Where Kids Snort Tobacco As A Cold And Headache Remedy

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, tobacco powder is a common cure for colds, headaches and many other ailments.

A Congolese child (Steve Evans)
A Congolese child (Steve Evans)
Désiré Tankuy

BANDUNDU-CITY - It's recess time at the Bobenga primary school in downtown Bandundu, in western Congo. Students go out to relax in the courtyard, and small groups of children gather under the mango trees that line the school. And then, some take out small pouches of tobacco powder and start inhaling, passing the bags along to their friends.

"Try my tobacco," offers offers Flayette Ndukute, a 14-year-old. She boasts that it was made the night before by a famous manufacturer from the nearby Nsele neigborhood, and invites her friends to snort the grey powder, a mix of tobacco, leaf ash and wild roots.

"It's good, but I prefer the chocolate tobacco from Lubwe Avenue. They say it helps your eyesight and heals colds," answers Jackson. Since he was 12, his parents gave him tobacco to snort every time he had a cold. He's become addicted to the grey powder.

To "heal" colds, headaches or fevers, many adults in Bandundu-city turn to "tumbako ya zolo" (snuff) which they inhale several times a day. They have passed on this habit to their children.

Using children as tobacco testers

Some manufacturers use children to test the quality of their products before putting them on the market. "Before they go to school, they help me grill, grind and sift. They try it before the clients arrive so that I'm sure that the tobacco is good quality," confirms Eboma, whose 16-year-old daughter has become addicted as a result. "It's the family bread-and-butter. Everybody has to pitch in."

A small dose costs $0.05 and the tobacco sells like hot cakes. "At the end of the day, I usually don't have any tobacco left," explains Joséphine Ntoko, a manufacturer from the Lisala district.

But health professionals are finally blowing the whistle on the risks for children. "Parents should not try to unblock their sick children's noses with tobacco powder," warns neurologist Fabrice Divert Emoeny. Tobacco contains nicotine, which in small doses brings about light euphoria, eases tiredness and increases blood pressure. "Repeated inhalation of strong doses causes addiction. Children must refrain from it because their organism is still fragile," adds the neurologist. "It's a drug."

But it is hard to implement the neurologist's recommendations - all children are doing is imitating a widespread adult behavior. During class, one Bandundu teacher regularly exchanges powder with her students. "When I want some, I just ask one of my students. They never refuse, nor do I," she says.

Indeed, "Adults do it, so why not us," is the common reply you get when you try to tell a child that snorting tobacco isn't good for them.

Read the article in French in Syfia.

Photo - Steve Evans

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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