologist testified that Omondi knew what he was doing and that he understood it was legally and morally wrong.

His jury deliberated for about three hours before finding that Omondi was legally sane at the time

Source: OC Register

© Copyright 2010 Freedom Communications. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Crime | 1 Comment »

Will China conquer the world?

Posted by Administrator on January 15, 2010

Employees work at the assembly line of Beijing Hyundai Motor Company in Beijing. “The Chinese government sits atop an astonishing level of foreign reserves.” Reuters

Employees work at the assembly line of Beijing Hyundai Motor Company in Beijing. “The Chinese government sits atop an astonishing level of foreign reserves.” Reuters

By Dani Rodrik

Thirty years ago, China had a tiny footprint on the global economy and little influence outside its borders, save for a few countries with which it had close political and military relationships. Today, the country is a remarkable economic power: the world’s manufacturing workshop, its foremost financier, a leading investor across the globe from Africa to Latin America, and, increasingly, a major source of research and development.

The Chinese government sits atop an astonishing level of foreign reserves – greater than $2 trillion. There is not a single business anywhere in the world that has not felt China’s impact, either as a low-cost supplier, or more threateningly, as a formidable competitor.

China is still a poor country. Although average incomes have risen very rapidly in recent decades, they still stand at between one-seventh and one-eighth the levels in the United States – lower than in Turkey or Colombia and not much higher than in El Salvador or Egypt.

While coastal China and its major metropolises evince tremendous wealth, large swaths of Western China remain mired in poverty. Nevertheless, China’s economy is projected to surpass that of the US in size sometime in the next two decades.
Meanwhile, the US, the world’s sole economic hyper-power until recently, remains a diminished giant. It stands humbled by its foreign-policy blunders and a massive financial crisis. Its credibility after the disastrous invasion of Iraq is at an all-time low, notwithstanding the global sympathy for President Barack Obama, and its economic model is in tatters.

The once-almighty dollar totters at the mercy of China and the oil-rich states.

All of which raises the question of whether China will eventually replace the US as the world’s hegemon, the global economy’s rule setter and enforcer.

In a fascinating new book, revealingly titled When China Rules the World , the British scholar and journalist Martin Jacques is unequivocal: if you think China will be integrated smoothly into a liberal, capitalist, and democratic world system, Jacques argues, you are in for a big surprise. Not only is China the next economic superpower, but the world order that it will construct will look very different from what we have had under American leadership.

Americans and Europeans blithely assume that China will become more like them as its economy develops and its population gets richer. This is a mirage, Jacques says.

A world order centred on China will reflect Chinese values rather than Western ones, Jacques argues. Beijing will overshadow New York, the renminbi will replace the dollar, Mandarin will take over from English, and schoolchildren around the world will learn about Zheng He’s voyages of discovery along the Eastern coast of Africa rather than about Vasco de Gama or Christopher Columbus. Gone will be the evangelism of markets and democracy.

Before any of this comes to pass, however, China will have to continue its rapid economic growth and maintain its social cohesion and political unity. None of this is guaranteed.

China’s stability hinges critically on its government’s ability to deliver steady economic gains to the vast majority of the population. China is the only country in the world where anything less than eight per cent growth year after year is believed to be dangerous because it would unleash social unrest.

Most of the rest of the world only dreams about growth at that rate, which speaks volumes about the underlying fragility of the Chinese system.
The authoritarian nature of the political regime is at the core of this fragility. It allows only repression when the government faces protests and opposition outside the established channels.

The trouble is that it will become increasingly difficult for China to maintain the kind of growth that it has experienced in recent years. China’s growth currently relies on an undervalued currency and a huge trade surplus.

This is unsustainable, and sooner or later it will precipitate a major confrontation with the US (and Europe). There are no easy ways out of this dilemma. China will likely have to settle for lower growth.

If China surmounts these hurdles and does eventually become the world’s predominant economic power, globalisation will, indeed, take on Chinese characteristics. Democracy and human rights will then likely lose their lustre as global norms. That is the bad news.

The good news is that a Chinese global order will display greater respect for national sovereignty and more tolerance for national diversity. There will be greater room for experimentation with different economic models.


Rodrik is professor of Political Economy at Harvard University.

Posted in Analysis and Opinion | Comments Off on Will China conquer the world?

List error plunges Form One selection into chaos

Posted by Administrator on January 15, 2010

Minister for Education Sam Ongeri during the launch of Form One selection. Photo/CHRIS OJOW

Minister for Education Sam Ongeri during the launch of Form One selection. Photo/CHRIS OJOW

Confusion has hit the ongoing selection of Form One students in Nyanza Province due to a coding error of secondary schools.

Names of schools in the newly created districts were missing from the lists sent out from which the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates were to choose their preferred institutions if they passed.

A top school in the region, St Joseph’s Rapogi High, has now been forced to pick candidates with marks as low as 263, down from its minimum of 350, because the school’s name was missing from the list sent out to candidates who sat the exams last year.

The school, which is now situated in Uriri District, selected from a list that had already been used by other provincial schools to make their choices.
Rongo District, for instance, has close to 40 secondary schools but the list sent out by the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) contained only 13 schools.

However, the Nyanza provincial director of education, Mr Geoffrey Cherongis, downplayed the crisis, saying the coding system and the missing names would be corrected in future.

“The selection of students is based on merit and the quota system. A school known to pick students with high marks may sometimes be forced to take those with low grades depending on the overall performance of a particular region … We want all children to be in school,” he said.

Mr Cherongis said the Ministry of Education was now emphasizing on equal distribution of chances to all children, including those from rural areas.

Teachers said pupils who scored high marks ended up being called to little-known schools as a result of the missing names.

But when contacted, the Rapogi High School principal, Mr Thomas Kogolla, said the situation would affect performance of some big schools in the national examinations.

“What will you expect when some provincial schools have taken pupils with 360 marks and above and others admitting those with about 260? The competition will not be fair at all,” he said.

Parents protested at the “errors” and asked the Ministry of Education to shed more light on the matter.

Source: Daily Nation

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Raila wins backing on Mau campaign

Posted by Administrator on January 15, 2010

Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Friday led a strong team of Cabinet ministers, MPs and diplomats in planting 20,000 tree seedlings to launch the Mau Forest rehabilitation plan.

They were joined by wananchi who walked from the neighbouring Elburgon, Molo and Njoro while others drove from as far as Nairobi in planting what was described as the first seeds of rehabilitating Kenya’s five water towers.

International backing

And the diplomats present from the United Nations, European Union, international organisations and the other four East African Community nations made it clear that the plan had international backing.

The run-up to the function generated controversy when it became clear that President Kibaki would skip the event despite initially having been slated to lead the campaign alongside the Prime Minister.

The political undertones were evident on Friday as speaker after speaker lauded Mr Odinga and promised to stand by him in effort to conserve the Mau.

Absent from the function were key cabinet ministers who have been hitting out at the Prime Minister over the Mau campaign.

President Kibaki was swearing in judges to the court which will arbitrate disputes in the next phase of the constitutional review in Nairobi, while Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was in Mozambique.

The VP’s allies in the so-called KKK alliance, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Agriculture minister William Ruto were absent, as were most of the MPs from the region allied to Mr Ruto against Mr Odinga in the ODM divide.

However cabinet ministers present stressed that the function had the President’s blessings and there was no going back in the government’s determination to reclaim and rehabilitate water catchment areas.

Notable MPs present from the areas whose population has opposed the exercise, were Industrialisation Minister Henry Kosgey, Kipkelion MP Langat Magerer and nominated MP Musa Sirma.

Mr Odinga said: “You can see the government is here. Today is not for politics. When we finish this job even those opposed to what we are doing will realise the importance of this exercise.”

Mr Odinga said other water towers, Mt Kenya, the Aberdares, Mt Elgon, Cherangani will also be conserved. He announced that an authority will be created to oversee the conservation.

“As leaders we cannot stand by and watch Kenya lose her future. The environment has direct impact on our well being. That is why we are taking this first step,” he said.

He called on leaders to avoid taking the easy or popular decisions adding that he was glad Kenyans now see the link between destruction of forests and drought and power shortages but more needed to be done to appreciate the urgency of what the country is confronting.

Water tower

Mau forest is the largest indigenous forest in East Africa and Kenya’s most vital water tower, covering 400,000 hectares.

Among the rivers originating from the forest are Ewaso Ng’iro, Sondu, Mara and Njoro which feed several lakes in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya, among them Lake Victoria, Nakuru and even Natron in Tanzania.

Friday’s function was at Mariashoni in Kaptunga, about 30 kilometres from Elburgon Town.

Forestry Minister Noah Wekesa said the government had committed itself to plant 38 billion tree seedlings during the Copenhagen climate change conference late last year.

He clarified that some trees are planted in government forests for commercial exploitation by timber manufacturers who are required to replant the lost trees. This should not be confused to be forest destruction as it was a sustainable way of exploiting forests.

Planning assistant minister Peter Kenneth said rehabilitating water towers was not a PNU or ODM affair. ‘’This is about Kenya’s future and we should not play politics with our future,’’ he said.

Mr Magerer attacked Rift Valley MPs who have been criticising the way the exercise had been carried out.

‘‘Those of us from Rift Valley are pleased with your efforts to save the Mau,’’ he told Mr Odinga.

Political support

He asked the PM not to worry about losing political support in some parts of the Rift Valley because there were national and civic leaders who had committed to support him.

The MP asked the PM to deal also with rich grabbers who had benefited from allocations in the forest but resettle the poor.

The chairman of the Mau rehabilitation task force, Mr Noor Hassan Noor, pledged that all the five phases in rehabilitating Mau would be carried out.

He said experts seconded to the task force by the Attorney General were scrutinising documents to establish the legal status of the allocations and how to deal with the beneficiaries.

There had been fears that failure by some members of the government to attend yesterday’s function was indication that top officials were wavering in their commitment to conserving Mau.

A representative of the tea industry, Mr Gideon Too, said the Kenya tea growers association supported the rehabilitation of Mau.

‘‘Without Mau the tea industry will collapse. Kericho, Sotik and Nandi rely on the catchment area,’’ he said.

The industry donated 50,000 seedlings to be planted in the Mau.

Vision 2030 Chief Executive Officer Mugo Kibati pledged support for the conservation. He said rehabilitating the catchment areas and re-afforestation were main components of the plan to make Kenya a newly industrialised country by 2030.

Tough choices will be made and continue to be made for the future benefit of the many rather than the benefit of the few and rich, supporters of the Mau conservation said.

Gachoka MP Mutava Musyimi, who chairs the parliamentary committee on the environment, said what belongs to Kenyans cannot be privatised.

Nation Media Group CEO Linus Gitahi who spoke on behalf of the private sector led Save Mau initiative said the group had planted more than 50,000 seedlings in Mau in the last three months.

Companies and organisations in the initiative are East Africa Breweries Limited, Equity Bank, Greenbelt Movement, Kenya Wildlife Service and Nation Media Group.

Mr Gitahi said the companies and organisations will raise money to ensure the trees they had planted were looked after.

He appealed to politicians not to politicize the environment.

Posted in Kenya | Comments Off on Raila wins backing on Mau campaign

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