'Postcard from ....' is a regular series of brief reports on local issues written by journalists in the OneWorld Sweden Features network for the Blankspot Project website in Sweden.

Cameroon campaigning despite violence

Campaigning for Cameroon’s upcoming council and national assembly elections is well underway, despite threats from armed separatists in the English-speaking regions in the west, who dismiss  all activities organised by the largely French-speaking Cameroonian government as illegal.

When at the end of January 86-year-old President Paul Biya set the 9 February poll date, the separatists announced a six-day curfew. They threatened to “deal with” anyone venturing onto the streets, and in the past kidnapped more than 50 candidates.

More than 700 soldiers have been sent to English-speaking areas and Biya – who has held power for 37 years – says the election will be peaceful throughout the country. The biggest opposition party, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM), has urged an election boycott because of the security situation and a “biased electoral law”. Villagers from affected regions are fleeing to neighbouring Nigeria in fear of violence from both separatists and army. The UN and EU have urged the government to enter into a dialogue with the separatists.

“The international community really should help to solve this conflict,“ says Brian Bob Mbah, who lives in Buea, capital of the south-western English-speaking region. “People here are scared of going to campaign meetings because there are shootings both day and night. Nobody is safe. I hope I’m still alive after the elections.”

/Arison Tamfu, Cameroon

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

More soldiers killed by avalanches in the Himalayas

The Siachen Glacier is the world’s highest battleground, where Indian and Pakistani troops face each in the bitter cold, 6,000 metres above sea-level at the northern end of their border.

Soldiers have died in combat there, but their common enemy – the hostile environment – is proving increasingly deadly.

The two countries’ mechanised units affect the region’s vulnerable ecology, not least because of the large amount of rubbish they generate. Climate warming is adding to the problems, the biggest of which is avalanches.

Avalanches killed 140 Pakistani soldiers on the lower part of the 47-mile glacier in 2012 and 10 Indian soldiers in 2016. This year, avalanches killed  four soldiers and two Sherpas on 18 November and less than two weeks later another two people.

Shrinking glaciers and more avalanches in the Himalayas were predicted as ”highly likely” by the UN intergovernmental panel’s 2014-5 report on climate change.

A former Indian defence ministry scientist says that the frequency of avalanches has steadily increased in Siachen since 1984, when Indian troops were first stationed there and scientists began studying the area.

The scientist says that temperatures fluctuate on the glacier but that both the lowest and highest winter temperatures are on an upward trend – an important factor behind the avalanches.

Thukjay Lotus, a Sherpa who works in Siachen and who I met in the village of Panamik close to the base camp, says he sees avalanches as the biggest threat in the area.

”We’re always worried about avalanches. In the last 10 years a number of avalanches have occurred and many people have been killed. Two years ago, I just made it out alive.”

/Athar Parvaiz, Kashmir

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

A new dawn for Kenyan politics

A commission in Kenya has made suggestions for “healing the nation” and avoiding post-election conflict.

The 2017 poll was hotly disputed and President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga almost pushed the country into turmoil.

But a few months later the nation watched as the two men shook hands in the corridor of the president’s office and later selected a group of people of differing political affiliations and beliefs to make proposals for bridging political tensions by avoiding the scenario in which the election winner gets everything and the loser nothing

On 26 November – a year-and-a-half after the historic handshake – the Building Bridges Initiative report was released.

It suggests that the main loser in the elections should be nominated to parliament as the official opposition leader with a shadow cabinet and that regional and ethnic balance should be promoted in government, as provided for in the previous constitution. It also recommends reintroducing the post of prime minister and new procedures for the selection of  cabinet ministers,

This week a meeting was held to inform delegates from the country’s 47 counties of the contents of the report. The recommendations will now either be voted on in parliament or put to the people for a referendum.

The proposals are being widely discussed by members of the public, and have generally been warmly welcomed. But Kamire wa Wairimu, a 39-year-old businessman and wheat producer in Narok, one of the areas most affected political tension after the last election, speaks for a number of critics when he told me that while it is positive to try and mend political processes, he is worried about the possible public expense of the recommendations.

”More political posts are introduced, in a situation where regular people are fighting to make enough money to buy food, while the costs of politicians and their administrations are high,” he cautioned.

/Kimani Chege, Kenya

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

Testing time in Rwanda after change of exam language

The Rwandan authorities want pupils to write their end-of-year exams in the local language, Kinyarwanda, instead of English.

The end of the year is exam time, when about 456,000 primary and high school students are tested before they can take the next steps on their education journey.

But this year, only days before the exams were due to start across the country, the board of education announced that all elementary school students must take the exams in Kinyarwanda. Although education policy stipulates that elementary pupils are to be taught in Kinyarwanda, most schools still teach in English, with Kinyarwanda as an optional subject, because teachers and parents believe English offers the best future prospects.

The change of policy was intended to harmonise teaching and exams as well as to promote children’s use of Kinyarwanda.

So the  Kinyarwanda-only ruling came as a shock to many. Additionally, the education board will now set the exams: previously this was done by the schools.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, elementary school pupils worldwide learn quicker and better when they are taught in their mother tongue. And some Rwandans support the idea of exams in Kinyarwanda, arguing that it’s a language that the children understand better. But the majority of parents do not seem convinced.

“It’s unfortunate that the students have to take exams in a language they are not taught in,” says Theophile Bucyana, a teacher at a school in the capital, Kigali. He thinks the decision-makers face a struggle in making the policy change stick..

“Sure, being taught in Kinyarwanda can improve the use of their mother tongue, but most parents associate English with giving their children more possibilities, and they feel proud when their children can express themselves in a foreign language,” he says. “It’s an attitude that will be difficult to change.”

/Jean-Pierre Bucyensenge, Rwanda

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

Back to everyday life in Bolivia

After 21 days of protests and the departure from the country of the dethroned President, Evo Morales, Bolivians are trying to re-establish their normal, everyday lives.

In the wake of reports of irregularities in the presidential election, people in various areas started to mobilise. The most important movement took place in Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia, where 40-year old Luis Fernando Camacho, leader of the Civic Committee for Santa Cruz, called a civil strike on 22 October. The protest quickly spread across the country, with huge gatherings of people and violence. At least ten deaths are being investigated.

For three weeks the only vehicles on the streets of Santa Cruz were those of the emergency services and, until lunchtime, vehicles delivering food. After lunch, people blocked the streets with tyres, cars, chairs, water tanks and whatever else they could lay their hands on.

The day after Morales stepped down, Luis Fernando Camacho encouraged people to stop the blockades. In Santa Cruz’s Mutualista market I meet 63-year-old Aurelia Suxo, happy to be heading home at last after sleeping by her fruit stand for 21 nights.

Since then, the most visible traces of the protests have been long queues outside banks and the irregularity of government services.

“It feels strange. I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself the day after,” says Karla Rodozebick, a 29-year-old university student who was a protest leader in her neighbourhood.

Another resident, 51-year-old Paul Handal, tells me that normality has returned to such an extent that it’s hard to believe that life was disrupted by a lengthy strike.

But in La Paz, Cochabamba and Yapacani there were signs that political differences will take longer to sort out. A mere hours after Morales’ resignation violence erupted, initially between supporters and opponents of the ousted president, and then between police and supporters of Morales’ political party. 

/Rocío Lloret Céspedes, Santa Cruz

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

Politicians accused of murder in Nepal

The justice system in Nepal is being tested by the arrest of two prominent politicians, sparking widespread debate about impunity and authoritarianism.

In October the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, was arrested after a health worker filed an allegation of attempted rape.  A week later another MP, Aftab Alam, was arrested, accused of murder and possession of explosives. 

In Alam’s case, the charges are based on accusations by relatives of two men injured – and then allegedly killed – while making bombs for an election campaign in 2006. Family members claim the bombs were intended to scare voters and block polling stations. 

The two cases have shaken Nepal. In the aftermath of the 10-year civil war, justice for war crimes hasn’t been served and powerful people go unpunished. As a result, many Nepalis people have no faith in the legal system. Arrests of eminent politicians like Mahara and Alam are unprecedented. This time, strong allegations and pressure from activists has forced the government to act.

Nevertheless, the public is waiting to see whether two men remain in custody or under arrest during continuing police inquiries, whether the allegations hold up, and whether witnesses stick to their statements: several media reports allege that attempts have been made to threaten and bribe them. 

Both men say they are innocent and neither has resigned their parliamentary seat.

Nepal is holding its breath in anticipation of the two court decisions.


/Sewa Bhattarai, Nepal

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

Unchanged prices the talk of the town in Zimbabwe

”The price of petrol remains unchanged” proclaimed a report on Zimbabwe’s state-owned news agency this week.

That prices remain the same for an entire week is big news in a country where inflation reached 300 per cent in August according to the IMF – a level  exceeded only by Venezuela. It is not unusual to see prices rising several times a day.

“It’s tough” has become a common greeting phrase in Zimbabwe.

Shopping isn’t for the faint of heart. A school teacher’s monthly salary is barely enough to buy five kilos of beef. Many Zimbabweans resort to cheaper alternatives to meat they previously would not have eaten.

Doctors and nurses have stopped going to work.

“We’re not striking. It’s just that we can’t afford to take the bus”, says Masimba Ndoro, a representative of the doctors’ union.

The government is asking people to be patient, and instead it highlights the soon-to-be realised benefits of investment.

But to many, promises of future benefits seem hollow.

“Those numbers are an empty promise,” says Wright Chimombe, a hairdresser whose business is badly affected by power failures of up to 19 hours a day. “I believe what I can see. At the moment I’m just seeing red.”

/Farai Mutsaka, Zimbabwe.

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

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.

Local festival goes national in Ethiopia

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.