Dear Mr. President

Jonathan Arnott   |   August 13, 2015    3:39 PM ET

The European Union has just released a video comparing the European Union to the federalised structure of the United States. Given President Obama's recent suggestion that Britain must stay in the European Union, I've written an open letter wondering what it would be like if America had to be part of an EU-like structure...

Dear President Obama,

I see you've told the United Kingdom that you should stay in the European Union. Politics is all about trying to understand other people's point of view, so I'm going to try to make it easy for you to understand mine. Put yourself in our shoes, and let's imagine together what it would be like if America had a fully-fledged equivalent to the European Union.

You could forget the US Constitution. The Republicans claim you forget it anyway, but the pan-American Union would be able to pass laws to override America's. Your Supreme Court would be allowed to keep the name but would no longer be in any way supreme; new pan-American courts would be able to overrule it - and they would, on a regular basis.

You're debating at the moment how best to police the border with Mexico. If you had a Union like ours, the answer would be very simple. To get into the United States and have the right to live or work there, all you'd have to do would be to show a Mexican passport. Or a Venezuelan, Argentinian or Canadian passport. Even if they had criminal records, it would be very difficult - bordering on impossible - to say no. To give some idea of the scale we're talking about, we had more immigration in the year 2010 alone than in all of the years from 1066 to 1950 put together. Imagine the social welfare bill that you'll create: lots of American workers will lose their jobs because they'll be undercut by the huge oversupply of migrant labour. The only upside is that it would annoy Donald Trump. A lot.

Actually that's pretty much the same excuse the British Labour Party gave to voters. Lord Mandleson described it as sending out 'search parties' for new immigrants, and one of Tony Blair's (George Bush's mate, remember?) advisers said they were doing it to 'rub the Right's noses in diversity'. Guess what? Labour have lost the next two elections.

Because you're a relatively prosperous nation, you'd have to pay in more than you get out. It'd be costing you about $1,750 per year for every family of 4 in the USA. Well, that's what we're paying in Europe. As you're relatively economically prosperous you'd probably have to pay more actually. Then you'd get roughly half of that money handed back to you in 'grants'. They'd tell you that they were giving you money, expect you to be grateful, and you'd have to take every opportunity to thank them for their overwhelming generosity.

Whilst we're on the subject of money, I know Americans are very keen on their petrol (you call it 'gas' but it's clearly a liquid to us) prices. Motorists at the pump are paying about $2.60 per gallon today in America. You'll have to introduce a new fuel tax of at least $1.55 per gallon. Then, on top of the whole price of the fuel, you'll have to add an extra sales tax (we call it VAT, and your bureaucrats are going to just love it, but more of that later) of at least 15%. By the time you're done, I'd say that American motorists would have to pay at least an extra $2 a gallon. I don't think your motorists would like that, but you might try to confuse them: you won't be measuring fuel in gallons any more, you'll be measuring it in litres. There's no choice about it, you're also going to have to convert to the metric system of measurements. So that it doesn't confuse people in Paraguay.

In America, the highest Sales Tax is in California at 7.5% but five states have no Sales Tax at all. You'll have to raise that to a minimum of 15% in Value Added Tax. But you know how a Sales Tax works, right? At the point of sale to the consumer, you charge the tax. VAT is a little more...complicated. At every stage of the manufacturing process, when you go from manufacturer to wholesaler, wholesaler to retailer, you charge VAT. Every time it's sold on, businesses can reclaim the VAT they've paid and charge it to the next business in the chain. It can be paid and reclaimed five or more times until finally the customer pays their tax. Think that's a recipe for fraud? It is. Think it adds massive red tape and makes your businesses uncompetitive? It does.

You know that trade deal, TTIP, that you're currently negotiating with Europe? The one that's causing all the stir about secret courts and opening the British NHS up to competition? Well, you can forget negotiating that trade deal on your own. You'd have a pan-American trade chief to negotiate your trade deals for you. Not in America's interests? Sorry, but it's that deal or no deal.

New pan-American laws would override your own. Forget whether they're actually needed in America or not. And all US businesses would have to abide by those laws, whether they traded outside the European Union or not. You'd get a new 'Parliament', but it would have very few actual powers. For arcane reasons no-one would quite be able to understand, once a month every month - regular as clockwork - it would pack its bags and move itself backwards and forwards between Chile and Brazil. The real power would lie with unelected bureaucrats. Despite America being a world power, you'd have one Commissioner just like any of the tiny countries in the continent of America.

You'd get a new anthem, a new flag to fly over your government buildings, and your soldiers would be allowed to fight and die under that flag. Foreign-flagged vessels would be welcome to fish your waters and you'd have an agricultural policy that would be the same for America as the more rural nations.

Have you given any thought to replacing the dollar with a new currency? It might be called something like the panamericano. In Europe, the new currency doesn't feature greats like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. It has pictures of a series of European bridges. Not real bridges, you'll understand: that might favour one country over another. Just pictures of things that look like they might be real bridges. It's all fake, which actually is a great metaphor for our European Union.

If you decided to join the new currency you'd share the same fiscal policy with the whole of South America. I know that Argentina's currency peg with the dollar didn't work out too well, but never mind: if you actually shared notes and coins too they'd pretty much be trapped into it, right? On the other hand you could, like the UK, decide not to join. Then whenever one of those countries that did join gets into trouble because it joined, your taxpayers get the privilege of writing a large cheque to bail them out.

You know how America has a vote at the World Trade Organisation and some influence in world affairs? You'd lose that. If you're anything like us, you'd be hugely unsuccessful. Our record in the Council of Ministers is 'played 55, lost 55' - that's worse even than your Chicago Bears did last season. We opposed 55 measures and were outvoted on every single one. So in theory you'd have a reasonable amount of influence but in practice you'd have next to none.

I'll finish this letter with a challenge. If you really believe that the UK should be a part of the European Union, why don't you propose a system like this for America? You could probably get Hillary to take it up. Might make your Presidential election a bit more interesting and give the Republicans a chance. You could be the man responsible for President Trump or President Jeb Bush. Maybe even President Carly Fiorina - imagine the look on Hillary's face if the Republicans had the first female President of the United States!

If you're not prepared to do this, please leave the UK to take our own democratic decisions without interference.

Many thanks,


Jonathan Arnott (UKIP Member of the European Parliament for North East England)

Countdown to Paris: Lessons from Obama

Natalie Bennett   |   August 7, 2015    1:06 PM ET

It's not often that one of the world's biggest polluters fills me with hope that we can tackle climate change. But yesterday President Obama showed leaders around the globe what climate action looks like, and his timing couldn't be better.

In the run-up to this December's vital negotiations on worldwide climate action, we ought to be seeing bold statements like Obama's from every country - particularly those, like Britain, that have contributed the most to the problems we are now facing.

Unfortunately, our own Prime Minister appears to be doing the opposite. In the three short months that David Cameron has led his Conservative government, he has waged war on the renewables industry, on the small businesses and workers who were making our homes more comfortable and affordable to heat, and attempted to "go all out" for fracking.

We never expected great environmental progress from an austerity-obsessed Tory government, but the scale of the attack we have seen on every small step Britain has made towards fighting climate change has been galling. Instead of setting out our stall as a world leader in renewables by embracing the exciting technologies that allow us to breathe cleaner air, democratise our energy supply and enjoy greater energy security, we are now increasing our reliance on finite fossil fuels.

And worse, David Cameron still claims we need to tackle climate change.

Too often our Prime Minister talks about safeguarding our environment while scouring it for places to erect new fracking wells. Too often he boasts of leading the "greenest government ever" moments before bemoaning "green crap". Too often he offers tax breaks for the oil industry while cutting green initiatives because they are "unaffordable".

The reality is that in the sixth-largest economy in the world, we could be doing much more. It is time David Cameron recognised that it is his own policies of austerity which render renewables "unaffordable", and are wholly incompatible with the fight against climate change.

What we really cannot afford is to go on contributing to the warming of our planet, which increases our risk of dangerous storms, floods and heatwaves. By reversing austerity and creating an economy based not on maximising profits for the few, but on enriching everyone in society, we can reduce these risks.

And by doing more to cut our carbon emissions and move to a sustainable energy model, we can improve people's lives.

Instead of slashing subsidies for Britain's world-class offshore wind sector, Cameron should be offering stability and support. By investing and solar and wind energy, we can create new, highly skilled jobs that will help to rebalance our economy away from London's financial sector.

If Cameron wants to cut fuel bills, fracking and reduced building standards are not the way to go. A programme to invest in insulating Britain's homes would reduce fuel poverty, slash bills and fund thousands of new jobs in a way that would cut, not hike, our carbon emissions.

If he wants to improve our roads, he should not be building more of them. Instead he should be investing in clean, reliable and affordable public transport to reduce pollution, cut congestion and make our streets more pleasant places to BE.

The necessity of tackling climate change is not a barrier but a key opportunity to create the fairer economy Britain so desperately needs. If there was one single thing David Cameron could do to follow Obama's lead and make a strong statement ahead of December, it would be to announce significant investment and stable long-term rules to support a sustainable future.

Britain should be a world leader in tackling climate change. As it stands, it is lagging behind while the rest of the world powers ahead.

US President - Barack Obama's Impact on African Youth

Meron Semedar   |   August 6, 2015   10:45 PM ET

In July 2015, US President Barack Obama became the first sitting President to visit the Horn of Africa, as well as Kenya, his father's place of birth. Obama was also the first US President to speak to the African Union at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. During his visit to Africa, the President met with head of states, hosted the entrepreneur's global summit, addressed the African Union, visited US Embassy personnel and, most importantly- engaged with young African leaders.

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President Obama greeting youth audience members following his remarks. Source- The White House

Following on from this historic visit, President Obama initiated a three day summit, starting on 3rd August, with 500 young African leaders in Washington DC. During his opening statement, President Obama told the delegates that the summit will provide them with opportunities to create stronger networks and a platform to become global leaders. The aim of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is to offer young Africans a chance to further educate themselves in the hope that, one day, they will be the future generation of African leaders.

Obama's visit to Africa has come at a very crucial time. Many African countries are experiencing fast economic growth and, as a result, there are many opportunities for international investors. The population of Africa is also increasing quickly and there has been a huge increase in middle class spending across the continent. Nonetheless, many African leaders are still using political power to further their personal interests.

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Obama on stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with panelists. Source- The White House

In the 1960s, African countries started to gain independence, however, over the past 50 years Africa has seen little progress in eradicating poverty and encouraging democratic processes. At the gathering of Africa's future leaders in Kenya, Obama gave his views on, what he calls, the Pillars of Progress:

1. Democracy - which starts with a peacefully elected government.
2. Development - the encouragement of economic opportunity and dignity for all.
3. Choosing a future of peace and reconciliation.

During the AU address, Obama said the most important aim is to create opportunities for the next generation and to generate millions of jobs. Obama warned that Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to see Arab Spring style uprisings if future generations are not cared for. The president also discussed female empowerment, national and regional security, food security, renewable power enrichment, ending corruption and tribal ethnicity, and trade.

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Obama delivering remarks in Nelson Mandela Plenary Hall at the African Union. Source- The White House

On governance, the president strongly stated that Africa does not need strong men and that no head of state should run for a third term in office. Obama believes that Africa's progress depends greatly on democracy. He also explained that as Africa changes, the world needs to change its approach too. Africa wants trade over aid. Africa wants partners not patrons, who will help them build. African people want to make their own choices, instead of the indignity of dependence.

Obama's visit offered many highlights and motivation to strive for change. However, it is, ultimately, up to the African heads of state to fundamentally change African politics and to show themselves to be good examples for the younger generations. Finally, it is also important that the youth of Africa help to build their nations and become productive and engaged citizens.

Lucy Sherriff   |   August 6, 2015    4:39 PM ET

Earlier this week, President Obama revealed new climate change plans to cut US carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

Over in the UK, David Cameron recently declared the 2015 Conservative government as the "greenest" ever - whilst simultaneously slashing solar power subsidies, cancelling plans to build onshore wind farms and canning requirements for new homes to be zero carbon.

After Ed Miliband said the urgency to address the climate change problem had gone out the window, perhaps it's time we stepped up our game?

Syria: Assad-Iran's Faustian Pact with ISIS

Nehad Ismail   |   August 6, 2015   10:19 AM ET

According to Zvi Bar'el the Israeli analyst writing in Haaretz 3rd June 2015 the "Assad regime forces abandoned the city of Palmyra and allowed ISIS to take it over unopposed, and it appears they may do the same in the southern province of Daraa, leaving ISIS to fight the other rebel groups on their behalf. Salim Idris, defense minister in the rebels' provisional government, said approximately 180 Syrian Army officers are currently serving with ISIS and coordinating the group's military operations with the army".

According to media reports in June 2014 the Assad regime had refrained from attacking ISIS bases. A Syrian government adviser told the New York Times' Anne Barnard this was indeed a deliberate policy designed to "tar" the broader opposition and "frame [the] choice" as either Assad or the extremists.
In a further twist that implicates the Assad regime in collusion with ISIS, on 6th February 2015 the US Embassy in Syria accused the regime of supporting ISIS advance on Syria's largest city, Aleppo. The Embassy tweeted:
"Reports indicate that the regime is making air-strikes in support of ISIL's advance on Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population," said the post.
In a string of tweets, the U.S. embassy condemned Assad's actions, saying he "will never be an effective counterterrorism partner." Embassy operations have been suspended since 2012, but the Twitter account is still active.

In March 2014 the news media reported that the EU issued sanctions against "seven persons and six entities providing support to the Syrian regime as well as benefitting from it". They included George Haswani, a prominent Syrian businessman said to be in direct contact with Assad and accused of brokering oil deals between the regime and ISIS.
The sanctions against Haswani represent one of the first official positions taken by Western countries acknowledging the links between the terror group and the Syrian regime, a position long maintained by those in the region and beyond.

Philip Hammond UK Foreign Secretary announced at the time:
"We have also agreed to target individuals supplying oil to the regime, including George Haswani, a middleman buying oil from ISIL [Isis] on behalf of the regime. This listing gives yet another indication that Assad's 'war' on ISIL is a sham and that he supports them financially."

In January 2014 a report in the Daily Telegraph by Ruth Sherlock drew attention to the oil deals between ISIS and the Assad regime.
"The regime has "financed" the jihadists "by selling oil and gas from wells under their control to and through the regime".

The Iranian Link:
A question that puzzled Western observers what would Iran's motivation be to support a Sunni jihadist organizations like ISIS? In Syria, ISIS has forced the West to choose between the regime of Bashar al-Assad or a terrorist outfit. Given that choice, it was assumed that the West would back Assad, as did the Russians and the Chinese.
Cynically Iran is exploiting the Western fear of terrorism to make common cause with the West against ISIS.
But ample evidence exists to prove Iran's collusion with Al Qaeda. The US 9/11 Commission Report, had already established that Iran "facilitated the transit of Al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, including future hijackers. Iran, according to the report, wished to conceal any past evidence of its cooperation with Sunni terrorists' association with Al-Qaeda," but these connections continued.

At ISIL's headquarters in rural western Aleppo in March 2014 opposition forces discovered official documents, passports and SIM cards issued by the Iranian authorities to fighters from Chechnya and Kazakhstan. Doesn't this suggest some kind of connection between ISIL leaders and Iranian intelligence, of which rank and file of ISIS are likely ignorant?
ISIS suddenly emerged in Syria, at a time when the collapse of Assad's regime seemed imminent. The emergence of ISIS saved the Syrian regime by threatening the world that an alternative terrorist regime would replace Assad's.
A report in the Economist magazine 21st June 14 explained how ISIS was less interested in toppling the Assad's regime than fighting other groups.

ISIS has been criticized for its attacks on civilians and rival opposition groups. It has rarely targeted the Assad's regime and not a single barrel bomb has been dropped by the regime on ISIS.
Iran actually has a lot to gain from keeping ISIS alive. As long as the group survives, Iran can claim that their allies in Syria and Iraq are preventing a jihadist takeover -- an argument that raises Tehran's prestige and ensures it a degree of international support for their allies in both countries. This argument has so far worked. The Guardian reported in Sept 2014 that "the Syrian government and its close allies in Moscow and Tehran warned Barack Obama that an offensive against Islamic State (Isis) within Syria would violate international law". The implication is obvious: leave ISIS alone.

Sophie Brown   |   August 5, 2015    8:24 PM ET

The woman who interrupted Obama's speech during an event honouring LGBT Pride Month has spoken out about the moment that propelled her into the global spotlight.

Jennicet Gutiérrez cut off the president mid-speech when she called for the release of all LGBTQ immigrants from detention.

Footage from the event quickly became a viral sensation after Obama responded "Listen, you're in my house," and asked Gutiérrez to either be quiet or leave.

jennicet gutiérrez

Gutiérrez, a transgender woman, is a passionate LGBTQ rights activist and the co-founder of Familia, a 'trans queer liberation movement'.

Tired of being dubbed as a 'heckler' while the cameras showed Obama's witty retorts to her interjection, she spoke to Fusion.net about her experience in the White House.

"I was thinking to myself, what would have happened if they had joined me, if only 10 people joined me imagine the impact that would have," Gutiérrez said.

"When people called me a heckler, I felt somewhat disempowered. It attacks your character, your credibility, but most importantly your message. And it's a message that has to be heard because we can not tolerate any social injustices for the undocumented trans women in detention centres who are being abused and harassed and mistreated."

She went on to express her disappointment at the reaction of the crowd made up largely of prominent LGBTQ influencers.

Just days after Gutiérrez spoke out during Obama's speech, immigration officials announced that transgender immigrants would be housed in detention facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.

Sophie Brown   |   August 5, 2015    3:47 PM ET

The woman who interrupted Obama's speech during an event honouring LGBT Pride Month has spoken out about the moment that propelled her into the global spotlight.

Jennicet Gutiérrez cut off the president mid-speech when she called for the release of all LGBTQ immigrants from detention.

Footage from the event quickly became a viral sensation after Obama responded "Listen, you're in my house," and asked Gutiérrez to either be quiet or leave.

jennicet gutiérrez

Gutiérrez, a transgender woman, is a passionate LGBTQ rights activist and the co-founder of Familia, a 'trans queer liberation movement'.

Tired of being dubbed as a 'heckler' while the cameras showed Obama's witty retorts to her interjection, she spoke to Fusion.net about her experience in the White House.

"I was thinking to myself, what would have happened if they had joined me, if only 10 people joined me imagine the impact that would have," Gutiérrez said.

"When people called me a heckler, I felt somewhat disempowered. It attacks your character, your credibility, but most importantly your message. And it's a message that has to be heard because we can not tolerate any social injustices for the undocumented trans women in detention centres who are being abused and harassed and mistreated."

She went on to express her disappointment at the reaction of the crowd made up largely of prominent LGBTQ influencers.

Just days after Gutiérrez spoke out during Obama's speech, immigration officials announced that transgender immigrants would be housed in detention facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.

Ryan Barrell   |   August 4, 2015    9:06 AM ET

Jimmy Fallon's latest political sketch is a doozy, featuring himself as weird-haired real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Barack Obama noticed presidential novice Donald Trump was having some trouble dealing with the media, politics, and people in general, so he decided to give him a call and hand down some wisdom.

Sadly, while Obama was telling Trump he needed to listen more and stop making up statistics, Trump trailed off into a rant full of pointless numbers. That just made the whole thing segue into jokes about Governor Chris Christie and an autotune contest.

That was one very weird phone call.

MORE FALLON:

Paul Vale   |   August 3, 2015    7:45 PM ET

President Barack Obama revealed the final version of his clean power plan to dramatically cut emissions from US power plants on Monday, calling it a moral obligation.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said the unprecedented carbon dioxide limits are the "the single most important step" America has ever taken to fight climate change, while warning that the problem was so large hat the world must get it right quickly or it may become impossible to reverse.

"There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change," Obama said. The final version of Obama's plan imposes stricter carbon dioxide limits on states than was previously expected: a 32 percent cut by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, the White House said. Obama's proposed version last year called only for a 30 percent cut.

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US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a Clean Power Plan event at the White House in Washington, DC, August 3, 2015

It also gives states an additional two years — until 2022 — to comply, yielding to complaints that the original deadline was too soon. States will also have an additional year to submit their implementation plans to Washington.

Obama was joined in the East Room by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and by parents of asthma patients. The Obama administration has sought to draw a connection between climate change and increased respiratory illness in vulnerable populations. "This is an especially wicked-cool moment," said McCarthy, wielding a colloquialism from her hometown of Boston.

The pollution controls form the core of Obama's ambitious and controversial plan to drastically reduce overall US emissions, as he works to secure a legacy on fighting global warming. Yet it will be up to Obama's successor to implement his plan, which has attracted strong opposition from the field of Republican presidential candidates.

Opponents announced immediately that they will sue the government, and will ask the courts to put the rule on hold while their legal challenges play out. Many Republican governors have said their states simply won't comply.

The Obama administration estimated the emissions limits will cost $8.4 billion (£5.3 billion) annually by 2030. The actual price won't be clear until states decide how they'll reach their targets. But energy industry advocates said the revision makes Obama's mandate even more burdensome, costly and difficult to achieve.

The move by the White House came on the same day that a study conducted by the World Glacier Monitoring Service revealed the world's glaciers have melted to the lowest levels since record-keeping began more than 120 years ago.

Commenting on President Obama’s clean energy plan, Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett called the initiative "politically significant," but said it falls "way short of what scientists say is required to tackle catastrophic climate change."

“In the face of huge US vested interests that oppose any measures on climate change, the President’s plan at least pushes the issue up the agenda," he said in a statement.

"But these measures are just a drop in the ocean, when a sea change in energy policy is what’s desperately required. It would have been more significant if the President said no to drilling in the Arctic, and stopped his support for new fossil fuels such as fracking and tar sands,” Bennett added.


Amid the praise for the proposal, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee decried the plan, claiming it was an attack on the American energy industry.

Last week, Hillary Clinton revealed her climate change policy should be become the next president. Her plan is to install a half-billion solar panels by the end of her first term and to run every home in America on renewable energy a decade after her inauguration.

No-one Can Do It Alone: Open Collaboration to Power the Next Generation of African Ventures

Beatrice Pembroke   |   July 31, 2015   12:48 AM ET

President Obama's trip to Kenya this week kicked off at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, where he joined leading figures from across the continent to highlight how important entrepreneurship will be in 'keeping Africa on the move'. In the next five years, 122 million young Africans will enter the employment market. Tens of millions are currently unemployed or underemployed. New ways are needed to generate jobs.

At the British Council, we want to make a contribution to creating an entrepreneurship of the future; one which is sustainable, inventive and equitable. Locally driven and globally relevant. That sort of entrepreneurship should be assisted by a variety of different agencies working together to support hubs of innovation; cross-disciplinary, collaborative, creative spaces which connect resourceful people with local experience, digital tools and investment to power the next generation of African ventures.

The challenge - blocks to ambition

There's no shortage of ambition in Sub-Saharan Africa. The region has the highest percentage (60%) of 18-34 year olds who believe they could create a business out of local opportunities.

Turning that ambition into practice, however, can be more difficult.

A new report from the Tony Elumelu Foundation showed that 60% of the 2000 respondents surveyed thought that starting a business was very difficult. Moreover, 65% said they required additional skills to be successful - both for themselves and their employees.

Money remains an issue. Nearly 90% of respondents named getting start-up capital as one of their most significant challenges. Links to professional networks, corruption, ineffectual intellectual property rights and an over-regulated ICT sector were also identified as blocks to business.

Existing physical infrastructure is also a problem. Millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity and many more experience rolling electricity blackouts. Consequently, more than 50% of Sub-Saharan businesses identify unreliable electricity as a major constraint.

Rule breaking and a culture of collaboration

Challenges abound, then, for African entrepreneurs. But, as Brian Bergstein at MIT said recently: "very big problems often get solved with collaborations from many disciplines and a willingness to break some rules."

The rule breaking could begin by fostering skills that are relevant to the 21st century, like communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration, as well as how to harness emerging technology in imaginative ways. Conventional educational systems, focussed on theoretical skills, may not be the best way to prepare people to create innovative new enterprises.

Collaboration has in many ways become easier with new technology. The Internet has driven openness, transparency and rapid prototyping. Crowdfunding means that ideas can now be more easily implemented and social networks facilitate global collaboration and open innovation.

Rapid change and openness is not limited to life on the Internet. A number of innovation hubs based on open source principles are emerging across the world. This approach is also not confined to startups, as traditional companies and institutions now have the chance to reinvent themselves, their research and development to be ready for the 21st century.

A global hub for new ideas

Africa is already home to some world-leading and ingenious enterprises. The boom in mobile phone usage, innovative consumer finance techniques such as M-Pesa, creative business models and breakthroughs with energy supplies (like increased battery capacity and the declining cost of solar power) has set the scene for innovative businesses.

These are not just important locally. They also have global relevance, as examples of sustainable businesses that use technology for social change. Not just tech entrepreneurship, but tech for good.

Take Off Grid Electric in Tanzania. They combine basic battery technology with photovoltaic energy. For 65 cents a day, they offer 2-5 LED lights, a cell-phone charger, and a radio. In the last year, they've doubled their number of users and they aim to light a million homes by 2018.

Or look at Recell Ghana, which reduces e-waste and creates employment opportunities through phone and tablet recycling. They work on product sustainability with Fairphone, the Amsterdam-based social enterprise which designs and produces smartphones which cause minimal harm to people and the planet.

Another example of an enterprise which could be replicated elsewhere is found in rural Mpumalanga in South Africa. The community-based newspaper Ziwaphi monitors water quality in the rivers by using old smartphones submerged in plastic bottles. The inbuilt cameras in the phones take regular flash-lit pictures. These are then magnified and compared to an existing database which detects dangerous levels of E.coli. Ziwaphi's readers are sent this information via SMS, which lets them know which rivers to collect water from, and which ones to avoid. Once a month, Ziwaphi also publishes an in-depth story about the results.

The creative sector and economic growth

These examples of ventures which combine creativity, design thinking and technological skill are great, but more are needed. Technological progress is nothing without locally relevant, compelling content; designed with the user in mind and the power of imagination. It was heartening to see the value of the creative sector was emphasised by the special session at Obama's Global Entrepreneurship summit about the Creative Economy. A 2013 UN report identified the creative economy as one of the fastest growing in the world. Despite the global financial crisis of 2008, the sector has doubled in the last decade. As millions more go online, global trade and domestic demand for creative goods and services is set to increase.

Value beyond numbers

The creative and cultural industries don't just contribute to export earnings and job creation. Storytelling allows us to develop our identities - on a personal, community and national level. By expressing ourselves, we have the power to self-define and relate to each other. All of which is increasingly important on our globalised stage.

Cultural understanding and a critical space for reflection is also crucial to consider the ethicacy of new technology and its purpose. We don't want to live in a technocracy where we just engineer whatever is possible when we can think about how we shape our world and why.

The creative sector in Africa

Despite a seeming international increase in recognition of African creativity, however, from the popularity of Nollywood to Graphic Africa at London Design Festival, recent research shows that Africa's share of the global creative economy is less than 1%. Statistics in some African countries show a dramatic increase in foreign cultural products being imported, without significant increase in cultural exports.

Sharing skills and spaces for the creative sector

Part of what's needed to shift that balance is putting creative people in touch with each other and giving them the skills and resources to promote their work. The British Council, together with local partners and international agencies, has delivered and supported several programmes that encourage enterprise and digital confidence in the creative and cultural sector.

Working with UK innovation charity Nesta, the British Council has translated Nesta's Creative Enterprise toolkit into several languages, including local case studies and trainers. The project has successfully built hundreds of new ventures, by offering aspiring creative entrepreneurs a four-day workshop on how to develop, test and turn their creative ideas into sustainable practice. The participants not only gain practical skills like branding, financing and digital but also a shift in mindset; the confidence to share with a strong peer network.

We seek to foster this spirit of open collaboration with all our programmes. CultureShift, part of ongoing programmes in Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Harare, is a hackday that brings together artists, designers and technologists with business knowhow to imagine new solutions and products that can respond to local challenges.

The Makerlibrary Network is an international platform connecting designers and makers through networked spaces where they can exchange ideas, swap skills and share resources as well as prototype with new design and digital tools.

In September, we launch another Innovation ZA month of public events and activities in Johannesburg alongside Fak' ugesi: Digital Africa Festival with market hacks, digital residencies and skills workshops. Later this year, we will welcome the Playable City to Lagos, developing imaginative interventions with local partners that re-think public spaces and smart city technology.

Innovation hubs: homes for new ventures and social change

Fostering the right environment for collaboration is key. There are now more than 90 tech hubs across Africa, according to the World Bank. There's also a growing number of other innovation spaces like makerspaces, accelerators, clusters and incubators. Places where inventive people from different backgrounds can find unlikely allies, inspiration, resources and investment. Where they can test new business models and prototype with the latest design and digital tools. Hub convenors and their members are driving local economic growth; they make the connections between creative, social, technological and entrepreneurial possible.

The British Council is proud to be working with several of these organisations, such as CcHub, SwahiliBox, Pawa254 to run programmes. We are also mapping and connecting them through Open Movement, a new global platform. 85% of global growth comes from small start-ups and the number of freelancers is ever increasing; hubs provide a home to what can be an otherwise isolating and lonely existence. Increasingly, makerspaces and innovation hubs are seeking to promote women and marginalised communities, encouraging social inclusion.

That's why Obama's Global Entrepreneurship Summit was right to give attention to innovation hubs, organisations which are sometimes undervalued or at least poorly understood. Despite their potential value, many of them have problems with financial sustainability and access, which networks like Afrilabs seek to address.

Working together for global learning

This work cannot be done by any one organisation alone. In September, the British Council will be working with Indigo Trust and Hivos to gather a small number of agencies, both public and private, who are interested in supporting African innovation hubs. As international and local development agencies, cultural organisations and private enterprise we also need to join up - to understand that collectively we can pool our resources and learning for more effective global development.

Together we know more - 'no one can do it alone'.


Beatrice Pembroke is Director of Creative Economy at British Council, which supports international collaborations, innovation and enterprise with the creative and cultural industries. She is also co-founder of techforgood.global.

Paul Vale   |   July 27, 2015    3:13 AM ET

There has been some legitimate criticism of the Iran nuclear deal by American conservatives. On Sunday, Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee instead opted for hyperbole, invoking the holocaust to bemoan the agreement and attack President Obama.

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Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history,” puffed the former Arkansas governor in an interview with Breitbart News. “It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."

Huckabee has promised to rescind the deal on his first day as president in the unlikely scenario he’s handed the keys to the White House. "This is the most idiotic thing, this Iran deal,” he continued. “It should be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by the American people. I read the whole deal. We gave away the whole store. It’s got to be stopped."

Huckabee is currently third in Republican polling ahead of the first primary TV debate in early August. Donald Trump has been hoarding the headlines with a raft of nativist and populist rhetoric. By raising the spectre of the final solution, Huckabee may well have given himself a bit more skin in the game.

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Sarah Ann Harris   |   July 25, 2015    3:02 PM ET

Barack Obama called for equal treatment of gay and lesbian people under the law on his first visit to Kenya since becoming president.

When asked about gay rights during a joint press conference with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, Obama said that he was "painfully aware of the history when people are treated differently under the law".

He said: "That's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen.

"When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread."

He had been warned not to bring up the issue on his visit.

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Crowds gather to catch a glimpse of Obama

Gay sex is a crime in Kenya, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Kenyatta said that there were some things that cultures simply did not agree on, adding that gay rights "is not really an issue on the foremost mind of Kenyans. And that is a fact."

Obama heralded Africa as a continent "on the move" Saturday as he opened a U.S.-sponsored business summit in Kenya, the East African nation where he has deep family ties.

"Africa is one of the fastest growing regions of the world," Obama said. "People are being lifted out of poverty."

Obama's visit to Kenya - the first by a sitting U.S. president - has been highly anticipated in a nation that views him as a local son. The US president's late father was born in Kenya and many family members still live here, including his elderly step-grandmother.

"This is personal for me," Obama said. "There's a reason why my name is Barack Hussein Obama."

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Barack Obama arrives in Kenya

Much of the president's visit is focused on boosting business and security ties with Kenya, a growing economy grappling with the threat of terrorism, most notably from the Somalia-based al-Shabab network. Nearly two dozen U.S. lawmakers and 200 American investors have joined Obama on his trip, which also includes a stop in Ethiopia.

At the Global Entrepreneurship Summit on Saturday, Obama announced more than $1 billion in new commitments from the U.S. government, as well as American banks, foundations and philanthropists. Half of the money will go to support women and young people, who Obama says face bigger obstacles when trying to start businesses.

"If half of your team is not playing, you've got a problem," Obama said, referring to women excluded from the formal economy.

Obama hosted the inaugural entrepreneurship summit at the White House in 2010. This year's conference is the first to be held in sub-Saharan Africa.

SEE ALSO:

President Kenyatta, who co-hosted the summit with Obama, lamented that the continent's security and other challenges, including the 2013 attack on an upscale Nairobi mall, had created a negative reputation. He said he hoped Obama's visit would help change the narrative about Kenya and Africa.

"Africa is the world's newest and most promising frontier of limitless opportunity," Kenyatta said. "Gone are the days when the only lens to view our continent was one of despair and indignity."

At the two leaders sat down for a formal meeting at Kenya's State House later on Saturday, Obama emphasised the need for timetables and concrete plans to make progress for the region. He said the U.S. wants to partner with Africa "not out of charity, but because we see opportunity."

"What happens in Africa is going to affect the world," Obama said.

While in Nairobi, Obama toured an innovation fair highlighting the work of vendors working with his Power Africa initiative, which aims to double sub-Saharan access to electricity. As he perused solar panels and posed for photos, Obama acknowledged concerns that the program's progress has been slow, but said it would soon help millions and that building power plants takes time even in the U.S.

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Obama speaks with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta

Obama also placed a wreath at the site of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The president bowed his head for a moment, then studied the names of the victims etched into a brick wall.

Extremists simultaneously attacked the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Aug. 7, 1998. The Kenya attack killed more than 200 Kenyans and 12 Americans at the embassy. Thousands were injured.

Obama arrived in Kenya late Friday and spent the night reuniting with his father's family. Security was tight in the Kenyan capital, with some of the city's normally bustling streets closed to traffic and pedestrians during his visit.

There was palpable excitement in Nairobi for Obama's long-awaited visit. U.S. and Kenyan flags lined the main road from the airport and billboards bearing Obama's picture dotted the city. Local newspapers marvelled at the massive U.S. Secret Service contingent that accompanies Obama whenever he travels overseas.

Warm Words Won't Beat Climate Change - But a New Global Finance Deal Still Could

David Nussbaum   |   July 24, 2015    2:55 PM ET

Visiting Kenya last weekend, Barack Obama stirred hearts and minds with his words on the country's potential to become a development success story. Gracing a summit on African entrepreneurship, the President rightly celebrates the efforts of the inspirational men and women working to bring prosperity to the country and the wider continent.

Kenya is one of WWF-UK's focus countries, where we support work to protect and restore nature as the basis for peoples' livelihoods and well-being. We know very well that Kenya, and developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, need far more than warm words - they need predictable and reliable funding for their efforts to lift their people out of extreme poverty.

These efforts are threatened by challenges often not of their making. Climate change and its impacts - increasingly being felt today across the world - is one such challenge. The World Bank has repeatedly warned of the threat that climate change poses to poverty eradication. Conversely, the New Climate Economy panel has highlighted the opportunities that the low-carbon transition offers developing countries to end extreme poverty and achieve broadly-based prosperity, while protecting the climate.

Obama's visit to Kenya comes at a critical juncture. It closely follows the UN's Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, comes ahead of a UN summit in New York in September to agree the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, and in the run-up to COP21 climate change talks in Paris in December.

As WWF has been pointing out for some time, sustainable development and climate change are inextricably linked and need an integrated approach. Our latest report Twin Tracks, jointly produced with CARE International, clearly shows the substantial synergies between the UN negotiations currently underway on post-2015 development and UNFCCC. It highlights opportunities for mutual support towards sustainable outcomes on climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable energy and agriculture.

Coinciding with Obama's visit, Kenya has published its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) as part of the UN climate process on the run-up to Paris. This outlines how Kenya will look to achieve a 30 percent cut in green house gas emissions than would otherwise be emitted over ten years from 2020, off the back of a deal in Paris. Combining steps to both reduce emissions and address the impact of unavoidable rises in temperature, a range of measures - from the expansion of renewable energy to ensuring at least 10 percent of the country is covered by trees - will be used to achieve the reductions.

Developing countries, including Kenya, justly argue that they need support from the international community, and especially from those countries with historic responsibility for past CO2 emissions, to respond to climate change. Even today, Kenya's carbon dioxide emissions per head of population are just one sixth of the global average.

They rightly stress that the international community has pledged to provide this support: at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, the rich world committed to provide at least $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

They stand a long way from meeting this commitment. Less than $20 billion a year in public finance is flowing to developing countries to help them take action on climate change. The vast majority of these funds are dedicated to mitigating emissions, rather than also helping them adapt to a warming world. This needs to change and money to follow commitments.

Looking ahead, the issue of finance is unsurprisingly central in securing agreement in Paris: there will be no new climate treaty if those countries most impacted, and with the least means to adapt to its effects, are left behind. A deal will also rely on agreement on sharing the technologies necessary for low-carbon development.

These issues are not new; resolve is what is lacking, as we can see from the agreement struck at the Financing for Development summit. Addis Ababa resulted in fewer concrete commitments than many would have liked. This includes little progress towards meeting the long-standing official development assistance target.

The agreement is nonetheless a significant step towards financing the sustainable development agenda. It brings together national governments, business, philanthropy and development partners, and aims to bolster traditional aid with other funding streams. It is also critical in bridging the finance shortfall otherwise faced which creates an opening within the Paris agreement for bolder ambition on climate finance - ambition that would inject much-needed trust into the climate talks.

Without doubt, momentum within and without the UN climate process is building. Bilateral climate agreements between the US and, respectively, China and Brazil, have, ahead of the Paris talks, helped address long-standing rifts between the industrialised world and major developing countries. The Pope's recent encyclical on climate change has added even more moral weight to the scales. Investors are voting against fossil fuels with their asset allocations and $310 billion investment in clean energy in 2014 alone. This progress and growing momentum will continue apace, regardless of what happens in Paris.

But the UN climate process remains the primary means to ensure equity in a world of international, globalised markets. Obama's visit to Kenya will give him first-hand insights into the challenges that Kenya and other developing countries face as they seek a more sustainable path to security, growth and prosperity in the face of growing climate impacts. This should certainly serve as a reminder of the need for him and his peers - including the United Kingdom - to honour their promises on climate finance. They too will be left behind if they fail.

Jack Sommers   |   July 24, 2015    2:04 PM ET

A gunman killed himself and two others in a packed Louisiana cinema just hours after Barack Obama said the failure to restrict gun ownership was his biggest disappointment as president.

The man stood up about 20 minutes into the showing of 'Trainwreck' and began firing into the crowd, killing two and injuring at least seven others on Thursday night before fatally shooting himself.

"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," witness Katie Domingue told The Louisiana Advertiser.

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Bystanders look on as emergency personnel respond to the scene of the deadly shooting at the Grand Theatre late on Thursday night

"He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either," said Domingue, who added that she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.

Obama had just told the BBC that trying to pass "common sense" gun ownership laws was what had left him "most frustrated" in his presidency.

He told the BBC: "If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands,

Police said the shooter as a 58-year-old "lone white male" with a "criminal history" but did not disclose his name. They evacuated the entire theatre complex and conducted a sweep inside the building.

Investigators found suspicious items inside the shooter's car and set off explosions in the vehicle.

Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge with Bobby Jindal, the state's governor and presidential hopeful, telling reporters that a teacher who was in the theatre jumped in front of a second teacher, saving her life.

The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, he said.

"Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life," Jindal said.

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Federal investigators outside the cinema

Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said at a news conference that police know who the gunman is, and that he had a "criminal history," but they are not immediately releasing his name.

Edmonson said the body of the shooter and "at least one other person" were still inside the theater. He said there were about 100 people inside the theater at the time of the shooting.

Edmunson added that police believe the gunman fired shots only at the theater and had not waged an attack anywhere else beforehand. However, authorities said they were not releasing his name immediately in part so police could safely track down and interview friends or family who knew the shooter.

"We have no reason to believe that this individual acted beyond this location here," Edmonson said.

He said police saw something suspicious inside the shooter's car and that a bomb-sniffing dog "hit on three different locations" in the vehicle, "so out of an abundance of caution we brought in the bomb squad."

One of the stars of "Trainwreck," Amy Schumer tweeted:

Jindal called the shooting "an awful night for Louisiana."

"What we can do now is we can pray," he said. "We can hug these families. We can shower them with love, thoughts and prayers."

Lafayette is about 60 miles west of the state capital of Baton Rouge. Outside the movie theater complex hours after the shooting, a couple of dozen police cars were still at the scene, which authorities had cordoned off with police tape as onlookers took photos with their cellphones.

Landry Gbery, 26, of Lafayette, was watching a different movie, 'Self/less' at the time of the shooting when the lights came up and a voice over the intercom told everyone there was an emergency and that they needed to leave.

Gbery said he never heard gunshots, and assumed the emergency was a fire until he got outside and saw a woman lying on the ground.

"I was really anxious for everybody at that point," Gbery said. "Fortunately I was lucky. I took the right exit."

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Bobby Jindal speaks to reporters at the scene

Tanya Clark was at the concession stand in the lobby when she saw people screaming and running past her. She said she immediately grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran.

"In that moment, you don't think about anything," Clark, 36, told The New York Times. "That's when you realise that your wallet and phone are not important."

Clark's son Robert Martinez said he saw an older woman run past with blood streaming down her leg, and screaming that someone had shot her.

The Louisiana shooting occurred three years after James Holmes entered a crowded movie theater in suburban Denver and opened fire during the premier of a Batman film, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others.

The shooting took place a week after the man who shot and killed 12 people at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, was convicted and on the very day a jury said his attack was cruel enough to consider sentencing him to death.

A jury last week quickly convicted Holmes on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges, rejecting defense arguments that he was insane and suffering delusions that drove him to the July 20, 2012, attack.

Prosecutors said Holmes planned and carried out the massacre to assuage the pain of his failures in graduate school and in romance. Defense lawyers said schizophrenia had been growing inside Holmes' mind for years and eventually overwhelmed him, creating a delusion that he could improve his self-worth by killing others and absorbing their value.