Tuesday, May 3, 2011

World Press Freedom Day 2011

I was fortunate to be able to attend this year's World Press Freedom Day.  Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

The video below is the montage of past UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winners congratulating this year's winner, Ahmad Zeidabadi (in absentia) from Iran. According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Mr. Zeidabadi, along with his fellow activists, have been banned for life from political or civic activities. This award is a recognition of his legitimate work and the work of the numerous other Iranian journalists who are currently jailed for their courageous efforts to forge a new path for Iran – one where every citizen has the right to express themselves free from persecution or violence."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Somali Women's Participation in the Peace Process

I was asked to assist with training six Somali Civil-Society Organizations (CSO) leaders on how to produce and edit a short documentary film on the role of women and youth in conflict mitigation. This film was produced and edited by the three Somali women leaders.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Somali Youth Participation In Conflict Mitigation

I was asked to assist with training six Somali Civil-Society Organizations (CSO) leaders on how to produce and edit a short documentary film on the role of women and youth in conflict mitigation. This film was produced and edited by the three Somali youth leaders.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Somaliland Part Duex

I just arrived back at the lovely Ambassador hotel after completing the second day of our six day training on video editing and production.  I am impressed with the trainees, and my first impressions about the friendliness of the Somali people continues to hold water.  In total there are three women and three young men I am working with.  Each represents a different area of the country and I am helping them put together two documentary shorts on "Peaceful Approaches to Conflict."

It has been fascinating to see the raw footage they collected.  Before I arrived I asked them to interview peace activists, government officials, clan leaders, and of course militia leaders.  The footage from Mogadishu is particularly gruesome.  Abdinaser, the young man from Mogadishu had some incredible tape of house to house combat, with bullets literally flying by the camera making the unmistakable whistle of a round passing far too close for comfort.  The next shot cuts to the remnants of an Al Shabab fighter who laid his last land mine.  Other footage from the countryside as you would expect shows famished cattle, with even more famished children. It can be hard to watch at times, but this is their life through their lens. 

The call to prayer kicks starts the day promptly at 5:30am.  I'm convinced that if you could invent a snooze button for "the call", you would never have to work another day in your life. After a cold or extremely hot shower, or sometimes both, we make our way slowly down the hill into the heart of the city with Abdikadir, our staff member.  For a city of close to a million people, there isn't one traffic light. The roads are non-existent or in sever disrepair. Truthfully I've seen better maintained trails in Glacier. The morning rush is further complicated by packed buses spewing noxious fumes, trucks kicking up dust clouds the size of small buildings, and goats scampering across the road alongside school children. The cars are all right hand drive, but instead of the driving on the left as the British do, they insist on driving on the right which makes being the passenger up front a bit interesting.  All the side mirrors have been stolen, so aside from the rear-view mirror the only way you know someone is passing is the blare of their horn. No need for coffee after that ride!

As we passed the main bank I watched a man withdraw three wheelbarrows of Somali Sterling. I joked that he was a millionaire, to which Abdikadir, said "All Somalis are millionaires."  As we stopped to fill one of our tires with air, a little boy came up to my window staring at me with his big brown eyes and a t-shirt that read "Look how smart I'm." I smiled and said "hello" to which he responded with "elephant."  Not knowing if I was the elephant, I repeated the word. His face lit up, and a big white smile stretched across his face. He stuck his hand out, we shook, and he ran away squealing with laughter. I keep an eye out for Elephant, but haven't seen him since. 

For lunch we stopped at the "Shady Place" (somebody needs to work with them on the English), but we dined on camel, including the hump, which has the consistency of gristle. Can't say Somali food is my favorite.  Some highlights from the menu include: Arabian Foul, Mexican Chicken, Fried Camel, Grilled Camel, and of course Roast Camel.  Knock on wood, I've managed not to get sick yet. 

I'm taking lots of pictures, but the bandwidth is so slow, you'll have to wait to see them.  One of the participants gave me one of those bright blue, tie-dyed, embroidered African shirts, which I promptly put on to model for the group. They loved it!  I'm hoping the "Africans" back on H Street will now give me the proper respect I deserve. 

That's all for now, but next time you're stuck in traffic, think of me bouncing along a dusty road in the middle of Africa. I guarantee it could be worse.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hello from Somaliland!

I arrived at Hargeysa around 10:30am after a nice 5 hour nap in Nairobi. I'm staying at the lovely Ambassador Hotel, room #213. I'm in the the "deluxe" suite, which means I have two fans instead of one. That's right, no A/C in the entire hotel and its already 90 degrees here! Did I mention there is no booze either??? Yikes, would like to have known that back in duty free. Guess I'll be drying out in more ways than one.

Landing was interesting...the runway must have been managed by the DC City Council, because it was full of potholes. Aside from Turkmenistan this is the most out of the way place I think you could visit. Goats and sheep roam the tarmac, while refugees have set up camps along the fence-line. Two of our staff members picked us up so that was nice. The terrain is barren, hard scrapple rock, with big thorny trees dotting the landscape. Its arid so not too much vegetation despite this being the green season. Not sure I've ever seen this level of poverty anywhere. We have limited internet access, but that should improve tomorrow at the office.

The food here is a bit different than I was expecting. Lots of camel and goat on the menu. I opted out for the chicken sandwich today. I've been warned I will be eating camel sometime this week. Strangely enough there is a strong Indian influence in the cuisine, so I may have to try some goat curry before I leave as well. What also struck me was how little the people smoke here. Everywhere I go in the Arab world people are smoking their lungs out, but not here. Not sure if it is economics or religion but its nice to not smell like an ashtray everyday. The people are also very friendly, especially the Kenyans. I can't tell you how many times in just the few hours I was there I heard, "American? Obama good!" In fact even the Somalilanders love Obama. The people are very thankful as well. I was stuck how many people thanked me for coming here. A bit humbling to say the least.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Writ

Here is the documentary I wrote, shot, edited, and produced as part of my capstone thesis project at Georgetown University. I tried to approach this as a true multimedia journalist. As such I also developed a website, slide show, interactive map, and a short bio.  I would love to hear your feedback!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Government & Technology in Iraq

On September 27-28, 2010 IREX and IWPR hosted a conference entitled Emerging Technologies/Emerging Democracies that brought together government, media, and civil society to discuss the issues of technology, media, advocacy, and governance in Iraq.

IREX asked the panelists, "How can government use technology to engage it's citizens?" These are their answers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Views from Iraq: What Does Internet Freedom Mean to You?

Building on the momentum from the first day of IREX and IWPR's “Emerging Technologies, Emerging Democracies” conference in Erbil, Dr. Dr Adil Matloob, Advisor to Minister of Science and Technology, announced the details of Iraq's groundbreaking e-governance plan, saying that Iraq needs to address critical areas "to bring to light the transformational impact of information, communication and technology tools."

Other presenters focused on the role of citizen media in governance, from Twitter to open-source e-government tools. “Citizen led e-governance initiatives can create a safety net for [Iraqi] citizens," explained Noel Hidalgo of Digital Democracy. Mark Belinsky, the co-founder of Digital Democracy announced to the conference attendees that Iraq was recently assigned a Twitter “short code” (71117) enabling Iraqis to send SMS “tweets” from to their Twitter accounts. Short codes have been developed in other nations around the world, most notably in Haiti after a devastating earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010.

The announcement of a national e-governance plan coupled with aggressive private sector and civil society e-governance initiatives could help stimulate demand side pressure on the Iraqi government to establish the legal infrastructure for internet freedom. The question arising out of the conference now is how will Iraqis embrace this new technology so they can be an example to the Arab world in developing an open internet and using technology for transparent and inclusive governance? While the conference discussed issues, tools and concepts, now it is up to the Iraqi government and civil society to find their own answers.

More information and resources developed during the conference will be posted at www.iraqemedia.net

Monday, September 27, 2010

Emerging Technologies/Emerging Democracies: Information Technology, Economic Growth and Governance in Iraq

More than 150 journalists and civil society leaders gathered in Erbil, Iraq for a ground-breaking two-day media conference, entitled “Emerging Technologies, Emerging Democracies,” held by IREX and the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR). The conference's first day featured panel discussions and training sessions on information access, new media and online advocacy as well as emerging Internet laws and libel.

Bob Pearson, President of IREX, opened the conference by noting that "no one now has a monopoly over information and moreover this information can travel across the world and be accessed by millions of people at the speed of light and at the same time."

Internationally renowned BBC journalist Nik Gowing provided the keynote address referencing his recent book, Skyful of Lies and Black Swans. Gowing asked the participants and the Iraqi government “to consider the new power of technology, which is creating a new fragility of power” not just in Iraq but in countries throughout the world.

Technology, he argued, is creating new pressures of accountability for government as well as media and civil society in what he termed a “deficit of legitimacy.” He warned that if governments fail to embrace this new technology they do so at the risk of their very survival.

An estimated four billion mobile devices are now in circulation around the world which has enabled anyone to become an active participant in the dissemination of information. Botan Osman, Head of KRG Department of IT, Council of Ministers, Kurdistan Regional Government said in his speech that “the significance of ICT is no longer valid for debate. There is solid proof around the world that those who embrace it, progress and those who don’t, get left behind.”

IREX and IWPR partnered to create the website www.iraqemedia.net to be a portal for discussion, information sharing, and a depository of resources to tackle the difficult issues facing the country.
The conference which runs through September 28, will culminate in the announcement a national plan for E-Governance in Iraq by Dr. Adil Matloob, Advisor to Minister of Science and Technology.

Hiwa Osman, IWPR's Media Advisor concluded that “today, Iraq is well placed to manage this transition by handling it wisely. And it is the duty of the government, the media and the public to see this transition through and develop Iraq’s own digital democracy,” said. Osman went on to recommend that Iraq should “provide internet for everybody similar to water and electricity.”

Considering Iraq's current state of public services this may be an ambitious goal, but it is clear it is a goal Iraqi are willing to undertake in order to help regain their role as a leader in the region.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dusk T'll Dawn Car Wash

Kevin Warren is a forty year old business man who is three hours short of earning his MBA.

At 22 he got his undergraduate degree. From there he began a career with CVS pharmacy, the second largest pharmacy chain in America.

At 30 he gave it up to open an auto detailing business in a vacant lot on the corner of 5th Street and Florida Ave in Northeast DC, one of Washington's toughest neighborhoods.

This film is about how and why he did it.