A closing window: looming food crises in the Sahel

Press conferences can be dull at the best of times. The prospect of sitting through a 40 minutes audio recording of the heads of UNICEF, WHO and UNHCR didn’t exactly fill me with glee but as I’m in the middle of researching my entry to the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition I thought it was worth a shot.

The reality is that this recording makes for compelling listening. Anthony Lake (Executive Director, UNICEF)Margaret Chan (Director-General, WHO) and António Guterres (High Commissioner, UNHCR) talk honestly, openly and with surprising passion about the need of the international community to take action on the coming crisis which still has scope for the potential damage to be limited if action is taken now.

Gutteres makes a key point that we live in a one-issue world. While Syria has pushed other pertinent issues of the international news agenda there remains a responsibility to act in a manner that not only addresses the short term symptoms but attempts to solve the underlying issues causing food insecurity

Why, as a black person, I applaud John Derbyshire’s race article

The eponymous publisher of Taki mag is a convicted felon, known coke fiend and out and out racist to boot. As such it comes as no surprise that the columnists he has writing for his online rag are of a similarly unpleasant vein.

John Derbyshire’s article is one of the most depressing articles on the state of Western society that I have ever read. As I’ve written here in the past, prejudice and racism have always existed. I’d argue if we want to combat it, or even work with it, then we have to understand the factors that cause it. But for all my attempts at objective reasoning , Derbyshire’s article is a slap in the face.

Some, including Forbes magazine, are now calling for Derbyshire to be fired. To me this seems like a counter-productive move. He was writing in a publication for ignoramus, run by ignoramuses – there was no slip-up here – his comments are an expression of his considered view on race relations.

Despite the many flaws of the liberal democracy in which we live the right to free speech should not be undermined. In fact I applaud John Derbyshire’s article because it answers, in a manner far more damning than I could ever hope to achieve, every accusation that black people have a chip on their shoulder, choose to play the race card or that race is no longer an issue because there’s a black man in the White House.

In a world in which white children are educated on race relations by parents like John Derbyshire the, oft used and consistently damaging, argument that we are living in a post-racial era or that it’s possible for minorities to choose when and when not their race is an issue is shown for it truly is – utter rubbish.

Mali, the Tuareg and Gaddafi – the coup in context

by Krzysztof Pakulski

Mali is a country I’ve long wanted to visit particularly to experience first-hand its rich culture and traditions. This random bit of information has nothing to do with the country’s coup but does explain one of the factors that motivated me to dig around a little to find out.

The Pulitzer Centre has a super interesting project on Saharan Insecurity launched back in November 2010. Its tagline “the perfect storm brewing in the desert” now feels quite prophetic. One article in particular by Peter Gwin gives a fascinating insight into the factors that led one Tuareg man to join the fight in Libya – Libya: Qaddafi Recruits Tuareg | Pulitzer Center. It’s worth checking out to get one side of the story of the coup.

On the random tip the first time I heard about the Tuareg was when I was fact-checking an article on Volkswagen cars for the Financial Times’ How to Spend It magazine back in 2002. That’s globalization (or maybe just a sign of my sheer ignorance) for you…

UPDATE: ThinkAfricaPress has a very lengthy article by Andy Morgan which well worth the effort it takes to read all 11,000+ words. The piece suggests:

In truth, neither Gaddafi’s fall nor AQIM nor drugs and insecurity are the prime movers behind this latest revolt. They are just fresh opportunities and circumstances in a very old struggle… However, there are a number of key reasons why this latest uprising is different from all the others. First and foremost the level of preparation and forethought on the rebel side is unique in Tuareg rebel history.

Brown cuts out the middle man

They’ve only gone and done it again. Just days after Alistair Darling irked economy reporters by issuing a YouTube statement on his hopes for the economy, now Gordon Brown has taken the heat out of the second-homes allowance row by demanding an urgent commons vote on reforms.

What news editors hate about this growing trend in government issuing missives online is that their correspondents don’t have a chance to grill politicians and get to the nitty gritty of their statements. Really, you should hear how they fume. Yet does the public really need a middle man to intermediate in the flow of information?

They no longer have to wait until the 6.30pm bulletin to get this information – it’s accesible online as soon as it’s released and just maybe they’re intelligent enough to add their own analysis to the news that they receive.

Italy: segregation in schools, “black kids painted white”






While Americans prepare to vote for a black president Italy, it appears, prefers to be inspired by the days of Jim Crow.

Not that the issue of race is something that’s constantly on my mind (I’m far from right on and definitely don’t have a chip on my shoulder) but my daily visits to the Corriere website fill me despair.

Today’s offering? The Italian parliament has voted 265 to 245 to have separate classes for foreigners in schools.


Now I know many Italians see the Roman Empire as their glory days but have they not noticed we’re in the 21st century? How can the European Union allow this?


Aiming to “enable integration”

The motion was proposed by the Lega del Nord. The party’s leader claims the measure serves to prevent racism and actually enable real integration. Erm, really?


Probably the only time young Italians are going to be able to interact with immigrants and gain a real understanding of who they are as people rather than the stereotypes that they see on TV or hear from their parents is at school.


A new generation

I remember the funniest thing when my ex’s 6-year-old niece came home and told her grandmother that she was in love with a Moroccan boy in her class.


For Francesca it was nothing out of the ordinary, he was her friend – the fact that his parents weren’t born in Italy had nothing to do with anything.


What was beautiful was that the grandmother, who would distinguish between someone being from her village or the next one three miles down the road, wasn’t bothered that her granddaughter was friends with a Moroccan either.


A despicable proposal

The Il Popolo della Libertà, a liberal conservative political party that was once in coalition with the Lega del Nord, has said the motion is “despicable and inserts descrimination in schools”.


It says quite a lot if the party fronted by Berlusconi, who famously apologised for Mussolini’s actions, starts complaining about discriminatory measures.


The proposal also intends to ban any foreign student from joining an Italian after 31 December in any year.


“Black children painted white”

That said it seems as the issue of race has captured the interest of the Italian media.


Below the article on school segregation Corriere runs a story on cut-outs of black children that were painted white. The tagline reads “Racism in Varese”.

Isn’t it more mindless vandalism than racism?


Parliament suggests Facebook licence

This story from PA about Facebook got buried on Friday due to fears over the meltdown of the western world (us hacks do love a bit of drama).Basically the House of Lords, always with their fingers on the pulse of the nation, have spotted this growing trend called social networking.

Apparently all the kids are increasingly using interweb sites like Facebook and MySpace as a method of communication and interaction.

The solution proposed to the dangers lurking on such sites? “an internet equivalent of a driving test for children.”


Facebook is a “security nightmare” and children using it and other sites should undergo the internet equivalent of a driving test, the British government has been told.

Labour’s Lord Mitchell said the popular social networking site needed improved security measures as weaknesses allowed an “open season for the bad guys”.

It was now being used by university admissions departments and potential employers to find out information about applicants.

Lord Mitchell also told the Lords that computer manufacturers had a “duty” to inform children about the dangers posed by the internet and said youngsters needed more guidance and protection.

He said: “There has been a explosion in social networking, most particularly Facebook.

“It is ubiquitous, the word Facebook has now joined Googled amongst the young vocabulary.

“But Facebook is a security nightmare. It is easy to access sites and it is open season for the bad guys.

“I am told university admission departments in this country access Facebook to check out new students and recruiters trawl thorough these sites in an attempt to find out more about potential job applicants.

“Facebook needs to do more to protect its customers. Government needs to be more aware of the dangers.”

Peers were debating a report on personal internet security by the Lords Science and Technology Committee

It called for “comprehensive and reliable data” about the scale of the problem of electronic crime, saying it was “fundamental” to promoting public confidence in the internet.

Lord Mitchell said: “Now more than ever I believe computer manufacturers have a duty to inform the public and the children of the dangers of inappropriate internet use.

“Children should be able to access tuition programmes on their computers which tell them about internet etiquette, usage and dangers.

“I believe there should be an internet equivalent of a driving test for children.”


Is Italy racist?



My Italian love affair has endured for almost half my life. From studying the language at school, to dating (too many) Italian men and then living and working in the country it would be fair to say that I’m a fully paid up member of the Italophile crew. Yet when people ask my ‘but aren’t’ they a bit racist’, I’m always stumped for words.


If you’d asked me ten years ago my answer would most likely have been ‘no’. Yes, some Italians were without a doubt ignorant and even prejudiced, but to define their stance as racism, on my part, would have been too extreme. Any population that all of a sudden comes into contact with foreigners is likely to have a reaction that’s based on fear, even more so Italians who, despite their history of great migrations, tend towards the insular.


Yet there has definitely been a shift in the mood surrounding immigration; it’s not just Bossi and his cronies ranting about immigration and the flood of foreigners taking over Italy. In May, Amnesty International said it was concerned about the growing “climate of discrimination” in the country, in particular towards increasing attacks on the Roma community. Last month Abdul Salam Guibre, an Italian citizen originally from Burkina Faso was beaten to death in Milan after allegedly stealing a packet of biscuits. The death of Guibre was preceded by an attack on an Angolan student in Genoa in August and another on a 15-year-old boy from Sri Lanka in Milan in July.


From the reports I see in the Italian papers the country is beginning to seem remarkably similar to Russia where immigrants are beaten and even killed on a far too regular basis simply due to the colour of their skin.



Give immigrants a kick on the arse


So it’s interesting to see Daniela Santanche, former journalist and speaker for Francesco Storace’s La Destra party, is today moaning in a Corriere article about accusations that she represents the side of politics that throws petrol on the flames of intolerance. This, after all, is the woman who said illegal immigrants should “chucked out and given a kick on the arse”.


Last night in a special edition of the programme Anno Zero entitled “Italians, bad people”, politicians and journalists discussed the growing tide of violence against immigrants that is currently gripping the country.


Santanche claims in the Corriere article that during a break in filming, “two blacks insulted me with unjustifiable violence”. I’d never be one to excuse violence of any kind towards any human being but if these two unnamed “blacks” did insult her (Corriere appears to have made no to attempt to stand up Santanche’s assertions)  maybe she now knows how the tens of thousands of immigrants who are verbally abused by Italians on a daily basis feel.


It is a deeply unsettling experience to see swastikas and neo-nazi crosses daubed on walls in pretty much every city centre. The last time I was in Bologna with a white French guy I was dating at the time a group of skin-headed neo-fascists tried to hand him a leaflet calling for the expulsion of immigrants from the country. Worse while on holiday near lake Garda a few years ago I had a young kid on a school trip point his fingers at me while imitating the sound of bullets flying towards my head.


Enduring love for il Duce


Still I try to question rather than to judge. For my final year dissertation I took the time to explore something that had always puzzled me about the Italian experience – the long held celebration of Benito Mussolini – whose face popped up all too frequently on lighters, tea towels, calendars and even bottles of wine in respectable restaurants.


I travelled to Predappio, the birthplace of Il Duce and place of pilgrimage for neo-fascist sympathisers from all over Italy. Walking into his tomb, accompanied by a British author who had penned about the fascist leader and coming face to face with a caped black shirt standing the guard of honour was a heart-stopping experiences (although the look on his face was probably more horrified than the look on mine).


Undeniably racist


I say all this to explain that I’m not some bleeding-heart lefty who’s quick to label Italians as racist but the current situation is disturbing and it would be remiss of me to downplay a trend in behaviour that is undeniably racist.


Maybe it’s the increasingly tense financial situation that’s making Italians turn in a violent manner against outsiders. I remember when I was living in Milan back in 2005, the rise in Chinese manufacturing and the ensuing pressure it placed upon the traditional Italian artisan was a constant topic of fear mongering in the media. Pejorative jokes commoplace, the Chinese were regarded as untrustworthy, almost inhuman; all in all it was like being in California in the 19th century.


I do love Italy. I feel incredibly privileged to have been given an insight into a deeply fascinating and complex country. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been welcomed into the lives and homes of some of the most beautiful and loving people I have ever met. So why do I now have second thoughts about travelling to Italy on my own?


Journalism in global crisis

Following on from my post yesterday, the issue of a journalistic crisis appears to be as much of as an ongoing story as the financial crisis.

In today’s Corriere della Sera, Marco Pratellesi, editor in chief of Corriere online, blogs about Italian journalists suffering from a cultural crisis and a rupture between generations. Apparently the same issues are rocking French newspapers too.