Martin Schoeller/National Geographic

Mankind's Untouched Civilizations

Seen as either "savage" or "noble" at the dawn of the Enlightenment, hunter-gatherers have been regarded as everything from holdovers from a basal level of human development, to affluent, ecologically-informed foragers.

Last week's death of American missionary John Allen Chau, 26, slain by members of the Sentinelese community using bows and arrows on North Sentinel Island, brought the attention on modern-day hunter-gatherers who have endured in various remote parts of the world and preserved a lifestyle that has inexorably been phased out with the Neolithic Revolution and the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers and herdsmen that started between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago.

The Sentinelese community is considered the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world, but there are other communities who maintain a primarily hunter-gatherer existence, and various links and contacts with outsiders. They are small, scattered around the globe, and vulnerable to modern-day civilization's encroachment and, at times, lust for land.

Yet, as recently as the 17th century, there were still around 55 million hunter-gathers living across almost one-third of our planet. In the New World, for example, Native Americans outnumbered settlers by nearly 6 to 1. But their way of life, dating back to the dawn of mankind, was now under threat as new comers move onto their life in the so-called Age of Exploration.

Downfall of the Hunter-Gatherers

Hadza: Tanzania's Hunter-Gatherers

Onwas from the Hadza tribeMartin Schoeller/National Geographic

The home of the Hadza tribe is in northern Tanzania. While some have moved close to villages and taken jobs as farmhands or tour guides, approximately one-quarter of all Hadza remain true hunter-gatherers. They have no crops, no livestock, no permanent shelters. They live just south of the same section of the valley in which some of the oldest fossil evidence of early humans has been found. Genetic testing indicates that they may represent one of the primary roots of the human family tree perhaps more than 100,000 years old.

Meakambut: Last of the Cave People

A Meakambut boy with body paintAmy Toensig/National Geographic

The Meakambut, a nomadic people in Papua New Guinea, were unknown to the outside world until the 1960s, when Australian patrols began to trek into the country's most ferocious topography. Gripping a kindling-packed stick with his feet and using a strip of bamboo for friction, a Meakambut man coaxes a cooking fire from soggy terrain. This "fire saw" method is widely practiced through- out Papua New Guinea.

Bushmen: Southern Africa's First People

Bushmen of the Kalahari Figures in a mirage, Bushmen wearing skins and carrying bows and arrows cross a salt pan in Namibia's Nyae Nyae Conservancy.Chris Johns/National Geographic

There are about 85,000 Bushmen alive today, teetering on the cusp of cultural extinction, mostly in the remoter reaches of the Kalahari Desert, in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. They are among the most intensively studied aboriginal people on Earth. This interest is stoked by the idea that the Bushman is one of our last connections with a hunter-gatherer existence, a way of life that was a human universal until some 10,000 years ago, in a time before man domesticated animals or grew crops. A time when man depended directly on nature for survival.

Seen as either "savage" or "noble" at the dawn of the Enlightenment, hunter-gatherers have been regarded as everything from holdovers from a basal level of human development, to affluent, ecologically-informed foragers, as the so-called Paleo Diet or the idea of rewilding—the proposed restoration of ecosystems through the (re-)introduction of species—illustrate.

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The view from here: China in Africa

The West often sees China's investments in Africa with some degree of suspicion. What about the Africans?

The West often sees China's investments in Africa with some degree of suspicion.

Concerns have been raised over the quality of the infrastructures built by China in Africa as well as its goals in the region.

On a recent trip to West Africa, local businessmen and former government officials shared a positive opinion on China's involvement in their country, while pointing out the lack of transparency around the agreements between their government and China.

In Niamey, Niger, for instance, we drove by the national parliament (national assembly) and my hosts claimed the structure had been recently built or rebuilt by a Chinese company. They said they were happy with the result.

The National Assembly building in Niamey, NigerBritannica

"Chinese don't come with the legacy of colonialism," a former high level official from the government of Benin told me later.

In Lomé, the capital of Togo, Chinese construction companies are reportedly building major roads. The local population who has been using the roads already built say they are pleased with the quality of the work so far, although there are complains that labor rights for the local workers employed by these companies are lacking. The construction companies allegedly negotiated their own labor terms with the government so they could impose stricter conditions on the local work force.

(Header map: Location of thousands of Chinese-funded development projects around the world)

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Tech for Midterm Elections

Did tech play a role in winning Congressional and State campaigns?

Flashback to the 2016 Presidential election aftermath.

The new kind of messages that appeared in my inbox sought to connect tech talents with the progressive campaigns of tomorrow's elections. Initiatives such as Tech for Campaigns (header GIF) worked to encourage and help Silicon Valley's tech and digital talents lend their skills to build and manage the technological backbone of progressive candidate campaigns.

Did this movement and, more generally, tech make a difference in the outcomes of the midterm elections?

I asked Sayu Bhojwani, whose new book tells the story of progressive candidates.

It certainly was all hands on deck, she said. But it is not clear whether tech was more than a fly by night thing. Although what worked very well in canvassing this year was the ability to engage voters through texting. Bhojwani said she had not seen such ability to contact voters at this scale.

The success of engaging voters via texting depends on demographics, said a volunteer from the midterm campaigns. It depends on your voters having a cellphone and using text. This is the case in Maryland, but less so in states like Florida, for example, where the population is older (note that analysts say older voters have a higher turnout at the polls).

If you are interested in data, tech and politics, join the Data Journalism DC Meetup. If you want to write or research on this topic, contact us!

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Dark clouds over Papua New Guinea

On Sunday the country will be hosting the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting.

Although travel guides pitch it as "a still relatively undiscovered destination and one of the few places left in the world where you can truly go off the beaten track," and analysts advise its Prime Minister to "plays his cards right," in order to "cash in" from regional powers competition, natural resource-rich Papua New Guinea is in fact facing existential challenges.

The country's recent economic decline unfolded against a background of weak institutions, poor governance and widespread corruption, prompting the Economist Intelligence Unit to warn of the possibility of swift and disorderly political change.

The following current or short term events risk triggering that disorderly change.

- Ongoing civil unrest in resource rich provinces;

- Discontent toward the lack of social or economic benefits that the population expected to receive from natural resources extraction projects (liquefied natural gas (LNG), copper, gold), which has led to flare ups of violence;

- Discontent toward the lack of transparency on government spending and inadequate investments in health and social welfare owning to the rampant corruption and mismanagement of funds;

- An independence referendum will take place in the province of Bougainville in June 2019. A vote in favor of secession is a strong possibility followed by unilateral declaration of independence and prompting a confrontation with the central government.

The outcomes of these events could lead to the collapse of the state.

A public health expert who recently returned from the country described to Shout! News a very fragile state which remains fiercely tribalistic with epidemic levels of violence and large proportions of the country that are extremely difficult to access.

The expert also expressed concerns over the status of women, which remains one of the poorest in the world. Papua New Guinea's Gender Equality Index is lower than Afghanistan and Chad. Only Yemen is ranked lower.

Also: Large foreign companies from the extractive sector are operating in Papua New Guinea, as Total (France) and ExxonMobil (US). Some have been embroiled in the population's discontent towards natural resources projects. ExxonMobil confirmed that an attack occurred in June on the Angore pipeline in Hela province, which is under construction, in the latest bout of unrest (Economist Intelligence Unit).

Be smart: The country has a unique history. Its isolated populations were brought in contact with the outside world only in the 1930s, an encounter depicted in the documentary "First Contact".

A woman holding a child looks down the valley from Kassam Pass, in Papua New Guinea's Highlands, an isolated region where some people must walk several days to reach the nearest road.

Human Rights Watch/Vlad Sokhin/Panos

Note: The statistics (70% of women will be raped or assaulted in their lifetime) in the header GIF visual is for Papua New Guinea's capital city, Port Moresby.

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What midterm elections say about the changing face of leadership in America

News media put in the pillory or on a pedestal. The new Congresswomen who won the midterm elections last week have been on the later.

They come with inspiring stories. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the youngest people ever elected to Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are the first Muslim women elected to Congress and Ayanna Pressley is the first black woman in Massachusetts to serve in Congress.

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However, good stories and a record number of women elected in midterm elections can hide the fact that these pathbreaking women from a diverse background are still a handful in Congress.

Furthermore, while the Democrats claimed their victories, which indeed allowed the party to regain control of the House of Representatives, many of these soon-to-be Congresswomen ran in spite of the democratic party, who did not endorse them.

What they did have, however, are their years of service in local and state legislatures, where they cut their chops and built a strong profile and platform with their work for constituents and voters, as Ilhan Omar who served in the Minnesota State Senate and the Minnesota Department of Education.

Shout! News/Giphy

Most incisive comment on midterm elections comes from foreign observer

Three times Ambassador to the U.S. talks about the consequences of the mid-term elections on the political landscape in America.

Scrolling through the political pundits' comments following the results of the mid-term elections last week--Democrats seized the House, Republicans kept control of the Senate--one retained my attention.

In just a few brushes, it painted the impact of the elections on the political landscape.

It didn't even come from an American observer. The author is a former Ambassador to the U.S. who served under three American presidents.

In his words:

"I was expecting more from Democrats, so elections results left me with mixed feelings, like the new political landscape.

On one hand Trump will control from the Senate all judicial nominations, immigration, border security, religion bans; women, minorities, and other special interest groups rights; foreign policy nominations; and many more items of his political agenda...

BUT on the other hand Democrats will have the power to investigate his business, his family and his administration officials, including asking IRS for his tax returns; suboena him, his sons and surrogates to question them about Russian presumed collusion in the 2016 Presidential elections; Congressional committees controlled by Democrats will also investigate about illegal payments and gratuities paid among others to Stormy;

No wonder why he [President Trump] called Nancy Pelosi last night right away to congratulate her for the Democrats take over of The House!!!

Trump will control the macro policy issues, and Democrats will control the micro issues, like Trump's personal and political life; as well as the budget, trade and appropriations...perhaps after all, this morning it could have been a rude awakening for POTUS...

Let's the DC version of the hunger games begin!"

Later the Ambassador described his political beliefs:

Photo: Screenshot via Facebook

"I am pro free market, free trade, pro-immigration, and I like also small governments, few and low taxes, preemptive policies, I believe in international cooperation at alllevels, and the multilateral system etc.

In other words I believe in many things Trump is against... I have not moved from the right... it is also simply a matter that I cannot withstand racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and a megalomaniac/narcissist that has taken down the institution of The Presidency of The United States to its lowest point in history::: other than that PXLP!"

The game development community in this war-torn Syrian city is on the rise

Recent software engineering graduate Fadi Ashy talked how he is helping build a community in his hometown.

An active contribution to the game development community comes from war-torn country of Syria.

To be sure, today this country is not one would associate with a thriving game development community. After seven years of brutal war, the situation in Syria is a tragedy of epic proportions. Beside the dead and the departed, most infrastructures are in ruins and basic services, such as electricity and water, have collapsed in most of the country with the exception of Damascus, the capital.

I visited Homs in August 2015. Bullet pocked or blasted walls were an indication of the heaviness of the fighting between the Syrian regime and rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad. We drove in an eerie calm. The regime had not yet allowed the vast majority of the city's population to return. We drove through a ghost town.

A street in downtown Homs in August 2015. Photograph: Flavius Mihaies

A street in downtown Homs in August 2015. Photograph: Flavius Mihaies

Yet, despite these terrible conditions, a youth-driven programming community is emerging and wants to play a role in rebuilding their country, as in Homs, Syria's third largest city.

Fadi Ashy, an organizer in the local programming and game development community, introduced himself as a recent graduate from Al-Baath University in Homs and a self-taught game programmer and AI developer. He said he has been participating in the community for the past four years and explained how one does learn game development in a war-torn country.

Fadi's profile photo. Facebook

"The hardest thing after all this period is the damaged community we're in, especially the IT community, with low to no support on creativity, work and it's hard to find similar talents around you to collaborate with," said Fadi. He estimated the number of game developers in Syria to not exceed fifty.

To fill this gap, him and his friends pooled resources and secured a small office in downtown Homs, where they started to host skill-training workshops, covering basic programming to self-marketing and how to prepare yourself for the job market. The community, he said, has offered training sessions and various meet-ups and activities to boost its participants developments skills.

Fadi said he has also been busy as a game developper with one game already released and the second one, Deadly forest: shelter survival, available but still in beta (see article's header GIF).

Screen capture of upcoming game Deadly forest: shelter survival. Google Play

According to the description posted on the Google Play market place, in this game, "You find yourself at a shelter in the forest surrounded by monsters that are attacking your shelter every night, You need to collect resources and find survivors at day to be able to defend your shelter at night."

It is hard not to think of the Syria of these past seven years.

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Islamists and beer in the Sahel

Muslim Niger's Bière Niger beats U.S.'s King of Beers, aka Budweiser, if all that you want is a light beer

An arid, landlocked country of the Sahel with a population 21 millions, Niger is surrounded by countries where militant groups linked to the Islamic State or al-Qaeda are operating.

But the day I arrived in the country's capital, Niamey, I was told that a group of French tourists had just left the hotel for an expedition on fleuve Niger.

Perhaps some kind of evidence that tourism had returned to this country where both Islamist extremists and U.S. Army Special Forces have deep roots.

In spite of being under a state of emergency and food-insecure, Niger produces Bière Niger, a light beer that easily rivals with Bud Light, America's top-selling beer.

Not many people associate Niger, which is mostly Muslim, with beer: when I returned to Paris a few days later and boasted about the beer, a friend asked if I was talking about a non-alcoholic beer.

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It is true that in Niger on ne boit pas dans la rue (one can't drink on the street) and this likely is a reflection of the country's Islamic identity, but Islam has historically been commonly mixed with Animism, a traditional belief system, all across West Africa.

"The country is 50% Christian, 50% Muslim, and 100% Animist," a friend said referring to neighboring Burkina Faso.

Libyan weapons, demands for independence and Islamism in the Sahel

France's role in removing Libya's Muammar Gaddafi blamed for current mess in the region

'You are not going to drag us into your shitty war.'

It was late afternoon on March 15, 2011, and Susan E. Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, had called her French counterpart.

France was urging the U.S. to join them in a military campaign to prevent Libya's strong man, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, from slaughtering his opponents.

The French won. On October 20, Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed as rebel fighters took his hometown of Sirte. His convoy had been bombed and scattered by U.S. and French airstrikes only moments earlier.

In our recent visit to the region, seven years later, we found that it is the French who are largely taking the blame for the current mess in Libya, a failed state and a terrorist haven, and the region as a whole.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Paris on March 19, 2011. The French president, who had pressed for the bombing campaign that guaranteed Gaddafi's demise, told Mrs. Clinton that French fighter jets were already in the air. Photograph: Lionel Bonavent


Yet, it is striking that only a few Western news media have paid attention to what happened to neighboring countries after the Libyan leader's demise.

The Dictator's Weapons

Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Photograph: Reuters

Colonel Qaddafi left behind a vast military arsenal.

By late 2011, this huge arsenal of weapons was turning up in Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and Gaza, often in the hands of terrorists, insurgents or criminals, the New York Times found.

It looked really scary. In the fall of 2012, American intelligence agencies produced a classified assessment of the proliferation of arms from Libya. "It was like, 'Oh, my God,'" said Michael T. Flynn, then head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. "We've not had that kind of proliferation of weapons since really the end of the Vietnam War."

A connection to the region's largest terrorist groups was also established. Libya had indeed become a source of materiel for Boko Haram, as evidenced in transfers of weapons from Libya that transited Niger en route to Nigeria.

The U.S. did try to take measures to secure the vast arsenal left by Colonel Qaddafi, but they largely failed.

"There was one arsenal that we thought had 20,000 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, SA-7s, that basically just disappeared into the maw of the Middle East and North Africa," recalled Robert M. Gates, the American defense secretary at the time, according to the New York Times.

Weapons have been trafficked out of Libya since the fall of Colonel Qaddafi in 2011, especially through the south. Visual: The New York Times

Superjumbo: the Tuareg and the Islamists

The Tuareg are a traditionally nomadic people who live in the Sahel-Sahara zone of north-west Africa.
In Mali and Niger they have fought on and off for many years with their central governments, demanding greater independence or at the very least more investment in the areas they live.
Many Tuareg were in Libya's armed forces when the uprising started in 2011. Left unemployed when Qaddafi fell, returning Tuaregs--to Mali, especially--were able to bring with them considerable quantities of weapons and ammunition from former army storages that suddenly nobody controlled when the Gaddafi state crumbled.
In Mali, these returning Tuareg reinvigorated an insurgent army and soon joined forces with Islamists group from the region, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They formed an uneasy but potent alliance that quickly routed Malian government forces, prompting the French military to intervene in 2013 as insurgents risked threatening Bamako, Mali's capital.
The French military intervention assisted by troops from Chad and Niger was able to beat back the Islamist and Tuareg rebels in the northern part of Mali, but France has had to maintain a sizable military presence to this day.

Tuareg rebels storming towns in Mali's northern desert in 2012. Photograph: Veronique de Viguerie/The New York Times


The end of the Qaddafi regime in Libya triggered regional instability as men and weapons poured through neighboring countries.

Interestingly, in Mali, while those we talked to during our recent visit blamed former French president Nicolas Sarkozy for the current instability, it is France, the country, they expressed gratitude toward when Sarkozy's successor, Francois Holland, decided the military intervention that routed insurgents and Islamists in 2013.

Syria Unknown #1

In #Syria near Raqqa: whose troops do you think they are...
American, Syrian or someone else? Let us know your thoughts

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