On a sunny hill overlooking a valley of shrubs, yellow grass and maize, Deodat Madembwe watches a team of masons make bricks for an elementary school he’s building.
As a young man growing up in central Tanzania, Madembwe too was a mason. Back then the most popular way to make bricks was to mould them loosely out of dirt and clay and then burn them in a tanuru – the Swahili word for a kiln. But to heat the kiln was to wreak havoc on the local environment.
“People cut trees to burn bricks,” he explained. To burn enough bricks for about five houses, they’d have to fell 10, even 20 trees. Burning the trees releases CO², contributing to climate change, and deforestation means there are fewer trees left to combat it. As Tanzania’s population grew, more and more houses arose and the landscape suffered. “We [were] making a desert,” said Madembwe.
But today, on a sunny plateau above Mbeya, the masonry unfolding before Madembwe’s eyes is of an entirely different breed. Two men with shovels quickly mix dirt they’ve sifted with a bit of sand and cement. They add water and shovel the mixture into a small steel device. A third man closes the heavy metal lid and pulls down hard on a long green lever. He releases, and a perfectly rectangular gray brick rises up.
NGOs, governments and local cooperatives have been experimenting with so-called compressed stabilised earth blocks (CSEB), a green alternative to tree-consuming burnt bricks, on a small scale for years. But they may soon rise to global prominence, prompted in part by interest from an unlikely party: the largest cement manufacturer in the world.
In central Kenya, three of the world’s four remaining Northern white rhinos are stubbornly refusing to mate. Since 2009, conservationists have tried and failed to coax the animals together—and with the lone male nearing his 43rd birthday, too old to breed, extinction is inevitable. It’s a matter of time before the remaining beasts die off, one by one.
So in the meantime, in San Diego, scientists are working to resurrect them.
That’s a thrilling but distinctly unnatural approach to preserving nature. And some scientists and conservationists are asking if resurrection is really the right way to save the Earth’s threatened species.
“Until we make space for other species on Earth, it won’t matter how many animals we resurrect,” writes M.R. O’Connor in her book Resurrection Science. “There won’t be many places left for them to exist.”
“Paradoxically,” says O’Connor, “the more we intervene to save species, the less wild they often become.”
De-extinction is a uniquely self-gratifying brand of conservation. Resurrection reflects an urge to do something, O’Connor says, “before humanity relinquishes the existence of wild places and wild things in the world.” But it’s for humans, not for the animals. “It really doesn’t matter to a dead species whether they’re brought back,” she says. Perhaps, nostalgia for the great beasts of the world has clouded humans from realizing that what is truly natural may be to let them die out.
Read the full piece at WIRED.
Another chapter in the World Bank’s fraught relationship with indigenous peoples who live on or near land targeted for development.
By Jacob Kushner, Anthony Langat, Michael Hudson and Sasha Chavkin
It was a morning routine: Elias Kimaiyo woke up, went outside his family’s mud-and-thatch home and climbed a hill. His goal: see where Kenya Forest Service officers were heading that day as they trudged into the forest from a nearby ranger station. Like thousands of his fellow tribespeople, he spent many of his days worrying about whether his family would be the next to be evicted by gun-toting rangers.
One morning in late 2011, Kimaiyo saw that KFS officers were heading in another direction. He went home and worked with his wife, Janet, harvesting their small corn crop in a clearing in the forest. In the afternoon, he decided to check again.
This time, when he climbed the hill, he could see a group of rangers heading toward his house. Kimaiyo ran home. He and his wife began grabbing their things—blankets, utensils, a mattress—and hiding them in the brush. They could see their neighbors’ homes burning. Kimaiyo’s one-year-old son sat in the dirt, crying, as his mom and dad carried armfuls of their belongings deeper into the forest.
Kimaiyo and his wife fled with their son to the other side of a river. They hoped the KFS officers would somehow miss their house in the dense forest.
Kimaiyo watched, he says, as flames consumed his house and what was left inside—tables, chairs, the bed frame, even the mattress, which the rangers had discovered poorly hidden in the brush and tossed onto the fire.
It was the fourth time, Kimaiyo claims, that Kenya’s government had destroyed his home since the 2007 launch of a forest conservation project that the World Bank said would “improve the livelihoods of communities participating in the co-management of water and forests.”
This is the latest installment of “Evicted and Abandoned,” an examination of the hidden toll of development financed by the World Bank. The project is a collaboration between the ICIJ and The Huffington Post, with contributions from journalists around the globe.
“I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move,” US president Barack Obama told an energetic crowd at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi in July.
The president’s visit underscored his support for the idea that investment in technology and innovation can propel African economies forward in ways that agriculture, manufacturing and natural resources have not.
Yet two decades after the OECD began promoting the idea that reorienting Africa’s economies towards knowledge generation could fast-track development, none of the region’s 54 nations are yet able to compete on a global scale.
A good coder is hard to find, as Kenyan entrepreneur Tonee Ndungu knows. Nairobi is chock-full of mediocre ones, while those with real skills are in such high demand they work “five jobs at the same time,” says Ndungu, whose startup, Kytabu, aims to bring digital textbooks to African schoolkids. Ndungu searched far and wide, from Kazakhstan to India, and nearly sputtered for lack of talent.
Then he learned of Moringa School, a for-profit startup that aims to turn tech-savvy Kenyans into employable programmers and developers, coders and designers in a matter of months. After visiting Moringa’s classrooms this spring, Ngundu offered two students 14-day internships — and hired them almost immediately afterward. The pair are working so quickly, Ngundu says, that he has moved up Kytabu’s launch date by three months.
As cities like Nairobi, Lagos and Kigali become major tech investment hubs, the promise of smart new jobs has rightly generated a lot of hope. Picture far-away armies of bright young developers, coders and UX specialists quietly building the infrastructure of the global digital economy while boosting their own prospects. It’s a fine picture, indeed. But an important question remains, and it has become a quandary for entrepreneurs, aspiring techies and governments alike: Who will train the young Africans to fill the jobs?
Find out at OZY.
You can view the full project and pledge your support here.
A Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative Story
Story and photos by Jacob Kushner
In many ways, the campaign to expel the children of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic is impractical. Their labor—and that of their parents—helped propel the Dominican economy last year to grow faster than all but one other country’s in Latin America, firmly establishing it as a middle-class nation. They are a significant part of the workforce in the booming construction and tourism industries that have helped transform the Dominican Republic into the most popular travel destination in the Caribbean.
But in a chaotic democracy that has adopted 38 different constitutions over a century and a half, anti-Haitianismo is the one enduring notion that mainstream parties across the political spectrum can invoke with impunity. It is driven by the fervor of Dominican nationalists, and, in particular, by one powerful, ultra-conservative family and its allies. Together, they are waging a political, legal and media war to defend the Dominican Republic against what they believe is the nation’s gravest threat: Haitian immigrants and their children.
Read the cover story in the September/October 2015 issue of Moment Magazine, or view it online here.
Off a dirt road, atop a grassy hill, the plains of central Kenya seem endless. The nearest town is a decent hike away. But here, in the middle of nowhere, I pull out my iPhone, and within seconds I’m checking my email on a hot spot provided by Mawingu Networks. The connection is superb.
Is this Africa’s real Silicon Savannah? Even as Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria vie for that mantle and the jobs that come with it, they’ve focused mostly on cities, neglecting the farmland and actual savannahs that lie beyond. Conventional wisdom says the countryside’s lack of infrastructure makes broadband too daunting; titans like Google and Facebook are looking to balloons and drones to solve the rural Internet conundrum. Which is why Mawingu Networks’ solution is so remarkable. Not only does it bring the Internet age to the boonies, and cheaply, but it does so with a technology so old you might not know about it: TV white space.
Read the full story at OZY.
The Red Cross has adopted a better approach to help Haitians recover from the 2010 earthquake—but past mistakes might plague its future.
When an earthquake decimated Haiti’s capital and nearby cities in 2010, people around the world pledged $13 billion in aid, $488 million of which was donated to the American Red Cross — the largest branch of the world’s largest relief charity.
In June, an NPR/ProPublica report alleged that the Red Cross had misused and wasted funds it devoted to housing, building only six out of 700 planned homes and failing to shelter anywhere near as many displaced Haitians as it had claimed.
But if the agency misappropriated its resources, it did so largely at the direction of Haiti’s leaders.
Five years after the earthquake, some 64,000 Haitians remain officially displaced, and tens of thousands more reside in temporary shelters or on land from which they face eviction. Roughly 150,000 of them live in a desolate stretch of land at the foot of the mountains north of Port-au-Prince that Haitians call Canaan — the biblical Promised Land.
The Red Cross’s forthcoming work in Canaan illustrates its evolving understanding of the infrastructural challenges that disaster recovery entails. But critics of its effort in Haiti insist that this does not absolve it of what they say were harmful mistakes.
Read the full story at VICE.