It is a Saturday morning in November, and Afghan MP Nazifa Yousufi Bek gathers up her notes and prepares to head for the office. But instead of jumping in an armoured car bound for the mahogany-lined parliament in Kabul, her journey is by bus from a Greek hotel to a migrants’ organisation in the centre of Athens. There, taking her place on a folding chair, she inaugurates the Afghan women’s parliament in – exile.
“Our people have nothing. Mothers are selling their children,” she tells a room packed with her peers. “We must raise our voices, we must put a stop to this,” says Yousufi Bek, 35, who fled Afghanistan with her husband and three young children after the Taliban swept to power in August. Some around her nod in agreement; others quietly weep.
Yousufi Bek, from the northern Takhar province, is one of 28 female MPs who have found refuge in Greece, a country most had never visited before. Until recently, these women made up more than 40% of Afghanistan’s female MPs. Now they are confronted with an unrecognisable alphabet and an uncertain future.
They want to combat an illegitimate regime that has stripped women of basic rights and plunged their country deeper into poverty and hunger amid an economic meltdown caused by the American withdrawal and sanctions.
November sunshine pours through the windows as the room buzzes with energy. The women take turns speaking, standing up to address their peers. They express opposition – to the Taliban, to what they described as Pakistan’s outsized influence on recent events – as they would in parliamentary sessions in Kabul, by rhythmically drumming their fingers on the table.
During meetings with Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the MPs have pushed the country’s authorities to advocate for Afghan women with other EU member states. They have also petitioned several ambassadors, including the US envoy, to pressure their governments to consider human rights when working with the Taliban.
Shagufa Noorzai came up with the idea for a parallel parliament in exile with Yousufi Bek. A teacher before becoming a legislator, while in office Noorzai focused on improving the financial status of women and set up a foundation aimed at supporting homeless children and widows in her native Helmand province. “I want women in Afghanistan to think, ‘Shagufa didn’t forget us. Shagufa wants to do something for us’,” says Noorzai, who at 24 became the youngest member of parliament when she was elected in 2018. Many of the MPs have seen fierce opposition when seeking election; Yousafi Bek’s campaign was the target of a deadly suicide bomber.
In the coming weeks, the MPs will hold virtual sessions with Joe Biden’s administration, US Congress members and UN security council officials, which will be facilitated by Mina’s List, a non-profit that supports women’s political leadership and is working with the Afghan female lawmakers.
On the agenda: the women’s rights crisis under Taliban rule, ensuring aid reaches the millions of starving Afghans facing a cruel winter and keeping pressure on western nations to provide safe passage for Afghan women who worked as judges, prosecutors and activists, as well as those who served in the security forces.
“Our intention is to really leverage all of those networks, to amplify the women’s agenda, to amplify their platforms, to help them have opportunities,” says Tanya Henderson, Mina List’s founder and executive director.
Emotions were high when the women gathered for the first time at a community centre run by Melissa Network, a grassroots network for female migrants and refugees that played a role in their evacuation.
“You realise how much power lies with women,” says Nadina Christopoulou, an anthropologist and director at Melissa Network. Thousands of women have come through her doors in recent years, but this is the most high-profile group.
“Women are half of society, so we are very important. You can’t hide us,” says Noorzai, in the small hotel room she shares with her mother, brother and sister just outside of Athens. Flowering pink bougainvillaea trees climb the whitewashed walls of a holiday resort that has seen better days. The MPs and their families are its only guests, filtering in and out of a food hall serving chicken gyros and chips before strolling along the beach at dusk.
It has not been an easy adjustment: the basic lodgings are a far cry from the opulent houses of many Afghan politicians in Kabul and their home towns.
Wiping away tears with her headscarf, long-serving MP Homa Ahmadi shows a recent photo on her phone of Taliban MPs in Kabul. Where she once sat surrounded by female peers and men in suits, there are now only men wearing turbans and sporting long beards.
Ahmadi, 46, represented eastern Logar province for 15 years, winning a seat in all three of the country’s elections.
No country has recognised the Taliban government, though senior officials from some, including the UK, have met the group’s leadership in recent weeks, where they advocated for women’s rights. But those delegations contained no women, sparking outcry from prominent Afghan women and causing German MEP Hannah Neumann last week to criticise such meetings as “counteracting the whole argument”.
The parliament in exile wants to bring to safety the nine female MPs who remain behind in Afghanistan. They are in hiding, a traumatic predicament the women know all too well.
“[Since August], the Taliban have killed schoolgirls, policewomen and women in government. The family members are too afraid to speak up,” says Fawzia Hamidi, 48, a lawmaker from northern Balkh province. Formerly a prosecutor for cases of violence against women, Hamidi describes recent murders in the region as the tip of the iceberg.
Fearful of reprisal killings or torture by the Taliban, the MPs who fled first went into hiding before escaping to Greece, often in disguise or behind the anonymity of a face mask. Some flew through Iran and Georgia before arriving in Athens, in a complicated rescue effort that involved New York-based philanthropist Amed Khan.
Others, such as Halima Askari from central Wardak province, crossed overland to Uzbekistan. In her second trimester of pregnancy, a doctor in Tashkent told her the baby’s oxygen levels were severely depleted due to stress. Now in her third trimester, she will give birth in Greece.
Hamidi describes how she was separated from her five-year-old daughter, Hadia, as she entered Uzbekistan under the cover of darkness. “Hadia didn’t have a passport. So I was on one side of the border, and she on the other,” she says through muffled sobs. She is still waiting to be reunited with her daughter.
Most of the MPs in Greece are applying for asylum in other countries, such as Canada, the US and Britain.
The MPs have found unlikely protection in Greece, a country that recently extended a border wall with Turkey with radars and drones designed to deter Afghans from reaching Europe. They want to advocate on behalf of the thousands of Afghans in limbo in Greece, where they are the largest population of asylum seekers, with few job prospects and little opportunity for reintegration with society.
“Greece is only the beginning. We will start small, we will start again,” Noorzai says.
Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year. Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.
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On Monday, the FBI, for the first time in history, conducted a search of the home of a former president, which took place at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. After the raid, Trump issued a statement denouncing the incident and accusing the US court system of using it as a weapon against him.
Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.
And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.
But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year.
Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.
A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.
Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.
Political meddling is just one of the many headaches that Western automakers endure in China. In July, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares blamed interference by the Chinese government for the cancellation of the Jeep-maker’s joint venture in the world’s largest auto market. But local car manufacturers may pose a bigger threat to foreign companies as they continue to grab a larger share of the Chinese market.
For decades, the world’s large car manufacturers had to establish onerous joint ventures with local companies to establish a foothold in China. Beijing hoped that this strategy would transform inefficient local partners into industry leaders. But the policy failed – the local companies failed to develop export markets, and even the most patriotic Chinese consumers preferred to buy cars made by Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen. By 2000, the German company had claimed more than 50% of the Chinese market.
Now, as China relaxes its international joint venture requirements, local competitors are stepping on the gas. In 2021, foreign automakers saw their combined share of the Chinese auto market shrink to 45.6%, and Volkswagen’s market share dropped to 15.5% in the first half of 2022.
Two factors are driving the growing competitiveness of Chinese automakers. The growing pool of domestic technical talent has fed the growth of thriving, privately-owned vehicle manufacturers such as BYD, Geely (which owns Volvo) and Great Wall Motor. China now has a competent group of manufacturers of conventional, mid-range passenger vehicles that can lure foreign designers away from the likes of BMW and the Italian design firm, Pininfarina.
The second factor is Beijing’s push to outpace the West in manufacturing electric vehicles. In 2021, 3.3 million hybrid and battery-powered cars were registered in China, accounting for 16% of total sales. Meanwhile, European consumers bought 1.1 million fewer electric vehicles. McKinsey consultants say that the Chinese companies are able to manufacture safe auto bodies that are lighter than those built by their international rivals. The Chinese also have local access to cutting-edge battery expertise from global leaders such as Amperex Technology, valued at $194 billion.
Tesla is currently the only foreign automaker that has succeeded in claiming a spot on the list of China’s top 10 best-selling electric vehicles. Research firm Redburn estimates that Volkswagen now has only 10.8% of China’s electric vehicle market, although the $89 billion company is planning to launch new models and is investing in research and sales centers.
The increasing competitiveness of Chinese automakers has impacts beyond its borders, as they continue to reinvest profits to take on Western giants in other markets. BYD, the Warren Buffett-backed Chinese automaker that is challenging Tesla for the title of the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer, shipped its first lot of 1,000 SUVs – the ATTO 3 – to Australia in August. As more Chinese cars start showing up on Western roads, complaints about political meddling by the Chinese government will surely grow louder.
On a stopover in Mali on his way to Libya, Bakary Jammeh abandoned plans to board a boat to Italy. He had a brother there, but Jammeh became convinced he should put their reunion on hold and turn back in search of gold.
Jammeh had met a Senegalese man with a pocket full of cash and 15 grams of gold. The man was from Kédougou in southeastern Senegal, where villages with long traditions of panning for gold are quietly transforming into sprawling mining towns.
The region along the Gambia river is now awash with prospectors from across west Africa, most were subsistence farmers seeking to hit a nugget of gold and transform their lives. Villages like Bantako, where Jammeh has worked, are now untamed settlements of thousands of people, where markets sell pickaxes, helmets and moonshine alongside everyday necessities.
But riches are rarely found, and Jammeh, originally from the Gambia, is still searching for his fortune 15 years after he first climbed down the crude pits bored into Bantako’s cleared bushland. Most miners can go weeks, or even months, between small discoveries, few leave. A crumb of gold that pays for a few weeks of food keeps them there. It rarely provides a permanent escape from poverty.
His own luck once brought him a find of 85g of gold, which he took straight home to his mother.
Jammeh is “chief” of one of the gold pits, spending the day under stretched tarpaulin, supervising the well-practised routine that sees young men venturing 15 metres deep into the dark pits to hack away at the rock below. The shards of rock are placed into repurposed rice sacks that are pulled up by a team of men operating large pulleys.
Each haul is dumped on top of a pile that towers over the pits. Women are assigned to crush them into smaller pieces, and machines grind them down still further, making it easier to hunt for a glint of gold.
No one takes a salary – a share of the rocks is given to the mining site’s founder, his assistants and the pit’s chief, and the rest is split between the workers, who break them up at home in the hope they can find something to sell.
Jammeh says survival depends on how close-knit a team is – how teammates support one another and share out resources.
“You survive from what you find here. If you have a good leader, every worker here will enjoy [life]. It depends on your heart. We can all suffer here, with no food, no water, nobody to come and give us five coins to buy some water, but we can survive [by sharing] from our pockets,” he says.
Artisanal gold mining in Kédougou has grown rapidly since the early 2000s after the arrival of industrial mining companies, encouraged to invest by the government. It was once a way for people merely to supplement their incomes, but rising gold prices encouraged struggling farmers to base their livelihoods around searching for gold – especially those who came from abroad.
The mines operate almost constantly, from morning to past midnight, with workers often taking two shifts a day. They rarely leave Bantako, going home only for a few weeks for religious festivals or when rain makes work impossible.
“There’s no solidarity here, it’s a selfish place,” says Hawa Cisse, who arrived in the village with her husband in 2012. “If you have money here, life can be good but if you don’t, it’s hard. All you can do is take these stones and try to find some gold, even just a small amount to keep you going.
“But life is hard at home as well so I don’t want to go back. There is nothing you can earn there. Only if I get enough money, I’ll return and start a business.”
Bantako’s sole purpose is always evident from the ubiquitous sound of pickaxes chipping at rocks and the whirr of spinning motor belts from grinding machines. The men who run them sit in a permanent dust cloud inside tin-sheet workshops that also house barrels of hazardous chemicals, such as mercury, used to speed up the process of separating the gold.
According to Paulin Maurice Toupane, a Dakar-based researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, 3.9 tonnes of mercury are used for gold mining in Kédougou each year, contributing to miners’ poor health. Mercury can cause muscle weakness and sight and hearing problems.
Toupane says that while gold brings significant income to the region – 4.2 tonnes, worth 86.6bn CFA francs (£111m) in 2018 – it is also leading to deforestation and soil damage, and puts food security at risk.
“The local community has abandoned agriculture and fishing to be involved in artisanal gold mining, and this is a risk to food security,” he says. “There’s also a link to human trafficking and drug trafficking, and sometimes to violence.”
He says gold mining needs to be regulated and subject to greater government investment.
In the meantime, Jammeh believes the mines will continue to grow, with more people arriving than leaving. Few, he says, are ever satisfied with what they have. “To say I have enough? No. I could have left a long time ago, but still I need more. I have 1,000, I need 2,000. I have 2,000, I need 4,000. That’s human nature. That’s in us,” he says.
“There are plenty of people here who have enough but they don’t have a good vision, to take it to their homeland and build a house. They buy a new motorcycle, a bottle, take a woman home and enjoy their money. Then [the money] is finished. Then they sell the motorcycle, and it’s back to the beginning.”