Thousands of caravan migrants reach Mexico

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The mostly Honduran migrants have been travelling by foot for a week now. Despite initial efforts from Mexico to block them at the border with Guatemala, most have entered illegally by boat.

Aleem Maqbool reports.

Video be Angélica M Casas and Peter Murtaugh

Kenyan crypto-currency pioneer: ‘I make my money from Bitcoin and tasty roast meat’

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Betty's Place sign

The towering vista of Mount Kenya provides an unlikely backdrop to a tech-savvy Kenyan restaurant that has embraced crypto-currencies as a form of payment.

Betty’s Place specialises in «nyama choma», a lip-smacking goat meat barbeque that is a firm favourite amongst Kenyans.

Located in the rural town of Nyeri, about 150km (90 miles) outside the capital, Nairobi, it is one of the few businesses in the country that allows customers to pay with not one but two crypto-currencies — Bitcoin and Dash.

«Since the world is becoming more global, my place is also becoming a global restaurant,» says Beatrice Wambugu, the owner of the restaurant.

«I attract different customers from different parts of the world, whichever coin they have. As long as it’s a viable coin we accept it.»

Ms Wambugu started trading in Bitcoin two years ago and and within a year she made enough money to buy the two-storey Nyeri hotel, which she converted to Betty’s Place.

Located on Nyeri town’s busy main road, the restaurant is unmistakable with its bright mustard-coloured walls and big glass windows providing a welcome invitation to hungry patrons, who are greeted by a pleasant aroma of meat on the grill and the sounds of local music.

Bitcoin lessons

Betty’s Place is not only a place for tasty Kenyan cuisine, but it has become something of a local attraction for people wanting to know more about Bitcoin.

When it comes to embracing new technology, Ms Wambugu describes herself as «a crypto-currency pioneer».

Behind the jargon

  • What is Bitcoin? It is a crypto-currency that has no notes or coins. It is digital and largely exists online and is not issued by governments or traditional banks
  • What is blockchain? It is the technology that underpins Bitcoin — a method of recording data, a digital ledger of transactions, agreements and contract. Distributed across computers around the world, no one person or entity can control the data, which makes it transparent

However, her payments in Bitcoin have been modest — about 30,000 Kenyan shillings (£230, $300) in sales from about 20 people.

To encourage more take up, she holds classes in how to trade in Bitcoin every Sunday at her restaurant.

Image caption You can enjoy roast meat as well as learn about digital currencies at Betty’s Place

«I’ve set aside one day where I can teach my customers. Whoever asks about crypto-currencies: ‘How does it work? What is Bitcoin?’ I train them,» she says.

Mobile phones make paying with crypto-currency at Betty’s Place and other retailers easy.

In Africa the mobile phone has been instrumental in transforming the way people conduct business, and the growth of Bitcoin could one day rival mobile banking platforms like M-Pesa as a viable form of payment.

Image caption You can get a Bitcoin wallet on your mobile phone

Bitcoin presents an «opportunity to do what people are calling ‘banking the unbanked'», says James Preston, head of the publication SA Crypto, referring to more than 350 million Africans who do not have access to traditional forms of banking.

«There’s been such a history of poverty in Africa that so many rural communities are yet to be developed with normal banking infrastructure,» he told the BBC.

«Now all of a sudden they can get a Bitcoin wallet on their phone and in essence they can have a bank in their phone, and that’s what crypto-currencies and crypto assets do, they allow you to be your own bank,» he told the BBC.

Cautionary tales

The surge in popularity of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies has led many experts to believe that Africa will once again leapfrog the digital divide, bypassing traditional banking much like it did with the fixed-line telephone.

According to the African Development Bank, smart phone penetration is set to hit 50% by 2020.

Yet even in the famed Kenyan tech hub of «Silicon Savannah» there are few if any businesses that allow customers to buy with Bitcoin — and there are cautionary tales.

Smart Money is the new BBC weekly business programme for Africa

Look out for it on partner stations from 22 October.

Peter Oduba, a would-be investor from Kenya, fell for a Bitcoin Ponzi scam called Crypto Wealth and lost a significant amount of money in the process.

He told the BBC the scam had involved «six pots» investors could «jump into».

«The first pot when you get in, you have to bring two people, then those two people bring in another two,» he explained.

«Once the other two bring more people it means you have like seven or eight people, which means once you have seven people, someone has to jump to the next pot.

«They were saying once you jump to pot number two they will give you some money in Bitcoin. We didn’t know it was a scam, and we did it for quite some time and then it just collapsed.»

What is a Ponzi scheme?

  • Original investors are initially rewarded with a high rate of return on their investment, but they need more investors in the scheme to maintain that level of return
  • More investors are conned into joining, but as their investments are used to pay the original investors returns and inflate the scheme, they receive less money from their investments. They in turn seek more investors to increase their returns
  • Scheme collapses when the number of new investors dwindles and returns dry up

Blockchain ‘incorruptible’

Bitcoins, and the blockchain technology that underpins crypto-currencies, are often touted as presenting an opportunity to transform business and the way governments run in Africa.

Transparency and accountability are key aspects of the blockchain system — two qualities citizens seek in African countries that have been mired in corruption and maladministration.

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Media captionKarishma Vaswani takes a look at blockchain and explains how it works

Pan-African telecommunications company Liquid Telecom said in its blockchain report this year, that the technology was a «truth engine that represents a new opportunity to improve processes and drive efficiency».

If all government contracts, tenders and budgets were available in an incorruptible blockchain network there would be an exponential decline in corrupt practices and shady deals.

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But it is important to note that blockchain technology is not the panacea to the governance problems seen in parts of Africa.

«Blockchain is no magic wand,» said Carlos Santiso, who heads the Innovation in Citizen Services Division of the Inter-American Development Bank.

«It will not replace the need for stronger institutions and, in fact, it can be most effective when strengthening them.»

‘Crypto-currency is a gamble’

Much of the appeal of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies for investors is that they are free from the strictures of regulatory authorities, partly because legislation has not caught up with the technology yet.

Image caption Beatrice Wambugu used her profits from trading in Bitcoin to open up her restaurant

South Africa’s central bank trialled a system earlier this year called Project Khokha, which used blockchain technology, to process interbank payments and settlements.

It found that «the typical daily volume of the South African payments system could be processed in less than two hours» with full confidentiality of transactions assured.

In Nigeria — home to the continent’s largest Bitcoin market with more than $4m-worth traded daily — regulators have taken a much stronger stance than their South African counterparts.

Earlier this year, the country’s Senate ordered an investigation into Bitcoin trading and central bank governor Godwin Emefiele warned: «Crypto-currency or Bitcoin is like a gamble, and there is a need for everybody to be careful.»

Business instinct and pioneering endeavour has led Ms Wambugu to invest in Bitcoin and make it a payment alternative for her customers.

She does not need regulators to tell her how to best use the technology.

Betty’s Place is at the confluence of traditional food and modernity in a rural setting, and that is exactly how Ms Wambugu wants it to be.

«At my place, it’s ‘nyama choma’ and ‘nyama Bitcoin’,» she added.

Who will help rebuild the city of Raqqa?

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A youth walks in front of the ruins of a building in Raqqa, SyriaImage copyright Getty Images

It’s a year since the Syrian city of Raqqa was freed from the grip of the group known as Islamic State. Evidence of the brutal battle to dislodge the extremists is visible everywhere you look. But the fear of the people who’ve returned to this broken city is that the rest of the world is now walking away.

Raqqa is still a rubble city. The chaos is ultimately the creation of IS. But the devastation was also caused by thousands and thousands of coalition airstrikes.

It took more than five months of intensive bombing to dislodge the extremists from their de facto capital. Mostly dropped from US warplanes but British ones too.

Yet neither Britain nor America appears willing so far to take responsibility for repairing the damage they caused.

Despite the devastation, many families who fled the fighting have now returned. Some shops have re-opened. Traffic runs past the rubble piled high on the side of the streets. But they are now asking who will rebuild their shattered city?

We were driven around Raqqa by US special forces in unmarked armoured 4×4 vehicles. Some children waved at the convoy as we passed. The US commander in the front seat, who we can’t identify, told me: «There’s still a tonne of goodwill.» The danger is that any goodwill will evaporate the longer their needs go unmet.

We were taken to meet Raqqa’s Civil Council which has a long list of concerns that need to be addressed. Much of the city is still without essential services such as running water and electricity.

None of Raqqa’s destroyed bridges, essential for the movement of goods and people, has been repaired. The main hospital where IS made their last stand still lies in ruins.

Council member Layla Moustaffa says: «We’re concerned about how long it’s taking for the international community to respond.» She likens Raqqa to a sick man in urgent need of medical attention.

Ammar Jabor, another council member, says he believes «everyone who contributed to the destruction of the city should help rebuild it». When I ask who, he replies: «I’m asking the USA and the UK to rebuild this beautiful city.»

Image caption Raqqa Civil Council member Layla Moustaffa is concerned at the international response to the situation in the city

America and Britain may have contributed to the devastation. But both have stated they won’t get involved directly in efforts to rebuild those areas of Syria that have been destroyed by the war until there’s a UN-backed peace process for the whole country. That doesn’t look like happening anytime soon.

Instead the US and a handful of other nations say they’re focusing their efforts on «stabilisation».

Patrick Connell, a senior US State Department official on the ground, says that means denying the extremists the «fertile ground they can recruit from». There are still IS sleeper cells operating in the city.

The US says it’s already spent more than $8bn (£6bn) on humanitarian assistance right across Syria. Britain, the second-largest bilateral donor, has committed £2.7bn.

In Raqqa itself, some of that money has been spent on clearing some of the thousands of explosive devices left behind by the extremists, and providing food, medical supplies and education. But these efforts have stopped short of reconstruction.

Even that limited help is now in doubt. Raqqa’s fear of being forgotten has been heightened by a decision by the Trump administration to cut more than $200m (£150m) earmarked for Syria’s stabilisation.

US officials say it’s being done to force other nations to do more. Patrick Connell says it’s a signal from the president «that the burden needs to be shared». The US says a handful of other nations have already pledged contributions that will help ensure that work will continue.

But Raqqa still needs more support and it’s the children of Raqqa whose futures will suffer without it.

Image caption The US State Department’s Patrick Connell says the wider international community has an obligation to help out

Our US military minders took us to a school which is helping young children who’ve suffered the emotional and physical scars of the war.

The pupils included a girl who’d been forced to marry an IS fighter at the age of 11 and who’d then been divorced at 13 after she was injured.

Sitting in a classroom, two young boys who’d lost limbs were enthusiastically learning the alphabet. Both are among the victims of the thousands of explosive devices left behind by the extremists.

The State Department official overseeing the programme told us they were giving them the opportunity to learn and play that they were denied under IS. But the US funding for this programme will run out by the end of the year.

The US is keen to remind the rest of the world that, even if it’s cutting its funding, it’s not turning its back on north-east Syria.

There are still 2,000 US troops on the ground helping the Syrian Democratic Forces clear the last pocket of IS territory in the region. The US says they will stay until they ensure the «enduring defeat of IS».

Image caption The US funds projects like this school for children affected by the conflict but will no longer do so after the end of 2018

Maj Gen Pat Roberson, the US special operations commander on the ground, believes America is already «fulfilling its responsibility by ridding Syria of IS». He says the rest of the world now needs to help out, too.

The people of Raqqa are trying their best to rebuild the city. At the city’s sports stadium, which was used by IS as a prison and execution centre, we witnessed signs of reconstruction.

Some of the work was being carried out by the same men who were brutally held in captivity by the extremists.

But on their own, they are just scratching the surface. It will take billions and billions of dollars to repair the damage of the war.

Ahead of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell warned President George W Bush «you break it, you own it». But so far no-one seems willing to apply that rule to the reconstruction of Raqqa.

Clemson University: Floor collapse injures 30 in South Carolina

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A composite showing a collapsed floor at a US universityImage copyright EVN
Image caption Those there screamed as the floor collapsed

At least 30 people were injured when a floor collapsed at a party at Clemson University, South Carolina.

The Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity annual homecoming party was just getting started when the floor gave way.

Police said some of the attendees broke bones as they fell from the common area into the basement of the off-campus apartment complex.

Emergency responders were at the scene in minutes, and 23 people were taken to hospital.

«The beat was about to drop and literally the whole floor collapsed,» student Larissa Stone told Greenville News. «People are hurt. People are bleeding. I had blood on my sneakers. It was really bad.»

«Everybody was jumping, next thing you know… I can feel myself falling,» attendee Leroy Pearson told local news channel WSPA-TV. «I blacked out, and there [were] girls everywhere with blood all over their face.»

University president Jim Clements tweeted that the «entire student support system will be available for any student impacted», and thanked the emergency services for their help.

Attendees posted video of the collapse online, which features graphic footage and strong language.

The university released a statement about the incident, which happened early Sunday morning.

«Clemson Student Affairs is working to determine how many of those injured were Clemson students, and to notify other institutions if one or more of their students were in attendance,» it reads.

The building where the party took place at the Woodlands of Clemson apartment complex was reportedly built in 2004. Police said an investigation has begun.