Election soothsayer

ivotela

In the interests of being utterly wrong publicly, I will look deep into my green tea leaves to make a prediction for tomorrow’s election. If you’re still not sure who to vote for, my unhelpful voting guide is sure to further confuse.

The prediction:

Party % Seats
African National Congress 60% 240
Democratic Alliance 23% 90
Economic Freedom Fighters 7% 27
National Freedom Party 3% 13
United Democratic Movement 2% 8
Inkatha Freedom Party 2% 7
Congress of the People 1% 5
Freedom Front Plus <1% 4
Agang <1% 2
African Christian Democratic Party <1% 2
United Christian Democratic Party <1% 1
Azanian People’s Organisation <1% 1
Total 100 400

The only drastic outlier here from the polls is that I predict the National Freedom Party, almost completely ignored by the media but with a strong grassroots campaign, will do better than expected, beating the IFP to the opposition in KZN. Meanwhile the PAC, Minority Front and African People’s Convention will all be swept from parliament, with 17 of the 29 parties contesting not winning a single seat.

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ivotela i-?

ivotela

It’s three days until the elections (well, it was when I started, now it’s one day…), and there’s still no Green Party to vote for, so, to help out, here’s my detailed analysis of every party to help make your decision.

Voting ranks slightly below picking up a cigarette stompie (cigarette butts for those from further afield) in terms of the benefit provided. Removing a single stompie makes a difference. Perhaps that earthworm that was about to surface there has now avoided nicotine poisoning (at best). A single vote? Has a single vote in this sort of election made a difference, ever? No, but collectively at least, the impact is usually slightly larger.

Besides, elections are far more fun than talking about cigarette stompies. There are 29 parties standing in the national elections, and a further five standing only in the Western Cape. Here’s the full list available to me on the day:

  1. African National Congress
  2. Democratic Alliance
  3. Congress of the People
  4. Inkatha Freedom Party
  5. United Democratic Movement
  6. Freedom Front Plus
  7. African Christian Democratic Party
  8. United Christian Democratic Party
  9. Pan Africanist Congress
  10. Minority Front
  11. Azanian People’s Organisation
  12. African People’s Convention
  13. African Independent Congress
  14. Agang SA
  15. Al Jama-ah
  16. Bushbuckridge Residents Association
  17. Economic Freedom Fighters
  18. First Nation Liberation Alliance
  19. Front Nasionaal
  20. Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa
  21. Keep It Straight and Simple
  22. Kingdom Governance Movement
  23. National Freedom Party
  24. Pan Africanist Movement
  25. Patriotic Alliance
  26. Peoples Alliance
  27. Ubuntu Party
  28. United Congress
  29. Workers and Socialist Party
  30. African National Party
  31. Indigenous Peoples Organisation
  32. National Party South Africa
  33. Sibanye Civic Association
  34. South African Progressive Civic Organisation

How many of the 34 are even worth considering?

First, let’s knock off some low-hanging fruit, and top of the instant rejection list are the religious and ethnic parties. So, without further ado, there go the Inkatha Freedom Party, Freedom Front Plus, African Christian Democratic Party, United Christian Democratic Party, Minority Front (all currently in parliament) as well as Al Jama-ah, the First Nation Liberation Alliance, Front Nasionaal, Patriotic Alliance, Peoples Alliance, Indigenous People’s Organisation, and the Kingdom Governance Movement. You can argue about just how ethnic or religious these various parties are, but it would just be a pointless debate about how instant their rejection would be, so let’s move on.

  1. African National Congress
  2. Democratic Alliance
  3. Congress of the People
  4. Inkatha Freedom Party
  5. United Democratic Movement
  6. Freedom Front Plus
  7. African Christian Democratic Party
  8. United Christian Democratic Party
  9. Pan Africanist Congress
  10. Minority Front
  11. Azanian People’s Organisation
  12. African People’s Convention
  13. African Independent Congress
  14. Agang SA
  15. Al Jama-ah
  16. Bushbuckridge Residents Association
  17. Economic Freedom Fighters
  18. First Nation Liberation Alliance
  19. Front Nasionaal
  20. Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa
  21. Keep It Straight and Simple
  22. Kingdom Governance Movement
  23. National Freedom Party
  24. Pan Africanist Movement
  25. Patriotic Alliance
  26. Peoples Alliance
  27. Ubuntu Party
  28. United Congress
  29. Workers and Socialist Party
  30. African National Party
  31. Indigenous Peoples Organisation
  32. National Party South Africa
  33. Sibanye Civic Association
  34. South African Progressive Civic Organisation

Next off the list go parties I know nothing about. First, the African National Party. If they can’t even get around to putting up a website (although perhaps R100 million for a quick blog has put them off), I’m not sure they’d be that good at getting around to things like reading bills and contributing to policy, or anything else to do with actual governing. With a name like ANP, a slightly too-clever fusion of ANC and NP, you can’t be too surprised that Googling turns up an endless links to the National Party and the African National Congress, and nothing about them. So even if they do actually have a website somewhere out there that they’ve neglected to give to the IEC, I can’t find it.

Honourable mentions in the misleading names department go the AMC (African Moderates Congress) with the Madiba-lookalike in 1994 (but they’re no longer around), and the Republican-Democrats, who sadly, in spite of predictions about storming to victory, didn’t quite make it to the ballot, and, standing this time, the National Party South Africa, no relation to the National Party.

Other parties I exclude as I either can’t find information about them, or they’re limited to extremely local issues and I can’t quite understand their presence on the national or provincial ballot, are the African Independent Congress (founded solely to contest Matatielie’s inclusion in the Eastern Cape rather than Kwazulu-Natal), Indigenous People’s Organisation, Sibanye Civic Association, Bushbuckridge Residents Association, Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa and the South African Progressive Civic Organisation

  1. African National Congress
  2. Democratic Alliance
  3. Congress of the People
  4. Inkatha Freedom Party
  5. United Democratic Movement
  6. Freedom Front Plus
  7. African Christian Democratic Party
  8. United Christian Democratic Party
  9. Pan Africanist Congress
  10. Minority Front
  11. Azanian People’s Organisation
  12. African People’s Convention
  13. African Independent Congress
  14. Agang SA
  15. Al Jama-ah
  16. Bushbuckridge Residents Association
  17. Economic Freedom Fighters
  18. First Nation Liberation Alliance
  19. Front Nasionaal
  20. Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa
  21. Keep It Straight and Simple
  22. Kingdom Governance Movement
  23. National Freedom Party
  24. Pan Africanist Movement
  25. Patriotic Alliance
  26. Peoples Alliance
  27. Ubuntu Party
  28. United Congress
  29. Workers and Socialist Party
  30. African National Party
  31. Indigenous Peoples Organisation
  32. National Party South Africa
  33. Sibanye Civic Association
  34. South African Progressive Civic Organisation

19 down, 15 to go.

Enough bullying of the smaller parties. Next off the list are the ANC. The once-proud liberation movement, instrumental in ridding us of apartheid, forgers of the Freedom Charter and the constitution, are sadly now better known for Marikana, Nkandla, the Arms Deal, and the feeding frenzy is only picking up pace.

Off the list too go Cope, whose leaders brought us one of the most remarkable meltdowns imaginable. Conspiracy theorists would say that either Shilowa or Lekota were an ANC plant to poison the new party, and, even if they weren’t, they couldn’t have done a better job of destroying the party with their bitter fight to be the big fish in a rapidly shrinking pond. With them too go the United Congress, the offshoot of the offshoot.

Matching Cope in the infighting stakes are the PAC. From the massive liberation movement in the 1960’s, once larger than the ANC, to the shambles of today.

Azapo, by contrast, hasn’t suffered from the same degree of infighting, and has coherent and well thought-out policies, some of them very good. Science and technology feature prominently in their thinking. However, while solar and wind get a mention, it is business as usual in the energy field. Perhaps most importantly, they are rooted in black consciousness, an understandable response to apartheid, but one that doesn’t match my non-racial dream of what liberation should be.

So, off the list with them, as well as similar or splinter parties such as the African People’s Convention and the Pan Africanist Movement.

Neither do I think government  should just get out of the way, and end to social grants etc, and so off the list go the libertarian KISS.

  1. African National Congress
  2. Democratic Alliance
  3. Congress of the People
  4. Inkatha Freedom Party
  5. United Democratic Movement
  6. Freedom Front Plus
  7. African Christian Democratic Party
  8. United Christian Democratic Party
  9. Pan Africanist Congress
  10. Minority Front
  11. Azanian People’s Organisation
  12. African People’s Convention
  13. African Independent Congress
  14. Agang SA
  15. Al Jama-ah
  16. Bushbuckridge Residents Association
  17. Economic Freedom Fighters
  18. First Nation Liberation Alliance
  19. Front Nasionaal
  20. Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa
  21. Keep It Straight and Simple
  22. Kingdom Governance Movement
  23. National Freedom Party
  24. Pan Africanist Movement
  25. Patriotic Alliance
  26. Peoples Alliance
  27. Ubuntu Party
  28. United Congress
  29. Workers and Socialist Party
  30. African National Party
  31. Indigenous Peoples Organisation
  32. National Party South Africa
  33. Sibanye Civic Association
  34. South African Progressive Civic Organisation

27 down, 7 left.

So, this is where I come out and endorse the EFF? Not quite. It’s great to have a party that is explicitly pro-poor. Whether their policies would actually help, and whether their leaders can be trusted to implement them, I’m not so sure.

So the Ubuntu Party then? If the election was based on outright support on my Facebook stream, they’d win a landslide. And no-one else is doing anything like as radical as questioning the private ownership of the Reserve Bank, looking to Iceland as a model to stand up to the banks, proposing massive social investment and employment creation through interest-free loans and focusing on organic food agriculture. I like much of their thinking. But, then it all falls to pieces as they propose free electricity for all based on free energy devices they’re convinced are being suppressed by the global energy elite and that they’ve ‘seen’ in action, but which somehow are not even running anyone’s pool pump yet, have controversial ex reserve bank director and Holocaust-denier Stephen Goodson as number two on their list, and base much of their policy on the sacred number three. Reliable evidence is not high on their agenda, but if you want to protest the system, you could do worse.

Ah, the system. So this is where I come out as a DA supporter. Efficient Cape Town and all that. Yes, in Cape Town you do get a more accurate electricity bill, and when I report an ancient pothole in the township of Philippi it gets fixed the next day. But you also get more efficient applications by shopping mall developers to demolish wetlands, more efficient extolling of the benefits of fracking, more efficient removals of homeless people. I don’t see South Africa’s massive levels of poverty and inequality being tackled by a slightly more efficient corporate-friendly system.

Right, Workers and Socialist Party then? Nationalise everything without compensation, no more private schools (sorry Dorje, it’s off to a class of 50 for you where you’ll learn to appreciate Pink Floyd’s The Wall), all production put to work towards the democratic socialist plan. And with the massive surpluses generated an R8000 basic income for the unemployed. My cross is poised, except that, while their analysis of the problems are reasonably accurate, their dated and failed solutions don’t leave me with much confidence.

Agang then? No to fracking, political party transparency, a focus on education and measures to combat corruption? At least while they bide their time before joining the DA? Her political leadership doesn’t inspire me, but many of the policies are broadly positive.

Bantu Holomisa and the UDM? Still going strong after being expelled from the ANC in 1996 for daring to testify at the TRC, and now gaining prominence by supporting the striking miners in the face of heavy government intimidation. Their manifesto (when I finally tracked it down on their website – the 2004 manifesto was far more prominent) is great at slamming government, and remarkably light on detail. And the UDM has shrunk into a party with a tiny footprint in a small part of the Eastern Cape after it’s birth as a merger between prominent ANC and NP (Roelf Meyer) members and its potential as a significant non-racial party, which doesn’t inspire much confidence.

So, finally, the last one left standing. The National Freedom Party! A breakway from the IFP by their chairperson Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, the party has seen significant growth, unlike the other IFP offshoots which have faded to nothing. Almost trumping the IFP in the 2011 local government elections, the party has been performing well in by-elections since, and seems to have a well-organised team on the ground. Their manifesto is pleasantly free of ideology and surprisingly clear, pro-poor and with a focus on practical solutions, which I like. It’s very easy to be right, not so easy to be helpful. Besides, I’ve always had a soft spot for orange. So, finally, after 33 rejections, my pen is poised!

Not so fast. They can’t quite shake off their tribal roots, with a section on empowering traditional leaders that raises a few questions, and a populist call for the death penalty.

  1. African National Congress
  2. Democratic Alliance
  3. Congress of the People
  4. Inkatha Freedom Party
  5. United Democratic Movement
  6. Freedom Front Plus
  7. African Christian Democratic Party
  8. United Christian Democratic Party
  9. Pan Africanist Congress
  10. Minority Front
  11. Azanian People’s Organisation
  12. African People’s Convention
  13. African Independent Congress
  14. Agang SA
  15. Al Jama-ah
  16. Bushbuckridge Residents Association
  17. Economic Freedom Fighters
  18. First Nation Liberation Alliance
  19. Front Nasionaal
  20. Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa
  21. Keep It Straight and Simple
  22. Kingdom Governance Movement
  23. National Freedom Party
  24. Pan Africanist Movement
  25. Patriotic Alliance
  26. Peoples Alliance
  27. Ubuntu Party
  28. United Congress
  29. Workers and Socialist Party
  30. African National Party
  31. Indigenous Peoples Organisation
  32. National Party South Africa
  33. Sibanye Civic Association
  34. South African Progressive Civic Organisation

So, none of the above? That simplifies things. Spoilt vote or abstain then? Sadly, as a tactic both just support the status quo, and at least some of the above parties could actually be better than that.

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far, and I’m glad I could help clear things up. My final advice? Do something that makes you feel good about your civic contribution and pick up some stompies on your way to the polls (or the beach) on Wednesday.

Related posts:

2014 World Press Freedom Index – small improvement for South Africa amidst a general worldwide decline

The latest World Press Freedom Index is out.

While the news worldwide is generally negative, with all regions except for Asia showing a deterioration, South Africa improved markedly from its place in 2013, jumping 11 positions from 52nd to 42nd. Before you hammer me on my maths, this counts as 11 due to the inclusion this year for the first time of Belize, in 29th spot, without which South Africa would have improved to 41st position.

A large part of the improvement is due to Jacob Zuma’s refusal to sign the draconian Protection of State Information Bill, although its still on the agenda in a revised form.

There are four African countries with greater press freedom than South Africa. These include Namibia, in 22nd place, Cape Verde in 24th, Ghana in 27th and Botswana in 41st.

However, much of the worsening situation is due to social breakdown and war, with the Central African Republic, after the complete disbanding of the media network due to the conflict, dropping all of 43 places to 109th. Eritrea retains its position as the worst country in the world for press freedom, with 28 journalists currently detained, no independent media, and news of the Arab Spring strictly forbidden.

A number of other African countries also saw worsening situations, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo dropping 8 places to 151st, Burundi 9 to 142nd and, Chad 17 to 139th.

Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Luxembourg head the charts, with other Scandinavian and northern European countries close behind. The first country from outside the region is New Zealand, in 9th place.

The United Kingdom has dropped to 33rd, while, gaining most of the press attention, the United States has plummeted 13 positions down the charts, and is once again behind South Africa, in 46th. Barack Obama’s two terms have seen an increased crackdown on whistleblowers, with the continuing pursuit of Edward Snowden, who exposed much of the military surveillance, and freelance journalist Barrett Brown being threatened with a 105 year sentence.

In South America, regional powerhouse Brazil continues to disappoint, languishing in 111th place, while its left to Costa Rica and Uruguay, in 21st and 26th position respectively, to set an example. Some of the biggest improvers were from the region though, with Ecuador, Bolivia and Panama all seeing substantial improvements, albeit from low bases.

In Asia, regional powers India and China have little to no press freedom, while Japan, only two years ago a leading light in Asia, falls again to 59th position, with its continued censorship of the nuclear situation.

See the full index at the Reporters Without Borders website.

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Female participation in chess around the world

I came across a post today by Fanou Lefebvrea, a young French woman writing and drawing about her experiences of sexism and abuse as a female chess player. She addressed the post to Magnus Carlsen, the newly crowned Norwegian chess world champion.

It’s a sad story, and as I was reading it, I began questioning how universal her experiences were in the chess world. Norway is ranked in the top few countries ranked according to gender equality (see the Gender Equality Index), so I wondered how the situation was in Norway, and how it was elsewhere in the world.

I have no way to measure abuse or sexism, so I took the closest proxy I could find and looked at the rating lists according to FIDE, the international chess body, to see how the ratio of male to female chess players stands for each country.

The topic of female chess strength comes up frequently, and, in most cases, the question is asked why men are stronger. There has never been a female world champion, and the top female players are far weaker than the top male players.

However, the discrepancy is almost entirely explained by participation rates, as this study indicates. Essentially, the ratio of male to female chess players at the top level matches the ratio of male to female players at all levels, so that there’s no significant difference in strength, simply a difference in participation.

So, let’s take a look at the levels of participation of some of the top chess countries, as well as a few others thrown in for geographical curiosity:

Country Male Female M/F Ratio
Armenia 411 84 4.89
Australia 877 87 10.08
Azerbaijan 430 131 3.28
Canada 1959 125 15.67
China 387 160 2.42
Cuba 1175 222 5.29
Czech Republic 4577 248 18.46
Denmark 2022 34 59.47
England 1844 116 15.90
Finland 666 20 33.30
France 11372 896 12.69
Georgia 420 196 2.14
Germany 16481 923 17.86
Hungary 370 56 6.60
India 10574 1237 8.55
Iran 2279 281 8.11
Israel 959 77 12.45
Italy 5395 210 25.69
Japan 104 11 9.45
Mongolia 104 60 1.73
Netherlands 2378 135 17.61
Norway 946 56 16.89
Pakistan 37 2 18.5
Poland 5533 902 6.13
Russia 14276 2316 6.16
Scotland 277 23 12.04
South Africa 221 54 4.09
Spain 13659 629 21.71
Ukraine 2377 338 7.03
United States 3089 178 17.35
Uzbekistan 286 58 4.93
Vietnam 225 140 1.61

The ratios listed above are likely to over-represent females. Since FIDE competitions are divided by gender, the existence of weaker female-only competitions and the need to fill teams, and therefore the higher likelihood of a female appearing on the list than an equivalently rated male, probably means that a higher proportion of females are rated by FIDE than are actually present in the overall chess-playing population. I know in South Africa, at the lower level, the ratio is certainly higher than 4 to 1. But for comparative purposes at least, the figures probably hold.

The first thing to note is that Norway fares very badly by this measure. There are almost 17 male Norwegian chess players rated by FIDE for each 1 Norwegian female. Other Scandinavian countries are even worse, with Denmark propping up the table at 59 to 1, while Finland is 33 to 1. There seems to be no correlation between gender equality in society in general, and an equivalent chess ratio.

Western European countries on the whole fare poorly. England is 16 to 1, Spain 21 to 1, France 13 to 1, Germany 18 to 1, Italy 25 to 1. Scotland, albeit with smaller sample, leads western Europe with a ratio of 12 to 1.

The situation in the United States is similar, 17 to 1, and Australia 10 to 1.

In eastern Europe, traditionally chess powerhouses and still dominant when it comes to the top players, both male and female, the situation is somewhat different. Armenia (where chess is compulsory in schools) has a ratio of 5 to 1, Ukraine 7 to 1, Uzbekistan 5 to 1, Poland 6 to 1, Hungary 7 to 1, Russia 6 to 1, Azerbaijan 3 to 1 and Georgia 2 to 1.

Further east, the ratio improves even more. China, Vietnam and Mongolia all have ratios of 2 to 1, with Vietnam’s 1.61 the best of any country in the sample. India and Japan don’t fare quite as well, both at 9 to 1, but still better than Western Europe. Looking at a few other areas in the world, South Africa has a ratio of 4 to 1, Cuba 5 to 1 and Iran 8 to 1, all substantially ahead of the Western European norm.

So, it seems there’s very little correlation between gender equality and chess equality, but there is a strong correlation with geographic location. Western countries have the worst ratios, and China and neighbouring countries the best.

It’s possible to do more with the data, and consider changes over time, growth rates. What are the differences between countries relatively new to chess, or experiencing strong growth rates, and those with a long, established chess culture.

I can only speculate on the reasons, but it’s clear that the west has a lot of work to do towards making chess a more inclusive pastime.

If any chess players, especially female chess players, do come across this post, I’d be interested in hearing about experiences in your part of the world in the comments below.

Trust and asking

When I was young, I would find it very difficult to ask anyone for help. I remember many stalemates with my father, where I would stubbornly not ask, and he would stubbornly not offer.

A university job cold soliciting advertising for the student newspaper helped immensely!

Not asking for help is a meanness of spirit, as most people are only to happy to have a chance to help. The giver receives a precious opportunity, often worth so much more than what was given.

Here are two inspiring examples of people asking for help, and placing trust in others.

The Ubuntu Girl left home in 2009 with a backpack, a camera, a phone and R100 and walked and hitchhiked for the next year through South Africa. Without a tent or sleeping bag, 150 families took her, a complete stranger, into their homes and provided her with food, shelter and welcome.

She’s crowdfunding a book based on her adventure, so you can help contribute if you wish.

Amanda Palmer is a successful musician. But her first job was as the eight foot bride, and taught her about the human need for connection. Here’s her TED talk on the Art of Asking, couchsurfing and crowdsurfing:

And to round it off, The Bed Song.

“If you’d only asked me, I would have told you.”

South Africa’s first electric car

Nissan Leaf
I keep telling my son that by the time he can drive, cars won’t be the destructive beasts farting all over our planet they are now, but will run on clean electricity, and you’ll be able to stand behind one breathing clean air.

The first part of the puzzle is being put in place with the arrival of the first fully electric car in South Africa later this year, the Nissan Leaf.

I hear lots of arguments against electric cars. “They’re more harmful to the environment because they displace the energy production from the car to the coal power station.” This argument is simply nonsense, because, even in South Africa, where, sadly, almost all the electricity produced is with coal, the energy efficiency gains in producing power centrally in a power station far outstrip those of the highly inefficient internal combustion engine. And of course, as the energy production swings to renewable, the gains are dramatic.

More convincing is “the pricing is a ripoff and you’ll never make back in fuel savings the extra you pay upfront.” This is true in many cases, particularly for the early hybrids. But when it comes to pure electric cars, how do things stack up?

Edmunds.com have done extensive calculations on payback periods in the US of various hybrid and electric cars against their conventional equivalents.

Remember that calculations like these are based on quite rigid assumptions. The exchange rate will fluctuate, petrol prices will change, electricity prices will change, car prices will change. So extrapolating them over a long period of time is interesting, but will come nowhere near predicting the actuality.

However, at present rates, the payback period for the electric Nissan Leaf against the equivalent conventional, Nissan Versa, priced at $10,000 less, is 9 years if petrol is $3 a gallon, and 5 years if petrol is $5 a gallon.

That’s based on the US rates for petrol (ranging from $3 to $5 a gallon in the comparisons) and electricity ($0.12 a kWh), and an average usage of 15,000 miles a year. The sales prices are unknown, as are any possible government incentives, but assuming the same hefty R100,000 price difference, how does this compare in South Africa?

Petrol here is more expensive than in the US, a $4.69 per gallon according to my calculations at current rates, and certain to increase quite substantially in July. Electricity prices vary according to the city and other factors, but are generally slightly cheaper here. That means that the payback period is already at the better end of the scale (5 years), and only likely to improve.

So an electric car, or the Nissan Leaf at least, seems to make both environmental and financial sense in South Africa.

The only argument against it is the limited range, quoted as “up to 200km” by Nissan. For the vast majority of most people’s trips, it’ll do just fine, but it will require a change in habits for longer trips, especially for the early adopters, when the fast-charge infrastructure won’t be widespread.

My son’s still got quite a few years to go before he needs to worry about driving, but I’m positive that by the time he starts thinking about it, the cars and cities of his time will be much cleaner than today’s.

And perhaps his first car will be a 10-year old Nissan Leaf.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

South Africa slumps in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index.

The 2013 World Press Freedom Index came out recently, and sadly, South Africa has slid alarmingly since I last blogged about it in 2007, and even more so when compared with its peak rating in 2003. Note that a lower score is better.

Year Score Ranking
2013 24.56 (-12.56) 52 (-10)
2012 12 (0) 42 (-4)
2010 12 (-3.5) 38 (-5)
2009 8.5 (-0.5) 33 (+3)
2008 8 (+5) 36 (+7)
2007 13 (-1.75) 43 (+1)
2006 11.25 (-4.75) 44 (-13)
2005 6.5 (-1.5) 31 (-5)
2004 5 (-1.66) 26 (-5)
2003 3.33 21 (+5)

Although the country still has a robust and critical press, it’s mainly the threat of the “Protection of State Information Bill” that sees South Africa slump well away from “good” to deep into the “satisfactory” category.

Sadly, things are even worse for the other BRICS countries, with Brazil (108th, -9) falling after a number of journalists were killed, India (140th, -9) also seeing increasing violence against journalists and increasing censorship, China still oppressively imprisoning many journalists (173rd, +1) and Russia (148th, -6) down too after an increase in repression.

Finland remains top for the fourth consecutive year, with a number of other Nordic and European countries filling out the “good” category, along with New Zealand and Jamaica.

Among African countries, Namibia and Cape Verde top the charts and are rated “good”, with Ghana, Botswana, Niger, Burkina Faso and the Comoros all ahead of South Africa with satisfactory ratings.

A number of other African countries saw big gains, including Malawi up 71 and the Ivory Coast up 63. In the Western Hemisphere, the United States, recovering from its crackdown on the Occupy Movement, gained 15 positions up to 32nd in the world, while Canada lost ground after its obstruction of journalists during the “Maple Spring” student movement, and increasingly oppressive legislation, leaving Jamaica as the freest country in the hemisphere.

The gains are offset by a number of countries seeing worsening situations. Mali, after the coup and insurgency there, fell 74 positions, and Tanzania 36 positions after the murder of two journalists. The other big faller was Japan, down 31 positions after restricting all access to information about the Fukushima disaster.

Here’s hoping that, wherever you are in the world, 2013 will see you a little freer to have your say.

Read the full report on the Reporters Without Borders site.

Related Posts:

US election news you may not have heard about

Listening to the US presidential candidates talking about who is more supportive of coal, or who will be tougher on foreign affairs, it can be easy to believe nothing will change, or that voting makes little difference. But there were real choices on offer, and 2012 saw many firsts. Here’s my summary of some of the more interesting results you may not have heard about.

It’s not all about the presidential elections, and the president is in many ways quite constrained. Hopefully many of these positive changes in the lower levels of US government will bring positive changes throughout the whole system,

April 2012 African language Wikipedia update

It’s been about five months since I last looked in detail at the South African language Wikipedias, and there’s been significant progress in three of the languages.

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 1/10/2007 30/5/2010 19/11/2011 13/4/2012
Afrikaans 8374 15260 20042 22115
Northern Sotho** 0 540* 557 566
Tswana 40 103 240 490
Zulu 107 195 256 483
Swati 56 173 359 361
Tsonga 10 174 192 193
Venda 43 162 193 190
Sotho 43 69 132 145
Xhosa 66 115 125 136

Afrikaans remains by far the largest official South African language Wikipedia and continues to develop. It’s a healthy, thriving project with many good articles. Northern Sotho has been fairly stagnant since becoming an official project, but the good news comes in the next two on the list. Tswana has more than doubled in size to pass both Swati and Zulu, the primary reason being the Google Setswana challenge. Google offered prizes for participants, including a trip to attend the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual conference in Washington DC, USA, as well as netbooks, android phones and so on. It’s encouraging that although the contest is now over, there is still fairly heavy development going on, and hopefully this will be sustained.

Zulu has also seen good progress, adding 227 articles since the last update. There’s no Google to thank this time – the progress has mostly been due to a single highly active editor, a native English speaker and Zulu, French and Afrikaans translator, testament to the difference just one dedicated contributor can make.

The other languages have seen almost no progress. Particularly disappointing has been Xhosa. I know of at least three Xhosa Wikipedia workshops that have taken place, at the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and with the provincial government, and yet it still remains as the smallest of the official South African language Wikipedias.

Moving on to Africa in general, which I haven’t looked at in detail for about a year, there’s been much positive progress.

African Language Wikipedias

Language 1/1/2007 30/5/2010 11/2/2011 13/4/2012
Malagasy   2450 3806 36767
Yoruba 517 8858 12174 29894
Swahili 2980 17998 21244 23481
Afrikaans 6149 15259 17002 22115
Amharic 742 3810 6738 11572
Egyptian Arabic       8433
Somali     1639 2354
Lingala 292 1255 1394 1816
Kinyarwanda     1501 1807
Wolof   1068 1096 1116

Swahili, which has been the largest African language Wikipedia for so long, has been dramatically surpassed in size by both Malagasy and Yoruba.

The Malagasy Wikipedia, with its unique characteristics, is beloved by linguists and I believe many of the contributors are non-native speakers. Most of the contributors work in Malagasy or French, and I haven’t been able to understand the reasons for its particularly rapid rise.

Yoruba too has seen a dramatic increase. but surprisingly Swahili, which seemed to be in good shape a few months ago, has slowed noticeably, and even Afrikaans is starting to catch up in size.

I’d previously overlooked the Egyptian Arabic Wikipedia, and have added it to the comparison. It was launched in 2008 (being announced at the Alexandra Wikimania conference), so taking into account its late start, as well as some initial opposition to its existence as a separate project to standard Arabic, it’s growing well, at the third fastest rate behind Malagasy and Yoruba.

Progress in the other languages is steady, and it’s great to see the development of these projects towards an actual usable resource.

Related articles

SOPA and moving from GoDaddy

Late last year I moved most of my domains that I was hosting with GoDaddy to a new registrar, and the rest will follow closer to expiry.

For those who don’t know, in October, Lamar Smith, a US congressman, introduced a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The bill is a hideous monstrosity allowing the US government to, in essence, break the internet. While the bill only has jurisdiction in the US, and its consequences will be severe there, so much of the internet as we know it is based in the US, and this puts things at risk worldwide. I’m not going to discuss more about SOPA now, but here are some SOPA resources if you want to read more.

SOPA Resources:

So SOPA’s a bad idea, and almost everyone in the online world has come out strongly against it. However, the world’s largest domain registrar, GoDaddy, initially released a statement strongly supportive of the bill. GoDaddy have been in the news before. In early 2011 their CEO, Bob Parsons, videod himself shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe, leading to a boycott led by PETA.

But with their support of SOPA, they very quickly ran into much more widespread opposition. It began with a thread on popular news site reddit (which could not host in the US if SOPA was passed), and was given further publicity when Jimmy Wales announced that Wikipedia would be moving its domains.

There are many companies that support SOPA, but the main reason GoDaddy have been successfully targeted is that it is so easy to move domains. After a domain is registered, you normally forget about it, and it simply generates ongoing income for the registrar each year. However, moving is painless, a once-off process, you can again forget about it, safe in the knowledge that your money won’t be supporting GoDaddy each year.

Since I started moving, late last year, GoDaddy backtracked, and SOPA has faced increasing opposition and almost certainly won’t be passed in its current form, as even Barack Obama has come out against it.

Who did I choose as an alternative? There are a large number of top-level registrars accredited by ICANN, the non-profit group that effectively administers the internet (and which took over from the US government in 1998). As far as I know, the only South African company accredited (for .biz, .com, .net and .org only) is Internet Solutions – everyone else will be a reseller.

Moving gave me an opportunity to decide who I wished to support, and I eventually settled on Gandi.net. They’re a well-respected registrar based in France, and in 2010 they were the 27th largest worldwide. They will also donate $1 from every transfer to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and besides opportunistically taking advantage of the publicity, they consistently provide real support to a number of other worthy institutions, such as Creative Commons, Debian, the WWF and Spamhaus.

Investigating prices, their annual fee of $15 was $3 more than GoDaddy, but after deciding to move I was surprised to see they were only charging $8. I had the option to pay in Euros, but when I chose this, the rate went up to 9 Euro, or about $11.65. I went back to pay in dollars!

I wrote most of this post last year, and it appears since that the boycott and widespread opposition have been successful. Even the US president has now come out against SOPA in its current form. Still, removing some of the more insidious clauses doesn’t make for a good bill, but the spotlight is clearly shining, it’ll be difficult to sneak anything through, and companies will be resistant to publicly supporting something like this after the GoDaddy debacle.

Although there are always some that are immune to any criticism