A Flash of Democracy – Elections in Zambia

By Jody Harris

More than one long-serving African government lost power this autumn. But while the eyes of the world were on the brutal end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya, an altogether more democratic transition was taking place in Zambia, as Rupiah Banda’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), in place for 20 years under 3 presidents, acknowledged its inferior share of the popular vote and gave way peacefully to the Patriotic Front (PF) under new President Michael Sata.

As the dust settles on the new government, and the rains begin with startlingly ferocious thunderstorms in this country reliant almost entirely on rain-fed agriculture, there is now an air of expectation for the future. The World Bank recently re-classified Zambia as a middle-income country, and increased wealth here is evidenced by burgeoning traffic and shiny new shopping malls in the cities- though life in the rural areas has changed little for a very long time.

Celebrations Following Sata's Election

Kings of Rivers – Painting by Nguyen Duc Hoa

Welcome to the first collaboration of Our Man In with Art Sumo, an American organisation focused on sharing original artwork from around the world. Every month we will bring you a new piece to enjoy – this month, its Kings of Rivers by Vietnamese artist Nguyen Duc Hoa.

Kings of Rivers by Nguyen Duc Hoa

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Slim Pickings

By David Lida for his Mostly Mexico City blog. Republished with thanks for Our Man In.

When I was starting out as a reporter, one of the first interviews I ever conducted was with Robert Hughes, who at the time was the art critic for Time magazine. I am paraphrasing the outspoken Australian, but one of the things that he said to me was, “Man, if there’s anything about which it’s all right to be elitist, it’s art.” Continue reading

Gridlock – Part 2 : Hargeisa – The City of Congested Streets

Welcome to the second and final piece in our Gridlock series. Congestion is a very dry topic, and one that we have all encountered. However by looking at both Indonesia and Somaliland we can see that it is a both a symptom and a cause of all manner of other problems in the developing world.

Hargeisa – The City of Congested Streets

By Ahmed M. Elmi (Shawky)

Hargeisa is a home to about a million people. The dusty streets are overcrowded with pedestrians, cars of all kinds, animals – including donkeys carrying water, dogs, and goats, roadside cottages and people carting wheel barrows. Walking alone on these streets creates a feeling of dread – and a knowledge that should you hesitate after one lucky escape, you will probably not be so lucky the next time.

And driving a car is not that much better – with your way eternally blocked by people, vehicles, and a vast coterie of animals – should your brakes not be in the best condition, you will be in big trouble. Continue reading

Gridlock – Part One : A Jakarta Love Story

The first in a two-part Our Man In feature looking at the serious impacts of congestion in the cities of the developing world. First, we look at Jakarta in Indonesia.

The Bribe and the Traffic Jam

By Thibault Michot

Jakarta, Kinshasa, Mexico City, Moscow, Sao Paulo…  One may wonder what those metropolises have in common but with populations of millions people, they are some of most congested places on Earth.

Jakartans will tell you that this Indonesian mega-city is at its best when it comes to delicious street-food, friendly people, vibrant culture and occasionally decadent nightlife. At its worst however, anyone living or working in Jakarta will confess how the insanity-inducing levels of traffic congestion are such a major component of everyday life. For some time, Bangkok and Jakarta shared the unenviable reputation for having the worst gridlock in Asia. But in the past decade, the Thai capital has decided to tackle traffic congestion head-on through the construction of underground and overground train systems. Even though far from perfect, the nightmarish congestion has eased – leaving just Jakarta in a state of perpetual gridlock.

And the hours spent waiting behind the wheel are not expected to decrease anytime soon.

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A Melanesian ‘Spring’ – The Online Revolution in Papua New Guinea

By Nancy Sullivan, Our ‘Man’ in Papua New Guinea

There’s a Melanesian Spring blooming in Papua New Guinea, even if Spring doesn’t really exist in this country of rainy and yet more rainy seasons. The Internet  came late to us, and even then, only the arrival of the Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien and his mobile phone empire—Digicel—could kick off our telecoms revolution. In the last five years or so, Digicel has completely transformed the social media landscape in Papua New Guinea. Now with wireless hotspots, smart phones and new phone masts popping up all over, remote villagers who have never left their plot of ground can call their cousins in town, contact their members of Parliament, search for the market prices of coffee, scroll through the daily paper, and receive group emails about Occupy Wall Street.

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What next for Spain’s ‘indignados?’

It is really quite hard to find a correct translation to English for the term ‘indignados’, the dispossessed youths that have occupied Spain’s plazas for the last four months. As happens on so many occasions, the dictionary sometimes just doesn’t grasp the idea or concept behind a particular word or expression.  Esperanza Aguirre (People’s Party), the President of the autonomous region of Madrid recently described them as ‘pirates’. The indignados obvious inclination to the left clashes with Esperanza’s much more conservative view of things so perhaps this particular interpretation should to be taken with large pinch of salt.

‘Indignados’ in action in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol.

Perhaps a more correct translation of the movement would be ‘the outraged’. Continue reading

Switch Off, Smile On – What Comes After Fukushima?

Since the meltdown at Fukushima in March, there has been a great deal of talk of the knock-on effects of the devastation both worldwide and in Japan. From the more obviously affected areas in Japan in and around the Sendai area, to reports of radioactive wind blowing across the Scottish Highlands, responses have varied from the breezily sceptical to deeply concerned.

Despite encouragements from the Japanese government to keep calm and carry on, perhaps unsurprisingly, anti-nuclear sentiment is prevalent. In a recent survey conducted by Fuji TV, 1000 Japanese primary school children were asked what they thought the most unnecessary thing in the world was. The top three results were: war, nuclear power, and homework. The first can be attributed to Japan’s pacifist education system, and the third is the bane of every child’s existence, but I doubt nuclear power would have been foremost in the mind of your average 8 year-old before the events of this March.

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Struggle for Sovereignty – The Rights of Indigenous Communities in Indonesia

Heaven turned to hell…

Deep in the heart of the legendary island of Borneo, in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, the Iban tribes, from which belongs the Sungai Utik community, live in harmony with their natural environment thanks to their traditional indigenous practices.  Sungai Utik people live deep in the mystical jungles of Borneo; the nearest town, Putussibau, is 80 kilometers away, and it takes a 20 hour long and chaotic drive to reach Sungai Utik from West Kalimantan’s main city, Pontianak.

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Concrete and Jungle: Urban Hong Kong in the Shadow of the 9 Dragons

When I tell you that I spent yesterday afternoon trekking along jagged peaks and through lush forests, swimming in azure seas on a sandy beach left almost deserted bar a couple of delightful shacks calling themselves restaurants, and then camping beneath the moon and stars on a cloudless night, waking up to a sunrise like the one you see here, you would be forgiven for thinking that I was a self-indulgent student on the backpacker trail in Indonesia or Thailand. In reality (sigh!), I am a high school teacher writing this in my 7th floor apartment in one of the most densely populated cities on Earth. Continue reading