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Venezuela: Who are the colectivos?

Caracas, Venezuela – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido arrived at a rally of several hundred waiting supporters last month in San Bernardino, a middle-class Caracas neighbourhood. 

The stage where Guaido was set to speak was at the bottom of a long narrow street, where men, women and children had gathered. 

Not long after Guaido arrived, tear gas engulfed the area, thrown by masked and heavily armed civilians on motorcycles.

From the stage, an organiser appealed to the crowd to crouch down, stay calm and not run, especially given the large number of elderly people and children there.

As soon as the gas dissipated, Guaido got on the stage just as more motorcycled men began firing live rounds, presumably to frighten off the opposition leader. He refused to budge. On this occasion, no one was killed or injured.

Venezuelans call these irregular armed gangs colectivos or collectives, while the UN Human Rights Commission describes them as para-police, or paramilitary forces loyal to President Nicolas Maduro.

Government opponents and protesters fear them far more than the police or the National Guard. 

For years, they have served as an unofficial, parallel force to confront demonstrators with impunity. Often, they do not bother to cover their faces or hide their identities, as they move in to “keep social order” on behalf of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution.

But for embattled President Maduro and his supporters, the collectivos are likened to “angels of socialism”.

“I admire them. They are organisations created for the good of the community. The collectives work for society, for the sick, for peace, and against crime. They have been around for 20 years as a form of organisation of the people,” said Maduro, the day after the San Bernardino incident.

He did not explain how they obtain tear gas – which is only supposed to be issued to riot police and National Guardsmen – or why many have licenses to carry weapons issued by security forces.

The San Bernardino incident came more than two months after Guaido invoked the Constitution to assume the interim presidency, declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election illegitimate. Maduro accuses Guaido and the United States of attempting a coup. 

Since then, rival protests have often led to violent clashes between protesters and security forces, or often the colectivos. 

‘People power’

The colectivos’ origins date back to the 1960s, when leftist urban rebel groups inspired by the Cuban Revolution formed in Venezuela‘s working-class neighbourhoods to fight for social justice. Groups like the Tupamaros robbed banks and stole cars to finance their organisations. 

By the time Chavez was elected in 1999, they’d given up on armed insurrection and decided to support his “Socialism of the 21st Century”. Chavez encouraged and subsidised the formation of old and new “collectives”, as guardians of the revolution. Many were given weapons.

Not all colectivos are alike, nor do they all function as paramilitary groups, there are colectivos that do community work and promote government social programmes.

Former urban guerrilla Juan Contreras leads the Simon Bolivar colectivo in the emblematic 23 de Enero working-class neighbourhood of Caracas, where he runs a community radio.

He is dedicated and tireless in the defence of “people’s power”. On the day I met him, he was screaming through a megaphone to alert residents to come and buy government subsidised fish for the Easter weekend.

Long gone, he said, are the days when he walked around carrying a gun, although, of course, he knows how to use one.

“I am a member of the Bolivarian Popular Militia now. If I have to take up arms and defend the revolution, that is from where I will do it,” Contreras said. 

But there are other colectivos that have been using their weapons for years for other purposes.

They are well known for carrying out extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, running extortion networks and controlling lucrative food distribution networks in the community, as well as trafficking in petrol and drugs along the border with Colombia

Valentin Santana, the leader of the La Pedrita colectivo, arguably Caracas’s largest and most powerful group, remains free and visible even though three arrest warrants have been issued against him for murder and attempted murder.

On April 30, the day of Guaido’s unsuccessful attempt to inspire a military uprising, Santana brandished an assault rifle in a video posted on Twitter, in which he announced the time had come to defend the revolution with weapons in hand.

The next day, a paramilitary group fired live rounds at demonstrators from a government building in the opposition stronghold of Altamira. State police unsuccessfully attempted to confront the “delinquents”.

The following day, the police director of operations who had commanded the operative was summarily dismissed for interfering with the gunmen.

Some argue that the government has lost control of these armed civilian bands. They do not answer to a single chain of command. But even the most unsavoury groups remain useful for intimidating, harassing, or forcibly mobilising their communities when necessary.

‘Acts of state terrorism’

On February 23, the day that Maduro’s opponents attempted to bring in truckloads of food and medicine from neighbouring Colombia, I witnessed just how efficient the pro-government paramilitary groups can be. 

When tear gas and rubber bullets did not seem to deter a group of some 600 government opponents on the Venezuela side of the border in San Antonio, National Guardsmen withdrew and cleared the way for the masked men on motorcycles. Immediately, people began running, terrified.

The men fired at the crowd and at the adjacent buildings for at least two hours until the main street leading up to the Simon Bolivar Bridge looked like an abandoned war zone. It’s unclear how many people were injured. I saw at least two people being dragged away, one with a gunshot wound to the head, while the masked men refused to let ambulances through.

When it was over, the para-militaries began looting a large sports store. Eventually, National Guardsmen arrived, joining in as the paramilitaries picked through t-shirts, backpacks and other choice items.

Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez claimed the armed civilians were “Colombian paramilitaries” – an argument that many on the border didn’t buy. 

The opposition-controlled National Assembly has designated these civilian bands as “terrorist groups” that carry out ” violent paramilitary actions, intimidation, murder and other crimes” described as “acts of state terrorism”.

But, despite an international outcry against the use of these groups in recent weeks, Maduro has come out firmly in their defence. And amid the continued attempts by his opponents to force him from office, he has called on the collectives – without distinction – to take to the streets “to every corner to defend the Revolution”.

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Premier League Show: Man City fans re-live Sergio Aguero goal from 2012 title win

Three famous Manchester City supporters – Tom Ogden from Blossoms, Natalie Pav and Cel Spellman – relive Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal in 2012.

Watch the full film on The Premier League Show, Thursday 9 May at 19:00 BST on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.

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Google is adding 53 gender-fluid emoji to Android Q – The Verge

Google is releasing 53 new gender-fluid emoji on Pixel phones in beta this week, and will add them to all Android Q phones later this year. Fast Company reports that the emoji, which have been specifically designed to appear neither male nor female, are Google’s attempt at simplifying the emoji keyboard with more universal characters. It’s a modern interpretation of emoji’s previous default: the little yellow man.

The number of emoji has ballooned to over 3,000 since the original 176 symbols were released back in 1999. Some of these are entirely new characters and symbols, but others are new race and gender combinations for existing emoji. The current approach is more inclusive, but it has its problems. It makes the emoji keyboard more difficult to parse, and even then it’s almost impossible to include every possible combination of skin tone and gender in emoji featuring multiple people.

Another problem is that emoji designs sometime have different genders when the core Unicode standard doesn’t specify one. For example, Google’s design for the person in a sauna is female, but on iOS the character is male. This means the emoji’s gender can change when messages are sent between platforms, creating confusion.

Google’s new approach, which we saw the first signs of last year in Android Pie, is to create emoji designs that could conceivably be either male or female. The approach varies between the different characters. Some have genderless mid-length hair, while the dracula emoji has had its clothes changed to an androginous chain rather than a bow-tie (male) or choker (female). Meanwhile, the genderless merperson has its arms crossed in front of its bare chest to obscure it.

Gender is a spectrum, in emoji format.
Image: Google

There’s no singular way of getting it right,” admits Google designer Jennifer Daniel to Fast Company. “Gender is complicated. It is an impossible task to communicate gender in a single image. It’s a construct. It lives dynamically on a spectrum. I personally don’t believe there is one visual design solution at all, but I do believe to avoid it is the wrong approach here. We can’t avoid race, gender, any other number of things in culture and class. You have to stare it in the face in order to understand it. That’s what we’re trying to do–to [find] the signifiers that make something feel either male or female, or both male and female.”

For now, the 53 new emoji are exclusively a Google project, meaning that if you send them to a non-Google smartphone they’ll still be assigned a gender. However, Daniel thinks that other companies will eventually adopt a similar approach. In the long-term, Daniel wants all emoji to be more universal. That doesn’t mean the old gendered emoji will disappear (they could still be accessible via a contextual menu) but the gender inclusive emoji could become the new default on the emoji keyboard.

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Where antibiotics fail, ‘bacteria-eating’ viruses may prevail

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Free from a customs union, where could post-Brexit Britain get its food?

Free from a customs union, where could post-Brexit Britain get its food?

The US, China and Mexico dominate as global exporters
The US, China and Mexico dominate as global exporters

Kerry Squires/The Telegraph

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are locked in Brexit negotiations that may lead to the UK remaining in a customs union and unable to strike-up trade deals with the rest of the world.

A new Telegraph analysis has revealed the UK currently does very little trade with some of the world’s largest exporters of major food products, instead importing more than 70 per cent of its food stuffs from the EU in 2017.

You can use our tool below to see who the biggest non-EU exporters are for a range of different food products. The tool also tells you how much of a given product we currently get from the EU and how much we get from each non-EU country.

For 76 of the 119 food products analysed by The Telegraph, the leading non-EU exporter provided less than five per cent of the UK’s import share of that product.

For example, Brazil controls over 30 per cent of the world’s chicken exports, but the UK imported less than one in 100 of its imported chickens from Brazil in 2017.

US, China and Mexico dominate in key export markets

While different countries specialise in exporting different types of food, analysing the data reveals that there are a few non-EU export powerhouses who dominate in multiple different commodity markets.

The United States stands head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to food exports – out of all non-EU countries it controls the largest export market share for 29 of the 119 products examined, well clear of second-placed China on 17.

This includes several key products that the UK mostly imports from other countries at present, such as corn (32.5 per cent of global exports), wheat (15.7 per cent), pork (15.5 per cent) and beef (14 per cent).

China, Mexico and Canada also have large market shares in a number of commodities important to the UK including beer, apples, pears, crab and lobster.

Food safety and protecting British farmers are key concerns

Eurosceptic Tory MPs are keen to see the UK leave the Customs Union as part of any Brexit deal, but this is far from the only barrier that exists should the UK look to sign new trade agreements with the rest of the world.

Food safety standards is a key issue, along with the potential for British farmers to get undercut by cheap low-quality imports.

President of the National Farmers Union, Minette Batters, said: “The potential for Government to unilaterally lower import tariffs on food could lead to British farmers being undercut by food coming into the country which may have been produced to lower standards than is legally required of UK farmers.”

Signing new trade deals is also a slow process, requiring years of negotiations, meaning that even if we leave the EU and Customs Union there is unlikely to be much change in the short term.

Potential long-term benefits to food security

Despite these barriers, other expert commentators have argued that such restrictions are damaging to the UK’s food security, and have encouraged the Government to take a more ambitious look at global free trade.

Matt Kilcoyne, trade expert at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Diversity of imports is the ultimate food security. If crops fail in one part of the world, imports mean we can all keep eating. It’s meant life is both more secure, and more affordable.

“Those who oppose the UK having a more independent trade policy, and support preserving a protectionist bloc on the continent, should explain why they want to drive up the cost of living, keep choice low and scuttle a key benefit of Brexit.”

The UK imported £30.4 billion worth of food and drink from the EU in 2017 according to the ONS, but these figures could drop after Brexit.

Despite fears over such a fall in trade, some experts have argued that the UK should embrace the lifting of barriers with other countries and reducing its reliance on the EU.


Global export and import data for all 119 products was sourced from the UN’s Comtrade database and categorised using the Harmonised System (HS) standard.

This data contained the value for all exports from every country in 2017. This was used to calculate the proportion of the global export market controlled by each country for each commodity. The same was done to calculate each country’s contribution to the UK’s food imports.

Export figures for EU nations were included when calculating each country’s export market share and UK import share.

Trade freedom is a composite measure of the absence of tariff and non-tariff barriers affecting trade, the measure is calculated by the Heritage Foundation.

Some discrepancies may exist between a country’s reported export figures and the corresponding partner country’s import figures. These discrepancies arise for a variety of reasons including time lag and goods passing via third countries.

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Alexander Korda, the movie mogul who spied for Britain

Alexander Korda, the movie mogul who spied for Britain

Securing an appointment with Alexander Korda was one of the toughest jobs in the movies. “Come see me Thursday,” he’d say, through a haze of cigar smoke, dooming some screenwriter or starlet to hours of fruitless waiting. On March 26 1946, however, two men arrived at his Hollywood office and were buzzed straight in. Marcus Bright and Harold Trapp did not want an audition, or to pitch a script idea. They were special agents from the FBI. They had come to discover if Korda – producer of Things to Come (1936) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940), divorced husband of screen goddess Merle Oberon, movie mogul with offices in London, New York and Los Angeles – was a spy.

That day in 1946, Bright and Trapp…

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First details of Dyson’s plans for electric car emerge

The first details of Dyson’s electric car have emerged with the publication of patents and a memo from the company’s billionaire founder which call on staff to keep the automotive plans secret.

Sir James Dyson said plans were on track for a launch in 2021 for a car “entirely designed by Dyson, manufactured by Dyson, and sold by Dyson”.

The car would contain “fundamentally new technologies and make some inventive leaps” Sir James told staff, meaning it was vital that they “protect it with patents”.

Advances will come in the aerodynamics, efficiency and vehicle architecture – how the car is laid out – Sir James said.

He admitted that drawings in the patents “certainly don’t reveal what our vehicle…

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Fortune 100 companies received $399 billion in federal funding over 4 years

Fortune 100 companies received $399 billion in federal funding between the 2014 and 2017 fiscal years, according to a report from transparency organization OpenTheBooks. 

The report found that in the four years measured, the top 10 companies on the Fortune 100 list received $338 billion from the federal government. Almost all of the money—$393 billion—was provided in contracts, but $3.2 billion in government grants was also given out. The report noted that the recipients of the federal funds spent significant amounts of money lobbying for their own interests.

Several recipients of the highest amounts of federal funding were in the defense or pharmaceutical industries. Lockheed Martin received almost $138 billion, and Boeing received over $82 billion. McKesson, a pharmaceutical company, received over $30.1 billion, and insurance company Humana received close to $13.8 billion.

More than showing public waste, the study showed the vast amounts sums involved in military spending, Robert Weissman, the president of consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen, told Newsweek. Weissman said the study seemed to point at “the claim there’s a gigantic military budget, and a huge percent of it goes to contractors. Implicit is the criticism, I think, which we would certainly share, that the military budget should be much smaller than it is.” 

The federal government allocated $611 billion, or 15 percent of the budget, for defense and international security assistance activities in 2017, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Weissman said that the report from OpenTheBooks should be contextualized within a broader dynamic of government funding mechanisms.

“These are companies that lobby for government spending to purchase [their] products and services,” he said. “In the area of defense, there’s a huge amount of waste and failed products,”

GettyImages-909685422 Fortune 100 companies received $399 billion in federal funding between the 2014 and 2017 fiscal years, according to a recent report. Win McNamee/Getty Image

OpenTheBooks regularly tracks government spending and produces reports on waste, such as spending rushes at the end of each fiscal year.

“A lot of this stuff has a legitimate public purpose, that’s true, because if you need a fighter jet or a nuclear submarine you have to buy them from the people who make those things,” Adam Andrzejewski, the founder and CEO of the organization, told The Washington Times. 

“But these are some of the most wealthy, connected, elite companies in the world,” he added. “Especially with the grants, these amount to giveaways for a myriad of projects, none of which the U.S. taxpayer has any equity interest in the future.”

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Fleck survives after WP top brass meet over his job

2019-05-09 06:52

Robbie Fleck (Gallo)

Robbie Fleck (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It appears as though Robbie Fleck will see out his tenure as Stormers coach this year’s Super Rugby competition.

Netwerk24 reported on Wednesday that WP Rugby’s board held a meeting on Tuesday night where it was decided that Fleck would remain in his position.

There were earlier reports that Fleck was given an ultimatum late last month that victories in the matches against the Bulls in Cape Town and Jaguares in Buenos Aires would be non-negotiable.

The Stormers beat the Bulls 24-23 but lost 30-25 to the Argentinean side last weekend.

However, the Stormers are still in the playoffs race – they currently occupy eighth spot overall and are therefore in a wildcard playoff position.

Four of their remaining five league matches are at home and it was therefore decided to keep Fleck in his position.

It was already confirmed earlier in the year that this would be Fleck’s last Super Rugby campaign, with John Dobson confirmed as Stormers coach for the 2020 season.

Many have called for Dobson to be elevated to the head coaching position sooner, with the Stormers playing uninspiring rugby under Fleck.

They have won only five of 11 games and have scored the fewest tries (22) in the competition to date.

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Fishermen fight to survive on the world’s second largest lake

This article was created in partnership with the National Geographic Society.

On the edge of town, Ssebulime Kisakye is building a church. Behind the closed fish-processing factory, on a quiet beach covered in scraggly grass, he has erected a frame of raw timbers and a rough-hewn pulpit.

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Boats cut through heavy chop on Lake Victoria after a night of fishing. Many fishermen there don’t know how to swim, but storms also churn up the lake and can make for a good catch.

“It is important for my church to be here so that the lake can cleanse sinners,” he says, wearing a clerical collar and looking through the outline of walls at Lake Victoria. “These are people who have done bad things.”

But along the shores of this 26,600-square-mile lake, the second largest freshwater body in the world, separating the good from the bad and the saints from the sinners is a complicated task.

The sinners Kisakye has in mind are the fishermen who, enabled by corrupt officials, caught so many fish, mostly Nile perch and Nile tilapia, that the fish plant here had to close in 2014. Some of those fishermen were refugees just trying to scrape out a living.

Ecologists, meanwhile, might blame other sinners for the current state of Lake Victoria: the British colonial authorities who, in the 1950s and 1960s, first stocked the lake with invasive perch and tilapia. They succeeded in creating a valuable commercial fishery—fish are Uganda’s second largest export, after coffee—but also a spectacular decline of native fish, one that has become a textbook example of human-caused extinction.

And finally, there are the latest characters in Lake Victoria’s drama: the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF), dispatched in 2017 by President Yoweri Museveni to eradicate illegal fishing. Fish stocks do seem to be increasing again—but some poor fishermen have lost their livelihoods, and it’s alleged that some even lost their lives or their homes to violence perpetrated by the soldiers.

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Ssebulime Kisakye is building a church on the beach in Kasensero, Uganda. “It is important for my church to be here so that the lake can cleanse sinners,” he says. “These are people who have done bad things.”

Nevertheless, in Kasensero, the mood is hopeful now. Fishermen who had predicted the end of their business when I first visited in 2015 are hailing a new beginning.

Kisakye sees it too. His flock is still small; some Sundays he cancels service when no one comes to his unfinished church. But as he watches his daughter play in the garden that he and his wife planted, he tells me his dream will be fulfilled as the fishery around Kasensero recovers.

Prized perch

One morning I watched at dawn as the Kasensero fishing fleet started to coast into the beach. Gangs of men hurried to pull up the heavy, wooden boats, chanting encouragement and drumming on the gunwales as they heaved them onto the sand. A pilot, sleepy after a night on the lake in an open pirogue, climbed to the center of the vessel and lifted a tarp with a flourish, showing off the catch.

Nile perch, silver with spiny dorsal fins, are the primary target; they can grow to more than 400 pounds and are valuable both on the European market, where they’re sold as whitefish alongside cod, and in China, where dried swim bladders fetch a high price. On this morning, there were no huge perch, but the boat had a sizable load nonetheless. The pilot took a smaller one for his supper while fish mongers gathered around, counting out fish and tossing them into a pile.

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Fish mongers weigh a large Nile perch and take it to a refrigerator truck.

Since the 1990s, when the population of predatory perch first boomed at the expense of smaller native fish, fishing has provided a rare path to cash income for subsistence farmers around the lake—in Kenya and Tanzania as well as Uganda. That opportunity set off a frenzy on the water. What had been a small fleet of artisanal fishing canoes expanded to 200,000 boats, many of them larger and motorized, scrambling for their share of the catch.

The result was predictable. From its peak in 2002, the Nile perch stock dropped in half by 2008, as first the large breeding fish were pulled out of the lake, and then even the tiny, immature perch were targeted, in part to feed the black market in neighboring Congo. Fishermen often took their pay straight to bars, brothels, and sports betting stands to at least enjoy their cash while they could. Between then and 2013, legal fish exports fell by 30 percent.

For years, it seemed like no one noticed. Scarcity kept fish prices high, corruption kept bureaucrats quiet when they found illegal gear, and many fishermen joked that President Museveni, whose family had been cow herders, must not understand the value of the lake. In early 2015, some fishermen started to fear that their industry was collapsing. Some even began to buy cattle themselves.

But then, as the 2016 election season kicked off, Museveni took a sudden interest in fish. He disbanded the locally elected Beach Management Units and neutered the federal Fisheries Office, with the stated goal of culling corruption. By the end of 2017, after Museveni had sent a UPDF division to Lake Victoria, Anthony Tabuu-Munyaho, director of the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFiRRI), announced that Nile perch biomass had risen by 30 percent.

The fisherman and the president

As the fish were unloaded that morning, Kwiizera Fred towered quietly above the fray, watching as offers were made, cash paid, and fish were transferred into waiting refrigerator trucks. He owns the boat, as well as a string of others that landed nearby. When the catch is as good as this one, he makes a steady profit.

And, in 2018, almost everyone in Kasensero seemed to be hauling in big loads of fish. For that, many thanked Fred.

When fish stocks were faltering, nearly anyone on the beach could point to the problem. Everyone had to make ends meet, from the poorest men who untangled nets to the district fisheries officer who watched over the landing site, and catching fish was one of scant few ways to bring capital into the community. So, though it was clear that illegal fishing methods—like using small-gauge nets to harvest tiny fish before they had a chance to breed—were unsustainable, it was difficult to fight against the desperation of a neighbor and the corruption of an official.

As the fish stocks were depleted, nearly everyone had to do some illegal fishing to stay afloat, locals say. Even the members of the Beach Management Unit, citizens locally elected by fishermen to protect the fishery in co-management with the federal government, were allegedly threatened with violence or jail time in corrupt courts when they tried to do their jobs.

It was a vicious tragedy of the commons that seemed impossible to solve without dramatic intervention.

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Fish mongers load Nile perch into refrigerator trucks. They will go to a processing plant and then to the European market.

“Previously, we had very many problems and we told them to the fisheries officers, but they didn’t tell them to the president,” Fred said, sitting in the shade of a hut on the beach. “The fisheries officers were the beneficiaries of illegal fishing.” Though these bureaucrats were directed and empowered to solve the problem, he said, they had no incentive to do so.

But then, in November 2015, Museveni announced that he was dissolving the Beach Management Units and disempowering the fisheries officers. In the summer of 2016, the president visited several lake towns, meeting with members of the Association of Fishers and Lake Users (AFALU). He used the opportunity to upbraid the fishing community.

“The president said that the fishermen have destroyed their own lake,” said Fred. That claim frustrated Fred: Some of the fishermen had tried to fight corruption but had been punished by the president’s own officials and the police they commanded. Fred stood up in the crowd and criticized Museveni.

He expected to be punished, but instead the president invited him to the State House, the presidential residence in Entebbe, for a private meeting. Five other fishers around the lake who had also challenged the president at similar events went together to Entebbe.

Calling in the soldiers

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“When the fishermen are catching a lot of fish, they order more boats,” says boatbuilder Joseph Tamale. In 2018, Tamale and his team built more than 180 open-hulled, wooden vessels for fishermen in Kasensero and even a few for a Tanzanian town a few miles to the south.

Knowing that Museveni feared the kind of rebellion that he himself had once ridden to power, Fred and the others described how illegal fish were being smuggled into neighboring Congo, where rebel groups were based.

“I asked for the army,” he said, believing that they would be less corrupt than other Ugandan institutions. Within months, “the UPDF was given authority to take care of the lake.”

Members of AFALU were asked to contribute a sum of money every month to help fund the military intervention, and Fred was proud to do so.

“The fish is ok. I get money,” he explained as the dozen or so men he employs sat nearby, gambling over a card game to pass the hottest hours of the day.

Although the director of NaFFRI announced a rebound of Nile perch within months of the crackdown, fisheries stock specialists at the institute say that it will take until close to 2020 to document a scientifically significant increase in the population. But data from a 2018 hydro-acoustic survey shows an increase in the average fish size, particularly in the Uganda part of the lake.

On the beach in Kasensero, fishermen said they already feel a change.

“Between 2013 and 2015, most people ran out of the business,” Kaweesi William said, watching boats bob offshore. Though he owns a small fleet, he said, for a while his catch was so low that he had to take his eight-year-old daughter out of school because he could no longer afforded the tuition.

In the worst months, each of his boats were grossing less than 500,000 shillings (about $135), out of which he had to pay upkeep and fuel costs, and then split the profits with the boat pilot and the first mate.

“Nowadays, a boat can make a profit of 8,000,000 per month,” he beamed. His daughter is back in school.

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Boys catch minnows on the shore.

The 2018 fishing season lasted longer than any in years and, optimistic about the shift, many fishermen ordered new boats.

“Last year, we stopped working in the fifth month and rested a long time,” said Joseph Tamale, a boat builder. “This year, no rest.”

Some fishermen were even eying more expensive purchases. One morning on the beach, as I was drinking milky tea with two boat owners, they asked how much I thought it would cost for them to import a Jeep. Could I send them one? they wondered.

Controversial enforcement

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“For those of us who are patient, things are getting better,” says Mama Namaganda at her fish and vegetable stall in Bukoba Road Market. Her business almost collapsed when the military crackdown drove some of her customers out of town, but, as the fishery has started to improve, business has picked back up.

The NAFiRRI report on the 2018 hydro-acoustic survey concluded that the increase in fish size in Lake Victoria “may possibly be attributed to the current effort to combat illegality using the military. It should be noted, however, that such interventions can have other undesirable effects.”

Kagalula, who only goes by one name, says he is someone who felt such effects. As we spoke one day in Kasensero, he was gazing at an empty patch of sand between wooden huts where his own home used to stand, before, he said, it was burned to the ground by the UPDF.

He was away that day, but his neighbors told him later that a pile of illegally small nets had been found sitting outside his house. It remains unclear who owned the nets, but at the time the soldiers threatened to burn down the whole neighborhood if they weren’t told who was to blame. The neighbors allegedly pointed their fingers at Kagalula, and his house was set ablaze.

“They burned even the mattress,” he said, as goats wandered past. “The nets were not mine!”

The military declined to discuss specific incidents. But similar reports are common around the lake. In January 2018, Emmanuel Mutaizibwa, the investigative editor for NTV News and the Daily Monitor newspaper, published a story documenting the deaths of multiple fishermen during UPDF raids and accusing the soldiers of extrajudicial killings. The government has officially denied the accusations, though members of parliament have continued to protest what they call heavy-handed policing on the lake.

Kagalula had to restart his life from scratch and now lives in a ragged straw hut.

The costs of the crackdown and the benefits of the fishing boom haven’t been spread equally in Kasensero: There is a strong divide between the rich and the poor. Mostly, the rich own boats that can motor deep into the lake and they hire pilots to take the physical risk of fishing. Poor boat owners have to paddle their smaller boats themselves and rely on the cheapest gear available, which is often illegal.

When the UPDF started cracking down, they seized illegal gear whenever they found it, often burning large piles of small-gauge nets on the beach. Rich and poor fishermen alike lost equipment, but, while the rich were able to afford legal nets, the poor often went broke when their nets went up in smoke.

“The big players are the ones who win,” said Paluku Theophile. “But most of the population, in most cases, win nothing.”

Theophile used to trade in illegal fish, buying them cheaply on the shore, salting them, and smuggling them into the Democratic Republic of Congo. He and his wife Katungu Mwasimuke originally landed in Kasensero after fleeing violence in the DRC. An entrepreneurial couple, they found that smuggling fish to their war-torn home country was the cheapest business they could start.

When the UPDF arrived, the soldiers cut off the couple’s fish processing almost overnight.

Mwasimuke fled back to Congo with the children. Unable to afford any other kind of fishing, Theophile ended up going into the nearby cane fields, taking the backbreaking work of processing sugar. At night, he works in his brother’s shop stall.

Residents of Kasensero point to whole sections of town where fishermen packed up their houses board for board and left. And scientists say this probably accounts for some of the increased catch: There are fewer boats on the water. But some locals ask if the social cost is too high—and hope for some relief as Museveni, who has been in office 33 years, looks toward the 2021 elections.

“With the last two years of his term, he’s going to let us come back, tell the military to go away, leave the people alone and let us do our illicit fishing,” Theophile said.

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BHA, a small petrol company, has invested in a new station in Kasensero, bringing the amenities of the big city—like lights, a paved driveway, and new gas pumps—to the small town. “We saw the demand is very high,” beamed manager Bambire Gilbert, “so we were forced to come and open.”

New hope (and gas pumps)

Kayumba John is one of those who thinks that, over the long term, “there has been a tremendous change for the better” in Kasensero.

When he and his brothers arrived in 1994, the town was a collection of small huts. They had fled the genocide in Rwanda, but were reminded of it every day as bodies of their countrymen flooded out of the nearby Kagera River and washed up on shore in Kasensero.

But, the brothers bought boats and caught fish when they were plentiful, becoming wealthy. They built the first gas station in town and John’s house was one of the first to have a metal roof instead of traditional thatch.

John is a jovial man with seemingly unlimited reserves of paternal instincts, buying sodas for friends and hosting afternoon gatherings to play a local board game. He supports nearly 30 children, between his own, a dozen of his late brother’s, and another nine he has adopted over the years.

Though the crackdown on illegal fishing had side effects—John himself lost his position as chairman of Kasensero’s Beach Management Unit—he believes it was ultimately a good thing. “Now people will believe that things will keep getting better,” he said. Fishermen are investing in the future instead of planning exit strategies.

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Mama Baker prepares Nile perch at her restaurant. Her food is a little more expensive than many of the market stalls, but she has done a steady enough business to send her children to college in Kampala.

Even outside investors are coming to town. A company from the city of Masaka has built a new gas station; under the only street lights in town a steady stream of motorcycles, refrigerator trucks, and boat captains line up to fill their tanks. There’s even a new hotel. And near Ssebulime Kisakye’s church, the shuttered fish-processing factory was recently bought by a Kenyan who expects to re-open it soon and employ dozens of workers.

John’s fishing company is called Besiga Mukama: “Those Who Believe in God.” It seems like his faith is finally paying off. “I had the vision before, but people didn’t stand by it,” John mused. “I am very, very, very grateful.” He has decided to run for mayor.

This story was supported by a
National Geographic Society Storytelling grant. Alec Jacobson is a writer and photojournalist and National Geographic Explorer. You can see more of his work at
www.alecjacobsonphoto.com or on Instagram at @alec_jacobson.

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