Any good reporter, regardless of his beat, will consult as wide a range of sources as possible to get an accurate picture of his subject. But sometimes there’s a single source who seems to know almost everything—an expert who’s the ‘gatekeeper’ to a castle of information and contacts on the business or deal the reporter is investigating. Enlisting the help of this person can unlock access to dozens of key sources and documents all at once.
This happened to be the case when I was reporting my master’s thesis for Columbia Journalism School about China’s rise in the Democratic Republic of Congo, now an eBook. I was investigating a $6.5 billion “infrastructure for minerals” deal in which the Chinese state-owned companies partnered with Congo’s state mining agency to mine an incredible 6.8 million tons of copper and 427,000 tons of cobalt over the subsequent 25 years. In exchange for the minerals, the Chinese companies would spend $3 billion to build roads, hospitals and universities throughout Congo. That investment was not structured as a gift, but a loan: every dollar spent will eventually be paid back in copper revenues.
The more I reported, the more the name Johanna Janssoncame up: It seemed like every journalist, academic and business insider I spoke with about the deal would refer me back to her. Jansson is a Swedish PhD candidate who has spent years researching the specific megadeal I was reporting on, called Sicomines, for her dissertation at a University in Denmark. In January 2013, I approached her in Kinshasa to ask for help understanding the deal—and for her contacts to some of the most powerful and knowledgeable stakeholders in Congo. My eBook, supported by the Pulitzer Center, would not have been possible without the information and contacts she provided me.
But what motivated her—an academic expert and a business insider—to open up to me—a journalism school student and someone with relatively little knowledge of the subject? What inspired her to hand off to me information that she had spent years gathering?
Nearly two years later I called her to discuss what a journalist can do to gain the trust and help of an expert– and what that expert often expects from the journalist in return. Read the full interview at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Covering Business page.
The introduction of Apple Pay, which allows users to pay via smartphone, has generated plenty of buzz. But when it comes to mobile money, America trails years — seven years — behind another country: Kenya.
The mobile money app M-Pesa launched in 2007 and now has more than 15 million users in Kenya — plus millions more across South Africa, Afghanistan and the rest of the globe. By 2012, the value of M-Pesa transactions reached $18 billion, equal to about 41 percent of Kenya’s GDP. For those interested in emerging markets, M-Pesa has become a larger-than-life success story: It launched a hundred research papers and became a sort of holy grail for other telecom companies, which have tried — largely in vain — to replicate its model around the world.
But M-Pesa’s model may finally be spreading. Last month, Kenya’s Equity Bank introduced a new piece of technology that literally piggybacks off of M-Pesa’s success. Called a “thin sim,” the paper-thin chip slips under a standard SIM card used in mobile phones by Safaricom, the telecommunications company that owns M-Pesa. Operating like a second SIM, the device will connect to its own cellular network to allow users to make instant money transfers, just like M-Pesa.
Those in the industry are watching closely, not just to see whether another player can finally shake M-Pesa’s dominance, but also because the technology could finally make mobile payments feasible in other developing countries. If so, it could further blur the line between banking and telecom, and potentially offer market access to the hundreds of millions around the world who have a phone but no bank account.
It started out as a nice idea that made a sharp left turn and then took a whole new direction. A 22-year-old Kenyan developer, getting the idea from a class at Strathmore University in Nairobi, wanted to create an app to help drivers avoid bad traffic and accidents. But when he learned that a friend had just been stopped by police at an alcohol Breathalyzer checkpoint, he decided to turn it into an app that would warn drivers about checkpoints — and it took off.
Fifty people downloaded it the first day. Three days later, 2,500. Then 5,000.
But the fun didn’t last. The police soon took notice, and Brian Osoro says an officer called him to try to persuade him to take the app down. “A friend of mine who’s doing law told me this was obstruction of justice,” he says. “In my conscience, I thought, ‘This is bad.’” He read about a drunk driver — of a bus carrying students — who lost control of the vehicle and crashed. No one died, but “I thought to myself, this could be my cousin, one of my brothers. This could get them killed.” Ultimately he took it down, and today he has a much different and successful app– one that helps, not hinders, justice.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — For 50 years, foreign do-gooders who wished to improve access to water in Africa went about it basically the same way. They’d dig a well or build a water pump for free. Then they’d hand off the project to the local community — leaving the responsibility, and the financial burden, of maintaining it up to them.
And yet, for the same 50 years, that model hasn’t worked. Wells run out of water. Fuel for electrical generators to pump water becomes expensive. Pipes spring leaks. And rural communities where most people live on less than $2 a day can’t come up with the money to fix it all.
So perhaps it is no surprise that aid money has not solved Tanzania’s notorious water crisis. But even as the $1.4 billion Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) showed signs it was not working after five years, the World Bank and other organizations provided even more money without first investing in identifying new solutions to old problems.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — The water sector in Tanzania once resembled the Wild West. The government did little to ensure that every person had access to clean and safe water.
Donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worked to solve the problem, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. But there was a flaw, explained Amani Mafuru, an engineer for rural water supply in Tanzania.
“One development partner can go to a region and then another comes to the same place,” he said. “So there was a tendency to favor certain parts of the country.”
In 2006, the Tanzanian government launched the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) to do things differently. When it came to constructing rural water points under the WSDP, decisions were not going to be set in Washington DC, nor in the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma.
Instead, WSDP managers would let communities decide for themselves what sort of water system they wanted to build.
Read what happened next in Part 3 of a GroundTruth Project for GlobalPost.
LUPETA, Tanzania — It’s a full day’s bus ride from Dar es Salaam to the district of Mpwapwa in north-central Tanzania. It is here that the earliest signs appeared of trouble ahead for Tanzania’s ambitious water development program.
Engineers dug boreholes in 2004 and 2005 to get at water trapped deep in the ground in Mpwapwa and in 13 other places across the country in a precursory step of a failed $1.42 billion water initiative supported by the World Bank, known as the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP).
The idea was to learn how expensive it would be to create functioning water points, how long they’d take to build and how best to establish “community water councils” capable of keeping the water flowing. Leaders would learn from mistakes on a few pilot projects and work out all the kinks before the plan went national. But critics say those lessons went unlearned. Read the full story here.
This is Part Two of a series produced by The GroundTruth Project for GlobalPost, funded by the Galloway Family Foundation.
By Jacob Kushner and Tom Murphy
In 2006, the World Bank launched an unprecedented drive to fix Tanzania’s water crisis once and for all. In the past, international donors funded different projects in the country’s water sector. This time, the World Bank would provide Tanzania with the financial and technical support to organize them to pool their money together, in a grand experiment that combined rural and urban water resource management into one plan.
To date the drive has attracted more than $1.42 billion in funding from various donors and the Tanzanian government, an incredible sum for a single project in a small country like Tanzania. The initial goal was ambitious: to bring improved access to water to 65 percent of rural Tanzanians and 90 percent of urbanites by 2010, and continue until each and every citizen had safe drinking water.
By all metrics, the project has failed categorically.
Read Part One in the series: Seven years and $1.4 billion into an unprecedented, World Bank-led collaboration to improve water access in Tanzania, a grand experiment in development aid has achieved none of its goals.
For more than two centuries, The Old Farmer’s Almanac seemed to hold the answer to every crop grower’s questions, like when is the best time to plant onions (“as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring”) or harvest potatoes (“after 10 weeks, usually in early July”).
Agnes Mwaki prefers to use an app. After the 49-year-old banana farmer in Meru County, Kenya, recently switched to growing onions — a more profitable crop — she needed help determining when to transplant the seedlings and when to harvest. Through a government program that provides her with a smartphone, Mwakinow uses WhatsApp to send a photo of her onions each week to an agronomist. “When I spot a problem, I just take a photo and send it to the agricultural officer, and she describes the drug [I’m] supposed to use and I buy it,” says Mwaki.
In recent years a growing group of mobile apps has moved in with access to real-time advice and market intelligence, and the latest of that technology is originating where this kind of data is increasingly vital: Africa.
Read the full story at OZY.
The U.S. Department of State regularly issues travel warnings for people heading overseas. These travel advisories recommend precautions that travelers can take to better avoid and react to dangerous circumstances. Erring on the side of extreme caution, the State Department often posts alarmist messages, comically inflating the risks posed in foreign countries.
There’s only one country the State Department won’t warn you about. It’s a country where there were 12,664 murders in 2011, where there are almost as many guns as people, and where there’s a shocking lack of preparedness for natural disasters, even in the most advanced cities. Here’s how a State Department travel advisory might look for the land of the free.
Read the satire at Vocativ
Even the smallest of bribes can stifle an economy when they’re magnified millions of times over.
When a police officer gets caught soliciting a bribe, most people would tend to blame the cop. In Kenya, the government is trying a new approach: clamping down on the people whopaythe cop.
And they’re going about it in a strange way, ordering that Nairobi’s public matatus— the beat-up, privately owned vans that ferry most of the city’s commuters — go high-tech. Passengers are being asked to use popular mobile banking applications like m-pesa to pay the fares. No more cash-carrying passengers, no more bribes, the thinking goes.
Many in Kenya say government officials aren’t naïve in their hope to stem corruption this way — they’re just plain lazy. High-tech solutions like digital fare cards or mobile phone payment apps abound. But Kenya may be no exception to the rule that ending bribery must begin and end with old-fashioned justice for the people who solicit the bribes.
new balance heart rate monitor
Read the full story at OZY.