2019
September
10
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Our five handpicked stories in today’s edition cover shrinking support for Joe Biden in New Hampshire, breaking governing taboos in Israel, a new symbol of hope in Afghanistan, and myth busting in Uganda and New England.

But first, teachers rock!

Last week, fourth grade teacher Laura Snyder found one of her boys in tears. At lunch, some girls scoffed at his homemade University of Tennessee T-shirt. 

She could have just told him it would be OK. Bullies happen. But not Ms. Snyder. She was going to buy him a real Tennessee Volunteers T-shirt and posted his story on Facebook. Within days, a box full of orange T-shirts, hats, and other U.T. swag arrived at Altamonte Elementary School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. All courtesy of U.T. That fourth grader went from zero to class hero.

Then, the university took it to the next level. The boy’s hand-drawn design was made into a new official U.T. shirt. A portion of the earnings will be donated to STOMP Out Bullying, a nonprofit. The flood of online orders crashed the university’s site Friday. 

Ms. Snyder wrote on Facebook that the new U.T. shirt design put “a big smile on his face, [he] walked taller, and I could tell his confidence grew today!

Skeptics might say it’s just a tribe (the Vols) protectively embracing their youngest member. Maybe. I’ve never been a Vols fan. But I would buy that shirt because it’s a statement about character. It says derision or hate doesn’t get the last word – especially when exposed. 

Bless you, Ms. Snyder, for caring enough to go the extra mile.

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1. ‘Do you like Biden?’ N.H. Democrats say, ‘Sure, but ...’

Among the Democratic candidates, Joe Biden leads in the polls. But our reporters found little enthusiasm for him in New Hampshire, suggesting a shift is underway.

David

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Former Vice President Joe Biden is on a mission to “restore the soul of America” and hopes to recapture Obama-Trump voters, drawing on his working-class background, Democrats’ nostalgia for the Obama years, and a wellspring of affection many have for “Uncle Joe.”

But in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary in February, his surprisingly durable lead is showing cracks – particularly among the state’s more progressive activists at this weekend’s Democratic convention. Though he has stronger support among centrists and African Americans, the lack of enthusiasm speaks to a broader tension in the party.

As 10 Democratic candidates head into Thursday’s debate, they face a party divided over the best way to defeat President Donald Trump. Do they appeal to a broad swath of voters by nominating a moderate with a message of unity? Or aim for record turnout among millennials and minorities with a liberal pushing for systemic change?

“Democrats want to pick someone who can win,” says Andrew Smith, a political science professor and director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “Is that [someone] mainstream like Biden? Many others are saying, ‘Look, Republicans picked Trump and they mobilized and won.’”

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1. ‘Do you like Biden?’ N.H. Democrats say, ‘Sure, but ...’

The line to see Joe Biden stretches two blocks from the Belknap Mill in Laconia, New Hampshire.

“Do you like Biden?” a reporter asks those waiting to see the former vice president. “Sure,” three people say. They like him. They think he’s a good guy. But they’re listening to everyone.

Some 200 or so file in, packing the modest room, with some attendees left standing in the back. Former Gov. John Lynch tries to warm up the crowd: “President Joe Biden – doesn’t that sound nice?” 

There is a pause, then a smattering of applause, spearheaded by volunteers and campaign workers in the back. The audience follows suit and dutifully claps, before subsiding back into silence. 

Later, a golden retriever in the crowd with a JOE sticker on its head punctuates the quiet atmosphere with a bark.

Mr. Biden is well into his speech before the room erupts in cheers and hoots of laughter, when he jokes, “Trump inherited the economy from Obama. Just like he’s inherited everything in his life!”

This central New Hampshire city of 16,000 voted for the Obama-Biden message of hope and change in 2008, and again in 2012, before throwing its weight behind Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” in 2016. It’s these sorts of voters that Mr. Biden is hoping to recapture, drawing on his working-class background, Democrats’ nostalgia for the Obama years, and a wellspring of affection many have for “Uncle Joe” – not least because of the personal tragedies he has endured. He’s also seen as possessing the experience needed at a turbulent time.

“He doesn’t need training wheels, he’s ready to be president on the first day,” says Ambassador Terry Shumaker, who worked on Mr. Biden’s first presidential campaign in the 1980s and went on to co-chair Bill Clinton’s campaign in New Hampshire. “I was part of Bill Clinton’s campaign, part of the transition, and I watched a very bright, capable governor having to learn on the job. And it took him quite a while to get his footing.”

As 10 Democratic candidates head into Thursday’s debate in Houston, they face a party divided over the best way to defeat President Trump. Do they try to appeal to a broad swath of voters by nominating a moderate who offers a message of unity? Or aim for record turnout among millennials and minorities with a liberal who’s pushing for systemic change?

Mr. Biden, who is a household name nationwide, has defied pundits with a surprisingly durable lead since entering the Democratic primary race in April, and could well still capture the nomination. Roughly 40% of New Hampshire voters are independents, and eligible to vote in the nation’s first Democratic primary next February.

But the momentum appears to be shifting away from Mr. Biden and toward the liberal firebrands – particularly Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who received a three-minute standing ovation at the state’s Democratic convention this weekend before she even started speaking. One new poll this week shows Ms. Warren inching past Mr. Biden in the state, while another shows her in a statistical dead heat with him – with the vice president having a far better likelihood of beating Mr. Trump.

“We are sick of milquetoast,” says Christie West of Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, who says she knows only one potential Biden supporter in her network of 50 Democratic activists across eight towns – most of whom support Senator Warren or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “We just can’t take the risk of … all these moderate policies.”

To be sure, New Hampshire is a small and overwhelmingly white state, and its party convention was dominated by progressive activists, leaving two key groups of Biden supporters underrepresented: African Americans and centrists. But the divide between moderates and liberals extends across the country. 

“Democrats want to pick someone who can win,” says Andrew Smith, a political science professor and director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “Is that [someone] mainstream like Biden? Many others are saying, ‘Look, Republicans picked Trump and they mobilized and won.’”

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Sen. Elizabeth Warren had the loudest welcome of all the 19 Democratic presidential candidates who spoke at the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention on Saturday September 7, 2019. The arena was a sea of mint green “NH for Warren” t-shirts and the Senator received a three-minute standing ovation – before she even started speaking.

“We need historic-level turnout ...”

As Mr. Biden kicks off a jam-packed day of speeches at the Democratic convention from a long list of presidential candidates, he gets a rousing reception from a contingent of “Firefighters for Biden” up in the balcony, and a standing ovation from the delegates. But many attendees interviewed by the Monitor commented that overall the response seemed lukewarm.

Robert O’Leary, a stay-at-home dad who came over from Vermont, has been skeptical of the vice president’s lead in the polls. But even he was surprised by the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm. He chalked it up to the early hour, assuming most of Mr. Biden’s supporters were still outside on the sidewalks, waving flags and singing cheers. He went outside just to be sure.

“No one was out there,” says Mr. O’Leary. Just some Biden volunteers breaking down their tent. 

On the flip side, some candidates polling in low or single digits – such as South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker – garnered a level of enthusiasm beyond what their numbers would suggest.

Campaign spokeswoman Meira Bernstein vigorously disputes that Mr. Biden faces an enthusiasm gap. She notes that his endorsements range from former Nigerian refugee-turned-state Rep. Richard Komi to state Rep. Denny Ruprecht, the youngest New Hampshire state lawmaker, and former progressive congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. “The vice president has been able to build a broad coalition of support in N.H., which I think speaks to how he appeals across a wide number of groups,” says Ms. Bernstein.

Still, voters say they are worried about his ability to motivate voters who might not otherwise come to the polls. 

“We need historic-level turnout in black and brown communities, and Cory Booker is surest to get that,” says Katherine Rogers, a seven-term state representative from Concord. She worked as a political organizer in Newark, was impressed when Mr. Booker won the mayoral race there in 2006, and has been encouraging him to run for years.

“Cory Booker was great today,” agrees Faithe Miller Lakowicz, a Warren supporter from Laconia who works two jobs as a museum curator and restaurant hostess. “He hasn’t really been on my radar, but he did great.”

Ms. Lakowicz – like many here – says that if Mr. Biden gets the nomination, she will support him. Still, she thought it was “just appalling” when Jill Biden told New Hampshire voters last month that, even though another candidate might have a stronger position on issues important to them than her husband, they might have to “swallow a little bit and say, ‘OK, I personally like so-and-so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”

Mr. Biden, who has campaigned on promises to “restore the soul of the nation,” has touted his ability to displace the president. And polls have consistently shown him beating Mr. Trump by wider margins than any of his Democratic rivals – including in key swing states.

But many Democrats say that’s not enough. 

“Beating Donald Trump is the floor. It is not the ceiling,” Senator Booker tells the convention crowd, preaching right on through the thunderous applause. 

And Senator Warren has repeatedly urged voters to vote based on passion rather than calculation. “We can’t choose a candidate because we’re scared,” she says.

Besides, many voters seem to doubt that would work, anyway. Amanda Gunter, a young mother and delegate from the conservative town of Weare who got interested in politics because of Senator Sanders, says “going old-school” is a losing strategy. 

“If we put up a Biden, we’re not going to beat Trump,” she says.

But Ambassador Shumaker says the convention is not at all representative of the broader New Hampshire primary voter field. “What you’re seeing at the state convention is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and I don’t think that’s representative of the electorate,” he says. “I think what’s below the water line – those are Joe’s voters, and I think he’s going to do very well with that group.”

“The polls baffle me a little bit”

Asked about the discrepancy between the polls and enthusiasm levels at the convention, many voters interviewed by the Monitor call the polls into question.

“The polls baffle me a little bit, because it’s not what I’m hearing on the ground,” says Sarah Daniels-Campbell, chairwoman of the Grafton County Democrats.

Laura Halliday, a University of New Hampshire student, doubts pollsters are reaching many people. Having recently worked a phone bank for California Sen. Kamala Harris, she says: “Everyone was hanging up and saying dinner was ready.” 

Bonnie Wright, the secretary of the Salem Democratic committee, doesn’t trust the polls either – and for good reason. She confesses that when a pollster asked her to name her favorite candidates, she deliberately mentioned those she thought deserved to be on the debate stage, to help them meet the requisite polling threshold – even though they weren’t her top picks. “So, I lied,” she says sheepishly.

Some Biden supporters appear aware of the challenge. The Biden campaign has begun trying to lower expectations for their candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire, telling reporters recently that he does not necessarily have to win either state. And several outlets reported this week that Lou D’Allesandro, a longtime New Hampshire state senator who has endorsed Mr. Biden, told the former vice president he needs to make “immediate changes” in order to win here.

It’s still too early to know how the race will turn out in New Hampshire, says Professor Smith, who notes that at this point in the 2016 race, most people thought Hillary Clinton had the state in the bag. She wound up losing to Senator Sanders by 22 points.

But Mr. Biden’s lackluster reception shouldn’t be ignored, he adds. If he doesn’t win Iowa and New Hampshire, it will undercut a key pillar of his campaign: that he is the guy who can win. Though no one has yet come out and said the emperor has no clothes, at some point the reality on the ground may start to shift perceptions, says Professor Smith. In Dover earlier this summer, he attended an event where Mayor Buttigieg drew a crowd of 900. Later the same day Mr. Biden spoke to a tepid audience of 100.

“I think many people have turned to Biden almost as a comfort candidate,” says a former Democratic elected official in New Hampshire, who asks not to be identified. “He’s Uncle Joe – he’s been around for a long time, we know he has good values.” But he says, people are asking: “‘Is this really the guy who can get us across the finish line and beat Trump?’”

“He’s been through a lot,” the official adds. “I think he deserves a standing ovation every time he gets it.”

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2. Is Israel ready for Arab party to join coalition government?

There’s long been a tension in Israel between a Jewish and a democratic state. We look at why voters are closer to inviting Arab parties to join Israel’s ruling coalition.

David
Mahmoud Illean/AP
Ayman Odeh (center), leader of a coalition of Arab parties, with activists at a campaign office in Nazareth, Israel, Aug. 29, 2019. Upending decades of Israeli convention, Mr. Odeh has offered to sit in a center-left government after Sept. 17 elections.

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While Arab citizens have had the right to vote since Israel’s founding, even the leaders of liberal Jewish parties have ruled out forming a coalition that relies on Arab support to secure a parliamentary majority. But then, so have the Arab parties themselves.

For Jews, it’s been a matter of doubts about Arab allegiance to the Jewish state; for Arabs, an unwillingness to support harsh government policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

But there is change. In a poll, 63% of Israeli Arabs said they wanted to see Arab politicians join a coalition government. And Ayman Odeh now says his Joint List would be open to joining a center-left government.

Israeli Jews aren’t yet ready. The problem is not simply that the parties are Arab, argues political scientist Gideon Rahat. “If they take part in a government that has to deal with things like national security, this might be problematic for both sides,” he says.

But Dahlia Scheindlin, a pollster and consultant for leftist parties, says, “I’d like to think that one day Israelis could change their minds. One reason they haven’t is that they had not been asked.”

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Is Israel ready for Arab party to join coalition government?

Ayman Odeh, the head of Israel’s Arab parliamentary bloc, released a trial balloon ahead of the country’s upcoming elections that would break a taboo as old as Israel’s 71 years: include Arab parties in the governing coalition.

“The truth is we could be the real deciding factor in this election,” he said after announcing the idea that his coalition of several Arab factions, the Joint List, would be open to joining a center-left government in the aftermath of the Sept. 17 election.

From the point of view of the basic rules of democracy and coalition mathematics it hardly seems a radical notion, especially with Israel’s center-left parties running a self-proclaimed last-ditch effort to “save democracy” and oust longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Without us the right-wing government will not be replaced,” Mr. Odeh told the Associated Press in August. “We can’t do it alone, but without us it can’t be done.”

Israel defines itself as both a democracy and the world’s only Jewish state. But are Jewish Israelis ready to have an Arab party join the government?

For now, especially in a highly polarized climate where the right-wing establishment is painting the Arab electorate as disloyal and dangerous, the answer seems to remain a resounding no. But the very act of having the idea floated for the first time, argue some on the left, seems to be having some effect.

“I’d like to think that one day Israelis could change their minds,” says Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli pollster and consultant for leftist parties. “One reason they haven’t is that they had not been asked.”

Traditional resistance

Arab citizens have had the right to vote since Israel’s founding, but even the leaders of liberal Jewish parties have ruled out forming a governing coalition that relies on an Arab party to secure a parliamentary majority. And, in a nod to the often-awkward contortions of political life here, so have the Arab parties themselves.

One reason is that the Jewish-Arab split is not just between ethnicities or cultures, but between competing nationalisms. For most Israeli Jews, their long-standing objection has been rooted in the assumption – mistaken, say some analysts – that the allegiance of anti-Zionist or non-Zionist Arab parties would first be to Arab regimes and groups over Israel, and that their agenda would be fixed on Palestinian national issues, not domestic Israeli ones.

And the Arab parties themselves – the most outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza – have been wary of being in government out of concern it would make it seem they endorsed Israeli military actions in those territories.

Among Mr. Odeh’s conditions for joining a coalition are restarting peace talks with the Palestinians and nullifying Israel’s controversial nation-state law, passed in May 2018, that defines Israel as a Jewish state foremost.

But there’s an undercurrent of change afoot, too, as Arab citizens who make up some 20% of the population have become increasingly integrated in the country’s economy – working side by side with Jewish Israelis in hospitals and offices, studying together in universities.

Ammar Awad/Reuters
A father casts a ballot together with his children in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, Israel, in parliamentary elections April 9, 2019. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a new government, new elections were called for September 17.

With that integration have been indications of an increasing identification as Israelis first and Arabs second, and a growing call to their politicians to take part in the political system to address their everyday needs, such as equal access to housing and employment.

According to Mohammad Darawshe, director of planning, equality, and shared society at Givat Haviva Educational Center, 83% of Arab citizens polled say they want to see their parties be a support net from the outside of a center-left government, and 63% would want to go further and see Arab politicians join a coalition government.

“I think it’s natural that a marginalized group that suffers from discrimination would want to, or even dream of, being part of decision-making,” says Yousef Jabareen, a Joint List lawmaker.

National security

The Joint List’s conditional willingness to be part of a government coalition is directed at Benny Gantz, head of the centrist Blue and White party that is neck and neck with Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud in polls. But Mr. Gantz, a retired military chief of staff, has said that although he sees Arab citizens as “equal and influential in every way,” he would not bring Arab parties into a coalition, citing “diplomatic reasons.”

Mr. Jabareen, the Arab lawmaker, says he sees this as a “clearly racist statement.”

But Gideon Rahat, a political science professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, argues that the problem is not simply that the parties are Arab, rather that they are not Zionist.

“They reject the basic idea of a Jewish state. So, if they take part in a government that has to deal with things like national security, this might be problematic for both sides. That is the delicate question,” he says.

He sketched out a scenario in which war broke out with Hamas in Gaza and the Arab party’s cabinet member would say he or she could not take part in approving military action.

“It’s a problem of legitimacy,” he says, arguing a government based on Arab party support would not be deemed legitimate by most Jewish Israeli voters.

Yaakov Karbassi, a shopkeeper in Tel Aviv who immigrated from Iran, says bringing Arab parties into the government was out of the question.

“It just could never be. Show me one Arab Knesset member who ever said anything good about Israel,” he says. “Furthermore, we could never work with them on security issues.”

The one precedent for Arab party involvement in the government was in the mid-1990s under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when a deal was made for Arab politicians to tacitly support Mr. Rabin’s minority coalition from the outside. At the time, Israelis and Palestinians were negotiating the historic Oslo peace accords.

“A good beginning” for now, Professor Rahat suggested, would be a return to this model. “It worked really well, the Arabs got a lot of programs and funding in return for their support.”

Fearmongering

The coalition-joining conversation has been taking place against the backdrop of a new round of fearmongering against the Arab population led by Mr. Netanyahu himself. In the previous election in the spring, the prime minister had made stirring up fear against Arabs as a fifth column a central part of his campaign. And trailing in opinion polls in 2015, he issued a televised warning to his supporters on election day that the Arabs “were going in droves to the polls.”

This week Mr. Netanyahu succeeded in pushing his Cabinet to approve a so-called camera bill that would deploy surveillance cameras in polling stations on election day. The bill, considered a veiled attempt at suppressing the Arab vote, was rejected as “aberrant and flawed” by the country’s attorney general and was blocked in committee Monday from coming to the Knesset floor for a vote.

Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said after the bill was blocked that the damage had already been done: “It has already caused harm by injecting bald-faced lies into the public political discourse under the premise of preserving the ‘purity of elections.’”

But Gilad Halperin, a Jewish Israeli and Joint List voter, says that even in this time of backlash against Arabs he remains encouraged by the push toward inclusion by the party and its supporters.

“This is how things start, there is the repression, and then there is the pushback,” he says.

“Maybe Ayman Odeh will be like Moses who led his people out of the Land of Egypt but could not get them across to the Promised Land,” muses Arik Rudinitzky, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute who specializes in the Arab vote. “But eventually I think this will happen – especially if the Arab parties continue to focus less on national issues and more on civil ones.”

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3. Once an icon of war, Afghan palace rebuilt as symbol of peace

In the two decades our reporter has covered Afghanistan, a shell-pocked palace in Kabul has not lived up to its name: “Abode of Peace.” Today, its restoration is seen as a symbol of hope for the nation.

David

Few buildings are as iconic to a nation – or have been in such need of repair – as the war-ravaged Darulaman Palace is here.

First conceived in the 1920s as an architectural example of Afghanistan’s entry into the modern world, the imposing building, which sits atop a hill in western Kabul, has instead belied its name, “Abode of Peace,” for the last 40 years. It has been ravaged by fires and war, its fine lines and features slowly eroded by bullets and shells, as the country faced turmoil during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, battles between warlords, Taliban rule and neglect, and finally the U.S. occupation and subsequent civil war, starting in 2001.

Throughout those decades, the palace became the symbol of a nation at war. Its elegant domes became merely rounded, crumbling metal frames. Its tall windows became broken apertures into the dark shadows of Afghanistan’s once-hopeful past. But today, Afghan workers have rebuilt the palace – as a symbol they hope will reflect a revitalized country that may again, soon, taste peace. – Scott Peterson

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4. Big promises, few results: Chinese farms falter in Uganda

In the first of two stories about myth busting, our reporter looks at exaggerated claims and expectations about Chinese investment in Africa. The reality on the ground is much different.

David

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Chinese agricultural investments in Africa have sparked fierce controversy, excoriated as colonial plunder or hailed as productive and beneficial to local farmers. But the picture here in Luwero, Uganda, 50 miles north of the capital, is rather one of inaction and incompetence.

At the first commercial Chinese agricultural operation in Uganda, the land lies idle and overgrown. First came mushrooms, then fish, pigs, and grains – all tried on soil that the owners found ill-suited to their attempts. At a different 600-acre farm, a promised 25,000 jobs have yielded about a hundred, and the handling of the wetlands has made it nearly impossible for locals to graze their livestock.  

There is a false impression that Chinese companies control huge tracts of African land to grow crops to feed Chinese consumers. But researchers have found no Chinese companies exporting rice or other cereals back home. Yet there is also no way of telling how many businesses Chinese farmers have here because the government does not keep accurate records, says Josh Maiyo, an expert in Chinese-Ugandan relations.

“So-called Chinese investors ... bandy around these huge figures and African leaders are very happy to hear them,” says Dr. Maiyo. “Africa is seen as the Wild West in China.”

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Big promises, few results: Chinese farms falter in Uganda

The first Abel Mukalazi knew of the land grab was when he saw workers erecting a barbed wire fence around the pasture where his family had grazed their cattle for half a century.

He went to the police. They told him that a Chinese company, Kehong Group, had secured a lease on the land, pledging to build a giant rice farm employing 25,000 people.

Three years later, Mr. Mukalazi looks out over the barbed wire at empty fields of rough grass stretching across the valley – not a blade of rice in sight – where the wetlands used to be. “They are doing nothing with that land,” he snorts. “Just messing us up.”

Rising Chinese agricultural investments in Africa have sparked fierce international controversy, excoriated by critics as colonial plunder and hailed in Beijing as productive and beneficial to local farmers. The view from Luwero, 50 miles north of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, suggests that neither version is accurate. The picture here, at two different Chinese-owned farms, is rather one of inaction and incompetence. 

Such disappointing results are “not unusual at all” among Chinese agricultural investments in Uganda, says Josh Maiyo, an expert in Chinese-Ugandan relations at the University of Radboud in Nijmegen, Netherlands. “Very often they do not pan out” as promised, he adds.

When President Yoweri Museveni came here in 2016 to inaugurate the China-Uganda Agricultural Industrial Park, managed by Kehong, he lauded the project as “an important instrument of transforming the economy. What was forest is going to turn into a city.”

At the launch, Luo Heng, the Kehong president, pledged $220 million of investment to create 25,000 jobs, “agricultural technology training, crop planting demonstrations … poultry and livestock processing and an agricultural mechanization service.”

There is little evidence yet of such huge investment. Today the farm employs just 100 Ugandan laborers, Kehong finance manager Liu Jianghua says in an interview in his office, situated in the only habitable building yet constructed – a low three-sided structure around a sparsely planted courtyard that houses 10 Chinese employees and a canteen serving them Chinese food.

A dozen of those laborers could be seen on a recent visit to the farm, tilling a field in preparation for maize planting. There was no sign of the promised “agricultural mechanization.” They were wielding simple hoes.

Kehong has a 99-year lease on 600 acres of wetland, but has planted only six acres of rice in each of the four growing seasons since the company moved in, according to Mr. Liu. “It has been very dry” for the past two years, he says. “The rain has not been coming” heavily enough to flood the paddy fields and grow rice, as planned, for the local market.

Local agricultural officials say the rains have been sufficient for local farmers to grow their crops, and Kehong is preparing to grow maize on 300 acres of its land in order to feed the 100,000 egg-laying chickens that Mr. Liu says will arrive to supply the local market with 85,000 eggs a day. 

Peter Ford/The Christian Science Monitor
Liu Jianghua is a finance manager for the company that leased 600 acres of wetland here about three years ago in Luwero district, Uganda, for farming and livestock production. On Aug. 17, 2019, he inspects the battery cages that are waiting for 100,000 chickens.

They will be housed in two long metal sheds, already fitted with battery cages imported from China. For the time being, however, the only poultry being raised are a few hundred broiler chicks in a ramshackle hut.

Legal, according to the court

Mr. Mukalazi challenged Kehong’s occupation of the wetland, but a local court ruled that his family’s lease had expired when – unbeknownst to him – a land broker secured the new 99-year lease and sold it on to Kehong.

Mr. Mukalazi is especially angry because irrigation earthworks that Kehong has carried out, including the excavation of a large trench, have drained the swamp on adjacent land that he owns, making it impossible to water his cattle in the dry season.

“Now the wetland water drains first into their dam,” he complains, standing beside a small pond, its surface dotted with lily pads, which is the only water source on his land. “This pond is less than half the size it used to be.”

Mr. Liu, Kehong’s financial manager, says his company has installed a tap and basin just inside its fence so as to allow neighboring farmers access to water. But the single tap can be reached only by ducking under barbed wire – impossible for cows – and the water has to be carried in jerrycans back to the animals. This is totally impractical, Mr. Mukalazi points out.

He is not the only one to suffer. On the other side of the Chinese-owned farm “the swamp doesn’t hold water anymore,” says James Wandira, who was head of the district council when Kehong occupied its land. “Grazing animals has become impossible; some people have had to move away and others graze [their cows] now on their small plots of land, which is not sufficient.”

And it is not only farmers who have lodged complaints. Last March a fiberboard factory downstream from the Lubenge wetland found that its well had run dry, according to James Kunobere, a district environmental officer who refused Kehong permission to expand its operations because the swamp “is a refuge for our farmers in the dry season.”

On wetlands, little success

Similar accusations of wetland draining were leveled against Hanhe, another Chinese farm near Luwero and the first commercial Chinese agricultural operation in Uganda, which was set up in 2011.

Hanhe too was launched with much fanfare (President Museveni visited the farm in 2014 to lend his imprimatur) and Chinese government funding from the China Development Bank amid ambitious dreams of exporting mushrooms to China and the world. Later the owner, Qiu Lijun, and his wife, Zhou Lisha, tried farming fish; growing rice, maize, and millet; and raising pigs.

All their efforts, though, came to naught. Their fishponds, their crops, and their animals were washed away in repeated floods. Today the farm lies idle and overgrown, its buildings deserted, its agricultural machinery abandoned and rusting in the long grass, the silence broken only by an occasional bleat from one of the goats that two local villagers have installed in a disused pen.

The owners gave up in 2016, explains Ms. Zhou in a telephone interview. “We failed to make our money back,” she says. “The land is wetland and suffers from floods. We were not aware of that because we came to the place in the dry season when there was no water. But floods destroyed our crops and our gardens.

“Also the land abounds in clay, so it is hard to grow things in it. We struggled to fight with the land but the floods were a big problem,” Ms. Zhou says. “Sometimes we could not even get to the farm.”

She and her husband have not given up the land they leased, and are thinking about processing agricultural products rather than growing them, Ms. Zhou said. “But there is no prospect of the farm ever realizing the potential that [its owners] claimed for it,” points out Dr. Maiyo, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hanhe. 

Expectations vs. reality

At the height of Hanhe farm’s activity its owners were cultivating only 70 of the 400 acres they had leased from the government. But Western accounts estimated their landholding at 100,000 acres – 250 times the real figure.

That put it in the ranks of what Deborah Brautigam, who heads the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University, has branded “zombie land-grabs” – non-existent or grossly exaggerated Chinese agricultural investments. It is not uncommon for Chinese firms themselves to be the source of such exaggerations, inflating the size of their landholdings to impress potential investors back home.

Such reports feed the false impression that Chinese companies are leasing or buying huge tracts of African land on which to grow crops to feed Chinese consumers. Although Sinochem, a Chinese state-owned firm, has leased 120,000 acres to develop a rubber plantation in Cameroon, researchers at CARI have found no Chinese companies exporting rice or other cereals back home.

Professor Brautigam’s research shows that, rather, Chinese farms in Africa serve local markets; China devotes 12% of its overseas agricultural investment to Africa but buys only 2% of its food from the continent, according to a recent USDA report based on official Chinese figures.

There is no way of telling how many businesses Chinese farmers have set up in Uganda, says Dr. Maiyo, because the government does not keep accurate records, but he believes they number in the double digits.

Most of them, says Zhou Hang, who teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and who also studies Chinese investments in Uganda, are small affairs.

They raise rice, Chinese vegetables, and chickens that they sell to Chinese restaurants and the canteens set up by Chinese enterprises in Uganda employing large numbers of Chinese nationals, such as telecom giant Huawei and road construction firms, he adds.

More ambitious projects are generally less successful, according to Mr. Zhou. “The majority of big Chinese agricultural projects in Africa have not lived up to expectations – neither the Chinese government’s hype nor the way the Western media portrays them,” he says.

“Africa is seen as the Wild West in China,” says Dr. Maiyo. “So-called Chinese investors … bandy around these huge figures and African leaders are very happy to hear them. They acquire large tracts of land for a song and then go back to China to secure investment,” but often the money does not materialize.

In Luwero, the result is disillusion. “These Chinese companies, they give the impression that the area will completely change,” says Brian Luwaga, a journalist in Luwero who has followed the impact of Chinese investment in the region. “But then you don’t see anything.”

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. Black history in plain sight: One woman’s quest to topple stereotypes

Valerie Cunningham tells hidden stories of African Americans in New Hampshire, helping to dispel the myth that slavery didn’t exist in the North. She’s filling gaps and changing perspectives.

David
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Valerie Cunningham stands outside the Portsmouth headquarters for the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire on Sept. 5, 2019. The building was the parsonage for what is now St. John’s Episcopal Church, where the Rev. Arthur Browne enslaved two black men in the 18th century.

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At a diversity committee meeting in the 1990s, Valerie Cunningham showed slides of famous places in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The meeting attendees “knew the white story of what I was showing them,” she recalls. “And I said, ‘OK, here’s what I know about it.’”

Ms. Cunningham knows about the people left out by previous generations of historians who didn’t see their value. Over decades, she has scoured records to find out about these people in New Hampshire, digging alone in church basements, archives, and courthouses. Her work laid the foundation for the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, which turns 25 next year.

Making black history visible is a means to a bigger end for Ms. Cunningham. What motivates her research is a yearning to help people “become critical thinkers ... to learn what the history is and try to understand how it connects to what’s happening now.”

The trail creates “a sense of belonging,” says Dennis Britton, an African American professor of English who serves on the board of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, a nonprofit that Ms. Cunningham helped establish. “There would be no trail without Valerie Cunningham.”

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Black history in plain sight: One woman’s quest to topple stereotypes

Valerie Cunningham is a truth-teller. She’s known for busting myths by bringing hidden stories of African Americans to life – stories that can help shape a better understanding of the nation’s early chapters.

Through decades of digging alone in church basements, archives, and courthouses, Ms. Cunningham laid the foundation for the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, which turns 25 next year and includes a large memorial for the 18th-century African Burying Ground. By the 1800s, the burial site had been built over and forgotten, but now visitors to this seacoast city can find it alongside a residential block and pause to contemplate the striking sculpture of an African woman and man who stand back to back against a granite slab, their hands almost touching. And when tourists walk by famous mansions of white historical figures, they also see plaques about the black men and women who labored behind the scenes.

On a recent Saturday guided tour, Mary DeSalvo, a white retired teacher, says she spent summers in New Hampshire for years and “did not think that there were slaves up here” until she heard about the African Burying Ground. Without the context offered by the trail, Portsmouth would have only “a celebration of what white people have done,” she says.

Making black history visible is a means to a bigger end for Ms. Cunningham. What motivates her research is a deep yearning to help people “become critical thinkers ... to learn what the history is and try to understand how it connects to what’s happening now. ... History isn’t over,” she says.

That critical thinking keeps growing as more residents and visitors encounter black history that instantly changes their perceptions about New England, says JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, a nonprofit that she and Ms. Cunningham helped establish to handle the growing interest in recovered stories and sites.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The African Burying Ground Memorial is a stop along the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail. Visitors can tour the trail on foot or by trolley.

“The mythology of New England is, slavery was never a part of the North,” Ms. Boggis says. So to hear about enslaved individuals “asks you to rethink your history. Once you start that questioning, you start seeing people more as humans than as stereotypes.” In the current climate, she adds, “where racism seems to have raised its ugly head back into our consciousness,” many people on trail tours “want to know, ‘Why wasn’t this part of our school teaching?’”

Ms. Cunningham’s civil rights work has extended from marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Boston to making her home state of New Hampshire more inclusive. She joined with others to push for a holiday honoring King here, the last state to do so. This year, she was on hand when the state officially recognized Juneteenth as a day to reflect on slavery.

Throughout her life, Ms. Cunningham has shown a warmth and humility, exercising a quiet type of leadership through smiles and sincerity but also a dogged persuasiveness, people who know her say.

“It’s a moral authority, but it’s also born of all that she has learned,” says Angela Matthews, who met Ms. Cunningham at a community foundation in 1993 and has seen her transform from a shy woman to “an advocate for this lost history ... and human dignity, and making New Hampshire the best possible place to live for all people.”

A curious listener and persistent questioner

Before Ms. Cunningham was a truth-teller, she was a curious listener and persistent questioner. “Everybody thought I was a weird child because I was always hovering about,” she says, fingering her wooden bead necklace and recalling conversations among her parents’ crowd in Portsmouth during the civil rights era.

It wasn’t just white people who held stereotypes about slavery. As a high school student working at the local library, she picked up the 1859 book “Rambles About Portsmouth,” and found mentions of enslaved Africans in the city’s history. But when she asked black adults about this, she says the response often would be, “Yeah, but it wasn’t really slavery in the North. It was more like indentured servants.”

Not satisfied, she continued probing, scouring local records for clues about people who’d been left out by historians who didn’t see their value.

One day Ms. Cunningham asked for the Colonial records at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a commanding brick building here on the site of an earlier church known as Queen’s Chapel. She found in those pages “Venus” – a poor black woman who’d been given a dollar from the church fund. The tidbits were “enough to make me keep looking,” she says.

After she published some of her findings, a community foundation (the one where she met Ms. Matthews) appointed her to a diversity committee in the early 1990s. At one of its meetings, she showed slides of famous places around town. “They knew the white story of what I was showing them. And I said, ‘OK, here’s what I know about it.’”

She told them about people like Prince Whipple, the enslaved servant of Portsmouth’s William Whipple, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Along with 19 other enslaved Africans, Prince petitioned the New Hampshire legislature for freedom in 1779. They were denied, but the example of men who were erudite, even using satire, punctures the pervasive view that slaves were illiterate, Ms. Boggis says.

Impressed and intrigued, the foundation funded Ms. Cunningham to work with historian Mark J. Sammons on a curriculum guide for local schools. The guide expanded later into a book, and also became the basis for the large bronze plaques put up around town to form the heritage trail.

Around 1996, local history writer J. Dennis Robinson asked Ms. Cunningham if he could publicize her work through a new thing called a website. She was suspicious.

“I didn’t know who this white guy was,” she says with a laugh, “and you know, we have a history of white people taking our stuff and capitalizing on it.”

He promised to credit her whenever he wrote about her material, so she agreed. “He’s a wonderful storyteller,” she says.

Her research on black lives “knocked me out,” Mr. Robinson says. At that time, “it was all these historic houses that we had, but there was zero black history. And very little women’s history. No immigrant history. Just the guy that lived in the house.”

A far-reaching effect

Ivy League scholars started emailing Mr. Robinson to ask how they could get in touch with Ms. Cunningham. She inspired people from as far away as New Zealand to set up their own heritage tours, he says.

“She provided me with a kind of X-ray vision in which I can’t look at a building or read a book without wondering what the rest of the story is. ... I’m always thinking, ‘What would Valerie think?’”

He’s far from the only one who’s followed Ms. Cunningham’s lead.

“A lot of people say, ‘Whatever Valerie says is what we’re going to do,’” says Ms. Matthews, who is also a board member for the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.

Ms. Cunningham’s influence has made the state feel more inclusive. For African Americans, who make up less than 2% of the population, it’s encouraging “to know that people of color weren’t just walking through the state to Canada ... but were part of the cultural fabric, the civic fabric” as residents, both enslaved and free, Ms. Boggis says.

The trail creates “a sense of belonging ... [and] there would be no trail without Valerie Cunningham,” says Dennis Britton, an African American professor of English at the University of New Hampshire who also serves on the nonprofit’s board.

Ms. Cunningham recently stopped giving tours herself, but she’s still researching state civil rights figures. Of the heritage trails’ success, she says, “It’s a thrill to know that this history, these voices who have been silenced for so long ... now somebody wants to hear what they have to say.”

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The Monitor's View

Why curbs on youth vaping can succeed

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When world leaders gather this month in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, high on the agenda will be a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The pact has helped focus global attention on ways to safeguard children and their innocence. One of the latest efforts is the protection of youth from e-cigarette use, or vaping, which has become an “epidemic” in the United States. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered vaping giant Juul to stop making unproven claims for its products.

In 2018 e-cigarette use among American high school students was 21%, an increase of 78% over 2017. This rapid increase is the fastest rate ever recorded for an addictive substance. If the rise in youth vaping continues, U.S. health officials say they will take more aggressive action.

The 1989 treaty on the rights of the child marked a big step for humanity. This global awakening helped compel countries to act quicker when threats to children arise. The outcry over teen vaping in the U.S. and the government’s crackdown show the near-universal presumption of innocence for all children.

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Why curbs on youth vaping can succeed

When world leaders gather this month in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, high on the agenda will be a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The pact has helped focus global attention on ways to safeguard children and their innocence, whether in war zones, sex trafficking, border crossings, or even in front of video games. In Britain, the government has a new initiative to curb youth gambling.

One of the latest efforts is the protection of youth from e-cigarette use, or vaping, which has become an “epidemic” in the United States. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered vaping giant Juul to stop making unproven claims for its products.

“Juul has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth,” said acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless. In recent testimony to Congress, two students told of Juul representatives saying in a school forum that their products are totally safe.

In 2018 e-cigarette use among American high school students was 21%, an increase of 78% over 2017. This rapid increase is the fastest rate ever recorded for an addictive substance, according to a survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

If the rise in youth vaping continues, U.S. health officials say they will take more aggressive action. The FDA has proposed regulations on e-cigarettes that would restrict their sales in most stores. Juul claimed last year that it had stopped marketing its products directly to youth. But the FDA points to subtle messaging or false claims that still draw children to take up the habit.

The agency now says any benefits that e-cigarettes might provide in reducing tobacco use among adults are outweighed by the rise of their use among teens as well as reports of recent deaths attributed to vaping. A number of cities have banned sales of e-cigarettes. This year, Michigan became the first state to ban flavored versions of the product.

This effort in the U.S. has plenty of examples of success in protecting children from harm. Worldwide, for example, the number of girls and boys doing hazardous work is down from two decades ago. Since 2014, a U.N. campaign has freed more than 100,000 child soldiers in conflict zones.

The 1989 treaty on the rights of the child marked a big step for humanity. The pact was the most rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. This global awakening helped compel countries to act quicker when threats to children arise. The outcry over teen vaping in the U.S. and the government’s crackdown show the near-universal presumption of innocence for all children.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

The law that helps and heals

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Learning more about how God’s goodness acts as a law in our lives overruled the effects of head injuries a woman sustained in a car accident, and brought quick healing.

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The law that helps and heals

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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One day I was in a car accident and sustained injuries to my head that looked pretty dramatic. All kinds of predictions were being made about possible damage done, and the EMTs who arrived at the scene advised a trip to the hospital.

But I had previously experienced countless healings through a different approach: understanding more about God, good, as the one true cause. Broken bones, swollen glands, internal hemorrhaging, and heart palpitations, among other things, had been quickly and completely healed as I learned more about God’s spiritual law of health and harmony. Wanting to approach this situation the same way, I requested to go home instead of to the hospital.

Immediately upon impact, I had begun praying. I also called a Christian Science practitioner to pray for me, affirming and defending my innocence as an undamaged, intact spiritual idea of God, which the divine Science of Christ reveals as the true identity of everyone. These prayers brought calm and complete freedom from pain, even while the injuries were still visible.

As I continued to pray that night, a new and inspired conviction came to me about divine law: that in all the universe, in all existence itself, there is really just this one true law, God’s law. I’m not talking about jurisprudence, but the very law or nature of all true being. The infinitude, or allness, of God is that law, in which everyone is actually God’s spiritual expression – pure and whole.

I remembered a statement along these lines by the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, in her book “No and Yes.” It says: “God’s law reaches and destroys evil by virtue of the allness of God.

“He need not know the evil He destroys, any more than the legislator need know the criminal who is punished by the law enacted. God’s law is in three words, ‘I am All;’ and this perfect law is ever present to rebuke any claim of another law” (p. 30).

In other words, God’s allness rules out the presence of anything that is not included in that allness – anything that is unlike Spirit’s goodness and perfection. No complications, no variables of circumstance, no lurking unknowns, just “I am All.”

As I pondered the absolute allness of God, good, I began to also think of its always-ness. Spiritual laws aren’t like a Hail Mary pass in football, a last-ditch option if we’ve gotten a bit behind in the game of human life and need to make up some ground. The notion that there was some material “law” I had broken (that I’d been in a situation where injury and slow recovery were the inevitable outcome) was replaced by a conviction within me that there has only ever been one law – God’s law – and it can’t be broken because there is no alternative to allness. Nothing can be outside of the infinite good that is All.

I slept peacefully that night, and by morning the swelling on my forehead was almost completely gone. Over the next few days I continued to pray along these lines, and the injuries faded quickly until I was completely free.

This experience has helped me see more clearly that the law of God’s allness is not just another law, it is the only true law of our being as God’s children. What assurance and joy to know that this divine law, this all-presence of God, is always present, defending us from any supposed laws of accident, injury, or any other malady. As we accept and yield more fully to God’s supreme authority, we feel its healing power in our lives.

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Viewfinder

The woodcutter

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
A man fetches firewood in Macheke, Zimbabwe, Sept. 10, 2019. Firewood is a staple in Zimbabwe, as many residents rely on it for heating and cooking. In recent months, demand has increased amid a series of power outages.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 11th, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about the likely shift in U.S. foreign policy with the abrupt exit of national security adviser John Bolton.

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September 10, 2019
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