Thursday, April 5, 2012

Brazil's census offers recognition at last to descendants of runaway slaves

When Jorge Moreira de Oliveira's great-great-great-great-great-grandfather arrived in Brazil in the 18th century he was counted off the slave-ship, branded and dispatched to a goldmine deep in the country's arid mid-west. After years of scrambling for gold that was shipped to Europe, he fled and became one of the founding fathers of the Kalunga quilombo, a remote mountain-top community of runaway slaves.

On Wednesday last week, more than 200 years later, it was Moreira's turn to be counted – this time not by slavemasters but by Cleber, a chubby census taker who appeared at his home clutching a blue personal digital assistant (PDA).

"I'm Kalunga. A Brazilian Kalunga," Moreira told his visitor from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, who diligently noted down details about the interviewee's eight children, monthly income and toilet arrangements.

Such is Brazil's 2010 census – a gigantic logistical operation that aims to count and analyse the lives of more than 190 million people in one of the most geographically and racially diverse nations on earth.

The scale of the mobilisation is staggering. With a budget of around 1.677bn Brazilian reais (£600m) the census, which began on 1 August, will peer into approximately 58m homes in 5,565 municipalities across 8,514,876 sq km (3.3m sq miles). Between now and the end of October around 190,000 census takers will venture into illegal goldmines, sprawling slums, high-security prisons, indigenous reserves and quilombola communities such as Engenho II, travelling by motorbike, donkey, canoe and plane.

But for people such as Moreira, the census is about more than number-crunching. For the Kalunga, descendants of slaves shipped to Brazil from places such as Angola, Mozambique and Ivory Coast, it is a chance, finally, to be counted, heard and helped by a government that has long ignored them.

"The federal government has to know that we exist – what we do, what we have," said Moreira, a 42-year-old subsistence farmer, who attributes recent improvements in his community, including the arrival of roads, electricity and a school, to Brazil's last head-count, in 2000. "Before, we were totally forgotten. Now equality is coming through the census and the interviews."


"It is a question of identity," said Ivonete Carvalho, the government's programme director for traditional communities. "When you assert your identity you are saying you want [government] action and access to public policies. [The census] is a fantastic x-ray."

The Kalungas' fight for recognition is part of a wider movement for racial equality in Brazil, a country with deep roots in Africa but where Afro-Brazilian politicians and business leaders remain few and far between. According to Carvalho, only one of Brazil's 81 senators is black, despite the fact that Afro-Brazilians represent at least 53% of the population. The last census found that fewer than 40% of Afro-Brazilians had access to sanitation compared with nearly 63% of whites.

Just as descendents of Brazil's runaway slaves are finding their voice – and telling the census takers about it – so too are Brazil's officially black and indigenous communities swelling as a growing number of Brazilians label themselves "black" or "indigenous" rather than "mulatto" when the census takers come knocking.

"People are no longer scared of identifying themselves or insecure about saying: 'I'm black, and black is beautiful,' " Brazil's minister for racial equality, Elio Ferreira de Araujo, told the Guardian.

For the first time in Brazilian history, this year's census will map out the different indigenous languages spoken in Brazil and register the number of same-sex relationships. It will also ask people their "ethnicity" – a thorny issue in a country that has long regarded itself as a racial melting pot and the rainbow nation of the Americas.

Since president Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva came to power in 2003, increasing steps have been taken to bridge the social chasm between Afro-Brazilians and their white counterparts. A ministry for racial equality has been created and university quotas introduced. The Brasil Quilombola programme, which aims to provide basic social services to thousands of slave descendants, has been rolled out across the country.

Engenho II, a village that is home to around 4,500 "Brazilian Kalungas" and was officially recognised by the government in 2009, has been one of the communities to benefit from the cause's new visibility.


"It was pretty calamitous here before," said Cerilo dos Santos Rosa, the territory's 56-year-old leader. "We didn't have roads, or energy. We'd have to take our produce to town on donkeys or on our backs."

The Kalungas also hope that their land will soon be formally demarcated by the government, with plans to offer compensation to landowners who leave the area, around 320km from Brazil's capital, Brasilia.

Not everybody is enthusiastic about the government's sudden engagement with quilombola communities. Some claim the arrival of brick houses, cash-transfer programmes and roads will irreparably damage their culture and create divisions between them and other communities. Others speculate that the government simply wants access to the abundant mineral resources buried under this sparsely populated savannah region.

Local people, however, are united in their praise for Lula's attempts to create what he calls a Brasil para todos – "Brazil for all".

"Lula has been a great example. He was the first president to visit our community," said Rosa, a father of 11 and grandfather of 29 who credits the president with building 40 brick homes and 93 toilets in the territory.

Government officials defend their attempts to offer "contemporary" life to some of the country's poorest, most isolated citizens.

"Cultural preservation has to be our objective … but giving quality of life to families that live in such remote places is also part of the mission," said Ferreira, the racial equality minister. "We have to value their culture but also the economic support that will give them social benefits."

Carvalho, herself born into a quilombola community in southern Brazil, said the government had finally started paying "an historical debt" to those whose forefathers were "wrenched from their motherland".

Brazil's excluded, she said, were increasingly willing to stand up and be counted. "I'm here. I'm me. I'm not ashamed of my history."

"The progress is slow but it is progress," said Moreira, sat beside his shack's rickety wooden door, bearing the chalked words: "God in first place."

"Before, the government didn't care if we existed or not. Today things are different. Today we all have to be registered. We have to appear. That's the only way things will get better."
Census facts

• In 1872, when the first Brazilian census was conducted on the orders of Emperor Dom Pedro II, the population was divided into free people and slaves, who represented 15% of the population.

• Just 1.8% of the 1872 population were considered "rich" – 23,400 families. In 2000 that figure had risen only slightly to about 2.4%.

• The following census, in 1890, found that 83% of over-fives were illiterate. By 2000 this had fallen to 17%.

• Brazil's population has more than doubled in 50 years, from 71 million in 1960 to more than 190 million today.

• 734,000 Brazilians identified themselves as "indigenous" in the 2000 census.

• This year, more than 7,000 data centres will compile information from about 225,000 PDAs.

The Challenges of Recruiting Africans for Graduate Programs

April 4, 2012, 3:29 pm

By Guest Writer

The following is a guest post by John D. Holm, the former director of the Office of International Education and Partnerships at the University of Botswana and director of international programs at Cleveland State University.

Universities in the United States appear eager to enroll more Africans in their graduate programs. Last month a group of administrators from American institutions, including Ohio University and University of Cincinnati, visited Botswana to explore partnerships, which could bring students from the sub-Saharan country to their campuses. In general, universities see African students as a way to diversify their classrooms and, at the same time, help fix Africa’s massive shortage of locals with graduate degrees.

While most Africans are too financially strapped to study abroad, a number of African economies are starting to take off. As a result, an increasing number of families in countries such as Botswana, the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa can afford an education in the United States, without the need of scholarships.

However, according to the latest figures from the Council of Graduate Schools, applications to American graduate programs from African students for the fall of 2012 declined 5 percent. While Africans consider an American education one of the best in the world, there are several obstacles that keep them from applying.

In particular, two policies are part of the problem–using GRE scores for admission evaluation and that American institutions require much more classroom time than universities elsewhere. Thus, Africans heading to graduate school often see Australia, Britain, Canada, and France as more attractive.

As director of international education for four years at the University of Botswana, I was keenly aware of these two concerns. The university paid for staff development fellows to go overseas for their advanced degrees, but they frequently avoided going to America–and that trend continues today.

One barrier is the mandatory use of Graduate Record Exam for admission evaluation. Most of the rest of the world evaluates students for graduate school on their undergraduate academic record (usually transcripts). The GRE by contrast is a one-time test of a student’s overall verbal, mathematical, and analytical reasoning. Africans perceive quite rightly that they will need considerable coaching and study to do well on this type of exam since it is foreign to their previous academic experiences. Those who already have a good record, not surprisingly, are reluctant to take on the extra effort required to do well on the GRE.

Further compounding the problem is that in parts of Africa the math section of the GRE is intimidating. Some African cultures do not value the mathematical thinking found on the test (i.e. algebra and geometry) and many school systems have not rigorously countered this problem. As a result, a considerable number of Africans score low on the math section.

A second deterrent to African interest in American graduate programs is that our degrees take longer to complete than ones in Europe and elsewhere. Many more classes are required, and then students must pass comprehensive exams, some sections of which may have to be retaken in case of failure. Thus, a master’s degree with thesis can end up being two years rather than the one year as is the case in the rest of the world. The doctorate can be even longer.

American graduate schools wanting to recruit Africans need to confront both of these concerns. For one, they should find alternative assessments to the GRE. Two options are likely to be helpful, especially in combination. One is to require that applicants who have not taken the GRE submit a scholarly paper which demonstrates verbal and analytical skills and, where appropriate, mathematical abilities. The applicant’s instructor would need to certify that the paper was his or her work.

The other option is for a university to encourage their faculty members doing research or teaching in Africa to be on the lookout for potential graduate students. Faculty members can solicit recommendations from their African colleagues, enlist potential African graduate students on research projects, and explore the possibility that a local university’s staff development fellows might have an interest in furthering their education in the United States. In short, American universities need to become proactive in recruiting African students.

American universities must also confront the length of time required for graduate degrees. Probably the most significant step would be to allow African graduate students to return to their home countries for thesis research and writing after finishing their comprehensive exams. With Skype and e-mail now widely available in African countries, adequate communication with thesis advisers is feasible—and with some special training before they return home, doable. Such an approach would also insure that African graduate students are working on problems relevant to their countries.

African universities themselves could advertise their graduates by publishing a list of a small number who are the best prepared for advanced work. They could send these lists of potential graduate students to institutions that have a special interest in recruiting Africans.

Such efforts, of course, will not reduce all the barriers facing Africans who want to earn an American degree. But a better understanding by American university officials of the two obstacles discussed here can help increase the number of Africans studying on their campuses.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mali - Rebels to Impose Islamic Law

Mali: Rebels to Impose Islamic Law

The Islamist rebel faction that seized control of the northern city of Timbuktu over the weekend has said it will impose Islamic law there, local officials said Wednesday. The Ansar Dine rebels, who took advantage of a power vacuum after a coup last month to seize the town, made the announcement at a meeting of the city's imams on Tuesday. The group's leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, said that women would be required to wear veils, thieves would be punished by having their hands cut off and adulterers would be stoned to death, according to local officials and a radio journalist. Ansar Dine is one faction of the Tuareg rebels, who also have a secular faction.

Off-Duty NYPD Auxiliary Cop Shot to Death in Brooklyn -

Off-Duty NYPD Auxiliary Cop Shot To Death In Brooklyn Updated 2 Hrs Ago

By Trevor Kapp and Wil Cruz

DNAinfo Staff

BROOKLYN — A churchgoing off-duty NYPD auxiliary cop who had two young sons was shot to death on a Canarsie street Wednesday morning just blocks from his home, police sources and a relative said.

Francky Aleger, 39, a Haitian immigrant who worked at Mount Sinai Hospital, was found by a passerby lying on the street at East 95th Street and Glenwood Road, about 10 blocks from his home, shortly after 6 a.m., police said.

He suffered a gunshot wound to his back and was rushed to Brookdale Hospital, where he died, police said.

"He was the best brother," said Alan S., 25, who identified himself as Aleger's brother. "He did everything for me, took care of me.

"He took me in," added the man, who asked not to be identified. "He was even a father figure."

Police sources said Aleger was an auxiliary police officer with a Manhattan precinct, though they would not say which one.

But Alan said his brother worked in the 13th Precinct, which covers Murray Hill and the Flatiron District.

Aleger was married and had two young sons, who are 6- and 8-years-old, Alan said.

"They know, but they don't understand the magnitude of what happened," he said. "They're young. There's not much you can really tell them."

Aleger worked at Mount Sinai Hospital as a support associate in the maternity ward, said a co-worker.

"Anything you need, he's the man to ask," said Abigail Caesar, 36, a business associate at the hospital who worked with Aleger.

"This is a man that didn't deserve this," she added. "I can't believe it."

Friends and relatives said Aleger, who worked a 7 a.m. shift and walked along Glenwood Road to the Canarsie Parkway train station, was likely on his way to the hospital when he was shot.

No one has been arrested and the motive was not immediately clear.

Aleger, who emigrated from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1994, was a parishioner at nearby Our Lady of Miracles, Alan said.

"Anytime the church would be open, he'd be there. That was his thing," he said.

Neighbor Emile Auguste said attending church was a family affair for Aleger.

"He would always go to church with his wife and children," she said. "They were always together."

The victim's brother said Aleger wasn't a troublemaker and didn't live the type of lifestyle that would end in such a violent death.

"He wasn't a violent person," the man said. "He didn't have beef with nobody.

"He was soft-spoken," he added.