Roundup #229

By Justin Long

#229 – December 4, 2020

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East Africa

When a fig tree withers or falls, the Kikuyu see it as a bad omen or transfer-of-power signal.  BBC
… interesting piece that naturally made me think of the Fig Tree cursed by Jesus.

Kenya: Fear of massive dropouts when schools reopen after Covid-19 shutdown.  AllAfrica

Ethiopia says military has taken control of Tigray region capital.  Post
UNHCR appeals for $147m to support 100k refugees from Tigray in Sudan.  UN
Questions linger among the corposes of an Ethiopian massacre.  Yahoo News
Inside a Tigray town scarred by Ethiopian conflict.  Yahoo News
“We left them to die in their hospital beds. I don’t know how we will face God.”  Telegraph
… lots of people will have lots of forms of PTSD.
Aid trucks coming to Ethiopia’s Tigray as refugees recount war suffering.  Al Jazeera
Explainer on the slow-burning tensions leading to Ethiopia’s conflict.  WPost
… very good 11/24 medium-read article exploring the issues …

Northern Africa

Egypt, UNESCO widen scope of Speak Arabic initiative.  Daily News
… “most Egyptian youth abroad cannot speak Arabic” …
… Initiative “aims to preserve Egyptian culture & identity among Egyptian children living abroad”

Egypt’s population to reach 132.3 million by 2030.  Daily News
… annual GDP growth of 8% needed to enhance current living standards …

Sudan: Endless Plights.  Relief Web
… Inflation rates reached 212% in September 2020, vs 200% in 2019
… Flood crises impacted more than 0.8 million people
… poverty rate is 65%, food instability 25%, 2.7m children suffer acute malnutrition

Western Africa

Islamist violence escalates in Burkina Faso.  Reuters
… over 7 million people face acute hunger across area of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso
… armed groups have cut off access to supplies, farmland
… Burkina Faso deteriorating fastest

Mali: Covid-19, conflict, and child-trafficking.  UN
… thousands of boys working in gold mines across country
… women and girls abducted, child marriage rising

Nigeria reels after massacre of farmers.  Al Jazeera
… Civilians working in rice fields slaughtered by armed men over the weekend
… In villages near Maiduguri, capital of Borno State
… uncertain how many dead – many divergent counts – some as high as 110

Eastern Asia

Why is Hong Kong so superstitious?  BBC
… despite being an ultra-modern city, ancient superstitions still play an everyday role in people’s lives …

Fishers among Men: Lake Tai’s Catholics bid farewell to the waters.  Sixth Tone
… Lake Tai on southern edge of Yangtze Delta is a centuries-old home to a unique population of Catholics
… Fishing has recently been banned to help restore the Yangtze’s devastated fish populations
… This article looks at the religious faith as a cultural bind that keeps the community together

China eliminates absolute poverty one month before self-imposed deadline.
… but, really, is this more than saying people are “slightly over” a somewhat arbitrary line?
… the poverty line is 2,300 yuan per year (2010 prices) or a little less than US$1/day.
… nevertheless the article is an interesting if short read with lots of data and links to other analysis

Inside a Xinjiang detention camp.  Buzzfeed News
… massive detention center censored out of Baidu Maps. Size of 13 football fields.
… Mongolkure facility is one of at least 260 newly built sites
… the camp can be easily found on Google Maps: just click here

China mulls new rules on foreigners to “prohibit religious extremism.”  CNN
… “list of potential new restrictions & requirements could make practicing that belief far more difficult”

China to tap elderly population in bid to tackle looming demographic crisis, boost economy.  SCMP
… 12.6% of population was aged 65 or above in 2019
… group to hit 300 million by 2025

North Korea authorities relax price controls, and food prices spike.  RFA
… in early November, 2# rice = one month’s salary
… “if we can’t move around to make a living, authorities are basically letting [us] starve to death”

South Asia

Where the pomegranate harvest is life, the Taliban brought ruin.  NYT
… an incursion that devastated a prized crop shows the loss and uncertainty many Afghans endure.

Uttar Pradesh’s new anti-conversion law.  India Times
… people wishing to change their religion will have to give a notice 2 months in advance …
… go through a police inquiry …
… aimed at preventing “conversion for marriage,” the so-called “love jihad”
Haryana, Madhya Pradesh also express wish for anti-conversion laws.  Indian Express
And, police in India have made their first arrest under the new interfaith marriage law. NYT

In my remote corner of India, Christianity is seen as a cultural threat.  CT
… “I belong to the Adi tribe, in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, in the remote northeast…”

India’s leading documentary filmmaker spent decades tracking the rise of Hindu nationalism.  NYT
… “now, under an increasingly repressive government, he holds his screenings in secret”

Tens of thousands of farmers swarm Delhi to protest deregulation rules.  CNN
… new rules “making it easier for corporates to exploit agricultural workers who make up more than half of India’s 480-million strong workforce” (article tells us something about half of the adult workers in India)

Pakistan: how forced conversion turned this Christian girl’s life upside down.  Vice
… “He bought me”: more than 20 girls from minority communities kidnapped/converted monthly on pretext of marriage

Bangladesh set to move Rohingya refugees to remove island.  Reuters
… over criticisms calling it an “island detention center”

South-eastern Asia

Papua: Life and death in the “Land of the Clouds”.  CT
… “In the mountains of Papua, missionaries and Indonesian professionals serve the lost together.”

Bali struggles with “Covid-poor” as Indonesian cases hit record.  Al Jazeera
… malnutrition long a problem in the island’s east
… collapse of tourism means more are now going hungry

Singapore nearly virus free after local cases and clusters cease.  Reuters

Singapore, a city of skyscrapers and little land, turns to farming.  WSJ
… virus-related border closures shows that dependence on the outside world for food could spell trouble

Western Asia

Putin’s Russia turns to soft power with threat of force to influence Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict.  NYT

Some of the nearly 200,000 displaced Yazidis return home.  NPR
… it’s been 6 years since ISIS launched a genocide against this religious minority …
… The towns of their homeland are largely ruined …
… “would rather live on bread & water [in our homeland] than eat meat & rice as displaced people”

Turkey to impose curfew, weekend lockdown against Covid.  MEMO

Yemen war dead estimated at 233,000.  UN
… 131,000 from “indirect causes” such as lack of food, health services, infrastructure
Thousands of migrants trapped in war-torn Yemen.  LAT
… “We’re not alive, we’re not dead”
… In 2019, almost 140,000 from the Horn (mostly Ethiopia) attempted to cross to Yemen and on to Saudi Arabia.

N America / Europe

Russia wants to reverse population decline; Siberian coal country shows challenges.  WPost

USA: Refugee ministries hope to rebuild under Biden.  CT
… after drastic cuts, need to rally partners, volunteers to be ready for jump in refugee admittance


New data on international students in USA.
… 1 million students, 2% Y/Y decline, still top destination.
… top sources: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia

Urbanization in Africa: short Twitter infographic video.  @sumitaneja1

Malaria death toll > Covid-19 death toll in Subsaharan Africa.  Reuters
… increasing malaria deaths due to Covid-19 disruptions to anti-malaria campaigns

Why richer countries fare worse under Covid than poorer countries.  Economist
… TL;DR: richer countries tend to be older.
… “60s 2x more likely to die than 50s, 70s higher still. Probability of dying 2x every 8 years of age.”

New report: Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2020.  World Bank

13m or 20m?–The difficulties and influence of determining Shenzhen’s population.  SCMP
… China wants Shenzen (mainland area around Hong Kong) to be a “core engine” of reform to power growth… but analysts have long debated the accuracy of population estimates, a key factor in determining just how much economic development has happened. Worth remembering that we use population estimates to estimate the general level of effort required to reach a place, and while the estimates are likely accurate to within an order of magnitude, the ground reality will likely require some plans to “scale up.” Which is one reason DMM approaches are so useful.


Refugees vs IDPs: the difference, and why it matters.  Link
… h/t Mission Catalyst for surfacing this link. Interesting look at how these two different groups get different levels of resources. (TL;DR: IDPs are worse off because Refugees get international aid)

Red Sea Dynamics: a 9 part series.  Africa Report
… who are the players – the Red Sea as a vital artery for the world economy – shifting power in the Horn – Yemen – Somalia – more

For expats & missionaries, Covid-19 was a crossroads.  CT
… the first question for Christians living abroad was, “Go or stay?” After that, it got hard.


Israeli surveillance tool Circles used by African countries to snoop on private citizens.  Hiiraan
… Circles can find you with just your telephone number.  Forbes

Digital Canyon: 1.3 billion school-aged children can’t log on to Internet at home.  UN
How one group is bringing Internet to the most rural schools in Kyrgyzstan.  Eurasianet
… essentially, a local repository of Kyrgyz-language educational content scraped from the Internet

AWS launches Panorama, can add machine-learning technology to any camera.  TechCrunch
… pitched as a way to ensure safety in manufacturing lines, or analyze traffic in retail stores
… transforms existing on-premises cameras into super-powered surveillance devices

Drones have raised the odds and risks of small wars.  Bloomberg
… success of UAVs in recent conflicts will tempt more countries to go on the offensive …
… Turkey’s military campaign beyond its borders is powered by homemade armed drones.  WPost

Is it safe to fly during the pandemic?.  Bdnews24
… “Answers from the experts” – Longread I guess from the NYT reprinted in Bangladesh newspaper.

Meet GPT-3.  NYT
… it has learned to code (and blog, and argue) (and tweet, and summarize, and…)
… next generation AI text-generator … was that email written by me, or GPT-3?
… (I already use to schedule meetings… and many of my quick email responses come from Gmail’s text prompter…)

The Covid-19 vaccination programme will be the biggest in history.  Economist

Proof of vaccination will be required to fly on some airlines.  @DrEricDing

Covid has accelerated the adoption of online food delivery by 2 to 3 years.  CNBC
… this and other tech will lead to less personal interaction where it is pervasive.
… NextDoor means you can interact with neighbors online sans face-to-face
… more people will be familiar & less anti- worshipping online…
… what other cultural changes are being brought about by what we are forced to do now, and discover we like?
Covid may be encouraging people to live together in larger groups.  Economist
… In lockdown, people see the appeal of housemates.
Warner Brothers will simultaneously release in theaters, online streaming.  TheVerge
… experimenting with a limited one-month streaming release …

China pushes QR-code based global travel system.  BBC
… China: “need to harmonize policies and standards and establish fast tracks for orderly flow”
… Human Rights: “codes could be used for broader political monitoring & exclusion”

Self-driving robotaxis are taking off in China.  CNN
… also, KFC rolls out self-driving 5G chicken trucks.  Link


“When I was finally able to return to Beijing in early Oct this year, I had 1200 RMB in my wallet. I just noticed my wallet still has exactly that amount. I haven’t spent any cash at all in the two months since I returned. China is basically a cashless society now.” ~@david__moser

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