Body in Motion

Cry Freedom
June 2, 2009, 6:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized, wildlife

When the guide tells me there are more Bengal tigers in South African than South Asia*, I almost fall out of the safari truck.

I can’t quite explain why I was looking at a Bengal tiger in a cage in South Africa. I was staying at a game farm for a workshop and thought the Saturday morning “game drive” seemed like a reasonable way to kill a few hours. But I was wrong.

There wasn’t much that I found “reasonable” about the so-called game drive which consisted of a tour of predators’ cages and a few free-range antelope. The adolescent Bengal tigers cried against the chain-linked fence of their cage smaller than my living room. Apparently two Bengal tigers were introduced to the “wild” on another South African game farm but were re-caged after going on a kudu killing spree their first night out. No one else has release plans anytime soon.


Nursey-raised lion cub

The leopard wouldn’t come out of his sleeping hut. We’re told he had to be separated from the female because he kept killing the cubs. I couldn’t help thinking it was a mercy killing.

The lions were white Kalahari lions, bred as novelty animals. They sat in pairs in their cages and roared all night. They had forgotten what it is like to creep through the night in search of a kill. Or perhaps they have never known.

The contrast to the following Saturday couldn’t have been more vivid.

Sundown in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. An adolescent male climbs down from a weeping tree and crosses a meadow to join the pride of 5 females and adolescents. I saw him as a cub last July, creeping through the brush on his mama’s footsteps in the early evening. Today, he greets the pride silently as his compatriots loll sleepily in the grass, poking playfully at one another.


Born free

Day turns to dusk and then to night quickly in this part of the world, and it’s not long before the pride is up and streching, before they are loping silently through the darkness. We struggle to see them moving through the bush in front of us. The split up and fall into hunting formation. As the dark deepens, they become almost invisible except for the slightest slip of movement in the nighttime.

They lie in formation, in wait for some time, each with his or her eyes and nose pointed uniformly in one direction. There is hardly a sound until the warning cry of another antelope who has spotted the group through the darkness.

The hunt is off; the lions lope off together in unspoken unison, waiting for safari trucks and antelopes to sleep so they can hunt in peace.

*I can’t verify if this is true.

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Promotion: World Malaria Day
April 25, 2008, 4:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In a slight but significant change of program, April 25th has been promoted from Africa Malaria Day to World Malaria Day.

Why the big change? I guess some higher-ups in the UN took note that one of every 5 child deaths in Africa is still due to that old bugger that killed at least 4 Popes.

I know you’re heard all about bednets on this blog before but this year, there’s some great data to back it up. As bednet coverage in Malawi has increased over the last few years, the anemia rates in small children (attributed largely to malaria) have decrease by over 40% since 2005. So not only are the kiddos getting malaria less, but less anemia means they’re stronger to fight other diseases.

Needless to say, we’re all pretty excited. So raise your glass or your mozzie repellent in toast and if you’re feeling generous, part with a few dollars, euros, or kwachas so we can part with a few more mozzies.

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Tis the season
December 20, 2006, 3:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As you faithrful readers out there begin to complate late holiday shopping, I point you toward Kiva: Loans that change lives, a microfinance organisation that allows you invest in small-scale projects in developing countries. As my Grinnell College bud and fellow blogger Trey says:

“You go to the site, find an entrepreneur in the developing world that needs a loan, and give them some cash (in increments of $25). If their business is successful, you’ll get your money repaid in about a year. There’s a 99.9% repayment rate. That’s better than the Grameen Bank (whose founder just won a Nobel Peace Prize).”

Give it a look and happy holidays.

On the joys of meetings
December 14, 2006, 2:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In my job, which I rarely allude to here, I spend a reasonable amount of time collaborating with government partners. Contrary to what you may think, I have found many of them to be intelligent, eager to work together and generally committed to working for their country.

That being said, I still find government meetings to be a challenge. For example, my team and I were recently invited to a day-long workshop where findings of recent research would be presented. A programme of the day’s events looked something like this:

8:00 Arrival of participants
8:20 Arrival of the Assistant to the Office of the Minister
8:40 Arrival of the Representative of the Minister
9:00 Arrival of the Deputy to the Minister
10:00 Arrival of the Minister
10:15 Speech by the Assistant to the Office of the Minister
11:00 Coffee break
11:30 Speech by the Representative to the Minister
12:00 Speech by the Deputy to the Minister
13:00 Lunch
14:00 Speech by the Minister
15:00 Presentation of findings
16:00 Closing speech by the Deputy to the Minister
17:00 Cocktail Hour

And people wonder why I installed Tetris on my PalmPilot.

Inauguration Day
December 6, 2006, 8:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today at Congo’s Supreme Court, Joseph Kabila was sworn in as president. The man who became the world’s youngest head of state when his father was assassinated nearly 6 years ago has at last gained his legitimacy as a democratically-elected leader.

The inauguration was attended by African heads of state Mbeki (South Africa) and Bongo (Gabon) among others. Notably absent was Jean Pierre Bemba, former rebel leader, vice president and main election opposition, who declined to attend. Following the Supreme Court’s confirmation last week of the Independent Electoral Commission’s election results, Bemba publicly resigned himself to democratic political opposition.

As the EU Force prepares to leave and MONUC scales back its presence, we enter a new period of unknowing. How does Bemba see himself maintaining this opposition he has announced? Even more worrying is that earlier this week, the police put several residential quartiers in Kinshasa under lockdown, prohibiting residents from going to work and school. It was done quietly and the motivation is still foggy.

As much as this has been a big step for Congo, I worry that the democracy building projects at the community level have promised too much too soon. How long with the Congolese be patient in waiting for change that has been long promised and never delivered? How long will Bemba hold his guns for his tongue? The rebel leader currently under investigation for human rights violations Laurent Nkunda still walks free, only 20kms from Goma, continuing to terrorise villagers.

Turning a nation this size from conflict to post-conflict to democracy is no small journey and Kabila’s next feat awaits.

It’s official
November 27, 2006, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Congo’s Supreme Court has declared Joseph Kabila president. While some people hit the streets with glee, others in the East are faced once again with the imminent prospect of violence as rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, the man responsible for the 2004 siege of Bukavu, stirs up trouble again as his troops clash with FARDC (Congolese national army) forces in North Kivu. As of September 2005, there is an international warrant out for Nkunda’s arrest for war crimes and other human rights abuses in the East. There has been some speculation about whether the current government can or should use amnesty as a bargaining technique.

Meanwhile I will be leaving at long last my exile in Nairobi tomorrow morning to head back to Kinshasa, where I will once again be reporting to you from the middle of the mayhem.

Coming down to the line – again
November 24, 2006, 8:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Following Tuesday outbreak of violence, Kabila has given Bemba’s troops a 48-hour ultimatum to leave Kinshasa and return to their camp at Maluku (a mere hour’s drive out of town if traffic is treating you well). Supposedly the troops have begun to leave although it’s not clear how many are being moved and whether the move of some troops is a symbolic gesture or whether Bemba is actually conceding.

As we come down to the deadline, MONUC and EUFOR have indicated that their role is not disarmament and have left FARDC, the national army to enforce the ultimatum – if necessary.

In the meantime, a mass grave has been uncovered in the eastern region of Ituri containing women and children’s bodies. The site is currently under investigation and it’s speculated that the killing occurred sometime between the first and second round of elections this year. UN Human Rights teams have been brought in to survey the area, along with Congolese military officials, who have been accused of beign responsible for the slaughter.

Meanwhile tomorrow is also the deadline for the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether Bemba’s filed complaint about election fraud is valid or whether the Independent Electoral Commission’s tally of the poll results will stand.

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