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Google Street View causes stir in Botswana

Opposition paper in Botswana, the second African nation to get Street View, says images of military bases compromise security

In cities around the world it has provoked grumbles about invasion of privacy and jeopardising national security – and has caught unsuspecting members of the public with their pants down. So when Google’s Street View cameras came to Botswana, a country of 2 million people and 70% covered by the Kalahari desert, the company might have expected to avoid such controversy. Not so.

“We feel such places as the military base and the office of the president, the American embassy and any other such high-security areas should not have been allowed to be published,” the Monitor newspaper opined in an editorial on Monday. “This compromises our security.”

It went on: “What is also amazing is that prior to the shooting of the map, there was assurance that residential areas would be left out … but now these are in the Google map.”

Government officials moved to dismiss the complaints as a storm in a teacup in an opposition-owned newspaper. Spokesman Jeff Ramsay said: “We don’t have an issue at all. We had an internal debate because we recognise there are sensitivities but we are an open society.

“Google were working with our security people on a checklist of what to photograph and what not to photograph. If anything falls between the cracks, our people have a right to remove it.”

He added: “Some reporters get Street View confused with Google Earth, which shows all sorts of things that we can’t do anything about.”

Google says it applies face-blurring and licence plate blurring to protect people’s privacy in Street View. Once images are available, users can report images for removal by clicking on “report a problem” on the bottom left hand corner of the image.

Botswana is the second African country to be featured after its neighbour South Africa just before the 2010 football World Cup. Google deployed 4×4 vehicles to photograph difficult off-road areas.

The company said users could virtually explore the Kalahari and the world’s biggest inland river delta – the 16,000 sq km Okavango – as well as the Makgadikgadi Pan and Chobe National Park, home to the biggest concentration of African elephants in the world.

The service, offering panoramic street-level images, is available in more than 30 countries. “We hope to add more cultures, landscapes and sites as Street View continues to expand to new places,” said Ory Okolloh, policy manager for Google Sub-Saharan Africa. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Paralympics 2012: Malawi and Botswana withdraw teams

African countries pull visually impaired runners from Games just hours before opening ceremony due to funding problems

A shadow was cast over the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games after two African countries withdrew their teams at the last minute.

Malawi and Botswana, which were due to enter visually impaired runners, pulled their teams out just hours before the opening ceremony on Wednesday.

Cash-strapped Malawi, which was to participate in the Games for the first time, said it had a funding shortfall of £6,000 which led to the last-minute cancellation.

“We could not do otherwise but cancel the trip at the last minute. All our efforts to raise 3.5m kwacha (about £6,000) failed. It is a huge disappointment,” said Juma Mkandawire, president of the local organising committee.

The Guardian has learned that “financial irregularities” in Botswana’s Paralympic committee led to the Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) withdrawing its support.

“We stopped our support for the Paralympic team because of an irregularity on their side,” said Tuelo Serufho, chief executive officer of the BNOC. “They approached us for financial support and we initially agreed but then we had to withdraw.

“If they wanted to go ahead without our support, that is a matter for them,” Serufho said. “My concern is that the Paralympics body learn from this and ensure that in future, all they do is above board.”

Both countries were due to enter visually impaired sprinters at the Games. Malawians Chisomo Jeremani, 18, and Janet Shedani, 17, would have run in the 200m and 100m events respectively with their guides.

Their coach George Luhanga said he had used his house in the commercial capital of Blantyre as a camp for the athletes, who spent seven days preparing for the trip.

“We are all devastated because the government failed to come to our rescue,” he said.

The International Paralympic Committee said it received a letter from Malawi just hours before the opening ceremony stating that it could not attend due to a lack of financial support from the government.

“We are very disappointed that these countries have withdrawn,” said the IPC spokesman Craig Spence.

Mkandawire said Malawi’s failure to attend the Games could lead to sanctions after the IPC provided the country with £4,000 funding.

“We have been asked to refund the money,” he said. “We are appealing to the government and the general public in Malawi to help us refund the money because, with transactions, we lost some money in the process.”

But the IPC said it would help both countries improve their finances to help with future Games.

“We will be speaking to the countries to see what we can do to help them and engage the government to get further financial support,” Spence said. “We can’t be responsible for every Paralympic committee, but we organise workshops and work with them to help them stand on their own two feet.”

With a population of 14 million, Malawi has more than 300,000 people with various degrees of disability.

Botswana, which was due to put forward the 27-year-old sprinter Tshotlego Golden in the T13 200m, has competed in the Paralympics once before, with Tshotlego Morama winning gold at the Athens 2004 T46 400m. However she failed to defend her title at the 2008 Beijing Games, despite having been scheduled to compete.

“There is a sizable number of people living with disabilities in Botswana,” said Serufho. “As someone who loves this country and wants to see all citizens and representatives being afforded the opportunity to take part in sport, I am not happy that we do not have representation. However we need to ensure that things are done correctly for us to be engaged.” © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Africa and Australasia to share Square Kilometre Array telescope

Ten countries across two continents will share location of world’s most powerful radio telescope

Australia and South Africa will share the location of the world’s most powerful radio telescope, a scientific consortium has announced.

The €1.5bn (£1.2bn) Square Kilometre Array, or SKA, has been hailed as one of the biggest scientific projects of the 21st century.

“We have decided on a dual site approach,” said the SKA chairman, John Womersley, at a press conference in Schiphol airport, Amsterdam.

SKA’s huge fields of antennas – equivalent to about 200 football pitches – will search the sky for answers to the major outstanding questions in astronomy.

South Africa and Australasia had put forward rival bids, and early indications indicated there would be one outright winner. Reports suggest South Africa’s was technically superior, but it was decided that both proposals should contribute to the final design of the telescope.

A source close to the talks said South Africa had emerged with the lion’s share of the project, with about 70%. There has been no official confirmation of this estimate.

Australia’s bid involves New Zealand; South Africa’s will involve dishes erected in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

Members of the South African team had previously criticised the idea of sharing the telescope, noting that it could involve a climb in costs. However, they adopted a more upbeat tone on Friday: “It’s obvious that we would have preferred the whole thing to be in Africa, but we recognise the need for inclusivity and to maximise the investments that have already been made,” Dr Bernie Fanaroff, project director, told the Guardian.

“It’s a fantastic day … This is one of the world’s biggest scientific instruments and it’s going to be in Africa … It shows confidence in the technical competence of our people,” he added. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds