News Around the Globe


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KEJOM KETINGUH, CAMEROON – From a hilltop in Kejom Ketinguh, a village in northwestern Cameroon, a tall eucalyptus tree pruned bare halfway to the top peeks up beyond the rest of the vegetation. At the tip of the tree is an antenna that transmits the signal of the area’s only radio broadcaster.

 

On the ground, a footpath leads through fields of beans, Irish potatoes and corn to the radio station, a makeshift 3-square-meter (32-square-foot) structure of raffia bamboo, eucalyptus branches and old metal sheets in a field of grass. Two cables extend from the roof of the station to the antenna on the eucalyptus tree.

 

Elvis Akumbu, the radio station’s owner, pushes open the lockless door and enters the studio. Inside is a small transmitter, a small microphone and two old chairs. Old cartons line the walls of the studio, providing a measure of soundproofing.

 

Akumbu carries two mobile phones – one to receive calls in the studio and the other one to play music. He places a microphone on the phone and plays music. Placing the phones on one of the chairs, Akumbu pulls open the transmitter box, connects some cables and immediately goes on air.

 

“Good morning, Kejom Ketinguh!” he says. “Welcome to FM Techno. We are broadcasting on FM 99.3 megahertz.”

 

His eyes rhythmically open and close; his right leg dances back and forth.

 

Akumbu, a 23-year-old high school graduate, built his village’s first and only radio station using scrap cables and other electronic waste. The station’s signal has a radius of 3 kilometers (1.8 miles), so it reaches about 10,000 of the roughly 25,000 people in the village.

 

FM Techno broadcasts village news and programs that tackle social and cultural issues in the community. Villagers say the station discourages the kind of intertribal violence that has visited the community in the past.

 

Akumbu started assembling materials for his radio station when he entered secondary school at age 14.

 

“My curiosity began when my form-one physics teacher lectured us on the topic of waves,” says Akumbu, now a part-time physics teacher at his former school, Government High School Kejom Ketinguh. “At the end of that topic, I couldn’t sleep. I was only thinking of how to make things work technologically.”

 

While reading about physics and technology, Akumbu began stockpiling potential radio equipment, such as old cables and electronics he pulled from refuse heaps.

 

He dismantled old electronics to get the transistors, resistors and condensers he needed to create a transmitter and an antenna. He then bought a small chassis board, which contains electronic components that help capture the signal. He planted a raffia pole outside his room to act as a mast for his antenna.

 

His first transmitter, created when he was 14, didn’t work, but he kept trying.

 

In 2009, when he was 17 and in his fourth year of secondary school, Akumbu succeeded in broadcasting live from his room with a signal radius of about 100 meters (.06 miles).

 

“I was so excited,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t happy with the short distance covered, I was excited that I finally got the formula.”

 

To extend his broadcast radius, Akumbu in 2010 moved out of his room to his current location, an unused section of his father’s farm. Now, he uses the tall eucalyptus tree as a mast for his antenna.

 

“I knew that the higher the antenna, the wider the coverage, and it worked well for me,” he says.

 

Akumbu also increased the power supply for his radio system from two volts to three, using two AA batteries.

 

Akumbu believes his technical abilities have a divine source.

 

“I think I have a God-given talent of inventing and knowing things,” he says. “I also learned to repair electronic devices on my own.”

 

The youngest of 11 children in a polygamous family, Akumbu has done all sorts of odd jobs to raise the nearly 100,000 francs ($174) he has used over the years to build his radio station. His teaching job only pays 36,321 francs ($63) a month.

 

“I still work jobs in people’s farms just to raise money to buy my radio needs,” he says.

 

FM Techno broadcasts from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. When the equipment is faulty, it can go off air for days. Akumbu does most of the broadcasting, but high school students aspiring to enter journalism also take to the airwaves.

 

Akumbu hasn’t applied for a broadcasting license from the government, which considers him an independent researcher. If he declares his research complete, the government would tax the station, and Akumbu says he couldn’t afford that.

 

Lacking a license, Akumbu can’t obtain a permanent frequency. He changes frequencies whenever he discovers that another station’s signal is interfering with his. He has changed the frequency five times since going on air.

 

Akumbu says his aim in setting up the station was to discourage intertribal wars of the sort he witnessed growing up. In 1994, when a land dispute turned violent, his family’s house was burned down in the clash, he says.

 

In one of his programs, Akumbu encourages communities to intermarry for the sake of peace.

 

“Whenever they think of war, the thought of killing their own grandchildren in the next village will hold them back,” he says.

 

The 1994 tribal clash was the village’s most recent conflict, says Emmanuel Zenabuin, the former chairman of the village’s traditional council. Kejom Ketinguh, the largest and most populous village of four in a subdivision, fought with neighboring Bambili over ownership of a piece of land at their border.

 

Zenabuin, who lives about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from Akumbu’s station, says he hears Akumbu’s broadcasts clearly.

 

“I had one favorite station, the BBC,” says Zenabuin, 70. “But today, another station has added to that favorite: That is FM Techno by Akumbu.”

 

He says he is astonished that a young man in his village could create and operate a radio station. These days, villagers within FM Techno’s range rely on it for information about village meetings, Zenabuin says. Akumbu also conducts on-air discussions of issues raised at council meetings.

 

“The villagers are able to sit in their houses and know about what is happening in other parts of the village,” Zenabuin says. “That is wonderful.”

 

Christopher Ntune, a farmer and technician, helped Akumbu, a longtime friend, set up the station.

 

Ntune says Akumbu’s skills amaze him.

 

“I am a trained technician, but I cannot do one quarter of what Elvis is doing,” he says. “I did not even believe that he will be able to realize his dream, building a radio station from scratch.”

 

Ntune says when he first heard Akumbu broadcasting live, he thought he was dreaming.

 

“I listened to him talking in his room, then I rushed out with the radio to see if the radio was saying the same thing,” Ntune says. “Ah, it was like a miracle. I respect Elvis with all my heart. He is far younger than I am, but his brain is sure bigger than mine.”

 

Andrew Agiam, a native doctor and herbalist who has lived in Kejom Ketinguh all his life, says he bought his first radio when he learned that Akumbu had started broadcasting.

 

“I wanted to hear with my own radio and my own ears how a young Kejom boy was broadcasting right here in Kejom,” he says. “It was the most beautiful thing I experienced in 2010.”

 

Agiam says he loves the afternoon programs on FM Techno in which callers discuss sociocultural issues in the Kejom dialect. He believes the programs will help thwart intertribal wars.

 

The radio station has also provided training opportunities for aspiring journalists in the village.

 

Wilson Akuthu, a student at Government High School Kejom Ketinguh, goes to the station almost every day. He reads announcements and hosts talk shows.

 

“FM Techno has given me the opportunity to know about what goes on in a radio studio,” he says. “It is a golden opportunity.”

 

Akuthu says he dreams of becoming a journalist, and the station is helping perfect his skills.

 

“I may not have microphone or studio fright when I finally become a journalist,” he says. “I have beaten all the phobia right here in Kejom Ketinguh.”

 

Akumbu is the sort of person Cameroon needs if the country is to meet its goal of becoming an emerging market by 2035, says one official at the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation.

 

The International Monetary Fund, one of the organizations that identifies emerging markets, now classifies Cameroon as a low-income developing nation.

 

The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the topic, added that his department plans to promote Akumbu’s work by inviting him to attend research and innovation workshops.

 

“Elvis is a rare breed,” he says.

 

At the ministry’s invitation, Akumbu has traveled to Bamenda and Yaoundé to attend two regional and two national symposiums. He was awarded certificates of excellence at the national level. 

 

Dreaming of advancing his skills, Akumbu is applying for scholarships to technical schools in the U.S. and China.

 

He wants to set up community radio stations in other villages to ease communication and promote sociocultural activities.

 

“By installing radio stations in as many rural areas as possible, I strongly believe that I’m going change many lives,” he says.

 

For now, Akumbu hopes to extend the reach of his radio to the entire village. But his dream extends only as far as his finances allow.

 

“I need money to build permanent structures,” he says.

 

A tree isn’t the most reliable mast for his antenna. It sways in strong winds, affecting the quality of the broadcast signal.

 

Even so, it’s the only mast he has, and it’s at risk. His parents might cut it down to raise money, he says. That’s what they did to a similar tree a few years ago.

 

That money paid Akumbu’s school fees.

LAGOS, NIGERIA – Kola Tubosun is a walking font of stories. He illustrates much of what he says with stories about growing up Yoruba, stories about his love for languages, and more.

 

“Our house was always full,” Tubosun says. “There were always people around – uncles, aunts, grandmothers. And they were always speaking Yoruba.”

 

In fact, his home in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo state in southern Nigeria, was one of the few places where Tubosun could speak the language that he shares with about 18 million people in Nigeria and 2 million more around the world.

 

He wasn’t allowed to speak Yoruba in school, he says. Students caught speaking it were fined.

 

One of his most embarrassing moments occurred when his father visited his school, Tubosun says. The children initially greeted him in English, the lingua franca of Nigeria, saying, “Good morning, sir!”

 

“He replied in Yoruba, ‘Emi o gbo Ebo o,’ meaning that he did not understand English,” Tubosun says. “Then the students responded in Yoruba.”

 

Though he chuckles when he tells the story, Tubosun hung his head in shame when it happened, he says.

 

Today, Tubosun is dedicated to preserving and spreading knowledge of the Yoruba language. He is developing an online collection of Yoruba names, which he calls a point of entry to the language and culture of the Yoruba, his people and one of Africa’s largest ethnic groups.

 

He started www.yorubaname.com, a website that will feature a dictionary providing the meanings, pronunciations, spellings and etymologyof Yoruba names.

 

The public will help in the process: Crowdsourcing will build an exhaustive collection of Yorubanames – the first of its kind.

 

Born Sept. 22, 1981, to Yoruba parents in Ibadan, Tubosun was christened Kolawole Olatubosun, Yoruba names meaning “(He) brings wealth into the house” and “Wealth continues to expand/advance,” respectively.

 

“I was the first child born into the new house that was built by my parents,” Tubosun says, seated amid works of art at Terra Kulture, a cultural center in Lagos, the city where he now lives and works.

 

Tubosun altered his name when he created a Yahoo account in 1999. The Yahoo program did not allow him to choose Kolawole Olatubosun; instead it offered Kola Tubosun. Spoken separately, his names have separate meanings, but when his first and last names are pronounced together in the way Yahoo merged them, they mean: “Let wealth keep moving.”

 

“Yoruba people don’t just give their children names,” he says. “The names have meanings.”

 

Tubosun has commonly used the shortened name ever since, keeping his birth name for official documents.

 

Tubosun teaches English language at a secondary school. He has taught Yoruba in the U.S.

 

Many regional languages are dying. About 3,000 spoken languages will become extinct by the end of the century if nothing is done, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates. Yoruba may be an endangered language, research indicates.

 

Tubosun’s work doesn’t just catalog Yoruba names, says Marc-André Schmachtel, director of the Lagos branch of the Goethe-Institut, a German cultural and language institute where Tubosun presented his project at Social Media Week 2015 in February. It helps preserve the Yoruba language and culture.

 

Nigeria has many ethnic groups, but visitors to Lagos won’t see local languages in public places.

 

“You rarely see road signs, for instance, written in local languages,” Schmachtel says. “Everything is in English. By promoting the names, you promote the language and culture of the people. So, research into Yoruba names is a way of understanding the Yoruba culture.”

 

Today’s technology makes possible a global conversation about Yoruba names and culture.

 

“Anyone with access to a computer has access to the website, to a part of Yoruba culture,” Schmachtel says.

 

Tubosun became interested in curating Yoruba names in 2005, during his final year of studies in linguistics and African Languages at the University of Ibadan.

 

“I did not want to do the typical hardbound project,” Tubosun says. “I opted for a multimedia project that I thought had more significance for the world than mere theory. Even at that time, I’d always been fascinated by names and their meanings, so it was natural that I gravitated towards this direction.”

 

Tubosun arranged the names in alphabetical order, and friends recorded audio. His project, a multimedia dictionary of Yoruba names available on CD, included about 1,000 Yoruba names. Users could click on names to learn their spellings, meanings and pronunciations.

 

From there, Tubosun decided to make Yoruba names accessible to a wider audience.

 

“I wanted to make the names available online as a living, thriving entity,” he says.

 

At first, he says, the project felt enormous.

 

“It looked like a really big job for one person,” he says. “Then I realized that, these days, you don’t have to do everything yourself.”

 

Tubosun opened social media pages for the project and claimed the domain name yorubaname.com. He raised $5,000 online. He started work on the website in mid-January, and helpers quickly came forward.

 

Eight volunteers from around the world work with Tubosun on the project; one is Brazilian and another is doing research in Benin. The team tone-marks names in the database, verifies the meanings of the names and work on the site’s user interface, Tubosun says.

 

The website is the first to provide a comprehensive list of Yoruba names as well as audio pronunciations and a method by which visitors can contribute information, Tubosun says.

 

Tioluwani Ibikunle, a tutor at the Yoruba Language Center at the University of Ibadan, says names are integral to Yoruba culture.

 

“Our names are important,” Ibikunle says in Yoruba, the only language allowed in the center. “Our names have stories. Some names are prayers. Yoruba names have powerful meanings that are connected to the Yoruba culture.”

 

For instance, a name that includes Ade or Oye indicates that one belongs to a royal family, lbikunle says. The name Enitan, meaning “a person of stories,” tells people to expect a story of the circumstances of its bearer’s birth.

 

Apart from university language departments, the Yoruba Language Center is the only place in Nigeria where Yoruba is taught, Ibikunle says. Established in 2010, the center has drawn more than 50 students from around the world.

 

Students adopt Yoruba names when they come to the center, Ibikunle says.

 

“They have come to learn the culture,” she says. “Bearing Yoruba names is a way to know the culture.”

 

Yoruba names are often misspelled and mispronounced, which affects their meanings, Ibikunle says.

 

“Because the meanings of the names are couched in the way they are written, once they are misspelled or mispronounced, the name loses its essence,” she says.

 

The name of Nigeria’s newly elected vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, has posed a bit of a challenge, Tubosun says. After Osinbajo began his campaign, various versions of hisname emerged on social media. The name was variously spelled Oshinbajo, Osibanjo or Oshinbanjo. It is typically spelled Osinbajo, but other correct variations, such as Osibajo, exist and have their own meanings.

 

Pronouncing Yoruba names is a global challenge.

 

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Shola Olatoye chairwoman and chief executive officer of the city housing authority in 2014, he struggled to pronounce her surname. A year later, members of the New York City Council still mispronounce it.

 

Before honoring English actor David Oyelowo for his performance as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.in the film “Selma,” American actor Brad Pitt this year led an awards show audience in a sing-along to demonstrate the pronunciation of Oyelowo’s Yoruba name.

 

Tubosun says Americans mispronounced his name when he taught Yoruba as a Fulbright scholar at an Illinois university.

 

Yorubais a tonal language. Without the tonal marks, Tubosun’s first name, Kola, could mean various things, including “kola” as in “kolanut,” “Get a tribal mark” and “He did not survive.” The audio function of Tubosun’s website enables visitors to hear the pronunciation of a name as they view its spelling, including the tonal marks.

 

Once the first entries are uploaded, the website will open to the public for crowdsourcing.

 

The project is fraught with challenges. English keyboards make it difficult to add tonal marks. And providing a human pronunciation of all the names is a major undertaking.

 

To solve that problem, Tubosun and his team had one person pronounce a finite set of tonal segments. Using those recorded bits, the computer can assemble the pronunciations of an infinite number of words. Called speech synthesis, the process concatenates, or links, sounds with words; speech synthesis is used in audio-based artificial intelligence.

 

It took the performer weeks to record about 1,330 segments of sound, covering all the oral and nasal vowels in Yoruba in all their tonal manifestations.

 

Tubosun estimates the site with the basic dictionary will launch in early July. A second phase, planned for later this year, will include a full Yoruba translation of the project.

 

“I see it as a go-to place for everyone on the Web who needs information about Yoruba names,” Tubosun says. “And for those interested in sustaining the Yoruba culture, I hope that it becomes a foremost place for all information relating to the language: a dedicated team of users spending their free time editing and refining the information therein, just like Wikipedia, so that it gets better and better every day.”

 

 

Temitayo Olofinlua, GPJ, translated interviews from Yoruba.

 

ACCRA, GHANA – His father bought him a computer when he was 10. It was a standard model for the time, but looking back, Raindolf Owusu thinks of it as ancient technology. Even so, that was all Owusu needed to develop a keen interest in software applications and become one of the leading brains behind Ghana’sadvancement in information technology.

 

Owusu instantly recognized the capacity of the technology.

 

“I was amazed at the features of the computer,” he says.

 

It wasn’t long before he realized that if he studied software engineering, he could create his own programs.

 

Owusu got an early start. Just 24, he already has four years of experience as a software development entrepreneur. Owusu founded an IT company, Oasis Websoft, specializing in commercial website and software development, in his first year studying computer scienceat Methodist University College GhanainAccra, thecapital.

 

“I was tired of theoretical computer science,” he says. “I became more interested in practical application of software systems.”

 

A laptop and Internet connection were all he needed to start the business. He ran his company from his campus cubicle, juggling schoolwork and attending to clients until he graduated from college last year.

 

Since then, Owusu developed Anansi Browser, touted as Africa’s firstWeb browser, and Africa’s first operating system, Anansi OS. The browserhas been downloaded more than 5,000 times, according to Softpedia, a software and applications download website. The Anansi OSis free and comes with LibreOffice, an office suite.

 

These days, Owusu’s company makes money by building websites and applications for clients, but it also develops software and applications that aim to solve key problems in society – namely, programs that help people manage their health.

 

“Our main focus is building software technology, mobile and Web applications that will solve problems here in Africa,” he says. “We want to build technologies that can be replicated in other developing nations.”

 

While still a student, Owusu created a free Web application, Dr. Diabetes, to help raise awareness about diabetes and help people assess their risk of the disease.

 

The app, which is not available for mobile devices, asks users how often they eat sugary foods, how often they drink alcohol, and how often they exercise. Based on their answers, the app tells users if they are at risk of developing diabetes, and what they should do to prevent the disease.

 

The app has a small following – just an average of 20 users per week and 85 users per month. But it’s an indication of how Owusu says he views the power of technology – and the power of technology innovators like himself.

 

Other parts of the world have lots of online resources that help people learn about and manage diabetes, Owusu says. That’s not the case in Africa, where diabetes is a growing problem.

 

Nine percent ofGhana’s 25 million people have diabetes, according to the 2012 National Policy for the Prevention and Control of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases.

 

Some 330,000Ghanaians had undiagnosed diabetes in 2013, according to the International Diabetes Foundation. Some 8,500 people died from diabetes that year.

 

The incidence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes are expected to rise because of aging, rapid urbanization and unhealthy lifestyles, according to the national policy document.

 

Amid the marketing and investment to raise awareness about malaria and other diseases, Owunsu saw an opportunity to educate people about what he calls a “slow killer.”

 

The disease isn’t “getting the attention it deserves,” he says.

 

The program is earning praise from users.

 

“It saves time and energy,” says Blessing Atongble, an Accra resident. “With a click of the button, you can easily tell whether you are at risk of having diabetes or not. I prefer that to going to queue in the hospital, after which lots of money is taken from you.”

 

Health experts warn against over-reliance on the app.

 

While the app is a good way to educate the public on healthy lifestyle choices, users of the application should also go for medical tests, says Assumpta James Opoku, a nurse at the Tema General Hospital in Accra.

 

“You can’t know your status without a laboratory test,” she says.

 

Owusu says he worked with three doctorsin creating the app. Still, he says, it only assessesone’s risk of diabetes; it’s not meant to provide a diagnosis.

 

“It is important for people to go to the hospital to seek guidance and treatment, and I urge people to do so,” he says.

 

Dr. Diabetes was nominated as the health application of the year in 2013. In the same year, Legacy&Legacy, a local company, named Owusu as one of the people under 40 creating change in their communities.

 

Dr. Diabetes is just one of several products Owusu’s company has developed to addresshealth problems in Ghana and Africa at large. Owusu and his team are working on a program called Bisa, which means “Ask” in Ghana’s Twilanguage. Users will be able to interact online with medical practitioners. Patients who fear going to the hospital because it carries a stigma, or who want to avoid long lines, will be able to consult doctors privately through the app. Owusu believes the app will reduce the self-medication rate, save time and money, he says.

 

The three doctors participating in this program offer their services for free, Owusu says.

 

At the height of the Ebolaout breakin West Africa in 2014, which caused more than 10,000 deaths, Oasis Websoft developed Ebola Ghana Alert, a Web and mobile app that provided information and updates about the viral disease, although there were no confirmed cases in Ghana.The app has had 3,000 unique views since it was launched in August 2014, Owusu says.

 

Over time, Owusu plans to roll Dr. Diabetes, Bisa and two other apps into one to enable users to access all four at the same time and place. When a user downloads Bisa, he or she will have access to apps on sexually transmitted diseases, Ebola, diabetes and general health updates, he says.

 

“Bisa will make valuable health guidelines, information and tips for proper health management readily available to the public,” he says.

 

Owusu’s business partner, Harriet Adansi, says she is impressed with Owusu’s drive.

 

“He is a great leader who is intelligent, action-driven, diligent, focused and very determined in what he does,” Adansi says.

 

She describes Owusu as a conscientious member of society, who feels strongly that he must be part of a solution to the problems of his community – a community that includes all of Africa.

 

Owusu’s innovations have not been without challenges. He says he needs more money, and more skilled Web developers.He has just three employees now. But the business is profitable, he says, thanks to the apps he has built.

 

Owusu says he is grateful to his father, a tech enthusiast, for the computer gift that introduced him to the technology world.

 

“I have told him several times that thanks to that computer, I now make a living and also create change as a technologist,” he says.

 

PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA – Splashes of water obscure the front of Odeth Elisa Gutierrez’s brown blouse. The 20-year-old laundrywoman interrupts her work in a home in San Lucas Tolimán, a municipality in Sololá department, Guatemala, and dries her hands before speaking.

 

Gutierrez is undocumented, she says.

 

Although she was registered at birth, she has never had an identification document, she says. Gutierrez does not know why she should get a Personal Identification Document, or how she would go about obtaining one.

 

This document is mandatory for Guatemalan citizens and residents. Every citizen must possess a PID in order to register to vote.

 

“I am not aware of what a Personal Identification Document is,” she says. “What I’ve been told is that supposedly it is something important that we should have, but I don’t know why, and the truth is that I have not gone to ask because I’m embarrassed.”

 

Gutierrez, who left school when she was 12 years old because her family lacked financial resources, says she can’t afford the 85 quetzales ($11) – nearly a week’s pay – that she would need for the document processing.

 

Gutierrez is among the majority of young people who cannot participate in Guatemala’s Sept. 6 general and regional elections because they are not registered.

 

More than 70 percent of young Guatemalans lack the documentation needed to vote this year.

 

Although they make up more than a third of the population, many people in this age group – ages 18 to 30 – lack the money, knowledge or interest to register.

 

Guatemalans must obtain Personal Identification Documents when they turn 18. With that document, a citizen can register to vote.

 

As of April 30, more than 70 percent of young people had not yet registered, according to a report issued in May by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which registers voters.

 

To be eligible to vote in an election, one must register not later than three months in advance. That means the deadline to vote in the September election is June 6, says Huber Godinez, Departmental Delegate of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Sololá in a phone interview.

 

It takes 30 business days to obtain a Personal Identification Document, so any young person who does not yet have one will be unable to vote in September.

 

The National Registry of Persons does not know how many young people lack personal identification documents, Wendy Girón, a representative of the registry, says in a phone interview.

 

Guatemala is an exceptionally young country. While less than 17 percent of the world’s population is between the ages of 15 and 24, young people in that category make up 33 percent of the population of Guatemala, according the United Nations.

 

Pablo Ariel Herrera, who is running to represent Sololá department in the Congress of the Union, says young people could determine the outcome of the election.

 

“If all the youth of Guatemala would unite and vote, they are the ones who would elect their leaders,” he says. “Their participation is important, because it is they who are the political relays.”

 

Unfortunately, bureaucratic costs and lack of information will keep many young people from voting, he says. Others won’t vote because they lack interest.

 

Some young people say they refrain from obtaining documentation because of the high cost.

 

In Sololá, 74 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which means monthly household income for a family of five is under 3,236 quetzales ($424), according to a 2011 U.N. Development Program report.

 

Sonia Liseth Morales Morales, an 18-year-old high school student, says her mother is going to ask her employer for money to help pay for her document processing. Her mother, the sole breadwinner in a family of six, earns 1,000 quetzales ($130) a month working at a restaurant.

 

Last year, Morales Morales worked while studying, but this year she is immersed in her studies. Having lost one income, the family has struggled, she says.

 

Document processing and registration are handled in different offices, and many young people don’t even know where those offices are, says José Aguilar Serrano, coordinator of the Attention, Mobilization and Advocacy for Children and Adolescents Program, a Sololá-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to helping young people understand their rights.

 

“This makes it so that the process is very bureaucratic, and young people do not really know what they need to do to obtain the document,” he says. “Young people come to have a variety of information that confuses them.”

 

The process became more challenging in August 2013, when the national government ceased to accept the vicinity card, a form of identification issued at no cost by municipalities, Aguilar Serrano says. Since then, Guatemalans have had to obtain Personal Identification Documents from the National Registry of Persons.

 

Sergio Ramírez, the municipal subdelegate of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Panajachel, where local residents register to vote, says families and schools – not the state – must educate young people about the process and help them obtain their documentation.

 

Vicente Cocom Mateo, 19, says he obtained his documentation with his older sister’s help. The process was complicated because, having been born in one of the country’s other 21 departments, he had to travel to pick up his documentation.

 

Pedro Simaj is proud of having helped eight of his 10 children obtain their documentation; the youngest two are not yet old enough for the process.

 

“The responsibility to get their documents is of the parents and the youth,” says Simaj, a juice seller who never completed primary school. “The school is a support, but everyone should meet the spiritual and earthly laws.”

 

Morales Morales says parents who are illiterate or uninformed do not recognize the importance of the process.

 

As of 2012, 18 percent of Sololá residents were illiterate, according to the National Statistics Institute; that’s a bit more than 1 percentage point higher than the national illiteracy rate.

 

Morales Morales’ mother accompanied her to obtain her documents. However, she says, she wishes her school had taught her how to handle the process so she wouldn’t have had to depend on her mother.

 

Nancy López, administrative director of the primary school Atitlan Multicultural Academy, says a mandatory yearlong class on citizenship education teaches children the national symbols and the structure of the state.

 

However, the course does not stress the importance of documentation, registration and voting, she admits.

 

Young people and their parents are responsible for obtaining their documents, López says.

 

Many young people fail to obtain their documentation and register to vote because they are apathetic, López says.

 

 “We have seen that the youth do not care to elect their authorities from a lack of motivation towards the system,” she says.

 

Ricardo Adonias Velásquez Yojcom, 21, has a personal identification document, but he has no interest in voting. 

 

“I still have not registered myself, because the same thing always happens in the end,” he says. “People no longer vote for awareness; rather, they vote for money or something in return. So that tells me there won’t be changes.”

 

Eswin Orlando Sian, a member of the Nationalist Change Union political party, encourages young people to participate in the democratic process.

 

It is important to get involved in politics and work toward positive change, Sian says.

 

“We want leaders who work for the people, and that there are changes in the communities,” he says.

 

The National Registry of Persons should facilitate first-time processing of the Personal Identification Document, and even provide its services for free, Aguilar Serrano says.

 

The state should always promote and facilitate issuance of this basic citizenship document, not just in election years, he says.

 

In 2014, the National Registry of Persons conducted a public awareness campaign through the Councils of Urban and Rural Development, neighborhood groups that assess the needs of the people and propose government policies.

 

The registry promoted registration through radio and television ads.

 

Those strategies have not had the expected success, says registrar Elmar Culan Buch.

 

This year, government employees have gone door to door encouraging people who lack documents to go through the process, he says.

 

“The goal this year is to document all the people in the municipality,” he says.

 

This effort will end in June.

 

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal plans to provide teacher training on the importance of registration and voting, Ramírez says.

 

In mid-April, the Attention, Mobilization and Advocacy for Children and Adolescents Program started a campaign in Sololá informing young people how to obtain a Personal Identification Document and register to vote.

 

The television campaign, which will include lectures and debates, will run until mid-June, Aguilar Serrano says.

 

Sian also aims to raise young people’s awareness of the importance of documentation and voting.

 

“My advice to youth is that they can first get their Personal Identification Document, and later that they participate in the political parties and that they are leaders of change,” Sian says.

 

 

Natalia Aldana, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

 

IBADAN, NIGERIA – Temilade Ajewole, a trader at the Bodija Market in Ibadan, displays her wares – cans and bottles of vegetable and palm oil – on a large rectangular table. It is 11 a.m., but she has yet to make her first sale of the day.

 

“Sister, please buy the oil from me,” she says to a woman standing in front of the shop.

 

The woman asks Ajewole why the price of a five-liter bottle of oil has gone up by 100 naira (50 cents) since she last bought one a month ago.

 

“That was how I bought it,” Ajewole says.

 

The shopper appears unconvinced.

 

“If you find it at the same price elsewhere, please come back and help me buy o!” Ajewole says to the woman’s retreating frame.

 

Food commodities such as rice, beans, wheat, vegetable oil and palm oil are getting more expensive by the month. Ajewole says she bought a five-liter container of oil for 2,200 naira ($11) in October, but now she pays 2,400 naira ($12). Higher prices have shrunk her profit margin, she says.

 

Still, Ajewole is hopeful. She voted for Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate who defeated President Goodluck Jonathan in March.

 

Buhari, who ruled Nigeria for about eight months after a military coup in 1983, is to take office May 29.

 

“We want everything to change,” Ajewole says as she beckons a potential customer. “We pray that God uses this new government to normalize everything.”

 

Inflation is devouring Nigerians’ spending power. The country’s Consumer Price Index, a measure of the cost of consumer goods and services, shot up 8.7 percent from April 2014 to April 2015. Traders say the cost of products is higher every time they restock. Many consumers no longer buy food in bulk because their incomes, which remain flat, don’t stretch as far as they used to.

 

But with a relatively peaceful election just past, and the expectation of a smooth transfer of power to Buhari, many Nigerians believe their daily lives are about to get better.

 

Buhari has promised to get tough on corruption. And he says he will put down the Boko Haram insurgents who have terrorized huge swaths of the country.

 

But experts warn Nigerians against expecting overnight miracles.

 

Fearing violence, Nigeria postponed the elections by six weeks, from Feb. 14 to March 28.

 

When Nigerians finally went to their polling stations, they cast ballots against a backdrop of weakening currency, high inflation and an economy bottle-fed by oil.

 

A sharp drop in the price of oil has hammered Africa’s largest economy. In June 2014, a barrel of oil sold for about $110 on the international market. It now sells for $50 to $60.

 

Coupled with political uncertainty leading up to the election, the drop in oil prices weakened the country’s currency, the naira, economist Ganiyat Adesina-Uthman says in a phone interview.

 

The value of the naira hit an all-time low of 204 against the U.S. dollar in February 2015.

 

In response to the free-fall of the currency against the dollar, the Central Bank of Nigeria devalued the naira in November and February, further weakening the currency, Adesina-Uthman says.

 

“It suddenly announced a new official exchange rate for dollar, which moved $1 to 168 naira (84 cents) from 155 naira (77 cents),” she says. “But dwindling global oil prices set in late last year, coupled with uncertainty over the rescheduled presidential election, depressed the naira.”

 

The weakening naira has had a pronounced effect on food prices, the primary factor in the rise of the consumer price index.

 

Nigeria’s overall inflation rate over the past decade has gone down since 2005, when it hit nearly 20 percent, according to World Bank data. But recent signs indicate trouble ahead, with estimates for the 2015 rate at 11.5 percent, up from 8 percent at the end of 2014, warns the International Monetary Fund.

 

In February, most Nigerians feared the economy would get even worse if prices of basic commodities continued rising, according to a study conducted by the bank’s Statistics Department.

 

The economy is already showing signs of recovery. As soon as Jonathan conceded defeat on March 31, the naira gained strength, trading at around 200 against the dollar, says Yaya Baba Ahmed, an All Progressives Congress ward party leader who also runs a Bureau de Change agency.

 

The market responded positively to Buhari’s victory and the appreciation of the naira. The Nigerian Stock Exchange gained 1.4 trillion naira in two days, indicating confidence in the country’s new leadership, Adesina-Uthman says.

 

The gleeful economic response to Buhari’s election spurred dancing in the streets.

 

In the Sabo area of Ibadan, where residents include many people from northern Nigeria, Buhari supporters gathered to talk and dance to booming music. In one corner, smoke rose from roasting suya, a spicy meat delicacy that would later be shared, courtesy of the All Progressives Congress leader of Ward 6, Ibadan North Local Government.

 

Dramatically re-enacting the ouster of Jonathan’s government, a man holding up a mask of Jonathan’s face danced as another man beat him with a thin rope. A group of children followed the men, singing and dancing.

 

Young men poured into the streets holding flags and brooms, emblems of the All Progressives Congress and its promise to clean house.

 

“Sai Buhari!” – “Yes, Buhari!” – they shouted to waving passers-by, who replied “Sai Baba!” – “Yes, father!”

 

Ahmed says Buhari’s win is meaningful to him and other northerners engaged in money changing.

 

“I was tired of the way things were going,” he says.

 

In early 2014, Ahmed bought $100,000 with 16 million naira, he says. Now, it costs him 22 million naira to buy $100,000. He thinks Buhari could reverse that trend.

 

Olawore Victoria, a primary school teacher in Ibadan, says food has become increasingly expensive in recent years. She once stocked her house with food that she bought in bulk because she could afford it.

 

“Even palm oil now goes for about 180 naira when normally around this time when it is in season it goes for 120 naira,” she says.

 

Some say the economy will improve if Buhari makes good on his promise to defeat Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has carried out attacks in the northern part of the country. The attacks have cut traders off from farmers.

 

Toyin Ogunleye, a trader in Bodija Market in Ibadan, says the cost of beans has risen in tandem with the Boko Haram insurgency. Most of the beans sold in Ibadan come from northern Nigeria.

 

“In 2013, some traders from the Bodija Market traveled to the north and were waylaid and killed,” she says.

 

Now, she says, traders hesitate to travel, making beans more expensive.

 

Honey beans that sold for 10,000 naira ($50) per 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag before the Boko Haram attack now sell for 15,000 naira ($75), she says.

 

But not everyone is excited about the change Buhari’s government promises.

 

“I am not jubilating,” says Abayomi Oyetubo, the manager of Sharon Africa, a technology gadgets company in Ibadan. “Let us see what he will do.”

 

If Buhari does not deliver on his promises, he’ll be shown the door, he says.

 

“We have changed the ruling party,” Oyetubo says. “We have created fear in the hearts of the leaders – fear that if you do not perform, you will be voted out.”

 

With the new government, the masses are aware that they are powerful, he says.

 

“I give him a year,” he says. “If he does not perform, we will commence serious protests.”

 

Adesina-Uthman advises Nigerians not to expect overnight change.

 

“Economies don’t work like that,” she says. “It is just like the similitude of a sick person. When medications are administered by the doctor having diagnosed the problem, the patient most likely will respond to treatment over time, not suddenly.”

 

The worst-case scenario is the economic situation remaining the same.

 

“I don’t expect us to be worse off in the next one year,” she says.

 

Temitayo Olofinlua translated some interviews from Yoruba. 




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