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Ethiopia’s Lamecha tops steeplechase qualifying
30 July 2021, 9:57 AM

Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma cruised into the final of the Olympic men’s 3 000 metres steeplechase with the fastest time of 8:09.83 on Friday as he bids to end Kenya’s long-held domination of the event.

The 20-year-old 2019 world silver medallist boasts the world’s leading time this year of 8:07.75, posted at the Diamond League meet in Monaco this month.

The final on Monday looks wide open as defending champion Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya failed to qualify for the Games and will not defend his title.

The East African nation have won nine straight Olympic steeplechase golds since 1984 and will look to Abraham Kibiwot, who advanced to the final with a time of 8:12.25, to extend that run.

“The race was good, it was actually fantastic,” he said. “Tokyo is hot, the temperature is high but we are making Kenya proud so we don’t mind.”

Kenya have another contender in Benjamin Kigen who qualified with his season’s best time of 8:10.80.

“I know we have to fight in the finals,” he said. “My target was to first qualify and now I will fight for a medal.”

The Kenyans will battle it out for podium finishes with their Ethiopian neighbours, as Lamecha’s compatriot Getnet Wale also made it to the final.

Japan’s Ryuji Miura, 19, produced a national record time of 8:09.92 to make it to the final.

“I’m very surprised by my record today but I could achieve my goal to go to (the) final race,” he said.

“Age doesn’t matter, it’s more about how I run. What I had to do is do my best so I’m satisfied today,” Miura added.

Also looking to break up the Kenyan and Ethiopian party will be Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali, 25, the silver medallist in the 2017 world championships and bronze medallist in the 2019 worlds in Doha.

He was the third fastest qualifier with 8:19.00.

Thailand bans “false messages” amid criticism of handling of coronavirus
30 July 2021, 9:48 AM

Thailand banned on Friday the dissemination of “false messages” that affect security, drawing accusations from media groups that it is trying to crack down on criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said this week that the spread of fake news had become a major problem causing confusion in society and undermining the government’s ability to manage the pandemic.

An emergency decree that took effect on Friday prohibits the dissemination of false messages and distorted news that cause panic, misunderstanding, or confusion “affecting state security, abusing the rights of others, and order or good morality of the people”.

The decree empowers the state regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), to order service providers to block internet access to individual IP addresses if it believes they are disseminating false news and to inform the police to take legal action.

The decree comes after the government has faced public criticism over its handling of the pandemic.

For most of last year Thailand managed to keep the virus at bay but a recent surge of infections, driven by the Delta variant of the virus, has been the deadliest yet.

A sluggish vaccine roll-out has led to huge crowds queuing up day after day in some places for COVID tests and inoculations.

The government already has sweeping powers to enforce measures to tackle the coronavirus and rules for control of the internet. Authorities have been taking legal action against some people, including some celebrities and social media influencers, who have criticised the pandemic response.

These include 19-year-old rapper, Danupa “Milli” Khanatheerakul, who was fined 2 000 baht ($60) on a charge of “public insult” last week after accusing the government on social media of mishandling the COVID-19 crisis.

Six media associations said in a joint statement the government’s legal actions showed “an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public”.

The associations are planning to deliver a letter protesting against the government’s new order on Friday.

The government has said that legal action against “false messages” was not aimed at silencing the media.

CDC internal report says Delta variant as contagious as chickenpox: NYT
30 July 2021, 9:25 AM

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the Delta variant of the coronavirus to be as contagious as chickenpox and could cause severe illness, the New York Times reported, citing an internal CDC document.

The variant was also more likely to break through protections afforded by the vaccines, the report said, adding that the agency’s reverse course on masking guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans on Tuesday was based on this document.

However, CDC’s figures show that the vaccines are highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalisation and death in vaccinated people, the report said, citing experts.

New research showed the vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant carried tremendous amounts of the virus in the nose and throat, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told the Times.

The Delta variant is more transmissible than the viruses that cause MERS, SARS, Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu and smallpox, the report said.

The immediate next step for the agency is to “acknowledge the war has changed,” the report cited the document as saying.

CDC is expected to publish additional data on the variant on Friday, the NYT said.

Why Young ICT innovators in Africa are Struggling
29 July 2021, 7:55 PM

Although Africa has proven its potential as a fast-rising home to brilliant innovations, many innovators in the continent are struggling. Opportunities are hard to come by, and resource allocation to what could be viable trend-shifting ideas is a mirage. Even worse, some of the stakeholders that support innovators struggle with sustainability to the extent of shutting down their operations, significantly reducing the level of available support to the innovators.

On the bright side, however, the opportunities for Africa’s innovative brains are not all lost. Just last month, Google released about USD 2 million grants for non-profit and social-based enterprises using technology to improve lives in Africa. The Huawei South Africa-based Cloud and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Innovation Centre is another existing facility that is open to developers and promotes innovation, knowledge transfer and, economic growth through app development in the Artificial Intelligence industry. Among others, including the African Telecommunications Union’s Africa Innovation Challenge Series, these openings are helping to bring hope for Africans to benefit from African ideas.

The opening line in a 2019 article by the Financial Times suggested that “foreign-owned start-ups are driving African tech revolution — and prompting fears of exploitation.” The article which drew reference to some of Africa’s finest innovations, including Kenya’s M-Pesa, Rwanda’s forays in health apps, Nigeria’s Cars45 as well as Jumia, had a very sad but interesting reflection of Africa’s recent past, terming the period as to where “most value is added to commodities after they leave the continent”. While this may entirely not be the case today, there is the likely danger that the situation may recur.

In 2019 when Jumia, for instance, became the first exclusively Africa-focused e-commerce company to be listed on the US stock exchange, that perhaps should have been the golden break for Africa to initiate the process of penetrating into the global scene. Why we are still stuck at a place where innovators are looked at as beggars and not as partners when it comes to funding their ideas, is a shame. This explains how, according to a 2019 study by Afrilabs and Briter Bridges, over 110 hubs have shut down operations within the past half-decade.

Confronted by these unfortunate realities, stakeholders across the continent such as regulatory authorities, entrepreneurial support organizations, incubators, accelerators and learning institutions, must come together and attempt to provide the needed support to young ICT innovators. This way, we are likely to build a system that eases the desire of stakeholders to inject resources into prospects, with the likelihood of resulting in creation of income for youths, market expansion, improved livelihoods, upscaling of businesses, and funding.

Looking at the situation from an insider’s perspective, it is possible to not only have multiple organizations onboarded into the idea of funding innovations, but also have them work together. Competing interests must remain in the marketplace, and at no time should they stand in the way of progress for the African youth. This year’s edition of the African Telecommunications Union’s Innovation Challenge is one example of how international actors can work together for the betterment of the ‘local man’. The Challenge which is expected to close on 31st of July 2021 is supported by the International Telecommunications Union, Huawei and Intel Corporation, which typically are many sides of different coins.

Taking notes from the lessons learnt over the years dealing with innovation, and especially from the classroom that was the first edition of the ATU Africa Innovation Challenge, a general agreement that many of us championing a partnership-led approach to innovator’s support have come to, is that it is not impossible to pull together. Common ideas, such as our theme for this year’s challenge, “Best ecosystem practices in Africa enabling youth ICT innovation” offer the starting point to generating useful engagements and reserving a seat at the table of partnerships. Just like we expect innovators to build new ideas, innovation support must also be founded by unique concepts and ideas. Undeniably in this regard, I do anticipate to see some of Africa’s best practices that have created an enabling environment for youth ICT innovation to thrive, award them and showcase them to the continent when we announce winners in September.

We must admit that the process of innovation is complex and for innovators, especially young ICT innovators to thrive, they require resources, capacity building, effective policies, valuable networks, cultural change and a conducive economic environment. For all these factors to be present within an innovation ecosystem, all stakeholders need to work together.

With the exposure to ICT today being at a considerably earlier age compared to the older generation, it shouldn’t be difficult to agree on the question of why invest in the youth. It is for this reason that growing and fostering innovation has been recognized by the United Nations as a key piece of the puzzle to sustainable development under goal 9 that calls for fostering innovation.

The alternative for the case that this opinion projects, is a continent that has no regard for innovation, and therefore no regard for the future.

John Omo is the Secretary General of the African Telecommunication Union (ATU), a specialised agency of the African Union, in the field of telecommunications. ATU promotes the rapid development of info-communications in Africa in order to achieve universal access and full inter-country connectivity.

 

Indigenous groups urge Biden to protect sacred sites
29 July 2021, 5:33 PM

The fight over South Dakota’s Black Hills was handed down to Nick Tilsen from his parents, part of what he says is the longest-running legal battle over indigenous lands in US history, ongoing since the 1800s.

At issue is control of more than 1 million acres (404 700 hectares) of rolling hills – a place of origins for Tilsen’s Lakota tribe, dotted with sacred sites the community returns to regularly.

“Our people have been traveling in and around the Black Hills as part of our spiritual cycle for millennia,” Tilsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Yet it is the federal government that ultimately makes decisions concerning most of the Black Hills, despite 19th-century treaties that included these lands – provisions that were broken once gold was found in the area, Tilsen said – and subsequent court rulings in the tribe’s favor.

Hoping that President Joe Biden’s administration will open the door to stronger indigenous land rights, Tilsen and others are focusing on a message being delivered to Washington, D.C. this week – in the form of a 25-foot-tall (7-m-tall) totem pole.

Over the past two weeks, the intricately carved and painted artwork, made from a 400-year-old cedar tree, has been traveling cross-country in the Red Road to DC caravan, stopping at 10 sacred sites, like the Black Hills, on its way to Washington.

Accompanied by a group of its creators, the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers, the totem pole is due to arrive in Washington for a rally Thursday.

After that, backers plan to meet with government officials to present policy demands on how to protect sacred sites across the country.

About 56 million acres across the United States are considered tribal lands, though these are all held in trust by the federal government.

Tilsen, who heads an advocacy and philanthropic group called NDN Collective, is optimistic, pointing to growing tribal action on indigenous land sovereignty and rising public recognition of the issue over recent years.

Indigenous advocates also see promise in the new Biden administration, which they say has hired more Native Americans than any other.

That includes Deb Haaland, who became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary when she was named head of the Interior Department, which manages tribal lands. Haaland will address the rally Thursday, organizers say.

Natural resource extraction, climate change and “unbridled development” are the main threats to indigenous land, said Judith LeBlanc, director of the Native Organizers Alliance (NOA) and an organizer of the Red Road to DC project.

“Although people have taken note of these struggles, the remedies are all very different – the common denominator is the role of the federal government and its policies,” she said by phone.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department declined to comment.

PLUMMETING SALMON POPULATION

At the heart of the Red Road campaign is the totem pole, featuring more than a dozen elements of iconography – such as a moon, a bear and a salmon – drawn from tribes across the continent.

“This ‘journey’ is about sacred sites. Thus, we decided to let the spirit guide the choice of figures as we carved the totem from top down,” Jewell James, the head carver, wrote in a statement provided by organizers.

The pole will be offered as a gift to Biden to “urge his immediate protection of sacred sites”, according to a press release from the campaign, before it is displayed temporarily at the National Museum of the American Indian until a permanent placement is decided upon.

Julian Matthews is a member of the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho, where he and others have watched the Snake River’s salmon population plummet by up to 90% over the past quarter century, he said.

The tribe, which hosted the Red Road caravan on July 15, blames the federal government’s construction in the 1960s and 1970s of four dams that have impeded the water’s flow and raised its temperature, he said.

“This is an important food source, but it’s also part of our culture,” said Matthews, who leads the nonprofit Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, noting that the community uses salmon in ceremonies such as funerals.

In March, a US representative proposed removing the dams to restore the salmon population, a bill that received tribal support this month.

POLITICAL CONTROL

A common goal for tribal communities is to have the power to make decisions about major land management issues, said LeBlanc at the NOA.

Federally recognized tribes are sovereign and many have treaty agreements with the government, yet Washington only goes as far as offering “consultation” on key proposals, she noted.

“The only path to saving sacred places as well as public lands from destruction is if the federal government moves toward a relationship of informed consent, bringing native leaders and communities to the decision-making table to solve problems together,” LeBlanc said.

She sees rising energy toward those aims, including a U.S. House proposal in May that would mandate a stronger role for tribes in deciding on federal action that would significantly affect indigenous land.

“Tribal consultation … must become law as soon as possible,” Representative Raul M. Grijalva, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.

In the Black Hills, Tilsen said the national public discussion about race and equity has boosted the new “Land Back” movement seeking the return of sacred and public lands to indigenous control.

“Indigenous people want political control of the land again – let’s be clear, that’s what we’re fighting for,” he said.

He points to an area on the edge of the Black Hills as an example, where 100 acres of federally owned land was ceded to three tribes in 2017 and where NDN Collective is now helping develop housing for the homeless.

“This is about way more than physical land,” Tilsen said.

“Societal, political and economic systems were destroyed in the process of taking the land. Now so much of this is about rebuilding a new system.”

Weather

 

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