US

Scent marked streetlight in Sydney - Erik Winther 2014
I have so far avoided the subject here as it is politically very complex, and therefore is my short comment easily misunderstood or misinterpreted, but I just can’t ignore it.

What Russia is doing on Crimea these days is awful and unacceptable. Yet they got away with the very same thing in Georgia 2008 when they moved in and took a piece of land; receiving nothing but empty and worthless complaints from the global society. But let me skip the case-specifics.

I would really want to live in a weapon-free world. But, unfortunately, I do not believe the world is homogeneously good-hearted. Therefore, a weapon destruction contract will not work as everyone will not destruct all their weapons at once; leaving the world much less safe as the ’bad guys’ will be far superior in armament – thus also in political power. Power that they, from time to time, will make use of for their very own benefits; in a more or less discretely fashion.

And just as the dogs’ scent markings on and around the photographed streetlight in Sydney result in dead grass, Russia’s wanton behaviour creates irreparable scars on and around Ukraine.

Scent marking Ukraine

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Koh Samet Ao Phrao - Erik Winther
Adjacent to the last post, I want to bring up something that bothers me a lot these days. Because who or what is it that gave me all opportunities I experience in life? Why?

I am both grateful and humble to all of it, but keep reflecting as I walk past several prostitutes on my way to work every day. Passing people who are just as good as me in all aspects, but who were less lucky in life’s lottery of opportunities. Where are the drawbacks and the unacceptable fine print?

And what more is, who am I to decide whether I rightfully can and should continue this awesome journey through life in the fast track? Would the world become a better place if I said ‘no, thank you’ instead? How can I make others share the joy?

Picture of the Gulf of Thailand shot from Koh Samet’s beach Ao Phrao last weekend.

…then again

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We used the last day to get new perspectives on the impact of ICT in Sub-Saharan Africa; a visit at the huge landfill ‘Abublushi’ next to Abose-Okai road in Accra. Nowadays the place that used to be a scenic freshwater lagoon is the end station for US and Europe’s electronic waste. Computers alone: 3 millions per year; a truly dirty business.

The water is worse polluted that anything I’ve heard of, with oils, car paint, acids, and other chemicals being poured in daily. But also the air is heavily affected: homeless gangs set fire on car tires and fridge-insulation to burn away the cable-insulation and separate copper, aluminium and lead which is sold to Tema Steelworks for 50EUR á kilo.

We went there and discussed life with those teenagers that disappear in the thick smoke (zoom in and you’ll see some of them); which made us cough by just being near it. That is the kind of thing that is truly dangerous and an ethical slap in the face, but still totally worth it. The kind of thing that makes one grow as a person, in experience and humbleness.

Last day in Africa

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We see a lot of potential, and it is more than clear that today’s Africa is what China was 30 years ago: the place to be for fast economic growth and help-to-self-help. Which, in the end of the day, is what really matters – to me.

A few examples of what we have seen ourselves in Kenya:
• IBM recently opened their office in Nairobi, their first R&D department in the developing world, 9th in total
• MIT-students start their companies in Kenya’s Nairobi because of the buzzing creativity and potential on Ngong Road.
• Google’s grand office opening-party in Nairobi took place when we were there.
• We’ve met traditional Maasai men that lived far, far out in the bushes without electricity; yet greeted us “Hey, give me your mobile and I’ll send you some nice tribe-songs via Bluetooth”, and did it.

..and in Rwanda:
• Rwanda’s backbone of optical fibre for broadband is better than many others’, e.g. France’s.
• Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is just as clean as Singapore, and their roads are equal in standard.
• Carnegie Mellon University has a campus in Rwanda, their first in the developing world. “Things are too slow in US and Europe”, their director told us.

Our findings, so-far: Africa is on the move

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Yes, we went there. Booyah. No, it wasn’t a big deal. To give you some perspective on the frightening articles in media: The border at Goma between DRC and Rwanda was closed by UN for 12 hours, before they understood what happened, when M23 came to secure Goma’s citizen from the brutal Congolese National Army. Then it reopened, and now are things fine; with M23 still securing the city. At least that is the story we got told by Gisenyi-residents.

Indeed, you can bring an automatic rifle across the border to Congo for a 100RWF-bribe (€0.1), but it is really hard to get it back to Rwanda. Just take a look at the US-propaganda video ‘Kony 2012’ and the anarchy should be clarified; they want, they create a reason to place troops there, and they will take.

But life in the border cities Gisenyi and Goma are not at all as bad as media implies. In fact, both Wille and I kind of fell in love with the place; a lost pearl in the middle of Africa with great potential and smiling people.

My eyes on Goma

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The last Kenya-weekend was just as exciting as the first ones, but much more touching.

Our new friend Simon, an indigenous Maasai warrior of Christian beliefs, has done more than most for Kenya’s and Tanzania’s rural population: building numerous churches, schools and drilling water wells, beside spreading wisdom in his role as bishop.

The funding comes from American churches, via Derrick who actually also linked me to Simon. I find it fascinating to hear Simon explain how it makes sense that they train their warriors to never fear or doubt. A parallel society with very different values than ours, which include much tighter bonds within families than average western citizens have.

Wille and I got to stay the weekend in his house in a remote Maasai village. We got to meet and talk to so many nice persons from his tribe and were shown a school he built, visited one of the water wells, shared a meal with a Chief at a big political meeting, spoke to his friend John who works at the president’s office, and waived to the gazelles and giraffes that walked past us. An unforgettable memory; thank you for showing us all everything Simon!

Picture showing John, Simon, me and the driver Joshua at the rand of the Rift Valley close to Ngong and with their village and the volcano Suswa in the background.

Simon the Bishop

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The Kibera-evening was rounded off at a local pub in the slum. The facility was combined with butchery; the efficient floor usage is good, but it took a few minutes to forget about the stench. Being there on November 7th was great fun; we hoorayed along with the locals’ happiness for Obama’s victory. Cheers mates and meat!

Picture of a happy student; beer and sunshine next to a mud pit in Linköping.

Cheers meat

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The picture I linked to in the post “Hello?..!” repeats what needs to be repeated. Despite our beloved “information society”, objective and complete information is still unavailable.

Not convinced? I’ll give you the phone number to any of my current neighbours so they can explain the real Somalia-story that started years before their fishermen became pirates. Then you’ll understand why residents in Kenya’s northern costal cities celebrates on September 11…

Information & incentives

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Just received a call from number 501. Answered sceptically since it is midnight. Heard Johan & John in the other end! A happy surprise from my friends in Stockholm :)

An hour earlier I got a confirmation from Ali (entrepreneur in NYC) that he is well and happened to be in Miami during the storm; good! Too bad everyone wasn’t as lucky; inside US and outside.

Picture showing one of Indonesia’s volcanoes with me and a local travel-mate in eastern Java.

Hello?…!

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After a wandering around looking at things and a quick visit at the Swedish School of Nairobi, Wille and I had supper at a Korean restaurant. I wasn’t expecting myself to eat Kimchi when I woke up this morning, that’s for sure :)

Back at Sandavy Guesthouse I met Derrick (American NGO-worker, monitoring development projects) and his friend Simon who is of Maasai origin and still lives as a true Maasai even though he is comfortable in the western society as well.
I sat down and listened to his life story for four hours; from him being sent out to the hyenas at the age of ten to kill or get killed; to the life he lives today: counting assets in number of cows and rather killing his son than allowing him to divorce (luckily not an issue), but at the same time working via a laptop and owning several schools, freshwater wells and 56 churches (and investing heavily to reach 200 soon).

This kind of experiences and insights from remote societies and parallel cultures are very valuable to me, and I wish that more people got -and took- the opportunities to do the same!

Maasai

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I want to share an advice, which is not my own and one that you’ve probably already heard before. Even though “fake it” is a very charged word, the speech is masterly formulated and argued well with hard science; and the topic cannot be stressed enough.

So watch this month’s TED video by Harvard’s Amy Cuddy: ‘Your body language shapes who you are’.

A golden advice

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An important quality measure on our thesis is reliability; whether the conclusions would be the same if another team would test the same things once more.

The tension on the skin from the bone pipe seemed higher when I woke up today, so I called the hospital when the shoulder area started to get swollen. They asked me to come in, and after a new round of x-raying and examinations was the conclusion that nothing had happened, but the verdict was different. Hence, I will get expensive bling-bling metals inserted, probably already tomorrow.

It will unfortunately delay our trip further, but to what extent is not clear at this time. So on one hand: feels good to get it done; and on the other: what about reliability..?

Reliability

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The passports have been found, the visas have been approved and attached, a courier has been hired, and now are they finally on their way to us. Though the cost of bringing then here went up a bit from the scheduled postal fee, we’re still on schedule and couldn’t have gotten it solved cheaper under the given circumstances. I might just devote more time to the mighty embassy-holiness in the future :)

Picture of a cabdriver making a gamble at Madison Ave: success through determination and, of course, by staying cool.

Passports cont’d II

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There’s pros and cons with everything. They usually stay balanced; like taking a swim (pro: refreshing, con: cold the first seconds, pro>con=nice in total), but then eventually they rebalance; the temperature falls and the inequality is turned around.

As most other thesis writers have concluded; being this left out to strangers (for interviews etc) is really to expose oneself for such rebalancing acts. Often.

Luckily, the pros have so far been restabilising things quickly each time there’s been movements, and I recall the days of 2011 when I shot this photo of Manhattan. High life!

On top of things

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So what are we doing? Well, hopefully can I provide a good answer to that in December… But a rough description is given by the preliminary name; “Swedish companies’ position on the ICT market in Sub-Saharan Africa – A field study of key success factors and strategies”.

So by interviewing politicians, company managers and other trade related stakeholders from both Sweden and African countries are we going to make statements of what, where and how the local ICT demands in SSA can be fulfilled by Swedish companies. High-tech products, international business and developing economies on the same time; score!

Thesis subject

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