Month: July 2010

U.S. launches East Africa software competition “Apps 4 Africa” in Kenya

United States Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale launched the “Apps 4 Africa” contest at the Innovation Hub in Nairobi, Kenya, July 1.

The regional competition seeks to harness the power of African software developers in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda and leverage the power of digital technology to improve the lives of ordinary people in East Africa and worldwide. The competition runs through August 31.

Here is the announcement on the US State Department’s blog.

Today in Nairobi, Kenya, Under Secretary of State Judith McHale and Ambassador Michael Ranneberger announced the launch of a new competition to spur technological innovation in East Africa.

Apps 4 Africa is a regional competition with the goal of promoting local technology entrepreneurs as they build tools to serve the needs of local NGOs and the local community. This unprecedented partnership meshes civil society with developers and designers to create technical solutions to local challenges. The competition will ask civil society and citizens throughout the region to submit local community challenges on issues like transparency and better governance, health, education and more where technology can be a part of the solution. The burgeoning ranks of innovative techies in the region will then use this list of community challenges as the basis of their work, thus creating “an app for that.”

The competition is already unfolding at www.apps4africa.org, where you can get a feel for some of the issues that people are already seeking help addressing. We are actively calling all developers from the region to get involved and get to work!

The competition is open to developers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. However, citizens around the world can participate by voting on ideas and, if they are technology savvy, serving as online mentors for local programmers. Submissions can be sent through a variety of ways, from going to the website, to Twitter and tweeting to @App4Africa, to Facebook through joining the Facebook group Apps4Africa. In Kenya, participants can send in their idea through SMS to 3002 and including the word “app” anywhere in their message.

Starting now and running till August 31, 2010, you can follow online as civil society meets developers and collaborate through this online open source platform. Submissions will then be reviewed by a panel of judges, a range of technological and civil society leaders from the East Africa region and beyond. The judges will determine the best applications and award prizes of money and gadgets. The prize money for each individual can help winners further develop their idea.

Apps 4 Africa is an innovative competition sponsored by Ihub, AppAfrica, SODNET and the U.S. State Department to support civil society by giving them more tools to help scale their critical work and to also harness the best of the regional creative and innovative spirit

Here is the official site for the contest.

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US Government plans to raise importance of Africa with American public

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson

While welcoming students to US State department for its scholar program about for those interested in African affairs called,“Teach Africa” Leadership Summit, assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said “While news accounts often portray Africa in negative terms, “there is in fact another Africa, an Africa that is an integral part of the global community — politically, culturally, economically and socially” — and one that is of major importance to the United States”.

Carson told the students that Africa has “enormous relevance” for the United States and that more awareness about Africa is needed in the US, especially with the America public at large.

“It is important that we here in the United States continue to work alongside Africa and African nations to help them to realize the enormous potential that exists across the continent. That potential,” he said, “is reflected in its human capital, in its people, who are resilient, strong and surging forth. Africa has today some 800 million people across the continent, with its numbers increasing.

“With those numbers we are seeing important things happen. We are seeing more education, both at the primary and university level. We are seeing more engagement, more business and more activities,” which signal the continent’s potential and promise. He reminded the students that 18 percent of America’s oil comes from Africa.

Taking questions following his welcoming remarks, Carson was asked about foreign assistance. “I think the United States should [continue granting foreign aid],” he said, “because we remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world. … The peace, prosperity and continued growth in the United States continues in large measure because of the peace, prosperity and continued growth of countries around the world. Those countries that are in crisis and afflicted by poverty cause us concern, and the international community.

“We have to respond to those things. But if, in fact, countries are growing economically, socially and educationally, if they are growing stronger and are more vibrant and more democratic, they are in fact going to be good contributors and good friends in the international community. Our aid helps to do that. Our aid helps countries improve the lives and livelihoods of people … so I think we should be strong contributors.”

He cautioned, however, that aid alone will not develop a country. “Countries must have strong private sectors in which there is both domestic and international investment in which jobs are being generated, products are being produced, items are being sold, domestically and internationally, money is being earned and taxes collected.”

Aid, he said, can be a “contributing factor,” but the private sector will be the engine of economic growth and development.

Asked about sanctions, Carson said, “Sanctions on countries do in fact help alter and change their behavior. Some of those sanctions are economic; some of those sanctions are political.

“I think the sanctions regime that has been placed on Zimbabwe has in fact produced some concessions by the Zimbabwean government,” he told the students. “I think without the sanctions, there would not be a transitional government there today … or a government of national unity.”

Asked about Sudan, Carson told the students that the United States is “intensely concerned” about developments there. “One of the first things President Obama did a year and a half ago when he took office was to name a special envoy … on Sudan” who has been working over the past 18 months to help implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan and to resolve the problems in the Darfur region.

“We have been strong supporters of the mission of the African peacekeeping force in Darfur, which is now a U.N. peacekeeping force there. We support a U.N. presence there and we continue to press very, very hard for political reconciliation between the government of Sudan and the Justice for Equality Movement [JEM].”

Following Carson’s remarks, Bernadette B. Paolo, president and chief executive officer of the Africa Society, which helped organize the summit, told the students they were “change makers” and implored them to take action to help Africa. She singled out several students in the room who are already effecting change: one who has started her own nonprofit organization and raised $6,000 to help educate conflict-scarred youth in Uganda, another who is helping to set up libraries in Africa, and another, of Nigerian ancestry, who believes he can change the way policymakers from the United States and Africa interact. “The future belongs to all those who act on their dreams,” she told the students.

Echoing those remarks, Senegal’s envoy to the United States, Ambassador Fatou Danielle Diagne, called on the students to develop their own vision of what must be done and have the courage to act on those convictions.

Besides student meetings with policymakers, the one-day summit also included an interactive videoconference with students in South Africa, Cameroon and Liberia and workshops on leadership, U.S. Africa policy, women leaders and the media.

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The Portuguese are coming!

Well speaking economically at least. Portugal turns to former colony, Angola for growth.

Portugal, one of Europe’s ailing economies, is increasingly placing its hopes of recovery on Angola, a former colony that has established itself as one of the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa — thanks largely to oil and diamonds. The shift comes as competition is getting stiffer in Brazil, another booming former colony, and as Portugal’s traditional European trading partners, led by Spain, struggle under a mountain of debt and soaring joblessness.Angola has already become Portugal’s largest export market outside of Europe, accounting for 7 percent of Portuguese exports last year, compared with 1 percent in 2000, according to the Portuguese statistics institute and Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency. Machinery and industrial equipment lead the list, along with food, beverages and metals.

Perhaps even more spectacular than the trade flow has been the arrival of a new generation of Portuguese working in Angola, a trend that is expected to gather pace as more Portuguese companies shift operations there and Angola moves ahead with investment-friendly plans like the opening of a local stock exchange. Last year, 23,787 Portuguese moved to Angola, compared with only 156 in 2006, the Portuguese immigration observatory said.

Underlining Angola’s growing importance, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the Portuguese president, is expected to make his first trip to Luanda on Sunday with a delegation of about 80 Portuguese executives for a weeklong visit.

The Portugal isn’t alone with it comes to Angola.

China has recently been at the forefront of Angola’s economic re-emergence, trying to secure access to its natural resources in return for help building roads and other infrastructure ruined during three decades of war.  Although Portuguese companies do not have the financial clout to compete with the Chinese and other larger investors, a common language, coupled with cultural links, may give the Portuguese an advantage.

Still, Mr. Cunha Vaz, the public relations consultant, emphasizes the need to tread carefully when rekindling Portugal’s historical relationship with his native country.

“Clearly, we share the same language and have much more in common with Angolans than the Chinese and others, but Portuguese investors also need to make huge efforts not to be seen as pushing for a return to colonial times,” he said. “Little can be achieved in Angola without full help and cooperation from local partners.”

Economic ties between both Angola and Portugal are going to continue to grow ever closer.

For the last year, Ricardo Gorjão, a project manager for CPI, a Portuguese company that produces software for banking and other services industries, has spent two-thirds of his time in Angola, where banks are building a countrywide network almost from scratch, after initially restricting operations to Luanda. “We’re going through a huge recession in Portugal, while here, the banking sector is having an amazing development, so it has made a lot of sense to be shifting our business toward Angola,” he said by phone from Luanda.

Although life in Angola’s capital can be “tough, dangerous and expensive” compared with Lisbon, “When you see the unemployment that there is in Portugal, I think more people are certainly going to be ready to move here for a good job.”

Portugal’s gloomy economic outlook was underlined on Tuesday when Moody’s downgraded its government debt rating by two notches, to A1, from Aa2. Moody’s justified its decision, which follows recent downgrades from other credit rating agencies, on poor growth prospects and on a prediction that “the Portuguese government’s financial strength will continue to weaken over the medium term.”

The outlook for Angola, on the other hand, is strong. The World Bank recently raised its 2010 growth forecast for Angola to 8.5 percent, from 7.5 percent.

Still, analysts highlight Angola’s corruption, coupled with excessive bureaucratic procedures, as serious hurdles for foreign investors. The country ranked 162 out of 180 nations in last year’s corruption perceptions index compiled by Transparency International, a global organization that measures corruption.

Given its booming economy and windfall oil profits, Angola has also become a leading foreign investor in Portugal, spearheaded by family members and advisers to José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s president since 1979. They have snapped up assets as varied as olive groves and vineyards in northern Portugal and stakes in leading companies.

Santoro, a financial holding company controlled by Isabel dos Santos, the president’s daughter, has a 9.7 percent stake in BPI. Sonangol, the state oil company, has invested in another major Portuguese bank, Millennium Bcp, and acquired an indirect stake in Galp, the Portuguese energy company.

But aside from the ambitions of Angola’s ruling elite, another reason to expect business ties to expand is that Angolans are leading a growing contingent of African students attending universities in Portugal.

Portuguese professionals are fleeing to Angola for better pay and job prospects.

“Salaries are really much higher than they are in Portugal,” said Goncalo Nobre da Veiga, a Portuguese architect who has worked in Angola for the past four years.

“In Portugal, like in much of Europe, it’s becoming hard to find work. Here there are lots of opportunites and you can climb up the career ladder much quicker, because there’s a lack of qualified people,” he said in a telephone interview from the Angolan capital, Luanda.

Angola’s economy grew at an average of over 16 percent over the five years up to 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund. Over the same period, Portugal’s growth rate was 1.1 percent.

Unable to find employment at home, young Portuguese professionals and skilled workers increasingly looked abroad for jobs. At the same time, Portuguese-speaking Angola was in dire need of qualified people to fill posts in civil engineering, telecommunications, retailing, banking and other sectors taking off in the post-war reconstruction boom.

“Angola really lacks skilled professionals,” explained Ricardo Bordalo, Luanda correspondent of the Portuguese news agency Lusa. “During all those years of war, the priority of the Angolan government was not in training managers and professionals, it was buying Kalashnikovs.”

According to official estimates, there are about 100,000 Portuguese now living in Angola, a country of about 18 million. The real figure could be much higher, taking into account those who have acquired dual-nationality — a possibility for many thousands born in the African country before independence.

“There’s an emotional link between Angola and Portugal that runs deep,” he said. “I came here for the first time in 2003, but I’ve lived with an image of Angola in my head, pretty much since I was a kid, because my grandfather came here in the 1940s, died and is buried here. For millions of Portuguese there’s a link to Angola.”

While European settlers in many African colonies were mostly limited to wealthy landowners or imperial administrators, tens of thousands of Portuguese moved to Angola during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in an effort to escape from the poverty that grew in Portugal under the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

During that period, wars against independence movements in Angola and the other colonies of Mozambique and Guinea Bissau led to the deaths of 8,290 Portuguese soldiers. An estimated 50,000 Angolans were killed.

Back in Lisbon, on April 25, 1974 Portuguese army officers dissatisfied with the war overthrew Salazar’s successor in a bloodless revolution that ushered in democratic rule. The new rulers moved quickly to end the fighting and granted independence to Angola and the other colonies. Amid chaotic scenes up to a million Portuguese fled the “overseas provinces.”

In a nation of 10 million, few Portugueses families were left untouched. Almost all had a relative among the refugees or an acquaintance among the dead and wounded. In this little town in the center of the country the main street is still named for the “heros of the overseas war” in honor of the 37 local boys who never made it home.

Despite the two countries’ sometimes traumatic history, Portugal and Angola retained close cultural links. Blame for colonial abuses is laid firmly on the Salazar regime rather than modern, democratic Portugal. Although some refugees from Africa remain resentful over their sudden exodus, many on the political left in Portugal link the African independence struggle to their own resistance to the dictatorship.

Web chatter shows that not all Angolans are happy to have so many Portuguese back among them, just as some Portuguese complain about the 27,000 Angolans living officially in Portugal. However, the newcomers in Luanda seem to feel little real animosity.

“In general, Angolans don’t feel any ill-feeling toward the Portuguese, perhaps some in the older generations still hold some bitterness, but not among the young,” said Angolan sociologist Paulo de Carvalho.

Rector of the university in Benguela, Angola’s second city, de Carvalho says linguistic, historical and cultural ties enable the Portuguese to integrate into Angolan society more easily than other immigrants, such as the around 30,000 Chinese who are estimated to have moved there since the end of the war.

“It’s different now, these Portuguese who come here now, they don’t try to act superior like in colonial times,” de Carvalho said. “If they did they wouldn’t get very far.”

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Yes she can? Niger’s Presidential Race Will Include First Female Candidate

Change seems to be coming to Niger. Niger to have first female presidential candidate.

In Niger, a woman will run for president for the first time in elections due in January.

Niger’s former minister of culture, Mariama Bayard, announced this week she is a candidate in January’s presidential poll.

Bayard will be the first woman to run for president in the West African country.

The elections are meant to return the government to civilian rule after a military coup in February.

Bayard says it does not matter if you are a man or a woman, young or old.  When a country arrives at such a historic turning point, you cannot resist your destiny.

Bayard has been an active civil society leader for the past two decades in Niger.  She is known as a fervent advocate for women’s rights and democracy.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, and food shortages sweeping the Sahel region this year threaten half of the country’s 14 million people.

Bayard says today no one can be indifferent to the fate of this country with all its economic difficulties.  She says this is at the heart of her decision to enter the presidential race.  She says she will be the voice for the most humble of this country, with whom she has worked for many years.

Bayard is one of the first Niger presidential hopefuls to announce her candidacy.

The presidential election is set for January 3, with a run-off planned for January 14, if necessary.  Local and legislative elections are also planned for that time.

The army took power in a February coup against President Mamadou Tandja, and soldiers promised elections within the year.  The ousted president had grown increasingly unpopular since expanding his power and giving himself another three years in office through a controversial referendum in August 2009.

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African countries pledge more troops for Somalia

African leaders at a African Union meeting in Uganda pledged to increase the number of troops to fight the insurgency in Somali.

KAMPALA, Uganda — African leaders are pledging thousands of new troops for Somalia to fight al-Qaida-linked militants responsible for the twin World Cup bombings that killed 76 people, and the U.S. says it will help bankroll the military campaign.

But internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show that that African Union forces and Somali troops don’t trust one another, and that Somalia’s government “lacks consistency, coherence and coordination,” raising questions about whether more AU troops can solve the Somali impasse.

African leaders and U.S. officials called for stepped-up efforts in Somalia as an African Union summit here concluded Tuesday. The summit opened only days after the July 11 bombings in Kampala, an attack that prompted Uganda’s president to call for Africa to band together against Somalia’s militants.

Al-Shabab, Somalia’s most-feared militant group, claimed responsibility for bombing two sites where people were watching the World Cup final game on television, and said the blasts were in retaliation for civilian deaths caused by African Union troops in Mogadishu. They also have vowed to attack Burundi, the other African country that has been providing troops to the AU.

At the summit, Africa’s leaders voted to immediately dispatch 2,000 more Ugandan and Burundian troops to the African Union mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, boosting levels from 6,000 to the maximum mandate of 8,000.

The AU has commitments of 4,000 troops — 2,000 from IGAD, a bloc of East African nations, and one battalion each from both Guinea and Djibouti, AU commission chairman Jean Ping said at the summit’s closing news conference. The AU is considering a request to raise the ceiling number for the total number of troops, he said, without giving a figure for the rise.

America’s top official for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson, said that with a stronger AU force the African Union force could defeat al-Shabab, which intelligence officials say has been bolstered by foreign fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We believe that it is necessary to have more troops on the ground and we in Washington have committed ourselves to support additional troops on the ground in the same fashion that we have supported the existing Burundi and Ugandan troops,” Carson said Monday.

Since 2007, the U.S. has given training, logistical support and equipment worth more than $176 million to AMISOM, and Carson has promised additional resources to Burundian and Ugandan troops without giving a precise figure.

Although the leaders agreed on what to do about the situation in Somali, there is little trust amongst the parties involved.

But an internal report written last month by military experts from IGAD, the bloc of East African nations, cast doubt on the efforts being made by AMISOM troops. The report said there is a lack of trust between AU and Somali forces, and that the effectiveness of AMISOM troops is hindered by the Somali government’s many weaknesses.

“The team found out that there is a misunderstanding and lack of trust between AMISOM and (Somali) security forces and this has caused poor coordination of tasks amongst them,” said the report, which was obtained by the AP. The report also said the Somali government’s approach to its duties “portrays a government with no clear vision.”

Despite that, African Union leaders said they are considering a plan to give the force a stronger mandate and had requested helicopters from Western donors to allow the AU troops to take offensive action against the al-Qaida-aligned insurgents. Currently the peacekeeping forces can only respond to attacks or when they see militants.

That, though, could sour relations with Somalis even more. Internal documents obtained by the AP earlier this month showed that the AU knows the civilian casualties its troops cause in battle are turning Somalis against it.

The article goes onto say the increased US leadership and presence is necessary to stop the region from more destabilization from members of congress.

The U.S. call for more troops comes as members of Congress are taking an increasing interest in the violent Horn of Africa nation, the site of a failed early 1990s U.S. deployment that ended shortly after the military battle chronicled in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, 13 House Democrats compared the situation with al-Shabab in Somalia to the Taliban’s in Afghanistan when it allowed sanctuary for al-Qaida to plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“Al-Shabab-controlled territory in Somalia is becoming a safe haven for terrorists from around the world,” the 13 members said. “The United States must not sit back. … Extremists in Somalia have already made clear their intentions to harm us, and if they have not done so already, they will soon seek capabilities to carry out attacks in the United States.”

The letter said the U.S. should offer regional states “extensive financial, material and logistical support” to improve security.

Some analysts, though, said that simply sending in more troops was unlikely to solve the problem.

“The current situation in Somalia just does not call for a large peacekeeping operation,” said David Shinn, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia. “AU troops cannot police all of Somalia.”

Shinn, a professor at George Washington University and one of the coordinators of U.S. policy in Somalia in the early 1990s, said that the failure of U.S. and U.N. involvement in the country showed large-scale foreign intervention would not work. “That was not the solution then and it will not be now,” Shinn said.

Somalia’s weak transitional government welcomed the commitment of more troops but said that long-term peace in Somalia depends on building up the government’s security forces.

“We really believe strongly that if the Somali government army were given the support they need then AMISOM would only be a kind of supporting force,” Somali Foreign Minister Yusuf Hassan Ibrahim said.

The internal IGAD report, though, showed how far Somalia’s forces have to go. The Somali troops do not have a physical headquarters. Equipment and weapons held by Somali forces, including ammunition, are not accounted for.

Somali “forces are not assigned barracks or camps and are staying wherever they can get accommodation,” said the report, adding that there is “no formal and effective system of receiving and accounting for returning trainees from neighboring countries.”

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