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No Law Against Chasing Light

Photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi turns in his barrister’s wig and gown for a zoom lens and pixel power.

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It’s not easy to be a photographer, not when your father is a high court judge and there are four lawyers and two doctors in the family. Photographer Kelechi Amadi-Obi has made peace with the fact that he’s a bit of a black sheep in the family. And looking back, his family should have known all along that he was going to be an artist.

Growing up in the eastern region of Nigeria, in the city of Umuahia, he quickly developed a passion for drawing.

“It all started with reading comics and drawing Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. I realized that I had talent with visual arts and I started to draw. My drawings earned me respect among my peers,” says Amadi-Obi.

With the encouragement of those around him, he was spurred on to improve his skills. Unfortunately in the neighborhood where he grew up, there were no museums, art schools or galleries where he could hone his skills.

“I would go to the local library to do research on drawing. The more I read and practised, the better I got and the quicker I improved,” he says.

Amadi -Obi dressed as a barrister

Even with his passion for drawing and the visual arts, his family put his career choices down to law or medicine. Amadi-Obi chose law and duly enrolled at university. Ironically though university exposed him to art in a way he had never encountered before.

“When I got to university I realized there was an active art scene there. I naturally gravitated towards artists,” he says.

The law student became the talk of his campus as his artwork surpassed that of the art students. Yet he kept hitting the law books and graduated to take up a job as barrister. He only wore his gown and wig for one year after being called to the bar.

“After my one year of service I started working at an art studio, where I exhibited my art and became a successful exhibiting artist. Photography came gradually. I used to make photos as a reference material for my paintings. I started making paintings of human forms and took photos of models in my studio with light coming from my window,” says the painter-cum-photographer.

“I learnt to use a camera and learnt to capture light in a very intricate and delicate way to achieve my purpose. The photographs themselves became artworks. I started associating with other photographers too. Once I finished taking images I would go to the darkroom to print my photos. I looked at the darkroom process and it looked very similar to my painting process, only it had quicker results,” he says.

His decision to settle in Lagos shaped his career forever. The city has not attracted many photographers but it has certainly attracted those with an eye for drama. The city exposed him to spectacular sites including the picturesque lagoons of the region, which span over 635 kilometers and cut across the southern part of the metropolis, linking the Atlantic Ocean and Lekki lagoon. But it wasn’t just the beauty of the lagoons, which attract so many artists that inspired Amadi-Obi. He also saw inspiration in the sprawling fishing slums that draw together the huge influx of people migrating to the region.

His photographic career took off in 2001, when a German friend invited him to exhibit at the Rencontres De Bamako or “African Photography Biennale”. Since the exhibition’s inception in 1994, it has caught the attention of jet-setting curators, critics and dealers. It has also popularized African photographers such as Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé.

Soon after he was invited to Milan to showcase the collection he exhibited at the Biennale. But while Rencontres De Bamako has opened doors for many African photographers, it has also been a source of controversy.

“Some of the reasons for this controversy are familiar and echo long-standing issues in the presentation of African art to Euro-American audiences,” write Jennifer Bajorek and Erin Haney, who are independent curators.

They claim that such exhibitions perpetuate asymmetries of power and leave young artists and organizers feeling alienated from their work. To overcome these challenges artists are forming new alliances and building their own networks, which are not remote-controlled by the West.

Amadi-Obi is no exception. After his exhibition in Milan he established a career in Nigeria in collaboration with other upcoming photographers. Depth of Field, set up in 2001, is the brainchild of Amadi-Obi and five other photographers: Uchechukwu James Iroha, Toyosi Odunsi, Amaize Ojeikere, Emeka Okereke and Toyin Sokefun. This artist collective was formed to deepen the conversation among the photographers and aims to attract local audiences to their work. They critique each other’s work and share resources including a library, publicity platforms and web visibility.

The ace photographer’s online portfolio is stacked with fashion photos he took before he was commissioned to such a shoot.

“I wanted to shoot fashion but there were no fashion magazines. Still I would call models and take pictures of them like the ones I would see in Vogue Magazine. So I was making a portfolio with no clients.

“When someone in Nigeria bought the South African franchise of True Love magazine [to the country], they needed a photographer and someone recommended me,” says Amadi-Obi.

His work with True Love earned him recognition among mushrooming corporates looking to improve their image with slick photographs in company brochures, annual reports and on their websites. With commissions from companies such as Guinness, MTN, British American Tobacco, the Ford Foundation, Prima Garnet Ogilvy, Insight Grey, Flour Mills of Nigeria and Orange Drugs, his career is on the up.

His passion for photography has made Amadi-Obi a household name in Lagos. To be a successful photographer does not require extraordinary equipment, he believes. When he started his career he used a Mamiya RB67 film camera. Today, most of his images are taken with several professional lenses but he’s hooked on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II body.

“I am not particular with equipment. There was a time when I used to be crazy about cameras but I got tired because they keep changing… To get a good image you just need to have a good eye,” says Amadi-Obi.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Facebook Is Still Leaking Data More Than One Year After Cambridge Analytica

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Facebook said late Tuesday that roughly 100 developers may have improperly accessed user data, which includes the names and profile pictures of individuals in certain Facebook Groups.

The company explained in a blog post that developers primarily of social media management and video-streaming apps retained the ability to access Facebook Group member information longer than the company intended.

The company did not detail the type of data that was improperly accessed beyond names and photos, and it did not disclose the number of users affected by the leak.

Facebook restricted its developer APIs—which provide a way for apps to interface with Facebook data—in April 2018, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke the month before. The goal was to reduce the way in which developers could gather large swaths of data from Facebook users.

But the company’s sweeping changes have been relatively ineffective. More than a year after the company restricted API access, the company continues to announce newly discovered data leaks.

“Although we’ve seen no evidence of abuse, we will ask them to delete any member data they may have retained and we will conduct audits to confirm that it has been deleted,” Facebook said in a statement.

The social media giant says in its announcement that it reached out to 100 developer partners who may have improperly accessed user data and says that at least 11 developer partners accessed the user data within the last 60 days.

Facebook has been reviewing the ways that companies are able to collect information and personal data about its users since the New York Times reported that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data of millions of users. Facebook later said the firm connected to the Trump campaign may have improperly accessed data on 87 million users.

The Federal Trade Commission slapped Facebook with a $5 billion fine as a result of the breach. As part of the 20-year agreement both parties reached, Facebook now faces new guidelines for how it handles privacy leaks.

“The new framework under our agreement with the FTC means more accountability and transparency into how we build and maintain products,” Facebook’s director of platform partnerships, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, wrote in a Facebook post.

“As we work through this process we expect to find examples like the Groups API of where we can improve; rest assured we are committed to this work and supporting the people on our platform.”

Michael Nuñez

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How A BlackBerry Wiretap Helped Crack A Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Cartel

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On August 18, 2017, four men travelling in a dual-engine speedboat carrying 1,590 pounds of cocaine were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard northwest of the Galapagos Islands.

The federal agents manning the channel chose to launch a helicopter to hover over the boat. With this aggressive move, the men began to jettison the bales of coke, each with their own GPS tracker so they could be picked up at a later date, according to the government’s narrative. They attempted to flee, and when they ignored the warning shots from the helicopter, the chopper fired rounds directly at the boat, disabling it.

After the bales were collected, the government realized they had just stopped a huge amount of cocaine from entering the U.S. In total, it carried a street value of $25 million. The four men, all Ecuadorians, were swiftly arrested and charged.

Though the cartel had set up a sophisticated, multilayered operation that sought to slip coke into the country and up to Ohio via land, air and sea, they had made a crucial error: They used BlackBerry phones. As the drug barons chatted about shifting cocaine and how to avoid the narcs over BlackBerry Messenger, a wiretap on a server in Texas was quietly collecting all their communications.

In a case that’s Narcos meets The Wire, federal agents have, since June 2017, been listening in on that server. And beyond that interception, Forbes can exclusively reveal it is yielding results. On Friday, an Ohio court is unsealing charges against one of the crew’s top brass: Francisco Golon-Valenzuela, 40.

Known as El Toro, Spanish for The Bull, the Guatemalan was extradited from Panama earlier this week and is appearing before a magistrate judge today. (Forbes hasn’t yet made contact with his counsel for a response but will update if comment is forthcoming.)

Described as one of various organizers and leaders of the unnamed cartel, El Toro is charged with conspiring to distribute at least 5 kilograms or more of cocaine on the high seas. As a result, he’s facing between 10 years and life in prison.

A key to BlackBerry 

For any organized crime operation, BlackBerry has always been a poor choice. No longer extant since being decommissioned in spring this year, BlackBerry Messenger did encrypt messages, but the Canadian manufacturer of the once-ubiquitous smartphone had the key. And all messages went through a BlackBerry-owned server. If law enforcement could legally compel BlackBerry to hand over that key, they would get all the plain-text messages previously garbled into gibberish with that key.

Compare this to genuine, end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal; they create keys on the phone itself and the device owner controls them. To spy on those messages, governments either have to hack a target device or have physical access to the phone. Both are tricky to do, especially for investigations of multinational criminal outfits. Police can put a kind of tap on a WhatsApp server, known as a pen register.

This will tell them what numbers have called or messaged one another, and at what date and time, but won’t provide any message content. This makes those apps considerably more attractive to privacy-conscious folk than those where the developer holds the keys, though sometimes to the chagrin of law enforcement.

It’s unclear how or when the DEA got access to the BlackBerry server. A so-called Title III order was issued, granting them court approval to carry out the wiretap, though that remains under seal.

It proved vital to the investigation. “There would be no case without the without the Title III on BlackBerry Messenger,” said Dave DeVillers, who was recently nominated as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “The defendants, the seizures, the conspiracy were all identified with the Title III.”

A spokesperson for BlackBerry said: “We do not speculate or comment upon individual matters of lawful access.” The company has, however, previously made its stance on encryption public: Unlike other major tech providers like Apple or Google, BlackBerry will hand over the keys if it’s served with a legitimate law enforcement request.

If the police did receive a key from BlackBerry, it wouldn’t be the first time. Back in 2016, it emerged that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had decrypted more than one million BlackBerry messages as part of a homicide investigation dating back to 2010.

As per reports from that time, it’s possible to use one of BlackBerry’s keys to unlock not just one device’s messages, but those on other phones too. Forbes asked the DOJ whether investigators would’ve been able to access other, innocent people’s BlackBerry messages as part of this wiretap, but hadn’t received a response at the time of publication.

Fishermen and spies

However those BlackBerry messages were intercepted, they helped illuminate a dark criminal conspiracy constructed of myriad parts. As revealed in today’s indictment, made known to Forbes ahead of publication, the gang employed “load coordinators.” Think of them as project managers, helping locate drivers for trucks and boats while finding people to invest in the cocaine.

Fishermen and other maritime workers were also allegedly recruited. They would help both in refueling the drug baron’s ships, but also helping transport the powder, prosecutors said.

Other individuals became ad hoc spies, sharing information on the activities and locations of police and military personnel trying to intercept shipments, according to the government’s allegations. Other coconspirators sheltered individuals who were at risk of extradition—not that it saved El Toro.

Forbes first became aware of the investigation in 2017, when a search warrant detailed various BlackBerry intercepts. In one, a pair of cartel employees discussed having to put some cocaine transports on hold because of a multinational maritime exercise—the Unitas Pacifico 2017—taking place in their shipment lanes, according to the warrant. BlackBerry wasn’t the only major tech provider to help on the case; That search warrant was for a Google account linked to one of the suspects, which investigators believe was used for further logistics.

The investigation has revealed that the 2017 seizure wasn’t the only time the cops had disrupted what was evidently a criminal enterprise worth hundreds of millions. In May 2016, long before the BlackBerry wiretap went up and the investigation into the cartel had begun in earnest, U.S. authorities intercepted 1,940 pounds of coke near the Guatemalan-Mexico border, worth another $30 million.

Despite such successes, DeVillers told Forbes the American government will never interdict its way to ending the drug trade. “We can only disrupt it,” he added. “And if we turn the tools used by the cartels to run their organization against them, we do just that.”

-Thomas Brewster; Forbes

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