Nine Indian women bag a world record

Nine visually impaired Indian women have sewn themselves into the Guinness Book of Records by making the world’s biggest jute bag: 20 metres long, 11.5 metres wide and weighing 300kg.  

India’s prime minister has encouraged people to cut down on the use of plastics and S. Sasikala, the chair of the Indian foundation that is co-organiser of the big bag project, says that it is a way of creating awareness of the potential of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic.

Jute is a vegetable fibre that for centuries has been spun into strong threads and, until the rise of synthetics about 50 years ago, was known as “the golden fibre” because of its colour and high value.

But for the women in the southernmost state of Tamil Nadu, the jute project has a more personal significance: because of their visual handicap and poverty they are part of a disadvantaged group that is otherwise at risk of ending up living on the streets or begging and suffering all kinds of prejudice. The project helps them acquire skills and raise their standing in the community.

“Wherever we go, people speak to us as if we don’t know anything,” says Maarathal Ranganathan, one of the bag makers. “So it feels extra good to be able to do something like this.”

The bag is currently on display at the textile school that co-sponsored the project and helped raise the skills of the nine record-breakers.

/Sharada Balasubramanian, Indien

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Dakar suburbs under water

It’s said that after the rain comes sunshine. But in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, rain is followed by floods – why is why several suburbs are currently under water.

In Rufisque suburb, residents blame the authorities overseeing railway repairs and construction, who they accuse of blocking drainage channels. As a result, rainwater overflows onto streets and into houses.  Mattresses and kitchen utensils float around homes, and in the flooded roads carts are used for short distances because public transport has virtually ceased to function.

Even if the situation is exceptionally bad this year, because of poor maintenance or heavy rain, it’s not unusual for rain and sewage channels to overflow during the wet season.

“It’s a hell that returns every year, and the government is blocking all solutions. Our children become ill,” says Astou Sagna, a resident of the Grand Yoff area.

Entire families have been moved to schools, where they are exposed to insects and bugs. To make it worse, this is the time of year when the risk of malaria is at its highest.

The use of schools as temporary shelter also risks disturbing the start of the school year on 3 October.

For years the education minister’s slogan has been “Ubbi Tëy, Jang Tëy” –  “Teaching starts the first day of school”. But that might prove difficult: the homes of the families who have been moved to the schools are still under water – and the rain is still falling.

/Ngoundji Dieng, Dakar

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Festival politicised after power shift

Celebration of the annual Ashenda festival has just finished in Ethiopia. It’s an Orthodox Christian tradition in the north of the country connected with Mary’s ascension. The festivities follow the end of Lent, ahead of the Ethiopian new year.

Women wear traditional clothing, braid their hair and sing and dance in the streets late into the night – without men. So the celebration has always been associated with a temporary increase in freedom for women.

This year Ashenda took place against a backdrop of a major political power shift in the country, away from the ethnic Tigrayan elite to a more centralised structure dominated by the other, larger groups.

Previously, the festival was widely seen as belonging predominantly to the Tigrayans, but this year’s celebration was bigger than usual and spread to several other regions, sparking lively debate, especially on social media. 

Some Tigrayans claim Ashenda belongs to them, and that the spreading of the celebrations is a thinly veiled attempt to erase the importance of their culture and history.

Many Ethiopians, however, see a more inclusive festival as a way of strengthening peace and community in a time of increasing ethnic and political tensions. People I met in the capital, Addis Ababa, viewed the festivities as a celebration of national diversity.

For example, 21-year-old Arsema Tsehaye took part for the first time and hopes that future Ashendas will be widely and proudly enjoyed: “I’m happy about the possibility of learning more about Ethiopian culture and making contact with people from different traditions.”

//Hiwot Abebe, Etiopien

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Colombia: Imagine if we could go back to the future

Article published in Omvärlden
2 September 2019
By Gerald Bermudez

“Three years ago I was working on a book of photographs about the peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the left-wing FARC guerrillas. I dedicated the book to my six-year-old son because I saw a possibility that he wouldn’t have to grow up with fear as his constant companion. ”

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Senegal – passionate and colourful

Article published in Fönstret
#3 2019
Av Ngoundji Dieng

Culture-rich Senegal’s first president was also a poet, and the country’s biggest football stadium is named after him. Next to the Leopold Sédar Senghor stadium is an artists’ village. In the capital, Dakar, painters, sculptors and potters display their work along the beachside highway.

Senegal also has a proud film tradition. After the internationally acclaimed director Sembène Ousmane’s last film in 2004 (Moolaadéabout six girls who run away to avoid genital mutilation) and his death in 2007 the movie lights dimmed, but now Senegalese cinema has been reignited by a new generation of directors.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Haiti: ‘My success belongs to my parents and siblings’

Article published in Omvärlden
6 August 2019
By Ralph Thomassaint-Joseph

Widlore Mérancourt  lives a privileged life in Haiti. But on his shoulders rests the responsibility for nine family members, and his greatest fear is that something will happen to him – something that would throw him back into the poverty of his past.

‘I’m 27 this year but can’t plan anything for my own life. With the responsibility for an entire family it is impossible to think about the future. My parents always told me they invested in me so that I would be able to help my brothers and sisters. So I grew up knowing that my success in life belongs to my parents and siblings.'”

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Colombia: The taste of poverty

Article published in Omvärlden
6 August 2019
By Gerald Bermudez

When Diana Gordillo tastes a slice of mortadella sausage, she experiences the same feelings of luxury that she did as a hunger-stricken child. But for most well-off Colombians mortadella is still associated with poverty.

“People in the middle-class, which is where I now find myself, find foods popular with poor people repulsive,” she says. “In order not to seem different I usually say I don’t like mortadella, even though I actually love it!

“In the nice public school where I work, a colleague turned down guava juice because she said it tastes of poverty. This made me uncomfortable and sad – so many people deny their background, even though a big portion of Colombia’s middle-class grew up under much simper circumstances.'”

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Haiti: Protests stun Haiti

Political life seems to have gone into slow motion in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, as people wait for President Jovenel Moise to step down.

It’s been this way since the national audit office published the second part of an inquiry into loans to Haiti under Petrocaribe, a regional alliance covering the purchase of Venezuelan oil at preferential prices and promotion of economic cooperation.

The report pointed to the president as being part of arrangements that many regard as a tainted. 

Youth demonstrations over the issue have been growing, with tens of thousands participating in a major protest on 9 June. Now the Catholic Church, the private sector’s financial forum, writers and other groups have sent written demands for the president’s resignation.

On 12 June people were encouraged to stop following the president on Twitter, and in the following 24 hours he lost 10,000 followers.

But still he stays. 

He claims to be the solution, not the cause, of the country’s problems, a position he justified in a in a mid-June speech in which he denied involvement in corruption and pointed out that the audit report covered a period before he became president in 2017.

Nevertheless, demonstrations continue, with barricades and burnt tyres in the streets. Schools remain closed although final examinations are imminent.

“We demand that the president resigns and hands himself over to justice,” a demonstrator, Velina Elysee Charlier, told me. “In order to truly develop, we need an end to impunity.”

/Ralph Thomassaint-Joseph, Port-au-Prince

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Liberia: Growing discontentment with President Weah

Liberians have become increasingly dissatisfied with President George Weah since the former international soccer star took office in January 2018. They feel the pinch as prices rise. At the same time, enormous sums of money have continued to disappear through corruption and maladministration.

Dissatisfaction came to a head on 7 June when thousands demonstrated around government buildings and a group calling itself The Council of Patriots handed in a petition calling for widespread reforms.

“We’re not demanding his resignation. We want him to reform the government and the way he runs the state,” said protester Myer Sayplay. 

The petition urges the president – a former international soccer star – to take “pragmatic steps” to stem corruption and heal Liberia’s wounded economy.

“When you vote for change and nothing happens, you get frustrated,” said another demonstrator, Peter Larman – who two years ago campaigned for Weah. 

Weah himself has said that the next budget will bring in pay reform for the first time in a decade.

However, he said, the government had acceded to an International Monetary Fund demand to stop borrowing from the central bank, a move that would inevitably curb government spending.

Several economists have advised that instead of borrowing less, Weah actually needs money to boost the economy – which is suffering the aftermath of an ebola epidemic, the post-civil war withdrawal of UN troops, inflation and currency devaluation.

//Bettie K. Johnson-Mbayo, Liberia

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Nepal: Explosions shake Kathmandu

Four people died and at least seven were injured when three explosions shook Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, on 26 May. The armed Maoist group Biplov Faction claimed responsibility for the attack.

The explosions occurred the evening before a national protest against the death in custody of one of Biplov’s members. According to the group’s leader, Netra Bikram Chand (nom de guerre Biplov), the bombs accidentally exploded a day early, thereby mostly injuring the group’s own supporters.

Supposedly, the intention was to highlight the protests by scaring people. The day after the blasts more than a dozen home-made bombs were found in different parts of the country and there were several arson incidents. The public is now worried.


“I’m very scared. Bombs are not the solution when democratic methods are available,” says mother-of-two Suryama Shrestha. “We remember the violence during the Maoist era [the 1996-2006 civil war] and this makes us fear a recurrence.”

After the war, the Maoists put down their weapons and became politicians: today they are a part of the ruling coalition government. But a breakout fraction, Biplov, continues the armed fight.


Former armed Maoist leaders who are now politicians condemn Biplov’s actions as terrorism. This has created a strong counter-reaction as the Maoist politicians still refer to the violent attacks that carried them to victory as a legitimate revolution – and not as terrorism.

/Sewa Bhattarai, Nepal

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Tunisia: Thousands on pilgrimage

”Today, we’re witnessing a miracle! In a global context of tension and hatred, a Muslim country is welcoming Jews from all over the world for their annual celebration – and this during Ramadan.”

That’s how Gabriel Cabla, one of the organisers of this year’s pilgrimage to Ghriba, home to Africa’s oldest synagogue, describes the event on the Tunisian island of Djerba.

About 1,500 Jews live in Djerba. For centuries, Ghriba has been one of 20 places on the island where Jews gather to pray. Every May, thousands of people (this year almost 7,000) come for about a week. Most, but by no means all, are pilgrims.

There are religious rituals but the overall atmosphere is one of festivity and music, as people of different religions celebrate a message of peace and belonging. In mid-week, on Wednesday, some 5,000 people of different beliefs took part in a huge Iftar meal, when Muslims end their daily holy month fast at sunset.

One participant, Moshei, a Jewish man from Tunisia who has lived in France for 40 years, told me: “To be back in my home country and make the pilgrimage gives me renewed energy.”

/Rym Benarous, Tunisia

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.


Powercuts – a growing problem in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian government has introduced nationwide electricity restrictions because of the low water level in the lake formed by the huge Gibe III hydroelectric dam.

The Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity attributes the water shortage to unusually poor rainfall. Ethiopia is heavily dependent on hydroelectricity and barely invests in wind or solar power.

The power cuts represent a heavy blow to the economy. All factories except those producing cement have been instructed to reduce production in order to cut electricity demand. Electricity exports worth US$82 million a year have been jeopardised: supplies to Sudan have been put on hold and supplies to Djibouti halved.

The state electricity authority announced that the impact of power cuts are spread equally around the country, with each area suffering cuts of five hours a day. But some areas report that the power disappears for up to two days and then returns only sporadically for a few hours.

Blen Girma, who lives in the capital, Addis Ababa, tells me, “We haven’t had electricity for over twelve hours.” 

/Hiwot Abebe, Ethiopia

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Fear amongst migrants after South Africa elections

A group of men are gathered at the crossing in Capricorn Square, in Cape Town’s Marina Da Gama suburb. They are frustrated, waiting for work. They have been here since morning, and now it’s mid-afternoon and none of the 25 men has been offered work. 

“We sat here before the [May] elections and if you come back in five years you’ll still see us here”, says a young man with dreadlocks. 

A week after the election, the South African statistics authority presented figures which showed that 10 million people in a population of 57 million were unemployed. And 237,000 people lost their jobs in the first quarter of this year.

During the campaign, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the ruling African National Congress, promised to create more than 250,000 jobs every year by modernising sectors of the economy that had potential for growth and jobs. There are widespread doubts about his ability to fulfil his promise.

Because South Africa’s economy – second in size in Africa only to Nigeria’s – attracts migrants, as does its relative political stability, hostility to job-seekers from other countries has been rising. Occasionally, hostility erupts into violence.

“We’re not safe here,” a Malawian told me. “We’re always looking over our shoulder and many people warned us before the elections that people would beat us up if the ANC won.”

/Munyaradzi Makoni, Cape Town

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

In Kenya the truck drivers’ road goes through corruption and dangers

Published in Arbetet
15 May 2019
By Kimani Chege

Kenya. As a young boy in Ndeiya, 50 kilometres north of Nairobi, George Gachuhi used to trek for several kilometres just to sit alongside the highway admiring how the long distance trucks were meticulously negotiating bends as they descended the escarpment separating Kenyan highlands with the Rift Valley.

Decades later, George Gachuhi, now 34, comfortably sits on the driver’s seat to one of these monster machines to drive a distance of over 1100 kilometres on dangerous roads of the both Kenya and Uganda. The Mombasa to Kampala Route is one of the most active highways in Africa.

We meet with Gachuhi as he changes a worn out
tyre at Kikuyu area, on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Full article here:

Roaming cattle block the roads

On the busy street in front of Senegal’s biggest university, Cheikh Anta Diop, scores of cattle mooch around. And that’s not from the only place they inhabit. Most residents of Dakar have stories to tell about how they’ve been in danger, as pedestrians or drivers, because of the wandering animals.

But the traffic police look the other way.

”It comes down to a lack of responsibility from the owners,” says Ibrahima, a civil servant as he surveys the scene. “But the politicians should also do something about it,” he adds.

He is often forced to slam on the brakes to avoid colliding with the roaming cattle on the VDN, one of the capital’s main roads to the university, where we are meeting. 

The owners of the animals are difficult to trace and talk to, but most Dakar residents think that the problem has worsened by the growth of the city: the green spaces where the animals once grazed are rapidly disappearing as the owners of every plot of land cash in on their asset. 

In his first speech to the nation after the February election, the president mentioned the need to “clean the streets”. A first stab at action followed on the night of 23 April. But where the animals were supposed to go has not been specified. So they continue to clog the roads.

/Ngoundji Dieng, Dakar

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Defending the right not to fast

For decades during Ramadan – the month Muslims fast, pray and reflect – cafés and restaurants in Tunisia have been forced to stay shut in the daytime. The bars are completely closed – and every year the locked doors provoke the same controversy.

Religious freedom has been enshrined in the constitution since 2014, but in a country where about 98 per cent of the 12 million population are Muslim, those who do not fast are singled out. The police say they are following orders by making sure eating establishments are shut. Since the police can turn up at any time and force the owners to close, those who want stay open often increase their prices, to compensate for the risks of a raid during Ramadan. 

This year, about a week before the start of Ramadan in early May, a closed group #Fater (non-fasting), started on Facebook. Members of the group share addresses of places you can eat during the day and how much they cost.

#Fater group member Akram (who doesn’t want his surname featured for fear of being attacked for failing to fast) says, “Tunisia is often portrayed as the most modern country in the Arab world and a role model when it comes to democracy and freedom. But that’s not true when it comes to freedom of religion. With what right are they forcing me to fast – am I not free to choose? During Ramadan I don’t recognise my free, open, and tolerant country.”

/Rym Benarous, Tunisia

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Refugees seek shelter in graveyard

A graveyard in Juba has become a refuge for some of the four million people displaced by five years of conflict in South Sudan.

“I’ve been a neighbour of the dead for five years now,” says Raymond Modi, one of about 8,000 people who have taken up residence in St Mary’s church cemetery in the suburb of Kony-Konyo.

Many live in flimsy tents and most are from the Terekeka province, where violence erupted two years after South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011.

The situation in the graveyard is desperate – people survive by begging and by eating food rejected by others. There’s a lack of medicine, clothing and shoes.

But the cemetery is still safer than the villages from which they fled, where ethnic and political rivalries have led to the kidnapping of children and the theft of cattle, a vital source of livelihood. Having run for their lives they have no income that would enable them to afford to rent accommodation.

People visiting their dead relatives are understanding about the plight of the graveyard’s living residents. And the displaced people  – well, they seem to have grown accustomed to their situation.

“It’s become a part of my life,” says Modi. “I eat with the dead by throwing some of my food and drink on the ground. I believe it pleases them.”

//Daniel Majak, Juba

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Fuel crisis damaging economy

Motorbikes and cars waiting in long queues for increasingly scarce petrol have become a common sight in Port-au-Prince in recent weeks. Hundreds of vendors approach waiting vehicles with yellow petrol cans. Fights sometimes break out over who gets to sell or buy first.

This fuel crisis is damaging the  economy. Thousands of children can’t get to school, many employees fail to get to work and businesses are badly hit:  “Our clients can’t get anywhere and sales are down in all sectors”, complains businessman Réginald Boulos.

He and many others are forced to turn to the black market, where  a gallon of petrol sells for 500 gourdes (about US$5.9), or about 250 per cent  more than the price at the pump – if the pump wasn’t empty. 

Haiti has stopped receiving cheap oil from Venezuela, which is struggling with its own economic and political crisis. To make matters worse,  a waiting oil tanker has refused to unload until the government pays some of the US$60 million owed for previous deliveries.

Fuel price increases affect almost all Haitians and it feels as though the country could erupt at any moment.

/Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, Port-au-Prince

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

25 years since the Rwanda genocide: He married the daughter of the man who killed his family

Article published in Göteborgsposten
6 April 2019
By Jean Pierre Bucyensenge

Rwanda. John Giranza was brutally beaten, with broken bones and a cracked head. He lost 38 members of his family and was hospitalised for six years. ”It’s a miracle I survived”, he says.
Today, he is married to the daughter of one of the murderers.

It was in April 1994 that all hell broke loose in Rwanda. The Hutu militia, called Interhamwe, armed themselves with machetes and other weapons and then started killing people all over the country, with the support of police and military. Interahamwe was driven by an extremist ideology whose flames had been fanned by officials in the Hutu led government. The UN estimate that around one million people were killed during the 100 days of the genocide between april and june 1994.

”The perpetrators were mainly people who we knew and lived side by side with” says John Giraneza, who was 20 years old at the time of the Genocide.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Opposition politician arrested after elections

Senegal’s constitutional council ruled in early March that President Macky Sall was re-elected with 58 per cent of the vote – but opposition groups and other critics say they neither acknowledge the result nor will appeal against it. They’ve already moved on, says local journalist Ngoundji Dieng in Dakar.

Instead, controversy centres on the arrests of activists who supported runner-up and former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who received 21 per cent of the vote.

The security chief of Seck’s party, Rewmi (The Country), was arrested for encouraging people to oppose the result in the event of a first-round victory for  Sall. He was subsequently released under legal supervision, which Rewmi claims is part of a witch-hunt against party activists. An unconfirmed number of people have received conditional sentences for disturbing public order.

While the election result passed unnoticed, this is something that engages the people on the streets. Many have condemned the actions and called for dialogue and calmness.

“I don’t see the point of these arrests. Macky Sall won by a large number, so why fan the flames?” says Ngouda Fall in a conversation with friends.

/Ngoundji Dieng, Dakar

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

The Himalayas are melting – in Nepal this is not news

The Himalayas are home to ten of the world’s 14 mountains above 8,000 metres. But how high will the peaks be in 80 years?

According to a new report by two mountain monitoring organisations (ICIMOD and HIMAP), two-thirds of Himalayan ice will disappear by 2100 if global warming continues unchecked.

Nepal is directly affected by this and other changes in the mountain environment. Climate change has been affecting the Himalayas for years through receding glaciers, water problems, migration to lowlands and increased weather extremes. But the report released in the capital, Kathmandu, in March secured scarcely a mention in the country’s media: the people hit hardest by the impact of these destabilising changes have little knowledge of why their living conditions are changing so quickly. 

Mani Nepal, an economist with the Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics, agrees that “media have an important role to play in raising awareness”. 

Other environmental activists agree: it’s time to shout about it from the mountain tops.

/Sewa Battarai, Nepal.

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

‘These flowers aren’t for us, they’re for Europeans’

Article published in Svenska Dagbladet, from the series Hon jobbar för dig (She works for you)
17 December 2018
By Kimani Chege
Photos: Brian Otieno

Kenya. It is hard and difficult work.  Anne Aketch is one of the workers cutting roses for the European market. She hopes that her children won’t have to work on the flower plantation – and she shudders at the thought of Valentine’s Day.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

The silent climate conference

Article published in Syre
4 December 2018
By Rina Saeed Khan

At a glance, a former mining town in the heart of Poland’s coal district might seem a strange place for UN’s climate change conference. The coal mine Wujek and the coal museum are only a few kilometres from the city centre. But Katowice is moving away from its dirty past, to rise as a clean and green city.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

With the land free from mines, she started growing coffee beans

Article published in Svenska Dagbladet, from the series Hon jobbar för dig (She works for you)
17 December 2018
By Constanza Bruno Solera
Photos: Gerald Bermudez

Colombia. It wasn’t until after her divorce that Emilse Naranjo was recognised for her coffee. Today she makes a relatively good living selling her beans to Europe.
“Making good coffee requires, patience, care, and love. It’s like making a nice soup”, she says.

Full article (in Swedish) here:–da-borjade-hon-odla-kaffe

Artistic boat helps save River Dolphin

A curious form bobs its snout among cargo ships on the river Rupsha in Khulna in southwestern Bangladesh. It’s a boat shaped as a River Dolphin,  fashioned out of palms from the world’s largest mangrove forest, the nearby Sundarbans. The craft  was made to dramatise the importance of dolphin conservation to people in the wetlands.

The globally endangered River Dolphin – shushuk in Bangla – is under threat from overfishing, entanglement in nets, and increasing pollution caused by uncontrolled development. The latter has also made it difficult for fisherfolk to earn their living. Livelihoods and dolphins are both at risk, and conservationists believe local people can play a crucial role in saving the dolphin. 

The boat acts as a gallery for exhibiting photographs of dolphins, as a makeshift stage for puppeteers, and as an arts and crafts classroom. The chance to paint and make attracts villagers otherwise weary of NGO workers coming from the cities to “teach” them how to lead their lives.

/Sushmita Preetha,  Khulna.

The postcards from journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot  website.

Sharmin makes your jeans – “We have to work even when mortally ill”

Article published in Svenska Dagbladet, from the series Hon jobbar för dig (She works for you)
16 December 2018
By Sushmita Preetha
Photos: Taslima Akhter

Your jeans might be made by Sharmin Akhter.  Her wages support her entire family – including her husband. From entering the factory as a curious 12-year-old, she’s now a tired 35-year-old who sews clothes for famous fashion brands and desperately longs for some rest.

Full article (in Swedish) here:–vi-maste-jobba-dodssjuka

Colombia – magical and multicultural

Article published in Fönstret
By Constanza Bruno

The country of magical realism is also the country of pluralism. There are a mix of ethnicities here: native, black, white, mestizo, and romani. But Colombians identify more with the region they’re from, like costeños (those from the coast), paisas (from the mountains) or rolos (from the capital Bógota and the inner parts of the country). Each group speaks with its own accent and has its own customs.

Full article (in Swedish) here:–magiskt-och-multikulturellt/

Political and artistic graffiti festival

With its shanty towns and unplanned growth, Port-au-Prince gives a chaotic impression. The lack of urban planning is one of the city’s major flaws.

That’s why the theme for the Haitian and foreign artists taking part in the third graffiti festival Festi-Graffiti was “The resurrection of the public space”.

In Haiti, graffiti mainly expresses political views. During the dictatorship in 1957-1986, the lack of freedom of speech made graffiti a way of shocking those in power and criticising society – a tradition that is still alive, especially during elections.

Some artists in the graffiti festival highlighted the recent and increasingly loud demand for transparency in government spending. But above all, the artists were given the opportunity of conveying their aesthetic visions for the city.

“We want to turn graffiti into an art form just like any other, and show that it’s about more than just criticising or flattering politicians”, said Widler Resonance, chairman of the collective for urban and modern art.

/Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, Port au Prince..

The Postcards from journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot  website.

Kathmandu plastered with government posters

When we woke  on 27 November, Kathmandu had changed overnight: every street light pole and advertising space featured the face of Prime Minister K P Oli. “A new era begins” proclaimed the posters promoting a new social security scheme. 

Social media was soon flooded with ironic memes about the new era. Critics attacked the publicity campaign’s huge expense and the showy display that took the focus away from the scheme itself.

Many journalists and political scientists are also concerned about this and other signs of megalomania. The communist government has recently passed laws that criminalise aspects of investigative journalism, photography and satire, and strengthen actions against slander and libel. The message is clear: the government will take no criticism.

The PM’s speech at the inauguration of the scheme was explicit about the intention to control. “For those who say they do not see the government’s presence, do you still not see it? If you don’t, you won’t have to wear spectacles to do so. In future you will be forced to see it, whether or not you want to!”

/Sewa Bhattarai, Kathmandu.

The postcards by journalists in our network are published on the Blank Spot Project website.

Women openly harassed in Pakistan

Article published in Göteborgsposten
27 August 2018
By Rina Saeed Khan
Photos: Muhammad Furqan

Pakistan. In Lahore, many women are scared of using public transport because of sexual harassment. The organisation Environment Protection Foundation is trying to counteract this by an initiative in which women are trained to drive rickshaws.

Ghulam Fatima, a widow, says the decision to drive a rickshaw is the best she has ever made.

“I’m so happy to no longer have to rely on my inlaws to support my children. I used to not even be able to ride a bike, and now I’m driving my own vehicle around Lahore!”

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Pavement vendors shunned

Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast, is recognised for its grand buildings and its business district. But  Adjamé market, the biggest in the country,looks rather chaotic, with vendors occupying the pavements because they claim renting a shop in the market is too expensive and that  pavement pitches attract more customers.

The authorities want to banish the vendors, arguing that the streets should be kept clear for traffic and emergency vehicles and that street stalls detract from the modern urban image the administration wants to cultivate.  They try to impose order, even resorting to the use of bulldozers.  Pavement stallholders can only stand and watch as their displays are crushed, but those who have placed their wares on a blanket can quickly scoop tjhem all up when the crawler trundles towards them.

A few days later, the blankets and stalls are back in the same spot, and the next round begins in the battle of Adjamé .

/Nesmon De Laure, Abidjan.

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.

Tea against hate speech

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I attended ‘Take Tea Together’ (TTT), an initiative organised by Salaam Junub (‘Peace South Sudan’) to counteract hate speech and negative tribalism.

Struggling against these tendencies is really needed in South Sudan, where warring parties in the civil war have deliberately played on and exacerbated tribal differences. Members of the Nuer group in President Salva Kiir’s administration have been labelled ‘Nuer wew’ – betrayers and sycophants. In Juba, the country’s majority tribe, the Dinka, is referred to as ‘MTN’ – a play on the slogan of the giant South African company Mobile Telephone Network: “Everywhere you go”. The Dinkas are traditionally nomads but today  are also scattered around the country partly because of the persistent  conflict.

Such epithets may sound harmless, but in South Sudan’s tense political atmosphere they fan the flames of conflict by inciting difference, dislike, animosity and hatred. Tribal affiliation has become key to getting a job: Dinka, Nuer or Equaotoria people can’t work in a state outside their state of origin.

The recently signed peace agreement  gives some hope. Political reconciliation is the goal. The question is whether ethnic harmony will follow.

/Daniel Majack, Juba

This is the first in a series of postcards from journalists in our network, published on the Blankspot Project website.

Cameroon on the brink of civil war

Article published in Göteborgsposten
7 October 2018
By Arison Tamfu
Photos: Rodrigue Mbock

Cameroon. Paul Biya, Cameroon’s president, almost holds the world record for time in office. Today, Sunday, he’s likely to be given another seven years. But the country is increasingly divided. Separatists have declared independence in the English-speaking parts of the country, and violence is escalating.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Every chance I get to eat with my daughters is holy

Article published in Svenska Dagbladet, from the series Äta tillsammans (Eating Together)
13 July 2018
By Jorge Riveros-Cayo
Photos: Yayo Lopez

Lima. The single mother Vanadis Phumpiú is one of Peru’s leading cacao experts, and her job means that she spends a lot of time travelling in various south american countries.

“Work means I have to be away from home at least two weeks per month”, she explains. “Every chance I get to eat with my daughters is holy. I cook their favourite dishes, and fun food like homemade pizza and tacos. As they eat lunch in school during the weeks, dinner becomes a way for me to show love”, says Vanadis who is divorced from her children’s Canadian father.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Pakistan – the world’s best kept secret

Article published in Fönstret
#3, 2018
By Rina Saeed Khan

Pakistan.  Less consideration is being shown in Pakistan to the Islamists who have been trying to stop everything from book fairs to kite-flying. Rina Saeed Khan writes about her often criticised country.

Article published in Fönstret, #3 2018. Full article (in Swedish) here


Groundbreaking lesbians in Bangladesh

Article published in Ottar
29 September 2018
By Sushmita Preetha

Three years ago, the activists of Boys of Bangladesh launched Dhee – the country’s first graphic novel that explores sexuality and love beyond the norm. For security reasons the movement went underground after the murders of two gay activists and journalists in April 2016, but the group are now continuing their work.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Eating together is about more than just food

Article published in Svenska Dagbladet, from the series Äta tillsammans (Eating together)
8 July 2018
By Armsfree Ajanaku
Photos: Rahima Gambo

Nigeria. Adebayo Abejide, a radio station engineer, lives with his family in a suburb of the capital Abuja. As he often gets stuck in traffic on his work commute he is usually home too late to have dinner with his family.

“All of us are away from home many hours a day. From morning until evening, me, my wife, and my children are apart and mainly speak on the phone. Only occasionally do we manage to eat together at the weekends, but that too can be difficult since my wife is studying for a master and doesn’t always have her weekends off”, says Adebayo.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Tensions rise in enormous refugee camp

Article published in Svenska Dagbladet
24 August 2018
By Sushmita Preetha
Photos: Anisur Rahman

Bangladesh. When the military systematically murdered, raped, and plundered the minority group rohingya in Rakine in Myanmar, around 700 000 people fled to the neighbouring country of Bangladesh.

There they were at first received with open arms, but now, a year later, many locals have grown tired of the refugees – and the fight for the already limited resources has toughened.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

I was surprised that grandma accepted cooking with eggs

Article published in Svenska Dagbladet, from the series Äta tillsammans (Eating Together)
16 July 2018
By Bhrikuti Rai
Photos: Bikram Rai

Nepal. Thirty year old marketing manager Yukti Pant lives in Kathmandu with her parents and grandmother. Traditionally the family are strict vegetarians, but Yukti got a taste for meat when she was visiting relatives, and often eats out with friends so that she can choose a meat dish.

“Grandma is so strict with her traditional customs. That she accepted egg to be cooked in her kitchen was really surprising”, says Yukti.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Vibrant culture on the streets of Bolivia

Article published in Fönstret
November 2017
By Rocio Lloret 

Bolivia. The cultural life in Bolivia’s two biggest cities depicts a modern country full of ambition, yet deeply anchored in history, religion, and cultural identity.
It is 850 kilometers between the financial hub of Santa Cruz and the political capital La Paz, a journey that starts in a tropical climate and ends in the Andes, 3 900 metres above sea level.
Continue reading Vibrant culture on the streets of Bolivia

Ikea is so desirable that shops sell their own imports

Article published in Market
15 August 2018
By Rina Saeed Khan

Islamabad. Ikea is hugely popular in South Asia. In  Hyderabad, India, 40 000 people flooded in when the furniture giant first opened its doors there last week. In neighbouring Pakistan, shops deal with their own imports – and Ikea signs.

-I love Ikea products, especially things like storage boxes and kids’ furniture. But this shop that sells their things is way too expensive, says Uzma Khan, mother of three in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Change on everyone’s mind in Zimbabwe’s historical election

Article published in Göteborgsposten
30 July 2018
By Farai Mutsaka
Photos: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe is preparing for a historical election. For the first time, the inhabitants in the once flourishing country to vote without Robert Mugabe’s name on the ballot.
In November last year – during his 38th year in power – the ageing ex president was forced to leave his seat after strong pressure from the military, the own party Zanu-PF, and the general public.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

Cricket star favourite candidate in Pakistan elections

Article published in Göteborgsposten
23 July 2018
By Rina Saeed Khan
Photos: Muhammad Furqan

Pakistan. Pakistan’s former Prime Minister was recently imprisoned following a corruption scandal. A cricket star can become the new leader. GP reports from the fragile democracy preparing for elections.

Full article (in Swedish) here:

90 rape threats per minute at news agency Rappler

Article published in Feministiskt Perspektiv
1 May 2018
By Purple Romero
Photos: Fruhlein Econar

The Philippines. The news agency Rappler fights against explicit threats from the country’s president Rodrigo Duerte, and increasingly far-reaching attempts to silence them and make it impossible to work. The news agency is mainly run by women, and sexist attacks and threats are an everyday occurrence for the journalists.

Threats of rape, gang rape and murder is common for Pia Ranada, one of the agency’s journalists.

“Many of the threats and insults are personal, and the sexual threats are often visual. Some people find old photographs and use them to make ‘memes’ of me or to post insulting comments”, Ranada says.


The forgotten disaster

Article published in Göteborgsposten
21 April 2018
By Daniel Majack
Photos: Chol Mayak

South Sudan. The conflict in South Sudan – the youngest country in the world – is in its fifth year, and the humanitarian crisis has both intensified and expanded to unbelievable proportions.
In one of the world’s worst – and simultaneously least known – humanitarian disasters, two million people have fled abroad. They have fled mainly to the neighbouring countries Uganda (one million), Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. The same amount of people have been forced to leave their homes but are refugees within the country’s borders.

The refugees are predominantly women and children, according to the UN. The men have been swallowed up by the conflict between government forces and the armed opposition. Some have been killed; others are actively at war. Women and children have been left to flee the violence.

Full article (in Swedish) here: