« Older Entries

Initial adjustments in Colorado

Matthew Millmanby Matthew Millman-Pilon

Compared to many of the other interns, I would imagine that the challenges associated with my acclimatization were negligible. Colorado’s infrastructure is highly developed, and I definitely find transportation here easier to manage than in Montreal. Otherwise, things are pretty similar. More fitness, better beer, worse coffee. Overall, it evens out. Still, I have a knack for complicating the simplest of tasks.

For example, you can attach your bicycle to racks on the front of buses here. If the rack is full, then the bikes go into side compartments. On my second day here, I took off my backpack so that it would be easier for me to crouch down and slide my bike in, then forgot it at the station as I enjoyed the scenic ride, which I realized only upon getting out. It contained my laptop, wallet, passport, and keys. Luckily, I still had my sunglasses. The last thing I needed at that point was to be squinting uncomfortably. I ran to catch the bus headed in the opposite direction, using a convenient tunnel, pictured below, to cross the highway. When I reached my original point of departure some forty minutes later, my bag was right where I left it, along with all its contents. A wave of relief flooded over me, tainted only slightly by the imagined insult. Were they too good for my stuff? But on the whole, I felt great. Boulder is known to be a very safe and friendly city, and empirical evidence of that was immediately apparent to me. Upwards of fifty people must have had the opportunity to avail themselves of my belongings during my absence, but none of them had. At that point, I remembered that my bike was still in the first bus’ side compartment.

Colorado’s infrastructure is highly developed. This roomy and well-lit tunnel allows pedestrians and cyclists to cross under highways. Also, the ball of light bursting from these four walls represents the pure productive energy emanating from my cubicle.

Colorado’s infrastructure is highly developed. This roomy and well-lit tunnel allows pedestrians and cyclists to cross under highways. Also, the ball of light bursting from these four walls represents the pure productive energy that I would like to emanate from my cubicle.

So minor variations like bike racks on buses are capable of throwing me entirely off my rhythm. This is not only a danger in adapting to a new city, but also in adapting to a new work environment. When I was unable to locate the latch to open the dishwasher in the communal kitchen at work, I hand-washed my utensils and place settings, hiding them in my desk drawers because I was too embarrassed to ask for help. It turns out you just have to yank it open.

I’m doing research, so in theory, the same skill set that I’ve been applying in school should carry over. My main challenge is adapting my unhealthy and idiosyncratic study habits into the channeled focus that is required to thrive in a 9-5 office setting. In future blog posts, I’ll talk more about the specifics of my research, but for now I’d like to write about my transition. This is my first career-oriented job, so the topic is of some significance to me.

The current iteration of my research here at One Earth Future is to report on the legal framework surrounding the international extractives industry as pertains to how the revenues it generates go towards exacerbating or mitigating the “resource curse”. The curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, is the phenomenon whereby countries that discover oil or mineral riches beneath their soil actually suffer more than they benefit from these resources if they have weak governance and institutional capacity (which is often the case, with the notable exceptions of Norway and Botswana in the 1960s). There are a combination of factors underlying this phenomenon. Royalties can be funneled into the coffers of the elite, or spent on frivolous projects that do little to improve a country’s standard of living. The sudden influx of income can stoke inflation, rendering basic goods unaffordable and traditional economies such as agriculture and manufacturing uncompetitive. Of course, civil wars can erupt over control of the resources, often fought across ethnic divides and funded by “booty futures”.

Research into the legislative responses to this problem can get really broad, really quick. Keeping it coherently ordered requires an objective perspective of what I’m trying to accomplish. I can lose perspective when I follow an interesting lead too far, past the point of its relevance to my report.  In order to stay on track, I’ve altered my approach. Now, I rotate through a daily research cycle in order to keep me from straying too far. It goes like this: summarize yesterday’s findings in a structured manner, do background reading, choose a specific article from the background reading and read it in detail, and cherry-pick relevant elements from the specific reading that I will summarize tomorrow. If I do it that way, then I can keep a relatively steady pace throughout the day and meet my deadline. I started developing this rotation when I noticed a recurrent post-lunch lethargy in my productivity. It still needs some fine-tuning, so I’m open to suggestions.

2009-01-01 00.00.08-1With this method, my weekends are free to enjoy the great outdoors. I’m not really into nature, but I figure I might as well give it a shot. A couple of weekends ago, I went camping in Rocky Mountain National Park with my fellow interns. Here’s the view from what I briefly thought was the top of some mountain but actually was not really even close. Our collective goal this Summer is to summit a fourteener, a peak that’s over 14000 feet in elevation. In comparison to the internal transitions outlined above, adjusting to the altitude has been a walk in the park.

 

A.N.D.

2014-Grbac-PeterBy Peter Grbac

I met Indian bureaucracy the other day. She is a large, round woman who was perched on a dark solid wooden chair. Her bright blue sari fluttered gently under the creaky dusty fan swirling above her. Her round silver spectacles complimented her equally silver hair. Her face was smooth, her eyes a dark brown, her mouth slightly curled on one side. Shifting a pile of tattered manuscripts, aged books, weathered notes, and plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes from side to side, the only constant unmoving presence on her desk seemed to be the placard clearly identifying her as The Librarian.

I approached her desk slowly, unsure as to which language I should use to break the silence – English? Hindi? Bengali? I cleared my throat and aligned myself directly in front of the placard. She looked at me. Up and down. Down and up. Her sharp eyes moved slowly. With purpose and conviction. She gracefully raised her hand and lowered it in one motion, directing me to take a seat. I followed her lead, took a seat, and shifted nervously from side to side – like an elementary schoolboy summoned to the Principal’s Office. “Is there a problem?” I asked. “You tell me,” she responded wryly as she handed over the document request form I had dutifully filled out and submitted just moments earlier. [FYI – It took me a good three minutes filling out that form by hand old school style – all of the information for that particular document had to be transcribed word for word, symbol for symbol, number for number from the catalogue card (no, not the electronic catalogue… I’m talking about those vintage wooden shelving units organized by author, subject, and title) to the form.] The sweat that had already stained my shirt was beginning to reform under my neck and around my armpits. The dust caked onto my fingers from the old manuscripts I had been handling all morning began to loosen and form a dark paste.

Unsure as to how to respond to her comment, I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for the best. She slid the form across the table and with her red pen circled a space. “You are missing the word “AND.” With a somber straight face, I slowly spelled out the word in the space she circled. I inserted the A. And the N. And the D. I turned the form around and slid it back to her. “There, that’s better,” she replied. In those few painful minutes, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scream or cry or jump or shake my head or [insert any emotion that encapsulates frustration, anger, annoyance, humour, and confusion all in one]. I opted for none of these. Instead, I smiled. She smiled. In those brief seconds, order was restored and everything seemed right with the world again.

It’s been two weeks since I wrapped up my work at that particular Archive and it seems so silly that this is the one event from that time that has stuck with me (and now forms the basis for this post). Silly yes but there is something serious about it all (the form, the interaction, the people involved), namely the hows and whys and why nots of carrying out research in a foreign and sometimes unfamiliar environment. First, research(ing) abroad requires both patience and flexibility. Libraries and research centres run on different timelines, resources, and sets of expectations. Second, sometimes good research comes down to luck. Three weeks ago, I hit a significant roadblock when I was told I wouldn’t be able to access the secret police reports and security files from the 1970s. A fellow researcher recommended that I try sifting through the files from the 1960s hoping that a file from the 1970s would be misplaced. He happened to get lucky that way although I wasn’t as fortunate. Third, research stands at the intersection of the intellectual and the practical. This one has taken some time to appreciate but the academic argument is not solely a reflection of intellectual imagination; instead, it is shaped by practical considerations that may or may not be within the researcher’s grasp… a missed taxi, damaged books, deleted files, closing time, opening time, and the speed at which you can copy a paragraph by hand. Finally, (and this applies more generally to travel I think) research(ing) abroad requires a healthy dose of humour A.N.D. humility.

In the next blog post, I’ll take you through some of my research on the 1971 refugees but for now I’ll leave you with these archival images featured in Time Magazine:

Refugees crossing the border from then East Pakistan to India.

Refugees crossing the border from then East Pakistan to India.

Concrete pipes (originally meant for the construction of planned suburbs in Salt Lake) were transformed into temporary housing units.

Concrete pipes (originally meant for the construction of planned suburbs in Salt Lake) were transformed into temporary housing units.

 

L’autre 50%

Suzanne Zaccour

Lorsque j’ai décidé d’appliquer pour un stage à la CONGEH (Cameroun), plusieurs facteurs sont entrés en ligne de compte. Certains n’étaient que de simples préférences, mais une chose était certaine : je voulais travailler pour promouvoir les droits des femmes. Heureusement pour moi, le stage qui était à la fois le plus accessible, le seul en français et situé dans un pays où ma famille a déjà vécu concernait également les droits des femmes. Plus spécifiquement, les droits fonciers et successoraux des femmes, en particulier celles infectées ou affectées par le VIH/sida. Après presque deux mois de stage, j’en suis venue à la conclusion que ma volonté de travailler pour les femmes n’était pas qu’une simple question de préférences. En réalité, tenir compte du genre dans le contexte du développement est tout simplement incontournable. Comme je le disais hier à un collègue à la recherche de financement, les bailleurs de fonds sont nombreux à exiger que les projets ciblent les femmes. L’industrie du développement a, semblerait-il, enfin découvert cet autre 50% de la population mise de côté depuis… toujours? Quoiqu’il en soit, deux anecdotes vécues cette semaine dans le cadre de mon stage m’ont confirmé l’importance des questions de genre même dans les domaines les plus apparemment « neutres ».

Je suis en train de compléter une (imposante) demande de financement pour un organisme qui appuie des projets visant l’autonomisation économique des femmes et la promotion de leurs droits. La CONGEH (Coalition des ONG et OCB du Cameroun œuvrant dans le domaine des Établissements Humains) conduit justement depuis plusieurs années le projet de Cliniques de Consultation Foncière (CCF) pour la réduction des inégalités envers les femmes infectées ou affectées par le VIH/sida. Ces cliniques offrent des services gratuits d’information, de consultation et d’accompagnement pour les femmes victimes de violations de leurs droits fonciers ou successoraux ou désireuses de mieux les protéger. Dans les communautés où elles sont implantées, les CCF permettent donc aux femmes de connaitre et de faire reconnaître leurs droits, en particulier dans un contexte de VIH/sida. Elles organisent également différentes activités de sensibilisation communautaire et de plaidoyer auprès des autorités locales et traditionnelles.

La CONGEH étant un réseau d’organisations, de nombreux projets sont élaborés par ses membres avec plus ou moins de centralisation. L’un de ces projets « périphériques » consiste en l’assainissement et l’installation de latrines dans une communauté, l’objectif étant de favoriser une meilleure hygiène et notamment de limiter les maladies opportunistes au VIH/sida. Préoccupée par mon application, je constate qu’il ne cible pas spécifiquement les femmes. Mon superviseur me détrompe : ce sont les femmes qui portent le fardeau des soins aux enfants et aux malades. Ce sont elles également qui entretiennent le foyer familial. Ainsi, tout changement dans la sphère dite privée les affecte directement. Une hygiène décente améliore grandement leur qualité de vie, tandis que des enfants ou un mari malade représente un défi supplémentaire à relever dans leur quotidien déjà surchargé. Si elles sont commerçantes ou agricultrices, leurs revenus fluctuent selon l’état de santé de leur famille.

Pour moi qui ai cette préoccupation à cœur, c’est un plaisir de constater que la situation des femmes est prise en compte dans la planification des activités de la CONGEH. Négliger les questions de genre peut faire d’une bonne idée un échec. Cela m’amène à ma deuxième anecdote.

S’immerger dans un pays en voie de développement permet de constater de nombreux problèmes qu’on n’a jamais vécus. D’un autre côté, les pays dits développés ont beaucoup à gagner en prenant pour exemple leurs voisins du Sud relativement à certains enjeux. Les préoccupations environnementales, notamment, semblent intégrées dans le quotidien des Camerounais-e-s. Cela n’est guère surprenant quand on sait que le gaspillage des ressources renvoie à des pertes financières et que les pays du Sud souffrent davantage de l’impact des changements climatiques. Ainsi, l’élimination des emballages en plastique s’est récemment ajoutée à des pratiques respectueuses de l’environnement telles l’alimentation sans gaspillage et la réutilisation des contenants en verre. Plus précisément, « la fabrication, l’importation et la commercialisation des emballages non biodégradables (plastiques) sont interdites sur l’ensemble du territoire camerounais » depuis le 1er avril – mais certain-e-s ne l’ont pas trouvée drôle. L’interdiction s’accompagne de systèmes de surveillance et de sanctions; ainsi, même si les sacs de plastique sont encore parfois utilisés « en dessous de la table », la plupart des commerçant-e-s ont usé d’inventivité pour trouver des moyens alternatifs d’emballer leur marchandise. Les résultats sont parfois assez surprenants. Par exemple, on a empaqueté mon marché dans des boîtes – on aurait dit que je déménageais. Le vendeur que je visite tous les matins « emballe » mon pain dans une feuille manifestement arrachée d’un cahier de rédaction. Il est également populaire d’enrouler d’une bande de papier les tablettes de chocolat : sans attaches, c’est à mon humble avis totalement inutile, mais les vieilles habitudes sont résilientes.

Un pays qui bannit totalement les emballages en plastique, quand on sait le désastre qu’ils représentent pour l’environnement, ça ne peut résonner que comme une bonne nouvelle. Or, il y a bien un hic. C’est la responsable d’une des organisations membres de la CONGEH qui me l’a fait découvrir. Son organisme vise le renforcement des capacités économiques des femmes, dont des veuves et des femmes atteintes du VIH/sida (des personnes vulnérables, donc), par la production et la vente de chips de plantains. Vous savez, celles qui se vendent dans de petits paquets transparents… en plastique? Cette activité, dont dépendaient de nombreuses femmes démunies, a donc dû être interrompue. En raison de la crainte de visites d’inspecteurs environnementaux, les magasins ont interrompu les commandes. Le plus choquant, c’est qu’il n’existe aucune production d’emballages conformes (biodégradables) au Cameroun. Les femmes qui bénéficient des actions de cette ONG sont réellement prises au piège, et elles ne sont pas les seules. Ce sont les femmes qui préparent et vendent la plupart des aliments, et la santé de leurs enfants dépend de leurs revenus. Il semblerait que le gouvernement camerounais ait négligé de tenir compte des femmes dans son plan à la rescousse de l’environnement.

Les gouvernements du monde résistent à l’ADS (Analyse Différenciée selon les sexes), « un processus d’analyse favorisant l’atteinte de l’égalité [en discernant] de façon préventive les effets distincts sur les femmes et les hommes que pourra avoir l’adoption d’un projet ». De leur côté, les mouvements sociaux (socialiste, nationaliste, environnementaliste…) ont tous un jour où l’autre laissé tomber les femmes. On ne peut pas sacrifier les femmes au développement; le développement doit être réalisé par et pour les femmes. « L’avenir de l’homme est la femme » disait Aragon. Je n’ai aucun mal à le croire, quand je vois ces commerçantes déterminées saisir l’ambassade des États-Unis en vue d’organiser l’importation d’emballages biodégradables. Je n’ai aucun mal à le croire quand j’entends parler des initiatives que les femmes prennent au sein des communautés et des sommets qu’elles peuvent atteindre, à condition qu’on croit et qu’on investisse en elles.

Aider les femmes à réaliser leur potentiel n’est définitivement pas une préférence. C’est une obligation.

Legal Aid on the Tundra (or Amazing Race law)

2014-Chertkow-MarthaBy Martha Chertkow

Working in the arctic is humbling.

That’s the only word that I can think of right now, three weeks into my legal internship with Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik (Nunavut Legal Aid Services), which accurately reflects the palette of beauty, strength, culture and knowledge that I have been able to experience in my few weeks living in Iqaluit and working at the frontline of its legal aid system.

martha-iqaluit-DSC_0018

Huskies on frozen Frobisher Bay (June 2014)

Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik is the legal aid organization responsible for providing legal counsel for those unable to afford private legal services in the Baffin region. Working with Maliiganik has been unbelievable, challenging and extremely rewarding. Nunavut, to my knowledge, is the only jurisdiction in Canada which permits law students (not just articling students) to represent clients in bail court.  Thus, less than two weeks into my internship I found myself with my own client files, preparing their entire bail plan and arguing their case in court alone, but accompanied by a lawyer just in case I messed up.

My sister recently described my work as “amazing race law.”

When a person is arrested and is detained by police, the detainee has the right to a bail hearing (a hearing to determine whether or not they should be released until their trial takes place) within 24 hours of his arrest. This makes defence’s job incredibly exciting but also very time-sensitive. Bail hearings are also Maliiganik law students’ number one responsibility.

martha-iqaluit-IMG_0113

My neighbourhood in Iqaluit overlooking Frobisher Bay (June 2014)

Every day I arrive at work by 9am.  Somewhere between 10am-11am I receive disclosure (information from the RCMP about a client’s charges and the alleged facts) for anyone detained by the police anywhere in our region (basically covering all of Baffin island).  It is at this time I also find out how many people I must run bail hearings for that afternoon.

Bail hearings begin promptly in Court at 1:30pm, which means that I have between whenever disclosure comes in and 1:30pm to: run over to wherever my client’s being detained (RCMP detachment or Baffin Correctional Centre), interview them, get their story, double-check their criminal record is accurate, find out if they have any potential surety (legal supervisor) who could supervise their possible release from jail and potentially put up money as a guarantee, contact/find the surety (many people don’t have phones), instruct them on what being a surety means, prepare all of the required surety forms and prepare my legal arguments on why my client should be released. At 1:30pm, Bail Court begins. Some days bail hearings may last 15 minutes each, other days I may be in court running bail hearings until 5:30pm. Oh ya- and the date of birth and full name of a potential surety must be submitted to the Crown Prosecutor by 11am. While not all clients require sureties so the groundwork required for their cases is less, on some days Maliiganik may be responsible for up to 6 bail hearings. Thus – amazing race law.

Bail hearings in the Arctic are also apparently of a particular breed. Bail hearings are run by Justices of the Peace and apparently are more relaxed up North. Justices of the Peace are civilians that undergo some training and decide smaller judicial matters, including bail.  For clients detained in the communities (Cape Dorset, Pangirtung, Arctic Bay …) bail hearings also take place over the phone, which is another experience and can be even more informal. I was representing a client in a bail hearing over the phone and I mentioned that my client has a young child who he has to take care of and this is an element supporting his release, and the JP quickly jumped in and confirmed that he frequently sees my client outside taking care of his child and knows how much he loves and supports her. He was released.

Overall, my past three weeks in Iqaluit with Maliiganik have been exhilarating, challenging and an invaluable professional experience.  I don’t know of any other law student who gets to represent their own clients in bail court this summer and feel extremely humbled and lucky to have this experience.  And that’s just the work side of things- stay tuned for more on my adventures ice fishing, throat singing, Inuit square-dancing and volunteering at the Arctic’s biggest music and arts festival – Alianait.

Commercial Contract Law as a Counter-Piracy Measure

Kyle Best

1,288 days. This is the unfathomable amount of time that 11 crewmembers of the MV Albedo were held hostage since Somali pirates hijacked their vessel in 2010. News of their release surfaced earlier this month, and is accompanied by footage of the crew going on an African safari, an excursion that they had initially planned in 2010 before they were taken hostage. As they traverse the planes of Africa, the expressions on their faces are ones of excitement and elation, expressions that stand in stark contrast to the enduring pain that these individuals suffered for almost four years prior.

MV Albedo Crew, following release. source: http://www.marsecreview.com/2014/06/albedo-crew-and-families-aftercare/

Crew of the MV Albedo, following their release. Source:http://www.marsecreview.com/2014/06/albedo-crew-and-families-aftercare/

The plight of these seafarers provides a human face to the problems that arise from maritime piracy, however, this human element is not always sufficient to elicit a timely response. This was true for the crewmembers of the MV Albedo. The owner of the ship, believed to be uninsured, abandoned his efforts to pay for the release of the crew early in the negotiations (link). While this type of abandonment is not uncommon in hostage situations, many ship owners nonetheless prioritize crew safety. However, even under the guardianship of such a responsible owner, ships are often chartered by larger corporate entities with a financial interest in sending that ship through an area at risk of piracy. Thus, seafarers are left in a particularly vulnerable state, and the question remains as to how they can be protected from piracy. One possible solution may reside in an unexpected area: commercial contract law.

Consider for a moment the CONWARTIME 1993 clause, known within the industry as a “piracy clause”. This is a standard contractual clause drafted by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), and can be applied when a vessel is ordered to travel through an area that threatens the safety of ship and crew. In short, this clause creates a legitimate means by which an owner of a ship can protect his or her crew when commanded to travel through an area at risk of piracy. Indeed, the clause was recently invoked to protect seafarers in the case of Pacific Basin IHX Ltd v Bulkhandling Handymax AS, heard at the Commercial Court of the High Court of Justice in England.

In this case, Pacific Basin IHX Ltd. chartered a vessel from Bulkhandling Handyman AS, and ordered them to sail through the Gulf of Aden, which was the fastest route to its destination. However, Bulkhandling did not wish to sail this route due to the increased reports of piracy in the area, notably one in which a vessel had been hijacked and its crew taken hostage the previous month. Faced with this legitimate concern, the owner of the Bulkhandling ship was forced to choose between putting workers at risk of being attacked, and going against the orders of its charterer. Bulkhandling chose to protect its workers, and sailed instead through the Cape of Good Hope, incurring an extra cost of $462,221.40 USD. Pacific’s claim in court was that Bulkhandling should incur this cost because it acted against Pacific’s orders. These costs are significant and, under such financial pressure, it is conceivable that Bulkhandling might risk traveling through an area of noted piracy. However, Bulkhandling countered Pacific’s claim by invoking the CONWARTIME 1993 clause, demonstrating how commercial contract law stands to protect seafarers.

The Court’s ruling on this matter provides significant guidance as to when an owner can invoke this clause, and reject his or her charterers’ order to travel through an area affected by piracy.

1)    The owner must first judge that there is a real likelihood that the Vessel will be exposed to acts of piracy.

2)    Secondly, the owner must judge that there is a real likelihood the acts of piracy will be “dangerous” to the Vessel, her cargo, crew or other persons on board the Vessel

3)    The owner’s judgment must be “objectively reasonable”, and the owner is required to make all necessary enquiries before deciding to avoid the risk.

While these requirements are abstract and somewhat meaningless in isolation, a closer look at how the Court interprets the term “real likelihood” provides some clarity. A “real likelihood” risk of piracy would include something that has less than 50% chance of occurring, however the chances of it occurring must be greater than a “bare possibility”. This standard is not overly stringent, and in practice it provides owners with considerably greater leeway to invoke piracy clauses than the comparably rigorous standard of “more likely than not” (which requires greater than 50% chance of occurring). Beyond this, it is crucial, when invoking this clause, to prove that the area in question is in fact “dangerous”, a point that has been noted by BIMCO in its 2013 revisions of the piracy clauses.

Most significantly, this case confirms the possibility to invoke piracy clauses as a means to protect seafarers at risk of an attack. Indeed, a recent case heard by the same Court confirmed an owner’s right to invoke a piracy clause, and further removed a debilitating requirement that precluded certain claims. Despite this progression, the legal community has noted that there is likely to be further judicial development on the subject.[1][2] As the courts move forward on this issue, concerns relevant to the plight of the seafarer include:

  • Piracy clauses require owners to make a decision to ignore a charterers’ order, a decision that courts must deem “objectively reasonable.” However, Oceans Beyond Piracy has noted that there are continuing challenges in both reporting and information sharing with regards to piracy. Such an environment obfuscates both the owner’s ability to make this decision, and his or her ability to prove its objective reasonableness in court.
  • Piracy clauses serve as a strictly preventative tool. Providing owners with this discretion may reduce the possibility of an attack, but it does not eliminate the risk.
  • Owners, not seafarers, exercise the discretion granted by piracy clauses. In an industry where the cost of transportation often amounts to significant sums, financial pressures exerted by charterers stand to outweigh some owners’ concern for the safety of their crews.

Footnotes:


[1] http://www.steamshipmutual.com/publications/Articles/conwartime-1993.htm

[2] http://www.nortonrosefulbright.com/knowledge/publications/59912/the-threat-of-piracy-deviation-and-conwartime-1993-war-risk-ruling-to-be-reassessed

Terrorism, Ethnic Divisions and a National Day of Protests

2014-ODell-AnnieAnnie O’Dell

It’s now week 6 in Meru, Kenya. Since we have arrived, Kenya has made the international news on several occasions.

  • May 3, 2014: two bombings in Mombasa.
  • May 4, 2014: two buses bombed in Nairobi, four killed.
  • May 10, 2014: I arrived in Nairobi.
  • May 15, 2014: travel advisories for most Western countries increased to include a high threat of terrorism. British nationals are evacuated from Mombasa and the coast.
  • May 16, 2014: a bombing in a market in Nairobi killing 12, wounding 70.
  • June 10, 2014: a Muslim cleric was shot in Mombasa, followed by more clerics killed and some rioting.
  • June 15, 2014: 48 people killed in a small town on the coast and near the border of Somalia, only non-Muslim men were targeted, though apparently 12 women were abducted.
  • June 16, 2014: near the town attacked the day before, ten more killed while watching the World Cup.

This follows a history that includes the Westgate mall shooting (killing 74) only last September. It also includes an attack on the international airport in Nairobi in January. As well as many other smaller-scale attacks that I did not bother listing above because they happened more than a week before my arrival.

In 2011, Kenyan troops entered Somalia. This move has increased terror attacks by the terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab.

However, the situation is more complex than Somali terrorism. Last year, President Kenyatta (racially a Kikuyu) won a much-disputed election against Prime Minister Odinga (who is Luo). Odinga claimed the elections were rigged, but the Supreme Court disagreed. The election results caused riots but pales in comparison to the violence that erupted after the elections in 2007. President Kenyatta has been charged by the ICC for inciting and financing parts of that 2007 violence.

Odinga, is currently calling for a day of protests on July 7th, the Saba Saba day. Saba Saba (meaning “seven seven”) is the anniversary of a revolution overthrowing an apparent dictatorship in 1990. This day is expected to be filled with riots and roadblocks.

Al-Shabaab has apparently taken responsibility for the two most recent attacks. But the President is claiming they are part of a political ploy to divide the country among the ethnic lines of Kikuyu and Luo. This conflict is increasing tension and distrust among the population, particularly those near the Somali border who are now arming themselves.

Where we are stationed has never been affected by any violence, terrorist or political. The violence and upsets are not affecting our work in the region but it is affecting our ability to travel on weekends and our parents’ sense of security. We booked a trip to Nairobi this weekend. We haven’t had running water for four weeks now, and this is practically our only opportunity to bathe. We are also looking forward to some Western comforts, such as burgers and movie theatres. But now, though Nairobi hasn’t been attacked in a few weeks, we have had to seriously evaluate whether we should cancel our trip. It’s kind of an odd feeling to weigh options like showering and burgers against the relatively remote, but not unlikely, threat of terrorism.

Kenyan Courthouses: Handwriting, Missing Witnesses and Wrong Numbers

2014-ODell-AnnieAnnie O’Dell

This is my fourth week in Kenya for my internship with the Equality Effect. I am working in Meru, with a student from the University of Toronto. We have been placed with a partner organization, who does almost everything. It has an orphanage, a health clinic, it provides micro-loans, there’s a school, and most importantly, a rescue centre. The rescue centre currently houses about 25 children, most of whom have been defiled (sexual assault of a minor). They offer them counselling, legal support, medical support, and aid during the transition into motherhood for the girls who become pregnant. Only those girls who either have nowhere to go or are in danger within the community are admitted, others are treated at home.

 Our job is to comb through the files since the 160 Girls decision was made last year to document how police treatment has changed, if at all. The decision clearly stated that the police must diligently fulfil their obligations to all children who bring a complaint of defilement to them. The belief is that, as Meru was ground zero for 160 Girls, the police here are the most likely to be compliant (the decision was binding across the country).

The most interesting part of our job is going to court. We’ve so far seen been to two trials… sort of. The Kenyan legal system is slow and delays happen regularly, mostly for reasons that would not fly in Canada.

Our first court date was at the courthouse in the city. Most of the Courthouse is outdoors, while the courtrooms are indoors. We checked a typed list posted on a notice board to see in what order our case would come. It was supposed to be a mention for an elderly man who had allegedly defiled a girl of 14. (I’m still not entirely certain what a mention is, but in this case, it meant the accused had a chance to accept or deny the evidence placed against him). We waited outdoors, on three long benches under a corrugated roof, for the accused’s name to be called. We sat at one end of the bench with the social worker and the mother of the victim. At the other end of the bench, probably no more than 20 metres away, awaited the accused who was out on bail. While I am not so familiar with Canadian courthouses, I was upset by the casual nearness the accused and the victim were expected to endure. Particularly in such a sensitive case.

Eventually, the accused’s name was called and we followed him into a magistrate’s chambers. The Courts are undergoing a transition, and the magistrates are currently hearing cases in their chambers. The room was barely big enough for the magistrate’s large desk, a desk for a bailiff/secretary, a bench crowded with the accused and his lawyer, and us four standing partially out in the hallway. Kenyans are very soft-spoken people, so I unfortunately did not hear anything. But we were in out and out of that room within a few minutes.

Apparently, a new magistrate was assigned to the case. When this happens, the accused is asked if he wished to re-start the trial or continue. I am unsure what the accused chose, but I believe he did choose to continue. The mention never came though, because the case notes were not typed. The magistrate then adjourned for another month or so, even though the case has been on-going for over a year already. This sort of delay is a frequent occurrence.

Another, even more frequent type of delay, is the absence of witnesses at trial. The second day we spent at a different courthouse. Once again, we checked for our accused’s name on a bulletin board and saw that it would take place in Courtroom 1. We waited for the courtroom to open (about an hour later than it was supposed to) and entered. We, and many others, squeezed into a tiny courtroom on three very uncomfortable wooden benches. A female magistrate eventually walked in. They called one accused at a time to begin their mention or hearing. While it took place in Kiswahili, it was easy to understand that many witnesses and some accused were missing. It was finally our accused’s turn. He was accused of defiling his tutee, his defence was that he thought she was over 18. He stood up. Some questions were asked in Kiswahili. One name was called. Silence. Another name called. More silence. Neither the doctor nor the police appeared to testify. Case adjourned for another month.

We then headed to the police station to enquire why the officer never showed up. We waited on the compound for over an hour to get an answer. The officer was back in the city (about 90 minutes away). But the officer who was helping us went above and beyond. He dug through handwritten files to discover we had with us the wrong court file number. He found us the right one (one digit off). That case has been closed for several months. The accused had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment! Great news! Though we still have no idea whose trial we witnessed…

We don’t have antimalarial injections, so if they can’t swallow, too bad.

2014-Heilke-Matthias Matthias Heilke

I spent most of this week on a “field visit”. With a few colleagues, I went to a remote district of Uganda to interview doctors and residents about the state of healthcare in their district and what they wanted to improve. Being the junior member of the team, I acted as a photographer and occasional recorder.

~Background~
Healthcare in Uganda is, in principle, universal and public. There are government health centres throughout the rural districts, varying in size from the tiny Health Centre I, which provides basic counselling, injections, and tests, to the Health Centre IV, which is effectively a mini-hospital. We interviewed the “in-charge” at several health centres of sizes II to IV.

7% of the babies this health centre delivered in April died. (In fairness, two deaths were probably premature births.)

7% of the pregnancies this health centre managed in April led to the child’s death.

~The standard line~
The in-charge of a health centre is always a doctor or a nurse — a civil servant. When you ask Ugandan civil servants about their situation, their responses follows a standard formula. They share a comprehensive list of problems, which are both numerous and drastic, but their tone treats each problem as a little storm that they are weathering in an otherwise smooth sea, even when the problem means patients dying en masse.

We don’t have enough of the vital medications, says every in-charge we interview. We have an anaesthetic machine, but no nitrogen or oxygen, or for that matter anaesthetic. If we refer the patient like we’re supposed to, the next centre won’t have supplies either, and the patient will die before they reach someplace that does. We have no water, just a cistern. There’s an electrical pole on the grounds, but we haven’t been connected. There is no incinerator, so if an epidemic starts in the hospital it will spread to the whole district as birds carry away the medical waste.

Then, at any given health centre, the in-charges give us a tour of the health facility. He shows us crumbling buildings with beds either missing (never delivered) or broken and filthy. He points out the gurney that, for lack of a spare, has to run between the operating theatre and the ward, so that germs travel with it between the rooms. He shows us the enormous crowds of listless patients.

A maternity ward.

A maternity ward.

And all the in-charges smile helplessly, and sometimes they laugh.

~Throwing up your hands~
My last interview is with the in-charge at a higher-level health centre.[1] We read him our normal questions: what do you think about the legislative Health Care Package, how should we change the Millennium Development Goals, what problems do you face, etc. The doctor responds with the normal answers and follows the standard line.

About thirty seconds after we have asked our last question, the in-charge suddenly gets angry.

— There are procedures that I know how to do, but I can’t do them, because I don’t have the materials I’m supposed to get. And they send us the right number of cartons, but then you open the carton, and there’s just one tin of medicine in the bottom and the rest is empty. The people see I get boxes and boxes of medicine, so they think I am holding out on them, but I don’t have what they need.

What the in-charge means is, his patients think he either is stealing the medicine for profit or wants a bribe. Both happen regularly in Uganda, though the government is trying to crack down on it.

— The test kits for malaria are low-quality — they keep giving false negatives. We aren’t supposed to treat someone unless it’s positive — but I know what malaria symptoms are! And if you send someone home, they’ll just come back the next day with complications. So what to do?

The in-charge and my colleague digress into their experiences with malaria before the in-charge returns to his complaint.

— I have IV equipment, but I don’t have any saline solution. So what am I supposed to do if someone is dehydrated? I can do great work if I have surgical gloves. But I don’t have any. I tell my patients to bring them to me, but they cost three thousand shillings,[2] and they can’t afford that. So I can’t help them. What do you say about that?

The doctor and my colleague look at me expectantly. Happily, six years of education at McGill have honed my impromptu analytical skills.

— It’s crazy, I say. The other two accept the answer.

With the interview completed, we follow the in-charge outside, where a pair of women are waiting awkwardly in the shade.

— I bet they brought razor blades.

The in-charge snaps at the younger woman in the local language, and sure enough, she hands the doctor a safety-razor blade in a paper wrapper. He unwraps one edge and holds it up to my camera.

Sharp.

— She has sutures that have to come out. But do you think this razor is sanitary? I’m not allowed to use it. But I don’t have any surgical blades, and the sutures will start tearing soon. So what am I supposed to do?

My colleague says that he probably shouldn’t use the razor blade — if there is an infection afterward, the woman might discover that she can sue him, and win. But the in-charge rewraps the blade carefully and hands it back to the woman before we walk away. The sutures have to come out.

As we say our goodbyes, the in-charge remembers that he is Ugandan.

— We’re facing the challenges, but we’re working through it, he says, shaking our hands.

I am not Ugandan; I believe his anger more.

~Weekly miscellany~
• Rural doctors generally assume that Mulago Hospital, the national referral hospital in Kampala, will have adequate medical supplies. When I mentioned to an in-charge that Mulago regularly runs out of basic necessities, he was surprised and unimpressed.
• Some highways have enormous, bold-lettered signs along the road providing such sage advice as “SAFETY FIRST”, “DRIVING ON SHOULDER PROHIBITED”, “SPEED KILLS; DIVORCE IT” and, oddly, “AIDS KILLS”. Just in case drivers are having unprotected sex as they drive down the highway, I guess.
• Uganda has a government newspaper, the New Vision. It publishes a weekly children’s supplement, consisting of the sort of kids’ games you would expect. One such game is a “spot-the-difference”, in which the two pictures are of “your hero”, President Museveni.
• Among African countries, the national football team’s jersey reads like a commentary on the country’s state of governance. Uganda’s jersey is okay but changes constantly to meet the advertising needs of the team’s sponsors, Nigeria’s is quite professional, South Africa’s is European-level, South Sudan’s is really just a logo on a plain jersey, and the DRC’s makes elementary school jerseys look high-quality by comparison.[3]
• Another tasty soft drink: Stoney Tangawizi, a Coca-Cola product. It’s essentially ginger beer. I’m not generally a ginger beer fan, but this one tastes a bit different.

~Footnotes~
[1] I do not have the recording of this interview, and it was not written down verbatim — I am going off memory and basic notes as best I can. Hence, this account is impressionistically faithful but ultimately consists of paraphrases, not actual quotes. It is also compressed, for the sake of space.
[2] About $1.20. A high-up district leader we interviewed earlier in the week figured a poorer family of six might earn 700,000 shillings per year — about 15¢ per person per day — so $1.20 is serious money.
[3] And you can totally expect to see me wearing my red DRC jersey proudly in the halls of McGill next year. Or either of two Uganda jerseys, or a long-sleeved South Sudan jersey. Or any of several non-African jerseys. They’re really cheap, okay?

Réflexions sur l’intersectionnalité

 Suzanne Zaccour

Intersectionnalité. Un mot à la mode.

Selon ma grande amie Wikipedia : « L’intersectionnalité […]désigne la situation de personnes subissant simultanément plusieurs formes de domination ou de discrimination dans une société. […] L’intersectionnalité étudie les formes de domination et de discrimination non pas séparément, mais dans les liens qui se nouent entre elles, en partant du principe que le racisme, le sexisme, l’homophobie ou encore les rapports de domination entre catégories sociales ne peuvent pas être entièrement expliqués s’ils sont étudiés séparément les uns des autres. L’intersectionnalité entreprend donc d’étudier les intersections entre ces différents phénomènes. » [http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionnalit%C3%A9]

L’intersectionnalité est un concept très en vogue dans les mouvements féministes et chez les activistes de façon générale. J’ai entendu ce mot pour la première fois en août 2013. Autant dire tout de suite que je ne suis pas une experte. Par ailleurs, en tant que blanche hétérosexuelle valide cisgenre [insérez ici tout autre privilège qui vous vient en tête], je n’aurais jamais cru rédiger un article sur le sujet.

Or, il se trouve que je vis bel et bien une situation apparentée à une double discrimination.

La rue appartient aux Camerounais-es. Le trafic est dense sur les grandes artères (selon les standards locaux), les chauffeurs de taxi déplacent des hommes et des femmes pressé-e-s d’arriver à destination pour la modique somme de 40 sous, des femmes tiennent des petits kiosques sur le bord de la route où elles vendent des mangues, ou des balais, ou des crédits pour le téléphone. Les enfants jouent au ballon devant la maison, le soir. À toute heure, les écoliers-ères promènent leurs uniformes.

Bref, Yaoundé est une ville bien animée.

Et pourtant, je suis le plus souvent cloîtrée chez moi. Je dois toujours être accompagnée, même pour aller à la boulangerie au coin de la rue. Tous les matins, mon chauffeur me prend devant la porte de mon appartement; tous les soirs, il m’y ramène. Il est imprudent de se balader seul-e. En tout cas, dans ma situation. Mais quelle situation au juste?

Ce n’est pas parce que je suis blanche que je ne peux pas sortir. Un ancien stagiaire tout aussi étranger et pâle que moi m’a effectivement décrit ses fréquentes sorties. Ce n’est pas non plus parce que je suis femme, puisque j’en croise tous les jours. C’est la combinaison de ces deux identités qui me fait perdre toute autonomie. Leur intersection.

C’est cela, l’intersectionnalité.

J’hésite à effacer ces mots d’un ctrl+z bien appuyé. Puis-je vraiment parler d’oppressions multiples, quand le fait de ne pas être en sécurité est compensé par mes moyens d’engager un chauffeur privé, au décuple du prix des taxis collectifs? Puis-je parler d’oppression quand mon incapacité à m’acheter un dîner à cent mètres du travail signifie qu’un collègue me dépose un repas chaud sur mon bureau tous les midis? Puis-je utiliser ce mot, alors que j’écris ce billet dans le cadre d’un stage non-rémunéré?

Bien sûr que non. Ce que je vis n’est qu’une parenthèse, puisque dans une dizaine de semaines, je regagnerai le privilège de ma couleur de peau. Mon « oppression » en tant que blanche, est à la fois artificielle et superficielle, puisque le racisme inversé n’existe pas.

Ainsi, je laisse de côté ma situation pour vous parler d’une intersection où les accidents sont mortels. Une intersection entre deux drames. Celle qui nourrit mon travail ici.

Quand j’ai appris que je travaillerais sur le droit foncier et l’accès à la terre pour les femmes infectées ou affectées par le VIH/sida, je n’ai pas immédiatement saisi l’intersection entre le genre féminin et le VIH/sida. Ma première pensée a été : « ça, c’est ce que j’appelle ne pas avoir de chances dans la vie ». En découvrant un peu l’organisation pour laquelle je travaille, la CONGEH, j’ai appris que l’indépendance économique et la propriété d’un logement étaient cruciales pour les femmes atteintes du VIH, en raison des coûts accrus en soins de santé qu’elles doivent assumer. Comment se soigner quand on n’a même pas de logement? Je soupçonnais pourtant qu’il n’était pas seulement question de pauvreté. La problématique sur laquelle je travaille est spécifiquement « genre-VIH-habitat », et non « genre-pauvreté-habitat ».

C’est donc en commençant tranquillement mon travail que j’ai trouvé l’explication. Qui n’est pas du tout jolie.

C’est bien connu, le VIH est transmissible sexuellement. Or, les femmes qui n’ont aucune sécurité foncière, qui sont totalement dépendantes de leur mari économiquement et pour ce qui est de leur logement, ne peuvent pas « négocier leur sexualité » (tel que formulé sur le site web de la CONGEH). En termes plus clairs (ou plus sombres), elles sont [plus] vulnérables [encore] au viol conjugal. Dans un contexte où il est extrêmement difficile pour une femme de posséder sa maison, celle qui ne veut pas se retrouver à la rue devra céder aux rapports sexuels exigés par son mari infecté. Ce n’est pas que son « non » n’est pas respecté. C’est qu’elle n’a pas la possibilité de dire « non ». Ainsi, les femmes sans propriété foncière sont plus à risque de contracter le VIH.

L’intersection se traverse aussi dans le sens contraire. Une femme affectée par le sida ne pourra vraisemblablement pas travailler aux champs, entretenir le foyer, ou exercer quelque activité que ce soit choisie par son mari. Cela suffira peut-être à ce qu’il la mette à la porte. Conséquemment, les femmes affectées par le sida sont, de leur côté, plus à risque de se retrouver en situation de précarité de logement.

Voilà donc mes réflexions du moment sur l’intersectionnalité. D’un côté, l’épée en mousse. De l’autre, le double tranchant.

The Gambian philosophy of kindness

2014-DeRoqueFeuil-GuilhemBy Guilhem de Roquefeuil

Stories of dishonest border guards and double counting money changers abound in travel forums and hostel conversations. And yet, my first exchange with Gambians proved to be a powerful counterexample. Most importantly, it was a wonderful introduction to the Gambian philosophy of kindness.

Upon reaching the Gambian border with Senegal after a six-hour ride at the back of an old Peugeot 504, I told myself: “mission accomplished, my destination is just a few kilometers away”.

Perhaps I was a bit optimistic; I still had to complete two taxi rides and a ferry trip across the mouth of the Gambia River. However, this did not seem much compared to my introduction to off-road rallying in southern Senegal.

This would have been true had my last 20 Euros not disappeared from my pocket. Whether I had lost them or a pickpocket had snatched them did not matter: Here I was, standing at the Gambian border, with no money, on a Sunday (all banks are closed), and clueless as to how I would pay the remaining taxis and ferry to Banjul.

I was already thinking of pawning some of my luggage’s content when I met Alieu and Ernest. Alieu was sitting behind the counter of the foreign exchange parlor, and told me he could lend me a few Dalasis. Seeing my hesitation, and sensing a bit of precautionary distrust, he called in Ernest, a young border patrol, to clarify. Ernest introduced himself and explained how I could find Alieu again to pay him back. I suggested to Alieu that I could give him back more than what he had lent me, but he kindly refused, explaining to me that his assistance was free, and commanded by Allah.

After exchanging phone numbers with Alieu, Ernest showed me to a taxi, told the young cab drivers not to overcharge me and to drive me safely to the ferry. He then paid for my cab fare and gave me his number, instructing me to call if anything should happen.

“But don’t worry, here in The Gambia, we are all one”, he explained standing by the cab window. And I was on my way.

Gambians practice what they preach.  After a few days, I realized that such kindness is norm in The Gambia. Every day, newly met friends and perfect strangers provide me with precious help, advice, and good humour. Tips are never asked in return. To the contrary, they are very often refused (a refresher from Montreal’s waiters, dare I remark).

Of course, The Gambia is not a perfect place. I expect that most tourists would find my assessment naïve, as annoyances and rip-offs do occur on the beaches. Furthermore, tensions underlie the country’s peace, and frustrations with the status quo are tangible as the country stagnates at bottom of the Human Development Index list.

Yet, The Gambia’s low human development is no proxy for the moral and spiritual quality of its people. This is why I became a student of the Gambian philosophy of kindness, and hope to spread the word upon my return.

 

 

« Older Entries
Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.