Category Archives: Postcards

Postcard from Senegal

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.

Postcard from Tunisia

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.

Postcard from South Sudan

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.

Postcard from Haiti

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.

Postcard from Senegal

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.

Postcard from Nepal

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.

Postcard from Bangladesh

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.

Postcard from Haiti

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.

Postcard from Nepal

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.

Postcard from Ivory Coast

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.

Postcard from South Sudan

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.