Somali sea gangs lure investors at pirate lair
BY Mohamed Ahmed / Dec 1, 2009

In Somalia’s main pirate lair of Haradheere, the sea gangs have set up a cooperative to fund their hijackings offshore, a sort of stock exchange meets criminal syndicate. Heavily armed pirates from the lawless Horn of Africa nation have terrorized shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and strategic Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia through the Red Sea. The gangs have made tens of millions of dollars from ransoms and a deployment by foreign navies in the area has only appeared to drive the attackers to hunt further from shore. It is a lucrative business that has drawn financiers from the Somali diaspora and other nations — and now the gangs in Haradheere have set up an exchange to manage their investments.

One wealthy former pirate named Mohammed took Reuters around the small facility and said it had proved to be an important way for the pirates to win support from the local community for their operations, despite the dangers involved. “Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 ‘maritime companies’ and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking,” Mohammed said. “The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials … we’ve made piracy a community activity.”

Haradheere, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Mogadishu, used to be a small fishing village. Now it is a bustling town where luxury 4×4 cars owned by the pirates and those who bankroll them create honking traffic jams along its pot-holed, dusty streets. Somalia’s Western-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is pinned down battling hard-line Islamist rebels, and controls little more than a few streets of the capital. The administration has no influence in Haradheere — where a senior local official said piracy paid for almost everything. “Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output,” said Mohamed Adam, the town’s deputy security officer. “The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools.”

In a drought-ravaged country that provides almost no employment opportunities for fit young men, many are been drawn to the allure of the riches they see being earned at sea. Abdirahman Ali was a secondary school student in Mogadishu until three months ago when his family fled the fighting there. Given the choice of moving with his parents to Lego, their ancestral home in Middle Shabelle where strict Islamist rebels have banned most entertainment including watching sport, or joining the pirates, he opted to head for Haradheere. Now he guards a Thai fishing boat held just offshore. “First I decided to leave the country and migrate, but then I remembered my late colleagues who died at sea while trying to migrate to Italy,” he told Reuters. “So I chose this option, instead of dying in the desert or from mortars in Mogadishu.”

Haradheere’s “stock exchange” is open 24 hours a day and serves as a bustling focal point for the town. As well as investors, sobbing wives and mothers often turn up there seeking news of male relatives missing in action. Every week, Mohammed said, gang members and equipment were lost to the sea. But he said the pirates were not deterred. “Ransoms have even increased in recent months from between $2-3 million to $4 million because of the increased number of shareholders and the risks,” he said. “Let the anti-piracy navies continue their search for us. We have no worries because our motto for the job is ‘do or die’.” Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel. “I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation,” she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony. “I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the ‘company’.”


A basic piracy operation requires a minimum eight to twelve militia prepared to stay at sea for extended periods of time, in the hopes of hijacking a passing vessel. Each team requires a minimum of two attack skiffs, weapons, equipment, provisions, fuel and preferably a supply boat. The costs of the operation are usually borne by investors, some of whom may also be pirates.

To be eligible for employment as a pirate, a volunteer should already possess a firearm for use in the operation. For this ‘contribution’, he receives a ‘class A’ share of any profit. Pirates who provide a skiff or a heavier firearm, like an RPG or a general purpose machine gun, may be entitled to an additional A-share. The first pirate to board a vessel may also be entitled to an extra A-share.

At least 12 other volunteers are recruited as militiamen to provide protection on land of a ship is hijacked, In addition, each member of the pirate team may bring a partner or relative to be part of this land-based force. Militiamen must possess their own weapon, and receive a ‘class B’ share — usually a fixed amount equivalent to approximately US$15,000.

If a ship is successfully hijacked and brought to anchor, the pirates and the militiamen require food, drink, qaad, fresh clothes, cell phones, air time, etc. The captured crew must also be cared for. In most cases, these services are provided by one or more suppliers, who advance the costs in anticipation of reimbursement, with a significant margin of profit, when ransom is eventually paid.

When ransom is received, fixed costs are the first to be paid out. These are typically:
• Reimbursement of supplier(s)
• Financier(s) and/or investor(s): 30% of the ransom
• Local elders: 5 to 10 %of the ransom (anchoring rights)
• Class B shares (approx. $15,000 each): militiamen, interpreters etc.

The remaining sum — the profit — is divided between class-A shareholders.


BY Ryan Hagen / April 20, 2009

The crew of the Maersk Alabama, having survived an attack by pirates in Somalia last week, has returned home for a much-deserved rest. But with tensions ratcheting up between the U.S. and the rag-tag confederation of Somali pirates, it’s worth looking to the past for clues on how to tame the outlaw seas. Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason University (and an occasional Freakonomics guest blogger), offers a brisk and fascinating look at old-school piracy in his new book The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. Leeson agreed to sit down and answer some important piratical questions for us:

Q: The Invisible Hook is more than just a clever title. How is it different from Adam Smith’s invisible hand?
A: In Adam Smith, the idea is that each individual pursuing his own self-interest is led, as if by an invisible hand, to promote the interest of society. The idea of the invisible hook is that pirates, though they’re criminals, are still driven by their self-interest. So they were driven to build systems of government and social structures that allowed them to better pursue their criminal ends. They’re connected, but the big difference is that, for Adam Smith, self-interest results in cooperation that generates wealth and makes other people better off. For pirates, self-interest results in cooperation that destroys wealth by allowing pirates to plunder more effectively.

Q: In the book, you write that pirates had set up their own early versions of constitutional democracy, complete with separation of powers, decades before the American Revolution. Was that only possible because they were outlaws, operating entirely outside the control of any government?
A: That’s right. The pirates of the 18th century set up quite a thoroughgoing system of democracy. The reason that the criminality is driving these structures is because they can’t rely on the state to provide those structures for them. So pirates, more than anyone else, needed to figure out some system of law and order to make it possible for them to remain together long enough to be successful at stealing.

Q: So did these participatory, democratic systems give merchant sailors an incentive to join pirate crews, because it meant they were freer among pirates than on their own ships?
A: The sailors had more freedom and better pay as pirates than as merchantmen. But perhaps the most important thing was freedom from the arbitrariness of captains and the malicious abuses of power that merchant captains were known to inflict on their crews. In a pirate democracy, a crew could, and routinely did, depose their captain if he was abusing his power or was incompetent.

Q: You write that pirates weren’t necessarily the bloodthirsty fiends we imagine them to have been. How does the invisible hook explain their behavior?
A: The basic idea is, once we recognize pirates as economic actors, businessmen really, it becomes clear as to why they wouldn’t want to brutalize everyone they overtook. In order to encourage merchantmen to surrender, they needed to communicate the idea that, if you surrender to us, you’ll be treated well. That’s the incentive pirates give for sailors to surrender peacefully. If they wantonly abused their prisoners, as they’re often portrayed as having done, that would have actually undermined the incentive of merchant crews to surrender, which would have caused pirates to incur greater costs. They would have had to battle it out more often, because the merchants would have expected to be tortured indiscriminately if they were captured.

So instead, what we often see in the historical record is pirates displaying quite remarkable feats of generosity. The other side of that, of course, is that if you resisted, they had to unleash, you know, a hellish fury on you. That’s where most of the stories of pirate atrocities come from. That’s not to say that no pirate ever indulged his sadistic impulses. But I speculate that the pirate population had no higher proportion of sadists than legitimate society did. And those sadists among the pirates tended to reserve their sadistic actions for times when it would profit them.

Q: So they never made anyone walk the plank?
A: There was no walking the plank. There’s no historical foundation for that in 17th- or 18th-century piracy.

Q: You write about piracy as a brand. It’s quite a successful one, having lasted for hundreds of years after the pirates themselves were exterminated. What was the key to that success?
A: There was a very particular type of reputation that pirates wanted to cultivate. It was a very delicate line to walk. They didn’t want to have a reputation for wanton brutality or complete madness. They wanted to be perceived as hair-trigger men, men on the edge, who if you pushed, if you resisted, they would snap and do something horrible to you. That way, the captives they took had an incentive to be very careful to comply with all of the pirates’ demands. At the same time, they wanted a reputation as being very brutal, as meting out these brutal, horrible tortures to captives who didn’t comply with their demands. Stories about those horrible tortures were relayed not only by word of mouth, but by early 18th-century newspapers. When a former prisoner was released, he would oftentimes go to the media and provide an account of his capture. So when colonials read these accounts in the media, that helped institutionalize the idea of pirates as these men on the edge. That worked marvelously for pirates. It was a form of advertising performed by legitimate members of society that again helped pirates reduce their costs.

Q: What kinds of lessons can we draw from The Invisible Hook in dealing with modern pirates?
A: We have to recognize that pirates are rational economic actors and that piracy is an occupational choice. If we think of them as irrational, or as pursuing other ends, we’re liable to come up with solutions to the pirate problem that are ineffective. Since we know that pirates respond to costs and benefits, we should think of solutions that alter those costs and benefits to shape the incentives for pirates and to deter them from going into a life of piracy.

Peter Leeson
email : pleeson [at] gmu [dot] edu






“We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits
those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and
carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of
us like a coast guard.”

Somalia’s pirates flourish in a lawless nation
BY Jeffrey Gettleman / October 31, 2008

Boosaaso, Somalia: This may be one of the most dangerous towns in
Somalia, a place where you can get kidnapped faster than you can wipe
the sweat off your brow. But it is also one of the most prosperous.
Money changers walk around with thick wads of hundred-dollar bills.
Palatial new houses are rising up next to tin-roofed shanties. Men in
jail reminisce, with a twinkle in their eyes, about their days living
like kings. This is the story of Somalia’s booming, not-so-underground
pirate economy. The country is in chaos, countless children are
starving and people are killing one another in the streets of
Mogadishu, the capital, for a handful of grain. But one particular
line of work – piracy – seems to be benefiting quite openly from all
this lawlessness and desperation. This year, Somali officials say,
pirate profits are on track to reach a record $50 million, all of it
tax free.

“These guys are making a killing,” said Mohamud Muse Hirsi, the top
Somali official in Boosaaso, who himself is widely suspected of
working with the pirates, though he vigorously denies it. More than 75
vessels have been attacked this year, far more than any other year in
recent memory. About a dozen have been set upon in the past month
alone, including a Ukrainian freighter packed with tanks, antiaircraft
guns and other heavy weaponry, which was brazenly seized in September.
The pirates use fast-moving skiffs to pull alongside their prey and
scamper on board with ladders or sometimes even rusty grappling hooks.
Once on deck, they hold the crew at gunpoint until a ransom is paid,
usually $1 million to $2 million. Negotiations for the Ukrainian
freighter are still going on, and it is likely that because of all the
publicity, the price for the ship could top $5 million. In Somalia, it
seems, crime does pay. Actually, it is one of the few industries that

“All you need is three guys and a little boat, and the next day you’re
millionaires,” said Abdullahi Omar Qawden, a former captain in
Somalia’s long-defunct navy. People in Garoowe, a town south of
Boosaaso, describe a certain high-rolling pirate swagger. Flush with
cash, the pirates drive the biggest cars, run many of the town’s
businesses – like hotels – and throw the best parties, residents say.
Fatuma Abdul Kadir said she went to a pirate wedding in July that
lasted two days, with nonstop dancing and goat meat, and a band flown
in from neighboring Djibouti. “It was wonderful,” said Fatuma, 21.
“I’m now dating a pirate.”

This is too much for many Somali men to resist, and criminals from all
across this bullet-pocked land are now flocking to Boosaaso and other
notorious pirate dens along the craggy Somali shore. They have turned
these waters into the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world. With
the situation clearly out of control, warships from the United States,
Russia, NATO, the European Union and India are steaming into Somalia’s
waters as part of a reinvigorated, worldwide effort to crush the
pirates. But it will not be easy. The pirates are sea savvy. They are
fearless. They are rich and getting richer, with the latest high-tech
gadgetry like handheld GPS units. And they are united. The immutable
clan lines that have pitted Somalis against one another for decades
are not a problem here. Several captured pirates interviewed in
Boosaaso’s main jail said that they had recently crossed clan lines to
open new, lucrative, multiclan franchises. “We work together,” said
Jama Abdullahi, a jailed pirate. “Good for business, you know?”

The pirates are also sprinkled across thousands of square miles of
water, from the Gulf of Aden, at the narrow doorway to the Red Sea, to
the Kenyan border along the Indian Ocean. Even if the naval ships
manage to catch pirates in the act, it is not clear what they can do.
In September, a Danish warship captured 10 men suspected of being
pirates cruising around the Gulf of Aden with rocket-propelled
grenades and a long ladder. But after holding the suspects for nearly
a week, the Danes concluded that they did not have jurisdiction to
prosecute, so they dumped the pirates on a beach, minus their guns.
Nobody, it seems, has a clear plan for how to tame Somalia’s unruly
seas. Several fishermen along the Gulf of Aden talked about seeing
barrels of toxic waste bobbing in the middle of the ocean. They spoke
of clouds of dead fish floating nearby and rogue fishing trawlers
sucking up not just fish and lobsters but also the coral and the
plants that sustain them. It was abuses like these, several men said,
that turned them from fishermen into pirates. Nor is it even clear
whether Somali authorities universally want the piracy to stop. While
many pirates have been arrested, several fishermen, Western
researchers and more than a half-dozen pirates in jail spoke of
nefarious relationships among fishing companies, private security
contractors and Somali government officials, especially those working
for the semiautonomous regional government of Puntland.

“Believe me, a lot of our money has gone straight into the
government’s pockets,” said Farah Ismail Eid, a pirate who was
captured in nearby Berbera and sentenced to 15 years in jail. His
pirate team, he said, typically divided up the loot this way: 20
percent for their bosses, 20 percent for future missions (to cover
essentials like guns, fuel and cigarettes), 30 percent for the gunmen
on the ship and 30 percent for government officials. Abdi Waheed
Johar, the director general of the fisheries and ports ministry of
Puntland, openly acknowledged in an interview this spring that “there
are government people working with the pirates.” But, he was quick to
add, “It’s just not us.”

What is happening off Somalia’s shores is basically an extension of
the corrupt, violent free-for-all that has raged on land for 17 years
since the central government imploded in 1991. The vast majority of
Somalis lose out. Young thugs who are willing to serve as muscle get a
job, albeit a low-paying one, that significantly reduces their life
expectancy. And a select few warlords, who have sat down and figured
out how to profit off the anarchy, make a fortune. Take Boosaaso, once
a thriving port town on the Gulf of Aden. Piracy is killing off the
remains of the local fishing industry because export companies are
staying away. It has spawned a kidnapping business on shore, which in
turn has scared away many humanitarian agencies and the food, medicine
and other forms of desperately needed assistance they bring. Reporting
in Boosaaso two weeks ago required no fewer than 10 hired gunmen
provided by the Puntland government to discourage any would-be

Few large cargo ships come here anymore, depriving legitimate
government operations of much-needed port taxes. Just about the only
ships willing to risk the voyage are small, wooden, putt-putt
freighters from India, essentially floating jalopies from another era.
“We can’t survive off this,” said Bile Qabowsade, a Puntland official.
The shipping problems have contributed to food shortages, skyrocketing
inflation and less work for the sinewy stevedores who trudge out to
Boosaaso’s beach every morning and stare in vain at the bright
horizon, their bare feet planted in the hot sand, hoping a ship will
materialize so they will be able to make a few pennies hauling 100-
pound sacks of sugar on their backs.

And yet, suspiciously, there has been a lot of new construction in
Boosaaso. There is an emerging section of town called New Boosaaso
with huge homes rising above the bubble-shaped huts of refugees and
the iron-sided shacks that many fishermen call home. These new houses
cost several hundred thousand dollars. Many are painted in garish
colors and protected by high walls. Even so, Boosaaso is still a
crumbling, broke, rough-and-tumble place, decaying after years of
neglect like so much of war-ravaged Somalia. It is also dangerous in
countless ways. On Wednesday, suicide bombers blew up two government
offices, most likely the work of Islamist radicals trying to turn
Somalia into an Islamist state. Of course, no Somali government
official would openly admit that New Boosaaso’s minicastles were built
with pirate proceeds. But many people, including United Nations
officials and Western diplomats, suspect that is the case.

Several jailed pirates have accused Muse, a former warlord who is now
Puntland’s president, of being paid off. Officials in neighboring
Somaliland, a breakaway region of northwestern Somalia, said they
recently organized an antipiracy sting operation and arrested Muse’s
nephew, who was carrying $22,000 in cash. “Top Puntland officials
benefit from piracy, even if they might not be instigating it,” said
Roger Middleton, a researcher at the Royal Institute of International
Affairs in London. Actually, he added, “all significant political
actors in Somalia are likely benefiting from piracy.” But Muse said he
did not know anything about this. “We are the leaders of this
country,” he said. “Everybody we suspect, we fire from work.”

He said that Puntland was taking aggressive action against the
pirates. And Boosaaso’s main jail may be proof of that. The other day,
a dozen pirates were hanging out in the yard under a basketball hoop.
And that was just the beginning. “Pirates, pirates, pirates,” said
Gure Ahmed, a Canadian-Somali inmate of the jail, charged with murder.
“This jail is full of pirates. This whole city is pirates.” In other
well-known pirate dens, like Garoowe, Eyl, Hobyo and Xarardheere,
pirates have become local celebrities. Said Farah, 32, a shopkeeper in
Garoowe, said the pirates seemed to have money to burn. “If they see a
good car that a guy is driving,” he said, “they say, ‘How much? If
it’s 30 grand, take 40 and give me the key.’ ”

Every time a seized ship tosses its anchor, it means a pirate shopping
spree. Sheep, goats, water, fuel, rice, spaghetti, milk and cigarettes
– the pirates buy all of this, in large quantities, from small towns
up and down the Somali coast. Somalia’s seafaring thieves are not like
the Barbary pirates, who terrorized European coastal towns hundreds of
years ago and often turned their hostages into galley slaves chained
to the oars. Somali pirates are known as relatively decent hosts,
usually not beating their hostages and keeping them well-fed until
payday comes. “They are normal people,” said Said. “Just very, very

Somali Pirates Tell Their Side: They Want Only Money
BY Jeffrey Gettleman / October 1, 2008

Nairobi, Kenya — The Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter
loaded with tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition said in
an interview on Tuesday that they had no idea the ship was carrying
arms when they seized it on the high seas. “We just saw a big ship,”
the pirates’ spokesman, Sugule Ali, said in a telephone interview. “So
we stopped it.” The pirates quickly learned, though, that their booty
was an estimated $30 million worth of heavy weaponry, heading for
Kenya or Sudan, depending on whom you ask.

In a 45-minute interview, Mr. Sugule spoke on everything from what the
pirates wanted (“just money”) to why they were doing this (“to stop
illegal fishing and dumping in our waters”) to what they had to eat on
board (rice, meat, bread, spaghetti, “you know, normal human-being
food”). He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had
been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he
said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas
and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are
simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

The pirates who answered the phone call on Tuesday morning said they
were speaking by satellite phone from the bridge of the Faina, the
Ukrainian cargo ship that was hijacked about 200 miles off the coast
of Somalia on Thursday. Several pirates talked but said that only Mr.
Sugule was authorized to be quoted. Mr. Sugule acknowledged that they
were now surrounded by American warships, but he did not sound afraid.
“You only die once,” Mr. Sugule said.

He said that all was peaceful on the ship, despite unconfirmed reports
from maritime organizations in Kenya that three pirates were killed in
a shootout among themselves on Sunday or Monday night. He insisted
that the pirates were not interested in the weapons and had no plans
to sell them to Islamist insurgents battling Somalia’s weak
transitional government. “Somalia has suffered from many years of
destruction because of all these weapons,” he said. “We don’t want
that suffering and chaos to continue. We are not going to offload the
weapons. We just want the money.” He said the pirates were asking for
$20 million in cash; “we don’t use any other system than cash.” But he
added that they were willing to bargain. “That’s deal-making,” he

Piracy in Somalia is a highly organized, lucrative, ransom-driven
business. Just this year, pirates hijacked more than 25 ships, and in
many cases, they were paid million-dollar ransoms to release them. The
juicy payoffs have attracted gunmen from across Somalia, and the
pirates are thought to number in the thousands. The piracy industry
started about 10 to 15 years ago, Somali officials said, as a response
to illegal fishing. Somalia’s central government imploded in 1991,
casting the country into chaos. With no patrols along the shoreline,
Somalia’s tuna-rich waters were soon plundered by commercial fishing
fleets from around the world. Somali fishermen armed themselves and
turned into vigilantes by confronting illegal fishing boats and
demanding that they pay a tax. “From there, they got greedy,” said
Mohamed Osman Aden, a Somali diplomat in Kenya. “They starting
attacking everyone.”

By the early 2000s, many of the fishermen had traded in their nets for
machine guns and were hijacking any vessel they could catch: sailboat,
oil tanker, United Nations-chartered food ship. “It’s true that the
pirates started to defend the fishing business,” Mr. Mohamed said.
“And illegal fishing is a real problem for us. But this does not
justify these boys to now act like guardians. They are criminals. The
world must help us crack down on them.” The United States and several
European countries, in particular France, have been talking about ways
to patrol the waters together. The United Nations is even considering
something like a maritime peacekeeping force. Because of all the
hijackings, the waters off Somalia’s coast are considered the most
dangerous shipping lanes in the world.

On Tuesday, several American warships — around five, according to one
Western diplomat — had the hijacked freighter cornered along the
craggy Somali coastline. The American ships allowed the pirates to
bring food and water on board, but not to take weapons off. A Russian
frigate is also on its way to the area. Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Navy
spokesman, said on Tuesday that he had heard the unconfirmed reports
about the pirate-on-pirate shootout, but that the Navy had no more
information. “To be honest, we’re not seeing a whole lot of activity”
on the ship, he said.

In Washington, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, declined
to discuss any possible American military operations to capture the
ship. “Our concern is right now making sure that there’s a peaceful
resolution to this, that this cargo does not end up in the hands of
anyone who would use it in a way that would be destabilizing to the
region,” Mr. Morrell told reporters at the Pentagon. He said the
United States government was not involved in any negotiations with the
pirates. He also said he had no information about reports that the
pirates had exchanged gunfire among themselves.

Kenyan officials continued to maintain that the weapons aboard were
part of a legitimate arms deal for the Kenyan military, even though
several Western diplomats, Somali officials and the pirates themselves
said the arms were part of a secret deal to funnel weapons to southern
Sudan. Somali officials are urging the Western navies to storm the
ship and arrest the pirates because they say that paying ransoms only
fuels the problem. Western diplomats, however, have said that such a
commando operation would be very difficult because the ship is full of
explosives and the pirates could use the 20 crew members as human

Mr. Sugule said his men were treating the crew members well. (The
pirates would not let the crew members speak on the phone, saying it
was against their rules.) “Killing is not in our plans,” he said. “We
only want money so we can protect ourselves from hunger.” When asked
why the pirates needed $20 million to protect themselves from hunger,
Mr. Sugule laughed and said, “Because we have a lot of men.”

“The pirates adopt names like the National Volunteer Coast Guard,
which is used by a group that intercepts small boats and fishing
vessels in southern Somalia. Another of the four main piracy groups
along the coast calls itself the Somali Marines. Organized like a
military unit, with admirals, vice admirals and the like, the group
operates around Mogadishu.”

Q. & A. With a Pirate: “We Just Want the Money”
BY Jeffrey Gettleman / September 30, 2008

Somali pirates in small boats hijacked the Faina, a Belize-flagged
cargo ship owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine, on Sept.
25. Sugule Ali, the spokesman for the Somali pirates holding hostage
the Faina, a Ukrainian freighter loaded with weapons, spoke to me by
satellite telephone today from the bridge of the seized ship. In the
holds of the Faina, which the pirates seized on Thursday, are 33
Russian-built battle tanks and crates of grenade launchers, anti-
aircraft guns, ammunition and other explosives. American officials
fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of radical Islamist
insurgents who are battling Somalia’s weak government. My questions
were translated into Somali, and Mr. Ali’s responses into English, by
a translator employed by The New York Times.

Q. Tell us how you discovered the weapons on board.
A. As soon as we get on a ship, we normally do what is called a
control. We search everything. That’s how we found the weapons. Tanks,
anti-aircraft, artillery. That’s all we will say right now.

Q. Were you surprised?
A. No, we weren’t surprised. We know everything goes through the sea.
We see people who dump waste in our waters. We see people who
illegally fish in our waters. We see people doing all sorts of things
in our waters.

Q. Are you going to sell the weapons to insurgents?
A. No. We don’t want these weapons to go to anyone in Somalia. Somalia
has suffered from many years of destruction because of all these
weapons. We don’t want that suffering and chaos to continue. We are
not going to offload the weapons. We just want the money.

Q. How much?
A. $20 million, in cash. We don’t use any other system than cash.

Q. Will you negotiate?
A. That’s deal making. Common sense says human beings can make deals.

Q. Right now, the American Navy has you surrounded. Are you scared?
A. No, we’re not scared. We are prepared. We are not afraid because we
know you only die once.

Q. Will you kill the hostages if attacked?
A. Killing is not in our plans. We don’t want to do anything more than
the hijacking.

Q. What will you do with the money?
A. We will protect ourselves from hunger.

Q. That’s a lot of money to protect yourselves from hunger.
A. Yes, because we have a lot of men and it will be divided amongst
all of us.

Q. [There are 20 crew members, most of them Ukrainian, being held
hostage.] How are you interacting with the hostages? Eating with them?
Playing cards?
A. We interact with each other in an honorable manner. We are all
human beings. We talk to one another, and because we are in the same
place, we eat together.

Q. What if you were told you could leave peacefully, without arrest,
though without any ransom money. Would you do it?
A. [With a laugh] We’re not afraid of arrest or death or any of these
things. For us, hunger is our enemy.

Q. Have the pirates been misunderstood?
A. We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits [”sea bandit” is one way
Somalis translate the English word pirate]. We consider sea bandits
those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and
carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of
us like a coast guard.

Q. Why did you want to become a pirate?
A. We are patrolling our seas. This is a normal thing for people to do
in their regions.

Q. Isn’t what you are doing a crime? Holding people at gunpoint?
A. If you hold hostage innocent people, that’s a crime. If you hold
hostage people who are doing illegal activities, like waste dumping or
fishing, that is not a crime.

Q. What has this Ukrainian ship done that was a crime?
A. To go through our waters carrying all these weapons without

Q. What is the name of your group? How many ships have you hijacked
A. I won’t say how many ships we have hijacked. I won’t talk about
that. Our name is the Central Region Coast Guard.

“Our crew, who had been well trained and prepared, used water cannon, self-made incendiary bombs [Molotov cocktails or petrol bombs], beer bottles and anything else that could be used to battle with them. Thirty minutes later, the pirates gestured to us for a ceasefire. Then the helicopter from the joint fleet came to help us.”

Somali pirates in stare-down with global powers
BY Elizabeth A. Kennedy / Oct 15, 2008

Nairobi, Kenya — With a Russian frigate closing in and a half-dozen
U.S. warships within shouting distance, the pirates holding a tanker
off Somalia’s coast might appear to have no other choice than to wave
the white flag. But that’s not how it works in Somalia, a failed state
where a quarter of children die before they turn 5, where anybody with
a gun controls the streets and where every public institution has
crumbled. The 11-day standoff aboard the Ukrainian MV Faina begs the
question: How can a bunch of criminals from one of the poorest and
most wretched countries on Earth face off with some of the world’s
richest and well-armed superpowers?

“They have enough guns to fight for another 20 years,” Ted Dagne, a
Somalia analyst in Washington, told The Associated Press. “And there
is no way to win a battle when the other side is in a suicidal mind
set.” In Somalia, pirates are better-funded, better-organized and
better-armed than one might imagine in a country that has been in
tatters for nearly two decades. They have the support of their
communities and rogue members of the government — some pirates even
promise to put ransom money toward building roads and schools. With
most attacks ending with million-dollar payouts, piracy is considered
the biggest economy in Somalia. Pirates rarely hurt their hostages,
instead holding out for a huge payday. The strategy works well: A
report Thursday by a London-based think tank said pirates have raked
in up to $30 million in ransoms this year alone. “If we are attacked
we will defend ourselves until every last one of us dies,” Sugule Ali,
a spokesman for the pirates aboard the Faina, said in an interview
over satellite telephone from the ship, which is carrying 33 battle
tanks, military weapons and 21 Ukrainian and Latvian and Russian
hostages. One Russian has reportedly died, apparently of illness. The
pirates are demanding $20 million ransom, and say they will not lower
the price. “We only need money and if we are paid, then everything
will be OK,” he said. “No one can tell us what to do.”

Ali’s bold words come even though his dozens of fighters are
surrounded by U.S. warships and American helicopters buzz overhead.
Moscow has sent a frigate, which should arrive within days. Jennifer
Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in
Washington said hostage-taking is the key to the pirates’ success
against any military muscle looming from the U.S. and Russia. “Once
you have a crew at gunpoint, you can hold six U.S. naval warships at
bay and they don’t have a whole lot of options except to wait it out,”
Cooke said. The pirates have specifically warned against the type of
raids carried out twice this year by French commandos to recover
hijacked vessels. The French used night vision goggles and helicopters
in operations that killed or captured several pirates, who are now
standing trial in Paris. But the hostages are not the bandits’ only
card to play. Often dressed in military fatigues, pirates travel in
open skiffs with outboard engines, working with larger mother ships
that tow them far out to sea. They use satellite navigational and
communications equipment and an intimate knowledge of local waters,
clambering aboard commercial vessels with ladders and grappling hooks.

They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket
launchers and grenades — weaponry that is readily available throughout
Somalia, where a bustling arms market operates in the center of the
capital. They also have the support of their communities and some
members of local administrations, particularly in Puntland, a
semiautonomous region in northeast Somalia that is a hotbed for
piracy, officials and pirates have told the AP. Abdulqadir Muse Yusuf,
a deputy minister of ports in Puntland, acknowledged there were
widespread signs that Puntland officials, lawmakers and government
officials are “involved or benefiting from piracy” and said
investigations were ongoing. He would not elaborate. Piracy has
transformed the region around the town of Eyl, near where many
hijacked ships are anchored brought while pirates negotiate ransoms.
“Pirates buy new luxury cars and marry two, three, or even four
women,” said Mohamed, an Eyl resident who refused to give his full
name for fear of reprisals from the pirates. “They build new homes —
the demand for construction material is way up.” He said most of the
well-known pirates promise to build roads and schools in addition to
homes for themselves. But for now, Mohamed says he has only seen
inflation skyrocket as the money pours in. “One cup of tea is about
$1,” he said. Before the piracy skyrocketed, tea cost a few cents.

Piracy in Somalia is nothing new, as bandits have stalked the seas for
years. But this year’s surge in attacks — nearly 30 so far — has
prompted an unprecedented international response. The Faina has been
the highest-profile attack because of its dangerous cargo. The U.S.
fears the arms could end up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked militants
in a country seen as a key battleground on terror. The United States
has been leading international patrols to combat piracy along
Somalia’s unruly 1,880-mile coast, the longest in Africa and near key
shipping routes. In June, the U.N. Security Council passed a
resolution that would allow countries to chase and arrest pirates
after attacks increased this year. But still, the attacks continue.
Dagne, an analyst in Washington, said that unless the roots of the
problem are solved — poverty, disease, violence — piracy will only
flourish. “You have a population that is frustrated, alienated, angry
and hopeless,” Dagne said. “This generation of Somalis grew up
surrounded by abject poverty and violence.”

Pirates die strangely after taking Iranian ship
BY Andrew Donaldson / Sep 28, 2008

A tense standoff has developed in waters off Somalia over an Iranian
merchant ship laden with a mysterious cargo that was hijacked by
pirates. Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell
gravely ill “within days” of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of
them died. Andrew Mwangura, the director of the East African
Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told the Sunday Times: “We don’t
know exactly how many, but the information that I am getting is that
some of them had died. There is something very wrong about that ship.”

The vessel’s declared cargo consists of “minerals” and “industrial
products”. But officials involved in negotiations over the ship are
convinced that it was sailing for Eritrea to deliver small arms and
chemical weapons to Somalia’s Islamist rebels. The drama over the Iran
Deyanat comes as speculation grew this week about whether the South
African Navy would send a vessel to join the growing multinational
force in the region. A naval spokesman, Lieutenant-Commander Greyling
van den Berg, told the Sunday Times that the navy had not been ordered
by the government to become involved in “the Somali pirate issue”.

About 22000 ships a year pass through the Suez Canal and the Gulf of
Aden, where regional instability and “no-questions-asked” ransom
payments have led to a dramatic rise in attacks on vessels by heavily
armed Somali raiders in speedboats. The Iran Deyanat was sailing in
those waters on August 21, past the Horn of Africa and about 80
nautical miles southeast of Yemen, when it was boarded by about 40
pirates armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. They were
alleged members of a crime syndicate said to be based at Eyl, a small
fishing village in northern Somalia.

The ship is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran
Shipping Lines, or IRISL, a state-owned company run by the Iranian
military. According to the US Treasury Department, the IRISL regularly
falsifies shipping documents to hide the identity of end users, uses
generic terms to describe shipments and operates under various covers
to circumvent United Nations sanctions. The ship set sail from
Nanjing, China, at the end of July. According to its manifest, it was
heading for Rotterdam where it would unload 42500 tons of iron ore and
“industrial products” purchased by a German client. At Eyl, the ship
was secured by more pirates — about 50 on board, and another 50 on

But within days those who had boarded the ship developed mysterious
health trouble. This was also confirmed by Hassan Allore Osman,
minister of minerals and oil in Puntland, an autonomous region of
Somalia. He headed a delegation sent to Eyl when news of the toxic
cargo and illnesses surfaced. He told one news publication, The Long
War Journal, that during the six days he had negotiated with the
pirates, a number of them had become sick and died. “That ship is
unusual,” he was quoted as saying. “It is not carrying a normal

The pirates did reveal that they had tried to inspect the ship’s cargo
containers when some of them fell sick — but the containers were
locked. Osman’s delegation spoke to the ship’s captain and its
engineer by cellphone, demanding to know more about the cargo.
Initially it was claimed the cargo contained “crude oil”; later it was
said to be “minerals”. And Mwangura has added: “Our sources say it
contains chemicals, dangerous chemicals.” But IRISL has denied that —
and threatened legal action against Mwangura. The company has
reportedly paid the pirates 200000 — the first of several “ransom
instalments”, but that, too, has been denied.

‘Toxic waste’ behind Somali piracy
BY Najad Abdullahi / October 11, 2008 / 12:21 Mecca time

Somali pirates have accused European firms of dumping toxic waste off
the Somali coast and are demanding an $8m ransom for the return of a
Ukranian ship they captured, saying the money will go towards cleaning
up the waste. The ransom demand is a means of “reacting to the toxic
waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country
for nearly 20 years”, Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates,
based in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, said. “The Somali
coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing
compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.”

The pirates are holding the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks
and military hardware, off Somalia’s northern coast. According to the
International Maritime Bureau, 61 attacks by pirates have been
reported since the start of the year. While money is the primary
objective of the hijackings, claims of the continued environmental
destruction off Somalia’s coast have been largely ignored by the
regions’s maritime authorities.

Dumping allegations
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy for Somalia confirmed to Al
Jazeera the world body has “reliable information” that European and
Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off
the Somali coastline. “I must stress however, that no government has
endorsed this act, and that private companies and individuals acting
alone are responsible,” he said. Allegations of the dumping of toxic
waste, as well as illegal fishing, have circulated since the early
1990s. But evidence of such practices literally appeared on the
beaches of northern Somalia when the tsunami of 2004 hit the country.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported the tsunami had
washed up rusting containers of toxic waste on the shores of Puntland.
Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, told Al Jazeera that when the barrels
were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed
a “frightening activity” that has been going on for more than decade.
“Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste
starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war
there,” he said. “European companies found it to be very cheap to get
rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste
disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne. “And the
waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste.
There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is
also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes
– you name it.”

Nuttall also said that since the containers came ashore, hundreds of
residents have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal
bleeding, skin infections and other ailments. “We [the UNEP] had
planned to do a proper, in-depth scientific assessment on the
magnitude of the problem. But because of the high levels of insecurity
onshore and off the Somali coast, we are unable to carry out an
accurate assessment of the extent of the problem,” he said. However,
Ould-Abdallah claims the practice still continues. “What is most
alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive
uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely
destroying the ocean,” he said.

Toxic waste
Ould-Abdallah declined to name which companies are involved in waste
dumping, citing legal reasons. But he did say the practice helps fuel
the 18-year-old civil war in Somalia as companies are paying Somali
government ministers to dump their waste, or to secure licences and
contracts. “There is no government control … and there are few
people with high moral ground … [and] yes, people in high positions
are being paid off, but because of the fragility of the TFG
[Transitional Federal Government], some of these companies now no
longer ask the authorities – they simply dump their waste and leave.”

Ould-Abdallah said there are ethical questions to be considered
because the companies are negotiating contracts with a government that
is largely divided along tribal lines. “How can you negotiate these
dealings with a country at war and with a government struggling to
remain relevant?” In 1992, a contract to secure the dumping of toxic
waste was made by Swiss and Italian shipping firms Achair Partners and
Progresso, with Nur Elmi Osman, a former official appointed to the
government of Ali Mahdi Mohamed, one of many militia leaders involved
in the ousting of Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia’s former president. At
the request of the Swiss and Italian governments, UNEP investigated
the matter. Both firms had denied entering into any agreement with
militia leaders at the beginning of the Somali civil war. Osman also
denied signing any contract.

‘Mafia involvement’
However, Mustafa Tolba, the former UNEP executive director, told Al
Jazeera that he discovered the firms were set up as fictitious
companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste.
“At the time, it felt like we were dealing with the Mafia, or some
sort of organised crime group, possibly working with these industrial
firms,” he said. “It was very shady, and quite underground, and I
would agree with Ould-Abdallah’s claims that it is still going on…
Unfortunately the war has not allowed environmental groups to
investigate this fully.”

The Italian mafia controls an estimated 30 per cent of Italy’s waste
disposal companies, including those that deal with toxic waste. In
1998, Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian weekly magazine, claimed that
although most of the waste-dumping took place after the start of the
civil war in 1991, the activity actually began as early as 1989 under
the Barre government. Beyond the ethical question of trying to secure
a hazardous waste agreement in an unstable country like Somalia, the
alleged attempt by Swiss and Italian firms to dump waste in Somalia
would violate international treaties to which both countries are

Legal ramifications
Switzerland and Italy signed and ratified the Basel Convention on the
Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their
Disposal, which came into force in 1992. EU member states, as well as
168 other countries have also signed the agreement. The convention
prohibits waste trade between countries that have signed the
convention, as well as countries that have not signed the accord
unless a bilateral agreement had been negotiated. It is also prohibits
the shipping of hazardous waste to a war zone. Abdi Ismail Samatar,
professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, told Al Jazeera
that because an international coalition of warships has been deployed
to the Gulf of Aden, the alleged dumping of waste must have been

Environmental damage
“If these acts are continuing, then surely they must have been seen by
someone involved in maritime operations,” he said. “Is the cargo aimed
at a certain destination more important than monitoring illegal
activities in the region? Piracy is not the only problem for Somalia,
and I think it’s irresponsible on the part of the authorities to
overlook this issue.” Mohammed Gure, chairman of the Somalia Concern
Group, said that the social and environmental consequences will be
felt for decades. “The Somali coastline used to sustain hundreds of
thousands of people, as a source of food and livelihoods. Now much of
it is almost destroyed, primarily at the hands of these so-called
ministers that have sold their nation to fill their own pockets.” Ould-
Abdallah said piracy will not prevent waste dumping. “The intentions
of these pirates are not concerned with protecting their environment,”
he said. “What is ultimately needed is a functioning, effective
government that will get its act together and take control of its

‘We consider ourselves heroes’ – a Somali pirate speaks
Asad ‘Booyah’ Abdulahi, 42, describes himself as a pirate boss,
capturing ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Interview by Xan Rice and Abdiqani Hassan / November 22 2008

“I am 42 years old and have nine children. I am a boss with boats
operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. I finished high
school and wanted to go to university but there was no money. So I
became a fisherman in Eyl in Puntland like my father, even though I
still dreamed of working for a company. That never happened as the
Somali government was destroyed [in 1991] and the country became

At sea foreign fishing vessels often confronted us. Some had no
licence, others had permission from the Puntland authorities but did
not want us there to compete. They would destroy our boats and force
us to flee for our lives. I started to hijack these fishing boats in
1998. I did not have any special training but was not afraid. For our
first captured ship we got $300,000. With the money we bought AK-47s
and small speedboats. I don’t know exactly how many ships I have
captured since then but I think it is about 60. Sometimes when we are
going to hijack a ship we face rough winds, and some of us get sick
and some die.

We give priority to ships from Europe because we get bigger ransoms.
To get their attention we shoot near the ship. If it does not stop we
use a rope ladder to get on board. We count the crew and find out
their nationalities. After checking the cargo we ask the captain to
phone the owner and say that have seized the ship and will keep it
until the ransom is paid. We make friends with the hostages, telling
them that we only want money, not to kill them. Sometimes we even eat
rice, fish, pasta with them. When the money is delivered to our ship
we count the dollars and let the hostages go.

Then our friends come to welcome us back in Eyl and we go to Garowe in
Land Cruisers. We split the money. For example, if we get $1.8m, we
would send $380,000 to the investment man who gives us cash to fund
the missions, and then divide the rest between us. Our community
thinks we are pirates getting illegal money. But we consider ourselves
heroes running away from poverty. We don’t see the hijacking as a
criminal act but as a road tax because we have no central government
to control our sea. With foreign warships now on patrol we have
difficulties. But we are getting new boats and weapons. We will not
stop until we have a central government that can control our sea.”

Somali pirates strike again / November 19, 2008 / 09:02 Mecca time

Somali pirates have struck again in the Gulf of Aden, hijacking
another ship a day after seizing a Saudi oil supertanker with a cargo
worth $100m. The Delight, a Hong Kong-registered vessel carrying
33,000 tonnes of wheat, was sailing to Iran with 25 crew members when
it was seized, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said. A spokesman for
the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Gulf confirmed on Tuesday that the
Delight had been hijacked. A Hong Kong government spokesman said
“this could be a serious matter for us. We will deal with it”.

Saudi tanker anchored
News of the latest hijack came as the hijackers of the Saudi Sirius
Star – the biggest vessel ever hijacked – anchored the vessel off
Somalia. The vessel was seized in the Indian ocean off East Africa on
Sunday in the boldest attack by pirates operating from lawless
Somalia. “We can confirm the ship is anchoring off the Somali coast at
Haradheere,” Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the US
Fifth Fleet, said on Tuesday. Haradheere is situated roughly in the
centre of Somalia’s coastline.

The supertanker had been heading for the US via the Cape of Good Hope
at the southern tip of Africa, instead of heading through the Gulf of
Aden and the Suez Canal. The hijacking occurred despite an
international naval response, including from the Nato alliance and
European Union, to protect one of the world’s busiest shipping areas.
US, French and Russian warships are also off the Somali coast. The
pirates have driven up insurance costs, forced some ships to go round
South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal and secured millions of
dollars in ransoms. Last week, the European Union, in its first-ever
naval mission, launched a security operation off the coast of Somalia
to combat growing piracy and protect ships carrying aid agency

Outrageous act
Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called the
hijacking of the Sirius Star an outrageous act and promised to back an
EU-led initiative to step up security in shipping lanes off Africa’s
east coast. “This outrageous act by the pirates, I think, will only
reinforce the resolve of the countries of the Red Sea and
internationally to fight piracy,” he told reporters in Athens. The
vessel owned by Saudi oil giant Aramco was fully loaded when it was
attacked on Sunday more than 450 nautical miles southeast of Mombasa.
The standoff comes as another ship is seized off the coast of Somalia.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a Thai fishing
boat with 16 crew members has been hijacked. Noel Choong, head of the
IMB piracy reporting centre, based in Kuala Lumpur, said the ship was
seized in the Gulf of Aden on Monday. Eight ships have now been
hijacked in the past two weeks.

‘Hitting the jackpot’
Andrew Mwangura, co-ordinator of the East African Seafarers’
Association, said: “The world has never seen anything like this …
The Somali pirates have hit the jackpot.” The association, based in
the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, has been monitoring piracy for years.
Mwangura said he thought a hijacked Nigerian tug was a “mother-ship”
for the November 15 seizure. “The supertanker was fully loaded, so it
was probably low in the water and not that difficult to board,” he
said, adding that the pirates probably used a ladder or hooked a rope
to the side.

Pirates are well organised in the Horn of Africa, where Somalia’s
northeastern tip juts into the Indian Ocean. Somalia has had no
effective government since the 1991 overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre,
the former president, touched off a bloody power struggle that has
defied numerous attempts to restore stability. This year, Somali
pirates have attacked 90 ships, more than double the number in 2007,
according to the International Maritime Bureau, and are still holding
16 ships and more than 250 sailors.

CURRENTLY HELD FOR RANSOM,2933,454124,00.html
Somali Pirates Keep Hundreds of Hostages in Pirate City of Eyl
Heres a list of ten of the biggest vessels still in pirates’ hands.

1. Sirius Star / Hijacked November 17
Cargo: 2 million barrels of oil, value $100 million
Crew: 25 men

2. MV Karagol / Hijacked November 12
Cargo: 4,000 tons of chemicals
Crew: 14 Turks

3. MV Stolt Strength / Hijacked November 10
Cargo: Phosphoric acid
Crew: 23 Filipinos

4. CEC Future / Hijacked November 7
Cargo: Unknown
Crew: 11 Russians, one Georgian, one Lithuanian

5. MV Yasa Neslihan / Hijacked October 29
Cargo: Iron ore
Crew: 20 Turks

6. MT African Sanderling / Hijacked October 15
Cargo: Unknown
Crew: 21 Filipinos

7. MV Faina / Hijacked September 25
Cargo: 33 T-72 Russian battle tanks
Crew: 17 Ukrainians, 2 Latvians, one Russian

8. MV Captain Stefanos / Hijacked September 21
Cargo: Unknown
Crew: 17 Filipinos, two other nationals

9. Centauri / Hijacked September 18
Cargo: 17,000 tons of salt
Crew: 25 Filipinos

10. MV Great Creation / Hijacked September 17
Cargo: Chemical fertilizer
Crew: 24 Chinese, one Sri Lankan

Somali pirates transform villages into boomtowns
BY Mohamed Olad Hassan and Elizabeth Kennedy / 11.19.08

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia’s increasingly brazen pirates are
building sprawling stone houses, cruising in luxury cars, marrying
beautiful women — even hiring caterers to prepare Western-style food
for their hostages. And in an impoverished country where every public
institution has crumbled, they have become heroes in the steamy
coastal dens they operate from because they are the only real business
in town. “The pirates depend on us, and we benefit from them,” said
Sahra Sheik Dahir, a shop owner in Harardhere, the nearest village to
where a hijacked Saudi Arabian supertanker carrying $100 million in
crude was anchored Wednesday.

These boomtowns are all the more shocking in light of Somalia’s
violence and poverty: Radical Islamists control most of the country’s
south, meting out lashings and stonings for accused criminals. There
has been no effective central government in nearly 20 years, plunging
this arid African country into chaos. Life expectancy is just 46
years; a quarter of children die before they reach 5. But in northern
coastal towns like Harardhere, Eyl and Bossaso, the pirate economy is
thriving thanks to the money pouring in from pirate ransoms that have
reached $30 million this year alone. “There are more shops and
business is booming because of the piracy,” said Sugule Dahir, who
runs a clothing shop in Eyl. “Internet cafes and telephone shops have
opened, and people are just happier than before.”

In Harardhere, residents came out in droves to celebrate as the
looming oil ship came into focus this week off the country’s lawless
coast. Businessmen gathered cigarettes, food and cold bottles of
orange soda, setting up kiosks for the pirates who come to shore to
resupply almost daily. Dahir said she even started a layaway plan for
them. “They always take things without paying and we put them into the
book of debts,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone
interview. “Later, when they get the ransom money, they pay us a lot.”
Residents make sure the pirates are well-stocked in khat, a popular
narcotic leaf, and aren’t afraid to gouge a bit when it comes to the
pirates’ deep pockets. “I can buy a packet of cigarettes for about $1
but I will charge the pirate $1.30,” said Abdulqadir Omar, an Eyl
resident. While pirate villages used to have houses made of corrugated
iron sheets, now, there are stately looking homes made of sturdy,
white stones. “Regardless of how the money is coming in, legally or
illegally, I can say it has started a life in our town,” said Shamso
Moalim, a 36-year-old mother of five in Harardhere. “Our children are
not worrying about food now, and they go to Islamic schools in the
morning and play soccer in the afternoon. They are happy.”

The attackers generally treat their hostages well in anticipation of a
big payday, hiring caterers on shore to cook spaghetti, grilled fish
and roasted meat that will appeal to Western palates. And when the
payday comes, the money sometimes literally falls from the sky.
Pirates say the ransom arrives in burlap sacks, sometimes dropped from
buzzing helicopters, or in waterproof suitcases loaded onto skiffs in
the roiling, shark-infested sea. “The oldest man on the ship always
takes the responsibility of collecting the money, because we see it as
very risky, and he gets some extra payment for his service later,”
Aden Yusuf, a pirate in Eyl, told AP over VHF radio.

The pirates use money-counting machines — the same technology seen
at foreign exchange bureaus worldwide — to ensure the cash is real. All
payments are done in cash because Somalia has no functioning banking
system. “Getting this equipment is easy for us, we have business
connections with people in Dubai, Nairobi, Djibouti and other areas,”
Yusuf said. “So we send them money and they send us what we want.”

Despite a beefed-up international presence, the pirates continue to
seize ships, moving further out to sea and demanding ever-larger
ransoms. The pirates operate mostly from the semiautonomous Puntland
region, where local lawmakers have been accused of helping them and
taking a cut of the ransoms. For the most part, however, the regional
officials say they have no power to stop piracy. Meanwhile, towns that
once were eroded by years of poverty and chaos are now bustling with
restaurants, Land Cruisers and Internet cafes. Residents also use
their gains to buy generators — allowing full days of electricity,
once an unimaginable luxury in Somalia.

“Pirate Jama Shino in the Somali town of Garowe, threw the most lavish
wedding party for his second marriage and invited hundreds of people
from the local authorities and among citizens,” Hussameddin wrote.
“The bride and the young women who attended the party, said: “Marrying
a pirate is every Somali girl’s dream. He has power, money, immunity,
the weapons to defend the tribe and funds to give to the militias in
civil war,” – from an op-ed in the Egyptian paper, Al Ahram.

Somali pirates living the high life
BY Robyn Hunter / 2008/10/28

“No information today. No comment,” a Somali pirate shouts over the
sound of breaking waves, before abruptly ending the satellite
telephone call. He sounds uptight – anxious to see if a multi-million
dollar ransom demand will be met. He is on board the hijacked
Ukrainian vessel, MV Faina – the ship laden with 33 Russian battle
tanks that has highlighted the problem of piracy off the Somali coast
since it was captured almost a month ago. But who are these modern-day
pirates? According to residents in the Somali region of Puntland where
most of the pirates come from, they live a lavish life.

“They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the
day,” says Abdi Farah Juha who lives in the regional capital, Garowe.
“They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they
have new cars; new guns,” he says. “Piracy in many ways is socially
acceptable. They have become fashionable.” Most of them are aged
between 20 and 35 years – in it for the money. And the rewards they
receive are rich in a country where almost half the population need
food aid after 17 years of non-stop conflict.

Most vessels captured in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden
fetch on average a ransom of $2m. This is why their hostages are well
looked after. The BBC’s reporter in Puntland, Ahmed Mohamed Ali, says
it also explains the tight operation the pirates run. They are never
seen fighting because the promise of money keeps them together.
Wounded pirates are seldom seen and our reporter says he has never
heard of residents along Puntland’s coast finding a body washed
ashore. Given Somalia’s history of clan warfare, this is quite a feat.
It probably explains why a report of a deadly shoot-out amongst the
pirates onboard the MV Faina was denied by the vessel’s hijackers.
Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told the BBC Somali Service at the time:
“Everybody is happy. We were firing guns to celebrate Eid.”

Brains, muscle and geeks
The MV Faina was initially attacked by a gang of 62 men. BBC Somalia
analyst Mohamed Mohamed says such pirate gangs are usually made up
of three different types:
* Ex-fishermen, who are considered the brains of the operation
because they know the sea
* Ex-militiamen, who are considered the muscle – having fought for
various Somali clan warlords
* The technical experts, who are the computer geeks and know how
to operate the hi-tech equipment needed to operate as a pirate –
satellite phones, GPS and military hardware.

The three groups share the ever-increasing illicit profits – ransoms
paid in cash by the shipping companies. A report by UK think-tank
Chatham House says piracy off the coast of Somalia has cost up to $30m
(£17m) in ransoms so far this year. The study also notes that the
pirates are becoming more aggressive and assertive – something the
initial $22m ransom demanded for MV Faina proves. The asking price has
apparently since fallen to $8m.

Calling the shots
Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden, is reportedly where the pirates get
most of their weapons from. A significant number are also bought
directly from the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Observers say Mogadishu
weapon dealers receive deposits for orders via a “hawala” company – an
informal money transfer system based on honour. Militiamen then drive
the arms north to the pirates in Puntland, where they are paid the
balance on delivery. It has been reported in the past that wealthy
businessmen in Dubai were financing the pirates. But the BBC’s Somali
Service says these days it is the businessmen asking the pirates for

Such success is a great attraction for Puntland’s youngsters, who have
little hope of alternative careers in the war-torn country. Once a
pirate makes his fortune, he tends to take on a second and third wife
– often very young women from poor nomadic clans, who are renowned
for their beauty. But not everyone is smitten by Somalia’s new elite.
“This piracy has a negative impact on several aspects of our life in
Garowe,” resident Mohamed Hassan laments.

He cites an escalating lack of security because “hundreds of armed
men” are coming to join the pirates. They have made life more
expensive for ordinary people because they “pump huge amounts of US
dollars” into the local economy which results in fluctuations in the
exchange rate, he says. Their lifestyle also makes some unhappy. “They
promote the use of drugs – chewing khat [a stimulant which keeps one
alert] and smoking hashish – and alcohol,” Mr Hassan says.

The trappings of success may be new, but piracy has been a problem in
Somali waters for at least 10 years – when Somali fishermen began
losing their livelihoods. Their traditional fishing methods were no
match for the illegal trawlers that were raiding their waters. Piracy
initially started along Somalia’s southern coast but began shifting
north in 2007 – and as a result, the pirate gangs in the Gulf of Aden
are now multi-clan operations. But Garowe resident Abdulkadil Mohamed
says, they do not see themselves as pirates. “Illegal fishing is the
root cause of the piracy problem,” he says. “They call themselves

‘Pirates Are Stronger Than Us’ – Eyl Mayor / 23 August 2008
“The mayor of a small coastal town in northeastern Somalia has
declared that local authorities are unable to stop pirates. Abdullahi
Said O’Yusuf, the mayor of Eyl in Puntland region, confirmed Radio
Garowe during a Saturday interview that four hijacked ships are being
held hostage near the town’s shores. “They are stronger than us,”
Mayor O’Yusuf said, while speaking of the pirates. He condemned
continued attacks on foreign ships traveling across the Indian Ocean,
while underlining that local authorities “cannot do anything” to stop
piracy. The Associated Press has reported that four ships – with
owners in Malaysia, Iran, Japan and Germany – and a total crew of 96
people are being held hostage by Somali pirates. Mayor O’Yusuf said
the pirates who hijacked the ships “are the same ones who received
ransom payments before,” referring to previous pirate attacks in the
region. According to the Mayor, pirates use ransom payments to “buy
houses in big cities” in different parts of the country.”

“Eyl is a town in the northern Puntland region of Somalia. The
prominent clans in the Eyl district are the Majeerteen and Leelkase
sub-clans of the Darod. Eyl is near the Hafun peninsula, the location
of most of Somalia’s casualties from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. As
of 2008 Eyl has become a pirate haven, with more than a dozen ships
being held captive by pirate crews. The Puntland government has
acknowledged that they are relatively powerless to stop pirate
activities. French commandos decided a hostage rescue in Eyl was too
dangerous, and carried out a rescue of two French sailors before they
could be taken there.”

Life in Somalia’s pirate town
BY Mary Harper / 18 September 2008

Whenever word comes out that pirates have taken yet another ship in
the Somali region of Puntland, extraordinary things start to happen.
There is a great rush to the port of Eyl, where most of the hijacked
vessels are kept by the well-armed pirate gangs. People put on ties
and smart clothes. They arrive in land cruisers with their laptops,
one saying he is the pirates’ accountant, another that he is their
chief negotiator.

With yet more foreign vessels seized off the coast of Somalia this
week, it could be said that hijackings in the region have become
epidemic. Insurance premiums for ships sailing through the busy Gulf
of Aden have increased tenfold over the past year because of the
pirates, most of whom come from the semi-autonomous region of
Puntland. In Eyl, there is a lot of money to be made, and everybody is
anxious for a cut.

Entire industry
The going rate for ransom payments is between $300,000 and $1.5m
(£168,000-£838,000). A recent visitor to the town explained how, even
though the number of pirates who actually take part in a hijacking is
relatively small, the whole modern industry of piracy involves many
more people. “The number of people who make the first attack is small,
normally from seven to 10,” he said. “They go out in powerful
speedboats armed with heavy weapons. But once they seize the ship,
about 50 pirates stay on board the vessel. And about 50 more wait on
shore in case anything goes wrong.”

Given all the other people involved in the piracy industry, including
those who feed the hostages, it has become a mainstay of the Puntland
economy. Eyl has become a town tailor-made for pirates – and their
hostages. Special restaurants have even been set up to prepare food
for the crews of the hijacked ships. As the pirates want ransom
payments, they try to look after their hostages. When commandos from
France freed two French sailors seized by pirates off the Somali coast
in September, President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had given the go-ahead
for the operation when it was clear the pirates were headed for Eyl –
it would have been too dangerous to try to free them from there.

The town is a safe-haven where very little is done to stop the pirates
– leading to the suggestion that some, at least, in the Puntland
administration and beyond have links with them. Many of them come
from the same clan – the Majarteen clan of the president of Somalia’s
transitional federal government, Abdullahi Yusuf.

Money to spend
The coastal region of Puntland is booming. Fancy houses are being
built, expensive cars are being bought – all of this in a country that
has not had a functioning central government for nearly 20 years.
Observers say pirates made about $30m from ransom payments last
year – far more than the annual budget of Puntland, which is about
$20m. When the president of Puntland, Adde Musa, was asked about
the reported wealth of pirates and their associates, he said: “It’s more
than true”.

Now that they are making so much money, these 21st Century pirates
can afford increasingly sophisticated weapons and speedboats. This
means that unless more is done to stop them, they will continue to
plunder the busy shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden. They even
target ships carrying aid to feed their compatriots – up to a third of the
population. Warships from France, Canada and Malaysia, among others,
now patrol the Somali coast to try and fend off pirate attacks.

An official at the International Maritime Organisation explained how
the well-armed pirates are becoming increasingly bold. More than 30%
of the world’s oil is transported through the Gulf of Aden. “It is
only a matter of time before something horrible happens,” said the
official. “If the pirates strike a hole in the tanker, and there’s an
oil spill, there could be a huge environmental disaster”.

It is likely that piracy will continue to be a problem off the coast
of Somalia as long as the violence and chaos continues on land.
Conflict can be very good for certain types of business, and piracy is
certainly one of them. Weapons are easy to obtain and there is no
functioning authority to stop them, either on land or at sea.


“We want pre-emptive action against the mother ships before the
pirates carry out a hijacking,” said Captain Pottengal Mukundan,
director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, which
monitors international piracy, referring to the ships pirates use as
bases from which to launch attacks. “The positions of the mother ships
are generally known. What we would like to see is the naval vessels
going to interdict them, searching them and removing any arms on
board. That would at least force the pirates to go back to Somalia to
pick up more arms before they could come back again,” he told Reuters
in an interview.

But the laws governing what navies can do to take on the pirates are
complex. Only if pirates are caught in the act of piracy — actually
boarding a ship and seizing it — can a naval ship intervene with the
full force of international law. Arriving 30 minutes after a vessel
has been boarded, when there is a degree of uncertainty over whether
those on board are pirates or not, is often too late, experts say.
Denmark recently had to return some suspected pirates to Somalia
because it couldn’t prove they were pirates after they were seized.

Mr. Mukundan said there were currently about four ‘mother ships’ —
seized dhows or other larger fishing boats anchored near international
waters — being used by pirates. The pirates live on the mother ships,
storing arms, fuel and other supplies on board, and then target ships,
which can include fuel tankers, by catching up to them in high-speed
boats and boarding them with rope ladders while heavily armed. Mr.
Mukundan acknowledged the legalities of taking on ‘mother ships’ were
tricky, but said it could be done if governments gave their naval
forces instructions to do it.”


“Piracy is an international crime consisting of illegal acts of
violence, detention, or depredation committed for private ends by the
crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft in or over
international waters against another ship or aircraft or persons and
property on board. (Depredation is the act of plundering, robbing, or

In international law piracy is a crime that can be committed only
on or over international waters (including the high seas, exclusive
economic zone, and the contiguous zone), in international airspace,
and in other places beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any nation.
The same acts committed in the internal waters, territorial sea,
archipelagic waters, or national airspace of a nation do not
constitute piracy in international law but are, instead, crimes within
the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the littoral nation.

Sea robbery is a term used to describe attacks upon commercial
vessels in ports and territorial waters. Such attacks are, according
to international law, not true acts of piracy but rather armed
robberies. They are criminal assaults on vessels and vessel crews,
just as may occur to truck drivers within a port area. Such attacks
pose a serious threat to trade. The methods of these attacks have
varied from direct force using heavy weapons to subterfuge in which
the criminals have identified themselves on VHF radio as the national
coast guard.

These maritime criminals are inclined to operate in waters where
government presence is weak, often lacking in both technical resources
and the political will to deal effectively with such attacks.
International law permits any warship or government vessel to repress
an attack in international waters. In a state’s territorial waters,
such attacks constitute an act of armed robbery and must be dealt with
under the laws of the relevant coastal state. These laws seldom, if
ever, permit a vessel or warship from another country to intervene.
The most effective countermeasure strategy is to prevent criminals
initial access to ports and vessels, and to demonstrate a consistent
ability to respond rapidly and effectively to notification of such a
security breach.

Acts of piracy can only be committed by private ships or private
aircraft. A warship or other public vessel or a military or other
state aircraft cannot be treated as a pirate unless it is taken over
and operated by pirates or unless the crew mutinies and employs it for
piratical purposes. By committing an act of piracy, the pirate ship or
aircraft, and the pirates themselves, lose the protection of the
nation whose flag they are otherwise entitled to fly.

To constitute the crime of piracy, the illegal acts must be
committed for private ends. Consequently, an attack upon a merchant
ship at sea for the purpose of achieving some criminal end, e.g.,
robbery, is an act of piracy as that term is currently defined in
international law. Conversely, acts otherwise constituting piracy done
for purely political motives, as in the case of insurgents not
recognized as belligerents, are not piratical.

International law has long recognized a general duty of all
nations to cooperate in the repression of piracy. This traditional
obligation is included in the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas
and the 1982 LOS Convention, both of which provide: “[A]ll States
shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of
piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction
of any State.””


Lucrative Piracy Business Thrives Off Somali Coast / November 18,

The seizure Monday of a supertanker carrying $100 million of crude oil
off the coast of Somalia is one of many ship hijackings by pirates of
late. A cargo ship flying a Hong Kong flag also was taken over in the
Gulf of Aden on Tuesday — the seventh hijacking in the area in 12
days, according to The Associated Press. The magnitude of recent
piracy attacks is rising, and an interactive map maintained by the
International Chamber of Commerce shows where these attacks are
taking place. Many are focused around the eastern Horn of Africa, but
piracy in the waters around Indonesia also has been frequent. J. Peter
Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public
Affairs at James Madison University, says the recent spikes in piracy are
“a crime of both opportunity and expediency.”

“Somalia has lacked a government, effectively, since 1991 and the
current interim government — the 14th of its kind in a decade and a
half — is tottering on its last legs, so there is very little control
to prevent lawlessness,” he says. “There is also the fact that
increasingly commerce is moving in this direction — the demand for oil
and other resources. Roughly 11 percent of the world’s petroleum flows
through these waters.” For Somalis, Pham says, “this is really the
best thing they have going for them economically. Piracy and ransom
this year will exceed more than $50 million — it’s Somalia’s largest

“The ship owners and insurers have found that it’s more cost-effective
to pay ransoms. They are currently averaging slightly over $1 million
per vessel, and that’s cheaper than buying a new ship,” Pham says.
“The Saudi tanker that was seized [Monday] was just launched six
months ago and cost $150 million to build and the cargo on board is
worth $100 million, so I suspect the ship owners will be willing to
pay some fraction of that to get it back.” Pham says that most tankers
of that size are not armed, or if they are, they have small side arms.
The pirates come in fast speed boats, circle the vessel and threaten
to blow it out of the water with rocket-propelled grenades or shoulder-
launched missiles. “Faced with that prospect, most captains — to save
the life of their crew and save the vessels — will surrender control
of the vessel to the pirates,” Pham says.

The world’s most utterly failed state / Oct 2nd 2008

Tipped off by friends in ports from Odessa to Mombasa, Somali pirates
captured a Ukrainian freighter, the MV Faina, in the Gulf of Aden and
steered it to Somalia’s coast. At first they demanded $20m for the
release of ship and crew. The captain died, apparently of
“hypertension”, and several pirates may have then killed each other
after a quarrel. This recent incident was only the latest in a long
list of similar outrages and highlights the growing menace caused by
the total failure of the state of Somalia, the ultimate cause of the
virus of piracy in the region.

The ship was carrying 33 T-72 Russian tanks, anti-aircraft guns and
grenade launchers. Lighter weapons may have been offloaded on the
Somali shore before an American warship arrived on the scene. Kenya
claimed ownership of the cargo but the manifest suggests its
destination was south Sudan, with Kenya’s co- operation in its
delivery to be rewarded in the future with cheap south Sudanese oil.
At midweek, a Russian warship was steaming to the scene to take
responsibility for its citizens on the ship.

The attack was only one of at least 60 off Somalia this year. Foreign
navies can intercept vessels captured by pirates, but the desolation
and length of Somalia’s coastline give them little chance of stamping
out piracy without much larger and better co-ordinated forces. In
cahoots with gangs in Yemen, Somali pirates look set to go on hitting
vessels heading into or out of the Red Sea or passing through the Gulf
of Aden: about 10% of the world’s shipping.

It is big business. The pirates are increasingly sophisticated,
handsomely bankrolled by Somalis in Dubai and elsewhere. They are not
yet directly tied up with the Islamist insurgents in Somalia, though
they may yet have to pay cash to whoever controls their coastal havens
in return for uninterrupted business, thus assisting the purchase of
weapons and fuelling the violence. The nabbed ships are mostly
anchored off the village of Eyl in Puntland in the north-east or the
pirate town of Haradheere farther south (see map) until a ransom is
paid, which is usually within a month of capture. The average ransom
has tripled since 2007, as has the number of ships taken. Some $100m
may have been paid to pirates this year. By comparison, the United
Nations Development Programme’s annual budget for Somalia is $14m.

Piracy is a symptom of the power vacuum inside Somalia. The country’s
“transitional federal government”, headed by a warlord president,
Abdullahi Yusuf, and a bookish prime minister, Nur Hussein, is
powerless to stop its citizens raising the Jolly Roger, just as it
cannot halt the resurgent jihadists, some with al-Qaeda connections,
who have taken control of much of southern Somalia, including the port
town of Kismayo. Hundreds of thousands have fled street fighting in
the north of Mogadishu to camps outside the city; some head south to
refugee camps in Kenya. About 9,000 civilians have been killed in the
insurgency in the past year, according to human-rights groups.

The UN’s envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdullah, a former foreign
minister of Mauritania, is overseeing peace talks in nearby Djibouti
between the transitional government and the moderate wing of the
Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS), an Islamist group
headed by a former teacher, Sharif Ahmed. The aim is to create a
genuine government of national unity before elections next year.

A condition of any agreement is the withdrawal of the 7,000-odd
Ethiopian troops now in Somalia. Mr Ould Abdullah wants to replace
them and a separate 2,200-strong African Union force of Ugandan and
Burundian troops with 8,000 UN peacekeepers. Ethiopia, which is losing
men and money, would be happy with that, if the peacekeepers were
somehow shoehorned in without the jihadists taking advantage of a
hiatus. America agrees, but only if the deployment of blue helmets is
matched by an effort to build a new Somali national army. Mr Ould
Abdullah is also keen for the International Criminal Court in The
Hague to indict some of the worst warlords, to show they cannot murder
their opponents with impunity. But it is unlikely, in present
circumstances, that UN peacekeepers will ever arrive. If the UN cannot
produce half its promised force for Darfur, despite a detailed plan
for one, Somalia stands little chance of getting any blue helmets at

Feuding among Somali leaders makes matters worse. “Somalia is a victim
of its political, business and military elite,” says Mr Ould Abdullah.
“They’ve taken the country hostage.” A slender hope, backed by Britain
and some other EU countries, is that ordinary Somalis will eventually
force their leaders to put national interest above self-interest and
sign the proposed agreement in Djibouti. In any event, says another
diplomat, “There is no Plan B.”

As the peace talks limp on, the insurgency is getting stronger. It is
led by the Shabab (Youth), the armed wing of the Islamic Courts Union,
which ran Somalia with some success for a few months in 2006 until it
was smashed, at the end of that year, by the invading Ethiopians, with
American backing. The Shabab has since reconstituted itself, making
ground with tactics copied from Iraq: roadside bombings, the kidnap
and murder of foreigners, local aid-workers and peace campaigners, and
grenade attacks on video shacks showing films or football.

My enemy’s enemy is my friend
Its fighters come under the leadership of a wily red-bearded 70-year-
old jihadist, Hassan Dahir Aweys, and a former deputy commander of the
Islamic Courts, Mukhtar Robow. They are backed by Eritrea, which has
offered sanctuary to the radical rump of the ARS in its capital,
Asmara. Eritrea’s interest is not to help Somalia but to hurt its
bitter enemy, Ethiopia. The Shabab is also backed by fighters from the
Hawiye clan and by hungry young freelance gunmen who represent
Somalia’s huge lost generation. Half the population, 10m-odd before
the exodus, was born after Siad Barre’s regime fell in 1991. Since
then, it is guessed, only 10% have had even rudimentary education;
health care barely exists.

Few foreign governments have shown much interest in trying to end
Somalia’s woes. Diplomats charged with trying to do so are frustrated
and depressed. Meanwhile the suffering is mounting. The UN reckons
3.2m Somalis now survive on food aid. The piracy means that warships
have to escort ships bringing food. If fighting intensifies, that will
be harder—and manipulating food aid could become a weapon, as it was
during fighting in 1991 and 1992, when 300,000 Somalis starved to

BY Hari Jagannathan Balasubramanian / October 06, 2008

…as I now read Richard Dowden’s Africa: Altered States, Ordinary
Miracles, the political outline is becoming clear: one man rule from
1969-1991; then civil war; a failed American rescue attempt; and then
no government; and more recently, Ethiopia meddling in its affairs.
The excerpts I’ll present here, though, are images of a modernizing
Somalia, of how in the absence of a government, a free market thrived
in the 90s and filled the void.

“In 1999 I went back to Somalia to see what had happened.
Considering there was no state and civil war sputtered on, life was
not as bad as I had expected. In some ways it was a lot better. Those
few aid agencies that stayed on were no longer run by expatriate
overlords but staffed by Somalis. Not many foreign aid workers wanted
to be there. Somalis had also managed to get the economy going –
without a single cent from the World Bank or IMF. The new economy was
largely built around a worldwide telephone banking system – a truly
free market system and , at the time, by far the world’s cheapest and
most efficient. Several Somalis who had worked in telecoms in America
bought dishes and telephone equipment and set up phone booths in small
towns. From here, for a dollar a minute, people could call cousins and
aunts and uncles all over the world.”

And how the cell phone is the perfect device for the wandering Somali
herder wanting to learn market prices:

“Somali herders move around in a yearly pattern. In the dry
season, towards the end of the year, they go down to the coast as they
have done for centuries to sell some of their animals to traders who
take them across the Red Sea to the markets of Saudi Arabia. I have
watched them at the port of Berbera, herds of camels and sheep driven
to holding areas where herders have to buy fodder for them and pay for
water at the trough markets. These herdsmen are at a big disadvantage
while they wait to sell their animals. But the mobile phone has
rescued them. They can call up traders in Jeddah directly to find out
the market price of animals there. They now know when to come down
out of the mountains and sell. A week later I watch a herdsman on the
outskirts of Berbera driving his herd towards the port with herding
stick in one hand and in the other a mobile phone – perfect technology
for the nomad.”’

Telecoms thriving in lawless Somalia
BY Joseph Winter / 2004/11/19

Rising from the ruins of the Mogadishu skyline are signs of one of
Somalia’s few success stories in the anarchy of recent years. A host
of mobile phone masts testifies to the telecommunications revolution
which has taken place despite the absence of any functioning national
government since 1991. Three phone companies are engaged in fierce
competition for both mobile and landline customers, while new internet
cafes are being set up across the city and the entire country. It
takes just three days for a landline to be installed – compared with
waiting-lists of many years in neighbouring Kenya, where there is a
stable, democratic government. And once installed, local calls are
free for a monthly fee of just $10. International calls cost 50 US
cents a minute, while surfing the web is charged at 50 US cents an
hour – “the cheapest rate in Africa” according to the manager of one
internet cafe. But how do you establish a phone company in a country
where there is no government?

No monopoly
In some respects, it is actually easier. There is no need to get a
licence and there is no state-run monopoly which prevents new
competitors being established. And of course there is no-one to demand
any taxes, which is one reason why prices are so low. “The government
post and telecoms company used to have a monopoly but after the
regime was toppled, we were free to set up our own business,” says
Abdullahi Mohammed Hussein, products and services manager of
Telcom Somalia, which was set up in 1994 when Mogadishu was still
a war-zone. “We saw a huge gap in the market, as all previous services
had been destroyed. There was a massive demand.” The main airport
and port were destroyed in the fighting but businessmen have built
small airstrips and use natural harbours, so the phone companies are
still able to import their equipment. Despite the absence of law and
order and a functional court system, bills are paid and contracts are
enforced by relying on Somalia’s traditional clan system, Mr Abdullahi

Mobile target
But in a country divided into hundreds of fiefdoms run by rival
warlords, security is a major concern. While Telcom Somalia has some
25,000 mobile customers – and a similar number have land lines – you
very rarely see anyone walking along the streets of Mogadishu chatting
on their phone, in case this attracts the attention of a hungry
gunman. The phone companies themselves say they are not targeted by
the militiamen, even if thieves occasionally steal some of their
wires. Mahdi Mohammed Elmi has been managing the Wireless African
Broadband Telecoms internet cafe in the heart of Mogadishu, surrounded
by the bustling and chaotic Bakara market, for almost two years. “I
have never had a problem with security,” he says and points out that
they have just a single security guard at the front door. Mr Abdullahi
says the warlords realise that if they cause trouble for the phone
companies, the phones will stop working again, which nobody wants. “We
need good relations with all the faction leaders. We don’t interfere
with them and they don’t interfere with us. They want political power
and we leave them alone,” he says.

Selling goats on the net
While the three phone companies – Telcom, Nationlink and Hormuud – are
engaged in bitter competition for phone customers, they have co-
operated to set up the Global Internet Company to provide the internet
infrastructure. Manager Abdulkadir Hassan Ahmed says that within 1.5km
of central Mogadishu, customers – mostly internet cafes – can enjoy
service at 150Mb/second through a Long Reach Ethernet. Elsewhere, they
can have a wireless connection at 11Mb/s. He says his company is able
to work anywhere in Somalia, whichever faction is in charge locally.
“Even small, remote villages are connected to the internet, as long as
they have a phone line,” he says. The internet sector in Somalia has
two main advantages over many of its Africa neighbours. There is a
huge diaspora around the world – between one and three million people,
compared with an estimated seven million people in Somalia – who
remain in contact with their friends and relatives back home. E-mail
is the cheapest way of staying in touch and many Somalis can read and
write their own language, instead of relying on English or French,
which restricts internet users to a smaller number of well educated
people. Just two days after it was opened, the Orbit internet cafe in
south Mogadishu’s km5 was already pretty busy, with people checking
their e-mail accounts, a livestock exporter sending out his invoices
and two nurses doing medical research.

Video calling
And Somalia’s telecoms revolution is far from over. “We are planning
to introduce 3G technology, including live video calling and mobile
internet, next year,” says Mr Abdullahi. But despite their success,
the telecoms companies say that like the population at large, they are
desperate to have a government. “We are very interested in paying
taxes,” says Mr Abdullahi – not a sentiment which often passes the
lips of a high-flying businessman. And Mr Abdulkadir at the Global
Internet Company fully agrees. “We badly need a government,” he says.
“Everything starts with security – the situation across the country.
“All the infrastructure of the country has collapsed – education,
health and roads. We need to send our staff abroad for any training.”
Another problem for companies engaged in the global telecoms business
is paying their foreign partners. At present, they use Somalia’s
traditional “Hawala” money transfer companies to get money to Dubai,
the Middle East’s trading and financial hub. With a government would
come a central bank, which would make such transactions far easier.
Taxes would mean higher prices but Mr Abdullahi says that Somalia’s
previous governments have kept taxes low and hopes this will continue
under the regime due to start work in the coming months. Somalia’s
telecoms companies are looking forward to an even brighter future with
the support of a functioning government – as long as it does not
impose punitive tax rates or state control in a sector which obviously
needs very little help to thrive.

Ayn Rand Comes to Somalia
In the absence of government bureaucracy and foreign aid, business is
starting to boom in Mogadishu.
BY Peter Maass / The Atlantic Monthly / May 2001

The headquarters of Telecom Somalia is filled with the sights and
sounds of Mogadishu-style success. Customers pour through the
entrance, funneling past machine-gun positions that flank the front
doors. After a pat-down by security guards, who take temporary
possession of any guns and knives, they enter the lobby and line up at
the appropriate counters to pay their bills or order new service.
Clocks on a wall display the time in New York, Paris, London, Sydney,
and Karachi—reminders of an outside world that has pretty much left
Somalia for dead. Computer keyboards clatter as workers punch in
information. Customers chat and argue with one another in a gregarious
manner that makes the lobby feel like a town square—all the more so if
a goat that’s being herded down the street happens to stray inside.

Telecom Somalia is the largest company in Mogadishu. It has 700
employees, and it offers some of the best and cheapest phone service
in Africa. It also provides a clue to the possible resuscitation of
the world’s most famous failed state. In 1995, when the international
community decided to wash its hands of Somalia and the last United
Nations peacekeepers left the country, Mogadishu was a Hobbesian
horror show. It remains a miserable and unstable place, a city where
taxi drivers ruin their own vehicles, denting the body work and
smashing the windows, so that thieves will not bother to steal them.
But it is less dismal than it used to be, and better times may be on
the way, owing to a new generation of businessmen who are determined
to bring the lawless capital back to life.

Prime among the city’s entrepreneurial leaders is Abdulaziz Sheikh,
the chief executive of Telecom Somalia. When I visited him last
summer, in a small office on the fourth floor of the company’s
headquarters, he was being blasted by a hurricane-force air-
conditioner that nearly drowned out the constantly ringing phones on
his desk. “You need to be here twenty-four hours a day,” he said,
explaining that he lives as well as works on the premises. Sheikh had
the running-on-fumes look of a campaign chairman in a never-ending
race, but at least he appeared to be winning. Anyone can walk into the
lobby of his building, plunk down a $100 deposit, and leave with a
late-model Nokia that works throughout the city, in valleys as well as
on hilltops, at all hours. Caller ID, call waiting, conference
calling, and call forwarding are available. There are two other
cellular-phone firms in town, and the three recently entered into a
joint venture and created the first local Internet-service provider.
Not all battles here are resolved by murder.

Mogadishu also has new radio and television stations (one night I
watched the Somali equivalent of Larry King Live, in which the
moderator and his guest, one of the city’s leading Islamic clerics,
fielded questions from callers), along with computer schools and an
airport that serves several airlines (although these fly the sorts of
airplanes that Americans see only in museums). The city’s Bekara
market offers everything from toilet paper, Maalox, and Colgate
toothpaste to Viagra, sarongs, blank passports (stolen from the
Foreign Ministry a decade ago), and assault rifles. The international
delivery company DHL has an office in Mogadishu, where its methods can
be unorthodox: if a client has an urgent package that cannot wait for
a scheduled flight out of the country, the company will dispatch it on
one of the many planes that arrive illegally from Kenya every day
bearing khat, a narcotic leaf that is chewed like tobacco but has the
effect of cocaine.

Mogadishu has the closest thing to an Ayn Rand-style economy that the
world has ever seen—no bureaucracy or regulation at all. The city has
had no government since 1991, when the much despised President
Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown; his regime was replaced not by
another one but by civil war. The northern regions of Somaliland and
Puntland have stabilized under autonomous governments, but southern
Somalia, with Mogadishu at its core, has remained a Mad Max zone
carved up by warlords for whom fighting seems as necessary as oxygen.
The prospect of stability is a curious miracle, not simply because the
kind of business development that is happening tends to require the
presence of a government, but because the very absence of a
government may have helped to nurture an African oddity—a lean
and efficient business sector that does not feed at a public trough
controlled by corrupt officials.

Similarly, the lack of large-scale (and often corrupting) foreign aid
might have benefits as well as drawbacks. Somali investors are making
things happen, not waiting for them to happen. For example, on the
outskirts of town, on a plot of land the size of several football
fields and surrounded by twenty-foot-high walls, workers recently
completed a $2 million bottling plant. Everyone refers to it as “the
Pepsi factory,” even though Pepsi is not involved. The project’s
investors say the plant will become a Pepsi factory: they figure that
if they begin producing soft drinks, Pepsi or some other international
company will want to get in on the market.

Many of the larger companies in Mogadishu, including the bottling
plant, have issued shares, although there is of course no stock
exchange or financial authority of any sort in the city. Everything is
based on trust, and so far it has worked, owing to Somalia’s tightly
woven clan networks: everyone knows everyone else, so it’s less likely
that an unknown con man will pull off a scam. In view of Somalia’s
history, this ad hoc stock market is not as implausible as it may
sound. Until a century ago, when Italy and Britain divided what is
present-day Somalia into colonial fiefdoms, Somalis got along quite
well without a state, relying on systems that still exist: informal
codes of honor and a means of resolving disputes, even violent ones,
through mediation by clan elders.

Of course, the lack of a government poses problems, especially with
respect to the warlords. Sheikh and his fellow businessmen have kept
them at bay by paying them protection money and by forming their own
militias. Those manning the machine guns outside Telecom Somalia are
employees of the company, and when the firm’s linemen go out to lay
new cables (they used to string overhead lines, but those got shot up
by stray gunfire), they, too, are protected by company gunmen. All of
this is costly, so the business leaders have taken steps to bring
about a new government—one that will keep its hands out of their
pockets and focus on providing security and public services. The
process began two years ago, when Sheikh and other entrepreneurs got
fed up with the blight of checkpoints, at which everyone was required
to pay small tributes to armed teenagers affiliated with various
warlords. The businessmen decided collectively to fund a militia to
get rid of the checkpoints, resulting in an armed force that is
overseen by the city’s Islamic clerics. Having succeeded in its main
mission, the militia now serves as an informal sort of police force,
patrolling the streets in an effort to stop petty crime.

With the checkpoints gone and the warlords weakened by the loss of a
key source of income, the business elite is bankrolling a transitional
government that was appointed at a peace conference last August. The
government does not yet control much more than the heavily guarded
buildings that are its temporary headquarters, but it has begun
deploying its own policemen in some parts of the city. The businessmen
are pooling their company security forces to bolster the government
and are trying to lure the warlords’ gunmen to its side with cash
incentives. In February one of the leading warlords, Mohamed Qanyareh,
agreed to support the government in exchange for ministerial posts for
himself and his allies.

If the business community succeeds in returning Mogadishu to something
resembling normalcy, it will have shown that a failed state, or at
least its capital city, can get back on its feet without much help
from the outside world. This would constitute not an argument against
outside intervention but, rather, a lesson that intervention doesn’t
have to be of the UN-led, billion-dollar variety. Before leaving the
city I met with Hussein Abdullahi, a well-educated businessman who
fled Mogadishu in 1991 and wound up in Toronto, driving a taxi. Three
years ago, during a return visit, he was struck by the fact that his
Somali friends were living better at home than he was in Canada, at
the bottom of the immigrant ladder. He decided to move back and now
manages a thriving pasta factory, a bread factory, and a medical
clinic. Sipping an ice-cold Coke in his office, Abdullahi offered to
share a secret that, he promised, could make me rich. A chubby man
with a beatific smile, he leaned forward conspiratorially. “Everything
is possible in Mogadishu now, everything,” he said. “If you have the
money and the knowledge, you can do whatever you want. It is virgin
here.” Perhaps so, but only in the way of scorched earth.

BY Tatiana Nenova and Tim Harford / 11/1/2004

Telecommunications: networks link up
Many local companies have teamed up with international giants such as
Sprint (U.S.) and Telenor (Norway), providing mobile phones and
building new landlines. Vigorous competition has pushed prices well
below typical levels in Africa, and Somalia now has 112,000 fixed
lines and 50,000 mobile subscribers, up from 17,000 lines before 1991.
Yet not all is well. Calling every phone subscriber in Hargeisa, in
the Northwest, would require connections from four telephone firms.
But firms in Mogadishu have now agreed on interconnection standards,
and those in Hargeisa appear to be following suit. The negotiations
were brokered by the Somali Telecom Association, set up with the help
of the United Nations and International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
and head-quartered in Dubai.[1]

Electricity: simple solutions yield results
Entrepreneurs have worked around Somalia’s lack of a functioning
electricity grid, payment systems, and metering. They have divided
cities into manageable quarters and provide electricity locally using
secondhand generators bought in Dubai. They offer households a menu of
choices (daytime, evening, or 24-hour service) and charge per

Water: access but not cheap or safe
Public water provision is limited to urban areas, but a private system
extends to all parts of the country as entrepreneurs build cement
catchments, drill private boreholes, or ship water from public systems
in the cities. Prices naturally rise in times of drought.
Traditionally, destitute families have not had to pay for water, while
the slightly better-off borrow funds from relatives. Nevertheless,
after several years of drought the United Nations estimates that many
families in the Eastern Sanaag have debts of US$50–100 for water.
Moreover, access to safe water is low even by African standards
because neither regulators nor the market have been able to persuade
merchants to purify their water.

Air travel: outsourcing safety
In 1989 the national carrier (partly owned by Alitalia) operated just
one airplane and one international route.[2] Today the sector boasts
about 15 firms, more than 60 aircraft, 6 international destinations,
more domestic routes, and many more flights. But safety is a concern.
Airports lack trained air traffic controllers, fire services, runway
lights, and a sealed perimeter against stray animals, and checks on
aircraft and crew are inadequate. The makeshift solution:
international outsourcing. Somali carriers lease planes, often with
crews from Eastern Europe (the largest, Daallo Airlines, leases a
Boeing from the United Kingdom, to boost customer confidence). And
they operate out of Djibouti, Dubai, and Nairobi, using the facilities
there to check aircraft safety.

Private courts: quick but limited
A recent effort to endow Mogadishu with a functioning court collapsed
when the court tried to levy taxes and take over the privately run
port of El Ma’an. In any case Somalia lacks contract law, company law,
the concept of limited liability, and other key pillars of commercial
law. In some cases Somalis have used offshore registration of
businesses to import legal concepts and services. More commonly,
disputes are settled at the clan level, by traditional systems run by
elders and with the clan collecting damages. Such measures are free—
and fast by international standards. In a case involving the
oppression of minority shareholders in a large livestock company, out-
of-court talks were preferred, the company continued to operate
successfully, and the dispute was settled amicably. But clan-based
systems deal poorly with disputes outside the clan. In a dispute
involving the telecommunications company Aerolite, the interclan
committee of elders awarded the plaintiff from a weaker clan an
unfairly small settlement, and since it was not enforced, he received

Currency: perfect competition for dollars [2001]
Sharp inflation in 1994–96 and 2000–01 destroyed confidence in three
local currencies. U.S. dollars are harder to forge, do not need to be
carried around in large fragile bundles, and, most important, retain
their value. The feeble capabilities of the central bank have allowed
free entry into the currency exchange business, which is as close to
perfectly competitive as is ever likely to be possible.

International fund transfers: hawala system
The hawala system, a trust-based money transfer system used in many
Muslim countries, moves US$0.5–1 billion into Somalia every year. A
person in New York wishing to send money to his family in Tog-waajale
gives the hawala agent in New York the sum in cash, paying a 5 percent
commission. The agent deposits the cash in a local bank account to be
transferred to the company bank account in Djibouti or Dubai, then
alerts the clearinghouse in Hargeisa, which passes details on to Tog-
waajale. When the recipient shows up, the local agent quizzes him
about his clan lineage using questions provided by the relative
overseas as security against fraud. The transaction is usually
completed within 24 hours. Hawala networks are unregulated and do not
always keep records of transactions, but they are coming under
pressure from efforts to combat money laundering.[3]

Savings accounts and traveler’s checks
Somalia has adopted the widespread African institution of rotating
credit associations, which rely on clan links for enforcement and
provide a safe haven for savings. More innovative is the system of
traveler’s checks for the pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj. Nobody would
accept Somali checks, so Somali firms set up accounts in Saudi banks
and write checks to pilgrims that can be cashed in any branch.

Gaps in private sector provision
In some areas the private sector has made little progress. The Somali
road system, for example, is limited and in poor condition. For a
private supplier to build a road and collect fees to cover the costs
is apparently too hard, partly because of prohibitive transaction
costs and partly because fee-paying users are not the only ones who
benefit from roads. Primary education is another disappointing story.
Some 71 percent of primary schools are privately owned (typically by
parents or communities), but enrollment is just 17 percent. By
contrast, it is 82 percent in West Africa, where countries are richer
and more stable and the government is much more heavily involved in
the economy. Ideally, benevolent government would sort out both
problems. But government that is merely stronger might not help. Where
municipal governments along the Berbera–Hargeisa road have the power
to collect tolls, they do not spend them on maintenance. The failings
of the education system are partly because half of Somalis are nomads.
It is not clear that government would do much better, especially since
the private schools are locally acknowledged to be superior to those
run by local government. Rather than try to create a government system
from scratch, a better policy would be to improve the network of
higher-quality private schools.

The achievements of the Somali private sector form a surprisingly long
list. Where the private sector has failed—the list is long here too—
there is a clear role for government interventions. But most such
interventions appear to be failing. Government schools are of lower
quality than private schools. Subsidized power is being supplied not
to the rural areas that need it but to urban areas, hurting a well-
functioning private industry. Road tolls are not spent on roads.
Judges seem more interested in grabbing power than in developing laws
and courts. A more productive role for government would be to build on
the strengths of the private sector. Given Somali reliance on clan and
reputation, any measures allowing these mechanisms to function more
broadly would be welcome; credit and land registries would be a good
start. And since Somali businesses rely heavily on institutions
outside the economy, international and domestic policies supporting
such connections would help. For governments and aid agencies, the
capability of some business sectors to cope under the most difficult
conditions should give hope and guidance in other reconstruction
efforts. It may take less encouragement than is commonly thought for
stripped-down systems of finance, electricity, and telecommunications
to grow.

1. “Somalia Telecoms Boom without Government,” Somaliland Times, July
22, 2004.
2. United States Institute for Peace, Removing Barricades in Somalia:
Prospects for Peace(Washington, D.C., 1998).
3. Abdusalam Omer, “Supporting System and Procedures for the Effective
Regulation and Monitoring of Somali Remittance Companies
(Hawala)” (United Nations Development Programme, Nairobi, 2003).

Somaliland’s addict economy
BY Tristan McConnell / July 17, 2009

Somalia’s economy is dominated by trade in khat, a narcotic banned in the U.S. and much of Europe. Eye-popping, head-buzzing khat is loved by Somali men who chew the leaves for their stimulant effect. While most of war-torn Somalia’s economy is moribund, khat does a bustling trade estimated at well over $50 million annually. Doctors warn, however, that the drug is not only a drain on limited Somali resources but is also destroying lives.

Hargeisa is the capital of Somaliland, the northern territory nominally independent from Somalia which maintains peace and economic activity, especially the khat trade. Lounging on a rug on the second floor of an ostentatious glass and stone mansion overlooking Hargeisa, Mohamed Yusuf Moge, aptly known as “The Fat Mohamed,” lit up another cigarette. In front of him was a pile of leafless khat twigs. His eyes were wide and red-rimmed, a symptom of the leaves that have been chewed. “We bring in 80-tons of khat every day,” he said. “We have many vehicles and two airplanes for transporting our produce. We control the market: We are the De Beers of the khat industry!”

“We” is “571 Allah Amin,” a family business started 15 years ago that has grown to become Somaliland’s biggest khat importer. Moge is 571’s country rep. Although he would not reveal how much the company makes, it is estimated that its revenue is $320,000 a day. Downtown at the company depot, the second of the day’s trucks arrives from the highland farms of neighboring Ethiopia mid-morning. Thursday is the busiest day of the week because, as one man explained, Friday is the Muslim day of rest so everyone can sleep off their khat hangover.

As the khat truck pulled in, barrow boys and vendors crowded round the tailgate to unload the 70 kg sacks of khat wrapped in hay to keep it fresh. Inside are small bundles of shoots that are bought wholesale for $1 and sold retail for $1.50. “Business is good!” shouted Omar Hersi Warfa, 571’s depot manager, over the clamor. “We are working hard and people are chewing!” Khat vendor Shamis Abdullahi Nur, 50, squatting on the ground nearby, agreed. “Business is very good because of our security and peace,” she said as she directed a sack of khat to be loaded into the back of a beat-up station wagon for the drive across town to her stall. Others pushed smaller consignments away in wheelbarrows. “I’ve been selling khat for over 30 years and now is the best time. There was a time of war, a time when I was a refugee, but now you can see I am sitting here eating my mango,” she said with a sticky, happy smile

Street prices are highest in the early afternoon because this is gayiil time when most men chew the khat and shoot the breeze. They can be found sitting on carpets in shady spots close to khat kiosks, with an ashtray, a flask of sweet tea and a jug of water at their feet. Women often sell khat but are not invited to chew. But increasingly men are also chewing in the morning, the evening and throughout the night. The stoned man in a cotton wrap tottering in a daze along a crumbling potholed road with a fistful of green stems is a common sight. Some warn the national habit does psychological damage. In the mental wing of Hargeisa’s main hospital, a staff member walked past the patients, many of whom were chained to a bed or a post or sat staring vacantly on the floor. “The majority of the men here are affected by chewing khat, most are schizophrenic,” said Faisal Ibrahim.

Dr. Yassin Arab Abdi, the hospital’s chief doctor, said: “Chewing is part of it although there are many reasons for mental illness. Before they used to chew at a certain time for a few hours now there are four sessions 24-hours a day. These people are addicts.” Back at the khat mansion, “Fat Mohamed” Moge and his colleagues, however, extolled the virtues of the drug. “Khat plays a great role in our society. If there’s conflict people have to sit down, chew, talk about it,” Moge said. “It is not like a drug which destroys the mind. It is a stimulant. If you chew khat in the right manner it doesn’t affect you.” But, he admitted, “There are some guys who are addicted, this is because they are jobless and have nothing to do.”

Unfortunately this description applies to many Somali men. The last national government — a military dictatorship — collapsed in 1991. Since then the unrecognized state of Somaliland has declared itself independent while Somalia has descended deeper into war and chaos. Isolation on the one hand and war on the other have left the formal economy shattered with many surviving on remittances sent from relatives abroad. Yet it is not unusual for men to spend $5 or $10 a day on khat, making the habit a huge drain on very limited resources. The government’s entire annual budget is less than $50 million, around $14 a head for each of Somaliland’s 3.5 million citizens. Such is the love of khat that to outlaw it would be political suicide. Nevertheless a senior Somaliland politician, Musa Behe of the opposition Kulmiye party, said, “The Somali man works less because he chews khat. We won’t ban it but we need to raise awareness of the harm khat does.”

Profile : Somalia

Somalia has been without an effective central government since
President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. The self-proclaimed state
of Somaliland and the region of Puntland run their own affairs.
* Population: 8.7 million (UN, 2007)
* Capital: Mogadishu
* Area: 637,657sq km (246,201 sq miles)
* Major languages: Somali, Arabic, Italian, English
* Major religion: Islam
* Life expectancy: 47 years (men), 49 years (women)
* Monetary unit: 1 Somali shilling = 100 cents
* Main exports: Livestock, bananas, hides, fish
* GNI per capita: n/a

President: Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a former leader of the semi-autonomous Somali
region of Puntland, was chosen by Somalia’s interim parliament as
president of the Transitional Federal Government in October 2004. The
election took place in Kenya because the Somali capital was regarded
as being too dangerous. A former army officer and faction leader, Mr
Yusuf led a guerrilla movement in the 1970s aimed at ousting the
Somali dictator Siad Barre. In the 1990s he emerged as the pre-eminent
leader of his native Puntland region; he declared the territory
autonomous in 1998. He is said to have an authoritarian approach to

Somalia’s disintegration is reflected in its media, which is
undeveloped, fragmented and often partisan. Broadcasters and
journalists operate in an atmosphere which is hostile to free
expression, and often dangerous. In spite of this, diverse and more
professional media outlets have emerged in recent years – in
particular, FM radio stations with no explicit factional links. The TV
and press sectors are weak and radio is the dominant medium. There are
around 20 radio stations, but no national, domestic broadcaster. Many
listeners tune to Somali-language media based abroad, in particular
the BBC Somali service. In secessionist Somaliland and Puntland the
authorities maintain a tight hold on broadcasting.




“Due to its unrecognized status, The Republic of Somaliland has no
official contacts with any other nation. The current foreign policy of
Somaliland is to try to secure international recognition as a
sovereign, stable country, so that international aid can be more
readily secured. Somaliland was independent for a 3 day period in
1960, between the end of British colonial rule and its union with the
former Italian colony of Somalia which status then continued until the
unilateral declaration reestablishing its independence in 1991.
Somaliland’s claims to sovereignty rests on its former independent
status. In addition, the fact that the rest of Somalia is in a state
of chaos while Somaliland is under stable government also lends
credence to its claim. The attitude of the United Nations and the
African Union on the preservation of existing national borders has so
far prevented recognition of Somaliland, despite the examples of the
former status of British Somaliland, and the fact that Eritrea
successfully broke away from Ethiopia and became a recognized country.
An African Union fact-finding mission that visited Somaliland in early
2005 recently published a report that recommended favorable
consideration for recognizing Somaliland’s independence.”

“The population of Somaliland is estimated at around 3.5 million. The
average population growth rate is 3.1%. Population density is
estimated at approximately 25 persons per sq. kilometre. Fifty-five
percent of the population is either nomadic or semi-nomadic, while 45%
live in urban centres or rural towns. The average life expectancy for
the male is 50 and for females it is 55.

The Republic of Somaliland known as the Somaliland Protectorate under
the British rule from 1884 until June, 26th 1960 when Somaliland got
its independence from Britain. On July 1st 1960 it joined the former
Italian Somalia to form the Somali Republic. The union did not work
according to the aspirations of the people, and the strain led to a
civil war from 1980s onwards and eventually to the collapse of the
Somali Republic. After the collapse of the Somali Republic, the people
of Somaliland held a congress in which it was decided to withdraw from
the Union with Somalia and to reinstate Somaliland’s sovereignty.

The country has a republican form of government. The legislative
assembly is composed of two chambers – an elected elder’s chamber, and
a house of representatives. An elected President and an elected Vice-
president head the government. The President nominates the cabinet
which is approved by the legislature. There is an independent

One of the provisions of the National Constitution of the Republic of
Somaliland is the establishment of a Bank to carry out Central Banking
functions. The bank of Somaliland (Baanka Somaliland) was thus
inaugurated in 1994 together with appropriate Banking Laws, to insure
that Banking regulations are carried out to the letter. Board of
Directors has accordingly been appointed together with a Governor of
the Bank, Vice-governor, and a Director General. In addition, the Bank
of Somaliland besides its functions as Central Bank, runs the
activities of Commercial sector.

The Bank’s main objectives are detailed in Article 3 of the
Constitutive Law of Somaliland Bank as follows: Fostering Monetary
stability maintaining the internal and external values of the
Somaliland Currency and promoting credit and exchange conditions
conductive to the balanced growth of the economy of the Republic and
within the limits of its powers, it shall contribute to the financial
and economic policies of the state.”





“Our foreign service hang-ups about recognition are getting in the way
of us… to build adequately on the efforts of the Government of
Somaliland to create a modern, democratic state. In effect, we are
putting the interests of the warmongers in the south ahead of those of
the peace-builders in the north.”

Democracy comes of age in Somaliland
BY Stefan Simanowitz / Contemporary Review / Dec 2005

The rising sun reveals two long lines of people snaking towards a
small concrete polling station in Gabiley, a town in rural Somaliland.
Many of them have walked considerable distances and queued all night
in order to vote in these, the first parliamentary elections held in
the territory for nearly forty years. But although voters across the
country have turned out in force, and although the election is deemed
free and fair by international observers, the result will not be
officially recognised beyond its territorial borders. Indeed, in the
eyes of the international community, Somaliland is a country that does
not exist.

Since its unilateral proclamation of independence in 1991, Somaliland,
an area the size of England and Wales in the north of Somalia, has
struggled to gain international recognition. Whilst neighbouring
Somalia has all but ceased to function as an administrative, judicial
and territorial entity, Somaliland has taken important steps towards
creating a stable working democracy in one of the poorest and most
dangerous regions of the world. A new constitution was adopted in 2001
following a referendum. In 2002 local elections passed off peacefully,
and in 2003 free and fair presidential elections took place. Having
thus laid the foundations of a functioning democracy, the
parliamentary elections of 29th September 2005 were seen as the final
step in the democratisation process and an important milestone in the
transition from a traditional clan-based, single-party-dominated
political structure to a stable multi-party democracy. Many
Somalilanders also regarded them as the final prerequisite for
international recognition.

However, despite the fact that Somaliland may fulfil the requirements
necessary for recognition as a sovereign state, the question of
recognition will be determined by a number of external geo-political
factors. These factors include the African Union’s position on the
sanctity of colonial borders and Somaliland’s role in the so-called
‘war on terror’.

Somaliland was a British Protectorate for over eighty years during the
colonial period. In 1960, it gained independence but formed a hasty
union with the former Italian Somaliland to create the Somali
Republic. In 1969 Mohamed Siad Barre’s military coup brought Somalia’s
flirtation with democracy to an end and planted the seeds of a
secessionist struggle in Somaliland. This struggle culminated in a
brutal three-year civil war in which 50,000 people were killed and
half a million refugees fled. Between 1988 and 1991, Barre’s forces
massacred civilians, laid over two million mines and reduced cities to

In 1991, the overthrow of Barre’s regime plunged Somalia into a state
of anarchy from which it is yet to emerge. Somaliland, however, was
quick to declare independence and, over the years, it has managed to
establish itself as a model of stability, good governance and economic
discipline. Rival militias have been demobilised, mines have been
cleared and refugees have been repatriated. The war-ravaged
infrastructure has been rebuilt and Somaliland now boasts modern
airports, hospitals, ports, power plants and universities. There is a
free press and the central bank manages an official currency with
relatively stable exchange rates. An unarmed police force and
independent judiciary maintain order.

What is most remarkable about this progress is that it has been
achieved with virtually no external help. Whilst economic development
has been heavily supported by Somalilanders in the Diaspora, lack of
international recognition has meant that Somaliland does not qualify
for bilateral aid or support from international financial
institutions. This international isolation has not, however, resulted
in isolationism. Lack of access to external aid has forced this
country of 3.5-million people to become more self-reliant than many
other African states. This self-reliance is reflected in what is
perhaps the most significant of Somaliland’s achievements: its system
of government.

Rather than having a Western democratic model of governance imposed
on them from outside, Somaliland has managed to fuse Western-style
institutions of government with its own traditional forms of social
and political organisation. Its bi-cameral parliament reflects this
fusion of traditional and modern, with the Senate consisting of
traditional elders, and the House of Representatives consisting of
elected representatives.

However, with its history of ‘tribalism’ and internecine fighting, the
key challenge for Somaliland’s new parliament is to try and replace
clan-based politics with party politics. For its first twelve years,
Somaliland had no political parties but instead followed more
traditional clan-based forms of political organisation. Political
parties were introduced during the presidential elections and it was
hoped that the recent parliamentary elections would help to usher in a
representative system without allowing representation to be overtly
clan-based. Clearly, if clan loyalties were to take precedence over
party loyalties, parliament would be seriously weakened. The
traditional clan-based political system had resulted in an under-
representation of some clans and it was hoped that having just three
non-clan-based parties would reduce the extent to which clan
allegiance affected the selection of candidates and the way in which
people voted. A limited number of political parties would force
alliances between clans to develop thereby increasing integration and

In the traditional clan system it is the male elders who make
decisions, and during the nomination process, many candidates were
indeed selected by elders along clan lines. The male-dominated nature
of the selection process was reflected in the fact that only seven of
the 246 candidates were female. There was also evidence that political
parties often chose candidates based on their perceived popularity and
support base. Whilst the absence of voter registration makes it hard
to analyse voter patterns, it would seem from the results that there
is some evidence that regional voting patterns reflect clan
preferences. There is also evidence however, that alliances were
sought between subgroups of different major clans across regions under
the different party umbrellas. This would indicate that, although
tribalism inevitably played some part in the election, it has been

The election itself was very tightly fought. At one stage it seemed
inevitable that the president’s Democratic United National Party
(UDUB) would lose to the Solidarity Party (Kulmiye). However, UDUB was
able to use its powerbase as the governing party to maintain its
percentage of the popular vote, while Kulmiye lost considerable ground
to the Justice and Welfare Party (UCID). The close nature of the
result means that parliament will not be dominated by clan or party,
but will require much greater consensus-building coalitions. It will
nevertheless be interesting to see how party loyalties will be
negotiated against clan interests in the new parliament.

Election Day
Lack of international recognition meant that Somaliland was not able
to access forms of governance support commonly received by post-
conflict areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the
elections were well organised and successfully conducted with over
800,000 voters turning out to the country’s 985 polling stations to
elect 82 members of parliament. This represents a turnout of over 90
per cent.

Like all elections in infant democracies there were some inevitable
teething problems of a practical, administrative and logistical
nature. The absence of a census and voter register meant that a
decision was made to allow voters to vote in any of Somaliland’s six
regions: the only requirements for voting being that voters were 16
years of age and spoke Somali. Inevitably, this led to widespread
attempts at underage and multiple voting. Due to the tradition of
women decorating their hands with henna it was decided that invisible
ink (and black lamps) should be used instead of indelible ink. This
generally proved an effective barrier to multiple voting; however
punishment for those caught varied. In some polling stations those
attempting to vote more than once were merely turned away, often only
to rejoin the queues. In other polling stations people had their shoes
and belts taken away and were made to sit outside the polling station
awaiting detention by the police. Whilst the fact that 30 per cent of
the population are nomadic makes census taking and voter registration
more difficult, there is confidence that both will be in place before
the local elections in 2007.

With illiteracy rates as high as 80 per cent and with many people
having had little or no experience of voting, substantial voter
education was attempted prior to the elections. In addition, ballot
papers had symbols beside the name of each candidate to make it easier
for those that could not read. On the day however, many voters, not
even knowing which way up to hold the ballot paper, chose to announce
their choice to the local chairperson, who marked the paper for them.
Whilst this compromised the secrecy of the voting process, it did not
seem to bother voters who were generally eager to talk about whom they
had voted for.

Shadow of Terror
The shadow that hung over the elections and continues to darken
Somaliland’s future is that cast by the threat of terrorism. On 25th
September the atmosphere in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s impoverished but
relaxed capital, changed. With the elections only days away, several
suspected Islamic militants were arrested following a shoot-out with
police. The following day a cache of arms, including heavy anti-tank
weapons, was discovered in the city. According to the Interior
Minister, one of the men arrested was a senior al-Qaeda operative
allegedly in the region to organise attacks on local leaders and
foreigners. This incident heightened fears of violence especially as
it coincided with the arrival of 76 international election observers
including potentially high-profile targets such as parliamentarians
from South Africa and Europe as well as a former US Ambassador. It
also provided a stark reminder of Somaliland’s precarious position in
the global war on terror.

Whilst Somaliland has managed to avoid the violent lawlessness and
extremism of Somalia, the discovery of Islamic militants in Hargeisa
does not come as a great surprise. Over the last two years, extremists
have murdered four foreign aid workers in Somaliland. Last month four
men were sentenced to death for murdering a British couple in 2003 in
a school they had built. Although the predominantly Sufi form of Islam
practised in Somaliland does not lend itself to extremism, concerns
have been raised by the presence of an increasing number of radical
clerics as well as the porous nature of the border with Somalia.
Mogadishu has become something of a haven for al-Qaeda-affiliated
fighters and Somalia was used as a transit point for the terrorists
who carried out the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, as well as the 2002 suicide bombing in Mombasa.

Whilst the threat of terrorism is clearly a problem for Somaliland, it
also presents an opportunity. Ironically, the discovery of al-Qaeda
operatives in the territory might do more to make Western governments
take notice of Somaliland than the free and fair conduct of their
elections. Somaliland is strategically positioned on the Gulf of Aden
and is also home to what could be an important navel base in Berbera.
Currently the only location in Africa where the US has a military base
is neighbouring Djibouti, and Somaliland is seen by the Americans as a
potentially important ally against the spread of extremism.

Somaliland is conscious that too close a relationship with the
Americans might not be popular with its population, but it also
recognises the advantages that collaboration with the US could bring
in terms of finance, security and long-term stability. By promoting
itself as a non-threatening strategic partner in the ‘war on terror’,
Somaliland could fast-track its entry into the international

Recognition and beyond
Even if the US were to support Somaliland’s right to self-
determination, it is unlikely that they or any other country will
recognise Somaliland without the approval of the Organisation of
African Unity. One of the OAU’s central principles is that African
colonial borders should not be redrawn. This is based on a well-
grounded fear that recognition of ‘separatist’ states could cause the
continent to descend into chaos. However, there is a strong argument
that by breaking a union that it had entered into as an independent
state, Somaliland would be reverting to, rather than redrawing its
colonial borders. It is also worth noting that despite its reluctance
to acknowledge secessionist states, the OAU has recently recognised
the newly formed nations of Eritrea and Western Sahara. It is also
important to note that thirty new countries have been internationally
recognised since 1990, although most of these emerged from the
dissolution of the USSR and Yugoslavia.

Despite OAU intransigence, Somalilanders remain optimistic about the
possibility of recognition and the benefits it will bring. As well as
giving Somaliland access to bilateral aid, recognition would finally
give access to the mining and oil companies eager to exploit
Somaliland’s proven natural resources. Large-scale extraction of oil,
coal, gemstones and minerals could transform this country where 43 per
cent of the population are living in extreme poverty. Whilst
international recognition is not a panacea that will lift Somaliland
out of poverty or eradicate its problems with health, education, food
insecurity, water supply, and HIV/AIDS, it would undoubtedly speed

Although there is still a distance to travel, Somaliland’s
accomplishments are impressive. It has created effective institutions
of state and attained a level of political maturity well beyond its
years. Somaliland provides a useful model of democracy that offers
lessons to us all. It reminds us that democracy is not a static,
prescriptive system but a living idea that is constantly adapting and
taking new forms. In Hargeisa, reminders of how far this small nation
has come are all around. When the rains come, a mass grave beside the
river is exposed. Bones protrude from the red earth, some still tied
at the wrist. Beside the airport road, a rusting Russian tank is
plastered with election posters: a reminder of Somaliland’s war-
ravaged past and a symbol of hope for a democratic future.

{Stefan Simanowitz is a writer and researcher. He was part of the
International Election Observer mission to Somaliland in September


“Following the pattern of the Booroma National Charter, which
formalized the birth of Somaliland during 1993, a new entity – the
Puntland State of Somalia – was established in July 1998 out of a long
Constitutional process that lasted more than two months. The
institutional recognition of the role played by the traditional
leadership in Puntland in the seven-year period of peaceful self-
government in a stateless situation, has come only at the end of this
process. However, the mediation role of the elders has not been so
successful in other regions of Somalia for several reasons. Generally
speaking, outside the Majeerteen context, Somali society lacks a
stable hierarchy of paramount chiefs, and it follows that mediation
can achieve only a local dimension. Nevertheless, in the northwestern
regions (Somaliland) a regionalist feeling has widely spread in the
last thirty years. In this part of Somalia, after the collapse of the
State, the elders have collectively expressed this feeling better than
the SNM, frequently paralyzed by leadership competition.

The local concept of State sovereignty does not naturally match with
the rigid concept of State territory. Instead, it should expand in the
‘official’ territory of other countries in a flexible way and wherever
members of its community are found. This is exactly one of the options
offered to end the conflict and to reconstruct Somalia by the LSE
consultant to the European Union during 1995. Today, is effectively
put into effect in all Somali regions without respect of internal and
external borders. From another point of view, it is a slide back to a
legal status of the community group, confirmed by a citizenship which
corresponds to kinship. These are new elements of extreme importance
to those who are directly or indirectly committed to developing
alternative solutions in the African context, split up between State
sovereignty and ethnic allegiance. What is advancing in Somalia is a
more flexible and a more restricted idea of what the State is and
means in Africa (and elsewhere).”


Badhan, Somaliland, August 18, 2007 – The semi-autonomous regional
state of Puntland (Majeerteenya) declared this week that the recent
formation of `Makhir state’ by eastern Sanag residents is `a load of
hoo ha and a dream’. In a press statement, The Puntland Minister of
Information, Mr Abdirahman Banga in recent press statement strongly
condemned last week’s declaration of a new state in eastern Sanag. Mr
Banga said that the people behind the declaration of Makhir State are
dreaming because it doesn’t exist.

The minister stressed that this area is 100% in the hands and control
of Puntland, though the area recently saw bloody clashes between
forces loyal to Puntland and Somaliland. Soon after the minister’s
statement, the self-appointed President of `Makhir’ state, Mr Jibril
Ali Salad, who used to be a Somaliland parliamentarian, spoke to the
local media in response to the minister’s statements. Mr Salad said,
“Puntland has no business to talk about our new state, and they are
powerless to stop us, and do not have the ability to even come here”.

“Makhir state is acknowledged by its people as a fully-fledged state
independent of Puntland and Somaliland,” added Jibril Ali Salad.
Makhir state was established last week in the Badhan district of
eastern Sanag and its president is Jibril Ali Salad, who up to early
this year was a member of Somaliland’s parliament House of
Representatives. Somaliland’s government has not made any comment
regarding this newly-established enclave inside its border.

Environmental Protection Corps in Maakhir State of Somalia

The roots of the destructive nature of the charcoal trade in Sanaag
region was due to lack of rules and regulations stemmed from the
collapse of the central Somali Government. This finally came to an end
since the declaration of Maakhir State. The Environmental Protection
Corps (EPC) of Maakhir State is growing in numbers and contributing to
a larger slowdown of charcoal trade and illegal gaming of wild

The authority in Maakhir State has banned charcoal trade because of
the environmental destruction and desertification that it does to the
fragile Somali environment. Traders drastically cut entire swaths of
forests, and as a result the trade was flourishing due to the high
demand for charcoal in the Arab Gulf States and other countries in
Asia. These are the reasons why the Environment Protection Corps are
confronting the charcoal profiteers and their militia that have been
menacing the Gebi Valley and Sool Plateau.

It is important to highlight that the newly established Maakhir
Authority did not receive any international aid for this effort. This
largely local effort has made an immediate impact on preserving and
protecting the environment in the Gebi Valley and Sool Plateau. As
indicated by the President of Maakhir Jibril Salad in last Thursday’s
press release; ” Maakhir Administration used traditional conflict
resolution methods to stop the traders and their militia, however
these militia are heavily equipped with automatic firearms who would
not cooperate, but the most effective and successful method for
limiting the harmful distress of our environment was creating and
using the EPC forces.”

The EPC in Maakhir apprehended more than 80 criminals over the past 4
months and jailed them in the district of Dhahar. The administration
constructed a new program of materials, structures, and training to
educate militia while they are held in jail. Jama Dahir Kodah, one of
the program directors of the EPC, told the media that their next
sustainable occurring project is to implement a plantation program in
the region.

The EPC is divided into three forces in the following areas of Maakhir
State and the main base is in city of Dhahar, the capital city of
Boharo region, the new region in Sanaag that Maakhir created:
1) The first battalion is responsible for the protection in vast areas
which stretches from Baragaha-Qol in Southern Sanaag to Eilbuh in
Central Sanaag.
2) The Second Battalion is responsible for an area which stretches
from Dhahar to Western Part of Bari region of Somalia near Boosaaso.
3) The Third and most important battalion have bases along the highway
that links Maakhir to Puntland and does stop and search in suspected




African Union replaces dictators’ club
BY Paul Reynolds / 8 July, 2002

A new wind of change is blowing through Africa. The move from OAU
(Organisation of African Unity) to AU (African Union) is supposed to
be more than the dropping of one letter. It is supposed to represent a
shift from a “dictators’ club” to a people-based grouping. Everything
of course depends on implementation. And given the sad record – and
current problems, such as AIDS – there must be doubts about how much
can be achieved. AIDS alone is reducing life in some countries,
especially in southern Africa, to nothing more than an existence. Life
expectancies are being cut to levels unknown since the 19th Century.
The OAU was set up to develop Africa after colonialism – and to help
liberate Southern Africa from white rule.

The African Union reflects the developments in many parts of Africa in
recent years, as democracy has started to take hold and a new emphasis
has emerged which concentrates less on the battles of the past and
more on the need to improve the lives of ordinary people. The key
shift is that the principle of state sovereignty has been abandoned.

It was the central belief of the OAU that nobody should interfere in
anyone else’s business. That was especially convenient for dictators.
Now the AU has as one of its aims the promotion of “democratic
principles and institutions, popular participation and good
governance.” It will have the right to initiate a so-called “peer
review” of a country’s record, intervene if there is genocide and war
crimes and impose sanctions. Everything of course depends on

High hopes
Nobody is mourning the end of the OAU. Yet when it was founded in
Addis Ababa in 1963, Africa was full of pride and hope. Its leaders
were giants of their day. Africa was coming out of colonial rule and
many had led their nations to independence. It was a time to be bold.
One of the key figures was Dr Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana which
became independent (and dropped its colonial name the Gold Coast) in
1957. He believed that the African continent should be “united.” But
defining that unity was the problem. The OAU solved the problem by
praising unity in its language, but avoiding it in its practice. The
differences across the continent were just too many and the principle
which the OAU adopted, of non-interference and non-intervention,
simply meant that member states turned a blind eye to their

When one of the founding members, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia
gave a speech to the OAU, he was praised in its formal thanks for his
“wisdom.” When the man who overthrew him in 1974 (and later murdered
him and buried him under a latrine), Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam,
subsequently welcomed delegates back to Addis Ababa, he was thanked
for his “warm and generous hospitality.” Colonel Mengistu went on to
declare his “red terror” in which tens of thousands of opponents were
slaughtered by his neighbourhood committees. It was one of the
tragedies of the OAU that all that happened in the city where it was
founded. There were coups all over the place – including Nigeria
(which had been the jewel in the British colonial crown in Africa and
the hope for parliamentary democracy), Libya (which brought Colonel
Gaddafi to power) and Uganda (in which Idi Amin rose to fame). Kwame
Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup himself. It symbolised the problems
Africa was having in developing stable government. The OAU could say
little and did nothing.

Even after the recent elections in Zimbabwe, it was still bringing
forth its usual kind of statement when it objected to possible
American sanctions: “We are dismayed by this report, which amounts to
interference in the internal affairs of a member state.” It was more
successful over the years in trying to mediate in conflicts between
states. It helped mediate a border dispute between Algeria and Morocco
and between Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. One of the ironies was that
the OAU insisted on preserving the borders drawn by the colonial
rulers which often reflected spheres of influence rather than natural
divisions. The view at the time was also that Africa needed time to
settle down. And after all, it was achieving good economic growth of
about 5% a year in the 1960s. And the crisis in Southern Africa, where
white rule was being confronted, was regarded as more of a priority
for the OAU.

Faith lost
But Africa began to fail. Economic growth gave way to debt repayments;
the pioneering efforts to improve public health were swamped by AIDS,
wars were unending and famine stalked the land. The people lost faith
in governments and governments lost interest in the people. According
to Bernard Otabil of West Africa magazine: “The people did not feel
that the OAU satisfied their aspirations. It did not involve people on
the ground. It was top heavy.” The Secretary General of the OAU, Amara
Essy, who has helped to bring the new African Union about, was
scathing about the old grouping: “The OAU is the most difficult
organisation I have ever seen”, he told New African magazine. Mr
Otabil believes that the African Union is on the right course because
it is less grandiose and hopes to be more community based. It is also
offering an economic dimension and seeks African integration into the
world economy. One of the main tasks for the AU will be to push
forward with Nepad, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. This
offers a bargain with the West – you give us aid and we will put our
house in order. It is a long way from 1963.

African Union supports Somali split
BY Jean-Jacques Cornish / Feb 10 2006

Hopes of recognition for Somaliland’s 15-year independence have been
raised by the favourable report of an African Union mission that
visited the territory last year. The report, a copy of which the Mail
& Guardian has obtained, comes at a time when signs of a new
flexibility in African thinking on boundary issues are emerging. It
suggests that official African aid be tapped by this country of
3,5million people that was effectively destroyed by the Somali
dictator Siad Barre. With the fall of Barre in 1991, the former
British colony broke its union with southern neighbour, the former
Italian colony of Somalia. Since Barre’s departure, Somalia has been
without an effective government.

But Somaliland has pulled itself up by its bootstraps. It has had a
referendum to adopt a democratic Constitution and has organised
presidential and parliamentary elections. Independent international
observers have endorsed all of these. The Organisation of African
Unity refused to recognise Somaliland’s independence, citing the maxim
that there would be chaos if colonial boundaries were not observed in
post-independence Africa.

Unions between Senegal and Gambia, and Egypt and Sudan, among
others, have been broken without affecting the recognition of these
countries. The AU mission accepts this, stating in its report that
Somaliland’s “case should not be linked to the notion of ‘opening a
Pandora’s box’. As such, the AU should find a special method for
dealing with this outstanding case. “The lack of recognition ties the
hands of the authorities and people of Somaliland, as they cannot
effectively and sustainably transact with the outside to pursue the
reconstruction and development goals.

“Furthermore, given the acute humanitarian situation prevailing in
Somaliland, the AU should mobilise financial resources to help
alleviate the plight of the affected communities, especially those
catering for the internally displaced persons and the returnees.
Finally, given also the high potential for conflict between Mogadishu
and Hargeisa, the AU should take steps to discuss critical issues in
the relations between the two towns. That initiative should be taken
at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Iqbal Jhazbhay, an Africa analyst at the University of South Africa,
says the report illustrates a new mood in the AU, an organisation
Somaliland has officially applied to join. “The AU-sponsored peace
deal in Sudan allows for a referendum, five years from now, on whether
the south wants to go it alone. This could not have happened if it
were business as usual. The AU now goes for results, and takes account
of subjective facts and practical realities,” says Jhazbhay. “The AU
clearly recognises the stability created in Somaliland and the
infrastructural development. It is determined to bring peace to the
horn. It is looking at post-conflict reconstruction and it has the
capacity to handle these issues.”



Millions to enter banking system through mobile phone system.
BY Drew Hinshaw / May 28, 2009

Accra, Ghana — Most working people here do not exist, at least not in the records of any trustworthy bank: The taxi drivers stash their salaries beneath floor mats and the market women tie their earnings up in the waistlines of their wrapper-skirts. They are the “un-banked” — potential customers but for now invisible, lost among the 80 percent of Africans who do their banking in tin cans and fanny packs. They do not keep the sort of accounts one can present to a loan officer.

Africa’s economy of cash handovers and stowed-away savings has long been a hindrance to the continent’s economic growth, as well as a cause and excuse to deny credit to its poor. But now, at a time when 10 million Ghanaians own a phone, the world’s banks, cell phone networks and aid agencies are coming here to flip one thing into the other — to tweak a few features on a sim card, circumvent some regulations, and voila: The ordinary pre-paid cell phone becomes something not unlike a checking account — a way to text money from person to person throughout this intricate economy. “It’s the next big gold rush,” said Michael Amankwah, CEO of CoreNet, a Ghanaian ATM manufacturer whose business, the chief executive freely admits, “is going to take a big hit,” when cell phone banking takes hold. “It’s the future of transactions and payments here.”

Already, telecom companies in Kenya and South Africa are shuffling millions of dollars in rands and shillings a day, as customers text along their excess income — perhaps to help an ailing but faraway relative buy medicine, or to pay workers harvesting a distant farm. In March, the continent’s largest cell phone network, MTN, announced plans to bring their Mobile Money service to 21 nations — they’ll even throw in an MTN-branded debt card. In Cote d’Ivoire, French telecom giant Orange is hammering out a similar program, and in eight East African nations, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the British firm Monitise, which is not a telecoms firm, will do the same. “This is a way to include quite a number of people who are outside the reach of the financial system,” said David Andah, executive secretary of Ghana’s Microfinance Institutions Network. “I’m talking about that woman on the beach selling fish. People who are not linked up at all.”

Analysts expect similar programs to take off in most African countries within a year. They forecast that several hundred million of Africa’s least connected traders, farmers and laborers will be brought into the banking system within three to five years. For the small towns and unreachable villages that have sent generations of talented youths and natural resources to the booming cities, this is an especially big deal. The technology should ease the path of remittances home, and make it easier for agriculturalists to operate multiple, far-apart farms. Those lucky enough to procure a micro-loan will be able to receive payments without traveling for hours. Those hopeful enough to apply for a loan will be able to bring to the counter some evidence of their income, if only in text messages. And in the capitals of each new country where mobile banking takes off, governments face the enticing option of taxing millions more petty purchases a day, in all the impractical corners where bureaucrats seldom go. “As the cash-less society grows, the consequences are going to be pretty heavy,” said Ghana Manager Kofi Kufuor, of Afric Xpress, a company that helps Ghanaians pay their bills and transfer money via text messages. “This is a lot of money we are talking about.” And a lot of people: “You have 6.1 billion people on this planet, out of which only one and half, two billion have an account,” said Prateek Shrivastava, head international strategist for Monitise. “Billions are going to be interested.”

Yet, out of those billions of people — whose infinitesimal transactions were once so extraneous to the world’s financial institutions — nobody stands to benefit quite like Africa’s increasingly powerful telecom companies, the conglomerates who built this continent’s cellular towers and enable its calls. “These guys are going to be more powerful than Google, more powerful than Microsoft, within the locality in which they operate,” Amankwah said. “Already, telecoms move more money than the banks. And they have control over the channels — it’s their sim card. You’re using their network. “These guys are going to be kings.”

Mobile Plus and FE-Mobile enter the M-Banking and Remittances Phenomenon
BY Ana Escalante / August 30, 2007

Mobile banking seems to be the new way to “bank the poor.” There are a growing number of companies working with these new technologies, some of which have been featured on NextBillion in the past. Schemes vary from those operating with standard in-country banking transactions to those with foreign remittances. Mobile banking is taking off because it is convenient, fast, simple, and secure – money can be transmitted almost instantly. That, and many people in developing countries now own or have access to a phone.

Recently, NextBillion got an e-mail from Mobile Plus and FE-Mobile telling us about their new venture: enabling low-value payments and remittances through mobile phones. Mobile Plus is a small group of entrepreneurs that have built secure payment mechanisms and low value cross border mechanisms for developing countries. According to their press release:

Mobile Plus Ltd provides low-cost international call credit and remittance services using a dual purpose card. FE Mobile Ltd provides the SecureLink™ mobile security platform…Consumers will purchase pre-paid vouchers in denominations £20, £50 and £100 and transmit the voucher number to the recipient who has a choice: either to make low cost calls or to redeem the voucher (less a small fixed service charge) for cash at a local participating outlet.

Mobile Plus and FE Mobile are not the first companies to provide these types of services, but I still think the whole idea behind m-banking is very interesting. I recently blogged about a similar venture from ISI, and Rob also blogged about ARYTY earlier this year – both companies provide similar services. I think it’s excellent that these services are becoming available to the people living in the BOP, because it gives them access to financial services and the ability to receive money from relatives abroad without the costly punitive fees and charges of incumbent remittance providers.

Although there is no one “global” company for m-banking, those I have found so far cover either one country, a small group of countries or a specific region- such as the case of ARYTY, G-Cash and Smart Money in the Philippines; WIZZIT and MTN Mobile Money in South Africa; M-Pesa in Kenya; Celpay in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.





“WIZZIT is a cellphone-based banking facility whose target market is the estimated 16 million unbanked or underbanked South Africans – about 60 percent of the country’s population. Unlike its competitors (FNB and MTN), WIZZIT does not require users to have a bank account and is compatible with early generation cell phones popular in low-income communities. The facility even works with customers who use pay-as-you-go cellphones – another distinction. In addition to being able to conduct cellphone-to-cellphone transactions, WIZZIT account holders are issued Maestro debit cards that can be used at any ATM or retailer. WIZZIT charges per-transaction fees that range from 99c (USD 0.15) to R4.99 (USD 0.78) and does not charge a monthly fee nor require a minimum balance. There are no transaction limitations – the service is purely pay-as-you-go. WIZZIT employs over 800 “Wizz Kids” – typically unemployed university graduates from low-income communities – to promote the product and help unbanked customers open accounts.”


[ From the archive, originally posted to spectre Mar 30, 2007 ],,2037930,00.html
Kenya sets world first with money transfers by mobile
BY Xan Rice in Nairobi / March 20, 2007

The ping of a text message has never sounded so sweet. In what is being touted as a world first, Kenya’s biggest mobile operator is allowing subscribers to send cash to other phone users by SMS. Known as M-Pesa, or mobile money, the service is expected to revolutionise banking in a country where more than 80% of people are excluded from the formal financial sector. Apart from transferring cash – a service much in demand among urban Kenyans supporting relatives in rural areas – customers of the Safaricom network will be able to keep up to 50,000 shillings (£370) in a “virtual account” on their handsets.

Developed by Vodafone, which holds a 35% share in Safaricom, M-Pesa was formally launched in Kenya two weeks ago. More than 10,000 people have signed up for the service, with around 8m shillings transferred
so far, mostly in tiny denominations. Safaricom’s executives are confident that growth will be strong in Kenya, and later across Africa. “We are effectively giving people ATM cards without them ever having to open a real bank account,” said Michael Joseph, chief executive of Safaricom, who called the money transfer concept the “next big thing” in mobile telephony.

M-Pesa’s is simple. There is no need for a new handset or SIM card. To send money you hand over the cash to a registered agent – typically a retailer – who credits your virtual account. You then send between 100 shillings (74p) and 35,000 shillings (£259) via text message to the desired recipient – even someone on a different mobile network – who cashes it at an agent by entering a secret code and showing ID. A commission of up to 170 shillings (£1.25) is paid by the recipient but it compares favourably with fees levied by the major banks, whose services are too expensive for most of the population.

Mobile phone growth in Kenya, as in most of Africa, has been remarkable, even among the rural poor. In June 1999 Kenya had 15,000 mobile subscribers. Today it has nearly 8 million out of a population of 35 million, and the two operators’ networks are as extensive as the access to banks is limited. Safaricom says it is not so much competing with financial services companies as filling a void. In time, M-Pesa will allow people to borrow and repay money, and make purchases. Companies will be able to pay salaries directly into workers’ phones – something that has already attracted the interest of larger employers, such as the tea companies, whose workers often have to be paid in cash as they do not have bank accounts.

There are concerns about security, but Safaricom insists that even if someone’s phone is stolen the PIN system prevents unauthorised withdrawals. Mr Joseph said the only danger is sending cash to the wrong mobile number and the recipient redeeming it straight away. The project is being watched closely by mobile operators around the world as a way of targeting the multibillion pound international cash transfer industry long dominated by companies such as Western Union and Moneygram. Remittances sent from nearly 200 million migrant workers to developing countries totalled £102bn last year, according to the World Bank. The GSM Association, which represents more than 700 mobile operators worldwide, believes this could quadruple by 2012 if transfers by SMS become the norm. Vodafone has entered a partnership with Citigroup that would soon allow Kenyans in the UK to send money home via text message. The charge for sending £50 is expected to be about £3, less than a third of what some traditional services charge.

{The following correction appeared in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Saturday March 31 2007 : The claim in the article above was wrong. The mobile banking system may be the first in Africa but two companies, Globe Telecom and Smart Communications, have been operating money transfers in the Philippines since around 2005.}




GCASH, Globe’s flagship M-Commerce service, was born from a simple goal of transforming a mobile phone into a wallet. With its launch in October 2004, GCASH has effectively given Globe and TM subscribers access to a cashless and cardless method of facilitating money remittance, donations, loan settlement, disbursement of salaries or commissions, and payment of bills, products and services, with just a text message. GCASH requires only a mobile phone and a one-time registration, with a minimal charge of P1.00 per GCASH transaction. GCASH dramatically expands the menu of mobile commerce transactions, and has provided the low income economic class and overseas workers access to the relevant services below:
Domestic and International Remittances : Sending of money via GCASH as supported by a wide cash-handling network, including leading local and international remittance companies backed by reputable settlement banks
Micro-Payments : Payments for purchases from the growing list of merchant partners, including essentials such as government taxes, medicines, boat fares, food, mobile prepaid credits (load), and schools and office supplies
Micro-Credit Payments : Allows disbursement of loan principals and payment of loan interest and amortization payments to lower income consumers with limited access to banks
Bills & Tuition Fee Payments : Allows payment of bills of various utility companies, internet service providers, insurance companies, as wella s schools and universities
Donations : Provides a quick and safe processing of GCASH donations to different institutions
“This video profiles the use of G-Cash in Cantilan, a Filipino farming and fishing community 5 hours away from the nearest operational airport. The video features interviews with customers (there are 8,900 in Cantilan) and agents from a few of the 60+ small businesses, including pharmacies, bakeries, restaurants, who accept G-Cash as a payment method.”


RBAP (Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines)
Globe Telecom Philippines Joins with Microfinance Providers in the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP) to Supply Mobile Banking Services to the Rural Poor
BY Brett Rudder / September 16, 2008

“The Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP) and Globe Telecom Inc, the Philippines’ second largest telecommunications provider, have partnered to extend mobile banking services to rural banks, allowing their customers to conduct transactions using mobile phones. The effort brings the mobile banking service G-cash, managed by Globe Telecom’s subsidiary G-Xchange Inc, to 375 participating branch locations. Microfinance institutions under this program become “cash in” and “cash out” outlets that are accredited to convert actual money into electronic money and vice versa.

RBAP is a consortium organization of approximately 700 rural banks in the Philippines. Its Microenterprise Access to Banking Services (MABS) assists its members in increasing access to banking services for the microenterprise sector. The US Agency for International Development has supported MABS since 1998. The central bank of the Philippines Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has approved G-cash and expects the market for these services to grow by at least 20 percent over the next year. RBAP reports that the gross loan portfolio of MABS microfinance institutions is equivalent to USD 41.1 million and that their savings deposits total USD 36.6 million.”


“XacBank, Mongolia’s largest microfinance institution recently launched its partnership with Kiva, the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website. XacBank’s clients are now featured on, and individual lenders from around the world can make small loans of $25 over the Internet to micro entrepreneurs in Mongolia. These small loans help businesses such as butcher shops, furniture stores and beauty salons to succeed while enabling hardworking Mongolians to provide food and education for their families.”

Bank ATMs soon may be used for sending cash person-to-person
By Gail Liberman and Alan Lavine / 11.11.2008

If you’re without a bank account, you soon could have a low-cost way of sending cash to others — using your cell phone and a bank ATM. Amid criticism that banks aren’t doing enough to attract those who lack bank accounts, a Charlotte-based company, Privier Inc., is courting financial institutions to provide this service. Privier’s patented “ATMSend” would let the so-called un-banked transfer cash without requiring the sender or recipient to have a bank ATM card or bank account. The system would use bank ATMs that permit cash deposits, said Charles Polanco, chief executive of Privier.

Western Union Co. in Englewood, Colo., and MoneyGram International, in Minneapolis, currently dominate the money transfer business. Combined, the two companies have 22% of the market, according to a report in June by Marketdata, a Tampa, Fla. market research publisher. However, new competition is rapidly emerging from Visa, MasterCard, Wal-Mart — and the latest mobile technology allowing for financial transactions using cell phones.

Privier would equip screens of participating bank ATMs with icons reading “Send Cash” and “Pickup Cash.” A cash sender and recipient would press appropriate buttons to automatically activate the ATM for an “ATMSend” transaction, Polanco said. Each bank would determine limits regarding how much cash could be transferred. The sender first would have to register a cell phone through a participating bank either online or via telephone, entering a name, address, birth date, Social Security number and cell phone number. Privier would verify the user’s identity and check information against the Office of Foreign Assets Control list of terrorists.

At a participating bank ATM, the sender could then click “Send Cash” and enter the cell phone number. A 10-digit withdrawal number automatically would be text-messaged to the cell phone number provided. The sender could follow prompts at the ATM to enter cash into the machine and provide the recipient with the authorization code along with the amount sent. With that information, the recipient could obtain the cash at an ATM within the participating bank’s network. All funds must be picked up at once, and if funds go unclaimed, senders would be notified to pick up the funds at an ATM location after 30 days.

‘The Grameen-Obopay Bank A Billion Initiative’ / August 05, 2008

Obopay, Inc., the pioneering service provider for payments via mobile phones, and Grameen Solutions, the company globally recognized for promoting economic and social development through information and communications technology, today announced a unique, first-of-its-kind alliance to use mobile technology to deliver banking services to a billion of the world’s poorest people by 2018. The Grameen-Obopay Bank A Billion Initiative will provide access to affordable financial services, including cross-border remittances, money transfer, payments, savings and credit accounts. By empowering life and work endeavors with mobile technology that is ubiquitous even in the most impoverished and remote corners of the world, Grameen-Obopay is bringing the full power of banking to those who need it most. “I was inspired to found Obopay when I was volunteering in Africa and saw that while people in remote corners of the world often lacked access to the most basic financial services, they almost all had mobile phones,” explained Ms. Carol Realini, CEO of Obopay. “We are thrilled to embark on a partnership with Grameen Solutions, and look forward to working with them to bring truly powerful mobile banking services to people everywhere.”

With more than 3 billion connections to GSM mobile communications networks currently active globally and emerging markets responsible for 85 percent of new connections today1, mobile technology can effectively deliver financial services to billions of underserved people on every continent. Until now, even the most basic financial services have been unavailable to the world’s poor because they are physically inaccessible and/or far too expensive to be practical. Using mobile technology to deliver banking services overcomes previously limiting restrictions of space and time by using existing infrastructure to give even the most underprivileged access to financial services.

Grameen Solutions’ CEO Mr. Kazi Islam explained, “We carefully evaluated globally available mobile money service providers with a view to identifying a partner that fits with our vision and mission. Obopay is clearly that partner, and we look forward to maximizing the global potential of mobile financial services with them. By using a technology that is already pervasive — the mobile phone — we will clearly be able to have a dramatic impact on global poverty.”

Working initially in Mumbai, India and in Bangladesh, The Grameen-Obopay Bank A Billion Initiative will begin delivering services in October, 2008. Commenting on the association, Mr. Aditya Menon, Executive Director and CTO, Obopay India, said, “Obopay’s partnership with Grameen Solutions is a clear and powerful validation of Obopay’s ability to have a dramatic and transformational global impact on personal finance.” Grameen was founded by Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founding father of the microfinance movement and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Prof. Yunus commented that, “Mobile based financial services will bring more power to poor people. I’m excited about the partnership that Grameen Solutions and Obopay have created.”




‘Coltan is the colloquial African name for columbite-tantalite, a
metallic ore from which is extracted the elements niobium and
tantalum. Tantalum from coltan is used in consumer electronics
products such as cell phones, DVD players, and computers. Export of
coltan from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to European
and American markets has been cited by experts as helping to finance
the present-day conflict in the Congo, with one aid agency asserting
that “much of the finance sustaining the civil wars in Africa,
especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is directly
connected to Coltan profits.”’



Inside Africa’s PlayStation War
BY John Lasker / 08 July 2008

In the rugged volcanic mountains of the Congo the conflict known as
Africa’s World War continues to smolder after ten grueling years. The
conflict earned its name because at the height of the war eight
African nations and over 25 militias were in the combatant mix. But
more recently the conflict was given another name: The PlayStation
War. The name came about because of a black metallic ore called
coltan. Extensive evidence shows that during the war hundreds of
millions of dollars worth of coltan was stolen from the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC). The UN and several NGOs claim some of the
most active thieves were the Rwandan military, several militias
supported by the Rwandan government, and also a number of western-
based mining companies, metal brokers, and metal processors that had
allegedly partnered with these Rwandan factions.

After it is refined, coltan becomes a bluish-gray powder called
tantalum, which is defined as a transition metal. For the most part,
tantalum has one significant use: to satisfy the West’s insatiable
appetite for personal technology. Tantalum is used to make cell
phones, laptops and other electronics made, for example, by SONY, a
multi-billion dollar multinational based in Japan that manufactures
the iconic PlayStation, a video game console. And while allegations of
plundering coltan from a nation in desperate need of revenue seem bad
enough, the UN also discovered that Rwandan troops and rebels were
using prisoners-of-war and children to mine for the “black gold.”

“Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in
Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms,”
said British politician Oona King, who was a Member of Parliament from
1997 to 2005. Most of the fighting from Africa’s World War ended in
2003 following a peace accord. But reports of troop tension,
instability and rampant sexual violence against women continue to
emerge from where the war was at its most intense: the eastern portion
of the DRC, near the city of Goma and in the DRC province of North
Kivu. This is a region where millions of Congolese live among active
volcanoes and endangered Mountain Gorillas.

But even if many have put down their guns, a London-based non-
government office called Rights and Accountability in Development
(RAID) continues to fight its own battle against scores of Western-
based mining companies that continued to work in the DRC, or purchase
minerals and metals allegedly stolen from the DRC, as the war raged
on. These companies, such as Eagle Wings Resources International of
Ohio, Cabot Corporation of Boston, Mass., and Chemie Pharmacie Holland
of the Netherlands, were charged with having stolen millions of
dollars worth of resources out of the DRC, or made millions processing
stolen resources from the DRC, namely coltan.

When the war started in 1998, the UN and others believed that one area
of the conflict was the product of tribal and ethnic rivalries. The
Rwandan government, for instance, told the world they invaded the DRC,
their neighbor to the West, to go after those who committed atrocities
during the 1994 genocide that killed over 800,000 people. Yet,
according to the UN, the Rwandans were shedding blood for something
far cheaper; they were shooting it out for the mines that pockmarked
the volcanic mountains of DRC’s eastern regions. These mines contained
deposits of cobalt, uranium, gold and, of course, coltan.

A UN Panel of Experts investigation would expose the resource war in
2001, releasing several reports entitled “The Illegal Exploitation of
Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC”. The reports
made disturbing charges against scores of multinational mining
companies, like Eagle Wings Resources International and Chemie
Pharmacie Holland. The UN alleged the mining companies directly and
indirectly fueled the war, paralyzing the DRC government, and using
the conflict to keep the coltan flowing cheaply out of the Congo. Some
companies were also accused by the UN of aligning with elements of the
warring parties.

Fast forward to 2008, and RAID, which is funded by the Queen Elizabeth
House, remains determined to convince several of the world’s most
powerful governments to investigate the UN’s allegations. Stealing
natural resources amidst the chaos of a war violates guidelines set-
forth by the Organization for Economic Co-operation, which administers
these ethical standards endorsed by over 30 nations, says RAID. The
International Criminal Court has also started its own investigation,
and RAID is calling on all named governments to cooperate with the

But there’s one major problem: nearly all of the governments,
including the US State Department, have essentially brushed RAID off.
They’re refusing to initiate an investigation despite the assurance,
for example, of Richard S. Williamson, who was US Ambassador to the UN
at the time. He told the UN Security Council “the United States
government will look into the allegations against these companies and
take appropriate measures [and] not turn a blind eye to these

Not long after the report from the UN Panel of Experts went public,
the UN exonerated all US companies. RAID says diplomatic pressure from
the US and other governments made the UN cave. “The US government
was one of the most determined to quash the UN Panel’s reports but this
is also true of Canada, the UK and Belgium,” says Tricia Feeney,
executive director of RAID. “All (US companies) were exonerated. The
UN Panel said the cases had been resolved.”

Feeney says just because the UN laid down, doesn’t mean the companies
are innocent. “Essentially the UN was forced to drop the case but as
they explained (in their reports), ‘resolved’ didn’t mean that the
initial allegations were unsubstantiated,” she says. “The (US)
companies have tried to hide behind the technicality of ‘resolved’ but
the UN itself made clear that this classification didn’t mean that the
companies had not behaved in the way described in the UN reports.”

The UN said it stands by the report, but added it is up to the
governments to make their own investigation and prosecute if need be.
RAID says the UN has cowered because if Western-based mining
companies are prosecuted out of Africa, China may step in. It is widely
known the West grows more concerned by the day as China continues to
sign more and more resource concessions with African nations, such as
Sudan and Nigeria.

In interviews over the phone, several of the named companies insisted
they were not involved with any wrongdoing in the Congo. The CEO of
Eagle Wings Resources International, for instance, who did not offer
his name for publication, swore “on the Bible” he was unaware his
company may have been acting unethical. Both a mining company and
coltan broker, Eagle Wings was one of a handful of US companies
accused of using child labor in one of their mines in eastern DRC.
Eagle Wings was also an alleged business partners with an “elite
network” of Rwandan military officers, politicos and businessmen.
Accusations of child labor have bankrupted Eagle Wings, said the CEO.
After finding out his company had been charged by the UN, his
customers abandoned him.

But even if the mining companies take the brunt of the blame from RAID
and the UN, some experts say there’s a whole other dynamic when it
comes to blame for the “The PlayStation War”. When the war began in
1998, the race for every adult in the West to have a cell phone was
well past the starting line. A computer in every household was also
becoming a reality. And by the end of 2000, millions of Americans were
still waiting for a PlayStation 2, a second-generation video game
console, which SONY says was having manufacturing issues.

To fulfill the personal-tech desires of hundreds of millions of
consumers, SONY and other manufacturers needed electric capacitors.
These capacitors were made with tantalum, which is able to withstand
extreme heat. So as multiple technological revolutions occurred in
unison at the end of the 1990s, the worldwide demand for tantalum
began to boil. Like today’s demand for oil, this fever puts tremendous
stress on tantalum’s supply chain. From the beginning of 1999 to the
beginning of 2001, the world price of tantalum went from US $49.00 a
pound to $275.00 a pound. At the same time, the demand and price of
coltan also began skyrocketing; coltan is needed to make tantalum.

By 1999, the Rwandan army and several closely linked militias had
swarmed over the hills of eastern DRC and took many coltan mines by
force, said the UN. The Rwandan army that year would eventually make
at least $250 million by selling DRC coltan with the help of mining
companies and metal brokers. The estimates of the war’s dead range
from hundreds of thousands to several million. A couple million
Congolese are believed to have been displaced.

American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker of tantalum capacitors
would eventually swear off coltan from the Congo because of human
rights violations, making suppliers certify origins. “But it may be a
case of too little, too late,” stated the UN Panel of Experts. “Much
of the coltan illegally stolen from Congo is already in laptops, cell
phones and electronics all over the world.”

David Barouski, a researcher and journalist from Wisconsin, says it is
certain that the coltan from this conflict is also in SONY video game
consoles across the world. “SONY’s PlayStation 2 launch (spring of
2000) was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan that
began in early 1999,” said Barouski, who has witnessed the chaos of
eastern DRC firsthand. “SONY and other companies like it, have the
benefit of plausible deniability,” he said, “because the coltan ore
trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when SONY gets a
processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original
coltan ore came from, and frankly don’t care to know.” He adds, “But
statistical analysis shows it to be nearly inconceivable that SONY
made all its PlayStations without using Congolese coltan.”

SONY still uses tantalum in some of its parts, Satoshi Fukuoka, a
spokesperson SONY from Japan, said in an e-mail. He said they are
satisfied with responses from suppliers the tantalum they use is not
“illegally mined Congo coltan”. This also goes for past purchases of
tantalum parts as well, he said, but he did not specify how far back
they began demanding parts without Congo coltan. Fukuoka said the
PlayStation 2, PSP and PlayStation 3, “are manufactured mostly from
independent parts and components that manufacturers procured

“The material suppliers source their original material from multiple
mines in various countries. It is therefore hard for us to know what
the supply chain mix is,” he said. “I am happy to state to you that to
the best of our knowledge, (SONY) is not using the material about
which you have expressed concern.” Like the war in the Congo itself,
the price of coltan has since cooled and is being priced at levels
pre-1999, as the demand for the “black gold” declines. Nevertheless,
experts such as Barouski say another Congo resource will take its
place as the next “hot commodity”, and the emergence of another
African resource war will not be far behind.



Blood on Your Phone? Unlikely It’s ‘Conflict Coltan’
Tales of coltan—tantalum ore—derived from exploitation in the Congo
seem mythical. But only a new tracking test could prove it
BY Jack Ewing / November 17, 2008

It sounded like a compelling story. During a visit to South Africa in
October, I saw a news report in which a refugee from the Democratic
Republic of the Congo described in wrenching terms how demand for a
metal used in consumer electronics is fueling a new outbreak of
bloodshed in the mineral-rich region.

A bit of searching on Google supported the notion that mobile-phone
users are helping create a humanitarian catastrophe because they make
a market for illegally mined coltan ore from the war zone in eastern
Congo. “Is there blood on your mobile phone?” asked Danish relief
group DanChurchAid on a Web page that dates back to 2006 but is still
available. But when I began investigating, the truth turned out to be
more nuanced—providing a lesson in how difficult it can be to know
whether your buying habits are socially responsible. In fact, the
story demonstrates how difficult it is for companies to be socially
responsible even if they try.

A Tantalum Shortage in 2000
The mineral in question is known as coltan, which is actually African
slang for ore that contains tantalum, a metal prized for electronics
use because of its resistance to corrosion and heat. In fact, mobile
phones do contain tantalum, as do a host of other products, including
MP3 players, gaming consoles, and even aircraft engines. A typical
Nokia handset has a tantalum capacitor, a component that temporarily
stores electrical charges, according to the Finnish handset maker.

The electronics industry is clearly sensitive to charges that it uses
“conflict coltan,” which was a big issue several years ago. In 2000,
during an earlier round of fighting in the Congo that killed millions
of people, fears of a global tantalum shortage—not related to the
conflict—pushed the price of the refined product to as high as $300
per pound, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s at least
four times the current price. Tantalum became one of a host of minerals
—including gold, tin, and cobalt—exploited by various factions in the
Congo to purchase weapons or enrich themselves.

If you live in a lawless corner of the Congo, coltan might seem like
an attractive business, at least compared to subsistence farming. The
ore lends itself to so-called artisanal mining: Local people can dig
it up and concentrate it using homemade sluices, similar to how
California pioneers panned for gold. Guerilla factions in the Congo,
as well as their government backers in countries such as Rwanda or
Uganda, make money by controlling the coltan mines directly or by
extracting payoffs from small-scale miners and dealers.

Not So Much Congolese Tantalum
The coltan trade was even lucrative enough to attract the
international arms mafia. According to a 2003 U.N. report, one coltan
smuggler was Viktor Bout, a notorious former KGB agent now being held
in a Thai jail as he fights extradition to the U.S. on charges he
supplied weapons to terrorist groups. Bout used a fleet of cargo
planes to haul loads of illegally mined coltan and other minerals from
the Congo to foreign buyers, according to the U.N. “There are profits
to be made because it can be moved relatively easily,” says Jason
Burkitt, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London who follows the
mining industry. “It lends itself to entrepreneurial types, whether
they’re local business people or warlords.”

But does that mean your mobile phone is helping General Laurent
Nkunda— whose ethnic Tutsi militia recently overran swaths of eastern
Congo— buy AK-47s and land mines? That would be a stretch. As it
happens, the Congo is not a major source of tantalum. Most comes
from Australia, followed by Canada and such African countries as
Ethiopia and Mozambique. The U.S. Geological Survey groups the
Congo under “other” tantalum sources that together account for just
2% of world production. Recycled tantalum also is available. Even
tantalum from the Congo isn’t necessarily tainted: Foreign and
domestic companies mine it legally in some areas, providing an
important source of livelihood.

In addition, the earlier tantalum controversy inspired companies to
take steps to ensure their metal comes from legitimate sources. German
metals company H.C. Starck, which buys ore and refines it into
tantalum powder for industrial use, says it gets most of its raw
material from Australia and none from Africa.

Impossible to Be Certain
Nokia says it requires component suppliers to certify that none of
their tantalum comes from the Congo and it periodically checks
compliance. In any case, Nokia says that the mobile-phone industry
accounts for 2% of total tantalum demand and that each mobile phone
contains only 40 milligrams of the stuff.

The odds that your phone contains conflict coltan are pretty long. But
activists say the point is that even the relatively small amounts of
coltan coming from the Congo are providing revenue for the warring
factions. “I agree that a small percentage of coltan is coming from
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but this small percentage is
very important to the DRC,” says Esther de Haan, a researcher at Dutch
activist group makeITfair, who notes that unsafe working conditions
are also a huge concern. “Companies are responsible for going down the
supply chain and finding out where [their supply] is coming from.”

London-based humanitarian group Global Witness has also revived the
conflict coltan issue, on Nov. 14 calling on companies to ensure they
are not buying coltan or other minerals such as tin ore or gold from
the North and South Tivu regions of the Congo, where the fighting is
taking place. But it is nearly impossible for companies to say with
absolute certainty that no tantalum of dubious origin makes it into
the supply chain. Shady operators have an incentive to buy black
market ore, which is cheaper because it avoids the costly customs-
clearance process that legitimate importers must undergo. Most
developed countries have strict controls. But some Chinese ports wave
shipments through, industry sources say. Once the ore has been refined
to nonradioactive tantalum powder, it’s impossible to trace.

Tracking Coltan Fingerprints
There may be a new way to keep illegally mined coltan and other
valuable metals off the market. Frank Melcher, a scientist at
Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in
Hanover, leads a team that has devised a way to identify where ore
comes from. Every coltan mine has its own geological history and
composition. Melcher’s team has already catalogued 600 unique coltan
“fingerprints,” and can tell precisely where ore comes from, even when
batches from different locations are mixed together.

With backing from the German government, Melcher is pushing to set up
a system in which legitimate mines would register their coltan
fingerprints. An independent organization would spot-check ore and
reject any that isn’t in the approved database. “Our goal is to
establish a certified trading chain between traders and consumers,”
Melcher says. Such a system could also be used to ensure that mines
provide decent working conditions and meet environmental standards.
The problem is that the testing procedure is costly and time-
consuming. But Melcher sounds optimistic that companies that use
components containing tantalum will support his plan. “They don’t want
to be in the news again,” he says.

Frank Melcher
email : F.Melcher [at] bgr [dot] de

Congo, Democratic Republic: Cell phones, forest destruction and death

Could anyone imagine that cell phones are tainted with the blood of
3.2 million deaths since 1998? Also, that the same thing happens with
some children’s video games? And that mega-technologies contribute to
forest depredation and spoliation of the rich natural resources of
paradoxically impoverished peoples?

In the case of these new high techs, it is Coltan that is at stake —
the minerals columbium and tantalite, or Coltan for short. Tantalite
is a rare, hard and dense metal, very resistant to corrosion and high
temperatures and is an excellent electricity and heat conductor. It is
used in the microchips of cell phone batteries to prolong duration of
the charge, making this business flourish. Provisions for 2004 foresee
sales of 1,000 million units. To these properties are added that its
extraction does not entail heavy costs –it is obtained by digging in
the mud– and that it is easily sold, enabling the companies involved
in the business to obtain juicy dividends.

Even though Coltan is extracted in Brazil, Thailand and much of it
from Australia –the prime producer of Coltan on a world level– it is
in Africa where 80% of the world reserves are to be found. Within this
continent, the Democratic Republic of Congo concentrates over 80% of
the deposits, where 10,000 miners toil daily in the province of Kivu
(eastern Congo), a territory that has been occupied since 1998 by the
armies of Rwanda and Uganda. A series of companies has been set up in
the zone, associated to large transnational capital, local governments
and military forces (both state and “guerrilla”) in a dispute over the
control of the region for the extraction of Coltan and other minerals.
The United Nations has not hesitated to state that this strategic
mineral is funding a war that the former United States Secretary of
State, Madeleine Albright called “the first African world war” (and we
understand by world wars, those in which the great powers share out
the world), and is one of its causes.

In August 1998, the Congolese Union for Democracy (Rassemblement
Congolais pour la Démocratie-RCD), launched a rebellion in the city of
Goma, supported by the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA). Since then, in a
struggle in which, behind the myth of ethnic rivalries, are hidden the
old colonial powers that continue to ransack the wealth of post-
Colonial Africa, the war has been rife between two, loosely defined
parties. On the one hand the RDC and the Governments of Rwanda and
Uganda, supported by the United States, relying on the military bases
such as that built in Rwanda by the United States company Brown &
Root, a branch of Halliburton, where Rwandese forces are trained and
logistic support is provided to their troops in the DRC, together with
United States combat helicopters and spy satellites. The other party
is made up of the Democratic Republic of Congo (led by one of Kabila’s
sons, after his father was assassinated by the Rwandese), Angola,
Namibia and Zimbabwe.

However, behind these states are the companies sharing out the zone.
Various joint companies have been set up for this purpose, the most
important one being SOMIGL (the Great Lakes Mining Company), a joint
company set up in November 2000, involving Africom, Premeco, Cogecom
and Cogear, (the latter two are Belgium companies –it should be
remembered that DRC, formerly the Belgium Congo, was a Belgium
colony), Masingiro GmbH (a German company) and various other
companies that ceased their activities in January 2002 for various reasons
(a drop in Coltan prices, difficult working conditions, suspension of
Coltan imports from DRC) and are waiting for better conditions: Sogem
(a Belgian company), Cabot and Kemet (U.S.) the joint United States-
German company Eagles Wings Resources (now with headquarters in
Rwanda), among others.

The transport companies belong to close family members of the
presidents of Rwanda and Uganda. In these virtually military zones,
private air companies bring in arms and take out minerals. Most of the
Coltan extracted is later refined by a small number of companies in
Germany, the United States, Kazakhstan and the Far East. The branch of
Bayer, Starck produces 50% of powdered tantalite on a world level.
Dozens of companies are linked to the traffic and elaboration of this
product, with participation of the major monopolizing companies in
Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States.
As if this were not enough, the Trade, Development and Industry Bank,
created in 1996 with headquarters in the capital city of Rwanda,
Kigali, acts as correspondent for the CITIBANK in the zone, and
handles large amounts of money from Coltan, gold and diamond
operations. Thirty-four companies import Coltan from the Congo, among
these, 27 are of western origin, mainly Belgium, Dutch and German.

The Belgium air company, Sabena is one of the means of transporting
the mineral from Kigali (capital city of Rwanda) to Brussels, and
associated to American Airlines, announced last 15 June the suspension
of the service, under strong pressure from the world campaign “No
blood on my cell phone!” (or: “Pas de sang sur mon GSM”), exhorting
people not to buy cell phones containing Coltan due to its
repercussion on the prolongation of the civil war in the Congo. As a
result of this campaign, the Belgium research institute International
Peace Information Service (IPIS) produced a document in January 2002
“Supporting the War Economy in the DRC: European Companies and the
Coltan Trade,” which documents the leading role played by the
companies in promoting the war through their cooperation with the
military and exhorting that the international consideration of the
Coltan trade be given priority over its local aspects.

The main zones where Coltan is extracted are located in forest zones,
such as the Ituri forest (see WRM bulletin No. 67). The entry of
military commandos and workers (many of them farmers who have been
dispossessed of their lands and resources, seeking the promise of
better income), the installation of mining camps, the construction of
routes to reach and take out the coveted mineral, all this goes to
conspire against the forest as a whole. Formerly fulfilling functions
for the region and the neighbouring peoples, the forest, once the
traditional lands of the hunting and gathering indigenous peoples,
such as the Mbuti and a reserve for gorillas and okapis –a relative
of the giraffe– the habitat of elephants and monkeys, has become the
scenario for war and depredation.

The African journalist, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong has even stated that
“Coltan in general terms is not helping the local people. In fact, it
is the curse of the Congo.” He has revealed that there is evidence
that this material contaminates, pointing out its connection with
congenital deformations in babies in the mining zone, which are born
with bandy legs. Far from clean and innocent, these technologies, on
which the concentration of capitals is based and built, have acquired
through their “globalisation” their highest expression, contaminating
and breaking up the web of life in its multiple and rich
manifestations. In the meanwhile, over the tombs of the 2000 African
children and farmers who die every day in the Congo, can we
absentmindedly continue to use our cell phones?

{Article based on information from: “Supporting the War Economy in the
DRC: European Companies and the Coltan Trade” and “European
companies and the Coltan Trade: an Update”, International Peace
Information Service, ;
“Basta de matanzas y saqueo en el Congo”, Solidarité Europe-Afrique,
Belgium, ; “La fiebre
del coltan: el imperialismo continúa”, Ramiro de Altube, Observatorio
de Conflictos, correo electrónico: , ; “La fiebre del
coltan”, Ramón Lobo, El País Spain, 2/09/2001,; “UN
report accuses Western companies of looting Congo”, Chris Talbot,
26/10/2002, ;
“The Trouble With Coltan”, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, }


Coltan and Gorillas
The main area where Coltan is mined, also contains the Kahuzi Biega
National Park, home of the Mountain Gorilla. In Kahuzi Biega National
Park the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half, from 258 to
130 as the ground is cleared to make mining easier. Not only has this
reduced the available food for the Gorillas, the poverty caused by the
displacement of the local populations by the miners has lead to
Gorillas being killed and their meat being sold as “bush meat” to the
miners and rebel armies that control the area. Within the Dem. Rep. of
Congo as a whole, the U.N. Environment Program has reported that the
number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight Dem. Rep. of Congo
national parks has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only
3,000 now remain.

Due to the damage caused to the Gorilla population and their natural
habitat, companies that use Coltan are now starting to demand that
their Coltan only comes from legitimately mined sources and is not a
byproduct of the war. American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker
of tantalum capacitors, has asked its suppliers to certify that their
coltan ore does not come from Dem. Rep. of Congo or from neighbouring
countries. Such moves could lead to “Gorilla Safe ” cellphones being
marketed, much in the same way that Tuna meat is now sold as “Dolphin

Other sources
There are few alternative sources of Coltan apart from the Dem. Rep.
of Congo, although the University of St Andrews geologist, Dr Adrian
Finch recently reported that he has found Coltan inside extinct
volcanoes in the remote North Motzfeldt region of Greenland. Dr Finch
has now received a two year funding plan from the Carnegie Trust and
Gino Watkins Fund to investigate the commercial viability of mining
the volcanoes.

What to do ?
There is very little the “man on the street” can do to prevent Coltan
exploitation as it is not a “visible” component of cellphones that can
be differentiated when shopping, but continuing pressure on circuit
board manufacturers has lead to many demanding that their Coltan
supplies only come from legitimate sources. Similar pressure on other
users of Coltan can also help to ensure that only legitimately mined
and sold Coltan is used in circuit boards. At a government level,
pressure on local politicians to drive awareness of the ongoing civil
war in the Dem. Rep. of Congo and help to secure a resolution will
help to prevent the extinction of the Mountain Gorilla.

The Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center (T.I.C.), the industry
organisation representing producers, processors and consumers of
tantalum and niobium around the world, said that it deplores the
reported activities of illegal miners in the Kahuzi-Biega National
Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of
Congo. It was agreed at the T.I.C. Executive Committee meeting in
Brussels on April 3rd 2001 that the organisation would take a stand
regarding the use and production of coltan mined in these World
Heritage Sites.




Every year, an estimated 400 million units of obsolete electronics are
scrapped. Four billion pounds of electronic waste, or e-waste, was
discarded in the United States in 2005, accounting for between 2% and
4% of the municipal solid waste stream. As much as 87.5% of this was
incinerated or dumped in landfills. Of the remaining 12.5% collected
for “recycling,” industry sources claim that about 80% is exported to
developing countries where it is processed in primitive conditions,
severely endangering the environment, workers and communities.
Pollution created by irresponsible e-waste processing can also come
back to haunt those in the exporting countries as well in the form of
air pollution fallout via long-range transport.

The world faces an e-waste crisis because of the following factors:
* Huge volumes: The dual forces of rapid obsolescence of
electronic gadgetry combined with astronomically burgeoning use have
created mountains of e-waste—the largest growing waste stream our
economy produces.
* Toxic design: Electronic equipment contains some of the most
toxic substances known: mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium,
and brominated flame retardants, among others. Thus, when this
equipment becomes waste, it is toxic waste. When burned, even worse
toxins can be formed such as dioxins and polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons that can cause cancer and birth-defects. Until recently,
far too little emphasis has been placed by manufacturers on
eliminating toxic materials.
* Poor design and complexity: e-waste is full of many different
materials (such as multiple kinds of metals, plastics and chemicals)
that are mixed, bolted, screwed, snapped, glued or soldered together.
This makes separation for recycling difficult. Further, little
attention has been paid to designing equipment for recycling.
Therefore, recycling either requires intensive labor or sophisticated
and costly technologies.
* No financial incentive to recycle: There’s usually not enough
value in most electronic waste to cover the costs of responsibly
managing it in developed countries unless laws require such management
as a service industry. For this reason it is exported to countries
where workers are paid low wages and the infrastructure and legal
framework is too weak to protect the environment, workers and
* Reuse abuse: Sending equipment and parts for reuse – an
important solution – can easily be abused by falsely labeling scrap as
reusable or repairable equipment. Often this “reusable” equipment ends
up getting dumped in countries lacking any infrastructure to properly
manage it.
* Policy of “free trade in toxic waste”: In the U.S. and Canada,
the laws governing export of trade in hazardous electronic waste are
tragically inadequate, and thus these two countries are the primary
sources of the global crisis. The U.S. is the only developed country
in the world that has failed to ratify the 1989 Basel Convention, an
international treaty controlling trade in hazardous waste from richer
to poorer countries. In 1995, that treaty adopted a full ban on
exports from rich to poorer countries. Both the U.S. and Canada
actively oppose this prohibition. In Canada, the Basel Convention is
not properly implemented, allowing almost all e-waste to flow abroad
freely. In both countries, then, it is perfectly legal for businesses
to maximize profit by exporting toxic electronics to developing
countries, even when this export is a violation of the laws of
importing countries. The export of toxic electronic waste to
developing countries disproportionately burdens them with a toxic
legacy and allows for externalization of real costs.
* Prison laborers employed to process e-waste: Unlike other
countries in the world, the U.S. sends much of its hazardous e-waste
to U.S. prisons to process in less-regulated environments without the
worker protections and rights afforded in the private sector.
Moreover, such operations amount to government subsidies, undermining
the development of responsible private-sector recycling infra-
structure and distorting the economics of recycling.
* Private data is imbedded in electronic devices: Computers, PDAs,
mobile phones and even printers and fax machines hold private data
such as social security, bank account and credit card numbers and
private emails. These can be used by criminals involved in identity
theft to hijack bank accounts and conduct blackmail and extortion if
this data is not completely eradicated. Loss of confidential data is
another form of liability and irresponsibility stemming from improper
e-waste disposal.
* Lack of regulation requiring proper management: U.S. regulations
mostly exempt the electronic waste stream from environmental laws and
active OSHA oversight. Further, according to the laws of Canada and
the U.S., most toxic electronic waste is still perfectly legal to
dispose of in non-hazardous waste landfills and incinerators.

Documented harm
In 2002, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition released the ground breaking report and film Exporting Harm:
The High Tech Trashing of Asia, that exposed the toxic “recycling” of
discarded electronics in China. A second film and report released in
2005 by BAN, The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa,
showed similar tragic results happening in Africa, this time in the
name of ‘reuse’ and ‘bridging the digital divide.’ Images of men,
women and children burning tons of toxic circuit boards, wires, and
plastic parts exposed the fast-cheap-and-dirty side of our consumption
of computers, televisions, faxes, printers, etc. Furthermore, BAN
analyzed hard-drives from exported computers collected in Africa and
found massive amounts of private data freely available for criminal
exploitation. We have also discovered that when U.S. prisoners are
used as cheap labor, they are exposed to these poisons as well. The
Federal Prison Industries’ UNICOR, which processes much of the e-waste
in the US, is now the focus of a Department of Justice investigation
for the toxic exposures prisoners suffer. Finally as much as 87
percent of discarded toxic e-waste is simply dumped in municipal
landfills or incinerators, ill equipped to contain or destroy such
toxic waste.

Unfortunately this grossly irresponsible waste mismanagement and toxic
trade is the norm in the North American recycling industry. It is
still all too commonplace for recyclers and even electronics
manufacturers, aided by the inadequate or non-existent policies of the
Canadian and U.S. governments, to leave the dirty and dangerous work
of managing our toxic waste to the poorest of the poor in developing
countries. The resulting environmental hazards and social injustice
ravage the land and people in these developing nations. Furthermore,
these poisons come back to our shores and into our bodies via long-
range air and ocean pollution, toxic imports and contaminated food.
Government failure: externalizing our toxic impacts

To date, unlike the 27 member countries of the European Union, the
United States and Canada have failed to create legislation providing a
national system to finance and responsibly deal with toxic e-waste.
Instead, an e-waste anarchy is sanctioned, where we can exploit the
cheap and dirty ‘solutions’ that ‘externalize’ (or pass on) the real
toxic impacts and their costs to others – poor communities in
developing countries, disempowered prisoners in this country, or local
municipalities and taxpayers who suffer from this material getting
dumped in local landfills or incinerated, polluting soil, air and
water. Further, the U.S. and Canada have failed to ratify or properly
implement the Basel Convention that prescribes international rules to
prevent such toxic waste trade.

US Congress’ watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office
(GAO) recently published a report entitled, “Electronic Waste: EPA
Needs to Better Control Harmful U.S. Exports through Stronger
Enforcement and More Comprehensive Regulation.“ [
new.items/d081044.pdf] The GAO report describes, in no uncertain
terms, the complete inadequacy of legislation to control e-waste
exports and the lack of EPA enforcement of the minimal regulations
that do exist, resulting in a flood of toxins to the developing world.

Instead of properly regulating electronic waste management and trade,
the EPA has tried to bring interest groups together to create
voluntary solutions. These efforts have ended in failure or have
produced little more than minimalist, ‘lowest-common denominator’
standards, which seemingly please everyone, including waste exporters,
but result in continued abuse to the environment and human health. One
of these efforts is the recently released “R2” Standard for
Responsible Recycling.

Meanwhile, in lieu of an appropriate federal response, states and
municipalities must cope with the national failure by passing a
variety of local laws and state laws. However, the U.S. Constitution
forbids these local governments from legislating international trade,
so states and municipalities are helpless to prohibit the flood of e-
waste leaving our shores. It is in this unregulated landscape, that
responsible electronics recycling companies are challenged to compete
against unscrupulous brokers, and exporters and those who deceptively
call themselves “recyclers.” These bad actors simply load up seagoing
containers and ship U.S. hazardous electronics to the highest bidders
globally. Almost always, this results in the wastes shipped to a
developing country to be processed by cheap, unprotected labor to
maximize profits. These “low road” operators are thriving while the
responsible companies, with their safer, more expensive methods,

Toxic “E-Waste” Gets Cached in Poor Nations, Report Says
BY Ben Harder / November 8, 2005

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This familiar environmentalist slogan outlines
an approach to minimizing how much trash ends up in landfills,
incinerators, and waterways. The concept is being employed to cope
with one potentially hazardous form of waste—electronic junk such as
old computers, cell phones, and televisions. But the process for
managing this so-called e-waste may get coopted for unscrupulous
purposes more often than it’s legitimately used, a recent report
suggests. “A lot of these materials are being sent [to developing
nations] under the guise of reuse—to bridge the digital divide,” said
Richard Gutierrez, a toxics policy analyst for the Seattle, Washington-
based Basel Action Network. Last month the activist organization
issued a report titled “The Digital Dump.” The paper concludes that
three-quarters of the supposedly reusable electronics shipped to
Africa’s largest port are broken.

One of the problems is that no one certifies whether donated machines
work before they hit the seaways. Because of this, the report says, e-
waste is a growing problem in Lagos, Nigeria, and elsewhere in the
developing world. Much of the waste ends up being discarded along
rivers and roads. Often it’s picked apart by destitute scavengers, who
may face dangerous exposure to toxic chemicals in the broken

Traders in places like Lagos are willing to receive this cast-off
junk, though many of their governments officially forbid it, Gutierrez
said. The importers sell the working machines. Then they pay workers a
pittance to burn the plastic casings and wire insulation in broken
machines and strip out sought-after materials such as gold and copper.
The low-tech recovery process could expose workers and the local
environment to lead, cadmium, mercury, and other hazardous materials
used to build electronics. Workers can also be exposed to carcinogenic
compounds called dioxins that are byproducts of incinerated plastics.

“Green Passport”
According to Gutierrez, this shadow economy exists because the guise
of recycling and reusing electronics gives dealers “a green passport”
to ship waste around the globe. Most of the waste comes from developed
nations that should know better, he said. “Forty-five percent of the
junk that’s coming in [to Lagos] is coming from the United States,” he
said. “Another 45 percent comes from Europe, and the other 10 percent
from Japan and Israel.” The European Union, Israel, Japan, and the
United States have signed the Basel Convention, which forbids
countries from exporting hazardous waste, including electronics.
“There is some responsibility that the developing nations must take
upon themselves,” Gutierrez said. But, he added, “a greater element of
this responsibility should fall on the exporting state.”

China, for example, has become a cache for vast amounts of e-waste.
The nation is beginning to take action to stem the flow of hazardous
material across its borders. “The Chinese government, after many years
of denial, is finally beginning to take the helm,” said Ted Smith,
founder and senior strategist of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
Gutierrez noted that even if China enforces its existing laws and
keeps e-waste out, “it will flow to the next country with lax
environmental standards.” E-waste, he said, “follows the path of least
economic resistance.”

“That’s why we need to regulate this at the source end,” Smith agreed.
Laws should prevent e-waste exportation and require manufacturers to
shoulder the responsibility of recycling their products in the most
cost-effective manner, he said. Such a shift would make electronics
more expensive in the short term, he acknowledged, but environmental
damage and health hazards would be minimized. Gutierrez added that as
many toxic compounds as possible should be banned from new
electronics. Europe has already banned lead, cadmium, and a half dozen
other materials still permitted in U.S. products.

Problems Ahead
Gordon Davy, an engineer with technology firm Northrop Grumman in
Baltimore, Maryland, said such regulation would be coercive. Consumers
in developed countries would have to pay more for new electronics, and
poor laborers elsewhere would lose the income they now get from
stripping apart dead electronics. Davy also questions whether e-waste
is harming people. “Pollution in the third world is clearly
deplorable,” he said. “But as far as health consequences [of e-waste
is concerned], the environmental activists need to provide supporting
evidence. They need to identify and count their victims.” Gutierrez
countered, “We’re dealing with toxic substances that have been studied
to death. We need not come up with further studies. It would be an
overanalysis of an obvious problem.”

“The e-waste crisis is relatively young,” he said. “The problems [that
people] are being exposed to will germinate for years.” By the time
chronic diseases such as cancer arise, it will be too late to avert a
public-health disaster, he said. Smith, of the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, concurred. “Right now [e-waste] doesn’t seem to be causing
any enormous environmental hazards. But over the next several
generations it’s going to create a problem.” University of Maryland
student Haibing Ma is planning ahead. The graduate student from China
aims to develop a framework that could help his homeland deal with its
e-waste problem.

While working toward a solution, Ma is loath to add to the problem, so
he purchased his computers from Hewlett Packard. That manufacturer is
one of several that have announced so-called takeback policies,
promising to safely dispose of obsolete equipment returned by
consumers. “I mailed one monitor back to HP last semester,” Ma said.
“But the [shipping] charge … we pay ourselves.” With other
electronics, manufacturers provide no such choice. “The television is
the problem,” Ma said. “We have so many different producers, and none
of them have a clear takeback policy.” When his TV dies, Ma says,
he’ll put it in the waste bin. “We don’t know where it will go.”

Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste / Nov. 9, 2008

60 Minutes is going to take you to one of the most toxic places on
Earth – a place government officials and gangsters don’t want you to
see. It’s a town in China where you can’t breathe the air or drink the
water, a town where the blood of the children is laced with lead.

It’s worth risking a visit because much of the poison is coming out of
the homes, schools and offices of America. This is a story about
recycling – about how your best intentions to be green can be
channeled into an underground sewer that flows from the United States
and into the wasteland. That wasteland is piled with the burning
remains of some of the most expensive, sophisticated stuff that
consumers crave. And 60 Minutes and correspondent Scott Pelley
discovered that the gangs who run this place wanted to keep it a
secret. What are they hiding? The answer lies in the first law of the
digital age: newer is better. In with the next thing, and out with the
old TV, phone or computer. All of this becomes obsolete, electronic
garbage called “e-waste.”

Computers may seem like sleek, high-tech marvels. But what’s inside
them? “Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides. All of
these materials have known toxicological effects that range from brain
damage to kidney disease to mutations, cancers,” Allen Hershkowitz, a
senior scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural
Resources Defense Council, explained. “The problem with e-waste is
that it is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream
worldwide,” he said. Asked what he meant by “fastest-growing,”
Hershkowitz said. “Well, we throw out about 130,000 computers every
day in the United States.” And he said over 100 million cell phones
are thrown out annually.

At a recycling event in Denver, 60 Minutes found cars bumper-to-bumper
for blocks, in a line that lasted for hours. They were there to drop
off their computers, PDAs, TVs and other electronic waste. Asked what
he thought happens once his e-waste goes into recycling, one man told
Pelley, “Well my assumption is they break it apart and take all the
heavy metals and out and then try to recycle some of the stuff that’s
bad.” Most folks in line were hoping to do the right thing, expecting
that their waste would be recycled in state-of-the-art facilities that
exist here in America. But really, there’s no way for them to know
where all of this is going. The recycling industry is exploding and,
as it turns out, some so-called recyclers are shipping the waste
overseas, where it’s broken down for the precious metals inside.

Executive Recycling, of Englewood, Colo., which ran the Denver event,
promised the public on its Web site: “Your e-waste is recycled
properly, right here in the U.S. – not simply dumped on somebody
else.” That policy helped Brandon Richter, the CEO of Executive
Recycling, win a contract with the city of Denver and expand
operations into three western states. Asked what the problem is with
shipping this waste overseas, Richter told Pelley, “Well, you know,
they’ve got low-income labor over there. So obviously they don’t have
all of the right materials, the safety equipment to handle some of
this material.”

Executive does recycling in-house, but 60 Minutes was curious about
shipping containers that were leaving its Colorado yard. 60 Minutes
found one container filled with monitors. They’re especially hazardous
because each picture tube, called a cathode ray tube or CRT, contains
several pounds of lead. It’s against U.S. law to ship them overseas
without special permission. 60 Minutes took down the container’s
number and followed it to Tacoma, Wash., where it was loaded on a
ship. When the container left Tacoma, 60 Minutes followed it for 7,459
miles to Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong.

It turns out the container that started in Denver was just one of
thousands of containers on an underground, often illegal smuggling
route, taking America’s electronic trash to the Far East. Our guide to
that route was Jim Puckett, founder of the Basel Action Network, a
watchdog group named for the treaty that is supposed to stop rich
countries from dumping toxic waste on poor ones. Puckett runs a
program to certify ethical recyclers. And he showed 60 Minutes what’s
piling up in Hong Kong. “It’s literally acres of computer monitors,”
Pelley commented. “Is it legal to import all of these computer
monitors into Hong Kong?”

“No way. It is absolutely illegal, both from the standpoint of Hong
Kong law but also U.S. law and Chinese law. But it’s happening,”
Puckett said. 60 Minutes followed the trail to a place Puckett
discovered in southern China – a sort of Chernobyl of electronic waste
– the town of Guiyu. But we weren’t there very long before we were
picked up by the cops and taken to City Hall. We told the mayor we
wanted to see recycling. So he personally drove us to a shop. “Let me
explain what’s happening here,” Pelley remarked while in Guiyu. “We
were brought into the mayor’s office. The mayor told us that we’re
essentially not welcome here, but he would show us one place where
computers are being dismantled and this is that place. A pretty tidy
shop. The mayor told us that we would be welcome to see the rest of
the town, but that the town wouldn’t be prepared for our visit for
another year. “So we were allowed to shoot at that location for about
five minutes,” Pelley explained further. “And we’re back in the
mayor’s car headed back to City Hall, where I suspect we’ll be given
another cup of tea and sent on our way out of town with a police
escort no doubt.” And we were. But the next day, in a different car
and on a different road, we got in.

“This is really the dirty little secret of the electronic age,” Jim
Puckett said. Greenpeace has been filming around Guiyu and caught the
recycling work. Women were heating circuit boards over a coal fire,
pulling out chips and pouring off the lead solder. Men were using what
is literally a medieval acid recipe to extract gold. Pollution has
ruined the town. Drinking water is trucked in. Scientists have studied
the area and discovered that Guiyu has the highest levels of cancer-
causing dioxins in the world. They found pregnancies are six times
more likely to end in miscarriage, and that seven out of ten kids have
too much lead in their blood. “These people are not just working with
these materials, they’re living with them. They’re all around their
homes,” Pelley told Allen Hershkowitz. “The situation in Guiyu is
actually pre-capitalist. It’s mercantile. It reverts back to a time
when people lived where they worked, lived at their shop. Open,
uncontrolled burning of plastics. Chlorinated and brominated plastics
is known worldwide to cause the emission of polychlorinated and
polybrominated dioxins. These are among the most toxic compounds
known on earth,” Hershkowitz explained. “We have a situation where
we have 21st century toxics being managed in a 17th century

The recyclers are peasant farmers who couldn’t make a living on the
land. Destitute, they’ve come by the thousands to get $8 a day.
Greenpeace introduced us to some of them. They were afraid and didn’t
want to be seen, but theirs are the hands that are breaking down
America’s computers. “The air I breathe in every day is so pungent I
can definitely feel it in my windpipe and affecting my lungs. It makes
me cough all the time,” one worker told Pelley, with the help of a
translator. “If you’re worried about your lungs and you’re burning
your hands, do you ever think about giving this up?” Pelley asked.
“Yes, I have thought of it,” the worker said. Asked why he doesn’t
give it up, the worker told him, “Because the money’s good.”

“You know, it struck me, talking to those workers the other day, that
they were destitute and they’re happy to have this work,” Pelley told
Puckett. “Well, desperate people will do desperate things,” Puckett
replied. “But we should never put them in that situation. You know,
it’s a hell of a choice between poverty and poison. We should never
make people make that choice.” Pelley, Puckett, and the 60 Minutes
team passed by a riverbed that had been blackened by the ash of burned
e-waste. “Oh, man, this is – it’s unbelievably acrid and choking,”
Pelley said, coughing. “This is an ash river. This is detritus from
burning all this material and this is what the kids get to play in,”
Puckett explained.

After a few minutes in the real recycling area, we were jumped.
Several men struggled for our cameras. The mayor hadn’t wanted us to
see this place, and neither did the businessmen who were profiting
from it. They got a soil sample that we’d taken for testing, but we
managed to wrestle the cameras back. What were they afraid of?
“They’re afraid of being found out,” Puckett said. “This is smuggling.
This is illegal. A lot of people are turning a blind eye here. And if
somebody makes enough noise, they’re afraid this is all gonna dry up.”

Back in Denver, there’s no threat of it drying up. In fact, it was a
flood. And Brandon Richter, CEO of Executive Recycling, was still
warning of the dangers of shipping waste to China. “I just heard
actually a child actually died over there breaking this material down,
just getting all these toxins,” he said. Then Pelley told him we’d
tracked his container to Hong Kong. “This is a photograph from your
yard, the Executive Recycling yard,” Pelley told Richter, showing him
a photo we’d taken of a shipping container in his yard. “We followed
this container to Hong Kong.”

“Okay,” Richter replied.
“And I wonder why that would be?” Pelley asked.
“Hmm. I have no clue,” Richter said.
“The Hong Kong customs people opened the container…and found it full
of CRT screens which, as you probably know, is illegal to export to
Hong Kong,” Pelley said.
“Yeah, yep,” Richter replied. “I don’t know if that container was
filled with glass. I doubt it was. We don’t fill glass, CRT glass in
those containers.”
“This container was in your yard, filled with CRT screens, and
exported to Hong Kong, which probably wouldn’t be legal,” Pelley said.
“No, absolutely not. Yeah,” Richter said.
“Can you explain that?” Pelley asked.
“Yeah, it’s not – it was not filled in our facility,” Richter said.

But that’s where 60 Minutes filmed it. And we weren’t the only ones
asking questions. It turns out Hong Kong customs intercepted the
container and sent it back to Executive Recycling, Englewood,
Colorado, the contents listed as “waste: cathode ray tubes.” U.S.
customs x-rayed the container and found the same thing. 60 Minutes
showed Richter this evidence, and later his lawyer told us the CRTs
were exported under Executive Recycling’s name, but without the
company’s permission. “I know this is your job,” Richter told Pelley.
“But, unfortunately, you know, when you attack small business owners
like this and you don’t have all your facts straight, it’s
unfortunate, you know?”

But here’s one more fact: the federal Government Accountability Office
set up a sting in which U.S. investigators posed as foreign importers.
Executive Recycling offered to sell 1,500 CRT computer monitors and
1,200 CRT televisions to the GAO’s fictitious broker in Hong Kong. But
Executive Recycling was not alone. The GAO report found that another
42 American companies were willing to do the same.

Who Was Following Whom?
BY Solly Granatstein / Nov. 11, 2008

It was clear from the outset that this was a place with something to
hide. We had come to southern China to set up a TV shoot, but we were
the ones being filmed. A slim Chinese man, in his early 30’s, with
short-cropped hair, was taking our picture with his cell phone. He was
standing about 20 yards from me and our fixer, Lamy Li. It’s hard to
say what gave it away, but there was no doubt he was an undercover
cop. When I turned toward him, he walked briskly in the opposite

Lamy and I had been walking through the grim town of Guiyu attempting,
with marginal success, to speak with workers. The skies were low and
grey. Plumes of dank smoke rose from salvage workshops and piles of
burning waste. Guiyu is a community of 60,000 where most of the people
are employed in the mining of precious metals from electronic waste,
also known as “‘e-waste.” E-waste is junked old computers, TV’s, cell
phones, printers, most of it toxic, and much coming to this shabby
corner of China from wealthier environs like America.

What we saw in Guiyu was gut-wrenching. I had read in scientific
journals that given all the toxic compounds contained in electronic
products, breaking them down is hazardous work. But that was nothing
like witnessing it in person. The place was a hell on earth of acrid
smoke and noxious smells. The pungent air scorched the back of our
throats. On my way to Guiyu, a scientist in Hong Kong had said, “Every
part of Guiyu has a different, terrible smell.” Now I knew what she

Through the smoke, workers could be seen dismantling electronic
components by hand, or melting them down over coal fires, for the tiny
bits of precious metals inside. Some were clearly underage, and most
were working with little protection, with neither gloves to protect
their hands nor masks to shield their lungs. The salvage operations
took place in the same shanties where the workers and their children

Just before we encountered the undercover cop who took our picture, we
had a run-in with one of the owners of the salvage works. He was
overseeing gold extraction from circuit boards. His workers dipped the
boards into large drums of hydrochloric and nitric acid, using a
technique, known as aqua regia, that dates from the Middle Ages.
Plumes of orange smoke rose from the drums and doubtlessly seared the
lungs of the workers. The whole operation took place on the edge of a
river. The acid leeched into the water, which had long since become
undrinkable. As if to advertise where he worked, the boss wore a
prominent gold medallion that swung from a gold chain around his neck.
When he saw the two of us, he started yelling at Lamy. “Get out of
here! You’re not welcome here! Get out!” We did just that.

This visit was just a reconnaissance mission, to know what we would be
filming upon the arrival of our correspondent, Scott Pelley, and the
camera crews. I figured there was no point in drawing any more
attention to ourselves than I already had simply by being a non-
Chinese person walking around in this remote town. So when I saw our
picture being taken by the cop with the cell phone, I suggested to
Lamy that we leave.

It was gloomy and wet when we came back to town the next morning.
Lamy had arranged to meet a man who would be able to introduce us to
some workers. We drove our small car to an appointed corner, he jumped
into the back seat, and we drove off. The worker liaison was a small, wiry
fellow in a tan rain slicker. He had scarred, dark skin with handsome
features and a wary smile. As we rounded a corner and parked against
the edge of a building, he told us that the town authorities had
recently warned workers that they would spend 30 days in jail if they
spoke with foreign reporters. Lamy explained to me that the workers
are migrants from other parts of China. Since they’re not official
citizens of this province, they have no right to health care or other
protections. “I keep thinking that they are totally vulnerable” she

A short distance in front of the car, I noticed a man standing under
an umbrella in an alley way. “Isn’t that the same dude who was taking
our picture yesterday?” I asked Lamy. It was difficult to tell. His
face was partially obscured. Not wanting the worker liaison to be
discovered, we drove away and out of town. Our driver, a local, was
rattled and refused to drive for us again.

That evening, Lamy and I were in front of our hotel in Shantou, the
big city that’s a couple hours away from Guiyu. We hailed a taxi to
take us to a meet a local scientist who’s studied the effects of e-
waste operations on Guiyu’s children. I had read the studies. Seven
out of ten kids have blood lead levels in the Centers for Disease
Control’s danger zone. Then: There he was again, or so it seemed. The
same plainclothes cop was walking up the hotel driveway. I said, “Hey,
look! Isn’t that him?” Lamy said, “Stop! Now you’re scaring me!” But a
second look confirmed it. It was the same guy, two days later and a
hundred miles away from where we had first seen him. Suddenly, things
seemed serious. All the more so for Lamy who lives and works in Hong
Kong, under the authoritarian cloud of Chinese rule.

Not knowing what else to do, we proceeded with our original plan. We
hopped into a cab and headed across town. The cop jumped into a large
black sedan and followed close behind us. He had seen that we had
noticed him and dropped any pretense that he wasn’t trailing us. Our
taxi driver was a young guy whose hair was bleached at the ends and
who seemed more excited than scared when we told him that we were
being followed. He hit the accelerator, while the sedan fell behind
and got stuck in traffic. We managed to make a U-turn and whooped as
we saw our pursuers watch helplessly as we sped past in the other
direction. A minute later, we stopped congratulating ourselves. There
was a black sedan, a different one, right on our tail.

“I’ve lived in Shantou all my life,” our taxi driver proclaimed. “I
know the back streets. I’ll be able to lose them.” We sped around a
highway ramp and made a quick turn down a side street. The sedan
behind us took the same turn. We cut into an even smaller street and
plowed through a crowd of pedestrians. Three more turns in quick
succession. We came to a stop in an alley and waited. Several minutes
passed. The coast was clear. We made our way out of the neighborhood
back onto a main road. Within seconds, a third black sedan was close
behind us.

Our taxi driver stopped chattering. Lamy said he was probably scared
by the fact that our pursuers had so many vehicles and resources-that
is, they couldn’t be anyone other than a powerful security force. Lamy
was frightened herself. Part of her unease had to do with the fact
that we didn’t even know exactly who was following us. Were they Guiyu
town police or the provincial security services? Could they be agents
of some national intelligence directorate? There was even an off-
chance that they were local Mafiosi, the hired muscle of e-waste
businessmen who wanted to keep outside scrutiny away from their black
market operations. And how much did these people know about us and
our plans? Had they bugged our hotel room or our phones? Anything
seemed possible.

We gave up evasive maneuvers and went to the meeting. In a local
restaurant, while we spoke to the scientist and took notes, the
corners of our eyes tried to keep track of all the plainclothes
security men lounging in the street outside keeping track of us. At
the end of the evening, after being trailed back to our hotel, Lamy
marched straight up to one of the van that had been following us and
motioned for the driver to roll down the window. “Who are you? Why are
you following us?” she demanded. Fearlessly. “We’re going to call the
police if you don’t cut it out!” The driver panicked, had not expected
this. “I wasn’t! It’s not true!” he kept saying, and drove off.

Lamy and I talked late into the night. If we were followed night and
day, how were we going to be able to film this story, to document what
we had seen in Guiyu? The cops could shut us down as soon as our
cameramen started shooting. Was it even worthwhile to bring the rest
of our team to China? And if we were being constantly surveyed, how
could we possibly interview e-waste workers without putting their
lives in danger? Was there a way we could avoid being followed?

I called Scott Pelley, who was on a different shoot in northern
Canada, and discussed the situation with him at length. It was
agonizing. There was a decent chance that he would fly halfway around
the world and that we would not emerge with a story. Finally, we
decided. Though we agreed that there were no guarantees, we knew we
had to give it a try. Lamy and I figured that the only way to lose our
security escort was to leave the province altogether. We had to
convince the authorities that we were done with the place. The next
morning, Lamy flew to Hong Kong to meet the rest of our team. I had a
single entry visa and wouldn’t be able to return if I left the
Mainland. I flew an hour away to the city of Guangzhou, then hopped on
a bus to the city of Shenzhen. These were evasive maneuvers in the

A day later, our entire team gathered in Shenzhen. In addition to me
and Lamy, our full contingent included correspondent Scott Pelley; our
wonderful and efficient associate producer Nicole Young; two exemplary
cameramen, David Lom and Brad Simpson (who is also the CBS News
Beijing bureau chief); and assistant cameraman Jackie Chen. There were
also two non-journalists we’d invited along: Jim Puckett, the founder
of a toxic waste watchdog group called the Basel Action Network; and
Jamie Choi, a specialist in corporate environmental responsibility
with Greenpeace-Beijing. Very early the morning after that, we set off
on the 5-hour drive to the wasteland of Guiyu. Since we were now with
our camera crews, most of what happened next was deftly captured on
videotape. Much of that is in the 60 Minutes story.

We managed to speak with a group of workers in a location far from
Guiyu where, thank goodness, our gathering was not discovered. They
told us about the conditions of their work. They guessed, judging from
the script on the components, that much of the waste came from faraway
English-speaking countries like ours. Later, after we had left the
workers, our vehicles were stopped by the Guiyu police, and we were
brought to City Hall. The mayor prohibited us from filming in his
town. His police escorted us to the city limits.

We returned the next day nonetheless and began committing to
videotape the atrocious scenes we had come to document. Very quickly,
a gang of about a dozen men materialized and started roughing us up,
trying to grab the cameras that had recorded their dirty secret. Swinging
a tripod from side to side, I fought off two men who had grabbed either
end of David Lom’s camera. These men were enraged. One of them
clambered atop a mound of dirt, shouting, and threw fist-sized
batteries at us. Our situation was all the more perilous because our
drivers had driven away, fearing that they would be beaten up or that
their cars would be wrecked by the gang.

As a group, we walked away from the recycling area toward the center
of town. We were followed by men on motorbikes and in cars who waved
taxis away and beckoned us to into their vehicles so we could all
return to the mayor’s office. “Come with us. You’re not safe here,”
said these men who had just attacked us. In the end, we waited them
out. Scott came up with the brilliant and effective line that if they
took us back to the mayor’s office, we would consider it an arrest and
let the Foreign Ministry in Beijing know what had happened. “Oh no,
you’re not being arrested!” they assured us nervously. Suddenly, not
only were we free to leave the town, but the mayor and his men gave us
a lift for the two-hour ride to Shantou.

Somehow we had managed to escape with only a few scrapes and
bruises. Nicole Young, our AP, suffered the gravest injury: a sizable florid
bruise on her hip where she had pressed the tripod that a large man
tried to wrest from her. Most important, we got away with the tapes we
had shot. We had only been able to film for about 10 or 15 minutes
before we were attacked. But the wasteland was so awful, even that was

A day earlier, the workers we had secretly interviewed summed up their
experience of the wasteland. They had been peasant farmers, unable to
eke a living from the land. Now they spent their days melting circuit
boards, burning their hands, enduring headaches and shortness of
breath. They realized the work was hazardous, but felt they had little
choice. They were, as Lamy said, utterly vulnerable-both to the toxic
work and to the gangs who run this place. “The people in Guiyu have no
consideration for laws,” one of them said when asked why they
preferred to remain anonymous. “They treat people who come here to
work like thieves. And if someone from another province gets beaten
up, nobody in the government will take care of them. It’s totally
okay. You give a bit of money to the officials, and everything is
taken care of. The people there are very savage-like. And we don’t
want to be hurt.”

BY Luca Gabino / 9/2007

For years, I’ve heard fables and legends about a mysterious cemetery
somewhere in China. I heard whispers on the internet and from Chinese
friends about mountains of broken computers, heaps of chips,
motherboards, and printer cartridges virtually filling the streets of
a South Asian village. But it was kept quiet by the notoriously tight-
lipped Chinese government. It was kind of like the elusive elephant
graveyard, but with technological offal and guarded by mean
communists. I decided that I would make it my mission to go there.

I slowly discovered that 80 percent of all the electronic toxic waste
collected around the world ends up in Guiyu, a small town in the
southern China province of Guangdong. The town imports more than 1
million tons of this stuff every year. Almost 90 percent of Hong
Kong’s computers end up there, but 60 percent of the total waste
originates in the USA. The exact location of Guiyu has been kept
secret by the authorities, but I already knew that Shenzhen was the
biggest city in Guangdong and that it was just an hour and a half away
from Hong Kong.

Even with Hong Kong being Chinese again, we had to go through customs
to get into Shenzhen. We boarded the bus to Cheng Dian, guessing it
was the nearest city to Guiyu. On the bus the situation got even
creepier when the hostess pulled out a video camera and started
filming each passenger for “security reasons.” I was the only
Westerner on board. During the three-hour bus ride the same advert
looped on the in-bus televisions. It showed Shenzhen as a city of fun,
happiness, and luxury. Looking out the window at the gray factories,
the sea of cement, and the columns of smoke I had to ask myself if any
of the other passengers were falling for it. Toward the end of the
journey I found a university student who spoke a little English.
Taking a chance, I asked her where Guiyu was. She acted quite
perplexed at first and replied that no such place existed. But I could
tell she knew something, so I begged her until she scribbled
directions on a piece of paper.

We arrived in Cheng Dian at night and I took a room in a cheap hotel.
I spent the next day trying to find someone who would tell us more
about Guiyu. The locals denied its existence. Fortunately I found a
taxi driver who was willing to take me there for the relative mountain
of cash that is 40 euros. I handed him the directions that the girl on
the train had written for me, and we set off in almost total darkness.
The driver eventually dropped me off at the only hotel in the
proximity of Guiyu. From the car, all I could see was a big white
block of cement surrounded by garbage. I stepped out into the most
surreal landscape I have ever seen.

It was a sea of garbage. The heaps of trash began accumulating next to
the hotel walls and did not stop for as far as the eye could see. The
whole town was a construction site, with the old wooden barracks being
replaced by unfinished houses. You can still spot Guiyu’s rural past
in the barracks that once clearly constituted most of the town, but
the e-waste economy required more accommodation for the 200,000
migrant workers who moved to Guiyu in the past six years. Everywhere
around us people were busy carrying or unloading computer parts. Huge
piles of outer shells lay next to construction sites, layers and
layers of motherboards and CD players were dumped in the courtyards,
and thousands of bags of chips spilled inside and outside, forming
massive mountains between the tiny dwellings. Children were dividing
tiny chips by color in the street.

Adults were grilling circuit boards on barbecue grills. They melted
the soldering and removed the chips, and then the women would
separate the parts in different bags and wash them with water. After
the circuit boards were soaked in acid to recuperate bits of gold, they
were finally either burned or buried.

I witnessed kids between the ages of five and ten working in barracks
with no ventilation, with people all around them burning everything
from the metal components of computers to wires to extract the copper.
When the PVC and the brominated flame retardant around the wires
burn, they emit high levels of chlorinated dioxins and furans, two of the
most persistent organic pollutants. As a result, the local river is so
contaminated that the levels of acidity are almost total. The water
contains an estimated 2,400 times the recommended levels of lead, and
it’s not hard to notice: The river is literally black from the toner
of printer cartridges and from washing the burned motherboards. The
toner contains carbon black, a known carcinogen, but the locals wash
themselves, their clothes, and their food with this water. It’s so
toxic that even boiling it doesn’t come close to purifying it. Above
the water, the air was thick with smoke. Around it, the land is so
irreparably poisoned that nothing can grow. All the food and drinking
water is imported from out of town.

On my third day in Guiyu, I managed to get to the main dump. The
mountains of computer parts I had seen so far were nothing compared
with what awaited. The roads were in a constant state of traffic jam
with trucks, motorbikes, and even mules carrying parts to be
“recycled.” It was hell. Thick smoke hung like storm clouds. It hurt
to breathe.

As I stopped to take pictures, a furious woman came out of nowhere,
charging me with her broom, trying to grab my camera. Not wanting to
cause trouble in an illegal toxic-waste dump in southern China, I ran
back to the car. She followed, waving her broom around like a baseball
bat, banging on the windows. She broke the windshield. She was blind
with rage, trying to break the remaining bits of glass off with her
bare hands. When she saw she couldn’t do it she stuck her broom
through the hole she’d made and started smacking me in the head.

Then the police showed up to—I naively thought—rescue me from the
crazy woman. I was very wrong. They ordered me to wait in the car
while they interrogated all the witnesses except for the woman, whom
they let calmly walk back to her barrack. People crowded around the
car and stared at me as if I were an exotic animal in a cage. After an
hour the police told my driver to follow them to the station, where I
was interrogated for an hour with the aid of a translator. I told them
I was a university student on vacation. I had previously hid the
better rolls of film, so I could hand them the ones that were no good
to me. They let me go back to my hotel, chauffered by the poor driver
whose car had been beaten up by the crazy old woman.

A few days later there was a knock at my hotel door. It was the cops
again. They took me back to the station, where I was questioned by six
cops. I thought they were going to beat the shit out of me. After an
hour of repeating myself, I convinced them that I was merely a student
on holiday. They believed me! That is, until they got the owner of the
hotel to show them the ID card I’d used to sign in. Under job
description, it said “photographer.” Whoops. The interrogation started
again. I played it dumb, hung my head, and told them I was just a
silly student who takes amateur pictures and has no idea what is going
on in their town. Three hours later they finally released me and I
hightailed it right the fuck out of Guiyu. I will never go back.


Take a look at the designs for what could someday be the world’s cheapest PC, and you may start to wish you were a third-grade child in Burundi.
BY Andy Greenberg / 12.22.09

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s non-profit effort aimed at putting cheap educational laptops into the hands of developing world schoolchildren, is working on an upgrade to its so-called XO computer, once known as the “hundred-dollar laptop.” That revamped machine, known as the XO-3 and targeted for release in 2012, is still more of a pipe dream than a product. But early designs for the PC reveal a minimalist slate of touch-powered electronics that drops practically every feature of a traditional computer except its 8.5-by-11-inch screen, a scheme that would shed all of the first XO’s child-like clunkiness without losing its simple accessibility. “I wanted to bring the One Laptop Per Child identity to life in this new form,” says Yves Behar, founder of FuseProject, which designed the both the original and the XO-3. “That meant taking the visual complexity away, bringing tactility and friendliness, touch and color.”

Behar says he hopes to shrink the frame around the XO-3’s display down to practically nothing, opting for a virtual keyboard instead of a physical one, and no buttons. The result, in his mock-ups, is a screen surrounded by only a thin green rubber gasket. “Nicholas [Negroponte] asked for something extremely simple and practically frameless,” he says. “The media or content on the computer will be the prime visual element.” In fact, that new form factor is just the beginning of OLPC’s monstrous ambitions: It aims to make its tablet PC highly durable, all plastic, waterproof, half the thickness of an iPhone and use less than a watt of power, despite an 8-gigaherz processor. The price: an unprecedented $75.

Many of OLPC’s goals, to be fair, are more imagination than road map. And Negroponte has a history of overpromising. The original XO never hit its original goal of $100, (it currently sells for $172) and another touch screen upgrade to the XO that Negroponte announced in May 2008 was quietly scrapped this year based on costs. But in this case, Negroponte’s plan has a twist: As OLPC assembles the components for its dream machine, it plans to open the architecture of the device to allow any other PC maker to take over the project. Negroponte is more interested in pressuring the industry to make cheaper, more education-focused PCs than he is in manufacturing any specific machine. “We don’t necessarily need to build it,” Negroponte told Forbes. “We just need to threaten to build it.”

Regardless of who puts their stamp on the ultra-cheap tablet, OLPC’s biggest task may be getting the various components in line. A typical fragile, glass LCD screen hardly seems a wise choice in the hands of young children, or in countries with unpredictable and scarce electricity. So OLPC hopes to incorporate plastic back-plane components, possibly from Mountain View, Calif.-based Plastic Logic, that would be far more durable. The tablet will also likely use ultra low-power screens from start-up Pixel Qi with both reflective and LCD capabilities, created by former Negroponte disciple Mary Lou Jepsen. If Behar’s design comes to fruition, the XO-3 will feature a camera on the back of the device and a finger-hold ring on the computer’s corner. That loop, a metal cable that runs from the device’s rim and is encased in the same rubber as the screen frame, can be used to steady the computer in the user’s hand or to let it hang at one’s side. Magnets in the loop could also be used to keep it tucked behind the machine, out of the way.

Those simple additions are the only departures from the tablet’s minimalist design: Ideally, the machine won’t even have a charging port. Behar says OLPC wants to use induction to wirelessly charge the battery through its rubber frame. “We wanted to remove all the scars that you typically see on a laptop from Lenovo or HP,” he says. While the tablet isn’t slated to appear until 2012, OLPC has other plans in the meantime. An incremental upgrade of the XO set for release in January will have several times the memory, storage and processing power of the current machine. The next upgrade, in 2011, will boost the machine’s performance again and replace its AMD chip with a lower-power processor from phone chip maker Marvell.

When it comes to his plans for the $75 dream tablet, however, Negroponte admits his track record of lofty promises doesn’t offer much assurance that this latest fantasy machine will appear. But he warns the computer industry not to underestimate OLPC. “Sure, if I were a commercial entity coming to you for investment, and I’d made the projections I had in the past, you wouldn’t invest again,” he says. “But we’re not a commercial operation. If we only achieve half of what we’re setting out to do, it could have very big consequences.”

BY Robert Evans / 23 Dec 2009

“One Laptop Per Child is a charity run by Nicholas Negroponte. Their goal is to provide laptops to every child in the developing world. One of the ways they do this is by selling their ultra-cheap machines to Westerners for double the price. That way you get a laptop, and you get to buy a laptop for some kid in Uganda or Somalia. While the current versions of the OLPC are fairly unimpressive, the XO-3, Negroponte’s design for the 2012 OLPC, looks incredible.

Forbes reports that this new OLPC is going to be a totally stripped down, 8.5″-11” tablet PC. The only features of this tablet will be the touchscreen, and a little ring on the side to act as a hand-hold or to loop into a belt. The XO-3 will be simple and durable; it’s going to be made entirely of plastic will be waterproof. It should pack an 8 GHz processor, but will use less than a watt of power. Remember; this thing isn’t scheduled to hit until 2012.

The price is expected to be $75. Whether or not this device will ever launch, let alone at that price, remains to be seen. I really hope it does, though. One Laptop Per Child is an incredibly beneficial charity that allows poor children all around the world to connect to the Internet. It makes possible a level of communication and exposure to information that none of these children would otherwise have.
Plus, the XO-3 is supposed to have a camera. That means Flickr will soon be populated with thousands of shots from OLPC owners in exotic locales all around the world. That alone is worth a donation or two.

Nicholas Negroponte
email : nicholas [at] [dot] edu



FrontlineSMS is free software that turns a laptop and a mobile phone
into a central communications hub. Once installed, the program enables
users to send and receive text messages with large groups of people
through mobile phones. What you communicate is up to you, making
FrontlineSMS useful in many different ways.

* It does not require an Internet connection.
* It works with your existing plan on all GSM phones, modems and
* It is laptop-based so it can be used on the road or during power
* It stores all phone numbers and records all incoming and
outgoing messages.
* All data lives on a local computer, not on servers controlled by
someone else.
* It is scalable. Messages can be sent to individuals or large
* It enables two-way communication, useful for fieldwork or during
* It is easy to install and requires little or no training to use.
* It can be used anywhere in the world simply by switching the SIM

* Human rights monitoring
* Disaster relief coordination
* Natural resource management
* Election monitoring
* Emergency alerts
* Mobilising task forces
* Field data collection
* Conducting public surveys
* Health care info requests
* Agricultural price updates
* Organizing protests
* Mobile education programs
* Coordinating fundraising efforts
* Providing weather updates
* And more


Ken Banks
email : ken.banks [at] ngomobile [dot] org / ken.banks [at] kiwanja [dot] net

“Ken Banks, founder of, specialises in the application of
mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the
developing world. He combines over 22 years in I.T. with over 15 years
experience living and working throughout Africa in countries including
Kenya, Nigeria (where he ran a primate sanctuary), South Africa,
Mozambique, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In 1999 he
graduated from Sussex University with honours in Social Anthropology
with Development Studies.

His vision is to empower others to create social change, and he does
this by developing and providing tools to mostly grassroots
organisations who seek to better use technology in their work. In 2007
he hit headline news on the BBC when his text messaging application –
FrontlineSMS – was used to help monitor the Nigerian Presidential
elections. Since launch the software has been successfully implemented
in over forty countries including Afghanistan, Indonesia, Zimbabwe,
the Philippines and Pakistan.

Ken has recently been interviewed by the BBC World Service, The
Economist, BBC News Online, The New York Times, Nokia,,
The Africa Journal, White African and the Sussex University Alumni
magazine, among many others, and he was recently invited to take part
in an Aspen Institute round table discussion on the use of mobiles in
activism and civic engagement. Ken has written about his work, and the
wider role of mobile technology, for a number of publications
including Didactics World, BBC News, Boston Review, Vodafone Receiver
and Stanford and Harvard University magazines, and has a regular
online column in PC World. He has also acted as an official judge for
the Global Mobile Awards, the Mobile Messaging Awards and his own
nGOmobile initiative, and is a regional judge for the 2008
Adjudication Panel for the African ICT Achievers Awards Programme.

He has spoken about the application of mobile technology at a number
of conferences, workshops and organisations including Nokia, IDEO,
Stanford University, the MacArthur Foundation, Amnesty International
and the University of Arizona. He has also presented papers at the W3C
Workshop on the Mobile Web in Developing Countries (Bangalore, 2006
and Sao Paulo, 2008) and the 16th International World Wide Web
Conference (Canada, 2007), where he also sat on a specialist panel
discussing web delivery models for emerging markets. Ken also spoke at
the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (2008), and delivered a keynote
address at Mobile Messaging 2008 in Cannes.

Ken was recently awarded grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the
Open Society Institute (OSI), and has been short listed for two mobile
industry awards for the development of FrontlineSMS. Between 2006 and
2007 he was based at Stanford University as a Visiting Fellow on the
Reuters Digital Vision Program, and in 2008 was named as one of
sixteen Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellows. He currently spends his
time between Cambridge (UK) and Stanford University in California.”


Protesters and governments are mastering the tricks of the mobile trade
Cats and mice and handsets  /  Nov 29th 2007

BACK in September, protesters from many parts of the United States
poured into the small town of Jena, Louisiana, to express their anger
over the over-zealous prosecution (as they saw it) of six young
African-Americans on charges of assault. Mobile-phone text messages
played an important role in pulling in the crowd.

But for pioneers of mobile telephony and texts as tools of protest and
dissent, simply summoning people to demonstrations—a technique first
deployed in the Philippines as long ago as 2001—is old hat. The search
is on for ever more creative ways to use this ubiquitous device.

At a recent conference in São Paulo on “mobile activism”—a term that
embraces humanitarian work as well as protest—there was much talk
about how to “go beyond text” when using mobile phones. And it became
clear that exuberant practice was galloping ahead of theory. One
recent craze has been the use of political ringtones. Once again,
Filipinos are in the vanguard. Since 2005 that country’s best-known
tone, especially among youngsters exasperated by corruption, has been
“Hello Garci”—a snatch of taped conversation in which President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo seems to be chatting with Virgilio Garcillano, her
election organiser, ahead of the 2004 poll that confirmed her in
office. In Hispanic countries, meanwhile, the latest fashion is a
royal voice saying “Why don’t you shut up?”—the recent outburst of
Spain’s King Juan Carlos to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela at a
summit in Santiago, Chile.

Mobiles are also being used in more sophisticated ways, to capture and
disseminate images that were never supposed to see the light of day.
Witness, a non-governmental organisation that aims to record and
denounce human-rights abuses, is one pioneer. Instead of merely
posting verbal reports, it invites visitors to its website to the
“Hub”—a collection of harrowing video clips, often uploaded from
mobiles, which depict cruelty in action. On the “Egypt” country page,
there are grainy images showing torture in a prison.

For now at least, expense and technological problems make it hard to
organise any international mobile-based protest. The lack of full
interoperability between mobile systems means that borders are still
difficult to cross. But efforts are under way to get round that
problem. For example, FrontlineSMS, a laptop-based (and thus portable)
technology has been designed for use almost anywhere. Early this year
it was deployed in the monitoring of elections in Nigeria. Voters
texted complaints to a computer where they could be processed and
cross-checked by monitors from international bodies such as the
European Union.

More recently FrontlineSMS was used in Pakistan to get round curbs on
information flowing in and out of the country. Both there and in
Myanmar (Burma) recent disturbances have produced some interesting
insights into the cat-and-mouse games of protesters and political

In Pakistan the equipment used by local authorities was too cheap to
block the flow of text messages. This helped Pakistani protesters to
stay informed about sympathetic rallies taking place in America and
Britain—and to give the outside world a glimpse of ordinary people’s
reactions to the state of emergency.

During the recent protests in Myanmar, the authorities temporarily
suspended text messaging altogether. That did not stop activists from
using expensive satellite phones, which are harder to shut down. The
political, and above all, economic cost of blocking text messages was
relatively low in Myanmar, because not many people use mobiles. But in
many other developing countries, shutting mobile systems would be
economically disastrous and politically costly, because so many small
businesses depend on them.

In some places, like Belarus, the authorities have refined the art of
blocking mobile coverage in specific places—such as protest venues.
They have also turned text messages to their own uses: by using the
state-owned network to spread warnings that a rally is likely to end
in bloodshed.

For hard-pressed activists in search of new techniques, help may come
from an unlikely quarter. Google, the internet giant, has offered $10m
for the most innovative new application for mobile phones. The offer
extends to ideas that bring humanitarian benefits or contribute to
economic development. Mobile activists have never lacked imagination,
and many of them are already hard at work, thinking of clever new uses
for those little devices—mostly rather crude, five-year-old models—
that have become part of daily life in the poorest parts of the world.

Computing: In future, most new internet users will be in developing
countries and will use mobile phones. Expect a wave of innovation
The meek shall inherit the web  /  Sep 4th 2008

THE World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the body that leads the
development of technical standards for the web, usually concerns
itself with nerdy matters such as extensible mark-up languages and
cascading style sheets. So the new interest group it launched in May
is rather unusual. It will focus on the use of the mobile web for
social development—the sort of vague concept that techie types tend to
avoid, because it is more than simply a technical matter of codes and
protocols. Why is the W3C interested in it?

The simple answer is that the number of mobile phones that can access
the internet is growing at a phenomenal rate, especially in the
developing world. In China, for example, over 73m people, or 29% of
all internet users in the country, use mobile phones to get online.
And the number of people doing so grew by 45% in the six months to June
—far higher than the rate of access growth using laptops, according to
the China Internet Network Information Centre.

This year China overtook America as the country with the largest
number of internet users—currently over 250m. And China also has some
600m mobile-phone subscribers, more than any other country, so the
potential for the mobile internet is enormous. Companies that stake
their reputations on being at the technological forefront understand
this. Last year Lee Kai-fu, Google’s president in China, announced
that Google was redesigning its products for a market where “most
Chinese users who touch the mobile internet will have no PC at all.”

It is not just China. Opera Software, a firm that makes web-browser
software for mobile phones, reports rapid growth in mobile-web
browsing in developing countries. The number of web pages viewed in
June by the 14m users of its software was over 3 billion, a 300%
increase on a year earlier. The fastest growth was in developing
countries including Russia, Indonesia, India and South Africa.

Behind these statistics lies a more profound social change. A couple
of years ago, a favourite example of mobile phones’ impact in the
developing world was that of an Indian fisherman calling different
ports from his boat to get a better price for his catch. But mobile
phones are increasingly being used to access more elaborate data

A case in point is M-PESA, a mobile-payment service introduced by
Safaricom Kenya, a mobile operator, in 2007. It allows subscribers to
deposit and withdraw money via Safaricom’s airtime-sales agents, and
send funds to each other by text message. The service is now used by
around a quarter of Safaricom’s 10m customers. Casual workers can be
paid quickly by phone; taxi drivers can accept payment without having
to carry cash around; money can be sent to friends and family in
emergencies. Safaricom’s parent company, Vodafone, has launched M-PESA
in Tanzania and Afghanistan, and plans to introduce it in India.

Similar services have also proved popular in South Africa and the
Philippines. Mobile banking is now being introduced into the Maldives,
a group of islands in the Indian Ocean where many people lost their
life savings, held in cash, in the tsunami of December 2004.

For the W3C, M-PESA and its ilk are harbingers of far more
sophisticated services to come. If mobile banking is possible using a
simple system of text messages, imagine what might be possible with
full web access. But it will require standards to ensure that services
and devices are compatible. Stéphane Boyera, co-chair of the new W3C
interest group, says its aim is to track the social impact of the
mobile web in the developing world, to ensure that the web’s technical
standards evolve to serve this rapidly emerging constituency.

The right approach, Mr Boyera argues, is not to create “walled
gardens” of specially adapted protocols for mobile devices, but to
make sure that as much as possible of the information on the web can
be accessed easily on mobile phones. That is a worthy goal. But Ken
Banks, the other co-chair of the W3C’s new interest group and the
founder of, which helps non-profit organisations exploit
mobile technologies in the developing world, points out that simple
services based on text messages are likely to predominate for some
time to come, for several reasons. All mobile phones, however cheap,
can send text messages. Mobile-web access requires more sophisticated
handsets and is not always supported by operators. And users know what
it costs to send a text message.

As countries work their way up the development ladder, however, the
situation changes in favour of full mobile-web access. Jim Lee, a
manager at Nokia’s Beijing office, says he was surprised to find that
university students in remote regions of China were buying Nokia
Nseries smart-phones, costing several months of their disposable
income. Such handsets are status symbols, but there are also pragmatic
reasons to buy them. With up to eight students in each dorm room,
phones are often the only practical way for students to access the web
for their studies. And smart-phones are expensive, but operators often
provide great deals on data tariffs to attract new customers.

Xuehui Zhao, a recent graduate of the Anyang Institute of Technology
in Henan province, explains that a typical monthly package for five
yuan ($0.73) includes 10 megabytes of data transfer—more than enough
to allow her to spend a couple of hours each day surfing the web and
instant-messaging with friends. It is also much cheaper than paying
200 yuan per month for a fixed-broadband connection.

As this young generation of sophisticated mobile-web users grows up,
what sort of new services will they want? Many NGOs and local
governments are trying things out. Several examples were discussed at
a workshop in June organised by the W3C in São Paolo, Brazil. The
government of the Brazilian state of Paraná, for instance, is using
text messages and voice-menu systems to notify the unemployed about
job opportunities and farmers about agricultural prices.

But the workshop also highlighted the limits of what such efforts can
achieve. It quickly became apparent that more or less identical
services are being developed from scratch repeatedly in different
parts of the world. There is clearly room for more co-ordination of
such efforts, which is exactly what the W3C has in mind.

Furthermore, many clever systems are being developed by NGOs with no
apparent interest in setting up commercial services. As Mr Boyera
points out, this raises the issue of sustainability. What happens when
the NGO’s funding runs out? One conclusion from the workshop was that
promoting social development through the mobile web will mean engaging
with businesses. Regulators can also help by fostering cheap mobile

The developing world missed out on much of the excitement of the
initial web revolution, the dotcom boom and Web 2.0, largely because
it did not have an internet infrastructure. But developing countries
may now be poised to leapfrog the industrialised world in the era of
the mobile web.


Global Action: Hurricane Gustav Unites Social-Media Activists
BY Mark A.M. Kramer  /  August 31st, 2008

“At around 5:24pm on August 30th, 2008 a storm of social-media activity was launched by Andy Carvin, National Public Radio’s senior product manager for online communities.  Using “Ning” Andy was able to lay the foundation for the Gustav Information Center (GIC) social network to help in the coordination and dissemination of information relating to Hurricane Gustav.  The GIC community is very diverse and possesses volunteers who have come together in an incredibly short period of time through announcements on Twitter.  There are GIC volunteers from within Louisiana discussing potential ways to harness social media tools with colleagues from all points of the United States including many volunteers from the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and South America.

On behalf of Smart Mobs, I would like to encourage all our readers and community members to take a moment and think about how you can do your small part in this effort to help those affected by Gustav.  Join in the efforts of the Gustav Information Center, volunteer with your local American Red Cross Chapter or take action in any effort you feel comfortable being a part of. Let us join together and harness the social-media tools offered us to open lines of communication and cooperation to make certain we are not unprepared for Gustav to prevent another disaster like we faced with Katrina. Please visit the Gustav Information Center (GIC) and join other social-media activists in coordinating efforts to help our brothers and sisters who will be directly impacted by Gustav.”

















More than 75% of Gulf oil on lockdown  /  August 31st, 2008

Opportunities missed in preparing for Gustav  /  August 31, 2008

If there were a Nobel Prize for “I told you so” it might go to Louisiana State University Professor Ivor van Heerden. He warned of the catastrophic consequences a major hurricane would have on New Orleans long before Hurricane Katrina. LSU Professor Ivor Van Heerden foretold Katrina’s damage. Now he’s pointing out missed opportunities to prevent a repeat of the disaster. And as Hurricane Gustav approaches, he says there were many lost opportunities to strengthen the region’s defenses in the three years since Katrina and Rita.

Among them:
*state and federal officials could have done a lot more to assess the weak links in the levee system, from New Orleans to Morgan City, Louisiana.
*more of an effort should have been made to repair damaged areas on levees. In many places, he said, there is bare soil, no grass at all on the levees.
*both before and after Katrina, he said the Army Corps of Engineers has not allowed enough outside experts to work with them to make improvements

But perhaps the greatest neglect has been restoration of the wetlands off the Louisiana coast. It’s estimated that the cypress swamps and barrier islands are disappearing at the rate of a football field every half hour. “For 14 years we’ve been trying to get the state to start a more large scale effort to rebuild the barrier islands,” said van Heerden. These islands act as speed bumps with an approaching storm. “If the existing barrier islands were a little higher and wider, it could knock two to three feet off the storm surge. It would have been about a $200 million dollar project, it could have been finished by now,” he said. While coastal authorities in Louisiana did complete some restoration projects, van Heerden said bureaucratic snags kept many others from ever being started: everything from a limit of what companies could dredge in the Gulf, to the cutting and selling of cypress trees for garden mulch. “This storm has the potential of being a huge economic blow to Louisiana, the United States and it will be felt internationally,” said van Heerden. He predicted the price of gasoline could go through the roof because of the enormous oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf of Mexico. But he said the human toll would be greater. “Who is going to suffer? Not the decision-makers. It is the poor Louisianans. If the [weather] models are correct, Gustav will destroy what Katrina and Rita did not. This is going to be flooding of a much larger area than Katrina,” said van Heerden.

Ivor van Heerden
email : ivor [at] hurricane [dot] lsu [dot] edu

BY Greg Palast  /  08/24/2007

The charge is devastating: That, on August 29, 2005, the White House withheld from the state police the information that New Orleans was about to flood. From almost any other source, I would not have believed it. But this was not just any source. The whistleblower is Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, the chief technician advising the state on saving lives during Katrina. I’d come to van Heerden about another matter, but in our talks, it was clear he had something he wanted to say, and it was a big one. He charged that the White House, FEMA, and the Army Corps hid, for critical hours, their discovery that the levees surrounding New Orleans were cracking, about to burst and drown the city. Understand that Katrina never hit New Orleans. The hurricane swung east of the city, so the state evacuation directors assumed New Orleans was now safe — and evacuation could slow while emergency efforts moved east with the storm. But unknown to the state, in those crucial hours on Monday, the federal government’s helicopters had filmed the cracks that would become walls of death by Tuesday.

Van Heerden revealed: “FEMA knew at 11 o’clock on Monday that the levees had breeched. At 2 p.m., they flew over the 17th Street Canal and took video of the breech.”

Question: “So the White House wouldn’t tell you the levees had breeched?”
Dr. Van Heerden: “They didn’t tell anybody.”

Question: “And you’re at the Emergency Center.’
Dr. Van Heerden: “I mean nobody knew. The Corps of Engineers knew. FEMA knew. None of us knew.”

I could not get the White House gang to respond to the charges. That leaves the big, big question: WHY? Why on earth would the White House not tell the state to get the remaining folks out of there?

The answer: cost. Political and financial cost. A hurricane is an act of God — but a catastrophic failure of the levees is an act of Bush. Under law dating back to 1935, a breech of the federal levee system makes the damage — and the deaths — a federal responsibility. That means, as van Heeden points out, “these people must be compensated.”

The federal government, by law, must build and maintain the Mississippi River levees to withstand known dangers — or pay the price when they fail. Indeed, that was the rule applied in the storms that hit Westhampton Dunes, New York, in 1992. There, when federal sea barriers failed, the floodwaters wiped away 190 homes. The Feds rebuilt them from the public treasury. But these were not just any homes. They are worth an average of $3 million apiece — the summer homes of movie stars and celebrity speculators. There were no movie stars floating face down in the Lower Ninth Ward nor in Lakeview nor in St. Bernard Parish. For the ‘luvvies’ of Westhampton Dunes, the federal government even trucked in sand to replace the beaches. But for New Orleans’ survivors, there’s the aluminum gulag of FEMA trailer parks. Today, two years later, 89,000 families still live in this mobile home Guantanamo — with no plan whatsoever for their return. And what was the effect of the White House’s self-serving delay? I spoke with van Heerden in his university office. The computer model of the hurricane flashed quietly as I waited for him to answer. Then he said, “Fifteen hundred people drowned. That’s the bottom line.”

La. Report Blames Corps of Engineers for New Orleans Levee Breaks
BY Janet McConnaughey  /  March 23, 2007

Decades of mistakes – some as basic as not knowing the elevation of New Orleans – led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to believe its levees and floodwalls would protect the city from a storm as strong as Hurricane Katrina, a report released March 21 concludes. The corps used obsolete research to design flood-control structures that were built too low and improperly maintained, a group of engineers and storm researchers called Team Louisiana said in its 475-page report. The report was commissioned by the state Department of Transportation and Development. The system was intended to be strong enough to handle a Category 3 hurricane like Katrina, which devastated New Orleans when levees broke. Two major studies last year looked at the engineering problems that caused the 2005 breaches, but the new study also closely examines whether the problems could have been foreseen when the flood-control system was created. The report said the errors date to the original plans in 1965, which relied on land height measurements from 1929. Because the city had sunk over the years, the plans called for levees that were 1 to 2 feet too low. “This mistake was locked in” for continuing construction by a policy adopted in 1985, even though scientists knew how fast New Orleans was sinking, the report said. By the time Katrina hit, the levees were as much as 5 feet too low. The report also said the corps never used a storm surge model released in 1979 by the National Hurricane Center. “If they had, they would have realized that their levee system wasn’t high enough for a Category 3 storm at all,” said team leader Ivor van Heerden, a Louisiana State University professor, deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center and a corps critic. Additionally, he said the corps ignored its own models that suggested that the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a navigation channel completed in the early 1960s, would funnel storm surge into St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans. The corps also should have known two canals would fail when water levels reached 10 feet. Van Heerden said that “a back-of-the-envelope calculation” would have alerted engineers to a problem with one of the canals, and that a soil strength analysis available since the 1950s would have highlighted flaws in the other. The corps was preparing a response, spokesman John Hall said. Van Heerden said almost all the problems could have been avoided if independent engineers had reviewed the corps’ plans before construction started. Before Katrina struck, he said, he and fellow researchers had found sagging levees. He enlisted his students to ask the corps about them, and the agency responded by saying “‘These were federal levees built to federal standards and they’re not going to fail,”’ he said. The report recommended an independent planning process for hurricane protection, and an independent, bipartisan panel similar to the Sept. 11 Commission to investigate why levees failed. The corps is expected to release a study soon tracing the decision-making process.

Levees built incorrectly, Army Corps says  /  December 1, 2005
Steel reinforcing didn’t go as deeply as called for – leaving the flood walls too weak – and government engineers can’t explain why

(New Orleans) – Government engineers performing sonar tests at the site of a major levee failure found exactly what independent investigators said they would – that steel reinforcements barely went more than half as deep as they were supposed to, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. “We’ve come up with similar results” to those from earlier tests performed by a team of Louisiana State University engineers, said Walter Baumy, the corps’ chief engineer for the New Orleans District. Baumy said the corps is unable to explain the disparity between what its 1993 design documents show was supposed to be there and what has been found. The documents indicated that the steel reinforcements in the levee, known as sheet piling, went to a depth of 17.5 feet below sea level. Sonar tests indicated the pilings went only to 10 feetbelow sea level, meaning the flood wall would have been much weaker than advertised.

The LSU team is working on a report for the state Department of Transportation – due out in January – that will say that there were serious, fundamental design and construction flaws at both the 17th Street and London Avenue canals. Both broke during Hurricane Katrina, allowing floodwaters to pour into the city’s western and central neighborhoods and encroach on downtown. The team’s leader, Ivor van Heerden, said Wednesday that the levee design ensured failure under the type of water pressure exerted by Katrina’s storm surge. The team’s computer modeling showed that the designs failed to account for loose, porous soils such as sand and peat that were prone to allowing water to seep from the canal through to the dry side of the levee. Much deeper steel pilings driven well below the canal bottoms likely would have stopped seepage to the dry side of the levees, engineers have said. But the bottom tip of the pilings, at 10 feet below sea level, did not even reach as deep as the canal bottoms. “Now that we’ve done the soil strength calculations and looked at the actual design, the design wasn’t up to the task,” van Heerden said. “You have a section of canal that wasn’t covered by sheet metal.” LSU computer models showed that even if the pilings had gone to 17.5 feet below sea level at 17th Street as design documents said they should have, they still would have failed. Engineering studies before construction of the flood wall were performed by Eustis Engineering, Modjeski and Masters Inc. and the corps. Members of van Heerden’s team have expressed shock that all three could have missed what they characterized as fundamental flaws. Calls put in to Eustis, and Modjeski and Masters were not returned Wednesday. However, van Heerden said the federal government bears ultimate responsibility. “The
federal government built the levees, the federal government supplied that security, the security system failed, as a consequence these 100,000 families have lost everything,” van Heerden said. “In our opinion, the federal government needs to step up to the plate.”


If it keep on raining, the levee’s gonna break
If it keep on raining, the levee’s gonna break
Everybody saying this is a day only the Lord could make

Well, I worked on the levee, mama, both night and day
I worked on the levee, mama, both night and day
I got to the river and I threw my clothes away

I paid my time and now I’m good as new,
I paid my time and now I’m as good as new.
They can’t take me back unless I want them to

If it keep on raining, the levee’s gonna break
If it keep on raining, the levee’s gonna break
Some of these people gonna strip you of all they can take…


A.(1)  Whenever a prisoner sentenced to a parish prison of any parish of the state, by any court of competent jurisdiction, or a prisoner in a parish prison awaiting transfer to a state correctional facility shall be willing of his own free will to perform manual labor upon any of the public roads, levees, streets, or public buildings, works, or improvements inside or outside of the prison, or in or upon the buildings, other improvements, or property of any organization which has qualified for tax-exempt status under 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3), 501(c) (19), or 501(c)(23), the sheriff may set the prisoner to work.

“Levee camps arose throughout the post-Civil War South as large numbers of manual laborers (typically African American) were gathered, sometimes by force, to build and maintain systems of earthen levees that held rivers in their channels, thus making more farmland available and (theoretically) minimizing the hazards of annual flooding. Frequent locations of group work-song singing and solo field hollers, they were notoriously difficult and violent places to make a living.”


“Prison labor is used frequently by the District and there exists a cooperative endeavor agreement with the Madison Parish Detention Center to provide that labor.  The agreement requires that the District provide meals and necessary clothing (i.e. boots) not normally provided by the Detention Center while performing services for the District.  Prison labor is used during flooding to help maintain the levees.  Recently one trusty has been utilized regularly to do maintenance on the District’s equipment.  There were no records available to track which prisoners worked where and when.  A review of meal receipts provided no information on the number of prisoners fed and merely showed costs of $6 to $12.50 a day for food.”


In 1927, blacks were forced to work on levee camps in order to help curtail and control the flooding. Tents were set up along the levee camps and the workers were forced to stay in them. Moreover, blacks had to work without pay for the Red Cross and on the levees in order to receive food for themselves and their families. The National Guard ordered blacks in the camps to work like slaves under the threat of being shot. The Chicago Defender ran a column by Ida B. Wells-Barnett during the crisis in which she ran stories from refugees who had escaped the slave camps. The following is an excerpt from one of Wells-Barnett’s columns in which she includes a narrative from one of the refugees:

Meanwhile John Jones (that is not his [real] name), 28 years old, came to my door Friday evening. He was in his shirt sleeves and had a cotton blanket rolled up under his arm. He had just escaped from the government camp in Louisiana. He was born and reared in that state and when the high water came about 300 of them were taken to the camp. All the men were put in one long tent and the women and children in another. He was there 15 days and was not permitted to associate with his wife and children in all that time. They had to lie on the floor with a piece of canvas only under them and no covering. Of course they slept in their clothes and had no change. He said: “The first thing they do is to line you up and give you a ‘shot’ then they give you something to eat and tell you to lie down for a day. The ‘shots’ make you sick and sometimes are fatal. I saw one man drop dead as soon as he had received the injection. He was about 40 years old. Over 25 people died in our camp from these shots.”

“The next morning the gong rang at 5:30 o’clock and we got a breakfast of salty bacon, one egg, bread and some brownish water they called coffee with no sugar. Then the boss man arrived and told us that we were to go to work on the levee and would be given $1 a day and board. He has a gun and you know its useless to argue or refuse to go, so you say you all and take the shovel and go.

“At noontime they gave us navy beans, bread, and more of the stuff they called coffee with no sugar. Then back to work until night, when we get potatoes, corn beef, hash and more of that same so-called coffee.

“It was chilly without any cover so I asked for a blanket, but they wouldn’t give me one. Then I said I would pay for one out of my wages and got it. I have it here. It is all I got for my 15 days’ work. ”

The refugee went on to share his plight of telling his “boss man” that he wanted to stop work and leave the camp, but was told if he tried to leave then he would be shot. He ended up getting shot by the guard in his attempt to leave, and he afterwards hitchhiked from the levee camp to Illinois before sending for his wife who stayed behind in the camp. This refugee story represents the horrendous struggles experienced by tens of thousands of blacks after the 1927 flood that ignited condemnations from people all over the country. In addition to being forced to toil on the levee camps, blacks were also forced to labor as garbage collectors. While white areas of flooded regions were undergoing relatively rapid clean up (done by blacks), the black neighborhoods became the dumping ground for all the trash from the white sections, which rendered these sections as disease breeding and uninhabitable. Thanks to media outlets such as the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier and the NAACP magazine Crisis, people all over the country condemned both the handling of blacks in the region as well as the government for their racist treatment.

Background of the levees
The construction of levees was a lucrative endeavor as white developers and engineers were competing and lobbying for profitable government contracts since the 1860s (while the laborers who actually built the levees were paid nothing). However, higher and stronger levees that were supposed to prevent flooding also eroded wetlands because they thwart the natural dispersal of sediment to the marshland, which then causes more severe hurricanes and flooding (because there is less land to buffer and weaken the incoming hurricane from the Gulf of Mexico to inhabited areas). In sum, the Mississippi River is meant to flood naturally, but because of corporate interests to control its flood waters in order to maintain crop production and accumulation, we have an extensive system of levees and dikes that in the end increases the pressure on the river, erodes coastland, and can cause even more disasterous flooding. Although corporate interests operate against the welfare of people, oppressed persons have consistently organized to resist such injustice.

Responses and Resistance
The black newspaper Chicago Defender had a special correspondent in the flood region and Ida B. Wells-Barnett also wrote special columns during the disaster. In one of her columns, Wells-Barnett posed the following question: “Why can’t the Race, who are 90% of the actual flood sufferers, share in that $14,000,000 relief fund which the country sent freely to the flood district?” After she shared the first-hand accounts from refugees who escaped the slave camps, Wells-Barnett made a call to action; she urged the black community to ask similar questions, demand answers, share this information with the whole country, and then act for change. She tells all black people to “pass resolutions asking for investigations of these camps and recommending better protection for our Race in their clubs, churches, lodges, and fraternal societies and send them to President Coolidge, Secretary Hoover, the National Red Cross…” She urged people to keep crying aloud until something is done and added that “it will require the combined influence of all our people in the North, East, and West, where our votes count, to put a stop to the slavery that is going on right now in the government camps in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.” Wells-Barnett and other writers were critical of the black bourgeoisie who they felt had traded out the poorer persons of their race by hiding the true brutish conditions of the refugees in the camps. For instance, Wells-Barnett and DuBois lambasted the Colored Committee Report spearheaded by Moton as not depicting the actual reality of the slave camps and, in response, the NAACP sent their own investigator to the area.

The NAACP played an active role in relief and advocacy during the Great Flood. As the Delta area began experiencing immense flooding, African Americans all over the country began writing letters to the national offices of the Urban League and the NAACP, as well as to black newspapers, demanding that they investigate the allegations of peonage and forced labor. Initially, Walter White, the assistant secretary of the NAACP, was hesitant to act on false rumors, but as he realized the accuracy of the reports from the region, he paid a visit to the area and disseminated his findings in publications such as the New York Times and The Nation. White accused the wealthy landlords in the Delta of using the disaster as a pretext to hold black people in peonage. The NAACP also helped collect funds for aid that would go directly towards the black refugees. Many African Americans suspected donating money to the Red Cross, because they feared that the funds would not go to help the black flood victims. In response to these suspicions, the New Orleans branch of the NAACP consented to receive flood relief funds for the black victims and said “the New Orleans branch will handle anything for the flood sufferers.” In addition to efforts by the NAACP, the black media made attempts to ensure that black refugees were getting appropriate assistance.

The Associated Negro Press also demanded that Coolidge appoint a ‘colored’ officer to work with whites in administering relief so that the relief would correctly go to the refugees who are 90% black. Further, the black newspaper Pittsburgh Courier was also deputized by the Red Cross to collect funds for flood refugees. This newspaper also reported on the Special Conference on Flood Relief in which social worker executives offered to train “Negro social workers through the National Urban League…for organizing Negro flood sufferers for relief and family rehabilitation.” Although the government did respond to such demands by appointing black people to lead relief efforts, such as Moton’s committee, these blacks, who were typically bourgeois, were also criticized by more radical activists such as Wells-Barnett and DuBois for taking bribes by white businessmen and landlords in exchange for convincing poor blacks to be subordinate and stay in the Delta region.

The refugees forced to work in the levee slave camps engaged in forms of resistance against their oppressors. Rebellions would often occur whenever a guard or overseer inflicted some form of violence against a refugee. For instance, the Chicago Defender reported that a near riot occurred in Mississippi when the police arrested and jailed a woman named Mrs. Nancy Clark Peters when she objected to her husband’s forced conscription to work on the levee. Another near race riot occurred when an overseer beat a 19-year-old refugee with a gun because he asked for a rest break. This incident caused the levee night workers to quit ‘cold’ in addition to the near race insurrection. A substantial uprising almost occurred because of the death of James Gordon, a levee worker in Greenville, MS who was shot by a white police officer for refusing to return to work during his shift off. Gordon’s death sparked intense anger among the black community that unloading of supplies, cleaning of white businesses, and other labor performed by blacks came to a halt, while both blacks and whites armed themselves. Even the African-Americans on the levee kept shovels, hoes, and knives within reach. Will Percy was able to superficially fan the flames of anger in the black community, although the rage continued to linger within. These instances exhibit the solidarity of the black workers such that when one of them was abused, the entire group would rise up in protest. The actions that sparked the riots typically involved a black person standing up to the authority of the police or army either by not agreeing to follow orders or contesting their use of force. The riots are a form of protest perhaps less theatrical than the ones of today (such as rallies and demonstrations). In considering riots as a form of resistance, it is important to consider this question: to what end did the black people rebel and what was the impact of their rebellion? I would like to argue that this form of rebellion on the part of levee workers was a collective form of resistance because blacks were defying the forced labor conditions that the state imposed on them through using intimidation; so this resistance represents a challenge to the state-sponsored coercion. The nature of protest involving riots is characteristic of the collective nature of living and work conditions that black people experienced at that time.

New Orleans Prisoners Abandoned After Katrina
By Matt Gnaizda  /  Oct 01, 2005

The horrors of the Superdome have become the epitome of the plight of Hurricane Katrina victims, but in one New Orleans facility, victims may have fared even worse. In Orleans Parish Prison, one of the nation’s largest and most notorious jails, hundreds were left for days in flooded cells without food, drinking water, or supervision. One month later, over 500 of them are missing. “We were strictly abandoned. They just left us,” said Dan Bright, one of the prisoners, in a radio interview with the radio show Democracy Now! “When we realized what was going on, it was too late. It was total chaos. The water was up to our chest… No one came to our rescue.” Democracy Now recently brought together former detainee Bright, Human Rights Watch Researcher Corrine Carey, Louisiana defense attorney Phyllis Mann, and a criminal defense lawyer to discuss the fate of prisoners during the hurricane and the grueling relocation process.

According to the interviewees, just before Katrina hit, an additional 2,000 prisoners had been evacuated from nearby prisons to Orleans Parish, which normally housed 7,500 to 8,000 inmates at a time. As floods following the storm hit this overcrowded facility, the water level began to rise. “There was no air circulation, and the toilets had started to back up. So the stench was unbearable for these prisoners,” said Ms. Carey from Human Rights Watch on the radio show. She said that the Orleans Parish sheriff, Marlin Gusman, didn’t call the State Department of Corrections for assistance until 18 hours after Katrina struck. “We started to see people…hangin’ shirts on fire out the windows. They were wavin’ ‘em,” an Orleans Parish Prison officer told Human Rights Watch. “Then we saw them jumping out of the windows.” Some inmates were trapped in their cells in deep water; others managed to kick open cell doors and escape to higher ground.

The guards had left the facility prior to the storm, and no evacuation plan was implemented. While most prisoners were evacuated by the next day, the 600 prisoners in the Templeman III building were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after the storm hit. Many of them had not been convicted of a crime, and were housed there awaiting court hearings for misdemeanors or city violations, said defense attorney Phyllis Mann. During the evacuation and relocation, prisoners were dispersed to facilities throughout New Orleans and Texas. Mr. Bright said he and hundreds of other prisoners were left for days on a field of wet grass at Hunt’s Correctional Center near Baton Rouge. There were no toilets, and guards came once a day to throw peanut butter sandwiches over the gate to the hungry, rowdy prisoners, some of whom were death-row inmates. Some were there for as long as a week, said Mr. Bright. He was later transferred to another prison before he saw a judge and was released. Human Rights watch compiled two lists of prisoners from the Department of Corrections: one of those present before the storm, and the other of those evacuated. As of the Democracy Now! interview on September 27, Human Rights Watch said that 517, including 130 from the Templeman III building, were still unaccounted for. One veteran Orleans Parish corrections officer told Human Rights Watch, “Ain’t no tellin’ what happened to those people.” Orleans Parish Prison officials could not be reached for comment, because phone lines are down.

Katrina Exposes Orleans Parish Prison’s Flaws
BY Matt Gnaizda  /  Oct 16, 2005

In August, Mr. Addison was sentenced to ten days in OPP for trespassing and disturbing the peace. He was due to be released on the morning of Monday, August 29, the day Katrina struck. Not only was he not released, he says, but he was bounced around to different facilities over the course of the lengthy evacuation process, and he was not released until a full 31 days later. Mr. Addison claims that the guards at OPP abandoned prisoners
immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Juveniles, misdemeanor offenders, and convicted felons were all mixed together. He and other prisoners had no electricity, food or fresh water for several days; meanwhile, the floodwaters, which he described as “nasty, nasty”—full of urine and excrement—rose at first to knee-level, and eventually so high that all the prisoners in his first-floor cell had to climb on the top bed bunks for safety. On the third day, they were moved outside to the bridge, where they had to wait out in the sun, still with no fresh water. Eventually, guards tossed hotdogs to them.

OPP, which is the equivalent of a county jail, is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, even though New Orleans is far from one of the most populous US cities. It holds 6,000–8,000 people at any given time in its ten buildings. “The stories [from Orleans Parish Prison inmates] are so unbelievable that people look at them and think, ‘This can’t possibly be true,’” says Human Rights Watch researcher Corrine Carrie. New Orleans has some of the least prisoner-friendly laws of any US city, says Rachel Jones, a trial lawyer at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. One can be detained for up to 45 days for a misdemeanor before seeing a judge or a lawyer, even if the charges are completely unfounded, she says. “They do the bare minimum of what the [US] Supreme Court requires.”

Ben Cohen, a New Orleans capital defense lawyer who has been doing pro bono work on behalf of impoverished pre-trial detainees, highlights a problem that he calls a “system of indentured servitude,” where petty-offenders who want release are encouraged to plead guilty in exchange for time served. They are often unaware that they’ll be saddled with court-costs and probation fees of $40 per month for up to five years, or a total of $2,400—no small potatoes for a minimum-wage earner. “It creates a cycle of incarceration where poor people are routinely sent back to jail for no other offense, except that they couldn’t pay their fines and fees.” Ultimately, the fines and fees are what Cohen describes as the “crack cocaine” of the criminal justice system: the judges, court reporters, and defense lawyers for the poor need the fees imposed or to get paid, but its an “easy high” that undermines the integrity of the process. It is a system, Cohen says, that “lets the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys off easy, all on the back of poor people who carry the burden of an under-funded system.”

The evacuation of OPP was perhaps the largest prison evacuation in U.S. history. While OPP was prepared to withstand the hurricane itself, says Ms. Lapeyrolerie, it was totally unprepared for the levee breaks which flooded the buildings up to seven feet deep. It took three 24-hour days of evacuations to load prisoners onto boats and busses. They had to call the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections to get additional boats and SWAT team personnel. Human Rights Watch claims that several hundred prisoners who were imprisoned before the storm are still unaccounted for. Ms. Lapeyrolerie says Sheriff Gusman “categorically denies it” and that everyone has been accounted for. But later in the phone interview she revealed there may actually have been some escapees, just not from the maximum security building.


Many of the men held at jail had been arrested for offenses like criminal trespass, public drunkenness or disorderly conduct. Many had not even been brought before a judge and charged, much less been convicted. But at Templeman III, which housed about 600 inmates, there was no prison staff to help the prisoners. Inmates interviewed by Human Rights Watch varied about when they last remember seeing guards at the facility, but they all insisted that there were no correctional officers in the facility on Monday, August 29. A spokeswoman for the Orleans parish sheriff’s department told Human Rights Watch she did not know whether the officers at Templeman III had left the building before the evacuation.

According to inmates interviewed by Human Rights Watch, they had no food or water from the inmates’ last meal over the weekend of August 27-28 until they were evacuated on Thursday, September 1. By Monday, August 29, the generators had died, leaving them without lights and sealed in without air circulation. The toilets backed up, creating an
unbearable stench. “They left us to die there,” Dan Bright, an Orleans Parish Prison inmate told Human Rights Watch at Rapides Parish Prison, where he was sent after the evacuation. As the water began rising on the first floor, prisoners became anxious and then desperate. Some of the inmates were able to force open their cell doors, helped by inmates held in the common area. All of them, however, remained trapped in the locked facility. “The water started rising, it was getting to here,” said Earrand Kelly, an inmate from Templeman III, as he pointed at his neck. “We was calling down to the guys in the cells under us, talking to them every couple of minutes. They were crying, they were scared. The one that I was cool with, he was saying ‘I’m scared. I feel like I’m about to drown.’ He was crying.” Some inmates from Templeman III have said they saw bodies floating in the floodwaters as they were evacuated from the prison. A number of inmates told Human Rights Watch that they were not able to get everyone out from their cells. “At best, the inmates were left to fend for themselves,” said Carey. “At worst, some may have died.”

Human Rights Watch was not able to speak directly with Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gussman or the ranking official in charge of Templeman III. A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department told Human Rights Watch that search-and-rescue teams had gone to the prison and she insisted that “nobody drowned, nobody was left behind.” Human Rights Watch compared an official list of all inmates held at Orleans Parish Prison immediately prior to the hurricane with the most recent list of the evacuated inmates compiled by the state Department of Corrections and Public Safety (which was entitled, “All Offenders Evacuated”). However, the list did not include 517 inmates from the jail, including 130 from Templeman III.

Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript of an interview between
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, and members of the group Human Rights Watch.

Excerpts of Letters from Prisoners Abandoned to Katrina

[Name and inmate number redacted]
LA State Penitentiary
Angola, Louisiana 70712

October 10, 2005

Dear Human Rights Watch; Corinne Carey

I’m a inmate from New Orleans Parish Prison, housed at Conchetta. This facility only housed women. I read your article from the Website and I would like to tell you my story. We women inmates were also left to die, without medical attention, no food, no water. We lived in high waters, the building is 3 floors, “the first floor flooded to the top, that force us to move to the second floor. Inmates were beaten by Deputy’s it was a panic situation. Gas lines broke. Living in contaminated waters for 3 long miserable days. The reason I’m writing this letter is because we women would like to be interviewed also to tell our version. I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter. We women hope to hear from Human Rights Watch soon.


[name redacted]
[Forwarding address redacted]

* * * * *

[Name redacted], I too was a victim of Katrina. Orleans-Parish Inmate.


To: Whom it may concern;

I am one of the surviving inmates from Hurricane Katrina! I was housed in the CTA Building. One of the last, last, female facilities to evacuate. We were without food, water, lights, and medical attention for over 4 days. I watched a lot of my fellow inmates pass out. We were ingesting all sorts of noxious gasses. To the extent they made you nauseous and lightheaded. I’ve been incarcerated now over 11 months never been convicted or sentenced. A lot of the officers left us there to die. The sheriff stated on national T.V. that the inmates are to remain where they belong! Such a cruel and unjustifiable statement. Besides all of that madness they sprayed some inmates with mace. We have to use the restroom out in the open. They drew guns on us as if we were trying to escape! All I wanted to do was get to safety. Some of us may be guilty of crimes, and some may not. But each life is still precious and all people should be treated equal. We weren’t allowed to bring anything with us such as family pictures! Probably the only ones that could have been salvaged. There is one woman however, stayed with the inmates to the bitter end. Her name is: Colonel Joseph. She was a god sent Angel. So many deputies abandon us. It was a very scary ordeal. So many times I saw my life flash before my eyes. I’ve never been a vengeful person, but something needs to be done because that was definitely cruel and unjustifiable the actions they took in our safety. We had no alternative but to end of drinking toilet water!

[name and inmate number redacted]

Letter also signed by:
[29 other Angola women inmates, names and inmate numbers redacted]

* * * * *

[name and inmate number redacted]
Camp F D4-L
Angola, LA 70712

A Inmate From Templeman Four

“To Whom it may Concern”

My name is [name and inmate number redacted] an inmate that was housed at Orleans Parish Prison, and my location was at Templeman 4. Let me tell some of what I what through well for starters it started Aug, 28, 2005 when the lights went out but the generator came on it was hot we had no water or food we were locked on our dorms with no air for 24 hours. Monday on the 29th the day of the hurricane still no food or water, and no air and on top of all that the water started to rise and rise!! And yet we are still locked down like dogs. The water got as high as to the second bunk before they decided to move us out of the building. That’s when sheriff Marlin Gusman came took us out the Templeman 4 building, and move us to Templeman 2which was no better. That building was dirty where the man had set fires to get out we suffered there until from 4:00am until maybe 2:00pm Thursday evening still no food or water. After that we walk through water up to our chest where we stood in the front of I.P.C. for at least 12 hours!! We were just standing in them infested waters all those hours. Still no food or water. After that we walk through more water to board the boats after standing in that funky infested water at about 12:30 am midnight that is!! From there they brought us to the Broad Overpass where some of the male inmates were out there. We had to sleep on top of the Bridge overnight still no food or water. So then we had to use the rest room right there in the open in front free would people and the male inmates and I think that was truly cruel and don’t talk about the shot guns they were holding on us we couldn’t talk or else we are going to get shot. Wednesday morning some of us started passing out from no water or food for at least four days. So from there the people from D.O.C. came got us from the overpass and brought us to I-10 interstate where we had to wait for transportation. And that’s just the beginning of that horrible nightmare, and just like the make inmates from Templeman 3 said they left us to die they didn’t care what happen to us I believe they wish we would have died. But thank God these people here at Angola La. especially warden Burl Cain if it wouldn’t have been for him and the rest of D.O.C. we would have!!! Oh there’s more but I guess you know already.

Yours Truly,
[name redacted]

* * * * *

[Letter undated, postmarked October 15, 2005]

On September 22, 2005 a petition was written and signed by these evacuated inmates of Orleans Parish Prison plus myself. Concerning our health, well being, also horrific conditions in which we had to survive as opposed to being housed at Avoyelles Corrections Center (Auto Mechanic Garage). Here is a list of the various conditions in which we had to live under.

Signs of all sorts indicating the surrounding as well.

Chemical storage, no fire extinguisher, Caution flammable gas, a car painting and body & fender shop, compressed air, Danger High Voltage, sandblasting shop, Danger No Smoking, oxygen, acetylene, open gated tool shed and supplies, use eye protective equipment in designated area, caution wear eye protection, 120 inmates sharing 2 port-o-let, severely infested with big mosquitos and other insects, limited 4 minutes to eat at least, also 4 minutes to phone call/1 per week, being confined to isolation for talking, walking also speaking, on conditions asking legit questions, and consequences very brutal also severe, physical beating, being gased and left that way for days, put in a cell 85% naked wearing only a hospital gown to be belittled among other men, 3 to a 2 man cell without matts, pillows, or even cover, and personal hygiene items, violating our constitutional rights, add to that the wardens participates as well in just about every event that takes place, only to find it exciting, and amusing, not to mention exciting. We are literally suffering and being treated as if we are animals rather than humans let alone inmates. Justice haven’t been served neither has our rights. Many correction officers played favoritism to the fact that, because we all are from New Orleans that we are all menaces to society. They find any and every reason to manipulated the inmates that require medical attention don’t get it at they time of need. Some of the officers even with held mail outgoing and incoming. They also with held out messages from family members which could have been important just like the mail. They only allowed us 30 minutes for recreation for all 428 inmates. 30 minutes for 2 sides each. Meals are half done. Because we are eating at Culinary Arts. Where our food is experimental meals. When inmates go to the block (isolation) they take our shoes. And the inmates whoever working as the cell block orderly keep them. On sell them to other inmates whoever within there center grounds. One night a bat flew in the Auto Mechanic Garage. There is no clean air circulating also no ventilation very unsanitary and inhumane. And that how our experience as Orleans Paris Prisoners where and still is at Avoyelles Correctional Center (K/A) Cottonport. And these thing shouldn’t be this way.

Can you help in appointing us a lawyer, if you can my phone number is
[phone number redacted]

Or if by anyway you need me for more information my address is:
[address redacted]
[name redacted]

* * * * *

[Name, inmate number, and dorm location redacted]
State Penitentiary
Angola, LA 70712
Saturday, October 15, 2005

To Whom it May Concern:

I had received your address regarding a class action lawsuit against the city of New Orleans and all parties involved from several Katrina Evacuees Inmates who had encouraged me to write to your organization now instead of later.

I had been arrested for bad checks, on my own checking account, at [location and date of the offense redacted], and taken to central booking on Tulane Avenue and Broad Street. I was booked on one charged and stripped of all personal belongings; I wasn’t given my pills for diabetes or any of three pairs of prescription eyeglasses, where I now sit at LSP with blurred vision. I also had my expired [name of ID card redacted] and social security card stolen in my presence while in central booking. I was taken to late night court and bail was set for $2,500.00, then transported to jail (Orleans Parish Prison, aka Concheta or CTA, 3600 Perdido Street), arriving early Tuesday morning, August 23rd. I had never been arrested before and found the whole experience very humiliating.

Bad goes to worse. Hurricane Katrina hits Sunday, August 28th, leaving most of New Orleans under five feet to nine feet of water. From that time on until our rescue on Wednesday afternoon, August 31st, by a three-man team from Angola, O.P.A. population was not evacuated, and there was no talk heard to evacuate. No preparations for food or water were made for us. We went without food, and some inmates found out that on the third floor of the building, there was still water running from a sink; it was warm but drinkable. No food, little water, no electricity, a couple of women broke out two of the three “dormitory” windows for air on our second day of abandonment by the city (we were given a full meal of two sandwiches, apples, cookies, bottled water, and other assorted snacks after our rescue by a three-man Angola team by boats). The toilets had stopped working the second day and the women used the showers for toilet needs. The first floor flooded out and was evacuated to the second and third floor dorms, resulting in overcrowding and “dramas” caused by tempers and not knowing if we would be rescued or not at this point. I was taken to the hospital on LSP grounds within twelve hours of our rescue, suffering severe hemroids caused by an impacted colon and heavy menstrual bleeding, as well as dehydration and treated. We’ve been here since our arrival on Thursday, September 1, 2005. Out of 1,500 O.P.P. inmates, only 750 inmates/”Katrina Evacuees” have been released over the seven weeks since Katrina from this all male penal institution.

Please, add my name and statement to this class-action lawsuit

[name redacted]


NY City Subpoenas Creator of Text Messaging Code
BY Colin Moynihan  /  March 30, 2008

When delegates to the Republican National Convention assembled in New
York in August 2004, the streets and sidewalks near Union Square and
Madison Square Garden filled with demonstrators. Police officers in
helmets formed barriers by stretching orange netting across
intersections. Hordes of bicyclists participated in rolling protests
through nighttime streets, and helicopters hovered overhead.

These tableaus and others were described as they happened in text
messages that spread from mobile phone to mobile phone in New York
City and beyond. The people sending and receiving the messages were
using technology, developed by an anonymous group of artists and
activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy, that allowed
users to form networks and transmit messages to hundreds or thousands
of telephones.

Although the service, called TXTmob, was widely used by demonstrators,
reporters and possibly even police officers, little was known about
its inventors. Last month, however, the New York City Law Department
issued a subpoena to Tad Hirsch, a doctoral candidate at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology who wrote the code that created

Lawyers representing the city in lawsuits filed by hundreds of people
arrested during the convention asked Mr. Hirsch to hand over
voluminous records revealing the content of messages exchanged on his
service and identifying people who sent and received messages. Mr.
Hirsch says that some of the subpoenaed material no longer exists and
that he believes he has the right to keep other information secret.
“There’s a principle at stake here,” he said recently by telephone. “I
think I have a moral responsibility to the people who use my service
to protect their privacy.”

The subpoena, which was issued Feb. 4, instructed Mr. Hirsch, who is
completing his dissertation at M.I.T., to produce a wide range of
material, including all text messages sent via TXTmob during the
convention, the date and time of the messages, information about
people who sent and received messages, and lists of people who used
the service.

In a letter to the Law Department, David B. Rankin, a lawyer for Mr.
Hirsch, called the subpoena “vague” and “overbroad,” and wrote that
seeking information about TXTmob users who have nothing to do with
lawsuits against the city would violate their First Amendment and
privacy rights.

Lawyers for the city declined to comment. The subpoena is connected to
a group of 62 lawsuits against the city that stem from arrests during
the convention and have been consolidated in Federal District Court in
Manhattan. About 1,800 people were arrested and charged, but 90
percent of them ultimately walked away from court without pleading
guilty or being convicted. Many people complained that they were
arrested unjustly, and a State Supreme Court justice chastised the
city after hundreds of people were held by the police for more than 24
hours without a hearing.

The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, has called the convention a
success for his department, which he credited with preventing major
disruptions during a turbulent week. He has countered complaints about
police tactics by saying that nearly a million people peacefully
expressed their political opinions, while the convention and the city
functioned smoothly. Mr. Hirsch said that the idea for TXTmob evolved
from conversations about how police departments were adopting
strategies to counter large-scale marches that converged at a single

While preparing for the 2004 political conventions in New York and
Boston, some demonstrators decided to plan decentralized protests in
which small, mobile groups held rallies and roamed the streets. “The
idea was to create a very dynamic, fluid environment,” Mr. Hirsch
said. “We wanted to transform areas around the entire city into
theaters of dissent.”

Organizers wanted to enable people in different areas to spread word
of what they were seeing in each spot and to coordinate their
movements. Mr. Hirsch said that he wrote the TXTmob code over about
two weeks. After a trial run in Boston during the Democratic National
Convention, the service was in wide use during the Republican
convention in New York. Hundreds of people went to the TXTmob Web site
and joined user groups at no charge.

As a result, when members of the War Resisters League were arrested
after starting to march up Broadway, or when Republican delegates
attended a performance of “The Lion King” on West 42nd Street, a
server under a desk in Cambridge, Mass., transmitted messages
detailing the action, often while scenes on the streets were still

Messages were exchanged by self-organized first-aid volunteers,
demonstrators urging each other on and even by people in far-flung
cities who simply wanted to trade thoughts or opinions with those on
the streets of New York. Reporters began monitoring the messages too,
looking for word of breaking news and rushing to spots where mass
arrests were said to be taking place. And Mr. Hirsch said he thought
it likely that police officers were among those receiving TXTmob
messages on their phones.

It is difficult to know for sure who received messages, but an
examination of police surveillance documents prepared in 2003 and
2004, and unsealed by a federal magistrate last year, makes it clear
that the authorities were aware of TXTmob at least a month before the
Republican convention began.

A document marked “N.Y.P.D. SECRET” and dated July 26, 2004, included
the address of the TXTmob Web site and stated, “It is anticipated that
text messaging is one of several different communications systems that
will be utilized to organize the upcoming RNC protests.”


Tad Hirsch
email : tad [at] media [dot] mit [dot] edu

John Henry
Institute for Applied Autonomy
email : iaa [at] appliedautonomy [dot] com


TXTmob: Text Messaging For Protest Swarms
BY Tad Hirsch and John Henry

Abstract: “This paper describes cell phone text messaging during the
2004 US Democratic and Republican National Conventions by protesters
using TXTmob – a text-message broadcast system developed by the
authors.  Drawing upon analysis of TXTmob messages, user interviews,
self-reporting, and news media accounts, we describe the ways that
activists used text messaging to share information and coordinate
actions during decentralized protests. We argue that text messaging
supports new forms of distributed participation in mass mobilizations.




Competition to Offer Prizes and SMS Platform to Grassroots NGOs  /
Sep. 17, 2007
nGOmobile initiative highlights the benefits of mobile technology in
the developing world

CAMBRIDGE, England, Sept. 17 /PRNewswire/ — Mobile technology
organization has launched its latest non-profit mobile
initiative – nGOmobile, a competition to help grassroots NGOs take
advantage of text messaging.

The explosive entry of mobile technology into the developing world has
opened up a raft of opportunities for the non-profit sector. Text
messaging has proved itself to be remarkably versatile, helping remind
patients to take their medicine, providing market prices to farmers
and fishermen, distributing health information, allowing the reporting
of human rights abuses and promoting increased citizen participation
in government. While the list may be long, not everyone has been able
to reap the benefits.

nGOmobile is a competition aimed exclusively at grassroots non-profit
Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working for positive social and
environmental change throughout the developing world. “Behind the
scenes, the often unsung heroes of the NGO community battle against
the daily realities of life in developing countries, where it can take
all day to fulfill the simplest task,” said Ken Banks, Founder of “These people don’t lack passion and commitment, they
lack tools and resources” said Banks.”

Grassroots NGOs around the world are invited to submit short project
ideas explaining how greater access to mobile technology – and SMS
text messaging in particular – would benefit them and their work. The
competition is open from today until 14th December 2007 with the
winners announced in January 2008.

The top four entries, chosen by a distinguished panel of judges, will
each win a brand new Hewlett Packard laptop computer, two Nokia mobile
phones, a GSM modem,’s own entry-level text messaging
platform – FrontlineSMS – and to top it all, a cash prize of US$1,000.

Sponsors of the competition include Hewlett Packard, Nokia,
ActiveXperts, 160 Characters, Wieden+Kennedy, mBlox and Perkins Coie

Panel of Judges Ken Banks, Founder, Neerja Raman, From
Good to Gold Mike Grenville, Editor, 160 Characters Micheline Ntiru,
Nokia’s Head of Corporate Social Investment for the Middle East and
Africa Bill Thompson, Journalist/commentator Renny Gleeson, Global
Director of Digital Strategies at Wieden+Kennedy The competition
website can be found at

Ken Banks, Founder
email : ken [dot] banks [at] ngomobile [dot] org

About Since 2003, has been helping local,
national and international non-profit Non-Governmental Organizations
(NGOs) make better use of information and communications technology in
their work. Specializing in the application of mobile technology, it
provides a wide range of ICT-related services drawing on over 22
year’s experience of its Founder, Ken Banks. believes that
all non-profits, whatever their size and wherever they operate, should
be given the opportunity to implement the latest mobile technologies
in their work, and actively seeks to provide the tools to enable them
to do so.





BY Jeffrey Kosseff   /  March 25, 2003

At first glance, it looks like a 9-1-1 log or a transcript from the
police scanner:

05:37pm Protesters damage cars on Second and Davis.
05:38pm March spreading north into Oldtown.
05:43pm Morrison Bridge closed again.

But the communications Thursday during antiwar protests in downtown
Portland weren’t from the police. Instead, they were part of 126 text
messages sent out to 65 protesters’ cell phones, pagers and e-mail

Protesters say they have long searched for an efficient and quick way
of sharing news of bridge shutdowns, flag burnings and pepper
spraying. And they seem to have found it in a relatively young
wireless technology that is reliable, cheap and instantaneous, sending
short bursts of text onto many cell-phone screens at once.

“It definitely helped spread the news around,” said Michael Plump, a
24-year-old computer programmer who organized a text-messaging system
to improve communication among protesters.

Spreading news of developments takes too long with cell-phone calls
because organizers can reach only one person at a time. Walkie-talkies
aren’t reliable or secure enough. And most people don’t have laptops
with wireless e-mail access.

Plump said that since police pepper-sprayed him at a protest during
President Bush’s Aug. 23 visit to Portland, he has wanted to get more
involved with peace protests. “I wanted to help people know where the
police actions were occurring and where they were pepper spraying so
they could get away from it,” Plump said.

Web of reports

So he developed a Web-based program that allows protesters to enter
their cell phone or pager numbers or e-mail addresses into an online
database, which he promoted on Portland activist Web sites. Most
people received the alerts on cell phones or pagers, though a few
received e-mails.

From 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday, about 15 protesters throughout
downtown Portland phoned or sent e-mail and text messages to Plump’s
friend, Casey Spain. Spain summarized developments into a few words
and sent them on to the 65 cell-phone numbers in the database. Plump,
who was in downtown Portland throughout the protests, said cheers
erupted whenever Spain sent news of activists storming a bridge or

And even amid the chaos, the protesters found time for text-messaging

08:27pm Rummor — police may be planning assult from under Burnside
08:28pm Someone plase scout under the bridge please!
08:31pm Police may be eating donuts under the bridge.

Cell-phone text messaging is gaining popularity. According to
Telephia, a California research firm, 24 percent of U.S. cell-phone
subscribers used text messaging in the first quarter of this year, up
from 20 percent the previous quarter.

Verizon service up

Verizon Wireless, which charges 10 cents to send and 2 cents to
receive each text message, has seen its news-alert service double
since January for headlines about the military and Federal Bureau of
Investigation. “A lot of people use text messaging now, and it has
been going up all the time,” said Georgia Taylor, a Verizon Wireless

Wireless companies began offering text messaging in the United States
about two years ago, said Goli Ameri, president of eTinium, a Portland
telecommunications consulting firm. It is not yet as popular in the
United States as it is in Asia and Europe. Intel recently ranked
Portland the top city in the nation for the use of wireless
technology, so Ameri said she isn’t surprised that people here are
finding new uses for text messaging.

“Portland is a pretty tech-savvy city,” she said. “That’s why you see
so many of these new technologies get introduced here first.”

{email : jeffkosseff [at] news [dot] oregonian [dot] com}


Videos Challenge Accounts of Convention Unrest
BY Jim Dwyer  /  April 12, 2005  /  New York Times

Dennis Kyne put up such a fight at a political protest last summer,
the arresting officer recalled, it took four police officers to haul
him down the steps of the New York Public Library and across Fifth

“We picked him up and we carried him while he squirmed and screamed,”
the officer, Matthew Wohl, testified in December. “I had one of his
legs because he was kicking and refusing to walk on his own.”

Accused of inciting a riot and resisting arrest, Mr. Kyne was the
first of the 1,806 people arrested in New York last summer during the
Republican National Convention to take his case to a jury. But one day
after Officer Wohl testified, and before the defense called a single
witness, the prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the
prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr.
Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library
steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was
nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking
part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom
he signed complaints.

A sprawling body of visual evidence, made possible by inexpensive,
lightweight cameras in the hands of private citizens, volunteer
observers and the police themselves, has shifted the debate over
precisely what happened on the streets during the week of the

For Mr. Kyne and 400 others arrested that week, video recordings
provided evidence that they had not committed a crime or that the
charges against them could not be proved, according to defense lawyers
and prosecutors.

Among them was Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going
to pick up sushi.

Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same
police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had
been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop
behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more
complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop’s lawyer,
prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician
had cut the material by mistake.

Seven months after the convention at Madison Square Garden, criminal
charges have fallen against all but a handful of people arrested that
week. Of the 1,670 cases that have run their full course, 91 percent
ended with the charges dismissed or with a verdict of not guilty after
trial. Many were dropped without any finding of wrongdoing, but also
without any serious inquiry into the circumstances of the arrests,
with the Manhattan district attorney’s office agreeing that the cases
should be “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.”

So far, 162 defendants have either pleaded guilty or were convicted
after trial, and videotapes that bolstered the prosecution’s case
played a role in at least some of those cases, although prosecutors
could not provide details.

Besides offering little support or actually undercutting the
prosecution of most of the people arrested, the videotapes also
highlight another substantial piece of the historical record: the
Police Department’s tactics in controlling the demonstrations, parades
and rallies of hundreds of thousands of people were largely free of
explicit violence.

Throughout the convention week and afterward, Mayor Michael R.
Bloomberg said that the police issued clear warnings about blocking
streets or sidewalks, and that officers moved to arrest only those who
defied them. In the view of many activists – and of many people who
maintain that they were passers-by and were swept into dragnets
indiscriminately thrown over large groups – the police strategy
appeared to be designed to sweep them off the streets on technical
grounds as a show of force.

“The police develop a narrative, the defendant has a different story,
and the question becomes, how do you resolve it?” said Eileen Clancy,
a member of I-Witness Video, a project that assembled hundreds of
videotapes shot during the convention by volunteers for use by defense

Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman, said that videotapes often do not
show the full sequence of events, and that the public should not rush
to criticize officers simply because their recollections of events are
not consistent with a single videotape. The Manhattan district
attorney’s office is reviewing the testimony of Officer Wohl at the
request of Lewis B. Oliver Jr., the lawyer who represented Mr. Kyne in
his arrest at the library.

The Police Department maintains that much of the videotape that has
surfaced since the convention captured what Mr. Browne called the
department’s professional handling of the protests and parades. “My
guess is that people who saw the police restraint admired it,” he

Video is a useful source of evidence, but not an easy one to manage,
because of the difficulties in finding a fleeting image in hundreds of
hours of tape. Moreover, many of the tapes lack index and time
markings, so cuts in the tape are not immediately apparent.

That was a problem in the case of Mr. Dunlop, who learned that his
tape had been altered only after Ms. Clancy found another version of
the same tape. Mr. Dunlop had been accused of pushing his bicycle into
a line of police officers on the Lower East Side and of resisting
arrest, but the deleted parts of the tape show him calmly approaching
the police line, and later submitting to arrest without apparent

A spokeswoman for the district attorney, Barbara Thompson, said the
material had been cut by a technician in the prosecutor’s office. “It
was our mistake,” she said. “The assistant district attorney wanted to
include that portion” because she initially believed that it supported
the charges against Mr. Dunlop. Later, however, the arresting officer,
who does not appear on the video, was no longer sure of the specifics
in the complaint against Mr. Dunlop.

In what appeared to be the most violent incident at the convention
protests, video shot by news reporters captured the beating of a man
on a motorcycle – a police officer in plainclothes – and led to the
arrest of one of those involved, Jamal Holiday. After eight months in
jail, he pleaded guilty last month to attempted assault, a low-level
felony that will be further reduced if he completes probation. His
lawyer, Elsie Chandler of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem,
said that videos had led to his arrest, but also provided support for
his claim that he did not realize the man on the motorcycle was a
police officer, reducing the severity of the offense.

Mr. Browne, the police spokesman, said that despite many civilians
with cameras who were nearby when the officer was attacked, none of
the material was turned over to police trying to identify the
assailants. Footage from a freelance journalist led police to Mr.
Holiday, he said.

In the bulk of the 400 cases that were dismissed based on videotapes,
most involved arrests at three places – 16th Street near Union Square,
17th Street near Union Square and on Fulton Street – where police
officers and civilians taped the gatherings, said Martin R. Stolar,
the president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers
Guild. Those tapes showed that the demonstrators had followed the
instructions of senior officers to walk down those streets, only to
have another official order their arrests.

Ms. Thompson of the district attorney’s office said, “We looked at
videos from a variety of sources, and in a number of cases, we have
moved to dismiss.”


Texting It In: Monitoring Elections With Mobile Phones
BY KatrinVerclas  /  August 11, 2007

In Sierra Leone’s national election today, 500 election observers at
polling stations around the country are reporting on any
irregularities via SMS with their mobile phones. Independent
monitoring of elections via cell phone is growing aqround the world,
spearheaded by a few innovative NGOs.

The story starts in Montenegro, a small country in the former
Yugoslavia. On May 21, 2006 the country saw the first instance of
volunteer monitors using SMS, also known as text messaging, as their
main election reporting tool. A Montenegrin NGO, the Center for
Democratic Transition (CDT), with technical assistance from the
National Democratic Institute (NDI) in the United States, was the
first organization in the world to use text messaging to meet all
election day reporting requirements.

Since then, mobile phones have been deployed in six elections in
countries around the world, with volunteers systematically using text
messaging in election monitoring. Pioneered by NDI, SMS monitoring is
becoming a highly sophisticated rapid reporting tool used not just in
a referendum election like in Montenegro, but in parliamentary
elections with a plethora of candidates and parties and complex data
reported via SMS. This was the case in Bahrain, a small country in the
Middle East, where monitors reported individual election tallies in a
series of five to fourty concurrent SMS messages, using a
sophisticated cosding system, with near accuracy.

Today’s election in Sierra Leone is lead by the National Election
Watch (NEW), a coalition of over 200 NGOs in the country. Assisted by
NDI, NEW has monitors at 500 of the 6171 polling stations. Monitors
report on whether there are any irregularities via SMS back to
headquarters. This election is particularly significant for the
country: It is the first presidential election since U.N. peacekeepers
withdrew two years ago. It considered a historic poll that many hope
will show that the country can transfer power peacefully after a long
civil war and military coups. In the run-up to the election there was
sporadic violence in Freetown; making the independent monitoring by
NGOs particularly relevant and necessary.

Election monitoring is a highly technical discipline, with a
sophisticated set of methodologies and extensive volunteer training.
Preparation for an election monitoring exercise involves volunteer
training and advance planning that often starts months before an
election.  Election monitors, typically led by domestic non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) often with the help of foreign
technical assistance providers like NDI, can report on multiple
dimensions.  They may, depending on the election, report on
quantitative data such as real-time voter turnout and even on actual
election results. In those cases, monitors use the data to provide a
“quick count” projection of the election results.  If a “quick count”
is conducted then a statistical random sample of polling places is
carefully selected to ensure the validity of projections.

Monitors also report on qualitative data about how well the election
is executed. This may include information on whether polls are opening
on time, whether there are enough ballots available, whether there is
free access to polling places, and whether there is any evidence of
intimidation or any other irregularities.

Reports are transmitted using an agreed-upon set of codes from a
representative sample of polling places around the country. In Sierra
Leone, for example, there are monitors stationed at 500 polling places
in every part of the country who text in reports at regular intervals.

In many contested elections, especially in emerging democracies, speed
of reporting is of the essence. It is critical that NGOs and
independent civil society organizations report data accurately and
quickly even before official results are released, especially when
fraud is feared. Mobile phones have been an important tool in this
regard. They are, of course, not a new phenomenon in election
monitoring; after all, cell phones have been around for a while now.
But prior to NDI showcasing that SMS is a viable and reliable
communication medium in elections, mobile phones were used merely to
transmit reports verbally that then still had to be transcribed in a
time-consuming and error-prone manual process.

Chris Spence, Director of Technology at NDI recalls: “In 2003, we had
24/7 shifts of college students in five locations across Nigeria
entering data from paper forms that were faxed or hand-carried into
the data centers. Timeliness and quality control were huge issues when
nearly 15,000 forms containing dozens of responses each had to be
manually entered into a database. Today, in the elections where we’ve
used SMS, you watch the data flow into the database directly when it
is time for the monitors to report. The system automatically sends
confirmation messages back to the observer in an interactive exchange
of SMS messages, so accuracy increases. At reporting time, it is quite
amazing to see the numbers change on the screen as the sms messages
pour into the database.”

In addition to increased speed and greater accuracy of reporting, SMS
election monitoring has a noteworthy ancillary benefit: the real-time
ability by headquarters to communicate with observers throughout the
election day by sending text reminders and updates keeps volunteers
motivated and engaged. SMS and phone contact also provides vital
opportunities for security updates should political conditions take a
turn for the worst.  As a result, morale amongst the volunteers soars
there is far less polling station abandonment.

In order for large-scale SMS election monitoring to succeed, a number
of conditions have to be in place. When NDI assisted an Albanian
consortium of NGOs in the local elections there in 2006, all the right
elements were present: NDI was working with an experienced and
reliable local NGO partner; SMS bulk messaging was available for all
of the mobile phone companies; the phone companies worked with the
NGOs and were available and ready during election day to deal with any
problems on the spot; phone companies and the bulk SMS vendors were
able to handle thousands of messages per minute to a few numbers at
reporting times, wireless coverage even in rural areas was excellent,
and the phone companies provided so-called interconnect ability that
allowed monitors to send messages from all of the different carriers
to one reporting number.

In Sierra Leone where most of the carriers lack international gateway
interconnect ability, the NGO coalition there will need to set up a
series of local phone numbers so that observers can text to a number
within their own provider network.  This necessitates a much more
rudimentary and complicated setup: Seven phones are tethered to a
laptop and observers are texting directly to those phones without any
bulk messaging intermediary.  Messages arrive in the phone and are
passed to computer, the software reads it using custom scripts, and
the data is compiled in an Access database ready for analysis.
Concerns about the phones handling a high volume of messages in this
situation necessitates a more complicated reporting strategy whereby
each observer will report all of data in a single text message using a
simple coding scheme.  Because Sierra Leone has more spotty wireless
coverage, election monitors in rural areas will have to travel to
areas where there is coverage to send in their reports at the end of
the day.

An important consideration is the cost of a wide-scale program. To
date NDI has found this method of reporting much more economical than
other strategies.  Pricing for bulk sms from a provider like Clickatel
is relatively inexpensive. In the Albanian election, for example, the
bulk messaging costs for a total of some 41,000 messages received and
sent from 2100 monitors was $2400 US Dollars — an extremely
inexpensive way to receive such massive amounts of data.

NDI uses a software called SMS Reception Center, built by a developer
in Russia and costing all of $69 USD. NDI tweaked the scripts over
time, and paid the developer to improve the product for its purposes
and specific local conditions.

In addition to the technical issues and costs inherent in running a
large-scale operation, Spence notes a number of strategic issues to
consider: The NGO partner on the ground needs to be experienced in
electoral monitoring, the information collected needs to be suitable
for the limited text messaging format of 160 chracters, and text
messaging needs to be commonly used and part of the local culture.
Notes Spence: “In all the countries we have worked, one thing we do
not have to do is train anyone how to text.”

In Nigeria earlier this year, a local NGO, the Human Emancipation
Project, ran a small-scale citizen monitoring program that used
untrained citizen reporters to send in SMS messages to one number. The
NGO compiled and aggregated the incoming messages and issued a report
after the election. Using a grassroots software tool, Frontline SMS,
organizers reported that about 8,000 individuals texted in some kind
of report. This is a very different method from the systematic
election monitoring conducted by NGO observer organizations and their
technical assistant providers where a more rigorous protocol is
adhered to. There is merit in engaging every-day citizens to protect
their country’s elections even if these efforts do not produce
reliable and verifiable election results and reports in the manner
that systematic election monitoring does. The Nigerian effort was
widely covered BBC News, and other outlets.

In the two years since the first large-scale SMS monitoring in
Montenegro, there have been rapid improvements in mobile services as
competition in the wireless industry has increased worldwide, and
there is growing interest and understanding on the part of NGOs that
systematic election monitoring is not as difficult as it first may
seem. As election monitoring via SMS becomes standardized and NGOs
gain experience, there is no reason for mobile phones and SMS not to
play a greater role in other areas of civic participation. For
example, imagine citizen oversight of public works projects where
people might report on whether a clinic is actually built as indicated
in a local budget. Other applications may be monitoring and
accountability of elected officials, and dissemination of voter
registration information such as the address of where to register, or
the nearest polling station. Several pilot projects in the United
States showed promising results in increasing voter turnout by text
message reminders. The future is bright for innovative ways in which
cell phones are used by citizens to participate and engage in their
countries as the mobile revolution unfolds.


Moving beyond Nigeria’s mobile rough patch
BY Judy Breck  /  August 27th, 2007

Reuters is reporting this morning that “Nigeria Aims to Let Mobile
Phone Users Keep Numbers.” The plan is to allow subscribers to keep
their numbers as they switch among providers — hopefully to improve
service through competition. The report includes this description of
the roughness of present service in Nigeria, which is interesting to
realize. Mobile has been making a positive transition in Africa in
spite of the problems described below. When mobile service gets
better, the transition should have important new impetus one would

Nigeria’s booming mobile phone market has grown from scratch to over
30 million subscribers in six years, making it one of the fastest-
growing in the world.

It is seen as having potential for many more years of rapid growth as
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with 140 million people, the
majority of whom do not have phones.

However, the quality of service from mobile phone providers has always
been patchy and it has deteriorated over time.

Subscribers often have to dial several times before a call goes
through. Sometimes no calls go through for hours. When they do
connect, the lines are often so bad that callers cannot hear each
other. Calls frequently cut off after a few seconds and text messages
can be delayed by hours.

Mobile operators argue that services are impaired by frequent
blackouts, forcing companies to provide their own power with costly
diesel generators, and constant vandalism and armed attacks on
facilities and staff.


Monks Are Silenced, and for Now, Internet Is, Too
BY Seth Mydans  /  October 4, 2007

BANGKOK, Oct. 3 — It was about as simple and uncomplicated as shooting
demonstrators in the streets. Embarrassed by smuggled video and
photographs that showed their people rising up against them, the
generals who run Myanmar simply switched off the Internet. Until
Friday television screens and newspapers abroad were flooded with
scenes of tens of thousands of red-robed monks in the streets and of
chaos and violence as the junta stamped out the biggest popular
uprising there in two decades.

But then the images, text messages and postings stopped, shut down by
generals who belatedly grasped the power of the Internet to jeopardize
their crackdown. “Finally they realized that this was their biggest
enemy, and they took it down,” said Aung Zaw, editor of an exile
magazine based in Thailand called The Irrawaddy, whose Web site has
been a leading source of information in recent weeks. The site has
been attacked by a virus whose timing raises the possibility that the
military government has a few skilled hackers in its ranks.

The efficiency of this latest, technological, crackdown raises the
question whether the vaunted role of the Internet in undermining
repression can stand up to a determined and ruthless government — or
whether Myanmar, already isolated from the world, can ride out a
prolonged shutdown more easily than most countries.

OpenNet Initiative, which tracks Internet censorship, has documented
signs that in recent years several governments — including those of
Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — have closed off Internet access,
or at least opposition Web sites, during periods preceding elections
or times of intense protests. The brief disruptions are known as “just
in time” filtering, said Ronald J. Deibert of OpenNet. They are
designed to quiet opponents while maintaining an appearance of
technical difficulties, thus avoiding criticism from abroad. In 2005,
King Gyanendra of Nepal ousted the government and imposed a weeklong
communications blackout. Facing massive protests, he ceded control in

Myanmar has just two Internet service providers, and shutting them
down was not complicated, said David Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar
with Human Rights Watch. Along with the Internet, the junta cut off
most telephone access to the outside world. Soldiers on the streets
confiscated cameras and video-recording cellphones. “The crackdown on
the media and on information flow is parallel to the physical
crackdown,” he said. “It seems they’ve done it quite effectively.
Since Friday we’ve seen no new images come out.” In keeping with the
country’s self-imposed isolation over the past half-century, Myanmar’s
military seemed prepared to cut the country off from the virtual world
just as it had from the world at large. Web access has not been
restored, and there is no way to know if or when it might be.

At the same time, the junta turned to the oldest tactic of all to
silence opposition: fear. Local journalists and people caught
transmitting information or using cameras are being threatened and
arrested, according to Burmese exile groups. In a final, hurried
telephone call, Mr. Aung Zaw said, one of his longtime sources said
goodbye. “We have done enough,” he said the source told him. “We can
no longer move around. It is over to you — we cannot do anything
anymore. We are down. We are hunted by soldiers — we are down.”

There are still images to come, Mr. Aung Zaw said, and as soon as he
receives them and his Web site is back up, the world will see them.
But Mr. Mathieson said the country’s dissidents were reverting to
tactics of the past, smuggling images out through cellphones, breaking
the files down for reassembly later. It is not clear how much longer
the generals can hold back the future. Technology is making it harder
for dictators and juntas to draw a curtain of secrecy. “There are
always ways people find of getting information out, and authorities
always have to struggle with them,” said Mitchell Stephens, a
professor of journalism at New York University and the author of “A
History of News.”

“There are fewer and fewer events that we don’t have film images of:
the world is filled with Zapruders,” he said, referring to Abraham
Zapruder, the onlooker who recorded the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy in 1963. Before Friday’s blackout, Myanmar’s hit-and-
run journalists were staging a virtuoso demonstration of the power of
the Internet to outmaneuver a repressive government. A guerrilla army
of citizen reporters was smuggling out pictures even as events were
unfolding, and the world was watching.

“For those of us who study the history of communication technology,
this is of equal importance to the telegraph, which was the first
medium that separated communications and transportation,” said Frank
A. Moretti, executive director of the Center for New Media Teaching
and Learning at Columbia University. Since the protests began in mid-
August, people have sent images and words through SMS text messages
and e-mail and on daily blogs, according to some exile groups that
received the messages. They have posted notices on Facebook, the
social networking Web site. They have sent tiny messages on e-cards.
They have updated the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

They also used Internet versions of “pigeons” — the couriers that
reporters used in the past to carry out film and reports — handing
their material to embassies or nongovernment organizations with
satellite connections. Within hours, the images and reports were
broadcast back into Myanmar by foreign radio and television stations,
informing and connecting a public that hears only propaganda from its

These technological tricks may offer a model to people elsewhere who
are trying to outwit repressive governments. But the generals’ heavy-
handed response is probably a less useful model. Nations with larger
economies and more ties to the outside world have more at stake.
China, for one, could not consider cutting itself off as Myanmar has
done, and so control of the Internet is an industry in itself. “In
China, it’s massive,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet
Project and an adjunct professor at the graduate school of journalism
at the University of California, Berkeley.

“There’s surveillance and intimidation, there’s legal regulation and
there is commercial leverage to force private Internet companies to
self-censor,” he said. “And there is what we call the Great Firewall,
which blocks hundreds of thousands of Web sites outside of China.” Yet
for all its efforts, even China cannot entirely control the Internet,
an easier task in a smaller country like Myanmar.

As technology makes everyone a potential reporter, the challenge in
risky places like Myanmar will be accuracy, said Vincent Brossel, head
of the Asian section of the press freedom organization Reporters
Without Borders. “Rumors are the worst enemy of independent
journalism,” he said. “Already we are hearing so many strange things.
So if you have no flow of information and the spread of rumors in a
country that is using propaganda — that’s it. You are destroying the
story, and day by day it goes down.” The technological advances on the
streets of Myanmar are the latest in a long history of revolutions in
the transmission of news — from the sailing ship to the telegraph to
international telephone lines and the telex machine to computers and
satellite telephones.

“Today every citizen is a war correspondent,” said Phillip Knightley,
author of “The First Casualty,” a classic history of war reporting
that starts with letters home from soldiers in Crimea in the 1850s and
ends with the “living room war” in Vietnam in the 1970s, the first war
that people could watch on television. “Mobile phones with video of
broadcast quality have made it possible for anyone to report a war,”
he said in an e-mail interview. “You just have to be there. No trouble
getting a start: the broadcasters have been begging viewers to send
their stuff.”


Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt
BY Maureen Fan  /  January 26, 2008

SHANGHAI — Bundled against the cold, the businessman made his way
down the steps. Coming toward him in blue mittens was a middle-aged
woman. “Do you know that we’re going to take a stroll this weekend?”
she whispered, using the latest euphemism for the unofficial protests
that have unnerved authorities in Shanghai over the past month. He

Behind her, protest banners streamed from the windows of high-rise
apartment blocks, signs of middle-class discontent over a planned
extension of the city’s magnetic levitation, or maglev, train through
residential neighborhoods. The couple checked to make sure no
plainclothes police were nearby and discussed where security forces
had been posted in recent days. “Did you take any photos?” the man
asked. Yes, she said, promising to send them to him so he could post
the evidence online. In a minute, the exchange was over, but the news
would soon be added to the steady flow of reports being posted on
blogs and community bulletin boards, as well as in housing compounds
along the proposed extension — which residents contend will bring
noise pollution and possibly dangerous radiation to their

The sudden “strolls” by thousands of office workers, company managers,
young families and the elderly in this sleek financial hub are the
latest chapter in a quiet middle-class battle against government
officials. The protesters are going about their mission carefully, and
many speak anonymously for fear of retribution in a country that
stifles dissent. The Communist Party has a massive security apparatus
that closely monitors what it views as subversive activity. The party
sometimes allows public protests if they serve its political
interests, such as the ouster of corrupt officials.

But the protests here have been unusual. They are led by homeowners
and professionals — people who may not previously have had much to
complain to the government about but whose awareness of their
individual rights has grown along with their prosperity. Police, who
have routinely put down rural protests by poor farmers, have found it
more difficult to intimidate an affluent, educated crowd in a major

The demonstrations do have at least one recent precursor, and it is
one Shanghai residents acknowledge using for inspiration. In the
picturesque seaside city of Xiamen, thousands of middle-class
residents have managed at least temporarily to halt the construction
of a $1 billion chemical factory because of environmental concerns.
Demonstrators in that city, in Fujian province, relied on the Internet
and cellphone text messaging to organize strolls and other opposition.
“We learned from Xiamen,” said Gu Qidong, 36, a Shanghai protester and
freelance sales consultant in the health-care industry. “We have no
other way besides this. We once asked if we could apply for a march
permit, and the police said they would never approve it.”

As in Xiamen, Shanghai residents have spent countless hours
researching their cause. They have posted fliers sprinkled with such
phrases as “electromagnetic compatibility” and wooed residents and
news media with slick PowerPoint presentations that question whether a
55-yard-wide safety buffer envisioned for each side of the rail
extension would be sufficient to keep noise and vibration from
reaching their apartments.

They say the existing maglev route, which takes passengers from an out-
of-the-way suburban subway stop to one of the city’s international
airports in less than eight minutes, is a showy waste of money. When
it opened four years ago, they note, the line operated at less than 20
percent capacity; after ticket prices were lowered, it ran at 27
percent capacity.

Armed with knowledge of the law, the Shanghai residents became angry
that public officials had neither given proper notice of their plans
for the extension nor held a public hearing. And so they decided they
had no alternative but to “take a stroll” or “go shopping.” They
started small, and they were careful to say they did not oppose the

First, a small group of protesters met at a shopping center the
morning of Jan. 6, shouting “Reject the maglev!” and “We want to
protect our homes!” They left after an hour, regrouping later in a
neighborhood near where the extension would be built.

A few days later, hundreds of people went to a mall that is popular
with tourists and made an evening stop in another affected
neighborhood. By Jan. 12, thousands of people were gathering at
People’s Square and on Nanjing Lu, both high-profile locations in
downtown Shanghai, shouting “People’s police should protect the
people!” and “Save our homes!”

The growing boldness of the protesters has prompted city officials to
emphasize that residents should find “normal” channels to vent their
unhappiness. “We will forestall and defuse social tensions,” Shanghai
Mayor Han Zheng said in his annual government report Thursday, in what
appeared to be a tacit nod to the protesters’ concerns.

After each stroll, residents upload photos and videos to Chinese Web
sites, which are often blocked by the government, and to YouTube, a
site that isn’t. The project has turned neighbors who did not know
each other into close friends and allies who now compare notes and
strategize. “They can’t arrest everybody,” said Yao, a 58-year-old
protester who asked that his full name not be used because he is a
manager at a state-owned enterprise. “We haven’t done anything wrong,”
said Wang Guowei, 51, a manager in a Chinese-Japanese plastics venture
whose family lives near the planned extension. “We always follow the
Chinese constitution, we never violate the law. And in our many
contacts with the police, they say we are within the law.”

A victory for the protesters here does not seem as likely as the one
activists achieved in Xiamen. Proud city officials hope the maglev
extension will further cement Shanghai’s reputation as the mainland’s
most advanced city when the train connects the city’s two airports and
the site of the 2010 World Expo. City officials have already made some
concessions. An original plan to extend the train from Shanghai to the
city of Hangzhou, for example, was scrapped in May. The new extension
proposal announced Dec. 29 lops almost two miles off the old plan, and
one section of track would be underground. But opponents say such
concessions are small.

Critics of the government plan point out that even some residents who
use the train are skeptical of the usefulness of an extension. “I’d
rather see an ordinary railway connecting” Pudong international and
Hongqiao airport. “It’s cheap, and it’s almost the same convenience,”
said Chen Min, 37, an airline pilot who rides the train each time he
flies abroad. “Does China really need more maglev trains? Does China
really need expensive things?”

Shanghai municipal officials declined requests for comment. At a news
conference this week, government spokeswoman Jiao Yang said Shanghai
Maglev Transportation Development Co., the Shanghai Academy of
Environmental Science and the Municipal Urban Planning Administration
would analyze public opinion “seriously.”

Without the entire city united against the project, residents concede
they are not optimistic the extension will be scrapped. “But we must
insist on our position. We require our government to respect the law,
and public construction must follow a legal framework and the right
procedure,” said the 54-year-old businessman who asked another
protester for her photos. “Our action is a way to wake up people’s
awareness of their civil rights.”

Facebook used to target Colombia’s FARC with global rally

Internet site to spawn protests in 185 cities Monday against rebel
group’s methods
BY Sibylla Brodzinsky  /  February 4, 2008

Bogotá, Colombia – Hundreds of thousands of Colombians are expected to
march throughout the country and in major cities around the world
Monday to protest against this nation’s oldest and most powerful rebel

What began as a group of young people venting their rage at the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Facebook, an Internet
social-networking site, has ballooned into an international event
called “One Million Voices Against FARC.”

“We expected the idea to resound with a lot of people but not so much
and not so quickly,” says Oscar Morales, who started the Facebook
group against the FARC, which now has 230,000 members. Organizers are
expecting marches in 185 cities around the world.

The event is another example of how technology – such as text
messaging on cellphones – can be used to rally large numbers of people
to a cause. Some observers say it’s less a response to the FARC’s
ideology than it is global public outrage over kidnapping as a weapon.

Colombia continues to be the world’s kidnapping capital with as many
as 3,000 hostages now being held. Anger over the practice has risen in
recent months after two women released by the FARC last month after
six years in captivity recounted the hardships they and other hostages

Monday’s protests have the support of the government, many
nongovernmental organizations, and some political parties but its main
battle cry of “No More FARC” has also polarized some Colombians rather
than bringing them together.

While few Colombians support the Marxist insurgent army that has been
fighting the Colombian state for more than 40 years, many people are
uncomfortable with the message of Monday’s rally. They would prefer a
broader slogan against kidnapping and in favor of peace and of
negotiations between the government and the rebels to exchange
hostages for jailed rebels. The leftist Polo Democratico Party said it
will hold a rally in Bogotá in favor of a negotiation but would not
march. Some senators say they will march against Venezuelan President
Hugo Chávez, and other participants say they will be marching in favor
of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Consuelo González de Perdomo, one of the two women released by the
FARC on Jan. 10 said she would not be marching at all.

The families of the 45 remaining FARC hostages will not march either.
“The way the march was called aims to polarize the country,” says
Deyanira Ortiz, whose husband, Orlando Beltrán Cuéllar, has been held
by the FARC for six years. “It’s not for the freedom of the hostages
but against the FARC. And that doesn’t serve any purpose.”

Instead, the families and released FARC hostages will gather in
churches to pray for the release of their loved ones and for a
humanitarian agreement.

Rosa Cristina Parra, one of the original organizers of the march said
the position of the hostage families is “completely understandable”
and will not detract from the importance of the event. “We cannot
forget the other victims of the FARC, the land-mine victims, the
displaced people,” she says.



NYC, the NYPD, the RNC, and Me
Fortress Big Apple, 2007  /  BY Nick Turse

One day in August, I walked into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan
United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan. Nearly three years before
I had been locked up, about two blocks away, in “the Tombs” — the
infamous jail then named the Bernard B. Kerik Complex for the now-
disgraced New York City Police Commissioner. You see, I am one of the
demonstrators who was illegally arrested by the New York City Police
Department (NYPD) during the protests against the 2004 Republican
National Convention (RNC). My crime had been — in an effort to call
attention to the human toll of America’s wars — to ride the subway,
dressed in black with the pallor of death about me (thanks to
cornstarch and cold cream), and an expression to match, sporting a
placard around my neck that read: WAR DEAD.

I was with a small group and our plan was to travel from Union
Square to Harlem, change trains, and ride all the way back down to
Astor Place. But when my small group exited the train at the 125th
Street station in Harlem, we were arrested by a swarm of police,
marched to a waiting paddy wagon and driven to a filthy detention
center. There, we were locked away for hours in a series of razor-wire-
topped pens, before being bussed to the Tombs.

Now, I was back to resolve the matter of my illegal arrest. As I
walked through the metal detector of the Federal building, a security
official searched my bag. He didn’t like what he found. “You could be
shot for carrying that in here,” he told me. “You could be shot.”

For the moment, however, the identification of that dangerous
object I attempted to slip into the federal facility will have to
wait. Let me instead back up to July 2004, when, with the RNC fast-
approaching, I authored an article on the militarization of Manhattan
— “the transformation of the island into a ‘homeland-security state'”
— and followed it up that September with a street-level recap of the
convention protests, including news of the deployment of an
experimental sound weapon, the Long Range Acoustic Device, by the
NYPD, and the department’s use of an on-loan Fuji blimp as a “spy-in-
the-sky.” Back then, I suggested that the RNC gave New York’s
“finest,” a perfect opportunity to “refine, perfect, and implement new
tactics (someday, perhaps, to be known as the ‘New York model’) for
use penning in or squelching dissent. It offered them the chance to
write up a playbook on how citizens’ legal rights and civil liberties
may be abridged, constrained, and violated at their discretion.”
Little did I know how much worse it could get.

No Escape

Since then, the city’s security forces have eagerly embraced an
Escape From New York-aesthetic — an urge to turn Manhattan into a
walled-in fortress island under high-tech government surveillance,
guarded by heavily armed security forces, with helicopters perpetually
overhead. Beginning in Harlem in 2006, near the site of two new luxury
condos, the NYPD set up a moveable “two-story booth tower, called Sky
Watch,” that gave an “officer sitting inside a better vantage point
from which to monitor the area.” The Panopticon-like structure —
originally used by hunters to shoot quarry from overhead and now also
utilized by the Department of Homeland Security along the Mexican
border — was outfitted with black-tinted windows, a spotlight,
sensors, and four to five cameras. Now, five Sky Watch towers are in
service, rotating in and out of various neighborhoods.

With their 20-25 neighborhood-scanning cameras, the towers are
only a tiny fraction of the Big Apple surveillance story. Back in
1998, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that there were
“2,397 cameras used by a wide variety of private businesses and
government agencies throughout Manhattan” — and that was just one
borough. About a year after the RNC, the group reported that a survey
of just a quarter of that borough yielded a count of more than 4,000
surveillance cameras of every kind. At about the same time, military-
corporate giant Lockheed Martin was awarded a $212 million contract to
build a “counter-terrorist surveillance and security system for New
York’s subways and commuter railroads as well as bridges and tunnels”
that would increase the camera total by more than 1,000. A year later,
as seems to regularly be the case with contracts involving the
military-corporate complex, that contract had already ballooned to
$280 million, although the system was not to be operational until at
least 2008.

In 2006, according to a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)
spokesman, the MTA already had a “3,000-camera-strong surveillance
system,” while the NYPD was operating “an additional 3,000 cameras”
around the city. That same year, Bill Brown, a member of the
Surveillance Camera Players — a group that leads surveillance-camera
tours and maps their use around the city, estimated, according to a
Newsweek article, that the total number of surveillance cameras in New
York exceeded 15,000 — “a figure city officials say they have no way
to verify because they lack a system of registry.” Recently, Brown
told me that 15,000 was an estimate for the number of cameras in
Manhattan, alone. For the city as a whole, he suspects the count has
now reached about 40,000.

This July, NYPD officials announced plans to up the ante. By the
end of 2007, according to the New York Times, they pledged to install
“more than 100 cameras” to monitor “cars moving through Lower
Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system
that would be the first in the United States.” This “Ring of Steel”
scheme, which has already received $10 million in funding from the
Department of Homeland Security (in addition to $15 million in city
funds), aims to exponentially decrease privacy because, if “fully
financed, it will include…. 3,000 public and private security
cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police
and private security officers” to monitor all those electronic eyes.

Spies in the Sky

At the time of the RNC, the NYPD was already mounted on police
horses, bicycles, and scooters, as well as an untold number of marked
and unmarked cars, vans, trucks, and armored vehicles, not to mention
various types of water-craft. In 2007, the two-wheeled Segway joined
its list of land vehicles.

Overhead, the NYPD aviation unit, utilizing seven helicopters,
proudly claims to be “in operation 24/7, 365,” according to Deputy
Inspector Joseph Gallucci, its commanding officer. Not only are all
the choppers outfitted with “state of the art cameras and heat-sensing
devices,” as well as “the latest mapping, tracking and surveillance
technology,” but one is a “$10 million ‘stealth bird,’ which has no
police markings — [so] that those on the ground have no idea they are
being watched.”

Asked about concerns over intrusive spying by members of the
aviation unit — characterized by Gallucci as “a bunch of big boys who
like big expensive toys” — Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly
scoffed. “We’re not able to, even if we wanted, to look into private
spaces,” he told the New York Times. “We’re looking at public areas.”
However, in 2005, it was revealed that, on the eve of the RNC
protests, members of the aviation unit took a break and used their
night-vision cameras to record “an intimate moment” shared by a
“couple on the terrace of a Second Avenue penthouse.”

Despite this incident, which only came to light because the same
tape included images that had to be turned over to a defendant in an
unrelated trial, Kelly has called for more aerial surveillance. The
commissioner apparently also got used to having the Fuji blimp at his
disposal, though he noted that “it’s not easy to send blimps into the
airspace over New York.” He then “challenged the aerospace industry to
find a solution” that would, no doubt, bring the city closer to life
under total surveillance.

Police Misconduct: The RNC

As a result of its long history of brutality, corruption, spying,
silencing dissent, and engaging in illegal activities, the NYPD is a
particularly secretive organization. As such, the full story of the
department’s misconduct during the Republican National Convention has
yet to be told; but, even in an era of heightened security and
defensiveness, what has emerged hasn’t been pretty.

By April 2005, New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer was already
reporting that, “of the 1,670 [RNC arrest] cases that have run their
full course, 91 percent ended with the charges dismissed or with a
verdict of not guilty after trial. Many were dropped without any
finding of wrongdoing, but also without any serious inquiry into the
circumstances of the arrests, with the Manhattan district attorney’s
office agreeing that the cases should be ‘adjourned in contemplation
of dismissal.'” In one case that went to trial, it was found that
video footage of an arrest had been doctored to bolster the NYPD’s
claims. (All charges were dropped against that defendant. In 400 other
RNC cases, by the spring of 2005, video recordings had either
demonstrated that defendants had not committed crimes or that charges
could not be proved against them.)

Since shifting to “zero-tolerance” law enforcement policies under
Mayor (now Republican presidential candidate) Rudolph Giuliani, the
city has been employing a system of policing where arrests are used to
punish people who have been convicted of no crime whatsoever,
including, as at the RNC or the city’s monthly Critical Mass bike
rides, those who engage in any form of protest. Prior to the Giuliani
era, about half of all those “arrested for low-level offenses would
get a desk-appearance ticket ordering them to go to court.” Now the
proportion is 10%. (NYPD documents show that the decision to arrest
protesters, not issue summonses, was part of the planning process
prior to the RNC.)

Speaking at the 2007 meeting of the American Sociological
Association, Michael P. Jacobson, Giuliani’s probation and correction
commissioner, outlined how the city’s policy of punishing the presumed
innocent works:

“Essentially, everyone who’s arrested in New York City, in the
parlance of city criminal justice lingo, goes through ‘the system’….
if you’ve never gone through the system, even 24 hours — that’s a
shocking period of punishment. It’s debasing, it’s difficult. You’re
probably in a fairly gross police lockup. You probably have no toilet
paper. You’re given a baloney sandwich, and the baloney is green.”

In 2005, the Times’ Dwyer revealed that at public gatherings since
the time of the RNC, police officers had not only “conducted covert
surveillance… of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking
part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist
killed in an accident,” but had acted as agent provocateurs. At the
RNC, there were multiple incidents in which undercover agents
influenced events or riled up crowds. In one case, a “sham arrest” of
“a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising
confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.”

In 2006, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), reported
“that hundreds of Convention protesters may have been unnecessarily
and unlawfully arrested because NYPD officials failed to give adequate
orders to disperse and failed to afford protesters a reasonable
opportunity to disperse.”

Police Commissioner Kelly had no hesitation about rejecting the
organization’s report. Still, these were strong words, considering the
weakness of the source. The overall impotence of the CCRB suggests a
great deal about the NYPD’s culture of unaccountability. According to
an ACLU report, the board “investigates fewer than half of all
complaints that it reviews, and it produces a finding on the merits in
only three of ten complaints disposed of in any given year.” This
inaction is no small thing, given the surge of complaints against NYPD
officers in recent years. In 2001, before Mayor Bloomberg and Police
Commissioner Kelly came to power, the CCRB received 4,251 complaints.
By 2006, the number of complaints had jumped by 80% to 7,669. Even
more telling are the type of allegations found to be on the rise (and
largely ignored). According to the ACLU, from 2005 to 2006, complaints
over the use of excessive force jumped 26.8% — “nearly double the
increase in complaints filed.”

It was in this context that the planning for the RNC
demonstrations took place. In 2006, in five internal police reports
made public as part of a lawsuit, “New York City police commanders
candidly discuss[ed] how they had successfully used ‘proactive
arrests,’ covert surveillance and psychological tactics at political
demonstrations in 2002, and recommend[ed] that those approaches be
employed at future gatherings.” A draft report from the department’s
Disorder Control Unit had a not-so-startling recommendation, given
what did happen at the RNC: “Utilize undercover officers to distribute
misinformation within the crowds.”

According to Dwyer, for at least a year prior to those
demonstrations, “teams of undercover New York City police officers
traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe” to conduct
covert surveillance of activists. “In hundreds of reports, stamped
‘N.Y.P.D. Secret,’ [the NYPD’s] Intelligence Division chronicled the
views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking
the law, [including] street theater companies, church groups and
antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed
to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies.”
Three elected city councilmen — Charles Barron, Bill Perkins and
Larry B. Seabrook — were even cited in the reports for endorsing a
protest event held on January 15, 2004 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr.’s birthday.

In August, the New York Times editorial page decried the city’s
continuing attempts to keep documents outlining the police
department’s spying and other covert activities secret:

“The city of New York is waging a losing and ill-conceived
battle for overzealous secrecy surrounding nearly 2,000 arrests during
the 2004 Republican National Convention…. Police Commissioner Ray
Kelly seemed to cast an awfully wide and indiscriminate net in seeking
out potential troublemakers. For more than a year before the
convention, members of a police spy unit headed by a former official
of the Central Intelligence Agency infiltrated a wide range of groups…
many of the targets … posed no danger or credible threat.”

The Times concluded that — coupled with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s
efforts to disrupt and criminalize protest during the convention week
— “police action helped to all but eliminate dissent from New York
City during the Republican delegates’ visit. If that was the goal,
then mission accomplished. And civil rights denied.”

Police Commissioner Kelly had a radically different take on his
department’s conduct. Earlier this year, he claimed that “the
Republican National Convention was perhaps the finest hour in the
history of the New York City Department.”

Police Misconduct: 2007

“Finest” might seem a funny term for the NYPD’s actions, but these
days everyone’s a relativist. In the years since the RNC protests, the
NYPD has been mired in scandal after scandal — from killing unarmed
black men and “violations of civil rights” at the National Puerto
Rican Day Parade to issuing “sweeping generalizations” that lead to
“labeling almost every American Muslim as a potential terrorist.” And,
believe it or not, the racial and political scandals were but a modest
part of the mix. Add to them, killings, sexual assaults, kidnapping,
armed robbery, burglary, corruption, theft, drug-related offenses,
conspiracy — and that’s just a start when it comes to crimes members
of the force have been charged with. It’s a rap sheet fit for Public
Enemy #1, and we’re only talking about the story of the NYPD in the
not-yet-completed year of 2007.

For example, earlier this year a 13-year NYPD veteran was
“arrested on charges of hindering prosecution, tampering with
evidence, obstructing governmental administration and unlawful
possession of marijuana,” in connection with the shooting of another
officer. In an unrelated case, two other NYPD officers were arrested
and “charged with attempted kidnapping, armed robbery, armed burglary
and other offenses.”

In a third case, the New York Post reported that a “veteran NYPD
captain has been stripped of his badge and gun as part of a federal
corruption probe that already has led to the indictment of an Internal
Affairs sergeant who allegedly tipped other cops that they were being
investigated.” And that isn’t the only NYPD cover-up allegation to
surface of late. With cops interfering in investigations of fellow
cops and offering advice on how to deflect such probes, it’s a wonder
any type of wrongdoing surfaces. Yet, the level of misconduct in the
department appears to be sweeping enough to be irrepressible.

For instance, sex crime scandals have embroiled numerous officers
— including one “accused of sexually molesting his young
stepdaughter,” who pled guilty to “a misdemeanor charge of child
endangerment,” and another “at a Queens hospital charged with
possessing and sharing child pornography.” In a third case, a member
of the NYPD’s School Safety Division was “charged with the attempted
rape and sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl.” In a fourth case, a
“police officer pleaded guilty…. to a grotesque romance with an
infatuated 13-year-old girl.” Meanwhile, an NYPD officer, who molested
women while on duty and in uniform, was convicted of sexual abuse and
official misconduct.

Cop-on-cop sexual misconduct of an extreme nature has also
surfaced…. but why go on? You get the idea. And, if you don’t, there
are lurid cases galore to check out, like the investigation into
“whether [an] NYPD officer who fatally shot his teen lover before
killing himself murdered the boyfriend of a past lover,” or the
officer who was “charged with intentional murder in the shooting death
of his 22-year-old girlfriend.” And don’t even get me started on the
officer “facing charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and
conspiracy to commit robberies of drugs and drug proceeds from
narcotics traffickers.”

All of this, and much more, has emerged in spite of the classic
blue-wall-of-silence. It makes you wonder: In the surveillance state
to come, are we going to be herded and observed by New York’s finest

It’s important to note that all of these cases have begun despite
a striking NYPD culture of non-accountability. Back in August, the New
York Times noted that the “Police Department has increasingly failed
to prosecute New York City police officers on charges of misconduct
when those cases have been substantiated by the independent board that
investigates allegations of police abuse, officials of the board say.”
Between March 1, 2007 and June 30, 2007 alone, the NYPD “declined to
seek internal departmental trials against 31 officers, most of whom
were facing charges of stopping people in the street without probable
cause or reasonable suspicion, according to the city’s Civilian
Complaint Review Board.” An ACLU report, “Mission Failure: Civilian
Review of Policing in New York City, 1994-2006,” released this month,
delved into the issue in even greater detail. The organization found
that, between 2000 and 2005, “the NYPD disposed of substantiated
complaints against 2,462 police officers: 725 received no discipline.
When discipline was imposed, it was little more than a slap on the

Much has come to light recently about the way the U.S. military
has been lowering its recruitment standards in order to meet the
demands of ongoing, increasingly unpopular wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, including an increase in “moral waivers” allowing more
recruits with criminal records to enter the services. Well, it turns
out that, on such policies, the NYPD has been a pioneering

In 2002, the BBC reported that “New York’s powerful police union….
accused the police department of allowing ‘sub-standard’ recruits onto
the force.” Then, just months after the RNC protests, the New York
Daily News exposed the department’s practice of “hiring applicants
with arrest records and shoving others through without full background
checks” including those who had been “charged with laundering drug
money, assault, grand larceny and weapons possession.” According to
Sgt. Anthony Petroglia, who, until he retired in 2002, had worked for
almost a decade in the department’s applicant-processing division, the
NYPD was “hiring people to be cops who have no respect for the law.”
Another retiree from the same division was blunter: “It’s all judgment
calls — bad ones…. but the bosses say, ‘Send ’em through. We’ll
catch the problem ones later.'”

The future looks bright, if you are an advocate of sending the
force even further down this path. The new choice to mold the
department of tomorrow, according to the Village Voice, the “NYPD’s
new deputy commissioner of training, Wilbur ‘Bill’ Chapman, should
have no trouble teaching ‘New York’s Finest’ about the pitfalls of
sexual harassment, cronyism, and punitive transfers [because h]e’s
been accused of all that during his checkered career.”

In the eerie afterglow of 9/11, haunted by the specter of
terrorism, in an atmosphere where repressive zero-tolerance policies
already rule, given the unparalleled power of Commissioner Kelly —
called “the most powerful police commissioner in the city’s history”
by NYPD expert Leonard Levitt — and with a police department largely
unaccountable to anyone (as the only city agency without any effective
outside oversight), the Escape from New York model may indeed
represent Manhattan’s future.

Nick Turse v. The City of New York

So what, you might still be wondering, was it that led the
security official at the federal courthouse to raise the specter of my
imminent demise? A weapon? An unidentified powder? No, a digital audio
recorder. “Some people here don’t want to be recorded,” he explained
in response to my quizzical look.

So I checked the recording device and, accompanied by my lawyer,
the indomitable Mary D. Dorman, made my way to Courtroom 18D, a
stately room in the upper reaches of the building that houses the
oldest district court in the nation. There, I met our legal nemesis, a
city attorney whose official title is “assistant corporation counsel.”
After what might pass for a cordial greeting, he asked relatively
politely whether I was going to accept the city’s monetary offer of
$8,500 — which I had rejected the previous week– to settle my
lawsuit for false arrest. As soon as I indicated I wouldn’t (as I had
from the moment the city started the bidding at $2,500), any hint of
cordiality fled the room. Almost immediately, he was referring to me
as a “criminal” — declassified NYPD documents actually refer to me as
a “perp.” Soon, he launched into a bout of remarkable bluster,
threatening lengthy depositions to waste my time and monetary
penalties associated with court costs that would swallow my savings.

Then, we were all directed to a small jury room off the main
courtroom, where the city’s attorney hauled out a threatening prop to
bolster his act — an imposingly gigantic file folder stuffed with
reams of “Nick Turse” documents, including copies of some of my
disreputable Tomdispatch articles as well as printouts of suspicious
webpages from the American Empire Project — the obviously criminal
series that will be publishing my upcoming book, The Complex.

There, the litany of vague threats to tie me down with
depositions, tax me with fees, and maybe, somehow, send me to jail for
a “crime” that had been dismissed years earlier continued until a
federal magistrate judge entered the room. To him, the assistant
corporation counsel and I told our versions of my arrest story —
which turned out to vary little.

The basic details were the same. As the city attorney shifted in
his seat, I told the judge how, along with compatriots I’d met only
minutes before, I donned my “WAR DEAD” sign and descended into the
subway surrounded by a phalanx of cops — plainclothes, regular
uniformed, Big Brother-types from the Technical Assistance Response
Unit (TARU), and white-shirted brass, as well as a Washington Post
photographer and legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild —
and boarded our train. I explained that we sat there looking as dead
as possible for about 111 blocks and then, as the Washington Post
reported, were arrested when we came back to life and “tried to change
trains.” I asked, admittedly somewhat rhetorically why, if I was such
a “criminal,” none of the officers present at my arrest had actually
showed up in court to testify against me when my case was dismissed
out of hand back in 2004? And why hadn’t the prosecutor wanted to
produce the video footage the NYPD had taken of the entire action and
my arrest? And why had the city been trying to buy me off all these
years since?

Faced with the fact that his intimidation tactics hadn’t worked,
the city attorney now quit his bad-cop tactics and I rose again out of
the ditch of “common criminality” into citizenship and then to the
high status of being addressed as “Dr. Turse” (in a bow to my PhD).
Offers and counteroffers followed, leading finally to a monetary
settlement with a catch — I also wanted an apology. If that guard
hadn’t directed me — under threat of being shot — to check my
digital audio recorder at the door, I might have had a sound file of
it to listen to for years to come. Instead, I had to be content with
the knowledge that an appointed representative of the City of New York
not only had to ditch the Escape from New York model — at least for a
day — pony up some money for violating my civil rights, and, before a
federal magistrate judge, also issue me an apology, on behalf of the
city, for wrongs committed by the otherwise largely unaccountable

The Future of the NYPD and the Homeland-Security State-let

I’m under no illusions that this minor monetary settlement and
apology were of real significance in a city where civil rights are
routinely abridged, the police are a largely unaccountable armed
force, and a culture of total surveillance is increasingly the norm.
But my lawsuit, when combined with those of my fellow arrestees, could
perhaps have some small effect. After all, less than a year after the
convention, 569 people had already “filed notices that they intended
to sue the City, seeking damages totaling $859,014,421,” according to
an NYCLU report. While the city will end up paying out considerably
less, the grand total will not be insignificant. In fact, Jim Dwyer
recently reported that the first 35 of 605 RNC cases had been settled
for a total of $694,000.

If New Yorkers began to agitate for accountability — demanding,
for instance, that such settlements be paid out of the NYPD’s budget
— it could make a difference. Then, every time New Yorkers’ hard-
earned tax-dollars were handed over to fellow citizens who were
harassed, mistreated, injured, or abused by the city’s police force
that would mean less money available for the “big expensive toys” that
the “big boys” of the NYPD’s aviation unit use to record the private
moments of unsuspecting citizens or the ubiquitous surveillance gear
used not to capture the rest of the city on candid camera. It wouldn’t
put an end to the NYPD’s long-running criminality or the burgeoning
homeland security state-let that it’s building, but it would, at
least, introduce a tiny measure of accountability.

Such an effort might even begin a dialogue about the NYPD, its
dark history, its current mandate under the Global War on Terror, and
its role in New York City. For instance, people might begin to examine
the very nature of the department. They might conclude that questions
must be raised when institutions — be they rogue regimes, deleterious
industries, unaccountable corporations, or fundamentally-tainted
government institutions — consistently, over many decades, evidence a
persistent disregard for the law, a lack of accountability, and a deep
resistance to reform. Those directly affected by the NYPD, a nearly
38,000-person force — larger than many armies — that has
consistently flouted the law and has proven remarkably resistant to
curtailing its own misconduct for well over a century, might even
begin to wonder if it can be trusted to administer the homeland
security state-let its top officials are fast implementing and, if
not, what can be done about it.


Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San
Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for His first book, The Complex, an exploration of the
new military-corporate complex in America, is due out in the American
Empire Project series by Metropolitan Books in 2008. His new website (up only in rudimentary form) will fully launch in the
coming months.

Why security matters

Every email takes a perilous journey. A typical email might travel
across twenty networks and be stored on five computers from the time
it is composed to the time it is read. At every step of the way, the
contents of the email might be monitored, archived, cataloged, and

However, it is not the content of your email which is most
interesting: typically, a spying organization is more concerned by
whom you communicate with. There are many ways in which this kind of
mapping of people’s associations and habits is far worse than
traditional eavesdropping. By cataloging our associations, a spying
organization has an intimate picture of how our social movements are
organized–a more detailed picture than even the social movements
themselves are aware of.

This is bad. Really bad. The US government, among others, has a long
track record of doing whatever it can to subvert, imprison, kill, or
squash social movements which it sees as a threat (black power, anti-
war, civil rights, anti-slavery, native rights, organized labor, and
so on). And now they have all the tools they need to do this with
blinding precision.

We believe that communication free of eavesdropping and association
mapping is necessary for a democratic society (should one ever happen
to take root in the US). We must defend the right to free speech, but
it is just as necessary to defend the right to private speech.

Unfortunately, private communication is not possible if only a few
people practice it: they will stand out and open themselves up to
greater scrutiny. Therefore, we believe it is important for everyone
to incorporate as many security measures in your email life as you are

Email is not secure

You should think of normal email as a postcard: anyone can read it,
your letter carrier, your nosy neighbor, your house mates. All email,
unless encrypted, is completely insecure. Email is actually much less
secure than a postcard, because at least with a postcard you have a
chance of recognizing the sender’s handwriting. With email, anyone can
pretend to be anyone else.

There is another way in which email is even less private than a
postcard: the government does not have enough labor to read everyone’s
postscards, but they probably have the capacity and ability to scan
most email. Based on current research in datamining, it is likely that
the government does not search email for particular words but rather
looks for patterns of association and activity.

In the three cases below, evidence is well established that the
government conducts widespread and sweeping electronic survillence.

full-pipe monitoring
According to a former Justice Department attorney, it is common
practice for the FBI to practice “full-pipe monitoring”. The process
involves vacuuming up all traffic of an ISP and then later mining that
data for whatever the FBI might find interesting. The story was first
reported on January 30, 2007 by Declan McCullagh of CNET

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action
lawsuit against AT&T on January 31, 2006, accusing the telecom giant
of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating
with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive and illegal
program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.

Because AT&T is one of the few providers of the internet backbone
(a so called Tier 1 provider), even if you are not an AT&T customer is
is likely that AT&T is the carrier for much of your interent traffic.
It is very likely that other large internet and email providers have
also worked out deals with the government. We only know about this one
because of an internal whistleblower.

For legal domestic wiretaps, the U.S. government runs a program
called Carnivore (also called DCS1000).

Carnivore is a ‘black box’ which some ISPs are required to install
which allows law enforcement to do ‘legal’ wiretaps. However, no one
knows how they work, they effectively give the government total
control over monitoring anything on the ISP’s network, and there is
much evidence that the government uses carnivore to gather more
information than is legal.

As of January 2005, the FBI announced they are no longer using
Carnivore/DCS1000 and are replacing it with a product developed by a
third party. The purpose of the new system is exactly the same.

ECHELON is a spy program operated cooperatively with the
governments of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia,
and New Zealand. The goal is to monitor and analyze internet traffic
on a wide scale. The EU Parliament has accused the U.S. of using
Echelon for industrial espionage.

Call database

On May 10, USAToday broke the story that the NSA has a database
designed to track every phone call ever made in the US. Although this
applies to phone conversations, the fact that the government believes
that this is legal means that they almost certainly think it is legal
to track all the email communication within the US as well. And we
know from the AT&T case that they have the capability to do so.

You can do something about it!

What a gloomy picture! Happily, there are many things you can do.
These security pages will help outline some of the simple and not-so-
simple changes you can make to your email behavior.

* Secure Connections: by using secure connections, you protect
your login information and your data while is in transport to
* Secure Providers: when you send mail to and from secure email
providers, you can protect the content of your communication and also
the pattern of your associations.
* Public Key Encryption: although it is a little more work, public
key encryption is the best way to keep the content of your
communication private.

See the next page, Security Measures, for tips on these and other
steps you can take. Remember: even if you don’t personally need
privacy, practicing secure communication will ensure that others have
the ability to freely organize and agitate.

Practice secure behavior!
These pages include a lot of fancy talk about encryption. Ultimately,
however, all this wizbang cryto-alchemy will be totally useless if you
have insecure behavior. A few simple practices will go a long way
toward securing your communications:

1. Logout: make sure that you always logout when using web-mail.
This is very important, and very easy to do. This is particular
important when using a public computer.
2. Avoid public computers: this can be difficult. If you do use a
public computer, consider changing your password often or using the
virtual keyboard link (if you use for your web-mail).
3. Use good password practice: you should change your password
periodically and use a password which is at least 6 characters and
contains a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols. It is better
to use a complicated password and write it down then to use a simple
password and keep it only in your memory. Studies show that most
people use passwords which are easy to guess or to crack, especially
if you have some information about the interests of the person. You
should never pick a password which is found in the dictionary (the
same goes for “love” as well as “10v3” and other common ways of
replacing letters with numbers).
4. Be a privacy freak: don’t tell other people your password. Also,
newer operating systems allow you to create multiple logins which keep
user settings separate. You should enable this feature, and logout or
“lock” the computer when not in use.

Use secure connections!
What are secure connections?

When you check your mail from the server, you can use an
encrypted connection, which adds a high level of security to all
traffic between your computer and Secure connections are
enabled for web-mail and for IMAP or POP mail clients.

This method is useful for protecting your password and login. If you
don’t use a secure connection, then your login and password are sent
over the internet in a ‘cleartext’ form which can be easily
intercepted. It is obvious why you might not want your password made
public, but it may also be important to keep your login private in
cases where you do not want your real identity tied to a particular
email account.

How do I know if I am using a secure connection?

When using web browser (Firefox, Safari, etc.)
If you are using a web browser to connect to Riseup, you can look at
three things to check to see if you are using a secure connection.

The first is easy, are you using Internet Explorer? If so, switch to
Firefox. The security problems with Internet Explorer are too numerous
to mention and making the switch to Firefox is an easy step in the
right direction.

Secondly, look up at the URL bar, where the address is. If it starts
with “https://” (NOTE the ‘s’), then you have a secure connection, if
its just “http://” (NO ‘s’), then you are not using a secure
connection. You can change that “http” to “https” by clicking on the
URL bar and adding the ‘s’ and then hit to load the page securely.

The third way to tell is by looking for a little padlock icon. It will
either appear in the URL location bar, or in the bottom corner of the
window, it should appear locked, if the lock doesn’t exist, or the
lock picture looks like it is unlocked, you are not using a secure
connection. You can hover your mouse over the padlock to get more
information, and often clicking (or sometimes right-clicking) on the
lock will bring up details about the SSL certificate used to secure
the connection.

If you click on the padlock, you can verify Riseup’s certificate
fingerprints, this is a very good idea! Follow these directions to
verify our fingerprint.

When using a mail client (Thunderbird, Outlook, etc.)
For POP and IMAP, your mail client will have the option of enabling
SSL or TLS. For sending mail (SMTP), both SSL and TLS will work, but
some ISPs will block TLS, so you might need to use SSL. For more
specific, step-by-step configurations for your mail client, see our
mail client tutorials and SMTP FAQ.

The limits of secure connections

The problem with email is that takes a long and perilous journey. When
you send a message, it first travels from your computer to the mail server and then is delivered to the recipient’s mail
server. Finally, the recipient logs on to check their email and the
message is delivered to their computer.

Using secure connections only protects your data as it travels from
your computer to the the servers (and vice versa). It does
not make your email any more secure as it travels around the internet
from mail server to mail server. To do this, see below.

Use secure email providers
What is StartTLS?

There are many governments and corporations who “sniff” general
traffic on the internet. Even if you use a secure connection to check
and send your email, the communication between mail servers is almost
always insecure and out in the open.

Fortunately, there is a solution! StartTLS is a fancy name for a very
important idea: StartTLS allows mail servers to talk to each other in
a secure way.

If you and your friends use only email providers which use StartTLS,
then all the mail traffic among you will be encrypted while in
transport. If both sender and recipient also use secure connections
while talking to the mail servers, then your communications are likely
secure over its entire lifetime.

We will repeat that because it is important: to gain any benefit from
StartTLS, both sender and recipient must be using StartTLS enabled
email providers. For mailing lists, the list provider and each and
every list subscriber must use StartTLS.

Which email providers use StartTLS?
Currently, these tech collectives are known to use StartTLS:


We recommend that you and all your friends get email accounts with
these tech collectives!
Additionally, these email providers often have StartTLS enabled:

* universities:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
* organizations:,
* companies:,,,,,,,,, greennet (

What are the advantages of StartTLS?
This combination of secure email providers and secure connections has
many advantages:

* It is very easy to use! No special software is needed. No
special behavior is needed, other than to make sure you are using
secure connections.
* It prevents anyone from creating a map of whom you are
communicating with and who is communicating with you (so long as both
parties use StartTLS).
* It ensures that your communication is pretty well protected.
* It promotes the alternative mail providers which use StartTLS.
The goal is to create a healthy ecology of activist providers–which
can only happen if people show these providers strong support. Many of
these alternative providers also also incorporate many other important
security measures such as limited logging and encrypted storage.

What are the limitations of StartTLS?
However, there are some notable limitations:

* Your computer is a weak link: your computer can be stolen,
hacked into, have keylogging software or hardware installed.
* It is difficult to verify: for a particular message to be
secure, both the origin and destination mail providers must use
StartTLS (and both the sender and recipient must use encrypted
connections). Unfortunately, it is difficult to confirm that all of
this happened. For this, you need public key encryption (see below).

Use public-key encryption
If you wish to keep the contents of your email private, and confirm
the identity of people who send you email, you should download and
install public-key encryption software. This option is only available
if you have your own computer.

Public-key encryption uses a combination of a private key and a public
key. The private key is known only by you, while the public key is
distributed far and wide. To send an encrypted message to someone, you
encrypt the message with their public key. Only their private key will
be able to decrypt your message and read it.

The universal standard for public-key encryption is Pretty Good
Privacy (PGP) and GNU Privacy Guard (GPG). GPG is Free Software, while
PGP is a proprietary product (although there are many freeware
versions available). Both work interchangeably and are available as
convenient add-ons to mail clients for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

For information configuring your mail client to use public key
encryption, see our mail client tutorial pages. In particular, see the
tutorials for Apple Mail and Thunderbird. Otherwise, you should refer
the to documentation which comes with your particular mail client.

Although it provides the highest level of security, public-key
encryption is still an adventure to use. To make your journey less
scary, we suggest you keep these things in mind:

* Be in it for the long haul: using public-key encryption takes a
commitment to learning a lot of new skills and jargon. The widespread
adoption of GPG is a long way off, so it may seem like a lot of work
for not much benefit. However, we need early adopters who can help
build a critical mass of GPG users.
* Develop GPG buddies: although most your traffic might not be
encrypted, if you find someone else who uses GPG try to make a
practice of communicating using only GPG with that person.
* Look for advocates: people who use GPG usually love to
evangelize about it and help others to use it to. Find someone like
this who can answer your questions and help you along.

Although you can hide the contents of email with public-key
encryption, it does not hide who you are sending mail to and receiving
mail from. This means that even with public key encryption there is a
lot of personal information which is not secure.

Why? Imagine that someone knew nothing of the content of your mail
correspondence, but they knew who you sent mail to and received mail
from and they knew how often and what the subject line was. This
information can provide a picture of your associations, habits,
contacts, interests and activities.

The only way to keep your list of associations private is to to use an
email provider which will establish a secure connection with other
email providers. See Use secure email providers, above.

What are certificates?

On the internet, a public key certificate is needed in order to verify
the identity of people or computers. These certificates are also
called SSL certificates or identity certificates. We will just call
them “certificates.”

In particular, certificates are needed to establish secure
connections. Without certificates, you would be able to ensure that no
one else was listening, but you might be talking to the wrong computer
altogether! All servers and all services allow
or require secure connections. It can sometimes be tricky to coax a
particular program to play nice and recognize the
certificates. This page will help you through the process.

If you don’t follow these steps, your computer will likely complain or
fail every time you attempt to create a secure connection with

What is a certificate authority?
Certificates are the digital equivalent of a government issued
identification card. Certificates, however, are issued by private
corporations called certificate authorities (CA).

I thought you were against authority?
We are, but the internet is designed to require certificate
authorities and there is not much we can do about it. There are other
models for encrypted communication, such as the decentralized notion
of a “web of trust” found in PGP. Unfortunately, no one has written
any web browsers or mail clients to use PGP for establishing secure
connections, so we are forced to rely on certificate authorities. Some
day, we hope to collaborate with other tech collectives to create a
certificate (anti) authority.

Your certificate is not recognized – what should I do?
We recently installed new certificates that should solve this issue
for webmail and mail client users. However, users accessing the secure
pages for,, and will still receive this annoying error message. The
problem is that these servers use a CA Cert root certificate, which is
not on the list of “trusted” certification authorities. So, in order
to use the certificates without receiving the error message, you will
need to import the CA Cert Root Certificate.

What are the fingerprints of’s certificates?
Some programs cannot use certificate authorities to confirm the
validity of a certificate. In that case, you may need to manually
confirm the fingerprint of the certificate. Here are some
fingerprints for various certificates:

Hash: SHA1

1. SSL fingerprint for
* sha1: BA:73:F5:45:E0:98:54:E5:6D:BA:5C:4B:98:EF:1A:A9:4B:C1:47:9D
* md5:  88:12:94:4D:D5:43:FE:22:84:4E:67:C9:0C:1E:DC:DA

2. SSL fingerprint for
* sha1: F2:1D:DC:23:89:36:15:F9:1B:2C:66:F0:93:99:6E:C8:EB:2C:43:BB
* md5:  A1:3E:38:19:39:70:DA:F0:0E:B1:58:D9:1A:67:41:AD

3. SSL fingerprint for
* sha1: 13:C8:86:19:53:52:C7:A1:B8:03:B0:53:1A:E9:DA:FF:AD:A9:BB:24
* md5:  84:32:84:43:81:13:16:56:0F:CE:68:A9:CF:29:4D:8D
Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (GNU/Linux)


When should I verify these fingerprints?
You should verify these fingerprints whenever they change, or you are
using a computer that you do not control (such as at an internet cafe,
or a library). Verify them if you are suspicious, be suspicious and
learn how to verify them and do it often.

How do I verify these fingerprints?
To verify these fingerprints, you need to look at what your browser
believes the fingerprints are for the certificates and compare them to
what is listed above. If they are different, there is a problem.

In most browsers, the way you look at the fingerprints of the
certificate that you were given is by clicking on the lock icon that
is located either in the URL location bar, or in the bottom corner of
your browser. This should bring up details about the certificate being
used, including the fingerprint. Some browsers may only show the MD5
fingerprint, or the SHA1 fingerprint, some will show both. Usually one
is good enough to verify the validity of the fingerprint.

I want to learn more

Great, this is an important topic and we encourage you to read this
piece which clearly articulates in a non-technical way the problems
involved in certificate authorities as well as outlining some
interesting suggestions for ways that the existing architecture and
protocols can be tweaked just a little bit to change the situation for
the better.


Policy at
We strive to keep our mail as secure and private as we can.

* We do not log your IP address. (Most services keep detailed
records of every machine which connects to the servers. We keep only
information which cannot be used to uniquely identify your machine.)
* All your data, including your mail, is stored by in
encrypted form.
* We work hard to keep our servers secure and well defended
against any malicious attack.
* We do not share any of our user data with anyone.
* We will actively fight any attempt to subpoena or otherwise
acquire any user information or logs.
* We will not read, search, or process any of your incoming or
outgoing mail other than by automatic means to protect you from
viruses and spam or when directed to do so by you when



Security resources for activists

This site contains a quick overview of email security. For more in-
depth information, check out these websites:
Helping activists stay safe in our oppressive world.
A series of briefings on information security and online safety for
civil society organizations.
Guide to Email Security Using Encryption and Digital Signatures
Computer Security for the Average Activist
An introduction to activism on the internet


FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool
BY Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh  /  December 1, 2006

The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic
surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile
phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S.
Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York
organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance
techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.

Nextel cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his
attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby
conversations. The FBI views Ardito as one of the most powerful men in
the Genovese family, a major part of the national Mafia.

The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this
week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the “roving
bug” was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to
permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a
suspect’s cell phone.

Kaplan’s opinion said that the eavesdropping technique “functioned
whether the phone was powered on or off.” Some handsets can’t be fully
powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia
models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set. While the
Genovese crime family prosecution appears to be the first time a
remote-eavesdropping mechanism has been used in a criminal case, the
technique has been discussed in security circles for years.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warns that “a cellular
telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the
purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.”
An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can
“remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the
owner’s knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its
owner is not making a call.”

Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially
vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said
James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked
closely with government agencies. “They can be remotely accessed and
made to transmit room audio all the time,” he said. “You can do that
without having physical access to the phone.”

Because modern handsets are miniature computers, downloaded software
could modify the usual interface that always displays when a call is
in progress. The spyware could then place a call to the FBI and
activate the microphone–all without the owner knowing it happened.
(The FBI declined to comment on Friday.) “If a phone has in fact been
modified to act as a bug, the only way to counteract that is to either
have a bugsweeper follow you around 24-7, which is not practical, or
to peel the battery off the phone,” Atkinson said. Security-conscious
corporate executives routinely remove the batteries from their cell
phones, he added.

FBI’s physical bugs discovered

The FBI’s Joint Organized Crime Task Force, which includes members of
the New York police department, had little luck with conventional
surveillance of the Genovese family. They did have a confidential
source who reported the suspects met at restaurants including Brunello
Trattoria in New Rochelle, N.Y., which the FBI then bugged.

But in July 2003, Ardito and his crew discovered bugs in three
restaurants, and the FBI quietly removed the rest. Conversations
recounted in FBI affidavits show the men were also highly suspicious
of being tailed by police and avoided conversations on cell phones
whenever possible.

That led the FBI to resort to “roving bugs,” first of Ardito’s Nextel
handset and then of Peluso’s. U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones
approved them in a series of orders in 2003 and 2004, and said she
expected to “be advised of the locations” of the suspects when their
conversations were recorded.

Details of how the Nextel bugs worked are sketchy. Court documents,
including an affidavit (p1) and (p2) prepared by Assistant U.S.
Attorney Jonathan Kolodner in September 2003, refer to them as a
“listening device placed in the cellular telephone.” That phrase could
refer to software or hardware.

One private investigator interviewed by CNET, Skipp Porteous
of Sherlock Investigations in New York, said he believed the FBI
planted a physical bug somewhere in the Nextel handset and did not
remotely activate the microphone. “They had to have physical
possession of the phone to do it,” Porteous said. “There are several
ways that they could have gotten physical possession. Then they
monitored the bug from fairly near by.”

But other experts thought microphone activation is the more likely
scenario, mostly because the battery in a tiny bug would not have
lasted a year and because court documents say the bug works anywhere
“within the United States”–in other words, outside the range of a
nearby FBI agent armed with a radio receiver.

In addition, a paranoid Mafioso likely would be suspicious of any ploy
to get him to hand over a cell phone so a bug could be planted. And
Kolodner’s affidavit seeking a court order lists Ardito’s phone
number, his 15-digit International Mobile Subscriber Identifier, and
lists Nextel Communications as the service provider, all of which
would be unnecessary if a physical bug were being planted.

A BBC article from 2004 reported that intelligence agencies routinely
employ the remote-activiation method. “A mobile sitting on the desk of
a politician or businessman can act as a powerful, undetectable bug,”
the article said, “enabling them to be activated at a later date to
pick up sounds even when the receiver is down.”

For its part, Nextel said through spokesman Travis Sowders: “We’re not
aware of this investigation, and we weren’t asked to participate.”
Other mobile providers were reluctant to talk about this kind of
surveillance. Verizon Wireless said only that it “works closely with
law enforcement and public safety officials. When presented with
legally authorized orders, we assist law enforcement in every way
possible.” A Motorola representative said that “your best source in
this case would be the FBI itself.” Cingular, T-Mobile, and the CTIA
trade association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mobsters: The surveillance vanguard

This isn’t the first time the federal government has pushed at the
limits of electronic surveillance when investigating reputed mobsters.
In one case involving Nicodemo S. Scarfo, the alleged mastermind of a
loan shark operation in New Jersey, the FBI found itself thwarted when
Scarfo used Pretty Good Privacy software (PGP) to encode confidential
business data. So with a judge’s approval, FBI agents repeatedly snuck
into Scarfo’s business to plant a keystroke logger and monitor its

Like Ardito’s lawyers, Scarfo’s defense attorneys argued that the then-
novel technique was not legal and that the information gleaned through
it could not be used. Also like Ardito, Scarfo’s lawyers lost when a
judge ruled in January 2002 that the evidence was admissible. This
week, Judge Kaplan in the southern district of New York concluded that
the “roving bugs” were legally permitted to capture hundreds of hours
of conversations because the FBI had obtained a court order and
alternatives probably wouldn’t work.

The FBI’s “applications made a sufficient case for electronic
surveillance,” Kaplan wrote. “They indicated that alternative methods
of investigation either had failed or were unlikely to produce
results, in part because the subjects deliberately avoided government

Bill Stollhans, president of the Private Investigators Association of
Virginia, said such a technique would be legally reserved for police
armed with court orders, not private investigators. There is “no law
that would allow me as a private investigator to use that type of
technique,” he said. “That is exclusively for law enforcement. It is
not allowable or not legal in the private sector. No client of mine
can ask me to overhear telephone or strictly oral conversations.”

Surreptitious activation of built-in microphones by the FBI has been
done before. A 2003 lawsuit revealed that the FBI was able to
surreptitiously turn on the built-in microphones in automotive systems
like General Motors’ OnStar to snoop on passengers’ conversations.
When FBI agents remotely activated the system and were listening in,
passengers in the vehicle could not tell that their conversations were
being monitored.

Malicious hackers have followed suit. A report last year said Spanish
authorities had detained a man who write a Trojan horse that secretly
activated a computer’s video camera and forwarded him the recordings.

From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

New Super-Efficient Chip Could Run on Body Heat
BY Alexis Madrigal  /  02.04.08

A new chip uses so little power, it could enable sensors,
communication devices and other gadgets that run on body heat and
movement alone.

The chip uses 70 percent less voltage than current chip technologies.
It could lead to an order-of-magnitude increase in energy efficiency
for electronics in the next five years, said the MIT researchers who
developed the new technology.

“It will extend the battery lifetime of portable devices in areas like
medical electronics,” said Anantha Chandrakasan, a professor of
electrical engineering at MIT. “When you look at the digital
processor, the fact is that we may be able to reduce the energy needed
by 10 times.”

Better circuit design and batteries have already led to smaller, more-
mobile electronics. But changing a battery is not an option for many
medical and military devices. Military researchers at Darpa, which
helped fund the MIT work, are keen to increase the lifespan of these
technologies or even eliminate the need to charge them. Military
strategists imagine these types of low-power chips could be used in
the battlefield, particularly in body and environmental sensors. Among
more mundane uses, Nokia is looking at low-voltage chips for use in
cellphones and computers. Intel also has a low-power-chip research

Designing a low-voltage chip is complicated, because transistors —
the bases of chips — use voltage changes to switch on and off.
Increase the voltage to the system, and the transistor eventually hits
its threshold and switches on. Decrease it, and the transistor
switches off. That ability is what allows it to store the binary
information — the 1’s and 0’s — that forms the basis of computing.

But at low voltages, variations introduced during transistor
production can cause errors.

“When you scale voltages, the first thing to break is memory on a
chip,” Chandrakasan said. “You have to redesign the memory and logic
so you can handle the variation.”

Working with scalable energy voltages, he said, required a whole suite
of design techniques, including a fundamental change in the memory
cell from six transistors to eight.

The researchers think medical devices like pacemakers and various
military applications could use the new chip within five years.

Decreasing power consumption is the key to unleashing medical
technologies on the battlefield, said Barry Perlman, associate
director for technology at the Army’s Communications Electronics
Research and Development Center at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.

“Sensors that are involved in monitoring the soldier’s health,
managing blood flow or heart rate, or measuring the thermal profile of
the soldier — there’s no question all of this is very, very
important,” Perlman said. “But it’s not realistic unless the power
requirement associated with them is really low.”

The power requirements for sensors attached to the body could be
reduced to near zero, Chandrakasan said. The body’s heat and movement
could generate the microwattage necessary to power the devices.

MIT graduate student Joyce Kwong will discuss the new chip at the
International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco on
Tuesday. The researchers designed their proof-of-concept chip with
researchers at Texas Instruments, using a standard semiconductor-
fabrication process.

The major trade-off for the lower power usage is raw speed, said
Connie Brown, spokeswoman for Intel’s mobile platforms. Intel’s newest
mobile platform, SilverThorne, cuts power consumption to less than 2
watts. That’s less than one-fifth of any previous offerings and one-
eighth the power draw of ballyhooed products like the MacBook Air’s
new chip, which draws 17 watts. The MIT team’s chip uses between 1 and
100 microwatts.

While a couple of watts in energy savings might not be a big deal to
consumers with access to the power grid, Perlman said soldiers often
have to carry all the power for their battlefield communications
devices — which are about 10 times bigger than typical cellphones.

“You can start to imagine how power becomes a very, very important
parameter to the soldier,” he said.


Prof. Anantha Chandrakasan
phone: (617) 258-7619
e-mail: anantha [at] mtl [dot] mit [dot] edu


Nokia’s Low-Voltage Chips May Slash Mobile Devices’ Power Use

Researchers’ work may result in devices that better handle the taxing
power demands placed on them by ever-expanding functionality.

BY Darrell Dunn  /  September 4, 2006

Researchers at Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and MIT’s Microsystems Technology
Laboratories are developing techniques to cut semiconductors’ energy
consumption by reducing their operating voltage levels. Their work may
result in mobile electronic devices that better handle the taxing
power demands placed on them by ever-expanding functionality.

Jamey Hicks, director of the Nokia Research Center, says the company
has made leaps in developing chips that can operate at voltage levels
below the normal thresholds required to switch individual transistor
pairs on and off for regular operation.

Transistors inside semiconductors usually act like switches.
Individual transistors move to an open or closed position depending on
the charge applied to them. By reducing that voltage, the size of the
openings of individual transistor gates is reduced, thereby cutting
the volume of current flowing through the gates.

“It’s like turning a water tap on only half way,” Hicks says.

Those “subthreshold” transistors could reduce the energy consumption
of chips to between a fifth and a tenth of typical levels. For
semiconductors that use a lot of power, such as video-compression
chips in cell phones, that reduction will boost devices’ battery life,
perhaps as much as three to 10 times normal, Hicks says.

Nokia research teams are analyzing areas for using subthreshold
semiconductors, but commercialization of the chips is probably four to
five years away.

MIT’s ultra-low power CMOS design explained
BY Steve Bush  /  2/16/2007

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have
developed a feedback-control scheme that interactively tunes CMOS
operating voltage to minimize dissipation.

Energy consumption in CMOS drops quadratically as its supply voltage
is bought below its threshold voltage. However, according to MIT,
leakage increases exponentially at the same time.

This means that for any given circuit workload and temperature, there
is a particular supply voltage that trades capacitive losses with
leakage in a way that minimizes power consumption.

The example CMOS “load” in the 65-nm MIT circuit, fabricated by TI, is
a hardware 7-tap FIR filter, whose power supply comes from an on-chip
DC-DC converter capable of delivering 250 to 700mV at 1-100µW at over
80 percent efficiency.

The loop consists of an energy sensor and a controller that moves the
supply voltage slightly — via the DC-DC converter — to see what
effect it has on energy consumption. In this way the controller can
push the supply voltage in the improving-energy direction until it
settles at the bottom of the power dip.

Changing the 7-tap filter (at optimal voltage) to a 1-tap version
drops power by 25 percent at constant voltage, whereas feedback
control achieves a cut of over 40 percent.

In the presence of leakage — added as a 1µA constant load to the
circuit — power would almost triple, but the loop pulls this down to
an increase of only 30 percent.

With temperature increasing from 0°C to 85°C, the loop saves around 50
percent of power compared with constant voltage operation, claimed

The technique places no burden on the controlled load and consumes a
tiny fraction of the power it saves.




“Are you a scientist or engineer with a radical idea (or ideas) that
you believe could provide disruptive change for the United States
military? Would you like to lead the country’s most capable academic
and industrial experts to make that idea become reality in a period of
just a few years? If so, you should consider joining the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a Program Manager.

What is a DARPA PM? A DARPA Program Manager is…

* An idea generator
* A technical expert
* An entrepreneur
* A visionary
* A patriot dedicated to National Service

All DARPA Program Manager positions are located in Arlington,
Virginia. Candidates must be U.S. citizens to meet the requirements
for a Government Security Clearance.

Program Managers: The Heart of DARPA

Program Managers are the heart of DARPA, and we select them to be
technically outstanding and entrepreneurial. DARPA Program Managers
work with the best and brightest people in the world to develop and
demonstrate leading-edge technologies for the Department of Defense.

Throughout DARPA’s 50 year history, the most successful Program
Managers have been freewheeling innovators who are passionately
committed to their programs’ goals, and fearless in pursuing them.
DARPA Program Managers have said their time at the Agency was an
enjoyable and rewarding experience. Some say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime

There are many reasons for these attitudes, but key is DARPA’s culture
of accomplishment. DARPA is not constrained by conventional thinking,
and powerful ideas always get funded.

Speed matters at DARPA. Program Managers are hired for only four to
six years, and there’s no time to waste. The Agency is small and
flexible, and enjoys substantial autonomy and freedom from
bureaucratic impediments, which gives Program Managers the latitude
they need to focus on the substance of their work rather than
administering it.

From their first day at DARPA, Program Managers are given the
responsibility, flexibility, and support to quickly put ideas into
action and aim to accomplish great advances in science and technology.

This unique culture is what makes our Agency such a rewarding place to
work, and why we encourage you to consider becoming a DARPA Program

A Day in the Life of a Program Manager

Every day, a DARPA Program Manager works to create exciting, new
science and to make what have often been considered dreams, a reality.

After coming to a DARPA with an idea, a Program Manager works with
multiple programs on achieving set goals; positions and advocates for
the programs; charts a course for the near- and long-term
accomplishments necessary to reach objectives; and manages all
technical, procurement, and financial aspects of the program.

A DARPA Program Manager guides performers on projects, works with and
at times, builds new technical communities, and needs leadership
skills, including people skills, public speaking skills, project
management experience, careful financial management skills and the
ability to make timely decisions.

At the end of the day, a DARPA Program Manager gets to go home knowing
that they have an opportunity to make a difference.”