militant groups across the Sahara region still able to flex their
muscles despite the French intervention in Mali, former UN
diplomat and security expert Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah considers their
threat to Africa.
The countries of North and West Africa have become embroiled in a new war waged by violent Islamist militants - a conflict that has no front line.
Last week's suicide assaults in Niger on a military base and French-run uranium mine, and a siege in January of the gas plant in Algeria reveal the insurgents' ruthless tactics.
And the start of the withdrawal of French troops from Mali, four months after recapturing northern cities from Islamist insurgents, is being touted by the militants on internet forums as the beginning of their victory.
But this is no sudden development.
Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM).
They move from one country to another - a hard core of operatives working in an area that covers parts of south-west and south Libya, southern Algeria, northern Niger, north-east Mauritania and most of northern Mali.
Poorly administrated, these vast desert spaces provide the groups with an ideal terrain.
They also have connections in northern Nigeria, especially with home-grown militant group Boko Haram.
Analysts believe there are dormant cells in many large cities, including most capitals in the Sahel region.
There are several reasons that this network of militancy has flourished.
One significant factor is the perceived arrogance and corruption of urban elites.
The marginalisation of poorer communities - both in rural areas and smaller towns - and minority ethnic groups has further alienated them from the governing classes.
Disgruntled young men have been happy to join radical groups that not only offer them an ideology, but money.
And it is the widespread drug trafficking in the region that is believed to have enriched militant groups.
Details about the operations are sketchy - large amounts of money are involved to ensure secrecy and loyalty.
Drugs from South America are taken across Africa to Europe, where they are more profitable and marketable.
A kilogramme of cocaine bought in Latin America for $3,000 (£1,990) can be sold in the capitals of West Africa for about $16,000; in North Africa it sells for $25,000 and can fetch about $45,000 in Europe.
Getting involved in the transit business as the conveyor or security agent provides not only a good salary but also the social recognition that money brings.
This is a tantalising prospect to many unemployed young men.
Western hostage taking is no less profitable for militant groups - and is another "business" that has grown in the last 10 years.
Between 80m-100m euros ($103m-130m) is estimated by the Center for Strategy and Security in the Sahel Sahara to have been paid in ransoms in this time, despite both the United Nations and the African Union discouraging such payments.
Information technology has been a great help to a hard core of between 350 and 450 experienced AQIM fighters estimated to work within the coalition of Islamist militant groups in the Sahel and Sahara region.
The leadership and high ranking officers are mostly Algerians and Mauritanians, but increasingly the Sahelians are moving up the ladder.
They are very mobile and knowledgeable about the region, can often avoid detection and the monitoring of their communications, and can count on hundreds of determined militias and armed sympathisers.
AQIM has its roots in groups in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. One of its key affiliates is the well-disciplined Mujao group, which was active in Mali and claimed responsibility for last week's Niger attacks.
There is also believed to be a connection between AQIM and the growing piracy of the Gulf of Guinea - similar to the situation in Somalia where the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab group has strong links with pirates operating in the Indian Ocean.
In both cases the main objective is to expand the source of their funding and to enlarge their popular support through redistribution of the loot.
Last summer also saw reports of a liaison between the Islamist militants in the Sahel, al-Shabab and a few other "informal units" operating in the porous borders area between Chad, Libya and Sudan.
Al-Shabab militants were reported to have travelled overland to Mali disguised as Koranic students or merchants.
En route it is believed they stayed in safe houses in major cities before joining groups in the AQIM network to share experiences.
The groups interact on more of an informal than a co-ordinated basis - facilitated by lax border controls and territorial continuity.
They also exploit the tribal systems and relationships between ethnic groups, using them to their advantage.
Most rebel groups' supplies and logistics come down from the Maghreb or the fighters seize them by force from local armies.
Frustrated border populations either help the combatants or fail to report on them to government officials, despite being given Thuraya satellite phones to do so.
Today, however, the Sahel and Sahara region is at a crossroads.
There is an opportunity for the region's governments to get a grip on the situation and take advantage of France's gains.
Improving economies coupled with nascent freedoms in North Africa could also help improve weak governance, a major ingredient of terrorism.
In coalition with the private sector and civil society organisations, they could fight poverty and disenfranchisement, which could help quell the rebellion.
But there is only a short window of opportunity.
Combatants presently fighting on far
fronts, such as Syria, may well return - whether victorious or
defeated - to boost the morale and numbers of the Saharan radical
groups confronted by French troops.
paradise - these are not words you often hear to describe the
Niger Delta in southern Nigeria.
But you get to appreciate the area's natural beauty whilst wading across lily covered creeks and trekking deep into the forest, accompanied by birdsong.
Welcome to the Niger Delta before the oil.
"I'm on the plank now so walk right behind me," a guide said as we squelched across a muddy swamp trying not to sink in too deep.
After walking for about an hour and a half from the village of Kalaba in Bayelsa state, I caught the first glimpse of an expansive tranquil lake through the trees.
On the shore are shelters made of wooden poles draped in material.
Every two years several families set up a camp at Lake Masi where they fish for just three months.
"After preparing the nylon and woven basket nets we go into the lake and drive the fish into one area," Woloko Inebisa told me.
"By fishing every two years we allow the fish to grow large. If we fished every year there would only be very small fish here," the 78 year old told me as two men in dug out canoes adjusted the nets inside a section of the lake that had been fenced off with cane reeds.
Smoke drifted across the camp as women dried the fish over home made grills above smouldering fires.
"I will use this money to pay my children's school fees, to buy books for them, to buy their school uniforms and to do everything for them," said mother-of-three Ovie Joe.
When these families return to their villages they will continue to grow crops but will have raised some capital from the fishing season.
"We have water for drinking and plenty of fish. But I'm not just here to feed my stomach - I'll save up money for when I go back to the village," Mr Inebisa said.No birdsong
Just a few kilometres away near Taylor Creek is a very different picture.
An oil spill from June 2012 has left the ground covered in a dark sludge and the trees are all blackened by fire.
Environmentalists believe local contractors often pay youths to set fire to the area where the spill has occurred.
This can reduce the spread of the oil but has other detrimental effects on the environment.
Despite extensive flooding late last year the oil has not dispersed and there are still signs of the rainbow sheen on the surface.
Your ears also tell you all is not well - there is hardly any birdsong as the pollution has sucked the life out of the area.
"When I walked here the crude oil was spilling out so fast I couldn't even get near the spill point itself," said Samuel Oburo, a youth leader from Kalaba.
Running through this area is an underground pipeline belonging to Nigeria AGIP Oil Company - which is partly owned by the Italian oil giant, Eni.
It says numerous leaks near Taylor Creek were all caused by people breaking into the pipe - sabotage.
On 23 March Eni issued a statement announcing the closure of all its activities in the area because the theft of oil, known as bunkering, was so rife.
"The decision was made due to the intensified bunkering, consisting in the sabotage of pipelines and the theft of crude oil, which has recently reached unsustainable levels regarding both personal safety and damage to the environment," the statement read.
People in the village suggest corroded pipes as a possible trigger of the spill and they doubt it was caused by sabotage.'No prosecutions'
The breaking of pipes and theft of the oil is so rampant in the Niger Delta that experts believe several interest groups are involved.
"There is a high level conspiracy between the security forces, the community and oil workers to steal the oil," says environmental campaigner Erabanabari Kobah.
"That is why people are not prosecuted and convicted even though the crime is happening at an alarming rate," he says.
There is very little transparency when it comes to the awarding of contracts to clean up any oil spills.
This has led to increased incidents of sabotage as some believe the more oil spills there are the more money there is to share around.
The pollution is having a terrible impact on the environment.
"There is oil here. We are suffering," said Jeti Matikmo, carrying a pole on his shoulder on which bundles of fish were tied.
"Many of our crops are not growing well because of the oil spill and we are not killing fish in the ponds anymore.
"So we have to trek for more than two hours to where it is clean and where there is no oil."
Back at Lake Masi a crowd gathered as two men waded ashore dragging an enormous woven basket behind them. It was heavy with fish.
"There's nothing like pollution here. Although if the oil prospecting companies come they may find oil and all that could change," said Mr Inebisa.
"If this pond is polluted, hunger is the answer," he said
adding that in his entire life he had not gained a single coin
from the oil of the Niger Delta.
President John Dramani Mahama has warned that Islamist militancy
poses a threat that could destabilise the whole of West Africa.
Mr Mahama told the BBC that although Ghana had not been directly affected, no country was safe if insurgency was allowed to take hold elsewhere.
He said intervention led by France had helped guarantee stability in Mali, but the conflict there was not yet over.
He also backed the African Union's plan to create a rapid reaction force.
Mr Mahama said there had been a suggestion that it could be funded by a tax on air travel and hotels across the continent.
In January, French forces spearheaded an operation to drive out al-Qaeda and other allied Islamist groups from northern Mali, where they had seized control in the chaos following a coup last year.
Ghana's leader said the incident showed how the whole Sahel region had "become an attractive foothold for insurgents".
"If we allow that foothold to consolidate, then it could affect the stability of our entire region," Mr Mahama told the BBC's Newsday programme.
Despite regaining territory from Islamist groups in Mali, he said the crisis was not over.
"There is the danger of asymmetric attacks like we saw in Niger the last few days, and so it is a matter that worries all of us in the sub-region," Mr Mahama said.
"And we need to act collectively as a sub-region and a continent and indeed globally to be able to ensure peace and stability."
government of Malawi has defended a controversial deal it struck
with South Korea to export up to 100,000 of its young people as
Opposition MPs in Malawi have called the deal "slave labour".
But the labour minister, struggling to create new job employment opportunities in her own country, has denied that.
Eunice Makangala told the BBC she "just" wanted "to help the young people in Malawi" who are due to leave for Seoul to work.
The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre says Malawian President Joyce Banda made an agreement with the government of South Korea on a visit there in February this year.
It involves sending young Malawian men and women aged between 18 and 25 to jobs in factories and on farms on the Korean peninsula, he says.
Accurate unemployment figures in Malawi are hard to compute because of the lack of a national identification system to track those out of a job.
But recent research suggests that 80% of secondary school graduates in Malawi return to their villages every year because they can neither find jobs nor employ themselves.
Nevertheless, opposition MPs in the capital, Lilongwe, are furious about the plan to export labour.
"We always cry about brain-drain and encourage Malawians in the diaspora to come back home and yet here we are exporting the cream of our labour force abroad. It doesn't make sense at all," Stevyn Kamwendo, for the DPP, told parliament on Tuesday.
Ms Makangala told the BBC she and her government were acting "in good faith".
"It is not modern-day slavery", she said.
"There are people who are working here who are from Egypt, from Nigeria, India and England.
"Do you want to tell me that those people are slaves? And the unemployment rate for the youth here is very high."
But Henry Kachaje, who is an entrepreneurial consultant in Malawi, said the labour export deal could have been better negotiated.
"It would have been more attractive", he said.
"If the government had actually attracted more foreign direct investors here... so that the young people were able to contribute to the social development of this country".
destruction of tropical rainforests is having an even greater
impact on the environment than was previously thought, a study
Scientists have found that deforestation in Brazil is causing trees to produce smaller, weaker seeds that are less likely to regenerate.
They believe this has been triggered by the loss of large birds from the forests, which have beaks big enough to feed on and disperse the seeds.
The study is published in Science.
Pedro Jordano, from the Donana Biological Station in Seville, Spain, said: "One of our major surprises was how rapidly deforestation could not only be influencing the disappearance of the fauna, but to observe how deforestation could influence the evolution of the plant traits so rapidly - within a few generations."
Brazil's Atlantic rainforest was once home to a vibrant array of plants and animals.
But with the arrival of sugar and coffee plantations in the early part of the 19th Century, it was rapidly destroyed.
Today, just 12% of the original forest remains.
To assess the impact, researchers looked at more than 9,000 seeds collected from palm trees throughout the rainforest.
Those taken from areas that had suffered heavy destruction were much smaller than seeds collected in undisturbed patches of forest.
The researchers considered a wide array of factors that might have led to the shrinkage, such as the climate, soil fertility and forest cover.
"But we found no evidence for any of those effects," explained Prof Jordano, who carried out the research with Sao Paulo State University, in Brazil.
"The main factor was the disappearance of the large frugivore (fruit-eating) species."
Usually, species such as the toucan and cotinga use their large beaks to eat the fruit, eventually spreading the seeds throughout the forest.
But as the rainforest was flattened, these birds vanished, leaving smaller birds behind such as the thrush.
By evolving to produce smaller fruits, which birds with tinier beaks could handle, they were more likely to be dispersed.
However the researchers found these seeds were weaker.
"Unfortunately the smaller seed size also means a lower probability for successful recruitment in the forest," said Prof Jordano.
"Smaller seeds are less likely to germinate, they are prone to losses by desiccation and they are more quickly attacked by fungi."
He added that projected climate change could render rainforests drier and hotter, making the survival of the seeds even less likely.
The researchers said their findings were probably not limited to the Atlantic rainforest.
Prof Jordano said: "Really the story we are documenting can also be happening for many other tree species.
"Unfortunately it will also be common in other tropical areas around the world, where the large toucans, the tapirs, monkeys and other big mammals and birds are disappearing very quickly from the forest."
indigenous Brazilians have re-occupied a ranch in the western
state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
The Terena indigenous group says the ranch, which belongs to a local politician, lies on their ancestral land.
On Thursday one of their members was shot as police evicted the group from the site, which it had occupied for two weeks.
The police said the Terena had attacked them with bows and arrows.
The officers say they were executing a court order to evict the group but the Indians reacted violently to their approach.
Federal police spokesman Francisco Moraes said the group returned to the ranch on Friday.
Mr Moraes said the situation continued to be "tense", but that there had been no violent incidents since the re-occupations started.
Indigenous activists say farmers in Mato Grosso do Sul frequently use violence and threats to force them off their ancestral territory, and that the local authorities do little to protect them.
The state, which borders Bolivia and Paraguay, is one of the main soya producers in Brazil.
This week's embarrassing row, which
briefly saw the suspension of Sunday's high-profile Brazil v
England football match at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium, has
brought into sharp focus some fundamental cultural and political
issues as Brazil prepares to host big international events in
the next few years.
The all-powerful Brazilian Football Confederation and the state government of Rio have blamed the judicial decision to suspend the game on a "procedural oversight" and have announced the game will, after all, take place.
In reality, the district court judge who issued the initial injunction on Thursday, in the interests of public safety, probably did exactly the right thing.
As impressive as it may have looked from the inside, the refurbished Maracana was in absolutely no condition to host 75,000 spectators for such a big, albeit friendly, football international.
Local organising committees in Brazil have been repeatedly warned by Fifa, world football's governing body, that the Maracana and several other prospective World Cup venues are way behind schedule.
Fifa has told the Brazilian football authorities that they are in a race against time to be ready for the Confederations Cup in June, as well as the main event in a year's time.
Even after that injunction was overturned and the necessary public safety certificates were issued, Brazil's so-called "Cathedral of Football" is still a huge building site.
Parts of the roof and, in particular, the plazas and concourses outside the ground where thousands of fans will gather before and after the game, were unfinished.
As the weekend began, tonnes of concrete and reinforced steel were still being poured and fixed into place. Dozens of trucks carrying building materials queued up outside the complex.
The refurbishment of the Maracana, and some of the controversy surrounding it, is indicative of the tensions between Brazil and the big European-based sporting organisations that govern world sport, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee.Irksome demands
Luis Fernandes is Brazil's deputy sports minister but he has overall responsibility for the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, making him arguably one of the most high-profile and scrutinised politicians in the country.
Like many in officialdom here, he almost dismisses the row over the Maracana delays as a "bureaucratic problem" and maintains that everything has now been settled.
Mr Fernandes admits that, with the responsibility of hosting so many high-profile international events and visits in the next few years, Brazil has its work cut out to modernise and upgrade communications, transport and other infrastructure but is confident the government and private sector will "deliver".
"We have been followed very closely by Fifa and the IOC," says the minister.
"They are very strict in their demands and their technical conditions for hosting the games and we are meeting all the requirements that have been presented to us."
But it is those very rigid and strict "European" conditions that have irked and frustrated many in Brazil, a country with its own way of doing things but which is also anxious to prove itself a worthy member of the global elite.
Football and big public parties, such as Rio's annual carnival, are two things Brazilians think they know how to do best and, if truth be told, they do not like being told by stiff-shirted outsiders from Europe how to get it right.
The row over the Maracana is indicative of that.
Built initially for the 1950 World Cup, it is dear not just to the football-mad people of Brazil but to Cariocas, natives of Rio de Janeiro, in particular.
The atmosphere inside the old ground must have been magical, with as many as 200,000 fans singing on the terraces as gold-shirted players like Pele, Garrincha, Zico and Romario danced around the playing surface below.
But the stadium was old, basic and uncomfortable. You would imagine that a $364m (£240m) upgrade with comfortable seating and convenient facilities for fans would have been overwhelmingly welcomed.
Far from it. Rio's newspapers and airwaves have been full of public opinions and professional editorials claiming that the heart and character of "their" Maracana has been ripped out on Fifa's orders.
Many think the plush seating (no standing allowed anymore), slightly bigger roof and reduced capacity are somehow an abandonment of what was created back in the 1950s when Brazil truly became a footballing nation.
Many, if not all, Brazilian men deep down believed they could have been chosen for the "selecao", the national team.
If only the scouts had seen them at their prime. If only they had applied themselves a little bit better in those misspent days of youth on the beaches of Rio.
With that thought still flickering at the back of their furtive imaginations, many Brazilians play football socially several times a week.
Middle-aged Cariocas run around five-a-side pitches on midweek nights, trying out the tricks that somehow evaded the scrutinising eyes of the talent scouts back in the day.Positive nation
At one such informal game or "pelada" in Rio's more up-market south-zone I caught up with the well known journalist and commentator, Aydano Andre Motta.
He resents that with its obsession for punctuality and organisation, Fifa is in danger of turning the World Cup into a sterile, European event.
"I regret the fact that they (FIFA) are not letting a little bit of what we're known for, the Brazilian 'alegria' (fun) to creep in," says Mr Motta.
But he also addresses the reality that Brazil has its own responsibilities and choices when it comes to these big events.
Perhaps the biggest gripe and concern in recent months, particularly in the poorer parts of Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador, has been the huge amount of public and private money spent on new or refurbished stadiums.
As much as its economy has grown in recent years and millions of people have regular incomes, there is still an embarrassing shortage of good public education and healthcare.
While billions of pounds have been allocated to far too many pristine new football stadiums, in the favelas or shantytowns that skirt the big cities there is an understandable envy, although most Brazilians I have spoken to agree there will be some trickle-down benefits for all.
"Brazil has serious deficiencies in areas like health care and education and that's unhappily a fact," says Mr Motta.
If there had been no World Cup, he says: "The reality is that, the huge sums now being spent on the Maracana or the new stadium in Brasilia wouldn't be reallocated to social projects."
Criticising Fifa, damning the deficiencies of their own society and, above all, lamenting the poor quality of football being played by the national team at the minute, every Brazilian is a "national coach" or "expert pundit" in his own eyes.
But you know that, in this overwhelmingly positive nation, when it comes to kick-off they will all get behind the project and support their team.
With a huge dose of good luck, a glance to the heavens and a big Caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail, it will all come together in the end.
At least 180
people have been arrested, some carrying bags of human waste,
ahead of a planned protest over the lack of proper sanitation in
the South African city of Cape Town.
Despite the arrests, some bags of waste were dumped inside some local government offices, local media say.
Last week, raw sewage was thrown at opposition leader Helen Zille as she toured poor areas of the city.
She is premier of Western Cape - the only province not run by the ANC.
The BBC's Mohammed Allie in Cape Town says there is no doubt that housing and sanitation are a real problem in Cape Town but many people are asking why these protests have only taken place in Cape Town, when the same issue exists elsewhere in the country.
The ANC has distanced itself from the manner of these protests.
At the moment, many township residents share outside toilets, where conditions are often be unhygienic and where some women have been raped at night.
The protesters had reportedly travelled by train from townships near Cape Town with bags of human waste before they were detained.
Former ANC councillor Andile Lili, who has been expelled from the party over a separate matter, is among those to have been arrested.
"We are emptying our toilets there because our toilets have smelled for three months," he told South Africa's Eyewitness News.'Not worried'
The protesters accuse the local government, run by Ms Zille's Democratic Alliance, of not doing enough to provide proper housing and sanitation to townships.
The DA argues that it does not have the money to do this for all of the region's inhabitants.
It has provided portable toilets to some residents but the protesters say they this is not good enough.
It is the contents of these portable toilets which is being used in the protests, which local media have dubbed the "poo wars".
Some was also left outside parliament last week.
DA official Ivan Meyer said some human waste had been left outside his offices on Monday.
"Clearly this is an indication of how low the ANC and the ANCYL [ANC Youth League] is going to fight the election and I'm not worried about it," Mr Meyer said.
In 2010, the ANC protested in Cape Town after the DA-run administration built permanent flushing toilets but did not enclose them.
its name from the island's indigenous inhabitants who called it
Xaymaca, meaning "land of wood and water" - but nowadays that
title does not seem so apt.
Many of Jamaica's plants, animals and insects cannot be found anywhere else on earth - it is said to have the fifth highest concentration of endemic flora of all the world's islands and it is home to the endangered Jamaican rock iguana among other rare species.
But attempts to protect the environment are literally going up in smoke.
With a population of 2.7 million people and with over 17% living below the poverty line, growing numbers of people are cutting down trees to make charcoal to earn a living.Protected area
The effects are so serious that environmentalists say Jamaica could become a new Haiti, an island suffering from severe deforestation and erosion.
In a forest near a busy road in the parish of St Mary, in the north-east of the country, George Griffiths is chopping wood and burning scrub ready to prepare a kiln.
"It's the only way I can make a little money," the unemployed builder says.
He shows me how to build a kiln, packing grass around a mound of dirt and wood. He will use it to make charcoal for local cook shops or take-away restaurants, which burn it as fuel.
It is a lucrative trade - a bag sells for around $10 (£6.50) and one kiln can produce 100 bags or more.
But it is also highly destructive. Charcoal burners often cut down a wide area of trees to get to the wood that makes the best coal.
Jamaica has different types of forest, and making charcoal is legal in most of them. But the practice is now spreading to the dry limestone forests on the coasts, which are protected by law.
With little surface water, the trees in these protected area are very slow-growing and some are upwards of 500 years old. They make excellent charcoal and are therefore particularly sought after by those selling it as fuel.'Hostile'
The Hellshire Hills in the south of the country is, as its name implies, uncomfortably hot and inhospitable.
However, it is also close to Jamaica's capital, Kingston, and as the city grows, so does the threat by the charcoal makers.
The job of protecting the 144-sq km (56-sq miles) area lies with Jamaica's Urban Development Corporation (UDC).
The government agency sends in local enforcement officers to patrol the area. Among them is Milton Grey, who goes way up into the hills every night to look for charcoal burners.
As we approach the trail, the only giveaway that charcoal is being made in the area is a couple of donkeys tied up by the rough, pockmarked limestone path. They are used to carry supplies up into the hills and the finished product back down.
The area is nearly devoid of trees and is just bush, except for the occasional tall red birch that cannot be used for charcoal as the wood is too soft. There are tree stumps everywhere and very little shade.
We soon come across the remains of a recent kiln. Blocks of charcoal are mixed in with red dirt, but the camp is deserted.
"We have to be calm with them," warns Milton. "They are hostile people so you need to know how to approach them, how to deal with them and how to talk to them."
With unemployment at over 14% and few job options in the area, buying, selling and, increasingly, exporting charcoal is the only opportunity for many and taking away their livelihood is not popular.
It creates such strong feelings that there are plans for security forces to help with enforcement.
"We can't allow people to be doing illegal things and making a living from it," says Dannae Vaccianna, who works for the UDC as a supervisor for the protected areas
"We appreciate they need to make money but if we need to arrest people to protect the area so be it - but as well as enforcement, we also need more monitoring and education."'Survival'
Jamaica has been highly deforested over the years. Although around 30% of the island is covered by woodland, only 8% of that is virgin forest.
The country does have laws to stop logging and charcoal burning, especially in protected areas like the John Crow and Blue Mountain ranges, but tree cutting is still rampant.
The penalties for breaking the Forest Act and the Wildlife Protection Act are low - up to 12 months in prison or a fine of $5,000. It can be more lucrative to break the law.
"The problem isn't the small man with a little bag of coal, it's the large users like hotels and the jerk chicken restaurants," says Diana McCauley, the founder and chief executive of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET).
"We're also now getting reports of coal waiting to be exported off the island, which is a worrying new trend."
Last December, customs officials stopped a container of charcoal that they said was on its way to Lebanon.
Environmentalists say this new export business could be the final nail in the coffin for Jamaica's endangered and endemic species.
But in a deeply indebted country, many do not seem to care.
"It would be good for the economy for us to start burning more," said one older woman.
"I think that if there's a market why not sell it abroad," said a young man. "It's survival," said another. "It should be exported, we've got nothing else."
"It's utter carnage," says Dr Byron Wilson, a conservation ecologist at the University of the West Indies.
"If we don't do something we'll be on the same trajectory as Haiti.
"If we fail to protect the endemic species in the forests all our efforts will have gone up in smoke."
A woman in
rural Ivory Coast has been called to a meeting under the shaded
veranda of the local chief's house to defend her right to
inherit her husband's property.
Barely in her forties, she sits quietly with her head down; the town chief in the small village of Guinkin, close to the Liberian border, is doing much of the talking.
Occasionally she speaks up to give her side of the story: "My name is Helene Tiro.
"I lost my husband two years ago and I don't know where to go with my children," she explains, beginning to look desperate.
"My husband's brothers have sold all the farmland. I even don't know where to find food for my children."
Everyone looks at Mrs Tiro, somewhat stunned - not at what she is saying but the fact she is saying anything at all.
It is unusual for a woman in these remote rural areas to have such confidence to speak out against her own family.
"Today I am looking for a way to take back my land and feed my children," Mrs Tiro finally says defiantly.
She adds that she has seven children and no access to the land she has farmed on every day since she got married more than 20 years ago.
Her husband was among the more than 3,000 people who died during the six months of violence that erupted after the 2010 presidential elections when incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down.
Mrs Tiro not only lost her husband, but her entire means of livelihood too.Marriage law row
Her story is not uncommon in Ivory Coast where cultural traditions dictate a woman's role in the family.
Last November, President Alassane Ouattara - who took power following Mr Gbagbo's capture in April 2011 - dissolved the entire government over an argument about amending the marriage law, which put men as the head of the household, meaning that only they could manage assets such as land and property.
After the president appointed a new prime minister, the bill was passed making women equal heads of the household.
But it has done little to change centuries of patriarchal traditions and cultures in rural areas.
"Today our law makes no distinction between men and women for the acquisition of properties," explains Maitre Kone Mahoua, the vice-president of the Association of Female Lawyers in Ivory Coast.
"But in rural areas some beliefs and customs still have an impact," she says.
Ms Mahoua describes how "women are weak because they are the ones for whom dowry is given", and that they, too, are seen as "property of the man".
It is not unusual in some African countries for the women and children to be handed over to the husband's family if he dies - the woman sometimes being "obliged" to marry another male member of the family in order to keep her children.
"We need to start sensitising our sisters in the rural areas so that they can have the same rights as men," she says.
Women across the world face inequalities when it comes to land ownership.
They produce nearly half of the world's food but in some countries they own as little as 2% of the land, according to figures from the United Nations.
As world leaders meet in Northern Ireland next week for the G8 summit, issues around land ownership are expected to be high on the agenda.
The UN and development charities claim if more women are given land and property rights, more food will be produced, reducing hunger.Farm conflicts
As well as strong traditions, women in Ivory Coast have faced another barrier to land ownership - war.
In times of conflict, women enjoy even fewer land and property rights.
Hundreds of thousands of Ivorians have left their homes in the 10 years of instability.
As people fled, the rich, fertile soil they left behind was quickly occupied.
Women, like Mrs Tiro, lost their husbands, sons, brothers and with them, their homes and livelihoods.
"The land issue has been a problem for a long time but the last crisis made it a lot worse," says Batio Etienne, the town chief of Guinkin.
"There are now many land problems," he says.
And as the refugees return the number of land disputes increases and so does the violence.
Chief Etienne says that people are prepared to fight and die over land that has been in their families for generations.
"If our children don't have any land to farm on what will they do in the future?"
The meeting to discuss Mrs Tiro's case is just the first one of many.
Land conflict dominates life in the west of Ivory Coast - a rich cocoa-growing region that has been home to some of the worst violence the country has ever seen.
The town chief says it is likely Mrs Tiro will end up sharing the land with the man who bought it from her husband's family.
It is not ideal but he says nobody wants to see this argument turn violent.
"If my husband's family refuses what can I do?" says Mrs Tiro.
"I cannot resort to violence. I can't do anything as a woman."
Amid the current tensions between
North and South Korea, much focus has been on their shared
industrial zone, where economic output has ground to a
halt. The furlough is said to have cost the cash-strapped
North some $90m (£58m) in wages, and the South's
businesses much more. But as Curtis Melvin, of the North Korea Economy
Watch blog, explains, discerning anything about the
state of Pyongyang's finances is always fraught with
Perceiving what is really happening in the North Korean economy requires one to be creative.
Analysing the country as a visitor is difficult as you are kept under tight supervision. Unforeseen events can shake things up, but for the most part you will be shielded from unapproved activities.
Unwrapping North Korea through public data is even more difficult, as the country does not publish a budget and rarely does it release any meaningful economic or social statistics.
But the opacity of the secretive state's system, however, has opened the door for researchers to gain valuable insights from commercially available satellite imagery.
The analysis - by social scientists and economists - of the North's burgeoning market economy is a case in point.Socialist ideology 'contradicted'
When China and Russia ended subsidies to North Korea in the 1990s, the official economy collapsed, famine ensued and traditional farmers' markets grew to fill the economic void.
The North Korean leadership remains uneasy about the spread of these markets because they operate in contradiction to the state's socialist ideology, and more than anything else, these markets broke the government's monopoly on information by distributing illicit foreign goods.
They are permitted to exist, however, because they are an economic necessity for the people and, now, a secure source of revenue for the state.
In a survey of North Korean defectors - published by Haggard and Noland in 2011 - 69% of respondents reported that over half of their income came from market activities, as opposed to employment in the government or state-owned enterprise.
Only 4% of respondents reported that none of their income came from market activities.
The survey population, however, was overwhelmingly composed of refugees from North Korea's north-eastern provinces. What about the remainder of the country?
Satellite imagery shows the Haggard/Noland findings are plausible nationwide.Backbone of economy
Analysts have identified well over 300 markets across North Korea. Many are larger than a standard football pitch. Satellite imagery also shows these markets are growing.
By layering historical imagery we can observe markets that were small in the early 2000s are now taking over their neighbourhoods.
We can estimate the number of vendors in some of these markets - giving us a lower-bound estimation of the size of the local merchant class.
What we observe is that having existed only at the margins of the North Korean society in 1990, North Korea's markets are now the backbone of the consumer economy.
Satellite imagery analysis also sheds light on Pyongyang's ability to enforce market regulations outside of the capital.
In many cases where Pyongyang has ordered markets to be closed we can see thousands of people trading at "grasshopper" markets in makeshift locations. These spontaneous markets represent a double-loss for the regime.
From an ideological perspective, people are engaging in self-directed capitalist enterprise.
From a public finance perspective "grasshopper" markets represent lost revenue to the state because the government does not sell slots at the official marketplace.'Mining boom'
Satellite imagery also sheds light on North Korea's continued economic integration with China.
Statistics Korea reports that Chinese trade with North Korea totalled $5.63bn in 2011 (up 284% from 2007), and exports to China totalled $2.46bn in 2011 (up 424% from 2007) - primarily composed of coal and iron.
Satellite imagery of North Korea is not perfect. Many parts of the country go unobserved and many times only older imagery is available to analysts.
Today, however, we can identify no fewer than 80 new mining projects have been undertaken in the last seven years.
These new projects consist of both renovations to existing mines and the construction of new pits. The scale of investment requires a large influx of foreign capital because the DPRK simply lacks the finances and capacity to bring these mines on-line by itself.
Satellite imagery has also been a vital tool for NGOs and rights groups who are tasked with monitoring changes in North Korea's notorious political prison system.
In 2003 the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea was the first organisation to publish a comprehensive report on the North's political prison camps.
The existence of these camps was verified by matching defector testimony and hand-drawn maps with satellite imagery of the related areas.
Since 2003, however, we have witnessed a dramatic change in the way North Korea manages its political prisoner population.
Defector testimony, clandestine reporting and satellite imagery have been used to confirm that North Korea has closed Camp 22 in Hoeryong and Camp 18 in Pukchang.
Unfortunately, no information has yet to lead us to a definitive conclusion about what has happened to the former inmates.
And it is not all good news on this front, however. It is only through satellite imagery that we learned in January of this year that North Korea had expanded its incarceration capacities at two other prison camps, No 14 in Kaechon and No 25 in Chongjin.
As no information about these facilities has been obtained from within North Korea, satellite imagery is our only tool for recording these changes.
Satellite imagery offers a new and accessible source of data for analysing North Korea. Now everybody with an internet connection can observe the most remote corners of the country, or track North Korean projects in distant corners of the globe.
Try it for yourself and share with the world what you discover.
Controversial politician Narendra
Modi was recently chosen to lead India's main opposition
party's campaign for next year's elections and is tipped
as a possible candidate for prime minister. Former BBC
India correspondent Mark Tully says winning the
politically-crucial state of Uttar Pradesh will be central
to his ambition.
While all the excitement in Goa last weekend was going on over the elevation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the chair of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) election campaign committee, it was politics as usual in the cramped, chaotic, towns of the populous, northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The potholed roads of the towns choke with every form of traffic known to man, from the humble donkey to overloaded lorries and jeeps with passengers hanging on for dear life. The buildings are constructed without any evidence of town planning. And there are complaints about the lack of electricity and almost all civic services.
All this might lead one to believe that local people are eagerly following the career of a potential prime minister with a reputation for running an orderly state and bringing ordered development to his state.
After a day's exhausting campaigning in those towns, one of the state's most experienced politicians, the former MP Afzal Ansari, said to me: "Politics in Uttar Pradesh is still all about caste."Winning Uttar Pradesh
In the dusty, litter-strewn village of Jakroli in eastern part of the state, for instance, I was told the current political issue was still a dispute between the Dalits [formerly untouchables] and the other so-called "backward" castes over the former's demand to erect a statue of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar.
Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous state and it sends 80, the largest number of MPs, to the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the parliament).
It is in Uttar Pradesh that Mr Modi has to turn the tide if the BJP is to come near 180 seats - the minimum number generally thought to be necessary if the BJP is to have any chance of forming a government.
In no other state does the BJP have the chance of making the number of gains it has here.
At present, the tide is flowing strongly against the BJP.
In the last general election, the party only won a miserable 10 seats in the state and saw its share of the vote shrink by 4.7%. The result of the subsequent state assembly election wasn't any more encouraging for the BJP.
The only way Mr Modi can turn the tide is by persuading the voters that national issues should override local issues in a national general election.
Psephologists point to two problems he has to overcome.
First, general elections in India have become, for the most part, a series of state elections. One psephologist has said that India's elections are "the least national in character compared with most countries in the world".
The second psephological problem for Mr Modi is the BJP's poor record on converting votes into seats, what is known as the "seat-vote" multiplier. The number of seats the BJP has won for each per cent of the national vote it has won has been declining ever since the high in 1999. The obvious way to improve this multiplier is once again to get the voters to concentrate on national issues.'Development man'
Mr Modi has already shown that he realises he must convince the electorate that general elections are about national issues, and that the national leader is able to make a difference to their lives.
This is why he is presenting himself as "vikas purush" (development man) and selling himself on his reputation for having brought development to Gujarat.
Knowing that the last two general elections have shown there is still a tendency in India to see the Congress as the natural party of power in Delhi, Mr Modi has also set out to undermine that impression.
Talking of making India "Congress-free", he has not only been stressing the misdeeds and misfortunes of the present Congress government, in particular the scandals and the impression that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is paralysed by indecision, but also sniping at the party chief Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi.
But this is where Mr Modi finds himself walking a tightrope.
He knows very well that the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS [the Hindu organisation from which the BJP draws its ideological roots], whose support proved so vital in his winning the chairmanship of the election campaign committee - the first stage of his battle to become prime minister - are not entirely happy with him.
They have felt for some time that the Gujarat BJP had become a one-man band, and that he did not listen to them, although it was the RSS that brought him into politics.
A senior RSS member recently told me that it was the support Mr Modi enjoyed among their rank and file which had persuaded the leadership to overcome their reservations and openly back him.
At the same time, events at Goa clearly showed that the BJP leadership had been bulldozed by their party workers to appoint Mr Modi.
But RSS rank and file and hardcore BJP supporters don't just see him as development man.
They believe that at last they have a leader who, with their support, could take over the BJP and revive the Hindu issues the party had stood for in the past.
If Mr Modi disappoints them on those issues, then the ground on which he at present stands could open up and swallow him.
So, back to the tightrope.
On one side, if he does not pay sufficient attention to Hindu issues, he could lose his political base. On the other side, he will not be considered a national leader if he is too closely identified with issues that have been shown to have only a comparatively narrow appeal.
The Congress party will also be looking for opportunities to remind voters of the allegations about his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Maintaining his balance on this tightrope is going to be so difficult that Mr Modi could well fall off it before he reaches the final test - the general election.
When it comes to technology and
innovation, Ethiopia appears a long way away from the rest of
Africa's rising "silicon savannahs."
The most advanced form of banking in Africa's second most populous country is an ATM - there are no credit cards and no international banking systems.
This makes app stores like Google Play and Apple's Appstore inaccessible.
Mobile money, which has taken off places like Kenya, has only just arrived, but with significant limitations.
Skype and other VoIP (voice over internet protocol) services are banned for business purposes.
With a lumbering government-owned telecoms monopoly, staggeringly low internet penetration (less than 1% of Ethiopia's 85m citizens are connected), just 17% mobile penetration, and a very "security conscious" government approach to new technology and services, it's not the most encouraging environment for small technology start-ups to grow.
But that doesn't mean some aren't trying.
"There are a lot of opportunities for techies in Ethiopia," claims Markos Lemma, co-founder of iceaddis, Ethiopia's leading technology hub, accelerator and co-working space.
"The middle class is increasing, the market is growing," he says.
"Agricultural productivity is increasing, farmers are making more money, and even they are interested in new solutions."All change
In recent years Ethiopia has become a model of rising Africa.
From a poster child for poverty and famine in the 1980s to an economy seeing an average 10% growth since 2004, the country is witnessing a remarkable turnaround.
Addis Ababa, the capital, is attracting investment and talent from around the world, and cranes and construction projects are now a hallmark of the city.
Yet much of this growth is from sweeping policy changes, government infrastructure projects, and big donor-driven or private investment programmes.
Iceaddis, which opened its doors in May 2011, is trying to change this.
It has become a home for start-ups, promoting local technology and focusing on young Ethiopian entrepreneurs and individuals interested in ICT, green technology, and the creative industries.
Originally designed as an art gallery by a Swiss architect, it is a striking mash-up of six interlocked shipping containers, located on the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building, Construction and City Development (EiABC) campus, in the heart of the capital.
"In the beginning, we didn't know what exactly what we were working on," admits Mr Lemma, one of the four co-founders. "We were just bringing the community together to interact."
Similar to other tech hubs in the region, like Nairobi's iHub, or Uganda's Hive Colab, iceaddis grew organically, starting with small events, workshops, and barcamps (tech-related developer meet-ups).
The goal was to connect bloggers and developers, bringing a hidden tech community together for the first time.
Eventually, the community grew; iceaddis secured more funding, moved into its own space, and developed a tiered membership.
They now have over 1,000 'white' members, people who may not use the space everyday, but are part of the network.
Several times a year, iceaddis selects a few dozen start-ups and puts them through 12 weeks of business plan training.
At the end of the programme, several are selected to receive "incubation" at the space, and given resources to grow their ideas.
Unlike many other tech hubs in Africa, iceaddis isn't just about apps. Plugging in to the surrounding architecture school, the community also highlights innovation in design, construction, and products.
During one week in March, students were learning how to design and build DIY skateboard ramps. A few weeks later, they were hacking android apps.
Yet the barriers to innovation for young Ethiopian entrepreneurs, regardless of industry, remain high.
"There is much willingness and interest from the government for entrepreneurship," says Mr Lemma. "But there is still so much regulation and permits."Growing pains
Feleg Tsegaye is an American-born Ethiopian who previously worked in IT at the US Federal Reserve. He recently moved to Addis to found ArifMobile, a phone and sim card rental service for tourists, and knows these challenges well.
"People aren't always sure of the laws. They seem fluid and changing depending on who you talk to," he says of Ethiopia's regulatory environment.
For example, only after multiple trips to the Ministry of Business to register his company did he discover business names cannot be adjectives.
Then, it took months to get an internet connection in his office thanks to notoriously slow state-owned Ethio Telecom.
In the World Economic Form's Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, Ethiopia ranks almost dead last.
Of 144 countries, it's ranked below 130 in technological readiness, competitiveness, and access to financial services and loans.
Perhaps one of the reasons for such a dismal competitive environment is when it comes to technology, the government is often both the biggest competitor and biggest client.
Most large companies are either state-owned, or partially state-owned, and there is a certain degree of distrust between private and public sectors resulting in the government taking a very security-conscious approach, according to Mr Tsegaye.
"Government is the prime consumer for services in IT, but they are frustrated, in part because their policies are inhibiting private sector growth," he says.
Adam Abate, founder of Apposit, an information technology services company based in Addis Ababa, says that the government is by far his biggest client.
"We looked at private sector for a while and realised it's not worth it," he says. "Collecting, digitising, and maintaining information for consumers at scale is not easy."
Mr Abate also notes the difficulties posed by the telecoms monopoly.
"It's good for investing in infrastructure and for the future, but from an individual or business point of view, trying to get services out of them is a nightmare."
All told, Ethiopia has a weak ecosystem for start-ups, says Mr Abate, making it difficult for young, inexperienced entrepreneurs with little capital. The odds are stacked against them.
Yet, he says, for those who manage, there is enormous opportunity.
"Infrastructure is … expanding at a rapid rate, and the most obvious opportunity in Ethiopia is that there's still very little here," he explains.
"Any business you can think of, you can start."Start at the beginning
One as yet unnamed startup is trying to develop an appstore specifically for Ethiopia that will charge users via premium SMS services, which will hopefully open up a space for local app developers.
Another company, Utopia, is developing an Android app for tourists that can be used offline.
Mekina, one of iceaddis' most successful startups, has built an online marketplace for Ethiopians to buy, sell, and rent cars locally, a big coup given the government levies five different taxes for importing vehicles.
Still, like the current market itself, these efforts are small.
"People just aren't consuming things online. They aren't connected, and those who are, are just using Facebook," says iceaddis's Markos Lemma.
Yet entrepreneurs remain hopeful things will change.
The government is planning to build a $250 million technology park, Ethio ICT, although critics worry it's another of Africa's pipe-dream tech cities.
"There is high potential for techies to develop applications and technical solutions," says Mr Lemma. "But we need more support, resources, knowledge." A tech park probably won't offer that.
With 85 million Ethiopians slowly becoming connected, if the government loosens its grip and becomes serious about supporting entrepreneurship, an Ethiopian tech boom may be on the horizon.
Even if internet penetration increases to cover even just 2-3% of the population, Mr Lemma says, "opportunities to improve business will improve greatly."
The US has
suspended trade privileges for Bangladesh until it improves
workers' safety conditions in the clothing industry.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman pointed to several recent fatal accidents in its huge clothing sector.
These "had served to highlight some of the serious shortcomings in worker rights and workplace safety standards in Bangladesh", he said.
Two months ago, a factory collapse near Dhaka killed 1,129 people.
The collapse of the nine-storey complex, on 24 April, was Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster, and one of a series of accidents involving the world's second-biggest exporter of garments after China.
The garment industry employs some four million people in Bangladesh, 80% of them women.
The death toll from April's accident and others focused global attention on low safety standards in Bangladesh's garment factories and prompted the government in Dhaka to launch inspections of all plants to try to reassure Western retailers that safety conditions had improved.
Twelve people have so far been arrested over what happened, including the building's owner.
But unions and experts say hundreds of factories are still operating in shoddy buildings, raising fears that another tragedy could occur at any time.
President Obama's order suspends Bangladesh's duty-free trade privileges under the terms of a US trade programme called the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), designed to promote economic growth in developing countries.
"The US government has worked closely with the government of Bangladesh to encourage the reforms needed to meet basic standards," said US Trade Representative Michael Froman.
"Despite our... clear, repeated expressions of concern, the US government has not seen sufficient progress towards those reforms", he added.
Thursday's announcement was the culmination of a year-long review of labour conditions in Bangladesh.
US Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for trade sanctions since April.
The action is thought unlikely to have an immediate economic impact, but it carries a reputational cost and might deter US companies from investing in the country, one of the world's poorest.
The sanction, which comes into effect in 60 days, might also sway a decision by the European Union on whether to withdraw GSP privileges.
EU action could have a much bigger impact, as its duty-free privileges specifically cover garments, which account for 60 percent of Bangladesh's exports to Europe.
Kenya is making an international
name for itself as a technology centre. They call it, in the
manner of these things, Silicon Savannah.
As I explained in my previous blog from the country, first came the mobile phone, bringing connectivity to vast numbers of people who were never connected before.
Then came mobile money, empowered by the phone. And now the pace is quickening.
IBM and Google have set up regional centres in Nairobi, promoting innovation and research as well as selling. Google's chairman Eric Schmidt spoke highly of Kenya's tech prowess during a recent visit.
There are several tech hubs and accelerators in Nairobi. At one called 88mph, the other afternoon, I met a succession of start-up businesses trying to create new companies out of that convergent potential of mobile phones, and the mobile money launched by the Kenyan phone company Safaricom six years ago.Tech-savvy
People say that just as many developing world countries skipped the copper-wire stage of telephony and jumped straight to mobile phones, so Kenya (in particular) skipped the desktop computer and laptop era of computing.
Now very clever young people are leaping into business with new ideas about how to use these new mobile platforms.
Although many Kenyans have rushed to get mobile phones, most cannot yet afford smartphones. So applications using all those Africa phones have of necessity to be simple, probably text-based ones.
As we know from other tech-savvy places, constraints like that are actually inspiring - not limiting - for ingenious young entrepreneurs.
What is very striking about Kenya is the number of returnees - and adventurers from overseas - who are starting businesses, endorsing the country's reputation by putting their money and energy into where Kenya's mouth is.
It is a signal moment when people educated abroad think - with their global perspective - that home is where the grass of opportunity is greenest.
The vertical takeoff of mobile telephony has started non-government organisations and entrepreneurs thinking about the grassroots possibilities of using all those phones.
And the rapid acceptance of mobile money has started deep thinking about what can be done in connection with it - addressing many of what the late Prof CK Prahalad called the Bottom of the Pyramid, the poor.
And the Kenyan government seems to have lost many of its inhibitions about letting daylight into how it works and the decisions it takes.Funeral financing
One of the moving spirits behind the digitisation of Kenya is a local techno-enthusiast called Bitange Ndemo, who has just left the Ministry for Information and Communications after eight years as chief civil servant.
He's been a bold champion of using the internet to create transparent government, believing that information transforms societies and brings prosperity in its wake.
He says Kenya has used the internet to open up government to the people, and the people are responding to it.
The result of all this is an extraordinary flourish of new businesses or almost-new business, often no more than a few people with laptop computers gathered together in buzzy tech hubs. They are very like the places in Berlin or New York or San Francisco, or Silicon Roundabout in the East End of London.
But there seems to be a difference - many of these prospective businesses are being built from ground-level African needs, not around consumer fads or fashions like so many of those in Europe or the USA.
The 88mph hub is named after the speed it takes that famous DeLorean to get Back to the Future in the film of the same name. One start-up I ran into there is M-Changi. Changi means collect. It's a rather tragic application addressing a real need in Africa - the financing of funerals, many of them victims of Aids.
M-Changi enables friends of family of the deceased to make mobile payments into an easily created fund for the funeral or (more cheerfully) the wedding or any other social event. You can use it to fundraise for anything of course, and people are doing so.
A few steps further on across the open floor of the hub, there's M-Kazi (it means job). It's a recruitment platform that works not on the internet (which many Kenyans have little access to) but simply, on a mobile phone.
Next door is another start-up writing the software to organise mobile phone payments for Kenya's many rental property companies.
That is just a sample of the new businesses developing in one Nairobi hub.Cheaper alternative
Meanwhile the company that started the mobile-payments revolution, Safaricom, is itself busy getting involved in more projects related to phones and mobile money to help Africa and (naturally) drive mobile use.
Safaricom's current chief executive is a genial Guyanan, Bob Collymore. He told me about a new service launched in connection with a local bank to enable phone users to save tiny amounts of money, regularly. Micro-saving is a significant extension of the now familiar micro-lending. Why shouldn't the poor be able to save like the rich?
He also showed me a solar-powered lamp for the 80% of homes in Kenya without power. It's activated by daily mobile money transfers - and switched off by the company when the money is not paid.
The M-Kopa lamp comes from a company co-founded by Nick Hughes, the man who helped invent mobile-phone-based money transfer service M-Pesa for Vodaphone. It is cheaper than the kerosene-fuelled alternative, says Bob Collymore.
The buyer makes daily mobile money transfers, which are micro payments for the lamp, and they can become credits or savings when the system is paid for over a year or so.
M-Kopa is thinking of using its technology to organise payments for fridges, or irrigation, and in many developing countries where regulators allow it. Other companies will be setting up similar systems soon.
Kenya seems to be erupting with ideas about how to use technology to address the problems of places without money or resources, and some of them are going to be turned into businesses that may become of international size and significance.
Africa shows technology in a different light from the way it has so far evolved in rich places. I think that Western entrepreneurs may soon have quite a lot to learn from their counterparts in places such as Kenya.
Taliban gunman shot Malala Yousafzai last October, the bullet
travelled beyond her native Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
It echoed around the globe, and ricocheted through another conservative community in the north - with surprising results.
First there was fear, says local aid worker, Qurratul Ain Sheikh, sitting in a school courtyard perched on a hilltop. "After the Malala issue so many parents, especially mothers, did not allow their daughters to come to school," she said. "They were so afraid."
That anxiety kept the girls' primary school empty for a month.
But then aid workers, and teachers, began to fight back. They lobbied parents about the need to educate their daughters. They began holding meetings and putting pamphlets through doors. And the Malala effect kicked in - parents refused to be cowed, and sent their daughters back to school.
"There was a positive change, especially in the mothers," says Qurratul Ain. "They allow their daughters to go to school and work like Malala, and raise their voices for their rights, especially child rights."
And there was a bonus - enrolment went up, with an extra 30 girls coming to school, swelling the numbers to almost 300.
This school has not been targeted by the Taliban, nor have others in the area. But we have decided not to identify the location as a precaution.'Follow her example'
Behind high white-washed walls, the school day begins with assembly in the yard. The pupils line up neatly, to sing the national anthem, clad in white headscarves, and pale blue tunics.
Then they file into colourful classrooms, where posters of flowers and insects line the walls. Younger pupils sit in clusters on woven mats on the floor.
A slight 10-year-old called Tasleem is one of the new arrivals. She's polite, and chatty, and wants to be a policewoman. Tasleem says her mother was angered by the sight of Malala being rushed away after the attack, fighting for her life.
"Before Malala was shot we didn't think we should go to school," she told me. "My Mum saw what happened on TV. That made her think. After this she decided her girls should also be in school and should get a good education. "
Tasleem lowers her eyes when she recalls how the campaigning teenager was shown no mercy. "She was attacked so brutally," she says, "and she had done nothing wrong. The men who shot her probably didn't like that she was helping girls to be educated. We should all follow her example," she says firmly.
Sitting alongside her is Nadia, a studious 10-year old who dreams of being a doctor. Like Tasleem, she is the first girl in her family to go to school.
"I used to tell my father I want to go to school," she says. "He always said no. But when my parents heard about Malala's story they said you should go to school. When I started I didn't know anything. Then my teacher explained things to me. I learnt how to read and write, and a lot of other things."
Malala has changed the equation for these girls, in this mountain hamlet. But many children in Pakistan never see the inside of a classroom.Lost generation
The country has the second highest number of children out of school in the world, and the figures are getting worse.
Around 5.4 million children of primary school age don't get an education, according to the latest statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). There are an additional seven million adolescents out of school. And spending on education has been decreasing in recent years.
Pakistan invests seven times more in the military than in primary schooling. What these numbers add up to is a lost generation.
Many children in Pakistan only learn lessons in hardship. The country has an army of child labourers born into poverty, and often into debt. A leading Children's rights group here, SPARC, estimates they could number as many as 12 million.
At a kiln outside the city of Hyderabad, in the southern province of Sindh, the BBC filmed some of them at work. Children as young as four and five squat for hours, shaping mud into mounds to be baked into bricks. They are caked in dust, and scorched by the sun. Everyone has to pull their weight - even scrawny boys pushed wheelbarrows around the site.
Ten-year-old Jeeni toils here with the rest of her family - nine siblings, mother and father. Like many at the kilns, they are members of Pakistan's Hindu minority.
They earn just 300 Pakistani rupees ( £2; $3) a day, which isn't enough for one decent meal. And to get that, they have to produce 1,000 bricks, which takes up to 15 hours.
Under her faded pink headscarf, Jeeni has a troubled and weary look. Her young shoulders are carrying an adult burden and these days it's heavier than ever.
"If we earn, we eat," she says, "otherwise we go hungry. My big brother was hurt. He can't help our father making bricks. He can't make any money. So now it's only us - younger ones - who are working." As she speaks, her voice breaks and she begins to cry.
Jeeni's father, Genu, who is hollow-cheeked, knows his children are being robbed of their future, but says he is too poor to stop it.
"I understand the importance of education," he says, sitting in the dirt. "I had some schooling myself. If I die what will happen to them? They are illiterate. Anybody will be able to trick them. But I can't manage to send them to school."
Jeeni went to school once - for a day - but transport was costly.
She longs to return, but that dream may be buried, brick by brick.
A lack of
co-operation between South Asian countries is preventing timely
flood warnings that could save lives and property during the
Erratic and extreme rainfall is causing catastrophic flooding, most recently in northwest India and Nepal following heavy rainfall in June.
But the sharing of hydrological data can be a sensitive issue because of disputes over water use.
Officials say a network is required to share data across borders.
Experts and officials told the BBC that countries in the region are doing very little to help each other forecast floods.
Referring to the event last month, Chiranjibi Adhikary, chief district officer of Darchula district in western Nepal, which shares a border with India's flood-hit Uttarakhand state, said: "We received no warning from the Indian side about that devastating flood."
The flooding in the Mahakali river that criss-crosses India and Nepal claimed more than 30 lives on the Nepalese side and swept away many buildings at the district headquarters Khalanga.
Nearly 1,000 people have been confirmed dead because of the floods in the Indian side while thousands are still missing.
"We are still trying to contact them [the Indian authorities] to know what was the reason behind the floods, but there has been no telephone contact yet," Mr Adhikary told the BBC.
In western South Asia, the Kabul river that straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan was a major contributor to the massive floods in the Pakistani territory in 2010.
But, officials say, there was no communication on flood-forecasting between the two countries then, nor is there any now.
"The Kabul river is of course a flood threat to us even today but still we have no hydrological and rainfall data exchange with Afghanistan," said Mohammad Riyaj, Pakistan's chief meteorologist.
"It is something we need to do with urgency but this can be done only at the policy-making level."
One of the worst flood-hit countries in the region, Bangladesh, receives relatively little hydrological data from upstream Nepal.
Officials at Nepal's Department of Hydrology and Meteorology said they used to send the information to Dhaka by fax before but now staffing constraints have become a problem.
Pakistan does have a mechanism to receive limited hydrological data from India but officials say it is quite inadequate for meaningful flood forecasting.
"For instance, the Indian side informs the Indus Water Commission (a body under an agreement between New Delhi and Islamabad on the sharing of Indus river water) only when the water level in the Chenab river crosses 75,000 cusecs," says Mr Riyaj.
"That gives us much less time for evacuation and preparation for floods."
The Chenab is a major tributary of the Indus river that originates in Tibet and flows through India into Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have deep running disagreements on the sharing of Indus waters and have been involved in litigation.
Mr Riyaj said hydrological information on tributaries of the Chenab, including the Jhelum, Ravi and Sutlej rivers, that flow in from India would also be of great help for timely flood forecasting.
Officials in Bangladesh, however, said there had been some progress on hydrological data sharing with India as they were now getting information from three reading stations for the Ganges and four for the Bramhaputra in the Indian side.
The chief of Bangladesh's flood warning office, Amirul Hossain, said his country was also getting Bramhaputra's hydrological data from Chinese authorities in Tibet, where the river originates.
"But since our people are demanding that they should get flood warnings at least a week in advance, we would like to get the hydrological data from a bit further off areas in India so that we get more lead time for a forecast," Mr Hossain said.
Officials say the data Bangladesh gets from India at present are from nearby border areas.
Hydrological data is quite a sensitive issue in India, especially between states that have been at loggerheads over the sharing of water resources for quite some time.
The recent order by India's water resources ministry to its authorities regarding the constitution of the "classified data release committee" read: "The committee shall consider requests for release of classified data after due verification by the concerned chief engineer of the Central Water Commission and [the] receipt of [a] secrecy undertaking."
Rajendra Sharma, who heads Nepal's flood forecasting division at the country's meteorological office, said: "For genuine regional flood forecasting, all countries including India and China will have to actively participate in the exchange of hydrological and meteorological data."
Indian officials said they recognised the importance of cross border cooperation for effective flood forecasting.
Though he was optimistic that things could improve in future, M Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of India's National Disaster Management Authority, said: "Things which are on paper sometimes do not get translated into action."
northern Mali have abducted two election officials a week before
presidential elections - the first since the military coup in
The two men were seized at a checkpoint between the town of Tessalit and a local airport, local officials said.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
Early this month, Mali lifted a state of emergency in place since January, when France intervened to help drive out Islamists occupying the north.
The two election officials, one of whom is believed to be a deputy mayor of the town of Kidal, were among six Malians who had been due to distribute voters' cards in Tessalit.
They were seized after their car stopped at the checkpoint.
Initial, unconfirmed reports suggested that six Malians were abducted.
Ministry of territorial affairs spokesman Gamer Dicko said it was the first time Malian election officials had been targeted - and no request for a ransom payment had been received.
The BBC's Alex Duval Smith in Bamako says that the elections officials may be viewed by their captors as representatives of the Malian government and its close links with France.
Chadian troops serving with Minusma are deployed in Tessalit, alongside French troops from Operation Serval.
The ethnic clashes in Kidal involve Tuaregs and black civilians.
Tuareg rebels held the town until a June deal with the government.
Under the deal, fighters from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) are allowed to remain in the town but they are supposed to disarm.
Kidal is the only town in Mali where the Tuaregs form a majority.
The Tuaregs have launched several rebellions since Mali's independence in 1960, accusing the government in Bamako of ignoring the northern areas where they live.
Many Malians blame Tuareg separatists for starting the 2012 rebellion which led Islamists to seize northern areas.
French and West African forces intervened in January to force the Islamist militant groups out of the desert towns but security remains a concern.
The elections are aimed at restoring civilian authority over the country.
government of Tonga in the South Pacific has recently accepted a
large gift from China - a turbo-prop aircraft for the kingdom's
new domestic airline. But the present has stirred up concerns
about China's growing role in the archipelago once known as the
The domestic airport in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, was eerily quiet. The friendly cafe, where three years ago I'd enjoyed the delicious locally-grown coffee, had gone. And there was no sign of my plane.
Waiting with me in the shade for something to happen was a young Chinese man, booked on the same flight, returning to his wife and grocery store on the island of Hapa'ai.
We started chatting and during our long wait I learned quite a bit about Johnny Wang. How he came to Tonga from Shanghai, and his two young children stay there with his mother-in-law. He sends remittances and visits them during Chinese New Year. How he enjoys his new life on Hapa'ai. "Very quiet, very peaceful," he says, "and easier to make money than in China."
We started talking Tongan airline politics. How the Chinese government's gift of a new passenger plane for inter-island flights had prompted the New Zealand-based company that had been providing a domestic air service to pull out, saying it couldn't compete with a subsidised airline.
The Chinese-manufactured MA60 aircraft has been delivered. But no Western government has given it a safety certificate and New Zealand has just announced it's suspending a multi-million dollar aid package to improve tourist infrastructure in Tonga until these safety concerns are resolved.
As the whale-watching season gets under way on outlying islands such as Hapa'ai and Vava'au, the flights fiasco is playing havoc with the tourist economy.
It's also stirred up concerns among some Tongans that Chinese aid - generous, visible and impressive as it's been in recent years - can be a mixed blessing. They describe urban roads laid without proper drainage so nearby houses get flooded when it rains, and grandiose public buildings, poorly adapted to a tropical, oceanic climate, that are costly to keep cool and maintain.
Cabinet minister Clive Edwards chose his words carefully. "Some of the buildings they've put up", he told me, "are a disappointment". I was sitting with him in his office in the Ministry of Justice. "Including this one?" I asked. He laughed, a deep Tongan guttural laugh.
On islands across the Pacific, you'll find very visible evidence of Chinese "big-project" aid: sports stadiums and parliament buildings, government offices, police stations.
It's their fish, potential mineral resources and votes in the UN that make these small Pacific nations of growing interest to Beijing.
In Tonga, China's visibility is all the greater because of the several thousand-strong Chinese minority. There is a degree of tension between the two communities. From Tongans you hear phrases like, "the Chinese are bad drivers" and "the Chinese are everywhere".
What is not in doubt, though, is the key role the Chinese play in the business sector, especially in the little family-run grocery stores, the Fale-Kaloas, as they're called.
The Tongan extended family runs on the principle, "to each according to his need, from each according to his capacity". But if you're a Tongan trying to run a Fale-Kaloa and a relative turns up to say his grandfather's died, there's going to be a feast and you're going to have to give me all the chicken in your shop, you're not going to last long.
The plane did finally get me to Hapa'ai and a day later I'm cycling across a causeway between two small islands. There's repair work going on and a Chinese foreman in charge.
I hear an engine revving behind me and a delivery van rumbles past. I note how clean and new it looks, compared with most vehicles on the island. It stops on the other side of the causeway and a head leans out of the front window and grins at me.
It's Johnny Wang, my companion from the plane. I am delighted to see him, and his pale, smiling face suddenly looks so exotic on that lush green atoll beside the clear blue sea.
Then I remember I need some toothpaste and some new batteries for my torch and I realise that I am reassured by Mr Wang's presence. I know he'll have what I want.
Twenty minutes later I am inside his shop. It's an emporium compared with the local competition - tools, footballs, rice, tinned food, nappies. And if he is asked for something he hasn't got, he says he'll try to get it.
As I cycled back with my toothpaste and batteries, I realised that whatever the future role of the Chinese state in Tonga, the niche Mr Wang is filling on Hapa'ai will be his to occupy for a long time.
While Rio de
Janeiro takes pride in its nickname of "The Marvellous City", as
far as hotel accommodation goes, Brazil's tourism capital could
more accurately be called "the expensive city".
With Brazil's own tourist board recently bemoaning the fact that Rio has the third most expensive hotel rooms in the world, getting a bed for the night in the city has never typically been wallet-friendly.
According to the latest figures from the tourism authority, the average cost of a hotel room in Rio is now $247 (£161) per night.
Its report says that only Miami ($294) and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic ($247) are more expensive. Global tourism hotspots like New York ($246) and Paris ($196) are both cheaper than Rio, its survey found.
The high price of hotels in Rio is put down to a number of factors, including insufficient supply, the city's enduring popularity as a holiday destination, and Brazil's strong economic growth boosting domestic tourist numbers.
Yet with the city due to hold the final and other key games in next year's football World Cup, and host the 2016 Olympics in its entirety, the price of its hotel rooms are only like to rise further as hoteliers take advantage of the additional spikes in demand.
Thankfully, a growing number of hospitality sector entrepreneurs are coming to the rescue of cash-strapped tourists, and Rio is seeing a boom in the establishment of hostels - the lower cost, dormitory-based, shared bathrooms alternative to hotels.Commercial potential
Hostels may have long been popular with independent travellers on a budget, but in Brazil they are a relatively new phenomenon.
It was in fact only in 2006 that the first hostels opened in Rio and Sao Paulo. At the time the concept of sharing a bedroom with strangers was a novelty for Brazilians, but a growing number have since learnt about their advantages - especially the much lower price.
Today official figures show that Rio has 72 hostels, used by both foreign tourists and travellers from across Brazil. And the number of hostels in the city is continuing to grow quickly as the World Cup and Olympics get closer.
Typically the price of staying in a hostel in the city starts from just $25 for a bunk bed in a large dormitory.
Gustavo Pira, a lawyer, and his friend Joao Daltro, a financial market specialist, are two people who decided to open a hostel in Rio after they realised the big commercial potential that the World Cup and Olympics offered.
Their hostel Meiai opened in the middle-class, beachfront community of Botafogo earlier this year.
"There was a lot of talk going on about the lack of rooms to receive all the visitors the city would be receiving," says Mr Pira. "That's when we got interested [in opening a hostel]."
Mr Pira and Mr Daltro started by studying the competition for six months, and putting together a detailed business plan.
While they have chosen not to reveal the cost of opening their hostel in the city, they said it can vary from about $140,000 to $1.3m, depending on factors including whether the building is being rented or purchased, its size, and the level of amenities on offer.
Rodrigo Leporage is another businessman who decided go into the hostel sector, opening the Rio Rockers venue in Copacabana, Rio's main tourist area, back in 2006 with his father and brother.
He said that back then there were only three or four other hostels in the neighbourhood, but that today he has lost track of the number.
"The advantage for us, hostel owners, is that suddenly it became very expensive to come to Rio. And hostels arose as an interesting alternative," says Mr Leporage.Safety concerns
But while Rio officially has 72 hostels including the likes of Meiai and Rio Rockers, Luis Geraldo, the local director of trade body Hostelling International, and manager of the Copa Hostel, also in Copacabana, says the actual number now surpasses 200 after growing by 30% in the past year.
He is concerned that many unscrupulous hostel owners deliberately avoid getting registered so they do not have to meet safety standards.
"Many of them don't have all the required papers, such as fire department authorisation and municipal, state and federal registration, and therefore they don't show up in official accommodation statistics," says Mr Geraldo.
At the same time as Rio's hostel community needs to clamp down on such bad apples, the city's hotels sector is also busily increasing the number of hotels and available rooms ahead of the Olympics.
Not that commentators think the cost of hotel rooms in Rio will do anything but soar during the World Cup and Olympics, despite threats by the government to clamp down on "abusive" prices.
This is all good news for hostel owners, and back at the Meiai hostel, Mr Pira is confident all its 60 beds will be filled for the two big events.
"It's great for the hostels sector in Rio," he says.
bewildering array of Latin American and Caribbean trade
alliances, the left-of-centre Alba group is probably the one
that attracts the least attention outside the region.
A search for it on Google News brings up far more references to the actress Jessica Alba, and even some to the BBC's Scottish Gaelic-language television channel, BBC Alba.
As a result, you may be surprised to learn that it held a summit this week in the Ecuadorean city of Guayaquil, at which its members pledged to form "a powerful economic zone".
At the end of the meeting, the host president, Rafael Correa, denounced "neo-liberalism" and "neo-colonialism", declaring that free trade created zones of "hunger and poverty".
Alba - the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America - was the brainchild of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's late president. Apart from Venezuela and Ecuador, the meeting also brought together leaders and delegations from Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua.
Four English-speaking Caribbean countries took part as well - Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the bloc's latest recruit, St Lucia.
In essence, then, Alba consists of one oil-rich nation and various minnows wishing to benefit from its largesse. Not the most promising basis for a new economic superpower, you might think.
And indeed, there is little chance of the rhetoric becoming reality any time soon. But thanks to Venezuela's influence in other spheres, its ambition has the power to hamper moves towards free trade in other powerful countries in the region, including Brazil, its biggest economy.Quest for integration
After the death of Chavez in March, his anointed successor, Nicolas Maduro, inherited an economy beset by a series of problems: crumbling infrastructure, unsustainable public spending and underperforming industry.
Many of Venezuela's neighbours feared that as a result they would no longer be able to enjoy cheap deals and soft loans within the Alba group and under the Petrocaribe programme.
Under Mr Maduro's presidency, the difficulties have remained stark. Last year, the Venezuelan economy grew 5.6% on the back of a pre-election public spending boom. But survey organisation Consensus Economics forecasts that this will slow to just 0.7% GDP growth in 2013.
Meanwhile, inflation in the 12 months to the end of May reached 33.7%, while shortages of basic goods remain widespread.
All this would seem likely to curb Venezuela's ability to aid its allies. But as it now transpires, Mr Maduro wants to draw on the resources of other trade alliances to prop up his vision of an integrated left-wing economic bloc.
In a news conference to close the summit, he said that Alba's aim was to join forces not only with Petrocaribe but also with the Caribbean common market, Caricom, and the South American trade alliance, Mercosur.
He said this would produce "a common economic zone of shared development".
Most Caricom nations are more likely to rally round the table as supplicants, not contributors. Twelve of Caricom's 15 members are already beneficiaries of Petrocaribe. As one commentator puts it, Petrocaribe "has kept member countries from falling off the global downturn precipice for some time".
But there is disunity in the ranks. The Caribbean's strongest economy, Trinidad and Tobago, which has oil and gas reserves of its own, has so far resisted all overtures from Caracas.'Trojan horse'
Mercosur, however, is a different case altogether. Founded in 1991 as a free-trade bloc, it originally had just four members: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
In July 2006, the four began the process of admitting Venezuela as a full member. But full ratification was held up for six years, because the Paraguayan Senate dragged its heels on approving the expansion.
In fact, it still hasn't. What happened in the end was that Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur after the impeachment of its president, Fernando Lugo, a move deemed undemocratic by the other three founder members, which then seized the chance to admit Venezuela properly in July last year.
Some opposition politicians in Brazil saw Venezuela as a Trojan horse in Mercosur, maintaining that Chavez's "21st-Century socialism" was incompatible with the alliance's free-trade stance.
And so, arguably, it has proved. Brazilian businessmen are forever complaining that Mercosur is now an ideological bloc, not a trade pact - although some Brazilian companies are doing well out of infrastructure contracts in Venezuela.
With Venezuela currently holding the rotating presidency of Mercosur and Paraguay still out in the cold, the balance of power has shifted against Brazil. In Argentina, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has put up more and more trade barriers, while big Brazilian companies such as the mining multinational Vale have been halting prestige projects there.
"Mercosur has been in crisis for some time," lamented an editorial last month in Rio de Janeiro's leading newspaper, O Globo.
It said: "Founders such as Argentina are practising protectionism against Brazil, for example. There is a lack of integration and dynamism, which has got worse with the admission of Venezuela.
"Who is going to want to do more trade with a bloc that welcomes a country with such a nominal democracy and which is hostile to the US, the biggest market in the world?"Brazil's dilemma
The problem for Brazil is that it is trapped in one dysfunctional trade bloc without being allowed to reach out to others.
Under Mercosur rules, no member country is allowed to strike unilateral trade deals with outsiders. Talks on a Mercosur-EU free-trade pact, which could be a potential game changer, have been going on for years without success.
At the same time, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru have set up their own rival trade bloc, the Pacific Alliance. Despite Mercosur's restrictions, Paraguay has successfully applied for observer status and Uruguay has said it wants to become a full member.
Unfortunately, Brazil can ill afford to turn its back on free trade at this juncture. President Dilma Rousseff's popularity is in free fall after the nationwide protests that erupted in June, while growth is stagnating and inflation is on the rise.
If Ms Rousseff does not find a way out of the trade impasse before the presidential election next year, the voters' verdict could be harsh.
Public prosecutors in Brazil have begun
legal action against South Korean electronics giant Samsung,
alleging that it has been violating labour laws at its factory
in the Amazon region.
Prosecutors accuse the company of making its employees work long, tiring shifts without sufficient breaks.
The prosecutors' office in the city of Manaus said one worker reported packing nearly 3,000 phones a day.
Samsung said it would take action "as soon as they are officially notified".
In a statement, the company said it would analyse the process and fully co-operate with the Brazilian authorities.
"We are committed to offering our collaborators around the world a work environment that ensures the highest standards when it comes to safety, health and well-being," the statement said.Health accusations
The plant, located at the Manaus Free Trade zone, employs some 6,000 people.
A worker at the Amazonas state factory has only 32 seconds to fully assemble a mobile phone and 65 seconds to put together a television set, prosecutors allege.
In evidence given to prosecutors, employees say shifts can last 15 hours and some say they suffer from back ache and cramps as they are forced to stand for up to 10 hours a day.
The prosecutors' office is claiming more than 250m reais ($108m; £70m) in damages from the company for serious violations of labour legislation.
The legal suit was filed on Friday, but has only now been made public.
It's called the Oasis - Al Waha in
Arabic - and that's exactly what it looks like.
The farm is an hour's drive from the Sudanese capital Khartoum, along a tarmac road cutting through the fringes of a desert the colour of digestive biscuits.
The desolate surroundings highlight Sudan's reputation as one of the least developed places on earth.
But the Oasis itself is an explosion of green from the drab colours around it. Vast, verdant crop circles cluster round canals bringing in water from the Blue Nile.
In Sudan, many farming stories start with a river, but this is a long way removed from most Sudanese farms.
Al Waha uses the very latest technologies.
Centre pivots irrigation systems roll smoothly around, spraying out water and fertiliser in electronically-controlled circles.Lack of finance
The main crop here is alfalfa, which is used as fodder. Most of it is sold abroad, particularly in the Gulf.
But DAL - the giant Sudanese company which owns Al Waha - is one of the few carrying out this type of agriculture, and this brings it own problems.
"There aren't enough suppliers around, so we struggle with getting spare parts," says Tarig Mohamed Kheir, the farm's operations manager.
Sudan's fading economy is a worry too: "The other major challenge is the finance, there isn't enough finance available for this sort of large-scale farming using very expensive equipment."
Nevertheless, the centre pivots have proved a smart investment.Air-conditioning for cows
A few kilometres up the road, at DAL's dairy farm, there is further evidence of the benefits cutting edge technology can bring.
Sudanese cows are often skinny animals, their ribs protruding through their hides.
DAL has brought in foreign cows from Australia, the Netherlands and elsewhere, as they produce more milk.
But these foreign cows struggle in the Sudanese sun, so they spend most of their time in air-conditioned barns, luxuriating in a spray of cooling water.
A similar system is used in Khartoum's most upmarket cafes, to keep the patrons from overheating over their cappuccinos.'Five times the offspring'
Each cow also wears an electronic necklace that transmits data about the animal's health, and even its readiness to breed, to a central control centre.
"Most of the farms in Sudan are just primitive, cows there are mainly milked by hand and in the open," says Dr Mohamed Said, the farm's manager.
He oversees machine milking, in which 56 cows can be milked in 10 minutes, before the milk is stored in hygienic tanks.
The cows are inseminated artificially and embryo transfer technology is also used, according to Dr Said.
"We can produce five times the number of offspring compared to the normal breeding ways," he says.
The idea is to produce hundreds of Sudanese "super cows" that will produce much more milk than local breeds.Sugar cure?
In Khartoum North, DAL's $50m (£30.6m) factory churns out packaged, pasteurised milk, as well as yoghurt.
DAL is unusual but not unique in its ability to pay for the latest technology.
Some other big agricultural companies, often foreign-owned, are investing in centre pivots, for example.
The state, meanwhile, is heavily involved in sugar production.
In July 2012, President Omar al-Bashir opened a new sugar factory in White Nile state, an $800m project with ambitions to make Sudan one of the region's biggest exporters.
Sugar was first touted as a cure for Sudan's economic woes in the 1970s, when foreign investors, including British businessman Tiny Rowland, helped set up the Kenana sugar project.Oil impact
In fact, agriculture has always played a key part in the modernising wave in Sudan.
During colonial times, the British created the vast Gezira scheme, an irrigated area between the Blue Nile and the White Nile that produced cotton for the factories of north west England.
Today the Gezira scheme still operates, but is a shadow of its former self.
Irrigation canals have not been properly maintained, and production is much lower than it should be.
Agriculture, like the rest of the Sudanese economy, was neglected once oil started flowing in 1999.
"They forgot all about farming once they started making money from oil," Mohamed, a farmer, says with some bitterness.
He makes money each year hiring out the two bulldozers he owns to clear out irrigation canals in Gezira, but is sad at how rundown it has become.
When South Sudan seceded in 2011, it took with it most of the oil, so the focus is back on agriculture.Weather dependent
But most Sudanese agriculture is "quite limited", says economist Haj Hamad, as it is based around seasonal rain falls.
"We should use drought-resistant seeds, and have better soil management," he says.
"Basically most of [the produce] goes to rural households as food security. At the end of the rainy season, they make the harvest, then go into towns to get cash."
For farmers like Mohamed in Gezira, the gleaming machines and air-conditioned cows at DAL's farms seem like a different world.
If you have the money, high-tech agriculture pays.
Osama Daoud, the head of DAL, says the agriculture sector is one of the most profitable in his vast business, which includes flour, cars and Coca-Cola, among other things.
"We have shown that we can make agriculture profitable [in Sudan]," he says.
Recently, the US has lifted sanctions on agriculture in Sudan, so there is hope that this will enable the sector to develop further.
This will take time, however - as Haj Hamad says, US companies are unlikely to flood into Sudan after so many years' absence, and because of the continuing concerns over human rights.
So Sudan's high-tech agriculture is set to continue to be a limited - if profitable - part of its economy.
But Mr Daoud is optimistic. "I hope we have a success story here," he says, adding that he hopes others can emulate it.
condom flopped when it was launched some 20 years ago, but it
never disappeared entirely and now a number of companies are
entering the fray with new products. Could its time have come?
Its formal name was the FC1, though many of us knew it as the Femidom, or Reality, and jokers called it all sorts of names - plastic bag, windsock, hot air balloon...
Two decades on, Mary Ann Leeper has yet to see the funny side of such quips. "I so believed in that product," she says. "I so believed that women would want to be able to take care of themselves. We were naive, or I certainly was naive."
Leeper was the president of Chartex, the company that made the FC1. Before the launch, there was an atmosphere of curiosity and anticipation, but those involved underestimated just how unfamiliar the large, slippery device would look and feel to customers in Europe and the US.
Leeper traces the backlash to a single negative article in an influential US women's glossy magazine.
"That story was the pivotal story that became like a domino effect," she says. "It was a shock to me, to tell you the truth. Why would you make fun of a product that was going to help young women stay healthy, that was going to protect them from sexually transmitted infections as well as unintended pregnancy?"
To be fair, the FC1 had something of a design flaw. Made of polyurethane, it was a bit noisy during sex, and it was inevitable that comic stories of rustling under the bedclothes would be told and re-told.
In the early years, Chartex's successor, the Female Health Company, considered folding, but instead it set about developing an education programme. Then one day in 1995, Leeper received a telephone call from a woman called Daisy, responsible for Zimbabwe's HIV and Aids programme.
"She said, 'I have a petition here on my desk signed by 30,000 women demanding that we bring in the female condom,'" recalls Leeper.
It was the start of a set of partnerships that took the female condom to women in large parts of the developing world.
The FC1's successor, the FC2 - made of non-rustling synthetic latex - is far more successful than many in the West realise. It is available in 138 countries, sales have more than doubled since 2007, and the Female Health Company has been turning a profit for eight years.
The vast majority of sales are to four customers - the US aid agency (USAID), the UN and the ministries of health in Brazil and South Africa. Donors and public health officials are keen on anything that gives women the upper hand in what they call "condom negotiation" with men.
Female condoms have other advantages too. They can be inserted hours before sex, meaning that there is no distraction at the crucial moment, and they don't need to be removed immediately afterwards. For women, there is better protection from sexually transmitted infections, since the vulva is partially covered by an outer ring that keeps the device in place.
User feedback is also pretty good.
A 2011 survey found that 86% of women were interested in using the method again and 95% would recommend trying them to friends.
"Many people report that female condoms heighten sexual pleasure," says Saskia Husken from the Universal Access to Female Condom Joint Program (UAFC). For men, they are less tight than male condoms. For women, the large ring of the condom - which remains outside the vagina - can also be stimulating.
In Africa, the free availability of female condoms at clinics has led to an unexpected fashion trend. Women have taken to removing the flexible ring from the device and using it as a bangle. "If you are [romantically] available you have a new bangle on," says Marion Stevens from the female health campaigning body Wish Associates. "If you are in a long-term relationship your bangle is old and faded."
Meyiwa Ede, from the Society of Family Health in Nigeria, says that while men are often excited by the prospect of sex without having to wear a regular condom, women are taken aback by their first glimpse of the device.
"They look at it and say 'OK - are you saying I have to put that in myself?'" she says.
Ede's team of demonstrators use a mannequin to show the condom is inserted and compare the task to using a new phone - bewildering at first, but second nature after a while.
In most developed countries there is still that 20-year-old image problem to overcome.
"I think the issue is when you open the package they're already open - they're not like male condoms that are in these neat little packages and then they're unrolled," says Mags Beksinska from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. "In fact, they're the same length as a male condom so if you hold the two together open, they're not that different."
Beksinska is the lead author of a clinical trial recently published in the Lancet of three new models of female condom:
The Lancet study, which showed that all were no less reliable than the FC2, improves their chances of gaining wide acceptance internationally.
Other radically redesigned female condoms are either available now, or will be soon.
The Air Condom, on sale in Colombia, features a little pocket of air to aid insertion.
The Panty Condom, made by the same Colombian manufacturer, Innova Quality, is packaged with a special pair of knickers, which keep the condom in place, though this product currently lacks a distributor.
Meanwhile, a female condom known as the Origami is about a year away from market launch in the US.
Its designer, Danny Resnic, who started to work in this area after contracting HIV because of a broken condom in 1993, paid close attention to the jokes about the FC1.
"There's a reason it looks like a plastic bag - it is a plastic bag," he says. "It's putting a round peg into a different-shaped hole."
His female condom is oval-shaped, which mirrors the female anatomy he says. It is packaged as a teat-shaped capsule (see image at the top of this story), and once inserted it expands like the bellows of a concertina. The outer ring of the condom is designed to sit flat against the labia, rather than dangling as some others do.
"It's an intimate product and a shared experience, for two people," he says. "So our female condom is intended to be attractive for both men and women."
Since the Origami condom is made from silicon, it has the added benefit of being reusable - it can be washed in a dishwasher.
Saskia Husken of UAFC says it's important for couples to have a choice of products if the female condom is to achieve its potential.
"There is a need for variety," says Husken. "Some women prefer one product and some prefer another, and men as well. We are not all the same."
A 2010 study bears this out. Researchers asked 170 South African women to try out three different female condoms five times. After nine weeks, they could choose to stop the research or continue, using the female condom of their choice. Eighty-seven percent chose to continue, and by this time almost all of them had a definite preference (44% opted for the women's condom, while 37% went for the FC2 and 19% for the VA Wow).
The fact that 20 years have passed and the female condom has not matched the success of the male condom - it still accounts for only 0.19% of global condom procurement, and costs about 10 times as much - does not dent the confidence of these entrepreneurs.
Mary Ann Leeper explains how she came to realise that it could be a very long game.
Several years after the disastrous launch of the FC1, a man from Tampax came to talk to her. He said it had taken not years but decades before doctors put their faith in tampons, and women stopped seeing them as weird and gross.
"He showed me the learning curve," Leeper recalls.
"I said 'Oh God, don't tell me! Have I got to wait all this time? I don't know if I can last that long!'"
But the female condom evangelists may yet have the last laugh.
Claims that Britain's Special
Air Service regiment may have its fingerprints on the bloody
storming of the Sikh Golden Temple 30 years ago have been
getting a lot more attention back in the UK than here in
For outsiders looking in, that may seem surprising, given the traumatic impact of those events.
A few months after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Operation Blue Star assault on Sikh rebels barricaded inside, leaving at least 400 dead, she was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards.
The wheel of revenge turned again and thousands of Sikhs were butchered in Delhi and elsewhere. It was one of the worst episodes of communal violence since independence - with plentiful evidence that members of Mrs Gandhi's Congress Party were complicit.
"When a great tree falls, a nation shakes," was the famously chilling response of her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi.
As the 30th anniversary approaches of what many see as an anti-Sikh pogrom, no-one has yet been brought to justice.
It's hardly surprising then that today's ruling Congress party has little interest in opening up this chapter of Indian history for re-inspection, especially with its electoral fate in the balance.
The current Congress leader, Sonia Gandhi, was in the same house with her two young children, Rahul and Priyanka, when her mother-in-law was shot in October 1984.
Those events led eventually to
her becoming India's most powerful politician today, after her
husband Rajiv was assassinated seven years later.
Although the main opposition party, the BJP, have raised a few critical questions about "SAS-gate", it doesn't want to push the issue too hard.
It has its own issues with communal violence - particularly the massacre in Gujarat in 2002 - which the state's chief minister, and now prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi is widely accused of failing to stop.
Yet despite the lack of accountability for both the Golden Temple assault and the anti-Sikh riots, there's a general feeling that reconciliation efforts since have been relatively successful.
The Sikh heartland of Punjab - site of the Golden Temple - is now run by a Sikh party in coalition with the Hindu nationalist BJP.
Though he's widely dismissed as a leader, India's Sikh Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, still stands as a symbol of Sikhs and the majority Hindus accepting each other.
There's now little support for the idea of a separate Sikh homeland or Khalistan.
In fact, so far it's mostly been
pro-separatist Sikhs in the UK and US who are speaking out
MP Tom Watson's claim to have seen "top secret papers from
Mrs Thatcher authorising Special Air Services (SAS) to work
with the Indian government".
With the majority of Indians under 30 - Sikhs among them - there's also the simple fact that most people are too young to remember India's multiple crises in 1984.
"It's forgotten history for most," argues Dr JS Sekhon, head of social sciences at Guru Nanak Dev University, in Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple.
Some significant voices disagree though, and say the claims from Britain demand proper investigation.
"The Indian government committed so many human rights violations in the operation against the Golden Temple and afterwards," says Indian Supreme Court lawyer AS Phoolka, who represented many of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. "If the British government was involved, it is also guilty."
He says he welcomes the announcement from UK Prime Minister David Cameron of an inquiry in the UK. "Now we need to have one in India."
For the moment though, that looks
16 January 2014
Last updated at 01:34 GMT
campaigners are "extremely concerned" that a new trade deal
involving the US could weaken attempts to end shark finning.
The first steps to outlaw the practice were agreed at a meeting in Bangkok last March.
But the leaked draft text of the new deal involving 12 Pacific countries has no binding commitment to curb finning.
The long-running negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement are due to conclude in April.
The TPP is being billed as a critical part of President Obama's strategy of engaging with Asia. He's called it his "top trade priority."
But green groups are disturbed over the direction the negotiations are taking. They are worried that concessions are being made on critical environmental issues in order to secure agreement.
Last March, delegates at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting in Bangkok agreed to enhance protection for a number of species. The belief was that this would lead to a reduction in shark finning.
In finning, the fish are left to die after their fins are cut off, to supply a lucrative trade in shark fin soup. It's estimated that millions of sharks die this way every year.
But the leaked draft text of the environmental chapter of the new agreement is "very weak" on this issue according to campaigners.
"We've been calling for a ban on shark finning, which should be in this chapter," said Ilana Solomon from the Sierra Club.
"All we got in the text was a suggestion that countries should come up with fish management plans that may include, as appropriate, measures to address shark finning."
The Office of the US Trade Representative said that the negotiations were still ongoing, and they would be pushing hard for strong environmental measures, including a ban on shark finning.
"A prohibition on shark-finning is one among the many trailblazing proposals that the United States has contributed to the TPP," said a spokesman.
"Despite resistance, we are
continuing to push for the strongest possible outcome that is
fully supported by comprehensive environmental enforcement."
In 2007, President George W Bush reached an agreement with Congress that any future free trade agreements would include a list of environmental treaties that all the signatories would agree to uphold.
But the proposed new deal simply acknowledges that countries have made commitments under agreements like Cites. It does not insist that the commitments be honoured.
"If the environment chapter is finalised as written in this leaked document, President Obama's environmental trade record would be worse than George W Bush's," said Michael Brune, also with the Sierra Club.
"This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues - oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections - and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts."
The US negotiators say they are pushing hard for strong environmental protection in the deal. But since the nations they are negotiating with are huge exporters of natural resources including timber and fish, environmentalists are concerned that free trade will mean a free for all in endangered but valuable species.
"This peek behind the curtain reveals the absence of an ambitious 21st Century trade agreement promised by negotiating countries," said Carter Roberts from WWF.
"The lack of fully-enforceable
environmental safeguards means negotiators are allowing a unique
opportunity to protect wildlife and support legal sustainable
trade of renewable resources to slip through their fingers."
official anti-corruption commission says it is investigating
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in connection with the
government's controversial rice subsidy scheme.
The policy guarantees Thai rice farmers a much higher price than on the global market, but critics say it is too expensive and vulnerable to corruption.
The commission has already charged one minister, and is investigating others.
The news comes as Ms Yingluck already faces intense pressure to resign.
Anti-government protesters have been marching through the capital, saying they will shut it down until their demands are met.
They accuse her government of being under the control of her brother, ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
They say they want an unelected
"People's Council" instead, to reform the electoral system.
The rice purchase scheme was launched in 2011, with the aim of boosting farmers' incomes and helping alleviate rural poverty.
But it has resulted in the accumulation of huge stockpiles of rice, which the government cannot sell.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) says it is looking into Ms Yingluck's role in the scheme, and investigating her for possible negligence of duty.
"Those who oversaw the scheme knew there were losses but did not put a stop to it," NACC spokeswoman Vicha Mahakhun told a news conference.
As prime minister, Ms Yingluck is nominally the head of the National Rice Committee.
Farmers have traditionally been some of Ms Yingluck's most ardent supporters. Her Phuea Thai Party was helped to power in 2011 by offering to buy rice at above the market price.
But the rice policy is thought to be costing Thailand around $10bn ( £6bn) a year - and the government has been unable to pay farmers for their most recent harvest, because a bond issue last year failed to raise sufficient funds.
That could cost the government support from one of its most important constituencies, according to the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.
Farmers are already talking about marching on Bangkok in protest, he says.
In addition, if the NACC finds Prime Minister Yingluck guilty, she could be banned from politics, along with other ministers.
This would cast another shadow over the election she has called for next month, our correspondent says.
The election is already proving contentious. The main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the polls, which it fears will once again return the Shinawatra family to power.
Anti-government protesters have also rejected the elections, demanding electoral reforms.
Ms Yingluck is currently moving around Bangkok to avoid the protesters blockading her office - although police said on Thursday that the crowds on the streets were gradually dwindling in number.
The rallies are the latest twist in
a nearly eight-year long saga, which started when Ms Yingluck's
brother Thaksin was ousted in a military coup.
India has launched a new
handgun for women, named after a student who was
gang-raped in Delhi in December 2012 and later died of
her injuries. Officials say it will help women defend
themselves, but critics say it's an insult to the
In his large office on Kanpur's Kalpi Road, Abdul Hameed, the general manager of the state-run Indian Ordnance Factory, shows me Nirbheek, the factory's tiniest gun.
"It's small, it's lightweight, it weighs only 500g [1.1lb], and it can easily fit into a lady's purse."
Hameed speaks enthusiastically about the .32-calibre revolver, praising the "special titanium alloy body, the pleasing-to-the-eye wooden handle".
"The six-shot gun is easy to handle and it can hit its target accurately up to 15m [50ft]," he explains, pointing out the word "Nirbheek" engraved on the barrel.
Although men can buy the gun too, Nirbheek is being pitched as India's "first gun for women" and to make it more attractive to them, it comes packaged in a deep maroon jewellery case.
"Indian women like their ornaments," Hameed says.
Nirbheek is a synonym of Nirbhaya - the nickname given by the Indian press to the Delhi rape victim, who could not be named under Indian laws. Both words mean fearless in Hindi.
"We generally ask our employees to suggest names for new products. We received a lot of suggestions and decided on 'Nirbheek'. We believe that women who carry this gun will feel fearless," Hameed says.
Although work to develop a lighter gun for women began before the Delhi rape, the project was fast-tracked after the crime, which sparked protests nationwide. The 23-year-old was raped, tortured with an iron bar and thrown from a moving bus.
Hameed says Nirbheek will deter attackers, because of the "surprise element". The factory began taking orders on 5 January and despite a steep price tag of 122,360 rupees ($1,990; £1,213), Hameed says the response has been good, with 10 guns sold and many more enquiries.
The gun's launch has led Indians to debate whether carrying a gun makes a woman safer. Ram Krishna Chaturvedi, the chief of police for Kanpur and several nearby districts, thinks it does.
"It is definitely a good idea. If you have a licensed weapon, it increases your self-confidence and creates fear in the minds of criminals," she says.
Among those wanting to buy Nirbheek is Pratibha Gupta, a housewife and student in Kanpur. She says it is "too expensive" and the process of acquiring a licence is "cumbersome", but she believes that it will be empowering.
"If the person in front of me knows that I have a gun, he will hesitate to touch me, he will know that since she has a gun, she can use it too. The gun will be my supporter, my friend and my strength."
Soon after the Delhi gang rape, large numbers of women in Indian cities began to look for ways to make themselves safer.
The Indian government introduced tougher new laws against rape, deployed more police on the streets and several cities introduced women's helplines.
But many frightened women had little faith in a largely corrupt and inefficient police force. Large numbers enrolled in self-defence classes and began stocking up on pepper spray cans. Some reports suggested there was a rise in the number of women seeking gun licences.
Shocking stories are still making headlines though, such as the case involving a Danish tourist who was attacked by a group of men earlier this week. In Calcutta a girl was gang-raped twice and then set on fire - in three separate incidents. Crime figures from India's National Crime Records Bureau suggest the number of rapes is on the rise, and that one is committed about every 22 minutes.
Against this background,
the makers of Nirbheek believe they have a valuable
addition to the armoury of the scared Indian woman.
Anti-gun activists, however, are appalled at the idea.
"I am horrified, shocked and angered," says Binalakshmi Nepram, founder of the Women Gun Survivors Network in the north-eastern state of Manipur, who says it's the government's responsibility to ensure the security of its citizens.
"It's ridiculous that the state is talking about arming women... The authorities saying, 'Hey woman, come there's a new gun for you which will make you safer,' is an admission of failure on their part."
Nepram, whose organisation has been studying gun violence in eight Indian states for a number of years, says having a gun doesn't "make you safer, it actually enhances your risk".
"Our research shows that a person is 12 times more likely to be shot dead if they are carrying a gun when attacked," she says.
She also says to name Nirbheek after the rape victim is an insult to the memory of Nirbhaya, because she wouldn't have been able to afford it.
"In India, the annual income of most people is less than the cost of the gun. So to suggest that this gun will make women safer is bizarre."
According to GunPolicy.org, an international firearm injury prevention group, India has 40 million privately-owned firearms - second only to the US - but only 6.3 million or 15% of them are legal. There are no accurate estimates of how many women are armed.
Manjit Singh, whose family
owns five gun shops in Kanpur, says women in India
rarely carry guns, and if they own one it is likely to
be because they inherited it from their father or
"No woman in India carries a gun. I've never seen it in my life," he says.
"In the last 10 years, we've seen maybe one or two women who've come to our shop for a gun. Women possess licences - in my home there are six women and they all have licences and they all have guns, but they have been bought by the men in the house."
Most public places in India do not allow guns - and many offices, malls, cinemas, theatres and markets are equipped with metal detectors to enforce this.
Even if the Delhi rape victim had owned a gun, he says, it would not have been much help, considering she was returning home after watching a film in a theatre in a mall where she wouldn't have been allowed to carry her weapon.
And if she had been armed, and she had shot any of her attackers the chances are she would have spent the rest of her life in jail on charges of murder, he says.
Anita Dua, a women's rights activist in Kanpur who acquired a gun about eight years ago, says she's never had a chance to use it.
"I work for women's issues and have been instrumental in sending many people to jail so I have made lots of enemies.
American musical, Grease, is being staged in Karachi - the first
time one of Broadway's longest running shows has been to
Pakistan. The BBC's Shahzeb Jillani goes behind the scenes to
meet its young Pakistani actors and organisers.
Nida Butt is clearly agitated and it looks like she has had enough.
"What a bunch of fools am I working with? How long have you guys been rehearsing these steps? How can you suddenly forget it?" she yells at the young cast on stage from the auditorium stairs where she's been sitting and observing their rock and roll dance act.
The live band stops playing and there's total silence.
A few actors mumble something to themselves and nervously look around to avoid any eye contact with their fearsome director.
"She loses her temper
deliberately," quips a young performer. "It's all part of the
act to seek absolute perfection."
Despite her occasional outbursts, Ms Butt - a lawyer turned theatre director - is actually quite proud of her team.
"We have a super talented cast which has been working long hours for nearly four months. It's challenging but exhilarating," she says.
Grease, set in 1950s American working-class subculture, depicts high-school teenage shenanigans exploring love, sex and friendship through their passion for cars, music and dance.
For Ms Butt, who has previously produced Chicago, and Mamma Mia in Karachi, Grease has been a dream project.
"It's different this time because
we are doing things properly, after sorting out permissions and
copyright issues," she says.
One of the first challenges for her company, Made For Stage Productions, was to get the casting, the American working-class accents and attitude right.
"The first month was only about studying and getting to know the characters," says Mustafa Changezi who plays the tough and rude Kenickie.
Actors say they were required to take part in workshops to really adopt the persona of the character they were playing.
"We had to have several walking drills. At times, it was like being in a boot camp," says Changezi.
Then, there was the issue with finding a suitable venue to put up a musical with a large cast and crew, plus a live band.
"Karachi has a thriving theatre scene, but none of the venues are big enough or technically advanced enough to stage a big musical like Grease," says Ms Butt.
In the end, the organisers had little choice but to settle for the traditional Karachi Arts Council auditorium.
The stage with a depth of 24ft (7.3m) was so small, it had to be extended at least 3 to 4ft to accommodate the cast and dance crews of about 35 performers.
Innovative solutions had to be
found to quickly change the sets manually in between the scenes.
So how would Grease relate to theatre audience in Pakistan?
"This play - with its timeless music and story of teenage love- is relevant to young people everywhere," says Ahmed Ali, who plays the lead role as Danny.
His co-star, Ayesha Omar, who plays Sandy, agrees. "Like many other countries, young people in Pakistan are in the process of really discovering themselves, and pushing the boundaries," she says.
"Yes, there's a lot of frustration, a lot of restrictions on youth in Pakistan. That's why we think Grease would resonate with young people here."
And what about some of the more provocative themes to do with sexual exploration, teenage pregnancy and gang violence?
Did the storyline have to be adapted to Pakistan's conservative Islamic social values?
"No," comes the emphatic response from the director.
"Grease is fabulous just the way it is," Ms Butt says.
"If we were to change anything, it would have upset a lot of people who are familiar with the story.
"Many of them have probably grown
up watching the 1978 Hollywood hit starring John Travolta and
Olivia Newton-John. It's something that's already well-loved and
is well-known among our target audience."
Ms Butt expects the musical will appeal to young and old from Pakistan's small, Westernised elite class.
She also accepts that with tickets priced at about $20 (£12, 14.7 euros), most Pakistanis will not be able to afford the show.
Still, she says she's thrilled to bring some live entertainment to the city of Karachi - otherwise known for crime, lawlessness and militancy.
"For two and a half hours, I would like the audience to forget about Pakistan's multi-faceted problems and enjoy the show.
16 January 2014
assignment in his employer’s Barcelona office, Sameer
immersed himself in the new culture. The international chief
enjoyed working with culturally diverse colleagues and clients
and learning how
to communicate and negotiate with them.
When the time came to return to the technology company’s home office in a suburb of Philadelphia, Shamsuddin realised that his “horizons had expanded.” He wasn’t happy back in the more corporate environment.
“The vibe was different in the Barcelona office, and the quality of life was better,” he said. “Although I was given a good job, the company really didn’t look at how to take advantage of what I had learned overseas.”
In 2013, 16% of employees bolted within the first two years after a global assignment ended.
Shamsuddin tried to persuade his supervisors to let him do his new job from Barcelona. His request was denied, and he resigned last summer. He has taken time off to roam the world before figuring out his next move, but he hopes to work again in “a city I feel passionate about.”
The loss of employees after they’ve returned from an international assignment remains all too common at a time when companies need globally minded managers more than ever to exploit opportunities outside their home markets. Ernst & Young’s 2013 Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey found that 16% of employees bolted within the first two years after a global assignment ended, up from 11% in 2012. What’s more, 41% of expatriates returned to the same position they had before they went abroad.
“It’s very sad to come back to the same old, same old after spending three to five years learning more about the business and having your eyes opened to global issues,” said Jane Malecki, executive director of the human capital practice at Ernst & Young.
For the company, it’s also a poor return on the costly investment. Brookfield Global Relocation Services estimates that assignments typically cost between two and three times the expat’s base salary. For high-cost locations such as Japan and Hong Kong, or hardship locations with unusually difficult host country conditions, the expense can total as much as four times the expat’s salary.
The repatriation process clearly remains the Achille’s heel of many global mobility programmes. While employers focus on finding the best candidate for the international transfer on the front end, they often fail to help expats make a successful transition to a rewarding new position that capitalises on their global experience.
In addition to disappointment with
the new assignment, returning expats may also be frustrated by
colleagues’ lack of appreciation and interest in their adventure
abroad. “They often come back from an overseas office where they
were the big fish and become little fish in a big pond,” Malecki
To try to minimise such frustration and retain returning expats, a small but growing number of companies are taking a more strategic approach to repatriation. They’re starting to think about the next assignment much earlier, sometimes even before an employee goes abroad.
In Brookfield’s 2013 trend study, 24% of the employers surveyed said they have linked a formal repatriation strategy to career management and retention, up from 16% in 2012.
Energy company Royal Dutch Shell, which typically has 6,000 to 7,000 expats spread around the world at any one time, closely ties its global mobility programme to its talent management process. “The types of assignments are linked to an employee’s long-term potential and value to Shell,” said Paul Milliken, vice president for human resources at Shell International. “We’re managing the repatriation process closely on an individual level. The expat has a standard development plan reviewed each year, including what the next job might be.”
Shell keeps its expats connected with “global skill pool managers” to help them find their next job. For instance, the skill pool manager for drilling engineers would provide information about the supply and demand outlook for such jobs.
Adidas, the athletic shoe and apparel maker, also is trying to be more strategic in its repatriation planning. For one thing, its “mobility team” provides regular reports from expats to its Talent Center of Excellence to try to make the most of the skills they acquire when the assignment ends.
In the past, Adidas typically
dispatched employees abroad without guaranteeing them a position
after the assignment. But now, it said, it is offering more
repatriation guarantees, especially to motivate people to
relocate to less popular countries, such as Russia.
Some employers also are providing more social support when expats and their families return to their home base. Cultural training is common when employees move to foreign countries, but surprisingly, employers find that returning expats may need a re-orientation back home to get up to speed not only on changes at the company, but also on social, political and technology developments.
“There can be culture shock when you go on assignment — and when you come back,” said Valerie Mercurio, director of consulting services at US-based Brookfield. “You may have gotten used to a slower-paced culture and need help adapting back to the US, where it may simply be expected that you will work past normal business hours.”
Perhaps most important is regular contact between the expat and the home office. That might mean, for example, a home mentor to keep the overseas employee in the loop about possible job opportunities and the latest corporate buzz.
“What you need is somebody representing your interests while you’re away,” said Sebastian Reiche, associate professor of managing people in organisations at IESE Business School in Spain. “It’s easy to forget people when they’re out of sight, out of mind.”
New technologies are helping bridge the gap between home and an overseas placement. More companies are creating internal social networks to share information among employees across the corporate empire.
But repatriation planning is challenging even for the most sophisticated global talent mobility programmes. Businesses can change dramatically over just a few years. Bosses come and go, divisions are restructured or eliminated, and companies get acquired.
“The repatriation process needs to
start much earlier,” but there has to be room for flexibility,
Reiche said. “Promising a position far in advance is tricky. Not
only do companies change fast, but an international experience
also changes employees’ expectations of where they want to be in
three or four years.”
has condemned Australian naval incursions into its waters as a
"violation of its sovereignty".
Australia has apologised to Indonesia, saying its navy vessels "inadvertently" made the incursions during operations to stop asylum seekers.
Indonesia has asked Australia to suspend these operations until the incidents have been clarified.
The row comes amid reports Australia's navy have been pushing boats carrying asylum-seekers back to Indonesia.
At a press conference, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the violations, which had occurred several times, had not been sanctioned by the government.
Australia took its "shared commitment with Indonesia to mutually respect the sovereignty of each nation very, very seriously", he said, adding that the foreign minister would offer an "unqualified apology".
Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, who leads operations to prevent boats carrying asylum seekers arriving in Australia, blamed the violations on "positional errors".
"We have never intended for our assets to operate or to enter the sovereign territory of another nation," he said.
Indonesia said in a statement on Friday that it "deplores and rejects the violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by Australian vessels".
It would "intensify its maritime patrols in areas where violations of its sovereignty and territorial integrity are at risk", it added.
"Indonesia demands that such
[asylum] operations conducted by the Australian government
that led to this incident be suspended until further
clarification is received."
The Australian government has been under scrutiny over asylum policy in recent days amid reports of boats being turned back to Indonesia.
Indonesia serves as a transit point for people-smugglers, who ferry people to Christmas Island, the closest part of Australian territory, on rickety boats. The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and dozens of people have died making the journey.
When Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Liberal-National Coalition ousted Labor last year, it initiated Operation Sovereign Borders, giving the military control over the response to people-smugglers, and vowed to stop the boats.
In recent days multiple reports have emerged in Australian and Indonesian media of boats carrying asylum seekers being towed back to Indonesian waters by Australian navy vessels.
It has also been reported that Australia has bought lifeboats for the purpose of transporting asylum seekers back to Indonesia.
The government has refused to
comment on these reports, citing operational sensitivities.
But it did deny a report that an Australian navy vessel had
fired shots into the air as it intercepted an asylum boat.
Earlier this month the Indonesian foreign minister spoke out on the alleged push-back policy.
"Let me once again put on record that Indonesia rejects Australia's policy to turn back the boats because such a policy is not actually conducive to a comprehensive solution," Marty Natalegawa said.
Ties between Australia and Indonesia remain strained in the wake of spying revelations in documents leaked by fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
Last week, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was seeking details from Canberra on the recent reports of push-backs.
"Any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the  Refugee Convention and other international law obligations," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said.
The UN and rights groups have also strongly criticised conditions at Australia's offshore asylum processing camps, on the Pacific island of Nauru and on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
Earlier this week the Australian government said its asylum policies were working, with no new boat arrivals for over three weeks.
Asylum is a sensitive issue in
Australia, despite the relatively small numbers involved. UNHCR's Asylum Trends
2012 report said Australia received only 3% of global
asylum applications in 2012.
18 January 2014
Last updated at 00:48 GMT
Guinness ad featuring superbly dressed Congolese men has been
getting a lot of attention since its release on Wednesday,
writes Tanvi Misra. But how closely do the sashaying and
stout-swigging characters in the ad match reality?
The ad follows the men as they shed their working clothes and transform themselves into polished, hat-wearing, cane-wielding style moguls - because, as the narrator says, "in life, you cannot always choose what you do, but you can always choose who you are."
Costume designer Mr Gammon took 28 suitcases of elegant kit to the shoot with members of the Congolese Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant Persons (SAPE) - sapeurs, as they are known. The main idea was to be true to the sapeur look, but also, "kind of, heighten it a bit," Gammon says. "I wasn't redesigning them."
Photographer Per-Anders Petterson who spent five days with sapeurs in Kinshasa in 2012 says the picture portrayed in the ad is pretty accurate.
The opening frame of the ad locates the action in Congo Brazzaville. Sapeurs exist both there and in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo - but the ad was actually shot in South Africa.
Hassan Salvador, seen in the ad sporting jaunty Lennon-style dark glasses, says he earns $1,000 (£610) a month working as a warehouse manager, and about 20% of that goes on clothes. Feron Ngouabi - who can be glimpsed wearing a kilt and tam-o-shanter - spends all of his earnings as a fireman on clothes, he says. Fortunately he owns two taxis, which bring in an extra cash.
In the ad they wore a mixture of their own wardrobe, and Mr Gammon's.
During Petterson's shoot, the sapeurs held a funeral for one of the movement's pioneers. The red carpet leading to the reception inevitably became something of a catwalk, with sapeurs "performing" - showing off the moves that show off their threads - just as they do in the ad.
Sapeurs never wear more than three colours at once (or four, including white). In the Guinness ad, featuring men from Brazzaville, Gammon kept black and grey clothes to a minimum. But Petterson encountered plenty of monochrome outfits in Kinshasa, capital of DR Congo.
Mr Gammon says he was "blown away" by the experience of working with these men and celebrating their look. "They may not be wealthy," he says, "but they are wealthy in spirit."
Hector Mediavilla, who directed a mini-documentary for Guinness, also released this week, says the ad is cinema - it's not intended to be 100% accurate. "But the spirit of the people? Yeah it's in the ad."
Additional reporting by Sasha