The E-Citizen app from Senegal uses photos and audio recordings. For example, click on a photo of a baby and select either French or a local dialect. You’ll hear how to register a newborn child.

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The E-Citizen app from Senegal uses photos and audio recordings. For example, click on a photo of a baby and select either French or a local dialect. You’ll hear how to register a newborn child.

Kristy Totten for NPR

Africa Tech Now, billed as the “No. 1 event showcasing African entrepreneurship,” debuted at CES this year. The problem was, when I went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to cover it for this blog, no one had heard of it. Not the media desk, the information booth or even the Moroccan and Egyptian aisles, which are obviously African but weren’t part of the expo I was looking for.

I guess it’s not surprising. Tech innovations from developing countries in Africa aren’t exactly making headlines.

Yet slowly and quietly, African countries have been ramping up their technology, much of it centered on social and economic issues like health monitoring and job creation. Governments are seeking tech-hub status, and investors have taken note.

Last year, the Nigerian startup Andela raised $40 million to connect African web developers with international employers, and investment groups are buying into other businesses.

When I finally did locate the Africa Tech Now display (after walking around hopelessly for an hour or two), I found a group of six startups from Mali, Senegal and Tunisia. Of the six, three were innovative, two had slick marketing materials but no product to show, and one was a nice idea but still has a way to go.

Here are the highlights:

Social media for folks who can’t read

Most social media relies on reading and typing, but what if it was voice-based? That’s the idea behind Lenali, an app created by computer scientist Mamadou Gouro of Mali. On Lenali, users can select their dialect, type in or record their name, post vocally and comment vocally without having to read anything. Posts could be anything from personal updates to photos to news. Gouro even thinks people could use Lenali to boost their business. A mango vendor could post a photo, add audio that tells his or her location and ask people who want more info to comment by voice posts. “Everything is done without the need for writing skills,” Gouro says, though the app does accept written posts as well. There is one drawback — the app can’t read posts aloud. So users would have to rely on friends to post voice comments if they need something read or translated. “There’s artificial intelligence, but we use natural intelligence,” he says.

Help for Senegalese who don’t parlez Francais

In Senegal, most information is written in French — it’s the official language, after all. The problem is, not everyone reads French. Instead, they may speak the local language Wolof, which has many dialects. And some may not be able to read in any language. The E-Citizen app uses photos and audio recordings in local dialects to help people navigate health, courts, jobs, taxes and other social systems. For example, clicking on a photo of a baby tells you in the language you select how to register your newborn child. Clicking on a photo of construction workers lists job opportunities. Currently, E-Citizen works in two local dialects and French. Entrepreneur Mamadou Diagne hopes to add more dialects in the next two years, and eventually he wants to create kiosks so people without devices can use the app, too.

Power in a box

Electricity is hard to come by in rural Mali, so engineer Abdoulaye Gackou has created the Yeelen Solar Box, a solar-energy generator that can provide electricity to 10 homes. It’s mobile, made from recycled material and runs for 24 hours on a single charge. The box is still in its prototype phase but should be available in the next year for around $1,820.

As for the other vendors:

From Senegal, 2v360 provides 360-degree photography to real estate and tourism businesses, to give potential visitors a more immersive view of properties. The website is impressive, but a rep said the company still has a lot of work to do.

A wireless modem company from Tunisia called SpeedAir supposedly connects to drones, robots and smart cities, but there wasn’t information beyond the booth’s backdrop.

And finally, the Hicchair from Tunisia is a hand-sewn seat cushion loaded with sensors that’s supposed to detect bad posture and send results to smartphones. Sadly, the Hicchair rep’s phone was dead, so he couldn’t give me a demo.

The Hicchair, from Tunisia, is supposed to determine if you’re sitting with proper posture and then send the findings to a smartphone.

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Despite the sparse turnout, hope ran high at the event, and Africa Tech Now’s vendors were optimistic about their countries turning a tech corner.

“We’re pretty much doing everything we can, and the government is trying to help as much as they can,” said Hicchair CEO Sai Khalil.

In the meantime, he’ll continue to look for funding. And a demo phone that won’t conk out.

Kristy Totten is a producer at Nevada Public Radio. Find her on Twitter @kristy_tea

Article source: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/01/12/577660322/africa-tech-is-hard-to-find-at-ces-but-worth-looking-for?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Open Doors USA released its annual list of the most dangerous countries for Christians. Among those where anti-Christian hostility has grown are India and Turkey, two important U.S. allies.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/11/577453412/report-shows-its-increasingly-dangerous-to-be-a-christian-in-many-countries?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Financial Times reporter, Max Seddon, about his reporting on Russia’s developing idea of a “crypto-rouble.” The “crypto-rouble” would work similarly to a Bitcoin, except transactions would not be anonymous under an authoritarian government. The Kremlin hopes the currency can help evade U.S. sanctions.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/11/577453489/kremlin-exploring-crypto-rouble-as-way-to-evade-u-s-sanctions?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador on May 19, 2017, in London.

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Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador on May 19, 2017, in London.

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Ecuador says it has granted citizenship to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, as officials try to find a way for him to leave the Ecuadorean embassy in London without risking legal action.

Assange, who is Australian, first sought refuge at the embassy more than five years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced an investigation over rape allegations. He was granted asylum, and has been holed up in the embassy ever since.

The original case against him has been dropped, but Assange remains inside the embassy. “He is still subject to arrest in Britain for jumping bail,” The Associated Press notes. “He also fears a possible U.S. extradition request based on his leaking of classified State Department documents.”

“Earlier this week, Ecuador said the situation was unsustainable and requested diplomatic status for Assange in hopes of springing him,” NPR’s Frank Langfitt reports from London. “A British government spokesman responded: ‘Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.’ ”

Reuters has more on Ecuadorean efforts to assist Assange, as described by officials on Thursday:

” ‘Ecuador is currently exploring other solutions in dialogue with the UK, like good offices of renowned authorities, other states, or international organizations that could facilitate a just, final and dignified solution for all parties,’ Ecuador’s foreign minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa told a press conference. …

” ‘There are well-founded fears we have about possible risks to his life and integrity, not necessarily by the UK but by third party states,’ Espinosa said.

“She did not give details on how granting  Assange  citizenship might help in avoiding his arrest by British police. …

“For some,  Assange is a cyber hero for exposing government abuses of power and championing free speech but to others he is a criminal who has undermined the security of the West by exposing secrets.

Earlier this week Assange “fueled speculation he’d received an Ecuadorean passport,” Frank notes, “by posting a photo on Twitter wearing a jersey of the Ecuadorean national soccer team.”

Article source: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/01/11/577422644/ecuador-grants-citizenship-to-julian-assange-who-lives-in-london-embassy?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Nearly 100 French women activists, academics and actresses have signed an open letter saying that the #MeToo movement has gone too far, becoming a “witch hunt” against men.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/10/577163155/100-french-women-pen-letter-saying-metoo-movement-has-gone-too-far?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Congressional Democrats released a new report on Wednesday calling for a plan to deal with Russia’s meddling in elections. It points out that the U.S. is not the only victim. But other countries are responding and Democrats say the Trump administration is falling short.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/10/577163169/congressional-democrats-release-new-report-to-respond-to-russian-meddling-in-ele?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Ahead of her visit with President Trump, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg speaks with NPR’s Ari Shapiro about climate change, women in politics and what she thinks Trump’s presidency has meant for global security.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/2018/01/10/577163197/norways-pm-says-trump-administration-needs-to-understand-impacts-of-america-firs?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

Pope Francis spoke to the ambassadors to the Holy See at the Sistine Chapel on Monday.

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Pope Francis spoke to the ambassadors to the Holy See at the Sistine Chapel on Monday.

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Pope Francis has some surprising things to say about the state of the world.

On Monday, Pope Francis delivered his annual address to his diplomatic corps, ambassadors from 183 nations to the Holy See. The speech outlined a bold vision for a peaceful, free and just world. The pontiff touched on themes that have been in the headlines, like the Syrian war and the Rohingya refugee crisis.

But he also drilled down on development topics like child labor, global inequality and the threat of technological advances that may put millions of people, especially the poorest, out of work.

Here are a few highlights from his speech, delivered at the Vatican Apostolic Palace in Vatican City:

Stop the anti-migration rhetoric

“Today there is much talk about migrants and migration, at times only for the sake of stirring up primal fears. It must not be forgotten that migration has always existed … Nor should we forget that freedom of movement, for example, the ability to leave one’s own country and to return there, is a fundamental human right. There is a need, then, to abandon the familiar rhetoric and start from the essential consideration that we are dealing, above all, with persons.”

Give thanks to countries that have taken in refugees

“It is … important that the many refugees who have found shelter and refuge in neighboring countries, especially in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, be able to return home. The commitment and efforts made by these countries in this difficult situation deserve the appreciation and support of the entire international community. …”

“I renew my sentiments of gratitude to the Bangladeshi authorities for the assistance provided to [the Rohingya refugees] on their own territory.”

End the war in Syria

“It is … important for the various peace initiatives aimed at helping Syria to continue … so that the lengthy conflict that has caused such immense suffering can finally come to an end. Our shared hope is that, after so much destruction, the time for rebuilding has now come.”

Invest in medicines and treatments that are not always profitable

“It is important to join forces in order to implement policies that ensure, at affordable costs, the provision of medicines essential for the survival of those in need, without neglecting the area of research and the development of treatments that, albeit not financially profitable, are essential for saving human lives.”

Beware of robots taking away jobs

“In many parts of the world, employment is scarcely available. At times, few opportunities exist, especially for young people, to find work. Often it is easily lost not only due to the effects of alternating economic cycles, but to the increasing use of ever more perfect and precise technologies and tools that can replace human beings.”

Close the gap between the rich and poor

“There is a risk that … we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable.”

End child labor, a growing global phenomenon

“We cannot think of planning a better future, or hope to build more inclusive societies, if we continue to maintain economic models directed to profit alone and the exploitation of those who are most vulnerable, such as children.”

Article source: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/01/09/576787633/how-to-make-the-world-a-better-place-in-2018-according-to-pope-francis?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

A 30-foot by 30-foot mock-up of the Titanic replica now under construction stands near the construction site in China’s Sichuan Province.

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A 30-foot by 30-foot mock-up of the Titanic replica now under construction stands near the construction site in China’s Sichuan Province.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

A lot of questions spring to mind on arriving at the construction site for a full-scale Chinese replica of the Titanic:

Why is this being built in the remote countryside, 1,000 miles from the sea?

Why is this being built?

And simply: Why?

The infomercial the developer screens for visitors at the site in the town of Daying, Sichuan Province, leaves these questions unanswered.

The video begins with a computer-generated image of the Titanic rising from its resting place in the North Atlantic, and climaxes with non-Chinese from around the world awestruck by the project.

“The incredible Titanic?” wonders a bewildered American, who then gushes: “The Chinese are amazing!”

Developer Su Shaojun, president of Seven Stars Investment Group, was inspired to build a replica of the Titanic after watching the blockbuster film 20 years ago. He is also building a theme park around the ship which he claims will feature the “world’s largest indoor beach.”

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Developer Su Shaojun, president of Seven Stars Investment Group, was inspired to build a replica of the Titanic after watching the blockbuster film 20 years ago. He is also building a theme park around the ship which he claims will feature the “world’s largest indoor beach.”

Rob Schmitz/NPR

The ship’s delivery date, according to the video: Aug. 30, 2017.

“The unsinkable Titanic to be delivered!” the narrator promises.

But work on the replica — 1,000 feet long by 92 feet wide, requiring 23,000 tons of steel — is far from finished.

“I didn’t expect the ship would be this big,” admits Su Shaojun, the developer overseeing the project. “The movie didn’t mention how big it was.”

Su, a fan of James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic film, is president of Seven Star Energy Investment Group in Lishui, Zhejiang Province, in southeastern China. Building an exact replica of the ship in Sichuan’s countryside was his idea.

“I wanted to build a resort,” he explains. “But I didn’t want to copy others and make just another theme park. I wanted to build one that has cultural depth to it.”

Su watched Titanic 20 years ago, when he was a young local official in Lishui. The movie had taken China by storm at a time when the country’s economy was emerging from dormancy and opportunities were everywhere.

The film moved Su so much that when he became a developer 15 years later, he proposed building a resort and theme park featuring a replica.

Construction is years behind schedule, but builders have completed the hull of the ship.

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Construction is years behind schedule, but builders have completed the hull of the ship.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

“I thought rebuilding the Titanic would be meaningful,” says Su. “It was very touching to see people give others the chance to live” — his favorite part of the film.

He was also inspired to help establish the Titanic Foundation, whose goal is to help ocean disaster relief efforts worldwide.

For the ship replica and theme park, called Romandisea, Su secured a loan of nearly $200 million from Zheshang commercial bank and worked out a property deal with the local government of Daying. Construction began in 2014.

“Why am I so confident of its success?” Su asks, adjusting his glasses as he watches construction workers on the hull of the ship. “First, people from all over know the Titanic. Second, Daying is in between two cities with 20 million people each, Chengdu and Chongqing. The person who designed China’s Disneyland came here and said we’d have more visitors than them.”

Peking University economist Christopher Balding is not so sure. He’s seen many other small Chinese cities champion big projects like the Titanic. Many of them sink, he says.

“There’s a lot of pressure in government to deliver results,” warns Balding. “One of the easiest ways to do that is to go out, build something really big and say, ‘Look at what we’ve done for you.’ The further we go down this road and especially the more debt-constrained China becomes, that’s not a winning formula.”

Daying government officials declined interview requests from NPR.

At the Titanic, developer Su doesn’t seem worried. He’s waiting for another steel shipment, he says, before crews install a replica of the engine that powered the original Titanic – an engine that will rarely be used when the replica comes to rest in a reservoir created by the damming of a river.

Su’s company originally promised a “hitting the iceberg experience,” where visitors could experience what it’s like to be on a sinking ship. But it scrapped the idea after criticism from descendants of those who survived the 1912 Titanic tragedy, in which 1,500 people died.

“We might still do that,” Su says, “but we won’t call it ‘hitting the iceberg.’ We just want to show that people should let women and children go first when facing a disaster.”

But before contemplating the site’s future attractions, work on the actual ship will need to conclude. As things stand, Su’s Titanic is years behind schedule.

A dam has been built to flood a valley for the resort and the ship, but the hotel complex — being built along the shore of the future reservoir and including what the developer bills as the “world’s largest indoor beach” — isn’t close to being finished.

Crews have built the replica’s 1,000-foot hull, but 2/3 of the ship remains unfinished. And steel is suddenly twice as expensive as it was last year, due to a spike in commodity prices.

Workers have either quit or have yet to show up – dormitories are largely empty and cranes dotting the site are frozen in time.

“People have lost confidence in it,” says Zhou, a farmer who only gives his surname for fear of retribution from local authorities. “Only a few people are working on the ship. They don’t have money to pay their salaries.”

Zhou, who farms rapeseed fields, has watched the Titanic falter for years from across a river in his tiny village of Jinwan. If the project is ever finished, the developer and the city of Dayang will flood the village of 1,000 people, which lies below the water line of the future reservoir.

“We haven’t heard when they’ll demolish our village,” says Zhou. “I’m concerned. But as long as they give us a reasonable amount of money for our land, I’ll be happy.”

A night at the resort, he says, will cost twice his current monthly earnings of $250.

Across the river, Su stands confident in the face of a question about whether re-creating a ship that ended up sinking to the bottom of the ocean is a good idea.

“We Chinese can turn a bad thing into a good thing,” he insists. “We want to let people learn from history.”

That dream is likely to be realized whether Su finishes building the Titanic or not.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/01/08/575278320/a-life-size-replica-of-the-titanic-is-under-construction-in-chinas-countryside?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world

The Homeland Security Department says TPS status for El Salvador will end in September of 2019. Immigrants, activists and elected officials denounced the plan at a news conference in New York Monday.

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The Homeland Security Department says TPS status for El Salvador will end in September of 2019. Immigrants, activists and elected officials denounced the plan at a news conference in New York Monday.

Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 1 p.m. ET

The Trump administration says it will end the temporary protected status that has allowed some 200,000 natives of El Salvador to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation for nearly 17 years, the Department of Homeland Security says.

In announcing the designation’s end, DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen also said she’s extending it for another 18 months, to Sept. 9, 2019 — a delay that her agency says is to ensure “an orderly transition.”

When asked whether the move would result in U.S. customs officials targeting Salvadorans who try to remain in the U.S. without documentation after September of 2019, an administration official on a briefing phone call said that the agency’s top priority remains the deportation of criminals and people deemed dangerous to society. But he added that Homeland Security would not “exempt entire classes of people.”

The move upends a status quo that has existed since 2001, when President George W. Bush extended temporary protected status to Salvadorans who were in the U.S., after major earthquakes devastated parts of El Salvador.

As NPR’s Carrie Kahn reports, “The vast majority of [Salvadorans] that were here in the country living illegally at the time had fled in the 1980s and ’90s, during the decades of the U.S.-backed civil war in the country and unrest there.”

People who live in the U.S. under the TPS program have done so under a series of 18-month extensions that have rendered it semi-permanent — a condition that has been welcomed by immigrants and criticized by those who want to see a strict overhaul of U.S. border controls.

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To maintain their work authorization, TPS immigrants pay hundreds of dollars in fees for permits every 18 months. The U.S. government says Salvadorans with TPS must register one more time if they want to keep working through the fall of 2019, but it added that it wasn’t yet announcing the final re-registration period.

In a news release about its decision, Homeland Security said that Salvadorans should use the 18-month delay to either leave the U.S. or “seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible.”

The agency also called on Congress to act, saying that only a change to U.S. law would provide a “permanent solution” for people who have for years been living and working in the U.S.

“The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution,” DHS said.

The Trump administration’s move quickly drew criticism from immigrants’ rights and advocacy groups. While acknowledging a need for Congress to change U.S. immigration laws, Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said via a statement that it was “baffling and mean-spirited that the administration has sought to hold the fate of these people hostage to such action.”

Another group unhappy with the decision is Amnesty International USA, whose Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, advocacy director for the Americas, called the TPS termination “a devastating betrayal for thousands of families who arrived at the United States seeking safety as well as their U.S. citizen children.”

Margerin added, “If forced to return to El Salvador, mothers, fathers, and children could face extortion, kidnapping, coerced service to gangs, and sexual violence.”

TPS immigrants’ home countries have often lobbied to maintain the status, in part because it smooths the process both of finding work in the U.S. and of sending money back home.

In the case of El Salvador, the U.S. said on Monday that the problems brought by the earthquakes “no longer exist.” But the country remains wracked by violence and poverty, and it has benefited from its citizens’ ability to work in the U.S.

“Remittances are at an all-time high,” Carrie reports. “Those are dollars coming back home from relatives abroad. That accounts for nearly a fifth of El Salvador’s GDP. That’s a huge loss to such a poor country.”

When President Trump took office, a total of more than 300,000 immigrants were allowed to live in the U.S. legally under the TPS exception. Of that number, the majority were originally from El Salvador; the two other main nationalities with TPS status are Hondurans — some 57,000 of whom will learn their fate in July — and Haitians — about 46,000 of whom have already been told their TPS status will end.

Last week, Homeland Security said it would end TPS status for Nicaragua, which has some 2,500 citizens in the U.S. under the protective status.

Other countries whose citizens in the U.S. are protected under TPS rules include Nepal, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan.

Article source: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/01/08/576460604/u-s-ends-el-salvadors-protected-status-affecting-200-000-residents?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=world