Friday, December 30, 2011

Chapters and continuity

The chapters in a book have a physical beginning and a physical end. But their contents flow backwards into the story before, flow forwards into the remaining story and will continue to weave into the story contents beyond the book itself.

Book in photo above courtesy of Bahati Mabala, A Trail of My Shadows.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2 questions from Tuesday night

1. Is it possible to create an international political party? If so, where does this leave the role of "international" ideologies (such as democracy, capitalism, etc.) and institutions (the UN, the World Bank, etc.)?

2. Is all the information circulated within Government public domain?

Thanks Nabil, Inayat, Muntazir, Ayham and Hamza for the (as always) good company.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Interesting questions

I found these Google interview questions and suggested responses from a WSJ article. Examples of some questions:

You're in a car with a helium balloon on a string that is tied to the floor. The windows are closed. When you step on the gas pedal, what happens to the balloon—does it move forward, move backward, or stay put?

A book has N pages, numbered the usual way, from 1 to N. The total number of digits in the page numbers is 1,095. How many pages does the book have?

A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened? [My favorite]

Responses here (thanks, WSJ!).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On risk II

Risk, it appears, is not mitigated even if one is able to disconnect oneself from the result of invested effort. It seems risk can only be mitigated if all constituents of any effort or event are relieved from the potential of harm. The responsibility of everyone dealing with this risk, therefore, lies on one who initiates the risky event, however disconnected they are from the result.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The colors of coffee bean culture

Green is the true color of the coffee bean. The bean is harvested in Central and South America, Eastern Africa and Southern Asia. Green is the only natural color of the coffee bean, since What comes next is human-inflicted.

Gold is the coffee bean's color after a little bit of heat. It is poured into closed heating tubs, and after about 5 minutes, the coffee bean is roasting at around 150 degrees celcius. Here, the it is transforming into something it is not familiar with.

Brown. This is the color of the coffee bean after about half an hour of roasting, in the same heating tubs, now churning at over 200 degrees celcius. Brown is when the coffee bean has no green left in it. What comes next is variable and unknown to the bean. All it knows is that it is getting hotter and it is being churned around and around and if it doesn't keep up it'll probably end up in a scraps pile away from the other beans it looks similar to.

Darkened brown. How brown will depend on how much longer the coffee bean sits in the heating tubs. The longer it is kept inside, the darker it becomes, and the stronger its eventual taste. Soon the coffee bean will be packaged for export, darkened to match preferred tastes in household and coffee houses somewhat globally.

Of course, the packagers will leave a small valve open on the packages before they are sent away, otherwise they would explode due to the still self-roasting coffee bean releasing gases.

And as the coffee bean sits with its counterparts in its package, quietely roasting away, it acknowledges that it is among other beans just like itself. It cannot acknowledge which kind of green this bean used to be, and which kind of green that bean used to be. It cannot even acknowledge how green it was in comparision to all the other beans. All it knows is that it is know in a package with other look-a-like beans, and they are all heading for the same place.

From a green birth to a gold childhood, into a brown adulthood and a finally darker old age, how are we humans different from the culture of coffee beans? Today more than ever we seem to collide into eachother in heated circumstances, one often clueless of the other, and we claim to grow from our collective experience. How much are we growing if we are simply repeating eachothers stories without learning from them?

On risk

Risk generally concerns exposure to danger or harm. Here, danger or harm is assumed to be undesired by an individual or group. But if there is a way to disconnect a self - either the individual's self or a group's self-identity - from the potential resulting event, does this mean the risk is mitigated?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Doing Time II

If we can change time, we can also change how we do/act.
If we change how we act, how representative are we of everyone else?
If we are very representative, we can change time collectively.
If we are not representative, how will we change anything?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Doing time

Everything we do happens in time;
When we do nothing, time is dead;
Therefore, when we change what we do, we change time.

Bowling in Afghanistan

I found this image on Boston Big Picture. This woman's name is Meena Rahmani. At age 26 she is the owner of Afghanistan's first bowling center. I admire ventures like these because while they seem like far-fetched bets, they make a statement that quality time spent with loved ones has a meaning that cannot be always accounted for in "development" interventions. I wish Meena all the best and hope I can stop by someday to bowl a few.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

TEDxDar today

I'm watching it live, and so far there have been some interesting speakers! Many thanks to all the social media enthusiasts for making sure us folk who are away from home also get involved. This year's theme is: Who Killed Zinjanthropus?

Stream it live here.

Other useful links:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It seems easier to attack than to defend. This applies to physical actions, spoken words as well as intangible sentiment. Does this have to do with preconcieved knowledge? That is, are you more able to "attack" after having a reason to? At the same time, when you defend do you always have knowledge of why you are defending?

A political ghost lingers

This is a follow-up from this post (Goodbye Mubarak) and this post (Better, worse or no change?).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mind the Gap (2011)

I was recently part of a team that produced a movie for Campus Movie Fest. Thanks to Yulia, Emmy, Christopher, Alain and Sorcha for being a great team to learn so much from!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On Wikipedia and financing

"Wikipedia has just 78 full-time staff (due to reach 117 in 2012) and 370 servers, against some 60,000 for Facebook and over 1m for Google. Unlike other internet giants, its content comes from unpaid editors. It spends 44% of its income on technology (including programmers); other administration costs make up just under a quarter. Fund-raising takes up 8% of the budget. It accepts no advertising."

Read the full article here.

What does all of this mean for Web 2.0 information systems? Specifically, what kinds of revenue models should be explored, considering that knowledge is public domain? One possible alternative to advertising would be to work with educational institutions (schools, universities, think tanks, etc.) that (1) have endowments that are meant for research and (2) need reliable, every-day data. But is this realistic?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On Internet prices in Tanzania

A friend on Facebook just shared this article on Tanzanian internet prices and I wanted to re-share it here (Thanks, Pernille!). The pre-text is the SEACOM project which has linked the Eastern Coast of Africa to a global fibre optic network.

According to the article, the first problem is that "ISPs operating outside of Dar es Salaam still have a transmission problem", while some ISPs and mobile servicer operators in Dar-es-Salaam have been able to drop prices for their customers and increase speeds.

The second problem is that one of the oldest main telephone service operators, TTCL, has top rights over the fibe optic backbone: "The government has given one company [TTCL] a monopoly power, which that company is using to monopolize the bandwidth transmission market, keeping Tanzanian citizens from enjoying the African bandwidth bonanza."

Read the full article here on ICT Works.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Revamping development

There has been a lot of theory since the 1940s about development. Considering the theory, and the emergence of media and communication technologies, I think teachers - especially those teaching early childhood - are in positions of incredible change-making power.

More on this later.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Falsehood or consciousness?

According to the theory of false consciousness, deception is at work in almost every aspect of our daily lives.

My question is what came first: The falsehood, or the consciousness to recognize falsehood?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sun and water

Dar-es-Salaam and Stone Town, Summer 2011.

Friday, October 14, 2011

GDP doesn't indicate measure happiness

The New York Times

Redefining the Meaning of No. 1
Published: October 8, 2011

David J. Rothkopf is the author of the forthcoming “Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government — and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead.”

HERE in America, we seem to be more interested in finishing first than we are in figuring out what race we ought to be in.

The refrain is insistent, from President Obama on down. He, like others in both parties, urges us on — to build or educate or invest or cut the deficit — so that “America can be No. 1 again.”

We want to be No. 1 — but why, and at what?

The size of our economy is one measure of success, but it’s not the only measure.

Isn’t the important question not how we remain No. 1 but rather, what we want to be best at — and even, whether we want to lead at all?

But we are Americans and we seem to think the rest of the world looks best when framed in our rear-view mirror.

We outstrip the world by many measures but lag, sometimes shockingly, in many others. The metrics by which we choose to measure our success determine our priorities. Yet, some of the metrics we rate as most important, like G.D.P., stock indices or trade data, are so deeply flawed as to be irrelevant or worse, dangerous distractions. And at the same time, countries that could hardly hope to outperform the world in any category are far ahead of us when it comes to things that matter more to people. Choosing metrics to measure our society is not a value-free process. As a country we have consistently relied on indicators that keep us focused on the interests of business, financial institutions or the defense industry whereas equity, quality of life and even social mobility metrics are played down.

Calculating national income is a relatively new concept. Previously, countries measured their economic well-being by tallying land holdings or counting railroad boxcars. But in the midst of the Great Depression, Congress, showing a great deal more intellectual curiosity than it does today, commissioned a group of economists led by a future Nobel Prize winner named Simon Kuznets to better measure economic activity.

Although Kuznets and his team fulfilled their mission, they released their results with considerable unease. Not only were they aware that the statistic they devised ignored many types of economic activity — from the work of housewives to illegal enterprises — they also knew their number did not assess the social benefits of what they were tracking.

Kuznets warned of this: “The welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income” like the one they created. That hasn’t stopped us from making this misleading number perhaps the most influential statistic in the world.

Americans use G.D.P. in discussions about how well we are doing. It’s at the heart of discussions of whether we are in a recession or not, ahead or falling behind.

Yet, when China “passes” us, it will remain for the most part a very poor country racked with social problems. And as we have seen, though the past decade was marked mostly by United States “growth,” recent Census data shows that since 1999, median American incomes have fallen more than 7 percent while the top 1 percent showed gains. Almost one in four American children live in poverty. We have a high level of unemployment compared to many of our peers.

THE G.D.P. number is not the only culprit, of course. Listening to the news, you might be forgiven if you thought that stock market performance was linked to reality. But markets are oceans of teeming emotions that make the average hormone-infused high school look calmly rational, and much of the “data” that moves markets is just bunk. Trade deficit numbers may be scary but they are also frighteningly flawed, doing a terrible job of accounting for trade in services, trade via the Internet, and inter-company trade, to pick just three among many problem areas.

Worse than the shortcomings of these statistics are the consequences of our over-dependence on them as measures of the success of our society. A country, for example, that overemphasizes G.D.P. growth and market performance is likely to focus policies on the big drivers of those — corporations and financial institutions — even when, as during the recent past, there has been little correlation between the performance of big businesses or elites and that of most people.

Furthermore, of course, the purpose of a society is not merely the creation of wealth, especially if most of it goes to the few. Even John Locke, who famously enumerated our fundamental rights as being to life, liberty and property, qualified this by asserting that people should appropriate only what they could use, leaving “enough and as good” for others. Thomas Jefferson later consciously replaced the right to property with a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And happiness has become the watchword for those seeking different measures that might better guide governments.

According to the economist Carol Graham, the author of a recent book called “The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being,” “happiness is, in the end, a much more complicated concept than income. Yet it is also a laudable and much more ambitious policy objective.” While she notes distinctions between approaches to happiness — with some societies more focused on goals like contentment and others on the creation of equal opportunities — she joins a growing chorus of leading thinkers who suggest the time has come to rethink how we measure our performance and how we set our goals.
Related in Opinion

David Leonhardt: The Depression, if Only Things Were That Good (October 9, 2011)

Susan Gregory Thomas: Back to the Land, Reluctantly (October 9, 2011)

This diverse group has included thinkers and public figures like President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who established a commission in 2008 to address the issue that was co-led by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz; the Columbia economist Jeffrey D. Sachs; the British prime minister, David Cameron; and the trail-blazing people of Bhutan, who since 1972 have set a goal of raising their gross national happiness.

Dr. Graham admits that it’s a challenge to set criteria for measuring happiness. However, in a conversation, she told me she did not see it as an insurmountable one: “It doesn’t have to be perfect; after all, it took us decades to agree upon what to include in G.D.P. and it is still far from a perfect metric.”

But for Americans, beyond choosing the right goals, there remains the issue of being No. 1. Many of us have lived our lives in a country that has thought itself the world’s most powerful and successful. But with the United States economy in a frustrating stall as China rises, it seems that period is coming to an end. We are suffering a national identity crisis, and politicians are competing with one another to win favor by assuring a return to old familiar ways.

This approach, too, is problematic. We, as a developed nation, are unlikely to grow at the rapid pace of emerging powers (the United States is currently ranked 127th in real G.D.P. growth rate). Europe and Japan, too, are grappling with the realities of being maturing societies.

But maturing societies can offer many benefits to their citizens that are unavailable to most in the rapidly growing world — the products of rich educational and cultural resources, capable institutions, stability and prosperity.

AS a consequence, countries that at different times in history were among the world’s great powers, such as Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Britain and Germany, have gradually shifted their sights, either in the wake of defeat or after protracted periods of grappling with decline, from winning the great power sweepstakes to topping lists of nations offering the best quality of life.

When Newsweek ranked the “world’s best countries” based on measures of health, education and politics, the United States ranked 11th. In the 2011 Quality of Life Index by Nation Ranking, the United States was 31st. Similarly, in recent rankings of the world’s most livable cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit has the top American entry at No. 29, Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey has the first United States entry at No. 31 and Monocle magazine showed only 3 United States cities in the top 25.

On each of these lists, the top performers were heavily concentrated in Northern Europe, Australia and Canada with strong showings in East Asian countries from Japan to Singapore. It is no accident that there is a heavy overlap between the top performing countries and those that also outperform the United States in terms of educational performance — acknowledging, of course, the mistake it would be to overemphasize any one factor in contributing to something as complex as overall quality of life. Nearly all the world’s quality-of-life leaders are also countries that spend more on infrastructure than the United States does. In addition, almost all are more environmentally conscious and offer more comprehensive social safety nets and national health care to their citizens.

That virtually all of the top performers place a much greater emphasis on government’s role in ensuring social well-being is also undeniable. But the politics of such distinctions aside, the focus of those governments on social outcomes — on policies that enhance contentment and security as well as enriching both human capabilities and opportunities — may be seen as yet another sign of maturity.

It is also worth noting that providing the basics to ensure a high quality of life is not a formula for excess or the kind of economic calamities befalling parts of Europe today. For example, many of the countries that top quality-of-life lists, like Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, all rank high in lists of fiscally responsible nations — well ahead of the United States, which ranks 28th on the Sovereign Fiscal Responsibility Index.

What these societies have in common is that rather than striving to be the biggest they instead aspire to be constantly better. Which, in the end, offers an important antidote to both the rhetoric of decline and mindless boosterism: the recognition that whether we are falling behind or achieving new heights is greatly determined both by what goals we set and how we measure our performance.

(Thanks Rakesh!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Liberia's presidency

I found this article on the WSJ yesterday. The reason I found it interesting was because it juxtaposed the incumbent president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who is Africa's first female president and former World Bank economist, with George Weah, a former national football star still very popular among the youth.

Roosevelt Tule, a political science professor from Liberia's capital mentioned:"The Nobel Peace Prize is not quite known in Liberia, except among academia... What Liberians expect is basically food on the table."

In the last election, Weah was scrutinized because of his lack of higher education. Since then, Weah went back to school and returns as a candidate for Vice President.

Do our systems of "open governance" account for open opportunity? Or do they claim to mimick systems of open opportunity but only provide opportunity to those with the loudest voice?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Five questions with Amil Shivji

Posted on Vijana FM | 30th September 2011

Amil Shivji is currently a 21-year-old Filmmaking student at York University in Canada. As a native of Tanzania, Amil has plans to work with film in East Africa, particularly with films that contain conscious messages. We caught up with him to ask him about his ideas and recommendations...

1. Compared to newspapers and radio, what is about films that interests you?
Motion. The movement of images invokes a billion different emotions and allows varied perceptions. And at the same time a frame carries the power of a newspaper and the sound of a radio station. Juxtaposition of shots or certain image sequences tell an entire story and the best part is that it’s very personal. When I watch a film, I feel like I am having a conversation with the filmmaker. The shots are fragments of his/her visualization of the story and I am offered an insight into the filmmaker’s imagination. As opposed to newspaper and radio where I would be reading words or hearing sounds, film is less straightforward. But don’t get me wrong, I still think other mediums have very important roles to play in the media industry. Since primary school, writing was always something I enjoyed doing, from poetry to short stories. I interned at a local newspaper during Secondary school and really enjoyed the journalistic experience, however I always wished my readers could SEE what I was writing because the images played out so beautifully in my mind and I felt I was not doing justice to them but trying to write them out. Images let you do that! Films offer people the chance to relate to the stories displayed on the screen and for the first time ‘watch’ their lives. As Lenin said ‘of all the arts, cinema is the most important’ because it allows you to overtly see and question the mechanics of society that are displayed on screen.

2. When we talked informally back in Dar-es-Salaam last summer, you were interested in continuing your work in film in Tanzania in the long-term. What kind of films are you interested in making in Tanzania?
Good films! My interest in filmmaking was the lovechild of media and activism. In our country (and continent) it is impossible to continue with your daily activities and not witness the extreme social and economic divisions unless you consciously choose to. Film gives the pathway for change. The same role that other media forms play in disseminating information/news, film does it except with so much more attention, thus allowing infinite possibilities in story telling. The stories I would like to tell are about the flaws and inequalities in our society and the necessity for change. A lot of people have told me I should be making documentaries, which I have done in the past and will definitely take up in the future, but I believe fictional films can play the same if not an even a more powerful role. Encapsulating the audience in 90 minutes of what they see everyday but do not stop to think why it is so. Fictional films allow us to see where 74 year old Mzee Mgeni goes after he has finished selling karanga on the side of the street, allows us to hear the conversations on all three buses he takes to get home and most importantly it allows us to get an insight into Mzee Mgeni’s world and why he has to struggle harder than the hundreds of customers who come and buy karanga from him every night.

3. Considering that it has become really easy to publish videos on the Internet, do you think this will help or hinder professional film makers such as yourself?
Help of course. Distribution is the biggest factor when it comes to filmmaking in Africa. There are extremely few distributors in the entire continent. That’s why many good African films end up playing at Cannes Film Festival or Sundance Film Festival while no one in Africa will actually see them. Now local filmmakers can upload their work online via YouTube or Vimeo and it can be easily accessed by many people. I do put my work up online and love the feedback I get from fellow Africans that would not have been possible if I just sent it to some festival in the West. African films have to be watched by Africans themselves, putting up films online won’t solve the problem but will definitely allow more people in the continent to access them.

4. Are there any particular films you would recommend?

There are lots of films I would recommend. An amazing African film that everyone must see is ‘Bamako’, recently we had a screening at UDSM and there was not one seat left empty! It’s a wonderful Malian film that puts the WB and IMF on trial in the backyard of a local resident’s home in Bamako. Generally I love films from the 60s especially Cuban films and the films that came out of Italian neorealist movement in the 40s. These films addressed the social reality post WWII and the disintegration of society due to war and greed. The list could go on, the important factor is films that address social reality, make a comment on it and call for change!

5. In comparison to our neighbors whose citizens have begun projects like Kuweni Serious, what would you suggest to other young aspiring film makers in Tanzania?
Be honest to our culture and life. We have to tell our own stories and not try and adapt Hollywood/Bollywood stories in Kiswahili. The strongest part of a film is its story and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a 25,000 dollar camera and a 100-man crew. It’s about what you want to say in your film. I have seen great films shot on cell phones. For our purposes, the revolutionary message that the film carries is the most important aspect, through this we can develop cinematic technique based on the film concept. For example, Ousmane Sembene the father of African filmmaking, would break all the technical film ‘rules’ in his films that addressed neo-colonialism and imperialist influence on Africa. He did this to challenge the idea of western filmmaking as ‘good filmmaking’. His films such as Black girl (1966) or Xala (1975), are highly acclaimed all over the world.

Though we will probably be seeing him soon, Vijana FM thanks Amil for his time and responses! His current projects can be found on his YouTube channel. You can contact Amil on amil_shivji (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Whose business is development?

Yesterday I came across this blog post at the World Bank Institute by Rakesh Rajani.

Rakesh raises some important questions, namely:
  1. Who are the experts who work with development?
  2. What systems do they follow to do their work?
  3. Do those systems yield the broad outcomes we expect?

He also recommends understanding citizen knowdo:
"So,what if instead of thinking of bringing in experts to fill in gaps in a community’s or a country’s capability, we identified how people are already analyzing problems and getting things done? This approach need not romanticize what ordinary people can do or actually do, but rather make their everyday, pragmatic knowhow—and knowdo—a starting point for development. The purpose of development then would not be to create and apply expert solutions, but rather to help enrich the conditions in which people can do more of what they already do well–by making it easier to get, compare, and share information; learn from each other and from outsiders how they have made things work; search, experiment with, and craft solutions; and team up to get things done."
Read the full post here. Rakesh is the current Head of Twaweza, which works with sister organizations Uwezo and Uwazi. All three organizations operate in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Polls and the media

"It's all part of the de-ideologising of mainstream discourse. You know who's ahead three points in the polls, but you have no idea why you should care."

Read more from Ted Rall's opinion piece on Al Jazeera here.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Does the "citizen" belong to a class?

The idea of being a citizen is beautifully simple. You are defined exactly like other citizens: Native registered or naturalized members of a state, nation or other political community (Collins English Dictionary, 1994).

Recently, from conversations with activist friends, thinker friends, teacher friends, corporate friends, versatile friends and friends in general, I have begun to rethink class differentiations in Tanzania.

And each time I have thought about it, I end up confused about the assumed roles each of the classes play. Of course, their roles can be specified by the modes of production they interact with, but in Tanzania the gap between the person who benefits most from modes of production and the person who benefits least is extremely large (and larger in other countries). So I end up more frustrated at the gap and the status quo than keen to wake up tomorrow and get to work.

Not that bring frustrated at the status quo and being keen to work are necessarily mutually exclusive. But the motive to do something counts; in the former it takes longer to get up and go somewhere to pick up something to do something with, while in the latter there is a plan of action and it is anticipated, that is, it is waiting to happen.

So when I think of class differentiations in my country, I grow more frustrated than I can make a plan of action.

But when I think of myself as a citizen, the class differentiations disappear, and I am - just like everyone else around me - a registered member of the state.

From the outset, being a citizen doesn't seem to prescribe a responsibility. But a few seconds of thought will yield a question: Being a member implies there are non-members, that is, non-citizens, so doesn't that also mean that there are certain things a citizen does which makes them a citizen, and there are certain things which non-citizens do which make them non-citizens?

We need not look further than that. There are things citizens do that make them citizens in relation to one another. I will save the contemplation of what these things citizens do are for another post, but again, we need not look further than that when thinking of the definition of a citizen relative to the frustration of class struggles.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On signs

Are signs mere coincidences? Or are coincidences signs?

In the former question, signs in nature and other interactions are explained away because they are seen through the lenses of scientific method. Specifically, they are seen to have a cause, and that cause is seen to have an effect.

In the latter question, the very explanation of a cause and an effect is generous in giving room to some additional cause and some additional effect. Even here, however, we are left only with the terms "cause" and "effect" as opposed to the something else.

Both questions are a point of departure for the consideration that somethings happen for no obvious reason, yet they happen. And their happening is an urgent call to think.

Thank you NW and AE for the contemplation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Politicians in Pursuit of Happiness

Source: The Center for Global Development (Thanks once again, Rakesh!)


There is a burgeoning academic literature on happiness polls that has used a range of different measures and approaches across countries rich and poor alike to answer the question, “what makes people say they are happy?”

The excitement surrounding this work is well justified. These polls suggest an idea of happiness that would be broadly understood by philosophers from Aristotle to Mill to Rawls or Parfit. Happiness studies also suggest some potential reasons why we appear to act irrationally according to the dictates of revealed-preference-utility-maximization. Subjective-well-being (SWB) polls also help to illustrate some of the absurdities of taking income per capita as our measure of the ultimate good.

At the same time, a lot of things we surely care about are not reflected in SWB poll answers. Cross-country studies involving economies and societies at distinctly different levels of development suggest a limited role for income, rights, health and social factors all combined in explaining SWB. And all the usual criticisms of and concerns with utilitarianism apply to SWB polls.

Polls do not capture a be-all and end-all measure of the good. Both because of the difficulty of interpreting SWB evidence with regard to SWB-maximizing policy and because it appears clear that SWB (on whichever measure) is probably not what we want to maximize, considerable caution is required in the use of such polls for policymaking.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Maya the Poet with Vitali Maembe

"Maya Wegerif, also known as Maya the Poet was born in South Africa, lived in Tanzania and is now studying in a college in America. She is an outspoken young African voice who speaks unapologetically and with style. Her love for her continent and words blend together to fabricate this witty, outspoken and Strong-willed person." [source: Flare Magazine via Maya's website]

She'll be performing on June 16 @ the Soma Book Cafe, located at 53 Mlingotini, Regent Estate, Kinondoni, Dar-es-Salaam.

Monday, June 6, 2011

When links will fail

Will hyperlink paths be constant however long computers are "on" and connected?
If they will change, what does that mean for all the writing on webpages now, which contain links (like this) to the building blocks of their argument?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two comprehensive sources of data

"OpenMicroData (OMD) offers an opportunity for those in the possession of micro data to share them with the world. Sharing can be done anonymously. In this way OpenMicroData limits the ability of statistics agencies and governments to be selective in who is permitted to use data. "

"The most comprehensive database of information on mobile tech for social change on the Web."

Thanks, Rakesh!

The cost of advertising (newspapers)

I found this PDF file listing prices for advertising with the Daily News company in Tanzania.

I was suprised to see a full-page color advertisement costing almost TSH 3 million! I was recently told it takes about TSH 1.7 million to produce a music video in the market... just to compare.

At what cost are advertisements created? Do they transfer the same value to the onlooker that the company being advertised seeks to transfer?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sub-Saharan Africa in April 2011

I found this Al Jazeera article from April 12, which is a solid overview of socio-political disputes across the Sub-Saharan region of Africa.

I thought it was a useful move by Al Jazeera to expose these disputes, considering that many of them would not make international media waves (see previous post).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sgolbew: A story about newspapers and opinions

Cross-posted on Vijana FM | May 25, 2011

Have we ceased to read between the lines? Do opinion pieces in the media conflict with fact-based pieces? This is a short story to explore potential answers to these two questions.

A short time ago in human history, three friends from different corners of the world decided to get involved with the printing press.

Rashidi was an avid reader, and had loved to read written works of his friends Nur and Nick throughout their days in school. As well as reading everything else, Rashidi was especially interested in reading his two friends’ works because they seemed to compliment eachother well in their perspectives.

Nur was also a big reader, but an even bigger writer. She was known for her acute representation of facts. Brought up by parents who both worked for the national archives, Nur knew her history well. She believed that telling stories with fair treatment to all subjects was essential to writing. She was less enthusiastic about opinions, because she felt that with opinions, people lost track of the facts.

Nick was somewhat of a rogue writer. He aspired to be an architect, but wrote as a hobby. As a result, he never wrote with fair consideration for all subjects. Nick wrote things that involved taking an opinion, which sometimes lead to taking a side and supporting it. For some reason, the fact that most people in school actively criticized his writing never discouraged him. Instead, Nick found that he arose in people feelings that Nur’s writing did not. In criticizing his writing, people sometimes had to take the opposite side of his arguments, consequently taking a side themselves.

In this way, Nick and Nur both found that Nick’s writing complemented Nur’s writing. They saw that if Nur did not provide raw facts from which opinions could be formulated, Nick’s work would be baseless. And if Nick did not reflect on the facts provided by Nur, they would be read with little meaning to peoples’ lives.

For Rashid, of course, all of this seemed beautiful. As far as he was concerned, the more intelligent words he was given to read, the better.

And so the three decided to publish a newspaper every month, called Sgolbew. They collectively picked topics to discuss beforehand, such as politics, economics, health, philosophy among other topics. First, Nuha would write a few factual articles for each edition, quoting primary sources and credible secondary sources. Then, Nick would read her articles and write opinions for each one, observing the facts with different biases. Finally, Rashidi would read both their articles and include either comments or a general letter as a reader in the newspaper.

And so, the three existed in harmony with the production of Sgolbew. All their readers from around the world looked forward to each monthly edition of Sgolbew, and sometimes, the three even received letters from fans asking if they could work for Sgolbew.

Until the day came when Nick wrote more opinions for a certain edition of Sgolbew than Nur had provided fact-based articles. In that particular edition, Rashid saw works by Nick that were going back on older opinions of his own and even older facts from Nur. Thinking this had been agreed upon by Nur and Nick, Rashidi naturally wrote extra comments for Nick’s extra work.

When this particular edition of Sgolbew with more opinions from Nick was published, Nur asked Nick why he had published more opinion pieces than the number of fact-based pieces she had written. She was very concerned that they were breaking away from the traditional agreement they had made.

“Well, I had more to say about what I think, and I thought we had a good system set up here for me to do that,” replied Nick.

Nur grew more concerned. She was stuck with one question: Was it good for Sgolbew to publish more opinions from Nick about all kinds of facts that he and his fans were thinking of?

So she consulted Rashidi. Rashidi thought that Nick’s opinions were worth reading, and didn’t think here was a problem in continuing to publish Sgolbew this way.

So Nur called a group meeting and asked both Nick and Rashidi: “Can we only publish some of Nick’s opinions, which are about the facts I bring into the publication? And can we let Nick do whatever he wants with the rest of his opinions, since they are worth discussing in the world?”

In order to keep the peace between the three, they mutually agreed to this. Nur would continue to write fact-based articles. Nick would also continue to write opinions about facts, but his work now had to be read by Nur before the whole draft went to Rashidi before publication. Sometimes Nuha had to change the opinion pieces so they would not divert too much from her facts. Then Rashidi, as usual, would comment or write a general letter as a participant reader.

What did Nick do with the rest of the opinions he wrote that didn’t make it into Sgolbew every month?

Nick found ways to publish his opinions through other means which were usually less organized than the Sgolbew newspaper operation.

And so time passed, and Sgolbew became famous. But as time passed, Nur continued to control what she thought was fact. Nick continued to publish his opinions, with or without Sgolbew. Rashidi continued to want to read more and more. And over time, because Sgolbew was famous for writing about the most popular topics, it sold well and made good money.

Nick spent most of his money on trying to get more and more of his opinions published with the help of his fans because people seemed to be reading them somewhere. He could never discuss this with Nur or Rashidi because he knew it would complicate things at Sgolbew.

And so even more time passed, and more Nurs, Nicks and Rashidis came into the world. And here we are today.

We treat media like it is another industry, but rarely understand it is as something that is affecting our daily behaviour, attitude, and taste. If we haven’t heard or seen something on credible media like Sgolbew, we fear we might get our facts wrong. More importantly, we seem so think we’ll get our opinions wrong. Since when did the words “opinion” and “right” or “wrong” fit in the same sentence?

We forget that credible media itself comes out of opinions, and that the Nicks, Nurs and Rashidis of the past used to work together, in equal respect for one anothers’ perspective. We forget that blogs are simply op-ed pieces without corporate control, and are necessary to contribute to a diverse truth of any situation presented in commercial media. Lastly, we forget to read between lines by Nick and Nur, like Rashidi used to. Instead, we choose to follow either Nur or Nick and end up emotionally disputed among one another.

Let us try and return to the time when reading anything if not everything was encouraged and making an effort to understand something beyond our immediate selves was a noble deed. Perhaps we will find that the harmony that once existed between (a) learning facts, (b) learning opinions of facts and (c) observations between the two still survives today, and can grow.

This story is based on fictitious names, and was inspired by SN’s recent post Mbwa wa Pavlov.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Syncronicity again

A few days ago, SN wrote this on Vijana FM, defending our outlook into the distant future. And just yesterday, I saw this article from an Al Jazeera political analyst, encouraging President Obama to step things up and have a conversation with the integrated news network.

Are we becoming skeptical of the media? Or is the media changing and becoming skeptical of its users?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Better, worse or no change?

Since Hosni Mubarak stepped down as Egypt's president about 3 months ago, the country still faces difficulties in formulating a government that the people will approve.

Most recently, clashes between Muslims and Christians have been recorded.

So, has the peoples' revolution in Egypt revolutionized fully yet? It is difficult to tell.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's with all the shelling?

Considering the modern concept of a "nation state", I can understand the different ways in which a government can become upset at its constituents, and vice versa.

But what I continue to find puzzling since public protests began in many MENA states is why any government would bomb its own cities?

It makes no logical (economical, especially) sense to me.

Monday, May 9, 2011


"What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence."

- LW, Tractatus (1921)

More on this later.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Teaching and learning

Teaching is not the same as learning. While they each fulfill some part of the definition of "education", they are not education on their own.

Learning is probably more akin to the first definition of education, because it does not entail an authority from which the learning takes place. It could be from a person, a non-living object or an event involving both.

Teaching seems to be more inclusive of an authority which guides what is taught. Even when we say "this experience taught me", we're saying the experience involved something specific that was worth learning.

Is it necessary for the process of education to contain both of these; teaching as well as learning?

Image source courtesy of Projects Abroad.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Deja Vu (Mix 2)

The counterpart can be downloaded here.

1. Stardust & Daftpunk: I feel like one more time (Arno Cost rework)
2. Morgan Page: Fight for you (Sultan & Ned Shepard mix)
3. Andy Duguid feat. Leah: Don't belong (Rasmus Farber club mix)

Genre: Progressive vocal house
Size: 18.1 MB / 19 minutes 47 Seconds

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Introducing the Deja Vu mixes

Finally set up some decks again! To get things warmed up, I put together a quick mix of three progressive house tracks: Deja Vu (Mix 1).

1. 16 Bit Lolitas: In my room without Paris (Original mix)
2. John Dahlback: Kairo (Original mix)
3. Alex Kenji & Bass Kleph: Melocoton (Original mix)

Genre: Progressive house
Size: 15.6 MB / 17 minutes 07 Seconds

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

What are careers?

Geez... I can't even tell anymore. People's job descriptions are thicker than ever, and have more difficult words than a high school science textbook. This tells me two things: Either our jobs are becoming more and more complex, or we want to sound complex.

If our jobs are becoming more and more complex, we should still find ways to relate it to the bigger world... isn't that what "work" means? That you're contributing something to the world outside of yourself? By finding ways to relate our jobs to the bigger world, we are likely to sound lot simpler, since humans all have basic needs which are common.

But if we're just trying to sound complex, well, that doesn't help much. Why give an exaggerated picture to a person who doesn't know?

Governments and Schools

"Earlier this week, the government attempted to reopen schools but most students and many teachers did not turn up."

Source: BBC article - Ivory Coast: Banks reopen after 10-week shutdown

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How do we portray hip hop?

I've been picking up on how the global press frames the culture of hip hop music, especially since Vijana FM launched TZhiphop recently as a sub-project.

This morning I saw this article on BBC, and it just made me wonder, is the real hip hop really gone? Not once in this article did I feel the author seriously engaging with what hip hop used to mean: Music.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Notes on sharing knowledge

I've been giving more thought to a dormant project that is intended to create more transparency in academia in Tanzania.

Originally, the idea was to do one thing well: Share published and unpublished academic works.

But the idea grew: Questions arose about the validity of materials that present parts of formal education instead of entire curriculi, and about what resources teachers (not just students and researchers) could use.

So, as of now, an efficient tool to make academia more transparent in Tanzania would need the following:
  • An open archive of published and unpublished academic works;
  • An open forum where these works can be discussed;
  • An open platform to post materials for early childhood, primary, secondary, and tertiary education; and
  • An open contribution protocol where - after a specific period over which materials will be collected - curriculi could be written through collaborative means.
Still thinking about it. Drop us a line at Vijana FM if you have thoughts on this!
(Thanks, Freelance Switch, for the picture)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hali halisi

The necessary noise is now knocking on your nerves to numb down the deafening denials and distrust of your dominion.

In short, TZhiphop is live :) Facebook updates here, Twitter updates here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Liking vs. Disliking

Ever thought about why Facebook doesn't have a "dislike" button?

I think it may be an effort to curb "negative" actions on the platform. But, shouldn't compliments always be accompanied with criticism, and vice versa?

If people were able to "dislike" something on Facebook, would we just be posting "good" things on Facebook? And is that such a bad idea?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The question once again

If not us, who?
If not now, when?

(the image is just for decor, courtesy of my 'droid)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Coalition" attacks Libya

So they've decided to attack Gaddafi and his troops. Watching the headlines right now makes me think they're trying to sell this like a football match.

War is no football match.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On 2 different balances, and hierarchies

I was telling two of my friends recently that I had a new-found respect for there being a balance to all things. We often categorize things in our heads - people, objects, events - as things that are "good" and things that are "bad". But we seldom think about how every bad thing (eg: a challenge) has a good side (ie: an opportunity). Likewise, every good thing (eg: luxuries) have a bad side (ie: complacency).

But it was then that my friends asked: That's how you think of good and bad, what about our views on good and bad? They told me if we were to think in terms of "balances", then there is my view of the balance as an individual, but there is also a second, bigger view of the balance, which is societal.

So from this conversation, I learned that the measurement of value in the big sense (costs relative to benefits in the macrocosm) is a lot more complicated than one person saying "let's measure it this way". Bringing together a consensus of basic human values is bound to be a very, very big matrix indeed.

On to hierarchies.

We were discussing hierarchies in class the other day, and it got me thinking. Who do you work for? It might seem like the person/school/company that occupies most of your time. But don't we decide to make it that person/school/company, hence we ourselves being the initiator of any action?

I think we work for ourselves first, before anything. What direction we tell ourselves to pursue for whatever purpose then becomes the second cause we work for. Then, only then I think we can say we are working for a certain company or institution, as a third cause. Thought, then action, then tools.

More on this later insha'Allah.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

London spring

Gotta love good mornings.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Commercial education

Crossposted on Vijana FM | March 4, 2011

Sir Howard Davies, who until recently was the director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in the UK, has resigned from his post. His reasoning? That he had made judgement errors on two occasions when advising the LSE to accept donations from Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi’s son.

Mr. Davies’ announcement comes just days after students at the LSE protested to the administration to investigate Saif’s previous records of postgraduate enrollment at the LSE from 2003. Saif is being accused of having plagiarized his doctrate, which he recieved in 2008. The accusations have also come with criticism towards LSE in accepting £1.5 million in 2009 from the so-called Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.

When I was growing up, the word “education” had a positive ring to it. It meant that you (or those paying your fees: Parents, grant makers, universities, corporations, etc.) were investing in the capacity of your knowledge to eventually do some good in the world.

Today, I cannot say with confidence that this positivity still exists in the general scheme of how education is delivered globally. Instead, I think the focus of who matters most within the global formal education system has shifted from being the student, to the school.

It seems that the “school” as an institution today runs as a business, as it should. In very basic terms, there are inputs which cost money, and there are outputs which should yield a profit. But this is where things get tricky. How does a school account for its “profit”?

Remembering again my younger days, I would think that “profit” for a school meant that the level of “goodness” being produced by their alumni had a direct positive relationship with the school itself. That is, the school not only produced the talent that did good in the world, but benefited from this talent directly through interactions with the alumni and their activities.

But observing the situation in secondary schools and higher education institutions around the world, I fear that this definition of profit has changed. Today, it seems that profit has more of an implication on the school, before it has an implication on doing good in the world. That is, school brands are becoming more important than basic human virtues.

For us young folk, this could mean trouble. Some for us, but lots more for the next generations to come. It means that while “real” education may be consistent in terms of curriculi across any university from the East to the West, the costs, brands, and associated “careers” are likely to be better in those schools that have more resources. Which subsequently means that those schools with less resources will continue to be marginalized on the world map of education.

Duh, you say, that’s obvious. It’s about recieving a “quality” education. I agree, there are schools that deliver and support knowledge well, whereas there are other schools which do not. However, should that quality of education speak to one individual’s capabilities, opinions and actions? Should we label masses of students with the brand of the schools they graduate from?

Further, shouldn’t schools be properly valuing their inputs, relative to their broad objectives (and here, I am also talking about the philosophical objectives of education)? Should they not consider for what purposes resources are provided to them, and what implications this would (and should) have on their constituents?

Unless we young people can understand clearly why we go to school and what we’re supposed to come out with, I fear education will continue to become more commercial than beneficial to humanity.

Related links:

* Update: London School of Economics to give Gaddafi money away.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Goodbye Mubarak

The Tahrir Square Community

I was wondering what life was like on daily basis at Tahrir Square right now, and I found this album on Yahoo Maktoob. Seems there are some interesting community-based initiatives for food, shelter and livelihood that the Mubarak regime could learn from.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On radio blogs

I've been doing some rough searches on audio-stream hosts, and hosting rates seem steep. Not so much in terms of net price, but in terms of the potential number of listeners that could tune in. Rather, if you have a variable number of listeners (ie: it could up to the maximum permissable), you could be paying quite a bit.

I've also been thinking about podcasts, and on-demand media in general. It seems that people entering their teens today know that they can read, listen, or watch media somewhere on the Internet. I would assume, then, that people are beginning to prefer getting stuff when they want it, and not try to stick to an external schedule.

Which puts an audio stream in a shady position. Will people tune in?

Monday, February 7, 2011

David Cameron's speech on multiculturalism


Saturday 5 February 2011
PM’s speech at Munich Security Conference
Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered a speech setting out his view on radicalisation and Islamic extremism.

Today I want to focus my remarks on terrorism, but first let me address one point. Some have suggested that by holding a strategic defence and security review, Britain is somehow retreating from an activist role in the world. That is the opposite of the truth. Yes, we are dealing with our budget deficit, but we are also making sure our defences are strong. Britain will continue to meet the NATO 2% target for defence spending. We will still have the fourth largest military defence budget in the world. At the same time, we are putting that money to better use, focusing on conflict prevention and building a much more flexible army. That is not retreat; it is hard headed.

Every decision we take has three aims in mind. First, to continue to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan . Second, to reinforce our actual military capability. As Chancellor Merkel’s government is showing right here in Germany, what matters is not bureaucracy, which frankly Europe needs a lot less of, but the political will to build military capability that we need as nations and allies, that we can deliver in the field. Third, we want to make sure that Britain is protected from the new and various threats that we face. That is why we are investing in a national cyber security programme that I know William Hague talked about yesterday, and we are sharpening our readiness to act on counter-proliferation.

But the biggest threat that we face comes from terrorist attacks, some of which are, sadly, carried out by our own citizens. It is important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group. My country, the United Kingdom , still faces threats from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland . Anarchist attacks have occurred recently in Greece and in Italy , and of course, yourselves in Germany were long scarred by terrorism from the Red Army Faction. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens. Last week at Davos I rang the alarm bell for the urgent need for Europe to recover its economic dynamism, and today, though the subject is complex, my message on security is equally stark. We will not defeat terrorism simply by the action we take outside our borders. Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries. Of course, that means strengthening, as Angela has said, the security aspects of our response, on tracing plots, on stopping them, on counter-surveillance and intelligence gathering.

But this is just part of the answer. We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism. We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam. Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority. At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia. Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values. It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other. Time and again, people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion. So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is profoundly wrong. Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist. We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.

This highlights, I think, a significant problem when discussing the terrorist threat that we face. There is so much muddled thinking about this whole issue. On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations. So, it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe . These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument. If they want an example of how Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible, they should look at what’s happened in the past few weeks on the streets of Tunis and Cairo : hundreds of thousands of people demanding the universal right to free elections and democracy.

The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not. Picking a fight with the latter will do nothing to help us to confront the former. On the other hand, there are those on the soft left who also ignore this distinction. They lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances, and argue that if only governments addressed these grievances, the terrorism would stop. So, they point to the poverty that so many Muslims live in and say, ‘Get rid of this injustice and the terrorism will end.’ But this ignores the fact that many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK and elsewhere have been graduates and often middle class. They point to grievances about Western foreign policy and say, ‘Stop riding roughshod over Muslim countries and the terrorism will end.’ But there are many people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who are angry about Western foreign policy, but who don’t resort to acts of terrorism. They also point to the profusion of unelected leaders across the Middle East and say, ‘Stop propping these people up and you will stop creating the conditions for extremism to flourish.’ But this raises the question: if it’s the lack of democracy that is the problem, why are there so many extremists in free and open societies?

Now, I’m not saying that these issues of poverty and grievance about foreign policy are not important. Yes, of course we must tackle them. Of course we must tackle poverty. Yes, we must resolve the sources of tension, not least in Palestine , and yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East . On Egypt , our position should be clear. We want to see the transition to a more broadly-based government, with the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society. I simply don’t accept that there is somehow a dead end choice between a security state on the one hand, and an Islamist one on the other. But let us not fool ourselves. These are just contributory factors. Even if we sorted out all of the problems that I have mentioned, there would still be this terrorism. I believe the root lies in the existence of this extremist ideology. I would argue an important reason so many young Muslims are drawn to it comes down to a question of identity.

What I am about to say is drawn from the British experience, but I believe there are general lessons for us all. In the UK , some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries. But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.

So, when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them. The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don’t want to, is a case in point. This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared. And this all leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless. And the search for something to belong to and something to believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology. Now for sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight, but what we see – and what we see in so many European countries – is a process of radicalisation.

Internet chatrooms are virtual meeting places where attitudes are shared, strengthened and validated. In some mosques, preachers of hate can sow misinformation about the plight of Muslims elsewhere. In our communities, groups and organisations led by young, dynamic leaders promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion. All these interactions can engender a sense of community, a substitute for what the wider society has failed to supply. Now, you might say, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, what is the problem with all this?

Well, I’ll tell you why. As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’, and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence. And I say this is an indictment of our approach to these issues in the past. And if we are to defeat this threat, I believe it is time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past. So first, instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we – as governments and as societies – have got to confront it, in all its forms. And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.

Let me briefly take each in turn. First, confronting and undermining this ideology. Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed. Now, for governments, there are some obvious ways we can do this. We must ban preachers of hate from coming to our countries. We must also proscribe organisations that incite terrorism against people at home and abroad. Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem. We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with. Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism. As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement. So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separation? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations – so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.

At the same time, we must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly-funded institutions like universities or even, in the British case, prisons. Now, some say, this is not compatible with free speech and intellectual inquiry. Well, I say, would you take the same view if these were right-wing extremists recruiting on our campuses? Would you advocate inaction if Christian fundamentalists who believed that Muslims are the enemy were leading prayer groups in our prisons? And to those who say these non-violent extremists are actually helping to keep young, vulnerable men away from violence, I say nonsense.

Would you allow the far right groups a share of public funds if they promise to help you lure young white men away from fascist terrorism? Of course not. But, at root, challenging this ideology means exposing its ideas for what they are, and that is completely unjustifiable. We need to argue that terrorism is wrong in all circumstances. We need to argue that prophecies of a global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world are nonsense.

Now, governments cannot do this alone. The extremism we face is a distortion of Islam, so these arguments, in part, must be made by those within Islam. So let us give voice to those followers of Islam in our own countries – the vast, often unheard majority – who despise the extremists and their worldview. Let us engage groups that share our aspirations.

Now, second, we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home. Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things. Now, each of us in our own countries, I believe, must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty.

There are practical things that we can do as well. That includes making sure that immigrants speak the language of their new home and ensuring that people are educated in the elements of a common culture and curriculum. Back home, we’re introducing National Citizen Service: a two-month programme for sixteen-year-olds from different backgrounds to live and work together. I also believe we should encourage meaningful and active participation in society, by shifting the balance of power away from the state and towards the people. That way, common purpose can be formed as people come together and work together in their neighbourhoods. It will also help build stronger pride in local identity, so people feel free to say, ‘Yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian, but I am also a Londonder or a Berliner too’. It’s that identity, that feeling of belonging in our countries, that I believe is the key to achieving true cohesion.

So, let me end with this. This terrorism is completely indiscriminate and has been thrust upon us. It cannot be ignored or contained; we have to confront it with confidence – confront the ideology that drives it by defeating the ideas that warp so many young minds at their root, and confront the issues of identity that sustain it by standing for a much broader and generous vision of citizenship in our countries. Now, none of this will be easy. We will need stamina, patience and endurance, and it won’t happen at all if we act alone. This ideology crosses not just our continent but all continents, and we are all in this together. At stake are not just lives, it is our way of life. That is why this is a challenge we cannot avoid; it is one we must rise to and overcome. Thank you.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Philip Zimbardo on Time

Cross-posted on Vijana FM | January 15, 2011

In this RSA animate, Dr. Philip Zimbardo discusses the way we concieve time today. According to research, there are six conceptions of time: 2 are past-oriented conceptions, 2 are present-oriented and 2 are future-oriented. Although this research has mainly been focussed on youth in the United States, do youth in East Africa face a similar future, given the pace of technological growth and consumption?

Related links:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

YouthActionNet call for applications

Cross-posted on Vijana FM | February 4, 2011

YouthActionNet - launched by the International Youth Foundation is 2001 - supports social entrepreneurs globally. Specifically, it provides technical assistance and networking opportunities which could lead to funding for organizations. The 2011 Fellowship is now accepting applications, which are are due by March 11, 2011.

  • Open to all young people, ages 18-29 as of October 1, 2011
  • Applicants must be the founder/co-founder of an existing organization, or a project within an organization, with a demonstrated one year track record of leading societal change
  • Proficiency in English is required; applications must be submitted in English
  • Applicants must attend the full retreat (all expenses paid) to take place within the first two weeks of October 2011
Key Dates:
  • Applications for the 2011 Fellowship program are due by March 11, 2011 at 11:59 PM EST
  • Selected semifinalists will be notified by April 30, 2011
  • The 2011 retreat will take place within the first two weeks of October 2011
About the application:
Recruitment partners:

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