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July 24, 2017 (GIN) – When historians write Africa’s digital story, Kenya will likely assume its place as the cradle of the internet revolution on the continent.

“With so much creativity and innovation going on, the nation is witnessing a revolution of a kind that is empowering ordinary citizens and reshaping their communities and lifestyles,” declared Bitange Ndemo, one-time permanent secretary for Kenya’s Ministry of Communications. 
Now, five teenage girls from Kenya’s western city of Kisumu are the latest standouts in that revolution. Calling themselves “The Restorers,” they’ve made it to the final round of a competitive IT competition with an “app” that offers girls an alternative to the practice known as FGM.
The five high school students overcame great obstacles including limited access to computers and Internet connection. With their standout application, they are being flown to Silicon Valley to compete as finalists in the 2017 Technovation World Pitch Summit.

The Kenyan teens’ app uses a simple interface of five buttons — help, rescue, report, information on FGM, donate and feedback - providing an African solution to the persistence of circumcision, a dangerous cultural activity, said Purity Christine, one of the five high school girls explaining the app “iCut” in a YouTube video. Despite laws against its practice, “FGM is a big problem affecting girls worldwide and it is a problem we want to solve,” said Stacy Owino, another member of The Restorers. “If you’re from West Pokot and 13 years old, you’d be preparing for circumcision,” says Purity. “After the procedure, “you’d be crying, screaming with pain. But with iCut you can prevent this.”
Although the girls' Luo community does not practice FGM, they have friends who have been cut.
All finalist teams will attend the World Pitch Summit hosted by Google, at Google HQ in Mountain View, CA, August 7-11, where they'll have the chance to meet each others, pitch live, and visit tech companies. Prizes range from $2,500 for junior runners-up to $10,000 for grand prize winning teams. Omoju Miller, a technologist, educator and start-up advisor from Oakland, California, reflected on the Technovation experience. “I see people who will go in there with an idea, without a technical background, leave school, create a company. And then they can employ women and minorities thereby changing the perception of computer science." w/pix of teen “Restorers”


July 24, 2017 (GIN) - Major elections are taking place in three African nations next month: in oil giant Angola, East African powerhouse Kenya and tiny, rapidly developing Rwanda.
Rwandans go to the polls August 3-4. The undisputed favorite is the longtime president who has ruled since the end of the tiny nation’s horrific 1994 genocide.

Even the head of the European Union electoral commission said to the Voice of America (VOA) last month: “I think you would not lose any money if you bet on Mr. Paul Kagame.” 
Still, the democratic exercise is an important one for Rwanda and its wealthy aid partners, says senior Horn of Africa analyst Murithi Mutiga of the International Crisis Group.
Elsewhere in East Africa, on August 8, voters in Kenya will choose between the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president, and Raila Odinga, whose father was a major liberation figure and the country’s first vice president.

The exercise is expected to be Africa’s most expensive on a cost-per-voter basis. Both public and private spending are at an all-time high, with both government and candidates spending hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the electoral process or campaigning to get elected.
In a comparison of cost per voter, Kenya’s 19.6 million voters will each cost the government $25.40. Rwanda will spend 5.5 billion Rwandan francs ($6.5 million). With 6.8 million registered voters, that’s less than a dollar per voter.This will be 72-year-old Odinga’s last attempt at the presidency. If, as expected, Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance Party wins a narrow victory over Odinga’s National Super Alliance coalition, he could cry foul. 

Finally, in Angola, the southern African nation will hold its first vote in decades on Aug 23 without President Jose Eduardo dos Santos at the helm. The 74-year-old, who has recently taken several trips to Spain for medical reasons, is stepping down after 38 years in power.
The poll itself is a two-way race, between the longtime ruling party and the established opposition. The winner will lead a nation whose fortunes are heavily dependent on oil, which accounts for about 45 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and 95 percent of exports. A slump in oil prices has hit the economy hard.

The new president will face a foundering economy and gaping inequalities with state resources largely controlled President dos Santos and his family. w/pix from left, Kenyan Pres. U. Kenyatta, Angola Pres. Dos Santos, and Rwanda Pres. P. Kagame


July 24, 2017 (GIN) – Somali-American activists are denouncing the recent outbreak of hate speech, Islamophobia and xenophobia linked to the fatal shooting of a white Australian woman by a Somali-American police officer. Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame pushed back Sunday at the “trash talk” – including remarks by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann – sparked by the death of Justine Damond in an incident involving two policemen. One of the officers, identified as Mohamed Noor, reportedly was the shooter.

At the Sunday meeting, Warsame was surrounded by some two dozen members of the Somali community as he held a news conference outside the Darul Quba Cultural Center in south Minneapolis - “the heart of the East African community.” “What we’re seeing is a lot of rhetoric in the media,” Warsame said, blasting what he called “fake news peddlers on Facebook” who had called Noor a “Somali killer cop”. Regarding Rep. Bachmann, he said she was “talking trash” when she insinuated in a speech last week that Noor was an “affirmative-action hire by the hijab-wearing mayor of Minneapolis” — an apparent reference to the fact that Mayor Betsy Hodges has worn a head scarf when meeting with leaders of the city’s Somali-American community.

Bachmann also suggested Noor may have shot Damond for “cultural” reasons.
“This is very dangerous, because you’re seeing the action of an individual, a member of the Police Department, being blamed on the whole community. That’s unacceptable,” he said.
Damond, 40, was killed July 15 after a late night call to 911 to report a possible sexual assault taking place behind her home. Eight minutes later, when officers hadn’t arrived yet, she called again.

When Officers Matthew Harrity and Noor pulled up in their squad car, Damond approached. Noor, in the passenger seat, shot across driver Harrity, hitting Damond in the abdomen with a bullet. Attempts by the officers to revive her were unsuccessful and she died at the scene. Officer Noor has not given a statement and has obtained a lawyer. Warsame was asked whether Noor or other East African police officers have received death threats since the shooting. “I’ve spoken with a number of officers who are afraid,” he said, “but the thing is, I’ve seen young children who are afraid … I’ve seen women who are afraid walking down the street and they haven’t committed anything.”

From Sunday until noon Friday, the city of Minneapolis had logged 55 complaints to its civil rights division, many expressing concern or anger about the shooting. Several were characterized as derogatory, discriminatory or anti-Muslim. At least one death threat was made against Noor.
Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the U.S., roughly 57,000 people according to the latest census figures, most of whom live in the Minneapolis area. Somali immigrants have been coming to Minnesota from their war-torn homeland since the 1990s. Last April, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced deportation plans for about 5,000 Somalis despite the long history of U.S. involvement in Somalia since the early 1990s. w/pix of Minneapolis Somali-American officers

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